Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The great Indian middle class

Below are a few selected polls, from the last month or so, from the Indian Express daily opinion poll. It was outrageous to see more than 50% of the responders agreeing with the Shiv Sena take -- girls are asking for it with low-waist jeans and mini skirts -- on the recent Marine Drive rape incident. What does this say about our Inglish speaking middle class? (I understand that an opinion poll in a news paper doesn't say too much. Still I thought it's worth looking at how people responded in the past.)

What is your reaction to Shiv Sena blaming 'page three' culture for rising incidents of rape? [Link]Horrifying -- 16.54, Irresponsible -- 29.17, Correct -- 54.3
Do you approve of Maharashtra govt's crack down on bar dancers? [Link]Yes -- 50, No -- 48.06
Do you approve of the Government of India's decision to declare a three-day mourning period for Pope John Paul II? [Link]Yes -- 26.21, No -- 72.71
Who do you think Ramvilas Paswan should side with to give Bihar a stable government? [Link]NDA -- 66.89, UPA -- 20.57
Is the US denial of a visa to Gujarat Chief Minister uncalled for? [Link]Yes -- 59.07, No -- 40.69
Will President's rule be good for Bihar? [Link]Yes -- 84.62, No -- 12.57
Does India need a missile defence system? [Link]Yes -- 88.12, No -- 10.46
Do you back the Maharashtra government's slum demolition drive in Mumbai? [Link]Yes -- 84.48, No -- 13.91
Should the EC prevent parties from using Godhra during the Assembly polls? [Link]Yes -- 81.07, No -- 18.75

Looks like, at least for many of the Indian Express readers, Lalu bashing, Mumbai beautification, moral policing, all go together!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Going beyond Fermat's last theorem

Check out T. Jayaraman's article, in The Hindu, on a recent advance in Number Theory.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


A close friend of mine, Nandakumar, has started blogging. Nandakumar is someone who has varied interests, and I'm sure his blog -- titled Anamika -- will turn out to be a very interesting site. Do check out!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Political Processions; Ambedkar

    "You join and in joining bear all the responsibility and obligations and guilt that joining represents." [The Ghosts of Mrs. Gandhi, Amitav Ghosh]
Coming from a Kerala village, I have a fancy for political processions. Not an evening passes without at least one jatha on a typical day there. There are four political parties with considerable strength in our place -- Muslim League, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Indian National Congress, and BJP. A procession usually consists of 15-20 men. Muslim League marches are typically on local matters, say celebrating a Panchayat election victory, whereas the other three parties' slogans are often about national issues. Congress workers frequently (and mechanically) add a "----- Gandhi zindabad" (with the then relevant first name of course) regardless of the key issue that prompted the procession. If you hear Bush or Annan or Chavez, you know for sure that it's the Communists.

Do not think that all the rallies consist only of a few dozens. Occasional huge rallies in towns attract hundreds of thousands of party workers. Rarely there would be a huge procession celebrating a specific event. One such procession in which I was also a participant was when the state was declared totally literate in April 1991. That was a rally that took several hours to cross a point. The rally culminated in a public function attended by several distinguished people from different walks of life. I remember, attending this mega rally had kept me in high spirits for quite some time!

Moving out of Kerala, together with a pinch of later acquired pseudo-intellectual notions -- higher beings shouldn't be rilly rallying with insignificant microbes -- retarded my enthusiasm in attending or witnessing such events. Somebody who celebrated Mandela's release from jail and Namibian independence in his school days cocooned himself from political affairs to such an extent that he did not notice a government change in Delhi in 1997 for a couple of days. Living in Chandrababu Naidu's Hyderabad for a few years also meant learning to look down upon social sciences while being looked down upon by IT guys and MBAs. Pursuing humanities was discouraged in schools, my Telugu friends told me. Pure Sciences were a necessary evil. Social scientists were encouraged to do meaningless thought experiments all the time instead of rigorous field works. To be socially conscious you had to put an extra effort in such an atmosphere. (Fortunately I had a few friends who thought alike, some of them also activists, and this was helpful in keeping in touch with social matters).

Happily sequestered in a South Bombay academic campus, glued to TV and the Net in free time, today, I do not get to see any real political action. And when you do not see the real thing for a long time you tend to think that the picture the media paint is a good approximation of the real thing!

I thought about political rallies because I saw many processions, mostly consisting of hundreds, yesterday while going from Kurla to Bandra. These processions were part of the Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations. Yesterday was Ambedkar'a 114th birth anniversary. I assume that most of the ordinary folks in those rallies were Dalits. Women and children outnumbered men in most of those rallies. I guess that is because families have come together to join these processions.

Ambedkar's is the only name that can draw poor families in large numbers spontaneously to the streets in most places in India. Anniversaries of all other leaders are/can be celebrated only officially. Massive public participation on a pan-Indian scale, that only Ambedkar enjoys. And that he does enjoy even half a century after his death.

Needless to say Ambedkar richly deserves this adulation. His life was an exercise in bringing dignity to vast sections of our society that were insulted and humiliated over the centuries. Not only that, he succeeded to a certain extent in constitutionalizing this process. A highly corrupt, and sometimes communal, present day Dalit leadership notwithstanding, thousands of ordinary Dalits have benefitted immensely from the path that Ambedkar showed them.

Update (April 29): Niket Kaisare has an excellent post on his blog where he writes: "The adulation and respect for Dr. Ambedkar will remain hollow unless we inculcate his teachings in our lives, unless we strive to get education, unless we strive to treat all Indians equally. Unless we try (its a tough goal, but attempt we must), we aren't really respecting the great man." Check out the full thing.

Rajdeep Sardesai quits NDTV

Well-known journalist Rajdeep Sardesai has decided to quit NDTV. He is planning to start another news channel -- a "journalist driven" channel. "I had a dream of doing something on my own. I have got an opportunity and hence I am utilising it", says Rajdeep. Of late Rajdeep was looking a bit stressed out and tired. In fact R and I talked about this after watching his interview with Prakash Karat, the newly elected CPI(M) General Secretary, some time last week.

A year ago, Rajdeep had casually remarked that all journalists have failed in some areas in life, so end up as a journalist. I guess Rajdeep wasn't cent per cent jovial when he said that!

Update: Rajdeep Sardesai's new venture is named Broadcast News. Speculation is that Rajdeep will be able to attract talent from several existing news channels. I don't quite like the name though!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Met a few more ...

... bloggers yesterday. Yazad had suggested the Cafe Coffee Day at Dadar as the venue for this get together. Dadar was a good location as it was sort of equidistant for all of us from our respective places. Last time, the meet was in North Bombay; not quite a pleasant location for somebody like me who lives in the southern most point of Bombay! Cafe Coffee Day at Dadar lacked one thing though! Five hours of chitchatting would have been more enjoyable otherwise! [Note: One thing that you quickly learn from Amit & Co -- PJ's, PPJ's and P+iJ's.]

I had met Amit and Yazad in the February get together. Apart from them, there were Aadisht, Anand (S. Anand - I found out that we have more things in common than the name), Arnab, Nandan, Ravikiran, Saket, and Sameer. Altaf and Zainaab were also there for some time, but they had to leave due to other engagements. There was a non-blogger too. It was really nice to have Chandrahas, who's Amit's colleague at Wisden, with us. [Thanks to Arnab, I could just cut and paste the links.]

Last time, Yazad and I were travelling back together, and we talked about many interesting topics, ranging from Bihar election results to some Number Theory. Yazad is somebody who's interested in several different things, and it's a pleasure to talk to him one on one. Coming back was very nice this time too as Chandrahas and I were heading in the same direction. I found our conversation very rewarding. I hadn't read his writings before. Now that I know him, I think I see it well why he admires the ability "to illuminate moving between the particular and the general". He seemed not interested in grand theorizing that fails to provide prototypical examples. Perhaps that's only natural for someone who believes that "the world not only is, but has always been, a fascinating and gorgeously complex place".

Ravikiran has two posts on yesterday's meet.

Update (April 14): Anand has posted a few photos of the meet.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Our future is secure in their ...

A resolution adopted at the special meeting of the BJP national executive says that the party has succeeded in setting the nation's ideological agenda. It's true, though sad, that to a large extent the BJP dictated political debates in India in the last one or two decades. Hopefully things have started changing a little bit now. The BJP definitely realises that the ground is slipping under its feet. But then there's no dearth of talent in the BJP leadership; they come up with imaginative ideas to set the agenda for our future. Like this one!