Archive for March, 2011

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.

15 lessons Mahendra Singh can give Manmohan

30 March 2011

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Manmohan Singh are leaders in their chosen areas of work. While one is just a captain of the cricket team and the other is the prime minister, their styles of stewardship impact the people of the entire country.

Yet, one could not be more different from the other.

As MMS flies to Mohali to watch MSD in the semi-finals of the cricket World Cup, here are 15 traits which help us to study and compare their styles of leadership, their omissions and commissions, and how they are generally perceived by  the people:


1. Mahendra Singh Dhoni doesn’t have report to the BCCI on every single move he makes although he is appointed by it. Manmohan Singh cannot move a single sheet of paper without an OK from the high command which appointed him.

2. Dhoni has built a team which listens to him most of the times; Manmohan’s team rarely listens to him or to each other.

3. Dhoni remains calm and soaks in all the pressure even when leading Chennai Super Kings. Manmohan too remains calm, but that is because he transfers all the pressure on to his colleagues when Chennai’s Super King is in the picture.

4. If Dhoni makes a single mistake (like say handing the ball to Ashish Nehra for the final over), the whole country turns against him. If Manmohan makes blunder after blunder (CWG, 2G, S-band), the people are not bothered.

5. Dhoni graciously owns up when he slips up, he doesn’t call it an “error of judgment” or attribute it to some unknown ‘compulsions’. On the other hand, Manmohan….

6.  In times of crisis, Dhoni leads from the front to overcome the situation. Manmohan hides or deflects it to his colleagues, unless the crisis lands directly at his doorstep, a la S-band.

7. In case of Dhoni, the buck stops with him. In case of Manmohan, whose “personality integrity is beyond question”, the buck travels upwards, downwards and sidweards to one or more of his colleagues in the government or party.

8.  Nobody is looking over Dhoni’s shoulders to occupy his position, at least not publicly. In case of Manmohan, from day one he is rumoured to be merely warming the chair for someone else.

9. Dhoni remains calm and unruffled be it in victory or defeat, the hallmark of a true leader. In the case of Manmohan, no one ever gets to see his emotions.

10. Dhoni doesn’t make vicious comments on the opposition in case of adversity; Manmohan likes to needle the opposition, especially Lalchand Kishinchand Advani.

11. Dhoni makes decisions all by himself after taking inputs from all. It is evident from Wikileaks that the United States is helping Manmohan make msot of our key decisions.

12. Dhoni doesn’t have an intellectual background and has never had to buy up the opposition to keep his position. Despite his “personal integrity being beyond question”, Manmohan, well…

13. Rarely has the BCCI publicly interfered with Dhoni’s work and told him how to run the Indian team. Not a day passes without the Supreme Court telling the government what to do.

14. Dhoni’s action brings cheer to millions every day; Mammohan’s inaction brings sense of dismay and betrayal in millions.

15. Dhoni is yet to visit Parliament in the company of Shahid Afridi to see how Manmohan and his men battle it out in Parliament; Manmohan is visiting Mohali to see how Dhoni and his team fare.

Remember the helmets when it rains (or shines)

28 March 2011

As the date for the rollout of Namma Metro nears, workers fix the roof at the Byappanahalli station, in Bangalore on Monday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News


The Namma Metro photo portfolio

At Anil Kumble circle, a sharp googly to KSCA

In the darkness of night, a ray of light at 19:12:30 hours

The biggest day in the history of Bangalore?

Do not try this at home (if you have a few bogies)

From the BEML end, right arm over the wicket

The giant violin-box hanging above ‘Parades’

It’s still not here, but it’s already kind of here

Yes, it’s for real, and it’s purple and off-white

4 cars, 3 SUVs, 8 bikes, and 16 autorickshaws

Oh God, what have they done to my M.G. Road

Saturdays, girlfriends, popcorn and other memories

Every picture tells a tale. Babu‘s can fill a tome.

Not a picture that will make it to Lonely Planet

Amar, Akbar, Antony. Or Ram, Robert, Rahim

Only a low-angle shot can convey its great girth

Lots of work overground for an underground rail

The unsung heroes in the dreams of Bangaloreans

CHURUMURI POLL: Semifinal bigger than final?

28 March 2011

It is just the semi-finals of the cricket World Cup, but India’s response to its last-four meeting with Pakistan at Mohali on March 30 shows a supposed superpower’s silly Pakistan Obsession. Newspapers and news channels report every drip of news about the teams, about the venue, about the fans and about the match as if the two countries are meeting for war—minus the shooting.

There is the artificial injection of diplomacy into the proceedings with an otherwise soporific prime minister Manmohan Singh suddenly waking up to invite his Pakistani counterpart to come witness the “clash”. They are supposed to watch the match together, but we are dutifully informed that there will be an informal meeting followed by a formal one, with diplomats meeting on the side.

The response from the other side is no less frenzied. There is a wild clamour for visas as if apocalypse is the day after. Long festering issues, like the release of prisoners, are suddenly fasttracked with the kind of mindlessness that escapes both countries in peacetime.

All this means just one thing: that when India and Pakistan meet on a cricket field, there is more to the batting, bowling and fielding than meets the eye. Pumped-up patriotism meets carefully marinated prejudice. Suddenly, the eleven men in blue are at once ambassadors of and warriors for peace, lugging not just their cricket coffins, but also their nation’s ambitions, aspirations and animosities.

The simple word on the street in both countries is: it is OK if we lose the finals but we must win the semi-finals.

Obviously, there is a background to such primal emotions: the memories of Partition, the wounds of wars over Kashmir, Bangladesh and Kargil, and the attack on Bombay. Still, there are questions to be asked. Like, is such maddening frenzy such a good thing, either for cricket or for diplomacy? Like, can 100 overs of artifically manufactured excitement paper over 64 years of organically engineered hatred?

Like, cross-border terrorism notwithstanding, can India really put all its eggs in the Pakistan basket? Like, should we expect 11 young (and ageing young) men—whose basic skills lie in hurling, hitting or halting five-and-a-half ounces of leather and cork—to do what politicians, bureaucrats, armymen, businessmen and diplomats can’t do, won’t do or are not allowed to do, which is act maturely and strive towards peace and prosperity on the subcontinent?

Like, is all this pressure such a good thing for either Dhoni or Afridi, and their boys?

CHURUMURI POLL: Who will win World Cup?

21 March 2011

Now that the wheat has been separated from the chaff, and the men from the boys, and the boys from the bachchas, here’s a simple question: who do you think will win the 2011 cricket World Cup?

Is India’s flawless march to the quarterfinals an indicator of the shape of things to come? Could Pakistan spring the biggest surprise of all? Is Sri Lanka’s passion going to ensure that a World Cup in the subcontinent stays in the subcontinent?

Or, is it going to be “This time for Africa?” to prove that Shakira‘s hips don’t lie? Or will it be Australia all over again?

Kamalapura 3. Hampi 4. Vijaya Vittala Temple 9.

17 March 2011

A 14th century empire as as seen by 21st century backpackers, Varun Shashi Rao and Ranjan Bhowmick, in a new television commercial for Karnataka Tourism.

External reading: How the commercial was made

Also read: How ‘Papa’ Wakefield brought Darwin to Kabini

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan, still ‘Mr Clean’?

17 March 2011

Manmohan Singh‘s unique selling proposition (USP), especially with the urban middle-class, has been his squeaky clean image in the “cesspool of Indian politics”. No scam or scandal or slipup under his watch begins without a mandatory mantra of the “prime minister’s personal integrity being beyond question”.

The artfully constructed scaffolding came unstuck last year with the 2G spectrum allocation and Commonwealth Games (CWG) scams although Congress’ media miesters rushed to certify that the PM had nothing to do with the scandals. Even that weak defence fell with the S-band issue and the nomination of the chief vigilance commissioner.

Now, in a further blow, the latest tranche of cables sent by American diplomats based in India, published by The Hindu, shows the huge pile of muck that lies rotting outside 7, Race Course Road.

“Five days before the Manmohan Singh government faced a crucial vote of confidence on the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal in 2008, a political aide to Congress leader Satish Sharma showed a US embassy employee “two chests containing cash” he said was part of a bigger fund of Rs 50 crore to Rs 60 crore that the party had assembled to purchase the support of MPs. The aide also claimed the four MPs belonging to Ajit Singh‘s Rashtriya Lok Dal had already been paid Rs. 10 crore each to ensure they voted the right way on the floor of the Lok Sabha.”

The cable only confirms what had been public knowledge with the widely televised “cash for votes” scandal.

But read together with the JMM scandal of the early 1990s, when his mentor P.V. Narasimha Rao, bought the votes of MPs of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in a similar deal, it raises a few uncomfortable questions about Manmohan Singh’s “personal integrity”.

Is personal integrity just about physically receiving money, or does it extend to other parameters? Is silence an indication of collusion? Are the Congress and its allies (like NCP and DMK) using the PM’s image to make merry? Or is Manmohan Singh a master of the realpolitik, a pragmatic politician who knows how to balance various countervailing forces while doing his job as best as he can, inshallah?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan Singh—still Mr Clean—I?

External reading: Madhu Kishwar on Manmohan Singh

‘Cash for votes is a way of political life in South’

16 March 2011

Cable sent by Frederick J. Kaplan, acting principal officer of the US consulate-general in Madras, to the state department in Washington D.C., outed by The Hindu through Wikileaks.

“Bribes from political parties to voters, in the form of cash, goods, or services, are a regular feature of elections in South India. Poor voters expect bribes from political candidates, and candidates find various ways to satisfy voter expectations. From paying to dig a community well to slipping cash into an envelope delivered inside the morning newspaper, politicians and their operatives admitted to violating election rules to influence voters. The money to pay the bribes comes from the proceeds of fund-raising, which often crosses into political corruption. Although the precise impact of bribery on voter behavior is hard to measure, it no doubt swings at least some elections, especially the close races.”

Kaplan sent the cable after meeting Union home minister P. Chidambaram’s son, Karti Chidambaram, of the Congress, M. Patturajan, confidant of Union minister for chemicals and fertilizers M.K. Alagiri and former mayor of Madurai, and member of Parliament Assaduddin Owaisi of the Majlis-e-Ittenhadul Muslimeen.

Read the full story: ‘Cash for votes a way of political life in South India

Also read: How The Hindu got hold of the Wikileaks’ India cables

CHURUMURI POLL: Is South India in a big mess?

CHURUMURI POLL: End of Indian nuclear dreams?

14 March 2011

The fears of a nuclear meltdown in Japan, following the tsunami that snuffed out thousands of lives at work, at play and at home on Friday, have revived all the vestigeal fears about the long-term safety of nuclear energy. If this could happen in as technologically savvy and as punctilious a country as Japan, what about us, is the question winging around the world.

As blast after blast at the Fukushima reactor spreads the scare of long term radiation, this is a key inflection point for the Manmohan Singh regime, whose biggest achievement in the first term of the UPA was the signing of the civilian nuclear deal, which paved the way for nuclear exporters to smell business opportunities in a power-deficient country.

As it is, the opposition to the Jaitapur nuclear power plant (the first reactors to be built after the n-deal, by Areva of France) has been building up over the damage to the pristine Konkan belt in Maharashtra. The images coming out of Japan, on top of memories of Cehrnobyl, are scarcely likely to sway public opinion in favour of this “cheap, safe, efficient” power source.

Questions: Could what is happening in Japan spell finis to India’s nascent civilian nuclear power dreams as envisioned by the nuclear deal? Will Indian cities and villages accept nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities on their soil given the abysmal infrastructure and compliance with safety standards? Or, will this too pass?

Is India the worst behaved team of World Cup?

13 March 2011

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: India’s loss to South Africa in Nagpur on Saturday didn’t bug me one bit.

The hosts’ implosion after a great start, and the Proteas’ last-over assault after it seemed a win was in the bag, was reaffirmation of all the usual clichés. That cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties. That it isn’t over till the last ball is bowled. Etc.

But if there was something that really, really bugged me on Saturday night, and still does, it was the manner in which the Indian team went about defending the target of 296.

And by manner, I don’t mean the way they bowled, caught or fielded.

I mean the way they behaved.

At the end of the match, I was wondering: are the Indians the worst behaved team in the tournament?

Don’t mistake me: several key players like Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, not to mention captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, are admirable ambassadors of the great game, impeccably gracious in their on-field and off-field behaviour, despite their sky-high achievements.

But the behaviour of the rest of the twerps leaves much to be desired.

As it is, their body language is no different from that of cricket’s tri-colour smeared neo-literates who watch the game on giant screens at the stadiums.

In the obnoxious way they carry themselves—the testosterone-rich swagger, the arrogant chewing of gum—you would think that by some divine right, India is destined to win always, no matter what, and the other team is only there to help them do that.

But if there is anything worse than their body language, it surely must be their awful bawdy language?

Take Saturday’s match, for example.

Opener Hashim Amla walks—walks, mind you—after he edges a sharply rising delivering from Harbhajan Singh into the gloves of Dhoni. But what do we get from the bowler? An urgent intimation of what he would do the mother and sister of the departed batsman.

MC-BC, if you don’t get it.

Take another example: After reverse-sweeping ferociously for four, A.B. de Villiers ferociously sweeps down the throat of Virat Kohli at deep square leg. But what do we get from the fielder? An urgent communication on what he would do to the mother and sister of the departed batsman.

MC-BC, if you still don’t get it.

Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Sreesanth, you name it, the language of Indian players is, to put it in a language they will understand, assholic.

Like a Ganga in spate with all its effluents, expletives seem to effortlessly trip off the tongues of some of the Indian cricketers, without provocation, and without any questions asked by the captain, coach, board or the TV companies bringing these images into our homes and lives.

Such behaviour passes off in many people’s books as “aggro” alias “killer instinct”.  Their logic is, this is a big tournament, there is a lot at stake for “India”. This is the way players let off steam and, anyway, don’t other sides do it too?

Some others will argue that it is easy to pounce on the Indians because we can read their lips and identify what they are saying. What if the Kenyans and Dutch are doing it in their own lingo?

Point taken, but Dhoni and his boys have an added linguistic responsibility.

Because their actions are closely watched by millions of young men and women on television, their lips are closely read by all who can.

On current evidence, they are giving a poor account of themselves.

On current evidence as gathered from TV, I would unhesitatingly call them the worst behaved team in the tournament.

In fact, on current evidence and at this rate, I would unhesitatingly recommend that they change their preferred song at the stadiums from “Chak De India” to “Fuck De India.”

Photograph: Harbhajan Singh celebrates with Virat Kohli after taking the wicket of AB de Villiers in Nagpur on Saturday (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

Hari Om. The ides of March, it’s here it’s here.

11 March 2011

Hindu panchanaga or Gregorian calendar, it is a rare for a single month of the almanac to go by without some crisis or scam striking the sad, hapless regime of B.S. Yediyurappa. And so, on the sixth day of the waxing of the moon—shukla paksha sashti—in the phalguna maasa,  the Karnataka chief minister brazenly faces more charges of nepotism, while his party wears the high moral topi on the national stage.

Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express

Also read: Is Karnataka India’s most corrupt State?

Hopefully, nothing has been lost in translation?

9 March 2011

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: There are ways and there are ways of convincing your critics, but as a pioneering entrepreneur, N.R. Narayana Murthy clearly believes in taking the road not taken.

Lampooned by the writer Baragur Ramachandrappa for being asked to open the world Kannada conference (Vishwa Kannada Sammelana) to be held in Belgaum this weekend despite his “anti-Kannada stance”, the Infosys chief mentor has given interviews today to underline his Kannada credentials.

But surprise, surprise—or maybe not—Murthy sits down with Asha Rai of The Times of India and Asha Krishnaswamy of Deccan Herald to make his point, not with any of the many Kannada newspapers or news channels operating out of Bangalore.

As if his Kannadiga-ness is only to be reiterated to English readers.

The ToI and DH interviews have been dutifully translated into the Kannada publications of the two English giants, Vijaya Karnataka and Praja Vani, respectively, but surely Infosys’ well-oiled PR machine could have done better by getting their admirable chief to also sit with a few Kannada journalists?

Link via P. Ramesh

Images: courtesy Praja Vani, Vijaya Karnataka

Also read: Should NRN open the world Kannada conference?

A one-fingered salute for our ossified philistines

8 March 2011

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: It is common knowledge that our politicians, as a tribe, are insulated from cultural refinement of any kind. Here is the latest instance.

A gurukula named after the late music legend, Gangubai Hanagal, was inaugurated in Dharwad on Saturday. Its aim: to provide the traditional type of teaching in classical music.

But under the aegis of the BJP government in Karnataka, the occasion turned out to be a political show, pure and simple. At an occasion where music, musicians and musicologists should have reigned supreme, it was the politicians and their chelas and chamchas who had their day to the exclusion of others.

Many bigwigs in the realm of music, who had been invited to the function found themselves totally ignored in the naked display of power put up by the BJP minions, with all the attention being showered on the chief minister, B.S. Yediyurappa, and his cronies in government and the party.

Among those who felt slighted as a consequence were such titans of music as Kishori Amonkar, Vidhyadhar Vyas and Pandit Mani Prasad, who had come from far and wide at the invitation of the organisers. But there were many local luminaries, too, who would have felt humiliated.

Not one of them got a chance to speak at the occasion.

As a matter of fact, Kishori Amonkar and Vidyadhar Vyas moved to get off-stage even when the CM was delivering the inaugural speech. They were miffed over the fact that not even one of the disciples of the late Gangubai had been allowed on the podium.

Amonkar was somehow persuaded to stay back.

But she immediately walked out after the formality of the common felicitation of the artistes, which took place later. The spectacle of the chief minister going through the same routine in a mindless manner, as has been his wont of late, was there for all to see.

At the time of the lighting of the lamp to mark the occasion, the so-called “people’s representatives” rushed to be around the chief minister to the exclusion of the musical giants. If the musicologists could get anywhere near the proceedings, it was mainly because of the interest taken by a BJP legislator.

After the felicitation of the artistes, the situation turned out to be more comical to say the least.

There was none to help Pandit Mani Prasad carry the mementos. Vidhyadhar Vyas was seen holding all the mementos on his lap for quite sometime.

Worse, none of the names of the musical bigwigs who had gathered found a mention in the welcome speech delivered by Jagadish Shettar, the minister for rural development and panchayat raj who happens to be the district minister in charge.

Incidentally, the Gangubai memorial itself is built on a similar slight.

It happened during the days of the first coalition government headed by Dharam Singh. At a function organsied by the Hubli-Dharwad municipal corporation (HDMC), the then Congress chief minister was more interested in catching the helicopter to reach Bangalore before it got dark.

After the formality of the felicitation, he straight away walked out along with his entourage to catch the chopper, leaving the aged doyenne speechless. Miffed as she was, Gangubai hit back by  arranging to return the memento, shawl and other paraphrenalia next day to the office of the mayor in a huff.

The BJP, then in the opposition, had condemned the incident and had vowed to make up for the lapse. Yet the incidents that marred the inauguration of the gurukula and the renovation of Gangubai’s ancestral home show that, for politicians, old habits die hard, regardless of their political colour.


Photograph: Chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa flashes the mandatory “V” sign from a bus he travelled in, after the inauguration of the Gangubai Hangal gurukula, in Hubli on Saturday (Karnataka Photo News)


Also read: ‘Men will be ustads and pandits. Bais will be bais’

CHURUMURI POLL: Gangubai Hanagal University?

How did Dharwad become ground zero of music?

Jewels before the train for Hubli chugged away

CHURUMURI POLL: Do B-schools have a problem?

8 March 2011

Now in its 10th year, India’s top B-school, the Indian School of Business, is facing a serious crisis of credibility. Founded by some of the “best minds from the corporate and academic worlds“, and working in conjunction with such top B-schools such as Kellogg and Wharton, key personnel of ISB have figured in two very big scams.

First, its dean M. Rammohan Rao had to quit his exalted post ignomiously in 2009 after the Satyam scam. Reason: he was a director (in his individual capacity) on the board of the company. Another high functionary of ISB, Anil Kumar, too, had to follow suit. (A Harvard worthie, G. Krishna Palepu, was similarly embroiled.)

Now, Rajat Gupta, one of the co-founders of ISB, has had to resign or is on the verge of resigning, after being slammed with charges of insider-trading by American authorities, for giving illegal tips about Goldman Sachs Group Inc, based on information available to him as board member, to a scamster. He is now an accused under-trial.

To be fair, the individual indiscretions of ISB’s faculty or founders should not tar-brush an entire institution, especially for one which has consistently figured in the Financial Times ranking of the top business schools in the world. But is there a larger problem with B-schools that ISB seems to showcase?

As it is, many private business schools have had a well-earned reputation of being money-minting machines, with poor faculty, poor placement, bogus claims, etc. On top of that, if a school such as ISB reveals holes in its faculty’s clothes, does it point to a deeper malaise, on the pitfalls of having too close an interface with industry?

Also read: Is Yale turning India into a dynastic democracy?

Graduates of Indian Universities need not apply

Do they teach this at Harvard Business School?

Only three out of four look forward to March 8

7 March 2011

On the eve of world women’s day, a mother gets a bottom-up view of the passing parade of life on Residency road in Bangalore on Monday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News


7 March 2011

Indian bloggers are rightfully indignant at the rules that are being sought to be notified (by the ministry of information technology) to the Information Technology (Amendment) Act of 2009.

As if the government of India has cracked all the problems confronting this vast and wonderful nation, the terms “blogs” and “blogger” have been defined. And the rules framed have all the hallmarks of control freaks who were behind censorship during Emergency in 1975 and the defamation bill in 1988.

There is an over-emphasis on the activities of blogs and bloggers; vast and vague reasons for blogs to be blocked or shut down; and above all, there is a specific rule on ‘due diligence on intermediaries’, which, in the context of the internet, can include readers who post comments.

Id est, you.

According to the website Kafila, the new rules, if notified, amount to little less than a Indian Bloggers’ Control Act.

The rules, which would really amount to shutting down the internet if it does not suit governments, institutions and individuals, reveal a near-complete disdain for such a thing as freedom of expression, and even less regard for those who appreciate it and aspire for it in the age of corporate media.

The Hindu has an editorial on the topic:

“The blocking of a blogging website, even if only for a short period, raises the disturbing question of curbs imposed on free speech in India through executive fiat. There is a clear pattern of Internet censorship that is inconsistent with constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression. It is also at odds with citizen aspirations in the age of new media.

“What is worrying is that the rules governing online publication are being tinkered with periodically to facilitate such filtering. The rules specifically mark bloggers for scrutiny, and require intermediaries such as service providers not to themselves host or publish any information. Evidently, this can be interpreted to cover blogs and other websites.

“What is worse, the rules propose to authorise the intermediaries to remove access to ‘infringing’ material if they themselves have actual knowledge or are asked to do so by a mandated authority. These are retrogressive provisions that weaken constitutional freedoms and the parent law.

“As it stands, the IT Act merely requires the intermediary to exercise due diligence and does not talk of not hosting or publishing information. Ideally, the only criterion online publications should have to meet is compliance with the general laws of the land.

“For instance, draft rule 3(2)(a) for intermediaries requires the user not to publish or display information that belongs to another person. Potentially, secret documents ferreted out by investigative journalists or whistleblowers in the public interest may be interpreted to belong to a third party — and blocked from the public domain.

“It is inconceivable that such a restriction could be applied to traditional media, which have a robust record of exposing corruption in high places. What all this makes clear is the need for wide public debate on any move to impose restrictions on online publishing.”

Image: courtesy Freedom of Speech

Read the full editorial: Blocking out bloggers

Read the Kafila coverage: India’s blogger control Act

Once upon a time, at the Maharaja’s study circle

3 March 2011

Most of India’s rajas and maharajas have a well-earned notoriety of loving and living lives of debauchery, hedonism and leisure, often in scant regard to the interests of their subjects. But some like the Maharaja of Mysore were also known for the higher pursuits of life.

The last king of Mysore, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar (1919-1974), was, for example, a renowned scholar in philosophy, a versatile music composer and a writer and humanist. And like many others in the Wodeyar clan before him, a great patron of the arts and culture.

In 1954, A.V. Narasimha Murthy, then a post-graduate student in Indology at the Maharaja’s College, had the opportunity of witnessing a sitting of the king’s “study circle”, a thinktank in which the Maharaja soaked in and imbibed from the accumulated wisdom of the intellectuals of the land.

The study circle comprised Prof K.A. Nilakanta Shstri, Prof. S. Ramachandra Rao and Patankar Chandrashekar Bhat.

Narasimha Murthy, now a retired head of the department of ancient history at the University of Mysore, recently recounted the unique experience in a piece he wrote for the 33rd anniversary issue of Star of Mysore, reprinted here courtesy of the newspaper.



The Maharaja was not only a great scholar but also liked the company of scholars and to listen to their words of wisdom and knowledge. He used to arranged study circles regularly in a serene place in the City.

The palace officials used to carry chairs, tables, fruit baskets to the selected place. The scholars used to be taken in the palace cars in advance and the maharaja used to arrive at the appointed time. Then followed the discussion on a particular topic for about an hour. This was the procedure of the study circle.

I had a desire to see this at least from a distance but I was just a student and that was impossible.

I had no courage to ask my teacher, Prof Nilakanta Shastri this. Prof Ramachandra Rao was very friendly and hence I asked him if he could help me. He did not have the courage to permit me.

Then I approached Patankar Chandrashekar Bhat who was close to our family. First he said, ‘Savari (Maharaja) will not accept it.’ But I insisted.

He thought of a plan and said, “You should act like my attendant, carry my books and be there at the correct time before I reach the place. You should stand at a distance without speaking a single word and behave like an attendant.”

I was asked to wear a black long coat but walk without chappals. I agreed. Chandrashekar Bhat intimated me the day when the study circle was to meet on the lawns of Lalitha Mahal Palace.

I hired a cycle, carried the books given by him, went to the place and stood in silence like an attendant, but with all attention.

A palace car brought the three scholars and an official of the palace welcomed them and showed them to their seats, which they occupied.

After five minutes arrived the Maharaja in a Rolls Royce. Everybody stood up and bowed to the Maharaja and the entire scenario became formal. Though I was standing at a distance, I had lent my ears to their conversation.

The Maharaja asked them to start.

Ramachandra Rao submitted: “We would like to discuss Yajnavalkya Smriti if His Highness would be pleased with this topic.” The Maharaja nodded his head in approval.

Prof Nilakanta Shastri began the discussion by explaining the date and time of Yajnavalkya in a historical perspective. Ramachandra Rao analysed the contents of the Yajnavalkya Smriti and Patankar gave the details of the religious and legal aspects of the work in Kannada.

The Maharaja was generously silent but was asking questions in between. After an hour, the session concluded. His Highness got up, folded his hands and took leave smiling. The three scholars bowed to the Maharaja and stood till the latter go into his car. They got into the Palace car and left the venue.

The attendants of the Palace packed the chairs, tables, etc and left. I collected the books I had carried and returned to my house on my cycle. The next day I went to Patankar’s house, returned the books and him profusely for the opportunity provided to me.

He praised me for my behaviour the previous evening and jocularly said, ‘You looked a perfect attendant.’ But he felt sorry that I had to adorn the role of an attendant as there was no other way.

Though a student, I was greatly impressed by this study circle and it has remained green in my memory.

Photograph: Jayachamaraja Wodeyar Bahadur, the first governor of the unifited State of Mysore, inaugurating the new theatre of Mylapore Fine Arts Club in 1959 (courtesy The Hindu).


Also read: Once upon a time, a 50’x50′ site for 50 rupees

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

What a fall for mighty Congressmen post-Nehru

2 March 2011

Ramachandra Guha in the Hindustan Times:

“In Jawaharlal Nehru’s time, the Congress had strong, capable, and focused CMs — among them S. Nijalingappa in Karnataka (then known as Mysore), K. Kamaraj in Tamil Nadu (then Madras), B.C. Roy in West Bengal, and Y.B. Chavan in Maharashtra. They successfully won elections and ran governments.

“Now, in states like Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh, there is no one, identifiable, Congress leader. Five or six senior men jostle for position, their precedence varying from month to month depending on the winks and nods of the high command. In other states the situation is even more dire.

“There is thus not a single Congress leader of substance in Bihar, UP, Tamil Nadu or West Bengal, not a single leader who can be relied upon even to safely and regularly win his or her own seat, still less to canvass successfully for other Congress candidates.”

Read the full article: It’s a chief concern

Quick! What do you think is wrong with this pic?

1 March 2011

The tenth edition of the cricket World Cup opened ten days ago in Dhaka, with the usual glitzy song-dance-laser junk that passes of as “local culture”. Captain after captain of the competing teams arrived in cycle-rickshaws for the benefit of the cameras, taking the “spectacle” around the world.

The logic of the hosts and the organisers of the tournament, the International Cricket Council (ICC),  obviously was to showcase a slice of Bangladesh that is a familiar cliche around the world. And doubtless millions of viewers made some “connect” with the sight on their TV screens and in their newspapers.

All except, it seems, K. Javeed Nayeem.

The Mysore-based physician, who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, wrote on February 18:

“When I saw a picture of Mahendra Singh Dhoni sitting with a young usher and riding a ‘man-powered’ rickshaw at the inaugural ceremony, I wondered what response it would draw from the world community that has been pressing over the years for the abolition of this form of demeaning transport, which is almost the trademark of life in Bangladesh and which still persists in many parts of our country too.”

World Community? Response?

Well, do a search on a search engine of your choice and you will notice, ten days later, that there has been little or no outcry over the cycle-rickshaws as a prop. Proof that the world has better things to do than worry about some poor cycle-rickshaw wallah earning a few bucks? Proof that cycle-rickshaws are, maybe, OK?

Or proof that there is a limit to such a thing as political correctness in the supposedly wired, connected, globalised world?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Does the World Cup excite you?

Water melons, threshers and the World Cup

Dancing tips for the Nawab of Najafgarh