Thursday, January 12, 2017

My Take on Arun Shourie’s Interview to Swati Chaturvedi

Intellectuals and scholars like the leaders, at times hold a place of such high reverence in one’s mind that any minor slip, any pettiness on their part, breaks the heart of those who had at one point of time, admired them. I was like most of the Nineties youth was always charmed by Arun Shourie, the Journalist-turned-politician. He, with over-sized half-shirts with pens prominently parked in his pocket was probably the first common man politicians in the post-emergency era, much before Kejriwal turned that uniform into a political attire of Twenty-first century. I was quite young when Shourie came into the political arena and like all young men was quite a fool and romantic. Like Arvind Kejriwal, Shourie moved about with the air of middle-class men, hiding carefully and successfully his background of affluence- like his having been schooled in the elite Modern School and St. Stephen’s in Delhi, and his stint in the world bank, much like Arvind Kejriwal who almost made one believe as if the Deputy Commissioner in IRS is as poor a man as a teacher in a municipal school. But I am not angry with him for that. Those days what he wrote was strong, sturdy and substantive. Even his today cannot negate his yesterday. It is more of a disappointment when you find what negativity and unfulfilled ambition does to an illuminated soul especially when accompanied and nudged by someone who has built her own reputation out of bitterness.

For someone who had fiercely fought emergency, when it was imposed in real terms, with thousands jailed, censorship on free speech clamped down with a heavy hand, it is pitiable to come down to what can be only construed as rhetoric and unfounded allegation. If it were only a person record of lamentation confided to Swati Chaturvedi and not meant for public consumption, one can live with it. But with the reputation of the interviewing Journalist regarding the interviews, fake and real one, we might never know.

There is an interesting quote by JRR Tolkien, where he writes in one of his letters, “Criticism- however valid or intellectually engaging- tends to get in the way of a writer who has anything personal to say.” And in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde writes, “Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face.” This interview illustrates both the points. It leans on lies and struggles to stand on its feet. The slip begins showing from the very start. The cunning craftiness of the interviewer shows in the first sentence where she, inaccurately, begins the interview with a contention that Modi is only one among with leaders who follow abusive handles. The lady has been herself a most abusive troll and has been thoroughly exposed on the internet for being that. There is no evidence that none of the millions who follow the so-called world leaders are abusive, but that when the idea is to build a rhetoric, who cares about fact. Talking in absolutes, to exaggerate on extremes, is good politics, it sways people. It is poor journalism. But then what our journalists do is barely journalism; it is more of politics. So she falsely positions a lie and to a great disappointment, Shourie meekly surrenders to her propaganda. He quotes Modi calling for his Social media volunteers meet, some of abusive trolls might or might not have been a part of it. But by quoting the even Arun Shourie legitimizes Swati’s inaccurate assertion.

Swati then quotes emergency, which by her own admission, she did not witness. I believe the only truth I discover in this interview is that Ms. Chaturvedi, like many others who loosely quote Emergency without knowing what it meant, have not seen it first-hand and that she is many years younger than me. Mr. Shourie again goes with the flow with vague, obtuse “feels like emergency” statements, made loosely by haters of the government, while they throw choicest abuses at the elected head of government with complete impunity. Shourie even claiming that unlike today, Emergency imposed by Mrs. Gandhi, which had the entire opposition imprisoned, was legal and in some sense, legitimate. He largely ignores the state excesses of those time, in his urge to attack Modi, legitimizes the darkest era of Indian democracy. Swati then quotes Ashish Nandy’s statement, calling Narendra Modi a “textbook fascist’ and seeks Arun Shourie’s views. As with most questions, much like most journalists these days, unlike treating Interviews as an opportunity to bring out the views of the guest, she uses it to substantiate her own views. His worse is however, yet to come, Shourie’s that is, when he refers to Kashmir and in some roundabout way tries to link vigilantism of cow-protection groups elsewhere with the violence in Kashmir. He says that people who get into such skirmishes elsewhere in the country should beware of the reactions it will cause in Kashmir. But the same logic, reversed, never deterred the terrorists in Kashmir. The fear of how will mainland Hindus respond if we murder one Hindu in Kashmir, as a complete genocide was effected in the valley. Thus in his zeal to attack Modi, prodded sufficiently by Ms. Chaturvedi, he ends of legitimizing not only Emergency, but also the unpardonable terrorism in Kashmir. Swati then refers to some morphed pictures about Dadri, as if entire set of handles which she marks as Right-wing trolls were responsible for it. She never discusses it as an internet phenomena, but takes a one-sided view, exonerating Left-winger journalist friends like Rana Ayyub and Aditya Menon who had shared fake pictures from Palestine of decade back to fuel the unrest in Kashmir. She ignores the fact that the fake news shared by unknown handle will cause much less damage than the fake news shared by those who proudly write Journalist on their bio.

Swati in the end asks Shourie if his hatred of Modi emanates from the fact that he did not get the finance portfolio in the cabinet post elections (in which he had campaigned for Modi). Some pangs of old conscience probably does not allow Arun Shourie to deny that and he answers in some roundabout way. If one could use mumble unintelligibly in print interview that is what he does. He quotes as per his version, Vajpayee weeping after Gujarat riot, much like Salman Khurshid’s claim that Sonia Gandhi wept after Batla house encounter in which terrorists were killed, and one seriously feels sorry for how low this man has fallen that he looks more like a failed Congressi today. I would agree with Chaucer, with sadness and great disappointment, that, “the greatest scholars are not usually the wisest people.” 

(To read the interview of Arun Shourie on Wire, Click here)

Monday, January 2, 2017

Book Review: Before We Visit the Goddess- By Chitra B Divakaruni

"As for my next book, I won't write it till it has grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear; pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall." 

Ms. Virginia Woolf famously wrote the above on how she decides on the time to start writing her new book. I do not know Chitra B. Divakaruni well enough to know if she waits to write before it grows heavy, asking to be cut or it will fall. But the succulent prose of her novel does suggest a very ripe and mature story. Before We Visit the Goddess is one rare book by a contemporary writer, mainstream writer, if I were to say, that I not only finished; I savored it and finished it with a sense of longing. The story is written with such affection that it shows. 

Chitra comes out as a serious writer with deep affection to her story and sincere respect to her craft. The language is not lazy, and the emotions are never half-baked, it almost has the taste of a carefully cooked curry left to simmer overnight, rendered magical by the last breath of dying cinders. The prose is glorious, the story is charming. When was the last I came across a magical metaphor like The magician's eyes flit from side to side as though he were reading something very rapidly. Their whites are a pale yellow, the color of drowned sand at the bottom of a river. The author remains true to the story, thankfully. She is unhurried, honest to the story, not for once slipping into the typecast of modern Indian English writing. Modern English fiction writing broadly divides into two classes- Agenda-driven, Good language, but propagandist; and Lazy and soul-less, the chic-lit class of literature. This novel escapes both and shines in its own intrinsic radiance.

The Novel begins with Sabitri , the old grandmother writing to her grand-daughter, Tara, at the insistence of her daughter, Bela. They have never seen each other, never met and thus we meet the three heroines of the story- Tara, Sabitri and Bela. The story moves quickly from a village in Bengal, to Kolkata and eventually to America. The story is spread over great spread of geography and spans three generation (four if we count Durga who starts this slow and hesitant revolution). We don't actually know about Durga's thoughts about women emancipation but we do closely follow the other three women. Durga is able to put her daughter, Sabitri to college, with the help of a disinterested benefactor, Leelamoyi. But then nothing is rushed in this novel. The steps towards emancipation are light, the flights of freedom, faltering, and the voices of women mere whispers. The three women, of different times, different ages, enjoined by one thing that they have in common- being a woman. 

 The spread of story leaves some ends which probably author had tied up in her mind, but are hard to catch. For instance, what happens to the magician that Bella found in Assam? or what happens to Bijan? or the sudden changes in Tara on the visit of temple- whether it was on account of the story of the death of her Guest's daughter in India, or was it some divine intervention- is left to interpretation of the reader. Possibly it was meant to be thus. I do wish that it would have been nicer if some dimensions were given to Bijan. To be fair, she tried, when we have Sabitri meeting her old flame and getting caught red-handed, hitting at Bella and thus creating a fissure in the mother-daughter relation to be bridged only with the letters Sabitri wrote for her grand-daughter Tara, in her death. Through the intermingled lives of three independent-minded women, we trace the path to emancipation, realize the importance of independence. This is an amazing story. And the way in such a wide canvas, in such a complex backdrop, all ends are tied up neatly as the story comes to close, delicately, adroitly with red ribbons in the end, as words of the letter of Sabitri float in the air like some magical chants, glowing words floating through the dusk- 
'Satisfaction overwhelmed me. This was something I had achieved by myself, without having to depend on anyone. No one could take that away. That's what I want for you, my Tara, my Bela. That's what it really means to be a fortunate lamp.'

My recommendation: Absolutely charming story, absolutely lovely read, especially for women of all ages, and if your are a man wanting to understand a women of any age.  

Amazon Link to the Book (Click Here)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Winters are Here- Notes from the Cold

Winters are here. Not the devastating one which numbs one’s soul and drives deep into the body like the brutal edge of a knife piercing through a slab of ice, with wisps of smoke rising from it. Delhi, the city of extreme weathers, is not there yet. The evenings are cold, but bearable, the mornings are chilly, but welcoming. The war between the Sun and the winter continues. The Sun is brighter than the summer days, but not cruel. There is more brightness than the heat, like a strict disciplinarian father, observing his loveliest daughter, an Elizabeth Bennet to a Mr. Bennet. Winter, in Delhi, steps in slowly with unsure steps and once it finds the ground firm enough to bear its heavy steps, it stamps with the madness of a wild beast, as January brings in the New Year. The bright sunbeams of the initial days of splendid winter mornings dies, helpless in the face of a sudden vengeance of the grey winters descending from an unkind heaven- fog, mist, smog; its broken wings spread, decaying, dead remnants of a failed fight. The dense fog descends and the Earth is wrapped in the silences of the winters. It is devastating, yet beautiful; crushing to the soul, yet charming. Something like love with all its magic and madness. That is how my city walks towards the winters. Those who love outdoors and are weaker in spirits, despair; those with braver outlook, wade through the chilling yet mystical cover of the fog; writers and poets pull the curtains and in the warmth of a burning soul, read and write, half-lying in their couches, wrapped in furry blankets.

Those on the streets, struggle to steal some warmth- in tattered clothes, in shelters, demonstrating the failure of the collective to support their brethren. The homeless pulling their blankets over their heads on the streets, stand like a sore-thumb and ugly slogan of the heartlessness of their counterparts in the city, whose city they build- making flyovers, making Metro, derisively addressed as Biharis. The city dwellers consider them stupid. Yes, stupid they are to continually elect the governments in their own states which criminally neglected the governance, forcing this cold exile on them. The caste and religion which they follow while voting in their own cities and town, and elect incompetent and corrupt leaders, with the satisfaction of having stood by their religion and caste, dissolves under the giant wheels of a gargantuan city with the heart of stone, as they all merge into a common identity of migrants, huddled under the flyovers. Take that, Ashoka the Great of Patliputra, the city of refugees laughs at your people and washes its hands twice when it touches them accidentally. They shiver incessantly and humanity shivers with them like that lonely leaf on the twig, struggling a hostile weather, about to fall and die and decay without a moment’s notice.

The decaying, foul smell of mendacity rides on the evening winter winds as Champagne is poured into the glasses, and music flows against the clinking of crockery in the back drop of a benevolent idol of Santa riding his carriage smiling at a corner, welcoming the New Year. Nights come early and dark blanket envelopes the city as dead as its inhabitants.  The winters are here. The city, like every year, looks forward for a possibility of redemption or an even definite decay, in this season. Will the chill beat the warmth of human spirit or will the glow of human heart rise above the grey darkness of the numb, fogged senses? - is the question which every winter brings to this city. This city which died seven times to come back to life again awaits redemption. Will this city and the heart of it which pulsates in the some dark, cold corners, that red, organ of the size of a human fist, beating against the cold, survive the biting slaps of an impending winter?  As the season oscillates between beauty and bitterness, between sensuality and sadness, between magic and melancholy, I read, a Gustave Flaubert quote, "Are the days of the winter sunshine just as sad for you too? When it is misty, in the evenings, and I am out walking by myself, it seems to me that the rain is falling through my heart and causing it to crumble into ruins." and wonder if he was talking to me when he wrote that.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Why Congress Should not Try Muddying the Waters and leave the Army Alone?

In a world offering unprecedented anonymity to people on social media, and a tempting opportunity of unimaginable dishonesty to people on mainstream media, it is appropriate to make a disclaimer pronouncing my lack of credentials when I write about subjects in which my interest is limited to being a logical and nation-loving India. I was not an economist when I wrote about demonetization and I am not a military or defense expert, when I am writing this post about the needless controversy being raked about the appointment of the new Chief of Army Staff (COAS).  I wrote earlier on Demonetization as an ordinary citizen and possibly, as a poet and a writer, with no ax to grind. My intent of writing on the appointment of the next Army chief is similar. I do not know the new Army Chief, Lt. General Bipin Rawat, nor do I know the two officers he superseded, both by all accounts of exemplary merit. We live in odd times. The social media is a lawless arena. It offers great opportunity to naive and lesser knowledgeable souls like me, it also offers those with lies in their eyes and conspiracy in their pen to use this lawless playground into a location for creating propagandist Frankensteins and set about unsuspecting masses to chase and fight them. So editors would happily write their official designation in their Twitter profiles and then put a remark with asterisk, something akin to declaration running at the end of mutual fund investment advertisement, that tweets are personal. The opposition party out of power, having bitten dust in the last election, though have lost the numerical supremacy in the electoral battle on account of their dynastic politics and unprecedented corruption, insists on continuance of their role in national governance and polity. 

 We are living in a world of easy information availability and if one were to put his mind to it, truth will easily be out. But then, unfortunately this is also an age of information deluge.  Before we could dig into one falsehood and extract the lies, comes another falsehood, more evil, more complex than the previous one. A defeat is a time for reflection and introspection. The problem with Congress is that they cannot do that. Introspection in the context of the grand old party is impossible, because it would mean a change in leadership, thoroughly proven to be incompetent, if not thoroughly corrupt. The dynastic politics prevents any genuine possibility of introspection and improvement. The dynastic heads at the top, Humpty-dumpty, mother-son duo, stay untouched, and beyond questions. The courtiers who derived power from the continuity of the dynastic rule are the most ruffled, and they have no qualms in stooping to whatever level, in order to, in some way, restore the earlier status. They have no respect for any institution, having trampled over all that the natives built for themselves, post independence. They build narratives, those narratives are echoed with amplification and beyond a point, no one cares what was the truth. It happened in case of Beef Ban, in case of Demonetization, and now they are intending to create a communal angle around the appointment of the Army chief. The apolitical, dignified and selfless nature of Indian defense forces is a matter of pride for an Indian citizen, especially when compared to the neighboring nations. While the respect for the Forces remain untarnished for the common citizen, Congress never cared about the forces. Possibly post-71 war, Indira Gandhi realized that while people respected the political leadership for the great victory, there was some glory to be shared with the armed forces. She did not like it much and possibly the pension for soldiers was altered, pay commission scrapped, withing three years of the 71 victory.  It was almost as if she was waiting for Sam Maneckshaw, the soldier's soldier to retire. Even Field Marshal, the Patron- Commander of the Indian forces was deprived of his dues, settled only when he was towards the last of his life. 

It is preposterous for such a party to now show concerned about the appointment, and cry hoarse about the appointment of Lt. Gen. Rawat superseding two other officers. Two Congressis, Shahzad Poonawala and his brother, came forward, even alleging the communal angle. Now, I will not write a detailed note of how there is a merit in this appointment superseding the two officers in question. It is not for me to answer. This question is aptly settled by Retd. Gen Syed Ata Hasnain in his post on Swarajya Mag (Read Here). He explains how possibly the experience in North-West and North-East, both with sensitive borders and acute insurgency, of Lt. General Rawat went in his favor vis-a-vis Lt. General Praveen Bakshi, a cavalry officer and Lt. General PM Hariz. In the context of attacks on Army in Kashmir and recently in North East, it does makes perfect sense. The congress on the other hand, not only called this appointment cherry-picking by government of the day, the foot-soldiers of the corrupt queen, ousted from power, even called it RSS design to avoid making a Muslim, that is Lt. Gen. Hariz, head of Indian Army. That their allegation were false and unfounded made no difference to them. They spoke their nonsense into the abyss of absurdity called twitter, with their blue-ticked soldiers amplifying it dutifully. Only few days back, we had all the media propagandists tweeting how it was unsafe to do financial transactions on-line, on account of hacking of the Twitter account of the prince. What was shamelessly exposing was the fact that they all tweeted tweets which were identical, verbatim. It was also interesting that their Twitter accounts were allegedly hacked, but none of them advocated leaving twitter until the security is improved, they attacked the security of a totally unrelated applications. If modern IT is so insecure, what do we do, send pigeons and fly kites? They would not answer that. The game is clear, this is what Rahul Gandhi meant when Congress lost the Delhi election that they ought to become more like AAP. So it is shoot and scoot game is at play. Poonawala claimed that Lt. General Hariz was superseded since government wanted to avoid a Muslim commander. The dubious duo conveniently ignored that even if seniority was followed, Lt. General Bakshi would have become the chief. If they bring about the argument that Lt. Gen Hariz could have succeeded General Bakshi, that is also not based on facts since Lt. General Hariz is set to retire before General Bakshi. One would breathe a sigh of relief that it is just fortunate that their conspiracy theory is weak on facts. But then it might not have been, what hell would have broke lose in that case.

The argument is so absurd, especially coming from Congress. APJ Abdul Kalam, the late president, also the Supreme Commander of Indian Forces, in his second term, was supported by BJP, but was ditched by Congress because in his first term, he refused to toe the Sonia Gandhi line. No one uttered a word when a Muslim Commander in Chief was replaced by a woman congress leader from Maharashtra with dubious record. Congress had set aside the seniority principle in appointments in their regime as well recently, even if we do not go as far back as the appointment of General AS Vaidya. Admiral RK Dhowan superseded Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha to become Navy Chief in 2014. Outside Army, in 2012, Congress appointed Syed Asif Ibrahim as IB Chief superseding, four officers. BJP was the main opposition, had 159 seats. BJP did not utter a word, not on his religion at least. But Congress, with 44 seats in the parliament and grand illusions of its stature even as opposition would not show even a modicum of decency, would not leave any institution un-attacked. Little do they appreciate how deeply they annoy any nationalist Indian, as their politics continue to revolve around the Mother-son duo, while senior leader in their own party languish in subordinate roles.  I don't care what they do with their ailing institution, I have quarrel with them trying to tarnish a fine institution in their zeal to attack the Narendra Modi government. There will be finer writers and better experts who will blow holes in the fake outrage of the Congress. I am writing to record my protest. I am writing because lie unchallenged will become truth. I am writing to tell the despotic dynasty, with everyday tantrum, Initially the nation was excited, now, it is bored, soon it will be annoyed and disgusted. I had written earlier as well, I urge you once again, Let the soldier be.