Quotes for the season

February 10, 2019

Perhaps he’s reached that state of intoxication which power is said to inspire, the state in which you believe you are indispensable and can therefore do anything, absolutely anything you feel like, anything at all.


There is something powerful in the whispering of obscenities, about those in power. There’s something delightful about it, something naughty, secretive, forbidden, thrilling. It’s like a spell, of sorts. It deflates them, reduces them to the common denominator where they can be dealt with.

Sanity is a valuable possession. I hoard it the way people once hoarded money.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)

‘When the governor retired from his governorship and returned to Rome to spend his remaining years there, he had amassed a fortune which was greater than that of any previous ruler of the island; but at the same time he had administered the mines and the whole province with a profit to the State unknown before. Innumerable overseers and slave-drivers had contributed to this success by their sense of duty, severity and perhaps even cruelty; thanks to them it had been possible to exploit fully the natural resources and squeeze both population and slaves to the utmost.

But he himself was far from cruel. It was only his rule that was hard, not himself: if anyone blamed him for such a thing it was due to ignorance, to the fact that one didn’t know him. And to most people he was an unknown, half-mythical person. Thousands of human wrecks down in their mine-pits and at their ploughs out in the sun-baked fields gave a sigh of relief when they heard that he thought of going away; in their simplicity they hoped that a new ruler would be better. But the governor himself left the beautiful island with sadness and regret. He had been very happy there.’

– Par Lagerkvist – Barabbas

சில நாள்களில் கவர்னர் தனது பதவியிலிருந்து ஓய்வு பெற்றுக் கொண்டார். அவர் ஆட்சி செலுத்திய காலத்தில் தனக்கும் அரசாங்கத்துக்கும் நிறையப் பொருளீட்டினார். எத்தனையோ அடிமைகளும் அடிமை ஓட்டிகளும் இந்தப் பொருளீட்டுதலுக்கு உதவினார்கள். எத்தனையோ கொடுமைகள் எத்தனையோ பேர்வழிகளுக்கு இழைக்கப்பட்டன. அந்தத் தீவின் இயற்கை வளத்தையும் சுரங்கச் செல்வத்தையும் பூரணமாக ஆராய்ந்து லாபமடைந்தார் அந்த கவர்னர்.

ஆனால் அவர் கொடூர சித்தமுள்ள மனிதர் அல்ல. அவர் ஆட்சி கொடுமையாக இருந்ததே தவிர, அவர் நல்லவர்தான். அவரைக் குறை சொல்லக்கூடியவர்கள், அவரைச் சரியாகத் தெரிந்து கொள்ளாதவர்கள்தான். அவரைப் பலருக்குத் தெரியாது என்பதும் உண்மையே! எட்டாத உயரத்தில் இருந்தவர் அவர். அவர் போகப் போகிறார் என்றறிந்து கஷ்டப்பட்ட பலர் ஆறுதல் பெருமூச்சு விட்டார்கள். புதிதாக வருபவர் நல்லவராக இருக்க மாட்டாரா என்று அவர்கள் எண்ணினார்கள். ஆனால் அந்தப் பசுமையான அழகிய தீவை விட்டு மனசில்லாமல்தான் பிரிந்தார் அவர். அவர் பல சந்தோஷ நாட்களை அங்கு கழித்திருந்தார்.

– பேர் லாகர்குவிஸ்டு – அன்பு வழி (தமிழில் க.நா.சு.)

The Handmaid’s Tale and Demonetization

February 10, 2019

[In Margaret Atwood’s futuristic novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, women are stripped off their jobs and bank accounts, overnight, after a coup. Publishing this in 1985, she had taken the digital dystopia of the future, further ahead from 1984.

After demonetization, it doesn’t sound too futuristic anymore, does it? But, with total digital money, it does sound easier, and scarier.]

/All those women having jobs: hard to imagine, now, but thousands of them had jobs, millions. It was considered the normal thing. Now it’s like remembering the paper money, when they still had that. My mother kept some of it, pasted into her scrapbook along with the early photos. It was obsolete by then, you couldn’t buy anything with it. Pieces of paper, thickish, greasy to the touch, green-colored, with pictures on each side, some old man in a wig and on the other side a pyramid with an eye above it. It said In God We Trust . My mother said people used to have signs beside their cash registers, for a joke: In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. That would be blasphemy now.

You had to take those pieces of paper with you when you went shopping, though by the time I was nine or ten most people used plastic cards. Not for the groceries though, that came later. I must have used that kind of money myself, a little, before everything went on the Compubank. I guess that’s how they were able to do it, in the way they did, all at once, without anyone knowing beforehand. If there had still been portable money, it would have been more difficult.

It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.

Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control.


When I got to the corner store, the usual woman wasn’t there. Instead there was a man, a young man, he couldn’t have been more than twenty.

She sick? I said as I handed him my card.

Who? he said, aggressively I thought.

The woman who’s usually here, I said.

How would I know, he said. He was punching my number in, studying each number, punching with one finger. He obviously hadn’t done it before. I drummed my fingers on the counter, impatient for a cigarette, wondering if anyone had ever told him something could be done about those pimples on his neck. I remember quite clearly what he looked like: tall, slightly stooped, dark hair cut short, brown eyes that seemed to focus two inches behind the bridge of my nose, and that acne. I suppose I remember him so clearly because of what he said next.

Sorry, he said. This number’s not valid.

That’s ridiculous, I said. It must be, I’ve got thousands in my account. I just got the statement two days ago. Try it again.

It’s not valid, he repeated obstinately. See that red light? Means it’s not valid.

You must have made a mistake, I said. Try it again.

He shrugged and gave me a fed-up smile, but he did try the number again. This time I watched his fingers, on each number, and checked the numbers that came up in the window. It was my number all right, but there was the red light again.

See? he said again, still with that smile, as if he knew some private joke he wasn’t going to tell me.

I’ll phone them from the office, I said. The system had fouled up before, but a few phone calls usually straightened it out.

Still, I was angry, as if I’d been unjustly accused of something I didn’t even know about. As if I’d made the mistake myself.

You do that, he said indifferently. I left the cigarettes on the counter, since I hadn’t paid for them. I figured I could borrow some at work.

I did phone from the office, but all I got was a recording. The lines were overloaded, the recording said. Could I please phone back?

The lines stayed overloaded all morning, as far as I could tell. I phoned back several times, but no luck. Even that wasn’t too unusual. […]
[All women are evicted from their offices.]

They’ve frozen them, she said. Mine too. The collective’s too. Any account with an F on it instead of an M. All they needed to do is push a few buttons. We’re cut off./


Why Gandhi is killed

February 10, 2019

This short speech is among the many gems that explain why Gandhi has to be shot dead again and again. You may skip my introduction but it is worthwhile to read his full speech. Gandhi recognizes the limitations and hypocrisy of his khadi-clad followers but is willing to take them along for as far as they can travel. Gandhi had no qualms about invoking his Hindu identity but the way Gandhi looked at religion and religious texts was/is very different from most others. He hails the sacrifice of Pandavas and forgiveness of Yuddishtra, instead of praising their valour and victory. In this speech, he does oppose conversion, but including conversion to Hinduism (Shuddhi and sangathan), even while acknowledging that his personal conviction need not come in the way of others’ rights. He counters the accusation that he was partial to Muslims, in his own unique, genuine way. He says, the words darshan and Mahatma stink in his nostrils. He advises, ‘Dismiss the mortal frame called Gandhi from your mind.’ They obliged, 21 years later, by dismissing his mortal frame from our sights but he still, clearly, haunts their minds.

February 20, 1927

[As at Nasik, the speech at Sholapur was a reply to questions and criticisms made in an open letter addressed to Gandhiji by some people from the town. Their first criticism was that those who appeared in khadi on the occasion of Gandhiji’s visit were hypocrites inasmuch as they would shelve it the day he left. Did that indicate the progress of khadi? Gandhiji said:]

Well, I do not know. I know that I am selling khadi wherever I go, and there ends my work. Supposing you purchase from me millions of rupees worth of khadi and sink it into the sea, the sale is not vitiated. But the criticism is unfair. I know that some wear khadi for the occasion, but they do not disguise the fact. They appreciate the message of khadi, but they say they cannot exclusively wear it for a number of reasons. Am I to tell them, ‘You are no good. I can do without your khadi?’ No, no. My duty is to define our dharma in its fulness. Their duty is to follow it as much as they can. People deceive me, you say. I do not understand how they can harm me even if they do. I am but a self-appointed agent of Daridranarayana and I shall take from you only what you can give me. . . .

“You are good enough,” they say, “but your work has ruined the country.” I am but an erring mortal and like any one of you I am full of shortcomings; therefore I beseech you to reject them and simply make the best of my capacity for service. Turn my good points to account and reject the bad ones. If you do not pick and choose and simply reject me wholesale, what will the world say to you? Will you regret the service of a man as a carrier because he is blind?

As I said at Nasik, I fail to understand the shuddhi, tabligh and proselytization as they are carried on today. I cannot understand a man changing the religion of his forefathers at the instance of another. But that is my personal conviction. No one need stop shuddhi, tabligh or proselytization at my instance. My own duty is clear. I must go on purifying myself and hoping that only thereby would I react on my surroundings. It is my unshakable conviction that penance and self-purification are the only means for the protection of Hinduism. Do any amount of sangathan, only let not that sangathan be of the evil forces, let it be only of the forces of good. . . .

You say I am partial to the Mussalmans. So be it, though the Mussalmans do not admit it. But my religion will not suffer by even an iota by reason of my partiality. I shall have to answer my God and my Maker if I give anyone less than his due, but I am sure that He will bless me if He knows that I gave someone more than his due. I ask you to understand me. If my hand or heart has done anything more than was anyone’s due, you should be proud of it, rather than deplore it. It should be a matter of pride to you as Hindus to think that there was amongst you at least one mad Gandhi who was not only just to the Mussalmans, but even went out of his way in giving them more than their due. Hinduism is replete with instances of tolerance, sacrifice and forgiveness. Think of the sacrifice of the Pandavas, think of the forgiveness of Yudhishthira. Should it be a matter for sorrow for you, that there is at least one man who has tried to carry out the precept of Hinduism to the letter? . . .

If there is anything in the charge that you are wearing khadi just to please me, and for show, I say for God’s sake do not do so. I am not a Mahatma. If I am one, the Mahatmaship is but the expression of some shakti. Pray do nothing for my sake. I shuddered when someone proposed that though I was silent I should exhibit myself for darshan1. I assure you the words ‘darshan’ and ‘Mahatma’ stink in my nostrils. I am unworthy of giving darshan. Even like you I am a vessel of clay, liable to all the affections and passions that flesh is heir to. How can I be fit to give you darshan? One and only one darshan is necessary, viz., that of the nameless, formless, indefinable Absolute. Try, if you can, to see Him everywhere, in a poor man’s hut as in a palace, in a latrine as well as in a temple. Have, if you will, the darshan of khadi and visualize its immense potentialities. Dismiss the mortal frame called Gandhi from your mind. Its darshan will be of no avail.

Young India, 10-3-1927

Lala Lajpat Rai on Hindu Mahasabha

February 10, 2019

“The Sangathan movement also (or to call it by its proper name, the Hindu Sabha movement) represents an old idea. The object was present to the mind of the founder of the Arya Samaj. But the Samaj signally failed to realise it, as it went on developing its sectarian proclivities. I remember that when I was a student of the Lahore Government College in the early eighties, a Hindu Sabha was formed at the house of Raja Harbans Singh of Sheikhupura in Lahore. That Sabha died in its infancy. Then the movement was revived towards the end of the last century at the house of the late Lala Balmokand, Reis, Lahore. Even this organization, however, remained almost lifeless until the late R. B. Lal Chand put life into it.

But somehow or other, the movement never took root. It has benefitted individual members, but it has done no good to the Hindu community as a whole. It had two formidable rivals: on the political side the Indian National Congress, on the socio-religious side the Arya Samaj. Fixed between these two mill-stones, it was never able to lift its head sufficiently high to be a success.

The present movement is a reaction of the Hindu-Muslim situation. There is nothing in its aims and objects or its constitution that need make it anti-Muslim, but to be frank, the fact that it is anti-Muslim is the only thing that keeps it alive. “

– Lala Lajpat Rai, *THE HINDU-MUSLIM PROBLEM (1924)*

Edmund Burke on Warren Hastings

February 10, 2019

Extracts from a speech by Edmund Burke in 1788 at the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings, which shows the best and the worst of Britain:

MY lords, you have now heard the principles on which Mr. Hastings governs the part of Asia subjected to the British Empire. Here he has declared his opinion that he is a despotic prince; that he is to use arbitrary power; and, of course, all his acts are covered with that shield. “I know,” says he, “the Constitution of Asia only from its practise.” Will your lordships submit to hear the corrupt practises of mankind made the principles of government? He have arbitrary power!—my lords, the East India Company have not arbitrary power to give him; the king has no arbitrary power to give him; your lordships have not; nor the Commons; nor the whole Legislature.

We have no arbitrary power to give, because arbitrary power is a thing which neither any man can hold nor any man can give.


Mr. Hastings’ government was one whole system of oppression, of robbery of individuals, of spoliation of the public, and of supersession of the whole system of the English government, in order to vest in the worst of the natives all the power that could possibly exist in any government; in order to defeat the ends which all governments ought, in common, to have in view. In the name of the Commons of England, I charge all this villainy upon Warren Hastings, in this last moment of my application to you.

My lords, what is it that we want here, to a great act of national justice? Do we want a cause, my lords? You have the cause of oppressed princes, of undone women of the first rank, of desolated provinces, and of wasted kingdoms.

Do you want a criminal, my lords? When was there so much iniquity ever laid to the charge of any one? No, my lords, you must not look to punish any other such delinquent from India. Warren Hastings has not left substance enough in India to nourish such another delinquent.

I impeach Warren Hastings, Esquire, of high crimes and misdemeanors.
I impeach him in the name of the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament assembled, whose parliamentary trust he has betrayed.
I impeach him in the name of all the Commons of Great Britain, whose national character he has dishonored.
I impeach him in the name of the people of India, whose laws, rights and liberties he has subverted; whose properties he has destroyed; whose country he has laid waste and desolate.
I impeach him in the name and by virtue of those eternal laws of justice which he has violated.
I impeach him in the name of human nature itself, which he has cruelly outraged, injured and oppressed, in both sexes, in every age, rank, situation, and condition of life.

[‘It was of this speech that Hastings said, “For the first half hour, I looked up to the orator in a reverie of wonder, and during that time I felt myself the most culpable man on earth.”’]

Word trends

February 10, 2019

I am a very slow translator, except when I translate my own writing. One of the main reasons is that I become engrossed in the dictionaries (in English and Tamil), while translating. One word leads to another, triggering a series of thoughts, away from the work in progress (this is a live demo). Dictionaries are not just about words, and words are not merely about meanings. Here is a footnote from the (Oxford) Dictionary app:

“word trends: Youth was once the ultimate state, envied and romanticized by those who had left it behind, with youths themselves celebrated as the possessors of beauty and potential. But that time has passed, with the Oxford English Corpus telling a sorry tale of the state of today’s youth: unemployed, disaffected, nuisance, and drunken are some of the most common modifiers, while almost all of the verbs associated with youths are violent or threatening, with attack, smash, vandalize, intimidate, and assault all scoring highly. And youths cannot simply meet—they congregate, gather, and even plague: intimidating gangs of baseball-capped youths congregating around the newsagents | a shopping parade plagued by nuisance youths. Teenagers fare equally badly, commonly being the object of verbs such as kill, stab, arrest, and molest and described as troubled, rebellious, spotty, or pregnant.”

Unintended mercies

February 10, 2019

During all the serious browsing and writing, we do manage to find some unintended relief and mercies. Late last night, I needed to translate thaali and chiragu into English. My wife suggested nuptial chain/thread for thaali, but no word came to mind for chiragu. Google search threw up a lot of jewelry ads. I clicked on a Tanishq ad for a mangalsutra costing Rs.46521. I decided to use the words nuptial chain and pendant. When I tried to exit that page, a message popped up.

/Dear Customer,
Please let us know the reason for your non-purchase and how could we help serve you better!/

I didn’t want to disappoint Tanishq. I left my answer there.

‘I was searching English words for Thaali and Chiragu. Found rough equivalents. Thank you.’

That small good deed kept me going (and awake) for another couple of hours.

(P.S. Any better alternatives are welcome)