mcgillianaire: (India Flag)

An article from The Times on 25 January 1967. Maxwell famously declared: "Such are the alternatives that democracy has produced for the Indian voters in the fourth--and surely last--general election..."

For three years, the people of Delhi have gone to the polls and on each occasion they have delivered a contrasting verdict. Despite the one-sidedness of today's result, serious doubts remain as to whether the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man) can deliver on its populist agenda in the national capital, while building on its comprehensive rout of the centre-ruling Hindu-nationalist BJP, by replacing the eviscerated Congress Party as an effective opposition elsewhere. But there will be time for post-election reality-checks later. For now, let us rejoice in the latest illustration of the Indian electorates' emphatic confidence motion in the wonder that is democracy. Three elections in as many years, yet the latest produced the highest percentage turnout (67%) in the National Capital Territory's legislative history. 67, a fitting number indeed. It all seems a far cry from the doom-and-gloom pronounced by Mr. Maxwell on the eve of the 1967 Indian general election. Jai Hind!
mcgillianaire: (Geetopadesham)
Amartya Sen is arguably India's greatest living public intellectual. In 1998 he won the Nobel Prize in Economics1. His award was a matter of great pride for us Indians. But it wasn't until dad/I bought a copy of his 2005 book, The Argumentative Indian, that we became aware of just how knowledgeable Sen was about India itself, its history and its culture. We just assumed he was a dry financial-economist and another one of those foreign-based Indians, whose connection to the motherland merely consisted of his long-forgotten heritage and obvious Sanskrit-based/Hindu name. How mistaken we were. When I first read The Argumentative Indian about 7-8 years ago, I concluded that it should also be read by every other Indian, and ideally perhaps even by the world at large. Here was a text I had been looking for all along that put the IN back into India, at a time when it seemed like only Western Civilization had triumphed over all others in its rich and ancient dialectic tradition.

Ever since I first read the book my admiration for Sen has grown leaps and bounds. His essays on comparing and contrasting Gandhi and Tagore's patriotism/nationalism were my particular favourites back then. And each time I returned to Muscat, I promised to pack the book along with all my stuff, but for some reason or another I didn't manage it until my latest journey back. It is utterly fascinating how re-reading any book (like this one) with the benefit of added knowledge and experience, brings into focus passages which I probably previously glossed over, and placed into the shade others.

My only regret is not securing a ticket via the lottery to attend Sen's free lecture at the LSE last summer. Anyone who has listened to him recently will only be too aware, how difficult it has become to understand anything he says, but the sheer fact of being in his presence would've ticked-off a long-standing gap in my social CV. Indeed it appears as though I missed another free lecture of his at the LSE just a couple weeks ago. Hopefully he will be back again soon.

Below I have copied an excerpt from the Preface which I think sums up the general tone of Sen's text and provides the reader with an introductory sample of India's (largely-forgotten/ignored?) rich dialectic tradition.

1 Although not one of the Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895, it is identified with them, and prizes are announced with and awarded at the same ceremony. The Prize in Economics (as it is referred to by the Nobel Foundation) was established in 1968 and endowed by Sweden's central bank, the Sveriges Riksbank, on the occasion of the bank's 300th anniversary. (Source: Wikipedia)

Preface x-xii

Even though more than 80 per cent of Indians may be Hindu, the country has a very large Muslim population (the third largest among all the countries in the world - larger than the entire British and French populations put together), and a great many followers of other faiths: Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsees and others.

However, even after noting the need for integration and for a multicultural perspective, it has to be accepted that these old books and narratives have had an enormous influence on Indian literature and thought. They have deeply influenced literary and philosophical writings on the one hand, and folk traditions of storytelling and critical dialectics on the other. The difficulty does not lie in the importance of the Vedas or the Ramayana, but in the understanding of their role in Indian culture. When the Muslim Pathan rulers of Bengal arranged for making good Bengali translations of the Sanskrit Mahabharata and Ramayana in the fourteenth-century (on which see Essay 3), their enthusiasm for the ancient Indian epics reflected their love of culture, rather than any conversion to Hinduism.* It would be as difficult to ignore their general importance in Indian culture (on some allegedly 'secular' ground) as it would be to insist on viewing them through the narrow prism of a particularly raw version of Hindu religiosity.

The Vedas may be full of hymns and religious invocations, but they also tell stories, speculate about the world and - true to the argumentative propensity already in view - ask difficult questions. A basic doubt concerns the very creation of the world: did someone make it, was it a spontaneous emergence, and is there a God who knows what really happened? As is discussed in Essay 1, the Rigveda goes on to express radical doubts on these issues: 'Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? ... perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not - the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows - or perhaps he does not know.' These doubts from the second millennium BCE would recur again and again in India's long argumentative history, along with a great many other questions about epistemology and ethics (as is discussed in Essay 1). They survive side by side with intense religious beliefs and deeply respectful faith and devotion.

Similarly, the adherents of Hindu politics - especially those who are given to vandalizing places of worship of other religions - may take Rama to be divine, but in much of the Ramayana, Rama is treated primarily as a hero - a great 'epic hero' - with many good qualities and some weaknesses, including a tendency to harbour suspicions about his wife Sita's faithfulness. A pundit who gets considerable space in the Ramayana, called Javali, not only does not treat Rama as God, he calls his actions 'foolish' ('especially for', as Javali puts it, 'an intelligent and wise man'). Before he is persuaded to withdraw his allegations, Javali gets time enough in the Ramayana to explain in detail that 'there is no after-world, nor any religious practice for attaining that', and that 'the injunctions about the worship of gods, sacrifice, gifts and penance have been laid down in the sastras [scriptures] by clever people, just to rule over [other] people.'** The problem with invoking the Ramayana to propogate a reductionist account of Hindu religiosity lies in the way the epic is deployed for this purpose - as a document of supernatural veracity, rather than as 'a marvellous parable' (as Rabindranath Tagore describes it) and a widely enjoyed part of India's cultural heritage.

The roots of scepticism in India go back a long way, and it would be hard to understand the history of Indian culture if scepticism were to be jettisoned. Indeed, the resilient reach of the tradition of dialectics can be felt throughout Indian history, even as conflicts and wars have led to much violence. Given the simultaneous presence of dialogic encounters and bloody battles in India's past, the tendency to concentrate only on the latter would miss something of real significance.

It is indeed important to understand the long tradition of accepted heterodoxy in India. In resisting the attempts by the Hindutva activists to capture ancient India as their home ground (and to see it as the unique cradle of Indian civilization), it is not enough to point out that India has many other sources of culture as well. It is necessary also to see how much heterodoxy there has been in Indian thoughts and beliefs from very early days. Not only did Buddhists, Jains, agnostics and atheists compete with each other and with adherents of what we now call Hinduism (a much later term) in the India of the first millennium BCE, but also the dominant religion in India was Buddhism for nearly a thousand years. The Chinese in the first millennium CE standardly referred to India as 'the Buddhist kingdom' (the far-reaching effects of the Buddhist connections between the two largest countries in the world are discussed in Essay 8). Ancient India cannot be fitted into the narrow box where the Hindutva activists want to incarcerate it.

* As is also discussed in Essay 3, the first translation of the Upanishads - the most philosophical part of the Vedic Hindu literature - that caught the attention of European intellectuals was the Persian translation produced in the seventeenth century by the Moghal prince Dara Shikoh, the eldest son (and legitimate heir) of Emperor Shah Jahan and of Mumtaz Mahal (the beautiful queen on whose tomb the Taj Mahal would be built). Dara was killed by his more sectarian brother, Aurangzeb, to seize the Moghal throne.

** See Essays 1 and 3 for fuller discussion of these and other examples of ancient scepticism and dialogic combats.
mcgillianaire: (Scale of Justice)
I thought the best way to commemorate this occasion would be to share an excerpt from my favourite speech by the Father of the Nation. It was delivered on 18 March 1922 at Ahmedabad Sessions Court where Gandhi pleaded guilty to the charge of “bringing or attempting to excite disaffection towards His Majesty’s Government", an offence punishable under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. The offence arose from three articles written by Gandhi in his weekly journal Young India. The speech formed part of Gandhi's oral and written statement to the court on the question of sentence. Gandhi represented himself but it mattered little as he did not seek to defend himself against the charges. For those of you who have seen Richard Attenborough's Oscar winning movie, Gandhi, starring Ben Kingsley as the Mahatma, you may recall a truncated though moving court scene in which the presiding judge (an Englishman) imposes the maximum penalty of six years for sedition, with the caveat that if at some future date His Majesty's Government saw fit to reduce the term, "no one would be better pleased than I". Gandhi's greatness lay in the fact that he submitted to the full force of English law while pursuing his fight for independence by preaching nothing but non-violence and non-cooperation. As Albert Einstein once said, "Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth."
    "Section 124 A, under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite to violence. But the section under which mere promotion of disaffection is a crime. I have studied some of the cases tried under it; I know that some of the most loved of India’s patriots have been convicted under it. I consider it a privilege, therefore, to be charged under that section. I have endeavored to give in their briefest outline the reasons for my disaffection. I have no personal ill-will against any single administrator, much less can I have any disaffection towards the King’s person. But I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected towards a Government which in its totality has done more harm to India than any previous system. India is less manly under the British rule than she ever was before. Holding such a belief, I consider it to be a sin to have affection for the system. And it has been a precious privilege for me to be able to write what I have in the various articles tendered in evidence against me.

    In fact, I believe that I have rendered a service to India and England by showing in non-co-operation the way out of the unnatural state in which both are living. In my opinion, non-co-operation with evil is as much a duty as is co-operation with good. But in the past, non-co-operation has been deliberately expressed in violence to the evil-doer. I am endeavoring to show to my countrymen that violent non-co-operation only multiples evil, and that as evil can only be sustained by violence, withdrawal of support of evil requires complete abstention from violence. Non-violence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for non-co-operation with evil. I am here, therefore, to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is deliberate crime, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only course open to you, the Judge and the assessors, is either to resign your posts and thus dissociate yourselves from evil, if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil, and that in reality I am innocent, or to inflict on me the severest penalty, if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country, and that my activity is, therefore, injurious to the common weal." (Source)
I think one can draw parallels between Gandhi and America's Founding Fathers, both of whom held a deep reverence for English common law, yet felt successive English governments had abused the principles upon which the English constitution was based, to a point beyond repair both in America and in India. Indeed until the Amritsar Massacre of 1919, Gandhi accepted British rule in India. But the sequence of events leading up to the massacre convinced him, like similar events in America in the 18th century, that India would be better-off without the British. Independence arrived nearly thirty years later. Less than six months later Bapu died. I leave you with the words of American journalist, Edward R Murrow, "Mahatma Gandhi was not a commander of great armies nor ruler of vast lands. He could boast no scientific achievements or artistic gift. [He] died as he had always lived - a private man without wealth, without property, without official title or office."
mcgillianaire: (India Flag)
India has the world's most number of domestic TV news channels (over 200), which shouldn't come as much of a surprise given that the quarterly report (for Jan-Mar) from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has revealed, that there are now 503 channels broadcasting in the country. This includes 147 pay channels distributed by 24 broadcasters. 18 new channels alone were added during the first three months of the year. Now contrast this picture with that of exactly twenty years ago. There was only one state-owned broadcaster for the entire country, the Indian equivalent of the Beeb, and therein ended the similarity. Doordarshan or DD for short (and lit. Faraway Vision) still exists and has vastly improved, but it has been largely overshadowed by its private rivals. Yet with only 21.3 million dwellings connected to DTH services, DD continues to perform an important public service to the 100+ million dwellings with access to TV.

India is also home to the world's second-most mobile phone users with latest figures (pdf) from TRAI revealing 636 million subscriptions (upto June). That still leaves out half the country, but consider that in June alone nearly 18 million new subscriptions were added. That's 600,000 a day! Twenty years ago mobile phones were unheard of in India. That's understandable. But you may find it hard to believe that there were only 5 million landline connections, with a further 20 million on waiting lists! As former UN stalwart, Shashi Tharoor MP put it:
    "The government's indifferent attitude to the need to improve India's communications infrastructure was epitomized by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's communications minister, C.M. Stephen. In response to questions in Parliament decrying the rampant telephone breakdowns in the country he declared that telephones were a luxury, not a right, and that any Indian who was not satisfied with his telephone service could return his phone — since there was an eight-year waiting list of people..." (Excerpt from Jan 2007)
Unfortunately, Mr Stephen is no longer with us to witness the wireless revolution that has engulfed the nation. The growth has been staggering. Consider that even 10 years ago there were less than 10 million mobile subscribers, 160 million in September 2006 when Tharoor wrote his article, and 300 million exactly two years ago. Since then it has more than doubled and by some projections India will break the billion barrier by 2013. Tharoor describes how India's monthly growth of seven million in Sep 2006 had just overtaken China's for the first time. That was less than four years ago. It seems to be only a matter of time before India adds the equivalent of an Australia every month.

Both these changes happened because of the post-1991 economic liberalisation policies, that was itself a response to India's balance of payments crisis. The Finance Minister responsible for implementing the changes was a certain Manmohan Singh, who is of course now our Prime Minister. He is an unlikely politician and some like yours truly would argue that he is only in power because of Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress Party that they belong to. But I will admit that unlike other unlikely candidates propped up elsewhere in India, Mr Singh has been anything but a puppet. Moreover, his reputation precedes him. As a bureaucrat he has achieved just about everything an Indian economist can aspire to: an Oxford education, Governor of the central bank, Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission, Economic Advisor to the PM, Finance Minister and now the PM itself. Not bad for someone who has never been popularly elected to public office! :)
mcgillianaire: (India Flag)
Dear Friend Hitler. That's the name of an upcoming Bollywood movie directed by Rakesh Ranjan Kumar. It's set in the last days of the Third Reich. But taking Herr Kumar to task over his assertion that the Führer had a "love for India", and his producer's statement that "if we should thank anybody for Indian freedom, it should be Hitler", is London-based historian Alex von Tunzelmann. In 2007 she authored her first book, Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire. She's right, most Indians are ignorant about the Holocaust.

Meawhile, India's "censuswallahs" (or census people) have begun their task to determine if the country's population is actually 1.18 billion as estimated. The British introduced the census to the Raj in 1872 and it has been performed every decade since then without fail. This will be its biggest exercise yet. In 2001 the official population was 1,028,610,328. That means in the past decade we've probably added the equivalent of 4 Australias, 1.5 United Kingdoms, a Phillipines or 0.3 US of As. The population count involves 2.3 million "enumerators" travelling to more than 630,000 villages and over 5,000 cities. But it hasn't escaped criticism by some for its inclusion of controversial questions about caste for the first time since 1931. And there are also issues about the way in which India measures levels of poverty.

In case you missed it, the recently re-elected Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa concluded a recent visit to New Delhi by signing agreements on aid, infrastructure and loans. The deals are aimed at countering the growing influence and threat posed by China in the new "Great Game" with India for primacy in the Indian Ocean. A new Indian consulate will open in the southern city of Hambantota, where Chinese contractors are constructing a vast deep water port largely financed by their government's lending arm, the Export-Import bank. The Chinese are also financing and constructing ports in Burma and Pakistan, and have proposed to build one in Bangladesh, forming a chain of the so-called "string of pearls" encircling the Indian subcontinent. Beijing is also building a major road network north of Colombo and lending £140 million to build a second international airport in the south of the island. In March, the Sri Lankan government said China was "supplying more than half of all the construction and development loans it was receiving". And then there's the roads, oil and gas pipeline being built in Burma (to the aforementioned port), the multi-billion dollar infrastructural projects in Pakistan and recent infrastructural offers to Nepal. You can understand why India is worried and rattled, but to complicate matters further, Rajapaksa's visit triggered protests by a section of India's 60 million+ Tamil population. They blame Rajapaksa for the "high levels of civilian casualties" in the final days of the civil war against the Tamil Tiger separatists last year. The Indian government is stuck between a rock and a hard place in a game China will win.

And finally for the health conscious amongst us, a new Indian government body has been "tasked with protecting the country's rich heritage of medicinal and medical philosophy". It's a response to companies, organisations and people in the West claiming to invent "new" yoga practices from ones which the Indian government contend are in fact rehashed versions of centuries old practices. The campaign has already secured major victories that have forced European companies to reverse patents on the "use of extract of melon, ginger, cumin, turmeric and onions" for a range of health products. In each case Indian government officials were "able to comb the new digital library to submit carefully translated excerpts from texts ranging from 19th century medical text books to 5th century manuals of traditional ayurvedic medicine to support their claims". Only a matter of time then before we take matters to their logical conclusion and patent the number 0.
mcgillianaire: (India Flag)
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) approved by the Indian Parliament last year, comes into force today. It's arrived sixty years too late, but it's better late than never. It is now legally enforceable for every child to demand free education between 6 and 14. According to the World Bank, there are approximately 200 million children within this age bracket, 8.1 million of whom are reportedly not attending school (a decline from the 25 million not attending school in 2003). Moreover, the number of children reportedly enrolled in elementary education in India, has risen by 57 million to 192 million between 2003 and 2009. More than two-thirds of this increase took place in government schools. And recently, the World Bank announced two education projects worth a total of $1.05 billion for India - one of which will boost the number of children enrolling in and completing elementary school. However, the law faces a significant challenge in the form of insufficient funds, quality of teachers and inadequate infrastructure. The Save the Children NGO have estimated a shortfall of at least 1.2 million trained teachers in the first year of its implementation, the fiscal year 2010-11, and a shortage of nearly Rs 70 billion ($ 1.8bn). Nevertheless, PM Manmohan Singh has promised that the central government has reserved Rs 250 billion ($5.6bn) for the initiative.

The legislation is the culmination of a process that began in 2002 when a constitutional amendment was passed enshrining the fundamental right to education. However in order for the amendment to take effect, Parliament had to pass a new law which resulted in the RTE Act 2009. The Act is not without its critics, including private educational institutions who will be forced to reserve a quarter of their places for children from disadvantaged sections of Indian society. Certain schools have already challenged the law in the Supreme Court as being "unconstitutional" and violating fundamental rights of unaided private educational institutions. In a country where there is a huge gap between legal rights and reality, it remains to be seen if/how life will change for the millions of uneducated and impoverished Indian children.
mcgillianaire: (Default)
Saturday 27 March marked exactly thirty years to the day since my dad first arrived in London, leaving behind everything he had grown up with in India. He was 27 and it was his first-ever flight. Thai Airways from Delhi to Heathrow. Long side-burns and bell-bottoms were still in vogue in South India. This post is dedicated to my dad, whose move changed the course of Ramanathan history. The year is 1980. Enjoy!

My dad never wanted to leave India, even though many of his med school mates had already emigrated to America and Britain. After completing his postgraduate Master of Surgery (MS) degree in Chennai (Madras) in the late 1970s, his plan was to return to his ancestral town of Erode and spend at least five years at its primary health centre. It seemed a simple enough plan, even if it lacked ambition. My dad was/is an idealist. Besides, his father had been in poor health for a few years so he felt it was his duty to support him. So after completing his MS in General Surgery my dad returned to Erode and applied to work at its General Hospital. Rather surprisingly, there were no available jobs. And after my grandfather's health deteriorated in the summer of 1979, my dad was not keen to move back to Chennai. And even if he did, his previous work experiences there promised poor remuneration. As a result, my grandfather encouraged my dad to try his luck abroad and so he applied for the Professional & Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) test, that is the compulsory procedure for overseas doctors to practice in the UK. Sadly however, on 4 November of the same year, my grandfather passed away at the age of only 54. With two degrees, no job and a family to look after, my dad was a confused young man. Should he stay in India or head abroad?

Shortly after my grandfather's death my dad received confirmation of his PLAB test date, but postponed it in light of the family tragedy. Sometime later a letter arrived confirming a rescheduled date to complete the test in April 1980. My dad was not keen to leave my grandmother on her own so he didn't act upon the letter. Then during a visit by my great-uncle (grandfather's brother), he happened to see the letter and asked my dad about it. My dad explained why he wasn't keen to go, a view my grandmother and many other family members concurred with, but my great-uncle felt otherwise. He thought it was too good an opportunity for my dad to forego. The elders were worried about how the temptations of the Wild West would have a corrosive influence on him. Thankfully in the end, sense prevailed.

A lot of preparation was necessary. This was the first-time my dad would be travelling abroad and his first-time on an aeroplane. Since he couldn't afford the flight ticket and visa, he borrowed the money from his cousin in Bombay. A college mate that had already emigrated to America arranged some pounds sterling for my dad. In those days, India had very strict controls on foreign currency exchange and the amount of foreign currency that you could travel with abroad. Another college mate sorted out the brief stay and travel arrangements in Delhi. It was a team effort. And after completing all the requisite religious pilgrimages, finally the big day arrived. A couple days before his flight to London, the entire extended family saw my dad off at Erode Railway Station in grand style. My dad was to become (in all probability) the first person in his caste community to travel abroad, and possibly even aboard an aircraft. He was already making history.

The layover in Delhi was short and the people who looked after him were very nice, although they did drop him off at the airport several hours before his flight because they didn't want to travel back home in the dark! It was all a new and surreal experience for my dad so he didn't really mind. Besides, this wasn't the first time he was leaving his family. At the tender age of five and a half, my grandfather enrolled my dad into one of India's prestigious British-era boarding schools, several hundred kilometres away from home in Erode, and where he remained until his graduation at the age of fifteen. My dad joined Lawrence School, Lovedale in the year of its centenary celebrations.

His first love was Mathematics and he even aspired to study Engineering at an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). In fact, within a month of joining the boarding school, he was promptly promoted to the next class due to his aptitude in Math, though it was delayed by another month due to his weakness in English. Thereafter my dad excelled in Math but didn't break any records in his other subjects. He loved extracurriculars and took part in several sports, including field hockey, cricket and football. He even captained the school team in the latter. But he always felt out of place in an institution designed for rich kids. My grandfather was not very wealthy and had very little education, having left school at twelve. It was a real struggle to pay the exorbitant school tuition fees, but my grandfather was determined to provide as good an education as possible for my dad, however extreme the financial burdens it imposed on the family.

My dad's two sisters, one older and one younger, grew up and went to school in Erode itself. But since the death of my grandfather's elder brother, and later his sister-in-law, my grandfather had taken in his brother's family and was providing for all of them, as well as for his short-tempered mother (my great-grandmother). A total of eleven! Moreover, my grandfather was heavily involved in domestic politics and was a member of the ruling Congress Party's branch in Erode. At one point, he was even President of the Erode branch. And though it seems incredulous, given the corruption that pervades modern Indian politics, my grandfather used to invest his own money into the party. He was a Gandhian, wearing only Khadi (handwoven cloth) until his death and a no-nonsense, though short-tempered politician.

Anyways, I digress. Despite my dad's engineering ambitions, my grandfather wanted my dad to become a doctor. There were no doctors in our family. After all, we came from a caste of weavers. If any members had not become weavers they had at least found work elsewhere in the textile industry. My grandfather wanted more for his son, a whole lot more. And even though it was not his first-choice, my dad recognised the sacrifices his family had made for him and agreed to study medicine. Interestingly however, while waiting to hear the results of his med school application, my dad moved to the nearby city of Coimbatore and started on an Engineering course. Think of it as an insurance policy. A month later and thanks in no small part to the caste-based quota system, my dad was admitted into Chennai's Stanley Medical College. He was not even sixteen! My dad spent the better part of the next decade in Chennai studying medicine.

And in his spare time he played a lot of field hockey, first representing his medical college, then the University of Madras and eventually captaining both. He was a very talented hockey player and won competitions all over India. Even today you can see his name on Stanley Medical College's Hall of Fame board, for his achievements in hockey. Indeed, one of the players who played under his captaincy, Vasudevan Bhaskaran, went on to captain India to the Gold Medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and later became its national coach.

But we return to London. It was the morning of Thursday 27 March 1980. My dad had just entered Heathrow Airport and made his way to the immigration counter. Over the course of the next hour, two short exchanges would leave an unforgettable impression of what life would be like in this new country. The white immigration officer asked to see my dad's PLAB test documents but he didn't have them on him because he thought it would be safer to store them in his suitcase. Upon conveying this information, the officer asked my dad rather innocuously if he had a return ticket, to which my dad replied equally innocently in the affirmative. "Good", said the officer while adding rather curtly, "you made need to use it". My dad was rather startled, though the officer asked my dad to leave his travel documents with him and was allowed to go down to the baggage carousels and collect the necessary documents. Worried sick as he was for the suitcase to arrive intact, my dad left the contents of it wide open while scurrying back to the immigration counter with the crucial documents.

Luckily, there were no further problems and my dad made a successful entry into the UK. And incredibly, nobody had stolen anything from his wide-open suitcase by the time he got back to it. The next challenge was to figure out how to make his way to the Underground and his final destination, Gordon Hill Station. Upon taking a seat in the Piccadilly Line carriage, a white passenger sitting across from my dad asked him if he was new to the country. (An Asian lad with a thick accent, two big suitcases, bell-bottoms and long side-burns in early 1980? He certainly wasn't from these parts!) My dad said yes and unexpectedly received a reply he'll never forget alongwith an outstretched hand, "How lovely, welcome to the United Kingdom". And there it was, in the space of an hour, two sides of the British coin.

The friendly passenger convinced my dad that not all Brits were like the immigration officer. But the journey was not yet over. For some reason, the college mate with whom my dad was to be staying, gave instructions to switch from the Underground to the Suburban Rail network at Finsbury Park, instead of staying on the Piccadilly Line, all the way to its penultimate station, Oakwood. So poor dad was forced to reorient himself at Finsbury Park, while carrying his two heavy suitcases up a fairly steep spiral staircase. Another unforgettable moment. He eventually arrived at Gordon Hill Station and was picked up by his mate who lived nearby. That afternoon my dad experienced his first English pub at The Robin Hood, near Chase Farm Hospital. He studied hard for his PLAB test, sat it a couple weeks after his arrival and soon started work at Chase Farm Hospital. Over the course of the next seven years, my dad fell in love with everything British.

But his life in England began not just in London, but in Enfield where I have been living since my move here in 2007. In fact, the nearest station to my flat is Gordon Hill and I travel through Finsbury Park's spiral staircases almost on a daily basis, continually reliving my dad's first brush with this amazing city. My dad loves retelling the tale of his first trip to London and I hope you enjoyed it too! It seems surreal that the only reason my dad came to Enfield was because the friend he stayed with was living and working here. That friend has moved on, but not only did my dad end up working in a few hospitals in the area, but we bought a flat here before moving to Oman (in fact the one I'm living and typing this from right now!), my sister was born in the hospital just down the road and where my dad first worked, and thirty years later, I'm keeping the Ramanathan flame burning in the same area. May there be many more years of the Ramanathans in Enfield!
mcgillianaire: (India Flag)

Exactly 120 years ago, India's first and longest-serving Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was born in Allahabad in the modern north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. A student of Harrow and Trinity College (Cambridge), Nehru like Gandhi was then called to the Bar at London's Inner Temple in 1912. But unlike Gandhi he did not spend much time in the legal profession, instead he answered the Mahatma's call for Non-Cooperation against the British and dedicated the rest of his life to first securing India's freedom, and then guiding her at the helm for nearly two decades. An orator and idealist, Nehru's statesmanship is loved and loathed by many a contemporary Indian.

There are many who blame him, with good reason, for the problems in Kashmir, the disastrous war with China in 1962 and India's lukewarm relations with America during the Cold War. But every leader, even the great ones, has their faults and Nehru was no different. In my eyes, Nehru was the visionary an independent India needed. His commitment to secularism, peace and democracy together with his longevity in power have ensured that these institutions have entrenched themselves in the modern Indian state. Nehru unlike Gandhi believed in the power of science, technology and engineering. He inspired the creation of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) that recently made the news for discovering water on the Moon through its unmanned lunar mission (Chandrayaan-I). He also left his mark on the international stage as the brainchild of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), along with Yugoslavia's Josep Tito and Egypt's Gamel Abdul Nasser. Unfortunately NAM ended in failure.

But perhaps his most visible legacy in modern India is through the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty that has governed India for no less than thirty-seven of the sixty-two years it has been independent. Nehru was Prime Minister for seventeen uninterrupted years, that included three comprehensive general election victories, till his death in 1964. His daughter Indira then became only the world's second female Head of Government and remained at the top for two stints of eleven and four years each, before her assassination in 1984. She was followed by her son Rajiv for five years before his terrible assassination in 1991 by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), at the age of only forty-six. Having married an Italian-born naturalised-Indian, it was thought that the dynasty had reached its end but after years of hibernation, Sonia Gandhi stunned the entire nation by announcing her entry into politics in 1997. She nearly even became Prime Minister after a surprise election victory in 2004 but backed down in the face of opposition resent at her Italian origins. And now there's her thirty-nine year-old son Rahul. Many credit him for Congress's comfortable victory in this year's general election, no mean feat in a nation whose electorate is wedded to a philosophy of anti-incumbency. The next stop is obvious. This is truly one of the world's great political dynasties, for it didn't even begin with Rahul's great-grandfather Jawaharlal. It began with Jawaharlal's father Motilal who was also a lawyer and twice President of the Congress Party (in 1919/20 and 1928/9). That's five generations of famous Indians, and to think Jawaharlal still towers above them all. Not a bad effort. Happy Birth Anniversary wherever you are! You will never be forgotten...
mcgillianaire: (Default)

Getting blessed by the holy elephant in Madurai's Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple in Tamil Nadu. (July 2005)

In 48 hours I will be on a flight to Muscat. I cannae wait to get away. As much as I love living in London, sometimes you just need to get away from the hustle, bustle and big nights out. I've also been studying non-stop since October and I want a change of scenery.

In Muscat, my dad has organised a two-week training for me with Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP, an American-based international law firm. It'll be my first work experience in the legal profession. I'm quite excited about it. However from previous work and training experiences, I've finally learnt two important lessons. Firstly, don't go in with expectations of coming out with the perfect experience or achieving misplaced pre-conceived goals. Secondly, while it's always useful to learn things during the training, speaking to others and from my own experiences, I've realised that the real value of such experiences occurs sometime after the dust has settled.

I then have a few days to relax before jetting off to Madras. It's my first trip to the motherland since before moving to London in May 2007. As usual, I'm excited and nervous about it. But so much has changed in my life since my last trip, than compared to any previous trip to India. Most obviously, I have cemented my confusing twenty-three year relationship with the British Isles. It's got to the point where I hardly feel Indian anymore. I only have a handful of good Indian friends but I hardly see or chat with them for it to have any real meaning. I don't listen to Indian music or watch Indian movies much anymore. And besides the fact I eat a lot of Indian food, keep in touch with my family and follow Indian cricket, the former obsessions have dried up big time. I don't read or watch Indian news as much as I did before. I'm a Londoner now. I'm a part of the United Kingdom. This is my home. But am I British yet? I don't know...

It'll be an interesting week in the motherland. I won't have much time to think while I'm there because I'll be shuttling between Madras and the towns where my extended family live. There's even a wedding to attend, one of my second-cousins, which will be fabulatastic. I'll definitely be taking pictures and hopefully posting them on here before the return of Halley's Comet. Watch this Space!

And then exactly a month after leaving The Big Smoke I return a day before my solicitor's training course begins. I won't have much time to recover from jet lag. And the weekend following my arrival in September I travel to Newcastle. There really is no rest for the wicked!
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
In a daring act in 1746, the French Admiral La Bourdonnais captured the British East India Company garrison port of Madras. However, less than two years later the French were forced to exchange it for Louisbourg in Nova Scotia (in Canada) under the terms of the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Ever since I learnt about this nugget of historical significance, I have often wondered how events might have transpired in colonial India. It could be argued that in the mid-18th century the French and British had fairly equal control of their Indian territories. Possession of Madras, the then untitled capital of The Company's Indian 'Empire' (until this role was officially usurped by Kolkata in 1792), for a significant period after 1746 could've turned the tide for the French against the British. Who knows? I could've been speaking French today and India might've actually become a better football playing nation. Who cares? I certainly do. My conclusion is that if it weren't for the 1748 Treaty, and all other things remaining fairly equal (ie, a French Raj lasting until the mid-20th century and having an effect on India similar to that of the French African colonies), my dad would not have emigrated to Britain in the early 80s and I would not now be preparing for exams involving the greatest British gift to humankind ... English Law. Good Night!
mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)

It is well-known that the blue-collar workers in the Arabian Gulf, the majority of whom hail from the Indian subcontinent, work and live in poor conditions. But little has been done to highlight their plight and therefore improve it. In light of this, the Panorama team went undercover into Dubai's sub-contracted labour camps, whose construction workers are involved in luxury developments counting among them: Andrew Flintoff, Michael Owen and Jamie Oliver as their brand ambassadors, to bring the 'slave-like' injustices into the open. Naturally, the real-estate developers who sub-contracted the blue-collar labour to third parties have denied the allegations, but have said they will investigate the claims 'thoroughly'. It's hard to say what impact the publicity gained by this broadcast will have on worker's conditions not just in Dubai, but throughout the Arab world, but at least I hope it will make Brits who see/hear about the programme, think twice about buying into the Dubai glamour story. The broadcast reiterates my negative view of Dubai and one that influenced a boycott for any future visit till conditions and attitudes towards Indians (and other South Asians) changed significantly.

- There are more than a million immigrant workers in the UAE.
- Average blue-collar salaries = £120/month, for a six-day week and twelve-hour shifts.
- One company pays approximately 30 PENCE an hour for overtime.
- In one camp 7,500 labourers were sharing 1,248 rooms with poor ventilation. Upto 9 labourers in a room for three of four.
- Many workers pay upto £2,000 in middle-men transit fees to get a job and assume they can pay it back within 18 months.
- In one camp, sewage had leaked so workers created a network of stepping stones to get back to their accommodation blocks.
- In the same camp, one toilet block had no water supply and the latrines were filled with piles of raw faeces.

The list goes on. I hope something will be done about it. It is certainly something I will try to fight against when I become a lawyer.
mcgillianaire: (India Flag)

Not surprisingly, the Indian media is going ga-ga over Slumdog's success at the Academy Awards and the man at the centre of attention is A.R. Rahman, the Tamil music director. He became the first Indian to win two Oscars, and follows in the footsteps of legendary director, Satyajit Ray as one of a handful of Oscar-winning Indians. Eight Oscars out of nine nominations was not a bad effort and along with the Awards for Best Actress, Documentary & Short Documentary, t'was a great night for the UK & India.

But I am happiest for A.R. Rahman, a guy whose music I have been worshiping since I was eight years old. The fact that he is Tamil makes his victory all the more sweet. He even added a Tamil phrase at the end of his first victory speech which was a nice touch. But the joy in his success is shared by every Indian who has been touched by his musical greatness. In many ways his Oscar victory is not wholly surprising. His rise to the top has been gradual but consistent. In the 80s he studied Western classical music on a scholarship at London's world renowned Trinity College of Music and was a member of the legendary Tamil music director Ilaiyaraaja's music troupe. In 1992 he made his musical film debut in a Mani Ratnam blockbuster and followed it up with dozens of successes at the Tamil and Hindi box office over the next decade. In 2003 he switched gears and composed the music for Andrew Lloyd Webber's West End Production, Bombay Dreams and with the global recognition he received from that, went on to compose the music for the globally released Lord of the Rings theatre production. It only seems natural that the next step was to compose the music for an entire English movie, having only had bits and pieces used in various films like Inside Man, Lord of War, and The Accidental Husband. Along came Danny Boyle and his team of Slumdog Millionaires. The rest is history.

But my fondest memory of the music genius comes from the summer of 1997, a time when India was preparing itself for its 50th Independence Day celebrations. There was tension in the air as Hindu right-wingers stirred an old controversy. They were making an issue out of a supposed claim that Indian Muslims purposely did not sing India's national song (not to be confused with the national anthem) because they were offended by the depiction of the Mother Nation as a Hindu Goddess. In a country filled with centuries of history of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims it seemed but a matter of time until the tension boiled over. But it didn't. Barely weeks before the Independence Day celebrations, A.R. Rahman came out with a rare music compilation outside the film industry. It was titled Vande Mataram (Mother I bow to thee), the very name of the controversial song. Needless to say A.R. Rahman is a Muslim (though he was born a Hindu and converted only after the death of his father while still a child). Composed of songs in both Hindi and Tamil, the album went a long way to diffusing the tension. And in true neighbourly spirit, there was even a song in collaboration with the late Pakistani musician, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who tragically died two days after the 50th celebrations.

So yeh, who cares if the Oscars are political? Congratulations to all the winners! Alla Rakkha Rahman Tujhe Salaam (I Salute You)!
mcgillianaire: (India Flag)

Exactly two years ago, my parents and my sis visited Mumbai. Having just finished reading the novel Shantaram, my sis took my parents to Leopold Café, one of the locations popularized in the novel and the scene of one of last night's audacious terrorist attacks.

That India is under attack is nothing new. It's almost expected. This year alone more than 400 people have died in nearly a dozen terrorist attacks across the country, most of them bombings. No corner of India has been spared. Three attacks alone have occurred in North-East India and killed more than a hundred people. There have been attacks in Delhi and Jaipur in the North, Mumbai and Ahmedabad in the West, and a bombing in Bengaluru in the South. Not all of the attacks have been attributed to the same source. The bombings in the North-East are borne out of a several decades old conflict between the tribal natives (many of whom are neither Hindu nor Muslim) and the Indian government. Most of the other incidents have been attributed to Islamic extremists. And these are just the major incidents. On a daily basis there are innocent people dying in Kashmir, while the Naxalites have established a corridor of lawlessness in vast tracts of Central & Eastern India. And then of course, there is the violence between Hindu extremists and Christians in the Eastern state of Orissa, nestled precariously between the Naxalites to the West and the native tribals to the East. India & England played an ODI in Orissa yesterday.

After a decade of the annual or bi-annual terrorist attack, the security situation in India has simply gotten outta control. It seems foolish to believe that the English Cricket Board were willing to have their arms twisted by the Indian cricket board to play their next ODI match in Guwahati, less than a month after more than eighty people were slaughtered to death in a series of eighteen bombings in the city and other places within the state of Assam. And to think everybody was more worried about the light situation and early sunset. Madness.

As much as it hurts to write this, the security situation in many parts of India is not much better than the situation in most parts of Pakistan. Very few places in India can actually say they are relatively safe. I'm proud to say Chennai and many other places in Tamil Nadu are among these potential safer havens, but as we know all too well about the growing trend of these attacks, anything can happen anywhere. Though it would also be fair to say that some of the terrorist targets have been chosen intentionally: Mumbai and Bengaluru are among the most cosmopolitan cities in India, Delhi is our capital and Gujarat was the site of the worst violence between Hindus and Muslims this century (six years ago). The government in power in Gujarat is still led by Narendra Modi, the leader accused of abusing his power during the communal clashes six years ago. His role in those events have since resulted in US immigration blocking his entry into the USA.

So where to from here? I honestly don't know. For starters, I agree with Shobhaa De of all people that politicians from Delhi should keep away from Mumbai. Their presence in the city will force an unnecessary redistribution of security resources. The total focus should be with the armed forces who once again are doing an incredible job to flush out the terrorists, while saving precious innocent civilian lives at the same time. My heart goes out to the bravery of these men and women who have dedicated their lives for securing our safety. Every story of the death of one of these forces breaks my heart. Compared to the West, our forces are treated like a pile of shit, yet the perks are good enough to convince thousands of them to join them. These people are the real heroes and they deserve every second of attention dedicated to them. I know for a fact that I love life too much to even contemplate putting myself in the same position as them.

For more than a day now, my attention has been fixated on the news. It is incredible how far we have progressed in terms of finding the news. The first Gulf War transformed CNN nearly two decades ago. Then came the internet and everything since has gone through the roof. I find it ironical that sitting here in my flat in London, I have better access to the news than my mum who is staying in the most luxurious hotel in Muscat. She doesn't have an internet-enabled phone and her television in the hotel only shows western news channels: CNN, Sky and BBC. On the other hand, my computer is simultaneously connected to live streams of Indian news chennals: NDTV and CNN-IBN, while I alternate between BBC and Sky on my actual tele, while also running separate tabs for Twitter, Rediff, BBC News, Google News and the Wikipedia entry on my browser. It's a situation I'd taken for granted till my mum called me and there I was telling her what was happening in a city that was only a few hundred miles away from her (as the crow flies). It's moments like those you realize how electronic technologies have transformed our lives. Mobile phones have played a crucial role in maintaining contact with people inside the hotels.

All-in-all, I hope there are not too many more casualties. There have already been a hundred-plus deaths too many. A friend of mine likened the attack to something that could've happened in the West End. That would've frightened a lot of people. Imagine seeing people brandishing AK-47s and throwing around hand grenades in Leicester Square on the night of a major Hollywood premiere. Some 'experts' say that the security situation is so tight in cities like London that the terrorists have intentionally chosen softer cosmopolitan targets such as Mumbai. In this particular attack, they might be quite right but let's also not forget that the vast majority of people killed and injured are innocent Indians. I've gone through one of the list of dead and injured in the hospitals and you cannot hide from the fact that many are innocent Muslims. I also don't think it's right to call this India's 9/11. We have already experienced dozens of 9/11s going back to the 1993 bombings in this very city. Have we learnt the lessons from all of them the way the Americans have? Probably not, but I'd also suggest that it's a lot more challenging to maintain the peace in a country with India's population, with neighbours such as Pakistan and with our significant Muslim population. It's a tricky job trying to maintain a balance between allowing society to function without the State interfering in the lives of all its residents and ensuring the safety of the same. I wish I could offer a better solution. For now, stay safe and goodnight. x
mcgillianaire: (India Flag)

Three-and-a-half years after President Bush and Prime Minister Singh discussed a Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement between the world's oldest and biggest democracies, the US Senate last night approved a nuclear deal with India, ending a three-decade ban on its nuclear trade with Delhi. It is rather ironic that the vote took place hours before India awoke to celebrate the 139th birth anniversary of their Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. If he had been buried, he would most certainly have been turning in his grave. Nevertheless, in a modern India with a burgeoning population, the deal signifies an important landmark in Indo-US relations and I hope for India's sake, we don't botch it up by doing the stupid thing and testing more bombs. Enough already. This is a golden opportunity to unshackle ourselves from the outdated NPT regime and usher in a new era of globally-sanctioned nuclear energy cooperation. America has been very kind to us in working extremely hard behind closed doors to ensure the successful passage of the deal, not just in substance but also on time. All this despite the Commies trying their best to scupper it at every stage. It would be fair to say that both sides have worked hard to bring this deal to fruition. It is even better that they have denied a similar deal for the buggers across the border. A great day indeed. JAI HIND!
mcgillianaire: (Curry Dialysis)
As expected, the response at home to India's first individual Olympic gold medallist has been over-the-top. First came the obligatory congratulations from the country's Chief Executive, the Prime Minister (who described it as a golden performance) and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the President. Then the news channels took over and broadcast the achievement as the leading headline throughout the afternoon. Then came the icing on the cake. The States of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, neither of which Abhinav Bindra is a resident, announced prizes of $23,800 and $11,900 respectively. His home state (Punjab) will award him a miserly $238,000. And not be outdone, impoverished Bihar said it would name a stadium after him. All this at the tender age of 25. Oh, lest I forget, India's Railway Minister announced a gold pass that would allow him and a companion to ride first-class for free for the REST OF HIS LIFE! Did I say how he was still only 25 years old? On top of which, before coming into the Games, he was already the recipient of India's highest sporting award and the CEO of a company called Abhinav Futuristics, a PC games peripherals distributor based in India. Home born, home grown. Abhinav Bindra, take a bow. You've done the country proud and deserve all the good wishes and gifts. May your achievement inspire a new generation of successful Indian Olympians... [SOURCE]

PS India's cricket board, arguably one of the world's most powerful sporting governing bodies, has also thrown in another carrot at Mr Bindra: a cash prize of $60,000. What a lucky guy! Next stop, consumer product sponsorship, billboards and celebrity-status!
mcgillianaire: (India Flag)
Postcolonial blues, social immobility, ill health, poverty: potential culprits for India's lack of athletic prowess are legion.
Randeep Ramesh in Delhi reports for The Guardian.

The only gold medal India has won at the Olympics is in the Men's Field Hockey competition. Our historical record in that sport is stellar. We've won more gold medals than any other country, eight in total, including six consecutive golds between 1928 (first appearance) and 1956. Until losing one-nil to Pakistan in the final of the 1960 Olympics, we had been unbeaten in all Olympic matches. Nevertheless, India re-captured the gold in 1964 from Pakistan in another hotly-contested final by a single goal margin. India then went sixteen years without winning the Olympics or even making the final. In 1976 at Montreal, India even failed to win a single medal. The lack of infrastructural investment due to the change of surface (grass to artificial turf) was clearly taking shape and a toll on India's success on the international stage. In 1980, India returned to winning ways, though most will point out that it was achieved amidst a depleted field following the boycott of the Moscow Olympics. That was the last time India won the gold in hockey. We haven't even managed to win a silver or bronze since then. And to cap it all off, this year, for the first time in its illustrious history since joining the competition in 1928, India has not even qualified for the hockey competition at Beijing. That in summary is the pathetic and demoralising tale of the state of Indian Olympic sport. Legends such as Dhyan Chand (whose wizardry supposedly impressed even Adolf Hitler) must be turning in their grave...
mcgillianaire: (Curry Dialysis)
At 13:45GMT (19:15 local time), seven bombs went off simultaneously in Jaipur, the capital of the north-western Indian state of Rajasthan and one of the country's most popular tourist destinations. At least 60 people have been officially confirmed dead. Goodness knows what the unofficial count is and how many are injured and how many families have been affected by this terrible tragedy. The ramifications of the attack go beyond politics. Jaipur is the host-city to the Rajasthan Royals cricket team that is taking part in the multi-million dollar cricket venture, the Indian Premier League (IPL). It seems inconceivable that the city will host any matches in the near-future, despite assurances "as of now" from Lalit Modi, the IPL Commissioner. Meanwhile, Martin Crowe, the Bangalore Royal Challenger's Chief Cricket Officer, has offered Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium for Saturday's match between their home-team, the Royal Challengers and the Royals, instead of playing in Jaipur as originally scheduled. What do you think will happen?

Such terrorist attacks are not uncommon in India. Since 2005 there have been at least 5 attacks (including this one) in major cities throughout India that have resulted in at least 40 deaths each time. There are different ways of taking stock of this depressing track record of internal security in India. On the one hand, the situation is shockingly bad compared to the US, UK or Spain who have managed to deter all but one major terrorist act since or on 9/11. On the other hand, for a country with a rich history of violence, mistrust and hatred between Hindus and Muslims, the situation is nowhere as bad as Iraq, Palestine-Israel or Pakistan. And unlike those three disaster zones, there are nearly 200 million Muslims in India, more than any other country except Indonesia. One could even say that given the numbers and history, it is rather surprising (thankfuckinggoodness) that such major attacks are relatively few and far between.

So where to from here? If recent events are any indicator, India's response will be muted, though fingers will be pointed at unnamed neighbours not doing enough to prevent such attacks. India has shown considerable restraint since the BJP-led government amassed around 1 million troops in Kashmir less than seven years ago in response to an attack on our Parliament. India is under pressure from the West to avoid reacting in haste and playing the blame game (alongwith militaristic rhetoric) with Pakistan. Behind the scenes however, it seems like the West (read USA) empathises with India's seemingly legitimate concerns about Pakistan's inability, and perhaps even lack of conviction, to end their post-Partition facilitation of cross-border terrorism. Pakistan on the other hand will plead innocence and America will reward their restraint (seen in terms of not responding to potential Indian-governmental hot headedness) with F16s and other advanced military hardware (which has been proven, finally, to have been used against us in Kashmir instead of the battlefields near Afghanistan.

Over the coming weeks, while the news is fresh and interesting, the Indian government will unearth a surprising amount of information in the attack's aftermath; despite Jaipur's Director-General of Police claiming there were no intelligence reports. OK fine, let's give them the benefit of the doubt. Maintaining the internal security for a country of 1200 million people can be no easy task. Besides, in 3 weeks nobody will care enough about this old news anymore. The Chennai Super Kings will be playing the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL final and the whole country will be commenting on how brave the Goa-touristing Royals were in overcoming the tragic events of 13/5 to make the final of the world's coolest Twenty20 competition. Meanwhile the main opposition party, the BJP, will use the attack to try and gain potential political mileage in the run up to the General Election later this year (which seems unlikely given this attack) or early next year. It wouldn't be the first time that the BJP has used a major terrorist incident to gain public sympathy and win a landslide electoral victory. The Congress-led government will be well aware of this, but they are walking an extremely thin tightrope. On the one hand they are being pressured by the West to maintain restraint, on the other they will have an eye on the upcoming election and internal political pressures to be seen to be taking a firm grip of the situation and maintaining national honour and security. It will be very interesting to see what happens from here.

In the meanwhile, my deepest sympathies go to all the families and friends who have lost loved ones in this heinous and tragic event. As ever, I hope their deaths were not in vain. Innocent people do not deserve to die like this, anywhere and everywhere. May their souls RIP.
mcgillianaire: (Curry Dialysis)
17 months ago, the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said his government would not sell uranium to India ("We don't have any current intentions of changing our policy"). He also said that if Australia did sell uranium to India then "it raises questions, of course, about Pakistan and then it raises questions about Israel", which on the face of it, was a legitimate concern. He then went on to say that "If we were ever to change it in the future that would be a matter that would require very careful examination. There'd have to be extremely compelling arguments for ... either this government or any future Australian government to do that and I haven't heard those compelling arguments. If you ever did, you would have to be very satisfied that in doing so, it didn't detract in any way at all from the NPT treaty. And you'd have to be pretty persuasive in not extending the same privilege to Pakistan & Israel."

It now appears that Downer has carefully examined the issue, heard the compelling arguments, been very satisfied in doing so, convinced it doesn't detract in any way at all from the NPT, and (*deep breath*) is prepared to be pretty persuasive in not extending the same privilege to Pakistan and Israel! :) One wonders how knowledgeable of foreign affairs, Foreign Ministers, anywhere and everywhere, really are before they get the job. Because it looks to me as though Downer's doing all the learning on the job. Which from an Indian perspective is working out extremely well, but Pakistanis are no doubt up in arms ("We won't consider selling uranium in Pakistan, because Pakistan has a long record of proliferation"), and the Australian Labor Party has responded in kind to the proposed sale ("Labour, which is riding high in the polls, will cancel any such nuclear deal with India if it won November's general election.")

As an Indian that has no respect whatsoever for the NPT, I welcome the change of heart with open arms. And who knows? The first sales might occur just as the Indian cricket team sets sail (or airborne, as is the case these days) for the Antipodes this Christmas. Oh, and Downer, it's the NPT. Not the NPT Treaty. Common error made by all and sundry, but it will be overlooked in the grand scheme of things. Even if you are Australia's longest serving Foreign Minister ever! Fair dinkum mate, and keep up the good work!

And just so everybody knows why Australia is in the news, it's because they own 30-40% of the world's uranium reserves!
mcgillianaire: (India Flag)
Exactly 10 years ago, my family and I were celebrating India's 50th Independence Day in Jaipur. Exactly 60 years ago, India got its Independence from the UK, and broke-up into three parts: West Pakistan, India, and East Pakistan. Twenty-four years later, in 1971, East Pakistan became its own nation-state, Bangladesh. Two of the three are celebrating their Independence from the British this week; yesterday Pakistan, today India. And even though all three parts have been Independent from the British for the same length of time, there couldn't be greater contrast in their progress since then (or lack thereof in the case of two of them).

Yesterday, President Musharraf focussed on terrorism in his Independence Day speech, while India's first, and newly elected female President, Pratibha Patil, focused on spreading the benefits of economic growth to all. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, went a step further and said "the best is yet to come" and made concrete promises about eradicating "malnutrition within five years". Poor Mushie, he was reduced to defending his foreign policy motives ("I see everything from Pakistan's point of view. Now if Pakistan's point of view suits America, all right.") and re-assuring his people that America would not attack them ("I am 200% sure that these [comments] are neither at official nor at government level"). 200%!

The two greatest men of Pakistan and India, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. It is ironic that the two English-trained lawyers who fought for two different great causes, originally came from the same area in Gujarat, India.

Though Indians may not look favourably upon the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and his fight for an independent Muslim state, (though he was hardly a practising one himself!), I am quite satisfied with the fact we Partitioned. Imagine if the people and politicians of modern India, would've had to deal with all those extra Islamic extremists in Pakistan and Bangladesh? Thank you very much, but I think we've got enough problems of our own... internal terrorist threats included, but I'd argue that none of them are as grave as the problems that affect our neighbours. At least with Naxalite rebels and ULFA extremists, you can negotiate an economic and political solution. But with Islamic extremists, it is much more difficult to negotiate a settlement when the Quran is non-negotiable.

The fact that India has only a Muslim minority, makes it all the more difficult for Islamic extremists within India, to rise-up with popular support. 60 years ago, the Muslims in Greater India did have the popular majority in two parts of the country and got their piece of the pie. Though ironically, they were inspired and led to this freedom by a secular, pork-eating, wine-drinking, non-Urdu-speaking, non-religious moderate leader, Jinnah. But just because Jinnah didn't practise Wahabism, didn't prevent him from fighting for the rights of his religious community. My hope is that Indians will one-day recognize the fact, as I have come to see it, that Jinnah was actually a great leader who fought for a worthy cause, but without intending to, contributed to the creation of a monster. Not enough is written of it in mainstream history books, but the fact remains, Jinnah was ultimately inspired to fight for an independent Muslim state in South Asia because of Atatürk's success in uniting and modernizing a poverty-ridden, outdated Muslim society in nearby Turkey. Even today, President Musharraf extols his ambition to lead Pakistan back to the future by following the example of Atatürk. Unfortunately for us Indians, and now even the world (since 9/11); Jinnah died of TB in 1948, a year after Pakistan's independence. Jinnah would've been Pakistan's Nehru. An idealistic statesman, committed to establishing a modern democratic state, but without a clue about economics.

I admit, this is an extremely simplistic analysis, and ignores Jinnah's role in "encouraging" Afghan rebels to invade Kashmir, immediately after Independence. This led to the First Indo-Pakistani War (of 1947), the Kashmiri Maharaja's cry of help to Indian Prime Minister Nehru, and the subsequently controversial, Instrument of Accession (to the Indian Union), in October 1947. It also ignores the worrying dictatorial methods of Jinnah, both during the fight for Pakistan, and upon his elevation to Governor-General at Independence. And there are obviously many more reasons why Indians can harbour negative feelings against him, but I think it is better to draw conclusions based on what has also happened in Pakistan since Independence. In that light, it is obvious that however much trouble Jinnah might've directed at India, it would've been in our interests for him to have modernised and de-extremised his Islamic-majority Pakistan. That is how we should judge history. Not just by what happened then, but also by how things have turned out, (and could've been). It is ironic then, that Musharraf also draws parallels to Atatürk's Turkey today, just as Jinnah did more than 60 years ago. We Indians may not like Musharraf for his perceived hatred towards secular, non-Islamised India; but as I said about Jinnah, Mushie is our best bet to modernise and control Pakistan's extremism. But unlike Jinnah, he doesn't just have dictatorial tendencies... he is a dictator!

On that rather bittersweet note, I'd like to congratulate both India and Pakistan on their 60th anniversaries. India-Pakistan Zindabad!
mcgillianaire: (Default)
India's Railway Minister, has publicly voiced his support for the Indian Cricket League (ICL). This is significant because the Railways Ministry owns more than 50 cricket grounds in the country, while its cricket team has won the premier domestic competition twice in the past five years. Now, Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav, is offering the ICL the use of his ministry's grounds, news that will no doubt come to the breakaway faction like music to its ears. (Especially since the official Indian Cricket Board (the BCCI), has coerced other ground-owning associations to spurn ICL initiatives). Shri Yadav is one of India's notoriously famous and influential politicians, but it is rather shocking to find him and cricket in the same sentence, let alone as part of the same headline story on Cricinfo. That being said, given some of his expert comments, it seems like the simpleton knows a thing or two about the sport. Could he be the unlikely saviour of a tournament that looks like fizzling out even before a ball has been bowled? What a twist to the tale that would be, and I wonder what Lalu's ministerial colleague at the Agriculture Ministry, and President of the BCCI, Shri Sharad Pawar, has to say about this. Not very good things, I presume. How lovely it is to see politics making a direct appearance in Indian cricketing matters, again. If it wasn't already enough that the cricketing establishment was highly politicised. Oh well, life would be dull without such comedy.

I captured this at last year's 11th Annual Chocolate Festival at Ghirardelli Square, near San Francisco's Fisherman Wharf.


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