Sunday, July 31, 2005

The most popular blogger: A few random thoughts

Michael Higgins' Chocolate and Gold Coins has an interesting post on popular bloggers. If you haven't noticed it already, here's the link.

I've been reading 'Chocolate and Gold Coins' for quite some time now. I think I noticed the blog via Amit's India Uncut. Michael's is one of the blogs that I check regularly, and it's a very decent blog. That Michael is an alumnus of U of Minnesota was appealing too as I have a lot of fond memories of Minneapolis and have a lot of friends out there. Incidentally, a few of the finest movies that I have watched were at the U of M film club.

Michael feels that Sunil Laxman must be one of the very popular bloggers of the Indian blogosphere, perhaps also because he comments a lot on other posts. Now Sunil's blog is one of my favourite sites too, and Sunil has commented here many times. I value all the comments that I get, but my guess is that Sunil's would be a favourite site of mine even if he hadn't commented here! I think his style is brilliant, and I can't agree more to almost all that he writes on more serious themes.

The post and the comments over there contain some interesting discussions about comments and bloggers commenting back. I must say that some of the A-list bloggers I know are extremely good with replying. Specifically I have in mind Dilip, Uma, and Amit here. Amit is so quick in responding back that sometimes his reply can come to your inbox even before you send your mail! And these are some of the blogs that I check many times a day.

It's almost a year since I've started blogging. A year and a couple of months since I've started reading blogs. One of the first blogs that caught my attention was Amardeep Singh's blog, and that continues to be one of my favourite sites. It's precisely this (& here) kind of serious writing that I admire a lot.

I notice that I've listed five of my most favourite blogs following Michael. Perhaps Michael has just started a blog meme? What are your favourite blogs?

Labour dynamics

The Hindu Business Line editorial:

    The industry is today at a point where it has begun even to question the very rationale for workers to organise themselves into collective units, and some constituents have gone to the extent of actually thwarting efforts by the labour to do so. From a larger stakeholder perspective, that would be a folly. There may be occasions when labour representatives over-reach themselves out of a misguided sense of their importance or even out of venality. But the answer to that lies in setting up more channels of communication with labour rather than undermining the traditional trade union movement, however much it is perceived as an anachronism.
This approach makes more sense to me than most of what I get to see on the net. Definitely I prefer this to a friend's attitude: [Datta Samant] was shot dead eventually, but it was too late.

Here's an article by P Sainath on the Gurgaon episode.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Two links

  • Pablo points to an article by Lila Rajiva which appeared in CounterPunch.
      [T]here's no going home for these urban poor. Agriculture in India is reeling everywhere from the dire impact of multinationals. Everywhere, commercialization has displaced small and marginal farmers while mechanization has displaced landless agricultural labourers. Industries all over India have been claiming enormous portions of scarce ground and surface water for their permanent use, leaving citizens and communities unable to enunciate or defend their rights to water, even drinking water. The result - millions flee to the cities and feed the metastasis of fragile, unsanitary tenements.
  • "Even as I see people stranded everywhere, the kindness of others around is overwhelming. I am so goddamn proud of my city! I can never live anywhere else." Anumita on the spirit of Bombay.


A few lovely posts by Nancy Gandhi here, here, here, here, and here. [Thanks Radhika.]

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Malls of the few, chawls of the many

A brilliant article by P Sainath in the Hindu.

    A HORRIBLY oppressed wife, so runs the old American joke, slapped her husband in despair. The man punched her over 30 times, till she lay battered and he was exhausted by the effort. Then, panting, he told her: "Now we're even." That's right. Both sides were violent, weren't they?

    That's pretty much the both-sides-did-it line, now in vogue to describe the brutality in Haryana. Months of being denied their rights, the ruthless cutting of their jobs, the despair of the workers, count for little. The breaking of the nation's laws, the torment of the sacked workers, their wives and children count for less. Context counts for nothing at all. History begins with the televised violence of two days. Not with the hidden violence of years.

    ... ...

    The streets of Gurgaon gave us a glimpse of something larger than a single protest. Bigger than a portrait of the Haryana police. Greater than Honda. Far more complex than the "image of India" as an investment destination. It presented us a microcosm of the new and old Indias. Of private cities and gated communities. Of different realities for different classes of society. Of ever-growing inequality. Of the malls of the few and the chawls of the many.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Skoda Club


Monday, July 25, 2005

Sanskrit Studies Blog

Sanskrit Studies Links and Information: a blog to consolidate various links related to Sanskrit.

On going slow

Once again a long hiatus from blogging. My first thought was to start off this post with a word or two on how hectic things in general were in the past couple of weeks, and how prioritizing relegated blogging to the back benches. A moment's second thought later, I know well that that isn't an accurate depiction. Life was more or less as it was always.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, me never had a busy life. No tight schedules, no missing a deadline, no urgent issue there waiting to be settled! "Work" is done, and monitored, in reasonably long periods of time, and the level of flexibility that this arrangement offers makes the word 'hectic' sort of meaningless.

So I was just being lazier, in particular in blogging too. Skimming through my archives I see that sound blogging happened whenever -- and only when -- I was getting other things done as well; an exception to this rule being periods when the net access isn't very good. You get your work done, read more stuff, glance through more newspapers and magazines, read other blogs, go to movies, talk to more and more people, your blog is rolling too. You slow yourself down a bit on some of these, soon everybody is in the back benches, not just Locana!

Next time when I don't blog for a long time, you know that I'm going slow on all fronts!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Chozhamandalam, Kalinga

Veena's post on the Chola country inspires Nandakumar to post his notes of a trip to the region. Interesting read.

Kalinga Tales, again notes of a past trip, another beautiful post by Sunil Laxman.

Update: Here's the second part of Sunil's beautiful piece.

Personal: Moving ...

... from Colaba to Powai.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Father's memoirs: Excerpts - V

An important turning point in my life took place while I was teaching at the Muthedath High School. This was the decision to learn Sanskrit thoroughly. As a Malayalam teacher, I felt that a sound knowledge of Sanskrit was highly desirable, if not essential, to get a grip of basic Malayalam grammar. Though my frequent writings on themes from the Mahabharatha or the Ramayana created an impression of Sanskrit expertise, I knew that I wasn't really comfortable with Sanskrit. Nevertheless, reading the epics and the likes of Kalidasa with the help of Malayalam translations, I had a more than average familiarity of the language. For instance, I could have comprehended the meaning of an easy enough shloka despite an almost nil knowledge of Sanskrit grammar; knew that janaanaam means people's, but wasn't sure whether or not it's shashtthi plural.

Study Sanskrit from the scratch! Fortunately, O.K. Munshi, a Sanskrit scholar of great depth, was then living just a couple of miles away from my house. Munshi had mastered Sanskrit grammar in Thanjavur, the mecca of Sanskrit, in the 1940's. Munshi could not study Sanskrit in any part of Kerala as he was from a lower caste. His strong affinity to Sanskrit and his perseverance took him to Thanjavur. There too, he couldn't pursue his dream discipline which was Vedanta; Vedanta and Mimamsa were solely meant for Brahmins. But Munshi could study Vyakarana, Sanskrit grammar. Once he delved into Vyakarana, the base of all the words and all of their beauty, and famed for the dictum mukham vyakaranam proktam(1), his initial sadness gave way to happiness and a sense of achievement. Munshi returned home after spending six years in Thanjavur, with the title Vyakaranasiromani.

"Would like to learn Sanskrit the right way", I went to his house one day and told him. He smiled gently and said: "The right way? Ah, Yes." He asked me whether I had a copy of Siddharupa. The very next day, I approached him with my copy of the text, in which he marked most of the noun-forms and a few of the root-words for me to know by heart, and gave a month's time. I was in my late teens then. As I was extremely keen on Sanskrit, all my free time I devoted in learning the rupa by rote. Two or three days passed and I realized that it wasn't very difficult. Most of the forms are almost the same or very similar. The meaning is often obvious. Someone much younger could find it hard to compare and learn thus though. In any case I went to meet Munshimaster within two weeks. He quizzed me on some of those, and said: "Come tomorrow, and we'll begin Sriramodanta.

He started teaching Sriramodanta from the next day. He used to speak only in Sanskrit. I would ask my doubts in Malayalam. First I would recite a shloka. I was also supposed to split the words. Then he would ask several questions, the answers to which would result in the anvaya, the prose order. Finally he would do all these together himself, explaining the meaning in Sanskrit, noting other grammatical features as well.

When we did almost fifty shlokas like this, master said: "Do the remaining yourself. Let's do Srikrishnavilasa from tomorrow."

Once we finished two cantos, Munshi asked me to do the rest by myself. He also asked me to study the kavyas of Kalidasa in detail with the commentary of Mallinatha. I could go to him with my doubts or questions.

The next four years I learned Siddhanta Kaumudi, a treatise on Sanskrit grammar, under Munshimaster. An opportunity to teach Vyakarana made him happy and proud. Nostalgia would occasionally bring in reminiscences of his Thanjavur days. Stories about his teachers and batchmates, his learning of Carnatic music, Thyagaraja aradhana festivals of Thiruvaiyaru, all these would punctuate our classes. During this period, I also studied many kavyas and other sastraic texts by myself.

By this time, I had completed BA in Malayalam as an external candidate. With a firm foundation in Sanskrit, I decided to formally switch to Sanskrit, and applied for MA in that subject. Again I was helped by Munshimaster.

Thus for almost six years, an hour or two every night after returning from work, I studied Sanskrit with O.K. Munshi; from Siddharupa to Mahabhashya, a text that he was teaching for the first time in 1972, after mastering it in 1940. My words wouldn't be able to translate the sense of satisfaction and exhilaration that he felt while teaching the Mahabhashya.

(1) Vyakarana is the face (of the Vedas)

Code of Dishonor

    The "culture" of rape that exists in India and Pakistan arises from profound social anomalies, its origins lying in the unchanging harshness of a moral code based on the concepts of honor and shame. Thanks to that code's ruthlessness, raped women will go on hanging themselves in the woods and walking into rivers to drown themselves. It will take generations to change that. Meanwhile, the law must do what it can.
Salman Rushdie in today's New York Times.

Balancing life in Seattle

Check out Sunil Laxman's article in Uweek, a Univ of Washington magazine. (And, Suhail, you were wrong!)

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Surprise We Expected

    London was flying and we moved confidently about the city - the paranoia after Sept. 11 and Madrid was mostly forgotten and no one had second thoughts about taking the tube. The "war on terror," that much examined trope, was an exhausted rallying cry, with all the appearance of a moth-eaten regimental banner in a village church. But terror's war on us opened another front on Thursday morning. It announced itself with a howl of sirens from every quarter, and the oppressive drone of police helicopters. Along the Euston Road, by the new University College Hospital - a green building rising above us like a giant surgeon in scrubs - thousands of people stood around watching ambulances filing nose to tail through the stalled traffic into the casualty department. The police were fanning out through Bloomsbury, closing streets at both ends even as you were halfway down them. The machinery of state, a great Leviathan, certain of its authority, moved with balletic coordination. Those rehearsals for a multiple terrorist attack underground were paying off.

    ... ...

    And we will face again that deal we must constantly make and re-make with the state - how much power must we grant Leviathan, how much freedom will we be asked to trade for our security?

A touching article by Ian McEwan in the New York Times.

Tsunami and the Chola country

Via my sitemeter, today I noticed this new blog by Veena -- Yossarian Lives, and her excellent post titled Tsunami and the Chola country. It's undoubtedly one of the best blog posts that I've read in recent times. In fact it's a piece written by her around a year ago. Dilip's fine reports from the tsunami affected coasts, to which I had linked two days ago, inspired Veena to post it in her blog. Blogging sometimes can be very rewarding, and sometimes the rewards come quickly!

Growing up with Kalki Krishnamoorthy narratives -- "with mouthfuls of sambar and rice" as a kid, via English translations later while afflicted with DISDI syndrome(!), Veena feels strongly to retrace the footsteps of a Kalki protagonist. In her words,

    I wanted to travel where he traveled a millennium ago. I was overcome by a feeling of belonging, something that I have never felt before with respect to the Cauvery belt. The thought that for hundreds of years, the water from Ponni irrigated my forefathers’ lands, gave us the grains that enabled us to survive, and that the water still flows in my veins today gave me a totally new perspective on what Alex Haley would call ‘Roots’. So it was in the month of January, a year and half ago, I convinced my parents that I wanted to do a quick tour of what’s left of the once mighty Chola Empire. My mother was ecstatic at the thought of her agnostic daughter actually setting out to visit one shrine after the other all through Chola land.
And her post takes us through the Chola country. It's her "tribute to a beautiful novel and a great empire", and to the victims and survivors of the tsunami. Do read the full thing.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Tsunami notes

    What does a coast devastated by a tsunami look like, six months later? I'm in the middle of trying to find out,
and Dilip D'Souza has many posts from the Tamil Nadu coast in his blog. Here are the links: Dilip's Dec-Jan reports from Tamil Nadu are archived here.

A Welcome Development

A welcome development.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

An NY Times title change

Somini Sengupta's New York Times report about today morning's Ayodhya incident was titled India Braces for Ethnic Clashes After Attack on Religious Site, a few hours back.

Now the title reads India Braces After Attack on Holy Site.

I'm glad that they changed that title. "Braces for ethnic clashes" looked creepy, and I hope creepy things do not take place in the coming days.

Ayodhya again ...

Ayodhya is back in the news again, and in such a major way. Yet again, as in December 1992, it's plain terrorism that has propelled this historic city to our TV screens. One kind of madness is trying to answer another (same?) kind of madness.

I really really hope things do not go out of controll in the coming days. Our immediate track record is not something that's comforting. Togadias and Giriraj Kishores have started spewing venom as usual. Advani and Modi are getting ready to make abundant political capital. Jaswant Singh has asked for Home Minister's resignation. They have already called for a nation wide protest and a UP bandh. All these when the security personnel posted at Ayodhya have successfully foiled a terrorist attempt to barge into the disputed site.

Nitin Pai of the Acorn is spot on when he says

    [LK Advani's] call for nationwide public protests is not only dangerous in its own right, it will play right into the hands of the terrorists.
When will this ever end, and what can we do to stop this madness?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Bridges and Trenches; Amitav Ghosh's essay

Amitav Ghosh's latest article: Bridges and Trenches. Some excerpts:

    It is strange today to think that the fall of the Berlin Wall, fifteen years ago, was greeted as a vindication of 'capitalism' and the beginning of a new era of harmony in world history. Looking back today, it seems as if the the world's experience over this period could more accurately be read as proof of the view that unregulated capitalism leads inevitably to imperial wars and the expansion of empires.

    ... ...

    Let us never forget that freedom, liberation and such like are words that have always flowed abundantly from the lips of conquerors. This is not to deny that empires and empire-builders often subscribe to noble ideals: it is only to point out that the processes of conquest, occupation and domination always create realities that become alibis for the permanent deferral of those professed ideals.

    ... ...

    [T]he packaging of the Western economy as a model for the world is a thickly-disguised hoax: this isn’t because Western life is not rewarding or pleasurable. It is because the world would asphyxiate. It doesn't take much to see this, so we can be sure that the hucksters who are selling the package know that their version of capitalism+empire will result in a dual system: it may well be that the standards of living in India and China will improve substantially, but under the terms of this model, they can never be the same as those of 'the West'. In other words the future that is envisaged for the world by the current incarnation of Empire, is one that will ensure permanent inequality and division, conflict and war.

    ... ...

    [T]he single brightest point of hope today is Europe itself, in its new incarnation as a Union and in its insistence on the necessarily slow, faltering methods of peace and negotiation. By turning the conversation away from the dangerously deceptive teleologies of the past centuries, Europe has shown the world what can be achieved by focusing not on ends, but on means. Only thus can the world hope to reclaim its common destiny, not just from the arms of the new advocates of imperialism, but also from the empires of appetite and desire that threaten to consume our planet.

Father's memoirs: Excerpts - IV

In June 1965, I joined the Mavveni government lower primary school as a teacher. With a, aa, i, and ii, in the first standard, there starts my forty year long career in teaching. The salary was sixty nine rupees a month. To reach the school, I had to take a bus and from the last stop, it was a fifteen km walk. Those days I did not wear sandals. It felt as if one was treading a narrow and solitary rough path in a dense forest. I used to come home once a week.

As soon as I finished the Teachers Training Course, I had decided to take the Malayalam Vidvan exam. (One can be a high school Malayalam teacher after passing Vidvan.) Therefore I was busy studying most of the time. In between I used to write poems and essays and used to send those to some of the literary magazines around. A few of those got published. Because of all these, my colleagues were very fond of me.

We had to write the Vidvan final exams in Calicut. One of the texts in our syllabus was Kuttikrishna Marar's Rajankanam. A friend of mine who was also writing the exam with me expressed a desire to get introduced to Marar. By that time I knew most of the literary figures of Calicut fairly well, and in particular I knew Marar. I took my friend to Marar's house. While talking about many things, we told him that Rajankanam was part of the syllabus for the next day's exam. Marar looked a bit uneasy, and he said:

    please do not read my essay on Valmiki's Rama in that collection. I have revised it thoroughly, and let me now read out the new version to you.
We were in a dilemma. Nothing can be termed more fortunate than having an opportunity to be the only audience to an eminent critic like Marar reading out his latest work. At the same time we had an exam the next morning, and our immediate interest was in the old version of his essay! In any case, Marar started reading his essay aloud. Stressing at the right place, accompanied by appropriate expressions, he 'performed' the entire article.

The essay that we had to study was a critique of Rama as depicted in Valmiki's Ramayana, whereas the revised one echoed the later sentiments of Marar, highly spiritual and deeply devotional. Years later I wrote an article contrasting the mystical tone of Marar's revised essay with the logical prowess of the original.

Siddharth Varadarajan

Siddharth Varadarajan, one of India's leading journalists and commentators and deputy editor of The Hindu, has a blog, where he plans to archive his essays. Varadarajan's essays in the last decade are already archived. There's an extensive topical archive too, from Afghanistan and Bangladesh to United Nations and U.S. Policy in South Asia. Do check out the blog.

Let me just link to one particular essay, and this is Varadarajan's Foreword to Iftikhar Gilani's My Days in Prison.

    The next time a minister or politician, a policeman or soldier, a bureaucrat, judge or even a journalist tells us he or she cares about the rule of law, I have two words to say: Iftikhar Gilani.

    ... ...

    Whatever the petty calculations made by the petty men who went after him, we now know from the sequence of events described in this book that for the seven months that Iftikhar grew thin at Tihar jail, the erstwhile government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee knew he was completely innocent. Yet, the politicians and officials in charge of 'national security' in this country chose deliberately to keep him behind bars. Taken into custody on June 9, 2002, Iftikhar was finally released on January 13, 2003, after the case fabricated by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Delhi Police and Intelligence Bureau collapsed under the weight of its own inconsistencies and contradictions. Even this might not have happened but for the ingenuity and persistence of a few journalists who took up Iftikhar’s case, ferreted out information that was later to prove useful in demolishing the prosecution case, and kept the continuing scandal of his incarceration and mistreatment a live issue by circulating petitions and badgering ministers and editors at frequent intervals. Iftikhar is today a free man but, unfortunately, none of the issues that his arrest and incarceration raised have been addressed. More than anything else, his case demonstrated the legal and administrative power of the government's 'national security' apparatus to frame an innocent citizen. Those powers remain untrammelled.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Narendra Modi's webpage

Narendra Modi's webpage is getting a makeover, it looks like. Right now links haven't been enabled. The earlier page had a section titled 'Narendra Modi: As a Leader', in which a few noteworthy honors that Modi had been bestowed with were listed. One such is the following:

    In 1993, US Government, under Young Political Exchange Program invited him to U.S. He also addressed the Global Vision 2000 conference in Washington D.C. wherein 10,000 delegates from more than 60 countries had participated. [Google Cache.]
I expect the Modi webmaster to add this in the same para when the site is renovated!

Incidentally, how does one take a .png snapshot?