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Showing posts from October, 2013

Narendra Modi and Sardar Patel

If Mr Narendra Modi’s admiration for Sardar Patel is born of a genuine understanding of the latter, his Statue of Unity project merits the nation’s approval.  Modi has decided to spend an estimated sum of Rs 2500 crore to erect Patel’s statue in the Narmada.  Cynics and Modi’s critics will thumb their noses at the expenditure incurred at a time when a large number of people in Modi’s state are labouring under the burden of day-to-day subsistence. But Shahjahan would not have built the Taj Mahal had he applied this kind of logic to his historical aspirations.  India would have missed one of the world’s wonders.  Modi is the contemporary Shahjahan giving us the world’s tallest statue. Is Modi merely a modern day Shahjahan trying to engrave his name indelibly in the annuls of history?  Or is he playing yet another political game to add a new avatar to the already overcrowded pantheon of the Sangh Parivar?  Does Modi know what the Sardar really was, how diametrically op

Rotten Onions

Husband came home jubilantly because he had managed to get a kilogram of onions at half the market price, thanks to Sheila didi. “Rotten,” said Wife in her characteristic laconic way after opening the precious packet of onions. “Really?”  Husband was agitated.  Agitation was his characteristic way.  “How could the government sell onions at half the market price?  It has to be rotten.  No dealer will sell onions at that rate even to the government in these days when governments are dictated to by traders.  The question is why the media didn’t pick it up.” “See this,” said Wife.  She showed him the front page report on his favourite newspaper, The Hindu , which said, “Delhiites say Govt selling ‘rotten’ onions”.  No wonder there was no rush for onions today, mused Husband who would not have bought the onions otherwise.  But he had to justify himself before Wife.  So he said, “I wonder why the media doesn’t pursue the matter beyond the obvious.  For example, where

The Casual Vacancy

Book Review Barry Fairbrother dies giving rise to a vacancy in the Parish council.  There are many aspirants for the vacant post.  J K Rowling’s novel, The Casual Vacancy , is partly about the struggles of the aspirants to materialise their dream.  The novel is more about such social issues as juvenile aberration, pornography, drug addiction, and child abuse.  The novel presents a terribly bleak and partly frivolous world.  Linguistic obscenity hangs heavily on the reader’s mind as he/she turns pages hoping to see some light at the end of the tunnel.  But all that you will get is more and more darkness.  Rowling is writing about a society that shrugs at revelations of evil.  A character in the novel, the adolescent Stuart “Fats” Wall, tries to defeat his father in the Parish council election by hacking into the council’s website and posting a report that his father was a thief, only to realise that “the world, it seemed, had merely shrugged.  Evil is a natural concomitant

My School – a fantasy

“We have all learned most of what we know outside school.  Pupils do most of their learning without, and often despite, their teachers.” I don’t know how many people will agree with the statements above.  Ivan Illich wrote that 4 decades ago in his deservedly celebrated book, Deschooling Society .  He argued that “Everyone learns how to live outside school.  We learn to speak, to think, to love, to feel, to play, to curse, to politick and to work without interference from a teacher.  Even children who are under a teacher’s care day and night are no exception to the rule.” I am a teacher who has been working in an exclusively residential school for over a decade.  I won’t disagree with Illich. Of late, my mind which is normally logical is flooded with fantasies.  The fantasies are all about a dream school that I would like to open.  A school where children will be free to bloom without constraints imposed by systems.  Play, sleep, eat, and let children do what

Leader makes the difference

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things,” said Management guru, Peter Drucker.  Many institutions as well as nations have gone down the tunnel of damnation merely due to lack of good leadership, though their management was good.  Doing things right is not a guarantee that one is doing the right things.  When the Jews wanted to stone the adulteress to death, they were doing things right.  When Jesus told them, “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone,” he was doing the right thing.  [John 8:1-11] The Hindu newspaper today [22 Oct] carries a review of Maya Tudor’s book, The Promise of Power: The Origins of Democracy in India and Autocracy in Pakistan.   Both India and Pakistan had the same origins: a British colony.  Yet India became a democracy that empowered the people and Pakistan became a theocracy which enervated its citizens.   Why did it happen? The answer lies in the difference between the Congress Party and the Musl

Barbed Wires and Tall Walls

Fiction “Imagine a future, 10 years from now or 20 years from now, when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime, on a piece of land that is not part of our country.  Is that who we are?  Is that something that our founders foresaw?” Saleem Syed’s ears stood up.  Could the President of America have really said that?  The TV was broadcasting Barack Obama’s speech on national security.  Saleem’s hand moved impulsively to his mobile phone.  “Can you arrange for me a visit to Guantanamo Bay?” “Tough, boy, but I can try.  What gives you the idea, however?”  It was the editor-publisher of the weekly for which Saleem had been working as a journalist for years.   In a couple of days’ time his editor-publisher got him the permission to visit Gitmo, as Guantanamo is known among people closely associated with it.  T&C applied, of course. Surrounded by the sea where the steep hills did not reach, the prison camp stoo


Fiction Sheila could not sleep.  She turned this way and that in bed.  Her husband was working on his computer as usual to meet yet another deadline.  Life is about meeting deadlines these days, she thought as she turned yet again letting the bed sheet fall off her body.  She could never sleep without a bed sheet on her body, however hot the weather might be. Has little Robin’s angst entered my body like a ghost?  Sheila wondered.  Robin was a student of hers in class 4.  Sheila was a teacher in a residential school.  Robin, one of her students, had lost his usual cheer and grace in the last few days. “What happened to you, young man?”  Sheila confronted Robin in the hostel before his bedtime.  The little boy wouldn’t speak.  He began to sob instead.  “Come on, tell me, what’s the problem.  I assure you of a solution whatever the problem.” It took much cajoling and more tenderness to get words through Robin’s sobs.  “They not believe, Ma’m... Dad has a BMW, I

Rich Man’s World

The prices of food and other essential things keep rising.  Newspapers and TV channels celebrate it in catchy headlines.   But the number of private vehicles on the roads keeps increasing indicating that people have money to buy them and fill their tanks with fuel.  The number of people spending time in expensive shopping malls and multiplexes have not decreased.  So who is affected by the inflation and price rise? Economist and Nobel laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, delivered a speech recently to the AFL-CIO convention and said: “ 95% of the gains from 2009 to 2012 went to the upper 1% (in the USA).  The rest — the 99% — never really recovered. “We have become the advanced country with the highest level of inequality, with the greatest divide between the rich and the poor . ” The situation is not confined to the world’s most “advanced country.”  It is replicated in every country which follows the same economic policies, including India.  The American economic policies

What use is religion?

“Why Blame Religion?” asks Matthew Adukanil in an article of that title published in the Open Page of The Hindu (Oct 13).  [In the online edition of the paper the title is Blame it on politics, not religion .]  The article is a response to an earlier article by Vasant Natarajan, Let’s aim for a post-theistic society .  While Prof Natarajan’s article was a rational and sensible argument why we should strive to create a world without religions, Prof Adukanil’s is sheer trivia fit for catechism classes. Religion and science “are twins, one imparting wisdom and the other knowledge,” argues Adukanil.  There are many problems with such statements.  For example: Does religion really provide wisdom?  If it does, why is it the cause of so much misery in the world?  Why has it engendered so many crusades, holy wars, jihads, terrorists, and other appalling evils?  What about the numerous atheists and agnostics who were/are wise?  Aren’t they proof that religion is not at all necessar

Where Pigs have Horns

I’m not surprised that the Harvard University invited Lalu Prasad Yadav to deliver a lecture on management.  If he could create horns for pigs, Harvard could colonise paradise.  The cartoon is taken from the latest issue of Tehelka .  The magazine says that Lalu’s Rs950-crore scam that sent him to jail (which he will make a paradise inviting the Harvard professors to visit him) had some “fantastic” statistics.  For example: “... Rs 15 lakh worth of mustard oil for polishing horns of buffaloes and pigs (yes, pigs) and several crores for transporting cattle on oil tankers, police vans, autorickshaws, and scooters (yes, scooters)."[emphasis added] The title of the article is: “TAKING THE STATE FOR A RIDE: How a CM & Co gamed the system.” I think the cartoonist should have added horns to the pigs on the scooter. Lalu Yadav should be given management lessons in oiling  the horns of pigs in the jail.    How long will ordinary people continue to let

A Utopian Dream

Book Review Title     : Swaraj Author : Arvind Kejriwal Publisher         : Harper Collins India & India Today Group, 2012 Pages               : 151                            Rs. 150 Arvind Kejriwal is driven by his passion to sweep clean the Indian political system.  His book, Swaraj , is redolent of that passion from the first page to the last.  The book, claims Anna Hazare on the front cover, “is a manifesto for our times and for the anti-corruption movement...” In fact, the book may be seen as a manifesto of Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party whose election symbol is the broom. The book reads like a pamphlet written by a puritan mind seized with the zeal for political reformation.  The tone is very demagogic and self-righteous.  Examples are taken randomly from here and there to substantiate arguments without giving certain necessary details like the names of people or firms involved.  There is only one central argument in the book: power should be given to

Charity and Vision

Vision is one of my few obsessions.   I’m slow to see and understand things that matter for worldly success.  That’s why I had to visit my ophthalmologist after my duty at school today.  I had lost my spectacles in the Arabian Ocean while playing with my students at Calangute beach in Goa the other day during a tour from school.  My ophthalmologist is an organisation: Venu Eye Institute & Research Centre in Delhi.  There is no single individual who relates to you personally in that institute.  Yet every employee is a paragon of politeness.  Every patient feels like a VIP in that institute.  I was escorted, like any other patient, from the reception to the hall where I had to wait for the first examination.  (And I was escorted similarly from room to room thereafter.) I had made it very clear that I just wanted to get a new pair of spectacles with the right powers of the lenses.  But my ophthalmologist (the hospital which is a charitable institution that charges merely Rs

Alone in Goa

Standing on the elevated viewpoint of the Dona Paula beach in Goa, surrounded by hundreds of tourists, I felt lonely.  There are so many people, people and people, and yet not many whom we can hug and say, “I love you.”  People jostled each other all around me.  I was watching the solitary figure in the sea far below the elevated viewpoint.  A boy (or a grown up man, I couldn’t be sure) was catching fish standing on a rock in the sea.  He waited and waited.  A long time passed.  I waited and watched.  For a fish to bite the bait.  I had to leave the boy and the beach heeding the call of my duty; I am a fish that is inescapably hooked to a bait.  The boy’s image continues to haunt my imagination.  Aren’t most of us similar to that solitary figure, I wonder.  There are people and people all around.  Yet we are alone! I was one of the four teachers who took a group of students on a tour of Mumbai and Goa.  Goa fascinated me with its laid back appearance.  It appea