The life and death of Socrates!

The one voice that stood out all through the centuries! What makes Socrates’ life and death?
Some reflections on a recent trip to Greece and the historic sites!

cm sir greek3You see, that since my travels in Greece recently, I have come back and not yet recovered! I am dumbstruck!
Not recovered from my many questions about what I saw and what I comprehended from what I saw and to what I have read before. When I visited the most ancient site, namely, the Mycenae site, the 2,000-1,500 BC stone fort, the home of the legendary king, Agamemnon, where I saw the nearby new archeological museum where the original mud signs, the ancient scripts are displayed, I thought I need to study more about the ancient Greek history. As soon as this thought crossed my mind, we ordered some more books on the Amazon in our kindle.

That is one of such books, now I find they are all authoritative, one book, “The coming of the Greeks, Indo-European Conquests in the Aegean and the Near East by Robert Drews came into my hands. Now, I find that the Indo-European languages family claims the Greek language too. Also, I was surprised that the book quotes from the 1786 Sir William Jones’s claim that among the Indo-European languages come not just Greek but also Sanskrit and other Celtic and Germanic languages; they had so many similarities and that “they must have had a common linguistic ancestor (page 4).

So, one thought led to others and thus I am stuck still in my own rudimentary knowledge of things! We in India are very much conditioned by what the British gave us by way of the outside world colonialism. More so when we realised that, thanks to the Macaulay education too; we are conditioned by the narrow view of the world outside. In the Indian scheme of the world, never once we thought of the impact of the Greek and Roman civilizations on the rise of modern awakening. Not even the so-called Bengal Renaissance went beyond the British conception for Indian education. It was very narrow conception, isn’t it so?

So, our old, the first, educated classes, we can trace them from Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s time, anything beyond this Macaulay prescription. Before that time all we had had is what the Mughal rule gave us. When we come near our own times, even Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru didn’t go beyond the Hind Swaraj and the Discovery of India! Never once in the Indian education history and  tradition, the rise and coming of the Indo-European languages spread and then the rise of the classical Greek, later, the Roman contribution, the Latin language and cultures penetrated the Indian soil. So, my mind is still digesting what I saw in Greece today and what I read about the classical past there.

I had almost fallen silent. I am not able to find the energy to talk to people, friends and acquaintances, why even to people whom I consider to be serious and scholarly. Why this mental block, if we call so? For the unexplained reasons like the total uninterest, unconcerns for subjects like distant lands and distant histories. We have historians, some I know and some I respect for what they have done by way of their historical studies. But after such a visit like the one I had to Greece, even before some years to Rome, I don’t find many in India who are excited as I of course do, rather unjustifiably, I don’t know.

cm sir greek5Anyway, it looks I might take longer time than I envisaged before I can unravel my mind or the forces that work at cross purposes for coming out with a sense of coherence to my present state of mind. One thing that struck me as if it was lightening of sorts is the utter unbelievable sights and findings at the historic sites like the classical Greek’s 2,000 BC Mycenae in the Eastern Peloponnese territory of Greece.

First I must ask my readers to have looked at the atlas of the Greek island nation. It is very unusual. You hang your palm downwards to the earth and see how the fingers are spread out. Likewise, the Greek mainland from Balkan countries spreads out into the Mediterranean sea and there are some 2,000 islands that encircles the Greek mainland and the Asia Minor lies on the eastern side and the Egypt lies down below and Israel and Jerusalem starts and goes up as far as Italy in the West and in the east lies Rutkey who saw eastern parts were once part of the Greek colonies and it is long history we are talking about here!

From the legendary, why even mythological Trojan War and Troy city and the legends associated with Homer’s classics, the king Agamemnon to Helen and Pritam and other characters. This is a period from 2000 BC to 500 BC when the classical Greece emerges, when Socrates, Plato and Aristotle come to life.

Greek history is long and very complex and the characters we are interested and the world is fascinated by a multiple of great minds and achievements. Poets, philosophers, artists, great builders and great sculptors and a variety of others like the four great classical great dramatists and scientists and philosophers, so many philosophical schools that flourished and once Athens was the world’s great cultural center where the ancient world, the Romans to later generations flocked to know and learn from these philosophical schools.

And the greatest attraction of the modern day tourists is the incomparable historic buildings, the world’s many wonders like the Athens’s Acropolis that stands out in the midst of the modern Athens city. The series of other wonders, from the Delhi Oracle site and the Epidaurus Theater and the many other structure, each one unbeatable in their majesty and awestruck construction! Many are of course in ruins today and yet the remaining ones in themselves would shake us from our any preconceptions. The Greek man and woman, seen in their sculptures, in the refined dress and gestures give us a new conception of man and his character.

The new fields in which they contributed to man’s history needs over one’s entire life time to be told. I had been reading about Greece since my Oxford days. All these years what I read in printed books and pictures gave me of course great delight and fulfillment. Yet, after I actually went to Greece and spent time there and as I mixed with the people today and saw their past in the museums and galleries and travelled through the Greek countryside I was exhilarated by the actual personal interaction, talks and discussions and the total impact such human interaction that gave me.

But once I came back and took my collections of books back and when I scanned through the pages I get a very different sort of feeling. The once printed pages now came alive and awakened inside me a very different sort of feeling and my intellect was stirred. I ask, or, I feel like asking certain new questions. I don’t know whether I am qualified to ask such questions. But to whom else I can leave such questions. That was the dilemma. There are old books, Plato’s Republic and his other volumes from Symposium to other books that all deal with Socrates’s last days. When I now read them I feel like shedding tears. I walked on the very soil where the great soul, the very personality of Socrates walked and stood and questioned the youngsters he met there.

All these moments acted inside me and changed me to fall into a sort of delirium!

Why there was only one such person like Socrates in the world? Why we don’t see such men in later times? Why only one Plato? Not one more Aristotle? These were one line of thinking I had. Another line of my thought was: from where do the Greeks come here, to the Greek mainland? Also, when did the Greek language developed into such maturity, such classical purity?



Now, the rise of sciences and philosophies! Here too the Greeks inherited many ideas from the near East, namely, in what is called the Asia Minor. How Socrates lived and how he spent his days, how he served in the wars and also did his duty as a citizen etc. are all set out in the many dialogues written by Plato and to this days they have been studied and opinions crystalized and so too others of Socrates contemporaries whose ‘memories’ are all  with us.

In the course of life one reads Socrates and draws lessons for oneself. Socrates was the most famous man of his time in Athens, he didn’t want to assume any political leadership, and he only offered intellectual leadership. The Athens of his day was, like ours, a place with full of strife and controversies and so he was condemned to death for his “impiety”, he embraced death as inevitable outcome of principled political endeavor. Of course, we are ordinary souls, not what Socrates believed in the immortality of the soul. Even now, if we give a close reading of his last days, we feel like crying. So, moving and so sad his last moments.

For me at any rate, a pilgrimage to his beloved Athens and to the very spot in the ancient Agora where his steps are traced and preserved all through the last 2,500 years is a real pilgrimage and a salvation of sorts. We would cherish his earthly surroundings and Plato’s dialogues would continue to inspire future generations of mankind. (Based on somewhat hasty reading of “The Last Days of Socrates”(Penguin)).

No media support at the time of social media explosion!

climate-change-farmers_650x400_41449837838A recent Assochem report says a decline in print media reading and also a rise in the time for social media among the media focused society. This is so for the rather older generation and more so for the younger new generation readers.

Print media in India is still strong but the future looks gloomy. Only in the USA we see a fight between the major news outlets, between the New York Times and Washington Post and the President of the United States. Mr.Donald Trump is an unusual President, given his background, he is in one significant sense, a very open-minded leader who cares a damn for niceties and  as a result the US democracy thrives with its own openness ,say, in sharp contrast to the atmosphere that prevails in India, let us not forget, we are the world’s largest democracy. So, we can’t compare the US with China, not a democracy and so the parameters might vary.

The point we want to highlight here is that for a country with such a large segment of agriculture as the largest employer still and also with a large segment of the poor, it is a bit disappointment that the agri sector lacks a very recognisable media coverage given the importance for the same in informing and agitating for the due share of resources and much else that the agri sector signifies.

So, we want to remind  the readers that given the thrust of our economic growth, the role of the private sector and also the big corporate sector with its intimate linkages with the ruling establioshment,there is very little chance, we assume for any significant role to play for the media in the agri sector.

So, we realise the limitations of the readership attention to the happenings in the agri sector.

Just now, we have come back from a European tour, mostly spent in Greece, now the sickman of Europe, given the fact that three bailout plans by the European Community (EU) had given to Greece, otherwise, a development country, of course in the 27 nation bloc. We drove through miles and miles of the Greek countryside, we saw the vast countryside in rural Greece were covered by much developed agriculture ,many cash crops like wheat, barley, cotton, maize, grapes, orange and of course the mainland crop of olive groves and thus what we saw was a very developed agriculture Greek rural hinterland. So too the villages, all tiled highly modern country homes, most of them lying near any major monuments and of course Greece is known for its historic monuments, Delhi to Myceany, Corinth, Epidauraus and many other remote areas are dotted with modern type hotels and tourism, as we know is one of their major industries next to shipping and cruise industries. Greece has some 2,000 odd islands all tourist havens.

So, what impressions we gained by roaring the Greek countryside?
EU is very much a foreign exchange earner, next only to the USA as a trade partner to any outside country.

There is a Common Agriculture Policy for the EU and a heavy farm subsidy is in place there.

As I was also passing through Qatar, some time spent in Doha, the capital, where there is right now a sanction from fellow four nation Gulf states including Egypt and Qatar is importing food and other essential supplies.
So, watching these two countries and asking questions, my mind wandered in an open-ended manner.

Why not we draw up a new agriculture policy, innovative and creative, so that we can explore new routes to export Indian agri products and services.
Once we sit together and think through, I feel confident that we can explore new countries and new opportunities to export some of our persistently low-priced vegetables, tomatoes and onions, come to mind immediately, why not even grains, says wheat and rice and even pulses.

Once we start succeeding I don’t see, in principle, why we can’t raise our MSPs several times, outside our own domestic trader network and also outside our own bureaucracy-driven machinery.

I have the feeling and the confidence we, all the stakeholders, critically the farmers and farmers organisations, to come out with building new farm lobbies for several crops, lobbies as we see in the developed markets and they, the lobbies must do the rest of the job like effecting  the desired change and end results.

Farmers organisations are agitating for better support prices and even farmers’ reliefs.

But somehow I have the feeling that the government as it is constituted today, by the highly corrupt bureaucratic system and the political leadership establishment, with the corrupt dynastic political culture, there is no hope the Congress establishment would change. The Congress might even prolong with the family run party machine for the foreseeable future without even coming to power at all. See the Communist parties, they are there forever a century without ever hoping to capture to power. May be likewise, the Congress too might survive and not bother to come to power. There is so much funds and unaccounted money with the parties. The BJP might evolve in some unpredictable ways, might even become a one leader and one ideology party and government. See what is happening in Russia.

So as for Indian agriculture’s future, we have to think radically and in many innovative manners. Agriculture exports might give us some hope, if we try hard enough anew liberation too.

Nothing in excess! Man is the measure of things!
Three Greek ideals!

SocratesThese are the lessons the momentous, historic visit once again brought home to us. A lesson I sought to learn more than half a century and yet only what I missed by chance so many years ago, in 1959-61 when I was at Oxford, I was able to fulfill only now!

Thanks to many favorable circumstances this visit, this July, was fulfilled only this time!

What once I thought, it was possible for some few pounds; say ten or fifteen bucks, as they say; now it cost a fortune! But what a historic perspective in which this opportunity came about!

So, the readers have to bear with some, preliminary reflections on what is raging inside my mind and intellect to get some momentum to come to the actual first-hand experience of our Greek encounter!

It is no exaggeration to say this. We, Indians are not known for our historic sense at all.
We have not had any such great history. All we have a certain type of Orientalist fantasies only. Even the British colonisation played role to dim our historic views. The learned classes in India believed the colonizers’ perspectives only. But the British ruling class, from the 17th century onwards, more so in the 18th and 19th centuries sought to appropriate the legacies of Greek and Roman civilizations and it is long history of learning and loot. The much sought after treasures, the incomparable sculptures, the priceless marbles, like the Elgin marbles and other such treasures had been stolen blatantly and the European museums and art galleries are full of the looted antiquities.

Along with the loot came the much sought after Grand Tours, the British ruling class appropriated for themselves in terms of education, culture and exposure to the world of high culture and the art of ruling. So, our visit from India, to classical Greece and Rome can be seen and I like to see as a historic turn to a hopefully new awakening of sorts. I invite readers to see our experience and arguments in this wider perspective.

Yes, it was a dream of more than a half century! The dream of visiting Greece and seeing the historic sites, the soil on which Socrates (469-399 BC), the first great thinker of the classical world walked! Yes, we did tread on his divine feet! The ancient Agora, the original 2,500 era market and public place where the ancient Athenians used to congragate, for both day-to-day affairs and also as a government to sit in this house. That structure had gone.”Where is the prison?”When I asked this question I noticed headquarters! The very soil is intact even now! Just the other side lies the Roman Agora, which the Romans occupied Greece and ruled as one of Roman provinces. The old Agora was the place where the first flowering of the idea of democracy originated. The very structure, a raised round platform still stands where the council of thirty, the cabinet met and deliberated. Many of the surviving structures are, we are told, functioned as governing offices, judiciary, treasure and even prison, also the portion where Socrates drank the poison and willingly died.

Why did he die? Where is the very spot? We asked the woman guide?”Yes, sir, it is here!”She replied matter of factly. She also showed a name board:”Simon’s House. Simon was Socrates’ close friend. Socrates used another person and young lady of course well-educated suiting not far from the place. I beckoned her. She came forward and told us that she is a staff of the American School of Classical Studies, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation that is carrying out the archeological investigations. There were the clay cups that were lying in the spot where other prisoners too might have been killed by serving poison in similar cups. So, the learned archeologist explained to us how the science of archeology reaches conclusions by such reasoning. Athens has had a very long history. It faced many invasions from the Persians. Modern Greece too faced many occupasions. The last was Ottoman occupation. Only in the 19th century Greece became independent. Modern Greece is a poor copy of the classical Greece, of course!

We visited Greece for a family holdiay, five members and for ten days! So we now know each nook and corner of the Athens city! I consider our visit historic! For some very historic reasons. I have to put the question in some broad and long historic context. Also when I look at the timing of the happening, from what I see from the future evolution of the India we are going to create as a great democracy and a great nation. Let us look back and also at the vision for India. By way of values of governance, institutions the values of a mass democracy, various freedoms of the citizens, the direct democracy practiced by the ancient Athenians!

The great general and statesman, Pericles (495-429 BC) said at the funeral speech at the end of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) education for the world. Our government is not of the few but of the many. That speech must be taught in all our schools. Let us connect with the march of civilization. My mind wandered, far and wide as I lost in my reflections. Why? Modern India, the first seventy years of India’s freedom, brought Indians many freedoms. But in my opinion the most cherishable freedom of awakening, an awakening of the civilization values, the modern ways of thinking, the many strands of new knowledge, philosophy, science and much of the other sources of knowledge, months, astronomy and medicine, to mention just a few sources, were all  the contributions of Greece, right?

But then this awakening couldn’t come to India owing to, again in my opinion, to the sort of education that came to India much later to the British education, the contribution of Macaulay who decreed that Indians are good only for a clerical education. So, the original contributions of Greece and Rome remained confined only to the British youngsters. The cream of the ICS fraternity remained only with the British cadre. The so-called Bengal Renaissance with all its brilliance also remained in my view only confined to the British contributions. What we lost I like to get connected with the great civilization links.

Our education must incorporate the best of the Greek and the Roman contributions to mankind. Teach courage, moral strength and politics that are truly democratic and teach citizens all the practicalities of the Greek citizenship ideals. How the Greeks had that strength to raise the Parthenon (447BC) the acropolis, the giant pure white marbles? It is so staggering and so majestic. It rises on the acropolis hill and shines in such lighting overlooking the city of Athens down below!

Words fail to recreate the emotional outburst first-timers have to climb and struggle to stand up and raise our eyes! To fully describe is impossible. On a vast hill space of two and half hectare spread three temples stand for the past 2,500 years.

So, we have to initiate a big vision for India, Indian thought processes. The many names that we would narrate later and they are too many in all branches of knowledge and practical affairs, in Greek ideal, you as an individual are both a thinker and a practical man; Socrates had participated in a war! Classical Greece in all its full bloom arises before us. That is a priceless gift to mankind!

70 per cent are small and marginal farmers with less than one hectare of farm land!

arun jaitelySo, what sort of farm policies you make for these unviable farmers who easily resort to the only option to deal with mounting debe4ts?
Suicide and that is what needs to be address.

How do you do this?

Not postponing issues and only when the trickle develops into a flood you resort to only steps, use police to fire at the “unruly” crowd of farmers and also you politicise the issues to the extent that where big politicians like Digvijai Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia sit at dharna with laughs and jokes that get wide newspaper headlines!

Farmers’s agitations and political responses! The agriculture minister is nowhere seen nor we hear any of his concerns, his statements or his deputies are whwere to be seen.

You see, there is lack of seriousness from the governments and the Opposition parties!

There are widespread farmers’s agitations in major states like Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, UP and why even in Tamil Nadu. The causes for the agitations might have been different but the outcome is the same.
Now, the very orchestration from every state has come down to one and it seems only demand, namely, farmers’s loans write-offs.

Can the states resort to this sort of large scale write-offs?

And predictably, the Union finance minister, Mr.Jaitley has openly said that the Centre can’t bear the burden, each state has to find the funds for such scale of write-ff.

Okey, fine. How long such demands can go on and also how long the governments can’t adopt such a simplistic solutions.
The PSB banks   are the ones to face the music and already the NPA issue is dogging the central government.

Now, the questions to be asked by everybody are: is this all to agriculture issues?

Agriculture, as a profession, has to be carried on. It is a life-giving activity; agriculture is like our very borthy. But who then brought the issues to this end?

The most tragic part of the story is that no one, certainly, the central government, why, like the very predecessor government, never took the agriculture sector very seriously. The general assumption is that agriculture is the least serious, it is the least politically important, farmers can be fooled to vote this or that way and so farmer don’t constitute the most sensitive vote-bank.

Also, as noted now by many observers, most recently in a new book, Superfast Primitive, Ultimate Nation, The Relentless Invention of Modern India,2017 by Adam Roberts, published in Great Britain by Profile Books, London is the latest narrative of India of the India under Modi after three years!

The book has some new insights and observations. Now, yes, the voter’s population had bulged to the extent of a billion. While in 1952 it was just 173 million. You see voters have all become non-farm persons, who are interested in urban pursuits. Agriculture is losing all its attractions, even a sense of social status, so it becomes difficult to retain farmers in the profession.

More and more villages are becoming empty as most youngsters go to the nearby or far-off towns for productive work; even construction work is the most profiting.

So, we all know that agriculture is becoming a losing activity and yet our agriculture policy making is as good as none. It was all a throwback of the Nehruvian leftist orientation.

Land reforms today means what? You retain an absentee landlord and also an absentee tenant. Both don’t work or invest a penny in the land and so both help to pauperise the farming activity.

So, what basic approach needs to be change?

In our firm view make first farming an attractive job. Give the owners the land they need. Relax the land reforms laws. Relax the tenancy laws. You own the land or you leave the land, you sell the land.

So, the whole farming scenario becomes more farm-friendly. Then only, you can retain farming as a profit-driven activity.

Once you agree to this point of view then only farming can improve.
If the governments for voters’ illusions promise the moon then, it is farmer’s doom further.

One can go on and on. Is the agri minister listening?

Press freedom a concern for the elite only?
A new head for the Broadcasting machinery appointed!
A new maturity and a new liberal approach to press freedom make India a stronger democracy!

red-inkWe saw the news item on the RedInk awards for India’s best journalists!
Media freedom is more talked about than upheld. In most countries.

In India the press fears the authority. Even the so-called mainstream press behaves in a cowardly manner. Long subjugation under foreign rule had made Indian people unwary of any assertion of freedom!

We are a god-fearing country and in effect a government fearing people, right?
Of course we have some positive news. Just now, the RedInk Awards were presented to 15 categories of journalists. Fine. There is some flicker of press freedom and assertion. But there are causes for dismay. One notable media organisation was raided, of all agencies, by the CBI! This is bad.

Recently a well-respected media organisation was raided by the CBI. Why the CBI of all agencies? Press freedom is always mentioned as the fourth pillar of democracy. Now, in most democracies, specially the British and the US ones we see media in all its diversity and also in its real assertive forms.

How many countries have jailed journalists? This is one indication. In some major countries like Russia and China journalists are routinely jailed and why in Russia major killings had taken place.

We can equate press freedom with the state of the Opposition parties. In Russia, we see the Opposition leaders is subjected to many undesirable treatments like arrest and parading in the streets etc. This is obviously too much.

Why, even in India, in a state like TN we have had so many record defamation cases! So, we see a general dullness, meekness and evasive reporting, why plain distortion of news, even fake news! Journalists are poorly paid, poor social status and perennial insecurity. So too the media owners’ own vision, if at all. It is just a business, more tabloids, less any other goal!

In India we have a long way to go! Now, the CBI raid has in fact left a bad taste.

Now, there is much to ponder over when it comes to press freedom. News is now taken very differently. News is often more fake news, they say. We don’t know.

BRICS nations have now set up a Brics media fund of I million dollars. We are not sure what this fund would achieve.

Now, press freedom is not to be fair and accurate only. Press freedom means free from fear of the authority, the ruling party and the government, right?

But then major newspapers are now big business, right? They have to sell, earn profits and so dependent upon the ruling establishment for various facilities. Now, under the present dispensation we see much fear, observers say. People in Delhi seem to say this. Recently, the senior most journalists like Kuldeep Nayar and others assembled in Delhi Press Club and criticised the government for the CBI raid on NDTV.
May be such inconveniences are to be managed.

That is the price one has to pay for one’s sense of freedom and moral responsibility. Indian press history we have to study.

Also, in the present world order we see the AlZazeera, the Qatar-based TV channel had led to problems among the Gulf countries for being a bit freer in its expression of opinion on matters of high state policy!

You see even in the best of times, in the best of democracies people are uncomfortable  with an authoritarian government.

We can have so many solutions. One, hold many press conferences. Prime Ministers are all not the same. Manmohan Singh and now Narendra Modi, as  Prime Ministers didn’t hold Press Conferences. Why?

You have to think!

Pandit Nehru was very different. He loved questions and arguments in the open space. May be such background must help Indians of this generation.

Please allow arguments. India is not known for its open arguments in the modern sense. Prof.Amartya Sen says a different sort of argumentative Indian! Today’s Indians are very fearful of the governments!

Anyway, we have to live with all the imperfections of our democracy!
So, the public perception whether we are a tolerant country is a view that people at large has to take.

Individual freedoms is the high mark of a democracy. Also, individuals must learn to love and rate high their sense of freedom.

Whether Indians love to be free citizens or obliging citizens is a matter for debate!