Thursday, January 26, 2012

Shameful Times

What does the largest selling English Daily in India print on its front pages on the Republic Day? A statement by the chairman of Press Council of India. Is it mandatory for the print media to publish Press Council chief's statement on the 1st page? The least Times of India could have done was assess the merit of statement; it is unfortunate that the publishers did not give a second look at what was being sent to print, coming as it did from the one who regulates them. Bad performance, Times of India... 

In his statement, Mr. Markandey Katju opines that the winner of Booker of Booker award is a "poor" & sub-standard writer"! He also opines that but for Satanic Verses, Rushdie would have remained "largely unknown". He claims to have read "some of Rushdie's works" & believes Midnight's Children is "hardly great literature". The former judge of the Supreme Court then pronounces his judgment - "the whole problem with so-called educated Indians of today is they still suffer from the colonial inferiority complex".

Opinion of a writer's output is a product of one's comprehension of the written word, the expanse of one's exposure to literature & one's ability to grasp the depth of the tome in question. Mr. Katju's proclamation of Rushdie's writing skills can also be derived from this equation.

However, his view that Rushdie would have remained unknown if not for Satanic Verses can be easily contested. Mr. Katju might not be aware that Rushdie had already won the Booker for his  book - Midnight's Children, & thus was widely known by the time Satanic Verses was published. I doubt whether Khushwant Singh would have gone through a minor or unknown writer's book before it was released in India! But then, I also doubt whether Khushwant Singh would call Rushdie "poor & sub-standard" writer.

Rushdie's first book - Grimus, gave enough indication of his style & writing skills. With his next - Midnight's Children, he broke through the ranks. It won the Booker as well as Booker of Bookers. His 3rd novel - Shame, was also in the Booker shortlist. All this before Satanic Verses was published! It is not only literature for adults that Rushdie excels at... Someone who has read Haroun and the Sea of Stories & Luka and the Fire of Life would vouch for his being one of the better writers of children's stories. I would put him in the same class as Lewis Caroll.

About Midnight's Children being hardly great literature, I would not like to be in conflict with the Booker judges. On literary matters, I would go along with their judgement rather than that of a retired Supreme Court judge.

But I have serious ojection to Mr. Katju's views on the "so-called educated Indians of today". He is totally wrong to believe that we suffer from the colonial inferiority complex. We have never experienced colonialism, nor have most of our previous generation. Same is not true of Mr. Katju's generation. He is trying to tarnish us with the colours of his generation. Mr. Katju, in your time, the ones who left India did so on account of there not being sufficient scope to utilise their capabilities. Thus, it was natural to be envious of those (like Rushdie) who managed to get across the borders. Today, we don't need to go abroad to earn global respect. We get right here with our work & output. We manage to consistently match the best in the world & get ahead. Even the world now recognises & admits our prowess, something that was never experienced by your generation.

Of late, Mr. Katju has often been in the news:

Sometime back, he wanted Bharat Ratna to be conferred on Mirza Ghalib, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay & Subramania Bharti. Hopefully, the government has dismissed his demand, else we would see Bharat Ratna being conferred on Vivekanand, Akbar, Rana Pratap, Shivaji, Ashok, Valmiki, Tulsidas, Buddha, Mahavir, Ram, Hanuman...

He wanted the content on Facebook & Google to be regulated & asked them to face legal action for objectionable content. Next he would ask for SOPA & PIPA!

He also lamented the lack of great literary talent in the country. For people of his generation, it might be difficult to understand that tweeting can be challenging literary activity, even for established writers. The media of today is not the book, it is e-book...

Familiarity breeds contempt, Mr. Katju. Being the Press Council Chief does not mean you have to be in the headlines. You surely do not wish to be clubbed with some of the other compulsive headline-hogging celebrities.

Dear Times of India: I would prefer the picture of Rakhi Sawant or Veena Malik over that of Mr. Katju any day. They are also equally adept at hijacking the headlines. Just make sure the pictures are not "objectionable".

A Festival sans Celebrations

This is not about the Republic Day, where the might (of forces), the height (of achievements) & the sight (of the cultural riches) is on display, with a foreign Head of State in attendance.

This is about the Jaipur Literature Festival, where the most influential participants were connected neither to Literature or the Festival. A bunch of hoodlums, prodded by religious leaders & passively supported by the State, managed to mute one of the most celebrated contemporary writers. 

This is akin to secessionist elements protesting against the Republic Day parade as their regional/ethnic aspirations have not been met by the republic. Would the State play silent spectator as it did in the case of Rushdie? 

What was the protest about? A book written a couple of decades back, which I doubt the leaders of the protests have read. And even if they have read it, how many of these zealots would have made meaning out of it? But, this is the story that is played out all over the country with a regularity that makes it blur in the background.

I recall an event related to the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda, the cultural capital of Gujarat, a most peaceful state. Faculty of Fine Arts, for the uninitiated, is a hallowed institution that has produced artists admired all over the world for their prowess & vision. It has also produced a larger no. of creatives who have made a name for themselves in the Indian advertising industry. One such young artist caused a storm in the University. This student had submitted painting/s of goddess that were deemed to be objectionable by a students' organisation. The issue was cremated when the Dean of the Faculty was evicted from his position. Where was the State? It was not a spectator that time, but let loose a team of ideologically affiliated academicians on the artists. 

But, here's the more interesting part... The bunch of academic goons who went in for the kill included one who once called himself being "next only to Brahma" to his post-graduate class! I only have the second-hand version of the said proclamation (not having attended that class), but the question is - who was more blasphemous? An aged academic having visions of divine grandeur, or a young artist having dreams of making a mark for himself? Fortunately, the post graduate students were mature adults focused on their future & another needless controversy was avoided. 

But this maturity is not on display in rest of the country. Some of these can be dismissed as political mischief. But,the disease is more deep rooted. The Khap panchayats of North India should have been declared terrorist organisations by now. They are dragging the society back in time by use of social force & violence, having put up a parallel structure of Law. What is the utopia that drives them? They hark back to a time when Manu put down in words the structure of his preferred social order. Unfortunately, Manu's perverted opinion achieved social immortality & is a major hurdle in the creation of a assimilative social structure in India. 

The State is unlikely to do anything in this regard, as the players involved feed on the rigid social classification for electoral gains? However, if even a few of them go through Manu's writings, they would definitely be ashamed of themselves & the whole social structure they thrive on. Things might then change for the better!

Dismiss the thought... they won't have time for such literary adventure. They got their thrills at Jaipur. Damn the young kids in Haryana, UP or Faculty of Fine Arts. Matters of heart & art are low priority.

A Happy Republic Day!!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Another Test Lost - So What?

India loses another test in Australia. This makes it the 7th consecutive overseas test lost by the man credited with the midas touch! There would be more such statistics in the newspapers over the next few days. Fortunately, it is cold outside & the fans prefer the comfort of their homes to throwing stones at cricketers' homes. 

But is this such a big deal that we lose our sleeps & appetite over it. This is just a game after all. The only ones to be affected are the cricketers themselves who would now have fewer endorsements, but it would not be a big enough dent on their earnings.

Between the losses to England & Australia India won the series against West Indies. They were ranked no. 1 test team prior to their departure to England. It is irrational to expect any team to win all their matches all the time. This is the same as expecting a company to have 100% market share in a competitive market or a political party to win 100% seats in a multi-party democracy.

Another lament of the fans & experts is inability of Indian batsmen to excel on the fast tracks. But they more than compensate by their prowess on the slow & turning pitches. How many of the teams from Australia, England, South Africa have been comfortable playing tests in Kotla? At least India has had fast bowlers who have performed well overseas - from Kapil Dev to Zahir Khan. Ponting was Ishant's bunny, but Warne had nightmares about bowling to Sachin!

The fans need to enjoy cricket & applaud the performance on the field. Even though Sehwag flopped on the tour, Warner made up for it by his brilliant batting. If the fans are interested only in India winning, than the BCCI should plan tours only to Zimbabwe, Bangladesh & Holland. Especially Holland, as beating them in cricket would be an apt revenge for our losses in Hockey! The senior players would then peacefully retire as I am sure the likes of Laxman, Dravid & Sachin would consider it beneath their dignity to play against the minnows. As the best players in the country (even at their age!), they continue to retain their places in the team & the selectors cannot afford to drop them.

Cricket is another game. But, cricket in India is more than a game. It has given the success-starved sports fan a lot to cheer about - two 50/50 world cups, one 20/20 world cup, Spin quartet, Gavaskar, Kapil, Sachin, Sehwag, Kumble. It also provides opportunity to talented youngsters to make a name for themselves on a larger stage such as Dhoni, Hirwani, Raina, Kapil, Sreesanth. Cricket is also the only sport, where a player in the domestic circuit can make the sport a well-paying career. This is because of the huge fan following the sport has, which enables the board to distribute revenues to the lesser-endowed players. The fans should support this culture by not only cheering for team India, but by appreciating the game played in domestic circuits as well as by applauding the performance of other cricketers against India.

Cricket is just a game after all & cannot be bigger than the fan. The fan should rise above the game & not let it become larger than life! 

There's still another test in Australia & let us hope for a better performance by India. Of course, there's the one-day series to follow & another IPL... 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Let us hope 2012 shall mark the 1st step towards universal access to clean energy. Read more at

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Thank You, Dr. Sreedharan

Yesterday, Dr. E. Sreedharan retired as the MD of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. The Delhi-centric electronic media has paid due tributes to the "metro-man"... But delhi metro was just one of his successes.

His most significant achievement (my personal opinion) was construction of Konkan Railway. Not only for being the 1st BOT project of railways, but also the tehnically difficult feat of constructing a railway on difficult geography involving innumerable bridges & tunnels in a landslide-prone region. This reduced the transit time of people travelling from North/West India to the southern parts, as well as made railways accessible to a significant population. One of the more innovative (commercial)  features is transporting trucks on rakes! 

India has a history of successful engineering feats over the years, so why is Dr. Sreedharan's achievements significant? Firstly, he was made the MD of KRC after his retirement, at a time when most people his age would have been taking it easy after a lifetime of hard work. The commercial acumen displayed was atypical of a retiring government employee in late '80s & early '90s.

Similarly, the delhi metro was also a difficult task considering that it was being constructed in the capital, where out of every 4 people, one is a VIP, another works for a VIP, still another one is related to a VIP while the 4th is neighbour to a VIP. In such an environment, to dig roads, create & manage traffic diversions, attend to the media glare & finish the project within the allocated budget & as per schedule is a near-impossible task that he accomplished. For reference, one may look at the CWG-related projects...

I am reminded of the adage "hard work never killed anyone" when I realise that Dr. Sreedharan is around 80 years!!

Wiki tells me that Dr. Sreedharan was also in charge of the Calcutta Metro... Dr. Sreedharan seems to have been involved with the major infrastructure development in India. His achievements made all indians proud.

The best new year gift that Government of India can give its citizens is award Bharat Ratna to Dr. Sreedharan. He is truly one.

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