Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Blog Day

Harini and Neha Vish have blog day posts here and here.

I do not have a list of five new blogs that I have come across recently. Instead I link to five blogs that I added to my blogroll in August.

Uma has a beautiful post on the occasion of the blog day. I'm tempted to quote the whole post, but I'll restrict myself to a few sentences!
    I don’t have to agree with every single post of yours. You don’t have to agree with every one, or any, of mine. What’s wrong with a little argument? ... ... But your blog is your space, and this is mine. Within your space, you have the right to expect courtesy and moderation, as I can expect in mine. Free speech doesn’t mean spam, or random attacks, or hate-filled comments. Those shouldn’t have a space. For the rest, it’s all cool. I like to keep an SOH, and a sense of proportion, and remember that it is, after all, just a blog.
So nicely put.

Blogging from Kabul

Siddharth Varadarajan photoblogs from Kabul. Also check out his articles from the trip here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Huh-check revisited

Last week, I had linked to a new blog (Purvi's Through it All, Darkly). The point of that blog, in the blogger's words, is

    Strolling thru the blogworld, I often run into things where I'm like, "Huh? What was that again?" So just to keep bloggers alert - and we should all remember that some of them are journalists - this blog will be a space for occasionally highlighting some of these "Huh?" things.
I found the concept interesting. If we nit-pick MSM everyday what's wrong in doing a huh-check on blogs as well?

Amit Varma has left a comment on my post in which he is of the view that I was being a bit irresponsible in linking to Purvi's blog. Because a claim Purvi has made about India Uncut "is simply untrue. It's a lie."

There's some discussion here about the merits of Purvi's and Amit's cases. For the moment, I have nothing much to say about that.

I have a couple of questions though, which I think concern all of us who blog.

First, if I link to a blog, am I responsible for the content of that blog? Content of all the posts there? Is my linking to a blog, my subscribing to its point of view?

Amit also asks:

    Is clicking on the links in question and reading them for yourself too much fact-checking to expect?
And that's my second question. When you link to a post, do you always go through all the pages that are linked to?

Saturday, August 27, 2005


I would think that most of the readers of this blog are also readers of DesiPundit. The bloggers @ DesiPundit -- Ash, Patrix, Vulturo, Vikram, and Kaps -- have been doing a tremendous job for some time now. It has almost become a one stop shop for Indian blogs and blogs about India.

The latest post there reminds us to popularise DesiPundit even more:

    Spread the DesiPundit word wherever you can via blogs, email, or real conversations. ... Spread the love; we are doing it all the time.
So if you haven't heard about it yet, do visit. You are going to like the blog and the concept behind it. These days my blog day starts there!

Friday, August 26, 2005

My coordinates

[Link via Saket.]

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Huh-check! Very interesting.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Rural Employment Guarantee Bill

Today the loksabha has unanimously passed the Rural Employment Guarantee Bill. A consensus on the bill was reached across the political spectrum. Most of the articles that I saw in recent days in the media too were not against the bill, with of course many of them strongly advocating the need to have such a bill. Eminent economists like Jean Dreze have come up with viable ways (using the newly enacted Right to Information Act) in which REGB can be made to work, and work well. (See Dilip D'Souza's post, the comments over there, and the links therein. I particularly liked Vikrum Sequeira's long comment here.)

A couple of weeks ago, I had linked to an article by Utsa Patnaik that appeared in the Hindu, where she argued that there's a strong case for a universal employment guarantee scheme and a universal public distribution system. It did not generate any discussion then. Yesterday Aadisht Khanna had a nice post criticising Prof Patnaik's article and her methods. I don't agree with Aadisht much and I'm not surprised at Utsa Patnaik's conclusions that the sufferings of the poor have only increased in the post-reform period as that's what on relative terms that I notice in my visits to my home village. But I thought Aadisht's post was nice because his post was a genuine attempt to understand the situation and not a silly excersise in handwaving of the she-is-after-all-from-JNU sort.

Amit Varma has posted excerpts from Aadisht's post on India Uncut and the new economy blog of which he is a co-author, The Indian Economy, and this latter post has generated some discussion as well.

Point of this post is just to bring your attention to all these, and to invite your comments on related matters. I would also like to link to a related article by Prof Patnaik which has many more details.

Comments are welcome.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


Locana completes one year!

To celebrate, a quote from a quote, a very early post here:

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.'

Blog Mela @ Mall Road

Shivam Vij is hosting this week's blog mela @ Mall Road. Send in your nominations by Friday evening. You could post it here or e-mail it to mallroad [at] shivamvij [dot] com.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sita continues to be abandoned

The following short piece, due to my father, appeared in The Mathrubhumi feature -- Ramayana in my view (06 August 2005) [Link].

Sita parityaga that continues even today
by N.V.P. Unithiri

I have read Valmiki's Ramayana many times, some times in its entirety, selected portions some other times. The very first time I read the [Malayalam] translation by Vallathol [Narayana Menon], later, many a time, the original in Sanskrit. For me, the most poignant part of The Ramayana is Sita parityaga -- the abandonment of Sita. Even today reading that chapter makes my eyes water.

In the 42nd sarga of Uttara Kanda, we see Rama, Sita, and others entertaining themselves singing and dancing, on great food and liquor. Rama asks Sita, who is pregnant, what her wishes are. She tells him her desire to go for sightseeing in the forests on the banks of the Ganges. Rama promises that they could go on the very next day. Soon after, a spy named Bhadra intimates Rama that fabricated stories about Sita are spreading everywhere, in junctions and markets, in the gardens and the forests. Rama now tells his brothers about his decision to abandon Sita. Rama also remembers Sita's undergoing the test of fire in Lanka, and says: "in my mind though, Sita is chaste and pure."

But Rama's concern was whether he would lose his reputation. He says: "What the society thinks is important. The Gods too look down upon ill fame, and fame brings respect everywhere. Does not every noble man yearn for it? I fear dishonour, oh, learned men, I'll even renounce your company and my own life, if needed, for the sake of honour. Sita has to be deserted. Understand my state of mind, I wasn't sadder on anyday before. Lakshmana, tomorrow you take Sita in Sumantra's chariot and leave her at our border. Abandon her near the holy Ashram of Sage Valmiki on the banks of the Tamasa river, and get back here soon."

A helpless Lakshmana leaves Sita in the forest, and tells her about what had happened. Unable to get over the shock, Sita loses consciousness and faints down. Valmiki sees Sita, and takes her to his Ashram and looks after her. Months later, Sita gives birth to two sons -- Kusa and Lava. In fact Valmiki composes the Ramayana in order to teach them their story.

Who wouldn't be moved by Valmiki's portrayal of the Sita parityaga?

Today, in one way or the other, in worse forms, this story continues. Indeed an instance that speaks volumes of the powers of prescience of the first poet.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Gods of juicy things

William Dalrymple has a long article in The Guardian about the post The God of small things Indian Writing in English. [link via Prufrock Two.] Interesting read. I won't get into the details or the merits of the arguments, mainy because I don't think I have the expertise to say anything sensible about stuff like gallows of authenticity. If you don't want to read the whole thing check out Prufrock's page for the gist of it.

Remember the Ram Guha - Dalrymple juicy columns of the past? More could be in the offing! See this:

    There is even a relative absence of genuinely accessible, well-written and balanced general histories of India. The most widely available introductions to the subject - the two Penguin Histories by Romila Thapar and Percival Spear - are both fine, scholarly works, but pretty heavy-going. This as much as anything else, I think, has allowed Hindu nationalist myths to replace history among a large part of India's middle-class, who are keen consumers of desi fiction, but still have surprisingly little home-grown history to interest them.

    In India, with the exceptions of the cricket historian Ramachandra Guha and Sunil Khilnani, author of The Idea of India (who has now decamped to Washington) - there is simply nothing like that. What English language non-fiction there is seems to be written by academics for the consumption of a handful of other, rival academics.

Will Guha argue against this proposition? He shouldn't, as he himself has said more or less the same things in the past. But Guha has the habit of attacking an argument based on who the author is. And Dalrymple's classification of Guha's profession is meant to insult him (though there's really nothing bad about being a cricket historian as such). Let's wait and see.

You might also remember that a point that was debated by Guha and Dalrymple was about the Doon mafia. Dalrymple's article tells us that the origin of that line of thought goes back to Arundhati Roy. Roy told Dalrymple once:

    I grew up on the banks of a river in Kerala. I spent every day from the age of three fishing, walking, thinking, always alone. If you read other Indian writers most of them are very urban: they don't have much interest in, you know, air or water. They all went from the Doon School [the Indian Eton] to St Stephen's [the Indian Oxford] and then on to Cambridge.
Dalrymple irritates Guha enough. What if Arundhati Roy too comes into the picture? Make sure to read Guha's future columns!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Litter free Calicut

Today Calicut is going to be declared as India's first litter free city, reports The Indian Express. Noted author and social critic Sukumar Azhikode will make the declaration.

    The change, [however], is for real. Gone are the odious heaps of fly-infested trash, even the eyesore public rubbish bins. No one throws garbage out anymore, or need to. Thanks to an initiative that has caught the fancy of much of the city population, smartly uniformed young women arrive driving specially designed cargo autorickshaws at each city home, shop and office every morning, picking up the garbage. Every home has been given two covered containers—a white one for plastics and other non-biodegradable wastes, green for other trash.

    Together, the 730-odd trained women belonging to local self-help collectives now handle some 300 tonnes of city wastes, over the 83 square kilometres that this small city straddles. They are organised into 73 different units of ten women each. The city corporation gives each unit a grant of Rs 1.25 lakh and helps get an equal amount as bank loans, to buy two autorickshaws. Almost all of them are the unemployed from poorer city homes.

    It’s not a free service. Each home must pay them a service charge of up to Rs 30 each month. Shops, hotels and offices pay more. But few seem to grudge it.

I'm from Calicut, rather Calicut is the nearest city to my home. I went to college in Calicut for five years, and naturally I've a special liking for that city. So I'm glad about this development.

Declarations apart this is one thing that I noticed when I went to Kerala in June. Not just in Calicut even in other parts, the road sides were remarkably clean and trash free. We went to Wayanad for a day and Kalpetta was very clean too. (Incidentally another thing that struck me in Kerala was the quality of functioning of our cell phones. In my earlier apartment in Bombay I used to rush to the balcony if I receive a call as the signal was very weak in the rooms. But in my home, 24 km from Calicut, 2 km away from the national highway, a typical Kerala village, in any corner of the house my cell had the full signal.)

I'm sure today there'll be public celebrations, processions, and all that, as part of this event. I remember participating in the function declaring Kerala totally literate a decade and a half ago. I had written about it some time back. That mega event was also held in Calicut.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Father's Memoirs: Excerpts - VI

I took MA Sanskrit Sahitya exams in 1973. Most of the papers I could do well.

The viva voce was held in Trissur. The examiners were Professor S. Venkatasubrahmanya Iyer and Professor K Raghavan. Prof Iyer was then the Head of the Department of Sanskrit at the University of Kerala. Prof Raghavan was the Principal of Govt Sanskrit College, Trivandrum. Both of them openly praised my dissertation.

"You must have had a traditional training in Sanskrit?"

I told them about my studies in detail. Prof Iyer had a specific query.

"Would you like to do research? Will it be okay for you to come to Trivandrum?"

"I'll be very happy to do so, but there are financial constraints. I earn 450 rupees a month as a high school teacher. I'm married and forsaking that sum will be difficult."

"There'll be a scholarship of 250 rupees a month. One may have to wait for five to six months though."

Then they asked a few questions from the syllabus. My answers were satisfactory. The results were out soon and I had done well.

Prof. Iyer's words reverberated in my mind over and over. I couldn't resist the temptation to go to Trivandrum to pursue research.

N.V. Krishna Warrier, a charismatic figure in the Malayalam literary scenario, had by then moved to Trivandrum as the Director of the State Institute of Languages. I knew him well via the Sahitya Samiti meetings. He said: "There shouldn't be any problem. We'll manage a few kids to come to you for Sanskrit tuition. Come to Trivandrum at the earliest."

Mom didn't know what to say. Anandam did not say anything against the plan. Her father agreed with me too.

In 1974 I applied for two years' study leave and joined the Sanskrit department of the University of Kerala as a Ph.D. student. Professor Venkatasubrahmanya Iyer was my advisor. Fortunately there weren't many financial hurdles. Vishnumaster's -- Poet Vishnunarayanan Namboodiri -- brotherly presence was always there to sort out any issue that would have cropped up.

On Vishnumaster's initiative I started taking elementary Sanskrit classes at the Cotton Hill High School. Children of many well-known writers -- Ayyappa Paniker, O.N.V. Kurup, Sugathakumari, ... -- of Thiruvananthapuram attended my classes. It's the tution fee from those classes that took care of my first six months of stay. I could also save a bit every month and this was to be sent home.

Soon after writing the MA exams I had made it a habit to frequent certain Namboodiri houses of Kannur district in order to browse through the palm leaf manuscripts available in their collection. One of those visits I noticed a manuscript of Nalachandrodaya, a Sanskrit mahakavya, which was unknown to the world of Sanskrit scholarship. From the text it was clear who the author was. But I was eager to place the author geographically too. A shloka of the poem, describing Subrahmanya assuming two bodies to look after his devotees with increased vigil, naturally led me to look for temples with two Subrahmanya idols. This together with other hints from the work sufficed me to fix the author's place in the Malappuram district of Kerala (Karikkatu). My first research paper was based on this work. I sent this paper to Professor Kunjunni Raja and it got published in the Annals of Oriental Research. The New Catalogus Catalogorum, a monumental work under the aegis of the National Manuscripts Mission has its entry on the Nalachandrodaya based on the above paper.

The goal of my second paper was a better understanding of Dingmatradarshana, one of the foremost commentaries of Abhijnana Sakuntala. A thorough scrutiny of this commentary convinced me that it's worth studying all the Keralite commentaries of Sakuntala. These papers were published in the Journal of Kerala Studies.

I had a topic for my Ph.D. thesis by this time. Prof. Iyer suggested an in-depth investigation of the works of Purnasarasvati, a commentator of great originality and scholarship. I had heard about him and his works before. Once N.V. Krishna Warrier had sounded me off about the approach of Purnasarasvati that included a didactic interpretation of works otherwise understood to have only enjoyment as their aim.

A perusal of Vidyullata, Purnasarasvati's celebrated commentary on Meghasandesa, made it clear to me that Kuttikrishna Marar's translation and notes of Meghasandesa had closely followed Purnasarasvati in authenticating the shlokas as well as in its critical appreciation. Marar never gave any credit to Purnasarasvati. Not just that, his text contained occasional belittling remarks about Purnasarasvati.

Needless to say, this aspect of Marar diminished my high regards for him. I also felt that I should write an article in Malayalam highlighting the similarities between Marar's work and that of Purnasarasvati. But critiquing someone of Marar's stature along these lines was unthinkable especially as I was just beginning my literary career. In any case I wrote an essay and showed it to Prof. Iyer. He went through that carefully and said that I should publish it soon.

On Vishnumaster's suggestion, I sent the article to Mathrubhumi, published from Calicut. Weeks passed and there was no reply from them. One of those days I was in Calicut to meet Poet Kunjunni Master with whom I was serialising Valmiki Ramayana for children for a children's monthly run by Sugathakumari.

"Heard that you have written something recently criticising Marar!", said Master soon after my reaching the Ramakrishna Ashram where he used to live.

I did not hide my surprise: "How come you know about that?"

"Your essay has become a talking point at the Mathrubhumi office. They think that the essay is great but they don't think that Mathrubhumi can publish it."

M.T. Vasudevan Nair was the chief editor of the magazine then. I went and met him. He directed me to the concerned editor who repeated what I had already heard.

Back in Trivandrum, Vishnumaster said he could get it published in Granthalokam of which he was the deputy editor. In the very next issue this one came as the main article - An acknowledgement that Marar left unsaid. Many noted literary figures of Thiruvananthapuram noticed that essay. Some of them wrote in congratulating the effort.

Thesis work did make steady progress. In the next couple of years I had enough material for six research papers which came published in the various Sanskrit/Indological journals in the subsequent years. Translations of a couple of these papers together with a few articles that I had already published in Malayalam were also got published in book form.

My enthusiasm for research of course did not go unnoticed. By mid 75, there was a Lecturership vacant in the department, and I was asked to apply for it. Soon I joined the University of Kerala as a Lecturer in Sanskrit.

Previous posts in this series: Father's Memoirs: Excerpts - I, II, III, IV, V.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Surprises around every corner

Check out Gregg Guetschow's Random Walks through the Blogosphere. The blog executes a cute idea:

    Each post starts at a randomly selected blog from The Truth Laid Bear ecosystem and moves randomly from blog to blog via links listed on the blogs visited.
Gregg's latest post takes him to our neck of the woods. The post starts with Vishnulokam, comes to Locana,
    Vishnu's 14th blog link takes us to Locana; the author of this blog is from India -- Bombay to be more exact. Politics and culture from an Indian perspective figure prominently in his posts.
and goes on to Ramanand's Clipboard Conversations.

A randomizer suggests a number each time and Gregg visits that numbered blog from the current blogroll. In his Passage to India, I must say that the randomizer wasn't very random! Ramanand and I belong to the same campus, and Vishnu is an alumnus of our institute.

Well, as the subtitle of Gregg's blog says: "There are surprises around every corner."

Monday, August 08, 2005

Peter Jennings

Peter Jennings is dead.

Peter Jennings was my most favourite US media anchor.

I had no idea of the US media before travelling to the US. When I visited the US the first time I used to watch only C-SPAN and CNN. Within a few months of my first visit the 9/11 tragedy took place. I was watching Aaron Brown, whom I used to like a lot too, on CNN that day morning. Hours later I started flipping channels and I saw Peter Jennings covering the event for ABC. I admired his style so much that I googled and found that he is a media celebrity. I read a lot about him on the net in the next couple of days.

In all my visits to the US later I almost never missed an edition of 'World News Tonight with Peter Jennings'.

A few months back I heard that Jennings was fighting cancer. I hoped he would fight it successfully ...

Update: A touching piece by Saheli:

    I don't really know what to say, except he's the single most present public figure in my life so far, even counting the relative recent absence. I really can't imagine my childhood and youth without him. When considering the formation of any of my thinking on politics, my sense of the globe, my sense of what's current--at the beginning of all of it is some World News Tonight segment, some introduction by Peter Jennings. I'm just so sad that I was in New York, with people he knew, and I never got to meet him.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Very good advice ...

... to the BJP from Pradeep Ravikumar of 7 x 6:

    How do you get the support of this large section of "unwashed masses" (I do not refer to education/wealth here, merely to economic literacy) by following counter-intuitive yet sound economic policies?

    And thus we come to the topic of what motivates people. The post till now has talked about one prime motivator: material prosperity. But what the post has said is that a sound economic policy would actually make people protest against it due to short term losses or economic illiteracy. So, we need something else to rally people behind the political party. This something could be,
    a. religion
    b. nationalism
    or even better, a heady cocktail of both.

    So, a party that wants to pursue sound economic policies should pander to and generate-froth-in-the-mouth-of the majority religion; as well as cater to jingiostic nationalism. The economically literate would turn a blindish eye to its religious/nationalistic rhetoric, while the religious/nationalistically swayed unwashed masses would turn a blind eye to some inconveniences caused by its economic policies, at least in the short term.

    With reference to India; all those largely middle-class people who say that the BJP has to become more moderate in order to gain power; are sadly applying their colored middle-class lenses to the situation.

    The BJP shall have to increase its Hindutva rhetoric, strengthen its ties with RSS and VHP; and under the ensuing adulatory cover from the BIMARU belt, pursue the economic policies that it must. Alongside sound economic policies, short-term-gain measures like cutting taxes can also be used to buy the loyalty from the armchair middle-class crowd.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Measuring the Blogosphere

The New York Times editorial:

    It's natural enough to think of the growth of the blogosphere as a merely technical phenomenon. But it's also a profoundly human phenomenon, a way of expanding and, in some sense, reifying the ephemeral daily conversation that humans engage in. Every day the blogosphere captures a little more of the strange immediacy of the life that is passing before us. Think of it as the global thought bubble of a single voluble species.

A case for universal EGA and PDS

    THE ARGUMENTS for a universal, not targeted, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act as well as for a universal Public Distribution System (PDS) are far stronger than most people realise. Rural India is in deep and continuing distress. Unemployment continues to rise. Output growth continues to fall; last year's gross foodgrains output was 205 million tonnes, or only 162 kg net output per head of population. Loss of purchasing power owing to drastic reductions in the State's spending on rural development during the last decade continues and is reflected in a steep fall in per head foodgrains absorption which is now one of the lowest in the world at around 154 kg, for all-India, 20 kg lower than a mere six years ago, and it is lower still in village India where calorie intake per head continues to decline. Forty years of successful effort to raise foodgrains absorption through the Green Revolution and planned expansionary policies has been wiped out in a single decade of deflationary economic reforms and India is back to the foodgrains availability level of 50 years ago.
Read Utsa Patnaik in today's Hindu.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Knowledge and utility

The following is a quote from Hanif Kureishi's article that appeared in today's Guardian to which I have linked to in my previous post as well.

    Wittgenstein compared ideas to tools that you can use for different ends. Some open the world up. The idea that you can do everything with one tool is ridiculous.
Everything cannot be packed and marketed -- approached and understood -- with an idea or a fixed circle of ideas. You'll have to use many kinds of tools for different purposes.

The above quote struck me especially because I was reading that article soon after reading this Telegraph editorial [link via India Uncut] about the newly constituted Knowledge Commission by the Government of India.

The Knowledge Commission is supposed to come up with 'bold proposals' that enable India to 'embark on a second wave of institution building'. While launching the commission, PM Manmohan Singh said:

    At the bottom of the `knowledge pyramid' the challenge is one of improving access to primary education. At the top of the `pyramid' there is a need to make our institutions of high education and research world class.
We do need new ideas and insights. I don't assert that this commission will be able to deliver but the goal is an important one and it's definitely worth a try.

The Telegraph's stand is very different and that treads a very predictable state-is-evil path.

    The last socialist bastion is a pathetic faith in the state. A bizarre manifestation of this faith is the formation, at the direct initiative of the prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, of something called the Knowledge Commission, which was launched on its aimless journey on Tuesday. Most of the members of the commission, despite its token bow to the left, are very eminent people. It is difficult to imagine them advocating the position that the pursuit of knowledge can be driven by the state. Knowledge has advanced not because of the state but despite its presence.
[Incidentally isn't there a tinge of fanaticism in suggesting that eminence you'll have only on the right?]

There are plenty of instances where knowledge is advanced because of direct state patronage. There are also instances where knowledge is advanced despite the presence of the state. In any case the commission is not a government body. It's a mechanism through which the state is trying to get new and implementable ideas and I think it's a welcome step in that regard.

The editorial makes another point against the commission:

    branches of knowledge considered useful and utilitarian by the state have priority. This is not the pursuit of knowledge, but of utility.
Mind you, half of the commission members are social scientists! I do want to make a comment in another direction: knowledge, all kinds of knowledge, is utilitarian. It's wrong to say that Mechanical engineering is utilitarian and English literature is not. Of course the utility could be in satisfying the curiosity of the intellect. Thus you can't really distinguish between the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of utility.
    The state should leave knowledge alone if it wants knowledge to flourish. Scholars in their own fields will set their own agenda. Knowledge is power, but it is also an enemy of state power,
continues the Telegraph. I totally agree with the last two sentences. But as long as the government of the day values academic freedom and the freedom to dissent, no problem arises. Most of us in Indian academics get state grants. But we do what we want to do. The grants are only helpful.

Genuine academics and thinkers will make use of the grants that they get whether it's from the state or from some other source. That doesn't/shouldn't restrict in anyway their right to criticise the state, or the relevant source, if necessary. Take just one Indian example -- Kalidasa. A poet of the highest order, his works also contain critiques of power. State patronage wasn't a hindrance at all.

On any day a government that thinks of a Knowledge Commission is far superior to a government that thinks only of its day-to-day existence. And state-is-evil is just one idea/tool and it may not give results whenever you apply it.

The carnival of culture

From a piece by Hanif Kureishi:

    If the idea of multiculturalism makes some people vertiginous, monoculturalism - of whatever sort - is much worse. Political and social systems have to define themselves in terms of what they exclude, and conservative Islam is leaving out a lot.

    ... ...

    You can't ask people to give up their religion; that would be absurd. Religions may be illusions, but these are important and profound illusions. And they will modify as they come into contact with other ideas. This is what an effective multiculturalism is: not a superficial exchange of festivals and food, but a robust and committed exchange of ideas - a conflict that is worth enduring, rather than a war.

    When it comes to teaching the young, we have the human duty to inform them that there is more than one book in the world, and more than one voice, and that if they wish to have their voices heard by others, everyone else is entitled to the same thing. These children deserve better than an education that comes from liberal guilt.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A gruesome incident


The decline of higher education

A fine column by AK Bhattacharya. "Universities are starved of funds and their infrastructure has suffered as a consequence, which in turn has affected academic standards", writes Bhattacharya. He too stresses an idea originally due to Deepak Nayyar that a student joining a college should be made to pay the same fees he or she paid in the final year of school. I thought that was a good workable proposal, but it's been dropped now on legal grounds.

Bhattacharya also rightly points out that

    the argument against retaining ridiculously low fees for higher education does not mean that poor, needy and meritorious students should be denied concessional fees and other financial benefits. Surely, they should continue to be made available on the basis of merit and need. And such concession and benefits can be made available easily if the general fees structure is raised to reflect the changing reality and bring closer to the relative fees structure in privately run educational institutions.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bad practice, good theory

I've had several posts about Ram Guha before. Two of them are here and here.

In a recent article criticising the Indian left, Guha has the following paragraph:

    [I]f the history of the 20th century teaches us anything, it is this — that parliamentary democracy is, despite all its faults, superior to totalitarianisms of left and right; and that the market is, despite all its faults, a more efficient and cheaper allocator of economic resources than the state. This history also teaches us a third lesson, one specific to this country — that, despite all their faults, Tagore, Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar are thinkers more relevant to the practice of politics in India than are Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.
Guha makes three powerful statements, and he says all these follow from the 20th century history. Mind you these are not just some of the things -- these are the things -- that the history of the last century teaches. I'm not going to argue with Guha's beliefs; they are more or less my beliefs too! But that said I don't see the logic behind Guha's derivation. Sounds more like a proof by assertion to me.

On an unrelated (!) note, this month marks the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima-Nagasaki.

[Link via Prayatna.]

Tom Flatman!

Do check out Siddharth Varadarajan's review of Thomas Friedman's book -- 'The World is Flat'. This appeared in today's Hindu Book Review. Perhaps a better place to read this review is Siddharth Varadarajan's blog as the links he has enabled there are extremely useful and informative. Here's the permalink to the blog post. An excellent piece.

In a lighter vein, I found the following sentence from the review pretty hilarious: "And workers in Indian call centres have names like Jerry and get to pretend they're from Kansas." Can you guess why?

Update (August 3): Veena has a post on the same topic which has a few more interesting links:

    A couple of months ago, I picked up 'The World is flat' at the neighborhood Borders and attempted to read it. The book soon earned the distinction of being the only book that I have returned to any store ever.

Laura do you know of any other ...

... country of one billion people trying to seek its salvation in the framework of a democratic polity? [Link]

Image courtesy: Atanu Dey.

Monday, August 01, 2005

A research fraud?

British Medical Journal highlights lack of international cooperation to investigate scientific fraud by two Indian medical scientists. [Link]

Also see this press release by C.R. Soman, calling the Indian Council for Medical Research for an investigation into this issue.

Plenty of food - yet the poor are starving

A Guardian report on the two faces of Niger:

    There is plenty of food, but children are dying because their parents cannot afford to buy it. The starvation in Niger is not the inevitable consequence of poverty, or simply the fault of locusts or drought. It is also the result of a belief that the free market can solve the problems of one of the world's poorest countries.

    ... ...

    Niger, the second-poorest country in the world, relies heavily on donors such as the EU and France, which favour free-market solutions to African poverty. So the Niger government declined to hand out free food to the starving. Instead, it offered millet at subsidised prices. But the poorest could still not afford to buy.

    ... ...

    The UN, whose World Food Programme distributes emergency supplies in other hunger-stricken parts of Africa, also declined to distribute free food. The reason given was that interfering with the free market could disrupt Niger's development out of poverty.

Here's an NYTimes article on the same topic.

Update (August 4): Guardian reports on looming crisis in Mali and Burkina Faso as well.

Update (August 5): Another Niger link (via Veena):

    Niger's government ruled out both free food aid and health care to hungry families, preferring to sell surplus millet at subsidized prices in an effort to force the price of scarce millet down. But millet prices skyrocketed, forcing families to sell cattle and other goods to buy food. The charity has angrily accused governments of allowing children to die, albeit not intentionally, so that the free market in grain would not be disrupted. Others say that Niger is on a steady course toward future disasters, free aid or not.

Ancient Argument and Modern Democracy

Expressindia report on Amartya Sen's talk in Calcutta at the launch of The Argumentative Indian:

    Refuting the notion that argumentative discourse was the sole prerogative of the elite, Sen argued: “The critical voice has been an old ally of the aggrieved. It does not take any specialised skills to speak out or argue for something. The argumentative tradition can be a strong friend of the underdog.” Sen also opposed the integrationist approach of secular modernists who shy away from any discussion on the impact of ancient religious texts on common Indians.

    “Secularists are correct in criticising the use of these texts as supernatural texts by the Hindutva lobby,” Sen said. However, according to Sen — and as Tagore had pointed out — these epics are marvellous parables that are open to interpretation in a variety of ways that promote heterodoxy.

Here's perhaps an instance where a secular modernist doesn't shy away from the kind of discussions Sen is talking about.

Mumbai Help and Cloudburst Mumbai

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