Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Stealing petrol costs youth his life

The documentary film 'Injustice' by Ken Fero and Tariq Mehmood has recently got a lot of attention in India. It was screened last week in an international film festival in Kerala. The film is about police brutality and custodial deaths. To quote Ken Fero: "About a 1,000 people had been killed in police custody in Britain in the 1990s and hardly anyone has been punished in connection with those custodial murders. Also, the reports of such custodial torture and murders did not get adequate public attention because of the close relationship between the media and the police." I believe this is the case in almost all the countries. Certainly the situation in India in this regard is grim.

I have not seen this film, but I thought about it, as a death in police custody took place near my house yesterday. A 23 year old youth was beaten to death by police for stealing petrol from a parked car. Two newspapers, The Indian Express and The Times of India, have reported the incident. Perhaps they were forced to report the incident, as hundreds marched to the local police station demanding action against the culprits.

Monday, August 30, 2004

A remark on a remark

Thanks to Amardeep for linking to my blog. There he has the following observation: "Reading this debate reminds me that sometimes you really do need social/political theory -- if only to find ways to move past the kind of debates one can have about a complex issue in the newspaper." While I agree with him in principle, I thought I should add a qualifying remark.

I can certainly see the need to move past the debates which are more of a word-play, bordering on personal attacks, than any serious discussion on the main issue. But I hope Amardeep does not imply that the discussions need to move from "newspapers" to "highbrow journals". I feel there is a dire necessity to have more and more serious discussions on themes related to communalism and secularism in our newspapers and magazines. And what is important is common sense, clarity of thought, and logic. If social/political theory helps to this end, excellent. But the theory is neither necessary nor sufficient to be just and correct. No amount of theory can possibly replace social conscience and conviction. "If your politics is clear, if you had your ear to the ground, you wouldn't, you couldn't possibly, miss your mark", in Arundhati Roy's words. Incidentally, one thing that I found objectionable in Chaudhuri's essays is the political vacuousness and the "highbrow" mentality.

I must also remark that I do appreciate research at a higher level not intended for publication in newspapers. As somebody who aspires to have a career in academics, I can also appreciate "hierarchies and affiliations, [peer reviewed] publications, papers, conferences, university chairs, and committee appointments"! (cf. Chaudhuri, The Telegraph, July 25, 2004).

Sunday, August 29, 2004


A sweet chirp is enough
to let it be known
`I am here.'
Just feather drop is enough
to prove `I was here'.
Simply the warmth of hatching is enough
to say
`I will be here.'
Birds! How could they articulate life
much simpler!
(Lalitham by P.P. Ramachandran, Tr. T.P. Rajeevan)

Friday, August 27, 2004

A fine eye for detail

The well-known writer Amit Chaudhuri is often praised for his fine eye for detail. Therefore, an "intervention" --Chaudhuri does not have much regard for this word, cf. The Telegraph, July 25, 2004-- by such a fine writer/critic like Chaudhuri, one expects, would provide new insights into any debate. Sadly, that was not the case to be, when he jumped into the controversy about "Indian" secularism, prompted recently by Kuldip Nayar (Outlook, May 31, 2004). Nayar's article was followed by a rejoinder from Ashish Nandy (Outlook, June 21, 2004), which had a false pretense of being gentle, and this was followed upon by Sanjay Subrahmanyam's agressive, and unpretentious, article (Outlook, July 5, 2004). [See The Great Debate, Get in the Ring, Amardeep Singh, Random Notes.]

Amit Chaudhuri enters the field with his two-part essay in The Telegraph (July 25 and August 1). His strong points being his attention to minute detail, and perhaps the fact that his "imaginative provenance owes little to the social sciences"! (The Telegraph, August 14, 2004). Chaudhuri is clear about his motive. He does not have anything to offer on the debate about secularism. His articles are primarily meant to ask the following question: "Is there a place for a minority voice like Nandy's in our community of liberal intellectuals?"

I do not buy the implicit claim that Nandy's is a lone voice. Anybody who takes a little bit of interest in societal affairs knows that he, in fact, enjoys a cult status in areas of his interest. I agree that Nandy's voice, however damaging it can be, should be heard. But the way Chaudhuri has framed his question leaves one suspicious: batting for a voice that is anyway loud, does he also want the others to shut their mouth?

Accusing Subrahmanyam of polemics, he himself indulges in "polemical debunking" very soon. Chaudhuri wants to associate Subrahmanyam with a group, a coterie, against Nandy's lone voice. He writes:

    "In India, a new "secular" ruling class began to form, after the death of Indira Gandhi, around Rajiv Gandhi, in Delhi. This class has on occasion made secularism part of its civilizing mission, its pre-destined, quasi-imperial role in India. I am not saying we can do without the values this class claims to represent; I would rather have my history textbooks written by Romila Thapar and Sanjay Subrahmanyam than by someone favoured by the political dispensation recently thrown out of power." (The Telegraph, August 1, 2004).
Now you do not need an eye for detail to conclude that according to Chaudhuri, Subrahmanyam belongs to this particular class. But in the next article (The Telegraph, August 14, 2004), he says:
    "Nor did I say that Subrahmanyam was part of the new ruling class that came into existence in Delhi around Rajiv Gandhi."
Then comes the unbelievably illogical postsrcipt of the August 14 essay. He writes:
    "About a couple of years ago, I felt a sense of disquiet when I read a laudatory review of Nandy by [Swapan] Dasgupta. Nandy is better off without such supporters, I thought to myself. Nandy is a critic of power; Dasgupta has a weather-vane-like susceptibility to it. Subrahmanyam should think seriously about why he has found an admirer in Dasgupta."
All these seem to pass for "a fine eye for detail", among Nandy's followers!

A word about Nandy being a critic of power. On the NGO-izaton of politics, Arundhati Roy said:

    "The NGO-ization of politics threatens to turn resistance into a well-mannered, reasonable, salaried, 9-to-5 job. With a few perks thrown in. Real resistance has real consequences. And no salary."
Nandy represents the NGO-like dissenters, and his so-called critiques of power suit only the Hindu fascist power mongers.

Thus Nandy's observation that "the term dharmanirapekshata literally means amorality" (Outlook, June 21, 2004) makes Swapan Dasgupta happy (The Telegraph, August 13, 2004) for whom it reads: "secularism being built on amorality". To quote Kuldip Nayar:

    "What is now accepted as the lure of cultural or traditional impulses was [then] considered an expression of communalism. But such confusion cannot be an excuse for righting a wrong. It only shows that intellectuals like Nandy are faltering in their commitment."

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Musings of a Kunnamkulam Christiani

"Last night, the storm and heavy rains that swept across New England caused power outages everywhere including the city I live in. As there was nothing I could do inside my room, I decided to take a stroll and the memories about my childhood came flooding to my mind:" Meagainsttheworld.

He writes about his childhood in Kunnamkulam: "During summer it was cashew picking time. We would always steal some seeds ignoring the pleas of the poor men who leased the orchard. The jamun tree in the church yard would turn the ground purple and you could spend the whole morning, picking the fallen fruit."

Less than fifty miles to the north of Kunnamkulam, I can picture myself in a very similar atmosphere, more or less around the same time (mid eighties).

Wish there are frequent power cuts in the New England area!

Monday, August 23, 2004

Alex's comments

Alex's comments on the previous post are here. The theorists may have pronounced the author dead, but then the author is perhaps the most serious reader of the text! Thanks for putting things in perspective.

Here is the Other side of a Paper Object.

Thursday, August 19, 2004


I just read Alex Cumberbatch's rather long poem titled Piece in 940 Parts. Got the link from Jay Thomas' blog. "There is certainly much more to this work than its length", writes Jay Thomas. I fully agree.

I thought it would be interesting to try to visualize the poem, at least parts of it, as a Sandeshakavya, the poet, nostalgic about the days when his beloved, his country, was all smiles, (his country now only "makes the immigrant's song, sung, listless"), sending his message through his blog!

And why not? Allusions to this end are many. For instance,

"Occasional shivers shoot
Like arrows, a cloud messenger
Approaches, a more-than-human
Grief becomes a great deluge."

Moreover the poet listens to "the mandakranta metric of the Kalidasan romance figures" too.

How is the message like? It is long, and touches upon all sorts of topics. "Forget. I think, and be, unconcerned" does not work, and he bothers about "Divying: up the toll." His "quest" is "for life in a world of humans". His advice is to "change the tune of your politics", and to "weaken lightning strikes",

"And unlearn the lines--unlove
Your love of the world--forsake
Your future and your past
Live always presence preen."

What he expects from the beloved is "a youthful love, an ancient mind, and a bold body". The crux of the message seems to be:

"There is no reason to be as others
Or to know the knowledge
Of the dead, but be atuned
To the light of the living
Requires exquisite mastery."

And what kind of a poet is he? In his own words,

"Is poetry a form static
Or a continuous fluxive practice?
For me, it is the latter: form
Is incidental--it will happen anyway.

There is no 'true', 'correct', or 'perfect'
Way to write a poem; in this perhaps
The 'untrue', 'incorrect' and 'imperfect'
Are to be valued as the aesthetic
Benchmarks of the most valuable excitements."

He detests

"An off-beat easy-listening type of
Effeminate bird warble, the
Kind of inane sentimental Americana."

And he asserts:

"Never, Mr. Editor, correct my grammar,
Spells and punctuation to suit your
Nice book trade."

"Weeping and then writing, cursing and then writing, writing curses; and incantations", he understands that,

"The diversity within a word
Is the poetic of the poem."

But his country may not get the message right after all! She could as well say:

"Slump. Dead poet, I heard
You wrote your rhymes for me.
How pretty they are. I am
Unmoved. I love another."

Nevertheless, I am certain that the reader is going to agree when the poet writes:

"There are some abstractions
Beyond metaphor and vision
That may not be apprehended
By outer sight. These require
The capacity of insight."


"Digressive art and literature
Has a subversive power
That fastens the heart and mind
Against the corrupting forces
Of capitalism, fascism and ethnicity."

Of course the poet knows that his words will reach many ears as "the ragged thoughts of a dreamer shall not fail".

"Who loves poets? Really--or is it just
The torrent of words you like to hear cascading"

-wonders the poet. Does the Sahridaya have another option, after reading such a beautiful piece of work? And who will not like to hear the torrent of words cascading as in

"Being is, uneasy, uneasy to, uneasy
To understand, that is, to fathom,
People's politics bother me some of the
The time of your life--collected
In a rather bland cycle of myths."

The unmetred prose of his poetry records a turbulent reality, of the way he lives, what he sees, and what he is privy to.


"sarasvatyaastattvam kavisahridayaakhyam vijayate" - Abhinavagupta