Posts Tagged ‘Mahatma Gandhi’

CHURUMURI POLL: Should RSS be banned again?

8 February 2014

The release of audio tapes and transcripts of four interviews conducted by a journalist of the monthly magazine, The Caravan, which show the terror-attack accused Swami Aseemanand in conversation with the RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat in 2005, virtually implicating him in targetting civilians, once again show the twice-banned “national voluntary organisation” in disgraceful light.

“In the last two interviews, Aseemanand repeated that his terrorist acts were sanctioned by the highest levels of the RSS—all the way up to Mohan Bhagwat, the current RSS chief, who was the organisation’s general secretary at the time,” reads a press release. “It is very important that it be done. But you should not link it to the Sangh.”

While BJP and RSS spokespersons have questioned the veracity of the tapes and the ethicality of the journalist managing to enter the jail where Assemanand is lodged to record the interviews, they do not detract from the elephant in the room: the alleged involvement of RSS functionaries in attacks of terrorism, raising the spectre of “Saffron Terror” with the intent of political mobilisation.

For some the tapes will only confirm their worst fears: that the RSS, which was banned (by then home minister Vallabhbhai Patel, no less) after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 and the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992, is upto no good. That such an organisation should be playing a quite conspicuous role in shaping the future and fortunes of BJP in circa 2014 will please them even less.

Many others, though, will suspect the timing of the release of the tapes on the eve of a general election, and the rather candid admissions of a terror-accused who over the last three years seems to have somehow forgot to spill the beans to his custodians in jail and interrogators in court.

Obviously, the charges are still a long way from being proved. But if they are, on the strength of mounting evidence—Colonel Shrikant Purohit, Sadhvi Pragya Singh, Indresh Kumar—should the RSS be banned a third time? And if Narendra Modi, whose installation as the BJP’s  “prime ministerial candidate” was one of the RSS’s biggest successes last year, does end up becoming PM, will his government have the guts or the objectivity to take such a tough call?

Also read: Should the RSS be banned—part I?

Will an RSS-run BJP be more vicious in future?

How Karnataka is becoming Gujarat of South

A dirty old man gets a bath before his birthday

1 October 2013

Photo Caption

As the “fodder of the nation” gets set to spend some lonely nights facing a blank wall, the father of the nation gets a neat scrub on the eve of his 144th birth anniversary, in Bangalore on Tuesday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: 79 years ago, when Gandhi came to Mysore

Rama, Rama rajya and Nalawadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar

Why Gandhi was right about Congress, BJP and JDS

If Munnabhai is pardoned, is Chulbul Pandey next?

25 March 2013

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: After two decades, it is said that justice has been served in the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts case.

No, it hasn’t. What we have got is just a good balm.

Justice will never be served until Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon are caught and sentenced; like what the Americans did with Osama Bin Laden who was also hiding in Pakistan like Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon. But unfortunately, no one is really interested to know how our authorities plan to bring to book these “India’s most wanted.”

We wonder if there is even a plan at all. Instead, our Parliamentarians are busy trying to get a pardon for Sanjay Dutt.

Yes, it is indeed heartbreaking to see a now mellow-fellow Sanjay Dutt, father of two young children and also an older girl, go to prison. It is clear that he was not involved in any terrorist activities. But he has been booked for illegal possession of weapons under the Arms Act.

However, the fact remains that he committed an illegal act knowingly; and there is a law for punishing such offences and he has been sentenced for it. The law has taken its course. But, Dutt sympathisers must think, had Sanjay Dutt informed the Police about his “friends” smuggling arms, maybe today 257 of his countrymen would be alive?

But we want to know, why are our Parliamentarians going overboard in seeking a pardon for him?

Asking for early parole is one thing but complete pardon!? Former MP Jayaprada declared, “he is innocent!” Jaya Bachchan said, “Where was the government all these years? Suddenly you have realised he has to go to jail? This is rubbish…”

Yes! Our own lawmakers think that our judiciary and laws are rubbish.

Does that mean that Jaya Bachchan’s Samajwadi Party colleague and minister Raja Bhaiyya, if his case goes on long enough and is finally held guilty, must he be pardoned because “suddenly the judiciary realised he has to go to jail!”

Yes, indeed today, we feel for Sanjay Dutt.

We have softened as we think of him as the jhappi-giving Munna Bhai. No wonder, the first official support petition was put forth by former Supreme Court Judge Justice Markandey Katju.

But interestingly, the former Justice repeatedly said in his many interviews on TV channels that he does not watch movies and added, “I have not watched a movie in 40 years!”

Yet the former Justice wrote in his petition for pardon that Sanjay Dutt had “revived the memory of Mahatma Gandhi through his films”! and we believed Justice Katju when he said he had not watched a film in 40 years!

Also, we assure our former Justice that Sanjay Dutt didn’t do Munna Bhai for free so he could propagate Gandhiism.

He got paid for it.

Katju further stated that Sanjay Dutt had “suffered a lot and had to undergo various tribulations and indignities.”

Yes, we are sure he did. But isn’t that one of the objectives of punishment?

Justice Katju, justifying the tribulations suffered by Dutt, added: “He (Sanjay Dutt) had to go to court often, he had to take the permission of the court for foreign shootings, he could not get bank loans, etc.”

How can visiting courts often, taking permission to go abroad for shooting, inability to get bank loans and propagating Gandhiism through a movie written by someone else, produced by someone else while getting paid for acting in it be a justification to be pardoned on moral and legal grounds!?

Yes, Sanjay Dutt did go to jail for 18 months. But then he has also lived a happy life, he made movies, made money and made babies.

Now, if we remember rightly, wasn’t it the same Justice Katju who said that 90% of Indians are idiots…?

So now, many idiots would ask, that while the former Justice surely is not an idiot like us, has he not become a sentimental fool?

Going by Katju’s logic, can the former Justice also write a letter asking pardon for thousands of criminals who have committed petty offences which are bailable but are languishing in jail because they are too poor to pay for the bail amount?

Maybe Salman Khan can help. After all, it was his NGO last year which paid Rs 40 lakh for the release of 400 prisoners who had committed petty offences and were too poor to pay bail money in UP.

According to a 2011 report, nearly 70% of the total 3,00,000 inmates in India’s 1,356 prisons have not been convicted of any offence. They are undertrials. Of them, nearly 2,000 have spent more than five years behind bars without being convicted of any crime.

Will the people asking for Sanjay Dutt’s pardon, help these people?

While the Parliamentarians are asking for pardon for Sanjay, maybe they can mull over the Right to Justice Bill… if they know what it is.

In 1982-83, the All India Jail Reforms Committee had called for quick trials and simplification of bail procedures.

In 2011, it was the same M. Veerappa Moily who, as Law Minister, said, “the government is planning to introduce a Right to Justice Bill, whose highlight will be a time-bound justice delivery system”.

Nothing has happened.

Maybe Jayaprada and Jaya Bachchan can take it up? That way, next time they won’t have to be “startled” by judiciary’s sudden need to send Sanju baba to jail.

Also, if people should be pardoned without even completing 20% of their punishment, then why don’t the former Justice and the Parliamentarians rework the Indian Penal Code and say that possession of illegal arms will be punishable by just 18 months in prison, the one served already by Sanjay Dutt?

Why keep a form of punishment if you are not going to use it or if you can pressure a pardon out.

At this rate, Salman Khan may be getting his Public Relations machinery in gear. Carefully choosing powerful sympathisers and pardon-petitioners, keeping them ready, in case he gets sentenced.

After all, he has been charged with culpable homicide for driving over a man and killing him. The case has been going on for 10 years now. He is also charged in the Black Buck shooting case where he was sentenced to five years, for which he served three days in prison.

So, are we to expect that if the court sentences Salman to prison for five years for killing a black buck and a human being, we must pardon him for he has an NGO like “Being Human”?

Must we pardon him for paying for the release of 400 poor prisoners? and because he is our beloved Chulbul Pandey?

Yes. Emotional it is. But rational we must be.

As the saying goes, “You do the crime, you do the time.”

Sanjay Dutt has committed a crime and he has to do the time. At best, he can get an early parole for good behaviour and come out and continue his Gandhian work.

We don’t live in the movies where emotions rule. We live in a real world and in a real world it is the rule of law that keeps some semblance of civility.

Yes indeed, there is the theory of repentance and reformation.

Yes indeed, there is a need to see the spirit of the law, not just the word.

If that is the case, let us see the spirit of the law applied to all the petty cases — from the poor pickpocket to the sex-worker. After all, Sanjay Dutt did it to be a Macho Man. These people do it because they are human and they have to eat to live.

(Vikram Muthanna is the managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this column originally appeared)

Would Gandhi have condoned Kasab’s hanging?

21 November 2012

On the eve of the winter session of Parliament and with the Gujarat elections around the corner, the scam and scandal-ridden Congress-led UPA has stumped the scam and scandal-ridden BJP-led NDA with its early-morning announcement of the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist involved in the 26/11 siege of Bombay.

Within a matter of hours, a weak government is being seen as assertive by the lynch mobs which routinely bay for blood, and a “soft-state” is slapping its thighs in delight, although the implications of the hanging—on India-Pakistan relations, on the fallout in the country, on the fate of Sarabjit Singh, etc—are still to be weighed.

Above all, in the very week India refused to be a signatory to a United Nations resolution banning the death penalty, the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, almost as if to satiate the public and political need for revenge and retribution, throws a big question mark over India’s presumed humanism of the land of the Mahatma.

The former diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar writes on rediff.com:

The vast majority of world opinion abhors meting out death penalty for any crime. This majority includes countries such as Russia, Israel UK and Germany that have been victims of terrorism. But Indian stands with stony hearts like the United States, China, Pakistan and Iran.

India’s plea is that it is its sovereign right to determine its own legal system, that death sentence is carried out India only on the “rarest of occasions” and that too with great deliberation. But India parries the big moral issue, which is that execution by the state (or the community) is nothing but a barbaric practice dating back tp primeval times when the thumb rule used to be “eye-for-an-eye”.

For India, it is a particularly agonizing question because Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism,  three finest flowers of its ancient civilization, all equally forbid such killings. Indians needs to reflect. I wonder if Gandhi would have condoned Kasab’s execution.

Read the full piece: India snuffs out Kasab‘s life

When Mr Gandhi sent a message to Ms Gillard?

18 October 2012

The Australian prime minister Jullia Gillard tripped and fell at Mahatma Gandhi‘s memorial, Rajghat, in Delhi on Wednesday after she had placed a wreath and was walking towards the television and newspaper personnel waiting for her.

Gillard, who has a long history of footwear malfunctions, brushed it all off:

“For men who get to wear flat shoes all day every day, if you wear a heel it can get embedded in soft grass and when you pull your foot out the shoes doesn’t come,” she said.

But not everybody is seeing the incident in such a matter-of-fact way. The protestors at the Koodankulam nuclear plant certainly do not; they see it as some sort of an inter-gallactic message being sent by the Mahatma to Gillard of what lies in store if her country co-operates with the Indian government.

In a press release, the protestors say:

“The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) as well as our sympathizers all over India would like to apologize to Julia Gillard, the honorable Prime Minister of Australia, for the dangerous fall she suffered at the Raj Ghat. If we ask the local authorities in Delhi why they had not taken enough precautions to avoid such a dangerous fall and why none of the security officers could prevent an important international leader from falling on her face or for not coming to her rescue on time, we may attract more sedition charges.

“Madam Prime Minister, this whole Raj Ghat episode reflects the authorities’ utter lack of safety precautions and emergency preparedness. And your government is seriously considering selling Uranium to these folks. Maybe, Madam Prime Minister, Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of Our Nation, is trying to say something to you and please listen to him.”

What Kannada racists can learn from a Raja-Rishi

26 September 2012

The silhouette of Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, the 25th and last maharaja of Mysore—a raja-rishi” (statesman-saint) in the words of a certain somebodyon Wednesday, as a sad and silly storm over a memorial for the world’s most famous Indian writer in English, R.K. Narayan, gathers chauvinistic steam in their hometown.

Even a cursory glance at the Wikipedia page of the king, who also served as the governor of Madras, suggests that he helped Ramanathan Krishnan to play at Wimbledon; that he helped the Western world discover the music of the little-known Russian composer Nikolai Medtner; that he provided patronage to ‘Tiger’ Varadachar….

But then, the Wikipedia page is in English.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Once upon a time at the Maharaja’s study circle

Once upon a time, a 50′x50′ site for 50 rupees

‘My father, His Highness, the Maharaja of Mysore’

Why Tagore was right and Gandhi was not

15 March 2012

Author, illustrator and mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik in Star of Mysore:

“Whether it is the temple of Konark in Orissa or that of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, the artisans have embellished the walls with images of lovers in various stages of embrace. They have been placed there deliberately, to catch the gaze of the devout who enter the shrine.

“Why? To titillate, to communicate, to provoke thought? No one is quite sure.

“One explanation is that these are remnants of fertility rites meant to enhance the power of the temple. Another explanation is that it is sex education for the masses who visit the temple.

“Perhaps it was advertising for the devadasis or sacred courtesans who supplemented the income of the temple. Perhaps they were magical talismans meant to keep demons away. Perhaps they were meant to please Indra, god of the sky, who had a roving eye, so that he did not strike the tall roofs with lightning.

“Perhaps they were merely expressions of pleasure, one of the four aims of life — the other aims being ethics, economics and spirituality. Perhaps they are codes of Tantrik practices, metaphors for deeper metaphysical thought. Perhaps they are all of the above, or maybe, none of the above. No one is completely sure.

“The British were convinced that this was proof of ‘Hindoo’ decadence. Many of our nation’s founding fathers felt ashamed. A group of overzealous social reformers once planned to raze or deface or bury such temple carvings. It is said that Gandhiji supported such action. But then Rabindranath Tagore wrote an impassioned plea that, good or bad, moral or immoral, this was a national treasure that we could not wish away. We had to preserve it. And so it has survived, continuing to baffle us as they have baffled onlookers for hundreds of years.”

Five questions for L.K. Advani and Arun Jaitley

24 February 2012

His mouth already full, metaphorically speaking, former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa lunges for a plate of chakkuli and kodebale from the next table, at a meeting of leaders and legislators at his residence in Bangalore on Thursday.

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Who exactly is ruling Karnataka right now?

Exhibit A: The Mahatma Gandhi national rural employment guarantee scheme (MGNREGS) guarantees  employment in rural areas. Of the Rs 2,153 crore approved in the budget, districts in Karnataka have spent only Rs 1,265 crore—58% of the allocated funds—despite severe drought.

Exhibit B: Studies have shown 37% of children are underweight, about 28% are undernourished, and 5.5% of children die of hunger before they reach five years. Prevalence of malnutrition in Karnataka in Raichur and other districts has reached epic proportions.

Exhibit C: The process of naming a Lok Ayukta to replace Justice Santosh Hegde is still going on months after he remitted office, even  as minister after minister or official or other is caught every now and then with mind-boggling income totally unrelated to his / her income.

Exhibit D: The ‘blue babies’, the 3 MLAs  who were watching porn material while the legislative assembly session was on have already shamed the party, on top of all those caught in similar misdemeanours.

These are only few examples.

Despite all these major problems confronting the State and the ruling party, the only issue the BJP MLAs and BJP ministers seem to be interested in is: when will D.V. Sadananda Gowda pack up and go leaving the seat for B.S. Yediyurappa?

For this, dinner meetings spending lakhs of rupees are held,  the ex-CM dashes in and out of either Benares or Vaishnodevi, burning tax-payers’ money as if he is just taking a stroll from his bed-room to drawing room. The Veerashaiva swamijis, who are ready to jump into this any time, have become willing partners in this plot.

Confabulations are held in resort after resort, plans are afoot to unseat the CM by hook or crook.

Here are five key questions:

1) Why are sanctimonious BJP and RSS leaders tolerating such natak from its political actors in Karnataka, week after week, month after month?

2) Why is BJP president Nitin Gadkari putting up with such an audacious and brazen lust for power, giving room for suspicion?

3) Now there seems to be a plan to bring in Jagadish Shettar, a Lingayat, to replace D.V. Sadananda Gowda, a vokkaliga, becasue Yediyurappa cannot become CM immediately. How can the BJP make such casteist moves so openly?

4) Why is the central BJP allowing the authority of present chief minister to be so openly eroded?After all they nominated him for the post after all sorts of discussions and he is the elected leader of the legislature party.

5) Why are leaders like the former future prime minister of India L.K. Advani and the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley mum on the subject? Can they unseat a CM and replace him with another against whom cases are still pending, no matter how much he hankers for the post?

BJP will again become a laughing stock if they bring back Yediyurappa due to coercion, religious and caste politics.  The cases against him are still on and he has not been declared innocent. He is only out on bail.

Meanwhile, let the administration be damned in the State.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Will BJP win Karnataka again?

How BJP turned Karnataka politics into a cartoon

Raichur, malnutrition deaths and BJP ‘governance’

Yella OK, guru. Nanna makkalu is not learning

The right arm of the Gandhi no one remembers

31 January 2012

V. Kalyanam (left), the former personal secretary to Mahatma Gandhi, arriving for the Sarvodaya Day celebrations organised by Bangalore University, in Bangalore on Monday. Now 92, Kalyanam was 28 and a few inches from the Mahatma on the day the 79-year-old “stopped three bullets from their deadly trajectory of hate”.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: 77 years ago, when the Mahatma came to Mysore

As Gandhi said, “I wish to wrestle with the snake”

External reading: Incidentally, we must never forget

CHURUMURI POLL: Is India a liberal Republic?

20 January 2012

On the eve of the 62nd anniversary of the “sovereign socialist secular republic”, a nice little knife has been stuck into the heart of liberal India by goondas and moral policemen. The author Sir Salman Rushdie has pulled out of the Jaipur literary festival following threats from “influential Muslim clerics” of the Darul Uloom Deoband, who suddenly remembered that his banned 1989 novel The Satanic Verses hurt the sentiments of Muslims ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Considering that the book was banned the cowardly Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi 23 years ago, it will surprise nobody that it was the cowardly Congress government of Ashok Gehlot that did the needful this time round. Instead of reassuring the world that the “Indian State” would protect every single individual, down to the last man, woman and child, even if he has offended the super-sensitive and super-patriotic—especially if he has offended the super-sensitive and super-patriotic—the Rajasthan government caved in to the thugs.

And the Manmohan Singh government meekly watched on—just as it meekly watched on when A.K. Ramanujan‘s essay Three-hundred Ramayanas was being proscribed by Delhi University (where Singh’s daughter works), under the benign gaze of Sonia Gandhi and Shiela Dixit (peace be unto them).

While the Congress deserves every brick, shoe and invective hurled at it for the latest “stain on India’s international reputation“—on top of its execrable efforts to screen Facebook, Google and the media—no political party is properly clothed in this horribly naked hamaam which repeatedly and brazenly cocks a snook at free speech and expression.

# The warnings of Hindutva hitmen owing allegiance to the BJP drove M.F. Husain out of India, forcing him to live the last years of his abroad.

# NCP goondas burnt down a library in Poona because its author had used it to write a book on Shivaji, which they didnt’ like.

# In the glorious republic of Gujarat, movie watchers could not catch Parzania because–horror, horror—it showed the plight of Muslim victims in the 2002 pogrom; because, well, Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s government couldn’t offer basic security to theatres.

# Ditto Aamir Khan‘s Fanaa.

# And of course, the “alleged apostle of peace” couldn’t bear the hints of bisexuality in the real apostle of peace, so Joseph Lelyveld‘s book on Mahatma Gandhi was conveniently removed from the eyes of readers.

# In Left-ruled Kerala, a professors’s hand could be merrily chopped off with gay abandon by Islamists because he had mistakenly prepared a question paper that used the named “Mohammed” for a somewhat daft character. (And who can forget what happened to Deccan Herald, when it printed a short story titled Mohamed the Idiot.)

# Taslima Nasreen was unwelcome in Left-ruled Bengal because her views didn’t match those of the mullahs. (She was later attacked by Majlis MLAs in Congress-ruled Hyderabad and her visa reluctantly renewed by the UPA.)

# The BSP government of Behen Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh banned the film Aarakshan because of is “derogatory” take on reservations.

Questions: Are we really a tolerant, liberal nation open to views from all sides? Or in the 21st century, are we utterly incapable of using the word freedom without adding “but” to it?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Does freedom have its limits?

‘Online extremism has lowered tolerance levels’

What’s the correct word for a Hindu fatwa?

Free to live. Not free to do and say as we like?

Why we mustn’t ban the book on the Mahatma

77 years ago, when the Mahatma came to Mysore

2 October 2011

Long before self-serving rath yatras and road shows became trump cards in the boardgame of Indian politics, Mahatma Gandhi went around the country campaigning against untouchability. The Mahatma’s magnificent mission brought him to Mysore, 77 years ago.

In his just released book, Mahatma Gandhi’s Campaign against Untouchability in Karnataka, Dr G.A. Biradar, the Bijapur-born archivist who currently works at the national archives in New Delhi, describes the Mahatma’s  journey through Mysore.

Gandhi’s two-day yatra yielded Rs 6,244 in donations.

***

By G.A. BIRADAR

M.K. Gandhi left Bangalore on 4 January 1934 for Mysore, arriving there early the next morning. Accompanied by Tagadur Ramachandra Rao, V.Venkatappa, Agaram Rangiah and others, he left the same morning for Tagadur where he visited an Ashram and received a purse of Rs 100.

Mahatma Gandhi next motored to Badanaval where he visited the khadi spinning centre and depot and received purses of Rs 155 and Rs 25 from the public and one Rama Mandiram of Badanaval, respectively.

The said khadi centre had been opened some years back by the all-India spinners’ association and which after Gandhi’s visit to the State in 1927 was taken over by the State….

Both spinning and weaving gave employment to large numbers of Harijans. Gandhi spoke to the spinners telling them how they could add to their earnings by introducing improvements in their implements, reforming their habits of life and giving up vices and expenses, which were a heavy drain on their slender purses.

“Let us hope that the progress recorded by this centre will induce other States and local bodies to give greater encouragement to the industry and make the fullest use of resources that are available.”

From Badanaval, Gandhi proceeded to Nanjangud where he was presented with an address in a sandalwood casket by the president of the municipality and another address by the local Harijans.

The casket and other articles presented at Nanjangud were auctioned for Rs 200, the total collections there amounting to Rs, 1,480 including a donation of Rs 1000 from one Srimathi Chinnamma of Bangalore for the construction of a dispensary at Tagadur.

Gandhi addressed the gathering Nanjangud on the uplift of the Harijans, urged them to throw open all sacred temples and wells and appealed to them to blot out untouchability.

“Mysore has been rightly considered one of the most progressive of States in India and, in several respects, far in advance of conditions obtaining in British India. There is progress in all directions.

“Nature has favoured the State with a variety of rich gifts, and they are trying successfully to deserve them. The tidiness of the houses and the cleanliness of the road are in themselves a proof of the refined habits of the people. This could never be enforced from above but was a result of the people’s own culture.”

The Harijan quarters that Mahatma Gandhi saw in Mysore were in keeping with the progressive traditions of the state. They were situated amidst healthy surroundings. The streets were broad and well swept and rows of houses well laid out, and the cottages wore an appearance of cleanliness and contentment. They would be the envoy of urban people living in pigeon-holes.

The welfare work going on among these Harijans was evidenced by a hostel here and an industrial school there, a children’s home at one place and a reading room in another. All this gave Mahatma Gandhi the greatest delight which he expressed in the speech at the public meeting in Mysore.

Returning to Mysore City the same day (5 January1934), Gandhi visited several Harijan localities there and the Adi Karnataka Hostel. At Jalapuri and Dodda Adi Karnatakapur, he addressed the gathering on the uplift of the Harijans and advised the latter to give up their bad habits and lead a clean life.

In the evening he attended a meeting of about 8,000 people and again spoke on Harijan uplift and the eradication of untouchability.

While addressing the people at Harijans’ meeting in Mysore, Mahatma Gandhi said:

“You should conform to the rules of hygiene and sanitation-internal as well as external. Internal sanitation consists in taking the name of God-the first thing to be done after getting up in the morning. That is the breakfast for the soul.”

When he was told that the Harijans of the locality had given up beef-eating, he added:

“It is a matter of deep joy to me and congratulation for you that you have given up beef-eating. I would like you to be able to say the same thing about drink. What is the use of paying for some coloured water which makes us so mad that we forget the distinction between mother, wife and sister? I have heard Harijans telling me that drink is prescribed for them on occasion of marriage and death. I can tell you, without fear of contradiction that is a suggestion of the devil. It is nowhere written in scriptures. I would ask you, brothers and sisters, not to go near the devil. I hope you will take my advice to heart and it will give me great joy when you will be able to say that you have given up drink also.”

The City Municipality presented him with an address in silver casket, while other bodies presented purses with addresses. The total collections amounted to Rs 2,424.

In reply to the municipal address, Mahatma Gandhi at the public meeting in Mysore, said:

“It has given me much pleasure to renew acquaintance after six long years. As you are aware, I came to Mysore State in order to regain my health that I had lost during the tour which I was conducting at that time. And naturally I have the most pleasant recollections of my stay in Mysore. From His Highness the Maharaja Saheb, and his Dewan and other officials to the subjects of His Highness the Maharaja Saheb, I experienced nothing but the warmest affection. You can, therefore, understand more fully probably than before how much joy it must have given me to have come in your midst again. You have added to the joy and pleasure by asking me to perform the ceremony of unveiling a portrait of the late Sjt. Venkatakrishnayya, the Grand Old Man of Mysore. I congratulate the artist upon his effort, because it is a faithful representation of the figure which was quite familiar to me. Perhaps, all of you do not know that I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing the Grand Old Man of Mysore in flesh and blood during my visit. I had then become acquainted with his many virtues. I know then that he occupied a unique place in your hearts. I am quite sure you do not expect me or want me to recount his many virtues. You who were on the spot know them much better than I could possibly do during a brief visit. I only hope that those of his virtues for which you and I prize his memory will be translated into our lives. We may not flatter ourselves with the brief that we have discharged the obligation to his memory by your inviting me to unveil this portrait and witnessing the ceremony and by unveiling it.

“I must now pass on to the mission that has brought me here. The Municipal address reminds me that I should see things which are worth seeing, so that I may carry away happy impressions of the effort that has been and is being made here on behalf of the Harijans. The Reception Committee with very great forethought had arranged to take me, before bringing me to this meeting, to various Cheries (localities) and showed me the improvements made during these six years. And you are quite right in thinking that after an examination of these places I should carry away nothing but happy impressions of what has been done on behalf of Harijans. I must congratulate the State and the Municipality of Mysore on the neatness and cleanliness I observed in all the places visited this afternoon. And I am glad for the assurance that the Municipality will not lose any time in looking after the domestic comforts of the Harijans of this city. In my opinion, sweepers in every city are its noblest servants. It must be a matter of humiliation and shame to have the sweepers and scavenges consigned to the dirtiest places and utterly neglected. In my opinion, they hold the key of the health of every city I their pockets. Any city that dares neglect its scavengers and sweepers commits the crime of neglecting the health of its citizens.

“But my mission covers a much wider theme that the economic welfare of Harijans. We are, no doubt, bound to jealously guard their economic and educational welfare. But this is not enough, if we are to do reparation to Harijans for the untold hardships to which we have subjected them for centuries past. They are entitled to precisely the same rights and privileges as any other citizen. And as Hindus they are entitled to the same social amenities and religious privileges that any other Hindu is entitled to. My mission, therefore, is to invite Savarna Hindus to wash themselves clean of the guilt of untouchability. And If, during the short period of grace open to Savarna Hindus, they fail to do this duty, I have not the shadow of a doubt that Hinduism will perish. You can now understand that this cannot be done by a municipality or even the Maharaja Saheb himself. If you and I will not change our hearts, what can even Rajas and Maharajas do? It is, therefore my privilege, as it is my duty, to invite you to cleanse your hearts of untouchability, the distinction of high and low. If you understand thoroughly the spirit of this message, the change of heart is an incredibly simple performance; and you can see in the twinkling of an eye how, if this change comes about in Savarna Hindu hearts, the economic, social and religious progress of Harijans must follow. It will then be a sign and seal of this change of heart. All these purses you have been kind enough to give me I consider as an earnest of your determination to make that change of heart. May God give you strength to do it and save Hinduism from impending doom.”

On the morning of the 6th January 1934, Gandhi left Mysore for Channapatna. En route he visited Mandya, Sakoor, Maddur, Besagrahalli, Shivapur and Somanahally, where he received purses amounting to Rs.815.

(Excerpted from Mahatma Gandhi’s Campaign against Untouchability in
Karnataka, published by Chaitra Pallavi Prakashana, Mysore, 116 pages, Rs 100, with the permission of the author)

***

Gandhi had visited Mysore State seven years earlier, in 1927, as a State guest of the Maharaja.

At the beginning of a recorded speech in 1931, he is heard saying this:

“In my tour last year in Mysore [State], I met many poor villagers, and I found upon inquiry that they did not know who ruled Mysore. They simply said some God ruled it. If the knowledge of these poor people was so limited about their ruler, I, who am infinitely lesser in respect to God than they to their ruler need not be surprised if I do not realize the presence of God, the King of Kings. Nevertheless I do feel as the poor villagers felt about Mysore, that there is orderliness in the universe.”

When the witness box resembles a conveyor belt

1 September 2011

One of India’s most progressive States. The cradle of reforms. “Rama Rajya” in the eyes of the Mahatma. The homeground of sage-administrators like Sir MV. The capital of information technology. Etcetera, etcetera.

The adjectives trip off the tongues when the poets start waxing eloquent on Karnataka.

That was.

But a cartoonist doesn’t need a word to describe the state of the State today where one former chief minister after another walks into the witness box on the way to you know where.

Which begs the question: among all the firsts, will Karnataka also become the first State in the Union to send two former real estate agents to jail in the same quarter of the same financial year?

Cartoon: courtesy P. Mahmud/ Praja Vani

Also read: Everybody gets a nice fig lead in the sting parivar

Everybody’s hands are up for the cameras

Classical language status for Mandya Kannada?

Gandhi & Anna: a tale of two fasts and two rulers

26 August 2011

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The ongoing fast by Anna Hazare to usher in a Lok Pal has entered the 11th day.

What is most striking with the manner in which Hazare’s fast has been dealt with by the current “rulers” in contrast to how the British handled Mahatma Gandhi’s numerous fasts.

***

Since they were the rulers  of an Empire where ‘the sun never set,’ the colonisers could have spirited Gandhiji out of India, thrown him into a jail in some far corner of the world, and made him totally irrelevant.

Worse, they could have fed him slow poison and got rid of him and by the time the news reached India, it would have been some months, if not years, especially since there was no ‘breaking news’.

In short, the British could have done anything to break the freedom movement. It is to their credit and to their sense of fair play that they did none of the above and allowed Gandhi his right to protest.

Result: the freedom struggle took root and finally they had to quit India.

***

Cut to 2011, Anna Hazare’s fast.

Kapil Sibal, P. Chidambaram, Ambika Soni and Manmohan Singh attacked Hazare’s movement in their interactions with the press and in Parliament.

The Congress party’s spokesman Manish Tiwari even declared that ‘Anna was corrupt from head to toe’ for which he tendered a meek apology later.

After inviting civil society members, the government resorted to dirty tricks to damn their character on some pretext or other. They even had the temerity to arrest Hazare and send him to the same jail where Suresh Kalmadi, A. Raja and Kanimozhi were lodged, only to release him when the public reaction got too hot.

Above all, we have seen a number of devious, duplicitous statements unbecoming of a government, which seems to have forgotten that it remains in power only at the pleasure of the people.

Obviously, hindsight is 20/20 and the history books could well tell us a different story of how Gandhi was treated by the colonisers. Still, the question remains: were the British far more humane in their treatment of Gandhiji when an Empire was at stake than the Congress-led UPA has been of Hazare who is merely fasting for a tough piece of legislation?

Photograph: The front page of a newspaper in 1933 with news of Gandhi‘s fast

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Baba Ramdev’s yoga bogus?

15 June 2011

Baba Ramdev‘s tragi-comic crusade for the return of black money has ended in a farce, with the idiot-box yogi calling off his fast-unto-death after nine short days. While the issue he raised, important as it is, may yet make a comeback, Ramdev’s PDA (public display of abilities) serious questions about his kapalbhati kriya brand of yoga which has attracted lakhs of gullible TV viewers furiously sucking in their tummies in parks and playgrounds.

Obviously, there are two facets to yoga: the physical and the mental. And obviously, the fast-unto-death was not intended to show the world how good a yogi or how good his form of yoga is (for that he has has TV channels). Still, on both counts, Baba Ramdev has come up woefully short and has plenty of explaining to do.

On the one hand, we have had the curious spectacle of a yogi fighting for cleaner politics flying around in private aircraft owned by shady businesshouses like Subroto Roy‘s Sahara group, and then meeting Union ministers in the five-star Claridges hotel, owned by one of India’s more controversial arms dealers, Suresh Nanda, whose son Sanjeev Nanda was involved in the BMW accident that mowed down pavement dwellers.

And, on the other hand, there is the fast itself. Delhi’s Ram Lila ground was booked for a full month for his fast-unto-death, but it ended in nine days. The fast itself was conveniently observed between 6 am and 9 pm, with the star conveniently slipping away from the stage now and then. Worse, Ramdev had to be shifted to an ICU (curiously not at the hospital run by him for lesser mortals). Was nine days all that a young wellness guru who preaches the good effects of his yoga, could muster, both in his body and in his mind?

As news reports have pointed out, Swami Nigamanand, fasting for the Ganga in relative anonymity, lasted 68 days before he was force-fed and died in the hospital where Ramdev broke his fast, on the 115th day. Potti Sriramulu, fasting for an Andhra State, lasted 82 days; Bhagat Singh, demanding better conditions for prisoners, lasted 63 days; why even Mamata  Banerjee, fasting for Singur, lasted 25 days. And the old pro Mahatma Gandhi lasted 21 days.

So what does Baba Ramdev’s fast end to his fast say about his brand of TV yoga? Will it diminish in popularity now that the guru himself has been exposed? Or will this too pass?

Also read: Pardon us, is yoga becoming a bit of a scam?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Yoga only for Hindus?

How a world-class yoga photograph got to be shot

‘Hunger for publicity is hallmark of new swamijis’

7 June 2011

Ramachandra Guha in the Hindustan Times:

“A hunger for publicity is the hallmark of some of the best-known spiritual leaders of contemporary India. They spend as much time on making themselves known, and praised, as on seeking the truth.

“Consider a guru in my home town, Bangalore, who, like Ramana Maharishi, is a Tamil, indeed from the same Iyer sub-caste. In other ways he is emphatically different; in his careful attention to his dress and appearance, for example, or in his not-so-careful cultivation of the rich, the powerful, and the influential.

“Or consider the holy man who, these past days and weeks, has been much in the news. Those who heard, in part or in full, Baba Ramdev’s recent day-long discourse at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, would have heard the words ‘kala dhanda’ and ‘bhrashtachaar’ (black money and corruption) as well as the words ‘dharm’ and ‘imandaari’ (morality and honesty).

“I heard them too, but I also heard words that were more telling. These were ‘mein apne media ke bhaiyyon se kehna chahta hoon’, a phrase that recurred often, perhaps half-a-dozen times an hour. It was characteristic that Ramdev sought to address the media above all (and characteristic also that his social imagination excluded the possibility of women reporters)….

“Solitude and spirituality — the link between them is intimate and indissoluble. In between satyagrahas, Gandhi spent months at a stretch in Sabarmati or Sevagram, thinking, searching, spinning. Ramana and Aurobindo did not leave their ashrams for decades on end. Yet our contemporary gurus can’t be by themselves for a single day.

“When the police forced him out of Delhi, Ramdev said he would resume his ‘satyagraha’ (sic) at his ashram in Haridwar. But within 24 hours he left Haridwar, in search of closer proximity to his brothers in the media. Externed from Delhi, Ramdev knew that many television channels were headquartered in Noida. So he would go to them, since he knew that, despite their national pretensions, these channels would not send their reporters, still less their anchors, to the benighted state of Uttarakhand. He set off for Noida but was stopped en route at Muzaffarnagar on the orders of the UP chief minister.”

Read the full article: Performance artists

The Mahatma in the eyes of Deve Gowda’s son

11 April 2011

BHAMY V. SHENOY writes: I was shocked to read a news item in today’s Deccan Herald—“If Gandhi were alive, he would have been corrupt: HDK”—in which the former chief minister, H.D. Kumarswamy, is quoted as saying that it is impossible to not be corrupt as a politician in today’s India.

While doubting the strong moral underpinnings of the Mahatma, HDK categorically states that “he (HDK) was never involved in corruption” while implementing government schemes and projects as CM, but had received “donations from friends and well wishers” for strengthening the party and fighting elections.

If HDK could be as non-corrupt as he claimed, why did not the media ask him as how could he have doubts about the Mahatma?

“Corruption has become inevitable. Contesting elections and pursuing politics without corruption is impossible in today’s context.” Going a step ahead, he made his quip about the Mahatma.

Two kinds of contemporary people can come to the conclusion about Mahatma’s capacity to be in politics without compromising his principles based on India’s current rampant corruption scenario.

One is the kind that might not have read the Mahatma’s his autobiography “My experiments with truth” or any other book/s on Gandhi and thus do not know anything about him. The other is the kind that is so corrupt that it is impossible for them to think that there could be others in the world who can be honest.

Is it possible that our former CM meets both the criteria?

In this world, there are hundreds of political leaders who are not corrupt. Even in India, though their number may not be huge, we can still find some who have not been compromised. But political leaders like Kumarswamy do not have the time nor the interest to learn about those honest leaders.

They are like the frogs in a well and for them, their well consists of corrupt leaders.

What have Kannadigas done to deserve leaders who do not think that it is impossible to be honest? Can we find some honest leaders like Anna Hazare amongst us?

Also read: Nothing is what it seems when scoundrels meet

A snapshot of a poor, debt-ridden farming family

Everybody’s stark naked in the public bathroom

External reading: Evil empire of JDS triumvirate

Why we mustn’t ban the book on the Mahatma

31 March 2011

TRIDIP SUHRUD writes from Ahmedabad: The debate surrounding Joseph Lelyveld’s biography of Gandhi, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi’s Struggle With India, is a sad reflection on the nature of public discourse.

None of the commentators in this country claim to have read the book (which is yet to be published in India).

The entire controversy is based on one review by Andrew Roberts in The Wall Street Journal in which the reviewer drew his own inference that the author of the Great Soul had described Gandhi as a ‘racist’ and a ‘bi-sexual’.

***

As one of those who have in fact read the book, I would like to place on record that Lelyveld at no place in the book has described Gandhi as a racist.

In fact, as one of the foremost authorities on apartheid and racial discrimination, Lelyveld has shown the cultural distance that Gandhi traversed in a short span of only four months in his understanding of the ‘native question’ in colonial South Africa.

The book records with empathy and understanding Gandhi’s role in the Zulu rebellion and public advocacy on behalf of all people of colour.

***

Gandhi’s correspondence with Hermann Kallenbach has for decades been part of the public domain, ever since the government of India acquired these in an auction in South Africa.

These letters are housed at the national archives of India and were published as volume 96 of the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG), a project of the publications division of government of India.

The editors of CWMG in their preface to the volume write that the acquisition and publication of these letters have brought home “ whole invaluable new world of Gandhiji hitherto not glimpsed by historiographers.”

They further state:

“Running through the letters to Kallenbach is the Gandhi-Kasturba story, told with complete openness, sometimes with love, sometimes with wounded pride, and yet at other times in sheer desperation.”

Kallenbach, according to the editors of CWMG, viewed Gandhi as “a friend, and companion, mother and mentor”. They also mention the secret pact between the two to address each other as “Upper House” and “Lower House.”

They state that with Kallenbach, Gandhi shared a “rare intimacy.”

We should also be reminded that a historian and a biographer of Gandhi is hampered as only a part of the archive is available to us. Gandhi destroyed most of the letters that Kallenbach wrote to him, hence we have only half a story.

Lelyveld relies on these letters to write the story of the Gandhi-Kallenbach relationship, which he does with sensitivity. His is not the voice of salacious gossip, in fact he warns against any such reading. He also is at pains to point out that we as a culture might have lost the ability to comprehend rare intimacy between men, which is not of the sexual kind.

***

As we seek to ban the book on the ground that it constitutes insult to the Father of the Nation, we should remember that the book itself makes no statements of the kind which are attributed to it. But, that cannot be the sole ground on which the decision to ban or not ban a book rests.

No civilised, democratic society can ban a book, however blasphemous or salacious. The only response to a book can be a book, a counter-argument.

We should also remind ourselves that for Gandhi and his associates his experiments on brahmacharya were not part of their secret lives.

Brahmacharya (conduct that leads one to Truth) was for Gandhi an experiment with truth and Swaraj. As an experiment in truth it was incumbent upon Gandhi the Sadhak, to place in the public domain his striving to attain perfect Brahmacharya.

This openness of Gandhi allowed a Nirmal Kumar Bose to provide ‘thick description’ of Gandhi’s brahmacharya experiments during the moving march of Noakhali.

Sudhir Kakkar and Bhikhu Parekh have also tried to understand and explain Gandhi’s sexuality and his experiments with brahamcharya; the former providing a psychoanalytic frame and the later seeking to draw our attention to the relationship between spiritual potency and political power.

I make a plea to lift the ban on the book and allow for a discussion on the book with equanimity.

Also read: ‘Bisexual’ Gandhi, bachelor Modi & ‘author’ Moily

You can stand up for Tom Hanks, not Aamir Khan?

Philip Pullman: The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ

‘Bisexual’ Gandhi, bachelor Modi & ‘author’ Moily

31 March 2011

VINUTHA MALLYA writes from Ahmedabad: The ban masters are back in business. And as usual, vibrant Gujarat leads the way, but this time the Centre is not too far behind.

Narendra Damodardas Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and renowned terminator of artistic freedom, has just announced the State’s “ban” on the book, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India by Pulitzer-winner and former New York Times journalist, Joseph Lelyveld.

The book’s sin: to have elicited reviews that hinted at the Mahatma’s bisexuality, despite the author’s denial of it.

Modi won the dash to the ban on Wednesday after Union law minister (and alleged author), M. Veerappa Moily, had announced in Poona earlier in the day that the Centre too was considering proscribing the book.

As the man in charge Gandhi’s homestate, “hands-on” Modi obviously couldn’t let somebody else be seen to be protecting its asmita before him. (For the record, the Congress government in Shiv Sena land, Maharashtra, too has announced a ban.)

None of the crusaders of Gandhi’s reputation have thought it worthy to read the book before publicly denouncing its content and conclusions:

“We have to think how to prevent such writings. They denigrate not only a national leader but also the nation,” said Moily.

Anyone remember Article 19? Anyone remember that Moily is both a lawyer and an author.

Modi, an old hand at ban baaja, has used this strategy in the past to his advantage: Jaswant Singh’s book on Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and his support in the unofficial banning of the films, Parzania and Fanaa, to name just two. While in the three instances, the issue was of inconvenient truths, in this case, he is angered that:

“The apostle of truth, peace and non-violence has been represented in a perverted manner”.

Look who’s talking about the apostle of truth, peace and non-violence, when Gandhi’s own great grandsons—Gopalakrishna Gandhi and Rajmohan Gandhi—and great grandson Tushar Gandhi have no problem!

Appropriating Gandhi is as fashionable as “denigrating” him, it seems.

***

More than the politicians pavlovian response to a book they haven’t seen, read or understood, it is the Indian media’s faithful participation in the process leading upto the ban that is the most disturbing. It is action replay of the ban on Salman Rushdie‘s Satanic Verses in 1989 based on a review of the book in India Today.

The question the Indian media need to ask themselves today is: Are reviews in Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph or The Wall Street Journal the last word on books or on Gandhi? Should we not read and make up our own mind as a mature democracy? At the very least, should we not expect the proscribers to know what they are talking about?

Gujarat’s (and Maharashtra’s) ban on the Gandhi book comes despite Lelyveld ‘s clarification that he had not said anything about Gandhi’s bi-sexuality, and that had he not claimed in his book that Gandhi was a racist.

So, what gives?

In Pratibha Nandakumar’s story of reactions from Bangaloreans in the Bangalore Mirror titled ‘Fashionable to slander Gandhi’, she states without provocation: “If this was a strategic publicity campaign, his agent gets full credit. Everybody wants to get a copy.”

At this rate, we just might not.

Lelyveld is no lightweight, fly-by-night author trying to rack up some sales by creating some buzz. He is a two-time executive editor of the New York Times whose previous tome was on apartheid in South Africa.

Yet, he finds his book banned despite his clarification to the Times of India in a story it ran on 29 March 2011.

In the ToI report, Ahmedabad-based Gandhian scholar Tridip Suhrud was reported not only to have interacted with Lelyveld when he was researching the book but also as having read it:

“He (Suhrud)  is aghast with the reviews and swears by Lelyveld…. Suhrud goes on to give full marks to Lelyveld and the book. He says it is the first political biography of Gandhi by an expert on apartheid,” says the ToI report.

This did not stop the world’s most-selling English daily’s city supplement, Ahmedabad Times, from posting two pages of “reactions” from “celebrities” on 30 March. Not one of them had read the book, and of the 19 celebrities interviewed only three were aware that the author had denied having made any of the claims that were doing the rounds in the UK and US media.

The others reacted variously to what they had read in the media, that it was wrong (of the author) to talk of Gandhi in this way. A sketchy paragraph that did not clarify the issue introduced this photo feature. The paper did not make it clear to the reader that the author had denied having called Gandhi a bisexual or racist.

Nor did it differentiate between the book and the reviews, making them both sound synonymous.

One wonders if the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) had access to the book when it quoted passages in the story it ran on 28 March, or if it simply borrowed the passages from what was floating around online.

On 30 March, in a comment appearing on Hindustan Times online, the writer reproduces a quote by Suhrud that appears in the book (“They were like a couple”) by dropping a key word (“They were a couple”), completely misrepresenting Suhrud in the process. Such is the rush of the press.

In an interview to The Indian Express on 29 March, Lelyveld told journalist Mandakini Gahlot:

“The reason Western media reports are highlighting the ‘bisexual and racist’ aspect is ‘because of the atmosphere we live in where anything is plucked off and reported everywhere as news. The news aggregators are full of it this morning. There is no real reporting, people have not even read the book.”

The God is in the details though.

Whether or not the author questioned Gandhi’s sexuality, Indians have always been uncomfortable with Gandhi’s own honesty.

At a seminar on Gandhi, which was organised by the women’s studies department of NMKRV College in Bangalore in the late 1990s, two young students were at the receiving end of Gandhians’ ire. Their offence was to publicly discuss, from a feminist perspective, his nocturnal experiments with the teenaged nieces.

When they wondered aloud, just as any young woman would (should?), if he had considered the impact of his experiment on the young 17-year-old’s mind, many members in the audience stormed out of the auditorium.

No debate, no discussion.

The latest ban is proof that nothing has changed, only the players have.

Photograph: Mahatma Gandhi (left) with the jewish bodybuilder Hermann Kallenbach (right), with whom he is alleged to have shared a relationship even while being happily married.

ARAVIND ADIGA: Mangalore’s circulating libraries

12 January 2011

Before the web brought the wide world to their desktop, the library was the window for young Indians seeking to peek into the universe beyond their doorstep. Each town and City, big and small, boasted a circulating library or two, usually run by a couple after office hours, offering an intellectual convergence point for the community.

Aravind Adiga, the Kannada-speaking former Time magazine journalist, who walked away with the Booker Prize for The White Tiger in 2008, spent his formative years in Mangalore. In this article, Adiga salutes the nooks and crannies that helped mould his consciousness—for a small deposit, a daily fee, and a penalty imposed randomly.

***

By ARAVIND ADIGA

Mangalore, where I lived until I was almost 16, is now a booming city of malls and call centres. But, in the 1980s, it was a provincial town in a socialist country.

Books were expensive in those days, and few of us could actually buy them. The thing to do was to join a circulating library that would lend them out at a nominal rate (novels, two rupees a fortnight; comics, 50 paise).

Like most of my friends in school, I was a member of multiple circulating libraries; and all of us, to begin with, borrowed and read the same things.

Up to the age of 10, you borrowed comics (mainly illustrated versions of the great Indian epics); later came your first novels, a boys’ detective series called The Hardy Boys.

Girls read an equivalent series called Nancy Drew.

When you grew out of the Hardy Boys, you started on the action novelist Alistair MacLean, whose fast-paced novels such as The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare were given glamour by their big-budget Hollywood adaptations.

My problems started when Alistair MacLean bored me.

The owner of my favorite lending library suggested that I try a “woman’s writer” instead: Agatha Christie. She was fascinating for a while, introducing me to the revolutionary idea that a killer could narrate a novel (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) before she bored me too.

The librarian then gave me an edition of the Complete Plays of Oscar Wilde (an edition which excluded Salome). Then he had nothing more for me.

The next place I went to was my grandfather’s house. Its cupboards were full of dusty books, all in English. This surprised me, because my grandfather, an Indian nationalist, disdained to speak English, except to correct another man’s.

He was a prominent local lawyer who dressed in khadi (as Gandhi had), spoke only Kannada, and scorned anything “Western”. Except for the one occasion when he had come out of his law office to chide me, in precise English (“You cannot ‘put a gate'”), I had never heard him speak the language.

My other grandfather, a surgeon in Madras, belonged to the opposite school of thought, once refusing to attend an official dinner in honour of the president of India, Zail Singh, on the grounds that the President’s English was inadequate.

Such debates were dead for my generation.

What my grandparents called the King’s English, I call Nehru‘s English.

The prime minister’s great speeches in English—the “tryst with destiny” oration delivered on India’s independence in 1947, or “the light has gone out of our lives,” to announce Gandhi’s death to the nation the next year—were taught in school, quoted on radio, and their fragments were found, like DNA strands, in all newspapers and magazines.

Nehru could only have made these speeches in English, because had he spoken in Hindi, we – in the south of India, where Hindi is not spoken, and is often abhorred – would not have understood him.

Every foundational document of India was known to me only in English: the Constitution, for instance, and even Gandhi’s autobiography, written in his native Gujarati, but taught in school in an English translation.

How could we function without our only common language? Doing away with English seemed to me tantamount to doing away with India: We were the language’s, before the language was ours.

***

Kannada is, in Indian terms, my “mother tongue” (which means, generally, that your father speaks it), has produced one of the world’s great literatures. But of its poets and writers, only one—the novelist U.R. Anantha Murthy (regarded by some as India’s greatest living novelist)—broke through to me, and only because one of his books had been adapted for the cinema.

I rarely saw any of my middle-class classmates read a Kannada book out of the classroom, where we were forced to learn poems and prose extracts in the lifeless way, reinforced with violence, typical of provincial Indian education in the 1980s.

All the glamour was in English, and when they were done with Alistair MacLean, they went on to Desmond Bagley or Jeffrey Archer or some other foreign writer.

Nor were there many Indian writers of serious English literature: I could find none except for R.K. Narayan, who seemed our only contender in the big ring.

The two Indians known to have written important works of non-fiction were both tainted by the popular feeling that they were “unpatriotic”—Nirad Chaudhuri and V.S. Naipaul—and I stayed away from both.

If there were few Indians to read, there was also, surprisingly, very little American literature around. Although most young men wanted to go to New York, the American language – a prejudice bequeathed by the British – was considered low-brow and full of vulgarity.

Patriotism was also involved. America had also supported Pakistan in the 1971 war that created Bangladesh, and our foreign policy was sympathetic to the Soviet Union on most matters.

The British had resigned all interest in India in 1947 and seemed to count for nothing in world politics now, so they were a neutral nation as far as I was concerned, and their writers soon provided the bulk of my reading.

Some came from my grandfather’s house – Darwin, Tennyson – and others I began to discover in Mangalore’s central municipal library, which most of my friends avoided because it was dirty, disorganised and bureaucratic.

But it was full of books, and you didn’t have to pay to borrow them, and I did so, liberally. Even the names of the novelists who defined the 1980s in England – Amis, Ishiguro, Byatt – had not arrived in Mangalore.

The 1980s were for me the decade of those exciting young British writers named G.K. Chesteron, G.B. Shaw, J.B. Priestley and Somerset Maugham.

It was not just that they were easily available; they spoke to a boy in a conservative Indian town as no living British writer would have done.

The official rhetoric of the Indian republic was solidly Victorian – progress, order and self-improvement. Science and mathematics were highly valued.

So Shaw – exciting and edgy, yet completely profanity-free – with his interest in parliamentary politics and evolution seemed to be jumping right into the debates of my time.

As a bonus, his brevity and wit made for a deliciously subversive contrast to the pomp of public language in Mangalore (“welcoming to this august meeting all esteemed members, families of esteemed members, notable visitors from other cities, families of notable visitors…”).

***

For every novel, I read a dozen magazines.

If we had little literature by Indians in English, we had a mountain of top-rate journalistic writing. The office of my grandfather (the one who would not speak the language) overflowed with English-language magazines: India Today, Sunday, Frontline and The Illustrated Weekly of India.

Then, as is the case now, India’s best journalists routinely used English with a directness and power that few of our novelists can match, and I owe much to the editors of these magazines – two of whom, Khushwant Singh and M.J. Akbar, are still prolific.

Around this time, I began pulling out of the municipal library books that seemed darker, more disturbing: Animal Farm, Doctor Faustus, Edgar Allan Poe. But when I was about 15, I found a book so dark and mysterious that it seemed to annul everything that I had read until then: William Golding‘s Lord of the Flies, which seems to me the first book of my maturity.

I began looking for others like it, even asking an uncle in America to send me The Lord of the Rings, in the hope that it would be similar. I was desperate to have this novel sent soon, because I knew my time as a reader of novels was almost at an end.

I would soon be studying to become a doctor (the only career, other than being an engineer, open to a middle-class boy in a small town in those years).

After that, I would be practicing medicine, like my father and uncles, and my novels would end up in a wooden case for my grandson to discover. Then, all at once, as these things tend to happen, the world came to end, my mother was dead, and I was taken out of Mangalore and India.

The world has flooded into Mangalore. India’s great economic boom, the arrival of the Internet and outsourcing, have broken the wall between provincial India and the world.

Indian-born novelists such as Salman Rushdie and Amitav Ghosh have exorcised Priestley and Tennyson for good from the bookshelves of even the remotest Indian town.

Yet I am glad for having been raised in the ancien regime.

Mangalore’s libraries, though cut off from the world, did supply me a set of very fine writers, whose books amplified the central message of Nehru’s English: that the world was a place full of light, and if spoken to in a rational language, would respond in one. This is, of course, not really true, and had I grown up in a big city I would have known it from the start.

***

Lead photograph: The Readers’ Delight library on Light House Hill road in Bavutagudde, one of the few surviving circulating libraries in Mangalore today (Karnataka Photo News)

Author photograph: courtesy Mark Pringle via Aravind Adiga

***

Also read: All you wanted to know about Aravind Adiga

A 21st century Adiga‘s call to Kannadigas

A true great but a Mysore University doctorate?

12 January 2011

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: The Times of India reports that the University of Mysore has decided to confer an honorary doctorate on Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.

This, I find, incredibly inexplicable.

Don’t get me wrong.

I repeat, don’t get me wrong: I consider Tendulkar to be a phenomenal achiever and, in particular, I have really come to respect how he has reinvented himself as a great defensive batsman.

In the history of world cricket, there aren’t too many instances of  someone with Sachin’s ability for stroke making turning himself into a great, perhaps even the best defensive batsman in the world. I like the way he still retains his childlike enthusiasm and love for the game after more than two decades of playing international cricket.

Naturally, he is deserving of our affection, respect and, indeed, all honours that come his way, including an honorary doctorate degree.

But by the University of Mysore?

Neither the City of Mysore nor the University of Mysore have any relationship with Sachin. None of his great accomplishments have come in this City. So I am not sure what Mysore University seeks to commemorate by honoring Sachin.

Moreover, Mysore University isn’t a national university. And being a State university,  its reach is limited to the districts of Mysore, Hassan, Mandya and Chamarajnagar. So if it recognizes achievers from this region or those from Karnataka, then that would be appropriate.

There is one more surprising factor. The present vice-chancellor Prof V.G.Talawar had famously declared that the game of cricket is a waste of time and he has no use for the sport. This he had said when he was invited to a Ranji Trophy match last year.

Now the same university honors Tendulkar for his cricketing accomplishments?

In another strange decision, the university has also conferred an honorary doctorate on Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1884-1940), seventy years after his death.

Why does the University wants to honor him now? I fail to understand the logic of this decision. Wodeyar, who founded the University in 1916 and was instrumental in the creation of modern Mysore, is a worthy recipient but this award has come about ninety years too late.

The usual cliche that’s strutted out on occasions like this is that by honouring Tendulkar and Wodeyar, Mysore University has honoured itself. But I think this is a cheap gimmick by the University that potentially simply demeans the award. As I said above, both the honourees are surely worthy of the honor that’s being bestowed on them but should they have been honoured now and by the Mysore University?

Who are they going to choose next year? Mahatma Gandhi and Ranjitsinhji?

For the record, I should admit the University syndicate has also chosen four other worthy recipients, and I am particularly delighted that Rajiv Taranath is being honoured.

Also read: Why Sachin Tendulkar is stronger than Obama

CHURUMURI POLL: Sachin Tendulkar—15,000?

A batsman with his feet firmly planted on Earth

CHURUMURI POLL: A Bharat Ratna for Sachin Tendulkar?

Why Ambedkar had to reject the Gandhian model

4 January 2011

A new edition of The Flaming Feet, a collection of essays on and around B.R. Ambedkar by the late Bangalore University professor D.R. Nagaraj—“the foremost non-Brahmin intellectual to emerge from India’s non-English-speaking world”—has just been published by Permanent Black.

Edited and introduced by his former student Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi, a Mysorean who is on the faculty of the department of humanities at San Francisco State University, the book has been hailed by the historian Ramachandra Guha as the most important work of non-fiction in 2010.

A Nagaraj nugget, quoted in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

Babasaheb [Ambedkar] had no option but to reject the Gandhian model. He had realized that this model had successfully transformed Harijans as objects in a ritual of self-purification, with the ritual being performed by those who had larger heroic notions of their individual selves.

“In the theatre of history, in a play with such a script, the untouchables would never become heroes in their own right, they were just mirrors for a hero to look at his own existentialist anger and despair, or maybe even glory.”

Read the full article: Contending visions

Also read: ‘Harijans had Ambedkar, Girijans have Naxals’

Is even B.R. Ambedkar safe in Mayawati‘s hands?

What the Ram-bhakts can learn from Sri Krishna

21 November 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Yesterday, Ajji was watching TV for quite some time.

Normally she doesn’t watch it for more than a few minutes unless it is Vidyabhushana singing Dasara padagalu or Basavanna’s vachanas.

Ajji! What happened? You are watching TV as if it is Garuda Purana by Bhadragiri Achyutha Dasaru.”

“This is more than Garuda Purana kano. It is ‘Bhoomi Svaaha Vyaakhyaana ‘ from Bookanakere Yediyurappa dasaru!.”

Ajji is now up to date on all scams having earlier followed CWG, Adarsh and G.G. Raja—which is Manmohan Singh ji & Sonia Gandhi ji if you think administration is a shared responsibility in UPA.

Alvo! I remember the time when Acharya Vinobha Bhave started the ‘Bhoodaan Movement’ in the sixties trying to get donations of land for the landless. Now there is ‘Bhoo Aaposhana’ movement in Karnataka!”

Sariyaagi helide, Ajji! The bhoo daana here are for the landless sons, daughters, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law and grandfather’s brother’s third cousin’s sister, of the chief minister!”

Aha! Yella daana shura karanaru! All the donations are for the members of family and their extended family!”

“Karnataka has become the laughing stock of the country, Ajji.”

“Do people get elected in our country only to make property for their kith and kin by mostly dubious means? Is that their only agenda?”

Howdajji.  ‘Site site everywhere, not an inch to breathe’ (with due apologies to S.T. Coleridge)’ aagide.”

Yeno site-u site-u antha padya shuru maad-de? Adu sari, how can they re-notify a de-notified site so easily?”

“Simple, Ajji. By extending the line in letter ‘D’ further down and adding a small slanting inverted stroke ‘ \’  below D to make it ‘R’!”

Yentha master-stroke kano, Ramu!”

“All our ministers are masters of master strokes, Ajji!”

“Isn’t it Gandhiji who said, ‘we have enough for our need, not for our greed?’  In just a few months after becoming ministers, they start a fictitious company in the name of a son or daughter and get a site sanctioned. In a few days or months, they sell it off at exorbitant prices to make obscene profit. They are neither educated nor qualified to start an industry. Still, how do they get the land, loan etc sanctioned in a jiffy? And they get loans sanctioned on fictitious addresses? How does the CM sanction lands for his sons so audaciously throwing rules to the gutter?”

“This is the speciality of Karnataka politics. Whether it is present or past, single or coalition or 20×20 government, they all have been mainly cornering sites throughout.”

Nachikkgedu! All of them visit swamijis’ mutts at the drop of a vibhuthi or kumkumada bharani. I feel even Duryodhana was better as he refused to give 5 grama, or 5 kugrama or even 5 square inch of space to the Pandavas. At least there was no nepotism then. We have to recollect the story of the great king, what’s his name, Bali Chalravarthy who, like Karna, was the epitome of self-sacrifice.”

“Bali Chakravarthy?”

Howdu Kano! When Krishna requested for space for just three steps, the eternal daani, Bali, readily agreed. The first step took the entire Aaksasha (sky), second step all of Bhoomi (earth), and when Krishna asked where he should keep his third step, Bali asked him to keep it on his head! That was the pinnacle of human sacrifice; just the anti-thesis of the Karnataka chief minister or his ministers!’

Nija, Ajji.”

Nodu, I had almost forgotten the name of Bali. These days, haaLu maravu—and confusion in spelling kano. To use whether or weather when we talk of climate; or to use ‘T’ or ‘C’ when you want to spell ‘chief’.”

File photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Everyone has his own Gandhi to thank for

9 November 2010

Barack Obama‘s three-day visit sent the Indian media into a paroxysm of irrational exuberance. Pity the President of the United States was already in the air when some acid pens got working.

Cartoon: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

Graphic: courtesy The Telegraph, Calcutta

What O-ji can learn from K-ji, C-ji and Rahul G

6 November 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Come Deepavali, most youngsters wait for the usual goodies: a new set of clothes, a box full of pataakis, and sweets, not necessarily in that order. But the essence is the same; everybody eagerly waits for presents in some form or the other.

This is also true to some extent when you have a relative coming from some other town to stay with you. As the aunt unpacks her suitcase after a hot cup of coffee, eager and expectant eyes hover around each and every move of hers as to when she will take out a packet of Bombay halwa or Dharwad peda.

So is the case with countries too.

When you have a visitor, who is also the most powerful person in the world, coming to visit your place, naturally there is some expectation about what he is going to unpack after he lands. So, when Barack Obama slips into Punjabi kurta and Michelle tucks into a saree, let’s see what goodies will pop on his teleprompter.

***

WHAT INDIA EXPECTS FROM OBAMA

1. To stay clearly away from making any references to the ‘K’ word, not ‘Kama Sutra’ but Kashmir.

2. To make repeated references to terrorism, not in smooth general terms such as Al Qaeda etc, but in specific terms such as 26 /11, LeT , Jaish e Mohammed, etc, and handing over perpetrators of Mumbai massacre.

3. To get permanent membership to India on the United Nations security council.

4. Not to make it difficult to Indian companies to get visa for their employees.

5. To recognize and praise Rahul Gandhi as the future leader of India and not keep on praising Manmohan Singh as an extraordinary leader of our times.

6. To specifically reduce giving aid and arms to Pakistan which, all three contries know very well, will be used against India.

WHAT PAKISTAN EXPECTS FROM OBAMA

Although our honoured guest is not visiting Pakistan, as a rich guest he can still give gifts to our neighbour in so many ways and they both know that.

1. Raise Kashmir issue and nudge India to solve the same quickly. Or else the Af-Pak policy is doomed.

2. Quoting interlocutor Dileep Padgaonkar and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, they will want to be involved in dialogue with India.

3. Tell India to reduce their army presence in Kashmir valley and stop killing innocent civilians.

4. Tell India to solve the pending river water issues.

5. Tell India not to harass Pakistan cricketers implicated in match-fixing scandals through Sharad Pawar’s ICC.

6. Tell India and in particular home minister P. Chidambaram not to send so many dossiers every second day on 26 /11 as it has become difficult to find storage space for the same.

WHAT OBAMA WILL FINALLY DO

1. Praise India as one of the most important emerging nations in the world and since the time was not ‘ripe’ right now, he will ask India to continue its present great role and wait till time becomes ‘ripe’ .This is  for India’s permanent seat o the UN security council.

2. Will make a hair-rising, goose pimple-generating speech in Parliament quoting Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. The 500+ MPs and their aunts will shake his right arm for an hour and almost yank it off. Hairs that dramatically rose during his speech will come back to the original position after sometime.

3. Will ask India to take over the leadership of Asia along with China; will praise India’s role in fighting terrorism. Same evening, the State department will praise Pakistan as ‘its strongest ally’ in its fight against global terrorism and announce another $3 billion in aid to a “valued partner”.

4. Will dance with school children of Mehouli and urge children from Mehouli and Minnesota to carry the torch of freedom to all corners of globe. Yes, they can.

5. Will call upon Bangalore software companies to share their knowledge with their counterparts in US by keeping their staff in Bangalore itself and not send them to US.

6. Will sing songs with adivasis in Connaught circus who have been rounded up outside Delhi and invite them to Alabama, US.

7. Will invite Suresh Kalmadi and Ashok Chavan, the emerging stars of the ruling party, for a White House luncheon and share their experiences for which they achieved their greatness.

In his eagerness to please the host, horror of horrors, he will forget to praise the emerging future leader which will create some kind of ‘cold war’ climate with the hosts.

Having realized this, he will send a message to the young leader before touchdown at Jakarta airport asking him to visit US as his personal guest and share his experiences of traveling in unreserved trains in India with full security around him.

Cartoon: courtesy Baloo‘s cartoon blog

Mahatma’s network follows whereever he goes?

2 October 2010

Who has seen Gandhi in a t-shirt, cargo pants and sandals and with a cell phone and a pug on a leash? An artist has.

At an exhibition at the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore on Saturday, an artist’s interpretation of the Mahatma in modern times, attracts the attention of a young follower on his 141th birthday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: I am just a (luxury) pen in the left-arm of Dilip Doshi

External reading: Why has India forgotten Lal Bahadur Shastri?


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