Skip to main content


Showing posts from September, 2023

Covid Days

The year 2020 was the bleakest in my life. The pandemic named Covid-19 had started killing people all over the world when I turned 60 in April. The Prime Minister of India, whose ambition was to become the world’s Guru, was still confident that the “twenty-first century belongs to India.” He imposed lockdowns one after another on the nation. More people died on the roads of North India while walking home from their workplaces – walking hundreds of kilometres just because their ruler decided that “no one will move from where they are from this midnight.” The Prime Minister said he was requesting the nation. But he was as imperial as ever. More ruthless than the pandemic. He assured us that India was going to be the best country in the world under his leadership. A special of package of INR 20 lakh crore was announced in May 2020 to make Atmanirbhar Bharat in Covid days. Cottage industry, home industry and MSME will benefit, the PM said. But only Gautam Adani seems to have benefited.

The Loneliest Place

Point Nemo is the loneliest place on earth. It is a point in the Pacific Ocean, about 2,688 kilometres from the nearest land. If you can get a foothold in Point Nemo, what you see all around you will be water and nothing but water, leaving aside the sky above. Water, sky and you. What greater solitude can you ask for? Maybe Henry Miller would be happy there as he could ponder his ‘shame and his despair’ in seclusion. He wanted to do that, according to his Tropic of Cancer , in the vacant sunshine, without companions, without conversation, face to face with himself, with only the music of his heart for company. Maybe Virginia Wolf could be her own real self, sitting by herself “like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake.” Lord Byron can find his bliss there. Though it is not the “pathless woods” that he longed for. But the rapture he wanted so much on “the lonely shore” might come by. “There is society, where none intrudes, / By the deep sea, and music in its r

Travancore Before Independence

Book Review Title: The Ivory Throne Author: Manu S Pillai Publisher: HarperCollins India, 2015 Pages: 694 History can be more fascinating and gripping than literary fiction. It depends on who writes it. The most boring discourses I have read are in history books written by academic historians. So when I come across good history books, I am excited. Manu S Pillai’s history of Travancore in the first half of the 20 th century is an exquisite work of literature insofar as it blends history with incisive portrayal of certain characters that matter. Queen Sethu Lakshmi Bayi who reigned from 1924 to 1931 is the heroine of this book, so to say. She towers above everybody else though her period of reign was brief and she was only a Regent Queen. The king who succeeded her was not her son. Maharaja Chithira Tirunal (r. 1931-1949) was her cousin’s son. Her cousin, Sethu Parvathi Bayi, was quite a character, a stark contrast to the Queen. The two ladies come alive in this history b

Dealing with Frustrations

There’s story of a 14-year-old boy named Derry, narrated by Susan Hill. Derry has a personal problem: a horrible scar on side of his face made by acid. He hates himself because of that scar and keeps running away from people. In fact, he is running away from himself. Until he comes across an old man, Mr Lamb. Lamb teaches Derry that he is not his scar. There is a scar on your face and it is far from attractive. But you are not your scar. You are Derry with all the potential that every normal boy has. What you are is your choice. If you look in the mirror and choose to see only your scar every time, you will be the scar. Why don’t you look at the numerous other things that are available? At the fruits in this orchard, for example. Lamb was sitting in his orchard when Derry jumped over the wall. If you help me, we can gather these crab apples and make jelly. We can make toffees with the honey. Or discover music in the buzzing of the honeybees. We can do a lot of things other than

How Left is Right

Yevgeny Prigozhin rebelled against Putin in June this year and he died in a plane crash in August. Under normal circumstances, his death wouldn’t have taken two months after his rebellion. Putin’s Russia is not going through normal circumstances, you know. Putin is a Communist. But his hero is Peter the Great, Russia’s first Emperor. Peter’s statuette adorns Putin’s private spaces. What Peter did to his own son is quite like what Putin did to his closest friend Prigozhin. Peter’s son rebelled against him and then defected and escaped to Vienna. That was in 1716, just to remind you. Peter lured him back to Russia promising security. When the young man reached the ‘security’ promised by his father, he was tortured to death. Putin had given all assurance to Prigozhin that his rebellion would be forgiven. Call it political strategy or diplomacy or sheer trickery, whatever you like. Karma too, if you prefer. Putin is the ultimate product of Communism. Dictatorship is the natural out

A Queen who knew governance

Queen Sethu Lakshmi Bayi with her daughter A former student of mine asked me whether I would write a post on an issue that particularly vexed her. There is a bus stop in her hometown which cost no less than Rs40 lakh to the state exchequer. Worse, the construction is of no use whatever to the commuters. Whether it is raining or shining, the commuters will have to use their umbrella for protection. Then my student came across another bus stop at a nearby town which was constructed at the cost of Rs122,700 and that is an appropriate construction. This second one was built with funds collected from the people of the place. The first was built with money from the MPLADS.     There are infinite such instances of corruption in this country so much so I wouldn’t think of writing a post on them. Like most other citizens of this country, I too have accepted corruption as an integral part of politics here. Under the present regime, corruption has assumed a different dimension altogether. The

Bharat or India

From India Today Name-changing is one of the hobbies of India’s present Prime Minister. I wrote about it a few days back too though rather facetiously: see India, Bharat, Hindustan . The latest issue of India Today has devoted page after page to the PM’s present rechristening. I wish to bring here a few interesting observations from some of those eminent writers in the weekly. 1. Shashi Tharoor Tharoor argues that “In English, and therefore internationally, our country was referred to as ‘India’; in Hindi and other Indian languages, ‘Bharat’ was our country’s name.” For example: We, the people of India / Bharat ke log . Or The President of India / Bharat ke Rashtrapati . Tharoor gives us an interesting parallel from Germany. “’Germany’ is Deutschland at home and to all who speak Deutsch (the language we refer to as ‘German’).” Tharoor dismantles the argument that India is a name given by the British colonialists. The “name India has nothing to do with British colonialism: it p

Loss of touch with the heart

Pearl S Buck’s short story, The Enemy , set in Japan during the World War II, is a poignant lesson in the conflict between the heart and the brain. Dr Sadao unexpectedly comes across an American prisoner of war who was trying to escape from the convict ship. He was shot in the back and was wounded further by the sea waves that threw him against the rocks in the ocean. Dr Sadao’s dilemma is whether to save the young American’s life or to hand him over to the authorities. Sadao is one of the best surgeons in the country and he can save the man. But as a good citizen, it is his duty to report an escaped soldier. Soon the doctor’s heart overpowers his reason. He carries the enemy home and goes ahead with the surgery and treatment. Throughout the story which unfolds over a few weeks, the doctor tells himself time and again that the soldier in his house is his enemy, his country’s enemy. But the doctor is incapable of reporting him to the authorities. The report that he begins to type does

The Circus called India

One of the infinite trolls on the various media in India says, “When a clown enters the palace, he does not become a king; the country becomes a circus.” Has India become one such enormous circus? Today’s Malayala Manorama [15 Sep] newspaper says that the 400 nurses recruited by one single agency in Kochi at one time alone are struggling to eke out their living by mowing lawns and doing other jobs such as painting walls. They spent over Rs12 lakh to get to their El Dorado in the hope that all their financial problems including those of their families would be over soon when they start earning handsome pay-packets as nurses in good hospitals. Millions of young jobseekers are leaving India every year. “India saw a 30% decrease in jobs for young people since 2016,” say news headlines . It is not only jobseekers that leave the country but also young students who complete class 12. From the school where I am teaching, half of the students go abroad for higher studies after class 12 b

Gods out there

An artist's impression of earth vs k2-18b - from here Is there a planet out there somewhere with life on it? Our scientists have done pretty much research already and more is going on. As far as I know, the nearest planet that has the potential to sustain life is an exoplanet that our scientists have named K2-18b. It is a Hycean planet, which means there is possibly hydrogen and water-ocean on it. [Hycean is portmanteau of hydrogen and ocean.] Exoplanet means that it doesn’t belong to our Solar System though it is in the habitable zone, though it is 120 light-years away from our earth. K2-18 is the sun of K2-18b. [I guess that’s quite a convenient way of naming things in science. Naming them Petre and Paul, for example, would have been as inconvenient as it is irrational.] K2-18 is dwarf star; that is, a relatively small star of low luminosity. “A cool star!” our new gen would say. However, the planet's size can be quite intimidating: 8.6 times as big as the earth. NASA

Religion with a heart

Swami Agnivesh Religious people can be quite scary, especially nowadays. Swami Agnivesh was a religious person in the genuine sense of the term. He loved people. He stood for what was right. He gathered enemies because he was a good man. Today [Sep 11] is his third death anniversary. I met Swami Agnivesh personally only once. It was some 20 years ago when he visited the school where I was teaching in Delhi as the chief guest on the occasion of Independence Day or Republic Day. I had no idea what kind of a person he was until then. His speech on the occasion struck a chord with me. When words come from the heart, they are powerfully eloquent. Swami Agnivesh’s speech had the power to stir the depths within. Here was a man for whom religion was a matter of action rather than prayers and rituals. Swami Agnivesh was a champion of social justice and communal harmony. Ramachandra Guha described him as a man of “steely courage and enormous compassion.” That was the most apt description o

Gutenberg in Zuckerberg Era

Gutenberg Gutenberg revolutionized the world with the invention of the printing technology in the 15 th century. The Renaissance and the Reformation as well as the humanist movements owed much to the introduction of printing. Knowledge became relatively more easily available to the public. Knowledge makes a lot of difference. Knowledge was kept away from the ordinary people for a long time. In our own ancient Bharat [even the name ‘India’ is being made to vanish!], Sanskrit was declared as the language of the gods and hence only Brahmins were supposed to use that language. It is quite another matter, and a terribly ironical one too, that today the descendants of those ancient Brahmins are spending a gigantic sum of money on making people learn Sanskrit . What was forbidden once is an unwanted commodity now. Brutal punishments were meted out to any low caste person who happened to hear Sanskrit shlokas recited even by chance. Knowledge was appropriated by one particular group of

India, Bharat, Hindustan

India, Bharat, Hindustan Brownie’s latest largesse is three kittens who look very similar to one another. They are so cute that I am sure someone will come to adopt them. That is why I didn’t name them. But now that Modiji has decided to rename India as Bharat, I have decided to name Brownie’s offerings as Bharat, India, and Hindustan. Who is Bharat, who is India, who is Hindustan among them? I don’t know and I don’t want to know. Each one of them will be all of these. When I call India, all three will come running. Same when I call Bharat or Hindustan. This is the new Vedanta. Tatvam Asi. Will Modiji’s India change for the better with a new name? He renamed a lot of things and places. Direct Benefits Transfer became Jan Dhan; Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan became Swachh Bharat; Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana was rebaptised as Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana; Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme became Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana; Jawaharlal Nehru National