For the Americans and the rest of the world
Education’s one more duty!
To impart optimism to a people!

Just now, we read through a longish book review in one of the international journals. It is about the latest two new books on American history. The 20th century America and to be exact the first 10 years of the 21st century, have given America lots of self-doubts. This is because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that shattered American self-confidence and the subsequent attack by George Bush of Iraq. The first war in Afghanistan, yes, defeated the Taliban and yet the subsequent events showed that though Iraq war was “won”, the Afghan involvement is proving too costly.

Barak Obama and his style of governance raised hopes for the rest of the world and inside America his regime is viewed with many expectations but at the same time with some self-doubt as well.
Why this is so?

You can give as many explanations depending upon whom you are and what is your own self-interest in this question!

A recent visitor to the Sanfrancisco has come back with this experience. He, a young Indian entrepreneur and a highly educated one and yet he, an Oxford graduate entered into the IT industry and made a success of sorts and what he has got to say about the Americans and Sanfracisoeans in particular?

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by John McCormick, Palgrave macmillan, 2007

Decline of Britain?

Yes, certainly, it looks like that! I was surprised and saddened  to read this book. Surprised to see that Britain as most Indians know it for all these years, the Britain of the great empire is now shrunken into a small nation of just 6o million people, even there you find a high percentage, as much as  7.9 per cent, on-native Britons, most of them from India, Pakistan, Bangladeshis and from West Indies.

There is now a huge racial issue, the immigration of the Asians and the migration of the EU citizens have changed the very face of the old Britain as I knew of it. In fact, I was also interested to see new books, learned treatises, a new book on the UK, Seeking a role: The UK 1951-1970,the latest in the very established series of the New Oxford History of England  series up to the present.

In fact, this volume also coincides my own time in UK in the late Fifties and the early Sixties, one of the defining period in the changed face of the Britain.

Now more than any other, I was shocked also to read just now the latest statistics, that in the last 51 years of its existence, only now comes the news that for the first  time there is a decline in the GDP of the country by as much as 2.1 per cent!  This surely shows the declining economic fortunes of the country that was once the centre of the world.

This book brings me up to date  with the fast changing economic, political and social scenario. There is a gripping sense of nostalgia everywhere in Britain and the tone of the very book here is very sobering and even apologetic.

The British were a highly disciplined people, their class structure is very strong and sustaining but now one sees the old families are disappearing, the Queen herself looks forlorn. Another piece of latest news is that the Queen’s household expenses are running into deficit and she has to seek the government’s help as otherwise, she is dipping into her savings for her expenses. She no more enjoys the privileges of  exclusive air force or navy at her disposal. She doesn’t travel by her own ship nor does she have her own planes for use. She has to charter a commercial aircraft and that too at short notice and that costs money.

Now, the class system once gave Britain its unique leadership of societies ,in all liberal societies of the world. Now, there is a growing middle class and the middle class rise means the decline in old fashioned class system, where there were huge land-owning classes, the old aristocracy gave Britain its unique party system and democracy. Now, the New Labour is very middle and even we can say lower-middle class and there are too many scandals of too silly nature like the MPs claiming false expenses items from the government treasury.

Britain is also becoming a mobile society, too many people are moving into the Southern England and so the population density is also more in the South while Scotland is sparsely populated.

London continues to dominate national life and London defines still the British culture and lifestyle. London is still the home for tennis, in Wimble, football at Wimbley in north London, BBC, cricket in Lords and also home for the world’s best theatres and, opera and ballet and the best centre for the world media. World’ famous newspapers and magazines are still printed and published only from London.

Thus, the glow of London shines yet and still we find the British life is becoming more dull and pedestrian compared with cities elsewhere. New York and  Paris are more vibrant, French culture and style,  fashion and literature is much admired and so too other countries and their growth prospects. Certainly, India and China are the promising nations, Bangalore is the Silicon Valley. The average standard of living in Bangalore seems higher than what we see in the visiting Britons and other Europeans. At any rate, the way Indians do their IT business, outsourcing and their software skills, the way  the average Bangalore IT entrepreneurs do business gives the impression that Indians feel more comfortable to do business with Americans is very smart and very satisfying. To order a book published in London through eBay seems more comfortable and easy than through any  London stores!

So too the comforts of google, twitter and facebook and what have you.

Britons seem to have fallen back in international standards of doing business. The Brits have also become more embedded in their prejudices and what the Brits write about India is unreliable and this would further reduce their standing in the eyes of the world. Now, the social scene in current Britain certainly gives  some discomfort.

The book itself seems

very hesitant to talk openly about the changing and changed class structure in Britain today. Yes, it is noted here that in 1914, there were upper classes, mainly landed aristocracy and perhaps those who served as high ranking army personnel and also civil servants serving in India, like governor generals and viceroys etc. and peasantry, today it is noted that 60-65 per cent of Britons consider themselves as middle class, some non-manual job holders and the working class, that is those who consider themselves as working class is still a high of 30  per cent, bus drivers and laundry men etc and various unskilled men and women doing harsh jobs.

Class differences and distinctions are very high in Britain, because it is said Britain never experienced revolutions and wars as it was in France and Germany and other countries. But still Britain remains an acutely conscious class country, where you would be discerned subtly and unmistakably as to which class you belong. Thus, landownership, residences in the rural countryside is a sign of great social prestige and distinction in Britain.

The Queen seeking 4 million “par rise” is a shrieking headline in the daily newspapers!

And also the education whether you had been to a public school and Oxford matters a great deal in Britain!

But what galled me  beyond belief is  the persistence of large scale poverty in Britain even now. Some harsh social realities also hit hard on your face.
Briefly, there is  a vast poor, single parent family are poor, there is a wide and widening gap between the rich and the poor. Children born outside the marriage is huge, one-sixth of the population,40 per cent of the children are born outside marriage, divorces are so high, and a decline in social stigma attached to divorcees, the Queen’s family itself is now a big source of family breakdowns!
2.5 million children are living in families that are below poverty line, really a very highly unacceptable proportion for  a country of Britain’s  affluence.

So too a high homeless population, officialy 1,50,000 families and unofficially double the size, says the book.

Even in life expectancy, Britain comes eighth, after Japan, Spain, Australia, Canada, Italy and France.

There are also political developments inside Britain, Wales and Scotland has now separate Asssemblies, the Ireland division is still a simmering issue.
What will be the future of Britain from now onwards?

Britain  still entertains many illusions of grandeyes, it is a grand delusion now!
USA doesn’t care much for the so-called Atlantic  special relationship, Commonwelath is as good as gone for ever, and Britian faces the prospect of adjusting its vision to the hard realities of the contemporary world.
The lessons for outsiders, more so Indians who still seem to be taken in by the hang-ups of the past.

Britain is a middle level Third World type country, with little prospects to compete with the emerging big nations like China and India and even countries like Iran and other Gulf nations.

May be Britain  can win friends and influence the peoples of the world if it concentrates on its inherent strengths.

It is a country of very high quality education, it has some of the venerated institutions of learning and learned societies like the royal Society and British Academy. Its media is still unmatched. The quality newspapers and magazines dominate the civilised world. It is good in sports and also finance.

So, the average level of its human resources, its book publishing  capabilities is very high and above all its English language would give Britain a head start in so many ways.

Its  research and science studies  are still high. But unfortunately, the current world is dominated by  new technologies, IT and biotech and these two industries have much impact on the lives of the planet’s people.

So, Britain must be only too aware about what is good for it and what to look forward to in the world ahead of us.

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He is clearly the hero and would prove to be a hero for the future too!

BJP acts in a childish manner and behaves in rash ways and that spells doom and disintegration of the major Opposition party.

There is a crisis within the BJP! This crisis, as pointed our by Jaswant Singh himself on the eve of his expulsion, is a fight for power by the party that was once a model for sacrifice.

Now, it is power and power grabbing. It is a pity that L.K.Advani, the senior most leaders himself is caught in this game, it seems. Others don’t seem to care.

A great democracy like India needs a strong and well-knit and ideologically clear Opposition party There is also a lesson for the main political party, namely, the Congress which is no less driven now for the power hungry men and women around it. The Congress response to Jaswant Singh’s expulsion is not happy nor does the Congress party seem to be more mature.

India’s Partition was the greatest tragedy of the freedom struggle era. How can any party, be it BJP or the Congress prevent party leaders or intellectuals or ordinary workers prevent writing or expressing their opinions on the great tragedy?

Jinnah might or might be a demon, let him be an icon for some or demon for others. So too Gandhi, Nehru and Patel too. Every generation, every person with a thinking mind will write and express opinions.

It is all about a lack of genuine commitment among the seniors!

L.K.Advani continues to be the Leader of the Opposition. He wanted to resign at the end of the 2009 elections that gave a setback to the party. Then he changed his mind for whatever reasons he knows best. Then, there was this attempt on his part to elevate Mr.Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj to Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha leadership.

That was a clear indication that he wanted to downgrade other seniors, the real performers, namely Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha, both won the Lok Sabha elections and both had held the top jobs as Finance and Foreign Ministers.
So, how was that move justified?

First, there was an open revolt. Singh and Sinha openly revolted and spoke against the leadership, this time it was not Rajnath Singh but Advani, seen as the conspirator, so to say! There is every indication that there is a power struggle inside the party.

Rajnath Singh sees himself as a future Prime Minister. More than that, L.K.Advani too sees another opportunity at the end of the next term, after five years!
Nothing wrong to see oneself as the probable future Prime Minister or whatever job you fancy!

But the point is that there must be a genuine introspection. Then came the revolt of Vasundara Raje Scindia, the Rajasthan leader. She refused to resign and put Mr.Rajnath Singh and even the Parliamentary Board in great embarrassment.
This is the first time that we see a new type of party development in India. Clearly this must have sent a jitter to the Congress party which is known for its superficial High Command issuing diktats and appointing all sorts of sundry persons, the same person twice even as the PCC chiefs.

So, Raje’s revolt this time only brought out, in our opinion, the evolving dynamics of the Indian party system. No elections worth the name, no internal democracy whatever, and all parties have now become fiefdoms of one person or family or the sycophants around the person or the family.

So, in this sense, the current crisis in the BJP is welcome for that would only help the Indian political system to learn and live with some internal discussions and debates and even accommodating some healthy dissent. Now, the BJP has come back from Shimla after its baithak chintan and what new ideas for the BJP?

Surely, the party must show a good example, a very ideologically coherent party with a set of ideals and belief systems. The induction of young blood spoken by the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwath is really must be about conducting the affairs of the BJP in a democratic way, its internal democracy must the route through which either the old faces continue or the new faces come in.

It is also time the parties must adhere to conduct their party elections and the Election Commission must do its work much better. It is also time and the UPA has one more priority. That is to bring about some credible electoral reforms. These electoral reforms must help surely to eliminate completely the role of money in the elections.

Even now, in the just held byelections, blatant money power was seen vitiating the atmosphere as in TN. There seems to be no remedy now to take any instant action by the EC once they detect the play of money, the plying of vehicles from outside the constituency etc. So, we welcome the JBP crisis as a sign of the changing times.

The one more recent development of the book on Jinnah by Jaswant Singh and the consequent expulsion of Mr.Singh from the party. This is a very foolish and rash action.

No party can hope to become a mature organisation if it kills any new ideas.
Every competent person must have his own right and freedoms to express his opinions and not every party man can hope to attain the stature of Mr.Jaswant Singh, a rare case of a political leader turning to be a thinker and ideas man!
So let us all feel proud about what Mr.Singh has done for bringing a new debate on Jinnah.

After all we, Indians must treat Pakistan as a friendly country, a brother country and a valued neighbour and we have to become more close and more understanding with the people of Pakistan. Pakistan is a good neighbour and we must all work for it. The Pakistan bashing is an old mindset and also bashing Jinnah is another sign of the old mindset.

Let India play its role to bring Pakistan into our friendly fold. There are progressive forces, seems they are like that, and what Mr.Zardari has done on the Independence Day by introducing reforms in the tribal districts is a welcome step.
So, there are bigger issues that must engage the minds of the party like that of the BJP, no less those of the Congress and other parties.

Let the crisis within the BJP contribute to more liberal reforms in the Indian parties, more internal democracy and more genuine leaders  based on more clearly focused and well-thought out ideological formulations. Thereby Indian democracy would only become more genuine and more well-founded and a force to reckon with in the Indian subcontinent.

What is the real justification?
Even the public-party interaction is more and more shrunk and more and more outsiders are inducted into the party and the government.

Please let there be more democracy inside the party and the government. So too the PCCS and the DCCS.

They must all engage with the general public and must inspire the people.

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Letters of Ted Hughes
edited by Christopher Read
Faber and Faber, London, 2007, pp 755

A poet couple, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath made twentieth century English poetry known for its unique impact on the imagination of a generation and also much beyond the British shores and the Atlantic Ocean, as it were! Yes, Ted Hughes (TH) was British poet proper. Sylvia Plath came from the USA and met Ted at Oxford and they both became well-known poets of their generation.

While Ted went on to write more poetry, his later, last years saw him as the poet laureate and that  official position gave him access to high society and the official society, his equally talented poet and wife(they now call their wives as partners),the much-lamented Sylvia Plath died tragically by suicide!

`On 11 February` 1963 in her London in her Fritzroy Road flat she took her life. That was the end of TH’s dreams, his life was to take a different course and the speculations of her death never stopped, to this The letter TH wrote after some time, dated 15 March,1963`is the most moving letter giving an insight into what went wrong for both.”She had money, fame, prospering plans and many friends “Yet things went out of control.”Sylvia was so made to mete out terrible punishment to the people she most loved”.  Sylvia  Plath is a much  sought-after  subject of study and research. So much so that by 1986 some 700 books, books, not articles, were written about Sylvia Plath!

The output of Ted Hughes is no less. The book just before me is itself a huge volume. Just one volume of letters takes some 700 odd pages. The editor says that the whole of the letters might come even up to 3 volumes of this size! His poetry collections alone come to some 20 volumes. Besides he wrote dramas, other prose works running into several volumes.

TH was born in 1930 and died in Oct 25,1998.So he lived just 58 years, a very short life span considering the long lifespan the average citizens now live, not just in the West, also in Asia as well.

Obviously he lived an intense life, married, divorced, co-habitation is now the preferred way of life in Britain and seeing the enormous correspondence by a leading poet, you will get an idea of how he had lived through some of the most productive years of a literary life.

Literary life in the West, more so in a city like London is a very different type of life and activity. You can live full-time on your writings alone, as for poetry it is also possible you can write just poetry and earn not a bad sum of money.  In the case of TH we find that he just lived on writing alone and managed to buy a farm, buy a home in London and did involve himself in many other productive activities like writing for theatre, you can emigrate to the USA or Australia and TH did both and you get an idea that to be a poet in English and to live in London are all highly challenging and at the same time a highly fulfilling life.
A poet writes letters and what do you get by way of literary insights?

The editor says:”No page would be without some literary or documentary value. Many precious things penetrating illuminations, paras of ingenious and cogent reasoning, the flights of sheer verbal exuberance “All these are here and much more.

As for me, it is the new information I get about TH and Plath but also about other contemporary poets who went on to earn much more fame, one won a Nobel Prize for Poetry(Seamus Heaney),Philip Larkin, a major poet, his correspondence  with great poets like T.S.Eliot, W.H.Auden and Stephen Spender(I know some of them) etc.

There are long letters to the leading newspaper editors. One to the Guardian (1989), another to the Independent (also in the same month, that is, April, 1989).These two letters in fact, meant for publication brings out much information and the controversies surrounding the death of Sylvia Plath.
He says in the letters to the editors that Sylvia Plath is one of the most closely studied and widely taught writers in the Western world. Eight writers, all who wrote and taught about Sylvia Plath in the universities once wrote a long letter to the editors of newspapers to allege that TH divorced her and that led to her tragic end and that was one reason that Plath’s grave was vandalised by our enthusiasts and other enemies of the poet. So, this letter goes into great many details, most of which wont interest Indian readers I believe  and that what inter4ests us here is the fact that TH was really devastated  by her death and the letters have so many references to how she came into his life and how the two fell for each other and in fact it was  Sylvia who was more a gifted poet and it was she who encouraged TH to take  his poetry writing talent seriously and in fact gave hi many leads to get his poems published in the US magazines where there is a great tradition of paying(or in fact, buying the poems in advance by paying handsome advances!).Thus, early in his poetry writing career TH learn to write and earn family handsome payments. That part is very fascinating and for Indian readers it must come as a surprise and even for some as rude shock that in the West it is possible for a poet to write and live and survive in a much more civilised way that what is possible in India.

Even now, the status of a writer who lives on entirely on his writing is really very miserable. As for poets, it is next to impossible unless, as in Tamil Nadu for instance where you become a poet in so many dubious ways. You write for commercial cinema such songs that they need to titillate and describe the actresses in so many vulgar ways and this brings instant sums and once the temptation gets you launch yourself as a poet, hanging around other poets in what is called the neighbourhood, the Kodambakkam where most of the struggling film stars and the side artistes live and dream about making it one day.
So, there is now a strong tradition of becoming a poet through the film song writings.

But this category of song writers in the West, in London, is known as song writes, not as poets! Poetry, that too serious poetry is a different art altogether. That is why we find that in the case of other poets, including the one who was also a poet laureate, namely, John Betjeman, he was never taken seriously, the highbrow set, poets like T.S.Eliot and W.H.Auden and Stephen Spender stood out as towering figures in serious poetry. Against whom the other poets including the Betjamens were at best called in a condescending manner, “major minor” poets!

In England anything that concerns a poet or a writer is taken seriously by the press and the establishment set. In the case of Sylvia Plath, her death by suicide led to a furor. There arose a school of Plath Fantasia, as TH called it. They all defended their attack and criticism of what happened to Plath as their right to speak out, they defended themselves, the newspapers gave them enormous publicity, the writers of the letters were all eminent persons, one “was a greatly respected Nobel Prize Winning Poet” as TH himself put it. All this was done under the plea of defending Free Speech!

There was also a dispute as to how Sylvia was called in her death, as Sylvia Plath or Sylvia Hughes, as she should have been “which was her legal name, the name of her children’s mother”, as TH put it.TH says he wanted to honour her name, the name she brought off in that name and “I wished to honour it”. All through this particularly long letter TH’s love and devotion for his gifted wife and life partner shines through and he writes with great feeling, how he inserted a sentence from Sanskrit, how he got the granite for the grave stone from Dartmoor” because of her special feeling for the place”(page 555).

Sylvia Plath’s grave became a great cultural tourist circuit and there is a great of discussion over that in these letters. The Nobel Prize winning poet of great respect we find was none other than the Russian emigree poet, Joseph Brodsky. There are some interesting facts. Do we own the facts of our life?

Here, one write of Sylvia Plath’s biography took exception to TH’s objections to some facts. So, TH raises the question who owns the facts. And he says that “each of us owns the facts of his or her life”(page 56)).There were many court battles over Sylvia Plath’s many biographies.

It was all about what you can say or not so say. Who owns what facts? Who takes the responsibility for the impressions and opinions of others?

The battle over the memory of Sylvia Plath was far from over when TH died and still one wonders whether it had died or subsided. That is the power of poetry and poets and the power of the high culture in which poetry and poets are held. The letters gave me many anecdotes ,many little-known facts about some of the great names in English poetry, says, W.B.Yeats was seen as Irish poet, T.S.Eliot as US-born, Owen, as Welsh-born etc.

Also, I saw the curious dispute about Eliot’s famous big little poem, The Wasteland, as if it owed to the Buddhist philosophy (in fact, there are facts to suggest that the great Eliot as a student once attended Rabindranath Tagore’s lecture at Harvard and from that lecture he got the inspiration to use so much of the Indian words in that very English poem!

And more in the letters here, I noticed the names of Craig More, a contemporary English professor at Oxford and his wife, Ann Pasternak Slater (whom I knew her as a beautiful young girl at my Oxford days, when I used to visit her home in North Oxford where she along with her mother, the late Lydia Pasternak, the sister of the Nobel poet Boris Pasternak, lived in those days. In fact, it was Lydia Pasternak who gave me the introduction to her brother, then living in Moscow, not Boris but Alexander Pasternak to travel to Russia in 1961).

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There have been somehow a good many number of books on the art of photography and also photographic exhibitions are on the rise lately.

In Bangalore, I visited two photo exhibitions, all top class, French names I forget but I remember Cartier Bresson’s widow curating one and two other Frenc names.

One Mr.Poddar is single handedly devoting himself to promoting the photography as an art. I applaud him.

Now the two books I glanced through greatly inspired me. One, a history of photography in India(The coming of photography in India, OUP) and the other Mapin’s publication on “Vijayanagara, splendour in ruins, it is an Alkazi Collection of Photography, all 247 pages of breathtaking pictures all taken some one hundred and fifty years ago! The price of Rs.2,850 is “peanuts”, I told myself!

An Englishman, residing in the nearby cantonment of Bellary seemed to have taken a fancy for photography and the result is the rare collection. The pictures about the boatmen on the Tungabhadra would really surprise you by their unbelievable contemporary look! The man who shot the pictures, one Alexander Greenlaw earns our gratitude for what he had done for the Indian people and their cultural heritage!

The lotus Mahal stands in full splendour! So too the other structures, one doesn’t know how much is lost and how much remains today. Those who visited Humpi and also those who haven’t and plant to visit must acquire this treasure trove!

There is one more book and one more photographic exhibition, this time in Lond. That is the Alakazi collection again, this time it is on “coloured Portraiture in India”

India had had some two hundred years of miniature painting and we all treasure this tradition as our own very Indian priceless heritage. This was before the 19th century before the Western photography art came into India. Even the Daniells, the two English cousins came to India and covered the entire continent and drew all the monuments and Indian life through their tinted sketches and portraitures. Read More →