$700 billion bailout plan in US Vs. Farm Loan waiver in India

September 30, 2008

There was a hue and cry from the corporate world and business media about the farm loan waiver. I found it amusing then. It looks even more amusing now, in the wake of the $700 billion bailout plan (now aborted) in that, presumptive, most capitalist of capitalist countries, the US. There was a muted response to this plan in the mainstream media; most debates were about how best to finetune this plan. 

P.Sainath ridicules this plan, in The Hindu, contrasting these reactions against the earlier rage over the “historic farm loan waiver for $16 billion”. (Sainath belongs to those rare breed of journalists, who slog it out in the vast rural hinterland to unearth the real truths, while his more elitist counterparts hog the limelight with lazy-sleazy sting operations and Arushi sagas. His apparent Socialist leanings notwithstanding, it is the existence of honest contrarian-journalists like him, which will make democracy and ‘free markets’ work and evolve).

Whether we like it or not, for those of us who were waiting for the crash, the developments are interesting, to say the least. This is definitely a serious test for capitalism and at the end of it, hopefully, we will evolve to a higher, humane form of capitalism (or whatever new -ism) and not find recluse in retrograde initiatives. The real danger is not the impending recession or a repeat of the ‘Great Depression’ with ripples across the world, but a reactionary withdrawal of heads into an excessive-regulatory shell. A temporary recession, which doesn’t hinder future growth, is more welcome than a few more decades of decadent licence-raj.

Gandhi’s Message to America

September 29, 2008

Here is Gandhi’s message, given in 1946, to Americans. It sounds more relavant today, than ever.

Dislodge the money God called Mammon from the throne and find a corner for poor God. I think America has a very big future but in spite of what is said to the contrary, it has a dismal future if it swears by Mammon. Mammon has never been known to be a friend of any of us to the last. He is always a false friend.

The soul of Mahatma

September 29, 2008

Very few, truly, know this man. But this man needs no introduction. A simple line sketch of his side profile is enough to evoke recognition from even children. There are numerous biographies, a truthful auto-biography, multiple movies, letters, articles, thesis,…and yet, very few, truly, know this man. 

In trying to search for myself, I stumbled upon Gandhi, again.

Gandhi has always been with me – within and without. There was a time during my adolescence, when I (to say, hated him will be too harsh) disliked him for the meek manner in which Independence was won and yet, in an effort to emulate him(and thereby dissolve the aura around him), turned vegetarian. My experiment with truth lasted for over 12 years, in trying conditions. With age and maturity, my dislike for Gandhi dissolved and realization came about that there was no better way to fight a powerful enemy; ironically, my experiment ended, as the need to emulate him with this motive, had also ended. Without completely knowing Gandhi, I started understanding him and admiring him. Earlier, as a boy-orator, I used to speak, ferociously, on stage, that we needed a leader like Netaji and all our problems would be solved. Looking back, I find this thought to be naive. Without knowing why, I started believing that Gandhi was the most relevant leader for India, and the 20th Century world.

After many aborted half-hearted attempts, I finally read Gandhi’s ‘Experiments with Truth‘. Oh man! No book has moved me so much. He was narrating, not a thrilling tale of adventure, not even the tale of the independence movement, but only simple truths. Truths, they are. There is some mysterious air about this book, I know not whether the credit belongs to Gandhi or his trusted Secretary and translator, Mahadev Desai, that make every word ring true. I could trust the truth of what he wrote more than what I, myself, write. That, I think, is what makes this a special experience. Gandhi was walking on a tight-rope. A little stumble, and he would have come across as a bombastic spiritual guru when he talks about his religious beliefs, as a third-rate romance writer when he writes about his carnal desires, as a real ‘quack’ when he writes about medicine and as a scheming politician when he talks about the way his political thoughts evolved. None of this has happenned; Gandhi, for all the faults that he lays bare, emerges stronger through this book. If, over eighty years after he wrote this, I feel, I know this man more than I know myself, what would have been the impact Gandhi had on his contemporaries?

There is no single truth. Each man has to seek his own truth. And, when a man, believes he has found his truth, there is no stopping him – he becomes a leader; millions are willing to follow him even if  they disagree with that truth. I disagree with a lot, if not most, of what Gandhi says in Experiments with Truth and elsewhere. 

  • I can only gasp at his firm religious belief. To paraphrase Gandhi’s words uttered elsewhere, God and religion would have been nice ideas. 
  • I find his thoughts on sex and brahmacharya to be naive and unscientific; I subscribe to modern scientific view that the more one suppress ones sexual feelings, the more the psychological damage to that person.
  • His thoughts on medicine are idealistic and impractical in today’s world. His reasoning is sound – the cause for an ailment needs to be removed; there is no use in treating the symptom. I follow this most often, in case of common cold and headaches, but it is almost impossible to practise this at all times, particularly, in cases of serious ailments. Mud-therapy and hydropathy sound ‘quacky’ as he himself admits.
  • His views on food are regimental – a diet of only fruits and nuts! I am not willing to test the truth behind his claims.
  • His claims on vegetarianism sound appealing; I have followed it for 12 years, but don’t feel as strongly about it anymore. My tongue rules over my heart now; convenience comes ahead of principle in this case.
  • His thoughts on Swadeshi are dangerous and retrograde. It was a powerful tool in a war of independence but had to be discarded afterwards. I am inclined more towards Tagore’s (and Satyajit Ray’s) The Home and the World, which paints a powerful picture against Swadeshi.
  • His obsession with Varnas is difficult to comprehend and impossible to agree with. A man, whose antipathy towards caste and untouchability was so obvious and admirable, should have given the burial to Varnashashtras, that it deserved.
  • His idea of a rural economy and self-sufficient republic villages look powerful but again Utopian.
  • I find his initial treatment of Kasturba and his later day experiments with young women to be insensitive.
  • I completely disagree with him on his views on Hindi and English, though I do, amusingly, like the idea of North Indians learning Tamil!

Having found so many reasons to disagree, it is a miracle that I still call Gandhi, the most influential leader for me. There lies the strength of his courageous, unrelenting belief in a perceived truth, even if that truth is not my truth. There lies the power of his ideas on Satyagraha and ahimsa; they are weapons of no parallel in history. There lies the charm of his self-sacrifice; one has to look through his self-deprecating belittlement of his abilities as a lawyer, a profession he forsake for social service. There is no doubt that he would have become a great lawyer if he had set his mind on it, evident in his clear analytical approach in building up an argument to establish the truth – the way he explains the irrelevance of history when arguing about the effectiveness of passive resistance in Hind Swaraj is outstanding. (“History, then, is a record of an interruption of the course of nature. Soul-force, being natural is not noted in history.”). 

If I had been born when Gandhi was alive, or if Gandhi is alive today, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have followed him. I am sure, Nehru would have had all the disagreements with Gandhi that I have mentioned here; did he not follow Gandhi ardently, as long as he was alive?

I have found Gandhi. Will Gandhi help me in the search for the unfound ‘me’, it remains to be seen.

The art of eliciting quality comments

September 26, 2008

There are blogs and blogs everywhere but hardly any commendable comments on blogs. I am amazed at how people give vent to their animal instincts while commenting, mostly anonymously (Rediff.com is a classic case in point – for condemnable comments). This is the same instinct that makes people skip signals, when they know they will not be caught.

However, those sites that do have the uncanny knack of, not only attracting serious readers, but, eliciting insightful comments, are a pleasure to read. Freakonomics blog is one such rare example. Most often, the original postings are quite ordinary, and would have gone unnoticed elsewhere, but the comments make the posting interactive and extremely interesting.

Here is an example:

My Intro to Psych prof used a good example of correlation vs. causation.

He said that a study indeed found a strong positive correlation between a person’s alcohol consumption and their donations to their local church/place of worship.

“How do you explain this?”, he asked. “Does it mean that religious people drink more? Does it mean that alcoholics try to alleviate their guilt through giving?” No. This would be assuming that one thing causes the other.

In fact, he said, both actions could be caused by a third thing. Perhaps people with higher household incomes have more money to buy alcohol and to donate as well.

— Posted by Greg

In the area of darkness – Gandhi and Naipaul

September 4, 2008

What would you do when you are in the area of darkness?

I am finding two contrasting answers in the two books that I am reading parallely now. An Area of Darkness by Naipaul and My Experiments with Truth by Gandhi.

I regret why I have not read the second one for so long and why I have picked up the first one, now. Naipaul’s language is something, I immensely admire, and I hope, my admiration emerges unscathed through this darkness. Gandhi is a person, I immensely admire, and with every word I read, it is enhanced.

Both Gandhi and Naipaul have been confronted with the same issues, as Naipaul himself has eloquently tried to show in one of the chapters. But what Gandhi tried to do was to light a candle and look for the treasures in the darkness, even as he strove to get rid of the darkness; what Naipaul seems to be doing in the few pages I have read so far, is to somehow see enough in the darkness, and then get out of the darkness, to tell something back to those who gave him the advance to explore the darkness (I had read somewhere in an old interview that he felt at a loss, after coming to India, on what to write and had to write because he had taken an advance. I can, now, see that he was telling the bare truth).

Naipaul starts the chapter on Gandhi with ‘one of Gandhi’s quotes’ at the top – “Well, India is a land of nonsense”. This is a typical example of how you can pull out something, someone said in some context, and make it suit your purpose. When there is a whole body of his work and his whole life, itself, open to the world and laid out before you, why would Naipaul pick up something that shows the exact opposite of what the man thought and believed in?

Gandhi looks at the ‘what’, and records it in no uncertain terms, but moves the focus to the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ (to resolve). Naipaul looks only at half the ‘what’, is indifferent to the ‘why’ and is unconcerned about the ‘how’.

No doubt, Gandhi saw the poverty and defaecation, detested them and wrote about them. But his writings do not show contempt for the people; he hates only those acts. He doesn’t stop with ridiculing those activities; he tries to understand the reasons by being one of the people; he tries, however ineffectually, to rectify them; he picks up the broom and mop and cleans the defaecation.

Naipaul is only exasparated with what he sees and sees nothing beyond. Naipaul, himself, says that poverty in India is obvious and you have to ignore the obvious to find something else. But he makes no effort to ignore the obvious. There is an unmistakable contempt for poverty that seeps through in his sentences. While he blames India for making no efforts to alleviate it, he makes no effort even to understand it. There is an unmistakable hurry to fill the pages. Why else, would an author like Naipaul, who has nothing but contempt for his comptemporaries, quote so extensively from an obscure novel called “The Princes”? He almost narrates the entire story, interspersed with his interpretations. That, to me, seems like a short-cut, which a novice would take, and does not belong to a true master that Naipaul is.

The better people who he has met so far are those Indians, who were educated in Europe. The others are boot-licking bureaucrats. For him, even Gandhi saw the defaecation, only because, he returned from England.

Naipaul seems to have seen the posters of some third-rate soft-porno movies and arrived at a conclusion that this is Indian cinema. The titles (Private Secretary, Paying Guest, Junglee) that he is throwing at us in this book betray his absolute ignorance about Indian cinema. Even if Indian cinema was of poor quality, he has obviously not seen the real mainstream or artistic ones before coming to his conclusions.

Jumping to conclusions, on something as simple as cinema, based on half-baked knowledge, doesn’t lend authenticity to what more he has to say. It probably, shows up his age – he was only 29, when came to India; maybe, he was preoccupied with himself and, really, was confused about his search for his origins – was he Indian, Trinidadian, British or all of it or none of it?

The only trouble is that the book is written in an eloquent language, as always. It is my belief that given a few words, nobody can coin a better sentence out of those than Naipaul. He does the same here. When he writes about the travails of running around to get a permit, you start gasping. When he writes about defaecation, it stinks. When he writes about poverty, it stings. He is obviously writting about what he has seen; but he has not seen the whole. He has seen nothing if he thinks people defaecate outside because they don’t like to do it inside. He has seen nothing at all, if, after going to the scenic Srinagar, he thinks that the defaecating Indian tourist women were enjoying and unembarrassed, when he intruded. He writes so well: if it were Trinidad or Africa, a place I don’t know about, I would have, gullibly, taken in every word, as it is. But, oh, it is about my India.

I knew that Naipaul didn’t have anything nice to say about India during his initial visits. But what I looked for in this book is the truth; for him to hold up the mirror to the face of our past. What he seems to have done is to come with a probe to get into the ears and nostrils and cavities and dig up dirt.

I am not sure if I have the patience to complete this book. Trying to read this fully will be my experiment with truth – if I can remove the filth from the truth. Naipaul has complained that he has written only about 6 pages on defaecation and people pay attention only to it. The reason, I believe at this stage, is that people would have failed to venture beyond those 6 pages to complete the rest of the book. If I fail, well, I will read a different book by Naipaul, to redeem him in my esteem.

As for Gandhi’s autobiography, nothing, that I can write, can reflect what I feel. I disagree with half of what he writes, too – on religion, God, diet, sex, bramhacharya, education, marital life,,,. But I cannot disagree with anyone else so lovingly. He sounds so truthful, at all times, that you cannot detest what he says even if you disagree. Every blunder that he commits, and then admits, increases your esteem for him. Sometimes, I wonder, why does he have to be so open? Why does a man, who after being ‘afflicted’ with the title of Mahatma, have to call himself a quack and portray himself to be Quixotic? Why does he have to admit that he still finds it difficult to keep his sexual feelings under control? Why does he have to talk, guiltily, about, something as insignificant and harmless as, allowing Kasturba to bath in a second-class bathroom, when they were travelling third-class? Well, his life, truly, was his message.

When your most potent weapon fails…

September 4, 2008

If anybody thought that we will become a cleaner, more disciplined nation, through eduction, it is time to review the views. Education alone doesnt help us achieve anything.

Education has not helped us to follow traffic rules. It is not just the cab drivers and rickshaw drivers who skip signals or honk unnecessarily or overspeed or indulge in drunken driving or talk on the mobile phone while driving or overspeed or park under ‘no-parking’ or bribe, when caught or drive in no-entry lanes. The highly educated engineers and managers and doctors and bureaucrats are equally, or probably more, culpable. Driving on the roads of Bangalore is an education on the futility of education in such matter.

How many educated rich folks take their ultra-expensive dogs out for a walk, with the sole purpose of making the dog pee and faecate on the road? They must have even employed an expert trainer to train the dog to do so.

How many ivy-league graduates will blink before lying to a customer; would not play with numbers to sex them up?

How many media journalists will put up their hands and refuse to discuss about the Arushis on primetime and allow them to live a peaceful death? More words would have been written and more sound-bytes would have been spilled on the poor Arushi’s murder than even Gandhi’s assasination – people investigating her death, people condemning the role of police, people preaching morals, and people like me, inadvertantly or advertantly, adding some more words to the Arushi saga by condemning the media for its insensitivity.

Why do people violate rules, not merely legal regulations, but the ethical and logical ones demanded by common sense? Does man have capability to self-regulate? Is man inherently constituted to be dishonest, to willfully commit a wrong, if he can escape the punishment for wrong-doing? Or has he got so accustomed to being dictated to all the time, through fear for god and religion and ruler, that he is now bothered, not about the crime, but only about the punishment for the crime?

Stricter enforcement is the obvious solution. But then, who will regulate the enforcers? Who decides what to enforce? It is a vicious cycle.

Do we need more gods to regulate us? Education has made man more religious and superstitious (was astrology such a mass industry ever?), but he has learnt to manipulate God. He believes in God but does not fear God. Is this what Dostoevsky meant, when he supposedly said that if God is dead, then everything is permitted? Maybe, a different, more powerful, omnipresent, omniscient and more importantly, more tangible God needs to be conceived.

The failure of education to reform us scares me; blinds me. When your most potent weapon fails, what next…?

Will a reform in the education system help? Are we laying more emphasis on the result than the process? Therefore, it becomes more important for us to score well in an exam, even if we have to copy.  If a school-boy will not avoid copying if he can, after growing, he will not stop at a traffic signal, if he is not watched; he will not hesitate to fudge, if can; bribe, if required. What has made it more important to excel in an exam than learn a subject? It is the same that has made it more important to reach the destination, quickly, at any cost.

How do we shift the focus of education, away from the product: results, back to the process: learning? This, I believe, is the fundamental problem that we need to resolve.

The racism row – both sides of the coin still stink

September 2, 2008

The tragedy of raking up an issue, as complex as racism, on the basis of a clash between two fickle individuals, is all the more starking now. We knew both sides of the coin stank but didnt know they still stink and stink so much.

Harbhajan, after the slapping incident involving another fickle individual, was banished from IPL and lost a few crores in the bargain.

Australian media felt vindicated. Afterall, they were after the right culprit. Symonds must have been the real victim.

Now, Symonds has been sent home for insubordination and is contemplating giving up his international career. So, should the Indian media feel vindicated now?

The whole furore is pointless and hypocritical. We cannot take childish abuses to be racism. It was just bad manners. And we dont need bad manners to prove that racism exists. Extreme or subtle forms of discrimination based on race, caste, religion and gender, can exist, and possibly does exist, in all societies and countries, irrespective of the visibly ‘good manners’ exhibited by most people.

Beyond the Boundary – It is not about cricket

September 2, 2008

I picked up Beyond the Boundary by C.L.R.James, expecting it to be an interesting light read. I was in for a surprise. It was far from it – a deep look into the complex inter-weaving connections between cricket and racism, culture, tradition, history, literature, arts and human nature.

The language is worthy of a classic. The thought process belonged to a clear analytical intelligent mind. The Anglo-Caribbean roots and therefore, a heavy bias, are obvious; there are no efforts to mask it.

To me, the important takeaways are two:

First, my long-standing addiction to cricket is vindicated, in a way. I have always tried to see more in cricket, than cricketers knew. James has done the same. The manner in which he has established cricket as a true art form, inferior to none, makes me feel better about the inordinate amount of time I have spent watching sports and all the classes and exams that I had bunked for watching cricket matches, and that too, the lost causes.

Second, like in fashion and economics, sports also seems not to be immune to cycles. Test cricket, in the early half of last century, looks to have been played a lot more ‘aggressively’ than the latter half. It is only in the 50s, that the slow snail-pace of scoring has set into the game. Now most traditionalists think that test matches need to be played at a leisurely pace; a forward defensive stroke with a straight bat is as elegant as any other. James discloses something entirely different. He, writing in late 50s, finds it to be a ‘new’ affliction. He abhores the new tendency of batsmen, to avoid hitting against the break and not moving to the pitch of the ball, when playing the spinners.

So, anybody who thinks that Sehwag is rash, should go and read this book. The Sehwags and the Pietersons are the true traditionalists – not the Dravids, Gavaskars and Boycotts. Can someone ask Tendulkar to read or re-read this book – he might rediscover his lost cricketing soul in the words, “the only way to counter a dominating bowler is to dominate the bowler”.

Freedom to listen…to the voice of Kashmir

September 1, 2008

I love my freedom. Therefore, I hate to deny others, their freedom. India needs to wake up from its forced state of denial on Kashmir and listen to the deafening voices from the valley. There was a time when I thought, like most others in India, that Kashmiris don’t have a reason to complain – unlike British India, Kashmir is not a colony; it is an integral state in India; Pak-backed terrorists are waging a reign of religious terror on the secular India. All of it could still be true; all of it could be wrong. The only people who know the truth, now, are the Kashmiris.

Matters of language, religion and nationality belong to the realms of the heart. Logic, rarely, has a role to play. I, who think of myself to be a fiercely patriotic Indian, still cannot accept Hindi to be my ‘national’ language. My North-Indian friends, and many Tamils too, could never understand my reluctance to embrace an ‘Indian’ language. This, I believe, does not make me any less Indian than anybody else. But, hypothetically fearing, if I am to choose between my language and my country, I do not know for sure which way I will go; to confess the truth, my bleeding heart, if, in the absence of any scope for reconciliation, might tilt towards my language.

With this personal background, I am fully able to empathize with what a Kashmiri might be going through. I have been to Srinagar, a few years back, on a luxury trip. The sight of armed Indian soldiers dotting every hundredth meter of the deserted highways did not give me any sense of normalcy in the region. The very few interactions I had with the locals, did not betray any sense of belongingness to the Indian nation.

Today, the only arguments that I hear in India, are that we spent billions of rupees on developing Kashmir. Thousands of our soldiers have laid their lifes to ‘protect’ Kashmir. Kashmiris, on paper, have more freedom in India than even other Indians. The question of freedom, unfortunately, is beyond, and never bound by, any of these.

As long, as the Kashmiris were fighting with weapons, it was easy for us to write them off as terrorists. Not any more. They have also started to realize the power of non-violence. Thousands of people engaging in peaceful protests can do wonders to influence the collective conscience of a country. I am not sure how long the peaceful protests will last but a sustained non-violent movement in Kashmir will heavily dent India’s sense of pride over giving birth to Gandhi and Satyagraha.

It is time, India listens to the Kashmiris. Let us give them the right to determine their future. They have the freedom to choose. And, we should shatter the fetters that shackle our freedom to listen. Maybe, when confronted with the chance to exercise their choice, the Kashmiris might take a favourable view of the advantages of being part of India.

If they decide to part ways, so be it. To a billion pairs of eyes, it may be a wrong and an irrational choice. How does it matter, though? Right or wrong, it is their choice.