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August 23, 2004

A cat and its nine lives

It really is true! Cats do have nine lives.

Election in USA

I disagree with Prashant about the election in USA. I think Paul Glastris closer to the truth; the current US election campaign is a story of Homeric proportions:

“It's about war, blood, death, comradship, envy, history, memory, politics, philosophy, and courage both moral and physical. It's got a (to me) cowardly but powerful villain; a hero who is clever, serious, valliant, and flawed; and a fascinating set of supporting characters. It involves lies and honesty in a tragic, ill-prosecuted war--themes directly relevant to today."

Watching the whole sorry episode of swift boats slowly explode over the airwaves over the last few weeks and then engulf the USA presidential campaign was a surreal experience.

Looking at John Kerry today, it is obvious that the man who made this speech in 1970 (you have to scroll down to the "statement of John Kerry" or see here) is not the man who is standing for election today; although I like to believe that some of that idealism has survived 35 years of politicking, however faded it might be.

I can understand that many Americans may not agree with my judgement there (just try convincing passengers in any bus or train in Uttar Pradesh that not all Jawans may had acted honourably during their missions in Punjab or Kashmir. The unique blinkers that fervent nationalism provides you with are more pronounced in USA) Indian mythologies are in the past, Americans mythologize their present. So I can understand that many Americans are still pissed at the stance that Kerry took after coming back from war. But the fact that a group of people can rewrite what actually happened and can get away with it was something that I did not think possible; that it is considered standard operating procedure speaks volumes about the vulnerabilities of the electronic media and how pressure groups can exploit them.

Somehow, I can't help thinking about Adam Cohen's op-ed on Thoreau in NYT today.

August 20, 2004

An insance consensus

Timothy Noah has an interesting story in Slate today on Ostracizing the people who were right on Iraq; It would have been funny if it did not involve so many dead, maimed or otherwise destroyed people.

August 15, 2004

Happy Independence day

I have always found Tryst with destiny (pdf version), the speech that Nehru made on August 15, 1947 very powerful. I am not exactly a fan of the man, but that speech was very moving. Poornam Viswanathan read the Tamil translation of Nehru's speech over AIR on that day.

Gandhi was in Noakhali. A year later, he would be dead. Perhaps, on this day, it is more appropriate to read the speech that Nehru made on that day (somehow, rereading this, I dont feel as overwhelmed as I thought I did in Class X; something has been lost or my memory has been playing tricks)

But anyway, happy independence day to everyone from my part of the world.

Blog, interrupted

I feel slightly squeamish about linking to kiss and tell stories or to stories about the workplace misfortunes due to blogging indescretions. But Blog Interrupted by April Witt, in today's Washington Post, is particularly well-written and raises interesting questions about the broader sociocultural changes.

August 11, 2004

The Elephant Paradigm by Gurcharan Das

Last week I finished reading "The Elephant Paradigm" - an extended essay about contemporary India' struggle with change and economic liberalization.

Das is an unrepentant social liberal and a champion of free trade. For those familiar with current thinking on trade and globalization, some of what he says may seem to tread over well-worn grounds. Some of the stuff sounds a little breathless too. But the book is still a very good read for anyone interested in India. He is incredibly well read, has a refreshing intellectual honesty and is not afraid to champion unpopular or unconventional opinions. At his heart, Das seems to be a liberterian, but one with deep humanitarian instincts.

I did not always agree with him. But I found myself surprisingly engaged by the book.

The book is primarily concerned with the economic and social liberalizations of the nineties and their impact on our private and public lives. In the last few chapters, Das charts out a broad agenda that he feels that India should follow if it is to pull its people out of grinding poverty and illiteracy. He covers a lot of ground and as a result the book lacks in depth. But scattered throughout the book is a lot of food for thought for anyone who frets about India.

Unfortunately, it is not available through Amazon.

August 6, 2004

Henri Cartier-Bresson is dead


"In 1932, he stuck his camera between the slats of a fence near the St.-Lazare railway station in Paris at precisely the right instant and captured a picture of the watery lot behind the station, strewn with debris. A man has propelled himself from a ladder that lies in the water. Photographs of puddle jumpers were clichés then, but Mr. Cartier-Bresson brings to his image layer on layer of fresh and uncanny detail ..." (Link)

He was the last of the giants.

Magnum has a very generous retrospective online.

August 4, 2004

Talking about secularism in India

It started rather innocuously. Nayar gently chided Nandy in Outlook magazine for his increasing scepticism about the Nehruvian consensus:

“"I met Ashis Nandy the other day to find out if the message I got from his writings on secularism was correct. What I understood, I told him, was that he did not believe that secularism was suited to the genius of India. He replied: "You are more or less correct." He's not the only one. In fact, there's a growing breed of intellectuals which has arrived at similar conclusions. They think the secularism agenda has flawed the Indian state right from the beginning. According to some of them, secularism, by virtue of being a western concept, is alien to India. For others, it is anti-religion and, therefore, in contradiction with the bedrock of our society's beliefs. ...."

Nandi responded here :

" Secularism is not communal amity; it is only one way of achieving such amity. As an ideology, it is not even 300 years old. Yet, despite the consistent failure of secularism to contain the growth of both Hindu nationalism and Islamic, Jewish and Christian fundamentalism in recent years—both in India and elsewhere in the world—only a few seem to have the courage to look beyond it. ....

Nayar, whom I have given company in many battles—including some he would call secular—has got me entirely wrong. Actually, my criticism of secularism is an aggressive reaffirmation of these proto-Gandhian traditions and a search for post-secular forms of politics more in touch with the needs of a democratic polity in South Asia. "

This rattled Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Professor of Indian History and Culture at Oxford University. The good professor wrote.

"The essay by Ashis Nandy, A Billion Gandhis (June 21), demonstrates once more that this celebrated Indian psychologist and maverick thinker is exactly as dazzlingly clever as he is tiresomely repetitive and profoundly ill-informed"

I felt that Subramanian's essay made uncalled for personal attacks (of course his comments about the Bengal Renaissance also stung, but for all I know that could have been the intent! )

Anyway, after many letters (including one from Subramanyam that seemed more honest than his earlier op-ed) and silence from Ashish Nandi, Amit Choudhury penned a two part commentary in The Telegraph, reproduced in The Outlook:

"Why is secularism at once a serious responsibility, a crucial ideal, and, not infrequently, a hollow piety among our middle classes? It’s because our middle classes, after Independence, did not emphasize the need for transparency and accountability in its own public and private practices, and the importance of equality as a realizable ideal, as much as it has emphasized secularism; it’s when those who speak of secularism are also seen to benefit from, and perpetuate, their own advantages as members of an educated elite that it — secularism — begins to sound like a hollow moral dogma.

Our educated elite may, at least in substantial part, be secular, but it is also deeply hierarchical, both in its internal composition and in relation to those who don’t belong to it. You cannot blame the waning of secularism on the fanatic alone — it cannot flourish in a climate that has been so increasingly inimical to egalitarian impulses, a climate in which the "enlightened" classes are so reluctant to acknowledge their own complicity in pursuing a path of self-promotion and self-interest through nepotism and compromise."

It is a hugely well written rejoinder.

(Links stolen from Kitabkhana)

August 2, 2004

'Hungry Tide' by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh has a new book out in the market! 'Hungry Tide' is not yet available in US bookstores, although it seems to be available through Amazon in UK.

This page links to its reviews in British newspapers. Outlook also reviewed the book here. Indrajit Hazra, another Bengali writer writing in English, interviewed Ghosh about his book and reviewed it for Hindustan Times.

Also, Ghosh's website now sports a new look. Page navigation is still rather painful, but there is a lot of interesting content -specially for us Ghoshofiles.

August 1, 2004

Return of the depression society

I finished reading Paul Krugman's Return of Depression Economics a few weeks back. It describes the causes behind the currency crisises and the impacts of the resulting meltdowns that effected most of the South East Asian and Latin American economies in the waning years of the nineties.

At that time, I was not terribly interested in international political economy. Outside of a perception culled from cursory readings of BusinessWeek et al that the 'paper tigers' in South East Asia are having a tough time and it is good for them in the long run, I did not really have a clue.

Krugman's book provides a lucid, witty and frightening perspective of the global economy at that juncture and surprisingly for a free-trader, holds IMF responsible for much of what went wrong. All of us in India and China who are currently going ga ga over our own emerging economies should read up on the emerging economy meltdown of the nineties. It is scary how fragile our national prosperity really is and how little it takes for it to go wrong.