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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.