As I Please

Note: This page is no longer updated - it has been superceded by my blog. However the articles below are linked back from my blog so you might as well read them here.

This is not a blog. You can't write comments. Its on my home page and not on a blogging site. The closest it comes to is an old fashioned diary. One where you write just for your own edification, not for the entertainment of the rest of the world.
It contains (or will eventually contain) random thoughts that occur to me in daily life or on my travels or whatever. That is why its titled 'As I Please'. Those of you who know your Orwell will recall his eponymous column in the Tribune. I do not claim to have either Orwell's insight into current affairs or his felicity with English (though I try to follow his 5 Rules for Effective Writing ). The title of this column is my way of paying homage to one of the greatest journalists and commentators of that age - the conscience of his generation, as he was often called.
The column is not protected, so you might chance upon it through some google search someday. If so, and if you do have something useful to say, please send polite mail to . And so to the first column (in reverse chronological order):

As I Please (19 April 2008)

Much has happpened with regard to China and Tibet, at least in newspaper columns. In a surprise move, the Readers' Editor defended our point that 'The Hindu' was presenting just one side of the China-Tibet debate. The views of the Tibetan side were all but excluded. The Hindu editor N. Ram put up a less than pathetic defense, talking of the Dalai Lama as a separatist (he might as well have called him a 'splittist' since he is anyway merely mouthing what the Chinese Government wants him to)

The Readers' Editor's response as well as a couple of other letters that I (along with some other colleagues) wrote made it in two fairly popular blogs the Nanopolitan and Sunil Mukhi's blog which also included verbatim our letter to the Hindu. Thus, those of you who want to read all that has been written on this subject can check our these two sites.

As of last count, there was no sign of our letter to the Hindu appearing in print. Nor did I expect that they would. Clearly N. Ram, who talks long and loud about freedom of speech, is not above a bit of self censorship to help his pro-China position. On this issue check out, again, Freedom of speech but only if China's happy . Gives an interesting sideshow on N. Ram's convenient lip service to Freedome of Speech.

To all these people who merely parrot the words put in their heads by the party, I would like to paraphrase what Henry Higgins tells Eliza Dolittle - There is not a word in your mouth or an idea in your head that the Party hasn't put there.

As I Please (21 March 2008)

China is upto its old brutal habits in Tibet (and here, the Hindu is faithfully giving the official Chinese line to its readers). Though, it turns out that for once, some of the Tibetans have not quite lived up to Buddhism's non-violent ethos (perhaps they have been bitten by the Sri Lankan Buddhist monks). Incredibly, the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has blamed the Dalai Lama for inciting and fomenting the violence. Given China's vicious and brutal record in suppressing all dissent, this takes some doing. Anyway this article is not about the China-Tibet problem, except indirectly. I have been hearing some of my colleagues and some of the intelligentsia comparing the secessionist movement in Tibet with that in Kashmir and asking why its not ok for Kashmiris to ask for secession, but its ok for Tibetans. Most of these remarks come out of confused thinking and comparing incomparable environments (I sometimes wonder why the intelligentsia is called that -- considering its record on the intelligence issue).

First of all, the Dalai Lama has asked for autonomy not independence whatever be the position of the hot-headed younger Tibetan generation. This has been his consistent position since 1987. But more importantly the issues pertaining to each of them are totally different. Let's look at some of them.

  • The Maharaja of Kashmir ceded Kashmir to the Indian Union and this was later unanimously ratified by the Kashmir Assembly led by the then Prime Minister of Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah. One might quibble about the legality of the accession, but it was not just a Hindu acting against the interests of his Muslim subjects. The issue of accession of Kashmir has some murky legal issues, but there was no forceful annexation. Nor did the Indian Army go pillaging around the countryside. On 28th July 1952, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah declared at Lal Chowk that Kashmir is part and parcel of India. On 6th February, 1954, the Constituent Assembly under Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed ratified accession of the State to India. (An interesting bit of trivia around this time is that China's Chou En Lai said (16 March 1956) that the people of Kashmir have already expressed their will regarding accession to India).

    In Tibet, the Red Army went on a rampage, destroying monasteries sacred to the Tibetans like the Potala Palace and the Jokhang and murdered thousands of monks, many of them brutally. If ever there was forcible annexation, this was it.

  • There have been reasonably regular elections in Kashmir, most of them, except for the infamous one in the late 80s, free and fair as the saying goes. The people's mandate was accepted and Kashmir was ruled by its duly elected officials. Unfortunately the Central Government blotted its copybook in the '87 election by full scale rigging which also coincided with a serious upsurge in terrorist and secessionist activities. Aided and abetted by our esteemed neighbour, Kashmir has seen the deaths of more than 10 times the number killed in the 9/11 WTC attacks. This gave rise to a vicious circle of death and destruction, with the Central Government forced to place the army in control of civilian areas, resulting in large numbers of human rights violations, thereby alienating the Kashmiris even more. Unfortunately this is true, whenever an Army is placed in areas that should rightly be under civilian control. Most armies are trained to act ruthlessly against the perceived enemy -- an action that might be fine in the battlefield but not in the middle of a city. The result has been disproprotionate use of force and many deaths of innocent people. India's record in Kashmir has been a bloody one in the last 10-15 years, but its important to realise that the 'other side' has been fully involved in aiding, abetting, arming and training thousands of jihadis to attack and destroy the Indian state.

    In recent years, some sanity has re-emerged on both sides. We have had elections, the last two elected Governments came to power through the ballot box. some of the violence has reduced, the Army has been taken out of civilian areas. (It has helped that Pakistan has been busy with its own internal struggles and terrorist attacks).

    Let us now look at Tibet. After the brutal takeover of Tibet, things have been relatively peaceful with only sporadic outbreaks of violence. That is because the Tibetans have not been aided by an antagonistic foreign power, they have not resorted to terrorist attacks from across the border, there have been no jihadi equivalents amongst their lot. Even the slightest attempt to protest has been met with heavy handed and brutal suppression. (This is true within China too - witness Tianenmen square in 1989. As Ed Luce says in his book, the kind of demonstrations that took place in Tianenmen square, happen in India all the time in some place or other and nobody blinks). As a result the voice of the Tibetans has been silenced firmly, ruthlessly and brutally.

    Of course, there's no question of elections in Tibet - such concepts are non-existent anywhere in China!

  • The Dalai Lama is not welcome in Tibet or anywhere in China. He has been in exile for well over 50 years and will probably continue to be so till his death. He has been vilified and demonised by the Chinese Government and the official media for all these years.

    Compare this with the likes of Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, or Abdul Ghani Bhat or Syed Geelani. The worst they suffer is the occassional house arrest. They live in India, they use Indian passports to travel, preaching their secessionist mantras and justifying the actions of their violent followers, and, in the ultimate irony, get the Indian Government to provide them security when some of their feuding factions turn on each other! It would almost be comic, if it were not so tragic.

  • The Chinese Government, even in peaceful times, has insidiously acted to dilute, overrun and virtually obliterate Tibetan religion and culture by flooding Lhasa and other areas with Han Chinese. Even the much vaunted Tibetan railway is a step to get millions of Han Chinese into Tibet to participate in what is no doubt an economic boom. This, I am afraid is true, nothwithstanding our comrades valiant attempts to cloud the issue by nitpicking over what is TAR and what is Greater Tibet.

    In Kashmir, article 370 of the constitution prohibits Indians from other parts of the country to buy land or property. This is in order to maintain the uniqueness of Kashmiri life and culture and prevent it from being swamped by people from the plains.

    To me the Kashmir and Tibet issue do not bear comparision, If despite all that I have said above, people still feel that they are similar, I can only quote that impossible cricket commentator Navjot Singh Sidhu - Hydrogen and Stupidity are the two most common elements in the universe.

    As I Please (1 March 2008)

    We have just been through the annual budget presentation ritual and the talking point seems to be the Rs. 60,000 crores (that's 6 times 10 to the power 11 !). All the talking heads on NDTV are aghast at the Government's profligacy and for ruining the credit culture. There was one lady from Kotak Mahendra who had a silly smirk on her face, talking about about what a great budget it was for farmers in a sarcastic tone, what a good budget it was for 'aam admi' but then she paused and said -- "But what about us bankers - there's nothing in it for us!". Gee whiz, lady that's true - there just ain't no spare cash to buy that fourth Mercedes! On the other hand, (and with such tough times for bankers, poor things) I haven't heard of any banker suicides, have you? Some top executive from Shell India pontificated in clipped English accents about how money could have been better used for improving the infrastructure and long term investment in agriculture. Well, I am no economist and he could well be righti since its trivially true and we could improve agricultural infrastructure. But to have an executive from Shell -- one of the most corrupt and venal companies in the world known to have joined hands with African dictators in exploiting the land and looting all its natural resources - to come and lecture the Government on how to spend its money is more than flesh and blood can stand. While I may not always agree with P. Sainath, why don't these channels occassionally get someone like him to provide a counter to these super-fatted calves?

    As I Please (25 February 2008)

    Returned a week ago from Jaipur and Mumbai - an international conference in Jaipur (Quark Matter 2008) and one of its satellite meetings in Mumbai (TIFR). This is not the place to discuss physics (though I must say it's good to have a meeting where people are discussing actual data - hasn't happened quite like this in High Energy Physics for some time -- though hopefully the LHC will change all that soon) so I will discuss my general impressions of the visit.
    Jaipur is typically North India -- dry and dusty (and very cold this time of the year) but with some incredible monuments and palaces. People are also typically North Indian - the receptionists at our hotel (Gangaur - an RTDC hotel) were typically rough, surly and unfriendly. (Please do not get me wrong - despite 20 odd years in Chennai I still think of myself as a Delhi-ite - can't get more North Indian than that!) . Tourism has taken over the city -- every auto rickshaw driver wants to take you to the nearest shop rather than where you want to go! And they get very sour, if you put your foot down firmly and refuse! And yes, they are as rapacious as Chennai auto drivers - nothing below Rs. 40 even if you are going less than 2 km !!
    Like many cities in India, the new parts are all wide roads, gleaming steel and glass office complexes and malls whereas the old city (the pink part) is crowded, dirty, rutted and chaotic and nobody seems to have spared a thought about improving it -- no doubt, like Indians in other parts of the country, this is considered part of our culture and USP! The grand Birla Conference Centre and Auditorium Complex is built in that typical fake (here I should use 'faux' since it sounds more 'haute'!) palace architectural style that makes it look more tacky than grand. Needless to say, nothing works too well, starting with the toilets - again another Indian speciality. We may have 9% growth and be a 'rising economic power' but we don't think having sparkling toilets is worth the trouble. The 'Rising Economic Power' bit is of course visible in the restaurant prices - in two of the middling restaurants we went to (Niros and Little Italy) we ran up a bill of around Rs. 400-500!
    Took a one day trip to Jodhpur and saw the Mehrangarh fort. Jodhpur is overall less touristy (surprisingly) and we stayed in a charming hotel called Devi Bhavan which was (is) a house belonging presumably to one of the lesser Rajputs (its not a palace but a house which is nicely done up).
    Before I start sounding like the crusty and complaining V. S. Naipaul, let me move on to my next stop which was Mumbai. What can I say about Mumbai that hasn't been said already? Because the TIFR Guest House was full, we stayed at the YWCA International Guest House on Madame Cama Road (a 2 minute walk from Regal Cinema). You can't get more central than that and at that price (Rs. 1000) which included bed tea, breakfast, dinner (and the newspaper delivered to your room every morning). The rooms are small and spartan but adequate for me (even had a balcony allowing you to watch the South Mumbai traffic and the various heritage buildings in the neighbourhood - Institute of Science, National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai University etc.). and the bathrooms are sparkling - what more does one want - I definitely don't wish to go jogging inside my room.
    Mumbai (or at least South Mumbai as my carping friends are apt to remind me, to bring me down to earth) is such a charming city - despite the attempts of the Thackereys and their ilk to destroy its ethos. So much to see, excellent public transport - nobody shoves and jostles in the bus as in Delhi - wide pavements to walk on (non-existent in Chennai) and great places to eat. (Discovered 'Falafel' - a new vegetarian place opposite Regal that served Hummus, Tahini, Pita bread, Falafel and their relatives for extremely reasonable prices). Another wonder - every taxi driver and auto driver quietly puts down the meter - no long protracted haggling as in Chennai or Jaipur.
    I had seen the new airport terminal building when coming in but not too carefully since it was late at night. So had a chance to study it when I was leaving. Its almost international standards (no, nowhere like the new Beijing airport) all steel girders and skylights and gleaming floors and, more importantly, large number of counters for checking in! However, I can't help feeling India is fast leaving a whole section of its populace behind. The Coffee Day counter served me a muffin and Capuccino for Rs. 112 !!! Which you stand and eat. Are all air passengers supposed to be rich, well heeled with expense accounts? With the advent of the low cost carriers, surely one can imagine an ordinary single income middle class family of four wanting a bite to eat while they wait for one of the ever delayed flights? I guess they are supposed to pack their food and bring it with them - not eat in any restaurant inside the building. We are becoming such a high cost economy - what do ordinary people do? (In India, McDonalds -- that caters to truck drivers and those looking for a quick and cheap place to eat in the US - is the haunt of only the well-to-do - I can't see any 'ordinary' people eating there. But then its probably all for the best - why ruin your constitution with that junk food - there are always Udupi hotels, though not in the terminal building!).
    Jet Airways was as always late (the LCC's I find these days are much better in keeping time - particularly Spicejet and Indigo) and it gave me a chance to visit the loo and you guessed it - fancy sea green tiles and granite floor but stinking, with water over large parts of the floor, paper towels that had missed the trash and the usual detritus of the Indian toilet! Ah well ! Can't expect change in my lifetime....