Friday, November 5, 2010

Did anyone buy a book this Dhanteras?

The car manufacturers have smiles that will last a while. So too with the major manufacturers of household utility and recreational goods: refrigerators, washing machines, microwave ovens, OTGs, dishwashers, plasma and 3D television sets, DVD players, music systems, play-stations, laptops, desktops. The list goes on.
Two thousand new cars, leave alone two -wheelers have joined the congestion on the roads and will now compete for space with pedestrians, cattle, hawkers, vendors and garbage. The carbon dioxide emissions will increase and the city’s temperature will rise. Jostling for public space will lead to jangled nerves, outraged emotions and heightened tempers.
Window shopping on Dhanteras late afternoon, I peeped into some bookshops on Ashok Rajpath and Fraser Road to check if buyers included books among the many items they sought to buy. The bookshops wore deserted looks, and I was not surprised. I asked a young student who mouthed a Good Afternoon if he knew the significance of the occasion. The doubtful looks made it amply clear that I ought to swallow my next question. In Bihar, the celebration of Diwali begins two days before the actual day of celebration as Dhanteras. It is celebrated in honour of Dhanvantari, the physician of the gods. He is believed to have risen with a pot of Amrit during the samudra manthan. Connected with this legend, people buy new utensils which are placed in the place of worship. This practice has now grown in variety and has been extended to include the entire consumerist range coveted by the middle class. The pious fast throughout the day and after sunset the fast is broken with sweets, puris and other traditional delicacies.
As the evening drew out, the traffic became a nightmare. Patna was shopping: competitively, feverishly, and furiously. I decided to finish the chores of customary greetings, caught up with friends on the net and then I curled up on the lounge sofa and started to read a book: the short stories of Catherine Lim, the highly acclaimed writer from Singapore. And for the next three hours, I was at peace. It was a kind of peace that a superior engagement with the intangible can provide. Between the Amrit and the Pot as Dhanvantari’s metaphors, I had chosen Amrit.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Magic Realism: how a teacher can make all the difference.

If you were to drive down Jawaharlal Nehru Road, past Raja Bazaar, take a right turn a little ahead of Jagdeo Path, then follow the twists and turns of the street , you will finally arrive at the site of a silent social and educational revolution.

Two identical-looking buildings house the Soshit Samadan Kendra, a fully free English medium residential school for Musahar children. This community is possibly the state’s most oppressed and disprivileged community of rat-eaters who have been living in conditions of abysmal and degrading poverty. Most work as bonded labourers and live at the edge of villages defined by demeaning social cartography.

Soshit Seva Sangh is the brainchild of its founder and Chairman, Mr. J.K. Sinha, who after a long and distinguished career in the Indian Police service, returned to Bihar to make a difference to this uneven state. SSS in partnership with Samadhan, a Delhi based NGO established Shoshit Samadhan Kendra that provides students education, boarding, lodging, clothes and healthcare to the two hundred and twenty students. Aside of the school curriculum, there are other activities that define the transformative miracle of this project.

An economist by training, Mrs. Geetha Prasad volunteered to teach communication skills to a group of students drawn from the sixth to the ninth grade and this is what she has been pursuing with meticulous determination for twenty months. Both Mr. J.K. Sinha and Mrs. Geetha Prasad had invited me to visit the school over some months. Mrs. Prasad wished that I could evaluate the work that her students had done and the progress they had made. On the 6th of October, a day that turned out to be unusually busy for me, I decided to put my conscience to rest and visit the school. Mrs. Prasad very graciously picked me up from home and explained the kind of language exercises that she had devised for the children while we drove to school. On our arrival, I was taken to a room with many computers, an LCD projector, a white laminated board and paste-boards that displayed charts with phonemic symbols. Here I was greeted with choric cheer ‘good-afternoon Sir’. I greeted them in turn and told them by way of an introduction that I taught at the university and that I had come to learn what they had learnt. Once the ice was broken, I was amazed at the confidence with which they spoke during a communications exercise, the kind of vocabulary they used, the logical sequence of thoughts they were able to articulate and their desire to learn.
Many of the university students I know would come a distant second to their skills and we must bear in mind that twenty months ago they knew no English.

We in India, most ironically, have been gifted with an accessory of colonialism: the English language. For Macaulay, it was an instrument of subordinate recruitment to aid colonial governance. Today it is an instrument of empowerment; of liberation; of global access to knowledge and technology. Sadly our politicians in the name of linguistic chauvinism have equated English with colonialism and sought its ouster because of the fatuous belief that it had compromised national pride. Aijaz Ahmad most appropriately questions the propriety of some of the other things that came along with colonial rule such as the Indian Railways. Should we throw that out as well? I knew that the children of SSK were beneficiaries of a very special gift. However it ought not to silence the cultural traditions of their unique experience. And so I told the children that the next time I came, I would listen to all their folk tales. Time seemed to race by and the session of fun learning came to an end. I shook hands with each of the students and left the room to the choric resonance of ‘thank you Sir’.

As we sat in the library leafing through books and flip-charts, I said to Mrs. Geetha Prasad, ‘you have worked magic’.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sense and Sensibility

I had always thought that there are some questions whose answers are likely to be: hey, hey hey. You know questions such as 'Did Adam have a navel?' or 'Was Lord Ram born under the central dome of what was once the Babri Masjid?' Ever since Nietzsche's famous proclamation 'there are no facts only interpretations' it has become increasingly more difficult to come to a single, unalloyed, unambiguous point of view. Law is after all a verbal discipline.

When the country, paralyzed with bated breath, on the afternoon of the 30th of September, switched channels to catch the first reports of the Ayodhya title suit judgment, I went to play a round of golf. By getting the news at the dot of 4p.m. I could not have altered the course of India's history. And nobody invited me to the television studios for my opinion. I am told that all those who's opinions truly matter in India are located in metros. When I returned home and gathered the different strands that constituted the larger picture, my response was one of disbelief. The setting was Shakespearean with the foregrounding of the numeral three. And out of the cauldron emerged a pronouncement that endorsed a three-way division of the land under dispute. I know little about law although many among my friends and family have attained positions of eminence in that field. But the one thing that I do know is that a decision in a title suit would mean deciding to whom a piece of land under dispute belongs by way of legitimate title, not the parties that may be given the land by a conciliatory verdict. I had always thought that the practice of law depended on the material facts and evidence that is conclusively put forth within the ambit of public legal procedures rather than private spiritual matters. But this judgment seems to have given a new dimension to jurisprudence.

When the Supreme Court dismissed the petition for deferment of the verdict, it established the superiority of constitutional democracy over contracted populism. Sadly, Thursday's decision partially undid those gains. To live in a modern, resurgent India does not mean to resurrect the ghosts from the past but to bury them and move on. To those that are religious, please build as many places of worship on the places you own directly, but please stay out of the public spaces. These are meant for the vibrant, energetic youth of our country: our hope for the future. History, Baudrillard says is often the source of humankind's problems rather than its site. Let us use history to understand our present and transform our future. And if we must be spiritual, then remember the lines of Harivansh Rai Bacchan and do the needful. That order could also have been passed.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Other Side of Midnight

I must confess, many of us, at one moment or another,have been soothsayers of apocalypse. The CWG has generated humour, cynicism and prophesies of doom. Yes there have been genuine debates as to whether a developing country can afford to be lavish in its expenses on a sporting extravaganza when other priorities seem more significant and pressing. As a consequence, it has also be argued, whether, if at all the games were to be held in India, it ought to be held in the capital given the perceived step-motherly treatment toward the rest of the country. The CWG has also been theoretically scrutinized by intellectuals and academics in terms of it being a perpetuation of imperialism. But the fact that these concerns have been voiced is because all of us cherish one core value: we love India.

It is time that we shed the history of ineptitude and corruption and prove to ourselves that in spite of the many discouragements and adverse representations, we are among the best in the comity of nations. Let us acknowledge and respect much good that has been done and let us restore pride in ourselves. Let us encourage our sports-persons. We have a wonderful national anthem, let's sing it out loud. The school I went to many moons ago had for its motto 'For God and Country'. Lets celebrate India.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

City of Djinns

In 1993, William Dalrymple published a book I greatly treasure: The City of Djinns. It was at Feroz Shah Kotla that this Cambridge narrative historian met his first Sufi, the weasel eyed Pir Sadr-ud-Din. The mystic told the author that when the world was new and humans were created out of clay by Allah, he also manufactured another race from fire. These were the djinns, ordinarily invisible but capable of being seen after a substantial period of ascetic abstinence and prayers. Delhi is a city of many secrets, a city resplendent with the brilliance of untold chronicles but a city cursed to repeated catastrophes by the deeds of imperious vanity. From the stretched history of Indraprastha, through the medieval exuberance of magnificence and treachery, the rise and fall of the good, the bad and the ugly both white and dark skinned, Delhi remains an enigma beyond the understanding of historians and scholars, poets and journalists. It may only be revealed by the djinns. After all it is the city of djinns.

The newspapers this morning carried the headlines of a overhead walk-way collapse, embarrassingly just twelve days before the start of the Commonwealth Games. Earlier there have been other stories, big and small that has made non-thick-skinned India run to opticians for sun glasses. The djinns need to be appeased. Every day for the next twelve days, I propose all those that call themselves lovers of our dear country, find poky corners in the city of Delhi: old monuments, under flyovers, the garbage dumps in non-metropolitan Delhi, slums with dogs but without millionaires and light earthen lamps while whispering a small prayer for India. In an unobtrusive Sufi sort of way. Quietly, in hushed baritones. After all the common citizens of the country can't make televised speeches on Rajpath.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Confessions of a challenged Economics student


Confession= acknowledgment or admission of insufficiency or fault
Challenged= impaired
economics= a discipline involving the study of the administration of material
student= a person who studies.
Maun= willful silence of an ascetic

Opening apology: I am not a lexicographer, nor an economist.

When you open your mouth, your foot may be the first in it. Such sayings are normally credited to the ancient Chinese sage called Confucius or to some of his modern day disciples but I can assure you, and I am being very honest, Confucius did not say this. The truth is, I just said it although some American may patent it even before I can say, may be Zandu Balm.(Since it is much in the news as a source of pain rather than being whatever it is supposed to be)

Monday is the cruellest day, breeding doubts in thinking minds. And so it happened when I tried to mix literature and development into a heady cocktail of uncontrollable exhilaration. Some of my students got into a discussion on development statistics. Figures flew thick and fast. India is growing at around 8%, someone said. There was an all-round feeling of pride despite the apprehensions of droughts and floods and the Commonwealth Games. Then one quiet, bespectacled, last-bench, latecomer spoilt it all by asking this question. If India is growing at around 8%, how is it that Bihar, which has little or no industries, has generated little or no employment, where education is a sigh of despair, where agricultural output has been on the decline, growing at 11+ percent? I was caught out of my crease. I gulped, wiped by eyebrows like a batsman beaten by a wicket-keeper's agility, waiting for the third umpire's verdict to be displayed on the giant LCD screen.

I decided to be forthright. Look here, I said, I am not a professor of Economics. I shall verify this for you. So I made my way downstairs to the man-who-knows-it- all. Every theory, every piece of data, multiple interpretations of diverse statistics, the entire mechanics of a la carte economics. Tailor-made for the listener. Luckily he spotted me as I tried to catch his eye at the perimeter of his circle of students. I told him of my predicament. Without blinking an eyelid, he said Bihar is growing at 3.7 percent. How do you explain the difference between the official figures and the one that you are giving me? He smiled at my innocence. He said there are more things on heaven and earth Horatio that are known of in your philosophy. I felt slighted. Short of insulting me, he was pointing out the sin of my willingness to believe what the state was representing to it people. That is why, the Knowing One said education is the last of the priorities in a popular democracy. The more popular the democracy, the less popular is education. Education makes you think. Education makes you ask questions. You interrogate and analyse the rhetoric. And when you do that you are not popular any more. You can pick up a zerox of Tagore's Ekla Cholo Re, learn it by heart, sing it if you can and be a lonely Munnabhai minus the celebrity status of a celluloid cut-out.

I went upstairs and declared it was my moment of maun. Good mauning.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Just another brick in the wall.

The cultural constituency to which I belong has ensured that I am a polite person. My home, my school, my university and the birds that I flock with have vaccinated me against the kind of conduct that is often seen in places of expected public decorum such as legislative assemblies and offices of governance. You know the kind: a flower-pot tossed here, a mike-head hurled there and someone whacked here and there with the long list of unprintable etcetras. Therefore I shall be polite and courteous instead of screaming my lungs out like a hysterical banshee at the entrance of a wicked mother-in-law's kitchen.
For the last couple of days at an academic conference, attended among others, by the UGC chairman, Professor Suskhdeo Thorat a number of nasty things have been said about the state of higher education in Bihar. The newspapers have been scandalously reporting the comatose state of higher education using pejorative vocabulary contesting the roseate official reports of migration reversal and the large scale manufacture of genius in our institutions. I am truly reminded of the theme of ingratitude so poignantly articulated in King Lear: How much less sharp is a serpent's tooth than a thankless child. This, after the media had been feasted with advertisements. When power is perceived to be on the ebb, the returns are like the Wall Street crash. O the unregenerate peddlers, manufacturers of consent and mechanics of thought control, this was the unkindest cut of all.
My pigeon tells me that academics have been raising fingers at the kind of appointments to superior academic posts. To give the authorities the benefit of ten years of doubt, they may not know the academics of eminence. After all evaluation has the tendency to be subjective. One man's meat is another man's poison unless of course you are a practicing vegetarian and have nothing to do with meat. Now lets be sensible,how can we tell that such and such professor is good? If the argument is provided that s/he is punctual, regular, conscientious, blah, blah and blah plus has written books and has published widely, it may be argued that the person has limited talents. S/he is unsociable, has not networked with politicians, incapable of fund-raising and therefore unsuitable for appointment to a public office of contemporary significance. In today's postmodern world, the slippery indeterminacy of language leaves all arguments open-ended. And so too with higher education. Sukhdeo Thorat will leave droppings that will have been washed clean with the next shower of rain. Many of you may say, its not raining much these days. This thing hope is such a bait/ it covers any hook. Between Volpone and Pink Floyd its just another brick in the wall.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Colonial Criminality and lessons from History

Hasn't Kipling's East is east and West is west/ And ne'er the twain shall meet/ been problematised by egalitarian postcolonial dabblers? Well, just as we were beginning to be complacent about the negotiablity between colonial Britain and colonised India, Madhushree Mukherjee's book Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War Two indicts Churchill as one of history's most inhuman colonial practitioners in the denial of food in times of distress. This physicist turned scientific journalist turned researcher on the Bengal famine of 1943 wanted to understand the human aspect of the famine and her archival investigation led to what may be termed as one of history's most significant establishment of culpability by an acclaimed political leader.
The book investigates Churchill's rejection of Viceroy Linlithgow's SOS to send foodgrain to India to avert a disaster. Falsely claiming shortage of ships, he prevented abundant food being accessed from Australia. The truth was that there were numerous ships available with not enough cargo to carry. This criminal callousness resulted in the loss of three million lives which is half the number of Jews and Gypsies sent to the torture chambers of Auschwitz, Belsen and Dachau during the Holocaust. There has been a surfeit of that narrative played out in the books of history because it was about the vanquished, narrated triumphantly by victors. Will the Civilised West acknowledge its own Auschwitz in Bengal at about the same time in human history?
More importantly, have we learnt the lessons from history? Today grains are rotting in the godowns and people continue to starve in many parts of the country. Is post-colonial India a repetitive representation of its colonial past? We would not like to think so but wonder if there is hope at the end of experience.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


All creatures are allowed time off to hibernate. I lay claims to that right as well. The 5th of September ended it with the overwhelming expressions of affection from the many students I have had the privilege to teach and learn from over the years. It began a couple of days earlier with two young ladies interviewing my wife and me for a newspaper column and concluded on the 6th with oversees students trying to match their time with ours and some of my very dear students coming home for a small celebration.
Teachers' Day began at 6 in the morning with the mobile phone replacing the proverbial rooster. Those who felt that I ought not to be disturbed sent text messages. And thankfully most were not the time-saving abbreviated ones commonly seen on mobile screens today. I am a bit old fashioned with language usage and prefer words to spell rather than sound. And for the rest of the day greetings poured in from all corners of the globe.
On the evening of the 5th, Lions Club organised a felicitation ceremony and I was privileged to be honoured. It was a greater honour to have been introduced by Hon'ble Justice Samarendra Pratap Singh, Judge, Patna High Court, a responsibility for which he had graciously volunteered. I went to school with him and we have worn the blue and white, gold and blue as children. He is a person of impeccable integrity and despite the exalted position that he occupies, he is a wonderfully amiable and an unassuming person. Busy as he is, he still finds time to read Shakespeare and draw upon the wisdom and linguistic virtuosity of the Stratford bard. My sincere gratitude to him for his wonderful gesture that evening. It was also an honour to share the dais with the eminent academic and former Vice-Chancellor Professor L.N. Ram, for whom I have had the highest regard and Professor R.R. Sahay, one of the finest vice-chancellors that the universities of Bihar never had. The programme was held at the Shatabdi Hall of A.N College, an institution that has grown to be one of the finest in contemporary Bihar. I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Haridwar Singh, the dynamic Principal, Professors Ashok Ghosh, Lallal Singh and Kamesh, each of whom have contributed their might to excellence in their respective fields.
And finally to the many students, too numerous to name whose greetings have served as the elixir of life, to do my best for another year, till the 5th of September 2011: thank you all. You make life truly worthwhile.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Whispers and Howls

At a function, marked by quiet dignity, a collection of essays entitled Novel and Society was released in the seminar hall of the Department of History, Patna University. It is dedicated to one of the renowned teachers of Patna University and a polymath cultural figure, Dr. Shaileshwar Sati Prasad who headed the Department of English earlier this decade. Several men and women of eminence who spoke on this occasion, referred to the programme as significant because the commemorative volume marked the respect shown to teachers by their students at a time when various agencies have conspired to heap humiliation and indignities upon them in the public space.
The event has been covered by the media and there is not much that one can add. But many interesting things were happening at the margins of the programme. An odd comment by students and young scholars, a smirk, a knowing smile; you know those sorts of things. And then there was this thing shared among three fairly intelligent young people who were sipping soft drinks. They were speculating on how Mathematics could be taught in the years to come. And one of them inspirationally drew upon the lyrics of an old film song with some not-so-subtle changes:
Thethar ke do aage thethar
Thethar ke do picche thethar
Aage thethar, picche thethar
Bolo kitne thethar?
The change in identity of the subject from ornithological innocence to the conscious damning indifference as understood by the vernacular thethar was a critique of educational governance in this state. If such voices are heard from the margins and the voices get louder, it is a wake-up call. This state has been a crucible of dissent. From Buddha to Gandhi and JP, resistance has been articulated very radically to reject the order that felt comfortable in its own arrogance. Today's whispers may become tomorrow's howls.

Speaking West: Ayan Hirsi Ali

The most challenging philosophical problem for those who have been brought up on staples of liberal humanism is that with language being an eternal network of signifiers, most debates remain open-ended. The rational certainties of the European enlightenment cannot be as passionately defended by its devotees as they could be not so long ago. From Gary Zukav to Derrida and from J.M. Mohanty to academics in the classrooms across India and elsewhere, negotiated flexibility without foundational absolutes is the flavor of polemics. Hence, when Javed Anand views Ayaan Hirsi Ali ( Indian Express: June 5, 2010 : 25) in the stereotypical role of a contemporary Don Quixote in his review of Nomad, I cannot help agreeing with the veracity of his perspective despite her exemplary courage, particularly as a woman, in surviving a civil war, genital mutilation, brutal violence, escape from a forced marriage, cross-cultural dislocation and asylum and writing about her experiences without rancor.
Her Manichean opposition to the faith she was born into stems largely from apportioning the world into several mutually nonnegotiable compartments in the manner of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations. It emerges from the Enlightenment’s rational project of putting people into bottles as laboratory specimens with non-transferable labels. This is precisely what Amartya Sen dismantles in Identity and Violence. It is based upon the notion that human beings can be categorized according to singular forms of affiliation based on an overarching system of partitioning and is a corollary to global confrontation. In leading everyday lives as ordinary people, we belong to a number of social formations without contradiction. A solitarist approach is a fundamental threat to understanding our identity in a shared cultural environment. The most glaring illustration of the inadequacy of such a perspective is located in the history of the subcontinent. Even if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is using the homogenizing principle of strategic essentialism (GS) her appeal to the white western superiority is for white men to save brown women from brown men. (Gayatri Spivak). Her resistance extends beyond the faith of the radical Islamists through selective readings of the Holy Book to term Islam a violent way of life. Islam is not only to be located within the spectrum of her experience, undeniably unacceptable in a civilized world, but in many other locations where it is a source of liberation.After all didn't the Prophet say 'the ink of the scholar is more valuable than the blood of the martyr?' While I admire her courage I do have a problem with her perspective.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Modest Proposals

The neighbour's maid's eight year old tomboy daughter who owns a prophetic squirrel told me that she had heard from a man who knows all things that the world as we know it will come to an end in 2012. It sounded complicated as the sentence itself. I tried to verify the prophecy from the rest of the informed neighbourhood. The ironing woman next to the gate, the odds and ends seller across the road, the kindly house help who walks a blind dog every morning, the litti maker and his bootlegging wife: each one said the same thing. The world as we know it will come to an end in 2012. Each one said that Kimli's daughter Simli had heard it from the man who knows all things and that her prophetic squirrel whose chirps she can interpret accurately had also chirped the same thing. In some ways reminiscent of Isabel Allende's fiction. As a sign of the coming khatam shud, Mars would come ominously close to the earth in August this year appearing like a second moon as a dress rehearsal for 2012. Trusting the squirrel more than the man who knows all things, I decided to be smart about my life. I called up all my friends and shared this secret about the future of the world.
At this very existential conclave, it was decided that if it was indeed true that the world would come to an end in 2012, we could all recast our lives and have a good time until the end came. We have twenty-four months for Epicurean ecstasy.To live it up. With the sensex touching 18000, we can sell off all our shares, stop paying the insurance premium, skip paying bank loans, better still apply for a huge bank loan and book a one way ticket around the world, stopping at Kerala as the last destination. The logic of course was that if it is God's own country, even if the end comes, we would still be there relishing appams with Prawn Moily and Currimeen Polychathu. With God in his own country.

And for letting us know of the future early we could buy train tickets for our neighbourhood Samaritans to travel to Kerala before the apocalypse. After all if destiny had other plans, our neighbourhood soothsayers and collaborators would inform us in advance and we could once again take remedial action.

If you believe all that I have had to say, you could take appropriate measures and redefine your lives. And yes, when I shared the news with a colleague in the academia, the Book who Speaks told me to insert this in my piece. Philanthropy guides a blessed destiny to heaven. Raise funds for those who have been deprived, denied and dispossessed. For the Mahadalits of society. At least for two years, for that's how long we have, remember. After all they are called the nation builders every 5th of September. Religiously. At public functions, in institutions, in Government Houses and in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Complete with marigolds and mementos. They are the University teachers and they have not been paid for three months. And the Book who Speaks says the drought will last ten months more. And some people love droughts.

Their condition has been manufactured by the dregs at the bottom who have become the scum at the top. Isn't that what a civil rights activist said and what Suketu Mehta quoted in Maximum City? The morphing of dregs to scums?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

It required the media's chronicle of death to make some cosmetic adjustments to the rogue traffic of Patna outside St. Xavier's. One precious life has been lost and no lessons have been learnt. It was not merely a news item. It asked questions to which the state and its citizens have no answers. After all the child was not someone who came to school in an official car with a beacon light as a public marker of importance, escorted by khaki-clad bodyguards: a governmental undertaking with the honest tax-payer's money. She was riding a pink bicycle enabled by the Chief Minister's initiative on the education of the girl child.

To call Patna's traffic indisciplined would be an embarrassing understatement. It is wild. With the upwardly mobile social structure jubilating in new found wealth and no sense of social responsibility, many parents give their teenage brats motorcycles to emulate the devilry in the advertisements of those mean machines. And they live up to the peer-pressured demands of adolescent heroism to zed.

If that is not bad enough, the rogue bus drivers of the city, road-hogs who are infinitely more efficient as killers than the DTC, are always there to add to the tally of road mortality.

This morning's paper said that we shall have a new traffic regime in place in the months to come. It is being worked out in Singapore!!! I blinked once, twice and a third time. Why does the traffic arrangement of Patna have to be worked out in Singapore or Johannesburg or Rio de Janerio? Why not in Patna? Next we will claim that the governance of the state needs to be outsourced to some off-shores agency. Then why did we drive out the colonial British after the great freedom struggle that is touted in all the post-independence history books?

This morning outside St. Xavier's, there were traffic separators and two potbellied khaki clad red-capped constables by the local refreshment stall. They are the markers of a response to a tragedy that could have been avoided. Avoided very simply. By putting speed breakers. As indeed there should be speed breakers outside all educational institutions. This does not require international consultancy. Just common sense. But it may not be just as simple as applying common sense. St. Xavier's happens to be on the traffic route of very important people. People of national importance. People far more important than Reema Gupta. When they travel, the state cannot afford two bumps on their backsides. Cheers Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This was a Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kal Kya Hoga Kisko Pata?

Since the earliest of times, human beings have invested quite a bit of time and money on getting to know the future. From the Pythian priestesses at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus, through the warnings of Caesar's soothsayer to the brilliant Paul, fortune-telling has provided its share of joys and sorrows to the world. Except for Paul, the results, if they could be computed would probably be 50:50. But Paul is an exception, the latest icon of anthropocentric deconstruction. He is after all an octopus and his specialisation is football.

But spare a thought for Mithu the prophetic parrot that belongs to Purple Trivedi. When he was born Trivedi was given the name Popul. During his growing years, unemployment drove him to this unusual profession under the tutelage of his grand-uncle who was an innovator of rare forms of income. For many years now, Popul can be found either at the roadside in the vicinity of the civil court through most of the year or near the High Court to cater to the litigant clientele at both the courts of justice, as well as to scholastic futures at Patna Women's College.

Several years ago when Mithu his capricious parrot pulled out a slip of paper to predict excellent B.A results for a student of this premier college, Popul received Rs 100/- and in front of fifteen of her classmates, he was anointed 'Purple'- the royal colour that now defines this fine professional. Purple, I suspect, earns most of his money from the litigants but derives a great deal of aesthetic pleasure from the opposite location.

Once, many moons gone by, I tried to talk Purple into getting educated but he politely spurned my offer saying that he now earned more than what most vocational courses would enable him make. Instead he wondered if I had any questions to ask about the future and said that he would be happy to offer answers at a discount. Being a hard-boiled rational skeptic, I thought it would be a sheer waste of time. But on each of these occasions I would give him some small change for Mithu's bird-feed.

This happened until the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, when I actually paid Purple to get predictions from Mithu. I did so because I wanted to prove that the prophetic Indian parrot could be at least as good as a German octopus. Sadly Mithu got most of the answers wrong. Why is it that Paul the Octopus in Germany can get it all right and Mithu in Patna gets them mostly wrong? The injustice was plainly, well ..unjust.

Purple, I asked, what's going on? Purple thought for a while and said that Mithu for some reason had been a little out of sorts. Perhaps, he was a little unhappy. I felt bad and gave Purple some more money for Mithu's bird-feed.

When I went back to Purple and Mithu the next day, I asked two questions. One, are the university teachers actually going to get the new pay scales? Mithu came out of its barred cage, picked out a fraying slip and Purple read out NAHI. I asked the next question: will the ruling coalition return to power after the autumn elections in Bihar? Mithu walked across to the same fraying slip and pulled it out and once again, Purple read out NAHI. As I was returning home, I was wondering if the law of probabilities would finally catch up with Mithu and Paul. If it were so, I'd head for an Indian version of Canterbury, wait for the events to unfold and perhaps write an unpredictable tale.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Wisdom Literature

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept was a recipe for failure in the real world.

Rule 1 : Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2 : The world doesn't care about your
self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3 : You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4 : If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss

Rule 5 : Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6 : If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault , so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7 : Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8 : Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9 : Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10 : Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11 : Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one. Or under one.

If you don't agree stick your head in the sand and take a deep breath! Or anywhere else for that matter.
True of the U.S of A., true of elsewhere in the world. Hence true of India. Its not for them, its for us.

If you can read this .. thank a teacher! Is any one listening? or reading?

P.S. Thank you Anita.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Species nearing Extinction

The old world definition of a gentleman is obsolete. And those that can still lay legitimate claims to squeezing into its lexical band are a quickly diminishing species nearing extinction. To fit into the definition one needs to be Rudyard Kipling's imagined poetic prototype in If with the title skeptical of the possibility of achievement. The characteristics would include being fair, honest, diligent, sensitive, caring, well-mannered, generous and conducting oneself with dignity and equanimity even in adversity. Its a tall ask. Very tall. Almost like asking the subaltern hooch shop vendor to make a Bloody Mary. Pardon my patriarchal slippage. The old world definition for ladies is equally obsolete and its definition includes the same personal and social values.
One such person who inhabits the definition is an academic called Professor Ehteshamuddin, who,if this morning's HT report is to be believed, has expressed deep anguish and exasperation at the Kafkaesque situation prevailing in the universities and wishes to say goodbye to his chair as acting Vice-Chancellor of Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University. His anxiety to rid himself of the hubris of absurdity is because 'for a self-respecting man, continuing in the post means making compromises'. This brings us to a few more traits of a gentleman: self-respect, being principled to the point that one should not be willing to make well-chosen compromises for the sake of unworthy privilege. If he does indeed leave there will be one less gentleman among academic administrators in Bihar. The loss won't be his. It will be of the state, its university and the academic community.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Future Imperfect

In an interesting blog entitled Net the NET(Random June 27th 2010), Dr. Smriti Singh, a conscientious academic from IIT Patna expresses her concern about the very few students who qualify in the examinations for lectureship and research conducted by the UGC from the various universities in Bihar particularly from the Departments of English. Just for the record, she has every right to express her anguish because she belongs to a select band who had qualified through the same examination a few years ago at the start of her career as have some others such as Achal Sinha, Anuradha Biswas, Minu Manjari and Beauty Yadav. They are from the Department of English, Patna University and I have been privileged to have taught them and supervised their doctoral research.
For the under-performance, Smriti’s observations indicate the following possibilities:
a) A syllabus that is perhaps not up-to-date
b) Reading bazaar notes instead of Primary Texts and Critical works
c) Tuition which specifically caters to university examination needs AND
d) The nature of university questions that do not challenge a student’s critical acumen or reading.
I agree with her on b, c and d but wish to mention that the Patna University syllabus is one of the most contemporary syllabi in the country. However, it is true that b and d completely undermine that advantage. There is something else that needs to be reviewed and this involves the constituency of the departments themselves. A quarter of a century ago, the Departments of English comprised academics who were educated in a different system and shared a different background. This may be defined as cosmopolitan with accompanying attitudes that were plural and it involved greater exposure to learning and teaching processes, wider access to multiple cultures , wider dynamics of interactions and teaching English in English. The Departments of English were apolitical which would have pleased Jean Boudrillard for whom history is a source of humankind’s problems rather than being its site but to Ania Loomba it meant accepting status quo and acquiescing to a disguised political agenda by not encouraging the possibility of political change. The faculty then was thought to be the children of Macaulay who unquestioningly carried the colonial agenda restricting active opposition to an elitist political establishment. Then the monster called theory happened and on the wings of the instability and indeterminacy of meaning, things began to change in a two-fold manner. The postcolonial dismantling gave rise to provincialism and parochialism. The political ascendance of this group gave them positions of power and decision making while a streak of postcolonial sub nationalism encouraged popular legitimacy. A limited few moved on hybridizing the interpretative possibilities of the new critical strategies with a global vision. The latter comprise the minority cultural constituency in the departments. The two-fold influences are observable in the students as well. To my mind the issues that Dr. Smriti Singh has raised are connected with these organic changes.
There is another issue among academics which is of serious concern. Of late there have been a plethora of exercises undertaken by the government of Bihar to set right a number of what they believe are anomalies in terms of salaries paid. The fact of the matter is no teacher fixes his or her own salary. For instance I cannot draw a lakh of rupees if I want to. Someone in the university/government has fixed my salary which I am entitled to draw. So if there are discrepancies, the authority to sanction the salary needs to answer to the anomalies not the teacher. But the teacher is made the victim of a sustained public propaganda for incorrect practices. This is greatly de-motivating as is indeed the fact that while the central universities and many state universities have implemented the provisions of the 6th pay commission recommendations, Bihar continues to drag its feet with numerous subterfuges. This attitude is not going to draw the best minds into the academia. The Chief Minister has proved to be an astute politician; he needs to prove his statesmanship by making quality university education his theme for the future of a developing state. If he loses this opportunity, history may not give him more than a passing paragraph.
We need to build a scholarly community devoted to the quest of knowledge and wisdom, skills and good citizenship where the state has to play a responsible role and the teachers need to be accountable partners in the process of development. Only a harmonious relationship can ensure that there are more Smriti Singhs from the state universities.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Compiling a Bibliography (to reduce the phone bills of my researchers)

Bibliography is the record of the sources of information and opinions that is used for research/ study. This is cited at the end of a research paper.


1. Author’s full name (last name first)
2. Full title (including subtitle, if any)
3. Edition (if 2nd or later ed.)
4. Number of the volume (if multivolume)
5. City of publication
6. Publisher’s Name
7. Year of publication.

Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/ Postcolonialism. London
and New York: Routledge, 1999

Article in a Scholarly Journal

1. Author’s Name (last name first)
2. Title of the article
3. Title of the journal
4. Volume no.
5. Year of publication
6. Page nos. (Beginning to end of article)

Vertanov Anri. “Television as Spectacle
and Myth.” Journal of Communication
41 (1991): 162-71

Newspaper/ Magazine Article

1. Author’s Name (last name first)
2. Title of the article
3. Title of the periodical
4. Date of publication
5. Inclusive page nos. of the article

Suri, Sanjay. “Visa for Cream.” Outlook
27 Mar. 2006: 30-32

Internet Source

1. Author’s Name
2. Title of the document
3. Title of the scholarly project/ database,
periodical/ professional/ personal site
4. Name of the editor of that site
5. Date of electronic publication or last update
6. Name of institution/ organization associated with the site
7. Date of access (of the source)
8. Network address/ URL (uniform resource locator)

Kumar, Amitava. “ The Hybrid Identity”. The Diaspora Project.
Ed. Gayatri Spivak Chakravarty. Mar.2005. Stanford U.
15 Mar.2006 .

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Gastronomic Paradise

If you were to climb to the roof-top of Jimmy' Italian Kitchen this is the magnificence of nature that you will witness. The snow-top is not as close as it appears but its not too far either. The photograph has been taken with a 12X digital zoom with a reasonably steady hand. Mine.

Through tourist brochures and internet searches it is likely that a traveller's first impression of McLeodganj, is one of distinctive spiritual significance. Buddhist monks in their maroon or mustard robes, stalls with accoutrement of faith, incense sticks and prayer wheels add to this impression of pervading spirituality. There is another aspect to this lovely, green, hill-town: it is a foodie's paradise.

Some of the lip-smacking places that pamper the taste-buds are Jimmy's Italian Kitchen, Tibet Restaurant, X Cite Restaurant, Namgyal Cafe, Green Restaurant, Ogo's Cafe Italiano and Cafe Coffee Day apart from the restaurants in the hotels and resorts. The cuisine is diverse: Tibetian, Italian, Israeli,Continental, Chinese and of course all shades of Indian delicacies including idlis and dosas.

Our favourite place was Jimmy's Italian Kitchen for its unforgettable pizzas and salads. They are light with adequate toppings of the sinfully delicious. And you can't believe the prices. In that sense the town is a lot more spiritual than material. It has plenty for the soul; and plenty for the body without hurting your soul or your purse.

One of the things that you can do if you have that bent of mind and inclination is to park yourself on the roof-top of one of the restaurants, order what your palette fancies, watch the beauty of the mountains, read a book, write if you will and in the silence of the moments, you will discover the sacred which is the essence of spirituality.

If silence is not your cup of green tea, chatter on any matter as much as want to and soak in the atmosphere. Or go click, click, click. You will remember it till the end of your lives.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Greenscape Vacation

For most of the year, I learn and teach. When its vacation time, I learn. And what better way to learn than to travel to places and open your mind to new cultures, meet new people and shed the comforting hubris of hometown certainties?
This summer, with a little time that my daughter's schedule permitted we decided to travel to McLeodganj which is located in the upper reaches of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh and offers the most magnificent view of the snow-covered Dhauladhar range . It is also the seat of the Tibetan government in exile and that of its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The Himachalis and the Tibetans comprise most of McLeodganj's population with a fair floating population of international visitors that include very renowned names such as Richard Gere and tourists from all over the country.

Getting there: You can take a direct train from Patna to Chakki Bank and motorised transport thereafter. Or travel to Ambala/ Amritsar/Pathankot via Delhi and travel by bus or car.Or you can fly to Delhi and on to Gaggal Airport near Dharamshala if time is limited and you have been the benficiary of the 6th pay. What we did was to take the tri-weekly Dhauladhar Express from Delhi Jn. at 22:10. The train scheduled to arrive in Pathankot at 7:55 the next morning was an hour late. That is not really surprising is it? A three hour 110 Kms taxi ride got us to McLeodganj. We checked into Surya McLeod which is one of the most centrally located hotels. Our first impression: the place is wonderfully green, very clean and plastic free. Despite a rare social deviance, there is hardly any crime, proudly stated by our taxi driver Gurdev Singh; and the people are very generous, always willing to help with directions with a smile.
The next thing I'm going to tell you about is all about McLeodganj being a foodie's delight. But I'll come back after a short break. Cheers.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

From Apocalypse to Damnable Shame

Twenty – six years after the Orwellian apocalyptic year of the terrible industrial disaster known as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy , a court on the 7th of June convicted former Union Carbide India Chairman Keshub Mahindra and seven others in the case and awarded them a maximum of two years imprisonment. In the early hours of December 3, 1984, around 40 metric tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked into the atmosphere and was carried by wind to surrounding slums killing, the government says around 3,500 while Rights activists claim that 25,000 people have died so far, and left an unspecified number challenged with diseases and deformity.

The seven Indian Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) officials convicted in the 26-year-old Bhopal gas tragedy case have been granted bail and released on submission of a surety of Rs 25,000 by a trial court in Bhopal. Legal experts have alleged that there was an attempt to cover up the case. It took the CBI three long years to file a charge sheet that many believed was weak. Then in 1996 the charges were watered down making all sections carry the maximum punishment of 2 years. Legal experts have alleged that there was an attempt to cover up the case.
The charges were also all bailable enabling the prime accused in the case - former Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson to be absolved of liabilities. All the convicts applied for bail immediately after the sentencing and were granted relief in the case, the judgment of which comes against the backdrop of a debate on the Civil Nuclear Liability bill, which would provide for limited compensation to victims in case of a nuclear disaster.
With this the postcolonial agenda seems to be an incomplete mission of imperialism where the sovereignty of the people has been bartered to protect, and consolidate the interests of multinational corporations in the name of multilateral global cooperation. One often wonders whether the democratic structure of this country has turned against its own people!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Interrogating Aurobindo's Uttarpara Speech

Two years ago while trying to map and understand three significant aspects of Aurobindo – the biographical, the literary and the spiritual, I had been intrigued by his transformation from a radical political revolutionary to a seeker of spiritual harmony. His life, I had come to understand, was a metaphor for the mediation of matter and spirit that through the dynamics of negotiation had unfolded the privileging of the latter in the quest of truth.

As a revolutionary, Aurobindo had passionately declared swaraj not as supervised self-rule under the Empire but unqualified independence from the colonizers. He was incarcerated in the first revolutionary case in India and kept in solitary confinement in Alipur Jail. It was here that he had the epiphany of the Divine as Krishna and he absorbed the luminosity of cosmic consciousness. It is the experience of this spiritual manifestation and subsequent transformation that he narrates in what is now well known as the Uttarpara Speech.

By the time that he had been released from imprisonment, he seemed to observe that the earlier nationalist fervour which was alive with the ‘cry of Bande Mataram, alive with the hope of a nation, the hopes of millions of men who had newly risen out of degradation’ had been subdued into inexplicable inertia. Aurobindo expresses the bewilderment of the masses, with antithetical imagery of heaven with a vision of the future on the one hand and a ‘leaden sky from which human thunders and lightning rained’ on the other. The materiality of revolutionary energy seemed indistinct and blurred.

The young anglophile, agnostic whose middle name was Ackroyd was attracted to the concept of atman during an early engagement with advaita philosophy while in Cambridge. Hence it was no real surprise that a nascent awareness of philosophy and spirituality rooted in the Indian tradition became an advantaged consciousness in time to come.

The post-imprisonment message of Bepin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo admits to being inspiring: ‘he spoke of his realization in jail of God within us all, of the Lord within the nation’. This stimulus possibly marked the beginning to two distinct forms of awareness. At the personal level he looked for the God within us all in a manner resonant of the later Gandhi. In terms of social and public posture, nationalism for Aurobindo was not to be a political programme but ‘a religion that has come from God’. The first enabled him to understand the fatuity of pride and vanity. He was aware of his own weakness and that he was ‘a faulty and imperfect instrument’. When he compared his own abilities with the potential of those inmates with whom he shared the space of penal confinement, he discovered that most of them were superior ‘in force and character’. In each of those ‘darkened souls’ of thieves and dacoits he visualized Krishna and in turn he was put to shame by ‘their sympathy, their kindness, the humanity triumphant over such adverse circumstances’.

This awareness came to him through his engagement with the Gita. It empowered him, gave him resilience and strength. The Bhagwad Gita, which forms a small but significant section of The Mahabharata problematises oppositional moral positions. Lord Krishna, a divine manifestation in the human form of Arjuna’s charioteer emphasizes duty while Arjuna questions whether duty is to be prioritised over the evaluation of consequences. While the very distinguished Amartya Sen observes the post-carnage desolation as ‘something of a vindication of Arjuna’s profound doubts’ (The Argumentative Indian, p 5), Aurobindo endorsed Krishna’s moral position in an act of unqualified surrender:

“ I was not only to understand intellectually but to realize what
Sri Krishna demanded of Arjuna and what He demands of those
who aspire to do his work, to be free from repulsion and desire
to do work for Him without the demand for fruit, to renounce
self-will and become a passive and faithful instrument in His
hands, to have an equal heart for high and low, friend and
opponent, success and failure”. (Uttarpara Speech)

This was his tryst with Sanatan Dharma, not as a religion of faith and profession but as ‘life itself’. To Aurobindo, his dharma would provide salvation to humanity. Historicising the Indian context, he believed that India had ‘always existed for humanity’ and not for herself and when strong did not ‘trample upon the weak’.

Aurobindo’s complete surrender enabled him to experience the omniscience of Vasudeva and he felt the enveloping security of Krishna, the ‘arms of my Friend and Lover’. The expression of this experience connects Aurobindo laterally with Bhakti, Sufi and Baul traditions. With every passing moment during his incarceration, he experienced the fruits of his surrender and the security of divine protection. The narrative traces the evolution of this religious experience from the Lal Bazar hajat to that famous defense by Chittaranjan Das.

During the seclusion of solitary confinement, an inner voice enjoined him to fulfill two tasks. The first was to uplift the nation differentiating his vocation from those of the others. He was not to suffer for the country but to do ‘His work’. The second was to speak for Sanatan Dharma and to ‘extend it over the world’. This was an eternal religion preserved in an ancient and sacred land, one that was neither narrow nor sectarian but one that could ‘triumph over materialism by including and anticipating the discoveries of science and the speculations of philosophy’. The realization of truth through this religion is, he said, the Lila of Vasudeva integrating life and religion. It is from this premise that Aurobindo redefines nationalism ‘not as politics but a religion, a creed, a faith’. Tagore too was opposed to communal sectarianism but he kept nation and spirituality separate. Writing to Abala Bose, the wife of the reputed Indian scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose in 1908 he succinctly stated ‘patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds. I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity so long as I live’. His novel Ghare Baire expounds this theme while the unfolding of history both in Europe and in the subcontinent vindicated his belief.

Given these premises, it may be easy and convenient for many to co-opt Aurobindo within the ideology of conservative Hinduism. To my mind, that limits the reading of Aurobindo. What is clear is that as a result of the epiphany during his penal confinement, he chose to privilege the internal-spiritual over the public-political. The solidarity that he asserts is not material but spiritual to which he assigns a name but without any iconography. This may be suggestive of loose homogenization but nothing overtly so. However there is another aspect that deserves critical attention. Colonial control dominated material space and resistance within that space had largely remained an unfulfilled dream, reduced to inertia as Aurobindo records at the end of his imprisonment. In a manner to be associated with Gandhi, indigenous self-esteem could be asserted by the spiritual. The anti-colonial strategy could, in Aurobindo’s mind, be effective if the spiritual deconstructed the material and retrieved self-respect, dignity and confidence from the margins. The Uttarpara Speech is a statement of that dream and a narrative of its evolution.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


The heat is getting hotter and the humidity is getting muggier. Over the years, the desire for greater comfort by a post-liberalization avaricious middle class, more appliances, bigger sedans on congested roads, polluting public transport, more polluting official government vehicles, computers left on endlessly, garbage hills, plastic colonialism, chopping trees in the name of development, aggressive non-vegetarianism ...... (the list is endless) has led to growing emissions of greenhouse gasses and climate change.

I remember the 60s when strong surface winds from the west made Patna dry through the summer months until the start of the rains. I cannot remember power cuts or power break-downs. But economists tell us we are a developing nation and who are we to argue with specialists? But I seem to remember something; a specialist is one who knows more and more about less and less until s/he knows everything about nothing. But to unclutter the mind of data and specialized discourses: here is something we can all do to make a small difference. Switch off power when we don't need it, use water sparingly, walk shorter distances(an important man/woman seen walking does not make the person less important- beacon lights are trappings of insecurity), plant trees and save the existing ones and if we can help it let us not contribute to making Patna a garbage hill-station.

On World Environment Day, spread some environment literacy to those who don't know and to those who know but haven't cared.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Of Turtles and Monkeys

There are two very very short stories about a turtle and a monkey each of whom became famous not because of who they were but the role that destiny had assigned to them to intervene in the lives of two well known Greeks.
The Greek dramatist Aeschylus died when an eagle carrying a turtle in its talons fatally dropped it on his head.
Alexander of Macedon who invaded India and fought a king called Porus died when a monkey bit him. ( I have often wondered if the word porous as in porous borders originated from the name of that king because ever since then India has had porous borders)
But to come back to the turtle and the monkey and the rest of the subalterns in this world, they can change the course of history and we can ignore them at our own peril.
So the next time you see a turtle or a monkey, as creatures and metaphors, remember they can also make a decisive difference.

Legends of American Theatre

Perspectives on Legends of American Theatre
Eds. Nibir K. Ghosh, T.S.Anand, A. Karunaker
Creative Books, New Delhi, 2009, Pg.305, Price: 600/-
ISBN No.81-8043-070-7

Some years ago Pankaj Mishra’s book Butter Chicken in Ludhiana became a focal text for Cultural Studies in India because it scripted the growing confidence of non-metropolitan India and its ability to voice its aspirations, mobility and success. The publication of Perspectives on Legends of American Theatre edited by Nibir K. Ghosh, T.S. Anand and A. Karunaker is a wonderful celebration of that very theme in an academic and intellectual context.

In a lexical rendezvous of scholars from India, South Asia and the United States, theatre legends of America such as Eugene O’ Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Sam Shepard, Edward Albee, Amiri Baraka, August Wilson, Ed Bullins, Lorraine Hansberry and Ntozake Shange have been critiqued in order to discuss and consolidate a precious social and aesthetic legacy. The editorial preface entitled ‘Setting the Scene’ written with imaginative √©lan typical of Nibir Ghosh is prefixed with a Rushdie epigraph. It is about the setting of a stage when the autocratic gods stop meddling in human affairs and leave us in an anthropocentric wilderness to which we humans ascribe meaning if we can. It is typically Rushdie of course. In his Commencement Address for Bard College NY, Rushdie had said ‘…as myths tell us, it is by defying the gods that human beings have best expressed their humanity’. And so Ghosh speaks of the heroism of Prometheus who stole fire from the gods, of Sisyphus’s scornful defiance and Satan as the manifestation of the defiant spirit of man in the renaissance. From those times through existential predicaments of alienation and despair, nihilism and symbolic death, playwrights have created their significant works interrogating life; it’s received authenticities and transience, crafting subjectivities sometimes as architects of their destinies and occasionally as victims of it.

The inclusion of Black American playwrights in the form of August Wilson, Amiri Baraka, Ntozake Shange, Lorraine Hansberry(who unfortunately died very young) and Ed Bullins, each of whom has enlarged what the mind can explore and speak, recasting the possibility of their people’s participation in civic life and explore their aspirations with self-determination and self-respect. It has been tracked in the ghettoisation and in the discriminatory Afro-American experience in Ed Bullin’s Black Theatre by T. S. Anand. The themes of prejudice, segregation and aspirations of emancipation and agency are particularly significant in an Indian context. This context has been explored and by juxtaposing August Wilson’s Fences and the polemic mobility of Datta Bhagat’s Routes and Escape Routes in Sunita Rani Ghosh’s essay. Another interesting essay stressing the emotional need for AfroAmericans to return to a natural, spontaneous living away from the institutional demands of any religion reminiscent of Ayaan Hirsi Ali from a different culture is Anju Bala Agarwal’s Search for Black Female Identity in the Drama of Ntozake Shange. Born Paulette L. Williams, she changed her name to Ntozake meaning ‘she who comes with her own things and Shange meaning ‘she who walks with lions’, after a difficult period of emotional dislocation, depression and an attempted suicide. The biographical perhaps acts as a foundational impulse toward an attempt to forge a female solidarity as an emotional renewal through shared suffering in For Colored Girls.

The two essays that offer the panorama for this volume are those by Jonah Raskin whose love of the theatre and his very readable comments of his experience of it in America and R.K. Bhushan who delineates the history of American dramaturgy. The other essays are on individual dramatists such as Eugene O’ Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Sam Shepard and Edward Albee and critiques of individual plays whose inclusion in the curriculum in most Indian universities makes this book very valuable for academic reference. There are six essays on Eugene O’Neill, four on Tennesee Williams, eight on Arthur Miller, three on Sam Shepard and two each on David Mamet and Edward Albee. Each of these essays has been selected with discriminating editorial skill and scholarship and promises to offer stimulating reading for profit and pleasure.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lunacy, Lunar Calendar and the Buddha

It is a common perception that after Bihar was amputated in 2000 and the new state of Jharkhand was formed, the former was impoverished because of the loss of its mineral wealth and industries, which were located in the territory of its separated twin. I have a different take on this and I hope to prove my point if you have the patience to read on.

Today, Friday, the 21st of May 2010 has been declared a university holiday on account of Buddha Jayanti. With the advancement of knowledge and information, a school –going child shared this information with me:
Legend has it that Gautam Buddha was born on a full moon night in Baisakh according to the Hindu almanac that corresponds to the months of April or May in the Gregorian calendar. It was on this day that after attaining enlightenment and after preaching the five principles of life and the eight-fold path to truth, he transcended the mortal state. Thus Buddha Jayanti celebrates three important events in Buddha’s life: birth, nirvana or enlightenment and parinirvana or passing from the mortal state.

There is just one small glitch here. Today, Friday, the 21st of May 2010 is not poornima. According to the lunar calendar, Buddha's birth anniversary can't be today and neither can be the anniversary of the two other two events. QED. Hence the birthday cake for Lord Buddha ordered by the university will probably be cut without anything to celebrate. No blowing out the candles, no Happy Birthday to You, no applause, no return gifts, no nothing.

It brings me back to the story of loss. The greatest loss for Bihar after the bifurcation has been that the Mental Hospital has remained in Kanke, which is in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand. No institution for mental dysfunction is located in Bihar and while the development index of insanity has shown rare inflationary trends the opportunities for therapy are non- existent. As for quality higher education, so too for sanity, one has to be a part of the contemporary Bihari diaspora.

Incidentally, Buddha Jayanti is on the 27th of May. But we can take home a positive: if Patna University sneezes today, India catches a cold tomorrow. Like the French in Europe and Dunlop tyres in India, we are simply ahead. Or should we say SIMBLY AHEAD, as would my friend Ancelloti Nair Purandeswari from Kumarakom?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Women Play, Men Party

That's cricket for you.

The other evening, a good friend whose life has been logistically redefined by bachelorhood, after many years of harmonious marriage, invited me to watch the Indians play the Australians at Barbados. The game was billed by Indian sports-journalists as the match of the tournament, the final of the finals, the end of cricketing imagination.
I did not wish to watch the game for two reasons. One, Barbados was a lively wicket that would offer bounce and carry to the Aussie pace bowlers and we have had ample evidence of our paper tigers on subcontinental tracks engaging in many bodily contortions to make up for the lack of technique. The Aussies would pepper our celebrities with short-pitched stuff that would make television viewing an embarrassment for someone who is avidly saffron-white and green. Two, our celebrities appeared like zombies after a month-long wine-women-song-Bollywood and cricket carnival called the IPL and they appeared to be strutting around the field like envelopes without addresses.

I shared these anxieties with my friend who on account of an evening's loneliness still wished that I came over for a sundowner. Not wishing to appear churlish, I agreed. As expected, the Glenfiddich was infinitely better than the game I peeked at every five overs. And despite the disappointing result I was hailed as a prophet.

This is the way the T20 ends
This is the way the T20 ends
This is the way the T20 ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Quietly, on the other hand, our women's team has been doing India proud without claiming significant space in the media. And perhaps because of that.The failures of men are more important than the pride women enable us to feel through the success they achieve. And the malady of discrimination stretches to every social dynamic of pain, humiliation and marginality: female infanticide, foeticide, dowry deaths, honour killings, violence and harassment.

Many of my friends ask me why I get serious after the bonhomie of light-hearted stuff that is easier to read and digest. And I reply: that's cricket.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Moral Science after School

Many of us, who dabble in postcolonial anxieties need to have a look at the recently concluded British elections.In this area, the debates often get into an undesirable area of competitive superiority, indicating chauvinistic evaluation rather than analysis. Evaluation of culture, of morality, of materiality, even of dental hygiene. Few do look at the relationship in terms of a set of complex negotiations and exchange.

There are some lessons that India can carry home in the proverbial doggy bag from the recently concluded British elections: that some public duties are matters of principles rather than cynical opportunism and Samsonites stashed with cash, occasionally deposited in the bank by sophomores to the new college for scoundrels.

Before the elections got under way Lib. Dem. Nick Clegg had categorically stated that he would be inclined to support the party that gets the majority of the seats in parliament. And that's what he did, despite the last minute efforts by Gordon Brown to strike an alternative deal. In the bargain, he became the Dy. Prime Minister. Goes to show that you are not always left sucking your thumb if you are principled.

It is a lesson that our wolves-in-sheep's clothing can learn.But is that too much to ask from the contemporary dandies from the world's celebrated ancient civilisation?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Frankly Outstanding

On Sunday, 2nd May 2010 at about 7:45 in the evening, the curtains came down on Abhivyakti.It felt like the end of Ionesco's The Chairs with an emptiness engulfing the auditorium, the equipment being carted back, the windows being shut, the enthusiastic voices of debate and comment closing to a hushed exit.

Meaning 'expression', it is the name of a Low cost Video Film Festival that has been held every two years since 1995 at Ravi Bharti Institute of Communication. And some of you who may ask,'Where is Ravi Bharti?' Here are the directions: it is located to the west of Holy Family Hospital, North of Notre Dame Academy and east of Loyola High School on the riverside road from Bankipur to Danapur.Please make a note for next year's Fest.

For the last fifteen years, meaningful alternative films, mainly socially significant documentaries and short films by students have been screened, talked about, nuances elucidated by guests, learned from and learned about and socially sensitised once every two years. Sophomores have become film makers, the ones living quietly on the edge have become film critics. To put it very simply, these three days have been more educationally valuable that the many years of school and college education put together. And this is not an illustration of a hyperbole. For details of the programme and what happened you can log on to Fragmented

Thank you Fr. Benny, the Ravi Bharti family, the eager students from Patna Women's College CEMS who helped and participated, the guests who made perceptive comments: Mr. R.N.Dash, Dr. Muniba Sami, Ms Neerja Lal, Mr. Gautam Dasgupta,the students of AMA and many others who appreciated the films silently. Special thanks to Mr. Vivek Singh, Secretary Culture who at the inauguration had wished the Fest all success.

I am privileged to acknowledge the outstanding work of one person, as a media teacher and as an organiser, the convenor of the festival Mr. Frank Krishner. He deserves a standing ovation.

A Clip on Asses and Horses

The other day, giving in to the frustrations of abject despair, a civil servant had said,'I can't turn asses into horses.' I retreated into a corner, like little Jack Horner, sank into a bean bag and contemplated the exasperation. At the philosophical level, I could not agree with the statement. Why do we need to turn asses into horses anyway? The ass has a right to its identity as much as a horse does. Even from an anthropocentric point of view, an ass has as much use as a horse. If it does not have the latter's speed, it has greater tenacity. Intelligence or the absence of it is merely an assumption. And even if, we ride the wings of popular stereotyping and do grant horses superior intelligence, just because the British aristocracy rode horses or still do if there is any aristocracy left in that country, it is politically unacceptable to indicate shortcomings in creatures with special needs. Even if David Cameron delivers victory to the Tories.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Kabhi Kabhi

With the temperatures being unkind, and the effects of climate change insidiously effecting cerebral systems, some of the blog space in the recent past has been designated to the celebration of madness. Talking of madness, it is not necessarily a condition for surreptitious sniggers. Sometimes it is another name for an alternative discourse that resists the dominant. And often the dominant is madder than the alternative. Sometimes it is also a kind of wisdom that enables its beneficiaries to escape the gravity of pride. Here's news of some rare sanity.

Over midweek, I was pleasantly surprised at the unbelievably professional functioning of a recruitment commission belonging to the Government of Bihar. And what was truly significant is the system of efficiency and confidentiality that they have developed. It is said that a truly good organisation is one which is least visible and most productive. This place illustrates that virtue.
I was wondering how this magic could have been scripted. Its strength lies in its leadership; its Chairman Mr. Amarendra Singh is a very fine person with rare soft skills and professional integrity.

It did not take too long to discover that he was once a student of the Department of English, Patna University.

P.S. Why aren't most people as nice as those who have studied English?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Theatre of the Absurd

Move over Martin Esslin. Your book is passe. On the larger proscenium stage of higher academia in Bihar, Pinter plus plus is being enacted. Well, before getting into the narrative, a bit of the pre-theory. Camus defined the absurd as the tension which emerges from man's determination to discover purpose and order in a world which steadfastly refuses to evidence either. In other words we inhabit a world in which attempts to script rational meanings are defeated in the very act of doing so.
Now watch these events as an unfolding of an absurdist dramatic script:

1. The chancellor appoints a Vice-Chancellor
2. Media reports vigilance probes against the appointee
3. Government requests Chancellor to reconsider decision
4. Chancellor sticks to his decision.
5. Government seizes financial powers of the VCs
6. Chancellor asks Universities to disregard unauthorised directives
7. Government stops salaries of VC.
Soap opera to continue?

A respectable academic from an off-shores university phoned me this morning and said, 'the last time I was in Patna, you spared no pains to advertise your state at a public seminar and we truly believed you'. I grimaced at the stifled sound of the chuckle.

Had this been a play scripted by Beckett, Ionesco,Genet, Arrabal, Pinter or Simpson, it may have been critiqued as a work of art. When it happens in real life, it attracts ridicule. People within and outside the state are watching with puzzled derision.

Its time that Martin Esslin returned to the pages of his own book and the aesthetic of meaninglessness ceases to occupy columns of prominence in the dailies. It is good to laugh and be happy, its just a wee bit tough to be laughed at.

P.S. Not that we don't have a sense of humour. We have had long years of experience, haven't we?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Seedhi Baat, No Bakhwaas

I was walking along the jogging track of the Zoological Park this morning when a potbellied businessman with oily hair greeted me very politely. He said that he had read my Chatternama scribbles with the allegorical implications about resignations and rescinding sweat equities in an earlier Blog and told me frankly that he wasn’t impressed. My ego was bruised. I was, to be honest, so enraged that I wanted to invite him to a steamer ride and toss him over into the Holy River and get the Gangetic Dolphins to feed on him to enable a banquet for the species that is threatened with extinction. Are Gangetic Dolphins vegetarians? Do let me know so that the next time I have such thoughts I will know whether to or not to. I do not wish to offend aquatic sensibilities.

When I got home, the phone rang; I responded to my former teacher’s voice. ‘Why do you write so much of gibberish without understanding the politics of power’? he asked. For gurus I have the highest regard. That’s because, as my indiscrete students say ‘You are a guru yourself’.

But everyone is entitled to redemption. So am I. The truth is that the media always attacks the smaller sharks at the behest of the bigger sharks. The relatively innocent are often implicated in the Kafkaesque world of the woven maze. The oceans are too vast for us to understand its complex cross-currents. At least Tweety Pie is an author of distinction and a person of international repute, who speaks English in English, but what about those who implicated him in a Wittgenstein world of language games he did not understand? Or is he too arrogant to admit it?

They are the sharks. But remember, shark oil is also highly coveted.
Shall we wait and watch?

P.S. Parting shot of the lackey to the businessman: Mohan, if you are a Man you'll give him back his jagir.

I drove home, glugged a bottle of Sprite: Seedhi Baat, No Bakhwaas.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Allegory of Tweekers

The flavors of the season are Tweekers and Tweeters. Tweety Pie and his sweat equity partner have beaten the retreat and the Tweeker’s King is getting into Danny Boyle’s subaltern public utility created with chocolate cream. But that’s happening in the sub-continental territory called Mahabharat. In the 50’s it used to be said what Bihar thinks today, India thinks tomorrow. In the next four decades it became: if India catches a cold, Bihar will sneeze tomorrow. But make no mistake, we are the resurgent ones, chosen to lead, destined never to be left behind for long.

Now, while all this Tweeking and Tweeting was going on and the sordid entertainment occupied all the space from the headlines to the sports page, something was happening in the state in higher academia which looked like a T20 weekday single header. The competing teams were the Tweedledum Gormint and TweedleDee Gorner and it had all to do with captaincy issues. No one was willing to try out the Buchanan - KKR formula of 2009 because somewhere, in spite of the 42 degrees, people remembered the disastrous effects of multiple captaincies. But you might argue that two heads are better than one and I may rebut too many cooks spoil the broth. These polemics get us nowhere. And so, the anti-Buchanan formula prevailed and one captain for each of the universities was appointed by the official authority that was ostensibly not authorized to make appointments without consultations with the board authorities, as stipulated by the rules of the game. And there was talk that one of these captains was in the league of Hansie Cronje. And he has been asked not to decide who is to bat and bowl. For the time being he can only decide on fielding positions. Which is a polite way of saying: find yourself another stadium to play another game.

The national Tweekers and Tweeters had hogged all the media space for a while which in a sense was a bit of a relief because it edged out the cross-border shuttle-cocking. But the state Tweekers and Tweeters are now in action and threaten to turn a bearable T20 into Test Cricket.

While all this happens, those involved with higher academia will occupy uncomfortable seats in the local stadium without the luxury of Kingfisher lounges and the cheerleaders.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?

After so many moons in the academia, this is what I had to hear. But first a little background to this rueful tale. As you know, I teach English studies. They don’t call it Literature any more since the advent of something that appears monstrous to the uninitiated called Theory. After Theory, we talk of everything around literature rather than about it. I teach this stuff for fear of becoming an obsolete model whose spares are no more available. For every other thing I am fairly old fashioned. For example I talk about stuff consigned to the brittle, sepia-tinted pages of social history such as ethics and values, character and responsibility and Gandhian staples such as means justifying ends. You know the old black and white stuff.

Yesterday this researcher, young enough to be my daughter, said that these words were signs of contemporary irrelevance. A PhD with a NET on the way to a univ. teaching job, or becoming a civil servant or a banker or a media peddler would never get her an apartment in Burj Dubai nor make her the co-owner of an IPL team. I frowned, not being able to take it in. She would, she said, be much better off with an elected representative of the cattle classes with black kurta kind of sartorial elegance ,preferably from the south of India; a real tweety-pie; rather than hang out in stuffy libraries with groaning fans.When there is electricity to make them groan, that is. She said she could then acquire something called a sweat equity and get into a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose lifetime connectivity with the sheer magnificence of luxury.

The switches in contemporary iconography began to bother me. I sought some solace trying to talk this over with my wife over the evening’s cup of green tea. To be honest, she said, they are the world, we are the children. Whether we are right or wrong, only time will tell. You already have a decent accent, now don't get yourself a black kurta.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Is Green Hunt a Hunt for the Greens?

The rumblings are gathering decibels. Digvijay Singh and Mani Shanker Aiyar have expressed themselves in public. They are thinking people. Sonia Gandhi has urged caution. PC is intransigent. Is the Naxalite problem a law and order one or is it one where years of socio-economic inequities have spiralled into creating a problem that urges a sensitively studied solution? Is the environment being compromised by the privileged that can open the purse strings for profit or should the environment be the domain for those who can derive sustenance from it and protect it?
We need answers quickly and get people at the helm of affairs who can deal with these with an eye on sustainability, equity and non-violence. The greens need protection. If we don't, we shall regret it at our peril.
Let us stop the violence and the bloodshed.
We are all Indians and human beings after all.

Vivek sings Cryptic Notes for 6 to 96

Whatever they tell you at school or at the university, your education is never complete. In Dan Brown’s 2003 worldwide bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, the venerable Jacques Sauniere, curator of Louvre Museum tells his six year old granddaughter Sophie Neveu ‘life is filled with secrets. You can’t learn them all at once’. Learning and discovering secrets is what education is about and more importantly it is about how to discover secrets.

Let me not make this unnecessarily intriguing like the mystical teachings of the Kabbala. I am not writing about paradoxes, anagrams, Fibonacci numbers, and cryptography but about a book written by a dynamic civil servant, Vivek Kumar Singh, called Understanding Cryptic Crosswords: A Step by Step Guide. An Indian Administrative Service Officer, he is currently the Principal Secretary, Department of Culture and Youth Affairs, Government of Bihar. For sundry details, the book has been published by Macmillan India this year and was released at the World Book Fair in New Delhi. It is priced very nominally at Rs. 155 which is very affordable and I recommend it very strongly for every child, adult and entrants to their second childhood. Let me explain these recommendations to the three categories.

Fundamentally, the book is about using language in imaginative and creative ways; of thinking outside the box;of lateral explorations. The author lists three requirements for initiation: a sharp mind, adequate general knowledge and a reasonable command over the English language. In many of the cryptic crosswords in national dailies usually borrowed from western sources, the cultural associations are alien, hence difficult for many Indians. This is where Vivek Singh’s book scores a major point: it is culturally inclusive. With this remarkable book, he seeks to transform an esoteric pastime into a popular meaningful activity. Unlike simple crosswords in which clues are fairly straightforward and a fair vocabulary and reasonable general knowledge are adequate ingredients for success, cryptic crosswords are complex with camouflaged clues. Hence the challenges are more exacting and correspondingly, solving them is more fulfilling. And this book, perhaps is the only book that tells you how to do it.

Back to the benefits for the three categories. For children, it is a wonderful opportunity to play with language; think creatively; think laterally; improve one’s vocabulary, general knowledge and reasoning; things that parents pay a fortune for, later in life. The School and College curricula, because of population and other pressures often make parrots of bright talents. This is an opportunity to reverse the ornithological programming. Adults, including parents and teachers will benefit immensely by learning and teaching these wholesome skills. It will keep them off the passive pastime for dolts for some time at least (not everybody watches the news,good films and sports) and other forms of middle-age mischief. For senior citizens, it is a great way to spend quality time, keep dementia and Alzheimers at bay and become what they can be: the best teachers in the world with their wealth of experience.

Hence: buy it, use it and enjoy it. Start slowly, stick with it, you will love it. Cheers.

P.S. For my students who think and practice Deconstruction, it is invaluable!
Sgniteerg rof eht wen raey

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Updated critique on the NCHER Act 2010

The proposed NCHER act comprising 7 chapters divided into 56 sections has been necessitated because of the extremely variable standards of higher education and research in the country. It is:
AN ACT to provide for the determination, co-ordination, maintenance of standards in, and promotion of, higher education and research, including university education, technical and professional education other than agricultural [and medical] education, and for that purpose, to establish the National Commission for Higher Education and Research.
AN ACT further to promote the autonomy of higher educational institutions for the free pursuit of knowledge and innovation, and for facilitating access, inclusion and opportunities to all, and providing for comprehensive and holistic growth of higher education and research in a competitive global environment through reforms and renovation; and to provide for an advisory mechanism of eminent peers in academia.

Quality Knowledge Quotient is going to determine the hierarchy of countries in the world in times to come. Universities in India need to act fast to improve quality, opportunities and communication skills to enable the resources it creates for the future to compete successfully in areas as diverse as rocket science and the service sector. Such cautioning had been sounded by the UGC and in the Knowledge Commission’s report. This also means that universities as a playground for opportunistic politicking especially impacted upon the state universities and the complete lack of initiatives in certain states to improve education need to be reversed. For the many academicians who have questioned the arrival of the off-shores institutions in the post-WTO regime, it is likely to be an opportunity to set one’s own house in order and provide quality education, if of course the vision of the act can be translated into reality or to put it bluntly, if the pockets of vested interests permit the positives to be achieved. The logic is simple. If we do not wish to import an institution, we need to create at least two of equal quality of our own and make the opportunities available to the most disadvantaged. In so far as the act is an attempt to bring uniformity of standards and remove iniquities in opportunities, the intent is praiseworthy.
However, many questions remain unanswered and one wonders whether the pursuit of this worthy end justifies the means and therefore it is necessary to interrogate the doubts that arise from reading the act in its present form.
Q1. Why is agricultural education and medical education (other than in Universities: ref Sec 3 t) being excluded from the purview of the act?
Q.2 In Sec. 3 (a) academic quality, among other things means physical infrastructure. How will the NCHER ensure basic minimum acceptable physical infrastructure in State Universities, colleges and institutions?
Q3. Compulsory accreditation may be ideal in spirit provided the many ambiguities are ironed out. Should there be any discrepancy in the points collected by an academic for publication in journals abroad and in India? This attitude of privileging the West is an admission of the lack of confidence we have in our own institutions. It undermines national interests and reveals that though we may be politically free, we are still mentally colonized. However, the ideological priority must not be an alibi for unacceptable quality. In many quarters, we have seen how systemic breakdown is a deliberate ploy to serve self-serving interests.
Q.4 One of the objectives of the bill is ‘to promote the autonomy of the university for the free pursuit of knowledge and innovation’. However isn’t it likely that the NCHER with such overwhelming powers centralized in this body may impinge upon democratic spaces in the universities that is supposed to nurture independent research and innovative teaching?
The structure of the Collegium (Ch.3, Sec 17) again indicates the impulse toward centralization. On the other hand, a federal structure would perhaps be more representative of the intellectual, cultural and linguistic aspirations of diverse India.
Hence I would, with all humility, propose that each state should have 5 members that would constitute a Regional Collegium. They shall also be Ombudsmen for all Central and State Universities in that region. The members, who should be eminent academics with proven innovative scholastic and ethical track record, shall be appointed to the Regional Collegiums ( North, West, South, North East, East Central and Central states) for a period of 5 years.
One member of each state, on a year’s rotational basis, may be the member of the central collegium. This will ensure the democratic representation of academic diversity. The Regional/ federal collegiums will be accountable to the Central Collegium.
Six members from the central collegium constitutive of one member from each Regional Collegium shall constitute the NCHER with another three members nominated by the Central Government.
And finally and most importantly, the NCHER should be the funding body that disburses plan and non-plan grants to all the universities so that frequent complaint of fund-crunch by states may be overcome. Only then will the gap between central and state universities be bridged. Needless to mention, this is the Indian tax-payer’s money, hence accountability should be meticulously ascertained.
Prof. Yashpal in his recommendations on 'Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education’ states ‘The biggest deficiency of higher education is that it is not developing sensitivity and commitment to freedom. The Social Science subjects: Economics, History, Linguistics etc. are especially meant to help students see exploitation and discrimination with clarity. From among the students of these disciplines emerge civil servants, judges, lawyers, businessmen and economists who can assert their authority but cannot see the realities of living of the masses’. Civil servants representing the government in its interface with universities and institution should be those that have academic interests and credentials that equip them for such positions.
Professor Yashpal’s intent in the report is commendable: ‘The thrust is to give full autonomy to universities which will function as self regulatory bodies and will be vested with all academic responsibilities. They will design the function and structure of programmes’. In the post-WTO regime, under GATS, education had become a service to be provided to drive the nation’s GDP by teaching appropriate skills. This is contrary to the vision of education envisaged by the founding fathers of our republic: to be an agency for emancipation and the making to good human beings and good citizens. Professor Yashpal seeks an amalgam and one that will hopefully find clear focus in the Act and its implementation.

Higher Education works best when it is supported by structures that are democratic rather than bureaucratic.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jai Ho

I know a six-footer called Ujjwal Choudhary. He also modestly believes he has six abs. Like many others from Bihar, after studying in Patna College, he went to Delhi University, did very well in History, got into the Civil Service, married his soulmate, parented two talented children and then like a missionary patriarch in his autumn, he decided to rattle the apple cart.

Last year they appointed him the Director Investigation,Income Tax, Bihar and Jharkhand. A sure recipe for disaster for those that seek moderate comforts in life. He went to Jharkhand and investigated a former Chief Minister who ostensibly made 4000 crores of the state's money his own and shared it with his buddies. Now which prudent officer in his/her right senses and in Saare Jahaan se Accha would do a thing like that; I ask you? Privileges are meant for the privileged. Common sense. But common sense is not common for this guy. Can you imagine, he wanted to script a fairy tale!

I believe Charles Bronson also gave this tribal Lionel Ritchi moral lessons in prison where he is currently a state guest. Told him what he had done was not good, that the money could have been better used for the development of the state, alleviation of poverty and all that. You know all that postcolonial claptrap about subaltern emancipation. What most people speak but don't mean. But not this chap.He has this bad habit of saying what he means. Very Gandhi like, I was informed.

A few chosen people did not like what he had done. You know things like raiding so many premises of so many patriotic people who were trying to increase the GDP of the country in an alternative sort of way. But like a pedigreed Rottweiler, he just wouldn't let go. And like the padre on Sunday morning, he got these guys to confess to their ill-gotten wealth and collected large sums of money for the state. And some wits declared him Bureaucrat of the Month.

Now some bats did not like this. We don't know who but some safari-suit clad charandaschors took money ( now I'm telling you this in strict confidence) to have him transferred. And some birdies tweet that it happened in the national capital. Oh my! What shame, no?

And the plot was almost successfully implemented. And one journalist who had had one too many of Laphroig at an undisclosed location whispered knowingly: behind every man-made plot, there is a woman. I've been trying to find out the details but you know these whodunnit bits are difficult to unravel and I don't believe journalists. Especially when they have had too much of Single Malt. They malign reputations. Mainly of middle-aged women. And old men.

But the upshot was that a national network of bad zoozoos wearing masks offered 20 crores for this officer's transfer. Now that figure may be subject to some debate but what happened thereafter made India blush. He was transferred.They said, its nothing out of the ordinary, it was merely a regulation transfer.So candidly innocent, no? And that too while he was travelling through the rough and tough terrain of Chaibasa motivating his officers toward the success of their enterprise.

And some bad zoozoos said on video that they had to do this because this big fellow was incorruptible. He lacked soft skills to accept small gifts. Also because if he did, his wife who prefers books to solitaires would not let him come back home. This tells us that behind every unsuccessful man there is also a woman.

Well to cut a long story short, several PIL's were filed in Jharkhand High Court against the transfer. The department could not satisfy the court on the plea of regulation transfer. And the transfer was, sadly for some, happily for others, stayed. A little more of intelligence and a little more of ethics would have saved the departmental wags and wigs the embarrassment but with twenty crows perched on the stem of the money plant, the resistance to temptation was feeble.
With the setback to the bad zoozoos, Tiger Uncle is all set to roar again. Jai ho.

P.S. And when fuddy-duddy examiners ask students to write essays on cliched topics such as Honesty is the Best Policy, even the most logistically dependent will have something to write about. And their abhibhavaks outside the examination halls, willing to risk damnation to sneak in a bit of help, can heave a sigh of relief.