Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Morally Bankrupt Indian - A Hypocrite?

As The Business Standard quoted in a recent editorial, are we a country for scandal? Is the word “India” getting to be synonymous with scams, scandals and infamy? This is a question every Indian must ask himself – for now things are simply getting out of hand. The scourge of corruption is beginning to impact every level of life and is now beginning to seriously hinder development and the image of Brand India. And yet, the common man, meaning you and me- is totally uncaring and focused on the self. The common man, beyond meaningless platitudes and pointless empty statements condemning corruption, does precisely nothing. By and large, the same man  or woman who condemn our political class and big business for scandals, will be the first to take a shortcut or pay a bribe. 

The list of scandals and scams is literally endless – IPL betting and match fixing, Ranbaxy, Telecom 2G scam, Indian Banking system cobrapost sting and money laundering, Satyam, Saradha, Commonwealth Games, Wrestling doping case, Illegal mining in several states, Railway hiring scam… I could, quite literally, go on and on for quite a bit of time. The list is endless. And the troubling aspect is that no sector of the economy, no part of our daily lives are left untouched by this extremely disturbing trend. What is more, the average Indian is not only not doing anything about it – but is, on the contrary, very busy benefiting from this scenario. 

Take a look at the list given above. It transcends both big and small business  as well as local and central politics. The list is a troubling indictment of our political system, that is incontestable. And no one argues with that contention either. But far more than being an indictment of our political systems and big business, it is a damning indictment of The Indian Citizen as a selfish corrupt and morally defunct individual. All of us are guilty. Guilty as charged. 

Quite a few of the cases above would have involved normal Indians – people like you and me. Satyam, Banking allegations  and Ranbaxy were committed by people in corporates; people who went along with instructions and broke the law – or twisted it. One cannot escape by saying “my job was on the line”. These perpetrators  would have spanned the entire spectrum from the big shot to the people at the smaller levels. And quite a few would have benefited in terms of promotions and higher increments – or better opportunities and more lucrative assignments. That is the way the game works. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.  This comes out very, very clearly in the cobrapost sting, where the middle class Indian’s total lack of moral propriety has been brutally exposed for all to see. 

Hypocrite is the word that comes to mind – and it is perhaps the smallest and gentlest word that jumps to my mind. I can think of several more apt terms for this disgusting display of moral bankruptcy by the average Indian in the extremely shaky guise of “I did it / do it to save my job – I have a family to take care of”. On the one hand, we wax eloquent about India, its greatness, about how much we love it, about our pride in it, about our patriotism. And the very next moment we indulge in behavior that must make mother India weep bitter tears of regret and helplessness at the systematic rape being indulged in and perpetrated on her pure body  by her own children. And this is probably the textbook definition of the word Hypocrite. Look it up if you don’t believe me. 

Our internal compass is in dire need of correction; we Indians need to redefine our priorities towards our approach to life and our nation. Most of all, and first of all, we need to stop talking and start doing, Patriotism is to be shown not in words – but in deeds. And getting angry at the British (swines though they were in The Raj) does not absolve us of our duties to our Mother. Standing on rooftops and  screaming “I love you Mother India” also does not relieve us of our duties. Vociferously defending India in social media, equally, does not complete our duties. 

The oft-repeated argument – nay, the oft-repeated specious argument – I did it to save my job / because that is the norm / It does not impact me - does not hold water, as pointed out below. In the long run, this is a snake that will recoil back upon us. The choice is ours; we can reform and help in recreating an India where giving a bribe is uncool; where talking short-cuts at the expense of quality and morality is not acceptable; where “Made In India” is synonymous with quality and perfection..

The alternative is an erosion trust in India in the eyes of the World, a sullying of the Brand India and serious impairment of competitiveness. Perhaps we need a dose of realism: there is a tendency to call this as needless rabble-rousing, to focus on the so-called tangible aspect pf jobs and GDP growth and to let sleeping dog lie. There is also a wrongly held notion that such behavior  - so long as I am benefiting – does not impact me. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the medium to long run, lessened competitiveness and a sullied Brand India is going to hit the normal man – and hit him or her hard.

Three or four scams – big ones – in corporate India have already surfaced – Satyam, Cobrapost (which impacts the entire banking sector), Ranbaxy, Walmart bribing case and Saradha that I can recall. And there will be others. Slowly but surely, if things continue as they are, India will become a synonym for corruption; a land to be approached with care. We might find it difficult to attract capital, or approach other markets with our reputation of unsavoury and unhealthy practices. This is not a fanciful notion; nor is it scare-mongering. The writing is on the wall. India already enjoys a justified reputation of being among the most corrupt nations on Earth. 

There will come a time when some other nations’ growth path eclipses our growth rate; when this happens – these countries (provided they give a cleaner business atmosphere) – will compete with us for scarce capital and resources. And the chances are that they will win. At that point in time we will be left holding a half-empty bag and pining for lost opportunities. There will also come a time when the Indian Manager will be hired with extreme caution due to the reputation of cutting corners. There will come a time when projects and business deals will go to other countries simply because of ease of doing business and lack of corruption. And it is very likely that that time is very near, or is already upon us. 

Jaago, Sonewaalon!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Partition Of India: Was It Avoidable?


It is my continuing quest to understand this very topic: why were we partitioned, and was it avoidable? I am currently on my - oh, 18th book -  Bengal Divided: The Unmaking Of A Nation: 1905 - 1971; so I can honestly state that this is a work in progress. I have thought quite a bit about this, and am yet to come to any definitive conclusion. I do not intend to attempt what I cannot do: answer this question. My intention here is to stoke enough questions in the readers' minds, and stoke their own readings on this...


Q1) What were the events that led to the inevitability of the partition?



In 1905, all of Bengal - and India - rose against the parititon of Bengal; contrast this to 1947, when a communally divided nation split. What changed in 42 short years? For this, we have to peel away the layers of misinformation and preconceived notions that still pervade our minds. It was not such a simple matter; and this is too long a topic to be fully justified in a sub-heading. To encapsulate:



The key event - in fact, the only event of fatal importance (fatal to unity) was the 2nd world war. The refusal of the congress to assist and resign the ministries has been identified as a himalayan blunder. It wasnt; this just goes to prove how shoddy our education of history has been. The british had promised in 1914 to free India after the first world war; this was later reneged on. Further, there was actually no point fighting to free european nations when India was herself a slave. Thus, the congress stand comes across as bold and accurate: the joker in the pack was Jinnah, who colluded with the british from September 1939. This is documented history, and is not open to discussion. 



As early as 1933, the British was visualised a partition; the original plan was to hive off Baluchistan from India. Thus, it was always the brits who were playing both sides of the coin. These 2 events led to the inevitability of partition - despite the desperate efforts of the INC



Q2) How could these events have been averted

The fallacious impression of unity till 1920 or thereabouts glibly overlooks the existing internal tensions and pull-pressures in Indian Society post-1857 - and the sequence of events let loose by the fall of Muslim rule over Asia; the rise of Syed Ahmed Khan with his strident anti-INC stance and the counterbalancing rise of Jamal-Al-Din Al-Afghani among others. The only thing is that these were in a tiny minority - the Muslim classes were, by and large - against disunity till even the early 1940s. But the presence of causes of rifts was a fact, Under normal circumstances, these would have subsided with time. But the times were not normal



It was not possible to maintain equanimity; the British were hell-bent on partition. The historical record of conversations and minutes of meetings pretty much prove that point. There is nothing that anyone could have done to avert partition. If Jinnah had not approached, the Brits would have. There is suspicion that this was done once during the round table conference. 



"It is of paramount importance that India should not secede from the Empire. If, however, the colony could not be held, the alternative was to keep a strategic peice of it under british control - possbily Baluchistan" - Winston Churchill, May 5th, 1945



Everyone would do well to remember that Hindus and Muslims lived peacefully from around 700 AD to 1910 AD - a matter of 1210 years. Something happened in these last 40 - 50 years to vitiate the atmosphere... and it is that something that I am hunting for... trying to understand in my ongoing quest...



This process of alienation did not start in the 1900s; it did not start by itself - and paradoxically, it was not initiated by the Brits. The existing circumstances after 1857 were utilised by the Brits; wounds were rubbed raw, and used to maintain control over the masses. Simultaneous developments - innocuous developments by and large - in both communities created further opportunities for alienation - which were tapped by the Brits.  All three were players in this drama -and at this point I am not prepared to state more, as for me this is a work in progress. 



While it is clear that position on both sides were increasingly intractable. we should not forget that around 1900 they were not so bad. The british policy of divide and rule has never been fully explained to us... "If amity among the various communities were somehow achieved, its immediate result would be that the united communities would join us in showing the door... Winston Churchill



Jawaharlal Nehru: Essentially these were : the creation and protection of vested interests bound up with british rule; a policy of counterpoise and balancing of different elements, and the encouragement of fissiparous tendencies and division among them - The Discovery of India



I am not a historian; but I am deeply interested in understanding our colonial history. So far as I am aware  and my readings of several books on this topic goes, the partition was not a simple affair. There is a lot that remains to be understood. Perhaps the one book that comes close to giving me an understanding is the book by Jaswant Singh; especially if I read Mukherjee's book also. I would advise all to studiously avoid non-indian works on this topic - I have read both - and Indian works are far, far more unbiased IMO



It seems to be that Partition was inevitable. Indian movement could not have gone forward without the mass struggle advocated by Gandhiji; this was against Jinnah's ego - who was increasingly sidelined. He went to London, and returned a changed man. His meeting with Linlithgow on 3rd Sept 1939 clearly indicates his unwillingness to accept anything less than partition; it also clearly documents the British attitude and strategy of Partition. Thereafter, it was relatively easy to whip up communal tensions in minority regions; majority regions were pro-India till 1947! The 8th book superbly chronicles the way the divide and rule policy worked in favour of partition and further whipping up communal tensions... 



This cannot be explained in an blog post - or even in a book - as the list below will reveal. Furthermore, there are some details that cannot be put in an internet forum...  This is a journey of discovery to be undertaken by everyone... if interested, please read the following material given below (preferably in the order stated). Even now, I am not entirely sure I understand why is it that a people living together peacefully till 1900 could suddenly, in 40 short years, become enemies... which is the second greatest tragedy of partition - with the greatest tragedy being the loss of life...



References:



1) From the ruins of empire- Pankaj Mishra

2) Partition - The Untold Story - Narendra Sarila

3) Jinnah, Partition, Independence - Jaswant Singh
4) The Case For India - Will Durant
5) India's Struggle For Independence - Bipin Chandra Pal
6) Churchill's Secret War - Madhushree Mukherjee
7) The Discovery Of India - Jawaharlal Nehru
8) Bengal Divided: The Unmaking Of A Nation: 1905 - 1971 - Nitish Sengupta



Among Others...

Cultural Backlash-3 : The Clash Of Civilizations



This is the ninth article of the culture series




So far we have seen the linguistic aspect of culture - and how slowly the importance of local languages is being felt again in the rise of the regional news channels, newspapers and literature in the local tongue. In this article I shall look at the most contentious issue - the moral brigade and the clash of the East and the West in our own backyards. 




But first, let us establish some percentages, and fix the scale of this entire east-west brouhaha. India has a population of 1.25 billion, or 125 Crores. Of these, it is known that 18.2% are in the age groups of 15-25 years as perIndia Demographics Profile 2013. Furthermore, the total population of the top 50 cities in India is around 8.68 Crores  {List_of_most_populous_cities} - 6.8% of the total population of India. And the 18-25 generation comprises only 1.2% of the total national population in the top 50 cities of India. Even if you add the age groups upto 40 years, this only goes up to 2.57% of the total population. Add all the top 200 cities in India - and you still get a total of just 5.1% of total population




Who are these 2.57%? They are the 18-40 age group in the top 50 cities of India. We know 38.2% is the distribution for 18-40 years age group in India - which equal 3.29 crores youngsters in the top cities of India. This number is 2.57% of the total population. These are the people who are actually in the forefront of the adopt-westeern-values brigade. This trend is actually observable only in the top 20-30 cities of India. They are the young professionals in various cities of India who listen to western pop, jazz and rock bands; sport western clothes; date; jabber and chatter in pure desi English; and other such norms that tend to rile some sections of our society...




These numbers are important for us - for they enable us to visualise just how premature this entire clash of civilizations stuff is. 2.57% cannot cause a significant change in a culture that has shown resilience even under extreme persecution - you can take Goa Inquisition as an example. Despite 200+ years of relentless torture and forced conversion, Hindus still constituted 35% of Goa population in 1851. Thus, it is being foolish in the extreme to believe that a mere 2.57% of the population of India adopting western values will have a significant impact on what we can call Indian Values. Any  worries we have on this score are premature; it is all in the future.




The point is, can we spot current trends that indicate a reversal in this increasing westernisation of our society? That will be the surest indicator of future change trends. We know that increasing westernisation is a clear and present trend in the cities of India. But, luckily, the reverse is also happening, as can be spotted from several contentious as well as welcome events that are happening around us. 




First of all, we have the oft-repeated examples of the moral brigade that is evident in Mumbai and Delhi. The inroads made by western values have tended to disturb the more conservative among our society. This is not a surprise; it was only to be expected. The intense surprise and outrage being vocalised by the pro-west brigade is totally in the wrong is this - if you look at this from afar and dispassionately, without taking any sides. The reverse kickback of the fundamentalists in our society was only to be expected; remember we are a deeply conservative society. The behavioural trends mooted by the the young brigade in the metros was bound to cause a ripple in the pond. This is the first, and extreme example of a reverse trend - a backlash if you will. It is these interactions, repeated innumerable times, that set norms of behaviour in a society. The youngsters are heralding change; they are the ones bringing in change, And when you get change - resistance is inevitable. The need of the hour is a mature response - not shrill outrage. 




Second, there is an increasing trend of Indianness in dressing as seen in current fashion in garments in both males and females alike. This may be a fad - time will tell. It is too early to call. There are examples youngsters taking to Indian Classical Music - and the rise of income is creating a market for them. The internet and Media are giving them exposure; will this create a new wave? This remains to be seen - but it is yet another reverse trend. 




Third, rise in regional movies; more and more regional movies and television programmes are getting beamed into homes; as an example - the Marathi smash hit serial Eka Lagnaa Chi Dusri Goshte, and Uncha Mazaa Zokaa introduced people like to Marathi cinema and serials - bringing people like me closer to my culture. 








Fourth, the continuing resilience of the family unit - which has endured the gut-wrenching challenges posed by modern life and the problems of providing for a family in addition to a far more liberal and confidant female half. Rather than get torn asunder, the institution of family and marriage has adapted wonderfully well; love marraiges are on the rise - with everything else proceeding like an arranged marriage with elders getting together and planning it out etc. A working wife has been, by and large, accepted in most urban homes, where the whole family has made adjustments. And quite a few working women still take time off from jobs to focus on kids... Aishwarya Rai is a classic and famous example of this. 




There are other examples that we can spot on a daily basis - the office pooja before Diwali; the home and office cleaning on Diwali; restriction on Non-Veg in some offices and many, many more that we can see with observant eyes on a daily basis. Remember, it is these innumerable interchanges that establish cultural and societal norms




This it can be seen that a western takeover is anything but sure; a backlash that spans every range from the mature to the extreme is in evidence. And my bet is on Indian Values surviving - in a somewhat adapted form - which is what India does best. She absorbs and moulds influences from outside and integrates them into herself...

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Book Review: Shoes Of The Dead: The Power Of One...




FACT
In the ten year period between 1997 and 2006 as many as 166,304 farmers committed suicide in India. (See Table 1 below). If we consider the 12 year period from 1995 to 2006 the figure is close to 200,000: the exact figure (190,753) would be an underestimation since a couple of major states like Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan and a number of smaller states like Pondicherry did not report any farmers’ suicides for one or the other – or both - of these two years. Thus, going by the official data, on average nearly 16,000 farmers committed suicide every year over the last decade or so. It is also clear from the table that every seventh suicide in the country was a farm suicide.


"According to NSS 2003 data, the monthly consumption of marginal farmers was Rs.2482 and  monthly income was Rs.1659 (Table 14 and Fig 4.1). It shows that they have dis-savings  of  Rs.823. As NCEUS (2008) says “consumption expenditure of marginal and small farmers exceeds their estimated income by a substantial margin and presumably the deficits have to be plugged by borrowing or other means” (p.12). NCEUS (2008) also indicates that the poverty for small holding farmers is much higher than other farmers. The need for increase in productivity and incomes of small holdings and promotion of non-farm activities for these farmers are obvious "



Nationwide, the farmers’ suicide rate (FSR) was 16.3 per 100,000 farmers in 2011. That’s a lot higher than 11.1, which is the rate for the rest of the population. And slightly higher than the FSR of 15.8 in 2001. At least 270,940 Indian farmers have taken their lives since 1995, NCRB records show. This occurred at an annual average of 14,462 in six years, from 1995 to 2000. And at a yearly average of 16,743 in 11 years between 2001 and 2011. That is around 46 farmers’ suicides each day, on average. Or nearly one every half-hour since 2001.



BOOK REVIEW: SHOES OF THE DEAD
Not everyone is moved with facts and figures; if so, this is the book for you - a stunning fictional story that is based on farmer suicides. The facts quoted above should be enough to convince anyone of the reality on which this fiction novel is based. It has been authored by Kota Neelima, who works as political editor with The Sunday Guardian, and is a research fellow for South Asia studies at the Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University, Washington DC.


The foreword states “The stories of the farmers of Vidarbha region of Maharashtra are the soul of this book”, establishing the authors’ experience in this field. That resume also puts authority into the tome; which is one of the best books I have read in any genre for a long, long time. This is a book that will shake you to the core of your being – I can recall only one other – Churchill’s Secret War – that affected me as much.

THE PLOT
The plot plays out in New Delhi, in the corridors of power, and in the village of Mityalay in “South Central India”.  The suicide of a farmer in Mityalay due to farm debts gets his younger brother seriously riled. This younger brother is educated, a city dweller with an established and settled job as a teacher.. His anger leads him to quit teaching and return to the village for a novel revenge – fighting to ensure that no other farmer quits life like his brother did. The non-functioning of support systems like loan terms re-negotiation, widow compensation in case of debt-related suicide, which form the core reason for his brother’s death – are identified by him as the core reasons.

Problem is that this system of non-deliverance of aid has an economy of its own, with unscrupulous money-lenders, local big farmers with agenda of their own, bank managers with targets to meet – and the local MP with an assembly election to manage. And this is how interests collide, as the enterprising young man almost single-handedly delivers justice to the widows of the farmers in an superbly plotted, entirely believable & flawless strategy. The personal cost borne by this young man make his achievement even more powerful, and at the end of the book, you are forced to realize “The Power Of  One”

He is assisted by a doughty Journalist, who, alongside this young farmer forms the  core of the book. Ranged against them are a big think-tank, an MP and his powerful father, a moneylender, the powerful farmer, the District Collector, Bank  Manager and Agricultural Officer.


The book takes you into the dirty intrigues that play out in the corridors of power, where everything and everyone is subjugted to electoral victory and nothing else matters. The interplay between various political figures is enthralling, and the entire Political-Media circuit has also been brought out with elan in the story. This is the secondary theme, which has been blended into the main theme effortlessly as the author skillfully merges the two with alternating chapters, letting us see the story unfold on both sides simultaneously.

The charectarisation has stunned me; I was left absolutely awestruck by the sacrifice of pace for the sake of building each character.  This actually adds to the story, which becomes an intriguing and absorbing tale that slowly captivates you. The detailed buildup helps us gel with each character, since we can now see the motives and the reasons for the behavior of each character, and makes for a very convincing narrative. This is a relatively slow-paced book – but is unputdownable nonetheless.  Each character comes across as forceful and real-life; such is the tremendous power of the charactarisation and the attendant narrative.


The story is virtually flawless, and instantly gels with you. It is a tragic tale, but has been put forth in a very factual and minimalist style, with little dramatization. It will tug at your heart, and make you think with its deep observations, stated simply is a line or two – observations that are spread across the book. These are the icing on the cake, as they start your mind thinking of the tragedy that is unfolding, as referred to in the facts section above. “I know I could not have won without the votes that these 2 got me by force and funds. But I would have chosen farmers to be my allies, or the labourers on farms, the tenants or any of the underpriviledged.” – lines which take you deep into a young MPs mind as his ideals collide with the ugly reality of politics. In this byplay between the 2  - the MP and the farmer, one can see how one compromises and becomes part of the system, and the other doesn’t- and brings about change. This is the power of one, the power we all ignore. 

And that is what this book is ultimately about: The Power Of One. How one man, one honest man, can bring lasting change… and about our society – which does not value this power – The Power Of One…



This review is a part of the biggest Book Reviews Program. for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Bharat Ki Kahani India Ki Zubani...


There is no one out there reading your story. There is no one who will take a step because of your story. It is just a numb, self-absorbed world that is slowly consuming itself, from light to darkness, from darkness to darkness” – Kota Neelima in Shoes of the Dead

Although these words are from a fiction novel on farmer suicides, they could well be a factual statement of India today, of the uncaring and comatose educated classes that comprise the cities and towns of India. This is not just about farmer suicides – but about everything. Just about everything. Our sickening carelessness and chalta hai attitude, our selfish I-Me-Myself approach, our total disregard for our duties as citizens… our total inaction, and indeed collusion, in corruption is a case in point. 

Words fail me… I am searching for words for perhaps the first time in my life at this uncaring attitude of Indian Citizens. The total disregard for the massive challenges that face India today- corruption, energy, agricultural problems is shocking. No one seems to care. It is considered a matter of pride if you have bribed someone to get something done; the honest people are termed “chutiyaas”. This is itself a scathing indictment of our society, and the failures that we have become. Any society that regards the honest man as a fool needs a serious correction of its moral compass. It amazes me that people regard giving a bribe as a given, and pull up people to stay adamant on not bribing. Instead of holding such people as examples to be emulated, they are termed fools! And for the educated from India to do this is a travesty of the word educated - education gives a person the ability to think; jobs give a person the power to say no; and yet - we see India stripped naked every day. 

It further amazes me that we are so caught up in our own lives that we fail to see the abject poverty in our villages and even the urban poor. We have become so hard-hearted, so uncaring that the difficulties being faced by the poor sections of our society do not even register in our landscape and world-view. We have a massive mal-nutrition problem; we have some of the poorest people on the planet living in India. The very mechanisms that are designed to alleviate the lives of these people have been conclusively proven to be ineffectual and full of holes – and yet, we, the urban elite, do not see anything beyond our traffic congestion, our GDP growth numbers, Inflation, etcetera. 

There is little genuine pressure on anyone in the system to bring about genuine change. No one is being questioned on the failed PDS, no one is being questioned on the plight of marginal farmers. There is little genuine honest effort being made to eradicate corruption… it is as if these problems just do not exist for the educated elite. It is almost as if there exist 2 Indias – India and Bharat. Neither can see what the other is hankering about. A sad state of affairs indeed – when India does not even bother to read about the problems of Bharat in the news – as evidenced by the lack of a national dialogue and serious pressure on the government through the Media. The silence is profound… India cannot see what Bharat is going through, India is blind, deaf and dumb on any issue that does not effect India. It is almost as if Bharat is populated not by humans, but by some alien species… 

The reality of Bharat is too brutal to contemplate; but you wouldn’t know it from an Indian. After all, the Indian is not Bharatiya. He / She is only an Indian… India and Bharat… the two will have to meet if we are to make our nation what it once was: Aryavarta, The Golden Land. But without India waking upto Bharat, and re-aligning its seriously distorted internal moral compass, there can be no hope of that happening…

As I always say,

Jaago Sonewaalon!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Cultural Backlash - 2: The Written Word


This is the seventh article in the culture series

In the previous article: http://reflectionsvvk.blogspot.in/2013/04/cultural-backlash-1-language-issue.html we had looked at the language aspect of the backlash - and how the vernacular is making a strong comeback. This article carries on from there and examines the backlash in literature and culture. This article has been penned largely because of a facebook chat between Manreet Sodhi Someshwar {Author - The Taj Conspiracy}  and myself; it was her idea that enabled me to take this series forward... 

When I refer to literature here, I am referring to the reading habits of the common man as I have observed in book stores across India - what books are purchased or browsed, and what is the range available. Being a bookaholic, a book store is among the first places I visit in any new city. And, considering that online stores contribute only 12% of book sales, this can be taken as representative. 

Circa 1982 - 84, when I used to visit book-stalls in Gwalior with my elder sister and Dad every month, the books on display would be almosr exclusively English titles by western authors. This is the general trend that continued for much of the 80 and 90s decade; I was a regular in book stores, and such local literature as I observed would be either almost a second-grade finish; or absent. It was not in vogue. Indian English literature was also nearly non-existent, with the large number of Indian books being either on esoteric topics, or way too highly priced. Indian English Fiction was non-existent; Vernacular language fiction and books were frankly off poor print quality. The Non-Fiction category was practically absent, at least in terms of visibility. 

There was a clear trend to regard the vernacular thrillers as second-grade; the Urban educated youth - including me and my friends - would read Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Robert Ludlum, Alistair Maclean , Archies etc. The only exception would be Champak or Panchatantra - in English. This was the scenario as it existed even upto the early part of the previous decade. Hindi or Marathi or Vernacular poets, literature etc would not even cross our minds. And let me be frank: there was a persistent impression among all of us that our local literature was not upto the mark - in any language. 

A PAUSE...
Let us take a pause at this point and ask ourselves a few questions. We have a rich heritage from our past, starting with The Vedas, The Upanishads, The Purans, The Ramayana, The Mahabharata from our ancient ages. In the Middle Ages we had superb well-known poets like Kabir, Tulsidas, Amir Khusrow etc. In the modern ages, we have had an awesome lineup of poets and writers in each of our local languages - people will remember the name of Rabindranath Tagore. But there were plenty of others who were present - Shivmangal Singh Suman, Harivansha Rai "Bachhan" etc. And yet, when asked about our literary heritage, we can recall only The Ramayana and The Mahabharata (principally due to their religious links); some of us might recall a few lines of Kabirdas, some might even recall Abhigyaan Shaakuntalam; but little else. Most of us have heard of Madhushaala of Shri Harivansha Rai "Bachchan", but how many have a copy, or have read it?

On the other hand,  if you talk of English playwrights and poets, we can rattle off their titles and plays and poems like parrots. Shakespeare's Macbeth can be recalled play-by-play and scene-by-scene by any number of people; art schools and dramatists still revel in holding any number of plays of Macbeth and other Shakespearean dramas. Why not Abhigyaan Shaakuntalam? Why not any of the other Indian plays? We still - as on date 2013 - dont want to read about Madhushala, or any of Rabindranath Tagore's poems, or even the iconic Khoob Ladi Mardaani by Subhadra Kumari. And yet, we can rattle of the names of Yeats, Kipling etc almost at the speed of light! 


This is the colonial mindset; the impact of colonialism. It is sad to see the degradation that the vernacular languages have been subjected to. The modern Urban Indian attaches a disproportionate importance to English; this is an established fact. So much so that the market for Indian Language products lacks depth, and is severely under-represented. Talking of Share-Of-Mind, English has captivated us all in the Urban Markets - especially the convent and/or Public School educated people. The reading skills in the local tongue are, quite simply, abysmal. 

If it was only about Language, it would not be so bad; unfortunately, this spans the entire cultural spectrum. I will look at the other aspects of this fawning over the west in a later article; here my focus is on the written word. As we have seen above, Indian Writings on Indian topics were also almost non-existent. After our Epics, all was blank. We read only about the World Wars, European Renaissance, Kipling, Wodehouse, Yeats, Somerset Maugham, Barbara Cartland etc. 

MOVING ON...
Happily, this is what is changing - and changing quite rapidly. How did this transform to the scene we now see today? The reasons for this are manifold - the increasing per capita income brought about by economic liberalisation would have been one important factor that cannot be overlooked. Increasing educational levels,  widening markets, greater visibility and penetration of TV, internet all would have been powerful motivators to bring about this change. Whatever may the reason be, Indian Literature is now on a discernible upswing with contributors like Shashi Tharoor, Devadutta Pattanaik, Pavan K Verma, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, Ravi Subramanian, Ashwin Sanghi, Mukul Deva (to name but a few) in both the fiction as well as the non-fiction genres. I call this the start of the cultural backlash in Literature: as this time, they are finding a market. The topics covered by these writers is also widening in scope; while earlier we had to rely on William Dalrymple for our dosage of historical / fiction (as an example), we now have Manreet Sodhi Someshwar and Ashwin Sanghi producing books on this genre in India in the fiction genre- and renowned authors like Jaswant Singh, Pankaj Mishra and Shashi Tharoor in the Non-Fiction genre. Happily, the books are now main-stream - unlike earlier. To take another example, Mukul Deva is now the first thriller writer from India; while Naveen Jagannathan's first book of short stories was extremely well received. 

The Urban Indian is fast taking to Indian Writing in droves, that we can see above. The reason behind this is simple economics; an English - Speaking population with cash to spend is a powerful incentive. This caused a few talented people to come in and create a market where none existed. Their books are now finding equal space in book-shelves across India - all of which now sport exclusive Indian Fiction and Non-Fiction shelves. Since we still disregard the Vernacular in Urban India - I am terming it as the start of the cultural backlash. A true cultural backlash would require equal space to the vernacular- which, as of today, seems some way off. Having said that, the current trend of translations of best-sellers to local languages - authorised versions in quality product form - is a good start, as it is indicative of the presence of a market for such products in the vernacular. From here, it is only a short step to the first ever Local Language Best-Seller... and that will be the true Cultural Backlash in Literature. There are other indications of this happening - the deepening penetration of regional channels, the increasing awareness and success of regional movies and television serial for example. But that is another story, to be taken up later on in this series... for now, let us enjoy this resurgence in Indian Literature. Even if it is in English! In closing, let us read the icnonic hindi poem referred above, just to remind ourselves of the power of Indian Poets..

सिंहासन हिल उठे राजवंशों ने भृकुटी तानी थी,
बूढ़े भारत में आई फिर से नयी जवानी थी,
गुमी हुई आज़ादी की कीमत सबने पहचानी थी,
दूर फिरंगी को करने की सबने मन में ठानी थी।
चमक उठी सन सत्तावन में, वह तलवार पुरानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

कानपूर के नाना की, मुँहबोली बहन छबीली थी,
लक्ष्मीबाई नाम, पिता की वह संतान अकेली थी,
नाना के सँग पढ़ती थी वह, नाना के सँग खेली थी,
बरछी ढाल, कृपाण, कटारी उसकी यही सहेली थी।
वीर शिवाजी की गाथायें उसकी याद ज़बानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

लक्ष्मी थी या दुर्गा थी वह स्वयं वीरता की अवतार,
देख मराठे पुलकित होते उसकी तलवारों के वार,
नकली युद्ध-व्यूह की रचना और खेलना खूब शिकार,
सैन्य घेरना, दुर्ग तोड़ना ये थे उसके प्रिय खिलवार।
महाराष्टर-कुल-देवी उसकी भी आराध्य भवानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

हुई वीरता की वैभव के साथ सगाई झाँसी में,
ब्याह हुआ रानी बन आई लक्ष्मीबाई झाँसी में,
राजमहल में बजी बधाई खुशियाँ छाई झाँसी में,
चित्रा ने अर्जुन को पाया, शिव से मिली भवानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

उदित हुआ सौभाग्य, मुदित महलों में उजियाली छाई,
किंतु कालगति चुपके-चुपके काली घटा घेर लाई,
तीर चलाने वाले कर में उसे चूड़ियाँ कब भाई,
रानी विधवा हुई, हाय! विधि को भी नहीं दया आई।
निसंतान मरे राजाजी रानी शोक-समानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

बुझा दीप झाँसी का तब डलहौज़ी मन में हरषाया,
राज्य हड़प करने का उसने यह अच्छा अवसर पाया,
फ़ौरन फौजें भेज दुर्ग पर अपना झंडा फहराया,
लावारिस का वारिस बनकर ब्रिटिश राज्य झाँसी आया।
अश्रुपूर्णा रानी ने देखा झाँसी हुई बिरानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

अनुनय विनय नहीं सुनती है, विकट शासकों की माया,
व्यापारी बन दया चाहता था जब यह भारत आया,
डलहौज़ी ने पैर पसारे, अब तो पलट गई काया,
राजाओं नव्वाबों को भी उसने पैरों ठुकराया।
रानी दासी बनी, बनी यह दासी अब महरानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

छिनी राजधानी दिल्ली की, लखनऊ छीना बातों-बात,
कैद पेशवा था बिठुर में, हुआ नागपुर का भी घात,
उदैपुर, तंजौर, सतारा, करनाटक की कौन बिसात?
जबकि सिंध, पंजाब ब्रह्म पर अभी हुआ था वज्र-निपात।
बंगाले, मद्रास आदि की भी तो वही कहानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

रानी रोयीं रिनवासों में, बेगम ग़म से थीं बेज़ार,
उनके गहने कपड़े बिकते थे कलकत्ते के बाज़ार,
सरे आम नीलाम छापते थे अंग्रेज़ों के अखबार,
'नागपूर के ज़ेवर ले लो लखनऊ के लो नौलख हार'।
यों परदे की इज़्ज़त परदेशी के हाथ बिकानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

कुटियों में भी विषम वेदना, महलों में आहत अपमान,
वीर सैनिकों के मन में था अपने पुरखों का अभिमान,
नाना धुंधूपंत पेशवा जुटा रहा था सब सामान,
बहिन छबीली ने रण-चण्डी का कर दिया प्रकट आहवान।
हुआ यज्ञ प्रारम्भ उन्हें तो सोई ज्योति जगानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

महलों ने दी आग, झोंपड़ी ने ज्वाला सुलगाई थी,
यह स्वतंत्रता की चिनगारी अंतरतम से आई थी,
झाँसी चेती, दिल्ली चेती, लखनऊ लपटें छाई थी,
मेरठ, कानपूर, पटना ने भारी धूम मचाई थी,
जबलपूर, कोल्हापूर में भी कुछ हलचल उकसानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

इस स्वतंत्रता महायज्ञ में कई वीरवर आए काम,
नाना धुंधूपंत, ताँतिया, चतुर अज़ीमुल्ला सरनाम,
अहमदशाह मौलवी, ठाकुर कुँवरसिंह सैनिक अभिराम,
भारत के इतिहास गगन में अमर रहेंगे जिनके नाम।
लेकिन आज जुर्म कहलाती उनकी जो कुरबानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

इनकी गाथा छोड़, चले हम झाँसी के मैदानों में,
जहाँ खड़ी है लक्ष्मीबाई मर्द बनी मर्दानों में,
लेफ्टिनेंट वाकर आ पहुँचा, आगे बड़ा जवानों में,
रानी ने तलवार खींच ली, हुया द्वन्द्ध असमानों में।
ज़ख्मी होकर वाकर भागा, उसे अजब हैरानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

रानी बढ़ी कालपी आई, कर सौ मील निरंतर पार,
घोड़ा थक कर गिरा भूमि पर गया स्वर्ग तत्काल सिधार,
यमुना तट पर अंग्रेज़ों ने फिर खाई रानी से हार,
विजयी रानी आगे चल दी, किया ग्वालियर पर अधिकार।
अंग्रेज़ों के मित्र सिंधिया ने छोड़ी रजधानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

विजय मिली, पर अंग्रेज़ों की फिर सेना घिर आई थी,
अबके जनरल स्मिथ सम्मुख था, उसने मुहँ की खाई थी,
काना और मंदरा सखियाँ रानी के संग आई थी,
युद्ध श्रेत्र में उन दोनों ने भारी मार मचाई थी।
पर पीछे ह्यूरोज़ आ गया, हाय! घिरी अब रानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

तो भी रानी मार काट कर चलती बनी सैन्य के पार,
किन्तु सामने नाला आया, था वह संकट विषम अपार,
घोड़ा अड़ा, नया घोड़ा था, इतने में आ गये अवार,
रानी एक, शत्रु बहुतेरे, होने लगे वार-पर-वार।
घायल होकर गिरी सिंहनी उसे वीर गति पानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

रानी गई सिधार चिता अब उसकी दिव्य सवारी थी,
मिला तेज से तेज, तेज की वह सच्ची अधिकारी थी,
अभी उम्र कुल तेइस की थी, मनुज नहीं अवतारी थी,
हमको जीवित करने आयी बन स्वतंत्रता-नारी थी,
दिखा गई पथ, सिखा गई हमको जो सीख सिखानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

जाओ रानी याद रखेंगे ये कृतज्ञ भारतवासी,
यह तेरा बलिदान जगावेगा स्वतंत्रता अविनासी,
होवे चुप इतिहास, लगे सच्चाई को चाहे फाँसी,
हो मदमाती विजय, मिटा दे गोलों से चाहे झाँसी।
तेरा स्मारक तू ही होगी, तू खुद अमिट निशानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

By: सुभद्रा कुमारी चौहान

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Book Review: Inferno by Dan Brown



The latest from the pen  of Dan Brown – Inferno -  is, in my opinion, his best work – including The Da Vinci Code. While The Da Vinci Code used a combination of religion and fast-paced narrative, the book under review manages to hold its own without the additional support from our core beliefs, or our curiosity. This one does not incite controversy, and is yet a superbly fast-paced thriller. 

THE PLOT
It is very, very different from The Da Vinci Code or The Lost Symbol in just about every way imaginable. There are no dead bodies in the first 10 pages from where the story picks up. Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital with retrograde amnesia. He remembers his name, his entire life, remembers having nightmares of hell, and people being tortured in hell – but can recall nothing from the past few days.   He has been shot in the head – and the assassin traces  him to the hospital, forcing him to flee, aided by a young lady Doctor Sienna Brooks. His only hint is an artifact which guide him eventually to the The Inferno – an epic masterpiece of Dante Alighieri. Adding to his confusion is the fact that this artifact had been in his pocket in a bio-hazard container. On a parallel storyline, the World Health Organisation’s Director gets into a tussle with a famed and world famous (later infamous) biomedical specialist, and is then kidnapped. The story progresses rapidly through several cities in Europe, taking the reader of a tour of its famous art masterpieces, with Langdon and Brooks being chased both by the good as well as the bad guys – till the final confrontation. Is this a biological weapon threat? If so, how did a Symbologist like Robert Langdon get involved? And how is the WHO and its director concerned with it? Why did Robert Langdon state Very Sorry, Very Sorry to the hospital staff in his delirium? Why are the good guys chasing him? Read the book to answer these questions…

THE ANALYSIS
First, the charectarisation. Robert Langdon is the same that we have know him to be through Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code – expertise par excellence in his chosen field, slightly slow to adjust, dependent on help initially for the escape routines, not a man of action, but a dynamo once started. This is in line with what we have come to understand and visualize of Robert  Langdon. The other characters have not been as well developed; but Sienna Brooks and Dr Elizabeth Sinskey, the WHO Director, stand out among these. They are the other 2 central characters In the book. The character of Bertran Zobrist has been beautifully handled and developed; he is introduced and developed in bits and pieces – and despite having only 2-3 actual pages in the book  - almost takes over the book
Next, the plot. This is fast-paced : in fact, faster than The Da Vinci Code. You have page after relentless page of pursuit, interspersed with a few pages of revelation and intrigue, as one layer of the mystery is  surprising; not only that, the twists in the plot also establish the authors’ ability to create an independent scenario in each book. Saying any more will be a dead give-away, so this hint is all I can give. This is a totally different book – as you quickly realize – and yet is in his distinctive form. This ability to vary his style, while simultaneously adhering to it is worthy of special mention. Dan Brown’s book – as this one establishes – do not follow an identical pattern. This keeps you glued to the book – which is a page-turner. Dan Brown has mastered this style, which all of his fans have come to love. In this, he is in his element; add to this the usual pursuit over several European cities which is another staple of his books – and you have a vintage Dan Brown thriller in your hands. 

The vivid descriptive narrative of the art pieces that feature in the book make for fascinating reading – and don’t take anything away from the pace of the narrative. They are spread throughout the book – and are so vivid in their detailing, that you can almost picture them. The writing is very simple and easy too comprehend – no technicalities or long words. Simplicity is the name of the game! And, of course, in typical Dan Brown style, they are an intrinsic and inseparable part of the core plot.  And, to reiterate – he has steered clear of any controversies as far as I can see. That is the icing on the cake

Dan Brown is back with a bang: and it is a tremendous bang. I was very doubtful as to whether I should buy this book – not having liked The Lost Symbol as much, but this one has surpassed all expectations. I rate this book as his best – better than The Da Vinci Code, and as good as Angels and Demons. Overall, in my assessment this book rates 4.5 stars out of 5. I have taken half a star away as I had deduced one aspect of the plot early-on – but that did nothing to lessen my enjoyment…

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Corporate India, work stress and employee dissatisfaction



Image courtesy: The Economic TImes

Now add one or two other little tit-bits of information that make the picture complete... first, the rising incidence of stress and mental ill-health, as was brought out on a recent report on the IT industry - and second, the rising family tensions and divorce rates. Add the two - and you have the makings of a shakespearean tragedy. I am making an extremely bold move in this article - openly criticizing these matters while being a member of corporate India. But something will have to be done; I dont know whether this small contribution will help or not...

Look at the data: this is the company perspective presented. Employees are facing excessive work pressure and longer hours - and 36-38% of companies accept this. If you ask the employees  - especially in private- this number is likely to double - or more. This is also far higher in India than elsewhere. Thus, this is a local phenomenon. Most critically, look at the most damning comparison of all: the employee perspective clearly mentions that they value job security; this is totally absent from the employer perspective

Rising stress levels, lower job security, ever-tighter deadlines and targets are now a business reality. This is borne out of the competitive environment we find ourselves in - at least the first and the third parameters. The second - job-security is simply a function of internal priorities, processes, checks and balances. Quite a few corporates in India still do not value the employee as much as the numbers. The effect on the employee and his family is totally ignored - and - as I shall delve upon in a follow-up article - the effect on norms, best practices, law and ethics is also a victim of this.

Let me take telecom, for example. Where there were 6 competitors, now there are 12 in the mobile services space. Where there were only Nokia, Sony and Motorola, now there are Samsung, Micromax, Karbonn, Lava, Spice, IBall, Xolo to name but a few. Competition has risen exponentially; this is a business reality and cannot be wished away. This has placed tremendous pressure on the existing players to maintain and grow their toplines and bottomlines. Similarly, the hold on the market of the market leaders has placed equally heavy pressure on the new players to make a mark and win themselves a niche. The other source of pressure is the increasing focus on profitability and revenue growth. This seemingly straightforward focus - eminently sensible- is fine in a system with defined humane processes,  humane systems, proper procedures and acceptable ethics. But when even one of the three is missing - it leads to what you see above. And if more than one is missing, then... 

This is not a factor of the recessionary market phase we are in; in my 14 years experience, this has always been present. Yes, this has risen in levels off late; but it would be wrong to state that this is a phenomenon born out of the larger economic problems facing the world economy. And this is probably present even in the older industries (it has been 9 years since I moved into telecom). The data above seems to indicate that. In those industries, some of the reasons are different.

My point is that this is not going away. Competition is rising and will continue to rise, and focus on topline and bottomline is the way to conduct business. We are, after all, in a business - not philanthropy. It is the way we go about tackling the competition and the daily grind of conducting the business that is the issue. And in that, we are found wanting - as the numbers above, as well as the stress surveys and mental and physical health issues, divorces etc show. 

This is indicative of a deeper systemic malaise: the internal systems and processes are not coping up with the changed business reality that is confronting the corporate scenario. And that, to my mind, is the core reason for what we have seen above. HR systems, fist of all, need to be strengthened to cope with the new reality. This has to go hand-in-hand with a more humane treatment to employees, with a receptive ear to their manifest and genuine concerns. The employee is primarily concerned with Job Security as can be seen above; corporates would do well to move away from the stupid and self-defeating hire-and-fire systems currently in vogue for a start. An assurance of stability would go a long way in tackling attrition, as well as make the employee a happier person. 

The current impression of managers that the employee is driven by fear needs to change; employees are driven more by desire than by fear. Fear incapacitates a person and erodes his competitiveness. The key is to find a set of drivers and focus on them; job security need not mean a drop in performance. Quite the reverse, in fact: performance will shoot up over the short term; and it is the task of the manager to engage with and drive his team to derive performance over the mid to long term. 

Performance measurement, retention policies, promotion and increment policies, office times - in fact - all employee centric policies need to be overhauled. The manager needs to ensure that the emplyee is not spending 6 days a week late at office. Yes, at times staying may be mandated - but this should not be the norm. Make the work-space comfortable for the employee - and spot the difference. KRA do not mean only the end-result; measure the process as well as the end-result. I understand that performance has to be maintained: but what I cannot understand is the assumption that performance can only happen by placing the employee under stress. The key should be to finding the motivators for each employee, and driving him or her accordingly. That is why we have managers: to engage with and drive employees. If the employee  has failed, somewhere along the line even the manager has failed. Simple truth. Do current systems reflect this?

No, they dont. Also simple truth.

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