Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book lists

Book list.
The hunger games series - Suzanne Collins
Wolf hall - Hilary Mantel
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A passage to India - E M Forster
The man who knew infinity: A life of the genius Ramanujam - Robert Kanigel
The Song of Troy - Colleen McCullough
The book thief - Markus Zusak
The War of the end of the world - Mario Vargas Llosa
The long ships - Frans G Bensrsson
Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Nero's Heirs - Allan Massie
Mary - Vladimir Nabokov
Ponniyin Selvan - Kalki: ongoing (yes, in tamil!)
Quicksilver - The Baroque Cycle - Neal Stephenson

Turn left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope - and How to Find Them - Guy Consolmagno
Stargazing basics - Paul E Kinzer

Masters of Rome series - Colleen McCullough
Conqueror series - Conn Iggulden
The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series - James A Owen
Never let me go - Kazuo Ishiguro
Waiting for the barbarians - J M Coetzee
The Finkler question - Howard Jacobson
A place of greater safety - Hilary Mantel
some crazy books by Donna Leon, just before we went to Venice :)
Sea of poppies - Amitav Ghosh
River of smoke - Amitav Ghosh
The Prague Cemetery - Umberto Eco
The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver
A song of ice and fire series - the first 3 books - George RR Martin
The once and future king - T H White
I, Claudius - Robert Graves
The Constant Princess, and The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory
Shame - Salman Rushdie
Three soldiers - John Dos Passos
Cats cradle - Kurt Vonnegut

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Nothing is obvious from history!

People in their everyday lives (especially the ones with as much common sense as you and me) are seldom spurred to "change".

We can all very easily relate to principles of distant lands and distant times. In fact, anything that does not affect us currently and whose outcomes we already know enough, is easy to take a stand on, and judge. At some point of time in our lives, each of us in our own ways, must have realized that post-mortem is one of the easiest things to do, to any situation, and judgment is easiest to pass on hindsight.

But, during the times in which they are alive and practised, principles are the toughest things to come to terms with - they almost always sound like ideals too a idealistic and inconvenient to follow. And anyone who believes in something firmly enough to cause inconveniences to himself is simply cast away as a fool, or in gentler terms, someone with a 'not so practical outlook' of life.

Looking back at history, it seems now that our fight for Swaraj was felt deeply by every Indian. It seems that every self respecting individual of that time would have felt the need for it. But, was it that simple to know what side to take, and how much to do for it, at that time? Weren't they all people just like us, allayed by doubts and fears and hopes and insecurities like anyone of us?

The Indian freedom struggle was not one single heroic act of the masses.

Not everyone had the clarity of thought Gandhi had. A leader might be a visionary, but in a movement of the magnitude of the congress, is it possible to pass on the vision and the original inspiration and rationale to every member?

Even with Gandhi in the 1900s, people were confused. There were many factions with multiple goals and sub-goals, some inspired by a need for social/economic change, and some others by religious/spiritual. A number of processions were by children that felt egged on to some vague concept of pride and heroism, with borrowed ideals. A lot of them had more emotional appeal than any solid rationale supporting their actions. For e.g., during the world war 2, many people were not averse to supporting Hitler and germany, just for the reason that Germany was the enemy's enemy. And a number of Militant movements in India were actually comfortable with Hitler's "nationalistic" ideas for Germany.

There were a number of common people like you and me, reasonably educated, that could neither completely agree with the struggle at an emotional level (since they were either not too young for such idealism or not personally affected to feel so strongly about things), nor completely disregard it as a foolhardy act of heroism. Some of them saw the whole process of British Raj as development. India had never been ruled as one country and one people until then. What defined borders that made people Indian, at that time? For e.g., people were as alien to Hindi as they were to English in the southern parts of the country. We DID have a lot of problems. It's not like we were enjoying democracy for many years to condemn British rule as imperialistic.

And for the older generation of Indians, the congress and the nationalist movement, in many ways, despoiled local culture just like the British did. When done by the British, it was seen as defiling everything Indian and traditional. But by the congress, the same thing was viewed as nationalism.

So each man's convictions could have been largely based on his own few personal experiences. Some people thought the British could deliver them. They were not sure India was capable of self-governance and thought that the benefits of British rule outweighed the disadvantages. There were some others that thought deliverance would come through Gandhi and the congress, some others thought Bose etc. (And of course there were some others who just didn't care either-ways!!)

There was good and bad on both sides. And it is only in the annals of history that everything becomes obvious, and one side good and the other bad. But it's never the case when things are actually happening! Everything is hazy, never ones and zeros in life.

It seems very appealing and fashionable now to be wearing western clothes and be fluent in english and read american novels, be able to eat cereal, shop in supermarkets etc etc. It seems like development and liberalism. Why then, was a person 100 years back, well versed in sanskrit, but at the same time could play tennis and had english table manners seen as a pervert who did not uphold Hindustan values?

Right now, if we see movies and read about the sacrifice of millions of people and their leaders, our blood boils at these "British atrocities" perpetrated on our people.

I am not understating the historical facts about the British rule or how much we "suffered" and the heroism of non violence/freedom etc etc.

No doubt they happened. But maybe this is only one side of the picture? A history that is written by us, with an object to glorify us as a people, even if it means showing only one side of the coin? I am trying to look at that big picture with a magnifying glass that looks at the country's sentiments at a more personal, individual level and am wondering what it means.

And I am not sure things would have been easy at those times - choosing sides, especially for a class of people (like our middle class now) that is always insulated from what the "government" does. What did yours or my grand parents do?

Today, we feel righteous about our independence, and are proud of being the largest democracy in the world. But had i lived 75 years ago, i am not sure if i would have taken part in the freedom struggle. I am not sure if i would have not found it romantic to read english novels and hum english tunes. I am not sure if i would not have enjoyed playing tennis and taking to an altogether new culture. In fact, i might have found it quite exciting.

For all we know, we are probably the individuals that are living at a pre-civil war time. A war that will change india completely, root out corruption, change the nature of our international dealings, bring back all the brain that has been drained and establish india as a super power. And when, people 50 yrs into the future read about this in history, they would be imagining that we all are heroes and heroines of that brilliant struggle.

But knowing our government is corrupt at various levels, about farmer suicides, about pollution and the million other problems that are plaguing us, how many of us take them seriously enough to do anything? How many of us even spare one moment off our busy lives for serious affirmative action about this?

Principles and values are often not dramatic decisions. It's mostly the little things we do, the petty, seemingly inconsequential choices we make that finally matter. And how many of us think about them enough to change them?

Are we traitors then, by virtue of our indifference or unwillingness to look at anything outside our "food-shelter-comfort" zone? Have we always been?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Wanting to be with someone all the time, or at least, the most, when compared to the rest of the world?
"Need for company"?

The indescribable feeling towards a person that makes you feel like you are worth it?
"Ego gratification"?

Liking everything a person does/says, for no apparent reason, with no sight of one's own values or the larger scheme of things?
"A blind, fatal attraction"?

A justified desire for sex?
"Physical, sense gratification"?

A means to establish someone that is always there to fall back on, no matter who you are, what you do or what happens?
"Desire for security"?

A way to experience the reciprocation of all its implications - to be held and cared for, all the time?
"Attention need"?

Something abstract that allows you to declare it and then be your worst self with the other person, without any guilt or moral repercussions?
"License to take liberties"?

Or is it one of the following less "quantifiables"?

A joy in just "living", that gives you reason to do all the mundane things around you that you know make no sense by themselves?

An ardent and genuine admiration for a set of values that makes you rebuild your entire world from first principles, or reinforce your belief in the already existing system that you were despairing was dying?

A want to unconditionally shower your best, with no expectations of any reciprocation, not even an acknowledgment?

A filling of the void that makes you reach for who you could be, from who you are, setting you on the journey to discover the best within you?

The courage to dream of anything under the sun and the strength to take none of them materializing, with the wisdom that at the end of the day, the courage and the strength were all that mattered?

Is it just the entirety of all that you can possibly feel along the course of life, the sum total of the "best" and the "worst" that is you?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Gujarat 2002 - A Paradigmatic Shift?

(1) The 2002 violence in Gujarat is suddenly receiving so much attention.
We read and heard about this 5 years back. We knew right then that it was "state-sponsored" violence. We didnt do anything about it then. We didnt do anything about it since then.
Now the sting operations have brought forth lots of visual "impact" - photos, stories, interviews, videos etc. But has this added any valuable information or brought to light anything substantial that was not already obvious about this entire incident? why are people suddenly reacting to this five years later? Or with the assembly elections being around the corner, does someone want us to react this way? Are we unawarely becoming a pawn in yet another socio-political game of a grand scale?

Was 2002 the first instance of communal violence in Gujarat? Did it have any history? Was it a simple reaction of Hindu blood thirsty mobs trying to avenge the burning of 58 fellow "Hindus"?

What created these mobs and held them in such a high state of tension that one *single*, isolated incident caused them to erupt and indulge in such genocide? Maybe the state "organized" this violence by providing them with weapons and encouraged them along. But where did so many such people come from? Could simple anger over a Godhra train attack have spurred thousands of otherwise peaceful, normal human beings to commit such grotesque acts, ranging from wanton mutilation to raping and burning and other things not even mentionable?

Even God may need some time to sow seeds of hatred to this level of perfection it seems. How did the State pull it off?

(2) On a separate thread, Narendra Modi, the unforgivable, villainous perpetrator of this heinous crime against humanity that everybody spurns: It seems to be simple general knowledge that he was a "shame" to our entire nation and set an example as to what a chief minister should *not* be like. Then how/why did he get reelected, and that too by no negligent margin, within 6 months of his resignation by the very people of Gujarat? Is it possible that they could have forgotten what happened within 6 months?

Although it would by no means make him any less responsible for anything, one should probably be at least aware of the fact that Modi has been the recipient of India Today's best chief minister award twice in three years. When he came to power in a quake struck Gujarat at a time when the state was facing serious economic crisis (2001), he re-organized the government's administrative structure and embarked upon massive cost-cutting exercises in order to compensate for economic losses. During his administration, Gujarat registered a GDP growth rate of over 10%, the highest growth rate among all the states in India. He reduced the fiscal deficit of the state exchequer by fifty percent, has increased the availability of electricity in many parts of rural Gujarat and successfully raised the height of the Narmada Dam from 95 to 110.64 meters, which resulted in increased irrigation, water supplies and hydroelectric power. (http://www.gujaratindia.com/usefulinfo/useinfo3.html )

Agreed that it would make things simple if Modi and his government were just "bad" guys or the only bad guys that we could do away with and thus have the problem solved, and never again have to deal with communal tension. But is that all it is going to take to end this? Even if these guys are out, can we be confident that everything will be resolved?

(3) History of communal tension in the Gujarati state from 1960 - 2005 and an analysis of the multitude of factors that could have led to 2002 (Ref: 'Secularism and Gujarati State: 1960-2005', Nikita Sud, Univ of Oxford):

There were minor incidents in 1958, 1963, 1965, 1967 and 1968. But the first major conflagration was in 1969. Although "triggered" by an alleged attack on the Hindu Jagannath Temple by Muslim worshippers at a nearby Dargah, reports indicate that: "Several 'minor incidents', such as a rally by Gujarati Muslims to protest Israel's desecration of the Al Asqa Mosque in Jerusalem had created some tension in the Sate. This was exacerbated by the exaggerated reporting of 'communal incidents' by vernacular newspapers, as well as by propaganda pamphlets published by Hindu nationalist organizations. In fact, during the build up to the violence, the Jan Sangh supported the founding of a Hindu Dharma Raksha Samiti (HDRS). Many HDRS members, who were usually also Jan Sangh and/or RSS members were involved in the ensuing riots."
660 casualties, 6742 properties attacked, out of which 671 were Hindu and 6071 were Muslim, 93 Muslim places of worship damaged/completely destroyed. (Reddy et al, 1970)

Police inaction was apparent and inquiring commissions unearthed evidence revealing the police as having being infirm, indecisive and unwilling to take any action while hundreds and thousands of people indulged in mindless violence. But yet, in spite of severely condemning the way the state dealt with the riots, the failure was construed as 'inefficiency' of the state to uphold its secular norms and not as a lack of commitment to secularism. While religious biases did exist in the government roles at various levels, they were seen as individual aberrations and not as a systematic malady.

Then, in 1969, when the Congress Party split, in Gujarat, this division was between the upper caste, conservative Old Congress (organization) and Indira Gandhi's modernizing, secular, socialism-professing New Congress (Requisition). Under her guidance, from the mid 70s, the popular slogan 'Garibi Hataao' and the overall strategy called 'KHAM: a winning coalition of Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivaasis and Muslims' led to the building of a mass based party comprising backward caste and minority religious people. In the 1980 elections, the Congress government was sworn in under Madhavsinh Solanki, a backward caste kshatriya. 86.5 percent of the state legislature was made up of KHAM candidates. Only five of Solanki's cabinet members had previous ministerial experience. The KHAM leaders, who represented disadvantaged groups also dominated government boards and commissions.

A sense of alienation created by the loss of political power, loss of control over state structures of economic and political patronage and the perceived loss of social dominance propelled Gujarat's savarnas (upper castes) to aggressively support two anti reservation agitations in 1981 and 85. The Sangh Parivar, with its unifying Hindutva ideology and political ambitions to oust the congress, became an anchor for combining Brahmins, Banias and Patidars into a savarna unity. But the KHAM identity united 70-75 percent of Gujarat's population and the savarna identity was obviously inadequate for taking over political power. So the Parivar promoted an alternative socio-political identity, based on a constructed 'Hindu' unity that included lower castes, former untouchable outcastes and Adivaasis. This now poached on a large part of the KHAM constituency. The Parivar could easily mobilize lower castes by using Hindutva to provide an easy channel for upward social mobility and respect *within* the Hindu society. Measures like dalits being invited to participate in rath yatra programs (which were closed to them before as they were 'untouchables'), building schools in remote Adivaasi areas to propagate Brahmin culture, organizing youth groups to work for the all round development of their 'economically and socially backward Hindu brothers' etc led to the situation in 1986 where Dalits and Muslims were fighting each other at a Rath yatra. This was a significant change from how things had been during the anti reservation movement in 1981, when Dalits and Muslims had shown great solidarity. Given the BJP's political success from 1990, we can decisively conclude that the Hindu strategy had paid off.

Simultaneously, on the other hand, since Indira Gandhi' death in 1984, and the sidelining of KHAM leaders from 1985, the Congress entered a post KHAM phase, in which the new leadership pandered to the interests of Gujarat's upper and middle castes to stay in power, thus losing all its political ideology. Although the BJP came to power only in 1990, through the 80s, since the Congress needed state patronage to keep their electoral majorities and the state leadership was in general very weak,the BJP made significant inroads into local power structures of the state from early 80s onwards. During this time, Hindutva supporters were begun to be placed as personnel in different levels of the state apparatus. The anti reservation agitations had turned most of the upper caste, non BJP government employees also against the Congress government.

During 1985-1990, there was rampant communal violence all over the state. This was inevitable, given the campaigns of Hindutva organizations like VHP and Bajrang Dal and their deeply divisive speeches and offensive propaganda against Muslims. The State took no action, neither against individuals nor against organizations. All along, normative secularism, however weak it may have been on the ground, was at least a principle. Now gradually, that too began to collapse and from it emerged the "formal" Hindu Rashtra. From the beginning of the process of the Gujarat state's formal 'Hindutvaisation' in 1990 till the state sponsored massacre in 2002, Gujarat has traveled consistently on the path of Hindutva. No more was the state surreptitiously participating in acts of discrimination, it was now taking 'policy decisions' that directly implicated it. To the extent that acts of unthinkable violence and discrimination almost received no attention from even the state's media. They seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that a hardline Hindu government would not run a secular state.

And nothing made this more clear than the 2002 massacre.

So what happened in 2002 was not a sudden or accidental incident with no precedents. Throughout the BJP's rule from 1990, Gujarat's state disavowed secular values. It had been on a much smaller scale in the previous decades and with time, it has totally given up on secularity.

So where are we now? Is this just religious tension? It seems to be tied, in many complex and not so direct ways, to politics, economics and social life in Gujarat. To the extent that the policy of economic liberalization could be a factor that plays a role in this whole dynamics! (Can give more references to anyone that is interested)

(4) And now in our present mood to question everything to be sure we are getting to the roots of the issue and are not getting diffracted at the surface, here are a few questions: (These are exaggerated out of proportion obviously - just a tool to suggest things that are subtle yet significant in reality, in as less time and space as possible)

(i) If I can carry out 'sting' operations with a video camera and am not obliged to present rhyme of reason for why I did it, or for that matter, not even establish a context of my 'operations', can you imagine the amount of misinterpretation I can create with simple facts? I could just tape a few moments of me being bitter and angry and making a statement to my best friend that I would neither mean nor ever act on. But you would have no way of gauging my mood or my intention or the intended recipient for that matter.
(ii) Given (i), anyone can force his/her agenda on me, with a promise of commensurate reward of course.
(iii) Out of n possible things that are wrong, I can selectively interpret (intentionally or unintentionally - little does that matter) and project and magnify a few aspects of an issue which would grossly misrepresent the truth. Thus logically, it seems more harmful than helpful!

But of course, that is only one side of the coin. Sting operations offer a lot of excitement, appeal to the best (worst?!) in man in the form of grotesque, captivating images/videos and are definitely more interesting to man's emotion than boring 5 page long reports that struggle to present the truth and all of it, in as objective a manner as possible.

(5) The end:
Not concluding anything - just wanted to present multiple perspectives and attempt to draw out a little more of the incomplete picture in our minds. That's all.


I once reached a state of quandary, just writing
And gathered it was easier to keep away.
What is the point in disrupting a feeling,
Beauty is best unexpressed any day.
Thus deluded myself, to veil my seething,
That there was not a pair of eyes to even glance this way.

But now, all that was buried, labeled 'consumed',
Is budding forth in ways hauntingly wont.
And the me that could not stake being presumed,
Is peeping out coyly, daunt,
Like a flower's first blush at a mirror, ever since she bloomed.

It suddenly dawned on me, had me breath taken:
There is nothing to ponder about,
Nothing to fight and no effort that needs to be taken.
What is struggling inside to come afloat,
Will do so, by its own accord with no room for being mistaken.

Where's all the uncertainty gone?
Is this some new form of self deception that has me unto it, drawn?

A well deserved slap, this very piece of articulation
Saved me from the mishap, of losing myself to a life-long evasion
Of the fact that i had just not looked in, deep enough.

There is a certain beauty, unadulterated, in expression:
It's neither the lie about the truth, nor the truth about the lie,
It is, but a manifestation of the observer's choice in reaction,
Whether to stay ensconced in this illusory pie in the sky,
Or go beyond, to redeem the pen pusher from the origins of its creation.

There's a reason, there always is, my distressed soul used to scream
Oh yes, there is! And now this is no dream!