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Reminiscences

In the match against Barbados Charlie Griffith was to deliver the fourth ball of his second over. At that time sight screens had not come into play. Someone opened a window in the pavilion and Nari’s head turned for a moment denying him the chance to duck Griffith’s ball. He lay unconscious in the hospital for 6 days. It was West Indies’ captain Sir Frank Worrel who first donated blood to Nari when the situation demanded blood transfusion…    Read More…

 NOT MANY people know that his father had named him after the legendary music director Sachin Dev Burman. As a matter of fact until the age of 14 he had aspired to become a pace bowler. However he received the cold shoulder in 1987 from the Australian great Dennis Lillee at the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai. But then all through his 24-year long career he never had to pay up the monetary fine imposed by the Indian cricket team for late coming players and for those flouting the dress code.

Tendulkar adjusting his locks before a prize distribution ceremony

Tendulkar adjusting his locks before a prize distribution ceremony

The individual records associated with Sachin Tendulkar’s name perhaps may never be broken. At the same time it is worth mentioning that Pete Sampras’ record of 14 grand slam wins was once considered unbreakable. When Roger Federer surpassed that record with 17 grand slam titles, the power brokers rolled out the debate whether he was or not the GOAT – Greatest of All Time. Now with Rafael Nadal closely on his heels with 13 grand slam credits under his belt the ‘greatest ever’ power equation appears to be shifting. Apparently Tendulkar’s performance off the field has been impeccable unlike most celebrities though they have had only the good fortune to attain much less success in comparison.

Yet purists of the game argue that Tendulkar has never been a team player. They say his individual contribution to the team’s performance can never be matched with those of Saurav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Lakshman. Some of the media barons of his home town in the meantime had conspired to camouflage the fact that Tendulkar had kept his admirers 2 years on edge during his journey from his 99th century to 100th. Pakistani batting legend Javed Miandad has confessed that his attempt to unduly prolong his career did not do him any good. We have seen this flaw in judgment not only with sporting legends but also with other great artists of yesteryear. The rumour mill is also rife with whispers that the highest civilian honor has more to do with political mileage than appreciation for a sporting genius.

Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi at 21 was the youngest test cricket captain India has ever had. The cricket commentator foursome of Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Manjrekar and Harsha Bhogle oddly appear to have overlooked the circumstances that led to having Pataudi take over the reins from Nari Contractor during their customary time travel escapades into India’s cricketing history. Nari was incapacitated and lost his career while captaining the country’s test team in West Indies. In the match against Barbados Charlie

Nari Contractor

Nari Contractor

Griffith was to deliver the fourth ball of his second over. At that time sight screens had not come into play. Someone opened a window in the pavilion and Nari’s head turned for a moment denying him the chance to duck Griffith’s ball. He lay unconscious in the hospital for 6 days. It was West Indies’ captain Sir Frank Worrel who first donated blood to Nari when the situation demanded blood transfusion. (Sir Frank Worrel was the first appointed black captain of West Indies. Worrell, Everton Weekes, and Sir Clyde Walcott – the “Three W’s”- made up what was considered to be the finest middle order batting line up of the 60s. He was also the most charismatic and influential captain the West Indies ever had. The affection with which his team was received in Australia during their landmark tour of 1960-61 is eulogized in the trophy named after him for which the two teams play even today.)  Now 79, Nari has never blamed Griffith, but only attributed the injury to his own distraction.

Charlie Griffith

Charlie Griffith

Nari Contractor never played for Mumbai. Destiny perhaps had found something so alluring in this man

Sir Frank Worrel

Sir Frank Worrel

that it never wanted him out of the perimeters of its checker board. His pregnant mother was returning from a virtually unknown place called Dohad in Gujarat to Mumbai. She had hoped to have a safer delivery in the great city. Nari’s uncle was the engine driver of the train she had boarded. As his work schedule was to get over in another two hours at Godhra, he asked his sister to get off the train but promised to take her to Mumbai the next day. Things do not always happen the way you envisage them and Nari was born the same day. Little did anyone know at that time that on the basis of this incident Nari would be eligible to play for Gujarat many years later. In his debut in first class cricket Nari went on to score centuries in both the innings for Gujarat against Baroda which feat still remains unparalleled in Indian cricketing history.

The day he scored a ton against Australia at Brabourne stadium, a group of children playing cricket on the road saw Nari walking towards the State Bank of India building at Fort. When they asked him why did he have to work in the evening on a day he had scored a hundred, he smiled nonchalantly and said that a century wasn’t good enough to run his house. Sachin Tendulkar currently is estimated to be worth US$160 Million.

Nari wasn’t from Gujarat, nor from Mumbai, he was from Providence.

( Though written on 17th November this post could not be published sooner because of contractual obligations .)

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Tiara Trails

   

Those living in glass houses should not be pelting stones at other people’s homes after all.    Read More…

 Ms USA1September 19, 2013, Thursday:  Exactly a week before Nina Davuluri danced her way in unadulterated Bollywood fashion into the hearts of the Miss America pageant judges eventually winning the coveted tiara, on 9/11 anniversary Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had made a contribution to the New York Times Op Ed column. The PM highlighted that “it was extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation”. As a matter of fact he was responding to President Obama’s contention that “United States’ policy is what makes America different. It is what makes America exceptional” in his televised address to the nation on possible air strikes over Syria.Indeed it is true that America already had its fair share of achievers of Indian heritage in governors, CEO’s, scientists, academics and artists. Yet Davuluri’s triumph created a stir among an audience who generally turn a blind eye to such accomplishments. The knickers in a twist were turned more into a tourniquet by the racist Tweets from a right wing minority while at the same time the challenges posed by the underlying disparities in skin tone the country was still to overcome were acknowledged by some other quarters. “It reflects the racial anxiety some people have in this country when someone who looks different achieves a level of success that for some reason is seen as being reserved for a certain type of ‘Americans’”, said Deepa Iyer, executive director of a South Asian American advocacy group to Associated Press in an interview.

Not surprisingly, the nasty Tweets prompted comments from the Indian media like, ‘They are a racist lot’, and ‘Martin Luther King Jr’s idealsUSA2 still remain a distant dream in that country’. The very next day of the pageant a viral fad did the rounds in Facebook showing the same photograph of the Telugu American damsel appearing in a global web site and also in an Indian publication; only the latter had digitally manipulated the young lady’s picture giving her a fairer skin tone!.

I really would like to consider the following scenarios had the pageant been staged in India:Would a Nina Davuluri appearing much similar to the image of the dark skinned model showing up in the ‘before-use’part of the Fair & Lovely ad stand a chance to win the tiara? Had her parents originally been from  Uttar Pradesh and had she won the Miss Maharashtra pageant, how many socio-political hurricanes would it have kicked up? In celebration of her victory do we dare to invite Nina Davuluri for a whirl wind tour of the land of her forefathers where a sizeable number of the male inhabitants consider it alright, if given a chance, to stare at, touch, grope, and harass other women.

usa3Admittedly, we love to wear our pride not in our sleeves but watch on the silver screens when the Kumars, Kapoors and Khans ride the crest of waves of the hundred-crore-clubs and Madame Chopras under the guise of gender equality throw their modesty to the winds by wantonly luring the young movie going population into the living-in urbane savoir-faire.

Activist Jasmine Thana who was belittled by almost everyone in her life because of herUsa4 dark complexion in her voice-over ‘Growing up Dark’ says: “I want a place that reminds us that even as dark-skinned people we are a diverse people of many stories, many experiences and many shades of dark brown. We embody more than the hurt we experience from being told we’re inferior. My greatest hope is that this place has the ability to cause positive ripples and shifts towards self-love for all people of all shades.” History will vouch for the fact that it was the oppressed who were the early bird confederates of all crusades. By the US Government’s own admission white Americans will be reduced to a minority population in their own country in less than half a century.

Ironically though it’s high time to measure ourselves and realize that we have been basking in the past glory of a bygone era which is now nonexistent and the time for introspection has arrived. Those living in glass houses should not be pelting stones at other people’s homes after all.

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Attenborough’s MAHATMA

 
He advocated the path of taking up arms for his country when it came to defending her honour rather than being a gutless witness succumbing to inglorious belligerence. Yet he also believed that nonviolence was infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness was more manly than punishment….     Read More…
 
The Attenboroughs then and now

The Attenboroughs then and now

15th August 2013, Thursday: Mahatma Gandhi’s antagonists mostly were candid in their admissions that they had all undergone an unwitting mutation during their confrontations with him. Richard Attenborough, on the other hand, was no antagonist of Mahatma. But for Motilal Kothari, an Indian living in the 1962 London, Attenborough would never have been part of the deal. In a bid to realizing his dream of presenting Mahatma to the world on celluloid, Kothari coaxed Attenborough into reading Mahatma’s own autobiography, his ‘Satyagraha in South Africa’, and Louis Fischer’s ‘Life of Mahatma Gandhi’. The impact it created on Attenborough turned out to be much beyond Kothari’s expectations. It kept the British film maker going for 20 years, despite objections from many nationalist quarters in India, in his relentless pursuit of making the biopic ‘Gandhi’, winning eight Academy awards in the process, including those for best picture, director, screenplay, actor and cinematography. That was as far back as 1983.

 Long before that, in 1944, Attenborough and Shiela Sim were co-actors in a production of ‘The Lady with the Lamp’ at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. A year later their admiration for each other gave way to a seasoned, yet demonstrative liaison blossoming into marriage out of which they’d a son and 2 daughters. The Academy Award winning costumier of ‘Gandhi’, Bhanu Attaiah remembers Attenborough as a compassionate man and his son Michael to be of the same age as hers own. Remorsefully though, in 2004 on Boxing Day, his elder daughter Jane and her own daughter were killed in the South Asian tsunami. Four years later, over Christmas in 2008, Attenborough suffered a stroke and fell hitting his head on the marble floor of his home that left him briefly in a coma. Since then he has been confined to a wheel chair. He never fully recovered and continued to struggle to speak and move around.Last year, he sold off his 11.5 million Pound London mansion, where he has been living with his wife Sheila, now 90. His 86-year old younger brother David justifying the sale said “it simply wasn’t practical” for him to retain the house. Maintaining a hauntingly huge house and a sick wife at the same time was a hard bargain for a person himself in ill health. Obviously he did the right thing by opting for foster care rather than burden his own son and daughter. Riding on the algorithm of coherence over emotions, the West finds it arduous to compromise individual freedom in the altar of the combined family system, where the younger generation considers taking care of their elders as an ethical obligation. Even in the East, the dialectics of home and its square measures are now being redefined in the wake of the rush for falling in step with the times.

That alluring smile

That alluring smile

 Sheila Sim was moved to a care home after she was diagnosed with senile dementia. Eighteen months later Attenborough too joined her in the special care facility, where older and sick from the entertainment community are being taken care of. The news of the British movie maker’s displacement somehow prompted me to watch ‘Gandhi’ a second time leading to a proliferation of my perceptions about the moving narrative pitted against historical actualities. In his 240-page book ‘In search of Gandhi’ Attenborough tells how in 1963, with the help of Lord Mountbatten, he presented his case to Jawaharlal Nehru. Arranging funds for the 22 Million Dollar production was a daunting task mainly because National Film Development Council’s contribution to the total production was as little as of 6.5 Million Dollars. When funds ran out and work came to a standstill, Attenborough was forced to accept part time acting roles. The duration of air travel he had undertaken during the 20 years in the making of ‘Gandhi’ put together, should stretch over 3 most productive years of his life. 

Mahatma's long eared goat

Mahatma’s long eared goat

The story of ‘Gandhi’ without doubt is also the story of more than half a century in the history of the unbridled, but alluring India. Attenborough has been scrupulous in admitting that “of course it’s a cheek, it’s an impudence to tell that kind of history in 3 hours”. Unlike David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia), Attenborough has not bothered to analyze his protagonist neither as a politician nor as a person. “I have no interest in being remembered as a creative film maker”, said Attenborough in an interview 29 years ago. That’s exactly the reason why he has been recognized more as a chronicler by choice rather than a deliberate story teller: from the point of a young barrister’s conflict with cultural prejudices in an apartheid foreign land to an act of history’s great ironies, the life-long crusader of nonviolence falling prey to an assassin’s bullet in a Delhi prayer ground bounded by flowerbeds in full bloom. In doing so, Attenborough has not only left out several historical figures of that time, but also decided not to dwell on some of the contentious traits in his lead character, like the fall out with his youngest son and testing of his vow of celibacy by sleeping unclothed  in the company of young women.

Supported by grand daughter Sita (left) and daughter-in-law Abha (right) during morning walk.

Supported by grand daughter Sita (left) and daughter-in-law Abha (right) during morning walk.

Perhaps by injecting drama and exaggeration Attenborough may have hoped to attract more viewership that actually resulted in his narration depart from facts to a certain extent. About his first rail road journey in South Africa, “He (the constable) took me by the hand and pushed me out of the first class compartment”, says Mahatma. In the movie Mahatma has been pushed so hard by the policeman that he fell flat on his face. The 3 baton blows Mahatma receives from a policeman in the scene where the burning

of his own and other Indians’ registration certificates take place is also unduly exaggerated, whereas Mahatma doesn’t make reference to any policeman in his own narration of the incident. Another example is the visit by the English missionary C.F. Andrews while Mahatma is shown to be in jail in Bihar in 1917. Mahatma, actually, was never in that jail, nor such a visit by the missionary had ever taken place. There are more deviations from what actually had happened on numerous occasions in the movie.

Mahatma’s trysts with reticence, supplication and abstinence ran deep in his spiritual wits out of which he drew his fortitude that served him navigate through unpathed waters. Especially when in times of self-doubt, he says, he used to wake up from sleep listening to an ‘inner voice’ that would steer him clear through heavy traffic and placate him back to the tranquil anger-free audacity before adversities. Despite common belief, it would also be unfair to judge Mahatma that he had disapproved of violence in its entirety. On the contrary he was quite resolute in drawing the line between cowardice and spirited use of nonviolence. He advocated the path of taking up arms for his country when it came to defending her honour rather than being a gutless witness succumbing to inglorious belligerence. Yet he also believed that nonviolence was infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness was more manly than punishment.

Leonardo Da Vinci is known to have had the curious habit of leaving hidden codes and messages for coming generations in his works of art.  Attenborough had no such concerns to deal with, for Mahatma’s life held no veiled crescendos beneath its exterior. Admittedly, Mahatma too, like anyone else, had the luxury of living only one life time, yet his footprints weigh down the scale of history in the same gravity in this millennium as it did in the previous.

[ This article appeared in a ‘Khaleej Times’ -published from Dubai- special report in August 2013.]

 

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When the Great Soul Met the Immortal Tramp

May be it is high time for mankind to consider switching over to the gangly dream weaver’s unpretentious philosophy of life before being pitched back to the stone age by destiny…     Read More…
31st March 2013, Sunday: In the summer of 1931, the great soul and the immortal tramp happened to be in the British capital at the same time.
Gandhiji and Chaplin, at far right standing is Sarojini Naidu

Gandhiji and Chaplin, at far right standing is Sarojini Naidu

Gandhiji was in London as the sole representative from India to participate in the second Round Table Conference. On the other hand, after a Spanish spree and before returning to California, it was largely for the British premiere of his film ‘City Lights’ that Charles Chaplin had been in the capital city.

Upon arrival, Gandhiji characteristically declined to accept the hospitality of the British government by refusing to be put up in an expensive West End hotel. Instead, he preferred to stay in Kingsley Hall, a community center run by the pacifist sisters Muriel and Doris Lester. As a matter of fact, the next twelve weeks Gandhiji lived in one of the tiny roof top cells of the center, just like any other volunteer occupying the facility who worked from dawn to dusk for a meager

Kingsley Hall

Kingsley Hall

weekly pay of two shillings. (During the filming of the 1982 Gandhi biopic, joining hands with community groups Richard Attenborough had initiated the refurbishment of the community center. Since then the facility is open for use by all communities. The cell in which Gandhiji had stayed has been restored to its original ‘glory’. The rest of the space is being utilized by the Gandhi Peace Foundation as a library.)

Chaplin at this point in his career had begun to show interest in meeting the likes of Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and Churchill, due to a newly found inclination towards politics. Perhaps as a consequence, Gandhiji received a telegram from him requesting for a meeting.Initially, Gandhiji was not very keen to meet with Chaplin because all he had heard about the latter was that he was a clown. But Gandhiji’s host Muriel Lester managed to persuade him for the chance meeting: “Charlie Chaplin! He’s the world’s hero. You simply must meet him. His art is rooted in the life of working people, he understands the poor as well as you do, he honours them always in his pictures.”

The Life of Muriel Lester - book cover

The Life of Muriel Lester – book cover

Chaplin’s observations in his autobiography were more audacious. Churchill’s confidant and Conservative party MP Brendan Bracken was of the opinion that the British government had given in much to Gandhiji , and if the government did not detain him in prison soon, India would eventually be lost to Britain. When Chaplin expressed his disagreement to such an unfeasible solution, Churchill commented that he should run for parliament under the Labour party ticket. Indian medic Dr. Katial’s first floor apartment was located at the corner of Hudson’s road in East End, an area mostly populated by the working class. Chaplin sat in waiting for Gandhiji in Dr. Katial’s house. A few minutes later, sounds of greetings arose from hundreds of ordinary citizens who had gathered outside to welcome the half-naked seditious fakeer. Apparently, Gandhiji had arrived.Indeed, I am sympathetic towards the Indian hopes and its independent movement Chaplin said to Gandhiji. “At the same time, I would like to know why you are opposed to machinery. After all, it is a natural outcome of man’s genius and part of the evolutionary progress. It is here to free him of bondage and slavery, to help him to leisure and higher culture.”

Richard Attenborough

Richard Attenborough

“I understand”, Gandhiji spoke without the slightest trace of emotion. “However, our primary task is to rid India of English rule. The machines in the past had made India dependent on the English and boycott was a method of ridding itself of the dependence. That is exactly why it is our patriotic duty to spin our own clothes by the hand wheel. It is also another way of taking our fight to the British empire. Life in this part of the world is very much different from that of a tropical country like India. Mechanised life, especially taking into account of the weather suits you fine which are not the case with us. Even our eating habits are different. Our country men with the exception of a negligible minority consume their food using their hands rather than knives and forks.” The meeting made front pages in most British newspapers the next day. Chaplin was quoted as saying: ‘Gandhi is a tremendous personality and a dramatic figure’.

Charlie Chaplin in 'Modern Times'

Charlie Chaplin in ‘Modern Times’

Before the meeting, Gandhiji hand no knowledge of Chaplin’s world, neither had Chaplin of Gandhiji’s ideology. Nonetheless, they were drawn to each other by the involuntary trespassing of emotional lineage over the suffering of humanity. Ironically though, five years after they met, Chaplin admitted: “Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity.” Subsequently, his movie ‘Modern Times’ denouncing machine age was released.

Gandhiji in the DVD movie jacket

Gandhiji in the DVD movie jacket

Drowned in the deceitful hopes of Industrialism we had identified the role of Gandhiji as that of a dream weaver. It is us who have failed in recognizing the ethical strength in Gandhiji as an individual and Gandhism as a doctrine.

Despite the 1996 joint ban of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by the industrialized countries in the Northern Hemisphere much is still left to be desired. Aren’t the hypothetical images of landscapes plunging into the sea from the meltdown of the Arctic coupled with the fusillade of terminal diseases and elimination of the bottom rung of the food chain resulting from the strike of extra ultraviolet B radiation from the sun enough to send cold shivers up our spines? May be it is high time for mankind to consider switching over to the gangly dream weaver’s unpretentious philosophy of life before being pitched back to the stone age by destiny.

[ This article appeared in a ‘Khaleej Times’ -published from Dubai- special report in January 2013.]

 

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What ails the male?

This is 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…

What ails him?

What ails him?

I THINK   the reason why my circle of friendship is not too large because I’m not good enough at small talk. Out of all the friends I’ve acquired from social networking the only one who pegged Harper Lee’s novel (‘To kill a mocking bird’) about the lone crusader and the boogeyman choosing to stand up against the smug epithet ‘life isn’t always fair’ as her favorite is a 46 year old lady living in Mussoorie in Dehradun. As a matter of fact, I had first come across the film, rather than the book itself, a couple of decades after it had originally hit theaters in which the late Gregory Peck had played the role of the father of ‘Scout’ (the author herself) from whose vantage point Lee narrates the story in first person. In a way, I feel kind of awkward confessing that the character played by Peck had unwittingly influenced me at that time to the extent that my sister started taking digs at me saying I was trying to imitate the way Peck had walked down the aisle in the court room after the jury delivered their racially prejudiced verdict against his vindicated black client.

The lone crusader: Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch

The lone crusader: Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch

Admittedly, the disparity in the perception of relationship between female and male are more palpable in the present time than ever before. Chander Dhar Sharma Guleri who wrote arguably the first short story in Hindi ‘Usne kha tha’ (She had said) in 1915 was discreetly elegant in his interpretation of the sentiment. The evolution of the image of Guleri’s central character who put his own life in jeopardy to protect his childhood sweetheart’s husband because she had made him promise to take care of the latter during the war to that of the minor accused in the December 16 gang rape in South Delhi represents a generation thrown off its guard by the disintegration of social values occurred during the cultural cross over at the turn of the last century.The 17 year old lad is alleged to have been the main stay as well as the mastermind of the whole operation who had purportedly coaxed the subject by addressing her as ‘behen’ (sister) into the bus with the assurance that she and her male companion would be securely dropped off at their destination. When the in-camera trial before

Usne kaha tha(She had said..)

Usne kaha tha
(She had said..)

the Metropolitan Magistrate in Delhi’s Saket district began last Monday, ironically though the under aged accused could not be produced in court along with the other 5 culprits. Being a juvenile he is having the last laugh at the country’s judicial system for an under aged like him can only be subjected to a 3-year maximum sentence in a reformist institution even for a heinous crime such as the one he had committed.Later when the ill-fated woman’s companion disclosed in national television channel Zee News that for over 45 minutes neither passersby nor motorists heeded to their pleas for assistance and upon arrival even the police wasted several minutes debating over which jurisdiction the case was to be charged instead of rushing the injured to the nearest hospital which might have possibly saved the victim’s life, it sent a tremor that shook the corner stones of the metropolis’ heritage.

Atrocities against women have reached endemic proportions by even crossing the shores of the Atlantic. In 1999 two teenagers were subjected to sexual violation by a group French men for as long as 6 months. At the end of a 3-week trial last year, 10 of the 14 implicated escaped scathe free. The rest received less than 1-year sentences. Government agencies estimate that 80,000 women are raped a year in the United Kingdom while sexual assault numbers touch 400,000.

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. 24 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 is not initiated from the grass roots no matter how technically sound the method statement may seem the target milestone is likely to remain unrealized. It may also be not worth pinning too much of hope on the renewed legislation against atrocities committed against women in the offing 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.

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Cry, the beloved country

The countenance of truth in the times that we live, more often than not, is abhorrent. However small it may be, sections of the Indian male population still remain chauvinistic. The mortal remains of the last martyr of this paradox were consumed by flames Sunday morning soon after sun rise. Earlier at 3:30 AM when the Air India special flight taxied down the tarmac at Indira Gandhi International Airport in heavy fog carrying the body of the hapless young woman accompanied by her parents, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress party president Sonia Gandhi waited in a sheltered receiving quarter slightly shivering in the cold.

On the fateful night of December 16, the 23-year old physiotherapy student and her male companion were returning home from watching ‘Life of Pi’ in a mall when she was subjected to an hour long brutal gang rape and assault by 6 men in a moving bus. In Delhi’s Safdarjung hospital her condition turned worse and as a result the Indian government air lifted her to Mount Elizabeth hospital, a multi-organ transplant facility in Singapore where she succumbed to internal injuries after putting up a brave fight for two weeks.

In their Last Post Mount Elizabeth hospital authorities said: “We are humbled by the privilege of being tasked to take care of her in her final struggle. We share the huge sadness of her parents at her passing and will work with the Indian High Commission to provide the family support in this time of grief.”

However there was talk in the media quoting medical experts from well known hospitals in Delhi and Mumbai that as long as the patient remained in infectious condition, intestinal transplant was not an option worthy of considering. Speculation was also rife among television news channels that the Indian government was playing it safe dreading a public backlash should the untoward happen.

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.

The late film maker Yash Chopra’s 1975 classic ‘Deewar’ (The Wall) had pitted the quintessential equation of virtue Vs vice. One of the oft repeated dialogues from the movie is between the antihero and his idealistic younger brother: I’ve everything I want; huge bank balance, bungalows, expensive cars, but you? In all naivety the younger one responds, I’ve our mother. During reruns of the movie, even after decades, crowds flock to the theatres largely attributable to the revered image of the sacrificial mother that remain firmly entrenched in the Indian male psyche. Yet none among the onlookers gathered around the fallen young lady and her companion thrown out the bus by the goons in a suburban street corner in Delhi in biting cold, had the decency to throw a piece of clothing over them and swathe their nakedness before the police arrived. Later despite the government’s earnest attempts to maintain the identity of the victim a closely guarded secret in respect of the family’s privacy, investigative journalism touched new heights by its disclosure.

The act of rape in society has become so common place to the extent that it has ceased to create lasting reverberations in the corridors of legislature. Awadhpal Singh Yadav, a former minister from Uttar Pradesh is currently under investigation on rape charges he had allegedly committed against a domestic servant.

Abhijit Mukherji, himself a Congress MP and son of the Indian President, derided women protestors in Delhi as ‘dented and painted’ in a television interview on Christmas day sparking outcry from many quarters that forced him to apologize and retract his statements.

The 5 culprits of the incident are aged between 20 and 40 and the sixth one is yet to turn 18. By the death of the rape victim the prosecution would now include Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in the charge sheet that can lead to death penalty for the accused. Meanwhile based on the Juvenile Justice act, the under-18 accused will get away by not having tried under the IPC and with a 3-year reformative punishment unless the law is rewritten.

While the smoldering embers of the funeral pyre began to wither, friends of the victim revealed that her marriage with her companion in the bus was to have taken place as close as in February. Delhi chief minister Shiela Dikshit had said earlier that the young lady’s untimely death was a “shameful moment for me not just as the chief minister but also as a citizen of this country”. The configuration appears all the more blatant when one considers that the largest democracy in the world is ruled by a coalition government of which the majority party has a woman at its helm.

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One swallow doesn’t make a summer

“I’ve just spoken with the prime minister. I requested him for a special session of Parliament to frame a law to implement exemplary punishment for crimes against women,” the main opposition party leader in the Lok Sabha (the Indian Lower House of Parliament) Sushma Swaraj Twittered on Saturday.

Public outrage over the government’s inadequate response on the brutal gang rape of a 23-year old trainee paramedic a week ago in a moving chartered transport bus is still continuing. The victim was heading home after a movie with her male companion hardly after a couple of hours darkness had fallen over the capital city. Five to seven people had attacked the couple, they had beaten up the victim’s friend before shredding off her clothes with a blade and assaulting her in the front compartment of the bus. Later the goons had dumped them in a secluded corner in Mahipalpur in suburban Delhi, after robbing them of even their cell phones. The case was, however, registered by the police only 3 days after the incident had occurred on December 15. As pressure mounted from authorities up the ladder the police arrested the driver of the chartered transport bus followed by 6 others.

Meanwhile the opposition party leader said the people were “genuinely angry” and demanded capital punishment for perpetrators of such crimes. A group of female students who had carried out a protest march to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit’s house returned disappointed because despite being a woman herself the CM didn’t have the courtesy to meet them and share their pain and humiliation. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde later told the press that “steps will be taken for the amendment of the criminal law for enhanced and more effective punishment in the rarest of the rare cases of sexual assault such as this”. However he put off the issue of death penalty for rapists saying, “it involved complex legal issues and will be taken up with the law ministry and consultations will be held with the experts before government takes a decision.”

Over the last 6 years the number of rape cases reported in Delhi and neighboring state Haryana has escalated by 25 percent. Ostensibly over the years the authorities have failed in making the capital city any safer for its female population to the extent that working women and students habitually carry blades and pepper sprays for self defence while commuting.

On Sunday, a week after the mishap, Home Secretary R.K. Singh issued a Certificate of Excellence to Delhi Police. The very next day 5 police officers were suspended from service citing negligence of duty on the fateful night of December 15.

In the meantime Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition government in the center is embroiled in a new controversy over facilitating the temporary release from detention of two Italian marines who had shot dead two fishermen from the southern state of Kerala in Indian territorial waters to travel to their home country for celebrating Christmas and New Year. Opposition parties had a field day in alleging that the country of origin of the Italian marines in custody and that of the president of the ruling majority party in the center being one and the same couldn’t be accidental. The insinuation gained momentum pointing out that parole has been denied to old and sick people like the wheel chair bound Peoples’ Democratic Party leader Abdul Nasser Madani who has been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, cardiac disorders, disc prolapse and cervical spondylosis. Though not proven, police in Kerala’s neighboring state Karnataka, which is ruled by Sushma Swaraj’s Bhartiya Janata Party, accuse Madani of being party to hatching the plot of the Bangaluru serial blasts that killed 58 people. Madani is held in custody since August 2010.

Like in any other democratic state the constitution of India also ensures freedom, liberty and equality to all its citizens. Nonetheless during implementation, more often than not, the definition of equality is subjected to variance.

Apparently one swallow doesn’t make a summer.

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Neither foot prints in the sand nor ripples in the water

” ..The landscape of your early childhood kind of lives in you.. The tiny fishes in the poodles left behind by the monsoon. The fruity air drenched in the scent of burst jack fruits. The blue bottles hitting the window panes embracing death..”

ARE YOU able to identify the lady in the ruddy blend of black and grey toting hand bags on both shoulders in a pair of corduroy pants one size too big?

Indeed it is none other than Arundhati Roy of the ‘God of Small Things’ (GOST – 1997 Booker prize) caught in camera strolling in Hauz Khas village, the arty little enclave well known for Indian designer clothing boutiques and art galleries in South Delhi.

I have often considered Roy to be the mercurial chanter of her own songs who is always in conflict with her youthful problems perhaps in finding her own identity. 

Tolstoy’s observation that ‘happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’ (Anna Karenina) holds  true especially when you consider the case of GOST.  The story line travels back and forth through time, from the beginning of the 1990s when Rahel visits India to see her twin brother Esthappan to a past in 1969 when they both were young children. In the earlier time frame of the novel Sophie Mol who is a cousin of the twins comes to visit them from England with her mother. Rahel and Esthappan feel themselves to be second class citizens before their half-white cousin. As circumstances have it their distraught mother associates herself with the ‘untouchable’ Velutha (member of a lower order in the caste system) which brings about tragic consequences. As a matter of fact tragedy strikes on all of them. Sophie Mol drowns. Velutha is killed. Rahel, Esthappan and the mothers (theirs and Sophie Mol’s) find themselves without purpose in life.

Cover of "The God of Small Things"

The GOST cover

However, the narrative is not straight forward as most readers may have been used to, yet the incidents that unfold do not exactly climax into a quick sand configuration. On the other hand they are held together by an out of tune rustic hymn that runs beneath the whims of the characters like a soliloquy played over your heart-strings. The whole GOST experience makes one wonder how much control we wield over our own lives; how we are able to understand and interpret people and their actions with a deeper sense of purpose and meaning now that as children we never did; the dynamics of life in the family and how it is impacted by the betrayals and misunderstandings brought about by political deceits and misconstrued religious beliefs. In sum, it is a burnt slice of life plucked out of a time span that we consider bygone but actually not. 

Some writers have confessed to writing to rhythms of the music of their liking. Roy’s experiments are far more daring. Her word plays are outlandish but innocent sometimes for the sake of innocence: “Later” is converted to “Lay.Ter” and “An owl” to “A Nowl” and stranger still, “Heart of Darkness” becomes “Dark of Heartness”.

Perhaps such verbal abundance, have prompted a laissez-faire like Carmen Callil, who was a Booker judge in 1996, to appear in British television after the Booker Prize dinner to condemn Roy. The West generally does not recognize great Indian writers like Bibhuthi Bhushan Bandopadhyay, or B.V. Karanth, or Thakazhi (there’s mention of the twins returning from the local cinema house after seeing ‘Wrath of Sea’ in GOST) because their work medium was not English.

It makes me sad if something happens to that place I grew up, says Roy. Is that why she appears more Margaret Atwood than Atwood herself? Is that why the abundant metaphorical collages leave one in an unreal reverie where irony doesn’t translate into destiny?

Her mother was a divorcee who fought against the Christian inheritance law. The spirited woman’s efforts in the end won a landmark verdict that granted Christian women the right to parent’s property. Being the daughter of a rebel with a cause she lived a life on the edge of the community before leaving home to be on her own at the age of 16.

In retrospect she says, when I was growing up, it was like the revolution was around the corner. And there lies within the fragmented narrative like the mislaid silhouette of a torn fabric the transgressive union of the twins’ mother with the untouchable.

Some of the social reformists’ reaction was predictably dogmatic deprecating Roy as a projector of bourgeois aesthetics. Taking for granted that the character ‘Ammu’ was modeled after Roy’s own mother, they went on to argue that how could a mother feel proud of a daughter’s writing where she has been indicted with sexual anarchy. The intellectual bourgeois though did not stoop to such levels in real life, actually enjoyed gossiping about deviated sexual behavior.

I have a curious habit of trying to re-live the past by retracting history. Such hypothetical discontinuities in the flow of time as if in a time warp have been unique in the sense that they lead you to sometimes rediscovering yourself. The Aymenem experience 11 years ago was indeed distinct. In an interview Roy had said, the landscape of your early childhood kind of lives in you. I knew that then. The tiny fishes in the poodles left behind by the monsoon. The fruity air drenched in the scent of burst jack fruits. The blue bottles hitting the window panes embracing death. And the omnipotent Provider of all these ‘small things’ Who neither leaves footprints in the sand nor ripples in the water.. (Chapter 11).

But in the present I am condemned to live with the paranoia of my own opinions. Then there is also the Chinese curse denouncing me to live in interesting times.

 
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The devil is in the details

How a group of macroeconomists brought the world’s largest economy to the brink

THE MACROECONOMIC theories conceived by no less mortals like Nobel laureates during the last three decades now appear like an act without audience in the theatre of the absurd. For the first time since 1917 the US is no longer in the famous-five club along with Britain, Canada, France and Germany with a contracted debt of $14.29 trillion equaling one hundred percent of its GDP. What seemingly was regarded as a balance sheet crisis has distended into an endurance expedition hitherto unknown in economic history. The gravity of disclosures is alarming to the extent that the US is borrowing forty cents per every dollar it spends. Considering that there was a time not too long ago when the prospect of the US defaulting on its debt pledge was unperceivable, the current situation is hugely disturbing especially to those whose currencies are pegged to the US dollar.

If the US lawmakers agree to elevate the $14.29 trillion borrowing parameter, is the cat going to land safely in four feet? Given the element of doubt enfolding the whole affair it appears to be too complicated to be wrapped up too soon.

In its July 16, 2009 issue The Economist wrote, ‘.. Critics argue that economists missed the origins of the crisis; failed to appreciate its worst symptoms; and cannot now agree about the cure. In other words, economists misread the economy on the way up, misread it on the way down and now mistake the right way out.’

Many accuse the former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan for the 2008 economic crisis attributed to a slipshod monetary policy and exceedingly stumpy interest rates that lead to a display of absurd exuberance of by US financial markets.

However, Greenspan argues that ‘in the developing world, consumption held back by culture and insufficient consumer finance could not keep up with the inundation of income and, as a result, the savings rate of the developing world soared from 24% of nominal GDP in 1999 to 34% by 2007, far outstripping its investment rate.’

If for argument sake Greenspan’s point is accepted then if culture in developing countries is the reason for undue savings, shouldn’t culture be the reason for unwarranted consumption in the West as well?

Purists believe that the early seeds of the present imbroglio were sown during the beginning of the eighties when a new brand of economics (‘Reagonomics’) emerged repositioning ‘supply’ at the centre of the common man’s life style. In order to perpetuate this idea, tax and tariff cuts were executed into play so much so that individuals would find all the money they need to spend in their hands coupled with global access to goods at advantageous rates. More importantly as the final mile of connectivity interest rates were made to scoop to ground level.

All is said to be well that ends well. The economic consumption-oriented models touted as gateways to the Promised Land were immensely appealing if not persuasive. However during the process the fundamental equations that regenerate themselves into full circle (such as, you need to produce to consume; while consuming a fraction from what has been spawned out of production is required to be set aside as savings, which once utilized to invest can again be exploited to produce, ultimately to push the economic cart forward) were ostensibly overlooked. Worse still, the up market conventionalists upset the apple cart by re-engineering Mr. Shane’s Utopia. The misconstrued myth that consumption was all virtue which found its way into the common man’s psyche creating an archetype that is still alive and kicking has planted its feet in a convection column of quick sand rather than in firm ground.

At the same time a reverse paradigm paved the way for the rise of the East Asian behemoths at the far end of the globe. During the next two decades they transformed themselves to be the resources of cheap yet quality goods for the global markets. As a result of the Asian currency crisis this phenomena was further augmented when the Asian states gained access to the global playground by leveraging their weak currencies against the US dollar. The writing on the wall was plain and simple: while Asia exported, US imported. In sum, the balance of trade went on a roll whereby the account deficit of the US became the account surplus of Asian states like China and Asian members of the OPEC.

Nevertheless excesses, be it savings or consumption, are curses. That’s exactly the reason why the Chinese are now finding it not easy to balance their economy. The underlying cause is that it is as much difficult to win over the Chinese commoner to spend as much as it is difficult to persuade the US common man not to spend. As a consequence it may not be surprising to find the Chinese revalue their Yuan in order to keep away from the very same reasons attributed to their own phenomenal growth during the last thirty years.

What they say indeed is true; the devil is in the details.