Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Looking back at Indira Gandhi days - briefly

A little before noon on 31st October, 1984, I entered the staff room after a lecture to find my colleagues silent and looking dazed. The news of Indira Gandhi’s assassination had just reached the college. Idefinite closure of college was immediately announced. Being an assassination, no one was sure of the turn events might take.

I returned home, noticing that the shops in the busy shopping area had their shutters down, except a vegetable shop which kept one panel open to clear the shop of vegetables at five star rates, to the milling crowd of women who were anxiously buying whatever they could. What if caesar is dead? life has to go on - - .

It is twenty two years now. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. Recalling that stunned feeling at the news of the assassination,(the stunned effect stretched out for a couple of days!!), I now wonder why I reacted thus to a person of whom I was highly critical for various ideological reasons.

I think like many others, I too felt a sense of security with the country in the hands of a Nehru progeny. Things have changed now ( or have they? ). Bear with me while I take a backward glance to sort out my position on Indira Gandhi’s role in the making of India.

As the daughter of Nehru, Indira Gandhi was always on the periphery national consciousness. But when Kamaraj put her in the PM’s seat, she moved from the margins to the centre of discussions. A lot of anger and resentment always accompanied the mention of her name. Though I was too young at that time to understand the ramifications of the Syndicate and the Bangalore meeting etc, I was, however, old enough to sense that a lot of this anger had to do with her being a woman as also with the dynastic nature of her rise to the highest post in the country.

Older and wiser(?!) now, I think Indira Gandhi was what the country needed at that juncture of India’s development. While the Nehruvian era with its mixed economy and license raj helped stabilize a recuperating nation, Indira Gandhi tried to break the country free from the shackles of a constitution not fully suited for a country whose economic imbalance was dangerously precarious. Riding high on her popularity , she boldly struck down the privy purse & privileges which, we must admit, was an obscene burden on a nation whose BPl number was enormous. I think I am quite right in believing that if this bill had not been passed then overriding the supreme court decision, India would still be saddled with this huge liability.

The Indo-Pak war and the liberation of Bangla Desh, and the Pokharan blast sent the message to the world that India was not to be messed around with. Indira Gandhi’s bold leadership caused India to become a superpower in the subcontinent.

The emergency was definitely something the country could have done without. Ms Gandhi had shown strong indications of the autocratic streak in her earlier when she appointed Ray as the CJI superseding three senior judges. But the opposition was no match for her at that time to bring in built-in defences against misuse of power.

Needless to say a lot of gray areas remain with regards to her - like 60 lakh State Bank of India scandal and the mysterious death of the culprit Rustom Sorab Nagarwala, her role in the emergency atrocities, her giving her son a free hand to deal with the country as though it were his grandfather’s property.

But I would like to give her the benefit of the doubt. It is possible that like many Indians, she too believed the myth that India is Indira and vice versa . She too believed that she was indispensable. She too believed that only she could provide a secular, national, democratic leadrship that could take the country forward in its ordeal of recovering from centuries of colonial exploitation and deep rooted social injustice. Emergency may not have been an effort to merely hang on to power for its own sake. She might have foolishly believed, or been made to believe by sycophants, that the country would dissolve into anarchy if she steps down.

I am surprised to find myself taking such a lenient view of Ms Gandhi. But time , I guess, changes perspectives.

Friday, October 27, 2006


you could have knocked me down with a feather when I heard that A. K. Antony made it to the centre as, of all the things, the defense minister!!! wonder what made the PM or the super PM pick him for this high profile, high tension, high pressure portfolio. maybe it has somthing to do with his initials AK?

jokes aside, it could be a well meaning decision. with the defense ministry coming under a cloud. Mr.Clean can have a detergent effect, on the other hand, it could be a very smart decision. it’s common knowledge that Antony has this habit of dropping ministerial positions like hot potato the moment he begins to suspect the stink of a rotten deal. perhaps he’s seen as a stop gap arrangement who will make his own exit when the seat gets hot.

I used to be a huge fan of Antony. but during his last stint as the chief minister of kerala, he made too many mistakes in the name of party unity. and see where he landed his party in the state! he did not put his foot down on a few occasions when he should have.

but am sure that the erstwhile Antony fans are happy that he is given another chance to prove himself. an honest man in Indian politics is so rare a phenomenon that he should be given every possible chance and space to leave behind an impact. one never knows –Antony may surprise everyone with the sterner side he briefly exhibited immediatley after he took over as the CM of kerala in 2001.

honestly, I can’t help wishing him success. it reflects poorly on a polity that has no use for integrity.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


what’s in a name. asked shakespeare. if u call a rose a lily, it still remains a rose (misquote – but that’s the sum and substance of what this elizabethan ambani said – did u know shakespeare was a hugely successful entrepreneur?)

what’s in a name? why, everything. how else do u explain the fact that shobha de continues to write for TOI? a time was when she was highly readable – that’s a thing of the past. creative senility has definitely set in. if not for her name , would a high circulation daily publish the type of inane stuff she churns out now, which is not even fit for the page 3 where she has an occasional column which she fills with random droppings!

if there is nothing in a name, why do people in kerala pay to have their names included in family histories which, incidentally, is a fad that has sustained itself for more than twenty years now. initially historians were very particular about confirming lineage before including the names of families which claim some remote connection. today, georgekutty can do the trick. georgekutty, by the way, is a Malayalam slang for money, a term derived from the bust of king george which once appeared on currency coins.

why do a certain community in the konkan coast go on an expedition into their past to excavate their ancestors identities in order to add their caste name to the existing ones? in these parts, combinations like hazel huddlestone kamath, clement d’souza prabhu etc are very common.

if a name is of no consequence, why do jayalaithaas and a host pf other celebrities add or subtract letters to/from their names, in consultation with numerologists?

why did it take me more than a year to name my daughter, braving the dire consequences of each person in the house calling her his/her favourite name during the interim period? – the good news is that she is a tough one now, having been used to being called names early in life!!

aren’t we righteously ignited when someone tries to tarnish our name? isn’t there a good chance of us having a few of our teeth knocked off if we indulge in name-calling? dont we shed blood, sweat and tears to live up to our name? or our family’s? or our organisation’s? don’t we switch on to a deferential mode at the mention of a big name in the locality ? don’t police interrogators treat human suspects like punching bags to make them name names? if you are involved in some activity, good or bad, isn’t it exceedingly important that you know the name of the game? when we indulge in deliberately casual name dropping, don’t heads turn to take another look at us?

and don’t the nameless dead sink unceremoniously into oblivion? and isn’t the nameless benefactor deprived of the gratitude due to him?

hey, shakespeareji, want to eat your words? you’ll most certainly want to do that if you come to know of the kind of freudian interpretations your name is being subjected to?

Monday, October 23, 2006


just came back from a walk – the last two laps were to the tune of woh lamhe – fast and slow versions. (had my ipod with me)

what an astounding number – cannot describe it well enough – so shall borrow my son’s words when he first told me about this song

a haunting song, he said, with no beginning or end. the voice which renders it belongs to someone who is hollow inside – and listening to it that hollowness is transferred to you!

I was totally perplexed – hollowness – last thing u expect from music – isn’t it a scary idea? to feel hollow (the term evokes eliot’s scary hollow men!)

and then I heard woh lamhe- yes. math was right. it has no beginning or end – it goes in circles – leads to no destination – and sure it’s hollow – like melody liberated from matter – emanating from a mind or soul purged of gross matter – that is the hollow I think math meant – not the eliotian hollow.

initially, I felt very sad I couldn’t follow hindi – coudnt understand the lyrics.

that doesn’t matter anymore – I think it is better this way – what is left to the imagination, they say, is infinitely superior – the unheard melody – no demystification., not for this number.

started taking interest in sufi after wo lamhe - - -

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Discovering the Mahatma

For the life of me, I cant understand what took me so long to undertake this mission of discovering Gandhi. It is a shame, for I belong to the post independence generation where Gandhi was still very much part of t living memory, and often a topic of discussion at the dining tables. yet Gandhi, to me,remained just a little more than the bits and pieces of information that sank into my mind from the text books as also from the air I breathed. As I grew older,i heard less and less of Gandhi - there was a progressive depletion of the mahatma's presence in the atmosphere.

I read the Experiments With Truth in my early teens. Parts of it made me blush – such a prude I was! Parts of it sounded like extracts from a catechism text book. A lot of it I didn’t understand..

My next rendez-vouz with Gandhi was when I taught nehru’s prose in the college classrooms. I could comfortably sail thru Nehru, but come a quote from Gandhi and I’d get stuck. Strangely enough, somewhere deep down in me, I understood the Mahatma’s words fully well – but to put his views across to my students, I struggled. Found my language inadequate. Hey, I thought, this dude is a tough nut.

And then there was attenborough’s Gandhi – haven’t kept count of how many times I have seen it. Whatever anyone may say of the movie, Gandhi comes across as I have always understood him, tho my contact with his thought and personality was minimal

Of late the great man has become an obsession with me ( no thanks to munnabhai – have not yet seen the movie – shall do so soon). I visited Mani Bhavan a couple of times and moved thru the room with an honoured feeling that I am literally following the hallowed footsteps of a - well, what was he?


a down to earth commonsensical philosopher?

a doctor of humankind with the sharpest of diagnostic acumen?

A man with a concentration of soul power that rendered futile the most sophisticated arsenal?

Or just another human being who fully comprehended his potential as a member of the human species and set out to tap it to the full?

What on earth was this man? the ninth incarnation?

And why did we Indians abandon him?

He showed us the way. Why didn’t we take that route?


Do I see signs of his resurrection?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Superstition or lost wisdom?

Was responding to a blog on a pet cat. One thing led to another and finally I ended up talking of superstitions.

There is a belief in kerala (elsewhere also? I don’t know) that a domestic cat disappearing from a house portends death. The cat, it seems, can smell death. Of course, the present generation educated rational keralites just shrug off such beliefs as superstitions, and therefore nonsense.

Sometimes I wonder. All those beliefs handed down for generations Рare they all nonsense? After all they represent the accumulated wisdom of a people who handed down the zero and yoga and natyasastra and ayurveda. Surely, to repeat the clich̩, our ancestors were no fools.

Take this cat business. Can cats smell death? I don’t know. But I also don’t know that cats cannot smell death. How much do we know about the dumb creatures? Not much. guess they are not rational but their instincts are very sharp, not toned down like man’s by the intellect . maybe an oncoming death creates a certain ambience or sends out signals which man cannot sense but an animal like a cat can. How do we know? How can we say that whatever we don’t know for sure – what cant be tested in the lab – does not exist? Surely there are things which lie beyond human comprehension, beyond the rational and intellectual faculties of man. It’s arrogant and foolish to deny this. And that’s what we do when we label everything that is not ‘scientific’ or ‘rational’ as superstition.

It was with great amusement that I watched zachs (of headlines today) interviewing an astrologer after the disqualification of Pluto. He kept on asking “now that the universe has changed, what happens to astrology?” . zach doesn’t seem to understand that universe has not changed with the disqualification of Pluto. What has changed is man’s perception or rather the perception of modern astronomy, of the universe. Secondly, and more importantly, astrology is based on a particular mode of knowing the universe which is different from the mode of knowing it in modern astronomy. The mode of knowing of these two disciplines is determined by the disciplinary agenda of each. The major concern of Indian astrology is the position of heavenly bodies coupled with them coming in conjunction with each other. The size of Pluto is immaterial to astrological calculations.(unfortunately, the astrologer that zach was bulldozing was not articulate enough to get this point across). the fact that the Indian astrologer’s approach to the cosmos does not figure significantly in the modern astronomical science does not mean astrology is mere superstition. I would call this attitude downright stupidity, proceeding from the arrogance of modern scientific confidence (false?) based on the faith (superstitious. Ha! ) that it has in its possession the world ordering knowledge.

I have an earlier blog titled extra sensory perception. How would a scientist explain my experience? He would either say that I am bluffing( I am not), or that I am schizophrenic (I am not). my experience was real. Since no science can explain it, it would be dismissed as, to quote russel, ‘intellectual rubbish’!

How dull life would be if it is made up of only those things that can stand the test of the dissection table!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Nobel Prize for Gandhi? Spare him, please!!

Wonder how Gandhiji would have reacted had he been chosen for the Nobel Prize. Am sure it would have meant nothing to him but he would have come out with one of his typical humorous one liners.

Asked once about his views on the western civilization, he replied with a twinkle in his eyes,"it's a good idea!". would have been interesting to see what he would have had to say about the "idea's" idea of peace!

the nobel committe has come out with confessions about its embarrssment about not having conferred the Peace prize on Gandhi. But it is very much in order that Gandhi was not given the prize. he is not of the stature that can be contained by a prize.

P'haps, the Nobel peace committee realised that. or could it be they couldnt figure him out? his lack of consistency, it appears, is one reason he lost it to someone else on one occasion? or maybe, they had not evolved enough to guage his greatness.

whatever the reason, thank God he was spared. let them not confer on him posthumously, ever. just imagine gGndhiji being bracketed with some of the recent recipients!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

If they don't have water, give them coke!

(my comment to a blog on a the issue of kerala shutting down coke plant)

the pesticide issue was only a pretext to give the marching orders to coke unit. the present kerala CM had been fighting to have this unit shut .
dont get me wrong- am not an ardent leftist in my views- but i do have me reservations about the development model adopted by india. i know for sure that a lot of small players have gone under with the ruthless liberalisation which does not factor in their predicament. go ahead and liberalise, privatise, open up - our economy needs that no doubt. but the government must take care of the fall out of its policies. there should be systems and alternative measures in place which will protect the small players, ensure them the same dignified life that they enjoyed with the occupation that sustained them. it's as simple as that. the country cannot fill its coffers driving the small players up the wall in search of the noose to end their misery! what sort of development is that? let us not talk so dismissively of the depletion of ground water at plachimada. it is a huge human issue which cannot be wished or willed away , just as we canot brush aside the fall out of our present mode of development which is rationalised as collateral damage!!
plachimada ground water problem is not something that can wait forever while arm chair critics debate over the veracity of the media reports about it. for goodness sake it is drinking water against coke. the government should not behave like the coporate idealogues with a if-they-do-not-have-water-give-them-coke type of attitude.
we should not forget history. remember, how ceaucescu of rumania filled the coffers with foreign exchange by exporting even the staple food - bread. he was executed by a hungry nation on xmas day.
how can we forget that hunger and thirst and taking away the livelihood of people can destabilise a country?


(Sent this to the NIE, kerala edition yesterday. Didnt turn up in today's paper. so i thought i'll put it up on my blog, particularly since it fits in with the silent majority theme of the previous one.)

The bubble has burst at last. The myth is debunked!

Chikungunya has exposed the underbelly of God’s own country.

A highly literate people! A state whose health care ranks with the best in the world! A standard of living on par with that of the developed world! The proverbial Kerala model exposed by a mosquito!

The time has come for all the political parties that have ruled the state to do some soul searching. What have the unions they foster done to the state? Protected the municipality officials and workers from doing the work for which the tax payers pay them through their nose and left the state to the mercy of mosquitoes!! What a Shame!?

Why don’t the political parties now join hands and declare a hartal in protest against the chikungunya mosquitoes?

The time has come for the people to act – to break the criminal silence and ask the Achuthanandans and Karunakarans and Chandys and Antonys what the hell they and their parties were doing with the tax payers money paid to keep us from these mosquitoes? Time we challenged them to pin responsibility on the cantankerous forces and unions they nurture that have made day to day life miserable for the average peace loving Keralites with no political muscles to flex . Time we took these politicians to task for messing around with our youth in the campuses to perpetuate their disgusting political agendas instead if inculcating in them civic sense and a sense of social responsibility.

Cocooned in myth of Kerala model of development( a parasitical model – scrounging off NRIs!! ugh!!), the people of Kerala suffered these power crazed politicians in silence. To this silent majority, I say, it is time for our Inquilab Zindabad. All myths talk of the gods sending down plagues to chastise an errant people. We the people also have erred by remaining silent and allowing these politicians with no sense of statesmanship whatsoever, to take us for a ride.

The time has come for us, the people of Kerala, to be warned by and draw inspiration from that Miltonic clarion call:_awake, arise or be forever fallen.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Kerala's Curse - The Silent Majority

I belong to a section of people in Kerala who matter, but who are not heard. So I shall call this group the Silent Majority - for that is what they are. Silent, because something in their breeding prevents them from going public with what they feel - also, even if they do wish to voice their views, outlets are simply not available. And they form the majority too.

This breed of people form the backbone of sanity in this state. More often than not, they make their presence felt only at the ballot box, often upsetting the calculations of those vociferous, belligerent elements in state politics, but sure as ever sending a strong message when they have the opportunity to do so silently and peacefully. Perhaps the most telling reaction of the silent majority was seen in the election following the Emergency . The outcome of the poll showed that the people of Kerala, harassed by political parties disrupting life in the name of ideology, placed much value on the rule of law and a reasonable degree of predictability in day to day existence, both of which the Emergency ensured.

What is this Silent majority?
· It comprises citizens whom politics fail to interest for its own sake. They look upon politics as a mechanism to ensure proper governance leading to public weal.
· They are parents who resent all those forces responsible for depriving their children of job opportunities within the state. They are discerning enough to know that blame lies with ideologies, party politics and irresponsible trade unionism, all of which together created a work culture in Kerala that frightens away potential investors and entrepreneurs.
· They are people who know that Kerala is heading for a disaster which will blow to smithereens all the hype about internationally competitive standards in various aspects of development in Kerala. Development without income generation cannot go on for ever, and whatever freakish conjunction of factors that contributed to this mode of development cannot provide sustainable progress.
· They know that redemption for the state lies only in political leadership which is not self seeking. Governments after governments formed with various permutations and combinations failed to provide governance that addressed the fundamental problems plaguing the state. The reason for this failure, they know, is the near total absence of leaders of integrity and commitment to public welfare
· They are people with an extra sensitive antennae to detect a genuine public servant from among the breed the self-seeking, power and pelf crazed men who don the garb of politicians.

The silent majority kept a vigil for that proverbial leader of men.

And, for a brief moment, the wait appeared not to have been a futile one. In 2001, the Godot appeared in the new avatar of Mr. A.K. Antony. They had given him a chance or two earlier but he did not have the political chicanery then to survive in the megalomaniacal, anti people, undignified, shameless scramble for power that the state politics had been reduced to.

But the Antony of 2001 appeared a changed man. Soon after he took over as the CM of the previous government, he began assert himself and the silent majority began to stir itself out of the stupor of disillusionment, helplessness and cynicism. He announced reforms to pull the state out of the economic doldrums. This was greeted by a massive general strike which buckled under his determination. The silent majority rejoiced. But alas, it was too good to be true. Everything went wrong for Antony after that. There were too many Brutuses in his party, and an opposition with bared fangs to tear apart anyone/anything that would bring sanity , stability and integrity into the state polity.

Now we are back to square one. The left government is in the driver’s seat. What can we expect from a party which puts the party above the state and the people?

Once again, it is disillusionment, cynicism and helplessness for the silent majority. With hartals at the drop of the hat, with the derailing of every developmental plan, with our obsession with rights and total disregard for the responsibilities and duties, with the politicisation by the vociferous, raucus minority of even the very act of breathing, Kerala . I think, will bomb itself back to stone age.

While the silent majority looks on.

Isn’t the sin of omission as serious a crime as the sin of commission?