Sunday, September 17, 2017

Frozen Frames by D Vasudeva Rao: Memory and Fulfillment

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Frozen Frames: A Life of  Fulfillment
D Vasudeva Rao
Chennai: 2017
An interesting read

The author of the book, Frozen Frames: A Life in Fulfillemt, has chosen an apt title. Reflecting on his life, Janus like, two generation before him and forward to two generations after him, Vasudeva Rao has charted his professional journey from a professional Chartered Accountant to a highly challenging and rewarding career in the world of corporate institutions, global competition and one that saw the transition of India form a protected licence and quota raj to the fast changing reality of a global India. The fact that an individual's life is caught in the cusp of  major historical and systemic forces over which he/she has little control and the choices that constitute the frozen frames of memory is the stuff of autobiography and the author has traversed this territory with ease and great aplomb.

On page 18 the author sets out the ethnic and linguistic identity of his family in terms of three terms: Marathi, Deshastha and Madhva. A linguistic, regional and a sectarian (Vaishnava Dwaita) describe the matrix within which the life can be structured and situated. Reading Vasudeva Rao's book makes one wonder how the vast tectonic social transformations in South India, the anti brahmin Movement, the triumph of the Justice Party and its later day incarnation, the DMK led to this small community which numbered around 15,000 in the Census of 1911,lose its elan and today is in the danger of losing its identity as it struggles to keep afloat against the rising tide of political, linguistic and ethnic oppression. He is a Marathi speaker and a descendent of Gyano Pant who migrated into South India when the Maratha Empire was at its height. Deshasta, meaning from the Desh as a contrast to Konkanastha, from the coast was a geographical term referring to the plains south of the Ghats and stretching into Bijapur. Madhva, a sectarian affiliation, underscores the importance the Udipi Mutts have had in shaping the collective identity of this small but vibrant community marooned on the shoals of time. The author pays equal attention to all the three aspects of his individual and social history. As the Maratha empire expanded and as there was need to collect revenue from a fragmented and dispersed land holdings from which the Confederacy drew its fiscal resources, Deshesta revenue managers were appointed in different parts of the empire. Modi remained the language of revenue records until 1834 when it was supplanted by the vernacular.

Vasudeva Rao sketches the social horizon of his own family by an extended foray into kinship, both affinal and agnatic. Family ties played an important role in providing security and opportunity. The Marathi Deshastha who settled in Madras, now Chennai, soon adopted the regal functions of patronage of culture and music and in neighbourhoods like Mylapore, Tyagaraja Nagar and Besant Nagar set up Sabhas for musical performances and theatre groups. The Raj was not the least interested in the fragments of South Indian culture that still lingered and Institutions like Music Academy set up by Shri T V Subba Rao and Vani Mahal played a seminal role in the preservation of culture and identity. The author has rightly drawn our attention to these landmark institutions.

The author has leld several senior positions in the Corporate sector and he has given rich and illuminating details of his life, achievements and personal philosophy. Like the Jews the Deshestas are modernizing while simultaneously retaining their religious rituals and performative texts. I enjoyed reading this book and is a rare document of social history as well.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Politics over Death in India: Anita and Gauri Lankesh victims of politics

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Tamil Nadu is going through it's periodic bout of politically instigated crisis like the Jallikattu Agitation soon after the killing of Jayalalithaa. Anita's death is a tragedy and the mercilessly heartless Tamil politicians are cooking their rice on the funeral pyre of this girl.

The fact is that Tamil politicians find her more useful dead than alive and so her death must be investigated. We know how people whose death is convenient for the DMK like DGP Durai and Bashs of Emerald Enterprises were found dead. More recently the guards at Jayalalithaa,,:s house were killed; one by alleged robbers at the Konsdu estate and the other on a road accident near Salem. I suspect the involvement of politicians in her death and are now milking the tragedy. None of these thugs ever bothered to protest when do dalit girls were forced to commit suicide due to their inability to pay the fees on a non descript college in Villupuram. So the fact is that politicians involved in running self financing medical colleges are threatened by NEET and hence this Agitation. Anita seems to have been a bright student who secure 1186  marks in her Board Examination. However she was able to get only 86 marks in the All India entrance examination for admission to Medical School. She approached the Supreme Court as a petitioner against NEET on the plea that it discriminated against those who studies in the State Board Scheme and favored the CBSE students. The Supreme Court of India did not find merit in this argument at all and made NEET the sole basis for admission to the MBBS course. It is also binding on Minority Institutions.

There is a thriving racket in Medical Education in India and Tamil Nadu is one state in which politicians are financing their elections through "capitation fees" extorted from students. A seat in a Medical College sells for nearly a crore and only the rich and the corrupt can afford to send their wards to medical schools. The NEET was an attempt to bring about accountability and transparency in the system and this process adversely affected the fortunes of the very politicians who were involved in running the Medical Colleges. A cabal of medical educators and their political supporters started a movement against NEET and like the earlier Jallikkattu Agitation soo went out of hand. Students who did not protest when 6 dalit girls committed suicide when the College extorted money in the form of special feels to the tunme of a few thousand rupees started agitating for the abolition of NEET. The hold of the predatory Tamil politicians on the minds of the stdents is rather disturbing. Fortunately the Supreme Court has directed the state govertnments to take firm steps to control the unseely protests.

Gauri Lankesh was killed two days back and the comments of the Clown Prince of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi and Sitaram, the former General Secretary of the violent and criminal CPM have started a war of words in the Indian Media. The politicians hoping to gain political mileage started the whisper campaignb that the BJP was behind the murder and BJP was quick in its reponse. The fact is that the family of the slain journalist who was convicted for publ;ishing false and slanderous news, has blamed a Naxalite for the killing. It has become fashionable to blame the RSS for everyting. In the earlier muders of Kalburgi and others the RSS was blamed and in one case it was determined that property dispute lay at the root of the crime. A few days back Pankaj Mishra a Hindi journalist was shot for publishing a story on the corruption of Laloo Prasad Yadava and onver the course of the past two years several jouralists have been killed and there was no outrage. The Media in India seems to be embracing selecctive outrage and that is not a good sigh for democracy.

Gauri Lankesh inherited her paper from her father who started the Magazine as a scandal sheet and made a lot of money by practicing the fine art of blackmail, extortion and mixed it with a social agenda of anti brahmanism, Gauri herself was a late advocate of a separate identity for the Lingayats and this may have created ripples. In any event the BJP and RSS had nothing to do with her death and it is upto the state government to investigate and arrst the culprits.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Narendar Modi's Independence Day Address to the Nation

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

On August 15th Narendar Modi addressed the Nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi, a ritual that was begun by Jawarlal Nehru. The speech itself, just over fifty five minutes long, was significant for what it said and more significant for want it left out. Cleverly crafted, the speech hit all the right notes: it addressed the pluralistic ethos of India and also underscored the need to reach out to the people of Kashmir. Na Gali se na Goli se, magar gala lagane se: Not with hars rhetoric or bullets but with love can the problem of Kashmir be solved, This is a throwback to the call for Insaniyat made several years back by Atal Behari Vajpayee,

First; let me state what was left out. There was no word on the Agrarian Crisis that is sweeping the country. Everyday more than a dozen farmers are committing suicide all over the country. Modi chose not to address this vital problem. Job creation has not really been addressed. During the run up to the 2014 General Election, Narendar Modi spoke about jobs and development. In thios Speech, three years after coming to power, he remains silent on this vital question. Jobs have all but disappeared and the jobs that have been created are just low skill, low paying jobs in the service sector. With much fan fare Skill India Digital India was launched and the Make in India programme launched a few years back. Today these initiatives reamin just pious hopes, nothing has changed on the ground. Quite wisely, Narendar Modi when he spoke of making a New India wisely kept these initiative out of his discourse. He knows that the ground reality is much different.

On the issue of demonitization, Modi was on firm ground. There is no doubt that the move has led to a vast increase in the tax base and revenue of the Government. The discovery of 300,000 lakh crores of hidden wealth will go a long way in putting an end the the menance of Balck Money. There is no doubt that demoniotization has been a success and the promise of a cash less digital economy has not been realized.

The Government of India under narendar Modi is neglecting the whole Higher Education Sector. I agree that the previous Governm,ents have destroyed the fabric of Indian higher education. However, the present Government has not taken any concrete steps to improve the quality and content of education. It rankels Indian mind that China has atleat 20 Universities in the world's top Universities and India has none. However, the polcies enunciated so far are not conducive to any great change in this arena. The neglected sector of Higher Education is being killed by begeign neglect.

Modi did not mention the tension at the border. This may be a deliberate decision in order to play down the differences with China.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Twenty Fifth Convocation of Pondicherry University

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

This morning Pondicherry University held its 25th Convocation and as usual, it was a grand event. The Lt Governor of Pondicherry and the Chief Minister of the  Union Territory Shri V Narayanaswamy were both present for the occasion. The Vice Chancellor, Professor Anisa Basheer Khan read out the Convocation Report in which the great strides taken by the University were highlighted. Furthermore, the anxious moments of the last few months were momentarily set aside and the dignitaries graced the event with elan. Justice R Mahadevan, High Court of Madras, gave the Convocation Address in
which he stressed the importance of keep an open mind towards learning.

Dr Kiran Bedi had a special message for the teachers and stated very categorically that teachers should be learners first.

Dr Kiran Bedi, Lt Governor of Pondicherry at the 25th Convocation

Dr Kiran Bedi distributing the degree certificates.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Big Data Algorithms, Inequality and World History: Two Books, Two Visions

Writing the History of the Global

WEapons of Mass Destruction
A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The two books reviewed in this blog make interesting reading. the Weapons of Math Destruction by Dr Cathy O'Neil, a Ph D in Mathematics from Harvard University is a spell binding account of the misuse of Statistical Big Data in the world today and the consequent rise in income inequality which in turn widens the gulf between the super rich and those struggling to get along in the world. She points out that the growing trend towards using sophisticated algorithms by corporations such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and the like enable advertisers to target their potential clients with a fair amount of precision. There is a fascinating description of the US Educational Ranking system and the calculated manner in which educational ranking is used to extract Federal Educational Loans on the promise that a College Education will increase the chances of getting a secure well paying job. The author also analyses in great detail the smart, highly educated army of Data Analysts sporting fancy degrees from Ivy League Universities who by letting the Algorithms predict the flow of funds and Capital in the highly volatile realm of high finance contributed to the sub prime crisis that engulfed USA in 2008. Even Barack Obama intervention helped only the big companies escape the consequences of their financial profligacy and his bail out package only shifted the burden onto the shoulders of an already weakening Middle Class. This book is an eye opener and for those who believe that technology is a panacea that is creating a safer and a more democratic world. this is a must read text.

Writing the History of the Global by Maxine Berg is an imaginative look at the cross currents of debate in the field of Global History/World History. The fact that Historiography in the modern sense of the term was the out growth of the advent of the Nation State meant that writing the histories of the Nation State was taken to be the real and vital task of the professional Historian. The Nation State dictated its own narrative and Historians had to find justification for their task within the limits set of the Nation State. The contrived debates in India between the Secularists and their opponents is essentially a debate between the political conceits of the Nation State and the Civilizational Ethos of an Old but Wounded Civilization. The disillusionment with the contrived and false pretensions of the Nationalist view of History and the Leftist paradigms led to the rise of the so called Subaltern School. With its marriage of convenience with the post colonial/linguistic approaches to the past, the subalterns lost all credibility leaving behind a wreckage of unreadable prose. The Global History perspective elaborated in this book is an excellent alternative to the procrustean bed of Nation State Histories. Trade, Conquest, Migration have always linked the world and such trend and developments do not adhere to the limits of the present day Nation State.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tamil A Biography by David Shulman

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books
Tamil A Biography

The book under review is an account of the Tamil language situated in its historical and linguistic context. It is one of the unfortunate intellectual legacies of the colonial era that many of the discredited theories pertaining to racial origin, evolution of language, scriptal literacy, religion are all wrapped up in the dense fog of ideology that it is today impossible to deal with some of these issues dispassionately. It takes a peace activist from Israel, the well known Indologist and historian, David Shulman to write about these and other issues with integrity and deep commitment to scholarship.

I have not come across a book that captures the complexity of Tamil literary and political history as eloquently and with scholastic depth as the present book. It is quite obvious that the present breed of Tamil "intellectuals" will rail against the account given by Shulman as he completely destroys the self serving myth, perpetuated over two centuries that Tamil has an origin independent of Sanskrit. Until Cauldwell made "Dravidian" into both a linguistic and racial characteristic, the term Dravida was used in Tamil literary works only as a geographical expression.

The nineteenth century which saw the crystallization of racially charged theories, bequeathed to India a toxic legacy in the form of the Aryan/Dravidian Dichotomy, the Aryan Invasion Myth, the conflict between the oldest Tamil language and the upstart Sanskrit language. All these theories, though discredited have traction due to the purchase of identity politics in India. Hence, it is essential to read Shulman very carefully as he has argued effectively that throughout the medieval period, the Age of the Cholas, Sanskrit enjoyed a privileged status in the royal court and that status was neither resented nor did it lead to the sort of shadow boxing we find in the last century when the "Pure Tamil " movement sought to expurgate Sanskrit from the Tamil language altogether.

David Shulman, unlike Asko Parpola and others is a recognized authority on Sanskrit Language and Literature and knows nearly 24 languages including Telugu, Kanada and a host of European and Asian Languages. His own early foray into Tamil history when he wrote Tamil Temple Myths marked him as one who uses literary texts in new and novel ways. The tallapuramam of medieval Tamil region were studies against the general background of history and iconography in this work which was followed by King and Clown in South Indian Myth and Poetry a path breaking work on the textual construction of South Indian kingship. More recently, Whitney Cox has added to the thin corpus of historical investigation in his Politics, Kingship and Poetry in Medieval South India (Cambridge University Press, 2016). This line of investigation, a new historicist perspective that melds the fluid poetry of medieval Tamil compositions to the firm foundation of historiography.

Tamil A Biography demolishes three fundamental myths of the dominant political ideology prevalent in Tamil Nadu today and pervades the entire gamut of academic studies on early Tamil Language and Literature. As he says, "In modern South India Tamil has become a major criterion for collective identity, often seen now as forged in opposition to Sanskrit and an invasive north Indian culture and ideology". Shulman goes on to show that the Chola royal court was bilingual with Sanskrit enjoying the same status as Tamil and there is no sign of any conflict, real or imagined during the four centuries of Chola rule. The advent of the anti brahmin movent meant that the South Indian brahmins were represented as agents of the alien culture and that was used as a justification for excluding them form public and cultural life altogether. The scholarship of David Shulman goes a long way in correcting the distortions of the past. His discussion of the enduring presence of the Agasthya Myth, a north Indian therefore a putative Aryan as the founder of Tamil Grammar is both convincing and sound.

The date of the so called Cankam literary works and the presence of the enigmatic Kalabrahs are two vexed issues in early Tamil literary history. Following Tieken, Shulman also argues for a late date for the Cankam works, There is little evidence to show that the puram and akam varieties of poems were contemporaneous with the Roman presence in South India and the graffiti marks found on pot shrds from sites like Arikamedu, Porunthal, Kodumanal and other places do not help in tading the Cankam literary works. There seems to be a close association between Bhakti literature and the redacted bardic poetry of early Tamil region. His disdussion of the Sangam tradition based on the Velvikkudi Copper plate Inscription is interesting.

The work under review is a classic and will remain a reliable introduction to Tamil language and literary history.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Donald Trump Attacks Syria: War on False Pretext

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Donald Trump was elected President on the promise that he would Put America First, Make America Great Again was the rallying cry which unitied a vast swathe of supporters from white factory workers, to Latinos, to marginalized groups in US society. Almost all sections which sdaw their incomes fall their aspiration erode voted for Trump. The white privileged professional groups in the Academia, Media, Financial Institutions and in the Intelligence Organizations were solodly behind Hialry Clinton. Right from the start there was an attempt to delegitimize the election of Trump by suggesting overtly in the beginning and then it became an avalance of allegations that Russia under Putin had hijacked the Elections. Specifically the allegation was that Russia had hacked into the servers of the Democratic Party and acessed emails which embarassed and compromised the candidature of Clinton. The assumption behind the campaign was that had the misdeed of the leadership of the DNC colluding illegally with Hil;ary Clinton not been exposed, Trump would have been defeated. It is shocking that a sizeble section of the US media maintains this self serving  lie.

After his election there was a sustained campaign of weaning away a good number of pledged delegates from the Electoral College and transfer their votes to Clinton. In the final count, it was Hilary delegates who drifted into the Trump camp. Be taht as it may, Trump in his flamboyantly eloquent Inaugural Speech promised a end to the "American Carnage". And in resposne to a white correspondent who asked about the "killer" Putin, Trump honestly replied that "we are not exactly innocent". The honesty and forthrightness that had marked Trump's initial foray into the rarefied realm of diplomacy was met with utter derision by the White Liberal Media. Calls for his impeachment over the so called links with Russia were getting strident. Some like Fareed Zakharia of the CNN were openly sceptical about the stability of the Trump regime and the defeta of the repeal of Obamacare seem to imply the imminent demise of the Trump Presidency. To top it all, the Intelligency community was openly hostile and there was some speculation of the CIA doing a Kennedy on Trump. The President stood up to all these challenges well and earned the respect of all who felt that Trump no longer stood for American exectionalism and leadership over a unipolar world.

The hard earned respect that Trump had earned was dissipated when he ordered his crusie missiles to strike Syria as retaliation for an alledged "gas attack". The US medcia was quick to balme the Assad Government. It must be said that similar allegations were made in 2013 by John Kerry and the UN had certified that Syria did not possess chemical weapons. By making an issue of the chemical weapons and by stating publically that the use of chemical weapons would draw a quick retaliation from the uS, American policy seemed to encourage its loyal rebels to create a pretext for intervention. It is now apparent that the Free Syrian Army is being trained and fiananced by USA and a faction of the Free Syrian Army which is linked to ISIS is known to have stckpiles of chemical weapons. Strangely the US fights ISISI in Rraq and is supporting ISIS in Syria. The contradiction in this policy is clear to the whole world except to the Deep State that runs the US. It is clear that an influential section of the Media and the Intelligence Community is pushing USA in the direction of war.

It must be said to the credit of Donald Trump that he valiantly resisted yeilding to the pressures from the Deep State and now it is clear as daylight that he has bought peace without honour by launching a savage attack just to appear "Presidential".