‘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.

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Books Forgotten, But Worth Reading

Eliza_Gaskell
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?

Do We Need Patel Statue?

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ON OCTOBER 31 Prime Minister  Narendra Modi unveiled a 182 metre (597.113 feet) high statue of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, India’s first Home Minister, overlooking the Sardar Sarovar dam on river Narmada in Gujarat.

Many hate Modi for various reasons like being a Gujarati or a Hindu or an RSS pracharak and above all for breaking the monopoly of one dynasty over the top post in India. So a spate of  criticism over the construction of the statue was expected. The main objection was (from Congress) that there was no such statue for Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister and originator of the ruling dynasty, or for Mahatma Gandhi called the Father of the Nation or Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar the new god of neo-Buddhists and Dalits.

Some, who consider all politicians despicable, argued that the amount of nearly Rs. 3000 crore spent for the statue could have been used to build over one lakh schools or 2.8 lakh rural toilets, both  sadly lacking in the country.

The Statue of Unity, as the Patel statue has been named by Modi,  is almost twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty near New York in the USA which is 93 metres or 305.11 feet). It is taller that the Buddha statues at Spring Temple in China (120 m or 393.t ft.) and at Ushika Daibutsu in  Japan (120 m or 393.7 ft.) regarded as the third tallest in the world.

However, according to the website ‘The Mysterious World’  which lists’ the ‘Top 10’ in  many fields, the third tallest statue in the world, situated in Monywa, Myanmar  has a height of 116 meters. It is again of the Buddha. The construction of Laykyun Setkyar started in 1996 and completed in 2008. The statue actually stands on a 13.5 m throne.

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This is not the end. The sculptor 93 year old Ram Vanji Sutar, who designed and built the Statue of Unity for Larsen and Tourbo company of Bangalore, India, is also building in Mumbai the 121.92 m (400 ft.) tall statue of Chatrapati Shivaji and Dr. Amebkar statue of  76.2 m (250 ft.) height.

Significantly the three statues next-tallest to the Statue of Unity are of Gautama Buddha, also of  Indian origin. The Gujarat government is also building a 108 m tall statue of Buddha – which would be world’s tallest of him in the sitting posture.

Congressmen and Dalit politicians and the Shiv Sena (which would predictably attack Modi’s Bharatiya  Janata Party for making Patel’s  statue taller than that of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj), oppose the statue for political reasons and not because of the cost.

Others against Statue of Unity  would oppose it only as they are against all statues but have destroyed or disfigured only those of Hindus, but not because “a poor country like India” could  not afford to spend such huge amounts on non-developmental items.

True the statues would not feed the poor or provide education or toilets in rural areas. The same argument was used when my friend Vasaant Sathe, Minister for Information and Broadcasting at the Centre, favoured Indian television switching over to colour. Was colour TV needed for ‘poor’ India?

Had Indian TV remained black and white, would it not have strengthened the belief of most Europeans and Americans that ‘Injuns’ live on trees or that India is a nation of snake charmers?

The same argument would have prevented India building so many new modern airports and many other projects. Those who argue this way are ‘determinists’ holding that after Independence the country should have concentrated ONLY on education or ONLY on roads or ONLY on removing casteism. There can be many arguments on such single aims

But determinism (like the Congress Party’s belief in dynasty rule)  has been proved wrong. We do need development in different fields, as one can promote the others.

True, most statues serve no purpose except emotional.  Many old status are badly maintained and are nothing but repositories of bird droppings. Some cannot even be identified by most people;  their identities and relevance lost in history.

But some, like that of Sardar Patel who had united India and made it one country, certainly have a major role to play.

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No Unemployment in India

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WHENEVER I SAY (and it is quite often) that there is no unemployment in India but most people are “unemployable”, I get angry rebuttals or derisive laughter.

But I still hold it is true. Most school students do not know what they want to be. A very large number of people see employment as just an accident. An extremely large number of people do not enjoy what they are doing. Those who want to be singers or writers or painters end up as doctors or engineers. Being a player or an athlete was, till recently, never an option – all play “is a waste of time; it will not feed you.”

Brilliant could-have-been architects would be poring over accounts and those who could have made excellent doctors would be…. We can go on and on. There are too many square pegs in round holes.
And the main reason for this sorry state of things is our education system.

One of the worst failures of the country, whichever party is in power, is in the field of

education.

Continue reading No Unemployment in India

A Vulture Behind The Camera?

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NEWSPAPER AND TV NEWSCHANNEL photographers are now called photojournalists. The Wage Board for Working Journalists in India applies to them also. So they no more just mechanically take photographs but also take them to reflect the spirit of the news and often succeed in conveying the news more than words.

Having been the first reporter in central India to start taking news photographs along with reporting in 1959, I was faced with a dilemma: Are the news photographers just to capture the moment that would never come back or do they have a social responsibility also? For example, if present when a crime is being committed, do they report to the police and if they see a disaster do they, besides photographing it, also try to prevent it?

The question has still not been convincingly answered. Perhaps it is sufficient to say that being journalists they have the same ethical issues as print or TV journalists

But the temptation of having “exclusive” pictures and scoring a ‘scoop’ may, sometimes, cloud their vision. It was even alleged that during the agitation for a separate Telangana state in India some of the ‘self-immolations’ on the Osmania University campus were inspired, if not actually staged, by photographers and/or reporters.

It is like a journalist setting fire to a building or causing an accident just to get a scoop. When, as chief of a news agency bureau, I had an exclusive ‘story’ on a disaster in which there were many casualties, the media column of a Marathi daily (obviously at the instance of a rival journalist) alleged lack of social responsibility.

Napalm girl

Nic Ut’s 1973 Pulitzer winner photo

The writer of the column was perhaps not so well conversant with English as to read in my report that the DIG of Police proceeding to the spot for rescue and relief work was quoted to confirm the news. Luckily, the writer left journalism soon.

There are photographs which have changed the course of history or touched the conscience of the world. A photograph of a young girl, weeping and running naked on the road with her body burning due to a napalm bomb, did more to touch the collective conscience of the United States of America than any other action.

The ‘Napalm Girl’, snapped by Nic Ut for Associated Press in a moment of desperation in 1972, “encapsulated the terror of the U.S. war in Vietnam. The legend of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the girl in question, was simple and gratifying to opponents of the war.” She survived and is now settled in Canada as an inspirational speaker and peace activist.

Nic won the 1973 Pulitzer for his photo.

The conscience of the whole world on its inaction over famine and starvation deaths in Sudan was stirred by another photo, also of a young girl. Assailed for his inaction, photographer Kevin Carter committed suicide. I quote below a social media post about the photo (on top).
They called it “The Vulture and the little girl”.

The photo of a vulture waiting for a starving Sudanese girl to die was taken by Kevin Carter who later won the Pulitzer for this picture, but he lived just a few months to enjoy his supposed achievement because he later got depressed and took his own life.

He was actually savoring his feat and being celebrated on major news channels and networks worldwide.
His depression started when during a (phone in) interview someone phoned on and asked him what happened to the child. He replied, “I didn’t wait to find out after this shot as I had a plane to catch.…

And the caller replied,

“I put it to you that there were two vultures on that day. One had a camera”.

His constant thought of that statement led to depression and his ultimate suicide.
In whatsoever we do, let humanity come first before what we can gain out of the situation.

Kevin Carter could have been alive today if he just picked that little girl up and taken her to the United Nation’s feeding Center where she was attempting to reach.

Perhaps like the South Vietnam girl. the Sudanese girl too may have survived. And Kevin Carter too may have lived on to take more such photos. I was reminded of the address to journalism students, whom I took on a ‘study tour’ of New Delhi, by the famous Indian photographer Raghu Rai, whose photograph of a Bhopal gas tragedy victim (a small girl again) being buried haunts many memories (see ‘A TOWN CALLED PENURY – the Changing Culture of Indian Journalism’ page 158) and of Kishore Parekh who showed the whole world the Pakistani atrocities in what is now Bangladesh. And also of the world’s greatest portrait photographer, Karsh of Ottawa, who said he photographed not a face but a personality.

What a good photographer needs is not just a view, but a vision.

How to Make Men More Human

THE LIST IS GROWING longer by the day, with most news items referring to the same topic.

Most of the names may surprise many people: authors Chetan Bhagat and Suhel Seth, senior Journalists M. J. Akbar, Hyderabad Times of India editor K.R.Sreenivas and

Akbar

Hindustan Times bureau chief Prashant Jha, actors Nana Patekar, Alok Nath and Jitendra, scientists Rajendra Pachauri and Kanuru Rao, filmmakers Subhash Ghai, Vikas Bahl, Gaurang Doshi and Sajid Khan, top executives Suresh Rangarajan (Tata Motors) and Phaneesh Murthy… and more by the time you read

All of them have been achievers, not ordinary people. They otherwise would not have hit the headlines and would have remained unknown like thousands of others who did the same — make unwanted sexual advances towards women using their positions.

Back in India, Akbar resigned to go to court

Rajendra Pachauri headed the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that was awarded the Nobel Prize. Seth had held forth on TV panels to preached morals, Rao was dismissed as chief of Faridabad’s Health Science Technology Institute, Phaneesh was sacked from a top post by Infosys. Vikas Bahl’s ‘Queen’ was a film that extolled a woman.

And women were the weakness of all these men!

A Twitter user said even Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be the target of the #MeToo movement. Another hinted at charges against the most respected man in Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan.

There has been a flood of tweets and posts on social media which made it clear that there are three types of acts to which women victims object to – sexism, sexual harassment, and assault (rape) or violence.

Most complaints are of the first two varieties. That does not, however, mean that the assault and violence against women are less.

Only, many of them go unreported. The reason: in India the victim is blamed, shamed or even stigmatised as if it was her fault. The disbelief is more if celebrities are the perpetrators are or the victims are aspirants in entertainment and media industries where the prevalence of the “casting couch” syndrome is known for decades to prevail so much that is almost accepted as “normal”.

And consensual liaisons are too many. Some women did use that route to advance, and it puts most others, who come up on their own merit, to being thought they came up the same way.

A lot is being written and spoken about the. Even in that Mecca of freedom the United States of America, the problem exists as do sexism and domestic violence. And both the sexes have been the victims.

How can the problem be solved? In even the ‘advanced’ countries several political leaders have had to resign elective posts. And they did so as soon as they were exposed, without, as in , waiting for lengthy media trials, months of denials and court cases that seem to last a lifetime.

Death penalty, chemical or medical ness and other serious steps have been mooted. Those opposing such steps ask if high punishments have reduced crime. Even capital punishment has not prevented or at least reduced murders.

Social awareness, desensitization and education alone can eradicate this evil.

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‘Have a Nice Day’

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SPOOFS ABOUT Yam 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

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 Yam 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 Yam 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 

 

#MeToo Yes, But Political Witch-hunt – No

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IN INDIA, EVERYTHING seems to take on a political colour. Human rights advocates cry themselves hoarse when terrorists or a particular community is targeted, but remain silent when victims of terrorism or the other community are the sufferers. If a Dalit is even touched, these opponents of untouchability are up in arms. An ‘upper caste’ person can be subject to any indignity or torture and there is not even a murmur.

Akbar

It is not news. But very much in the news is a journalist – M. J. Akbar, former editor and founder of two well-known newspapers. Several women journalists have revealed that though he ‘did’ nothing, he had made them uncomfortable by calling them to hotel rooms for interviews or offering them drinks – both “unacceptable” in India, though not elsewhere.

Thanks to an actress, Tanushree Dutta, who is become more famous for her sexual harassment charge than her acting or memorable roles, the #MeToo movement has been revived in India.

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Tanushree Dutta plays victim

She charged Naana Patekar, indisputably an actor of distinction., with sexual harassment. She also attacked Akshaykumar for acting with Nana in a film and Amitabh Bacchan, the most eminent actor of Bombay film industry, for refusing to comment on the issue.

Another ‘right-leaning’ celebrity, singer Kailas Kher, was the next target

Even as these tweets, interviews and Facebook posts about the three kept pouring in on a daily basis, A recent addition to the list if Alok Nath described as ‘India’s most Sanskari actor’ (Sanskari

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means cultured or traditional).

It is a welcome movement. But not political witch-hunt in its name.

Akbar is now in BJP and is a minister at the Centre. Nana and Akshay are known to be cooperating with the BJP-led government headed by Narendra Modi. ‘BigB’ Amitabh, has been the brand ambassador of Gujarat (ruled by BJP) tourism and is also believed to be favourably disposed towards Modi. The party also talks of Indian culture and traditions and that, according to liberals, makes Alok Nath a BJP man.

This opened the floodgates of socislmedia posts about 0sexually inappropriate acts of many celebrities: writer Chetan Bhagat, film-makers Vikas Bahl and Gaurang Doshi, actor Rajat Kapoor, composer Anu Malik, even a woman comedian Aditi Mittal and many more.
Sexual harassment is certainly abominable and their being pro-Modi does not absolve the perpetrators of any blame. But what is surprising is that the woman journalist who wrote an article about her experiences with Akbar without naming him, continued to work with him and remained silent when he was Congress MP and the party’s leader and spokesman. Now, suddenly, she thought it fit to reveal his name.

Several women journalists tweeted in her support. Is it a mere coincidence that most of them are anti-Modi and had remained silent when Tarun Tejpal, also anti-BJP and the brain behind string operations against that party, was accused of and arrested for rape?

What Nana Patekar and Alok Nath did are certainly indefensible if true, even after some publicly defended them. All the tweets about Akbar, however, say that when the women said ‘no’ he did not pursue the matter in most cases. But Akbar has as many as 20 women tweeting about sexual harassment – the highest so far – and has resigned from the ministry. This must obviously be at the instance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though no one wants to give him the credit.

And all these reports are coming out years later. It is true that in India even rapes are hidden as women are in no position to complain as victim-blaming is common and mostly the perpetrators are powerful.

A main issue in the sexual harassment debate is that men should learn that ‘no’ means NO and the tweets say that Akbar always accepted the ‘no’. So they, in effect, certify that he did the right thing. That some women journalists take advantage of their femininity cannot be denied. Having spent 60 years in that profession I understand that sexual harassment and misuse of positions of power to take advantage of women.

Jokes about The Asian Age newsroom being called Akbar’s Harem and stories of many flirtations in the profession are known to all journalists. And such stories are sure to be there wherever both men and women work. The Supreme Court of India has outlined what came to be known as the ‘Visakha guidelines’ and has made it compulsory for every establishment with employees to have a committee on sexual harassment

Communal BJP and Casteless Congress

0_IMG-20180927-WA0028.jpgAn ‘InShorts’ online news item

A FRIEND WAS SHOCKED at the low levels to which the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi can stoop. He was convinced that the posters on the Bihar Congress leaders (picturre above), mentioning the caste of its leaders and thanking Rahul for making the party so inclusive and diversified, was BJP’s handiwork.

It did not occur to him that by the same logic it could be said that Mahatma Gandhi —having finished the job of struggle for freedom from the Biritish and making Nehru the PM — was killed by the Congress Party so that the BJP could be blamed for it.

Continue reading Communal BJP and Casteless Congress

Touching, Washing Feet as Rituals

IT IS A STRANGE coincidence that online and print media flashed the two news items on the same day: one about the Nagpur Mayor, Dr Nanda S. Jichkar, BJP, taking her son to

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Dr Nanda S. Jichkar

the US as her private secretary and the other about former minister Kapil Sibal deriding a little known Bharatiya Janata Party worker for washing the feet of a party MP.

Sibal strongly reacted to the later – and reports that the worker also drank the water with which the feet were washed. He immediately related it to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the man every Congressman loves to hate (though the PM had nothing to do with it). Sibal forgot to mention that the first political leader to hit headlines for similarly washing the feet of his mentor was none other than a Congress leader, Dr Shrikant Jichkar.

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Dr Shrikant Jichkar

The late Dr Jichkar, whom I knew personally, was not some illiterate unknown worker but a former Maharashtra minister, once India’s youngest MP and one reputed to be the most educated politician in India as he has the largest number of degrees.

In Maharashtra, the second initial is usually the father or husband’s name and some may have wrongly thought the two Jichkars, both from Nagpur, were related, just as many may have thought that S. B. Chavan, whose feet Dr Jichkar had washed, was the borhter of Y. B. Chavan, the state’s first and most famous Chief Minister. But I knew Dr Shrikant’s wife was Rajashree. A little search revealed the Mayor’s husband was an RTO named Sharad.

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Kapil Sibal

And neither Kabil Sibal nor any other Congress leader was outraged about Dr Shrikant’s act. None of them issued statements condemning him. What prominent Congressmen do becomes reprehensible if done by an unknown, lowly, BJP man!

An office-bearer of the Congress Party killing his wife and trying to burn her in a hotel tandoor (a furnace) or youth Congress workers in a special train looting shops at stations along the way are their own actions and the party chief has nothing to do with them, but if a BJP man violates traffic rules, Narendra Modi is to blame for it.

Whether owing allegience to a leader simply because he belongs to the dynasty and wagging tails everytime his/her name is mentioned is any less than washing feet is for people to decide.
But before anyone from another culture is shocked or surprised at these Indian traditions, these oriental customs have to be understood in their context. There is someting oriental about them, alien to the occidental mind. A Chinese-American teacher in my journalism school six decades ago said that a floor has to be kept “so clean that you can eat off it.” Then she would explain that people don’t eat off the floor in China. I told her I undeerstood what she meant, as I was an oriental too.

In Uttar Pradesh state of India, someone passing by a Brahmin known to him on foot or a bicycle, used to say “Pai lagoo panditji” (I touch your feet, learned one). This verbal feet touching – whether the Brahmin was really learned or not – comes from generations of customs that have lost their original meaning and have been ritualised – like most of Hinduism.

I do not know whether the custom, even in its ritualised form, continues or not, but I do remember the days when Pandit Kamalapati Tripathi, then Chief Minister of UP, used to meet visitors with a single chair for himself in the room. Every visitor had to touch his feet first. It is said Tripathi used to remember months later a visitor who did NOT touch his feet and hold that against him.
He was a Congressman but Jawaharlal Nehru was not blamed for it. Feet touching is one of the first such rituals Modi stopped after becoming India’s Prime Minister, a fact never acknowledged.

Feet touching or prostrating on the ground at the feet of a learned and revered person was considered a mark of reverence for hundreds of years in India. At a parents’ day in a school just 30-35 years ago, I used to see an eminent scientist in full suit prostrating before the swamiji (post on June 30,2017: A Spiritual Space Scientist) who ran the school. It was a sign not only of respect but also humility, a virtue regarded highly in Indian culture.

The story of Dr Nanda taking her son to USA as Secretary though he was not an employee of the Municipal Corporation of which she is the Mayor also seems to have got a big play in the media because she too belongs to BJP.

Without defending her, I am reminded of the story of the first Chief MInister of Andhra Pradesh, Tanguturi Prakasham (being a Brahmin, he was always addressed as Pantulu or Panditji, as Nehru too was). The first linguistic state of India, Andhra, had Karnool as its interim capital, with many offices in tents.

Like all Congress chief ministers, he too faced opposition and ouster moves by factions in the party itself, one led by Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, who later became India’s President. In the state legislature there a no-confidence motion was moved against Prakasham for appointing his own son as his PA — just what the BJP Mayor of Nagpur did.

The Opposition had Communist stalwarts like P. Sundaraiah and Nagi Reddy. My friend the late G. Krishna, who had covered the legislature, told me of the fiery speeches of the comrades, the machinations of Sanjiva Reddy in engineering the no-trust move and the moving reply to the debate by Prakasham Pantulu .

Prakasham
Prakasham Pantulu

Prakasham had earned millions as a Mylapore lawyer in Chennai and sacrificed all the wealth for the freedom struggle (travelling in what Congress leader Sashi Tharoor called the cattle class with followers and asking if someone had bought a ticket for him as he had no money to buy). He was called Andhra Kesari (Lion of Andhra) by Gandhiji as he bared his chest to British bullets during the freedom struggle.

The Chief Minister told the legislature that he had appointed his son to take care of him as his PA because he was a patient of prostate enlargement, as a result of which he had no control over bladder and bowel movements – a condition in which no outsider appointed as his PA would care for him.

The speech, according to Krishna, was so touching that it literally brought tears to the eyes of the Opposition leaders who crossed the floor to the CM’s seat, held his hands and said sorry to Prakasham Pantulu before withdrawing the no-confidence motion.

It is not known under what circumstances the Mayor showed her son as her PA. She did not even appoint him as a PA formally. Her act cannot be equated to that of Prakasham Pantulu, but it does remind me of a Chief Justice of AP High Court who, just days before his retirement, wanted to go to some place in the USA for medical treatment (of course at government expense). This was challenged in a public interest litigation.

But none was filed against many Indian leaders going abroad for treatment even though Indian hospital standarads have improved so much that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj opted for a kidney transplant in India

Sibal, in his tirade, asks if BJP members of Parliament would wash Modi’s feet and drink that “dirty water”. Whether Jichkar, who drank the water off Chavan’s feet, drank ‘dirty’ water or clean water after washing the feet clean first is not known. The same is also not known in the case of the BJP worker.

But what is known is that washing feet clean before any ritual is very highly valued in Indian traditions — something even Kapil Sibal cannot find fault with.