Thirukkural’s Kaamathupaal: The Book of Love

July 24, 2018

After another long break, I have resumed Thirukkural translation on my Thirukkural website. The first few chapters of Kaamathupaal are published in the bilingual Tamizhini e-magazine.


Tolstoy on Kaiser William II

September 5, 2020

Like a bold hypnotizer, he tests the degree of insensibility of the hypnotized subject. He touches his skin with a red-hot iron; the skin smokes and scorches, but the sleeper does not awake.

Tolstoy writes this about Kaiser William II of Germany, a good twenty years before the outbreak of the World War I. Sage words of caution from the wise man. Any resemblance to other persons, living or dead, is what it is.

/In Germany, where compulsory service first originated, Caprivi has given expression to what had been hitherto so assiduously concealed–that is, that the men that the soldiers will have to kill are not foreigners alone, but their own countrymen, the very working people from whom they themselves are taken. And this admission has not opened people’s eyes, has not horrified them! They still go like sheep to the slaughter, and submit to everything required of them.

And that is not all: the Emperor of Germany has lately shown still more clearly the duties of the army, by thanking and rewarding a soldier for killing a defenseless citizen who made his approach incautiously. By rewarding an action always regarded as base and cowardly even by men on the lowest level of morality, Wilhelm has shown that a soldier’s chief duty–the one most appreciated by the authorities–is that of executioner; and not a professional executioner who kills only condemned criminals, but one ready to butcher any innocent man at the word of command.

And even that is not all. In 1892, the same Wilhelm, the ENFANT TERRIBLE of state authority, who says plainly what other people only think, in addressing some soldiers gave public utterance to the following speech, which was reported next day in thousands of newspapers: “Conscripts!” he said, “you have sworn fidelity to ME before the altar and the minister of God! You are still too young to understand all the importance of what has been said here; let your care before all things be to obey the orders and instructions given you. You have sworn fidelity TO ME, lads of my guard; THAT MEANS THAT YOU ARE NOW MY SOLDIERS, that YOU HAVE GIVEN YOURSELVES TO ME BODY AND SOUL. For you there is now but one enemy, MY enemy. IN THESE DAYS OF SOCIALISTIC SEDITION IT MAY COME TO PASS THAT I COMMAND YOU TO FIRE ON YOUR OWN KINDRED, YOUR BROTHERS, EVEN YOUR OWN FATHERS AND MOTHERS–WHICH GOD FORBID!–even then you are bound to obey my orders without hesitation.”

This man expresses what all sensible rulers think, but studiously conceal. He says openly that the soldiers are in HIS service, at HIS disposal, and must be ready for HIS advantage to murder even their brothers and fathers.In the most brutal words he frankly exposes all the horrors and criminality for which men prepare themselves in entering the army, and the depths of ignominy to which they fall in promising obedience.

Like a bold hypnotizer, he tests the degree of insensibility of the hypnotized subject. He touches his skin with a red-hot iron; the skin smokes and scorches, but the sleeper does not awake.

This miserable man, imbecile and drunk with power, outrages in this utterance everything that can be sacred for a man of the modern world. And yet all the Christians, liberals, and cultivated people, far from resenting this outrage, did not even observe it./

– Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You


War and Ahimsa: Gandhi on Kashmir

September 1, 2020

I had compiled the writings and speeches of Gandhi on Kashmir from the time of invasion by the Afridi tribesmen from Pakistan in October 1947 till his death in January 1948. I wrote an introduction to it, which appeared in the Tamizhini emagazine in October, 2019.

I am now publishing the compilation along with the introduction as a free ebook on Google Drive.

The book is also available on the www.mkgandhi.org site and can be downloaded from here.

The Tamil (print) version of the book was published by Yaavarum Publishers last year (October, 2019) as போரும் அகிம்சையும்: காஷ்மீர் குறித்து காந்தி.

Excerpts from the book:

We can also observe some common threads emerging from these speeches.

Firstly, he emphasized that people’s opinion was paramount, be it in Kashmir or other territories, and neither India nor Pakistan should force them to accede. Gandhi supported the accession of the Muslim majority State of Kashmir to India, more because of Sheikh Abdullah than the Maharaja. He believed Sheikh Abdullah had the backing of all Kashmiris. “If it had been only the Maharaja who had wanted to accede to the Indian Union, I could never support such an act. The Union Government agreed to the accession for the time being because both the Maharaja and Sheikh Abdullah, who is the representative of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, wanted it. Sheikh Abdullah came forward because he claims to represent not only the Muslims but the entire masses in Kashmir.” [Nov 11, 1947]

When it came to listening to the will of the people, he thought it was essential and did not base his principle on time, place and gains.

Secondly, Gandhi was greatly impressed by the unity displayed by the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in Kashmir. About an earlier Sultan of Kashmir, he had said, “In days gone by when, accompanied by Hindus, Jainuluddin set out on a pilgrimage to Kashi, he got repaired all derelict temples he passed on the way” [June 12, 1947]. He saw Kashmir as the place where the idea of partition will be proven wrong. He could have thought of the accession of Kashmir to India as a victory for secular thinking. “The poison which has spread amongst us should never have spread. Through Kashmir that poison might be removed from us. If they make such a sacrifice in Kashmir to remove that poison, then our eyes also would be opened,” he said. “It is my prayer that in the present darkness in the country Kashmir may become the star that provides light,” he hoped and prayed [Dec 29, 1947]. He was greatly distressed when the Hindus and Sikhs attacked Muslims in Jammu.

Thirdly, it is for this same reason, his admiration for its secularist nature, that he opposed any suggestion to partition Jammu and Kashmir. It is evident that he thought partitioning Jammu and Kashmir along religious lines tantamounts to India accepting the principle of partition. “…Jammu and Kashmir is one State. It cannot be partitioned. If we start the process of partitioning where is it going to end? It is enough and more than enough that India has been partitioned into two. If we partition Kashmir, why not other States?“ he asked [Dec 25, 1947]. This was his strong position.


Revolutionary Gandhi by Pannalal Dasgupta: Gandhi through the eyes of a Marxist

August 19, 2020

[Published in the August, 2020 issue of the Sarvodaya Talisman magazine.]

(1)

There is no dearth of great books on Gandhi. One of the best books that I have read on Gandhi is Pannalal Dasgupta’s ‘Revolutionary Gandhi’. The book excited me for many reasons. First, the content, which presents all aspects of Gandhi as integral to the whole. Next, the context – the stories on the author of the book and how the book was written are, by themselves, interesting. And then, the story of how I came across the book makes it memorable for me personally.

Inspired by Gandhi’s writings on Nayee Talim and Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution, I had felt the urge to move to a village. Around that time, we had met a couple from a village near Madurandakam. Sriram and Karpagam, along with their friend Siddharth, had taken up farming in that village, having left their IIT degrees and urban lives behind. We visited them there on a rainy day, walking through a slush of mud. The simplicity of their lives held a great appeal for us. During the course of the long conversation that day, Sriram recommended the book, Revolutionary Gandhi, as a must-read book on Gandhi. This meeting helped us to move towards the village with more conviction.

Shortly afterwards, we made the move to a village near Coimbatore. At the government library in Coimbatore, one of the first books that I stumbled upon was Revolutionary Gandhi. I lived up to the expectations set by Sriram. Later, hearing me rave about this book, the veteran Gandhian leader, K.M.Natarajan, procured this book from Kolkatta, and gifted it to me. He kept urging me to write a detailed review about the book.

The book was originally written in Bengali in 1954-55 under the title Gandhi Gabeshana, when Pannalal Dasgupta was in jail. It was published in 1986. It took another 25 years for an English translation to come out. (By K.V.Subrahmonyan – ‘if no Bengali came forward, why not a Tamilian attempt’.)

Pannalal Dasgupta was the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party at the time of his arrest. Pannalal and his associates, while working at Jessop Company, had planned a shut down due to unaddressed grievances. When Pannalal was away, the protests turned into violent riots. As the leader of the group, he too was sentenced for life imprisonment. His excellent work in jail drew the attention of authorities; Jayaprakash Narayan visited him. He was released along with other political prisoners when Prafulla Sen became the Chief Minister of West Bengal. As his excellent translator says in his introduction, ‘This best-selling masterpiece in Bengali was the fruit of a transformation which came into his life. A political extremist, who formerly believed in violence as a means to social justice, turned once and for all into a complete Gandhian. Pannalal Babu became, like his hero, a true holistic revolutionary.’

At a time when many Marxists, especially in Bengal, were, by and large, critical of Gandhi, Pannalal Dasgupta presented a holistic picture of Gandhi through Marxist lens. “I believe that I understand the cult of Marxism-Leninism fairly well. I have read the works of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao Tse-Tung, Fidel Castro and also Che Guevara and put their ideas to use in the field of practical politics. Both in prison and outside I have lived the major part of my life along their philosophical lines. As I involved myself in all areas of India’s freedom movement, I was also well acquainted with the Congress and the Gandhian movement. During my long prison terms, I had the opportunity to listen to and read about different ideological viewpoints.” He further states, “Indian communists have never tried properly to understand Gandhiji. So I have tried to acquaint people with the two most important phenomena and ideologies of our times, Gandhism and Leninism. I have explained Gandhism in the light of Marxism and also analysed Marxian thought and action in the Gandhian light.”

Many decades after he had written this book in jail, he felt the urge to publish it because of the continuing relevance of Gandhi he felt during his constructive work in the villages, and the unbridled materialist pursuits of man that he observed around him. “Limitless consumerism is the biggest danger that faces mankind today,” he notes and considers Gandhian approach to be essential to counter it, since he kept counselling caution in such restlessness. “I believe that Gandhiji is a living reality and, as days pass by, people will be bound to take more and more interest in the man, his thought and work. Gandhiji raised some fundamental questions to which no ideology or ‘ism’ has yet been able to furnish a proper answer.” He cites Vinoba Bhave approvingly elsewhere, “To change the direction is the simplest way of outstripping others.”

In this essay, I am attempting to give an introduction to this unheralded book that deserves to be read widely, largely using the words of Pannalal Dasgupta himself, juxtaposing with the quotations of Gandhi from the book.

(2)

Pannalal Dasgupta likens Gandhi’s quest for truth to the main aim of science, which, he says, is ‘the search for truth’. It was Gandhi’s quest for truth that led him to non-violence. ‘Gandhiji believed that it was unjust to employ secretiveness and deceptive strategy in a struggle against an adversary. His moral objection to armed, violent struggle was mainly on the ground that it was inevitably accompanied by secretiveness, underhand methods and deceit. It was not the sight of death that turned him nonviolent. On the contrary, his conscience was unfailingly clear when, in his own nonviolent struggle, he had to bring people constantly face to face with death.’ His first and foremost emphasis was on truth and not on non-violence nor even God. Hence, Gandhi changed his maxim ‘God is Truth’ into ‘Truth is God.’

Read the rest of this entry »

What must the government do now?

May 15, 2020

What must the government do now?

Just run all the trains.

Forget online registration, forget aadhar card and arogya setu, forget who pays how much, just run all the trains free for a month or two.

Forget corona, forget social distancing, forget screening; it’s anyway irrelevant for them now. Just issue tokens or printed tickets at all railway stations across the country. 1200 is not the real capacity of a train in normal times. Double it or triple it. It can’t get worse than what we are witnessing on the roads now. “Indian Railways runs 12,617 trains to carry over 23 million passengers daily – equivalent to moving the entire population of Australia – connecting more than 7,172 stations,” say reports. How difficult is it for us to transport 100 million people in a few days?

Forget fear of misuse. Trust me, nobody wants to go on a tour in these times.

Let the PM appear on TV and simply assure the people who voted for him: “We shall run free trains all over the country for the next month or two. Whoever wants to go home, make use of the trains. We will ensure food and shelter where ever you are but if you want to go home, take the trains. Stop walking, reach the nearest railway station and take a train. Stay at the railway station or nearby shelters till you get a train. We have made those arrangements. Don’t rush and cause stampedes, I assure you we shall run these trains till the last migrant worker has reached home.”

And arrange shelters and food around the railway stations. If you can’t give them food, at least give them shelter till they get a train. If you can’t give them shelters too, just don’t harass them wherever they are. They can take care of themselves for a few more days. Just run those idle trains.

You can think of massive screening, testing and quarantine centres across the country after first allowing them to reach their homes.

You can think of how to revive the economy later on.

For now, just run those trains.

What else can the government do?


The TV Speech

May 15, 2020

I somehow managed to listen to his Hindi speech, which was as usual without English/local language subtitles, and understood these five things.

1. An expensive harpic package has been announced. The junior artistes will disclose the contents of the pack tomorrow.
2. Jan Dhan, Aadhar, Mobiles have landed us up in a JAM.
3. When you make in Delhi and sell in Pollachi, it is called local. Be vocal about local and change its meaning.
4. The management jargon like incremental change, quantum jump, five pillars, four Ls still have users after many decades of overuse.
5. There are good hairdressers in Delhi who are breaking the rule to work during the lockdown. One, however, has to appreciate their flawless workmanship.

I also noticed a sixth aspect. Those who are dreaming about roaming around in the vast palaces of the new Delhi vista do not have eyes for the migrants marching in the middle of the night with splintered soles. They shall not utter a single word to recognise their plight. They shall keep boasting about how their relief money has landed up straight in the pockets of those migrants too.


Two movies: Monsieur Klein & Toyland

May 15, 2020

Monsieur Klein (1976) is a disturbing French movie by the American director in exile, Joseph Losey (blacklisted in Hollywood as communist), set during the second world war during the Nazi occupation of France. The movie has an explosive opening scene in which a woman is being profiled rudely by a male doctor who inspects her nose, teeth, mouth, jaws, forehead, facial expression, body, hips and heels, and marks her as Jewish or Armenian or Arab. The woman pays fifteen francs for his services and leaves with her husband who had also come for profiling.

Robert Klein (Alain Delon) is a French art dealer who buys works of art at bargain prices from Jews who are looking to make money before escaping. He suddenly starts getting letters meant for another Robert Klein, a Jew living elsewhere in Paris. He traces his house but could not find him. He is desperate to find the motives of that person but is unable to make headway.

When Klein goes to meet the editor of a Jewish newsletter, which was sent to him unsolicited, the editor opines a friend might perhaps have subscribed for him. Klein says, “No one would play that sort of joke on me.” The editor asks the awkward Klein, “Do you think we are a subject for jokes?”

The police start suspecting Klein and ask him to prove his true-blue French identity.

Klein goes in search of the birth certificates of his parents and grandparents, and meets his old father. His father tells him there were Kleins in Holland and implies they could be Jews. He asks his father if they could be related to the Dutch Kleins and his father howls that they have been French and Catholic since Louis XIV. He is unable to get the certificate of his maternal grandmother who was born in Algiers.

The rest of the movie is about him trying to find and establish his identity, and the identity and motive of the other Robert Klein. The threat of a concentration camp looms over his head.

I cannot decide whether it is a historical or a futuristic movie. Needless to say, CAA,NPR,NRC were on my mind throughout.


Toyland – Spielzeugland (2007)

A wonderful World war II-Nazi era short flim that achieves in 12 minutes what others rarely achieve in a few hours and a lifetime.

Watch it – with children if you can.

[The film is on the link – read further after watching it, in case you are worried about spoilers.]

It’s intensely tragic but also offers a bright spark of hope. We (with our daughter) had to watch it twice back to back to let it sink in.

You can’t find a better way to tell your children people can’t be identified by their clothes and looks. And how humanity can somehow, sometimes if not always, triumph over fascism.


Notes on Corona – 5

May 15, 2020

24-Apr-2020

When we went out for extracting coconut oil last week , I had also gone to the Electricity Board office to pay the electricity bill of our house owner. It is shocking that the government which asks us not to collect house rents is still collecting electricity bills. When people can’t step out of their houses, how can they pay their EB bills? Not everyone can be expected to pay their bills online. When I enquired, they said taking the readings door to door has been cancelled and we could pay the same charges as the previous month.

They had kept a bucket of water and liquid soap outside the office. Everyone was expected to wash their hands before entering the office. We had visited this office last month with the house owner. They had started this practice even before the lock down. They had kept a soap bar then [கட்டி in Tamil means both a solid bar and hug. Hence the ‘hug soap’ 🙂 ]. The house owner went inside while we stayed in the car. A person came on his motorcycle. When others instructed him to wash his hands and enter, he was very reluctant and kept grumbling.

“If I keep on washing my hands like this, my palm prints are going to vanish,” he mumbled.

He somehow managed to bend over his large paunch and washed his hands.

Meanwhile, our house owner returned and I started the car. The motorcycle was blocking the way a little. The person came running to move his vehicle.

“If you touch your motorcycle, you’ll have to wash your hands again,” I said and started driving away to the vegetable shop.

“What, yet again?” He was standing there, stunned.


1-May-2020

Even in the middle of major disasters, or perhaps, especially during such disasters, governments and politicians and the police cannot curb their urge to clamp down on the freedom of expression. Even a small media outlet in a small city is not spared for the smallest of criticisms.

https://caravanmagazine.in/media/simplicity-coimbatore-coronavirus-journalist-pandian-arrested-velumani


2-May-2020

Arogya setu is mandatory for all employees? Gosh, I have never felt more relieved that I am not employed.


6-May-2020

This report came up on my timeline and is slightly dated but the situation could not have changed much by now.

The impact of such a skewed representation in the highest layer of bureaucracy on the various decisions taken by the central government (this and the previous ones) that affect all sections of the society, especially in situations like the current one, cannot be ignored. When over 50% of the central ministers also belong to the upper castes, the problem is exacerbated. No wonder the central government did not anticipate or, if it did, did not care about something as huge as the migrant crisis and has responded to it poorly.

Among the English-speaking elite, caste is an issue that is discussed the least in the open. But it remains a huge factor in our country at all levels. It maybe subtle or crude, covert or overt, conscious or subconscious, but it pervades everywhere.

https://theprint.in/…/of-89-secretaries-in-modi-go…/271543/…


/Only one of the 89 secretaries posted at the Centre belongs to the Scheduled Castes (SC), while three belong to the Scheduled Tribes, latest government data tabled in Parliament shows. None of the secretaries belong to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. /

/The representation of SC/ST/OBC officers in central government ministries/departments is lopsided even at the additional secretary, joint secretary and director levels. For instance, of the 93 additional secretaries in central government ministries, just six are SCs and five are STs, while there are no OBCs of this rank either.

Among the 275 joint secretaries, 13 (4.73 per cent) are SCs, nine (3.27 per cent) are STs and 19 belong to the OBC category./


6-May-2020

Sinister.

https://www.thequint.com/news/india/after-meeting-with-builders-karnataka-stops-trains-for-migrants


11-May-2020

Wow, India is such a happy and prosperous place to be in during lock down.

Interview with the Chief Economic Advisor of India.

—————————–

P.S.: It was unbearable to watch the full interview. Those who care for the nuances can do it here . There are enough indications that the next stimulus package (note: stimulus, not relief – though M.S. Ahluwalia objects to this word for different reasons) will focus on the big industry. Both of them keep talking about stimulating demand. This sort of economic approach and jargon sounds so vulgar and insensitive in these times of distress. Oh, but the Jan Dhan data proves there is no distress. People just have to withdraw money from their accounts and spend. Direct benefit transfer to the poor is merely to exploit the high marginal propensity to consume among these sections, and not exactly to help them survive. [To me the JDY data just shows that the relief money of 500 and 1000 that the government gave to the women did not reach them fully.] M.S. Ahluwalia also does not have any radical solutions.

There are questions to the CEA from industrialists. How about some questions from the migrant workers?


11-May-2020

Covid has shown us that we don’t need much money to live and that money is not everything. The demand for suspension of labour laws and the deliberate, sinister attempts to detain migrant labourers have shown us that the suave, modern industrialists are no different from the caricatured greedy industrialist villains of yesteryear movies who crushed union leaders through conspiracy. It has exposed their self-serving idea of growth. Jobloss is the threat with which they try to rollback hard-won labour laws.

The industrialised economy as we know it was raised on the foundation of slavery and imperialism. The champions of this economic model still clearly believe in soft slavery.

It is an opportunity for us to reimagine and recreate our world. Big industry is not essential for our wellbeing, and if anything, is only detrimental to our survival, as the climate emergency has shown. To save our economy, the failing exploitative industries should be saved at any cost is a politically sacrosanct idea which needs to be challenged. It’s time for the alternative ideas regarding decentralisation and self-sustained local economies to be mainstreamed.


12-May-2020

Homework before 8 p.m. Please watch this.

/t was past one in the morning. I was on the road in our car trying to make it our next stop. Suddenly, near Bhiwandi, in Maharashtra, I was woken up by the sound of a child crying. This is what I saw-in the dead of the night. Haunting.
– Barkha on Twitter/


13-May-2020

I wish the year was 200200. We would have got 200 lakh crores.

200-200. 200 lakh crores.
100 percent of GDP.

Now, FMji, go figure. No typos.


15-May-2020

A large number of migrant workers have started walking back towards home from Chennai too 😦

These friends are genuine people doing more than what they can. Anyone who wishes to help, please reach out to Anantha Sayanan.


Meritocracy

April 23, 2020

20-Apr-2020

Should we feel happy for these kids? One bus for every 25 students ensuring proper social distancing. Wow.

https://www.ndtv.com/…/200-buses-from-ups-agra-to-be-sent-t…?

And then we have this, let alone the millions who don’t have this too. This is true meritocracy in action.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/…/articles…/75228176.cms?


The Family Enterprise

April 23, 2020

19-Apr-2020

1400 coconuts were shifted from the store room and cut in 2 days. My wife did 80% of the work (she claims). But I think our daughter was an equal contributor. Moreover, after running around non-stop in the hot sun, she had enough energy to attend her singing class over phone after 7 p.m.

After 3 more days of drying in the sun, we should be ready with enough oil for a year.


The Pyrrhic War on Corona

April 23, 2020

My essay in Tamizhini.

/Soon after the SARS-CoV-2 virus was identified in Wuhan in December 2019 and a pandemic started developing, the Indian government acted reasonably quickly to bring the Indian citizens stranded in Wuhan and other foreign countries to India, despite the risk of spreading the novel corona virus in India. Irrespective of the merits of the move, the intentions cannot be faulted. However, when a lock down was announced in India, we cared little for the millions of migrant workers spread across different parts of India./

/While the spread of corona in India and the mortality due to corona have not been as bad as other countries, the impact of the lock down has been worse. The objectionable language of war has been used frequently against corona. It must be said in the same vein, this is turning out to be a Pyrrhic war./