Monday, November 29, 2004

Where are the discontents?

"What linking of hands / Would you do if / You were like me / Watching eye to eye / Too subtle to describe."

Do check out Alex Cumberbatch's long poem. He has added 115 (or 132, depends on how regularly you visit Alex's page) more parts to it. First 950 parts are here.

Ha Noi Diary

My friend J is visiting Ha Noi for a month. I get frequent e-mails from him about his daily experiences. Very interesting accounts. Here's one such about the Tran Quoc Pagoda:

Tran Quoc Pagoda

J writes:

    Tran Quoc Pagoda is another interesting and one of the most beautiful pagodas near the city. This pagoda has two parts. One is the usual pagoda with a few local gods and the other one has Buddha. Near to Buddha's pagoda, I saw something very interesting. There are some pictures from India. They have kept those there to describe the life of Buddha. Most of the photos have captions. One photo has Krishna and Yashoda, but its caption reads: "Prince Siddhartha was tenderly pampered."
That was very funny. Here is the Krishna-Yashoda photo.

Krishna and Yashoda

No Man's Land

Watched another great movie yesterday -- Danis Tanovic's "No Man's Land". Here is an interview with Tanovic, and here is a quote from there.

    I don't have that great opinion about film directors. Don't get me wrong. It's not like painters. Painters make 50 paintings and they show one. Film directors, they show everything they do.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Baran - the Rain

Iranian cinema is one of the most vibrant in today's world. I havn't seen many of those famous movies of heavyweights like Abbas Kiarostami or Mohsen Makhmalbalf. Nevertheless, none of the Iranian movies that I have watched failed to captivate me. Indeed, there is a certain lyricism to movies made in Iran. My most favourite Iranian movie is Kiarostami's "Where is My Friend's House?". In fact that's one of the best movies that I have seen in any language. Some of the other Iranian movies that I really liked include Dariush Mehrjui's "Sara", Bahman Ghobadi's "A Time for Drunken Horses", and Marzieh Meshkini's "The Day I Became a Woman".

Now I can add one more movie to my list. Today I watched Majid Majidi's "Baran". The movie portrays a love affair -- sort of a platonic one -- between the main characters, Latif and Baran. Baran is an illegal immigrant from Afghanistan, and the plight of Afghan immigrants in Iran is always there in the background -- fake ID's, extra work, and lower wages. Latif is a Kurdish Iranian who works for a construction company for which Baran's father used to work till he met with an accident. Following her father's accident, Baran has to earn a living on her own, and she works for the same company disguised as a boy -- Rahmat. Rahmat is too weak to do the more strenuous jobs, and soon replaces Latif as the cook. Latif resents Rahmat, till the day he accidentally discovers that Rahmat is a girl. From that point Latif is visibly affectionate to Baran, and we can see this affection being reciprocated, though in a subdued, subtle way. Later the company is forced to bar the Afghans from working. Latif starts searching for Baran and finds her doing all kind of heavy work at different places. Most of these scenes are very beautifully shot. Latif donates all his hard earned money to Baran's father and a friend of his. In the end, Baran and her family returns to Afghanistan. Latif is there to see her off. Baran gets into the truck, truck starts moving, what remains is just Baran's shoeprints, and then it starts raining heavily, and the shoeprints also slowly fade away.

In a beginning sequence of the movie, Latif spots a coin on the ground and tactfully grabs it. Towards the end, Latif gives away his money to people who may need it more urgently. An agressive Latif gradually changes to a calm and confident Latif at the end. Baran has come and gone, but the association with her has left an indelible mark -- a "positive" change -- in Latif's life.

God has chosen us

The BJP president LK Advani is inspired by George Bush's remarkable election victory. See the parallels:

    "The BJP is really the Chosen Instrument of the Divine to take the country out of its present problems and to lofty all-round achievements. ---- Divinity is not a medieval concept. Maybe, atheists do not believe in it but God has chosen us, given us the responsibility." [LK Advani, The Hindu.]

    "You know, I really believe God has chosen me to run for president. If I don't win, it's not a big deal to me. But, you know, I have been chosen to run." [George Bush, from a PBS report.]

It is worth remembering that Advani's ideological guru -- MS Golwalkar -- took inspiration from none other than Adolf Hitler.
    "To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races - the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how wellnigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole. a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by." [Golwalkar, quote from Sitaram Yechury's What is this Hindu Rashtra?.]

Friday, November 26, 2004


The "Shwaas" -- the Marathi movie that won several national awards and competing for the academy awards -- team is trying hard to raise enough money to give it a fair chance at the Oscars. It seems they need almost 15 million ruppees to publicise the movie among academy members. (The total movie budget is a meagre 6 million). Yesterday NDTV reported that the team isn't getting much help from the big brother Bollywood. That's really sad. Of course, as Shashi Tharoor wrote some time back, true cinephiles do not bother much about the academy awards. They may be more curious to see what happens at Cannes or Venice or Locarno, but that's a different issue altogether.

NDTV also reported that only Amitabh Bachchan and Sunil Dutt dontated to the Shwaas fund from Bollywood. That too peanuts, compared to what some others have contributed -- notably Pramod Mahajan and Bal Thackeray. (I also liked Thackeray's recent dig at Tendulkar for his plan to auction his bat to contribute to the Shwaas fund instead of taking money from his own pocket). The report also said that Ashutosh Gowarikar, the director of Lagaan, who is on the Oscar Award Committee has till now not found time to watch the film!

I watched Shwaas more than a month ago without subtitles. I had some friends with me who speak Marathi, but I really did not need any help. As is often said, the language is not a barrier to appreciate a good movie -- a good movie has its own language. It's one of the finest movies that I have watched in recent times. The director, Sandeep Sawant, is a gifted artist, and I hope he comes up with more good movies in the future.

Here is a Rediff review of the movie, and here is the official Shwaas webpage.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Jostling for space

The following quote is from today's Hindu editorial.

    It is in the Congress culture to find some post or the other for senior leaders who have had to relinquish office in their home State. As in the case of Sushilkumar Shinde, who was appointed the Governor of Andhra Pradesh after losing the race for Chief Ministership to Vilasrao Deshmukh, Mr. Antony will have to be given some position at the Centre. Unlike Mr. Shinde, Mr. Antony is too young to be pushed into retirement from active politics by giving him a gubernatorial post. The alternative is to make him a Minister at the Centre and for this, he will have to become a Member of Parliament.
I didn't expect such a careless editorial from India's finest paper. Both Shinde and Antony are of the same age. Both were born in 1941, and hence 63 years old. Of course that's "young" in Indian politics.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A blogger looks back

From Akshay's trivial matters.

The Montek Connection II

Ahluwalia's response to Prashant Bhushan's article, mentioned here.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Google Rankings

Here is an interesting site:

Here you can see the placement rank of a specified keyword on a particular page. Rank of the keyword x on a webpage y is n, if y is the n-th link in Google search results when you search for x.

I just searched for some names. The results:

y   =
Arun Kolatkar5
Eunice De Souza16
Gowri Ramnarayan18
Ashish Nandy26
Swapan Dasgupta29
Sanjay Subrahmanyam55
Ram Guha98
Kuldip Nayar108
Amit Chaudhuri111
Prashant Bhushan144
TV Chandran150
Narendra Modi528
Frank Wilczek558
Irfan Habib579

I also searched for Arundhati Roy and William Dalrymple. My page does not show up in the first 1000 hits. Moral: Make Ram Guha fight with you, and you'll be really famous!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

This is not music

The domain of culture belongs to the modern By Amit Chaudhuri

    The domain of culture, unlike the domain of religion, belongs to the modern in a way that doesn’t presume or demand allegiance or belief. Surely the principal project of Hindutva is to destroy this domain of culture that was created in modernity, to subsume it under an all-encompassing interpretation of religion; to command Husain to abjure the modern painter’s, rather than a believer’s, adoration of Saraswati.

Le Spirale Fantastique

Rohit Gupta's blognovel.

But I thought Joris went to South Korea!

Saturday, November 20, 2004

More about Ram Guha

Ramachandra Guha has an interesting column on Dom Moraes in today's Hindu. But this post is not about Moraes, but about Guha. At some point in his article, he quotes Isaiah Berlin.

    Isaiah Berlin once described the political tradition to which he belonged as being composed of a "small, hesitant, self-critical, not always brave, band of men who occupy a position somewhere to the left of centre, and are morally repelled both by the hard faces to their right and the hysteria and mindless violence and demagoguery on their left ... This is the notoriously unsatisfactory, at times, agonising, position of the modern heirs of the liberal tradition."
Some hard faces on the right. On the left -- hysteria, mindless violence, and demagoguery. A liberal who sees more harm on the left than on the right? I think in Berlin's case, this is perfectly understandable. For,
    Isaiah Berlin’s response to the Soviet Union was central to his identity, both personally and intellectually. Born a Russian subject in Riga in 1909, he spoke Russian as a child and witnessed both revolutions in St. Petersburg in 1917, emigrating to the West in 1921. He first returned to Russia in 1945, when he met the writers Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak. These formative encounters helped shape his later work, especially his defense of political freedom and his studies of pre-Soviet Russian thinkers. [From the description of "The Soviet Mind" at Amazon]
Guha is an ardent admirer of liberal sensibilities. He is a proud heir to the liberal tradition that Isaiah Berlin spoke of. He perceives a decline of the liberal thought in India, and often laments over that. For instance, see his EPW article -- "The Absent Liberal". So far so good. But as a historian based in India, is it okay for Guha to be a verbatim Berlin? The single most threatening force in today's India is from the RSS, from the right. In India, you see "hysteria, mindless violence, and demagoguery" only on the right. You might see a few "hard faces" on the left though. (Irfan Habib is not a Narendra Modi, and Namboodiripad was not a Stalinist). Unfortunately, Guha often deliberately chooses to be verbatim Isaiah Berlin. He described himself at the Sydney Writers’ Festival (2003) thus:
    I describe myself as someone with moderate views with extreme expression… I am only just left of centre. I have found people that are far left can be much worse than far right views.
I only hope that he was misquoted.

Divide-and-Rule II

Here is Dalrymple's response to Ram Guha: "I Stand, Misread."

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Google Scholar

Google Scholar -- going to be very helpful. [Via The Hindu.]

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


I find it tough to comprehend Ram Guha's anger at William Dalrymple. Apparently what provoked Guha is the following statement in Dalrymple's review of Pankaj Mishra's book 'An End To Suffering'.

    In a field still dominated by the St Stephen's mafia and the Doon School diaspora, Mishra is an outsider. Mishra does not lecture the world about South Asia from the sanitised safety of an East Coast campus. Instead, he writes as a man who really knows, from hard experience, the provincial India he writes about.
Now that looked more like a passing remark in Dalrymple's review. But Guha devotes an article attacking Dalrymple. Guha's article smells nasty from the beginning, accusing Dalrymple "of playing the old British sport of Divide-and-Rule", to the end, supplying anecdotal proofs to establish his ignorance in 'India matters'.

Okay, agree that Dalrymple genuinely thinks less highly of the Doon school diaspora writing. I guess there may be many such people. Guha says:

    [For] it is how a writer tackles his subject that is important, not where he studied or lives.
Looks great, but often one's training and one's surroundings do determine the subject that one chooses, and of course the way one tackles it. To quote Guha himself from an earlier EPW article:
    Indian scholars are more likely to be moved by 'social relevance' in choosing their topic of study and strategies of research. European scholars are by temperament and training more inclined to seek out, and answer, an intellectual puzzle. And scholars based in America are just a little more likely to be driven by fashion. [EPW]
In fact it is interesting to read this particular EPW article -- The Ones Who Stayed Behind -- of Guha's in this context. Guha looks down upon the Indian diaspora in social science research throughout this article. For instance:
    At least two Indian historians of my acquaintance have abandoned empirical research after moving to permanent jobs in US universities. They each wrote a fine work of social history, based on research in a dozen different archives. They have now taken to writing essays based on books ordered from the library. These essays are supposed to be exercises in 'theory'. For the most part, however, they are merely extended literature reviews, parasitic assessments of other people's works according to the winds of theoretical fashion and the canons of political correctness.

    Any criticism of the styles of scholarship that run under the rubrics of 'post-structuralism' and 'cultural studies' would expose them to accusations of being 'racist' or 'ethnocentric'. However poorly founded, these accusations, once made, would be deadly in personal as well as political terms. This is doubly unfortunate, because post-structuralism and cultural studies are trends of dubious intellectual worth, and because its south Asian proponents belong overwhelmingly to the upper class.

Typically Guha makes sweeping statements like this first, and then names a few exceptions. Perhaps one might argue that this too is an attempt to "Divide-and-Rule"!

Guha concludes his EPW article thus:

    Judging by what it has produced in the past, [social science research doene in India] is of rather more worth than the self-regarding productions advertised as the intellectual achievements of the south Asian diaspora.
Guha has every right to think so. In fact, I tend to believe that Guha is right here. But Dalrymple hasn't shown more contempt to the Doon school diaspora than Guha has showered on the Indian diaspora in social sciences.

[Via Kitabkhana]

Monday, November 15, 2004

Letter from Stirling

From R's e-mail:

    Edinburgh and Inverness were very very interesting. Saturday morning we left early -- planned to leave at 7:30 but actually left at 8, thanks to some people having no time sense. Anyway, we left at 8:00 and went through lots and lots of beautiful spots. The nature was at its best. It has just snowed the previous day, so that was lovely. Scotland can be divided into two parts based on landscape - highlands and lowlands. Stirling, Glasgow, etc. are in lowlands and north of Stirling is highlands. The border town is called Callandar. It was a very beautiful sight to see the landscape changing so dramatically within a few miles. We had a lovely time there, and some in-van entertainment offered by a super cozy (& crazy) couple. We came back home at about 7:30, and then went to an Italian place to have dinner. The couple went elsewhere I think!

    Yesterday, A and I went to Edinburgh. Again that was a beautiful trip. I didn't enjoy it as much as Glasgow though. Glasgow's architecture was simply breathtaking. Well, Edinburgh was great too... lots of history. Sean Connery grew up in Edinburgh and posed for the art studio there, JK Rowling wrote her first book in a coffee shop there, Conan Doyle went to the medical school there, poet Robert Burns grew up there, and so on. A quaint town, very old, lots of history. We took a bus tour of the place, and then went and saw the Scottish parliament. That's an interested building, one needs to have sound architectural sense to appreciate it. I thought it was an unfinished building under construction first!

    Okay, so all in all the trip was good. Oh, forgot, on Friday evening, A and I went over and watched Bridget Jones Diary 2. The movie was good, but that wasn't the best part. The best part was that the 300 seater hall was full, and it was full of women! There were hardly any men there -- maybe 10. It was spectacular! I thoroughly enjoyed it, as you can imagine!

Sunday, November 14, 2004


23 9 1056. [Via Betsy Devine.]

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Montek Connection

The Montek Connection by Prashant Bhushan.

    "Though Ahluwalia may not have been the beneficiary of Enron’s $20 million educational expenses, and was interested in the Enron project as he hoped that it would create a "favourable psychological impact for foreign investment in the power sector", it is clear that he was eager to push the IMF/WB privatization and globalization agenda in India even at the risk of serious financial imprudence. To this end he not only appears to have participated in the conspiracy to bypass the financial examination of the project by the CEA, he even ignored the financially prudent advice on this project of the World Bank itself. Alas, to such men we have entrusted the economic policies of the country. That is the misfortune of this country."

Midnight's child II

In a sad development, the teenager who was at the center of the Kumarakom sex scandal, passed away today morning [PTI].

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Advani-Uma Bharati clash at a public meet

From the Times of India.

    Raging infighting in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to a boil Wednesday as party leader Uma Bharati revolted against BJP president LK Advani and stormed out of a meeting in full gaze of TV cameras.

    Uma Bharati, who had come under attack for throwing tantrums since her exit as the Madhya Pradesh chief minister, dared Advani to take disciplinary action against her even as the BJP chief and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee looked on stunned.

    Dressed in her trademark saffron, the outspoken politician accused some unnamed party colleagues from the Rajya Sabha of constantly running her down in the media.

    "There are two or three people who brief the media off the record and run us down, and we are forced to talk on the record to defend our reputation," Bharati retorted.

    This was just after Advani took her name and that of two other BJP leaders engaged in a free-for-all ever since the former deputy prime minister took the helm of the party after its successive poll defeats.

    Undeterred by Advani's advice to "consider the chapter of indiscipline closed", Uma Bharati demanded that the issue be discussed.

    As she railed on and on, Advani cut in sternly: "When I said the matter is closed, it is closed..."

    A furious Bharati promptly got up and announced: "I am going! I wanted this issue to be discussed here. There are four-five people in this room who have nothing to do with the masses. They brief the media off the record and tear our reputation apart."

    As Vajpayee, Advani and gathered BJP leaders looked on in shock, Uma Bharati dared them: "You take disciplinary action against me!"

    With that parting shot, Uma Bharati stormed out as television cameras recorded every moment of the unprecedented outburst. The TV crew were quickly shooed out of the meeting.

The rise and fall of the bilingual intellectual

Amardeep Singh's post on Ram Guha's article -- The rise and fall of the bilingual intellectual.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

fait accompli

Thanks to Nick Piombino for blogrolling me. See how Jay Thomas thanked Nick three months back!

Pun unintended in the title!


This little injured boy lost his father to US bombing in Fallujah. [BBC]

The Hindu editorials

The Hindu has editorial articles about the topics mentioned in a previous post. Here are the links:

  • Beating up the messenger.

    "The community of journalists in Kerala must be complimented for understanding that the central issue is media freedom, and for not allowing itself to be diverted by any controversy over sensationalism and yellow journalism. After all, as Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru pointed out decades ago, respect for freedom of the press does not mean putting up with what you agree — it means tolerating what you are unhappy about."

  • Protecting witnesses.

    "The phenomenon of witnesses turning hostile during trial is a pervasive problem that has undermined public confidence in the criminal justice system and contributed to an abysmal rate of convictions in India. Successful law enforcement is predicated on the willingness of individuals to provide information and tender evidence. Experience around the world has shown that the extent of such willingness depends on the capacity of the state to protect people from threats and ensure their safety."

Monday, November 08, 2004

Guha denied entry to the US

Historian Ramachandra Guha was denied entry to the US though he had a valid visa. Guha revealed this in a column in the Outlook magazine. A lot of blogs have remarked on this issue. Here are a few that I have noticed: Amardeep Singh, Kaushik, Kitabkhana, Putu, Sepia Mutiny.

Long ago, Mahakavi Kumaranasan wrote: "A hunter, who's in the business of killing, does he distinguish between a vulture and a pigeon?" Well, come to think of it, why should he?

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Clean sweep for Left at JNU

Clean sweep for Left at JNU

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Padhom Onnu: Oru Vilapam

Today I watched Padhom Onnu: Oru Vilapam, a movie by the well-known Malayalam director T.V. Chandran. A movie very well crafted. Here is an old review. The film was screened on a private television network. The central theme of this movie is the plight of young Muslim girls in Kerala. Girls are married off at an early age, many are raped by their husbands, most of them are also talaqed as soon as they become mothers.

The movie assumes significance in the present day political context of Kerala. For the past couple of weeks, one main issue in Kerala is a sex scandal that took place eight years ago involving a political heavyweight, a minister in the current government, and a then minor muslim girl. Regina, the girl involved, had complained against this minister, but she withdrew her complaint a little later. This October she appeared again in the news, claiming that she was threatened to withdraw her complaint earlier. Several organisations supported her, including Ajita's Anveshi, a feminist group. Within weeks Regina changed the tune again. This time she said that Ajita forced her to speak against the minister. Interestingly this turnaround took place after the police arrested her based on a case registered some six years ago. Also some members of her family have witnessed her being bribed by the minister's confidantes. Many media personnel were manhandled by the minister's party workers for reporting these events. See Joshua Newton's blog for more details. It was indeed apt that T.V. Chandran's movie was screened in this background.

Readers of this post who have an eye on Indian politics will not miss the close parallels beween the above case and the Best Bakery case. The Best Bakery episode was one of the worst crimes committed during the Gujarat pogrom in 2002. Zahira Sheikh, a key witness, whose father was one of those who was charred to death in that event, has changed her stand so many times by now. Right now she says that she was forced to take a stand against the rioteers by Teesta Setalvad, a human rights activist, also an editor of the journal Communalism Combat. It is possible that Zahira was also bribed heavily and that there were threats to her life from the BJP workers.

"Fear can either paralyse you or galvanise you into action", said Teesta Setalvad yesterday. Unfortunately right now both Regina and Zahira are paralysed, paralysed by fear and/or money. In Ajita's words, they are also victims of our system -- inordinate delays in settling court cases, fragility of the victims increased by the lack of any governmental security to their lives, and sufficient opportunities for the powerful culprits to influence the victims.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Locana's lacunae

I read about Lessing's Laocoon on the net after reading Alex's poem. Laocoon reminds me of Parikshit, Janamejaya's father, who was killed by the great serpent Takshaka. Janamejaya conducts the Sarpa Satra to wipe out the snake species from the face of the earth. Arun Kolatkar takes this thread from the Mahabharata to analyse the logic of vengeance in his 'Sarpa Satra'. I read Kolatkar in the evening. Back to Alex's poem:

"Laokoon fret of free will
The lokana's lakunae."

The lacuna in viewing? Perhaps two and two do not add up to four, unless the process of addition takes place fast enough? Perhaps I do not understand. A(nother) gap in understanding. "The Locana's lacunae"!