|Sunday, January 2, 2000, |
Citizenship values have eroded
Redeeming promises made to people
Looking beyond the culture of survival
by Harihar Swarup
Among the Rajputs I
Citizenship values have eroded
AS we rejoice in the onset of the new millennium, we must dispassionately take stock of the problems facing the country in diverse fields. One of them is the erosion of citizenship values. Such a discussion is particularly relevant and timely in the context of the completion of fifty years of the promulgation of the Constitution and the ongoing debate on constitutional reforms.
For the vast majority of people belonging to the socially and economically weaker sections of society, tribes and minorities, the Constitution has not made much difference and could as well have been a coffee-table book! For them, life has not seen any significant change after the Constitution came into being. A great deal of what the Constitution says is elitist and not of much relevance to relieve the drudgery of their pitiful and miserable existence. The citizenship values reflected in the Constitution are mostly based on middle-class, or rather higher-middle-class, value system. The first and the foremost question is how to find a reflection of the aspirations of the poor and the outcast of society in the citizenship values reflected in the Constitution.
Looking back, one cannot but come to the conclusion that the founders should have thought of a somewhat different scheme for the Constitution. Some may consider it impractical, but, looking at the interests of the common man, the Directive Principles should also have been laid down as fundamental rights. The Directive Principles are much more relevant for the well-being of the millions of poor, under-privileged and neglected sections of society which continue to be on the periphery of our concerns. Financial constraints cannot be permitted to come in the way of translating them into reality.
Thus, the opposition to a uniform civil code is based more on ideological grounds. Certain other principles, such as the right to work, which have large financial implications, could have been implemented in a phased manner. It is not necessary that all jobs are created only in the State sector.
The State could have promoted policies conducive to the creation of much larger employment in the private sector. With such a change, India would have presented an altogether different image than that of a country of teeming millions living in sub-human conditions. For all one knows, with reduction in the rate of growth of population, we may not have been a country of one billion today. Unfortunately, even after five decades of Independence, poverty and deprivation levels in India are much worse than in Sub-Saharan Africa. Citizenship values become relevant only when the basic needs are provided for.
Fundamental duties were inserted in the Constitution only during the Emergency in 1976. This was, at best, a half-hearted step. First, the fundamental duties enumerated in Article 51A are not exhaustive. Second, several of them are couched in too general terms. Third, if the fundamental rights can be enforced in the courts, there is no reason why the fundamental duties should not be similarly enforceable. Clause (i) casts a duty on the citizens, for example, to safeguard public property and to abjure violence. But all political parties continue to encourage agitations, demonstrations and bandhs, which lead to repeated and extensive violence and damage to property. Even though the Supreme Court has declared bandhs illegal, political parties still resort to them with utter disregard to the legal pronouncement by the highest court. Though clause (g) lays down the duty to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, there has been wanton and large-scale plundering of natural resources. There is a common perception among citizens that they do not owe any duty to the country. In their scheme of priorities, caste, religion, State and country come in that order.
Under the Constitution, there is only one domicile, namely, the domicile of the country. But several states seem to disregard this by laying down requirements of a minimum period of domicile for admission of students to professional colleges and for employment. Mr M. Karunanidhi, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, had deprecated the practice of performing pooja of Lord Ganesh on the ground that He was not the domicile of the state!
The issues of safeguarding the interests of minorities, religious tolerance and secularism continue to be of serious concern. Religious fundamentalism is bad, whether it is of the majority or the minority community. A recent news item brought out how the photograph of Mr L.K. Advani has been exhibited in a gallery of (Hindu) terrorists in California along with Adolf Hitler and others. Clearly, religious fundamentalism of the majority community is much more destabilising and dangerous. The recent agitations and violence against the Christian community bring this out fully. The atrocious act of the demolition of the Babri Masjid shook the conscience of the entire civilised world. This has been a watershed in the history of the country and has created a large and widening divide between the Hindus and Muslims. The fact that the representation of Muslims has been going down perceptibly in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures has hardly given rise to any concern even among the so-called secularists. For the first time since Independence, we have the largest ever Council of Ministers at the Centre, but it has just two Muslims in it and that too as junior ministers.
It is time to ask the question why the best teachings in all religions, which can foster faith in unity in diversity and the cosmopolitan and composite culture of the country, cannot form part of every educational syllabus.
It is true that in the past, leftists have tried to write history to suit their own ideology. Rewriting history in ones own political mould, even by taking liberties with historical facts, has been the favourite pastime of rulers. Rapid erosion in the citizenship values of professionals is yet another disconcerting feature. This elite class is the most vocal in running down other groups and constituents of society for having lost their moorings.
Though, under specific enactments of Parliament, bodies of some of these professionals have been empowered to regulate their own professions, most of them have conducted their affairs in a highly opaque manner. They have shown no sense of social accountability. If this is the state of highly educated and financially well-off sections of society, what right do we have to expect strict adherence to citizenship values from the poorer and under-privileged sections of society?
The majestic principle of the rule of law has been held to ridicule. The statement, law will take its own course, parroted by rulers, has become a euphemism for not taking any action whatsoever. As a result, the fear of law has vanished. Citizenship values are difficult to promote in such an environment and social ethos.
Mahatma Gandhi is now far removed from the masses for whom he devoted his whole life. We as a nation, have forgotten his teachings. All that remains is the observance of a national holiday on October 2 and a two-minute silence with irreverent faces on January 30. This is poignantly brought out in a cartoon where a father explains to his son the sacrifices made by Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom struggle and the long imprisonment suffered by him. It is in keeping with the present ethos that the son asks the father, Why did Gandhi not get anticipatory bail?
Finally, the Constitution and laws may not be able to achieve as much as social sanctions against those who transgress law and the reasonable limits of ethical and moral standards laid down by society. Unfortunately, such sanctions are totally missing. Otherwise, Harshad Mehta, prime accused in the bank scam case, would not have been appointed a visiting professor by a college in Mumbai! Milk vendors and taximen would not have organised mass protests against action instituted against them for adulteration of milk and polluting the cities, respectively. Politicisation of crime and criminalisation of politics have continued unabated with our society honouring criminals occupying high offices.
Successive governments, irrespective of their political constitution, are seen to dance to the tune of mighty industrial houses. Prominent cine actors, who owe crores of rupees to the government by way of income tax, are our folk heroes and grace even cultural events organised by the Income Tax Department, as chief guests, and Income Tax Commissioners vie with each other to get themselves photographed with them! The million-dollar question is whether it is going to be any different in the new millennium?
Redeeming promises made to people
AS we turn into a new century and millennium, it is time to question ourselves: Have we delivered the promises made by our founding fathers half a century ago?
Our rich heritage has been drummed to glory. Endless dreams have promised the moon. But delivery has been missing, day after day, promise after promise. What we need is management commissions, not planning commissions or panels of arm-chair theorists.
Most recent illustrations of the pits to which our management has sunk are:
* Posthumous award of a national gallantry medal to a member of the armed forces, later discovered to be living. The grave error had travelled undetected through dozens of management layers in the Army and the Ministry of Defence.
* Inclusion of a clause extending special privileges for insurance covers signed in the UK from the Insurance Act of the last century, in the new insurance regulation Bill tabled in Parliament. This glaring mistake had passed through hundreds of whiz-kid mandarins in government and parliamentary select committees and was only noticed in the last hours of Parliament debate by an Opposition Member. The Finance Minister, smiling it away as a minor slip, multiplied the injury.
These are not stray incidents to be laughed away. They reflect the growing frivolity with which our managerial systems handle responsibility. They are symptoms of a cancer that has crept deep into the bone-marrow.
The mounting frequency of rail accidents and the increasing toll of life they take is another manifestation of the same cancer. As one, whose career began with the Railways, I had written years ago that the manner in which the top management was leading the spread of indiscipline, an increase in rail accidents was inevitable. Running a single train requires disciplined obedience of every rule, written and unwritten, by thousands of railway men. With a workforce of one and a half million, their behaviour cannot escape being a reflection of prevailing societal culture. The moment the top management starts twisting the law to self-convenience and comfort, it foregoes its right to expect discipline. Much-publicised judicial inquiries, even the resignation by a minister owning moral responsibility, will make no difference.
It is time we shook ourselves and took determined steps to reverse the 50-year slide down the hill. Nations whose societal prosperity and well-being we aspire to emulate, have achieved their present heights only by keeping certain principles in mind:
* Respect of community; discipline; obedience of law.
* Entrusting task responsibility to community and individual.
* Sacrificing todays pleasures for investment in a better tomorrow.
* Concentration on priorities; avoiding temptation of thin-spread.
* Searching for and exploiting opportunity.
* Converting knowledge into application.
* Emphasis on action.
These tenets of management have become all the more pertinent in todays world of brutal competition, where have societies employ every strategy to sustain their affluent life-styles. Their financial and technological strength provides them the clout to dictate.
Let us not forget that beggars can be no choosers, whatever moralistic values we might tout.
The management of non-profit institutions is no different from the management of business. The tools remain the same, only objectives differ. The management buzz-words of the century of knowledge are re-engineering and transformation. It is time we began a determined transformation of our system. Proven steps of the re-engineering process are:
* Continuity in top management: Knowledge occupies the centre-stage in every decision today; demands cumulative learning, impossible through notings on a file. Specialisation follows as a corollary. Continuity also creates responsibility.
* Achievable goals: No wild promises. Goal achievement year after year will alone dispel the all-pervasive cynicism.
* Understand resource limitations; lay priorities; Focus: Thin spread of resources leads nowhere. Learn and refine in pilot experiments before a whole-scale launch.
*Empower and trust: Institutions can only be founded on trust. Passing the buck upward is a no-sum game. Witch-hunting for skeletons of decisions sour in hindsight leads nowhere.
* Demonstrate thrift in every action: Societies are built on sacrifice of todays pleasures for investment in a better tomorrow. Doles only breed waste and perpetuate beggar psychology.
* Re-tailor the system for the task, not vice-versa.
* End delayer management: Piles of noting-sheets and chains of committees only diffuse responsibility and waste time.
* Value time: In todays high time-cost of money and turbulent change, speed is crucial to success.
* Raise productivity and eliminate waste in every sphere.
* Reduce government role to audit; Pass implementation responsibility to the community.
* Select people on merit: Selections governed by extraneous considerations breed irresponsibility and cynicism.
* Reshape education towards entrepreneurship: Observation; questioning, exploration, experimentation; emphasis on action.
* Reward, recognise and publicise successful innovators and entrepreneurs: Emulate the style in which innovators and entrepreneurs are hyped as heroes in developed societies. Blow-up pictures in every magazine and newspaper; cover-page stories, halls of fame; national recognition. Their hero projection stimulates others to copy. Societal impact of the recent hype of info-tech and young silicon valley multi-millionaires provides ample proof.
The agenda appears formidable. But then changing a deep-rooted culture lulled into lethargy for centuries, cannot be easy. Changing mind-set demands missionary management commitment and unwavering perseverance. The new culture has to be practised and demonstrated; no hollow slogans and cheer-leading. New habits have to be reinforced and rewarded, day after day, year after year, till they become second nature.
Success of the wholly Indian technology of Swaraj and PTL in its 35-year trek against deep-set mental barriers, by every yardstick of national endeavour, amply proves this concept. This lone up-hill journey began with one simple commitment; break national diffidence; prove that Indian engineers could deliver a technology competitive against the best global names.
Such journeys, however, succeed only when committed top managements drive change with the zeal of missionaries. Passionate faith fuels the spirit and optimism provides the courage to navigate rough seas. Let the new millennium be the starting point of this great march.
Looking beyond the culture of survival
WHAT is wrong with us? Nothing is wrong with us. How can anything be wrong with a country that has managed to survive for 5,000 years as a nation, if not in geographical terms, at least in cultural terms?
We are still more or less in one piece, recognisable all over the world as more or less one people. Even in the snowy vastness of Alaska one evening last year, I was immediately recognised as an Indian, who came from the land of Taj Mahal, though the hotel receptionist had not ventured beyond San Francisco and could not speak English properly.
Am I being facetious? Of course, there is something wrong with us. The very fact that we are still what we used to be 5,000 years ago tells a great deal about what is wrong with us. All our energy is wasted in trying to survive, as a nation, as a people, as a society, leaving next to nothing for what is known as progress or development.
Indians are the worlds greatest survivors and we have raised survival to an art. Ask any Indian how he is doing and nine times out of 10, he will reply Surviving. Of course, he is not what his father used to be or his grandfather. Even the Birlas, who have spun a huge empire out of nothing in less than a century, never say they are doing well. It is as if doing well is a crime, and even if you are doing well, you should never say so, for you dont know what the future might bring in its wake.
The culture of survival is a culture of poverty. To survive, you have to make do with the minimum, for anything above the minimum is fraught with danger. When there is a surplus, you are inviting trouble and create unnecessary problems. When there is no surplus, there are no demands, for there is nothing to distribute, and no claimants to the booty.
Hindu philosophy says nothing about how to deal with surpluses. If you are a businessman and you make too much money, you are supposed to dispose of it in charities, as if it was something unclean and dirty, which you have to get rid of as quickly as possible. The entire Tata empire is owned by a charity, which shows how even alien people like the Parsis have been quick to absorb the Indian culture of survival. For charity too has to do with survival, if not yours, then of those who are not as fortunate as yourself.
What is keeping us back is this culture of survival, in which it is considered honourable to live at the margin of material existence. Mahatma Gandhi lived in great poverty, though, as Sarojini Naidu once said, it cost a great deal to keep him in poverty. Naidu herself did not bother about spending money like water, though she did not earn it. She had a permanent suit booked for her in Bombays Taj Mahal hotel, the last word in luxury in those days. And it did no harm to her political career, despite her cutting remarks on Gandhijis poverty.
We seem to think that poverty is such a big problem that we shall never be able to solve it. Actually, this is not so. All nations have started poor, and some were dirt poor until a few decades ago.
A century ago, London was not so much a metropolis as a hovel, and women, often drunk and half-naked, used to ply their trade outside Parliament. In the USA, Henry Ford had to draw up his first designs for his car in the light of paraffin lamps. His house had no electricity.
That did not stop Ford from building his car, nor did it stop London from becoming what it is today. In India, unfortunately, it is the other way round. Our cities are now vast slums, and even in Delhi, the nations Capital, half the people live in hovels.
Under the British rule, the Indian economy stagnated for over a hundred years prior to Independence. National income grew only at around 1 per cent a year. There was, of course, a great deal of poverty, and nine out of 10 Indians were poor. Things have improved a great deal since then but not much. Our income per head is still among the lowest in the world at least for a major country like India and the gap between us and the rest of the world is increasing, not narrowing.
A large number of countries, many of them in Asia, have overtaken us. South Korea, which had the same income per head as India, is now so rich it has become a member of the rich nations club. We have everything going for us hardworking labour, smart managers, equally smart technologists who do so well when they work outside India, and ample resources. Japan has no natural resources no oil, no minerals, no nothing. But Japan is now the second richest economy in the world.
There is something in the Indian or Hindu psyche that loves poverty. Had Gandhi conducted his politics from five-star hotels, he would not have been half as successful as he became. Our attitude to work is also rather strange for these times and age.
The Bhagvadagita says: Do your work, but not in expectation of returns. This has created an environment for lack of accountability for our actions. If I work and do not expect any returns, why should I be held accountable for what I have done? No one in India is accountable for anything, neither politicians, nor bureaucrats, nor economists, nor, for that matter, businessmen. And if, as a result, the country continues to remain poor, I am not accountable for that either.
So when you ask, what is wrong with us, there cannot be a straightforward answer, for you cant hold any one responsible for our plight. The same people go on ruling us. Atal Behari Vajpayees advisers are the same who advised Indira Gandhi. After all, they are not responsible for what happened under Mrs Gandhi. So, when you ask, what is keeping us back or who is keeping us back, you cant really point at anything or anyone, for, we know in our heart or hearts that no one is responsible.
In other countries, the doers are not separated from what they do. Ultimately, they have to pay for what they did or did not do. In India, nobody pays, and nobody is responsible for his or her policies.
Democracy is indeed a powerful vehicle for all-round development, but democracy has made Indians too argumentative. So much time is wasted in talking that there is little time left for any solid activity. After 50 years of central planning, we are still in two minds about whether planning is good for us nor not. Eight years ago, Narasimha Rao took a U-turn in economic policy, which was generally welcomed at the time.
However, the same Narasimha Rao now says that he was misunderstood and his intention was not to go back on Jawaharlal Nehrus statist programmes. This is one way of saying that he should not be held responsible for what has happened since 1991 the complete rout of his Congress party at the subsequent polls.
Where did we go wrong? Who says we went wrong? After all, the same people who decry the current sorry state of affairs in the country tell us proudly that we are the fifth or sixth or tenth industrial country in the world, perhaps the only Third World country to be self-reliant in most major sectors. This is actually a lie. Self-reliance is a relative term. But there is hardly anything we produce that is not a copy of something produced elsewhere in the world. Even Tatas, who have been producing steel for nearly a century, have to obtain new machinery as well as technology from outside, every time they wish to produce a new steel item.
Lets face it. We do not have the mind-set of a modern people. Half our people cannot read or write and do not know what is happening in the world except at second remove. We have crooks masquerading as political leaders, and political leaders masquerading as statesmen. We are a big nation led by small people. But we talk big, because there is no accountability, no direct link between what we say and what we do.
The first requirement for setting India on the road to something worthwhile is, therefore, honesty. This is the first thing you notice when you visit western countries or even small territories like Singapore. People, which means leaders too, are honest. They mean what they say. A high level of integrity at all levels, in personal transactions as well as government business, is a sine qua non of a modern prosperous society, Singapore may not be very high on democracy, but for the common man, it is a hassle-free city. For the common man, India is the nearest thing to hell.
Honesty, integrity, accountability these are three keys to a better life for the common man. It is our flawed character as a people, as a society, as a nation, that is keeping us back, and will continue to do so unless we reform ourselves. All great changes come from within, and the endeavour for a better India must also come from within.
by Harihar Swarup
THIS is the last week of the current millennium and I am worried about the Y2K bug. If the bug inflicts my computer, I am doomed. I am hurrying up, almost at breakneck speed, with two columns Profile and Behind the Scenes I produce every week. I fondly hope my computer survives the bug. Browsing through the Internet, I come across a name Peter de Jarger, I must confess, I have never known before. More research, and it was ascertained that he is a Canadian, who claims, was the first to forecast the Y2K problem.
He was, like many inventors, ridiculed initially but recognised subsequently. Years ago critics dismissed him as some sort of eccentric and accused him of preying on the fears of technophobes. Now he is viewed as a moderate, particularly in comparison with doomsayers who have proclaimed the end of the world because of Y2K problem.
Now de Jargers expertise is internationally applauded and he is considered as the world leader in creating awareness for the year 2000 computer crisis. He was summoned before the US House of Representatives Science Sub-Committee hearing to testify on the year 2000 crisis and appointed special adviser to several government task forces. He also appeared on the Discovery channel, science series, and CNNs Crossfire besides getting invitations from dozens of radio stations. It is believed that he charges a hefty sum of $10,000 for each lecture.
His presentations on the bug problem convinced even the most unbelieving listeners that the issue was real, ugly, costly to resolve and posed a threat to the economy. His expositions are tailored to suit the audience, whether they require high-level experience overviews, general information for understanding the issues, or detailed technical discussions. Comments from the audience are exhilarating he is absolutely riveting.... great, powerful dynamic..... best speaker seen in a long time and so on, de Jargers book Doomsday 2000, published as far back as 1993, kicked up a storm but the work was reprinted in 1999 under a new label Countdown Y2K. Now the book is credited with alerting industry and governments to the bug problem.
Tall, well-built with a thick beard, 45-year old de Jarger struggled for over eight years to bring the year 2000 problem to the awareness of both the international community and the business world. He got interested in the subject in the seventies when he was completing his education. He subsequently joined the IBM in Toronto as programmer.While typing the year 74-75,76 and the following years, he discovered that the nineties were all implied but, to his dismay, the programme would not work for the year 2000. The logical question that came to his mind was how was the computer going to know the difference between 1900 and 2000? In effect, it may be said that the millennium bug took its birth in the mainframe of IBM computer. Young de Jarger was, evidently, quite excited. He discovered, to his horror, that the computers, as they were programmed, had no means of figuring out that 00 represented the year 2000 and not 1900.
Years rolled by. The computer industry showed remarkable progress, brought about a revolution in communication and, in a way, changed the lifestyle across the globe. The computer wizards hardly bothered about the impending problem that was to confront them at the turn of the century. As late as 1993, a frustrated de Jarger himself decided to caution the computer industry of the impending danger and ultimately succeeded. Now even his bitter critics in the media as well as the industry acknowledged his discovery and take the Y2K problem seriously.
In an article entitled -Y2 K: so many bugs.... So Little Time de Jarger says: fixing Y2 K seems simple; change all two-digit years to four digits. But that tedious and unexpectedly difficult process takes more time than is left. Explaining the psychology behind the year 2000 computer problem in simple term, he quotes an example from Lewis Carrolls Alice in Wonderland to bring home his point. In the popular classic the Mad Hatter asks, Does your watch tell you what year it is? And Alice replies: Of course not, but thats because it stays the same year for such a long time together.
Computers, de Jarger says, are now riddled with representations of dates that are frighteningly ambiguous. Simply put, how will digital machines know whether 00 means 1900 or 2000? Already, the confusion has led to a variety of problems. Back in 1993, Boeing noticed errors in its application that handles orders with seven-year lead time. A system at a global manufacturer of soap and other personal care products, ejected chemicals that it had mistakenly thought to be almost a century old.
Yet another example quoted by de Jarger is more explicit and could have fatal consequences. Using a medical programme that specifies the dosage of certain drugs, a doctor types in 03-16-00 for an infants birth date. The computer, however, assumes the patient is a centenarian and recommends a dosage that would have been fine for an elderly person but turns out to be deadly for the tiny newborn.
De Jarger, who has not taken a vacation for long, proposes to spend the new years eve with his family in a pub in Ireland where his mother lives. Could he spend the mid-night hour of December 31, 1999, in the pub? No way of checking up.
In case of my computer, I am able to complete my columns and despatch them to my subscribers hours before the millennium bug attacks the machines. In case of emergency, I have already retrieved my old, battered portable Brother typewriter, changed its ribbon and oiled the parts. It is immune to the Y2K problem. This is my simple solution to the millennium bug.
Among the Rajputs I
ONE warm winter afternoon I came to Jaipur on Jet Airways flight from Delhi a short hop of 23 minutes. It was still broad daylight. Arvind Sharma, an ex-student of Mayo College, Ajmer which was my destination came to pick me up. On our way we picked up his son Diyunesh who had just passed out of Mayo College and migrated to Pune to do his 10+2. We passed innumerable gaily-lit wedding pandals, bridegrooms on horses following brass bands marching towards homes of brides parents. It seemed as if all the bachelors of Jaipur had decided to marry on that one evening. By 5.30 p.m. we were on the road to Ajmer a mere 150 metres which I was assured would be done in about two hours. By the time we hit the main highway it was dark. For the next three hours it was bumper to bumper with trucks, oil tankers, tractors and buses. It was the same with the traffic coming from the other side. Every vehicle with its headlights on. Never in my life have I encountered heavier traffic on an Indian highway. It was nightmarish.
We arrived at our destination, Oman Guest House (donated by the son of the Sultan who had studied there). It was well after 8 p.m.. I shook a few hands, hurried to my room allotted to me and went across the road to Principal Pramod Sharmas spacious residence. I was welcomed by his attractive Ludhiana-born wife Madhuli and a bottle of Black Dog premium scotch. Maharao Brijraj Singh of Kotah, a large jovial Chauhan Rajput and his Cooch Bihar-born Maharani Uttara joined us. Apropos nothing, the Maharao told me of a local character named Vijai Singh who conducted foreign tourists round the city. On Dussehra he decided to join Sri Rams regiment to fight Ravana and his army of demons. He took his point Z2 pistol with him. When Sri Ram rained his arrows on Ravana and his brothers, Vijayi Singh took out his pistol and fired a couple of shots at them. Without locking the safety catch he tried to put his pistol in its holster. A third shot rang out; the bullet pierced his thigh. The doughty Rajput warrior though lamed for life has done his bit in the dharamyudha against the forces of evil.
* * * *
In no other institution had I come across so much feeling of camaraderie among old students as in Mayo College, old students came from distant parts of the globe to renew their associations with their alma mater recall the good old days they had spent together. Wining, dining and gup shup went on till the early hours of the morning.
Early morning visitors include Rawat Nahar Singh who taught history in the college before he retired to his hill-fortress palace Deogar built in 1670 A.D. and converted it into a heritage hotel. Many old Thikanas (feudal residences) have been renovated to modest-sized hotels with modern amenities (including liquor bars) and bathing pools. They have become favourites among foreign tourists because they offer peace, solitude, fresh air and history.
The other was Jagdeep Singh who apart from his business publishes a magazine and writes poetry in English. He rues that there were no takers for poetry and he like others have no option except Writers Workshop of Calcutta. His first collection is due to be published soon. Since I was writing this piece on December 6, I quote the opening lines of what Jagdeep had to say on an event that took place that day seven years earlier.
Back to Visakhapatnam
(iv) Paradise by the Sea
The hotel telephone woke me up at 5 a.m. It was pitch dark outside. I rushed through my ablutions to be in time to report at Begumpet airport for my flight to Visakhapatnam. Narayan Rao, Lakshmi and Ashok Kumar drove me through the dawn. The city certainly has had a face-list since I was there two years ago: a broad dual highway cutting through what were once congested bazaars, no potholes in the road, no hold-ups at crossings, over bridges where necessary. We reached our destination in 15 minutes. The airport has also been spruced up. Three flights to different destinations took off within one hour. There must be a lot of traffic between Mumbai, Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam as every seat in the aircraft was occupied. Fifty minutes later we landed at Vizag (or Waltair as it was once known) amidst hills and greenery. Here too the change was noticeable. A broad two-lane highway took us into the city. All places in the city are named after some goddess or the other. The first is Yellamma Tota (the garden of Yellamma). The city centre is dedicated to goddess Jagdamba but is now known as Tennati Square after Tennati Viswanathan. The most popular name in these parts is Appa Rao. It is said that if you stand at Tennati Square and call loudly Appa Rao at least 90 of a hundred passersby will respond Annu yes. Another interesting item about Central Vizag is that one time the land was owned by Raa Daspalla. He sold his prime estate in bits and pieces to developers with the proviso that anything they built would bear his name so we have a Daspalla cinema, a Daspalla Hotel and other Daspallas including a modest-sized Daspalla mansion in which he lives. I had idli-vada breakfast in the spacious black marble dining hall of Daspalla Hotel. A hotter, tastier breakfast I havent sampled in a long time. I left with tears streaming down my eyes and my mouth on fire.
And so to the railway guest house which was to be my home for the next two days and nights. It was a brand new building made of white marble which gave a glimpse of the Bay of Bengal. I was the sole guest. I slept most of the day. When I rose, the sun had gone down. The sea looked calm and serene. Come to think of it, there is no city in India to match Visakhapatnam in scenic beauty, cleanliness, fresh air and a feeling of space. Why I think so, I will tell you next week.
THE way people have reacted to Madhavi Kuttys (Kamala Das to her friends) conversion to Islam, it would seem that for Malaylees it was the event of the second millennium. While some took it calmly, saying it was her personal choice and should be respected as such, most were outraged. For Hindus the shock seems like what Muslims felt when the Babri Masjid was demolished.
Perhaps it was her choice of Islam that people found difficult to take. If she had become a Christian, the reaction might not have been so hostile. Islam, in the popular mind, and even among the well educated and cultured, has come to represent a kind of medieval culture. For sections of progressive Muslim women in Kerala, Kamala Das has let them down, for accepting the purdah and the usual norms of Muslim orthodoxy.
Kamala Das has been a good friend of mine ever since I moved to Trivandrum from Delhi 10 years ago. I know her as a gentle soul, full of humour and laughter, with a free mind and a courage that comes naturally with it. It is shameful that some people have been sending her threatening letters. I suppose they are the kind of people who would say: Hinduism is a tolerant religion and anyone who leaves it must be punished severely.
I admire her courage and honesty or whatever may have prompted her to give up her religion and her upper caste moorings. I have always advocated a persons liberty to choose any religion they wish to practise, whatever religion they have been given by virtue of birth.
I have always firmly believed, in fact, that parents have no right to impose their religions on their children. I hope she finds the peace and love she craves for in her new faith.
She is probably right when she says she couldnt find personal love in Hinduism. A.K. Ramanujan once said to me that in the whole of the Bhagavat Gita there is no mention of love. The word does not exist in its vocabulary. Similarly, another poet, Robert Graves, remarked that in the whole of the New Testament there isnt a smile. These are deficiencies. Christ came to soften the severity of orthodox Judaism and its fierce God, Jehovah, but forgot to smile!
In Hinduism, as far as I have noticed, the emphasis is on ones individual relationship with God. There is an obsession with personal salvation and not much concern with social relationships. Love thy neighbour as thyself may apply to the Hindu way of life only when the Hindu first chooses the proper neighbourhood!
Islam, by contrast, is a close community where everyone is concerned about everyone else. This togetherness may have something to do with desert life. In any case, in Islam, there is no racial separateness, nor is there anything like caste.
There has been hardly any response to Madhavi Kuttys conversion from Muslim readers in Kerala newspapers, except for the reaction of a few women trying to change Islams repressive social laws concerning women. I think the Muslim community probably regards the event as a boost to its morale.
In Kerala, secularism is taken for granted, although private prejudices against communities other than ones own are widely prevalent, as I have observed. So long as these are kept confined to ones own social life and marriage customs, they dont affect public life. In this state, political power is evenly distributed at all levels of caste and social status. This is the result of long years of struggle by the lower classes to achieve economic and political equality.
For Madhavi Kutty, now Soraiya, Islam will certainly provide a new experience in life, a kind of rejuvenation of the spirit at the age of 67. It may also give her the security she seems to seek. Knowing herself to be unpredictable and impulsive, perhaps she needs the protection and discipline that she feels only Islam can give her. I dont expect her to retract. I only wish that instead of Islam she had chosen my faith, that is, atheism or humanism.
My opinion about organised religion is best stated by my friend A.N. Wilson, British writer, who says in his book, Against Religion. It is said in the Bible that the love of money is the root of all evil. It might be truer to say that the love of God is the root of all evil. Religion is the tragedy of mankind. It appeals to all that is noblest, purest, loftiest in the human spirit, and yet there scarcely exists a religion which has not been responsible for wars, tyrannies and the suppression of the truth. Marx described it as the opium of the people; but much deadlier than opium. It does not send people to sleep. It excites them to persecute one another, to exalt their own feelings and opinions above those of others, to claim for themselves a possession of the truth.
I VERY much fear, says Mahatma Gandhi in the latest issue of Young India, that all the cogent arguments that are being advanced by Indian publicists, although they are almost unanimous in their condemnation of Lord Lyttons policy, will be lost upon the government, which has become habituated to treat public opinion with contempt. Hence it is that I say that if they would add force to their argument, they must ply the charkha.
The first part of the observation will command general assent. As regards the second, the Mahatma would be on firmer as well as surer ground if, instead of the words ply the charkha, he uses the words boycott British cloth and such other British goods as can be boycotted without inflicting any serious injury upon India.
The difference is substantial, because the mere plying of the charkha is not, and cannot be, synonymous with the boycott of British cloth, and by itself would take an infinity of time to bring that pressure to bear upon England which Mahatma Gandhi has obviously in view.
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