Sixty-four years after its first publication, it appears that the day will never come when ‘Lolita’ [which tells the story of a stepfather serially defiling his adolescent stepdaughter] will not be considered, at least by some, as a not-disgusting book. And yet having stayed so petulant, it remains succulent as ever. To entirely relish its tenacity one must first recognise that it is not explicit. If you’re unable to work past Lolita’s splendour you will never be able to identify how appalling it is. And for all its beauty, for all its inventiveness and hilarity, one easily forgets how outrageous Lolita is. If you don’t believe me, then take a look: “She was musical and apple-sweet. Her legs twitched a little as they lay across my live lap; I stroked them; there she lolled on in the right-hand corner, almost asprawl, Lola, the bobby-soxer, devouring her immemorial fruit, singing through its juice, losing her slipper, rubbing the heel of her slipper-less foot in its sloppy anklet, against the pile of old magazines heaped on my left on the sofa -and every movement she made, every shuffle and ripple, helped me to conceal and improve the secret system of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty- between my gagged, bursting beast and the beauty of her dimpled body in its innocent cotton frock..” In a feeble attempt to shed light on Nabokov’s mindset one of his biographers quotes Havelock Ellis: “the individuality of each case is respected and catalogued in the same way that butterflies are carefully classified.”

Lolita is most commonly remembered as one man’s living poem to his own Mephistophelian waywardness, and therefore, is belauded by its emulators for its technical finesse and buoyancy, and misinterpreted by its disparagers as little more than a frost-adorned monolith to Nabokov’s own hauteur. In doing so, its true virtuoso is too easily missed. It lies in what Nabokov called the “nerves of the novel,” the “secret points, the subliminal coordinates by employing which the book is plotted.” In these, Nabokov has hinted at the life that exceeds the outer limits of Humbert’s contiguous fixation -at the inner lives of those others whom he so casually dismisses or destroys. It cost Nabokov, by his own admission, “a month of work” to write one sentence in which Humbert gets his hair cut by a barber who has never stopped mourning his dead son – a fact that hardly perforates Humbert’s ethereal advertence.


Papa Hemingway

If not any thing else, Ernest Hemingway had meticulously programmed his death to be executed at precisely 7:00 am on Sunday 2 July, 1961. On that fateful morning Hemingway awoke in his house in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, rose from his bed, taking care not to wake his wife Mary, unlocked the door of the storage room where he kept his firearms, and selected a double-barrelled shotgun with which he liked to shoot pigeons. He took it to the front of the house and, in the foyer, put the twin barrels against his forehead, reached down, pushed his thumb against the trigger and blew his brains out.

Hemingway’s neighbours said that he had chosen from his wardrobe a favourite dressing gown that he called his “emperor’s robe”. They might have been reminded of the words of Cleopatra, just before she applied the asp to her flesh: “Give me my robe. Put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me”.

Hemingway, as the world knew him, had a thirst for adventure, he was a swashbuckling, hard-drinking pugilist who loved being in the thick of the action, whether in the front line of battle or within charging distance of a water buffalo. He also happened to be the finest writer around, disdaining the grandiose wordiness of Victorian prose for a clean, stripped-back simplicity, conveying emotion by what was not said as much as by what was. Wounded on the Italian front in the First World War, he was a handsome convalescent who fell in love with a pretty nurse and wrote ‘A Farewell to Arms’ as a result. In the 1920s, he was at the forefront of writers and artists like F Scott Fitzgerald who hung out in Paris, “being geniuses together”.

In the 1930s, he went to Spain to fight for the republic against Franco and wrote ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls.’ In the Second World War, he was at the Normandy landings and the liberation of Paris. After the war he retired with his fourth wife to Cuba, where he fished for marlins and wrote ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, won the Nobel Prize, was lionised wherever he went.

In the years after his death, however, the jigsaw pieces of a counter-life gradually began to emerge. His war record, for instance. Hemingway was only 18 when he signed up for the First World War – but it was as a non-combatant. He had a defective left eye, inherited from his mother, which kept him out of battle. He went to Italy to man the Red Cross canteens and evacuate the wounded. Helping a wounded man to safety one evening, he was shot in the leg and hospitalised in Milan, with three other patients and 18 nurses. Though his dalliance with Sister Agnew von Kurovsky was unconsummated, he fell in love with European culture and manners, swanned about in an Italian cloak and drank wine in immeasurable quantities.

It’s easy to be spiteful about Hemingway. All his posturing, his editing of the truth, his cocky pretensions can obscure his undoubted bravery. He loved being in the thick of the war dodging bullets, watching men being shot to hell all around him. But it’s hard to shake off the feeling that what he was doing wasn’t bravery, but psychotic self-dramatisation. And when you inspect the image of Hemingway-as-hero, you uncover an extraordinary sub-stratum of self-harming. You discover that, for just over half of his life, Hemingway seemed hell-bent on destroying himself.

It was about the time he was finishing ‘A Farewell to Arms’, in 1928, when he learnt his father Clarence had shot himself in the head with a Civil War revolver, that Hemingway’s life first began to crack apart. The most obvious external evidence was a succession of bizarre physical accidents, many of which were bashes on the head. One, in Paris, left him with a split head needing nine stitches, after he yanked the chain in the bathroom, thinking it was the lavatory flush, and pulled the skylight down on top of him. He became weirdly accident-prone. His car accident that occasioned his row with Martha saw him hurled through the windscreen, lacerating his scalp and requiring 57 stitches. Three months later, he came flying off a motorbike evading German fire in Normandy. He suffered headaches, tinnitus, diplopia, showed speech and memory problems for months. Back in Cuba after the war, he tore open his forehead on the rear-view mirror when his car skidded. Five years later, while drinking, he slipped on the deck of the Pilar, and concussed himself. Why, you’d almost think he was trying to emulate his late father, and his self-imposed head wound.

What was bugging Hemingway? Why all the drinking, the macho excess, the manic displays of swaggering? Why was he so drawn to war, shooting, boxing and conflict? Why did he want to kill so many creatures? Was he trying to prove something? Or blot something out of his life?

In an article published in the American Psychiatry magazine, titled “Ernest Hemingway: A Psychological Autopsy of a Suicide”, clinical psychiatrist Christopher D Martin diagnosed the author with “bipolar disorder, alcohol dependence, traumatic brain injury, and probably borderline and narcissistic personality traits”. He noted that many in the Hemingway family – his father and mother, their siblings, his own son and his grand-daughter Margaux – were prone to manic-depression (Margaux’s was the fifth, or possibly sixth, suicide in four generations) and even went to the extent of suggesting that it was Hemingway’s manic episodes that drove him to his astonishing feats of creativity. But he ties the writer’s trauma to two childhood experiences.

It seems that it was his mother Grace’s habit to dress him, as a child, in long white frocks and fashion his hair like a little girl’s. It was a 19th-century custom to dress infants alike, but she took it to extremes. She referred to him, in his cute lacy dress, as “Dutch dolly”. She said she was his Sweetie, or, as he pronounced it, “Fweetee”. Once, when Hemingway was two, Grace called him a doll once too often. He replied, “I not a Dutch dolly… Bang, I shoot Fweetee”. But she also praised him for being good at hunting in the woods and fishing in the stream in boys’ clothes. It was too confusing for a sensitive kid. He always hated her, and her controlling ways. He always referred to her as “that bitch”. He’d spend the rest of his life in a galloping parody of masculinity. Dutch dolly indeed. He’d show the bitch there was no confusion in his head. “I shoot Fweetee.” The trouble was, he also wanted to shoot his father.

Clarence Hemingway was a barrel-chested, six-foot bully, a disciplinarian who beat his son with a razor strop. Young Hemingway didn’t retaliate directly. He bottled it up and subsumed it into a ritual, in which he’d hide in a shed in the family backyard with a loaded shotgun and take aim at his father’s head. Martin speculates that, when Clarence shot himself, Hemingway, aged 29, felt terrible guilt that he’d fantasised about killing him. Unable to handle this, he took to blaming his mother for his father’s death. “I hate her guts and she hates mine,” he wrote in 1949. “She forced my father to suicide.”

After Clarence’s death, Hemingway told a friend, “My life was more or less shot out from under me, and I was drinking much too much entirely through my own fault”. He suffered a chronic identity crisis. As a consequence, he could be warm and generous or ruthless and overbearing. His friendships were often unstable (he could turn vicious or cruel, even with supposedly close pals) and his relations with women were full of conflict. He sulked like a child when, on his first safari, his wife Pauline shot a lion before he did. And he was pursued, for the rest of his life, by a colossal death wish – either to join his late father, or to expatiate his guilt at his father’s death by mirroring it.

Death took up residence at the heart of Hemingway’s life, a constant spur to his creative imagination, a constant companion, a dark, secret lover. Themes of violence and suicide informed his stories from the start. His letters are full of references to his future suicide. And when not contemplating his own death, he was putting himself into danger and combat as though to hasten it. Wars, rebellion, bull-running in Pamplona, big-game hunting in Africa, fishing in Havana – they were all his way of throwing himself before the Grim Reaper. “I spend a hell of a lot of time killing animals and fish,” he told Ava Gardner, “so I won’t kill myself.”

And of course writing was his way of evading the need to die. He could polish his real-life experiences at war, in Italy, Spain, the Ardennes, and burnish his life in hindsight. Being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954 must have been a triumphant affirmation of his genius, but he worried that, after receiving the prize, most laureates never wrote anything worthwhile again. Luckily, after finding two trunks of notes from the 1920s in a Paris hotel, he was able to manage one more book: ‘A Moveable Feast’, his touching memoir of being young, poor and happy in the French capital, with his first wife and baby, before everything started going to hell.

After 1960, however, he found he could no longer write. The words wouldn’t come. Depression came instead, and with it paranoid delusions. He thought his friends were trying to kill him. When his car slightly grazed another vehicle, he fretted that he’d be thrown in jail. It was a sorry thing, to see the epitome of “grace under pressure” succumbing to dementia.

He was given medication and, horribly, a course of electroconvulsive shock treatments. In the spring of 1961, he was asked to contribute a single sentence to a presentation volume for John F Kennedy’s inauguration. Hemingway couldn’t oblige. “It just won’t come any more,” he said to his biographer A E Hotchner (Papa Hemingway), and wept. In April, his wife Mary found him sitting with a shotgun and two shells. He was sent to hospital in Ketchum, Idaho, his birthplace, but he tried twice more to end his life, once by walking into the path of a plane taxiing on the runway. There was a two-month period of hospitalisation and comparative peace and quiet, when he appeared sane to his doctor and deranged to his wife. He seemed to be acting, right to the end.

“The accumulating factors contributing to his burden of illness at the end of his life are staggering,” writes Martin, listing Hemingway’s bipolar mood disorder, depression, chronic alcoholism, repetitive traumatic brain injuries, the onset of psychosis. But it seems clear that the defining problem of his life was his experience of childhood. His confusion over gender, his Oedipal desire to kill his father for beating him, together led to what Martin calls “a retreat into a defensive façade of hyper-masculinity and self-sufficiency”.

Building and sustaining the myth of Hemingway the Man’s Man took courage and determination, but it was something he needed to do – and when it dwindled, along with the all-important capacity to write, he had no answer except to go the same way as his father. The image of his father, a moody, bullying, depressive man, but a role model nonetheless, haunted his life. He wanted to restore him, in order to release himself from the responsibility for his death. He wanted to be the big, strong, heroic man that the world could call “Papa”.
1) James R. Mellow’s ‘Hemingway’
2) Michael Reynolds’s ‘Hemingway: The Final Years’
3) A E Hotchner’s ‘Papa Hemingway, A Personal Memoir’
4) Christopher D Martin’s ‘Ernest Hemingway: A Psychological Autopsy of a Suicide’ (article)


The Stranger

For the ordinary reader, a few lines in French literature are as famous as the opening of Albert Camus’s “L’Étranger”: “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.” Stuart Gilbert, a British scholar and a friend of James Joyce, was the first person to attempt Camus’s “L’Étranger” in English. In 1946, Gilbert translated the book’s title as “The Outsider” and rendered the first line as “Mother died today.” Simple, succinct, and incorrect.

In later years ‘The Outsider’ gave way to ‘The Stranger’ and the first word of the opening to ‘Mommy’. A large part of how we view and ultimately judge Camus’s protagonist (Meursault) lies in our perception of his relationship with his mother. We condemn or set him free based not on the crime he commits, but on our assessment of him as a person. Does he love his mother? Or is he cold toward her, uncaring, even?

The truth is that neither “Mother” or “Mommy” ring true to the original. The French word “maman” hangs somewhere between the two extremes: it’s neither the cold and distant “mother”, nor the overly childlike “mommy.” In English, “mom” might seem the closest fit for Camus’s sentence, but there’s still something off-putting and abrupt about the single-syllable word; the two-syllable “maman” has a touch of softness and warmth that is lost with “mom.”

We’re still juggling about the opening, then imagine what the rest hold for us.

It’s your call, after all.


Lord Jim

I have given up on invading friends’ private space with chain-posts!

Nevertheless, allow me the privilege of bringing to light an anecdote involving Bertrand Russel and Joseph Conrad that appears well beyond my scope, yet for those who might find it interesting.

The general outline of the friendship between Russel and Conrad is known to most of their admirers. Russell’s tribute to the novelist appeared in his Portraits from Memory (1956) and again for a wider audience in the first volume of the Autobiography (1967). What has remained enigmatic, however, is the nature of the bond that could ally with such force two people who were ostensibly so dissimilar. But the greatest testimony of Russell’s respect for Conrad was reserved for the later years of his life. When his first son was born in 1921, Russel approached Conrad for his agreement in naming him of the novelist. Conrad wrote back saying he felt honoured for having received such a request from Russel. Russel’s first son was named John Conrad with having Conrad as the godfather. Russel’s other son who was born in 1937 was called Conrad Sebastian Robert. To both sons, Russell gave, through the example of their namesake, proleptic encouragement to overcome in their turn the natural condition of all men: that of orphans and exiles.


Who Invented the Myth of Tipu Sultan

 Why is Tipu Sultan regarded as a tyrant by some and a hero by others?…..     Read More...

Khaleej Times – India Republic Day Special Report – 26 January 2016 (

26 January 2016, Tuesday:  A Muslim ruler who had provided annual grants to no fewer than 156 temples, who had helped restore the tradition of worship in “Sringeri Mutt” (established by the famed Hindu theologian Adi Shankara) after the ‘Marathas’ had invaded it, who had offered copious financial assistance to the Kanchi temple during its construction, who had retained the temple town of Srirangapatna as his capital throughout his reign, whose army was mostly composed of ‘Shudras’, who had supported building the first ever church in Mysore – how could he be projected as a religious bigot?

Tipu Sultan lived and died in an entirely different era when the lexicon held dissimilar insinuations than those of the present, when territorial expansions were the order of the day and engaging rebellions against authority, swiftly and decisively, were accepted norms of statesmanship.

Tipu Sultan: Live life even if one day like a lion, rather than one hundred days like a jackal.

Tipu Sultan: I  would  rather  live  two  days  like  a  tiger,  than  two  hundred years like a sheep.

Admittedly, those at the receiving end of Tipu’s indignation faced executions, mass migration and forced conversions that were intended to be harbingers for others who might be plotting insurgency. Such deportments, however brutal it would appear now, prevailed in the subcontinent from the medieval times. How fair then will be judging a Gothic ruler’s actions that fell within the propriety of kingship that prevailed over centuries against modern statutes of governance?

Apparently there is a concoction in the interpretation of history here, because facts and derivatives in history books do not add up.

The death of Aurangzeb in 1707 marked the decline of the Mughal empire. The new geo-politic that emerged soon resulted in the birth of disjointed states like Awadh, Bengal and Hyderabad, yet allowing an underlying power vacuum benefiting foreign traders who had by now started becoming explicit factors in the power equation of the region. Manipulative as it was, East India Company leveraged this situation to their advantage gaining strong footholds wherever there was a hiatus. In the South, ‘Company’ could not find their way as easily as they did in the North, because in Hyder Ali Khan they also met their match, nearly as motivated and ambitious as themselves. Khan is said to have sought the help of French military experts in organizing his army and formed a corps of European mercenaries as gunners in his artillery. In 1766 with his eye on a port for the transfer of French weapons to fight the British, he invaded the smaller states in the Malabar belt effectively employing the combination of a Mughal model mobile cavalry and an infantry armed with fire locks and bayonets. The British tried to curb his regional expansions by joining hands with the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad, but Khan played his cards close to his chest winning over both the British allies to his camp.

When Tipu was born in 1750, though Khan and his wife Fatima Fakhr Unnisa had named him Fath Ali, they

Tipu Sultan's Tiger

Tipu Sultan’s Tiger

began addressing him after the local saint Tipu Mastan Aulia, as “Tipu”, which later gained acceptance as his real name.

At the end of 1782 when Khan died from a terminal back ailment, Tipu succeeded him. But the son also inherited what historians call as the ‘Second Anglo-Mysore War’ from his father. The period of transition from one ruler to another has always been vulnerable when the new ruler’s potency would be tested either by those with grievances or who wanted to disassociate themselves from his authority. Kautilya’s (who had engineered the transfer of power from the Nanda dynasty to the Mauryas in 322 BCE) ‘Arthashastra’ (the Science of Material Gain) categorically states that if such challenges were not met promptly and conclusively, a ruler’s control over his kingdom would soon erode. Tipu quelled the revolts of the Christians in Dakshina (South) Kannada who were allies of the colonialists and the Coorgis of Kodagu who were waging a protracted guerilla war against his authority.

History is vindictive to Tipu. As a matter of fact, he was a radical in more ways than one. He banned the consumption of alcohol in his state, not on religious grounds, but on ethical dictum and also in consideration of the well-being of his subjects. He introduced sericulture. He confiscated the property of the upper castes and distributed it among the untouchables. He also sow the first seeds Capitalism at a time when feudalism was the accepted norm in the social calendar in the whole country. In 1796, he wrote to the Hyderabad Chief Minister, with blatant undertones of what is in the cards, should the ‘Company’ is allowed to pave inroads unchecked into the subcontinent. Tipu cannot be reduced into a run of the mill entry in the historic journal, because he represented a manifold of traditions and conventions.

Tipu01Yet, why is he regarded as a tyrant by some and a hero by others? Why is it that while Emperor Asoka, who is also known to have committed the same kind of brutality during his invasion of ‘Kalinga’, as Tipu is accused of, celebrated as “the great” (the emperor’s insignia is the centerpiece adorning the National flag) and Tipu a persecutor? Is it because, among other things, some of his administrative reforms, like renaming of townships with Hindu names to those in Farsi, and re-calibrating existing weights and measures to suit historical Islamic concepts, bore religious preferences? In fact, the culprits here are, partly Tipu’s colonial enemies and partly the mind-set of a predominant section of the population. While all the other native rulers accepted the Company’s call for placing a political agent in their courts without much hesitation, both the father and the son refused to give in to such clandestine maneuvers by the latter. This was perhaps the final strand they were looking for to eliminate Tipu, who had by now become a thorn in their trading path, they could no longer afford to ignore. In 1798 with the arrival of a new spiteful governor general in Calcutta, in the form of the earl of Mornington, the heat was turned on Tipu. With the Marathas and the Nizam already against him, Tipu comes across as a braveheart who lead the fourth Mysore war from the front and gallantly embraced death in the battle field. However, some quarters in Britain, who had considered Tipu as a maverick and perhaps even a bohemian, doubted the legitimacy of Mornington’s actions. In response, the governor general and his cohorts justified their attack on Mysore by portraying both the father and the son as belligerents and oppressors of their subjects. That’s how the myth of Tipu, as we know it, was created. Over the next two centuries, as the slogans of patriotism and self-rule dug deep into nationalist sentiments, Tipu became the first Muslim martyr. Apparently, the character of the myth was defined by the need of the hour to suit the interests of those who created it. The irony is that only a few were gullible then, but more are now, without ever realizing it.





The Teacher and the Nation

 The boatman’s son from the little known fishing village of Rameswaram invariably went on to symbolize the best of India, the India with its composite mosaic of ethnicities, faiths and languages that synthesize themselves to form one unique identity……     Read More…

CaravanDaily (

Dr Kalam Pix IT WAS was sometime during the mid-2000s. The ballroom in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai was packed to its capacity with renowned cardiologists, most of who had travelled across the globe to participate in the international medical conference on ‘non-invasive cardiac management’. President Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was to inaugurate the proceedings.

Abruptly it was announced that the President had a fall and broke his arm. However, the President did not wish to pull out from his commitment entirely, and would address the audience from the Presidential Mansion through video conferencing. For most people in the audience, doctors as well as journalists, it was a huge disappointment. Meanwhile, two large television screens were set up on either side of the podium. At the designated hour Dr. Kalam promptly walked into camera focus. With one hand in a sling, he appeared perfectly composed; with the other he waved to the audience. He then apologized to the gathering for not being able to join them in person as he too had wanted to. He said life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. Before the audience could realize what exactly had he meant by that statement, pointing toward someone sitting in the journalists’ bloc he said, “Sir you don’t have to take notes, the transcript of my speech will be uploaded in the President’s web site in an hour from now.” What followed actually baffled many in the audience, especially those who had come to participate in the conference from abroad. Dr. Kalam spoke with the assistance of presentation slides on how nanotechnology could be used in the management of heart ailments!

The specialists of the heart in the audience were in for more surprises when Dr. Kalam told them about his endeavors in applying defence technologies in the cure of heart ailments. It was way back in 1994 that in collaboration with the Hyderabad- based eminent cardiologist, Dr. Soma Raju, he developed the low-cost coronary stent that later was patented as the ‘Kalam-Raju’ stent‘. The locally developed stent made of surgical grade stainless steel cost only a fraction of the imported ones that also proved its affordability to the average citizens of the country. The chain of hospitals under Dr. Raju’s Care Foundation successfully implanted the Kalam-Raju stents in 511 heart patients within a span of three years. After the Q&A session a consultant cardiologist from Europe remarked, “If only we too had presidents like you Sir in our native lands rather than mere politicians”, only to be dismissed by a light-hearted smile from Dr. Kalam.

[In the years that followed after the commissioning of the K-R stent, Dr. Kalam was obsessed with the idea of developing a light weight caliper for polio-affected children. To begin with he joined hands with Dr. B.N. Prasad (then Head of orthopedic at the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad) and later with Dr. L. Narendranath (who was Dr. Prasad’s successor at the NIMS) and in 1998 his dream was realized. The caliper made of glass-filled polypropylene used in the construction of missiles weighed hardly 400 grams, only one-tenth of the one that was in use at that time.]

Yet, skeptics argue that he was not the finest engineer the country has ever produced, nor was he the most erudite in the history of the occupants of its highest office. He never obtained an academic Ph.D., though thirty universities had conferred their honorary doctorates on him.

It was during his term as Project Director that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) put ‘Rohini’ into space and got the initial PSLV design right. However, they are still struggling when it comes to Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). As a consequence the Mars mission had to be powered by the less potent PSLV. Because the PSLV lacked the power to plot a straight forward path to the Mars, a complicated work around had to be engineered for dealing with Earth’s gravity. The fact that Indian space scientists are still not distensible with the use of cryogenic engines will remain as a handicap in the country’s space aspirations.

While the development of the missile deterrents (Prithvi, Agni, Akash) and the ‘Light Combat Aircraft’ (though yet to be inducted into the IAF) have been remarkable, other key defence projects like the ‘main battle tank’ and ‘gun radars’ are years behind schedule. Though the delays cannot be attributed solely to Dr. Kalam, he has been at the helm of the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) long enough not only to be able to push these projects forward, but sadly though floundered to deliver.

Some scientific circles also point out that Pokhran-II was only a “semi-success”. It may be worth mentioning that none of the countries in possession of the H-bomb were able to roll out the contrivance in their initial attempts. Several DRDO scientists who were accessories to Pokhran-II and Pokhran-I, citing seismic statistics and energy outputs say that the H-bomb demonstration was not successful. Most people associated with Dr. Kalam admire his leadership qualities and his ability to dodge bureaucratic snags. But his competency as an aeronautical engineer has been doubted by many. Not surprisingly, both IISc Bangalore, and IIT Madras did not want to admit him into the ranks of their teaching faculty.

Dr. Kalam’s nomination as President was nothing short of a master stroke by the NDA. Being the first BJP-led government they considered it a great asset to find room for a Muslim national hero in the nation’s highest office. Despite his naïveté with the political gamut, Dr. Kalam adapted without losing time to his new responsibilities. During the year-long standoff with Pakistan at the verge of war, and the times following the Gujarat riots, Dr. Kalam’s mellowed permeation proved to be nothing short of allaying for the NDA.

Years later, in an interview with Karan Thapar, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conceded that without Dr. Kalam there would have been no nuclear deal with the United States. In the 2008 monsoon session of parliament, Leftist Communist party politbureau secretary Prakash Karat announced their block’s withdrawal of support to the UPA. The Congress soon approached Mulayam Singh Yadav who boasted of a large Muslim vote bank under his wings. But it was Dr. Kalam’s incitement to Yadav that actually swung the votes in UPA’s favor. Hardly a year ago when Dr. Kalam had agreed to continue in office for another term on condition of unanimity, the Congress party showed no qualms in vetoing the call. For a political game player this would have been the perfect opportunity to get even with the Congress and show his requital to the NDA who had rewarded him with the Bharat Ratna and the presidency. But then Dr. Kalam outgrew himself from such petty political witch hunt that earned him more than reverence from either side of the ideological spectrum at a time of intense political polarization. The boatman’s son from the little known fishing village of Rameswaram invariably went on to symbolize the best of India, the India with its composite mosaic of ethnicities, faiths and languages that synthesize themselves to form one unique identity.

With his long hair parted unfashionably in the center and combed down to the sides reaching over his ears, Dr. Kalam was an unlikely pop culture idol. Yet he adapted himself to much of the protocols demanded by the highest office he had come to occupy, without ever compromising on his hair style. The news of having nominated for the MTV Youth Icon of the Year in 2003 and 2006 must have surprised him, given that his idea of music had little in common with MTV’s.

Dr Kalam Pix PNGAfter the ‘Battle of Badr’ (the first open encounter between the Muslims and their Meccan oppressors) a large number of adversaries were taken prisoners by the Muslims. The detainees were required to pay a ransom to the captors for their freedom. Some of them were unable to raise enough funds to bargain for their redemption. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) knew that most of the captives were literate and offered freedom to those who taught every ten Muslims who were illiterate to read and write. In doing what he was engaged in his final moments at the IIM in Shillong, Dr. Kalam was exactly replicating that moment from a thousand and four hundred years ago, because he believed that knowledge always gave one the leverage over one’s adversaries and life was an endless pursuit of its attainment. As a matter of fact the tag that Dr. Kalam showed preference in being identified with was not that of the former President of the nation, nor the ‘missile man’, but of the ‘Teacher’ who would always impart knowledge to the next generation. He talked and walked that maxim.




Daughter and Sons

We have failed in growing up to become contemporaries of our own time. So long as the process of transformation doesn’t happen in the male mind set nothing is going to change. It’s a private war each male has to fight on his own because he owes it not only to the women folk of his lineage but also to his own kind. History beckons him to make that call, now more than ever… 
      Read More…
The director of the documentary Leslee Udwin

The director of the documentary Leslee Udwin

8th March 2015, Sunday, International Women’s DayTowards the end of January a European Union commission unanimously voted to lift the ban on Indian mango shipments imposed in May last year after fruit flies were found in consignments. Meanwhile, last week one “article” that found its way into the list of six “items” that were banned by the Government of India was Israel born British actor-producer Leslee Udwin’s “India’s Daughter”, a documentary she shepherded for the BBC. As a matter of fact, BBC’s publicity machinery had promoted the film quoting an interview given to Udwin by one of the six rapists of a young undergraduate, Jyoti Singh, who died in a Singapore hospital in 2012 resulting from internal wounds inflicted on her by the assailants. In that interview, Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus in which the untoward incident occurred, spoke remorselessly making disdainful remarks about women that soon became controversial prompting the Government to act swiftly.  It had taken Udwin two years into making “India’s Daughter”, especially given that it was her debut as a film director, which was slated for telecast on March 8, International Women’s Day. However, due to the proscription of the release of the documentary in the country by the Government, BBC Four advanced the telecast and aired it on the night of March 4.

Nirbhaya who went on to become a metaphor

Nirbhaya, who went on to become a metaphor

Ludwin’s film, if not anything else, is a vulnerable portrayal of the many Indians within one – the India of Jyoti Singh’s parents who sold their family land to come to the capital city to educate their daughter, and Jyoti Singh who did night shifts to support her own medical education allowing her hardly 4 hours of sleep every night, who wanted to see a movie before she started her internship because she thought she won’t be able to afford that luxury once she became an intern. And the India of rapists like Mukesh Singh, who believed: “A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.” He also said, “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’.” He considered women as a source of provocation and rape as an act of response. His are traditional values from a foregone age which is still shared by a demurely small section of the population exemplified by the opinions of the defense lawyers [ Sharma: There is no place for women in Indian society; Singh: as a Rajput (from a patrimonial clan) he would not hesitate to set fire to his “unmarried daughter or sister … if they behaved improperly”.]. Udwin later confessed that she had panic attacks during the interview with Mukesh Singh who was in the death row and felt as if her soul was dipped in tar. The film will be released in the United States on March 8, International Women’s Day in New York’s Baruch College.

Admittedly, the disparity in the perception of the relationship between female and male are more palpable in the present time than ever before.  However small it may be, sections of the Indian male population still remain chauvinistic.

In 2011 police records for nationwide reported rape cases, Delhi accounted for 572, Mumbai 239, Bangalore 96, Chennai 76 and Kolkata 47.Social workers estimate that there could be as many more unreported cases because of the social stigma allied with rape victims in society. What is more outrageous is the fact that it is within the family or in the neighborhood more than 90 percent of rapes take place.

Raj Kapoor, the dream merchant

Raj Kapoor, the dream merchant

The Greek metaphysical theory of art being the imitation of life has in later years been reversed to the hyperbole of life to be the imitation of art holds true when the equation is applied in the context of the Bollywood dream factory. One of the patriarchs of mainstream Indian cinema, the late Raj Kapoor once defended his own style of film making by admitting that he was essentially a dream merchant facilitating the realization of the common man’s caprices within the confinement of the movie house in the short span of 2 hours. In doing so, however, he flirted with the limits of propriety by bathing his scantily clad heroines under waterfalls in aesthetically shot song sequences that came to be known as the hall mark of his production house. 26 years after his death, permissiveness at much worse levels has gained social acceptance that once would have been taboo in middle class drawing rooms. Right wing ethnic groups on the other hand argue that given the Indian youth’s infatuation with cinema, Bollywood productions are to blame for the spiteful urban experiences that have become part of daily routine, especially for commuters.

In the meantime, the dubious obsession for the male child among many households has given in to the unchecked practice of sex-selective abortions to alarming proportions. As a consequence, the female-male ratio has touched a new low to 893 in Punjab and 877 in Haryana per 1000 males that is costing prospective grooms aspiring for a male child dearly. They now have to shell out as much as 50,000 to 300,000 Rupees to the brides’ families depending upon of the quality of the merchandise. A statistic survey conducted among 10,000 families in Haryana revealed that during the last 10 years, 9,000 brides were procured from economically under privileged households in neighboring states.

The blind Lady of Justice and lit candles in New Delhi

The blind Lady of Justice and lit candles in New Delhi

Regrettably though, we have failed in growing up to become contemporaries of our own time. So long as the process of transformation doesn’t happen in the male mind set nothing is going to change. It may also be not worth pinning too much of hope on the renewed legislation against atrocities committed against women until the male population of the country is rationally equipped to fight the evil within their own ranks by recognizing that the ‘mocking bird’ is a poor thing who sings its heart out just for others and deserves to be taken care of rather than humiliated. It’s a private war each male has to fight on his own because he owes it not only to the women folk of his lineage but also to his own kind. History beckons him to make that call, now more than ever.







Turbulence at SEA

This OPINION post had appeared earlier in the ‘Caravandaily’portal on 17 January 2015;

An Indian television crew who have been to the home town of one of the marines, Massimiliano Latorre found that the population of the township, Tarano, considered the accused young men as heroes, and everything that had happened on the fateful day of February 15, 2012, as a tragedy of errors. The mayor of the town, Ippazio Stefano, has been in touch with the Indian government offering the children of the slain fishermen education under their sponsorship. His countrymen were grateful to those Indians who had sacrificed their lives in the 2nd Word War to save Italy from Nazi occupation, added the mayor      Read More…
15th January 2015, Thursday: At seventeen degree Celsius Delhiites are enjoying a pleasant patch. The unpredictable ‘Loo’ hot waves from neighboring Rajasthan hopefully will not strike them at this time of the year. The distasteful scent of mistrust hung in the air until last Tuesday has now given way to compassion.

The Indian Supreme court has allowed the plea of Italian marine Massimiliano Lattore, the co-accused undergoing trial for the 2012 killing of two Indian fishermen, for an extension of three more months to remain in Italy on medical grounds. Lattore had undergone cardiac surgery on January 5. The apex court had reversed its earlier denial of the defendant’s plea on the basis of a no objection submitted by the Indian government seeking the Italian ambassador to furnish an undertaking on the return of the accused to which the defendant’s lawyer expressed acceptance.

In this, April 22, 2012 file photo, an Indian policeman directs Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone as they come out at the central prison, Trivandrum, where the two marines were detained.

In this, April 22, 2012 file photo, an Indian policeman directs Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone as they come out at the central prison, Trivandrum, where the two marines were detained.

Last month, amid a standoff between Rome and New Delhi over the two Italian marines, the Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini was recalled for ‘urgent consultations’. Two days later the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano accused India of showing “scarce political will” to provide a “fair solution” to the case.

It was in February 2012 while on sentry duty aboard the private vessel ‘Enrica Lexie’, Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone shot dead two Keralite fishermen Jelestine Valentine and Ajeesh Pinku in an approaching fishing boat mistaking them as pirates off the Indian southwestern coast.

During the course of their trial, in January 18 last year, the Indian Supreme Court had disallowed the Italian government’s argument that Indian courts had no jurisdiction in the case and that the marines should be tried in Italy. The apex court in its ruling had also clarified: “the incident of firing from the Italian vessel on the Indian fishing boat having occurred within the Contiguous Zone, the Union of India is entitled to prosecute the two Italian marines under the criminal justice system prevalent in the country”.  The government on the other hand was advised to constitute a special court under international maritime law for conducting the trial.

In the meantime the Indian government dragged its feet in establishing a special court to try the marines. Since the special court had not come into existence and there was no case pending against the two Italians in any other Indian court, they submitted a leave petition seeking permission to return home to vote in the general elections. Surprisingly, neither the Indian Solicitor General nor the government pleaders pressed the point that there was no Italian regulation in place preventing them from casting their votes overseas by postal ballot. This scenario, compounded by the Italian envoy’s personal assurance that the marines will return to India after voting in the elections, appeared fair enough to the apex court for allowing the plea.

Curiously enough, the dust was kicked up by a ‘note verbale’ delivered by the Italian ambassador to the Indian external affairs ministry late night on March 11, 2013 saying the marines who were granted a 4-week bail by the Supreme Court will not return.

The Italian decision caught India totally off guard. The Indian apex court also felt betrayed to the extent that it took the unprecedented measure of restraining the Italian ambassador from leaving the country, which prompted the European Union to warn India that it would be violating the Vienna Convention if it tried to enforce the decision.

There is a predisposition in the human character for defiance under duress to which both the Italians as well as the Indians are no exceptions. Domestic misdemeanors apart, both New Delhi and Rome were finding themselves on shifting sands. But then wisdom lay in recognizing an opportunity when it presented itself. Before the time line set by the Indian apex court ran out, the Italian External Affairs Ministry announced the return of the two accused.

The Indian government had reciprocated by assuring the marines freedom of exercising their fundamental rights and also agreeing to try them under a special court. Even if they are eventually convicted, the marines will only serve their prison term in Italy, as in November 2012 India had ratified a treaty with Italy (which as a matter of fact was agreed upon before the controversial shooting occurred) allowing citizens convicted of crimes in either country to serve their prison sentences in their home country.

Since then the marines have been living in the Italian embassy in the Indian capital waiting to be tried and were not permitted to leave the country. However, when one of the marines Massimiliano Lattore suffered a cerebral ischaemia (restrained blood supply that perhaps could induce a stroke) the Indian apex court in September had granted him permission to go home for four months. That was way back in September. Last month, however, it turned down Massimiliano Lattore’s application for extending his leave under medical grounds, and also that of Salvatore Girone for joining his family during Christmas.

The Italians responded by recalling their ambassador (for ‘consultations’) from New Delhi, but surely falling short of severing diplomatic ties. There was also an innuendo in Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti’s statement that Latorre’s health “was the government’s priority and nothing will be done to put it in danger”.

Meanwhile Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in a statement given to ANSA said that her government was looking at an Italian proposal with a “positive spirit”. Two days later Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told State broadcaster RAI in Rome that “The harvest (from the dialogue with India) has been very disappointing. If the agreement is what we saw the other day, then we’re not going very far. I hope that different roads can be found in the next few days.”

Last year an Indian television crew who have been to the home town of one of the marines, Massimiliano Latorre found that the population of the township, Tarano, considered the accused young men as heroes, and everything that had happened on the fateful day of February 15, 2012, as a tragedy of errors. The mayor of the town, Ippazio Stefano, has been in touch with the Indian government offering the children of the slain fishermen education under their sponsorship. His countrymen were grateful to those Indians who had sacrificed their lives in the 2nd Word War to save Italy from Nazi occupation, added the mayor.



The Font Wagon

.. Only it turned out to be like rushing for tending the calf when someone called out the bull has delivered..  Read More…

 April 6, 2014, Sunday:  When global media outlets from CNN  to  the Economic Times reported the story of a 14-year old middle school student Mirchandani from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who claimed the government could save nearly half a billion dollars a year by switching the font in official documents from Times New Roman to the light-stroked typeface Garamond, most people jumped into the bandwagon. Only it turned out to be like rushing for tending the calf when someone called out the bull has delivered!
The Garamond font family

The Garamond font family

To begin with let’s take a close look at how the 14-year old Mirchandani arrived at his conclusion. As part of his science project he measured four different fonts (Times New Roman, Garamond, Comic Sans, and Century Gothic) to discover that Garamond’s thin, light strokes consumed 24% less ink. In his paper published in the ‘Journal of Emerging Investigators’  he concluded that if the federal and state agencies came on board, it could save close to half a billion dollars a year.

However, what people have not been told by the media outlets is that the cost savings of switching to Garamond is largely imaginary, because at the same size, Garamond doesn’t actually use less ink than the other fonts. The biggest issue with Mirchandani’s argument is that he didn’t quite well understand the oddity of the way fonts are measured, and he measured Garamond at the wrong size! Type expert Thomas Phinney explains how.

Fonts are traditionally measured in a system called points, with one point corresponding to 1/72nd of an inch. This is true in both physical and digital printing. Rationally, then, it seems obvious that a 12-point font should be 1/6th of an inch tall, when printed. But the reality is much different. There is no guarantee that when you print out a font at 12-points that the letters will be 12-points tall. Only the line which the letters will be printed on will be 12-points tall.

Imagine that you have a metal block for a 12-point letter “l”. When you dip this block in ink for printing, the raised “l” will end up rubbing off on a piece of paper, but depending on how that “l” was designed, it is unlikely that it will actually be 1/6th of an inch tall. The 12-point measurement instead refers to the size of the type bodythe flat metal part of the type that never touches ink.

What makes a 12-point font a 12-point font, then, has nothing do with ink. It’s invisible on the page. This means that, depending on how a typeface is designed, some fonts at 12 points will be physically smaller (and therefore less readable than others at the same size). You could, in theory, have a 12-point font with letters that were almost invisible to the naked eye, but that wouldn’t make it a more efficient font when it comes to ink savings or readability.

This is the major trap Mirchandani fell into. Garamond’s letters are significantly smaller at the same font size than those of Times New Roman, Comic Sans, and Century Gothic. As Phinney notes, in fact, Garamond is about 15% smaller than the average of the fonts that our 14-year-old compared it to, which translates into a 28% savings in surface area – pretty close to Mirchandani’s alleged 24% savings in ink.

What this all means is that if you printed any of the other fonts to match Garamond’s actual size, you would get almost the same savings in ink cost, at the same expense of readability. Garamond doesn’t really use less ink than Times New Roman, Comic Sans, or Century Gothic. It’s just the equivalent of a 10-point font rendered on a 12-point line. And sure enough, if you look at Mirchandani’s sample text, Garamond looks like it has been rendered at a much smaller point size than the other fonts; it’s obviously harder to read. If you printed any of the other fonts to match Garamond’s actual size, you’d get almost the same savings in ink cost.

Secondly, governments and corporations habitually supplements inkjets with laser printers, which use toner. Toner costs about half as much as printer ink per page, but Mirchandani’s study assumes they cost the same.

Just cutting down on the ink that a font uses can’t substantially reduce the governments’ and corporations’ printing budget. Mirchandani’s study assumes the governments and corporations printed all of its documents on a cheap HP inkjet.

Using less ink, Of course, might cost the government slightly less money, but it’s not going to come from switching to Garamond. Garamond’s letters are smaller at the same height as other fonts, making it less legible at the same size when printed out. And even if a government or a corporation did switch to a font that maintained legibility at the same size as Times New Roman while using less ink, it is unlikely that the government or corporation would save much money by switching to it.



Forbidden Love

He was the prime minister of a new born nation, she was the wife of the last Viceroy representing an empire where, once it was said, the sun never set..  Read More…

 January 26, 2014, Sunday: Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to Edwina Mountbatten continuously for twelve long years from 1948 and chose not to be discreet about it, says one of his biographers. Nehru at that time was 68 and Edwina ten years younger. Little did they realize that time was not in their favor. A year later, in 1960, Edwina died alone in her sleep while on a trip to Borneo. Beside her bed was her treasure of Nehru’s letters, and the blue satin ribbon that held them together lay open.

A private moment: Nehru and Edwina.

After India had acquired independence from Britain, the Mountbattens made many visits to the country. The biographer in the family and the younger daughter of the Mountbattens Pamela Hicks acknowledges that it was at this time love blossomed between the lonely Nehru and her mother. ’My mother already had lovers. My father was inured to it. It broke his heart the first time, but it was somehow different with Nehru,’ she wrote. Mountbatten himself at that stage confided to his elder daughter Patricia, ‘She and Jawaharlal (Nehru) are so sweet together, they really dote on each other.’

However, back in Britain the Mountbattens’ public romance with India did not go down very well. At Gandhiji’s funeral in 1948 the Mountbattens had no qualms in sitting cross legged on the cremation ground like anybody else while the last rites were performed. When those pictures appeared in the British newspapers Churchill felt that the Mountbattens had gone too far by behaving like natives and disgracing themselves. He even refused to shake Mountbatten’s hand when they returned home. That did not stop Edwina from visiting Nehru every year. At that time Nehru’s sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit was the Indian High Commissioner in Britain and he also made reciprocal visits to Edwina.

Before Nehru’s own death in 1964, after a chance meeting with him, writer and journalist Dom Moraes said that Nehru spoke more like a poet rather than a statesman. During Nehru’s 17-year-long prime ministerial tenure, from the day of India’s independence to the  day  he  died,  there  never  was

Before the Nehruvian dreams faltered and hope was traded for skepticism: Indira Gandhi watching over her father's body in Teen Murti Bhavan.

Before the Nehruvian dreams faltered and hope was traded for skepticism: Indira Gandhi watching over her father’s body in Teen Murti Bhavan.

a direct challenge to his leadership. Despite the steady decline in the number of seats the Congress party held in parliament during the 3 elections in his life time, as if aided by some magic wand, he could always strike a chord with the ‘aam aadmi’ (common man). While Gandhiji’s repartee was focused mainly on the glories of ancient India, Nehru dreamed of leading the nation to the modern age through implementing scientific and industrial projects adaptable to Indian conditions. Like in the case of his contemporaries US President John Kennedy and Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia, the count of Nehru’s achievements was not just a few, as were his failures. Whatever said and done the India of today stands on firm ground over the cornerstones he had laid.

Obviously the nagging problem of Kashmir, the debacle of the 1962 war with China, the rampant government bureaucracy, were all thorns around the rose Nehru always wore over the lapel of his áchkan’ (knee length coat). At the same time in establishing a constitution within two and half years after independence, investments made in primary and higher education, the plurality in governance, setting up of the Atomic Energy Commission and the sustenance of democracy, the equation appears to some degree balancing. As the general elections grew closer unsavory references appeared in public over the Nehru-Patel relationship. Perhaps what Patel had to say of Nehru in an October 1949 article would speak for itself.


“.. Gifted with an idealism of high order, a devotee of beauty and art in life, and equipped with an infinite capacity to magnetize and inspire others and a personality which would be remarkable in any gathering of world’s foremost men, Jawaharlal has gone from strength to strength as a political leader.
.. It was, therefore, in the fitness of things that in the twilight preceding the dawn of independence he should have been our leading light, and that when India was faced with crises after crises, following the achievement of our freedom, he should have been the upholder of our faith and the leader of our legions. No one knows better than myself how much he has labored for his country in the last two years of our difficult existence. I have seen him age quickly during that period, on account of the worries of the high office that he holds and the tremendous responsibilities that he wields.
…. Contrary to the impression created by some interested persons and eagerly accepted in credulous circles, we have worked together as lifelong friends and colleagues, adjusting ourselves to each other’s advice as only those who have confidence in each other can.”

Yet what the Indians miss most from the Nehru era is the old world charm of greater courtesy, gallantry, comradery and compassion among themselves.

In 1967, Syed Akhthar Hussein Rizvi (popularly known as Kaifi Azmi) penned a song for a film titled ‘Naunihal’ which was picturised over the funeral procession of Nehru. The opening lines of the song ran:

Meri aawaaz suno, Pyar ka raaz suno, Maine ek phool jo seene pe saja rakha tha, Uske parde mein tumhe dil se laga rakha tha, Tha juda sabse mere ishq ka andaaz suno..

This article appeared in print in ‘Khaleej Times’ published from Dubai (United Arab Emirates) on January 26, 2014.