Tuesday, February 28, 2006

George Bush go home

    It's not in our power to stop Bush's visit. It is in our power to protest it, and we will.
Read Arundhati Roy's George Bush go home.

The Man Without a Plan

    Easterly is well aware of the efficiency of market delivery when commodities are bought in a market and backed by suitable purchasing power, and he contrasts that with the usual infelicities and inefficiencies in getting aid to those who need it most. But the distinction between the two scenarios lies not only in the different ways of meeting the respective problems, but also in the nature of the problems themselves. There is something deeply misleading in the contrast he draws between them, which seems to have motivated his entire project: "There was no Marshall Plan for Harry Potter, no International financing Facility for books about underage wizards. It is heartbreaking that global society has evolved a highly efficient way to get entertainment to rich adults and children, while it can't get twelve-cent medicine to dying poor children." The disparity in the results is indeed heartbreaking. But jumping from there to arguing that the solution to the latter problem is along the same lines as the solution to the former reflects a misunderstanding of what makes the latter so much more difficult. (That major issue is clearly more important than the minor point that J. K. Rowling was on welfare support and received a grant from the Scottish Arts Council when writing the first Harry Potter novel.)
Amartya Sen reviews William Easterly's The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. [Link via Pradeep.]

Monday, February 27, 2006

Gujarat burning ...

The following is a quote from Zakia Jafri's foreword to Dionne Bunsha's recent book Scarred: Experiments with Violence in Gujarat. (Zakia Jafri is the widow of the late Ahsan Jafri, an ex MP, who was lynched by a mob during the Gujarat riots in 2002.)

    28 February 2002 -- a day which I will never forget. I pray for all those who were killed -- children, young girls; so many who lost their lives even before they could figure out what had happened to them. Young boys and girls who left their homes to play in the neighbourhood would never see their parents and relatives again. Mothers searched for their children in the commotion, and many still don't know whether their children are alive or dead. They are still waiting. There was not enough time to react. Indifferent government statistics can never account for those lakhs of people who died silent deaths, and are still suffering today.
    When I go back in my mind to that awful day, my thoughts circle the same path and always come back to where they started. What happened, and why? I, and indeed many others like me, are still unable to come to terms with what happened.
    ... ...
    No amount of patience can bring what we have lost back to us. The very least we expect by way of consolation is justice, however delayed.
Four years later, Gujarat is still burning. The criminals who led the pogrom continue to be in power. To quote Dionne Bunsha from the book:
    ... the minorities in Gujarat still feel under siege. There is still a lot of insecurity. People hesitate to stand up for their rights. Segregation exists right from homes to classrooms to hospitals.
    The Sangh Parivar is still the dominant political force in Gujarat. Its extremist fringes are adamant on ushering in a Hindu Rashtra. The VHP has a list of monuments all over the country that it wants to demolish and capture. More youth are initiated into the fold every year at the VHP and Bajrang Dal camps. Not only in Gujarat, but also in Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and other states, the VHP has sparked trouble between adivasis and Muslims.
    To counter them, egalitarian political forces have to be as organised. The schooling of stereotypes must be curbed so that children are not fed false prejudices. Reactionary forces within the minorities also have to be countered. They too keep people trapped in closed mindsets. Many liberal Muslims have been attacked or excommunicated for speaking out against the orthodoxy.
    Could such a tragedy happen again? No one knows.
Perhaps the poet got it right:
    When these things come to an end,
    people find
    other subjects to talk about
    than just
    the latest episode of the Mahabharata
    and the daily statistics of death;
    rediscover simple pleasures --
    fly kites,
    collect wild flowers, make love.
    Life seems
    to return to normal.
    But do not be deceived.
    Though, sooner or later,
    these celebrations of hatred too
    come to an end
    like everything else,
    the fire -- the fire lit for the purpose --
    can never be put out.     [Sarpa Satra, Arun Kolatkar]

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Best Bakery verdict

Finally some good news on the Best Bakery front. But as Rahul Bose says:

    ... the people who have been convicted are not the perpetrators or originators of the entire cycle of events and selective blood shed that took place in 2002. These people are just the end results of more devious mind at work and I hope that the future would see those minds being brought to book.

Friday, February 24, 2006

M. Krishnan Nair

... passes away.

    Nair's weekly Malayalam column 'Sahithya Varaphalam', which is carried by leading weeklies, has been the most widely read column in the language for the last 35 years. Nair earned friends and foes and often created storm in literary circles with his pungent comments, brief but incisive analysis and sharp observations in his column.

    'Sahithya Varaphalam' first appeared in the now-defunct 'Malayala Nadu' weekly, later in 'Kalakaumudi' and now in 'Samakalika Malayalam' weekly. An authority on world literature, he introduced to the common reader masterpieces in English, European languages and also Latin American and Japanese literature. As a reviewer judging literary works, he never went by the reputation of the writer but by the true value of the piece under judgment.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Day of political lies

    Writers from around the world plan to mark March 20, the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, as the 'day of political lies.'

    The Berlin-based Peter Weiss Foundation for Art and Politics, which organizes the annual Berlin Literature Festival, said Wednesday that public readings will be held on March 20 in dozens of cities in Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia to raise awareness of the substance and form of political lies.

    The events are to include a reading of Eliot Weinberger's What I Heard About Iraq in 2005, which was first published in the London Review of Books. It is a compendium of statements from American government authorities and their allies before and after the war and places them in counterpoint to the observations and experiences of soldiers and Iraqis and compares them as well with the progress of the reconstruction, the abuse at Iraqi prisons and the reliability of prewar intelligence.

    Among the writers signing the call for the 'day of political lies' were Britain's Doris Lessing and Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter, India's Amitav Gosh, Turkey's Orhan Pamuk, Americans Paul Auster and Russell Banks, and Germany's Peter Schneider and Ulla Hahn.


Monday, February 20, 2006

That was probably two generations ago?

Scavengers in manholes [India Stinking?]
Frontline has a review of Gita Ramaswamy's book India Stinking: Manual Scavengers in Andhra Pradesh and their work.
    Many anachronistic devices and systems have yielded to modern, expensive gadgets or tools in the name of public good. But behind the question of doing away with the existing system of human waste disposal - manual scavenging - one can see a deep-rooted prejudice against Dalits, on whom the hierarchical caste Hindu society has thrust this obnoxious occupation only because they are born into this segregated social group. Dalits are asked to lift human excreta from private and community dry latrines using mostly a tin plate and carry it in buckets or as headload to be dumped elsewhere.
Now a quote from an 'India Shining' book:
    "I am a liberal, and above these caste distinctions", said my host, turning to me, "but I cannot tolerate the sight of a lower caste girl sitting beside a Brahmin boy. I saw it with my own eyes on a bus in Delhi the other day. Mind you, the boy was the son of a Supreme Court judge."

    "What is wrong with them sitting on the bus together?" I asked artlessly.

    "What's wrong -- she is unclean!" said my Rajput host, rising imperiously from the charpai and assuming the dignity of a retired transport commsissioner."They used to carry muck on their heads."

    "That was probably two generations ago", I said, impatience showing in my voice.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Is poetry inconsequential, as, say, shooting quail?

Alex Cumberbatch writes in, reflecting on the Cheney incident.

    Is poetry inconsequential
    As, say, shooting quail?

    As rigs that syphon gallons?
    As boot of battalion?
    Kurd, Iraqi:
    Serf, lackey.

    Powell's surreal edition
    Reads like crude fiction.
    He delights in his old flame,
    That damned awful name:

    Bombastic beauty, Bin Baalzabooby!
    Behold her hell bent fury,
    Your only defence, Of Counsel
    When scandals rock your smug cartel.

    The unborn inveigh from the womb,
    Against the sanguinary crew
    Who millions slew and slew Hai!
    Whispers in Yakusuni Tomb.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The five of us who were in that party ...

... were together all afternoon. Nobody was drinking, nobody was under the influence. [Link.]

That's Dick Cheney on Fox. Wonder why he had to stress "nobody was under the influence" if "nobody was drinking" anyway!

Here's Cheney on that day's hunting:

    We weren't all together, but about 10 guests at the ranch. There were three of us who had gotten out of the vehicle and walked up on a covey of quail that had been pointed by the dogs. The covey is flushed, we've shot, and each of us got a bird.
I can understand if people hunt for food. But, to my mind, there's something very cruel if you hunt for fun. Of course people could look at this in different ways. Here's Cheney's take:
    Brit Hume: Some organizations have said they hoped you would find a less violent pastime.

    Dick Cheney: Well, it's brought me great pleasure over the years. I love the people that I've hunted with and do hunt with; love the outdoors, it's part of my heritage, growing up in Wyoming. It's part of who I am. But as I say, the season is ending, I'm going to let some time pass over it and think about the future.

Check this out too. This part of this great work had saddened me a lot.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Understanding collapsing stars

Understanding collapsing stars.

How the Other Half Lives ...

... the team blog where I too am a member, is generating some good amount of discussions. Of course we'll be happy to see more people actively participating in the discussions over there.

Here are a few recent posts:

Do visit and do comment!

Monday, February 06, 2006

S. Guptan Nair

Eminent Malayalam literary critic Professor S. Guptan Nair passes away. [Link.]

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan died yesterday on her 85th birthday. The following is from R~.

The weekend was just like the previous weekend, and the one before. I was attending one more religious discourse, this time by Swami Chinmayananda. As I entered the packed grounds of Nizams college, Swamiji was already well into his discourse. He was asking the audience to imagine that God grants them all their wishes one fine day; a palatial house, swanky cars, power, position, beautiful wife, ...

My thoughts drifted at this point. Beautiful wife? Comparable to palatial houses and cars? But I didn't say anything to anybody. My much older cousin picked up a small book by the Chinmaya trust on our way out. She was reading parts of it aloud on our way home, and she told me: "he says young girls of the day should emulate strong women like Betty Friedan. Height of contradiction. Commodotizing women in talks while writing like this ..."

That's when I first heard of Betty Friedan. I picked up a copy of the Feminine Mystique in the local library. "I wasn't even conscious of the woman problem [until beginning to write the Feminine Mystique]," Friedan famously remarked in 1973. So true! I didn't seriously think of it myself until I started reading the book, in spite of several brushes with it in the past. The power of her writing, for me, lies in the way she is able to connect with the reader.

"Engineering? Why not home science or even literature?" Often a question I faced when I was trying to give my engineering exams ...

I grew up in a moderately conservative middle class south Indian setting. My family proudly says that the girls and boys in our family are treated exactly the same. And it would appear so. I studied what I wanted and where I wanted, lived the way I wanted, married who I wanted, etc. And so did the boys in the family. But that didn't quite turn out to be equal. The girls attended music and dance classes, while the boys went for volleyball and karate, I learnt embroidery in school (btw, this was in a class called Socially Useful Productive Work (SUPW)!), while my cousin brother learnt how to fix household appliances.

Now I didn't think anything was necessarily wrong with this model. I had no great interest in embroidery, but I didn't care about fixing appliances either. So it didn't matter. Or it didn't until I befriended this new girl who had just moved into the neighborhood. She desperately wanted to play basketball. But of course, she couldn't. Which girl in her right mind would want to indulge in non-delicate things like that. Besides, how was it going to help? You could do embroidery over a casual chat, you could teach your children how to sing and dance, but what on earth would a girl do with basket ball training? All I could do to help was to share my friend's pain and tears.

So, of course I can relate to what Friedan says:

    Over and over women heard in voices of tradition and of Freudian sophistication that they could desire -- no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity. Experts told them how to catch a man and keep him, how to breastfeed children and handle their toilet training, how to cope with sibling rivalry and adolescent rebellion; how to buy a dishwasher, bake bread, cook gourmet snails, and build a swimming pool with their own hands; how to dress, look, and act more feminine and make marriage more exciting; how to keep their husbands from dying young and their sons from growing into delinquents. They were taught to pity the neurotic, unfeminine, unhappy women who wanted to be poets or physicists or presidents. They learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights -- the independence and the opportunities that the old-fashioned feminists fought for. Some women, in their forties and fifties, still remembered painfully giving up those dreams, but most of the younger women no longer even thought about them. A thousand expert voices applauded their femininity, their adjustment, their new maturity. All they had to do was devote their lives from earliest girlhood to finding a husband and bearing children.
Several years after I left home, having worked across various corporate settings in different countries, I had come across instances of not-so-subtle discrimination on and off. Like, for instance, when my male colleague was chosen to transition a piece of work from South Africa (why send the "girl" alone to such a place for three months?). Or when a colleague was not allowed to make a presentation to the board because "these hawks seem brutal. Let one of us make the presso, and not leave the lady to them" and so on. But an incident two summers back shocked me, very rudely. My friend had just returned from her maternity leave. Exactly three months. The trouble started right then. The first few months were a test of patience of sorts with questions like "who's taking care of the baby if you are at work", "are you able to give the same attention to work now" etc. During her absence, her responsibilities were taken over by someone else. Even three months after her return, that had not changed. The appraisal season concluded with my dear friend getting a 3% raise. The average raise was 18%. Reason: she had put in nine months of work, not 12! Do the math. How terribly terribly sad. Makes me wonder: has much changed since Friedan was fired in 1952 for being pregnant? May be I'm being too cynical.

I have had my share of discontent with Friedan. The very white upper middle class issues that she discusses, her opposition to the discussion of lesbianism or sexuality in NOW, etc. But what I am most grateful for is the wave of consciousness she created. She may not have raised all the questions, but she has certainly caused many relevant questions to be raised.

P.S: Two links:

Update (Feb 6): More on Betty Friedan @ Yossarian Lives.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Scarred: Experiments with Violence in Gujarat

Dionne Bunsha's book, titled Scarred: Experiments with Violence in Gujarat, is going to be released at 6.30 pm on February 8, 2006. The venue is Wilson College Hall, Chowpatty, Mumbai. The book launch will be followed by a discussion on "Life in Gujarat's Hindutva Laboratory". Haseena Sheikh (community worker and refugee from Pavagadh village), Bharat Panchal (who lost his wife in the Sabarmati Express tragedy), Tanvir Jafri (son of late Ahsan Jafri, ex-Member of Parliament) and Rohit Prajapati (peace activist, Paryavaran Sukarsha Samiti, Vadodara) will participate in the discussion. N.Ram, Editor-in-chief, The Hindu Group of Publications, will preside over the function.

    Did it really start with the burning of a train?

    Scarred: Experiments with Violence in Gujarat asserts the existence of a much larger politics of violence, and tells the story of a disaster in Hindutva’s laboratory which etched deep faults in Gujarat’s social landscape.

    While capturing the predicament of the Sabarmati Express survivors, Scarred is an intense, moving portrait of refugees whose lives have been changed forever by the violence that followed. It tells the story of people fighting for justice amidst fear and turmoil, unable to return home. It is also an insightful look into the minds of the perpetrators of this violence, and the world they seek to construct—a world where the ghettoization and socio-economic boycott of Muslims have become the norm.

    What exactly happened in Gujarat in February 2002? Why did the country’s political leaders fiddle while Gandhi’s Gujarat burned? In this honest and thought-provoking book, Dionne Bunsha tries to answer these and many of the questions that we are still left with.

[From the book detail page @ Penguin.]

Locana -- The Eye: IV

A few pages to check out.

And, do check out the new posts @ How The Other Half Lives: