Thursday, March 31, 2005

Not an April 1st joke!

    "In our country, free mixing of teenaged boys and girls is not encouraged and rightly so, because at the tender age they cannot understand the complications and social problems that may occur if they go astray. I specially referred to Western countries where the family system has broken down because of such permissiveness and problems of unwed mothers, abandoned children, single parent children, and so on are plaguing their society. The whole burden of such children falls on the governments and they have to spend a lot on social security. Those problems are least in our country because of our intact family system. This justifies the need for parallel organisations of men and women. This is specially so when our media, both print and electronic, as also the movies, are propagating permissiveness with pictures or scenes of barest clad women and men in indecent poses."

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

OV Vijayan

Noted Malayalam writer OV Vijayan passed away today morning.

Here's a brief obituary by Shobha Warrier.

Update (April 1): Yesterday I read The Legends of Khasak, Vijayan's most famous work, for the second time. I had read the Malayalam original, Khasakinte Ithihasam, almost fifteen years ago while I was in college. I remember finding the novel interesting then. I found it interesting yesterday too. But that's it; it's not the Malayalam novel for me, as it is for many many readers. (Vijayan is a cult figure in the Malayalam literary landscape.)

In fact I thought of reading The Legends of Khasak again as I had forgotten most of it! Vijayan is a great writer. But I guess he's not my kind of writer. Five years from now, chances are that I'll forget The Legend of Khasak once again. I do not recollect anything interesting from The Saga of Dharmapuri either, which I read only three or four years ago.

Incidentally, my favourite Malayalam books are Vaikom Mohammed Basheer's Pathummayute Aatu (Pathumma's Goat), and Vailoppilli Sreedhara Menon's long poem Kutiyozhikkal (Home Evacuation). I read these works almost around the same time I read Khasakinte Ithihasam. I would love to read Basheer and Vailoppilli again because I loved reading those books. I wouldn't have to read those again for the reason that today I fail to resonate with that wonderful first reading experience.

Finally, via Kitabkhana, two good links: obituaries by Prabha Varma and VK Madhavan Kutty.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Eye of Horus: A comment on the title image

Regular readers of this blog might have noticed that I had the following image of an eye on this template earlier:

This was cropped out of the following:

A well-wisher writes to me that the latter image is an Egyptian glyph called 'the eye of Horus'. More from the comment:

    The 'eye of Horus' is a talismanic image and incorporates some mystic mathematics and (seemingly grisly) mythology as well: different portions of the eye glyph represent fractions (powers of 1/2) which add up to 63/64. Each fraction apparently corresponds to a portion of the body of the god Osiris which was cut to pieces and scattered by his vengeful brother Seth - and found and reassembled by his widow Isis. The remaining 1/64 corresponds to the phallus which was probably never retrieved.
The comment further suggested that "the full glyph be adopted for 'locana' rather than the present trimmed one", since "mystic symbols have certain attributes which militate against unrestricted editorial freedom."

So I decided to have the full glyph as the background image of the title field. Further comments are welcome.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


The following quote is from a column on religion from an old issue of The Hindu:

Monday, March 21, 2005

Birth pangs of a speech

The charming prince of Bharathavarsha delivered a baby speech yesterday. The baby is healthy, though its weight was a little bit on the higher side. Both the father and the kid are doing well. A long line of rishis, led by Somnath Chatterjee, the great one, blessed and patted the father-speech pair. All of you, spread the word and distribute sweets!

This was coming. The wait was a bit long though. Indeed the willingness to conceive came only after many prayers and pujas by the Congress prajas. Persuations and prayers of the old sages and local chieftains finally found result -- the Lordess signalled the son green: "you may go ahead and conceive now". This was exactly a year ago. The royal MSM do not seem to have noticed this anniversary. But the Locana sees these trivia (apologies for trivialising great anniversaries). It's not for nothing that I'm named Locana!

The actual conception took place two months later, towards the end of May 2004. The father was healthy throughout, and no extraordinary check-ups were required during this period. Count the months, and I notice that the birth is delayed by two or three weeks. Perhaps there was a celestial intervention in order to make the birth mark the first anniversary of the decision to coneive, we do not know. As they say, "All's well that ends well".

Asian river dolphins 'threatened'

A news item from the BBC. Wonder whether I would have noticed it if I hadn't read Amitav Ghosh's Hungry Tide.

This photo ...

... struck me when I was skimming through this morning's newspapers.

[From The Telegraph]

Siddharth Varadarajan's Hindu essay ...

... on Narendra Modi and the US Visa power. Definitely one of the best articles written on this issue that I've read. I don't quote from it as I would like you to read the whole article. Read it here.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

A slap in Modi's face

Do check out this Hindu editorial:

    Not too long ago, Mr. Modi had exulted about the similarities between President George W. Bush's election speeches and his own communal vitriol in 2002. He even challenged political pundits to analyse the spiritual consanguinity between Mr. Bush and himself. Now that the U.S. Government has formally given international recognition to Mr. Modi's responsibility in the post-Godhra genocide, he must be puzzled as to why and how these assumed similarities could have been given such short and ignominious shrift.

    The United States has effectively barred Mr. Modi from entering its territories and declared him persona non grata. This significant decision owes a lot to the active protests by human rights activists across America.

    Predictably, Chief Minister Modi has reacted to the denial of U.S. visa by calling it an "insult to India and the Constitution". This is precious coming from a man who not only violated every single norm enshrined in the Indian Constitution, but was also asked by the pre-eminent leader of his party, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to follow his rajdharma. Mr. Modi has now resorted to the rhetoric of being popularly elected as well as the spurious legalism of the absence of indictment of the Gujarat Government or the Chief Minister in the "incidents" — Mr. Modi's euphemism for the pogrom conducted against the minorities — that happened after the Godhra massacre. Dissidents within the BJP in Gujarat have been active in recent weeks demanding his scalp. With this additional setback over his U.S. visa, the Gujarat Chief Minister could be in for a long, hard summer.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Thyagaraja International Airport

Sonia Gandhi has laid the foundation stone for a new international airport in Hyderabad. This airport was planned during the previous NDA regime, and the present UPA ministry has decided to go ahead with the previous plan. There's a lot of controversy regarding the airport. The Left says that the plan envisaged is against the basic theme of the Common Minimum Programme. "The government has invested resources worth Rs 1,000 crore while the private partner has invested a mere Rs 250 crore. Yet, control has been given to the entrepreneur. In this era of competition, this deal smacks of monopoly", says CPI(M)'s Nilotpal Basu. According to him, it's enough to increase the infrastructural facilities of the existing airport, while the new plan shuts it down eventually.

Another controversy is regarding the name of the proposed airport. Previously the plan was to name it after NT Rama Rao, the legendary Telugu actor turned politician. The UPA govt has decided to name the airport after Rajiv Gandhi instead, and the opposition of course has objected to the renaming.

Yesterday Srinivasan Jain's NDTV programme -- Mumbai Live -- had a discussion about this issue featuring Renuka Chowdhury and Ram Guha. Renuka Chowdhury, who's a minister in the UPA govt, predictably defended the renaming. Ram Guha, again predictably, said naming the airport after Rajiv Gandhi only shows that the Congress party consists of a bunch of sycophants. Rajiv Gandhi was not a popular leader, said Guha. If he had won elections, he had lost elections too. Why do we need to name everything after politicians? These names only divide people, and we need to name institutions in an inclusive manner. Why aren't we more imaginative in these things? We should be coming up with names from the locality etc etc. All fine, right? How could one disagree?

Then came the joke. "Why not Thyagaraja, for instance?", asked Guha. Now I do not know how representative of Hyderabad, Thyagaraja is. I also wonder how "inclusive" a name that is. Ram Guha looked very serious with his suggestion though. Perhaps no one beats him when it comes to cracking a joke with a serious face. Perhaps he was serious.

Narendra Modi's press conference

I was a little bit surprised to see Narendra Modi looking pretty upset while speaking to the press today afternoon. Shouldn't he have been happy about these developments -- not getting the US visa and all that? There's a dearth of good issues for the BJP, and here's a chance to equate an "insult" to Modi and his party with "an insult to India". You shouldn't be very worried about antagonising your right wing friends in Washington. Right now you don't rule Delhi, so you can afford to do that! Initial sad faces apart, I'm sure, Modi and his compatritots will tread this path; nobody needs to teach them how to squeeze political mileage out of virtually anything.

The process regarding Modi's US visit had started at least two months ago. Why should the US embassy come to this decision at the last moment? He's an elected representative of the state of Gujarat. And remember, this was not the government at the time of the Gujarat riots; this one came to power later. There wasn't any major communal tension during the present regime. There was no backlash even after the Akshardham siege, in which Pakistani militants had intruded into a temple. Modi said all this in his press conference. So even Modi can provide governance without instigating riots. So it's not like a government, even his government, cannot controll large scale violence. Are you admitting, at least indirectly, that you are the main culprit in the 2002 pogrom?

Modi said that the US is adopting double standards in denying him entry. Leaders of Pakistan and Bangladesh have no problems in visiting the US, though "they have almost wiped out their minorities". "Why single out me?", Modi asks. Now that's more like a direct admission of the crimes committed. Modi went on and asked whether it's justifiable if India denies entry to the US chief of staff because of the US war crimes in Iraq. Brilliant! Not only that you realise your crimes, you even know the right parallels!

Modi also said that Washington was succumbing to the pressure put by "terrorist sponsored NGOs"! That's sad. Frankly, I didn't expect Abhi, Saurav and all to have "terrorist" connections!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Narendra Modi denied US Visa

"In a victory of sorts for various NRI groups, United States of America denied a diplomatic visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi", reports the Indian Express. Modi was also informed that his current tourist and business visas have been revoked with immediate effect.

Many groups, including blogs Sepia Mutiny and Saurav's Dark Days Ahead, had campaigned against Modi's US visit.

Modi will be adressing a press conference today afternoon to give his reactions, according to Rediff.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Advani and Joshi to clash?

Advani and Joshi to clash [Well, this is a P+iJ!]

Thursday, March 10, 2005

To stay is to be nowhere: A thought on Amitav Ghosh's Hungry Tide

If I need to name one sequence from Amitav Ghosh's Hungry Tide that I cherish the most, it's that of Piya hypothetizing a striking connection between the trajectory of Irrawaddy dolphins and the tide formations in the Sundarbans. Piya's singleminded determination in the pursuit of these creatures seemed to have reaped rich dividends. Her insight into the lives of the river dolphins is "of stunning elegance and economy, a thing of beauty", according to Ghosh. Successful completion of her work along these lines "would do as an alibi for a life. She would not need to apologize for how she had spent her time on this earth".

I can't help asking myself: why do I pick, sort of effortlessly, this incident involving Piya and her dolphins as my favourite sequence among the numerous well-narrated scenarios of this novel? After all, The Hungry Tide is a work that is rich in many aspects. There are many things that go into Ghosh's canvas; so many facts, so many stories, so beautifully told. (Incidentally, I understand that this is typical of Ghosh. Perhaps what is said of Nirmal in this book is true of Ghosh too. Like Nirmal, he too "hunts down facts in the way a magpie collects shiny things, [and] when he strings them all together, somehow they become stories". There's a magic wand here!)

First I attributed my choice to my tastes and training. We, in Mathematics, are trained to value those -- and only those -- ideas of "stunning elegance and economy". Naturally it's easy to appreciate Piya's steadfastness, and admire her findings. I do have second thoughts nevertheless. While it could very well be true that my likes (and dislikes) force this particular choice, I guess it's just half the truth. It must also be the case that this Piya episode is sort of central to the whole theme of this work, and if I like the novel, I'm forced to appreciate and admire this part of it as well.

Why is that so? Let's look at Piya's main observation. The gist of it is that the Irrawaddy dolphins in the Sundarbans have adapted well to the tidal ecology. Unlike their cousins in other places who return to a specific pool seasonally, these ones return to the same pool twice a day, exactly when it's ebb tide. When the tide turns in, they move out of the pool. It's this constant moving in and out, this tide, that defines the tide country and its inhabitants. Sluggishness of the townsmen would not gel with the life here. In the tide country, "to stay is to be nowhere". The most exacting evidence of this principle constitutes Piya's hypothesis. One early indication of the centrality of this chapter is its title itself -- An Epiphany.

Indeed it's the poetry of "the heady excitement of revolution" that is nearer to this principle than the prose of "the quiet persistence of every day change". As Piya remarks, "in the nature, for a long time nothing happens, and then there's a burst of explosive activity and it's over in seconds". This could also explain why the "dreamers" -- Nirmal, Fokir, Piya (?) -- of the novel are more comfortable in the Sundarbans than the "pragmatists" -- Nilima, Moyna, and Kanai. In the tide country, life is lived modulo several equivalences: to see is also to speak, to exist is to communicate, to say it is to call it, and perhaps to build something is to dream of it!

Journeying with Amitav Ghosh through the Sundarbans is very fascinating. Ghosh takes enough narrative care that those who accompany him do not stay at one place or stick to one story. Again, "to stay is to be nowhere" seems to be the guiding principle. It's a good mix of dualities out there: prose vs poetry, revolution vs gradual change, tactical compromises vs dreaming, preserving the wildlife vs the human angle to it. Obviously it's a hard job of translating/navigating, especially since Ghosh is careful not to take sides. He "fades from the sight as a good translator should", leaving us to ourselves, to think about our journey alone.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Hans Bethe

From the Telegraph obituary:

    When, in 1950, the implications of hydrogen bomb production were being aired, Bethe expressed his hope that America would never use the bomb first. On television he warned that H-bomb clouds could annihilate life on earth, and said that he would not like to see America's strategic plan centred on the weapon.

    Decades later, in 1997, when there was much debate in America about "pure fusion" nuclear weapons, Bethe wrote to President Clinton calling for an explicit ban on "all physical experiments, no matter how small their yield, whose primary purpose is to design new types of nuclear weapons".

    Believing that "success is unlikely" with pure fusion weapons (conventional nuclear weapons need a fission trigger to induce fusion), Bethe was concerned that American scientists might none the less solve the problem, and that they would then be unable to keep their solution to themselves. "There are always temptations in the laboratory," Bethe explained. "I want our country to go on the record that we really do not want further weapons developed. "

Sunday, March 06, 2005

To the memory of Rajen who died today morning in Kanjurmarg

I got this disturbing mail from R today morning:

    There was an accident in Kanjur this morning. There was a crowd at the station, and I could smell blood. I caught a glimpse of a body lying. The person apparently was trying to get into a running train and slipped and fell off. There was noticeable indifference among all people around, obviously used to these things ... I have been very disturbed since morning.
Around 10 people die every day in local train related accidents in Bombay. As Atanu Dey of Deeshaa wrote, "every year, about 4,000 people leave home, catch a Mumbai local, and end up dead in an hour." Dey continues in the same post:
    Their deaths are unremarkable events. Newspapers which routinely report the latest shenanigans of Hollywood sleaze-bags on their front page don't even mention the passing of 4,000 humans as they struggle to survive. Once in a while a particularly gruesome death is reported in the third page of a rag such as Midday.
Reading Dey's post, I thought I should mention this morning's death in my blog. I do not know anything about the person who died today morning at the Kanjurmarg station. Around the time he/she got killed, in a sad coincidence, I was reading about another death -- death of Rajen, in Amitav Ghosh's Hungry Tide. I name him/her Rajen. In Ghosh, Kusum tells Nirmal:
    A train began to move ... As the engine picked up speed, he ran to keep up, then his bad leg crumpled and he made a misstep: he was pulled from the platform, thrown before the wheels. What can I say? He was taken before his time.
What can we say? Other than that Rajen was taken before his/her time.

Kimberly Fortier

"It’s not that he’s not capable of doing such a thing but I don’t think it is true.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

When awards pour ...

This is what happens when you get an award almost every day. Well-known Indian chemist CNR Rao has been selected for the Dan David Prize offered by Tel Aviv University in Israel. But the Hindu title of the news report reads "C N R Rao selected for India Science Award". Rao got the India Science Award a couple of days back.

February bloggers meet

A few of us who keep a blog and based in Bombay got together last sunday. This is the third such meet, though it's the first time that I attend one. Amit and Yazad have interesting accounts of the meet. Read it here and here. There were seven of us there: Amit, Yazad, Veer, Gaurav, Sarika, Rahul, and myself.

I had never met a blogger before this meet. I find it tough to believe but that's the truth. In a way, I know the bloggers in my blogroll. I know a few of them even more as I had e-mail correspondences with them. But I guess real meeting is really different!

I'm happy that I went there. Thanks to Amit and Yazad for taking the initiative. It's nice to see the faces behind the words, and I hope to see more people in the future meets.

Branded by Law

Almost a year ago, I heard Salman Rushdie saying that a writer's duty is to further people's understanding of what's going on in the world, and that people need to constantly push the envelope. Rushdie's words came to my mind as soon as I finished reading Dilip D'Souza's 2001 book -- Branded by Law. Dilip D'Souza's writings try to constantly push the envelope in the field of social helpfulness. Many of the readers of this blog must have heard about Dilip. If you havn't, click here. His blog -- Death Ends Fun -- can direct you to many of his recent writings too.

I wouldn't attempt to review Branded by Law. Here's one review of the book. In a nutshell, it's about the Denotified and Nomadic Tribes (DNTs) of India. These are the so called criminal tribes, these groups were declared criminal by an act in 1871. They include the Pardhis and Ramoshis of Maharashtra, Sabars of West Bengal, Bajanias and Vagharis of Gujarat. They are no longer officially "criminal" (these tribes were denotified in 1952), but they largely remain as "magnets of prejudice". The book analyses the plight of India's DNTs, and in general what prejudice does. It's very well written and immensely readable. One proof of Dilip's mastery over his material is the way he has succeeded in presenting numerous facts from many different sources in short chapters. In fact, one of my favourite chapters is the one devoted to the Antrolikar committee report (this committee was appointed soon after independence to look into the rehabilitation of DNTs).

Unfortunately, almost six decades after independence, the condition of the DNTs have not improved much. Hopefully Dilip's book will educate more people about the problems faced by these tribes, about sixty million of them. About these communities, Ambedkar had said: "Civilizing the aborigines means adopting them as your own, living in their midst, and cultivating fellow-feeling -- in short, loving them." Dilip's experience with the DNTs shows that what Ambedkar had suggested is the only way to improve the lives of the DNTs. One of them [Deepakbhai] had told the author once: "Don't ever lose the feeling for the poor I can see you have in your heart." Dilip writes: "All I had done was spend a few minutes with Deepakbhai, as I might have with anyone else. Yet his few words told me just how novel an experience even that was for him."

Two interesting facts:

  • A recent post of Dilip's about a 2000 speech of Vajpayee -- in which he had said that he was not in a position to announce compulsory primary education in view of the stiff resource constraints -- generated a lot of discussion on his blog. The same speech gets a mention in this book.
  • Have you heard about the Gayatri Spivak school in Purulia, West Bengal?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Narayanan on Gujarat violence

Former president KR Narayanan has finally opened up about Vajpayee's involvement in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. In a recent interview Narayanan said that the Gujarat riots were the result of a conspiracy between the BJP governments in the state and at the Centre. In particular the Army was not given powers to curtail the riots. He said:

    I asked the Army to be deployed to suppress the violence. If asked by the state government (led by Narendra Modi) for the Army to be deployed to take control of law and order, the Centre is constitutionally bound and it is the duty of the Centre. The Army was sent, but there was no shooting against those who created the violence. Had that been done, a lot of gruesome incidents that occurred later, could have been prevented.
Narayanan also talked about the hidden agendas of the Vajpayee government:
    The BJP government had several hidden agendas and education was one area where they tried to put forward their ideology. I intervened when they came up with some names for the post of vice chancellors, which created bad blood with my relations with Murali Manohar Joshi and a few others.
Recently Outlook had exposed Vajpayee's direct involvement in the Babri Masjid demolition.

[Link via Hindustan Times.]