Carry on, Greta (and Malala)

September 24, 2019

I wrote this last night and was unsure if I should post it.

“While we draw inspiration from Greta, I must also say this. Looking at Greta’s UN speech, I truly feel worried for her. She seems to be under extreme emotional stress. Her anger, her sadness, her tears and despair are all so real. But the disarming child we saw earlier was missing. She is right, this is not a task we should have left to a teenager. We have placed the weight of the world – the past, the present and the future, on the slender shoulders of a child.

We need more than this young boy to protect her, from adulation and doubts, slim hope and despair, and to help her not lose that smile.”

I still feel concerned but feel a little easy now after I saw her cute little retort to Trump’s taunt on Twitter. (She updated her Twitter bio with the same words used by Trump to mock her.) As long as she can do this, she should be fine.

I have seen enough of her interviews to believe she is not just a prop for others. She is not parroting any silly silver bullet solutions. She has only put her fingers on the problem. She is asking us to seek solutions in science; to challenge the political and economic order. There is a spontaneity and sincerity about her (in interviews and in her earlier prepared speeches) which was seen in the early speeches of Malala. Many people write Malala off now. But she is still only 22. She’s not done yet, I hope. Her tweets on Kashmir show she has her courage intact. And she had already done enough before she (was) shot to fame. What she did or doesn’t do afterwards cannot take away from her what she did as a courageous school girl in Swat. Even today, after I have played it a hundred times during my workshops for children, I cannot tire of watching one of her Urdu speeches in Pakistan before she was shot, nor can I go on to speak of her connection with Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan without a lump in my throat. I have seen that it always makes the maximum impact on children.

Same with Greta. I was impressed not just by her speeches but by her actions. Her boat ride across the Atlantic and her personal sacrifices and how she is dealing with Asperger’s. No teenager can just be coached to do these acts; even if they can be, it is still great. She has already done enough to deserve all the adulation that is coming her way. And I hope she becomes strong enough to deal with both the praise and the brickbats. Even if she just goes back to school tomorrow, she has brought the mainstream focus on the climate crisis more than any single person before her, and millions have already been inspired by her. That’s a million times more than what most of us have been able to do. If we don’t make progress from here, it is our fault and not hers.

Carry on, Greta. You can’t stare the Trumps down. But you can surely beat them with your smiles and sarcasm.

The most powerful gift to your children : Greta Thunberg’s little book

September 23, 2019

This is probably the most powerful little gift you can give your children. No, don’t give it; reading it yourself will be better. And acting on it, even better.

This girl gives a simple, powerful, essential message. You have to listen to her. I was reading the book and writing this note on a bus, with loud peppy music blaring. And not a note from the songs entered my ears, while I was at the book. I have already heard many parts of her speeches included here. Yet every word hits me hard when I see it again on paper.

I found the power of the second person pronoun, ‘You’, first, when I read and wrote about Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric. Greta Thunberg adds more dynamite to the word You.

As Gandhi showed, a great personal sacrifice can give one the moral authority to talk like this. Greta has already begun with those personal sacrifices, starting with school and clothes and travel and food. So she has got the confidence and authority to tell us, you have messed up. You are acting like spoiled, irresponsible children.

‘You can use your voice to raise awareness about this global crisis. You can help us wake up our leaders – and to let them know that our house is on fire.

We live in a strange world.

But it’s the world my generation has been handed. It’s the only world we’ve got.’

She calls out the seemingly harmless lies about a glorious future that lies in store for our children, if they work hard or study hard or dream big.

‘We had everything we could wish for and yet now we may have nothing.

Now we possibly don’t even have a future.

Because that future was sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money. It was stolen from us every time you said that the sky was the limit, and that you only live once.

You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. And the saddest thing is that most children are not even aware of the fate that awaits us. We will not understand it until it’s too late. And yet we are the lucky ones. Those who will be affected the hardest are already suffering the consequences. But their voices are not heard.’

She says, I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic.

“If our house was falling apart, you wouldn’t hold three emergency Brexit summits and no emergency summit regarding the breakdown of the climate and the environment.”

So it may not be right to say she and her young cohorts who gathered in millions across the world give you hope. But she, for sure, can give you panic. A much needed panic over the right issue. Lest you continue to fight over pieces of real estate and oil fields and decline in car sales, while the ground beneath your feet is slipping away.

[Greta Thunberg, No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference, Penguin Publication.]

Gandhi on the ban on Bharathi’s books

September 23, 2019

I came across this note by Gandhi on Bharathi, written when his poems were banned in the Madras Presidency 1928, following a ban by the Burma Government. Gandhi is extremely critical of the ministers and officials who passed this mindless order, ‘the Ministers are little more than clerks registering the will of the all-powerful I.C.S. “

Protesting the ban, Gandhi published Rajaji’s translation of Bharathi’s poems in the Young India – 17 of them spread over 4 issues, till the ban was revoked. It was accompanied by an introductory note on Bharathi by Rajaji.

Gandhi also refers to the efforts of Harihara Sharma in this note. Harihara Sharma, was an armed revolutionary turned follower of Gandhi; he had earlier worked with the likes of Vanchinathan. He moved with his family to Gandhi’s Kochrab Ashram during the initial years of the ashram. He was a friend and publisher of Bharathi. One of his essays is part of the anthology of writings on Gandhi in Tamil that I am translating.



I reproduce elsewhere in this issue the first instalment of a sample of the translation of the Tamil songs of the late Bharati, the Tamil poet, whose songs were the other day confiscated by the Madras Government acting under instructions, or, it is perhaps more proper to say, orders from the Burma Government. The Burma Government it appears in its turn suppressed these songs not by any order of court but by executive declaration. It appears that under that declaration the books of this popular Tamil poet which have been in vogue for the last 30 years and which, as appears from the evidence before the High Court of Madras, were under consideration by the Education Department of Madras for introduction in the school curriculum, are liable to confiscation in any part of India. I must confess that I was unaware of any such wide executive powers being held by Provincial Governments. But these are days in which we live and learn. This was no doubt a matter falling under the jurisdiction of the Education Minister. But it is becoming daily more and more clear that these Ministerial offices are a perfect farce, even as the legislative chambers are and that the Ministers are little more than clerks registering the will of the all-powerful I.C.S. Therefore the poor Education Minister could do nothing to save these popular books from confiscation. Probably at the time the confiscation took place, he had even no knowledge, or if he had, he was not even told what it was that he was really signing. In due course however the confiscation attracted public attention. Pandit Harihara Sharma of Hindi Prachar Karyalaya and publisher of Bharati’s songs, on behalf of his poor widow, could not sit still under the confiscation. He therefore moved the public and the matter was naturally debated in the Legislative Council which condemned the confiscation. Pandit Harihara Sharma even petitioned the High Court for an order to set aside what was clearly an illegal confiscation, and because of some understanding that the order of confiscation will be withdrawn, that the books will be returned and that the Madras Government will make reparation to the poor widow, the petition has been withdrawn. But the wrong still remains. One can only hope that the expectations of Pandit Harihara Sharma will be fulfilled and that the wrong will be remedied by the return of the books. But whatever reparation is made by the Madras Government, the sense of wrong will abide and so will the sense of insecurity created in the public mind by the action of the Madras Government in slavish obedience to the Burma Government.

(Young India, 13-12-1928)

After publishing the poems in 3 issues, Gandhi wrote this in Young India, 24-Jan-1929, along with the concluding part:

I continue to publish the balance of C.R’s translations for their intrinsic merit in spite of the fact that the ban has now been lifted though late in the day.


ராஜாஜியின் ஆங்கில மொழிபெயர்ப்பில் யங் இந்தியாவில் வெளிவந்த கவிதைகள்:

1. வந்தே மாதரம் என்போம்…எங்கள் மாநிலத் தாயை வணங்குதும் என்போம்
2. ஆடுவோமே பள்ளு பாடுவோமே
3. பல்லாயிரம் பல்லாயிரம் கோடி கோடி அண்டங்கள் (அல்லா)
4. பகைவனுக்கருள்வாய் நன்னெஞ்சே

(YI 13-12-1928)

5. பாரத தேசமென்று பெயர் சொல்லுவார்
6. பொழுது புலர்ந்தது யான் செய்த தவத்தால்
7. வீரசுதந்திரம் வேண்டி நின்றார் பின்னர் வேறொன்று கொள்வாரோ
8. தண்ணீர் விட்டோ வளர்த்தோம் சர்வேசா

(YI 3-1-1929)

9. நெஞ்சு பொறுக்குதில்லையே
10. பாரத சமுதாயம் வாழ்கவே
11. வெள்ளைத் தாமரைப் பூவிலிருப்பாள்

(YI 17-1-1929)


12. பயமெனும் பேய்தனை யடித்தோம் – பொய்மைப் பாம்பைப் பிளந்துயிரைக் குடித்தோம்
13. சென்றதினி மீளாது மூடரே
14. வலியற்ற தோளினாய் போ போ போ
15. விடுதலை விடுதலை விடுதலை! –
16. இப்புவிதனில் வாழும் மரங்களும் (அன்பு செய்தல்)
17. பெண்கள் விடுதலைக் கும்மி

(YI 24-1-1929)

Jottings on FB

September 23, 2019

Last week, I was watching some portions of the Chandrayan landing video on DD archives.The PM was interacting with the students who had been invited to ISRO. The first question was on motivation. He gave an elaborate answer…a sitter for him. There were a couple of other questions, which he joked and laughed away. As he started signing autographs, there was a last question that went like this..’Sir, if one student gets 40% and another gets 100%. Surely the one who gets 100% will be better. Then why reservation….’ It’s quite likely that these questions were vetted and cleared by someone. I am not sure if the PM heard the full question as he started walking away in the middle of the question even as it got drowned out in the din. But I wish he had answered that question. I wonder if he would have talked about social and economic privilege, and about the difference between a boy who has to sell tea and the one who wakes up to bed coffee; and that 100% is not always greater than 40%. Social understanding is not any less important than scientific understanding.

(Sep 13, 2019)

My sister wanted me to drop her at Ramakrishna Arts college at 5 am today. Her company was helping the college organize a 24-hour programming contest using their ebox platform and she was going there to wrap it up. I am glad I came with her. Sitting here, it is so refreshing to see young students racking their brains with such vigour after almost 24 hours. The faculty had also spent a sleepless night with them. My sister tells me their performance has been no less than that of engineering colleges. She plans to train them more and make some offers. It’s time IT corporates start looking beyond engineering colleges, and start offering equal opportunities and equal salaries to non-engineering graduates with similar skillsets. Good talent is available outside their regular circuit of colleges. With technology available to identify such talent easily and more accurately and less expensively, they should get out of traditional approaches to hiring which relied more on pedigree than talent.

(Sep 14, 2019)

Early morning fun with Google translate:

It started with the phrase:
அசுர சாதகம் – monster advantage

It went on to another plane with this.

கண்ணில் ஒற்றிக்கொண்டேன் – I stared in the eye
பாதத்தைக் கண்ணில் ஒற்றிக்கொண்டேன் – I spied the foot in the eye.
நமஸ்காரம் செய்து அவர் பாதத்தைக் கண்ணில் ஒற்றிக்கொண்டேன். – I prayed and he spied his foot in the eye.
காலில் சாஷ்டாங்கமாக விழுந்து நமஸ்காரம் செய்து அவர் பாதத்தைக் கண்ணில் ஒற்றிக்கொண்டேன். – I fell down on my feet and bowed down to him.
அவர் காலில் சாஷ்டாங்கமாக விழுந்து நமஸ்காரம் செய்து அவர் பாதத்தைக் கண்ணில் ஒற்றிக்கொண்டேன். – He fell down on his feet and bowed down to him.
அவரது காலில் சாஷ்டாங்கமாக விழுந்து நமஸ்காரம் செய்து அவர் பாதத்தைக் கண்ணில் ஒற்றிக்கொண்டேன். – I fell to his feet and bowed down and bowed to his feet.
காந்தியடிகள் காலில் சாஷ்டாங்கமாக விழுந்து நமஸ்காரம் செய்து அவர் பாதத்தைக் கண்ணில் ஒற்றிக்கொண்டேன். – I fell on his feet and bowed down to the feet of the Gandhis and bowed to his feet.

Gives immense hope that the most intelligent machine can always be gamed.

(Sep 15, 2019)

An important insider story on Kashmir. Quite balanced, I think.

/So, is Kashmir ‘normal’?
I leave that for you to judge!/

This week my daughter and I were parallely teaching a bit of Maths to a 5th Std girl and a 7th Std boy. Both are studying in government schools, have identical family backgrounds and are quite smart, but the girl is in English medium and the boy is in Tamil medium. With the girl, the challenge was dual – she was struggling with the language as well as the math. The words quotient, remainder were all making no sense to her. With the boy, since language was not an issue, the focus was on maths. It was easier to explain what was a rhombus or trapezium in Tamil. I felt the difference more keenly than ever before. The English medium kids in government schools most definitely learn to read English much earlier and better than the Tamil medium kids. But their comprehension of the language, due to complete lack of exposure to it, is as poor as the others. They would overcome this with time. But having to learn other subjects in a language they don’t understand, at a crucial age when fundamentals are taught, puts additional strain on them as well as the teacher. Mine is an anecdotal experience. However, now that we would have sufficient data on the impact of English medium in government schools, we need to study this scientifically, and make course correction if required. We shouldn’t let current market forces spoil the future of children from poor backgrounds.

(Sep 19, 2019)

An important read. A chilling lesson on the history and science behind standardised tests at the University of Texas.

“I’ll say it again and again: Standardized tests have become the most effective racist weapon ever devised to objectively degrade Black minds and legally exclude their bodies.” @dribram on Twitter

/“The historical record makes it clear that racism was a primary motivation in UT’s decision in the 1950s to begin testing applicants for admission,” said Gary Susswein, a UT Austin spokesman. “Other explanations were given at the time, as standardized testing took root nationally and many universities moved away from open admissions to become more selective. But the ugly desire to keep out African American students was a major driver of that policy.”
A standardized-test cutoff “point of 72 would eliminate about 10% of UT freshmen and about 74% of Negroes,” the committee stated in a footnote. “Assuming the distributions are representative, this cutting point would tend to result in a maximum of 70 Negroes in a class of 2,700.”/

The current affirmative policy in Texas is also interesting. It’s definitely worth studying the applicability of it in India as a tool to increase inclusiveness, especially of students from government schools.

/The state adapted while preserving some form of affirmative action by guaranteeing admission to all state universities for students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their Texas high-school class. (The rule is now limited to the top 6 percent at UT Austin.) It’s a sideways form of affirmative action: By guaranteeing admission to students from all corners of the state, including from high schools that are chiefly black or Latino, the law has increased geographic and racial diversity in the admissions process./

(Sep 21, 2019)

Greta Thunberg on Democracy Now

September 23, 2019

These Gen-Z post-millennials could pose a bigger problem than the millennials to our traditional economic thinking…especially this girl.

She has given up animal products, she has given up flights, she advocates public transport, and what is worse, she says, she has almost given up buying anything new – even dresses.

A wonderful interview with Greta Thunberg. She still has the charm of a child – her eyes twinkle with mischief when she narrates how she hoodwinked her dad on the script for her radical speech at the UN; and yet it is easy to forget she is still a young girl.

She has profound words on climate justice. ‘…those who have caused the climate crisis the most are those who often are going to be the least affected, and the opposite: Those who have contributed to it the least are most likely the ones to be most affected. And therefore, we must make sure that, we can help these people and that it is not so unfair in everything.’

Our children are going to ask these questions to us. What answers will we give, or as Greta asks, what actions are we going to take? When I told my daughter about the Chandrayaan lander crash, her two questions were, ‘Will anything happen to the moon?’ and ‘Will they pollute the moon too?’

Watch it. The challenge starts with getting the pronunciation of her name right. (தமிழில் கிரியேட்டா துன்பரியா என்று எழுத வேண்டுமோ?)

Halfway to Freedom – Margaret Bourke-White

September 6, 2019

I came across this photo essay with some lovely photographs, and remembered that Margaret Bourke-White had interviewed Gandhi on 30th January, 1948. I then read her book, ‘Halfway to Freedom’.

This book, wonderful at times, gives insightful first-hand sketches on various key moments in Indian history. She saw Jinnah announcing direct action, and visited Calcutta after it erupted as a result of it; she photographed Gandhi and Jinnah and details the difficulties she encountered. She meets poor peasants, dines with the Maharajas, zamindars and the industrialists, and ridicules the idea of trusteeship; she also directly questions Gandhi and Birla on it. She saw the partition of Punjab and the raids on Kashmir by tribesmen & the spirited defense put up by the Kashmiris armed with sticks and clubs till the Indian forces arrived, and wrote a glowing account of Sheikh Abdullah and his People’s government which was, she says, at that time, far ahead of the Indian government in taking progressive steps.

After visiting Baramula, she also narrates the stirring story of Mir Maqbool Sherwani, ‘a young Muslim shopkeeper who had sacrificed his life rather than recant in his creed of religious tolerance. His martyrdom had taken place almost under the shadow of the convent walls, and in the memory of the devoted Kashmiris he was fast assuming the stature of a saint. ‘ Sherwani was crucified after he refused to shout “Pakistan zindabad: Sher-i-Kashmir-murdabad.” Margaret adds, ‘Once more Sherwani cried out, “Victory to Hindu-Muslim unity,” and fourteen tribesmen shot bullets into his body.’

In the book that was published in 1949, she says this about RSS:
“The RSS insisted it was a nonpolitical body; however there was no doubt that its young men absorbed with their glasses of milk strong doses of what they called “awakening race spirit”. I had managed to get my hands on some of their secret literature, and each blazing line about Hindu supremacy reminded me of ideas I had heard in Germany during the thirties when rising fascism fed its master-race theory to the Hitler youth. With the R.S.S. stand against ‘wrong notions of democracy’ and their belief that Muslims should be treated as foreigners ‘wholly subordinate to the Hindu nation,’ there seemed a very real danger that this youth movement might develop the same fascist and totalitarian tendencies we had witnessed in the West, and act against minorities as the Nazis did against the Jews.”

When Gandhi undertook his last fast in January, 1948, Bourke-While was there for almost the entire duration, being amazed by how the initial lukewarm, indifferent response gradually converted to an irresistible force.

“The whole nation seemed to have shared God’s gift, Gandhiji’s fast had stirred up a fount of emotion and great soul-searching. Although sporadic outbreaks continued to occur, especially in explosive border areas or where the greatest concentrations showed only too bitterly that problems remain unsolved, Gandhiji’s heroic risking of life had wrought profound effects. The entire country had been stirred to its foundations, and the people bent their will toward peace. “

She seemed to have admired Nehru; Patel, not as much.

When she went to photograph Jinnah, she found his appearance to be ‘tortured’, and speculated on the causes:

“…my dismay at the dyed fur was dwarfed by my shock at Jinnah’s changed appearance – the unsteady step, listless eyes, the white-knuckled, nervously clenched hands. […] Later, reflecting on what I had seen, I decided that his desperation was due to causes far deeper than anxiety over Pakistan’s territorial and economic difficulties. I think the tortured appearance of Mr.Jinnah was an indication that, in these final months of his life, he was adding up his own balance sheet. Analytical, brilliant, and no bigot, he knew what he had done. Like Doctor Faustus, he had made a bargain from which he could never be free. During the heat of the struggle he had been willing to call on all the devilish forces of superstition, and now that his new nation had been achieved the bigots were in the position of authority. The leaders of orthodoxy and a few ‘old families’ had the final word and, to perpetuate their power, were seeing to it that the people were held in the deadening grip of religious superstition. “

Here are some more interesting excerpts from the book. Pdf version is available here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tolstoy on nationalism

September 1, 2019

Leo Tolstoy, more than Gandhi, Nehru or even Tagore, is the one person whom the nationalists should fear the most. He can be called the Father of anti-nationalism.

This essay by Tolstoy is one that I keep revisiting.

I have shared the first quote before. I am sharing a few more excerpts, though the whole essay is a must read and sounds more relevant than ever.

It definitely challenges the whole world order and sounds too idealistic and impractical. It is difficult for us to imagine an alternative in the foreseeable future. But setting aside our set notions and conditioning, this essay deserves a deep reading from everyone. It challenges and provokes. As he says, humanity is ‘irresistibly moving from lower to higher ideas’. Whether it is true or not, it is a good belief to hold. And it is a warning bell that needs sounding in this self-destructive ultra-nationalist phase across the world.


“I have already several times expressed the thought that the feeling of patriotism is in our day an unnatural, irrational, and harmful feeling, and is the cause of a great part of the ills from which mankind is suffering; and that, consequently, this feeling should not be cultivated, as is now being done, but should, on the contrary, be suppressed and eradicated by all means available to rational men. Yet, strange to say, though it is undeniable that the universal armaments and the destructive wars which are ruining the peoples result from that one feeling, all my arguments showing the backwardness, anachronism, and harmfulness of patriotism have been met, and are still met, either by silence, or by intentional misconception, or by a strange unvarying reply to the effect that only bad patriotism (Jingoism, or Chauvinism) is bad, but that real, good patriotism is a very elevated moral feeling, to condemn which is not only irrational but wicked.

As to what this real, good patriotism consists of nothing at all is said; or, if anything is said, instead of explanation we get declamatory, inflated phrases; or, finally, something else is substituted for patriotism, something which has nothing in common with the patriotism we all know, and from the results of which we all suffer so severely.”

“the maintenance and defence of any nationality—Russian, German, French, or Anglo-Saxon, provoking the corresponding maintenance and defence not only of Hungarian, Polish, and Irish nationalities, but also of Basque, Provençal, Mordvinian, Tchouvásh, and many other nationalities—serves not to harmonise and unite men, but to estrange and divide them more and more from one another.”

“One would expect the harmfulness and irrationality of patriotism to be evident to people. But the surprising fact is that cultured and learned men not only do not notice it for themselves, but they contest every exposure of the harm and stupidity of patriotism with the greatest obstinacy and ardour, though without any rational grounds; and they continue to belaud it as beneficent and elevating.”

The small oppressed nationalities which have fallen under the power of the great States,—the Poles, Irish, Bohemians, Fins, or Armenians,—reacting against the patriotism of their conquerors, which is the cause of their oppression, catch from their oppressors the infection of this feeling of patriotism,—which has ceased to be necessary, and is now obsolete, unmeaning, and harmful,—and catch it to such a degree that all their activity is concentrated upon it, and they, themselves suffering from the patriotism of the stronger nations, are ready to perpetrate on other peoples, for the sake of this same patriotism, the very same deeds that their oppressors have perpetrated and are perpetrating on them.

All the peoples of the so-called Christian world have been reduced by patriotism to such a state of brutality, that not only those who are obliged to kill or be killed desire slaughter and rejoice in murder, but all the people of Europe and America, living peaceably in their homes exposed to no danger, are, at each war—thanks to easy means of communication, and to the press—in the position of the spectators in a Roman circus, and, like them, delight in the slaughter, and raise the bloodthirsty cry, “Pollice verso.”[1]

Not adults only, but also children, pure, wise children, rejoice, according to their nationality, when they hear that the number killed and lacerated by lyddite or other shells is not seven hundred but one thousand Englishmen or Boers.
And parents (I know of such cases) encourage their children in such brutality.

But that is not all. Every increase in the army of one nation (and every nation being in danger seeks to increase its army for patriotic reasons) obliges its neighbours to increase their army, also from patriotism, and this evokes a fresh increase by the first nation.

A government, therefore, and specially a government entrusted with military power, is the most dangerous organisation possible.
The government in the widest sense, including capitalists and press, is nothing else than an organisation which places the greatest part of the people in the power of a smaller part who dominate them; that smaller part is subject to a yet smaller part, and that again to a yet smaller, and so on, reaching at last a few people, or one single man, who by means of military force has power over all the rest. So that all this organisation resembles a cone, of which all the parts are completely in the power of those people, or of that one person, who are, or is, at the apex.

They are afraid of Anarchists’ bombs, and are not afraid of this terrible organisation which is always threatening them with the greatest calamities.


Understand that the question, who manages to seize Wei-hai-wei, Port Arthur, or Cuba,—your government or another,— does not affect you, or rather every such seizure made by your government injures you because it inevitably brings in its train all sorts of pressure on you by your government, to force you to take part in the robbery and violence by which alone such seizures are made, or can be retained when made. Understand that your life can in no way be bettered by Alsace becoming German or French, and Ireland or Poland being free or enslaved;

– Tolstoy