Is This What We Fought For?

AS A FORERUNNER TO AUGUST 15, INDIA’S INDEPENDENCE DAY A FRIEND MAILED ME an old film song from the 1959 film Didi, sung by Asha Bhonsle, Sudha Malhotra and Mohammed Rafi.

The song,   ‘Humne Suna That Ek Hai Bharat‘   (We heard that India is United’) summarises India’s recent history – its journey from a struggle for Independence marked someswar1-gmail-com06102016164827dfl140948by unique principles of non-violence and civil disobedience to dynasty rule, caste rivalry   and communal disharmony, not to speak of the dirtiest politics imaginable.

How meaningful were old songs! From those soulful  songs that touched hearts to today’s shouting and meaningless cacaphony of  ‘lyrics’ without harmony is a similar journey of deterioration.

It was a film that starred the late  Sunil Dutt. Can any reader remember the film? Or the name of the first boy on who was shown singing  the song?

Name the Prejudice

Some people, like politicians and film stars, thrive on controversy. Their careers depend on publicity – good or bad. Psychological studies have proved that bad news attracts more attention, and therefore spreads faster and wider, than good. So, to be in the eyes of the public, ‘stars’ (or their PR agents) ‘leak’ rumours or scandals against themselves. They prefer being written against. Being ignored means death.
But to be controversial and become the centre of a raging social media debate from birth is the privilege of the scion of the Pataudi dynasty. Saif Ali Khan Pataudi and his wife Kareena Kapoor, named him Taimur and thereby touched off a debate on the social media like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. What was the right of the parents, to chose a name which an individual has to live with for his or her whole life, has come into the public domain.

rhodes_inida The ostensible reason for the digital storm is that the name happens to be that of Taimur Lang (Langda -lame- shortened. He had a deformed leg). Taimur was an Islamic invader from Mongolia who had attacked and sacked India, especially Delhi, with unequaled barbarity. Over 1.7 crore people were killed and thousands of women raped. But he was not the only one who did it. Other invaders and rulers like Ghajni, Sikandar, Babur, Tipu and Aurangazeb emulated him. Even after that the name Sikandar was given to many in India, without any protests. And yet India is home to the second largest number of Muslims in the word! To get their votes, some call India intolerant!

Continue reading Name the Prejudice

No More Scavenging With Pen

pen-1Writing on politics in India is a scavenger’s job; you can write only about dirty deeds of unprincipled people. The very word ‘politics’ has lost its original meaning to acquire a bad connotation. When one conspires or manipulates, one is supposed to be “playing politics”. Journalists think only ‘politics’ – who is stabbing whom in the back, who is pulling whose legs – is news. Even those who are disgusted with it and choose fields like sports or science have to cover politics there; ‘politics’ has become all-pervasive.

All political reporting is about parties which have sacrificed all values, principles and ideologies and have the single-point goal of coming to power and retaining it, about palace coups within parties, about people called ‘leaders’ who only follow — doing what the mob wants, even if wrong. Populism and evils like casteism, parochialism and use of money and muscle power are accepted as “electoral compulsions”, even by parties which once swore by principles.
What can a political analyst write about today?
On how a loyal good man, frustrated and grumbling about being always ignored in favour of dynasty members has been ‘kicked up’ into the Rahstrapati Bhavan as he cannot be kicked out?
On how one becomes a President or Governor not for any merit or erudition, but as reward for loyalty to ruling family or for nuisance value and ability to needle the rulers if not ‘rehabilitated’?
On how goondas posing as leaders work up mob emotions on issues which should be sorted out across the table and in the interests of the majority, irrespective of their language. religion or caste? On how these ‘leaders’ remain unscathed, grow rich and live comfortably in palacial properties even as the people whom they incite to violence lose lives or limbs or get locked up?
On how “people’s representatives” waste time in Parliament and legislatures on dharnas, freebies for themselves and trivial issues like a decades-old cartoon, naming of universities/projects or even more frivolous matters, but have no time to pass the Lokpal or Women’s Reservation Bills or laws to benefit children, dalits (who they swear by) and disabled?
On how ‘leaders’ of a party which criticisie rivals for corruption or illegal activities and “foreign jaunts”, themselves face corruption charges, get arrested or go on pleasure trips abroad with hangers on? On how they spend hundreds of crores of tax-payers’ money on ads to promote temselves while basic services suffer?
On how a CM spends crores on helicopter-hopping, poojas, homas and prostrating before pontiffs, ignoring draught and more urgent issues?
On how a leader with prime ministerial dreams prefers to be a puppet Chief Minister controlled by a disqualified politician and allows a wanted criminal ‘welcome’ a muder accused on bail, giving him a VIP treatment?
On how Union Carbide’s Andersons, Bofors’ Quattarochis and the corrupt with secret Swiss bank accounts are protected by leaders who then demand a probe into an anti-corruption crusaders’ money but refuse to reveal where their own party’s millions came from?
On how those responsible for a deplorable massacre of members of one community charge rivals –just to get a community’s votes– with (equally deplorable) genocide, but use their own power to escape prosecution while the rivals faced scores of cases and tet their own members go to jail?
On how politicians, film stars and gold-and-diamond merchants – all of them contributing little to the society — have become millionaires with political patronage while farmers who produce the food we live on are driven to suicide?
On how a ‘son of the soil’ who could spend crores on world tours for his extended family despite being a ‘poor farmer’, found only three billionaires of the state to choose a Rajya Sabha candidate from?
On how a company can lend money to the close kin of the ruling dynasty to buy land and then buy the same land from him at many times the price just a few days later or on how a government-allotted land worth hundreds of crores is ‘sold’ by politician-trustees to themselves for a paltry sum?
The list can be unending. The pen may be mightier than the sword, or the (key)board stronger than the bomber, but a journalist has to use it as a toilet brush to clean up the dirt spread by politicians.
Journalists who want to stop writing on politics and turn to human issues are, however, condemned to be considered “useless” non-entities.

I did.


Sindhu-Sakshi Medals: A wrong way to nurture Sports?

The winning of two “losing medals”, as British journalist Piers Morgan described them — a silver and a bronze– at the Rio Olympics sparked off a debate in the country. Morgan Tweeted that a “Country with 1.2 billion people wildly celebrates 2 losing medals. How embarrassing is that? ”
The August 24 Tweet brought forth a backlash from Indian Twitterati, including writer Chetan Bhagat. One of them called Morgan a “gross human being”. Another said a little country putting “great” before its name (Great Britain) was more embarassing.
The popular Internet social mediumTwitter also saw a war of words when hundreds of Tweets lambasted socialite writer Shobha Dey rediculed the Indian contingent to the Olympics as having gone there just for a fun trip to take selfies and come back empty handed.
Dey was trolled on Twitter for her insensitive quip. “The social butterfly writing titillating trash should change her name from Shobha Dey (day) to Shobha Rat (night, not the rodent),” said a WhatsApp post. In a hitting reply, articles were written about the rigours of training for the Olympics and how difficult it was to be eligible. Was all her writing trash as she did not win even a Booker prize?, she was asked.
There is no denying the fact that the Indian celebrations for Sakshi Mullik’s bronze in wrestling and P. V. Sindhu’s silver in badminton were disproportionate to the magnitude of their victories and certainly “wild” as the British journalist called it. The whole country went into a frenzy in giving them a rousing welcome and showering gifts and awards on them. No doubt their achievements were worth commending, but the hype at the celebrations smacked more of politics and one-up-manship than any encouragement to sports.
Politicians showered awards and gifts on both, at tax-payers’ expense and spent lakhs of rupees on organising public receptions at which politicians grabbed the spotlight more than the two girls who had to labour hard for years. The leaders wanted to share the attention the players were getting and pander to the vote-banks of the communities to which they belonged. Or they were racing with other politicians in bestowing largesse on them with public funds. Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media were abuzz with posts on the subject. One of them listed the bonanza bestowed on Sindhu.
1. AP Govt Rs. 3 crores
2. Telangana Govt 5 Crores.
3. Delhi Govt 2 Crores
4. MP Govt 50 Lakhs
5. All India Football Federation 5 Lakhs
6. Bharat Petroleum 75 Lakhs
7. Salman Khan 25 Lakhs
8. Jk Group 5 Lakhs
9. Badminton Association of India 50 Lakhs
10. Mukkattu Sebastian, An Indian Businessman 5 Million USD
11. Olympic Association of India 30 Lakhs
12. Haryana Govt 50 Lakhs
13. Railway Ministry 50 Lakhs
14. About 2000 Square Yards of Land in AP and Telangana.
15. Grade 1 Government Job in both Telangana and Andra Pradesh.
16. A BMW Beemer worth 2 Crores.
17. Mahindra’s top-in-line SUV from the company.
18. In AP 3 or 4 builders announced gifts of flats to Sindhu and her parents.
19. One of the country’s top jewellery chain’s brand ambassadorship — could be worth more than a crore. This comes to Rs.13.85 crores in hard cash, besides the cost of flats, plots, cars and endorsement money and promises of Class I jobs. Several such gifts were annunced for Sakshi too.
How many of these announcements would fructify and how soon is anyone’s guess, but no guess is needed as to how many of these very generous leaders lifted even a little finger to help her achieve the goal before she won the medal.
Some of the leaders speaking at the wild welcome shows did not even know the two girls’ names correctly. While the whole world was praising Pullella Gopichand for Sindhu’s achievement, Mehmood Ali, Deputy Chief Minister of Telangana publicly insulted him at the reception saying the government would provide a better coach for her future participation on world sports events.
Perhaps Ali had in mind that Gopichand, who had to mortgage his house to put up the academy which was given land by Chandra Babu Naidu governmen of Telugu Desam Party (alley of BJP and main rival of the Congress-backed Telangana Rajya Samiti). Gopichand had to go to court to scuttle the effort of the successor Congress government led by Y.S.R. Reddy to take back the land.
The grand Gacchibawli stadium where the reception was held was also the creation of the TDP regime which hosted the national games there. Naidu’s bid to use it for the Common Wealth Games was spurned in favour of Delhi – resulting in a major scandal.
Most of the pot-bellied politicians know nothing of sports and games and the only role they ‘played’ was to capture sports organisations for their influence and money. Those of them who did haved some playing experience, like AP’s Kiran Reddy who was a cricketer, S.M. Krishna of Karnataka who played tennis or Haryana’s Chouthala with his link to wrestling Akhadas, did little for sports or athletics when they were in power.
No doubt the two young women deserved all the gifts showered on them. But is that the way to ensure that in future world events and Olympics, India would put up a better show? What is needed is building up of world-class infrastructure and facilities and full encouragement to sports persons. Instead, we have politicians bringing groupism, nepostism and dirty politics into sports. Babus and netas pocket much of the money allotted, to enjoy foreign jaunts flying first class and putting up in star hotels, while sports persons are treated as menials and denied proper gear.
Another star who shone brightly at the Olympics, though she missed a medal by a whisker, was Deepa Karmakar of athletics who had to practice at a ramshackle gym and used improvised equipment she built herself from an old scooter. All three were raised to the sky after their return from Rio de Janeiro but left to fend for themselves earlier. Prime Minister Narenxdra Modi’s task force set up to raise the Indian standards for the next three Olympics, has a tough task ahead. A Pakistani cricketer who had declared that “all Muslims of the world” would be proud of his big achievement was criticised, but what about the claim of Sindhu being a ‘Telugu girl’ or the bid to call Sakshi a ‘Beti’ of Haryana – the main centre of India’s female foeticide?
That all the three are women is significant. The Haryana government promptly made Sakshi the face of its ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign. Something more concrete is nededed for Indian sports to grow out of sloganeering and half-hearted policies.

For the Indian girls at Rio… (can also go as a side box)
This most significant post among the many on WhatsApp is worth a read:
An Indian girl achieving in sports is like Alice of Wonderland running doubly fast even to stay where she was, as the odds are stacked AGAINST her.
They defeated the ultrasound that declared ‘it’ was a ‘she’.
They defeated the nurse declaring in a sombre tone ‘ladki hai’.
They defeated murderous parents or even worse those who keep them alive but kill their spirit every single day.
They defeated the odds against them …of parents “allowing” her to chase her dream.
They defeated the family pride that wants every Indian child to be a doctor or engineer.
They defeated the school teacher who said “it’s not a girl’s game”.
They defeated bad sports infrastructure and even lack of healthy food needed to fuel the fire.
They defeated a system where overweight foreign-travelling officials, who have only played Ludo as a sport, decide her fate.
They defeated the Dada-Nana who told her “good girls don’t wear short clothes”.
They defeated the Dadi-Nani who told her not to play in sun and become “kaali-kaluthi.”
They defeated friends who told her she needs to “control aggression and chill.”
They defeated the ‘pados waali Aunty ji’ who wondered “akele kahan-kahan ghumti hai aapki ladki.”
They defeated the million eyes staring at her legs and not noticing the brilliant game she played.
They defeated the Bua jee and Mausi jee who ask “tum shadi kab karogi.”
They defeated the journalist who asked her when she would “settle”.
They defeated the cynics who thought they were pouting and clicking selfies on a fully paid foreign trip.
So dare not take even a slice of her glory by calling her HUMARI BETI!
They have achieved what they have not because of us, but despite us!
If any parents can claim, it is only those who have only daughters or did not go on for more children hoping the next would be a son.


Memory Training in Ancient India

Knowledge in ancient India was passed on from one generation to the next through word of mouth. The oral tradition could not have survived for centuries without effective and efficient methods of memory training.

Years ago, an aged Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) functionary told me a story: He was among around 40 RSS workers attending a “bouddhik”  (intellectual discussion-cum-training class) addressed by Eknath Ranade, the brain behind the Vivekananda Roack memorial at Kanyakumari.

At the outset, Ranade asked each of the participants to tell their names and where they came from and where they were working.

At the end of the class, he told each of them his name, town and work place. Then he told them that what he did was not a miracle or an ability he was born with. The organisation trained him to enhance his memory.

There is another story I heard in childhood from my father. Panditaraya, a famous classical Telugu poet from coastal Andhra, adjacent to Odisha, went to Puri to visit the famous Jagannath temple. He did not know the local language. Those days learned people could go around the country using Sanskrit, as the Adi Shankara did to north, east and west.

As he was walking on the road he saw two men quarrelling and shouting at each other. He stood for some time watching them. Then one of the men stabbed the other to death. The king’s men came and arrested the killer. They tried to find out what was the cause of the fight. All passers-by said they did not witness the fight and did not know what led to the crime (as they do even today, to escape the police harrassment and court attendance). The only witness was Panditaraya. He was presented before the king along with the accused.

Panditaraya  told  the king’s court that  he did not understand a word of what  the two were speaking, but could repeat the entire conversation.  And he did so.  He obviously had a photographic memory. The judgement was delivered based on the narration by the Telugu poet who did not know Odia language.

In Arthur Hailey’s book, ‘The Money Changers’, which is about the banking industry, a girl cashier working in a bank  was kidnapped by bank robbers with a large amount of money, blindfolded and taken to a hideaway. The  girl had a photographic memory  and could rant off the numbers of thousands of currency notes in a bundle and the balances in all the  accounts.

When she escaped her captors, she could lead the police to the place where the money was hidden. As she was taken in a getaway car from the bank, she started counting and remembered at what count the car took a turn to the right or left (obviously it was  not a one-way street).

All these stories make it clear that memory can be trained and enhanced. They also emphasise the importance of good memory. In our education system, it is memory that usually determines academic achievement, rather than understanding and assimilation. We live in a society where knowledge matters more than wisdom.

It is only when we  can remember incidents that occurred decades ago, but forget where the wallet (usually),  the spectacles or house-keys were kept a few minutes earlier, that we realise that there are two types of memory – short and long. This is where mind dynamics and mnemonics come in. A good memory, like communication skills, is a major asset for anyone to achieve leadership position in management.

Ayurveda found herbs like Shankapushpi and formulations that strengthen memory power. Some other devices and techniques have also been developed for this purpose. A ‘memory guru’, who says he studied in a Corporation school and started life as a peon claims he could acquire several degrees and a doctorate, by developing  techniques  of memory enhancement. He started  cashing in on his “art”  by starting an institute  for memory training.

Much of literature depends on memories – sad memories that torment and happy memories that one lives by.  Indian films lean much on unscientific and  wrong concepts of memory loss or different types of   amnesia. A long, boring explanation about functioning of the brain is needed to understand these phenomena and this is no place for it.  Selective amnesia is common in out present-day electoral politics in which politicians make promises and forget them till the next election comes.

The most significant scientific invention after mankind developed the wheel is the memory chip – the tiny device on which not only the IT industry and robotics but also several other gadgets depend. We use many of these gadgets without even being aware that their main component is the memory chip.

Any technique, device or practice that helps us understand, develop and use the processes of memory to our optimum advantage would indeed be a boon to humanity.


Author of ‘A TOWN CALLED PENURY  -the Changing Culture of Indian Journalism’             &                                           ‘JOURNALISM, Ethics, Codes, Laws’

In Search of Indians.. in India

This was being written in a hospital. During almost a month spent outside Intensive Care Units, Operation Theatres and in wards, there is one thing that made me think deeply about and stirred memories: how we, in India, are not Indians but Kannadigas, Telugus, Maharashtrians, Biharis or……
It brought back memories of an editor, imposed on the local edition of ‘national’ (in reality ‘notional’) English daily, who was being introduced to the seniors there. “I hate Malayalis” was his instant reaction when introduced to a Malayali sub-editor and “I hate Kashmiri Pandits,” when it was the turn of a KP senior journalist.

Old friends occasionally remind me of a conversation piece I used to use 40 years ago to make people at informal get-togethers talk: “Give a Telugu man a million rupees and he would take the first train to Madras (now Chennai), try to produce a film and lose it all. A Bangalore Kannadiga would invest it in real estate and earn enough rent to live on. Give a Marathi manus the money and he would put it in a bank to live off the interest. A Marwari would lend it at high interest to double it in a year or two. A Gujarati would put it in business to make a lot of money, not wealth, while a Punjabi would start an industry, create jobs and add to national wealth.”
What made me think of these silly stereotypes about different communities was the fact that in all the major hospitals, the lingua franca of the nursing station is Malayalam (just as that of Marwari-owned Indian Express group till recently was not Hindi or English but Tamil). Over half century ago nurses in a Vidarbha town agitated, asking for rice which was scarce after the 1962 China war; they ate just rice alone (that too parboiled rice), as all of them – not just most – were from Kerala.
Imagine mid-1960s, when most towns were not as cosmopolitan as they are today. Imagine chuni-bhakar eating, Marathi-speaking Amravati town in land-locked arid Vidarbha and Kerala where it rained, rained and rained and you crossed rivulets every few miles and young girls from there who spoke nothing but Malayalam and even English that sounded like it. Coming hundreds of miles away, they kept hospitals there – and at equally far and unfamiliar places – running.
Some countries in the world today look to India for trained, dedicated nurses. And there would have been no nursing in India but for these young Malayali girls, an overwhelming majority of them Christians.
The argument that they came just because there were no jobs in Kerala is simplistic.That does not explain the tremendous sense of patience, dedication and compassion almost all of them show. Their Christian roots and belief in Jesus washing the wounds of a leper must have something to do with it.
Had Christianity been not so widespread in Kerala, God’s own country, that state may not have been the pioneer in the nursing profession.
Just when these thoughts were in my mind, a man who rose to eminence for a movement against Malayali pavement shop-keepers in Bombay (now Mumbai) was in hospital (perhaps being served by Malayali nurses). His Shiv Sena later spread the hatred to other groups too, but I don’t recollect his ever assailing the near monopoly of Malayali nurses.
The ‘sons of the soil’ could start roadside shops, sell duplicate goods or take up office jobs to end the dominationof Malayalis in these areas, but the daughters were not equally forthcoming to take up nursing, with its night duties and not-very-easy, often unpleasant, hard work.
This is not the occasion to discuss Balasaheb Thackeray, who is no more, or his ideology, but one cannot deny that the very mention of his names brings forth the hate-images most Indians have about communities other their own. It was not very long ago that most people (even educated) in the Hindi belt thought everyone in the South was a ‘Madrasi’, that Telugus used to refer to Tamil language as ‘aravam’ (unpleasant to the ear), that a Marwari was regarded as a ‘makkhichoos’ or kanjoos (miser), a Marathi a lazy ‘ghati’ or a Bihari as uncouth and backward. Sardars in north, Nadars and Chettiars in south have been butt ends of jokes for decades. In UP brainless, dull people are called ‘Balliatic’ – people of Ballia district. And it produced a former Prime Minister – the late Chandrshekhar!  Warari Manse (Vidarbha people) are supposed to be backward, unsophisticated. There are many more such prejudices.
Similar to these prejudicial stereotypes and mutual mistrust among communities and associating them with some professions.

Some jobs are traditionally linked to certain groups – like Malayalis and nursing.
In the days of the freedom movement there was a joke about Netaji Subhashchandra Bose addressing a predominantly-Tamil audience in Mumbai’s Chembur-King Cross area. The Congress then was split between the followers of Gandhiji and Netaji. Reportedly,
Subhash asked: “Gentlemen, are you moderates or liberals?” and the audience, in one voice, answered: “Sir, we are stenographers”.
Just as most stenos, at one time, were Tamilians, earthwork was (and to some extent is) mostly done by Telugu ‘Palamoor labour’ (Mehaboobnagar in Telangana was originally Palamoor), foundry work by Biharis, retail shop-keeping by Marwaris and Sindhis, timber trade by Gujaratis and taxi drivers (at least in Mumbai) were men from the UP-Bihar area. Locksmiths and duplicate key-makers are mostly Muslims, mainly from Aligarh (UP) famous for its lock-making industry. Most of the male cooks, who satisfy the hunger of many IT employees in Bangalore apartments, are from Odisha. A majority of the ‘pourakarmikas’ (sweepers) of civic bodies in Karnataka are from Andhra. A closer look will reveal many more such links. Say you are a Patel in USA and it would be presumed you run a motel.
How wrong today these stereotypes are need not be proved to any intelligent person.
I knew a senior Bihari journalist who was so impressed by the translation of a story by Masti Venkatesh Iyengar that he learnt Kannada to read his original works. A Tamilian, Viswanathan was a well-known Bengali film actor. Most actresses in Telugu today are from other languages. RangeyaRaghav, a Tamilian, was an eminent Hindi writer. P.V. Narasimha Rao spoke excellent Hindi and Marathi besides many other languages. Yester-year’s J. V. Raman (of DD) and today’s SitaramYechuri and Swami Agnivesh, all Telugus, speak better Hindi than quite a few Hindis. Those resorting to goondaism to “protect” Kannada are ignorant about three Gnanpeeth-award winning Kannada authors with roots in other languages – Masti in Tamil, Bendre in Marathi and Gundappa in Telugu. That is the greatness of Kannada. Such examples can go on and on.
The resources, geography and climate of a region influenced traditional occupations and led to cultural and behavioural peculiarities that created such stereotypes. With changing times the behavioural patterns changed. Comedian Mahmood’s ‘Madrasi’ said ‘ayyo’ in every sentence and spoke horrible Hindi. Today many South Indian politicians speak fluent Hindi (while hardly any northern leader can speak a southern language). Anyone who finds another’s language unintelligible and funny should know that his own tongue sounds just the same to the other.
And yet these stereotypes live on.
They may provide some fun when used for jokes. But they are dangerous if they lead to the “I hate….”  syndrome.