How we can impact on our times?

marco-poloIndians must stand up and learn to speak for themselves as free citizens. The many hang-ups, the legacy of the British colonial low-confidence mindset and also the new political bosses who don’t practise any known Constitutionally-mandated norms of public behaviour have sapped the energies of the common man as well as the elite.
Some unorthodox ideas and thoughts.

These are the two questions I often ask myself. If I can put it more grandly, yes, anything more personal and serious, then such questions might sound, in the present context of more immediate times, say, when there is a general election in 2014 or when there is the more contentious, practical questions, say in politics or even partisan context like whether one should enter an electoral context or even forming a political  party or party faction so that you want to intervene in a very emotional and partisan opposition parties’ own agendas of making news  for some immediate demands, one can ask such questions in different and more provocative or more polished language as well.

So, I too am provoked sometimes to ask the same questions, differently framed to reach some conclusions. As I am in a much more anxious mood, anxious for the future of the country faced with a great deal of uncertainty about the outcome of the 2014 general elections I want to take a more balanced  and broader historical context and as these very same questions.

How do we understand the present times in India?
How, we, as individuals or party activists or even as intellectuals understand and interpret the present state of the Indian politics?

I have before me a book by Meghnad Desai “Rediscovery of India”.
This is not a new book but a book that will remain a standard reference, I believe, for a long time. Lord Desai is now a member of the London House of Lords, a great honour and a great recognition. As such his views would be taken into account.

The point I want to make here is that Britain is no longer a Great Britain. The latest Economist magazine has a cover story titled, Great Britain vs. Little England!
Yes, there is so much lamentation lately on the decline of Britain as a big power. It is now a humble small island nation.

Unfortunately, this decline, this smallness of the nation hasn’t yet sunk into the mindset of average Indians. The Brits know this, they realise they no longer count in the scheme of things on the world stage.

The Economist magazine captures their dilemma and their plight so poignantly.
It was the handiwork of the Labour party in 1945 when they decided to give India independence in 1947.Indian Empire, its vast territory was a prized possession of the Brits. How can be forgetting the boast of Winston Churchill about his absolute claims of ownership of the Indian Territory and his scathing language about Gandhi and Nehru and other leaders.

chairmanAnd yet, we, Indians even today seem to be in a worshipful mood when it comes to the British monarchy, Churchill and even some of the imperialist authors like Rudyard Kipling and many others. It is high time we, Indians shed our British worship, slavishness and inferiority complex and our servile mindset when it comes to expressing our own independent views.

I know many eminent Indian scholars and experts, especially those who went to England, to Oxford and Cambridge and got their education and later careers also, having spent long spells of stay and learning to toe the line of the official and academic lines there, we still see there is no independent study or opinion on such early British histories by James Mill and others.

Now, we can see that James Mill who earned his keep by work at the East India Company (so his eminent son, John Stuart Mill also), the senior Mill wrote derogatively about Indians and their character and yet we don’t dare, even now, to criticise Mill’s characterisation and also we don’t express our views on other British imperialist officials be it Lord Curzon or Macaulay.

There had been greater and more open-minded and sympathetic minded persons like Warren Hastings, others who promoted and worked under the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
Yes, we have to remain grateful to these great men, great minds like William Jones and others who promoted the Sanskrit College in Benares and those who really appreciated the Oriental scholarship.

It is after a long time only the British started appreciating Indian languages and learning and arts and culture. Otherwise, they remained highly prejudiced and they didn’t see any merit in Indian culture an Indian innate talents.

India must play its role in the world.
Indians must shed the British legacy of learning from thinking and writings.
Indians need to think for themselves.
Indians must re-evaluate the legacy of our own freedom heroes.
It is the young India that will now set goals for the new generation.
So let us learn to live with Indian thinking and Indian writing.
Not Britain anymore a Great Britain. It is now Little England.
May be in another parallel, the US too is not a model for Indian affairs.
India is the world’s large democracy. India must have an independent world view. Our values have to be defined afresh
We have to be equi-distance to the major powers.
We have to promote world peace; we have to work for disarmament and avoidance of civil wars that rage in several parts of the world. (There are now as many as six in world.
Indians must establish Wars and Peace Research Institute as in Norway and Sweden. We must be outward looking. Not as we are today, very inward looking and also timid!

Also before me are two more books.

One is on the Atlantic Slave Trade by James Pope Hennessy (A Study of the Atlantic Slave Trade (1441-18o7).

One whole afternoon I read through the more difficult pages of this enormously eye-opening account of what was to be the biggest black spot in the whole history of Britain. The so many beautiful country homes we see in the vast countryside of Britain, we learn now, are from the wealth earned by this despicable trade that saw England become a very prosperous nation through some four centuries of slave trade. Some of the chapters are so hot and so unreadable with a peace of mind.

This part of the British history   we don’t know. My Oxford tutors didn’t teach me this side. Though after a brief visit to Ireland I came with so much anger and disquiet
that I took upon an otherwise gentle Mr.James Joll, my history tutor when I questioned him about the atrocities caused by the British occupiers of that otherwise beautiful island.
Also now, before me is another book on the same title. Its exact name: How the Irish Saved Civilization. The untold Story of Ireland’s heroic role from the fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe by Thomas Cahill (Doubleday).

It is about how Ireland retained the history and civilisation of the west after the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, that is, at around the 5th century.

Then, of course the Roman Empire survived in the East, at Constantinople, modern day Istanbul. But then, what happened to Britain then in the fifth century A.D.Britain was a jungle that is all!

In fact, we Indians don’t seem to realise that Britain had no history whatever before, say 10th or even the 12th century. Only after the Magna Carta and only after Chaucer, the British had had a history or politics or even literature!

But where was India?
India was a civilisation much before
Britain became one!

India was a civilisation from the Vedic times, from Mohenjo-Daro-Harappa. Of course, Indian history is too old. We had such personalities like Buddha and Ashoka.
We had had such invaders like Alexander the Great and onwards so many came through the Khyber Pass.

But we didn’t have had a history that tells us all, all through these long years.
We have had so many invaders and after the 10th century onwards we had invaders from the outside territory, from Central Asia and even from the Afghan territory, the stories we read in our schools are only about Mohamed Gazani and Gaur and such minor invaders and their going back.

It was only Babur who came and settled down here for good. This was the Mughal Empire.
Then came the visits from the West, from Vasgo Da Gama in 1498. Lord Desai’s Indian discovery starts with this coming of the Vasgo Da Gama and through the sea routes.

It is this new insight, the opening of the sea routes and the succession of the European powers, the Portuguese, the Dutch, then the British and then the French and others.
India became a weak nation, foreign, why even the Mughal period is strewn with poverty and famine and much economic degradation. Though Akbar ushered in a new administrative structure that withstood even the arrival and to the time of their own departure.

Even today, in the post -independent India we see the element of the Mughal administrative terms in use. But the most important part of the story I want to place before the readers is that what we have today as Indian history is largely what is written and interpreted by the British writers, historians, and mostly British administrators.
Thus, we see the impact even now.

There are still old-fashioned British admirers and their heroes are still Winston Churchill and Mountbatten!
How changed the modern world?

We are about to celebrate the centenary of the first world war in 2014.
There are new books on the First World War.

I am keeping in touch with the new books, the reviews of such books in the British journals, The Economist, the financial times and other magazines.

But thanks to some opportunities that came my way in recent times, I travelled in China, Philippines and other South East Asian countries and got to know personally how these countries, from Japan to South Korea and China, Philippines, why even such countries like Malaysia and Thailand, not to mention other nations like Vietnam and others is the new surge of emotions that we can in these peoples, we see the past 100 years histories alone
I had already written about how the Indian people suffered a lot in the two world wars. I like to reiterate for the wider understanding and appreciation of fellow Indians how we are still in the dark as to hat India gained? What Indians lost? In the two world wars?
Anybody had asked these questions?

As I am seeing, the tole of Mahatma Gandhi himself needs some revaluation.
The majority of voters in the 2014 elections are below 30 years and most of them, why all of them may not even know about Rajiv Gandhi. Let alone Mahatma Gandhi!
Yet, we see there is a thriving book industry on Gandhi to this day!
Simply because his personality, nay, his persona makes for good story lines.
So, the market is flooded with books on Gandhiji.

But as I have said the younger generation might not give a damn, yes, that is the right word for such holy cows. Today, there is a strong emergence of sensitivity among the Indian intelligentsia and the urban middle classes, why even the high and mighty too are disillusioned with the country’s affairs.

There is no serious analysis of the issues before the people, the citizens.
So many range of downfalls. In governance, in morals, in observance of standards of conduct by the top leaders. The very legitimacy of the leaders is being questioned.
Before I go on to these issues, let me finish my observations of Mahatma Gandhi.
In 1914, on the eve of the First World War Gandhi was 45 years old.
What was his role in the First World War?

Then, in the Second World War he was 60 years old, right?
What was his roe? What was his understanding of the complexities of the war?
Lord Desai makes some pointed criticisms of the life and work of Gandhi during these years. After the dramatic impact of the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, Gandhi’s life and activities were going in a different direction. Even the Quit India movement, Lord Desai, observes was a failure.

It was a wasted effort. Much more seriously, after the 1942, the events moved in a direction that was neither helpful to the Indian people nor the people who, in the South East Asian countries, we also faced with different challenges.

While In China I studied the Chinese history during this period, I was stunned by the discovery that China in 1911 declared a national republic under Sun-Yat-sen. I visited his memorial house, where he lived with Madam Sen, the famous Soong sister. The Soong sisters make for an interesting study and reflection. Chiang-Kei-shek was also a great nationalist. His wife is another Soong sister.

The ladies proved to be very effective companions and they earned their spurs by their sheer strength of personalities alone. Sun and Chiang went to Japan to study and learn after Japan became a nationalist and proud independent nation. The Japanese story is also very inspiring.

The entry of Japan into war in the first and second world wars has to be studied separately for drawing lesions for outsiders. As for China, it is a tragedy that after Sun (he died in 1924); China emerged as the great nationalist leader.

But the emergence of the Chinese Communist party (founded in 1921), the ensuing civil wars led to a great split and finally the Communists emerged as winners and the nationalsts lost. This is a great tragedy.

In India, in 1942 and afterwards, we had a friend, friends in the China couple who advocated freedom for India with Roosevelt. Gandhi and his followers didn’t interact with the people and the power mattered. We never once seemed to have realised that Roosevelt, as he did intervene once, the Cripps mission was owing to Roosevelt pressure and maybe we might have won independence as a united India if only Gandhi, specially Gandhi had been more worldly-wise and took up the negotiations in right earnest.
So, my point here is to say that we now, the later generation might study Gandhi’s role in the light of these wider world.

The time to hero-worship is gone.
Hero-worship must go.

The current scenario in India gives cause for so many deep-seated worries.
Te Congress party under Sonia Gandhi had lost all its traditional values and habits of doing things. There is no national consensus inside the party on any major issue.
Thereby traditional democratic, open-minded approach to election of leaders, be it the Prime Minister or the party president are all give up.

There is an unsaid autocratic rule; Sonia Gandhi is president for the past 15 unbroken years. What is the message?

So too the elevation of Rahul Gandhi to the top power position.
What is the message?

Corruption is all-embracing; almost all the top heavy weights in the party are involved.
Just now, as I write these lines has come the report about the latest first round of elections in the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections. There are record number, a big per centage, and 16 or so per centage of Congress candidates have criminal records. So too the BJP.

What is the message?
How long the Indian people can tolerate?
What guarantee the situation might not explode?
I just now read that in the countries of the world, those who have a written Constitution, it is India’s Constitution 140,000 word, the longest.

Constitutions, as the famous observation of Thomas Jefferson noted in 1789, last lasts at the end of 19 years. We don’t know why he said this. India’s Constitution, compared with other British Commonwealth countries, is perhaps the most stable and drafted well by Indians themselves.

Otherwise, we might have had trouble. All the Indian neighbours have had difficult times in retaining their original constitutions. The point here is that we have deviated from the original mandate on several crucial counts.

Parties are not defined in the Indian Constitution. It is time we bring into the Constitution the RTI Act, the funding of parties, the very Constitution of parties and their periodic elections to ensure that by either incompetency(as it present)or by sheer foolhardiness some adventurers take away our precious legacy.

India is a vast land and we have so many regional pulls already visible.
There are any numbers of separatist, ethnic tensions and there is every indication that we might get into trouble unless we set some new standards.
The Constitutional reform body may be reactivated.
The present” Centre might not hold”, to borrow a poetic line of W.B.Yeats.

A memoir of a son of his highly talented and highly committed parents!

Parental failures at the higher levels?
Yes, this book is a painful reminder of this truth?

I like to ask after reading this otherwise deeply moving, deeply touching memoir of a son of his very highly talented and committed parents.

The later half of the book brings out otherwise a very disappointing life of Minoo Masani and his talented wife, Shakuntala Masani, both born in riches and brought up so privileged a life and yet what they encounted in life?

This part of their life grows to prove to be rather very tragic and very heart-breaking.

Masani rose to become the Leader of Opposition in Parliament under Pandit Nehru.

Masani, a well-off Parsi who counted among his friends, no less than JRD Tata. Shakuntala, born to Sir J.P. Srivatsava, the then Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council at the time of Independence. She fell for Masani when he was already twice married.

She was no less talented, she was beautiful and here are extracts from letters from the parents left behind and Zareer quotes the lines, some of the pieces rise to sheer poetic beauties! The one page 222 can be prescribed in every school textbook.

It is a tribute to a husband by a wife who had seen life at the two ends, high and depth.

The one lasting lingering thought, after reading through this remarkably well-written book, Zareer himself is a good writer of English prose; the parents took to their political careers too seriously. India under Nehru might have been a great place (as it really was).But India under Indira Gandhi proved to a great disaster for too many good and great people.

This book proves this thesis.

Both the players, Minoo Masani and Shakuntala paid dearly for taking politics seriously. It is not like our days now. Even now it is already dirty. But under Indira Gandhi it, politics, was cruel and vengeful and Mrs.Gandhi played it to the hilt, so to say.

The end of their lives, they died ripe in age, Minoo at 92, Shakuntala at late Seventies, brings out tears, the book rises to the level of an epic in prose.

One parting word. Zareer must write no more about his British raj themes, he should write on his grandparents from both the sides of the families.

He should take up some grand themes of what Indians gained and lost for their British raj rule.

Zareer has a great duty to perform to the country.
Name of the Book: And All Is Said
Memoir of a Home Divided
By Zareer Masani
Pages 236, Penguin, 2012

This was a painful book to read and digest! Though I was eagerly waiting for this book ever since I read the reviews in popular magazines, when I got it I read it at a stretch for the subjects were all known names and also I have some personal interactions with the other characters who flip through the pages, including Indira Gandhi, her own son, Rajiv and the current famous daughter in law, Sonia Gandhi.

In fact, there is a quotation that had been used by other reviewers for much effect. It is on page 133 where the late Shakuntala Masani, wife of the still more famous Masani, the Minoo Masani of the Swatantra Party founder, the one time Communist or Socialist turned extreme rightwing Swatantra activist talks of Sonia Gandhi-Rajiv marriage.

Shakuntala writes to son:”Yesterday there was reception; we went to Mrs.Pandit’s reception for Rajiv Gandhi and his Italian wife.”I can’t tell you how dim the girl is, a she comes from a working class family. I really don’t know what he saw in her”(page 133).

And much more significant, though this book doesn’t do justice to the man, the father of the writer, Minoo Masani’s greater days and glories when he functioned as the Leader of Opposition in parliament when Nehru was the Prime Minister.

In fact, the book, as I expected doesn’t do much justice to the lives of the two famed names, two very competent an if I can say, great patriots and nationalists, they loved India and in fact they sacrificed their lives and great many opportunities to live a high life for the sake of pursuing what they thought were their great duties to society and the nation and the world.

Minoo Masami was born in wealth and privileges, as a prominent member of the Parsi family of then Mumbai. Likewise, his wife Shakuntala was born as the privileged daughter of the then Sir J.P.Srivatsava, a member of the Viceroy Executive Council, a mill-owner and other wealth and he was almost the opposite of the  other great UP leader, Motilal Nehru. Sir J.P. was all out British toady, if we can say so in this time and age, he was all for the British rule to survive and when Independence came he was still a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council in charge of food portfolio and Mino Masani. As an young MP was crossing swords with his unsuspected future father in law.

Such is the fate life plays with peoples’ destinies.

Now, Minoo Masani was twice married when he met Shakuntala and she fell in love and the marriage was registered in the then Ceylon and it was a happy marriage by all accounts.

Masani moved in high society, he was very close to ,of all persons of the then British Bombay, he was close friend of JRD Tata and the friendship with Jeh, as he was affectionately called, for both Minoo and Shakuntala took some bizarre turns. She, as her son says here, was too sensitive to finer feelings, she was raised in such affluence, good education, Kathak classical dance and an appreciation of the Indian arts and crafts she was easily a centre of attraction for some of the very rich and powerful personalities, if the account of her son is taken at its face value.

Whatever it was, here the book is not about great issues or great personalities. It is a book about the failures of lives of great people, the father with all his political ideological  convictions and commitments to high moral principles, is seen here as a weak-willed man of not so deep a person. May be that is the one critical message of this book, Minoo Masani, I remember his book once, on India was published by OUP, for Indian students, youngsters and it became a classic, right?

Is he the very same man? Is her the very same Socialist ideologue?
Is he the man who joined with Rajaji to launch his Swatantra party and yet he didn’t last long in any of his political pursuits long enough to create and leave and impact?

So too I was saddened to see the wife, Shakuntala with so much personal accomplishments couldn’t sustain a relationship, family life and the family ties of a well-educated Indian household?

Here is what I wanted to say after I read the book.
Here a great failure is portrayed. A portrayal of a breakdown of a family at the top reach of the Indian society.

Shakuntala was moving in the top social circles. She lived in New Delhi as the wife of the Leader of Opposition in Nehru’s times and she must have studied and understood how life whirls around in Delhi.
When Indira Gandhi came along, Minoo Masani turned her critical and one can very well imagine what such a stand would bring forth.
He lost an election and the family, husband and wife fell apart? Yes, it is a cruel irony of sorts.

I read Zareer Masani’s book on Indira Gandhi in the 1970s when I was also living in Delhi and working at the AICC under Atulya Ghosh and Kamaraj.

In fact, I read Zareer Masani’s book at the home of my another Oxford friend, Rudolf De Mello, who was incidentally the President of the Indian Youth Congress and I was writing the campaign pamphlets for the 1967 General Elections at the AICC. So, every day we, myself and Rudolf would meet and discuss politics and many other things.
At that point of time I didn’t know much about Minoo Masani’s political strengths nor about Zareer Masani’s own qualifications.
But now, I see he was doing things in the background of his parents’ politics.

Masani the senior was out of Delhi and Shakuntala was left to live back in Delhi and only at this point she tries to get a “job” and the rest of the book centers around how she met with success and much neglect and the mother-son duo’s correspondence is much about this struggle to earn money to live in Delhi and how much her expectations from Mrs.Gandhi didn’t fructify.

One should imagine Mrs.Gandhi’s own sense of revenge etc. I am sure Mrs.Gandhi wouldn’t have relished Zareer’s book on her, as much as I am now reminded of Do Moreaes (another of my Oxford friend) whose book too on Mrs.Gandhi, she didn’t relish and she almost banned him from then onwards.

Now, in short, I feel sad the marriage of Minoo and Shakuntala broker up and the son, now I find turned a gay and in Indian parental lingo, a wreck?

I have known so many Indian families, all well-educated, well-connected, and wealthy even by ordinary standards. I have known so many of these families. Some of them have been my Oxford day’s friends. But alas! Some of the most gifted of my friends couldn’t live together their families broke up. I feel often distressed.

What is wrong with our Indo-British encounters?
What we gain by our British education?

How that Western education impacts our own Indian women?
Why such gifted men proved to be such disastrous failures?

I want parents of the present day affluence to ponder over some of these questions.

To talk of parental responsibilities seems a bit granny talk, right?
And yet, I like to as: dont the parents have some role in seeing through the lives of their sons and daughters?

I stop with these rather unstructured questions!

This denial of what is reality, what is the tursh?

This is an intellectual journal, you should realise! So, we have to ask hard questions, use words that are new and also critical for our cognition and much intellectual self-doubt and also much searching for new issues and the answers that issues might call for.

Just now I have read a book (“Why We Lie” by Dorothy Rowe, Fourth Estate, 384 pages) review in the FT Weekend, the London big society journal read by the high and the mighty. Yes, why we lie? See the current Indian scene! Bhopal tragedy is everywhere it seems.  But leaders don’t talk; they don’t appear in public, while other junior players talk at cross purposes!

While we must have open governance in a democracy, what we have is total silence and much secrecy! Okey, what is this government which doesn’t speak or even know how to act, respond!

While we must get clarity, what we have is an all enveloping paranoia!

The author of the book is a psychologist of repute, age 80 and she says:”I have reached an age when I no longer need to pretend that I know everything!” Here in India what we get?

While no one knows what to say, yet we see the prime minister and the party leaders pretend they know everything! Yet, they don’t know and don’t speak!

So, we need more psychological approach to the problems we confront as a democracy!

It is about the truths as we believe for what we all tell for our really gross lies! Human intelligence, our sense of morality, honesty and much else sometimes don’t prove to be those virtues but under various stress and compulsions, stress of being selfish (after all we all selfish you know, have you read Richard Dawkin’s “Selfish Genes”?) and also for the reasons of our material existence, money, power and the various illusions of existence etc, we do tell lies and move on, right?

We need some antidote to our various weaknesses, self delusion, double talk, shame, rage and guilt and various mental “illnesses” of which our world seems to be full of them.  Now, I am disturbed by the sheer “absolutism, dogmatism and tribalism” to borrow the phrases from an eminent visiting microbiologist-scientist who used the very same phrases to the Indian science establishment, I want to borrow the phrases to apply to our political establishment as well!

The scientist, Richard Jefferson, says Indians are given to deny they could be wrong when they know they are plain wrong!

Can’t we say the same thing with our current crop of leaders as well?

The Prime Minister, Dr.Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, the three supposed powerful politicians remain so deadly silent over the many tragedies the country is talking about, namely, the Bhopal disaster!

They have no reactions, no views and yet they are supposed to lead us!
Now, the Bhopal disaster, the Maoist killings, the latest, the honour killing, two murders the same day in New Delhi!

What are all these developments show and what is our reaction and response? The PM is so incompetent, now can we say?

There are furious criticisms in the media at least by some of the most senior journalists like M.J.Akbar. Akbar uses more stronger and scathing language against the establishment.

Now, suddenly faced with the fury and outrage over the Bhopal gas tragedy, the government has the cheek to reverse overnight the very cunning strategies proposed by P.Chidambaram and now he has the cheek to come out in public and stand for saving the victims!

It was he and one of his colleagues proposed to let off Anderson’s extradition and also let off the Dow Chemicals accepting any liability for the cleaning up and also for paying compensation!

Now, the very same GOM, calls Akbar, the GOM is a clever device to play for the next election, time buying and making people forget the current turmoil!
Now, the Indian tax payers will pay for the cleaning up of the site and also for enhanced payment of compensation!

Yes, the Indian tax payers would pay, they would do so with a more generous heart, provided, and we say the Prime Minister and the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi come before the country and openly apologies for their failures!

They should seek an open pardon of the countrymen for the collective failures of the establishment!

Only then there can be some reconciliation, some healing of the wound. The Indian media utterly failed to live to perform its duty. Only by reading the London Financial Times I could get to know that the dead plant of the Union Carbide, the steel pipe work and cording tanks, the dead poison gas and the dead of the 26-year old day remains still remain fresh in place! There is still a warning board hanging from the control room warning what to do when an alarm bell rings!

So, we have to read foreign newspapers to know what is there in Bhopal, the once lake-side beautiful city now turned into a ghost  fit  to be turned into a historic  memorial like the Nazi gas chamber city, Nazi concentration camps or the Hiroshima atom bomb site memorial, says a victim’s relative!

Even now, the juniors in the government talk and behave as if they have found a solution and a package of relief! They have not.

Now Rs.1, 500 crore for enhanced compensation and another Rs.350 crore for cleaning the site is not the end of the story. It is going to be a long story, a story that was lying in wait to confront the hapless UPA!

The state government under the BJP won’t oblige the Centre. The lean up would take years, it is now estimated it might take 3 years but given the track record of the past it might take more time, may be it might become another Babri Masjid around the neck of the Congress party!

There are other disturbing developments and they give rise to many more moral dilemmas!
The Maoists haven’t disappeared. They are only waiting in wait.

The Maoists need a much more active and competent management.
The other latest khap killings are another challenge for the Indian society.

Where are the women’s groups? What the National Commission for Women is doing?

What the Sonia Gandhi-focused National Advisory Council can do? The NAC should be coming out with some ideas and strategies.

Given the current mood in the national capital and in the states, it is anybody’s guess that the social and government problems can go away so easily or they can be solved by simply sitting quiet and waiting for public memory or public concern might vanish away! Or, other problems crop up to engage public attention.

This is a patently, if we can say so, an unmanly attitude.

Government leadership is all about courage, moral courage and rising up to the occasion. It is time we need a psychological war, warfare!

Push out the cowards from the government. Let democratic process throw up an elected leadership!

That would only bring out the best from the bottom of the pyramid!
Let peoples’ feelings and voices be heard.

Let there be an open season, so to say so that the country would find its equilibrium!

I am a subscriber to some literary journals published in India. Of course, I am a reader of some of the world’s leading literary review journals, notably, the 100 and odd year old Times Literary Supplement, TLS of great fame. TLS has been a reading habit with me, now, I don’t know for how many years. Perhaps, as long as I have been in Oxford and it is a long time indeed.

This attachment to TLS has grown with me in time and perhaps my reading habits and my reading tastes and my literary appreciation must have been impact by the TLS style of writing and the TLS way of looking at things, mostly literary.

TLS review of the classics, philosophy, poetry and of course much of history and biographies have been my staple reading and I have greatly benefited by reading these pages.TLS also helps me to keep in touch with the latest publications, in particular the Oxford philosophy titles, my special interest.

But then there are of course the equally the British appetite for book reviews, an all their journals and newspapers. The Guardian reviews lately have not been up to my tastes, they seem to be shallow and cater to the tastes of the current average British newspaper reader. I like the Spectator book reviews and even get these pages often xeroxed so that I can read them at leisure. The Newstatesman was my youthful pursuit, I knew Kingsley Martin and I also used to write letters to it as an Oxford undergraduate, I became a Fabian Socialist and I invited once Mr.Martin to speak to Oxford Indian and Pakistani joint Majlis meeting and so I became familiar with all the Socialists of yore, Julian Stratchy, Victor Gollanz and other India hands from Pethick Lawrence to others. Now, as for the Newstatesman reviews, yes, I like to glance at them. That is all. There are others in the Nature and even in The Economist and other British journals. I read them, yes, now and then. That is all. As for sustained interest I still confine myself to TLS.

After all I tell myself that life is short and you have to pick and choose, don’t you?

Now, as for keeping up myself with updated what is happening inside India I just pay my subscriptions to some journals I pick once or twice when I visit  some five star hotel bookstalls.

That is how I got to get the addresses of a few journals.

One is The Book Review published by a trust. The other is the Biblio: A review of books. As for others and other fields, for literature I subscribe now to the Sahitya Akademy’s Indian Literature.

I was one of the early subscribers of this journal. In fact, I still possess the first copy of the first edition of the Indian Literature when the great Krishna Kripalani (an old Santiniketan hand, was the Secretary. I also knew Prabakar Machwe, a dear friend who introduced me to the world of other language literary names.

I also subscribe now to the Chennai-based music magazine, Shruti.
Yes. I also subscribe to a variety of small magazines in the languages, more for the patronage they need than for anything else.

There are very active groups of poets, short story writers and even language enthusiasts and the extremists of various categories, Marxists, Tamil nationalists and others, Dalit causes and much else.

As for the English learned journals, the Book Review is okey, it is mostly written in an academic language that is very trying on your nerves!
The current and latest one issue, a review on Amrita Shegil by Laila Tyabji is perhaps the best written review for a long time. I enjoyed Ms.Tyabji’s writing style, so polished and so chaste a language and it shows her maturity of mind and a cultivates sense of urbanity and sophistication. It was an enjoyable half an hour!

One example:”All previous writing on Amrita and her art has tantalized, inspired, raised questions, enthralled, exasperated-while conveying only a pale shadow of her brilliant and many faceted self. These two volumes encompass all dimensions, and are deeply, deeply satisfying. There is sadness, delight and gratitude”.

Vivan Sundaram, the nephew of Amrita and the editor of the volumes, must have got a great satisfaction to get such a favourable review from one who is very competent to say what she says.

The Biblio is another literary review journal from Delhi and this trust is also one with eminent names.

Obviously by looking into the very famous names on the trusts of these journals, I wondered why they retain the names that are no more living!
May be there is some snob values for such names.
It is time to be very smart as well as modest and be natural.
Unfortunately anything that comes out of the New Delhi classes, the middle classes are all pretentious.

There is one, the Oxford Cambridge Society of which two of our family members are also members.

Perhaps, this society consisting of some of the most paranoid minds is a reflection of the very artificial and also very insecure world of the New Delhi’s new and old middle classes!

They put the two British Prime Ministers, one and his deputy and at the same breath put Dr.Manmohan Singh and then bring in Rahul Gandhi (to show off  or to cultivate favours?) as they  would be  Deputy Prime Minister!

So, I find the retaining of names long gone, K.R.Narayanan or K.N.Raj or Sham All (the Biblio) is somehow in bad taste and sounds all the enterprises a very bogus exercise!

Anyway, the Biblio is better organised editorial wise and there are some very well-written literary pieces. I enjoyed reading “Imagining the nation in Hindi and Urdu (perhaps we won’t have such writings anywhere else and we need such reviews to focus more on the Indian side of the issues) and give the Indian personality a new priority vs. the Western inspired writing mostly. Another review that caught my attention in the first place is Jaithirtha Rao on Meghnad Desai’s Rediscovering India.

I had already read the book and I consider the book an original contribution to the understanding of where we stand as a nation. Of course, I had also read the intemperate attack of Mani Shankar Ayer on this book for Deasis, rightly in my opinion, focused on the primacy given to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty as spelling danger to the polity.

There is a review by Inder Malhotra, the veteran editor of Pranay Gupte’s 597 page book Mother India: A political biography of Indira Gandhi. I had read the book. It is boring. Nothing new we don’t know.

Malhotra too didn’t say anything new by way of new insights or wisdom. Indira Gandhi corrupted not the political system; she almost created the new, current politics without any principles. So, the current rich, criminal and corrupt and dynastic elements totally created a meaningless polity.
We need emphasis on the deterioration of governance, the sheer absence of any rationale for a man like Manmohan Singh to hang on as a shadowy character behind the veil of Sonia Gandhi!

The music journal, Shruti is a serious journal devoted to Carnatic music. The trouble is it is so obsessed with Mylapore centric music!
A great pity.

Music, modern day classical music needs some cosmopolitan outlook, some modernity in covering an all India perspective, if not an international perspective.

Indian Literature, published by Sahitya Akademy, is plainly unreadable! Its English language is so academic and the writing style, especially for the literary magazine must be simple and translucent!

It is time Sahitya Akademy either changes its format or stops the publication once for all! Some relief at least!

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Convert the historic site as a tourist destination!

Book Review
Sankagiri Fort and Town history
Published by
Priyadharshini Publications,
Old Eadpady Road,Sankagiri-637 301
Salem District, Tamil Nadu
Pages 228,Rs. 160/

This is a rare  regional history  and archeology book. The author Mr.Karunakaran is  a highly qualified student of history, an M.A. in history and later got himself a diploma in epigraphy and archeology. He was born in an agricultural family in a remote  village (Anchettipattu) which is near the  then district town of Sankagiri in the present Salem district.

I write this for the outsiders, total outsiders to the subject of the book. Sankagiri was formerly called Sankaridurg and the town had the uniquely placed hillock, its natural majestic formation must have stirred the conquerors and there were plenty in this part of South India.

The hill and its fort have a long history. As per this book which is written with great diligence and remarkable hard work, there are so many details about the fort and the history of the fort and the town that grew up around the fort. At one point of time in modern British Indian  history, starting from the days of the Mysore rulers, Hyder Ali and his remarkable son, Tipu Sultan, the Sankagiri fort assumed great strategic importance and even before their times, the fort was an important post in the Vijayanagar kingdom and then the Mysore rulers and after the defeat of Tipu Sultan, on May 4,1799 in Srirangapatanam, near Mysore the British thought the Sankagiri fort is so vital for their control of the territory they stationed a critical number of their troops in this remote town! They stayed in this his tile environment till 1825 or so, say the London based  travel guide, the famous  Blue Guide.

In fact, it was in this guide that I first learnt that the British troops were stationed till that year.

Considering how weak Indians are to care to remember their past, their history is very weak when it comes to documentation. So, it is no wonder that not long after the defeat of Tipu Sultan the Sankagiri fort and the town fell into  disuse so to say and the past great times and  historic moments like the dates and years of the visits and may be stays, short and long of such historic figures like Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan or other British high officers and even before these times, any great Vijayanagar kings or their generals’ visits.

Nor do we know the later history of the region, say, when the period from the fall of Tipu Sultan to the coming of independence, there was the widespread prevalence of the land management system, namely, the zamindari system in this geography.

From what I learnt from this remarkable book is the fact, a rather very strong point of the book is this, there were some notable zamindars ,well educated and sometimes very selfless individuals of remarkable character and I was so fascinated to follow their individual lives and good works, though there were not enough details to quench my thirst!
The subtitle of the book is or rather the very title of the book is: Kongudesa capital city. But many outside Tamil Nadu, why even within Tamil Nadu might not know that this region had a historic capital. For, in my opinion(I am subject to correction) there was no any clearly established Kongu kingdom as such. Nor were there remarkable historic characters like  Desingu Raja of Senchi fort or other palayakarars like the Veerapandiya Kattabomman or the Marudu Brothers in this part of the state. Kongu Nadu was there and there were   very many historic rulers and their kingdoms in this geography.

The first chapter is fact gives a very detailed account of the ancient history of this region and  it makes  a very engrossing reading. In fact, so many new knowledge we are  provided with and anyone interested in the ancient history of the region would benefit immensely. From the Sanga period of the Tamil literature to the  post-Sanga period history. There were so many kingdoms and dynasties and there is a very reliable chronology of these rulers and their kingdoms. Literary minded readers have much to gain from this book, the prevalence of Jains, Buddhists and their contributions to the evolution of the Tamil language, its script and their literature and their religion and philosophy.

There was a long line of the small  Tamil chieftains, called Adiyamans, till 13th century. Each village in these regions seems to have got some historic connections. From Perur to Namakkal, Gunaseelam to others. Also, so many capitals for these so many small kingdoms.

In the meantime there is a detail about the travels of the famed   adventurer, Malikafur who came to the South in 1311 and  the book gives the travel route of this fellow, he went through Omalur and Namakkal and even Thiruchengodu etc!

Again in 1319 and 1323 there were these Muslim adventurers.
It was during the Vijayanagar rule, this city seems to have become a strategic centre. Their rule lasted in Kongu Nadu, says this books, from 1368 to 1667.

Afterwards, the Mysore kings, then the Hyder Ali and son  kept this town as their strategic centre.

Sankagiri served both as  a strategic military post and also treasury and  the toll gate.

There are many names ,local bigwigs of those days who failed to pay the treasury and served terms in the jail in the fort which acquired much notoriety!

There are many other small news that grips our mind and imagination.
Rare  information

This little book has some very rare pieces of information.

For instance, how many know that it was a small time Brahmin, one Purnaiya, who went on to rise up as  a trutes diwan of Tipu Sultan, after 1799, also went on to become the diwan of the newly installed Mysore kingdom by the British.

Hyder Ali was born in Dindugal, near Madurai, as a poor son of a jatka driver!

He became a dictator in 1761.

During the freedom movement, there were many names, small farmers and landowners, who formed a rebel unit and they met Tipu Sultan in(1799(?) and he sent on Khaju Khan(?)  to help them. And so many such small details that are not covered in any other books I have read. Bhavani, Dharapuram were capitals at some times.

British time history of Sankagiri fort and town is very interesting. New land administration, the creation of Ryatwari system as well as the zamindari system brings in new socio-economic changes and new local landlord families emerge.

There is a list  of the British officers that make interesting reading.
There is a reference to the Daniells, Uncle and nephew, who made India of those times immortals through their famed sketches and drawings. I don’t know this before.

If so, the Daniells sketches of Sankagiri can be the basis for some renewal of Sankagiri as a new site for a historic tourist and heritage centre.

Convert Sankagiri fort and town as a historic and archeological and tourist centre.

I have met Mr.K.Karunakaran, the author of this book in Sankagiri recently and congratulated him for the remarkable service he has done for  writing a new genre of trust guide that is detailed and reliable and remarkably objective and based on verified facts.

He had toiled hard for some ten long years to produce the book.
While reading the book I  was struck by the rich historic heritage the small town holds within itself.

If properly developed, Sankagiri fort and the surrounding countryside can be turned into an international tourist centre.

There could be conducted tours once a while and then regulised.
The tour could be about the British sites, their  old dwellings, their cemetery could draw a steady stream of visitors from the British islands.
There could be home stays in the old zamindar buildings and palaces. This could be a heritage tour cum home stays.

A separate scheme could be drawn up and even funds could be tapped to develop this  home stay tourism.

There could be a separate museum with all the historic articles and other objects ,preserved carefully, period-wise.

There could be a library cum research centre. This centre could be tied to some college or university dept.

More conservation, environment protection  measures can be undertaken as part of the urban planning.

More social and cultural meets and cultural programmes and other events can be thought of.

Citizens of Sankagiri and all lovers of Sankagiri fort and township and the large number of the old families can be brought together once for this very purpose of how to make Sankagiri as a more visited and place of interest and relaxation and trekking and much more.

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