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Note: This page is no longer updated - it has been superceded by my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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org .
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
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
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
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
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....