|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Monday, September 14, 1998
in the Hindu Tirthas
Clintons fight for survival
A THINLY disguised pornographic text normally invites scorn or criminal prosecution. But the X-rated Starr report is that explosive document which can topple the Clinton presidency. But then it does not deal with teenagers playing out their sexual fantasies but the kinky aberrations of the most powerful political leader of the most powerful country that is extensively wired to the outside world. So the sleazy details become a basis of a moral debate across the world and the US law-makers have to make legal sense out of it so as to deliver a constitutional verdict. This is the very initial hour of the impeachment proceedings and it will be months before the world, and President Clinton, will know where it will all end. Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr has had his punch in by submitting a 445-page report listing 11 charges which he says constitute grave misdemeanour warranting impeachment. Since most of them deal with the Presidents sexual encounters with a young and temporary hand at the White House, and his own efforts to hold back as much details as possible, the report has to cover much salacious ground. Still Mr Starr lays it pretty thick, to make his allegations sound very strong even if they are weak in terms of the gravity of the Presidents actions. The smutty bits evoke disgust and the prosecutors hope is that it would be directed at the White House incumbent. Even if it does not, the narration of what transpired at each of the 10 Clinton-Lewinsky trysts and in stark prose has destroyed the Presidents standing as a family man with normal morals.
Seen this way, Mr Clinton
has already lost his first battle. Now he is engaged in
winning the second and thus saving his job. He is no
quitter and has shown in recent years that he can emerge
unscathed from hopeless situations. This is no ordinary
crisis though, either for him, or his party or his
country. But he pins his hopes on turning the sense of
popular outrage at the lurid descriptions in the report
against his tormentor and thus swing public sympathy in
his favour. In a country constantly calibrating its
actions to public opinion, and at a time when he still
enjoys a high popularity rating, Mr Clintons is not
a totally lost case. His well-orchestrated campaign of
contrition, marked by frequent biting of the lip and the
almost visible lump in the throat is the first step. Wife
Hillarys expression of undiminished support and
open adulation as that of his close friends and political
associates is the second. The crucial third will be a
flood of opinion poll results either in his favour or
certainly against the unacceptable and demeaning contents
of the Starr report. Politicians in the USA revere
opinion poll trends as edicts and there are expert spin
masters to produce them for a cause. There is an irony
though. The much hyped information super highway is
chock-a-block with Starr report soaked in prurient deeds
and descriptions. That these represent the confessions of
a woman speaks very poorly of Mr Clintons judgement
of friends. It is a crime indeed, though not impeachable.
The Afghan crisis
THERE is every likelihood of the crisis in Afghanistan taking an explosive turn soon. This view is based on the reports that there is no let-up in the tension between Afghanistans Taliban rulers, controlling 90 per cent of the war-torn country, and the Iranian government over the killing of its 11 diplomats at Mazar-e-Sharif after the Taliban soldiers ran over this province on August 8. Iran has set two basic conditions for keeping itself away from what was going on in Afghanistan. One, the bodies of the killed Iranians should be immediately handed over to the government of their country without any precondition. Two, those involved in the gunning down of the diplomats should be brought to Iran for trial. The Taliban stand is that the bodies of the 11 diplomats can be given to the Iranian authorities but it can do nothing so far as their killers are concerned. This is unacceptable to Iran as it claims that the killing was carried out by the Taliban militia on orders from their chief, Mullah Mohammed Omar. The Taliban authorities have been insisting that the diplomats were killed not by their regular soldiers but by other people, and their chief was in no way involved in it. An enquiry is on to track down the culprits. But the Taliban rulers are unprepared to punish the guilty. Instead, the punishment will be handed down for not obeying the orders of the Taliban authorities. This is quite a provocative stand so far as Iran is concerned. Then there is the question of returning the other members of the staff of the Iranian consulate at Mazar-e-Sharif who were taken in custody on August 8 after it fell to the Taliban. The new rulers of Afghanistan are treating them as war prisoners who, they insist, can be freed only under a deal between the two countries.
If there is no
international intervention to defuse the tension
immediately, the situation may lead to a military
showdown, giving the entire crisis a new dimension. So
far the Iranian conduct has been like that of a
responsible government. But the pressure from the Iranian
public is rising fast, and things may reach flashpoint
any moment. Iran has already deployed 70,000
Revolutionary Guards on its borders with Afghanistan, and
has finalised a strategy to send two lakh additional
soldiers to punish the Taliban for their wrongdoings.
Iran may also use the opportunity to protect its
interests in Afghanistans Bamiyan province, a
Shia-majority area bordering Iran and now under the
control of Hizb-e-Wahadat. It can prevent the advance of
the Taliban forces from capturing this strategically
significant province. But allowing the situation to come
to such a pass will amount to encouraging an aggrieved
nation to find a military solution to a problem which
cannot be described as a healthy development. This may
set a wrong precedent. Unfortunately, the whole scenario
is such that no regional power is showing signs of
involving itself to end the crisis. Pakistan is knee-deep
in a politico-economic quagmire created by its own rulers
and hence unable to play any effective role in the
matter. India has been showing little interest in
Afghanistan for quite some time. Its voice could have
been quite effective if it had come to the rescue of the
Northern Alliance led by the defeated Afghan President,
Mr Burhanuddin Rabbani, at the appropriate time. But the
Indian foreign policy makers decided to look the other
way when the Taliban militia began to capture one area
after another with the aid of Pakistan. How sad!
Pak beat India, both lose!
THE United Nations Development Programme report for 1998, released on Wednesday, shows that India and Pakistan continue to be somewhere at the bottom of the ladder of human development. Pakistan can draw little comfort from the fact that it has pushed India to the 139th position on the human development scale. Last year India had a ranking of 138 while Pakistan had 139. They have switched places because Pakistan showed a marginal improvement in the life expectancy rate compared to that of India. The two countries must realise that out of 174 nations they are where they are because of the policy of mutual hostility they have adopted. Only cooperation social, economic and political and not confrontation can help them move up the ladder of human development. The UNDP report should form the basis for future dialogue between the two. What the two countries need are leaders of vision to pull the subcontinent out of the self-destruct mode. Human development is not a cricket match in which a one point victory is still worth a national celebration. Had the human development contest between the two been for the top positions, there may still have been something in it for either side to crow about. However, mutual hostility is not the only factor behind the low ranking of the two on the human development index. As far as India is concerned, it comes in for criticism for being among the nations with the highest emissions of carbon dioxide. The UNDP report says that although carbon dioxide emission is only 0.7 tonnes annually but if the emission rate continues unchecked for the next 50 years, India will be the worlds top polluter. According to the report the cost of environmental damage caused by indiscriminate development in India is a whopping $ 10 billion annually 4.5 per cent of the GDP.
A breakdown of the
estimate shows that urban air pollution management costs
$1.3 billion, water degradation resulting in increased
health care costs $5.7 billion and soil-erosion-related
loss of agricultural output accounts for $2.4 billion.
Keeping in mind the growth pattern in India after the
opening up of the economy the statistics on global
consumption of a wide variety of goods and services too
should be studied to avoid the mistakes made by the
developed nations. The report says that the current
consumption patterns have only widened the gap between
the haves and the have-nots, leading to avoidable social,
economic and political tensions among the under-developed
nations. For instance, if the global consumption pattern
which shows that less than 20 per cent of the people make
86 per cent of the expenditure on personal comforts were
to become an Indian reality, it would lead to social
unrest across the country. The UNDP has offered a
five-point programme for evolving a fair global
consumption pattern. They include raising the consumption
levels of more than a quarter of humanity who have been
left out of the boom and cannot even meet their basic
needs; moving to more sustainable consumption patterns
that reduce environmental damage and regenerate renewable
resources including fresh water supplies, soil, fish
stocks and forests; protecting and promoting the rights
of consumers to information, product safety and the
products they need; discouraging consumption patterns
that have a negative effective on society and that
reinforce inequalities and poverty; and achieving a more
equitable international burden-sharing to reduce and
prevent environmental damage and global poverty itself.
The UNDP has given Canada the top rank on the human
development scale for the fifth consecutive year. India
should study and adapt the Canadian model for moving up
the human development ladder.
NOW that the Bill-Monica escapade, long in the news, has taken a definitive, if not a decisive, turn with the Presidential testimony before the Grand Jury, followed by a four-minute neat, sanitised, well-crafted address to the nation, it is not surprising that so many skeletons are being dug up again, and so many collateral issues raised in respect of Mr Clintons image, performance and future. Indeed, even before the bells had begun to toll ominously, American media had been serving a juicy fare at the breakfast table to the point of surfeit. It had a great deal for the undiminished sexual appetite of the Americans in general, though its vulgarity and voyeurism had, to be sure, dismayed the finer American sensibility that sensibility or consciousness which had nourished the American Dream of the good and honest life since the Mayflower days of the pilgrim settlers.
My aim here is briefly to examine the nature of political rhetoric and Presidential prevarication. Language, as we know, is at once a mirror and a trap, a sign and a screen. Ultimately, it is a question for the philosophers of language who have in our times gone into its deep structures (Chomsky, for instance) and into its darker, blasphemous and carnival aspects (Bakhtin and others), but even at the daily, commonsensical level, we see the use of language as a tool for all occasions and all seasons. Politics and marriage are, in fact, notoriously prone to the whole range of linguistic tricks and calisthenics, and it is not surprising that the nexus between power, sex and language in itself a fascinating theme that, among others, attracted Orwell, Freud, and the neo-Freudians is now a major philosophical concern. R.P. Malagrida has, indeed, gone on to aver that speech has been given to man to hide his thoughts! And a most respected novelist, Elizabeth Brown, says somewhere that never to lie is to have no lock on your door. Thus what constitutes truth, how the mediating idiom can change its complexion, even its meaning, is a question best left alone for the moment.
We return, then, to the Clinton confession, if it can, indeed, be called so, for, as I have hinted above, its deftness and its clinical character tend to raise a swarm of doubts. Where ones language is conceived as a medium of evasion, discretion, careful deviations, etc, its ambiguity tends grievously towards equivocation. The listener or the viewer on TV (which is a medium suited to it) can thus be easily decoyed into a desired frame of mind. The medium, indeed, becomes the message, and, of course, a kind of massage, as McLuhan observed. And when a charming Camelot figure begins to perform, there is little doubt about the outcome. Mr Clinton and his team of advisers and legal experts knew exactly how and where to score in this lexical playfield. In sum, that four-minute capsule which asked for a great deal, and, in return, promised a brighter, more powerful American covered if we examine the contents with a tooth-pick almost everything from Mr Clintons questionable past and the First Lady-and-child love to Monica Lewinsky and God! A perfect quadrangle that fits into the little frame.
Thus the costumed apology to the nation, the verbal threat to the Chief Investigator, Mr Starr, the evocation of the family sentiment (though the family as an institution has been for decades under siege and assault, as in the plays and novels of the period), the shrewd man from Little Rock used prevarication almost to perfection to achieve the right effects. And the master stroke came when he brought in the sanctity of private life, suggesting a clear division between Mr Clinton, the man, husband and father, and Mr Clinton, the President who despite his open confession regarding his martial infidelity during the 1992 elections, has made America more affluent, more feared and more promising. And his appeal was that he was, like the rest of fellow Americans, human in his frailties, a man among men. After such knowledge, what forgiveness! (With apologies to T.S. Eliot).
The bottom line was that the business of sex was just business, so commonplace, so universal, so why stretch the story? Let the media make its meat through the DNA test and the spotted tie and such steaks, and milk the Monica affair to the last drop it is all a part of the American cultural scene, a part of the sexual revolution since the sixties. Yes, for the voyeurist and the Peeping Toms, something to dig their fanciful teeth into. For the rest, it may soon end up in yawns!
Equivocation, or prevarication, then is a trait of character, ingrained, constitutive and inescapable. One is reminded of Shakespeares lines in this regard in Macbeth. Such persons are invariably prone to doublethink and doubletalk. The word dodger (used frequently for Mr Clinton when he evaded the draft during the Vietnam War) hardly conveys richness of the expression that prevarication suggests.
The questions of perjury (a much more serious charge in American eyes) and impeachment are yet a whole debate away. Whether Mr Clintons confession constitutes perjury is still subject to legal quibbling, it appears. The public opinion polls (women 65 per cent) already show that their dear President has made enough amends, and deserves to be left alone to complete the job. As for Congress, the senators and other Capitol Hill worthies know well enough that if the truth about the senitorial misdemeanors and whoring were to become public (see such novels as Washington DC by Gore Vidal), who in Gods name would escape whipping, to recall Hamlets biting phrase. And, in any case, the sexual side of the White House from George Washington to John F. Kennedy (the two great idols still) is not very edifying.
As for the Presidential lies, cover-ups, rationalisations, and some lame, halting apologies when caught in the act, there is many a precedent in the White House. In our own days, Nixon, a devious, shifty character, in any case, and the Watergate scandal, his impeachment and disgrace constitute a symbolic story. He did not have the charm of tongue or personality to get out of the scrape in the end. A certain cynical bearish surliness remained a part of his make-up till the day of his dethronement. And his nemesis, therefore, came swiftly and justly. Earlier, President Kennedy got away with the Cuban misadventure with a sweet confession, and his imago did the rest. Similarly, when President Reagan lied regarding the Iran-Contra scandal that caught up with him, he used his fabulous Hollywood charm to walk out of that trouble; charisma, in other words, plays, at times, a determining role. When such a legendary figure has to eat the crow, he soon manages to sweeten the tongue, and make proper noises.
The moral of the Clinton story is that a President with a charming personality and a creditable record can get away with transgressions if he knows how to use his rhetoric. Surely, when a language is turned into a whore or a pander, it cannot but pollute public life. However, let me add that rhetoric in its original Aristotelian sense is an integral part of all great poetry or art. It is meant to raise the level of discourse, not to make it do the job of an equivocator.
All this suggests that a truly great man has to remain authentic under stressful circumstances. Thats the ultimate test.
PS: No wonder, the American missile strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan are being seen by a shocked world as yet another example of Mr Clintons prevarication and ploys. Terrorism is, undoubtedly, a global virus, but it cannot be destroyed the American way. Only universal norms enforced by the UN may weaken this scourge, or wipe it out.
It is both ironical and amusing that a 1997 American film, Wag the Dog, concerns a Presidents unwarranted war in order to divert public attention from a sex scandal. And, according to newspaper reports, the video parlours are doing a brisk business a plum from the White House orchards, so to speak!
The speed with which
events have overtaken the White House after the
submission of the Ken Starr report (now on the Internet
and in the media), and considering the predicament of the
trapped President and his open and direct appeal to the
American people, mixing theological idiom with political
cant, the drama of impeachment looks likely to take a
The unfinished telecom agenda
THE National Telecom Policy was announced by the government on May 13, 1994. The policy has been drafted with the objective of achieving a world class telecommunications set-up in the country at an affordable cost with the availability of the facility without any waiting.
For the policy to be effective, it was necessary to reshape DoT which is at present performing three functions policy-making, regulation and operation (service providing).
Although TRAI has been established to take over the regulatory responsibility, DoT still continues to function as a monolith taking care of policy-making as well as performing the role of service providers. For restructuring DoT two committees were set up the Athreya Committee in the early nineties, and the Joshi Committee, in the mid-nineties. However, both reports were dumped. It would be ideal if the three functions are separated thus: (1) ministry to play only the policy-makers role, (2) an independent regulatory authority, and (3) DoT to provide the operational service
The Telecommunication Regu-latory Authority has been established in a hurry and has not started functioning in the spirit in which it was envisaged in the National Telecom Policy, because for day-to-day functioning it has not made any rules and regulations for its operations.
In 1995, a committee headed by Mr D.K. Gupta was set up to report on the restructuring of the DoT headquarters. The committee has recommended that DoT may be split up into two defined bodies a body dealing with policy and planning, and an operating entity handling development, operations and the maintenance of telecom services. It also wanted the reconstitution of the Telecom Commission by transferring the Member (Services) as the chief executive of an operating body to be called India Telecom.
The committee recommended that India Telecom although a departmental undertaking should function as a corporate body with circle districts as independent centres. The headquarters of India Telecom would look after the supervisory and related functions. The committee suggested that some of the administrative, technical and financial powers of the headquarters of India Telecom might be delegated to the field units.
The report of the D.K. Gupta Committee was examined and discussed by the Telecom Commission, the general consensus being that DoTs operational functions should be separated from those of licensing and policy-making so as to provide dedicated management inputs to operations and a level-playing field to all operators.
However, the corporatisation of DoT was not even visualised in the National Telecom Policy (1994). In fact, the government had rejected the Athreya Committees recommendation in this regard.
However, after TRAI has been formed with great reluctance, it is clear that we are moving towards the direction of separating the three important functions in the Ministry of Communications policy, regulatory work and operations. Should DoT be corporatised straightaway? This is a big question.
The announcement by the Minister of Communications last month that within 15 days DoT would be corporatised, was not required as in any case it was not possible and it would be very difficult to complete the process.
The corporate sector has not only a different work culture but also a different system of staff management. The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) exercises the authority of Home and Finance Ministries. There are differences in approach among the workers and their unions towards corporatisation. But all are agreed that the most important issue is whether the proposed corporation will be able to survive after paying taxes, dividends and the licence fee to the government. This is a very crucial issue which cannot be easily ignored. If the corporation after its establishment does not remain a viable entity but becomes sick, it will have a very adverse effect upon the growth of the national economy, as the importance of telecommunications as a key infrastructure area cannot be easily ignored!
Therefore, it is necessary to see whether this is the right time for the corporatisation of the department in its present shape, or some other exercise is necessary before the government embarks upon this exercise.
It is suggested that the corporatisation of DoT should not be initiated hurriedly, but in a phased manner.
First the Government of India must ensure that matters of policy, regulation and operation are appropriately assigned to independent bodies with detailed terms of reference for each one of them, and the mission of the newly formed bodies should be the following: better training of the existing manpower to handle new technologies; to be more customer-friendly; to change the mindset of the staff in a new competitive environment; and DoTs operational work to be taken up as a mission.
Coping with queues
THE queue of people who had come to pay their electricity bills was about as long as Rajdhani Express. Being almost at the tailend of this queue, I was trying to give a fillip to my drooping spirits by reciting, of course in an undertone, the operative lines of a famous Robert Frost poem, But I have promises to keep,/ And miles to go before I sleep...
However, every now and then when the queue suddenly came to a standstill, I would forget the poem and impatiently enquire of my immediate neighbours why the deuce we were not moving along as people in a queue should. Also, why, even when we got moving, we moved at the pace of a turtle that had its last meal about a week ago. The answer invariably was that the clerk receiving the bills was extra slow.
I had already been in the queue for nearly three quarters of an hour and still there were about 200 people ahead of me. That Robert Frost poem is all right, I told myself, but one must also be a realist when faced with such a situation. So, taking another despairing look at the Great China Wall stretching ahead of me in its serpentine glory, it did not take me long to calculate, with almost mathematical precision, the hours, minutes and seconds it would take me to reach the clerk sitting behind the grilled window.
Is there any way to escape this ordeal, I asked myself, as I fanned my perspiring face with the as yet unpaid electricity bill. And then, like a revelation, it came to me in a flash. Excuse me, I said to the man standing behind me, I am feeling very thirsty, brother. Ill be back in the queue in a short while. Please keep my place in it reserved.
Dont worry, Bhai Sahib, this Good Samaritan assured me. Go and have your fill. Theres absolutely no hurry. Were still miles away from the window.
After leaving the queue, I straightaway headed for that small restaurant across the road which looked so inviting. And indeed it proved to be a nice little joint, with an airconditioner making it a haven of comfort on a sweltering day in June. As I took a seat, I asked the waiter to bring a chilled coke for me. Sir, said the waiter, a short while later as he placed the bottle of coke before me, our speciality today is vanilla icecream. Shall I serve you a cup of it?
Do, I replied, taking a big gulp from the bottle of coke.
I spent nearly two hours in that restaurant quaffing cokes and reading back numbers of a popular film magazine before retracing my steps to the electricity office. As I drew near the queue to reclaim my place in it, I noticed that, in my absence, considerable progress had been made. My friend, the Good Samaritan, was now only a couple of yards away from the window.
What! Bhai Sahib! he said aloud, greatly surprised on seeing me back to take my place in the queue. I thought you had perhaps gone to Pathankot. Then looking at me with a naughty expression in his eyes, he said, Youre looking so fresh and so relaxed as if you have just stepped out of a beauty parlour. By the way, where were you all this time? Surely, it cannot be just a few gulps of plain water that have done the trick.
His jovial style of talking was rather infectious. Responding in the same vein, I asked him to lend me his ear if he wanted to know raaz ki baat. Then, sotto voce, I told him all.
MLAs in cantonments
CANTONMENT Boards (CBs) an over 220-year-old military concept starve of funds today. Expected to be self-sustaining, the CBs are constrained to look up to the Centre for grants-in-aid to balance their budget every year. The Centre provided Rs 18.70 crore of such assistance to CBs during 1997-98.
With the first CB created by the British in 1765 at Barrackpore and Danapore, CBs were made local self-governing bodies in the wake of the 1857 revolution for independence. In the region Meerut Cantonment is the oldest having been established in 1803 followed by Ambala that was raised in 1825. Erstwhile rules and legislation evolved into the Cantonment Act 1924, which as amended regulates the civil administration in CBs.
Under the Act the CBs raise their income through taxes akin to those of the municipality. Excise duty, taxes on trade, houses, conservancy, water, lighting, profession, etc besides tax and lease rent on CB land form the main sources of CB income. Expenditure is mostly on establishment and rendering civic amenities.
The bulk of the property in cantonments, being government-owned, is tax free. As compared to the municipalities, commercial activity within the cantonments is negligible. CBs thus generate a meagre income that proves far inadequate to maintain the vast cantonments. This has resulted in deterioration and lack of basic amenities in many of the cantonments.
Such widespread is this paucity that of the 62 CBs in the country 34 have obtained grant-in-aid from the Centre during 1997-98 to meet establishment expenditure and push unavoidable projects. Of these 12 CBs have even been given additional Rs 191.52 lakh as special grant-in-aid. Ranikhet has been the highest recipient of such aids. Its aid amounts to Rs 1,76,44,000. Of the nine CBs under jurisdiction of the Western Command, the three in Punjab are the most adversely affected. The Centre aided CB, Ferozepur, with Rs 1,25,00,000 while that at Jalandhar has been given Rs 1,05,00,000 to meet the expenses.
The state governments too, at times, add to the woes of the CBs. The Punjab Government, for instance, owes over Rs 10.64 crore of the additional excise money to the CBs of Jalandhar and Ferozepur. With the government showing no sign of releasing the money, the dispute between the state government and the Western Command seems nowhere near end. It has reached the level that Lt-Gen H.B. Kala, GOC-in-C, Western Command, has written a demi-official letter to Mr Parkash Singh Badal, Chief Minister, Punjab, requesting for release of this money. This communication of July 01, 1998, has so far gone unresponded. The Chief Secretary, Punjab Government, too has not replied to a similar letter that the General addressed to him separately.
As projected by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to the Standing Committee of Parliament on Defence (SCPD), the Central Government also has not been able to provide adequate grants to the CBs to improve their civic facilities to the desirable level.
It is not that the problem of scarce income has lately developed. Identifying the loss of annual income of CBs due to constitutional ban on taxing the government properties, the government in 1954 had agreed to compensate the CBs. This was by paying the service charges to the local bodies in respect of Central Government properties falling within the municipal limits. The rate ranged from 33 1/3 to 75 per cent of the otherwise tax. Whereas the municipalities continued to receive their due, nothing was paid to the CBs till 1982. Though permitted after 1983 the rate of payment to CBs was kept at the lowest 33 1/3 per cent. This too has never been released in full. Rs 99.08 crore was released to the CBs as service charge during 1997-98. According to a brief of MoD submitted to the SCPD-1998, Rupees 220.02 crore still stand as arrears of service charge payable to CBs against the government.
The civilian and defence residents of the CBs are thus the ultimate sufferers of the impoverished CBs and governments indifference. The proposed developmental works in the cantonments are making little headway in absence of monetary resources.
With changing conditions the MoD proposes further amendments in the CB Act. It has already submitted a Concept Paper to the SCPD-1997 that deals with the proposed amendments to the Act. To give new impetus to the democratisation process in the cantonment the paper has proposed assigning a role to the elected MP/MLA in the management of the Cantonments.
continuation of CBs as such, the paper
proposes that the military stations (MSs) be
classified as Class IV cantonments in order
to bring them under central laws for planning, building
etc. Over 600 MSs have been established in the country
since 1962 when Ajmer Cantt the last of the
cantonments was raised after independence. Unlike
in CBs, no civil population exists in the MSs.
From dropsy to dengue and typhoid
DROPSY deaths coupled with retina haemorrhage cases are continuing, rumour is that dengue and typhoid may now take the baton from them, business is going slow on the eatery and restaurant front, the crime wave is still up the graph, the rift between the bureaucracy and the politician seems to be widening, students are loitering as DUSU poll fever seems to overtake the very start of classes at the onset of the academic session, a very definite climbdown in parties or receptions and even in the harmless luxury of eating out there is that all too familiar line being echoed all the time which oil would be used?... No, no it isnt safe.... And yet nobody is ready to ask the set of the next vital questions: Where has all the supposedly discarded / adulterated oil been thrown or dumped? Has all of it really been destroyed? Wouldnt there be chances of it resurfacing at some later stage? Is it just the oil that has been adulterated what about the atta or besan or those polypack milk supplies? Are any of the tainted suppliers or wholesalers linked to the local politicians?
Everyday living and lifestyle patterns are getting so increasingly difficult here that in the last one week I have met at least three people who plan to move... out of this city before we become some strange snarling animals. And to top it are all those grim realities on our health front focus gets once again shifted on Alzheimers disease as for the first time a world meet is being hosted in our country, at Cochin, on the occasion of the World Alzheimers Day September 21. And though there is an increase in the numbers of those striken by this disorder yet the Health Ministry has no data or awareness-spread bandobasts. It is just the Alzheimers chapters, setup in some of our bigger cities by people who saw their spouses or parents or siblings afflicted by it , which are working in the spread of awareness and other related issues. The Cochin chapter, responsible for holding this world meet is being run by Jacob Roy whose father, a priest, had Alzheimers.
Also on the rise here is the now openly talked about problem of loneliness. Last month as I had interviewed the well known sociologist, 57-year-old Imtiaz Ahmad for his views on why Indians shy away from remarriage he was frank enough to say that he himself was lonely yet not been able to find the suitable person for remarriage (hed been divorced for several years). And soon after that interview I again heard from him, telling me about his instant remarriage. Your interview had a role to play! It almost provoked me to think along those lines and do something about this growing loneliness. So I went ahead and proposed to a longstanding friend and married her that every week, for I felt the need of a companion... As psychiatrists point out that by itself loneliness is not a disease but it does lead to not only depression but secondary diseases and more and more people are visiting counselling centres and psychiatrists to seek a way out. This is especially true of cities like Delhi where nobody has the time for even family members, each doing his own thing .... And if the Helpage-India director general is to be quoted then many of those in their sixties are putting advertisements in the matrimonial columns for the need for companionship is so acute. Also, for some, that damn thing sex is also on the head. In fact, here let me also point out that of the total AIDS cases 11 per cent are from the elderly age group, so the sexual need is also there....
Two books each so different
Perhaps, the disgust at Delhi has been best summed by journalist VK Madhavan Kutty, in his just released book The Southern Discomfort (Har Anand). I quote him A quarter century ago I came to Delhi, I came here full of enthusiasm... But, today, I feel like an alien.... If I feel I am a stranger here (and believe me, I do and that feeling is growing) it is not because of the recent developments. It is not because one political party has given way to another. It is the total sense of things, a sense of their evolving towards a tragic and negative climax in our history....
Standing as a total contrast is the other book I received this week. Shobha Des autobiography Selective Memory: Stories From My Life (Penguin) where she seems so much in love with Bombay that she has even gone and given a clean chit to the Shiv Sainiks, in the context of a personal problem she had faced. And though this book contains no bombshell material and no turning points of any outrageous nature yet because of the inimitable style and flow it makes excellent reading. I finished reading the 531 pages in one sitting.
Focus on Bertolt Brecht
Max Mueller Bhavan is leaving nothing to chance, rather is making sure that each aspect of Bertolt Brecht is highlighted in the coming fortnight. A programme of films, exhibitions, panel discussion takes off from September 30 at the MMB, to mark his 100th birth anniversary.
And Brecht was no ordinary man, rather a phenomenon. One of the few who had forewarned about the rise of Hitler much before Nazi forces had actually taken charge. Who wrote and staged plays against Hitler. And who could not be killed by Hitler, though it is said that in his efforts to flee from Germany he changed more countries than the boots on his feet. The other theory is that Hitler himself spared him for he was not a Jew. And when he had died in 1956, at the age of 58 years, he had already achieved an international stature unequalled by any other theatrical writer, director or producer of this century. But there is another side too. Always a controversial figure, he attracted and continues to attract antipathy which borders on the hysterical and frequently spills on the realms of pure hatred... In Germany today there is an awareness of what they call Brecht fatigue.
THE remarkable religious zeal and fervour with which the Sikhs of India thronged in lakhs at Amritsar and carried out the silt clearance of their sacred tank must be still fresh in the minds of the people. It was a unique occasion unprecedented in the annals of the Sikhs when the poor and the rich, and the low and the exalted, the king and the peasant alike united together and honoured themselves in the name of their Gurus by performing the glorious spade work Kar Sewa.
No spectacle could be more ennobling and soul-stirring than the sight which presented itself when His Highness the Maharaja of Patiala applied his spade to the sacred silt and continued digging it out till his clothes were besmeared with mud.
This was, of course, befitting the position which His Highness occupies as the ruling prince of the premier Sikh State in the Punjab and the religious traditions which his family enjoys. This glorious incident bears an eloquent testimony to the fact that religion occupies a far loftier position in the human heart than riches and temporal dignity.
Will the noble example set by the Sikhs remain unemulated by other communities and specially the father community, the Hindus? Will not the Hindu Princes of India prove that they are also not devoid of true dharmic zeal by following the glorious example of the Maharaja of Patiala? Will the Hindus of India who have inherited the most ancient religion of the globe and who can be rightly proud of the spiritual dignity of their revered forefathers lag behind and confirm the general impression that the religious feelings which surged in the breasts of their worthy ancestors are dead? I believe not. I still believe that the smouldering tinders of religious fire in the hearts of the Hindus will take spark from the Panthic enthusiasm of the Sikhs and burst out into a glorious conflagration, and they will stand up in a body to redeem their religious honour.
They have only to listen
to the heart-rending meanings and cries of shame emitted
by the ruins of the holiest of all holy Tirths, the
Dharma Bhumi of Sri Kurukshetra, and they will realise at
once where their work and duty lie. The land where the
memorable battle of Mahabharat was fought is lying full
of ruins, uncared for and unlooked after. The soil which
the sacred feet of Lord Krishna tread has been neglected
for centuries. A reader
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