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The old world definition of a gentleman is obsolete.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 Thoughts.Blogspot.com 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.