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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Solitude of Emperors

Having read Davidar's first book, it was only natural to pick up his second book, “ The Solitude of Emperors”; to read. It is so different from his first book, yet there are similarities. If caste and racial issues were intertwined in  the earlier plot, communal violence dominates this plot.

The narrator of the story, young Vijay is a budding journalist who , due to sheer boredom of life in a small town in South India, breaks out his cocoon to take up a job with a magazine in Mumbai. Mr Sorabji's magazine, "The Secularist",  has a small but dedicated readership of people who share his vision of a secular India.

Mr Sorabji becomes a  father figure for Vijay and he just soaks up the ideas and vision expounded by his mentor. But for Vijay, it is all just abstarct ideas till the time communal violence breaks out in mumbai, following the demolition of Babri masjid. He gets caught up in the violence on the streets and is a mute witness to riots and killings in all the gory details. His magazine runs a major story on the riots and riot victims as part of the campaign for a secular India.

The second part of the book covers Vijay's experience at the Nilgiris where another disputed Shrine is under attack by the right wing activists. It is here that Sorabji's manuscript is introduced, from which the title of the book is derived.  The artcle is addressed to the young people of the country for instilling of secular values through a study of the lives of Asoka, the emperor of renunciation, Akbar, the emperor of faith and Gandhi, the emperor of truth.

There are two imposing , well defined characters to cover the two main divergent view points, viz, Mr Sorabji, the editor of 'The secularist' and Rajan, the entrepreneur-politician. While Mr Sorabji, believes in convergence of religions for the good of the mankind, Rajan convincingly argues that a strong Hindu rashtra alone can bring in peace and prosperity for all including the minorities.

The most lovable character in the novel, is the  vagabond called Noah, who has seen it  all, done it all , in his 'ripe' age of 36 and is now content to live in the local cemetry with his dope, flowers, a dog called' godless' and his great collection of contemporary european poetry. While all other characters move on predictable lines, it is this loose canon that adds life to the narration in the second part of the book.

The first part of the novel covering Vijay's escapades in mumbai is highlighted by a gripping narration with a meticulous eye for details. In the second part, the narration is more like a tourist guide book, with long interruptions by  sermons in history, ie Sorabji's manuscript on the 'emperors'. Yet there is enough momentum to keep the readers' interest in the ultimate fate of the shrine. Will it also go the Babri Masjid way and if so with what consequences ?

An immensely readable book, if only for the excellent characterization of Mr Sorabji and Noah.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Meal at Gurudwara, Mhow

It was not the first time I was going to a Gurudwara. During the days when we were co-located with a unit of the Sikh Regiment, I have attended many functions at Gurudwara, but more often than not it used to be just another 'Parade'.

Last week a retired army officer, invited us; insisted that I should bring my mother along; to a Gurudwara at Mhow for a keertan followed by lunch, to celebrate the wedding anniversaries of his son and daughter. We were a little surprised, since the gentlemen was from south of Vindhyas and so were his son-in-law and daughter in law.

A word about the places of worship in army; in most of the places including at College of Military Engineering (MCTE) , Mhow, portions of a military barrack are used as 'Mandir' Masjid, Gurudwara or Church. Very often it happens that when a Jat unit takes over a barrack from a Sikh unit, the Gurudwara is converted to a Mandir overnight. The flag is changed from yellow to red and the Guru Granth Sahib is replaced by  idols of Radha and Krishna. In the units having mixed troops , they have what we call an MMG (Mandir-Masjid-Gurudwara) functioning under the same roof.

Anyway, we did attend the function in full strength. The Gurudwara in the army area was clean, well maintained and very well organized. Most of the people attending were from 'The Signals Vihar' a colony of retired officers. One could sense a general atmosphere of peace and contentedness. After the Ardhas (Arati for Hindus) , which was attended by the pundit from the Mandir next door, among others, lunch was served outside the main hall. Everyone was seated on the floor on a long 'chatai' (a carpet) and food was served by volunteers . The meal was simple and wholesome. I was glad I could sit cross legged on the floor (though not as much at ease as I wished) and many of the guests were sitting on the edge of the verandah , with legs half strecthed, half folded, to ease the creaking joints . There was a distinct feeling of fraternity, though there people from all ranks, including a couple of Lieutinent generals.

I was reminded of the community meal , I used to have at Divine Life Society at Hrishikesh , on my way to Harsil where I was posted for two years. A simple meal of daal, rice, roti and vegetables tastes so delicious when partaken, in a warm and friendly atmosphere.

(Photos do not pertain to Mhow, but  random picks from the net)

Tail piece : An anecdote going round in army circles: A young sardar in a unit asked his ustad, "yeh Christmas kya hota hai ? chhuti kyon manate hain ?" and his Ustad, assuming a posture of prayer with bowed head and folded hands, explained "yeh isaayiyon ka Guru purab hota hai" (This day is the Guru purab of Christians)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book Review : House of Blue mangoes

What drew me to the book was that it was set in rural Tamilnadu and that the author was my class-fellow at school. Firstly, about the author, I shall restrict myself to some trivia, which is not in the public domain, since a simple googling of the name can give you more inputs than you can read.

Roll No 605, Bharathi feeder house in 1968, Chera house and finally passed out from Valluvar house in 1975.  In all likelihood, his writing career started with "Nonsense Rhymes" , published in the school magazine, Amarsainik 1968, If my memory serves me right, it went something like this;

there was Mr cork,
who killed a huge hawk,
with a piece of chalk,

In School, David was a voracious reader and he won prizes for recitation, essay writing and short story writing. 

Coming to the book, the story covers three generations of the Dorai family, set in rural Tamilnadu, in the period from 1899 to 1946. These were very turbulent and eventful years that saw more churning, in the political, economical and social life in India , as compared to any period over 2000 years of history.

The main characters are Solomon Dorai, Daniel Dorai and Kannan Dorai, who respond to the challenges of their own generations in the 'Dorai' spirit. If the first generation was mired in caste wars, the second was affected by nationalist movement. The third, had to tackle the social churning and the uneasy equations between, Indians, white-men and the Anglo-Indians. There is a portrayal of two strong women , Charity and Lily, who free the Dorai men to pursue their eccentric ways and to nurture their inflated egos, while they themselves toil to keep the family together as much as possible.

Narration is simple and easily flowing, particular when Tamil words are easily interposed, with no annotation, brackets or italics.

.....spinster chithis and decrepit thathas were singing along....

The rural beliefs and way of thinking is conveyed through the characters, without any commentary or moderation.

.........Every villager knew that a man didn't find soil that suited his nature would not prosper. Brahmins thrived on sweet soil, like that found in the delta at the mouth of the river, which is why Subramania Sastrigal and his ambitious young son would never thrive on the astringent soil of Chevathar. They might squeak and flail away at the Dorais but one roar from Solomon would send them scurrying for cover. But surely the kunam of the Vedhars matched the soil of the Chevathar, which was neither sweet nor sour, salty or pungent but fairly bitter-the soil of people of the earth, farmers and artisans...............

Right through the book, the blue mangoes are loved, missed, venerated, glorified; well, the blue mango is more than a fruit; it represents love for one's native place, மண் வாசனை , family, clan honour, clan spirit and what not.

There is detailed descriptions of well jumping in rural tamilnadu, shikar and life in a tea estate. There is a vivid description of tadpole catching by a little boy, which took me back to our own tadpole catching sprees in the puddles among the rocks between Chera house and the water tank. David was very sharp and I could never catch a single one.

There are many historical events interpolated in the story, and at time it is difficult to separate facts from fiction. 1899 caste riot at Sivakasi, 'upper-cloth' wars of Travancore, assassination of Ashe Dorai (the collector of Thirunelvali) are the major events described in the novel. DD mentions in the Author's note , that he had to invent three new castes so that he did not add to the caste controversies, in Tamilnadu, Kerala and the country at large. The author also says that these castes share some similarities with some of the non-brahmin casstes in the south. I must say , there is more than just some similarities.  I think, in the land of 'Satyakam' , we should not be shy of speaking a bitter truth.  David's 'Andavar' is so much like nadars and one of the fictitious castes ,' vedhar' sounds so much like 'dhevar'  

The acknowledgement section is exhaustive, which goes to show the kind of background research which had gone into writing of the book.

It is definitely a readable book,

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Where do Ideas Come From ?

Where do Ideas come from ?....

"Little by little, I think we build a conscious understanding of what we're born already knowing: what the highest inner us wants to believe, it's true. Our conscious mind, though, isn't happy till it can explain in words. "Before I knew it, in just a few decades, I had a system of thinking that gives me answers when I ask."........

"What was the question?" I said. "Oh. Where do I get my crazy ideas?
Answer: sleep-fairy, walk-fairy, shower-fairy. Book-fairy.

------------Richard Bach in "A Bridge Across Forever

Where did Mahatma Gandhi get his unique ideas like 'Sathyagraha and civil disobedience ' from ?

I have been doing some study on Gandhi literature. The complete works of Gandhi runs in to a whopping 90 volumes. He was not a prolific writer of books / novels, but he wrote regularly for Navjeevan, Young India and Harijan. But what is amazing is that he was unusually conscientious about replying to all his correspondents from South Africa, England, India and elsewhere,writing a many as 70-100 letters per day for over four decades.

In a speech , later published in Navjeevan, he explains , where he got his ideas from. Gandhiji never accepted anyone as his religious guru. Three men have had great influence on Gandhiji's thinking. Among them he places poet Rajchandra first, followed by Count Leo Tolstoy and John Ruskin.

How many of us have heard of Poet Raj Chandra or John Ruskin ? At least I have not.

Now I am a little more knowledgeable about these gentlemen.

Raj Chandra was primarily a diamond and pearl merchant, who like a true karma-yogi, sort of renounced the worldly attachments even while actively doing business.

To Quote Gandhiji .....

"During the two years I remained in close contact with him, I felt in him every moment the spirit of 'vairagya'. One rare feature of his writings is that he always set down what he had felt in his own experience. there is in them sense of unreality......He had always a book on some religious subject by his side and a note book with blank pages. The latter, he used for noting down any thought which occurred to him....

...Whatever he was doing at the moment, whether eating or resting or lying in bed, he was invariably disinterested towards worldly things....

....I watched his daily life respectfully, and at close quarters. he accepted whatever was served at meals. His dress was simple, a dhoti and a shirt... It was the same to him whether he squatted on the ground or had a chair to sit on.

While the Poet, Rajchandra or Raichand Bhai as he was better known, influenced Gandhiji by his close association , John Ruskin and Toltoy influenced him through their writings.

To Quote from John Ruskin..,

....It is a sheer error to suppose, as is generally done, that some eduction however little or however faulty is better than no education at all. We should strive for real education alone.

.............Every human being requires three aspects of knowledge and three virtues. Anyone who fails to cultivate them does not know the secret of life. These six things should form the basis of education. Every child, whether boy or girl, should learn the properties of pure air, clean water and clean earth, and should also learn how to keep air, water and earth pure and clean and know their benefits. 'Gratitude', 'Hope' and 'charity' are the three desirable virtues........

Well, at some point Gandhiji said that all we have to do is unlearn whatever we learnt in the past 50 years ( around 1850-1900).

Some ideas from Leo Tolstoy

1. In this world, men should not accumulate wealth.
2. No matter how much evil a person does to us, we should always do good to him. Such is the commandant of God,and also his law.
3. No one should take part in fighting.
4. It is sinful to wield political power, as it leads to many of the evils in the world.
5. Man is born to do his duty to his creator; he should therefore pay more attention to his duties than to his rights .
6. Agriculture is the true occupation of man. It is therefore contrary to divine law to establish large cities, to employ hundreds of thousands of minding machines in factories so that a few can wallow in riches by exploiting the helplessness and poverty of the many.

All these ideas are reflected in Gandhiji's thoughts and in his experiments with Truth that he conducted, in his ashrams and on the larger canvas he worked on, that is "India'.

Friday, October 21, 2011

the art of story telling

For the past few months I have been downloading old movies, old songs ; mostly 70s and 80s but also some from 60s, Tamil, English and Hindi. They are so different from the current fare you get.

But one thing that has hardly changed  over the past 50 years, if not for centuries, is the art of story telling, the 'katha kalatchebam'  way. The other day , looking for some carnatic music, I stumbled on 'nandanaar caritiram' by Sowmya on You tube. The clips were of 'Margazhi Mahotsavam, 2009' . When you download from you tube it takes a while to collect all the parts, and put it together for viewing leisurely on the TV screen.

The experience took me right back to my childhood, to a large old fashioned, house, in North Madras , Though, we stayed in a small portion , as kids we had all the open spaces for ourselves, and spent most of our time outdoors. The prominent part of the premises was a large hall, with a high ceiling, called "The Samajam ". While the main hall was cemented, a vast area extending up to the main gate, was covered with nice beach-sand where people could sit and listen to a 'kathai' or katcheri' .

This Samajam was the scene of many a of social activity, mainly, kathai, katcheri and kalyanam. As I remember katha kalatchebam was organized twice or thrice in a month and occasionally we had a katcheri , Villupattu or Vikatakatchey (a kind of stand-up comedy, done sitting down ;) ) and radha kalyanam was an annual event. The land lord I belive had bought the property in the beginning of the century. I admire his foresight. The 'samajam' , besides hosting Radha Kalyanam' 'Sita kalyanam ' and 'Ramar Pattabhishekam' , saw the 'kalyanams' of all four daughters of his and I don't know how many grand daughters.

We also had a 'Veda Class' , as we called it . Here's a photo of our Veda Class in the Samajam , circa 1967.

Coming back to Nandanar caritiram, nothing really has changed from the microphone less days to web camera times. The style of narration, style of singing, accompanying instruments, nothing at all seems to have changed since the first performance of the 'musical play' , in the times of Gopalkrishna Bharathi, the composer. Only the medium has changed. Seeing young people in Sowmya's team, one feels that there will always be a small group dedicated to this unique art of story telling.  Of course, there are changes in the external appearance. There is no one with a kudumi, and one of the singers even sports a nice french beard. Some of them may look like corporate executives, but when they sing, they are just the 'bhagavathars' of yesteryears. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

An Ongoing Affair with Tux

What is common among  Tux,  Penguins, Lizards, Fawns, Gibbons, Herons and Lynx ? They all represent some version  /distro of Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular.

The affair started sometime in circa 2000, when I first read about linux , probably in PCQuest. It was all very romantic for a computer buff; a student finds a commercial software too costly for him and he decides to write his own. He shoots of a mail into cyberspace asking for assistance and is overwhelmed by the number of netizens taken in by the idea. The day when another mail was sent around the world announcing the birth of a workable kernel is observed as Linux's B'day. Geeks of the world unite, and you have nothing to lose but the chain imposed by propriety software. Till today, software developers, graphics designers and technical writers  from all over the world are finding  some self- fulfilment in working for the Open Source Software . Software should be free as in  'Mukt' if not free as in  'Muft'.

I was then posted at Mhow. The idea so caught my fancy that, I had to try it out, at the earliest. As a first step, I visted the kajuri bazaar, the popular market for new and second hand books at Indore. It was not easy to find a book on Linux. After an hour or so of rummaging through some old stock, I found a book on installing and configuring Linux. The  book  came with two free CDs of Slackware Linux !

The book started with a Disclaimer in bold letters. The developers of the software promised full refund of any amount paid for purchase of the product but would not be responsible for any harm done to your hardware by following their instructions! Mind you those were the times a computer costed my four month's pay, and a hard disk costed at least a month's pay.So,  the first two days were spent in reading through 200 odd pages of technical writing. Then more time was spent in understanding the hardware, since if you don't know what was the model and make of the components in your system, you can't expect a dumb CD to figure it out.

The most scary thing was partitioning the hard disk. But armed with a Jonathan Saches book on Dos 2.0, (Idiot series and Dummy series books wouldn't touch such issues with a barge pole) I soon became an expert on manual partitioning  of a hard disk. I could say, "just do a fdisk, specify the starting cylinder and sector and ending cylinder and sector , make it bootable and save it !"

Since then every comp at my home or ofice has had atleast one dedicated partition for linux and most often a PC had three partitions for the tux, for different flavours of Linux, you see.

It was a great day when I had written the root image on one floppy and the kernel image on another floppy  and loaded a linux OS on my Pentium machine. Linux booting is always pretty, a series of informative, sometime funny messages scrolling up the screen before a nice little hash prompt is displayed for your next command. The better part was selecting and and installing apps using a primitive package tool.

JOE (Joe's Own Editor) was my favourite word processor. For someone who has seen vi editor Joe was 22nd century
app. Then there was the text based spread sheet called SC (Spreadsheet calculator), its GUI version was xspread  and xv was a great image viewer. All these were 'Wow' apps for me. In the linux world , either the app was named after its developer like Joe or it splashed the developers name like John Brodly's xv

Linux has X - Windows System to cater for GUI  apps. It was fairly easy to set up. All you had to do was a short research on monitors and display cards and it was done! , But what a range of Window managers 

2-3 days later, the internet was through. Oh, you just had to study how Point to Point Protocol (PPP) worked and had to write out a few configuration files using., ya you guessed it right, Joe (joe's own editor). It was followed by email client called elm and a great improvement on elm ie Pine (Pine Is Not Elm)

It was pure bliss when I had configured the network interfaces and the aliases. Typing  'd' (for dial) would connect me to the net in precisely 22 seconds (a dial up handshake sounded so sweet ) and typing 'dak' would fire up the fetchmail program      to display the incoming mails. (My firends using ms windows and yahoomail spent half an hour on retrieving mails, on a dial up connection.)

The next six months passed in trying out various flavours of linux. Bought a book on caldera Linux as well, It had a GUI installation and actually you could play tetris while installation was going on in the background. A  great find was linux on floppy or Mu-Linux. We used it in our lab to teach unix commands. The  developer of Mu-Linux, M Andreoli calls it a cardware; you are expected to send a post-card to him after installation. The entire functional OS fits in a floppy.

Then from Mhow we moved to the Kumaon hills; There was a two year period of lull or should I say "Null", leave alone internet , even a telephone connection was erratic at Pithoragarh.

Then in 2003 we moved to Coimbatore and my affair with tux resumed. This time it was Red Hat -6 followed by 7.1. By then X- windows system had come of age and even the text consoles in Linux started looking colourful. (True Linux lovers cannot live without a text console and the # prompt which lets you do anything from command line). For the first time , Linux ie Red Hat posed a serious competition to MS windows. It was around this time Red Hat itself started behaving windowish, whatwith enterprise edition and all. The hat later  became a 'Fedora' . By "windowish" I mean, getting too snotty, taking decisions on user's behalf on how you should use your comp,  laying down too many Do's and Don'ts, just as Microsoft Windows does.

It looked as if the growth of Linux had plateaued out and competition with windows on Microsoft's own terms meant losing the personality of free thinking geeks.

 A good Open Source Software lets the user, explore, discover, learn and enjoy the process of living with a system, being with a system. The system is user friendly for one to explore freely, customize the environment, and enjoy the whole process of learning even while  working. It also lets free sharing of code among developers to modify, customize and improve. In short, it was collaboration rather than competition, just caring and sharing and helping.

Quoting the Free Software Foundation's'What is Free Software,' the freedoms at the core of free software are defined as:

  • The freedom to study how the program works and adapt it to your needs.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others.  
  • The freedom to improve the program and release your improvements to the public, so that everyone benefits.
  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
Then came Ubuntu in 2004 and it  was indeed a game changer, in every way. Ubuntu is different from the commercial Linux offerings that preceded it because it doesn't divide its efforts between a high-quality commercial version and a free, 'community' version. The commercial and community teams collaborate to produce a single, high-quality release, which receives ongoing maintenance for a defined period. Both the release and ongoing updates are freely available to all users. 

It was also the time I moved to Murshidabad (North Bengal) leaving my family behind at Coimbatore. My son , Sid ,was still a MS Windows user, as direct X and action games were available only in the MS World.

Linux was still not good enough for serious work as support for hardware, formatting and printing was not good enough for desktop  users . It was only an exercise cycle and not a machine to take you places, but then an exercise cycle is what built your muscles.

I came across a nice article in PCQuest on MIgration from MS windows to linux. The article was aptly called seven steps to Software Samadhi.  It is still a viable howto , with some changes here and there, for attaining Software Nirwana.

 Sometime in 2006, I got hold of some Ubuntu CDs from Canonical , first ubuntu 5.10 and then 6.06 (those days you could ask for 5 or 10 copies of the software and it was shipped free of cost.  One big difference between Ubuntu and other distros is that It is single CD installation and once you connect to the internet you have a whole universe of software appliactions, in well organized repositories. Infact the repositories are called 'universe' and 'multiverse'

You just have to type "apt-get intall 'this' or apt-get install 'that' and there you are. Within a month of installing ubuntu I realized  my own software nirvana.  I could say bye-bye to Microsoft and the blue screen of death.
What is nirvana if you can't share your joy with everybody ? I started distributing the CDs I had got from canonical and also burnt additional copies for friends. I sent a  CD of PCLOS by snail mail to Sid. Within an hour of receiving it his PC was up and running on Linux complete with all bells and whistles. he was thrilled, "Appa , Amarok rocks !, the best music player I have seen !" he was hooked and there was no going back. It was only the question of which distro to use.  He is  partial to KDE (K desktop Environment) , he says, because it has oodles of apps, which is true .
 But I suspect it was more so as he shares his birthday with  Matthias Ettrich, the founder of KDE.  Today, he is a Linux Guru  in the Indian Navy.

The kind of customization linux permits is phenominal and we used to exchange screenshots of our PCs through email.

Now I am content with Ubuntu, upgrading just once in two years to the LTS (Long term Support)  version, while Sid keeps experimenting with different flavours. 

Of Course, still there are some important apps, for which there are no linux version available. Till lately,  We had dinosaur like organizations like BSNL which insisted that only IE be used for checking broadband data usage.  Then you have apps like Nokia PC suite which does not have a linux version. And there is just one great application MS Access which does not have an equivelent LInux counterpart as yet. 

For all these, we still have one small partition for MS Windows , the ' just in case ' option. Wine (Window Emulator) takes care of many apps developed for windows platform, it has some limitations Recently I tried Virtual Box. This is one great option for running any number or any type of virtual machine all under a host OS , in my case Ubuntu Linux. I sign off with one screen shot of nokia running in a VM, under ubunt 10.04. Lucid Lynx.

It all sounds like a lot of tech-talk, but to me it is all , to use one of the untranslatable urdu words just 'jazbaat' (may be loosely translated as 'feeling towards anything or any person).

I convey my heartfelt thanks to Linus Torwalds, the founder of Linux, Richard Stallman, The founder of Free Software Foundation, Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu Project, and millions of programmers, designers, technical writers and Translators from all over the world, for whom Open Source Software is a religion, in the true spirit of Ubuntu.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville

On Board the First Fleet that bought convicts to Australia in 1788 was a young lieutenant of marines, William Dawes. Although nominally a soldier, he was a considerable scholar in Austronamy, mathematics and languages. The records left of the language of the indigenous people of Sydney area (Cadigal tribe) is by far the most extensive we have. It contains not only word lists and speculations about the grammatical structure of the language, but conversations between him and the indigenous people, particular a young girl, Patyegarang. 

These are the basic facts , on which the extraordinary life of Lieutenant Daniel Rooke is based, in the book 'The Lieutenant ' by Kate Grenville. Most of the characters are based on the accounts of the first settlers in New South Wales (NSW) .   It is interesting to note that, all cadigal words and conversations quoted in the book have been taken verbatim from Dawes' language notebooks.

The story describes the clash of civilizations, when the white man meets the natives of Sydney, NSW.  For the white man, be it the marines or the convicts (declared unfit to live in the civilized world of Europeans), the natives were simply savages, though for Lieutenant Rooke, it was difficult to say who was more civilized. The author compares the two peoples, through the eyes of Lieutenant Rooke, not based on the advancement in science and technology and standard of living , but based on quality of life and from a linguistic point of view.

At one point of time, The linguist in Rooke is so excited , when he discovers that the cadigals had different words for "You and me', 'all of us' or "me and these others but not you', all embedded in the pronoun !While English makes only the crudest of distinctions, the natives were a race of people using a language as supple as that of Sophocles and Homer"

The xenophobic and culturally blind Europeans have caused  untold miseries to natives of america, and Australia. When you think of the word 'holocaust' what comes to mind is the history of Jews. But there has been a holocaust on much larger scale, perpetrated by the then civilized world. It has been estimated that by the seventeenth century, more than 50 million native Americans perished as a result of war, disease, enslavement, and deliberate brutalities of Europeans.

Who is a savage, what is savagery ? A savage is considered "A brutal and vicious person". But don't seemingly civilized people act more cruelly to their own fellowmen ?  A scene in the novel, illustrates the point. The entire British marine forces form up in their ceremonial  best, for a punishment parade. A man who had stolen potatoes from the garden was being flogged methodically, mercilessly, till his back is reduced to a bloody pulp, all in the name of impartial justice and iron discipline. There is only one person on the scene who sees just 'cruelty'  and nothing else. He is the only one  dares to protest and he is a native whom they call a savage.

Nothing tells more about a civilization than its untranslatable words.  I quote from the book ;
"She went over to the fireplace and held out her hands to the coal...Then she pressed his fingers with her own....He felt her skin warm and smooth..... Their hands were of the same temperature now.
"Putuwa", she said.
From her gestures and actions he deduced that word 'putuwa' to mean warming one's hands by the fire and then squeezing gently the fingers of another person. In English it required a long rigmarole of words..... Tagaran was teaching him a word and by it she was showing him a world"

A very interesting book indeed !

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Corruption in the Congress Party

"Congressmen are not sufficiently interested in constructive work; we must recognize the fact that social order of our dreams cannot come through the congress party of today.....There is so much corruption today, that it frightens me.  Everybody wants to carry so many votes in his pocket because votes give power"

This is not a current statement by an Opposition leader or Anna Hazare. It was by Mahatma Gandhi, sometime in Nov 1947 (Source: The Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Louis Fischer)

His limited experience told him that legislators and judges were too close to  the Govt machinery of power to check and balance the executive ; only those outside the Govt, he contended , could check and balance those in Govt.

How can it be done ? He goes on in his address to a conference of Constructive Workers (the name for Civil Society in those days)" Under adult suffrage, if we are worth our salt, we should have such a hold on people that whomsoever we choose would be returned...."

He visualized a regular dialogue between people in power and the "Group of Constructive Workers". He had even scheduled a meeting to take place in March 1948 at Sevagram. The meeting actually took place  , with President Rajendra Prasad , Prime minister Nehru and Maulana Azad from the Goverment , and the Constructive Workers Group led by Vinobha Bhave and comprising of Jayaprakash Narayan, the economic thinker JC Kumarappa, the scholar and reformer Kakasaheb Kalelkar, the teacher Ashadevi Aryanayakam, the balladeer Tukdoji Maharaj, the expert on tribal affairs AV Thakkar, the intrepid rescuer of abducted women during Partition, Mridula Sarabhai, the Gandhian leader from Andhra, Konda Venkatappaiya, the khadi pioneer, Srikrishnadas Jaju.

There is an account of the meeting narrated by none other than Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Shri Gopal Krishna Gandhi in Hindustan Times.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Television through the years

Why is it that the entire main stream media went gaga over Anna Hazare's reality show at Ramlila Grounds when it chose to ignore Baba Ramdev's show on 27 Feb 11, at the same venue ? Baba Ramdev's show was attended by Anna Hazare , among other stalwarts, and had drawn much larger crowds.

Why is it that floods at Delhi or Mumbai get more focus than more catastrophic and devastating floods in Bengal, Bihar or Assam ?

Media questions everybody , but who questions the media? If you do, you are accused of shooting the messenger. Is media just a messenger, or a perverter, modifier and amplifier of the messages it conveys?

There was a time when TV and Radio broadcasts  were totally Govt controlled. There were technological limitations. Large parts of the country had little or no access to TV. During my initial 6-7 years in the army, all I had access to was Pakistan TV and later Rupavahini for a year.  In any case Doordarshan was neither reliable nor real time . In remote areas it was not even accessible.

But in late 80s and early 90s, with winds of change sweeping across the globe, news coverage attained new dimensions. With Satellite communication, better technology and independent news agencies, nothing could be hidden or manipulated by the Govts.

In the year 1988-89, Pranoy Roy had the viewers riveted to his programme, "The World This Week'. The technology was there to upload or download live data from anywhere to any where. Independent, impartial, hardcore professionals were in key positions covering events global and local. I remember looking forward to Pronoy Roy's  "Good evening and welcome to the world this week....." It was then, that we had witnessed historical events like 'the fall of the Berlin wall' and 'break up of the Soviet Union'. Real time visuals left no doubts, as people saw the events as they unfolded from the safety of their drawing rooms. The Gulf war was witnessed by the whole world in real time.

Just when you thought, nothing could be hidden from the media, it is the media itself that became elusive and double-edged. Pressure from Govt or technological limitations has given way to  pressure from TRP, corporatism , or simply the rat-race.

Today you have the technology, freedom from Govt agencies and professionalism to report accurately; yet, the whole establishment lacks credibility. Even while one channel is breaking news on a sting operation, there is another channel questioning the authenticity of the audio-visual media used. Is it genuine or a 'cut and paste' job ?. Well, if technology can be used to expose a scam, it can also be misused for false accusation or for a cover up operation. Also corporatism has the editors looking at the bottomline even while deciding on what events to cover and how.

I wish we had just one 9 o' clock news from just one channel, like the good old Doordarshan; at least it was predictable. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Public Sentiments Again

When I wrote  on this blog about Rule of Law giving way to Public Sentiments , I never thought my worst nightmares would be forming up so soon.

While sentiments in Tamilnadu is for clemency to convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, Jammu and Kashmir is poised to fight for clemency for a convict in parliament attack case. In both cases, the majority view in the country will be in favour of  upholding the law of the land, while majority in the particular region is definitely for review of the law, in deference to public sentiments.

While J & K is ever volatile, Tamilnadu has a curiously disturbing culture of self-immolation at the drop of a hat. In fact the word for self- immolation is 'thee-kulithal ', meaning fire-bath , as if it is something like sauna bath. How can a young girl, kill herself, for a remote chance of saving a life ? The State legislative Assembly passes a resolution, under pressure from the public sentiments, and the pressure is further passed on to the the Supreme Court, Union Govt and the President.

What's worse is that, some panelists on CNN-IBN ask, "Hasn't Anna Hazare just proved that People's wishes reign supreme in a democracy ? "

I wish , I could read Anna Hazare's mind on what should be the right course of action for the State and Central Govts, in the face of such popular sentiments.  He can't even convert it to a debate against 'capital punishment , per se', as some people  do. He has gone on record supporting death sentence for the corrupt !

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Anti Corruption Movement :La Anna Hazare Movement

Firstly, I must admit that, though the idea of 'India Against Corruption ' did appeal to me, I was never comfortable with the idea of fasting unto death to challenge a pillar of democracy . The idea that 'people's power is supreme' can be absurd at times. Today, it is the parliament under fire, tomorrow a judicial court may be expected to act in consonance with the popular sentiments while trying a particular accused. 

I still feel that, a very bad precedent has been set. In a country of over one billion people any popular leader can mobilize 20-25 lakhs of people in his/her support to threaten the very existence of an institution provided for under the constitution.  

Now, let us see how it all panned out. I am not calling it Anna Hazare Movement to begin with as he actively joined the movement somewhere in mid course, rather than initiate the movement. I have to mention that I don't mean to discredit Anna Hazare , since we have reached a stage where unless one is eulogising the great 'gandhian' you are accused of being a traitor and a congress stooge. 

It all started with Shri Santosh Hegde , Lokayukta of karnataka, sometime in mid 2010. In my humble opinion, Justice Santosh Hegde, though not so flamboyant, was to Lokayukta was TN Seshan was to Election Commission. A post which had been in existence since 1985, was suddenly in News Headlines. He made  a pedestrian appointment look like a high profile one. He was one of the founders of the Indian against Corruption Group. There is a recording of minutes of a meeting of India Against Corruption (IAC ) available here 

The following met at IIC on 10th August 2010 to discuss the deficiencies in present anti-corruption systems in our country and what steps need to be taken to address these deficiencies.
1.      Justice Santosh Hegde, Karnataka Lokayukta
2.     Mr J M Lyngdoh, former Chief Election Commissioner
3.     Mr P Shankar, former Central Vigilance Commissioner
4.     Prashant Bhushan, Advocate,  Supreme Court
5.     Mr Kamal Jaswal, Director Common Cause
6.     Mr Shekhar Singh, Eminent social activist
7.     Mr Nikhil Dey, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangthan
8.     Mr Arvind Kejriwal, Social activist
9.     Mr Sarvesh Sharma, Common Cause
10.  Mr Suhas Borkar, social activist and media personality
The basic Ingredients of the present Jan Lokpal Bill my be found in these minutes
This is the time Arvind Kejriwal , as an RTI activist was actively lobbying for appointment of Kiran Bedi for the post of Chief Information Commissioner ( CIC), along with baba ramdev, Anna Hazare and Amir Khan.