118 years of Trust THE TRIBUNE

Sunday, January 17, 1999
modern classics
Bollywood Bhelpuri


Living Space
Garden Life
Wide angleLine


Tale of the trailblazing Comet
Laugh lines
By Amrita Dhingra

"I don’t want to go under!!!" you yell in absolute desperation.

"But darling you must practice," says Carrie with quiet insistence just before plunging your head into the depths of the bathtub.

Spluttering you come up, out of breath and terrorised... Thank God it was only a dream! Heaving yourself up against the pillows you breath a sigh of relief and wipe the brow which as anyone would predict is indeed glistening with sweat.

But your hand which had risen to take a second swipe at the brow halts midway.... swish, slash. ....Bang. The noise echoed around the flat shaking every visible bit of furniture. You jump out of your skin and hop out of bed simultaneously. There is silence for around 30 seconds during which you wonder if (a). It is the end of the world, (b). This is an earthquake measuring 7 on the Richter’s scale or (c). You are suffering from hallucinations as a result of your encounter with Carrie in the nightmare. Then it comes again swish, slash, bang. The bang being so powerful as to make that shaky molar at the back of your jaw vibrate.

When you open the door armed with your driver you look left prior to looking right but see no one in sight. Except Comet, who is walking towards the end of the living-room. He hasn’t noticed you yet and bemused, you watch him. Upon reaching the end of the living room he glares at the front door with all the suppressed venom of a soldier with a bayonet glaring at the enemy. Then he starts to gallop, charging one-third of the way to the door before coming to an abrupt halt. This results in his skidding across the polished wooden floor in glorious fashion with him back-pedalling with great gusto....swish, slash....scratching the floor before...bang...smashing into the door and shaking it on its hinges.

"Comet"! That’s it! Frank and his bloody dog can go off on their own. Enough is enough.

The bloody dog lets out a deep woof as if to say well there you are! But you are in no mood for conversations with delinquent canines.

"Frank!" You bang the door of the guestroom. No reply. It angers you further to know that while his stupid dog was wrecking your flat your friend is soundly asleep in his bed.

"Frank!" No reply. No groan. No grunt. No stirring.

"Frank!" You storm into the room.

It is empty. The bed is made. But there is no sign of Frank. There is no space programme tie lying around, no sign of his luggage. You espy a note lying on the table, swiftly taking it up you read on. As a piece of literature it is not worth much, Frank’s ability in composition has not improved much since you last saw him. Something in you despairs at his ever winning the Nobel prize for literature.

"Have decided to go up to Jameson’s place to see Carrie and convince her for myself. Take care of Comet. He is a sensitive dog.

So long!


P.S:- Comet hates being left alone at home".

Needless to say this caused you to gnash a tooth or two. Sensitive dog, indeed! Ha! At that precise moment Comet wandered into the room having apparently given up his imitation of a battering ram for the moment and coming around to see you as if to say, "Well there you are all settled then, eh?"

As a consequence of the above mentioned events you found yourself smuggling up a St. Bernard into the office via the backstairs. There was no way you were going to risk the lift. Urging your secretary to keep this to herself, you let him into the office where he promptly flopped onto the rug and fell into deep slumber. Heaving a sigh of relief you turned your mind to the business of the day.

It was no use of course. A man’s private life has to be in some sort of order for him to be dealt with the interests of multi-million dollar conglomerates. You dashed off the following e-mail to Fiona.

"Frank — old pal and errant space scientist coming your way. Do not, repeat, do not tell him about betrothal to Carrie. You will be minus your only brother if you do. Keep him out of my hair. Please. Going out of my mind with Comet".

You counted on Carrie’s hauteur to prevent Frank’s discovery of your betrothal at least for the next 24 hours. The way life was going at the minute, 24 hours was like a lifetime.

That done you make for the boss’s office. You find him swivelling in front of a full-length mirror.

"Will I do, eh?" he says not turning watching his tie intently in the mirror.

"Big date?"


Which explains the clothes rack and the valet standing at hand.

"Going out?"

"No, no she’s coming here!" he says pulling too hard at the knot and letting out a frustrated sigh when it comes undone. "Only trouble is I wish it were anyone else. I wouldn’t care half as much if Cleopatra were coming". At this he pulls his rotund figure together by means of a deep breath and carries on, "I once worshipped the ground this woman walked on. Only she turned into an activist. Wanted to ban liquor all over the world!" The boss is a man who enjoys his amber poetry as well as the next man. "It was a sad day my boy when we fell apart, I opposed her, fought her tooth and nail on the issue. Only got over it when I met Amanda’s mother...."

"So now she’s back?"

"Business not pleasure." The valet knotted the tie perfectly and the boss turned away from the mirror with a last satisfied smile. "Only make sure she doesn’t spot a drinks cabinet floating around or that’ll be the last we see of this deal."

"She’s the director of Sandler & Co.?"

"Right, and it’ll do well to remember we want no trouble where they are concerned!"

After this conversation with the boss you were even more determined to see that no trouble, repeat, no trouble cropped up. With this end in mind you went back to your office and shifted the portable bar, which was a part of the decor of all the high-powered executive offices, into its niche in the wall and locked it. There! Comet who was still taking his repose on the rug refused to acknowledge your presence so you put on your most conservative tie, the one you hoped would go down well with Ms Templeton, and headed for the boardroom.

Alan Stokes did not disappoint you. He may be the worst rat to inhabit a rotten place but he did not disappoint you. It had taken him time but now he had come up with trick worthy of him and now he fully justified your faith in the utter rottenness of his heart. As the conference began he took his place opposite you as Amanda’s deputy, you ignored his presence completely focusing instead on Ms Templeton who had just accompanied the boss into the room.

Iron grey hair, perfectly etched brows, which you had no doubt would be very effective when required to be raised just that quarter of an inch which signifies total disbelief, and a clear gaze which missed nothing. Alan Stokes was over effusive in his welcome and swarmed to their side, like the bloodsucking mosquito that he was. You kept your seat, kept your head and carried on with the business of getting a deal.

Well into the midst of the new contract and concentrating like the blazes, for Ms Alicia Templeton drove a hard bargain, there came a shriek.

"Heeelllppp !!" The unmistakable shriek of a damsel in distress.

The boardroom party sat up with a jerk, and their hearts took a convulsive leap in the general direction of the mouths. The junior most executive sitting at the bottom of the table, no doubt wondering where he would fit in, said "Gosh!"

Ms Templeton raised one finely etched eyebrow and turned a fraction of a degree towards the boss. Clearly this wasn’t welcome, clearly this would have to stop.

"Heeelllppp!!", continued the now clearly hysterical woman, who had several more indistinguishable exhortations for her expected rescuer.

"Would you see what the matter is?" said the boss turning to you, avoiding Alicia Templeton’s eye.

"Of course Sir". Smoothly, steadily you slid back your chair and stood up. Only you didn’t! You couldn’t! The chair refused to slide back, you couldn’t stand up. Trying not to give anything away you pushed once again. Nothing. With growing horror you realised you were stuck to the chair.

"Come on then, go and see what all this ruckus is about," the boss was getting even more nervous. Not without reason too. A quick look at Ms Templeton confirmed the fact that her mouth had taken on that expression which is halfway between lips pursed in exasperation and half-a-smile.

Mentally gnashing your teeth you pushed back and endeavoured to stand up. No luck. You were stuck. Alan Stokes sitting opposite grinned like a hyena. It was all too clear that he was the skunk behind the trick.


"For God’s sake man don’t just sit there. Do something!" The boss turned an angry red.

Ms Templeton, and you blessed her heartily for this, chose at this point to calmly rise from her seat and walk out through the door intent no doubt on investigating the matter herself.

"Of all the foolish things..." the boss followed her out without completing his statement. You, however, had no doubt what he wanted to say.

That is how everyone, even the junior most executive filed out after them. Alan Stokes gave you a got-you-aha look and leapt out of the room when you threw a leather-bound project report at him. Much to your chagrin it missed him by a couple of inches.

Turning back to the matter at hand you had to do something to separate yourself from this prolonged attachment with the chair. It is a modern world where being different is great but there is place where a man must draw the line and yours you felt was here. There was no way you could or you would tolerate this extended tenure in your chair. Calling someone to help you was out of the question. The glue Alan Stokes had used was no doubt one that stuck fast and the only was to get out of the chair was to get out of your trousers.

So with a good deal of acrobatics and skills generally associated with the rubberman in a circus, you rid yourself of your tailors pride and joy. Then swiftly taking an on-the-spot-decision, for it was fairly certain to you that an on-the-spot decision was called for, you ripped off a neighbouring curtain wound it around your waist and made your way to the hubub of excitement.

The excited gaggle of voices led you to Alan Stokes’ office. You had apparently arrived just in time. A hysterical secretary was perched on top of his desk while Alan Stokes ran around the room in a deranged fashion; for hot on his heels was Comet. Comet who was high on spirits, having apparently imbibed much of the same from Stokes’ trolley of drinks.

"Woof, wooof", remarked Comet occasionally as he ran circles around Stokes making playful grabs for the seat of his trouser now and then.

"The dog is apparently drunk!" said Alicia Templeton, directing an accusatory glance at the old man.

"Stokes what is the meaning of all this?" demanded the agitated boss.

"I’m sorry .....sir!" huffed the miserable Stokes protecting his derriere from a determined set of jaws, "but I don’t know this..." He didn’t get further. The average St. Bernard is not nippy. But Comet was not the average St. Bernard, he was as we all know a trailblazer. No doubts it had been his ambition in life from his tender years, to go down as the most bizarre dog in the history of dogdom. He took a hefty bit of Alan Stokes suit off in one nip.

Alan Stokes fell to the floor, Comet encumbered suddenly by his stagnant figure fell on top of him.

"Ohmigosh!" said the junior executive whose hair had an annoying tendency, he felt, to stand up when he was excited.

"Drunk!" said Ms Templeton before storming off. The boss made after her and you took charge of the situation.

Saved by the fiasco that had taken place in Stokes’ office you were able to put your own drama aside. Comet showed an extreme reluctance to get off Stokes who was groaning like the lowlife he was.

Standing tall in your Bedouin robe of the flowery curtain and your shirt you, whistled to Comet.

"Come here boy!" He bounded to your side, still a little tipsy but game for whatever lay in store. Then casting a steel-eyed, cold and contemptful glance at Stokes, forbidding the junior executive from hauling him off the floor, you strode off to your own office.

It was clear that you had misjudged the dog Comet for his heart was made of genuine 24-carat gold . Paying rich tributes to his ingenuity and tickling him behind the ear, you ordered your secretary to send for several choice cuts of meat for him.

Feeling satisfied, you put down the phone. Life had thrown a lot at you in the past two hours and no doubt there was still a great deal that needed doing. Still for the moment you were content to enjoy Alan Stokes’ waterloo. But that joy was not allowed to carry on uninterrupted. For you become conscious of a tugging at you Bedouin outfit.

"Pssst" hissed a voice from the nether regions of your desk.

Relevance of welfare economics

Amartya Sen

By R.N. Malik

BIMAL ROY depicted poverty and atrocities of zamindars in Do Bigha Zamin and won many filmfare awards. Amartya Sen wrote 200 papers and 22 books on poverty and famine and won the Nobel Prize for the year 1997-98 and glorified India and its poor. Wall Street Journal paid the richest tribute when it called Sen a "Student of the World’s Miserable" i.e. Deen Bandhu (friend of the poor). Winning the Nobel Prize is not a joke. It is awarded to a person who has done monumental work in the field of a particular discipline either by making a wonderful discovery or by writing a treatise.

Amartya Sen’s writings on famine and poverty is no less than a treatise. Its central theme is now called ‘welfare economics’. It echoes the same feelings which Majrooh penned in his famous lyric Andhere main jo baithe hain, nazar un per bhi kuchh dalo arrey "o" roshni walo.

The phase of showering platitudes on Sen is over. The question now asked ad nauseum is: How can the model of welfare economics be applied to India to banish her poverty for good? This question has been raised but not answered so far. Indian economists have not come-forward to describe Amartya Sen’s work articulately. Only K.N. Raj, Ashok Mitra and Ramesh Jairam have made some passing remarks on this work. When Indian journalists confronted Prof Amartya Sen on this issue, he gave a simple answer — "Follow Kerala". The advice contains a hidden meaning.

Before analysing this answer, a look at Indian poverty is needed. India has rich people (see the posh colonies of South Delhi) but their percentage on the national scale is very small. The middle class is fairly spread in Punjab, Haryana, Kerala,Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Western UP, thanks to the Green Revolution and industrialisation. Other states abound in a population of extremely poor people living under sub-human conditions. The demarcation separating human and sub-human conditions is gloriously called the poverty line. About 45 per cent Indians still live below this line in dehumanising conditions. Besides, poor housing and insanitation, their diet is totally without nourishing elements. They get no vegetables, no milk and no fruits. Walk through Rajiv or Indira Colony of Panchkula to see things for yourself. Looking at their conditions one feels as if "God is dead for them."

The population explosion is the main cause of this wide-spread poverty. If the present population were what it was in 1971, India would have been counted amongst rich nations of the world, with better distribution of wealth. The USA and European countries are prosperous because their populations have not grown more than 0.5 per cent per per annum, during the last hundred years. In contrast, India enjoys a 2.25 per cent increase. One Australia is added every year to our population. Only zero growth can ensure a better qualitative life in future it is achieved in the next few years. After 20 years, it will be of no use as by that time India will be having a thoroughly unmanageable population of 125 crore.

Let us look at Kerala model. Population in Kerala increases only at the rate of 1.25 per cent per year. Kerala consists of extremely wise people and politicians. Traditionally, the literacy rate in this state has been highest in India. Simultaneously, an intensive programme for expanding health education and health services has been launched. It also launched a successful campaign for rural and urban sanitation. Sanitation is an area which gives maximum returns with minimum economic costs. The result was that in the year 1983 itself, Kerala achieved all the targets set by WHO under its "Health for all" programme — potable water supply, 25 per cent sanitation, low infant mortality rate, accessibility of health services at affordable cost and 1.4 per cent increase in population annually. Had the Union Government exhorted other states to follow Kerala’s example in 1983, things would have been different.

Following the Kerala model is a good proposition but it is too late to give the desired results. Tangible results on the population front (through education and persuasion) will accrue after at least 15 years by which time over-crowding may become unaccommodable.About 1.2 per cent of 150 crore population is eqivalent to 2 per cent of 60 crore. The reasons for late accrual are two fold. Firstly, the poeple in other states, particularly Bihar, are less responsive to family planning measures than Keralites because of their being steeped in ignorance. Secondly, the Muslim population has some religious reasons for refusal to adopt family planning norms.

At this stage it may be possible to educate the youth but not the adults in the reproductive age group. Target groups mostly belong to the labour class. Their mindset is that the child of a labourer must be a labourer as his future is better than that of an unemployed, educated youth. In such situation, only the Chinese method of strict legislative control can bring the desired results.

The basics of Amartya Sen’s economic philosophy are:

(a) Social goals are more important than economic goals.

(b) Human beings are a vital resource. The development of this resource is all-important for the ultimate prosperity of a nation.

(c) An optimal way of developing human resource is to invest in eduation and health programmes.

(c) Rise in the GDP of a nation has no meaning if the rich-poor gap is not narrowed down.

(d) Deaths due to starvation, during famines, mostly takes place in dictatorial regimes. People have died even when the commodities were there in the market as they had no money to purchase. Hoardings or spurious selling aggravate the situation. The commodities in market return to the rich till the poor are also given the money or subsidies to purchase them.

The first part of Dr Sen’s prescription i.e. need for greater investment in health and education to achieve ultimate prosperty is fully ingrained in the Kerala model. It must be appreciated that under the circumstances, the government of India is doing its best to redistribute wealth through various welfare schemes e.g. old age pension; reservation of vacancies for handicapped persons, scheduled castes and tribes and economically backward section of society.

Sen’s advice to treat human beings as a vital resource was best reflected when the government renamed the Education Ministry as Ministry for Human Resource Development. The government knows very well that investment in health and education sectors is essential but its choices are limited. In fact, investment in every core sector seems a top priority. It is very difficult to decide what to leave or what to pick up first. The government cannot spend on education and health alone at the cost of roads, water supply, electrification, transport, industrialisation and power development etc. The problem of over-population has become so gigantic that even investment of total budget in the two fields looks a pittance.

What Sen says is true in principle — mere increase in GDP by boosting market economy is not enough until the rich and poor gap is narrowed down. However, he forgets that in a democracy, the government cannot straigthaway rob Peter to pay Paul. The problem for India is how to survive and hold the fort of present economic level in view of severe international competitive and export-oriented economies. Manmohan Singh did just that Yashwant Sinha too is struggling to hold the line. Every country is working on a strategy of ensuring maximum exports and minimum imports except the USA. The USA rules the world through the IMF, World Bank, brain drain and direct foreign investment (FDI).

The currency meltdown in South Asia, current global recession and right suffering set-backs in Russia prove Sen’s remarks right that "Subject called economics has been practiced wrongly". Yes, it has been practiced on wrong lines but economic currents due to low and high pressure zones will always flow like the movement of the wind under one sun and over one sea. Sometimes right will fail and left succeed and sometimes left will fail and right succeed.

Stability in economy can be ensured only if there is one world government and national boundaries are totally demolished and there is total financial discipline in each state. But this assumption can never come true.

Sen’s treatise is divided on distribution of wealth through welfare schemes and on crisis management in famines. Surprisingly, he is totally silent on growth and population explosion — the basic cause of poverty and social tensions. Now come to famines.When Indian journalists asked him how to prevent 1943 like situation of famines, he remarked succinctly. "There will be no famine in a democracy".

The message is clear — under political compulsions and press coverage — every democratic government will take immediate measures to prevent starvation deaths and despatch food from its buffer stocks and start food for work programmes. In famine conditions, the worst fears of Sen have been, that commodities despatched to the famine areas were not available to the poor because they had no money to buy. But in India, the food for work programme proved to be of instant success. In 1987, only two steps saved the famine like situation getting out of control i.e. digging up shallow tube wells to save the Rabi crop and food for work programme.

The famine of onions was recently tackled through imports. The famine caused due to destructions of 80 per cent banana crop in Hunudras by Hurricane Mitch is being tackled through international aid. The earthquake disaster in 1993 in Maharashtra was adequately coped with both by national and international efforts. The traditional concept of famine as only caused by failure of rains will have to be changed. Any shortage caused by a natural disaster e.g. floods, earthquake, epidemics, untimely rains and hoarding should be called a famine.

But work on famines harps only on a situation caused by a natural disaster. He is silent on continuous famine like conditions of 45 per cent Indians wallowing in poverty. The conditions are as good or as bad as during a famine minus starvation deaths. Govt’s spending on education and health is only a long term measure to alleviate poverty.

What India needs immediately is the control of population to achieve zero growth and development of hydroelectric energy. There is no third alternative available. These are the two reforms which India needs instantly without which other reforms fail to materialise. What people do not understand is that India’s population of 97 crore has outgrown her productivity. Controlling population to zero growth level over a period of 20 to 25 years will be of no use as by that time it will reach at 125 crore level. Managing 125 crore a population is not an easy job for any Govt. The resultant overcrowing will make every system dysfunctional.Symptoms of dysfunctional functioning have started appearing already.

In the end, one must admit, that Prof Sen’s work on welfare economics has brought glory to India and its people by his winning the nobel prize in economics, a milestone which no Asian has crossed so far. Till now, the nobel prize had gone to those intellectuals who have worked on market economy. His philosophy is most relevant to India because she is mostly inhabited by poor.

Agreed, that Govt’s financial position is tight, but there are areas where govt’s minimum spending can bring light in the lives of poor and downtrodden. These two areas are slum clearance and sanitation. Living in a clean environment even without a wholesome diet is a great satisfaction. Back

Home Image Map
| Interview | Bollywood Bhelpuri | Living Space | Nature | Garden Life | Fitness |
Travel | Modern Classics | Your Option | Time off | A Soldier's Diary |
Wide Angle | Caption Contest |