2019 – A New Year Has Begun

2019 – A NEW YEAR has arrived. Today, January 1, is the day of promises to oneself, New Year resolutions, bucket lists, and plans…a day of greeting everyone you know and even strangers.

This will be followed by unfulfilled promises, resolutions broken, lists that remain on paper and plans that remain in the mind. This is a pessimistic view. Some people do make a new beginning, start implementing resolutions and try to make the new year a happy one as desired

In my case, the last quarter of this year would mean completion of 80 years of age – one more year of a vigil at the exit gate of life, waiting for it to open. The boastful ‘unstoppable’ is slowing down and a decision is to be taken on whether to continue till 80 or make it ‘stoppable’ now — neither acclaimed if continued nor missed if stopped.

This post is being written, perhaps, due to the Indian belief that what happens on a new year day or a birthday will happen throughout the year – which explains why some celebrate these days by feasting and wearing new clothes.

Writing this is, however, not to ensure that this would continue for the year but an acknowledgment of the fact that I have lived, from the age of 16, by writing, with no great achievements in the past and certainly none likely in the few weeks or months that remain. That is the story of most. not all, people on earth.

And yet we wish each other a Happy New Year and celebrate the occasion. The famous poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1937-1984) who migrated to Pakistan during Partition (to start Communist movement there, but was frustrated due to his failure) asks what is new in the new year or how it is ‘happy’.

ऐ नए साल बता, तुझमें नया-पन क्या है

हर तरफ़ ख़ल्क़ ने क्यूँ शोर मचा रक्खा है

रौशनी दिन की वही, तारों भरी रात वही

आज हम को नज़र आती है हर इक बात वही

आसमाँ बदला है, अफ़सोस, ना बदली है ज़मीं

एक हिंदसे का बदलना कोई जिद्दत तो नहीं

अगले बरसों की तरह होंगे क़रीने तेरे

किस को मालूम नहीं बारह महीने तेरे

जनवरी, फ़रवरी और मार्च पड़ेगी सर्दी
और अप्रैल, मई, जून में होगी गर्मी

तेरा मन दहर में कुछ खोएगा, कुछ पाएगा
अपनी मीआद बसर कर के चला जाएगा

तू नया है तो दिखा सुबह नयी, शाम नयी

वरना इन आँखों ने देखे हैं नए साल कई

बे-सबब देते हैं क्यूँ लोग मुबारकबादें

ग़ालिबन भूल गए वक़्त की कड़वी यादें

तेरी आमद से घटी उम्र जहाँ में सब की
‘फ़ैज़’ ने लिक्खी है यह नज़्म निराले ढब की

……………………….
meanings —
ख़ल्क़ – मानवता, हिंदसे – संख्या, जिद्दत – नया-पन, अगले /पिछले -गुज़रे हुए, क़रीने – क्रम, दहर – दुनिया. मीआद/मियाद – अवधि, बे-सबब – बे-वजह,ग़ालिबन – शायद, आमद – आना, ढब – तरीक़ा l

And yet, as a positive outlook and attitudes play a decisive role in life, I wish all A HAPPY NEW YEAR

And yet, as a positive outlook and attitudes play a decisive role in life, I wish all A HAPPY NEW YEAR

Indian Liberals Horrified

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New RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das – unfit for being MA History, not St.Stephens

INDIAN LIBERALS ARE horrified. A Governor of the Reserve Bank of India has resigned. It is the biggest blow ever for Indian economy. It will collapse.  India will go begging in the international community. The country will be ruined.

 

But was India not begging the World Bank and IMF before?

Liberals: Oh, that was different. It was before Indira Gandhi ‘hataoed’ all ‘Garibi’ (removed all poverty) in the country. One press of the button and her son Rajiv Gandhi swept India into the 21st Century and prepared for the conversion of the entire country into more progressive faiths than the reactionary and backward Hinduism.

Liberals: But RBI governors had resigned before.

Dr Y.V. Reddy had  resigned during Congress-led UPA-1 government (Sep 05, 2008).
A Ghose had resigned  after differences with  Rajiv Gandhi Government.
within 20 days after his appointment,  on February  4, 19885.
M. Narasimham had resigned on  May 02, 1977  after being for just six months in office as RBI Governor.  He was appointed only on  November  30, 77.
N. C. Sen Gupta  was RBI Governor only from May 19, 1975 to August 19, 1975 a’  He tendered his resignation  after just three months.
Dr Man Mohan Singh too did  not complete his  three year term as the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi had removed him on January 14, 1985.
Amitav Ghosh replaced him, but lasted only for about  20 days.
R.N. Malhotra took over from Ghosh.
Dr Manmohan Singh as the then Finance Minister in P.V.  Narasimha Rao Government removed S Venkitaramnan as RBI Governor.  Venkitaramnan. an ex- IAS officer.  was in the post for only one year as Dr Singh wanted C Rangarajan as RBI Governor
But the new Governor Shaktikanta Das, also ex-IAS,  is an MA in History. He is not from St. Stephens or Doon School, which means he is illiterate.
LiberalsPlease Google and find out the educational qualifications of all ex-Governors of RBI and all politicians in India who were in power at some time or the other.
And also as why an old man was preferred over a Stephanean graduate with Wharton  (USA) degree of MBA to the CM of  Rajasthan.
Liberals: Anyone who says this is a Modi Bhakt (devotee), communal and…..
….and not a dynasty devotee.

Beyonce and Beyond: Twitter Debates

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Beyonce, in Indian designed dress, dances at Jodhpur

TWITTER NEEDS JUST any excuse to break into a public debate on any issue, with the users of this social media platform ‘tweeting’ views both far and against the issue.

 

A Twitter tweet on the American singer-dancer Beyonce dancing at the wedding, in Jodhpur, of Isha, daughter of India’s richest man, Mukhesh Dheerubhai Ambani touched off one such debate. Thousand tweeted – some expressing resentment at Ambani spending 100 million dollars (Rs.7.2 crore), others supporting Ambani and still others admiring the dresses worn by Beyoncé or Isha or saying how cute they looked.

In the good old days when there were no social media like Twitter. such expressions of

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Isha Ambani, dress admired

opinion was done by those who gossiped. And the rulers (yes, dynastic kings) kept track of what was being said and acted to satisfy the majority (yes, they were democratic).

 

Thus it was that Lord Rama of Indian mythology, told that a washerman expressed doubts about Sita’s chastity after she was kidnapped and held hostage by Ravana, asked her to prove it in an agnipareeksha (trial by fire) though he himself had no doubts.

Some tweets on the Isha Ambani marriage were outraged at such extravagant spending in a country where several hundred thousand still lived under the poverty line, where millions were homeless, many villages had dilapidated schools or none at all and where a campaign had to be launched to build toilets in rural homes.

Still others said the show-off of wealth by the Ambanis (whose house in Mumbai cost several million dollars) meant the money went to thousands who provided the services for the occasion and was, therefore, better than being hoarded.

Many calculated how many rural or slum houses  for the homeless or rural schools or toilets could have been  built with that money. Those used to mentally converting all dollar figures into rupees pointed out that the $100 million meant Rs.726,3300,000 at today’s exchange rate. Some felt it was nothing compare to India’s needs, but others saw it as a huge amount given per capita income in India is Rs.120979.78 per year (average Indian family is of 5 persons, that is almost  Rs. 603986 a year per family).

This average included families which earn in millions per month, which means others earn below subsistence income. There can be much said on both sides. For a country of India’s proportions 726.33 million rupees is a paltry sub;  for those earning as little as  Rs. 10081  it is a huge amount.

It is obvious that ostentatious lifestyles are not for a developing country and  that money should be spent productively. Extravagant spending on weddings in India, especially by people who cannot afford it, is a social problem.

The virtues of voluntary poverty or giving away things not really needed (though wanted) as advocated by Mahatma Gandhi are being realised all over the world, including the rich countries.

After all, you come into the world with nothing and take nothing with you when going. 

Khankhoje, Revolutionary Now Forgotten

Khankhoje
Dr Khankoje- a rare photo
Dr Khankoje- a rare photo

IN MY LAST BLOG I wrote about how many who fought for India’s freedom have been deliberately suppressed by those who believed in dynasty rule.

If Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi, Subhash Chandra Bose, Rajguru, Bismil, Chandrasekhar Azad and others are remembered, it is inspite of those who ruled India for decades and not because of them.

And their successors are many today, like the professor who called Indian revolutionaries ‘terrorists’ or the Lok Sabha party leader who alleged none of them “bark” for India’s freedom while only the Nehru family did.

Among the many revolutionaries so ignored is Pandurang Sadaashiv Khankhoje who was a Minister in Mexico but believed Nehru when on the eve of freedom, he asked all such patriots to return.

So Dr Khankhoje returned with his Belgian wife to Nagpur, only to be ignored till some local people felt guilty and pressurized Nagpur University to appoint him, of all things, Superintendent of its hostel for boys, as it also had a bungalow just behind it for his family.

There he continued his work as an agricultural scientist (https://m.hindustantimes.com/india/corn-king-khankhoje/story-O0Autk6YXS1Q5GjTUk0s2O.html) as the house had a sizeable yard where he could farm. I used to meet him there frequently and remember that he was never bitter, though his wife was, about how he was treated

Here is what Wikipedia has on him:-

Khankhoje was born in November 1884 to a Marathi family at Wardha, where his father (Sadashiv) worked as a petition-writer. Young Khankhoje spent his childhood in Wardha, where he completed his primary and middle school education before moving to Nagpur for higher education. He was at the time inspired by the nationalist work of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. At some time in the first decade of the 1900s, (when he was still a boy) Khankhoje left India on a voyage that ultimately saw him settle in the United States. Here he enrolled in the Washington State College (now called Washington State University), graduating in 1913. His earliest nationalist work abroad dates back to the time around 1908 when he, along with Pandit Kanshi Ram founded the Indian Independence League in Portland, Oregon. His works also brought him close to other Indian nationalists in United States at the time, including Tarak Nath Das. In the years preceding World War I, Khankhoje was one of the founding members of the Pacific coast Hindustan association, and subsequently founded the Ghadar Party. He was at the time one of the most influential members of the party. He met Lala Har Dayal in 1911. He also enrolled at one point in a West Coast military academy.

Through World War I, Khankhoje was intricately involved in the Hindu–German Conspiracy when he was involved in the plans for the mutiny. He visited Europe during the war and subsequently went to Mesopotamia along with other members of what was the Berlin Committee. In the summer of 1915, he clandestinely worked among roops of the Indian expeditionary force, spreading nationalist literature and hoping to incite a mutiny.

Through the course of the war, Khankhoje made his way through Turkey and Persia under different Muslim guises as far as Baluchistan, spreading Ghadarite propaganda en route.

He is known to have attempted insurrections and raised at the Iran-Baluchistan border while Mahendra Pratap‘s Indo-German expedition attempted to rally the Afghan Emir Habibullah Khan against British India.

Towards the end of the war, Khankhoje, like most of the members of the Berlin committee, began turing towards communism.

He is known to have been in Soviet Union in company of the earliest Indian communist, including Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, M. P. T. Acharya, M. N. Roy, Abdur Rab Barq. He met Lenin at Moscow in 1921. For his nationalist work at the time, he was banned from returning to India as a highly dangerous individual.

Khankhoje later moved to Mexico in the 1920s, where he was a professor of Botany and Crop Breeding in the National School of Agriculture in Mexico.

In 1936, Khankhoje married Jean Alexandrine Sindic, a Belgian women in Mexico by whom he had two daughters. He led the Mexican corn breeding program and was appointed director to the Mexican Government’s department of Agriculture.

Pandurang and Jean returned to India after 1947. His application for visa was initially rejected by the Indian government due to the ban by the British Indian Government, but was eventually overturned.

He settled in Nagpur and embarked subsequently on a political career. Pandurang Khankhoje died on 22 January 1967.

His two daughters are Savitri and Maya. The younger one, Maya, was on the editorial board of ‘Monitor’, a student weekly I started as a teenager.

Savitri (now Savitir Sawhney) wrote in an article on her father ” Born into a Brahmin family that treasured learning above all else, Khankhoje was mentored by his grandfather, who taught him to recognize the inequity and violence of British colonial rule. The Indian famine of 1896–97, due to the failure of the monsoon as well as an administrative breakdown engineered by the British, left a deep mark on Khankhoje, one that was to determine his choice of a career bringing together revolutionary and agrarian concerns in pursuit of social justice.

Though not mentioned in the sketch above I remember he was a Minister in the Ghadar Party’s Government of India in Exile.
Many may not know Nehru’s was not the first Government of India. At least two governments in exile preceded his.
© copyright B. Someswar Rao

Journalism of Fake News Era

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Lt. Col. Sandeep Ahlawat (courtesy: SOLDIERING)
HAVING BEEN A journalist since 1956 (though first newspaper appointment letter only in 1958) I am dismayed at today’s journalism of Fake News, paid news and sensationalism for TRPs.

It was therefore heartening to see the rejoinder of Lt. Col. Sandeep to a cartoon published by The Economic Times equating the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to a housing society guard.

‘Liberals’ who were silent when thousands of Kashmiri pandits were uprooted and thrown out of J&K are now shedding copious tears for Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar as India refused to admit them.

A political party which lives on vote bank politics may have inspired their sorrow. As it is a Times of India group publication, I presume it may not be a case of paid news.

I take the liberty to publish the entire rejoinder here:

Dear Economic Times/Mr R Prasad,
Your Cartoon on (my Chief of Army Staff and) the Chief of the Army Staff of the second largest Army in the world is hopelessly distasteful, downright repugnant and flawed on the following counts.

1. A guard at the housing society is not responsible for the territorial integrity of the housing society but CAOS is responsible for the territorial integrity of the Republic of India!!

2. A guard at the housing society does not put his life in the line of fire when situations like 26/11 happen but COAS and his men will not let a Kasab and Co inflict death and mayhem on our countrymen, come what may!! Remember the heart warming sight of soldiers slithering down the chopper, yes… the then COAS had ordered them??


3. A guard at housing society will not land a chopper at rooftop to save a pregnant lady and her unborn child but COAS and his men will stand between nature’s fury and our countrymen like a rock of Gibraltar!!

4. Guard at the housing society does not receive body bags of his men at technical area of Palam airport every alternate day, but COAS does this with a heavy heart and a bleeding soul and he and only he understands the pain of saluting the mortal remains of our fallen comrade !!

5. Last but not the least the guard at the housing society has not taken an oath to serve the Union of India, observe and obey all commands of the President of India even to the peril of his live. COAS and his men will save both the constitution and the Editorial staff of Economic time even at the cost of certain death so that you live in free India and exercise their FoE with Impunity!!

Warm regards,
A hurt serving officer of Indian Army.
Lt Col. Sandeep Ahlawat
Armoured Corps.

PS. Mr R Prasad, please don’t take advantage of the fact that ….. you as a cartoonist enjoy full complement of constitutional rights along with fruits of freedom which the COAS has provided you at the cost of his and his men’s life. Please show some character and don’t brutalise the hon

our of the only organisation that not only keeps the nation together but keeps it “First” always and every time!! And yes illegal migrants must be deported forthwith because you and your ilk do not understand National Security and business of war fighting just as I and my tribe does not understand the business of making cartoons!!

About Sandeep Ahlawat

Lt. Col. Sandeep Ahlawat is a serving officer in Indian Army. Previously, He had sent a legal notice to Twinkle Khanna and Akshay Kumar when they wanted to auction the “Original Naval Officers Uniform” that Akshey Kumar had worn in movies Rustom. The star couple had to withdraw the auction after Col Ahlawat’s objection

LINK: http://www.soldiering.info/2018/11/lt-col-sandeep-ahlawat-reacted-to.html?m=1

Go Go…Goa

 

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Beautiful sunset scene at a Goa beach
VISITING  GOA IS, today, considered the very symbol of romanticism. Goa is not only the ‘honeymoon destination’ but also the one for those who want to renew the thrill of being married.
News from Goa is mostly either about health of Manohar Parrikar or about flesh trade by women coming from Uzbekistan, Russia or one of the countries around them.
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Tell-tale sign board in Goa

Years ago, it was about hippies coming there in large numbers and sunbathing, often nude,  on the beaches – to the chagrin of the locals. Protests over the nudism were frequently in news.

The Rajbhavan of Goa has very picturesque surroundings and every visitor should see it.
When I went to Goa decades ago,  Nakul  Sain, Congress leader Ambika Soni’s father, was the Lt. Governor  of Goa (then a union territory). He asked me what was the most striking thing about Goa.
I said it was that the people were very conservative and not ‘mod’  –  unlike the image of Mumbai Goans.
He told me the reason: When the Portuguese invasion came  villagers en bloc became Catholic just changing surnames, with the village inner  power structure unchanged. Joshis became D’Costas,  Chavans became Fonsecas and so on.
Customs remained the same. So was the region’s culture.
A Catholic bride wore green bangles and went to the famous Mangesh temple from the Cathedral after marriage – or so I was told then. In Mangesh temple, a modern brick and mortar structure, there is a protocol: locals  stand first in a row (they stand in  two rows not yo  block a view of the sanctum and  light from a mirror is reflected from outside on the idol at aarati time).
And that local may be a Catholic. Hindus visited the superb Cathedrals too. Hindu-Christian rivalry came much later when Congress resorted to caste politics
Konkani is spoken by all locals, with Christians writing it in Roman script and others in Devnagari (Marathi). So there is a Konkani daily newspaper in Roman and another in Marathi script.
Only when you are in Goa do you realise Konkani has a good literature and cultural heritage.  I was invited there to a Konkani poets’ seminar of on the impact Telugu poet Sri Sri on Konkani poetry.
The invite came when I went to a “Sankranti celebration” by a Telugu organisation and found a very poor veedhinatakam or nautanki  (poor, amateurish, show) being performed.
The man sitting next to me (who later  invited me to the seminar) responding to my sarcastic comment on it, said  they were all labourers who were building a bridge on Mandovi river at Panaji . (The bridge, in Panaji or Panjim, collapsed later.)
The organisation lent them the stage as they were homesick,  being away for a long time.
He told me they all come from one or two villages of Medak district (Telangana)  and are called Palamur (original name of the place) labour, a form of bonded labour where a lump sum is paid in advance and the entire joint family (except one brother who stays back to look after the house or land) goes to work.
All major Indian projects including Bhakra Nangal and Koyna were built by them as they are specialists in earth work, I was told.
I thought it (overnight conversion and Palamur labour) was good information. Now it would be called “unnecessary trash” and not as interesting as Taimur Khan’s diaper changes widely covered by our TV channels.
It was the pre-Google era. Now it would be considered “rubbish”.

Thanksgiving? There is Much to be Thankful for

WHAT ARE YOU thankful for? A grandchild asked in the USA where Thanksgiving Day (last Thursday) is a big occasion.

I could not think of anything. That’s perhaps the reason why the day is not celebrated in India.

My ‘nothing’ shocked everyone. Are you not thañkful for being alive? No. I always wanted to end a meaningless and futile existence.

For your family? It only gives me pain – when I realise I am only a burden.

For all the good things you have had in life? I realise that they were all because of others. I did nothing to deserve them. My (late) wife and children tolerated my shortcomings and their good deeds were rewarded with my not causing them any more problems than I already created.

I could have come for just a few days – not months just to justify the big cost of flying here. But I realised it too late.

These are facts I cannot do anything about now.

Yes. There is much to be thankful for… that at almost 80 the end (hopefully) is not far away.

‘Have a Nice Day’

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SPOOFS ABOUT Yama Doots (Angels of Death), their Lord, Yamraj, and his accountant, Chitragupta, who keeps records of everyone’s sins (Pap) and good deeds (Punya) must be a part of the memories of most who grew up in India, whatever his/her language. They must have come across these in books, films and dramas.

But to hear a Western version of this in an audiobook, Have A Nice Day by Billy Crystal and his team, an original from Amazon’s Audible the audiobook site, is an exhilarating experience. We have heard of ‘Indian versions’ of many Hollywood films, some very bad and some good like Pach Adams (Munnabhai MBBS in Hindi) and Mrs Doubtfire (which Kamal Hasan copied) both starring Billy Crystal’s friend Robbin Williams, but an Indian concept borrowed by Hollywood is rare.

Billy Crystal
Bill Crystal

William Edward (Billy) Crystal the American actor, writer, producer, director, comedian, and television host is famous for his ‘The Tonight Show’. Made famous for playing Jodie Dallas on the ABC sitcom Soap in the 1970s he became a Hollywood film star during the late 1980s and 1990s, appearing in the critical and box office successes When Harry Met Sally…, City Slickers, and Analyze This. He also provided the voice of Mike Wazowski in the Monsters, Inc. franchise.

The United States of America has many actors and hosts who are equally famous – but is almost unique in one aspect. He has been married to one woman, Janice, for 48 years! It must be astounding – for an American, that too in the entertainment industry.

Billy has been critical of President Donald Trump in the his talk show and it is, therefore, all the more significant that Have A Nice Day (which is more of a play-reading by Billy and his colleagues) is about a Yama Doot (‘Man Without Name’, voiced by Billy himself) trying to take to the nether world, a POTUS (President of the United States), D. Murray who could be on the verge of separation from his wife.

The Agent of Death who agrees to wait till a minute before midnight (as the has to take the south on that date and the day ends only at midnight), invisibly follows Murray as he tries to make amends for his lapses and realises that they person destined to die was the daughter of the POTUS who was Dalila, though called Laila.

When the POTUS tries to prevent her death in a car accident by sacrificing his own life, the Yama Doot realising the greatness of such a sacrifice makes Death’s Front Office (Chitragupta) agree to take his (Yam Doot’s) soul in place of that of D. Murray – a touching end to a hilarious play.

A small book of only 1 hour 24 minutes’ reading, with a big message.

© All rights reserved

Books Forgotten, But Worth Reading

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Elizabeth C. Gaskell

 THE SOCRATIC concept of true knowledge is the ability to know how little one knows. The world’s greatest scientist, Newton compared all known knowledge to one grain of sand on a beach.  These equally apply to books: Those who are regarded as well-read or voracious readers know that they had read a microscopic fraction of all the good books written – even in one genre. And some great books are forgotten and remain almost unknown.

One lifetime is not enough to read all the works (including the critical analyses and interpretations) of the books of only Shakespeare in English or of Kalidasa in Sanskrit.

That was, perhaps, how the sarcastic adage that “Classics are books everyone knows about, but no one reads” came into being. But, though unread, classics are known.

Millions of people go through their entire lives without reading a single book (except class books mugged up to pass exams) and talk derisively of ‘bookish knowledge’ or proud of learning from life as ‘graduates of the school of knocks.’ A few authors are known for one or two of their books but many of their works are lost in history,

Will Durant, the American author and philosopher, is famous for his classic ‘ The Story of Civilisation’. How many know of his ‘The Case for India’?  The book moved me so much that I felt the government should have bought millions of its copies to distribute them free to anyone who can read English. Another of his books, Our Oriental Heritage also would have made India proud.

I once toyed with the idea of pirating ‘The Case for India’ and distributing it free to thousands or making it a free e-book.

Some very good books are forgotten and stay unknown, hidden under the dust of history. I (and perhaps most readers) had not heard of Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, a contemporary of the great Charles Dickens in the mid-1800s.I would never have known about her if I was not listening to an audiobook of D.H. Lawrence, found it boring and moved on to readers’ comments. One of them said Gaskell’s ‘Mary Barton’ was much more interesting. I had not even heard of her and downloaded that audio book.

Besides Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life” she also wrote A Dark Night’s Work, The Grey Woman, The Life of Charlotte Bronte. My Lady Ludlow, Round the Sofa, North and South, Mr Harrison’s Confession, Wives and Daughters, Ruth, Cousin Phillis, Cranford and the Cage at Cranford, The Moorland Cottage, Sylvia’s Lover and The Pastor’s Wife.

All these books are available on the free audiobook site, Librivox.  I would not have known about the book had I not discovered, due to the fear of impending blindness, audiobook sites (I subscribe to several such sites) and Librivox, a site which has most books whose copyright had expired, enabling them to be put ‘in public domain’ with the help of volunteers who read them. Librivox also has an e-book version GuteBooks for those who can read on screen.

ALL the books by Gaskell have received 4, 4.5 or 5-star (out of 5) ratings from the listeners. Some books are available in more than one version, read by a different person.

Here is a writer-up on the book by Martin Geeson, on the Librivox site:

Mary Barton was Elizabeth Gaskell’s first full-length novel. It was published anonymously in that tumultuous year of political change, 1848 – only a few months after the Communist Manifesto co-authored by her fellow Manchester-resident, Friedrich Engels. Engels’s experience as agent in his father’s cotton-spinning factory motivated him to write “The Condition of the Working Class in England”, a classic account of the sufferings of the poor under the factory-system.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s own personal contact with the plight of the poor cotton workers of Lancashire also compelled her to a compassionate examination of their lives; but as a middle-class woman, married to an Unitarian minister, her approach to her subject took on a more emotionally complex significance; influenced by religious faith but also by more personal considerations. In the brief preface to the novel, Mrs Gaskell hints at her initial impulse. The loss of a beloved child in infancy led her to seek a therapeutic outlet, but one which left her uncertain of her capacity to contextualize her public, writerly response to the tragedies occurring in the surrounding society of Manchester’s poorest classes:
“I know nothing of Political Economy, or the theories of trade…” She was, however, determined to portray, in novelistic form, the intimate connection between the private experience of her characters and the social forces of her time. The success of the novel led her to proclaim her authorship and move on to further works of fiction, which have secured her in our times a mounting reputation as one of the leading novelists of the mid-Victorian period.
Certainly, the novel features numerous death-scenes, all conveyed with a depth of sympathy that contrasts with the queasy iambics with which Dickens orchestrated the notorious demise of Little Nell. Mrs Gaskell was not, like Dickens, a London-based novelist observing the sufferings of the provincial poor with a journalistic detachment – as evidenced in his own admirable, Lancashire-based novel “Hard Times”. Gaskell lived among the people whose attenuated lives she chronicled – and however hesitantly, as a début novelist, she rendered their experience in literary terms, her writing presents us with a true insight into the sufferings of individuals at a point in history when the mass of human beings fell casualty to the forms of economic progress following upon the Industrial Revolution. Most impressively she called into question the political and social cost of creating a resentful proletariat despairing of survival in (to quote Karl Marx) a “heartless world”.
Our reader Tony Foster is a resident of Manchester and a near-neighbour of Mrs Gaskell (allowing for their separation in time). His superb narration renders the native speech of her characters with an authenticity which ideally conveys the spirit of this book. A truly moving experience awaits everyone who gives ear to this ‘Tale of Manchester Life’.

Much has been written about India’s poverty and books or films (like Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali) which portray it have a big market (and win awards) in the West where the common man still thinks Indians live on trees. But the picture of utter poverty of the working class in 19th century England is startling.

Most of the readers must have read Mulk Raj Anand’s classic ‘The Untouchable’, at least as a prescribed reading for examinations if not out of concern for an oppressed class of the country and a reflection of India’s greatest evil, the caste system.

However, in my reading for 70 years, I had not come across any mention of the Cagots of western France. Elizabeth Gaskell wrote of them in a story ‘An Accursed Race’ included in book of stories ‘Round the Sofa’.  Her portrayal of the inhuman way the Cagot tribe was treated all over Europe and even by the Church is not just appalling; it shows the Indian ‘Dalits’ were not treated half as badly. The other stories expose how the aristocracy discriminated against the ‘commoners’ and even denied them education.

And yet the world knows of only the Indian untouchables and caste. The same Church used that oppression and deprivation to convert millions, adding only to its numbers without improving their social status in any way. Other religions followed the same technique besides coercion. All that came of the conversions was creation of vote banks and politics of hatred.

It is significant that fiction and literature took up the social issues of discrimination, poverty and inequality, strengthening the efforts to set right the system. Very little of such use of literature and fiction is seen in India. True some films and books did come out against economic inequality, corruption and caste system, but they were very few or executed badly. I am not aware of any literary works that exposed the crimes against Kashmiri pandits or victims of caste reservations, sexual harassment or other evils.

With smart phone usage going up day by day in India, it is time a free audio and electronic book site of Indian books comes into being. On one of the audiobook sites I borrow books from the Toronto Public Library in Canada.

 Is there a single public library in India which has such a facility?