Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mango blues!

Book Review: Fiction/A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif, Random House India, 377 pp; Rs250 (Paperback)

Within literary writings, fiction and fantasies most often used in a blend to establish the plots that subverts the subtle differences and effects of these two. In a random search, most of prose writings fall in this category with their impregnable steadfastness and inflexibility. Deeply influenced with the colonialist tradition, Indian subcontinental writings too have been displaying similar temptations until the advent of post-colonialist consciousness broadly after the 1980’s. That made rational impacts on English writings in particular and henceforth a clear devoid from brownish tradition a ground reality. On this front, India edged out its neighbours as the prime mover of new consciousness though in the course of time, that gap established to be narrowed down.

The new generation of Pakistan’s English writers has strengthened that notion with amazing display of concern towards nation’s suffering in past and present. Mohammad Hanif is one among the strong voice of this literary generation who overtly displayed the malignity inside the Pakistan’s authoritative regime during the time of General Zia ul-Haq with his first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes. His deep inquisition of major and silly habitual status of Military rulers, ISI-foreign officials and most noteworthy of mimic politicians portrays very well the actual scene of Pakistan in 1980’s. That was by all means a very traumatic phase for the country whose quest for a real democracy was still on. As Hanif’s novel leads its reader to every nook and cranny of Pakistan through the progress of realistically imbibed theme, at some points it also makes clear that a “paralysed democracy” couldn’t be possible without the command hijacking by big brother, USA!

Unlike the political hotspots, creative terrains are little distinct in projecting real events and even imaginative ideas. Fortunately, Hanif lets enough spaces for his readers to feel and form opinion on the resentment against General Zia that exploded his presidential plane, Pak One midway along with US Ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Raphel and few other influential officials. Figuratively, Zia’s obsession with mangoes, diplomacy and dualistic life styles are beautifully covered here, so are the intimate sides of this authoritarian ruler. Details are abundant; it seems stronger after reading past half of the book where few details were easily worth of escape albeit stylized narratives of Hanif and his close hold over the secretness till the end makes reader compelled to walk together with him.

So far Zia’s unexpected death has remains a mystery and any advance on simplifying this is possible only through the guess, the way this book has performed. Who has killed him? The impatient army generals growing old waiting for their promotions? The CIA? The ISI? RAW? Or Ali Shigri, a junior officer at the military academy whose father, a whisky-swilling jihadi colonel, has been murdered by the army? The unusual isolated huddling of Zia while boarding the last flight shows the kind of end he met was not totally unimagined for him. As in his confession, he repeatedly used to stress on his humble family background that given him lust rather inspiration to dramatically progress the ranks and his rise whatsoever its fallouts, was the crest of oddities! He rose and never fallen in true sense, which was not less tragical; he met to accident and not to a fairly exercised trail. In true introspection, only rise and rise of ruling generals have long history in Pakistan…their multitasking always harmed the democratic elements and soft socio-political fabric that could have easily possible with a proper democracy at place.

As writers’ perspectives, what is fresh and remarkable is the absence of blames towards external factors for big mess. As a writer, Hanif has a clear lead with this book; he accomplished it through relying on his long inside experiences in Pakistan’s arm force and later working as a journalist of repute for years. His writing is closer to the aspiration of pious yet subdued aspirations of a mass Pakistani and clearly separated from the hyped bandwagons that consistently made the undeserving participants, the deciding forces in mainstream. Away from the narrow prisms and consideration, this novel attracts only the genuine concern and leaving aside all non essential issues, that’s triumph of high standard. It could be solace for all realistic polemists and constructive participants of diplomacy that Pakistan’s positive side is quite resonant and it’s for good amidst all glooms of radicalism and ambiguous democratic functioning!
Atul Kumar Thakur
February29, 2012, Wednesday, New Delhi

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fault lines of microfinance

The brief euphoria generated by the private MFIs withered away with the collapse of their doubtfully structured model. Its representative face in India, Vikram Akula’s high rise and bottom low with SKS microfinance initially leveraged the market’s attention towards this nascent industry and later made it synonymous with degenerated “business class”. Business wise, private MFIs like mutual funds have always underperformed its peer in financial sector and both were hyped up and then saturated, leading to the slide towards underperformance under the unquiet regulatory treatments.

The idea of microfinance was presented as altruistic, which was the fatal error. Had it started with the aim of optimising operational costs and its final lending rates to the end users, surely it would have never got the tag of “non performing heaven”! Broadly, the managements of MFIs have missed the business mission as direct lender to the petty customers and instead they got accustomed to play as unethical lending brokers to the severely needy customers. Hence, they have been and still playing a mean role between blood sucking moneylenders and organised financial institutions and surprisingly feeling not bad doing this.

They charge almost 20% more than banks and less than moneylenders. Question arises in present scenario; do MFIs need a major revamping or simply shut down? So far, their managements have failed to realise the essential evils, foremost among them is to acting in capacity of brokers on the money of banks instead sustaining in lending market with alternative cheap funds. As private equity players are never going to spend their shrewd pennies in Indian MFIs without inserting unviable conditions and MFIs can also no longer survive on the bank’s money, so chances are very thin that they would remain relevant to low scale financing. After Kingfisher Airways, it would hardly be a surprise if SBI will lose its many thousands crores of rupees as NPA on the MFIs ventures.

The bright performance of microfinance has only witnessed in inglorious Regional Rural Banks (RRBs), which truly acted as the financer of poor rural folks on very just lending rates set by the RBI. Despite that, they always remained ignored and never got the attention it deserved. With cooperative banks reduced to a tool of political patronage and commercial/private banks lukewarm in lending microfinance portfolios, RRBs are the institutions that stand out as a beacon of hope. For revamping microfinance in rural and semi-urban areas, integration of RRBs into a single fold would be a revolutionary step besides giving it the all service/operational benefits as like of Scheduled Commercial Banks.

RBI and finance ministry have to act fast to make Priority Sector Lendings completely stringent, and under this regulatory changes banks would be liable to lend atleast 1/3 of their genuine funds under the welfare measures. Prospects of microfinance would be boosted with it. Second regulatory change immediately required is to capping the MFIs lending rates on par with the banks and if they found business tepid there should be no looking back. In present scenario, RBI can’t and shouldn’t afford the luxury of artificially keeping the solvency of beleaguered MFIs alive, the best it can do to give them fair chance to run in the Indian market.

The efficient and organised microfinance could be channelised well through the existing public/private sector banks under the consistent regulatory monitoring of RBI. Private MFIs have to learn raising the seed capital for running a profit making business, and not only under the hippocratic guise of false idealism. Once they will learn to compete with banks, their business model would become credible. Unbanked sections are big opportunity and that must not be taken as granted…end of policy hassles would make microfinance a truly vibrant area under the institutional finances. India may be the nation of poors but it’s not poor itself, so chances are not yet dim for a better time ahead!

Atul Kumar Thakur
February 28, 2012, Tuesday, New Delhi

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Expedient Memories!

Book Review: Non-fiction/Memoirs, In service of India abroad by R.D.Pradhan, Rupa/2011, 262 pp; Rs595 (Hardback)
R.D.Pradhan represents the generation of economic diplomacy in international division when country was still passing through the famished state and upper bureaucratic echelons were indifferently playing caroused and lashing with delirious adventures. Then, more than any other qualities, mannerism used to be fiendishly highlighted as the maker of glittering appearances in international diplomacy and altogether “sycophancy” for higher order was maintaining a cult position. By reading this book or relying on one’s own wisdom, it clears that demeaning focus on wrong penchants made India’s international diplomacy a light weight partying zone until very recently when liberalisation of economy changed India’s position as an effective consumerist market!

The author had a parallel career at both home and international turfs and he has two big names to be repeatedly dropped, K.B.Lal and Y.B.Chavan, under whom his career flourished. That could have alright, has he narrating his long stint in bureaucracy to a passive recipient over a cup of coffee in his plush drawing room instead letting the baggage of trivia to the readers with less penchant for talk on wine, women and spoon/fork handling sessions. There has been dearth of good memoirs from Indian bureaucrats and still condition has not changed even after this book. The basic reasons are the over emphasis on “personal descriptions” rather looking on collective things through the personal angle that makes a memoir participative and universally relevant.

There could be no denying the fact, India’s diplomatic presence at bilateral or multilateral arenas were largely dominated with its principled standing whose base was lying outside of its horrid economic status and leisure seeking diplomatic nerves. The charm of Nehruvian socialism and his reliance on non-alignment were giving this newly independent nation a much needed leadership position in a turbulent world order which would have surely elusive, if the diplomatic missions were leading the front guard in initial years after the independence! Unlike in other areas, concentration of power in the hand of Nehru made some impressive impacts in shaping India’s functional terms in its nieghbourhood and rapidly changing world, which was moving with an unprecedented pace in the wake of scientific progress and its menacing outcomes!

The book is not very much encouraging for those want to get the perceptive narratives of author on the existing realities of India’s tryst with destiny in international economic diplomacy. However like a memoir, book carries some details of official works as well but not in minutes order...that may cause disappointment to an avid enthusiast. But bright part of the work is its insightful focus on India’s early time with UN, UNCTAD, GATT, WTO, and Kennedy rounds of discussions, which are presented through a decisive participant’s angle, so makes sense clear. But side by side, it also reveals the commonly found immaturity among the new Foreign Service officials who were bound to internalize the basic lessons of drafting and minimum economic diplomacy from their esteemed seniors in Yoga position or in odd hours doing some other exercises. Then learning classes not essentially were carried in the formal classrooms…if believing the truths of this book, dinner table was among the friendliest juncture to enhance diplomacy of consuming free good wine and dine in the exotic atmosphere and company of women, serving by the nation, which was equally starving and aspiring!

Conditions have much changed now, not only inside the elite diplomatic missions but among ordinary citizens too who are now more concerned with their commercial than religious beingness, hitherto an easiest route of escaping from miseries. Recently in an overt mood of metamorphosis, the sacrosanct Civil Services test taken by the UPSC has radically changed its exams pattern to align it with the aptitude, management/economic awareness and more shrewd personality tests than even before. Its form can be filled only online now by the all, even someone living in Kalahandi or in forests of Bastar-they all are expected to be techno savvy, which itself a very subversive condition! These changes will sure produce few more officers with little extra aptitude capacities but what about the mass Indians who too should do the economic diplomacy? Are our services truly covering the aspirations of larger masses in its fold?

In the nation, where bureaucracy is known for “mass disconnect” doesn’t allow thinking in such inquisitive order but the concern of few for large would be remain looming large even if the responses would be never satisfied the causes of dissent and disenchantments. Mr. Pradhan, following the service tradition has succeeded enough to present a travel book type account on Europe’s luxurious hotels, cities, pubs, socialites and also its general life but equally he failed in providing his fair accounts of what the wrongs happened in the rule of Y.B.Chavan? For doing that, he would certainly have not needed to write the multi volume memoir, as he has plan but I am afraid whose takers would be few. Official position can give someone in high authority to keep his/her activities confined in the same rank/file but similar could not be replicated as a writer, which must have to be taken as public profile of different type.

So, far India’s experience with UN has remained not up to the mark. It’s clearly evident and even commonly shared by the policy experts in country and outside too. What we have got at the major multilateral organisations not makes us eligible to be over cheering, afterall how India can forget it has deserved to be among the permanent council members in UN since its inception? Which is still appearing a distant dream even after more than six decades? As a swiftly rising economy and strategic power, such undermining of our own capacity is not going to be less than a blunder. At this juncture, our diplomacy needs a revamp and new outlook which alas the generation of R.D.Pradhan and subsequent could have introduced much earlier. A book like this would be somehow helpful in generating relevant debates on India’s upcoming foreign policy stands; also it should infuse some energy among the retired officials!

Atul Kumar Thakur
February 23, 2012, Thursday, New Delhi

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fantasies phobia!

“No more of that, Saladin Chamcha told himself firmly. No more of thinking myself evil. Appearances deceive; the cover is not the best guide to the book. Devil, Goat, Shaitan? Not I. Not I: another. Who?”

None infact, except the written letters itself but alas these silent authorities neither conceived nor be treated as par their appearance while hatching the literary degradation up to the extreme. A super performing literaturer, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was among those unfortunate works which was evaluated through super reactionary angle and denied the basic allowance of fantasies, which a fiction writer essentially bound to require.

Late 1980’s was a proven age of follies in the history of modern India. In those phases, nation’s Supreme Court was appeared as wretched clown with morally defeated in Shah Bano case from Islamic fundamentalists. Further, opening of temples gate in Ayodhya and banning of The Satanic Verses were the two final decisions taken by the Rajiv Gandhi that made virulent campaigning much alive among the both Islamic and Hindu fundamentalists in anytime after the bloody partition in 1947. Little earlier, another terrible precedent was the eruption of 1984riot against the Sikhs following the unfortunate assassination by her two Sikh bodyguards. 1980’s revived the narrow personification within the forts of religions where the blowing of free air was ceased to stop and nasty symbolism grew unprecedentedly high!

Under those testing time of blind fundamental believers, I am afraid, this banned book was read by few who found them eligible of offence with Rushdie’s hyper metaphoric fiction. I strongly thought it after passing through these lines that demonstrate conversation in a mingled state of imagination and dreaming.

“It's not unknown for literary--theatrical exegetes, defeated by the character, to ascribe his actions to "motiveless malignity". Evil is evil and will do evil, and that's that; the serpent's poison is his very
definition. -- Well, such shruggings-off will not pass muster here. My Chamcha may be no Ancient of Venice, my Allie no smothered Desdemona, Farishta no match for the Moor, but they will, at least, be
costumed in such explanations as my understanding will allow. – And so, now, Gibreel waves in greeting; Chamcha approaches; the curtain rises on a darkening stage.”

There is need to know in a work like this or James Joyce Ulysses that dominant themes as fantasies must not be seen in hard rigid terms, otherwise things would be appear frequently as between the clash of wisdom and stark ignorance. With a functional liberal tradition, if Europe could trust the criticism of church within its literary writings, then why not the peoples of other geography should be more pragmatic with handling the criticism on their faith? Indian Constitution which is indeed a broad set of pragmatic rules gives ample chances to protect even the adverse views to float, but on this particular issue its capacities were severely minimized under the bawdy political plays!

Salahuddin could be “Chamcha” or Gibreel a “Farishta” in a writer’s imagination. Even the fantasies on Prophet Muhammad’s life could be a possible thing under someone’s dream…Rushdie displayed and shared it for finding mileage in his writing career and many others doesn’t do this. That’s the basic difference in narratives and intent. But in any circumstances, a writer must not be taken as an authoritarian force, if his/her conviction defies the convention and challenges its controlling authorities, then the only decent way out is to maintain a fair debate over it instead sabotaging the challenging voices.

No denying the fact, Salman Rushdie ever had any clear intentions to express on the Islam, he over performed with The Satanic Verses and given a blind section to fall in his woven trap of sensationalism-much before the outbreak of social media and never ending noises of news channels. It’s utterly shocking to see little depth is his contempt for the ills of Islam and infusing of subversive elements more closely than reasons or way out in foreground. Here everyone excepts the author could be a lost traveler, who can feel vulnerability of an obstinate plot where the single aim is to intertwine the minds with Islamic ills but not with its reasons, whatever it has! This paras shows the single sided application of weird imagination…

“Long before the Flood, he remembered -- now that he had reassumed the role of archangel, the full range of archangelic memory and wisdom was apparently being restored to him, little by little -- a number ofangels (the names Semjaza and Azazel came first to mind) had been flung out of Heaven because they had been lusting after the daughters of men, who in due course gave birth to an evil race of giants. Hebegan to understand the degree of the danger from which he had been saved when he departed from the vicinity of Alleluia Cone. O most false of creatures! O princess of the powers of the air!”

Somewhere in his inner thought, Rushdie must be gone through a similar state of contradiction like his characters in the novel. The revelation are less coherent and entirely pressured with the power of unknown, that power is of religious brokers not of direct god who has always been an absent entity. The very existences of god have always been recognised in “incarnation “and not as the mortal who did something unusual and different to be followed by millions, irrespective of time and period. That’s the basic gulf to be deconstructed but concentrations are non-existent on this particular aspect. Here the inner tussle exudes through this paras…

"Little things at first. If Mahound recited a verse in which God was described as all-hearing, all knowing, I would write, all-knowing, all-wise. Here's the point: Mahound did not notice the alterations. So there I was, actually writing the Book, or rewriting, anyway, polluting the word of God with my own profane language. But, good heavens, if my poor words could not be distinguished from the Revelation by God's own Messenger, then what did that mean? What did that say about the quality of the divine poetry?

The points Rushdie has made in his sarcastic heavy tones would have little resisted today than the two decades back. He missed the timing and special style of narratives that suits the collective minds. He always had a literary point of views but never a deep insight of commentary on a truly sensitive domain of “faith”. From almost the end of book, it seems Rushdie is doing justice with his literary merit but committing a big chance of personal normalcy ended forever-which is painful and unjustifiable on any counts…

“The moon was almost full; moonlight, stretching from the rocks of Scandal Point out to the far horizon, created the illusion of a silver pathway, like a parting in the water's shining hair, like a road to miraculous lands.”

Times is now to end the cheap consideration of pleasing or displeasing some sections, peoples have thought it and government too should make a way forward…better essentially and worst if optionally!

Atul Kumar Thakur
February 21, 2012, Tuesday, New Delhi

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Self tales of unknown Nepalese!

Instead conceiving the living conditions of ordinary Nepalese migrant in Delhi through polarised opinions or statistical records, it would be rather sincere spending some moments with them, listening their choice of folk music and most importantly knowing their views on “Muluk ko hal khabar”(nation’s current affairs). Remarkably these concerns are mostly related with the long democratic transition, which the nation has been going through in last two decades. That shows, amidst the all starkness of actual democratic functioning and falsification of big claims by the political parties, a general view on democracy is firm and positive.

Common Nepalese are now subscribing the idea of democracy more genuinely than even before, all those are inside the nation or forced to live outside of Nepal for earning subsisting livelihood. This is positive development in a nation, consistently ridden with conflict to figure out the mode of suitable governance. And no doubt, democracy would be the best choice for the Nepal which lost the real representation of its unique monarchy with the unfortunate royal massacre in 2001.

Five years back in Delhi’s unkind summer, I was new and alien here searching for stable abode in its obsessively commercial southern parts, came to a comfortable halt by the consideration of Kedar Saanpkota, a man in his fifties from the Narayangarh district of Nepal. The benign gestures of this mess staff of JNU and his family on my appearance as paying guest kept me more than happy for next few months of my staying in a beautiful room facing the picturesque beauties of dead Aravali ranges. Alas, two years later when I went to see him as promise made, I found his picture set on the wall-that was tragical for me to not see him anymore and knowing this so unexpectedly.

Even today, I am deeply indebted for the insights he had shared with me during those fateful days of Nepal’s painful political transition on the Maoist politics, especially how it was closely linked in early phase with the left progressive elements of Delhi’s premier universities. If Vamdev Shotriya was his colleague in JNU, he had also seen Baburam Bhattarai in formative days there…what was striking among his all descriptions on Nepali politics and politicians, he was never sure about the actuality of Comrade Prachanda like most of the fellow countrymen and there first time I found the dualism inherent within the Nepali Maoists!

In last few years, my exposure with the high echelons of Nepali journalists, politicians and intellectuals have grown up, yet the feeling of lacking the common men’s views was haunting my consine on a regular fleet. Last year, I was shifted to a new apartment (in Ghaziabad) with the immense help of its security staff, Arjun Singh Mehra, lien-thin though not a frailled man from Kanchanpur. He knows his arrival in Delhi by the amount he paid to bus for commuting from Vanmassa border to Anand Vihar, that was Rs15 then and another historical clue he has to remember of his early days, how the death of Indira Gandhi had shocked the India. With a pause, he said me those days were replicated though differently in Nepal by the assassination of King Birendra and family! I sensed great wisdom in his thought, infact Nepal lost that day the king who could have drawn better way of democratic transformation and India lost for the first time, “ the idea of collective justice “ with the brutal killings of Sikhs in Delhi and outside after Indira Gandhi was shot dead-both these assassinations left democracy in perils for long time!

Long back, Arjun had served as the head of Village Development Council in Shishaiyya Naya Gram that falls in Mahakali Anchal. Once, he was also an active member of NCP (UML) and still claims for his belief in democratic communism but not for a single moment he stopped loathing “Maoists” for their betrayal with the poors and disadvantaged sections. He is shocked to find the way, Maoists were persuaded the culture of mindless violence on the name of justice and democracy. He opines which kind of justice they brought through their action? Though he appreciates Baburam Bhattarai and few Congress leaders for their constructive zeal but he’s afraid in the manners, such voices are being taken as granted by the dominant leaderships in their party.

Arjun’s courtesy enabled me towards the ongoing grave exploitation on local communities in the forests of Sunsari where even the picking of fallen woods are taken as a crime and punishment leveled as high as raping the poor women by the security guards or captivating them for weeks in unlawful manners. He adds, there are no employment opportunities in the hinterlands of Nepal, NGOs are already proven functionally hypocrites and further the reliance on external aid is making the situation much worse in the rule of Maoists than in the earlier governments, whom they used to slap charge of carrying “comprador democrats” and acting sycophants of “Swayambhoo”/India. Exactly opposite are the feelings of poor but sensible Nepali’s living hundred miles away from their villages. They had never seen the kind grace of political authorities from Kathmandu, despite that they are not alien existences, but in all cases they see India as very dear friend and not likes any ditch in both nation’s long and sound relationships.

Harish Bahadur Khati is from Bajan in Nepal and has brought up here in Delhi. He drives very well, that he says is good for his profession but for his pastime in music, he is equally focussed. An avid fan of Bhuvan Dahall, Nand KIshan Joshi, Tara Devi and Dikra Badeni, he could sing hundreds of Nepali songs in proper rhythm and tone. A step ahead, I tried to inquire him, if he has equal fond for the new genre of Nepali singers like, Amrit Gurung or Sugam Pokhrel? He said “no” because of long staying away from Nepal, many of us are able to connect with the past but found hard to get align with the contemporary developments. He loves his country because he never put forth a worldly logic of relative comparisons, he is proud doing streamlining the beauties of Nepal by quoting this fraction from folklore “Nepal ka Dhan, Hariya Van/ Nepal’s wealth is its green resources”. He wants no looking back from democracy, though he is not satisfied with its present state of affairs in Kathmandu.

Moti Ram is from Kailali, an avid newspaper reader, appears in deep thought while talking about the nation. He exudes the all peculiar qualities of a Nepali in fancied dress and etiquette talking. He is happy working here as security staff and denying he would ever seen as “Bahadur” by the residents of his building. He is concerned with the delay of constitution making but is somehow happy with the growing maturisation in Nepal’s democracy. He says, he is glad working here instead ruining his soul in the desert of middle east, which is a very wrong trend in Nepal these days.

Nawal Singh Kathait is from Kanchanpur, he works in the opposite building. He is balanced with his words, less sentimental but as realistic as other three friends, he didn’t tired admiring Indian’s brotherly gesture towards them and how pious is the relationships between his country and India. He is totally disappointed with the present government and had firm disbelief in Gyanendra, erstwhile royal. In his views too, had king Birendra alive today, Nepal would have altogether different!

The views of these four unknown but highly concerned Nepali’s on their nation shows, they all like democracy as choice of system but not in the present lustful way. Next, they all have realization that Maoists have betrayed the mass belief and acted against the ethics of humanity and mandate of communism itself. Also they all found India, very dear and only next to Nepal in their preference of working and staying. They don’t know the puzzling theory of bilateral or multilateral engagements, simply the common past and existing similar life style making them close to India and Indians. At some point of life, they all want to go home, even though none of them make you feel they are sad somewhere living distant from home!

I know Nepali, so could share with them their say on internal politics, very rich culture and hard working peoples. They consider me as their “own people” and honestly I also do the same, as human being and migrant. These four Nepali’s and others I had met in past have expressed their desire to be covered more closely by the Nepal embassy here in Delhi. En route home, every time they have to suffer the exploitation by the Indian SSBs at border of Vanmassa and Dhangari…same may be the cases at other borders too where they are unruly harassed by the few wrong natured Indian security officials.

Nepal and India must deliberate in this regard to stop such indecent behaviors. Afterall, Indian government never allows this in statutory terms, so a broad debate on more liberal borders would be very imperative in sorting out the immoral and corrupt acts of few officials. Among the many unresolved issues, this is most pertinent, as open borders are the strongest symbol standing between these two counties and that should be never downgraded through any wrong process. If the Nepal would be stable, it will be most beneficial for India, so peoples of both the countries should continue their affectionate relations, which would be the more crucial than the role played by the slumbering and unconvincible embassy officials from both the sides!

Atul Kumar Thakur
February 10th, 2012, Friday, New Delhi

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Boisterous UP Election Scene

Had Uttar Pradesh been a country, it would have been more populous than as many as 170 countries and if by choice it was a democracy, it would have been the fourth largest democratic nation. However, it’s equally true that with its horrific fundamental indices, this imaginative nation would have been the most terrible democracy of the world against all the whims and fancies of political analysts. The past two decades of downgraded politics have turned India’s most crucial State into a mere statistical jargon and the centre-piece of all kinds of political experiments by exploiting the sensitive and extreme social and religious ideas. In the wake of the post-Mandal Commission politics, UP was the first State to be devoid of any development plank by putting aside its mandated unbiased conventional task in governance.

At this juncture, it seems clear that the BSP is going to suffer due to the high anti-incumbency sentiments that have piled up over the years of misrule and high-level corruption. The scale of the BSP’s loss would depend on the transfer of its traditional support base of SCs and upper castes to the Congress. Unfortunately, this would be a completely reactive change, not the type of proactive power shift that happened in Bihar a few years back and brought about a turnaround in this once sinking State through remarkable reliance on governance and progressive policies. In the very beginning, development as the catalyst of the electoral agenda was toned down by all the parties, surprisingly except the BJP. The Congress has a single aim in this present UP Assembly election: to secure the number two position and share power with the SP and RLD. So, it has chosen to pursue the most visible over-secular agenda under the aegis of Digvijay Singh, who is not an angel himself by any yardstick of credibility and knows the concept of secularism only through the dangerous mode of senseless sermons or extended “reservation”!

On the other side, both the SP and BSP have nothing much to offer except announcing the ridiculously moulded promises, best suited to maintain the TRPs of obsessed TV channels rather than controlling the damage done by them in the past. By keeping itself aloof from any potential coalition with the BSP, the BJP stands low in the electoral arena but chances are strong for its good performance in eastern and central UP. However, the present political scene projects multiple polarisations where it will be impossible for any single party to secure a comfortable majority. So, both the BSP and BJP will be the victims of their own failure to be in coalition of any kind. In the near future, that may be a setback for these two political parties for not maintaining closer ties (even if nothing is impossible after the election). However, in the long run, the throne of Lucknow would be equally tough for any political party wedded to parochialism.

THIS time, its early apprehension made the SP relatively less affiliated with criminal politicians. Akhilesh Yadav, the man now in command, has displayed his shrewd attitude against the induction of criminals into the party, and this in the present political setting deserves some accolade. The BSP also has not given tickets to more than a hundred of its serving MLAs and maintained more balanced considerations in the social and religious realms in fielding candidates. Unlike these two, the Congress had opened its door for all including for those tainted politicians who were boycotted in the wake of grave charges by the two less civil parties. The self-proclaimed representative of farmers from the hinterland of western UP, the RLD, has simply maintained its opportunist stand by joining the UPA Government at the Centre for a ministerial berth, which shows the futility of its existence at large!

The BJP’s sole misadventure with tainted Baburam Kushwaha deftly tied its hand at the decisive hour to look here or there for immediate leadership management. Another big casuality was not to continue its NDA tie-up with the JD (U), which is now fighting in most of the seats that would marginally hamper the chances of the BJP in every constituency. Seeing the parliamentary election of 2014, it’s certainly neither good for the BJP nor for the JD (U) to keep such a distance from each other for no substantive reason.

Rahul Gandhi’s own political future has a close relationship with this election. After failing miserably in Bihar; this is testing time for his leadership in the field and the party as well. He is well aware of the fact that his supreme position in the Congress would be unimpaired regardless of the electoral performance on account of the longstanding culture of sycophancy for his family in the party but it will be hard to lead a government in 2014 without making significant advances in the UP election. The noise this time is very loud in the UP election. Alas, it’s not for a healthy change of power but simply for a change without having any plans for the future. The emergence of a few more petty political parties is adding to the overall confusion. In the future too, it will be hardly surprising if the State’s revenue continues to be misused for building thousands of huge elephant statues or bringing sandals in empty jet for a Dalit icon with Mayawati asserting herself as the sole champion of depressed voices. Once the leading development journalist, P. Sainath, had said that the emergence of Mayawati in UP was the triumph of Indian democracy. He was right in a way but can this be true if democracy is meant to be channelised through a single arbitrary voice? The election results of UP will help us to understand how we see our democracy, secularism, idea of social justice and, most importantly, citizenship through the eyes of politicians who only know the art of playing politics, nothing more, nothing less!
Atul Kumar Thakur
New Delhi, February14, 2012, Sunday
(Published in Mainstream, VOL L, No 8, February 11, 2012)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Subversive Follies

Book Review: Non-fiction/ India: A Portrait by Patrick French, Penguin/2011, 436 pp; Rs699 (Hardback)

Rabindranath Tagore and James Mill represent the two different world; their worldviews were in complete contrast as Tagore never accepted the drawing of boundaries in the cult of knowledge but Mill stood juxtaposed of that. If Tagore did it for the better sake of humanity, James Mills plotted a very virulent discriminatory education system to not only maximise the influence of western world but also to ruin the consciousness of ruled subject, India. This nation otherwise had a clear edge being among the oldest civilisations. For knowing the starting of western subversive historiography, there is need to know the dynamicism of last few centuries through observing the growing tussle between biased western theorists and defending old culture!

Patrick French, who has credit of writing a cocktailed/sandwitched book on Tibet and a funny biography on an unusual though a nice subject for him, V.S.Naipaul had already displayed enough through these works, that he is still not clear what the basic of writings should be in the domain of history and how it’s different from travel writing, caricaturing or gambling with the subversive motives. With his new book, India: A Portrait, he has chosen to maintain all the trash ideas into main sight and leaving aside the beauties and strength, which this nation possesses. Ofcourse, India is not free from the parallel strains that are coinciding with its rapid growth but inequitable distribution of resources as a strong economy but the cases in Europe are even much graver, where the tall claim of stellar performances in either economy or in other field is simply crazy or the lost old pastime of past.

I will not say Patrick; an Irish gentleman totally resembles Bob Christo’s characters or the “Curzon” but he has worked on this India project with all wrong adventures and minimal understanding about this truly difficult nation. His claim of writing an intimate biography of1.20billion Indians under the present work could be the classic case of single biggest fatal in terms of statistical calculation. Barring the accounts of few long established and equally faded Indian Intellectuals including Amartya Sen or Meghnad Desai, a jobless Venkatesh(for meeting him, he travelled to Karnataka rather sensitizing the mind for plights which is pervasive), the very long and inhuman description of Ayushi episode and few other senseless descriptions, it’s hard to get anything new, striking and balance. That disappoints heavily after spending hours reading a thick book without any gain of information or new insights. Even grimmer could be the realization to any reader including myself that Patrick doesn’t want to show the loopholes in Indian systems as wrong but more often as inevitable byproducts. That’s nothing less than a brazen exercise of subversive follies with idealizing own trivia as remarkable judgement before a nation which has honour of possessing countless thinkers of high intellectuality.

Patrick must have spent his valuable time in India, like many other writers from the west travelling across the India which is less dusty than anticipated, counting the trees, monkeys, elephants, beggars before reaching Taj Mahal or Surajkund Mela for a smiling snap under the canopy of wisdom tree! From this imagined and false wisdom tree, the shape of India they want to choreograph in their mind and fails miserably doing this. The disservice of this kind does all harm to the sentiments of integrated global economy which is now runs on potential of emerging economies. India’s good or bad reliance on the liberalisation of its economy has atleast given a much needed momentum in its domestic entrepreneurship whose impact is now being felt worldwide. I am sure, Patrick has not even the remote understanding of business, and his interview with Sunil Mittal shows it candidly. He has forwarded his talk on philanthropy with Sunil, that’s awkward but even on this how he could forget this same western world is going to turn philanthropy into a profit business with establishing a special stock exchange in the posh city of London!

So no surprising, innovation is being taken by few as the “labour of love” for spreading not so holly ideas of CSR in business under a proven western sermon that “conventional wisdom” has its limitation, so the virtue of good thoughts always winds from the western side that’s simply ridiculous and unsustainable. A nation with GDP touching close to the $2trillion can’t be taken so lightly any longer; there are flaws with the growth pattern of India but all admits it, so it’s already passing through a makeover. Over fancied description of sachet shampoo reminds that author has deep addiction of watching the “advertising contents” of nonstop TV channels, because he is clueless that an Indian management professor, C.K.Prahlad, who had coined the term “fortune lies at the bottom of pyramid” that furthered the consumerism at down of hierarchy. It deserves accolade as sensible capitalist agenda which maximises profit and also forward even a tint of welfare. But alas this book has written so flat and pointless, that not even a single aspect of new India have carried in proper light, that’s gross injustice with the title of this book!

It’s indeed ironical that the free and fair exchanges of views are still being blocked by the narrow pursuits and over consideration on geography, race, history etc as reference points. The second big concern is the lack of sound studies, rhetoric is swiftly catching it as substitute which is indeed unfortunate and not going to do well for anyone in longer course. Surprisingly, no Indian scholars is trying to distort the historical basics of west, even the post-colonial writings are basically dealt through the narratives of struggle between power and subjects not as the conflict of culture. These malices are the brainchild of western world and their time is over now, so cultural discourse or historical writing should be no longer written through the prism of empire. World is free, so should be the thought in both east and west…Patrick and rest fellows should understand it and must adopt a good reading habit of Indian writings, that’s indeed very rich in different areas. As knowing the conflicts of growth in India through an outside perspective, this book would be an essential read for both the incorrigibially optimist and pessimist readers!
Atul Kumar Thakur
New Delhi, February 05, 2012, Sunday

Interpreting Tagore

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Rabindranath Tagore: An Interpretation by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, Penguin/2011, 306 pp; Rs499 (Hardback)

There are many shades of Tagore’s personality, and so diverse are the attentions of scholars on his works and life. Among the Indian scholars on Tagore, name of Sabyasachi Bhattacharya is most remarkable. His publication, The Mahatma and the Poet: Letters and Debates between Gandhi and Tagore made history simple and further beautifully highlights the overall concern of Tagore for Indian independence and other issues of contemporary importance. If that book was entirely a new conceptualisation of knowing the great persona of Tagore and Gandhi through the impressive ranges of correspondences, here in present work, Rabindranath Tagore: An Interpretaion, author comes closer to following the general trend while inquiring the same Tagore who is very-very well known and articulated. Here, Kabir’s old couplet exactly fits on the Gurudev…
“If all the land were turned to paper and all the seas turned to ink and all
the forests into pens to write with, they would still not suffice to describe the
greatness of the guru.”

In the entire history of humankind, no one has received as much praise, adoration and coverage as did Tagore. And that was not without the reasons…he could imagine independently for a humane and naturalist existence, where he succeeded very well despite hailing from an aristocratic background. One of the countless views on him, that’s from the western world stresses that his approach was closer to the “eastern mysticism”. Which appears like a complete conflict in understanding and fails to reckon him in original; Tagore was an arch critic of “complexity “in any form and certainly the very idea of “mysticism” could be only rest on the sets of complex procedures. So in terms of the broader world views, he was humane, naturalist, creative, free thinker, rural reconstructor, great institution maker and a poet par excellent.

This book features Tagore’s life and works in short details and restrains any specific aspect to be much vigorous and complete. Pages 66-67 provides few fresh informations about Tagore for most of the general readers, here young Rabi Thakur’s early experiments with the literature creates prolific impetus to know ahead more on this. Ofcourse had few more paras were added here, this book could have of much more importance than what it is in present form. Anyhow young Tagore’s likeness for Kalidasa’ Meghadutam, his trying hand on translating Macbeth of Shakespeare and complete dislike for Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s Meghnad-badh Kavya have briefly showcased here. Another important finding on Tagore put forth here but again in inadequacy of delineation, which is as “He enjoyed reading the archaic Maithili poems of Vidyapati which he copied with his own notes on obscure words and usages”. That tries well to streamline the close sharing of two very identical languages, Bangla and Maithili…on this particular theme, there is need of further research and concentration.

Sabyasachi Bhattacharya though again with tight hand, but has atleast tried well to focus on Tagore’s intimacy with his sister-in-law, Kadambari Devi, whose sudden demise left his in emotional void. “Bhanusingher Padavali” has drawn in the fond memory of her and is the sole work of Tagore that’s so heavily influenced through the tradition of Maithili poetics. Beyond Vidyapati, indeed Kadamabari Devi was another Maithil (from Bhagalpur), who shaped his taste for this antique language and culture. On the row of national song Vande Matram, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya has written a very comprehensive book/Vande Matram: The Biography of a Song…inside this book too, Tagore’s affirmation and endorsement with the most part of this song demystifies many wrong notions attached with it.

Among the two specialties this book has, one is its holding the flared debate on Tagore’s views on nationalism. Author has comprehensively decoded the Tagore’s two novels Gora and Ghare-Baire and given the whole perspectives, why Tagore had apathy with some typical kind of nationalism but not with the nationalism itself. A closer look on Tagore’s major works allows its reader to get in the right frame of mind. He was essentially as harsh critic of violent nationalism as of the lustful imperialism…his basic urge was closer to the safety of nature and natural impulses. Under this paradigm, he was thinking beyond the boundaries but nevertheless that shouldn’t be taken, as he didn’t stand with the idea of nation. Second major theme that this book focus is on Tagore’s quest for rural reconstruction, here his path was as symmetric to humanism as of a consine bearer of nation. This verbatim of Tagore exudes, he was an ardent supporter of modern nationhood but against the idea of narrow nationalism that draws boundary and keep floating the permanent hatred on the cultural line.
“If we could free even one village from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance, an ideal for the whole of India would be established… Let a few villages be rebuilt in this way, and I shall say they are my India.”

Writing on Tagore always needs immense efforts and meticulous research. Fortunately, numerous peoples have done noticeable works in this regard, because of that; there is flow of good materials on him. But even lately, now it would be better, if some of his vision could be included in the mainframe of policy making. Education is area where his vision of “completeness” is the need of hour and that alone can make our education system more flexible and natural. It would be also imperative, if he could be taken not only as the source of knowledge but also as the inspiration of action. At this eventful juncture of history, India needs a looking back on its own thinkers rather surmising on the absentee philosophers from the different geography of the world who in reality had no proper concern for its history, present or future. Time is ripe for taking Tagore’s vision in totality and not in division. This book expresses the fundamentals of Tagore’s illustrious works and life, so readers would found it blissful knowing him in short but authentic.
Atul Kumar Thakur
New Delhi, February 05, 2012, Sunday

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Rogue Fatwas!

Book Review: Fiction/The Fatwa Girl by Akbar Agha, Hachette India/2011, 224pp; Rs325 (Paperback)

Pakistan is principally a troubled nation with its improper democracy, dictatorial arm forces and sectarian divides based on narrow fundamental convictions. As a nation, it was neither formed in essential democratic liberal tradition nor even in later periods, could ably consolidate itself as a functional democracy. Hence the force of “fundamental convictions” got the maligning authority, which should have never been the case. Despite all these extreme odds and socio-economic disparities in Pakistan, it’s encouraging to see the sizable number of peoples struggling against the tyrannical ruling beliefs in the country. If cricket is the easiest bliss or escaping route for Pakistanis, literature is certainly their most profound way of expression where the actual suffering is being noticed and further even on minimal scale gives a sense of hope for something more transparent in the system which have been remained elusive throughout the decades.

In recent times, English writing in Pakistan has been on bloom, Fatima Bhutto, Muhammad Hanif, Mohsin Hamid,Kamila Shamshie,Jamil Ahmed are among the writers who have shown immense intelligence in political writing, equally both in the sphere of fiction and non-fiction. Now Akbar Agha’s The Fatwa Girl shows, why the sensibility creates good literature and even the deep starkness cannot hide the merits of positive thinking and action. Set in the elitist background of Karachi, the early chapters’ leads to the rampage of partition that left millions badly affected through the unimagined trauma they faced and later forced to carry in their mind and soul. In brief, author has made it clear, why the Mountbatten’s beautiful wife, Edwina was the cause of hurried and painful separation? This was caused by more intimate reasons as the lady Mountbatten’s character code was too permissive for a charming man like Nehru…few months’ wait could have ruined the family life of Mountbatten, so he decided to carry on history’s bluntest administrative interference that drawn the permanent line of hatredness among the most peace loving peoples.

Amina, the central character and her childhood love Omar are hailing from the thinking family background but not so much as there the gulf of Shia-Sunnism could be outpaced with rational bonds. Resultantly love remains at its own course, but only for a shortly engaged time. Rest emanates from here the sense of losses, emptiness but not even for a moment, partial alienation could be seen anywhere in their mind. That’s the real beauty of character construction, for which Akbar Agha’s deserves all accolade. Condition forced Amina to leave her liberal engagements in literature, acting etc for marrying the demonic feudal, Rafi. He typically represents the western educated Pakistani feudal that catches conflicts with every modern thought and pursues their own virulent agendas. Amina suffers through all the despotic acts from him but realization about her husband’s activeness as the mastermind of suicide bombers came from late, but the same moment activist consine made her mind to be the victim of black acts rather a gain seeker!

In the meantime, prostitute Gulbadan’s short entry into the life of Omar gives short interlude in mainframe albeit soon, the reformative mind of Omar leads Gulbadan get emancipated and finally out from the hell. The description of Swat and Karachi’s also reminds, there is no uniformity of fundamentalism in Pakistan. Millions are suffering the same or more pain from terrorism like the peoples outside of border, so there is need of a completely reckoning the various shades that exists and determines the whole issues. Common friend Sheila’s high profile gesture is not something unheard off in the top circle of Pakistani urban society but her humane characterization as the common pool for aligning the lives makes greater sense. She persuades Amina to meet Omar, now also a Foreign Service official after years and starts fresh but here she chooses an idealism that surpasses the easy comfort!

She became the Fatwa girl, not to kill anyone but to make things clear that hatredness could be an embedded and sinful part of fundamentalism but no religion including Islam allows this. Omar is the man with immense losses with the tragical departure of his only passion, Amina; where he genuinely stands like a human being. At the end, still thinking the message left for him by Amina “if there is one fatwa that should be heard from every mosque and church, every temple and synagogue, it should be this: Love one another as God has loved you”, Omar appears like the true bearer of peace. The growing political concern among the Pakistani authors are indeed a great development, it will sure impact positively on the overall scene in the nation. In India too, writers have to think for sharing more and more realities in their fiction writing instead getting derailed on the non-issues, better suited for commercial edge. The free flows of thoughts are always better than the closed world views…so, peace rather the Fatwa’s should be prioritised, either in Pakistan or anywhere!
Atul Kumar Thakur
New Delhi, February 03, 2012, Friday

Tells of Wall Street and Beyond

Book Review: Memoir/SUIT: A Woman on Wall Street by Nina Godiawala, Hachette India/2011, 350pp; Rs395 (Paperback)

Atleast for few, capitalism is not less than a “civilisation”, long back economist Joseph Schumpeter described it and now it’s a sort of cult. This claims an accurate description of a system of relations that reorders not just relationships of wealth but culture, civic association and the most intimate transactions that characterise our personal lives. Nina Godiawala’s memoir SUIT: A Woman on Wall Street stood with better chances to suppress those bandwagon temptations and represents a case of antidote against the maddening commercial lures that furiously conditioned lives for good or bad gains.

Two things are most striking with her work, first her memoir is written in almost oblivion, as she hardly had the “celebrity “tagline while working on the book or even after that, and her unique way of interpreting the real events in fashion of fiction. Here she succeeds well and makes high senses of experimental lingual overtures, that straightforwardly demarks her from the trend chaser generation of American writers, which is terribly accustomed to produce nothing more than “trash”. Though not consciously, but she has also not desisted to assert her Indian origin by incessantly coming in sequences under the overt impression of values, that’s originally the hall mark of east. Memories are the safest assets for leaving the actual scene and yet found chances to visit it virtually-in generic evaluation; it can be placed like the “escapist route” and in broad terms, could be taken as the “last resort of cultural connects”!

Family of Nina, like the lakhs of other Indian immigrants in the western world justifies it through living in twin world, by faithful recourse or contradiction! From beginning to the end, family maintains its centrality in the book and every action of upwardly mobile young generation too never shows off any contradictory uncomfort with this most essential institution. However, she realistically denies forming the monolithic impression of family, where different world exists but without ever getting so much intensified to break it up in parts. Again, the values rule the inner nerves here that’s more often than not appears volatile and unpredictable. Here, intricate narration leaves the beautiful impact on readers’ mind and heart.

Nina’s father and grandmother are the part of that lasting generation which still adores tradition of their land and continues living with those infallible attributes of which they were once the actual bearer. But in sharp devoid, Nina’s mother had shown upholding the American life style more avidly than the basic tenets of her imaginary homeland. That compelled Nina and her sisters’ shuttling between these two familiar worlds and finally coming out with an impressive equilibrium, which can be regarded respectable in all terms. Metaphor of varied culinary preferences inside the family, from shrimp curry, Indian style sweets to sushi or cocktails depicts something more honest than merely a beguiling display of over enjoying close family gathering. Probably that adaptability assisted Nina to move from the suburban Houston for attending the top Ivy League elite management institution and making entry into top investment banks like JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley at the exotic world of Wall Street.

More than coming across the authoritarian wills and untimely sermons of Keynes or Proudhon on macroeconomic models, it seems nicer reading the real life experiences of Nina, first as an intern and later part of the high shot corporate division of global iconic banks to know, why the recession is unstoppable through the structured folly of giant global banks? She not let chances for forming any unnecessarily fancied conception about this high street of global finance, which is known alike for making and marring the aspirations and yet continuing its charming existence intact! But few successful careerists, like Nina have decency to express the inhumane inner realities that’s the mainstream functional style in any MNCs, either in finance or outside of it. She conquered the desired world and left when she could found easy days for her, which is indeed appreciable and shows something away from the recent trend of quitting high end job for making fortune in untapped areas, for tasting the unholy resources and functional designs of NGO networks.

This book is special because it has sharper focus on the state of workforce involved in global financial system instead stating the obvious about the complex financial instruments. The shapes of global financial crisis have endless models; an economist can’t have other pastime as closer as trying counting the flawed recovery, from the easily mixable alphabet and numbers. Since the grave, ofcourse not the great depression of 1929, economists have almost played the disappointing role in putting forth the timely and clear projection. Unfortunately, same or even more acute is state of affairs in the current phase where the high technological interface and globalisation have maximized the risk of bigger and unprecedented failures. Whose ominous outcomes were visible during the recession of 2007-08, when more than seven dozen financial institutions were shattered in western world and left emerging economies too under the heavy slowdown?

The open trade with bad financial instruments, wrong credit lending, inside trading and more negatively, the degraded peoples policies among the global corporations are the major constituents of never ending risk of financial crisis. Nina could shifted from banking to capital market and lately for her own skill venture, but how many can do it so easily and without getting desperate in midway? Thousands of finance persons are living less than pleasant life at Wall Street or outside under the badly constructed designs of financial firms. Family expectations keeps floating high and meeting them requires a habit of living in troubled state. This book has universal appeal with answers for many subtle concerns and would run for long among the true finance enthusiasts!
Atul Kumar Thakur
New Delhi, February 2nd, 2012, Thursday