Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Obama And Our Love Affair...

Another US President visits; and yet again, we go ballistic in our Media interest, in our public adulation and in our analysis! The focus is immediately, yet again, on the visit and its impact, and how it brings the two "natural partners" closer in a friendship, and also how this visit is a landmark visit. Hope is being given that at last, India and the USA are friends, and that there is a convergence of interests...

Let us not compare the incomparables. For example, Clinton came 14 years ago under vastly different geopolitical, economic realities on both the Indian as well as the global scenario, and are thus completely incomparable. Not only that, we have had 14 full years to analyse the impact of the Clinton event, whereas the Obama visit is way too fresh for an impartial and complete analyses.  

Clinton was a watershed; it marked a near-total reversal in some aspects of American policies towards India, while remaining unchanged on any number of policy fronts, largely due to internal dichotomies within the American establishment. This was driven not by geopolitics but by economics, and was in the backdrop of India's economic growth since 1991, and its opening up of the markets. 

Obama is a precise copy of the above; it is driven largely by Economics, and the desire to increase business. This is proven by his statement regarding American exports to India, which was the focus of the entire visit. The reverse does not feature as prominently, which is understandable from the US point of view, and not quite so understandable from the Indian POV.  Further, this approach wont endear Obama to the Government or to the masses, as the current mood is making India a manufacturing hub, which is diametrically opposed to exports to India from the USA. 

On strategic convergence, US-India differences on Geopolitics stand as they are; China notwithstanding. While China may have been discussed, the real picture will only emerge after May 2015, when Narendra Modi visits China. The Indian Foreign Policy has been clearly Look East for nearly two decades now, and it has been further sped up to Act East under the current dispensation. India is committed to increasing trade in the SAARC region and China, ASEAN and the contiguous region. Nepal and Sri Lanka have been recently engaged quite successfully with a combination of strategies, the result from which has yet to come in, positive or negative. 

Furthermore, there is little chance of India fomenting trouble by  baiting China, which is sitting slam-bang on its border, and has surrounded India nicely and cleanly from Hambuntota to Gwadar, and is actively goading and building Pakistan. The fact that China, while giving arms to Pakistan, has never supported it actively on many aspects in international fora will not have been missed in New Delhi. Not when both countries are beginning to at least talk of de-escalation, and trade. And with Russia now building bridges with China, the situation is fluid to say the least. For one thing seems certain : Russia will never abandon India in the near future, as well as in the mid-term. 

The USA has a large economic exposure to China; as does India, albeit with a lopsided balance. Its strategic interests endear it to a continuance of a relationship with Pakistan; it has no choice. This is exactly the opposite of India's desires, and strategic interests. On Climate, or trade, or most other parameters, there is little short or long term convergence to speak of. It is still a transactional relationship, as opposed to a stragic relationship. 

In this scenario, it is by no means certain that India will play ball with the USA on anything, let alone China. Furthermore, Narendra Modi and his party are hard-core nationalists {I mean that word in the positive sense}, rightists, and committed to the immediate region. On top of that, 100% of strategic issues leave India and the USA firmly arraigned on opposite sides of the fence. Just as in 2000, nothing has changed. 

Past history is revealing : India stands as the only hurdle against the USA on just about each and every international fora of negotiation. That hasnt changed, and isnt going to. If it didnt change during UPA, it certainly wont during the NDA, rest assured. Again, nothing has changed. As in 2000, so in 2014. We are still on opposite sides. 

On the security parameter, the USA isnt doing us a favour. India has  a proven track record of weapons and high-technology development skills with a string of successes in Satellites and Weapons both, with a couple being actually best in class. Add to that our frugal skills. The icing on the cake, the simple fact that we are the biggest importer of weapon systems. The USA needs us as much as we need them, period. It is a plain and simple business deal as of now; we are developing utlra-high-end weapons with the Russians, and only beginning to talk of development with the USA. Nothing has changed, only thing is that now we are talking. Thats it. 

On Pakistan, the USA is still favouring it, its pointless comments notwithstanding. Anyone can shout Pakistan shouldnt do this and that; talk is cheap. We will believe the USA when it stops supplying weapons to Pakistan! And of that, given the ISIS and the American perceptions of it, wont change, not until the USA realises that Pakistan is the core problem and not the victim, or just a part of the problem. 

Thus, from most parameters, it seems as of now that there is no difference, and change in the status quo. Given our people-to-people connections with the USA, any US President's visit is an event; add to that the status of the USA as the single superpower. From my memory, if I try and eliminate the recency bias, there was not much of a difference in the public reception in both the cases. On other aspects, only time will tell.

Obama parting shot on Religious tolerance are the only point that makes me think that Clinton was better. Having said that, I have no memory of Clinton saying anything like that; neither have I any memory of his keeping silent - and I havent checked. That is why I said, "If I remove the recency factor". Having said that, that last comment revealed that underneath the bonhomie, nothing has changed in Washington, which still has its coloured glasses in place. Obama needs a score, USA needs business; India needs technology, FDI and manufacturing. That is the only natural fit, as it always was. Nothing has changed, folks. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Book Review : Kurukshetra {The Aryavarta Chronicles Book 3}

THE ARYAVARTA CHRONICLES : BOOK 3

KURUKSHETRA

Written By : Krishna Udayashankar



The book says that it is "The Epic As It Was Never Told"; well, it is all of that. This is a book that has churned up everything in The Mahabharat, and made it into a story that is unbelievable, and incoherent. I rate it 2 stars out of 5, at the most 3 stars; and these are for the writing and the prose, which is top-notch. Credit where credit is due. Not only that, the plot build-up and the entire story is told in a stupendous and taut narrative, literally edge of the seat stuff throughout, and at a frenetic pace.

This is the third part of the series, and straight off let me clarify : if you haven't read the first 2 parts, dont come anywhere near this book. It will be a task just to make sense out of it all. In the initial reading, I was so irritated at the lack of clarity that I just up and quit reading this book. Then, I sat for a while after lunch, carefully read the initial character list, made associations in my mind, and re-attacked the book; only then did the story begin to make sense.

This part of the series deals with the last part of The Mahabharat; from the pre-war negotiations to the end of the epic. The war itself takes up a very large part of the book, with the political intrigues and negotiations, punches and counterpunches making up an exciting and taut first part. Once you make sense of the story and the characters, the flow is effortless, and the story riveting. 

The real key to enjoying this book is rising above your own feelings : that is the hard part. You have to take this not as a retelling of the epic, but just as another war story between two clans: that is what it is. The story told has no similarity with The Mahabharat. I shall not state more, as I am not an expert in the epic. But I have read extensively on ancient India, as my book reviews reveal; and to me, the story told does not have any resemblance to The Mahabharat. 

It almost reverses the role of the Pandavs and the Kauravs, it places entirely unwarranted interpretations on various aspects of even relationships; and presents an ugly picture of almost all the good characters. In fact, all characters are etched in dark shades, with an ugly machiavelian side to them. It places the intent of the war as the creation of a land ruled by the people; it presents the various characters in completely different and unbelievable shades.  

In fact, if anything, this book is the exact reverse of The Mahabharat in more ways than one, and contains many what I can call errors. Some of these are extremely offensive, and have the capability to infuse some passion. Most critically, the one significant flaw in the book as it seems to me is the one of recency bias; the interpretation is modern; it imposes modern cultural values and modern norms, societal and political constructs and behaviours into the and onto the ancient world. 

For example, the emphasis on a war meant to create a land for-the-people and by-the-people. The earliest form of this was admittedly in ancient India, with the Gana Sanghas - but even these were not strict democracies, and were oligarchies. There is no record of any other venture than the Gana Sanghas in ancient India. And as I stated, even these were ruled in turn by the intelligentsia. 

The entire play between characters, the presentation of the women, the love stories, the behaviour of both the good and the bad characters just does not ring true; I have read some aspects of the Vedic period culture, and when I keep that in mind, this is elevated even further. The story seems post-modern in everything, but told in an ancient setting. The behaviour, the norms of the society, all are instantly identifiable and recognizable as modern, right till the last character. The interpretation of ancient events  is attempted from a modern time-frame, not in the setting in which these happened. The entire sequence of events just does not click... 

But, if you can rise above these inconsistencies, then this is a really good piece of fiction. The story is fast-moving and told at a frenetic pace; the plot is exciting and contrived, albeit inspired by The Mahabharat. The characterisation is slightly minimalist, but that is only to be expected in a work of this scale and scope, spanning generations and dozens of characters. And, the icing on the cake : the level of complexity is far greater than most books in the fiction genre. My rating : zero stars as a retelling of The Mahabharat, and 5 stars as a work of pure fiction!

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The War On Terror : India Versus Pakistan

The War on Terror, and the US-Pakistan leading it, has always been a topic of intense interest and debate in India, for obvious reasons. This is usually considered as one singular situation, when in reality there are two distinct parameters at play. This is a geo-political problem with socio-cultural undertones, with roots deep in the past, going back to before independence. While geopolitical strategies may be new, the mental attitude and societal approach of The West is a function of its history, just as our societal approach is a function of our history.

This is an exceedingly complicated multi-layered problem, built on a long legacy of injustice to entire peoples, constant interference in their affairs, wanton bloodshed without reason, and founded on a platform of a culture that the West has no conceptualisation of - the desires, the dreams and self-perceptions, and the past of the Islamic world. This did not happen overnight; it required a series of events over a long period of time. 

Terrorism arose because of the combination of two unrelated factors : the pulls-pressures and self-examination within Islam emanating from its fall from political pre-eminence in the 1800s, and the interference in Islam through the Western powers in the runup to and during the cold war. Without this interference, this would not have happened. Be it the middle east or Pakistan, the problem is the same - unwanted people poking their noses. Being an Indian, I know the Pakistan story inside out, and in addition have a better than average understanding of the ME, the story - if not identical - is comparable. Without the external stimulus, chances are that the direction would have been totally divergent... sad, but now we may never know. 

It is a known fact that Pakistan is a creation of the Great West, the archival documents in various national libraries leave no room for doubt. The MOMs of various major players between 1930s and 1940s are crystal clear in this regard. The only way to achieve this was sowing discord in 2 communities. This was done with remarkable aplomb. As I noted in one of my previous articles, Islam was in the throes of a deep self-examination, and Western games at this point drove a deep schism into it.


To cut a long story short, there was good and justifiable reason for deep discontent within the Islamic belt; this would have subsided, with time - had it been allowed to. The forces let loose in the 2nd half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries drove a massive change: fundamentalism, as beautifully picturised by Pakistan's descent into chaos from the early 1950s {1954 to be precise, if memory serves me right} 


Into this maelstrom, came free weapons, and active politically motivated channelisation into Jihad during the Afghan problem, built on the foundation of constant unilateral support to Pakistan and its dictators right since 1947. Fact of the matter is that in the 1980s, these terrorists were heroes for The USA and the West, who continued on this unholy strategy despite the manifest problems it created in India. 

The Afghan issue started due to the Russian Phobia, and the cold war; the introduction of weapons could only be through Pakistan. Be it Oil, or be it any reason, Pakistan is strategically ideally located in the part of the World, and is virtually indispensable. And this is borne out by History, with support to the idea of Pakistan pre-dating independence, as shown by the post-war papers dating from 1945. The strategy laid out in those papers was exactly how things played out in the 1950s. 

The current geopolitical situation is no better, at least from an Indian perspective. The Western powers' predilection with Russia, and its constant baiting, has already led to a powder-keg like situation in Ukraine. Meddling in countless nations in order to 'create' "democracy by supporting secessionist movements in the ME is another factor. Palestine is a third critical factor. And in all of these, Pakistan assumes importance in Western eyes, due to both its strategic location as well as its hold on terrorists. The West assumes {an assumption based on a complete myth, as usual} that it can force Pakistan to play ball, and thus lead to a semblance of peace and control. 



Further, prejudices running into centuries dont change. A glance to the mid 1800s will show Russia has always featured as a threat to Western interests in western perceptions, even when they had no intention of doing anything. In 1854, those who have read me before will recall my article - we had approached the Russians for help during planning for the First War Of Independence. The record shows clearly the existing deep seated distrust even on those days, as evidenced by the events in the 18th and 19th century. This distrust runs deep, and will not change, and has been a constant feature of the past 5-6 decades as well.




That is one. Next, the Middle East. That is also now a massive problem for Uncle Sam and the UK; they are stuck, plain and simple. Damned of they do, damned if they dont. Again, that is why they think they require Pakistan. {Note my words, please; very carefully}. Which means, Pakistan will keep getting weapons, which in turn means that Pakistan will continue to arm terrorists, with the attendant problems for India. Pakistan needs to keep the area aflame; without that, it fears a relapse into nothingness. But that is another story, one that I shall take up later on. 




It is for these reasons the USA has no intention of reigning in Pakistan. Neither does anyone else. The reason is simple : India has no utility whatsoever {Thank God for that!} to The West from a strategic perspective; locationally, we could not have had a more useless geographical positioning. Pakistan is situated at the joint of the Karakoram and Hindukush ranges, with a straight pass into Afghanistan, and is connected integrally to the Middle East. It is also closer to the old Western Bugbear Russia. Add to the the close contacts with terrorists as seen in the above paragraph. 

Next, the overt Islamisation of the entire region has meant, sadly, that areas that were once relatively unconnected, have now risen in one whole again. The West, with its lack of understanding of 100% of all things Eastern, blundered. They used the Religion card; we knew better. Our past experience had taught us not to use the Religion card; and certainly not in arming religious Islamic Jihadis, having seen them up close innumerable times. Further, we knew well enough that Islam in danger has always been an exceedingly powerful cry, capable of uniting the entire spectrum. 



And that is what happened, as things went ahead in their Russian-centred stupidity, it introduced an element that was not recommended : it gave ignition to the fundamentalist elements within Islamic society. Pakistan, as you have seen in my earlier articles, is a western creation. Creating Pakistan let loose these elements; they were further emboldened by Zia, and Western support to Zia. 



Add to this potboiler, Free Arms, and a licence to do anything. This created oceans of discontent, as disaffected and ruined families in first Afghanistan and then Iraq took to violence. Palestine was already aflame; this completed the circle. They {The ME} had no option; none whatsoever. They were caught in a deadly trap between 3 powers. As it became apparent to all Islamic groups, regardless of political dispensation, awakening happened... the spark was already lit...  only problem was, this awakening took them in a direction that led to disaster! 



All it required was one additional event for the explosion to take place. Continuing western interference in more than a few middle eastern nations, combined with internecine issues in the region, provided it. Islam in danger + intervention + real injustice to the people + politics + internecine disagreements is a very heady concoction. To this deadly mixture, some genius had already added Weapons. Result? Explosion! That is what happened... we could have told the West that is precisely what happened; perhaps we did. Maybe that is why the Ex-British PM observed in deep and genuine regret that The West blundered bigtime, that they should have listened to India. 



This would not have happened had we had a genuine and effective UNO, instead of the what we have now, a whore and a keep of the USA and the Western Powers. It is a foregone conclusion that without the intervention, while the ME would still have issues among themselves, would not be a world threat. And now that the scourge is at the Western doors, they are aflame and a-rage, as now for them it is an issue not of politics, but of self-defence. And that is where things stand as on date on this war on terror...



Conventional wisdom tells us that possibly the worst we can do is now ally with the West over this; we have fought hard, bled in rivers for the past 30 years, and have finally, finally driven the scourge back against its own creators, by the simple expedient of fighting back hard, and without showing any mercy; combined with a peace building inclusive internal agenda, which ensured that no ignition happened internally. This, combined with a genuine democracy, and fairness, alongwith landmark laws, approaches to the community and continued fairness {by and large} has meant internal peace for us, proving that the problem is not Islam, but politics. Had Islam been the problem, India would have been aflame as well. 



Question is, will this peace continue? And is a solution possible? And is our non-interventionist approach correct in the light of the overall geopolitical situation? Your guess is as good as mine on that, we civilians can only analyse and theorise on that. Only one thing is certain : we have to maintain our fierce strategic independence what may, and not get pulled into any particular block. And vest our trust in our Government and our security agencies, who have done an excellent task so far, all things said and done. 

Friday, 16 January 2015

The Big Question Of Vedic Planes and Modern Arrogance!

The latest controversy, or discussion topic : Ancient Indian advances, sciences... and the attendant noise around it is giving rise to claims and counter claims of various and sundry theories on either side; which is sad, since this is only taking the attention away from the need of the hour! 


There is no conspiracy either way, it is just a cultural backlash that has started, as a new and confident India begins to question the European version of history. This is also strengthened by a politico-religious movement, on which I shall remain silent, given that I do not comment on Religion as a rule. What has happened is that a good number of so-called European facts have been proven wrong; add to this the rise of the Hindu right wing, which has been driven by a repression during British times, when Indian culture was systematically targeted in everything-  religion, music, arts everything. The pendulum is now swinging back the other way; and will settle somewhere in the middle. 



The other side of the equation is just ridicule, and arrogance. From where I stand, both sides are wrong. The ridicule side tends to forget that the version of history they love to extol as Gospel has been proven wrong on innumerable occasions already, and is thus not infallible. Further, as science gets more and more advanced, timelines are being revised, old "facts" are being rediscovered to be pure myth, and so on. As one side rises, in response the other side rises equally in the other direction, creating a ludicrous dance full of abject stupidity and arrogance on both sides of the coin! 




THE EXPLANATION : 

First, let us look at Modern India. We Indians have an unfortunate tendency to accept anything in written form as gospel, without attendant analysis of its accuracy. And if the source of this writing is Western, then it has to be accurate. Unfortunately for such people, any number of so called western "facts" about India have been laid bare as complete lies, and malicious lies at that.


Be it casteism, or Sati, all we know about it are lies, blunt and straight. You can say that these things cannot be proven; in that case, look at Economics. There are any number of period documents : documents written in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s testify to the reality. The fact of the matter is plainly evident - that India was one of the most developed - in every thing from economics to manufacturing. 


My point in this preamble is that it has now been proven that a good bit of western history was pure myth, and based on deliberate lies. And add to that the fact that the West is, till date, racist and has no real understanding of the orient. The icing on the cake is this  observation from one of my earlier articles :


"3 continents were exterminated; several civilizations gutted into nothingness; Africans reduced to animals, chained and sold as slaves, and some who survived - like the Chinese and the Indians - were subjugated with a bestial and venal ferocity that involved taking away every dignity from them; so fierce was the repression that its after effects are still apparent 66 years after independence. As I said, go ahead and tom-tom your achievements. But keep a thought somewhere in your hearts for the sins of the Europeans, as outlined above. No one else in documented history has done as many



And it is this lovely civilization's views we are now accepting. Well, the whole world can if it wants to. I refuse, blunt frank and straight. The Europeans versions have already been proven as total lies on several points; how can then we accept that the rest is true? On one side, we have a version from a source now known to be bigoted, which has been proven wrong on several points; on the other, we have a literary record that hasn't even been  studied properly and in an unbiased manner, and which has no proofs either way - not in the modern sense. From an impartial stance, given the European record of lies, rape, bloodshed, and bigotry, I think the Europeans are wrong. I dont accept anything they state, period. Not on Indian History, at any rate.  I dont lay claim that the right wing Hindus are right, but I just dont accept Western versions as the full truth, period.




ANCIENT INDIA

With that. we finally enter the dragon. When was Ashok born? 300-400 BC? How about I show you a spotless analysis that proves Ashok was born 1200 years before this? That this timeline does not tally with Western-written  history does not necessarily mean it is inaccurate; it only means that  questions still remain, unanswered questions - especially since the  logic presented  in the research that laid this claim forward is not so easy to dismiss


Just 10 years ago, the timeline for Indian civilization was around 2000BC. As on today, that has been pushed back to 7380BC at a minimum, as per the ASI. There are several sites that have been dated to 6000 - 7000 BC. Ten years ago, everyone would have laughed and ridiculed. 40 years ago, Aryan Invasion was a hard fact; now most people know that it is a pure myth. I could go on and on. 



Note this paragraph from my review of a book "What India Should Know" : "The  last section of the book is a veritable treasure trove of our literary  history, with a succinct presentation of our Vedic Literature, The  Concepts of Sanatan Dharma, and Vedic Society. This section is the piece de resistance of the book, as one wonders at the level of development and thought  processes of our ancestors. At least in my case, this section has  kindled a desire to know more, and to learn more. The last 4-5 chapters  deal exclusively with Vedic Society and Literature, and will take your  breath away in the simplicity of their concepts, and of the clarity of  their thoughts. Any description from my side would be superfluous, as  also wholly inadequate. "



This is a level of analysis and thought that we are still struggling to understand; so brilliant and stunning are the concepts, so advanced in thought, that one marvels at the development of those intellectuals, who were far more advanced than we are today. This is a level of intellect and knowledge that we cannot even grasp. Fine, we dont have evidence of quite a few things stated therein, but that does not mean we reject those statements. 



Furthermore, if we accept either the statements of modern people who have studied those original manuscripts, or if we accept the original manuscripts without proof - then we have not understood the manuscripts; then we are not worthy of this knowledge, we are not fully enlightened; our path- please dont call it a religion - our path of Sanaatan Dharm explicitly teaches you to question life, and focus on your Karma. The moment we start accepting anything without questioning it, we go wrong



My point : challenge the right wingers of Hinduism; that is what Sanaatani thoughts instruct you to do; you can and should question if your intellect does not accept it. But you cannot ridicule - if you ridicule, you are showing your arrogance  and ignorance both. And the modern metrosexual Indian male and female loves to ridicule such thoughts. The focus should be on the tragedy that is unfolding; we dont require this nonsense. We require a quiet, impartial study to get at the truth behind the many, many unanswered questions of Ancient India; not this rubbish!



The other side - well, the less said the better. My only advice to them : at times, silence is golden. And when you do speak, do so with irrefutable proof. A lot of genuine questions remain over the real history of India, that is a fact. Rather than scream dramatic claims from rooftops, it is better to focus on chronicling, studying and furthering the cause of Vedic studies in India, and setting the record straight in a proper and defined above-board method. 



I dont hold the European and American civilization in any regard {contempt is closer to the feeling I have}; neither do I accept their version of Indian History. I have an open mind, and am willing to wait for proof to manifest itself. Even if it means waiting a lifetime. It is possible that what the right wingers are saying is at least partially true on some points; the reverse is also equally plausible. We just dont know enough. What is important is that the true reality be placed before India, and Western misinformation identified and purged. The saddest part is that in this idiotic battle, truth is the only casualty; truth requires an impartial analysis without vested interests. 



Earlier, Europeans ensured obfuscation; now the reverse is happening, with right wingers making unsubstantiated claims, and the Westernised Indians ridiculing them!  Will we ever know the reality? I sometimes wonder... for one thing is certain, we dont know a lot of the reality of Ancient India. Too many unanswered questions remain; way too many. The European version is all cockeyed; right from the Aryan nonsense to other stuff. 


Thursday, 15 January 2015

Book Review : Durbar by Tavleen Singh



DURBAR 

BY TAVLEEN SINGH


Of all the books I have come across, this one stands apart all by its lonesome, for being the most disturbing, and at the same time being the most intriguing book I have ever read. At one level, it is a superb and must read book, while at another level, it leaves a lot to be desired for. It explores new areas in our contemporary and recent history post independence without being a history book; and gives a narrative that raises hard questions and introduces varying viewpoints, all while giving deep insights, as well as an inside look at Page 3 Society and Delhi's hotshot circles.

This is a memoir of the life of Tavleen Singh, focussing on the experience she had during her journalistic career covering political events in New Delhi as well as other parts of India. This is what gives the book a unique flair and attraction, and takes it in a league of its own. Other history books cover history as inanimate packages, and are more analytical; this book is a class apart, as it is written in the form of a memoir.

The book takes a systematic look at all the epochal events during the period from 1974 till 1989 - The Emergency, The Junta Government, The Return of Indira Gandhi, The Punjab Problem, The Assassination of Indira Gandhi, The Sikh Riots, upto The Rajiv Gandhi Era including Bofors and Sri Lanka while also peripherally dealing with the rise of the BJP : years that were so critical for our Indian Nation; years that were so vital in our history; and years about which so many questions remain!

The congress party has been systematically dissected in this book, and both Indira Gandhi as well as Rajiv Gandhi have been thoroughly analysed in terms of their individual performance as leaders of the nation. Their faults & mistakes have been ruthlessly exposed, and some sad events about which we had only heard stray mentions are covered in detail, like for example the Sanjay Gandhi family planning fiasco and the beautification drive. 

The flow of emotions in the people as well as the ruling class has been extremely well documented. This is especially evident in the rise of hope that has been so eloquently brought out in the initial Rajiv years, as also the depressing mood that was rampant during the emergency. The slow and steady disillusionment of the people with Rajiv has also been covered. 

But the key point that I felt was the story of Punjab, and let me freely admit : Tavleen Singh has guts. Her exploits, and the risks she took while covering Punjab and Kashmir are worthy of an award. The book takes you into the center of the entire sad episode; and the book is worth a read for these pages alone. What is more, the interplay of Punjabi-Hindi, and the interplay of politics and religion, are shown to create an ugly triangle {or more accurately quadrangle} of culture, religion, politics and language. I mention this specifically because at no point was the role of Pakistan in either Kashmir or Punjab mentioned with adequate force. I can understand that this book is an internally focussed book, but this is a significant shortcoming nonetheless. 

The book will take you up close and personal with all the key players in the political field during the era in question, as well as quite a few media personalities. You get to see political leaders, who you are used to seeing in impersonal word form in news and in analytical articles and books - in a personal and alive view, adequately covering their emotions, thoughts, reactions, making them appear more human. This is the most vital scoring point of the book. 

The narrative is powerful, and makes which are familiar to us leap out of the words and the pages; they take on a life of their own through the vivid memory and artful and skilful play of words. You are treated to a kaleidoscope of images, as history almost plays before your eyes; that is the level of the skill achieved by the author in the penning of this superlative book. 

This is an important addition to the record, any which way you look at it; this places the tumultuous events of the period between 1975-1989 in a very different, and engaging format, and is almost a living recording of the events, given that it is a memoir. Tavleen Singh has drawn from her extensive interaction with all the key players during this period, as well as her interactions with colleagues, normal people, police officers, bureaucrats to pen an unforgettable work. 

I shall not state much about the precise content given; neither shall I attempt to draw any inferences for the reason that this is a memoir; it is not a history book. There is not one bit of documented evidence, or supporting proof contained in this book. I dont state that the content is wrong - I am merely making & underscoring the point that this is a memoir, not a history book. It should not be taken as such. Sad part is, with a little bit of added effort, this book could have been elevated to a combination history book and engaging memoir, by the provision of proper endnotes, bibliography and references to articles from those days. 

Taken in the right spirit, this is a landmark book, a book that is in the must-read category. If this book disturbs you, and forces you to ask questions, instigates and fires in your mind a desire to do some more research, and understand that era much better, it will have achieved its core task. As I said, the total absence of supporting documents, news articles, endnotes, researches leaves a lot to be desired for; in a book of this genre, given its content and its at times explosive and hard-hitting coverage. Even then, given that it brings us face to face with some of our past mistakes and their repercussions, this negative can be ignored!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Be Vigilant... For Everyone's Sake!


BE VIGILANT! 


"A bag containing eight crude bombs was found on Sunday inside the Gondwana Express which runs between Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh and Hazrat Nizamuddin station in Delhi, officials said.

The bag was brought to the notice of the train ticket examiner by a passenger at around 3 pm, after the train had left Jabalpur"

The Dainik Bhaskar is more specific in this news : 


"जबलपुर-निजामुद्दीन एक्सप्रेस (22181) की एस-8 बोगी में रविवार रात बम मिलने से सनसनी फैल गई। बम बोगी की 14 नंबर बर्थ के नीचे एक काले रंग के बैग में रखा था। एक यात्री ने लावारिस बैग की सूचना जीआरपी को दी। सिहोरा रोड स्टेशन पर बैग चेक किया गया तो उसमें बम रखा मिला, जो एक मल्टी मीटर से जुड़ा था। "


THE LEARNING


A Passenger did what no one among us does : checks the luggage around him in the train. Had this person not checked, who knows what might have happened?

How many of us take this simple precaution? We consider that such things dont happen, or just dont care. I know from personal experience, since I, too, have a habit of checking luggage just to be sure. Remember : our carelessness has a heavy cost in such cases! And yet, people tend to sneer, laugh and summarily dismiss such behaviour; I know, since I have borne the brunt of such laughs. 

Wake Up, India! Learn to be vigilant! One moment's precaution can lead to the lives of innocent people being saved. All it takes is just one minute, just be vigilant and check the luggage around you in trains, buses and, as far as possible, in public places. It doesn't take much, just one minute! 

Please spread this around : if not this post, then this learning!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

A Hard Look At We, The People

In the previous article, we took a look at the concept of values from a psychological perspective : Life's Challenges : Are You Rough, Or Are You Tough?. Let us take a small peek at the definition and concept of the term Values from the perspective of Psychology, taken from the website "psychologytoday" : 


One important concept in psychology is values.  Thus, it is important to define values.  What are values?  Values are judgements about how important something is to us. There may be three basic attributes of values.  First, values are subjective judgments.   Second, we may make a judgement of how important something is relative to something else.  For example, one may judge that helping others is more important that becoming famous.   Third, values may be principles that help us make important personal decisions. 



Values are beliefs, and refer to desirable goals that motivate action. Values serve as standards or criteria and guide the selection or evaluation of actions, policies, people, and events. People decide what is good or bad, justified or illegitimate, worth doing or avoiding, based on possible consequences for their cherished values. Any attitude or behavior typically has implications for more than one value.  The tradeoff among relevant, competing values guides attitudes and behaviors (Schwartz, 1992, 1996). Values influence action when they are relevant in the context (hence likely to be activated) and important to the actor. {Reference here}



Values are of many types - for example Power, Tradition, Security, Conformity, Benevolence, Achievement, Stimulation, Hedonism etc; but that is not what concerns us directly. What is more important is the clarity that our actions are defined by an underlying set of criteria, which determine our actions and behaviour. This is critical : for this lays bare some rather uncomfortable questions for us Indians in general. 



What are the values that we, as a people, hold important? Keep in mind that Values are graded in terms of relative importance to us at a subconscious level. Thus, when we ask for or pay a bribe, what are we displaying about ourselves?  That for us, as individuals, the person or the self is more important than the society, the laws and the nation. And that is only for starters. 



The conscious decision to pay a bribe, or ask for one clearly means that morals mean nothing to us. And, viewed from the Value perspective, we can see that giving a bribe is as bad as taking a bribe. For, in both cases, you have made a clear choice : to you, as a person, the nation as well as the society is not as important as yourself. You grade yourself and your own convenience to be of a higher level of importance than the well-being of society and the nation.



Bribery is not at all a totally harmless activity; its damaging effects range from financial impact on the society to issues of national security. It is the same in several other aspects of behaviour. Consider unethical conduct in the job, that is condoned as routine in the modern workplace. The moment you make a choice to ignore the fake document, you are actively choosing to place the self above the law, the morality, society as well as the nation. To you, Power and Achievement are far more important than societal norms and national interests. Worse is the case of actively procreating false documents, or not doing due vigilance, or suggesting creative accounting and procedures in high value investments and transactions. You are yet again saying that you, as a person, value the self above everything else. 


This attitude and these set of values manifest themselves in any number of activities, and clearly spell out what you and I as Indians hold important in our lives, and lay bare the hypocrisy of the statements of our placing India first. The same case is in civic sense - by littering your surroundings, but keeping your house clean, you are clearly showing a definable value choice : that you place a much greater emphasis on the self than on the community. 

Every choice we make, every decision we take, exposes us for what we are, what we hold dear and what relative importance we attach to various choices and objectives in life. Our indulgence in unethical behaviour exposes us for what we are intrinsically; the famous chalta hai attitude, when observed from this POV, shows up not as chalta hai but as a clear choice for valuing self, and placing a comparably lesser emphasis on the society and the nation, even in situations where there is no chance of danger to our own lives, or any great material damage. 

Our attitude, made famous by many articles and commentors as Chalta Hai is actually nothing even close to a Chalta Hai type of attitude, which is typically indicative of a laidback and lackadaisical approach; it is actually a clear, conscious choice of placing higher value on personal convenience and benefit, placing the nation and the society at a secondary level. The only extenuating circumstance is the risk to personal or family lives; and this is a danger in very select cases. In the large majority of cases, this argument of Values holds true. 

Your choices are driven in your subconscious by what you value, as we have seen above. And the numerous unethical and at times downright illegal behaviour we display,  in both small and large cases, {like jumping red lights, saving time for us, but inconveniencing others}  clearly spell out that we dont value the nation and the society as much as we do. Had that been the case, incidences of people paying a bribe would have been lesser, unethical conduct would not have been such a serious issue and so on and so forth!

In simple terms, we place Achievement, Esteem and Power on a greater level in our own personal value sets over and above Security, Tradition, Conformity, Morality, Universalism and Benevolence. All three choices that we have made are undoubtedly important; but it is a manifest truth that they cannot be above the nation, the society and the law, or in other words - Security, Tradition, Morality. This is a clear indication that our Value Systems and Morality is in dire need of correction. 

For, it is a known fact that one can achieve Esteem, Power and Achievement Satisfaction even without the compromises made in the examples above. Thus, if a large number of people feel that in our society we cannot survive without placing self first, we are in effect stating that we as a nation, and as a society, have a Value System and a Moral Compass that is badly skewed towards the self over the nation and the society, and are thus stating that our society is in a state of decay! 

That would have been a dire indictment of us as a people, were it not for some heartening trends that are currently in a minority, but are growing in strength from day to day; giving our society a beacon of hope in the morass of decay that surrounds us in contemporary India - the growing intolerance for unethical behaviour and the rising tide of people speaking up, and calling it like it is, while also acting true to their words. Let us do all we can to strengthen this new tide... Jai Hind!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Life's Challenges : Are You Rough, Or Are You Tough?

LIFE'S CHALLENGES 


This is a statement that is commonly stated, and is almost a truism nowadays... "Everyone Faces Challenges". While it is true that everyone faces challenges, the fact remains that some people face a far higher degree of challenges that others. Further, there are challenges, and then there are challenges... meaning, not all challenges can be stated to be of the same level of severity. 


How can you compare a person who has studied in street lights with one who has had a comfortable privileged upbringing? How do you compare a person who has brought up an entire family of 10+ people alone? I know 2 such people personally. How do you compare a person who has every benefit with one hasnt had that pleasure? How can you compare a person who has not had luck going his or her way with others? {It happens- howsoever much may you deny it. Some people are luckier than others, fact} How can you compare a person who is not as intelligent with one who is? How can you compare a person who is not ready to sacrifice on values with one who is? How can you compare a person who has to fight through every single day all alone {I know of 3 such people} with others? 

How can anyone say that the child of a labourer, studied at night, worked in dirty places at daytime, getting beaten, sweared at {nice sweet words like MC, BC, B-DIke, K***e, etc}, who faces a drunk father, an uneducated mother and these problems to graduate and postgraduate has faced the same challenges as the child of an upper middle class executive who has a room, a bike or car to himself or herself, all the books desired, education in an exclusive top notch school whos fees can feed the entire family of the labourer for months? Who is assured a job due to societies perceptive idiosyncracies and biases as well as family contacts? 


Fact of the matter is that some people face challenges that are far in excess of other people, who tend to extrapolate their experience and make statements on all. Some people face a degree of challenge that most other people cannot even dream about. Please dont belittle their struggles in life by saying that everyone faces challenges... What most people call challenges are in reality only slight ripples; these people have no conceptualisation as to what a challenge really is. As a people, we should grow and learn to appreciate these differences in severity, and thank the Lord for the Luck we have been blessed with.



A QUESTION OF VALUES


Moving on, people react differently to challenges life poses to them. To use popular phraseology, some people face them head-on with the right attitude, while others buckle under. We commonly state that some people have fire in the belly, that they overcome the negatives life poses to them.  But this general statement hides some good, some ugly truths, which manifest themselves upon closer examination. 

It is a core psychological concept that attitudes are active, in that they are the external manifestations of your core values. This, I am afraid, is an established psychological fact.  The human's external behaviour is a core function of these deep seated values- and that includes attitude, which is determined by the deep seated features. These values are what that determine the output that occurs. Attitudes are an evaluation and action - based; the base of these evaluations are the values that you hold dear. 

Values relate to Esteem, Power, Social Status, Security, Morality, Conformity, Tradition - and relate to what each individual holds dear - Self & Power, Change, Security etc. If a person holds Power and Esteem above all else, such a person is more likely to cut corners - a small generalisation as an example. 

It goes much deeper, but I hope I make my point. Attitude is just an expression, an action - the core is the value set of the individual. Attitude is not what we understand it to be; that is just a manifestation, and is in reality controlled by something else. The response to external stimuli is determined by internal personality parameters; the never-say-die or killer attitude etc is just a fashion statement, and has no precise basis in science.  It is just a mere expression based on external stimuli, determined by circumstances and personality, both being equally important.

On being faced with a challenge, small or large - it is your values that determine how you respond, not your attitude or your faith or anything else. Attitude is a function of your value system. A person with strong values will respond in a completely different manner as compared to a person with a weak internal constitution. A strong person will keep faith in his values and not take shortcuts, whereas the weak person will partake in shortcuts. 

This manifests itself in the world around us. A person with a weak value system will take the easy shortcut, and not struggle on the extremely suspect "bahaanaa" that the world does it {sound familiar?}, whereas the person with a real functioning value system will consciously opt for the optimal right path {both words operational and important - rare is the situation that has only one right answer} 


And it is this behavioural pattern that determines how tough you become due to the challenges you face, or how rough you become. The weak, the cowards become rough, whereas the strong become tough. Therein lies the difference.

Fire poses hard questions to a person's conscience, and to a person's base value system. The answers chosen by the individual determines roughness or toughness. Tough people are the real success - whereas the rough people are the failures. The world, however, regards roughness as toughness, showing its perceptive errors and ignorance. Roughness can never be toughness; Rough is external and skin deep - whereas tough is internal, and deep-seated. 

The core issue is, if you are being true to your value system, your conscience and the path of right, you are tough regardless of whether you are a material success in life. Material success is pointless, and a complete waste of time. Tumhaare mehel yeh saare, yahin reh jaayenge pyaare, fikar kis baat ki pyaare - wahaan paidal hi jaanaa hai! My parents wealth- whatever it was - still lies on this planet. They could not take it away with them! 

Material success is a means to an end : and the people who compromise on the path of right, on values for material luxuries are the real failures. Material wealth is important - you have to live, after all. The needs of the body are as genuine as the needs of the spirit. But that does not mean you compromise on the good, and the right. What difference is their between you and an Asura in that case? Straight, Frank and Blunt. 


Another word - small- that does not occur to people is "decisions". Fire is all about decisions, which arise from your value system mentioned above. And it is these decisions that lead to further experiences; the good and value-based decisions lead to situations that are not easy to handle, requiring truthfulness, toughness, and commitment; you are constantly questioned on these, constantly challenged along the path. The one who remains true, passes all, other circumstances being equal. 


And it is because of the constant stream of difficult situations posed by challenges that allows a person to develop decision making skills. And that is how fire brings about toughness. That also defines and differentiates rough and tough. Toughness means facing problems in a calm manner, without panic, taking the right value-based decisions - even if it means pain over the short-term. And, in my opinion, very, very few people are tough by that description; managers, fathers, husbands, wives, friends - everyone chooses the short term. That isnt being tough; that is being rough. And Brash. Straight, Frank and Blunt, sorry. 



What drives a person, and gives the strength to be able to return from a setback? 


Primarily, need drives a person to bounce back everytime. Sorry to be so abrasive {it is unintentional} - this is a classic word used by people who may not have faced the same level or regularity of problems in life. "I admire his or her resilience". 

What choice does a modern person have? Food doesnt grow on trees; it costs money to live. You have to be resilient today - that is a simple truism. And even a coward can be resilient. That is not hardening, it isnt being tough. That is pure need, nothing else. Any number of people are and can be resilient! 

What is more important is whether, in the process of bouncing back, some compromises on values or conscience have been made. Say a person loses his or her job because he or she is unable to come to terms with playing ball with unethical activities. If this person then starts doing unethical acts just to save the new job and grow, then this isn't toughness; it may be resilient, since the person has come back and made it. But, in the process this person has made a pact with the devil, and sold his or her conscience, and base values, showing cowardice and weakness. 

Resilience has, thus, nothing to do with being tough, or being hardened. Tough means staying in the fight, struggling while remaining true to the values of honesty, integrity, courage, law, ethics. That is real toughness; not compromising on any value, not giving bribes, not doing anything unethical, being completely honest. The tough man or woman may not necessarily be rich, or in power; riches and power dont define toughness in a human being. Neither does brash abrasive behaviour, aggression, breaking rules and laws, cutting corners, "adjusting" to the ways of the world define toughness; that is being rough. 

As I stated above, tough means being true to your core values, being honest, showing integrity, and having the courage to walk the path of life despite the problems and difficulties you encounter - all the time, never even thinking of wavering from your chosen path of value-based and driven decisions. That is real tougness. 

Are you tough - or are you rough?