Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Attack in IISc

A shocking incident at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, yesterday. Check out Abi's post for an insider's account.

For me, Professor Puri's death is sort of a personal loss too. He taught my sister at IIT Delhi a couple of years ago. She remembers him as a good and enthusiastic teacher who was also very strict.

I hope all the injured will pull through.

Update (Dec 29): " ... life has started humming along again. It's almost normal, and just a little less innocent."

Sunday, December 25, 2005


I was away in Calicut, my home town, for two weeks. The first two days I could not access the net due to some connectivity problems. That prompted me to take a break from the net, sort of a cyber fasting! I did not even check my e-mail for two weeks. Quite a nice experience, I must say.


I was also sort of busy with some other things for a few days. Many of the readers of this blog may remember that I had a series of posts here, titled Father's Memoirs. They were edited translations of excerpts from the autobiography that my father was writing then. Father turned sixty this month and Natannuvanna Vazhikal, his memoirs, is in some sense his birthday gift to himself! His students, colleagues and friends too had a beautiful gift for him on the occasion. This was in the form of a two day seminar on his works. The autobiography was released at the inaugural session of this seminar. I attended the proceedings, and perhaps this is the first seminar outside my subject that I fully attend. It was an interesting two days. I was very close to many of my father's earlier students, and it was nice to meet all of them together.

R & I, with my sister and her husband, had a wonderful one day trip to the northern parts of Kerala. We went till the Bekal Fort (remember Mani Ratnam's Bombay?) with stops at Kappad beach (where Vasco da Gama landed five centuries ago), Lokanarkavu temple(s), Mahe, Kannur Fort and Karivellur.

Lokanarkavu has one Bhagavathi temple, one Vishnu temple and one Shiva temple. In the Shiva temple there, you are not supposed to do the full pradakshina. You do only the three fourth. I heard that this practice is common in several Shiva temples in Kerala. I do not know how common this is in the Shiva temples in other parts of India. R told me that this was the first time she heard about it. Perhaps this is the custom in certain Tantric temples. And perhaps the thought behind this ritual is that Shiva does not "deserve" your 100% respects as he is considered an "inferior" god -- a "tribal god" with bark clothes and a snake and all that? I do not know.

I also read a few books. One was a collection of some delightful poems of P.P. Ramachandran, a relatively young and now famous Malayalam poet. How I loved reading and re-reading those! Another book that I read, which I should have read years ago, was Jawaharlal Nehru's autobiography. Very few books have moved me to this extent. Of course I'm always a Nehru admirer! I also started reading Philip Roth's I Married a Communist which I found very appealing in the initial few pages, but not so interesting as the story progresses. Did any of you like that book?

I attended one or two public functions. One was a local convention of Purogamana Kala Sahitya Sangham, a left leaning cultural organization. This was held late in the evening in a private lower primary school, a ramshackle building with no electricity, with un-plastered walls, with even un-cemented floors. During a long speech on culture and society in that candle lit night, I glanced across the various charts on the walls. One was meant to teach the kids 'the present tense'. A few sentences there: Ramu takes bath before studying, Rani cleans the house every day, Ramu likes to get up early in the morning, Rani helps her mother in the kitchen. You get the drift. I could have attended two more talks but I came to know about both a bit later. Utsa Patnaik (JNU) and C. Raja Mohan (JNU and The Indian Express) were around.

That's it for now. If I was blogging in my vacation, probably I would have blogged mainly about these topics. Have to catch up with a lot of my favourite blogs. Looks like I have missed a lot of blog action!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

An Agenda for Kerala's Development: 2006 - 2015

The A.K. Gopalan Centre for Research and Studies in Thiruvanathapuram, an institute of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is organising an international conference on "An Agenda for Kerala's Development: 2006 - 2015", which starts today. They had organized a conference in 1994, and one outcome of that conference is the now successfully implemented democratic decentralization of administration called the "People’s Plan Campaign". That the quality of local governance has improved due to the effective decentralization is there for everyone to see.

Naturally those who are interested in Kerala Studies attach a lot of importance to this conference and the debates to be followed irrespective of their political and ideological leanings and affiliations. M.A. Baby, who's the director of the centre writes about the People’s Plan Campaign:
    This campaign involved one of the most radical schemes of financial devolution to local bodies and importantly, mobilized a mass movement in support of democratic decentralization. Our development policy has since then become more environment and gender sensitive. We have also started to give greater thrust to knowledge and service intensive industries.
The open invitation to attend the conference continues:
    The period we are discussing has also witnessed an acceleration of the process of imperialist globalization across the world. In the developing world, globalization has led to sharply widening inequalities and a large-scale impoverishment of the majority. The increased dependence on the flow of global finance capital has limited the possibilities of an autonomous path of development for developing countries. In such a situation, we realize that the struggle against globalization would require an engagement with the existing world realities.

    In this context, we at the AKG Centre for Research and Studies feel that the time has come where certain major decisions have to be taken to give a new thrust and direction to the development policies in Kerala. We have marked our tasks: accelerate economic growth; overcome the productivity barriers in agriculture and traditional industries; reap the possibilities of new growth sectors like Information Technology, Biotechnology and Tourism, improve the quality of services and address the second generation problems related to our past successes; integrate the yet remaining marginalized sections into the mainstream development process; move towards the eradication of absolute poverty; overcome the looming environmental crisis; and achieve greater gender justice. In doing so, we recognize that we have to engage with today’s global capitalist system.

    On the tenth anniversary of the International Congress on Kerala Studies, we are attempting to review our experience in development over the last ten years, and attempt to produce a comprehensive document on the developmental agenda for the State for the next one decade. We intend to place a draft of the agenda document in this web site for discussion among scholars, activists and people at large. To discuss the draft document and finalise it, we are convening an international conference on AN AGENDA FOR KERALA’S DEVELOPMENT: 2006 - 2015 between the 9th and 11th of December 2005 in Thiruvananthapuram. In a sense, this will be the completion of an intellectual process that we initiated in 1994.

Here's the draft of the agenda document.

Amartya Sen ...

... in conversation with Homi Bhabha.

    Sen spoke mainly about how he came to write The Argumentative Indian. He cited India's heterodox tradition of debate, and the rise of Hindutva as factors prompting him to investigate further his 'argumentative tradition'. He also said that he took issue with modernists and sub-alternists equally. The former because in their fear of falling into a Hindutva trap they shied away from examining cultural aspects of ancient and medieval history, and sub-altern history (which he described in a truly memorable phrase as 'Aristotle meets the Indian peasant') which he argued divorces any form of intellectual history from lived reality. He ended by saying that many have seen his book as trying to combat erroneous foreign perceptions of India and that this was not his goal.
Antara has a nice post with more details.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wiki -- A flawed and irresponsible research tool?

Update (Dec 8): This topic was covered in two posts (Dec 2 and Dec 4) by Abi at nanopolitan. Abi's is one of the blogs that I check more than once a day. I should have read those posts before putting up this post. Anyway, if this topic interests you, do head over there. The issue is so succinctly put over there.

Update (Dec 9): Uma had also mentioned this episode @ indianwriting. (Dec 4). In particular, she had linked to Seigenthaler's article.

    A great project, a democratic project - and one that can occasionally go wrong,
Uma writes about the Wiki and this incident.

Here's a post by Mandar @ Inc Scrawl.

John Seigenthaler, a former editor of USA Today, has called Wikipedia just that.

The ongoing controversy surrounds a wiki entry on him which had implicated him in the Kennedy assassinations. The entry, apparently, had the following sentences:

    John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960's. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven.
The false information went unchecked for several months (from May 26 to Oct 5). By that time, the information had leaked to several other web pages too. Then the false content was removed, but there was no way "to find out who wrote the toxic sentences".

Seigenthaler writes in his Nov 29 piece in the USA Today:

    I phoned Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder and asked, "Do you ... have any way to know who wrote that?"

    "No, we don't," he said. Representatives of the other two websites said their computers are programmed to copy data verbatim from Wikipedia, never checking whether it is false or factual.

    Naturally, I want to unmask my "biographer." And, I am interested in letting many people know that Wikipedia is a flawed and irresponsible research tool.

He went on:
    When I was a child, my mother lectured me on the evils of "gossip." She held a feather pillow and said, "If I tear this open, the feathers will fly to the four winds, and I could never get them back in the pillow. That's how it is when you spread mean things about people."

    For me, that pillow is a metaphor for Wikipedia.

Here's a New York Times article that covered the incident. Here's a report from the BBC.

Finally, what do I think of Wiki? I like it. I like the idea behind it. I even link to entries there occasionally. But I guess it's worth repeating once in a while that there's nothing "authentic" about such entries, whatever that means! (I tend to agree with what Dilip wrote here.) And, I would never view it as a "research tool"! Though, I might use a wiki entry to get references which could be "research tools".

But, Seigenthaler had a pertinent comment:

    The marketplace of ideas ultimately will take care of the problem but in the meantime, what happens to people like me?

Monday, December 05, 2005

December 6

Update (Dec 6): Some more remembrances:
  • For my generation I think 6 Dec 1992 changed who we were in various ways. No one was apolitical any longer, we knew where we stood, and even if in school we didn't stop being friends, I now knew what my closest friends thought of 'them', of Muslims, of history, of Pakistan. I also knew where I stood on the matter, and over the years when I've thought about when and where politics became important to me, I think back to that day when we were watching aghast at our TV sets, Ma lying ill in bed, listening to the BBC, watching in horror as the kar sevaks climbed atop the mosque and brought it down, the thrill of the curfew that followed, and of course the mid term exams that were cancelled. [Antara]
  • It was in the days that followed as I listened to my classmates talking about 'them' and how 'they' were cutting off the hands of Hindus and how 'they' were going to outbreed us and destroy us, lines that they were clearly parroting from what they'd heard at home, did I realise that this was not the principles that I'd been taught at home, and these were not ideas I could ever believe in. [Antara]
  • ... that was the first time - keep in mind I was living in Muscat, Oman since 1989 - I was aware that I'm Hindu, and my friends are Muslims. But I suppose it wasn't as bad as it would have been in India at that point. There wasn't any real tension in the air, just some sort of a *are* you different? More importantly, *why* should you be considered different? [Shrikant]
  • This day is still fresh in my mind. We had a Prime Minister who was impotent and couldn’t stop the terrorist act. I was supportive of the Congress govt. which provided a break after the disastrous V.P.Singh govt. But this incident proved that Narasimha Rao was not fit to lead our country. He not only allowed a national monument to be destroyed. he was also responsible for the rise of hindutva movement from the ashes of babri masjid. [Krish]
And, my post from last year.

Update (Dec 6): Today is Dr. Ambedkar's 49th death anniversary. Here's a link to his Annihilation of Caste. [Link via Amardeep].

Update (Dec 7):

    ... I remember my open-mouthed amazement. Was I really hearing what I was? Was it possible that in the late 20th Century, a couple of hundred thousand men were swarming onto a mosque and breaking it down stone by stone, and that this was being hailed as an act of national honour? My honour? [Dilip]

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sri Aurobindo

Tusar Mohapatra on Sri Aurobindo on the occasion of Aurobindo's 55th death anniversary.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The wisest man in India

    In calling Andre Beteille the "wisest man in India", I must append four caveats. First, this is my verdict, and mine alone. The second and third caveats are contained in the title itself. There may still be wiser Indians living outside India, and wiser women living in India. Finally, I have little doubt that Andre Beteille himself will reject my judgment.
Ram Guha in today's The Hindu [Link].

Update (Dec 5): From Pradeep's comment:

    Ramachandra Guha seeems never tired of praising Rajaji.In the last 5 years, as far as I could remember, he wrote 4 articles on Rajaji with more or less the same content. The one published in the Hindu in 2003 [actually, Dec 22, 2002] had the same title. Does he think that readers have only short memory?
Ram Guha is running short of good titles!

Little help and no justice

21 years with little help and no justice.

Friday, December 02, 2005

UNCA Awards for Excellence in Journalism

The United Nations Correspondents Association has announced its 2005 awards for excellence in journalism. The Silver Medal in the print category goes to Siddharth Varadarajan of The Hindu. Here are the links to the award winning articles:

Also check out his article: The unravelling of India's Persian puzzle.

It has dawned on ...

... the webmaster of Narendra Modi's website that addressing nicely titled conferences in the US of A isn't, after all, such a great thing to boast of. The webmaster has, therefore, decided to delete the following sentences while updating Modi's profile:

    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.
Why unnecessarily reminding the prajas of more recent episodes?

An Institutional History of TIFR

The Bangalore based New India Foundation has announced this year's five New India Fellowships. The fellowships are for writing "original books on different aspects of the history of independent India". They are worth Rs. 50,000 a month (for a year).

One of the fellowships, this year, goes to Indira Chowdhury who's going to write an institutional history of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Corporate Drama

Loop to Suckerno:

    In your specific case, I would like to mention an example. Suppose, someone is sick and the doctor is very good and does a very good examination and very good analysis but goofs up the operation, the patient is gone; If the doctor unknowingly or wantedly (sic) neglects some aspect of the treatment, he is erroring (sic). Right?
Visit the world of Loop, Hoop, Dupe, Smarty, Cutie and Suckerno. Check out The Appraisal @ Anamika.

The Narmada Dammed

I recently read The Narmada Dammed: An Inquiry into the Politics of Development by Dilip D'Souza. This is his second book and it was published three years ago. Since I read Branded by Law, Dilip D'Souza's first book, sometime early this year, I was looking forward to reading his book on the Narmada too. Branded by Law was an eye opener; in fact I had almost not heard of the so called 'criminal tribes' before reading that book.

The Narmada Dammed is also a great work. It's not just that the author has thought a lot about the issues at hand. His thoughts as well as his scepticism took him to various villages on the banks of the Narmada, and one strength of the book comes from his experiences in these villages. Dilip has also carefully gone through a large chunk of manuscripts and publications (including the October 2000 Supreme Court judgement), and does a splendid job in dissecting the official data and the logic there, systematically pointing out the contradictions and the factual errors.

All of us may have our own viewpoints about huge dams. Some of us may equate the dams with progress, some of us would think that the dams bring in more destruction than good. But that's not the main point of The Narmada Dammed. The thrust of the book is to build a critique of the Sardar Sarovar Project based only on the failed resettlement and rehabilitation measures. Why the underprivileged need to constantly sacrifice their land and livelihood for the 'greater public good' which may materialise at some future point? Why the authorities never show the enthusiasm that they have for building the dams when it comes to rehabilitation of the oustees? The book indeed diligently scrutinizes what has been 'achieved' with respect to resettlement and rehabilitation vis a vis the promises. Whether one is for the dam or against it, one should take a serious look at how the authorities went about R & R.

The book also mentions alternate (and compromise) models for the Narmada project. Also instances of achievements of those who concentrated on small scale projects. (Here's a relevant excerpt from the book). And here's a slightly detailed review by Sucheta Dalal.

Closely following an author who is dissecting official manuscripts paragraph by paragraph can turn out to be boring. But it is not so in this work, thanks to the superb quality of writing.