Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ayodhya and what it Implies

By Badri Raina

The Supreme Court having dismissed a Special Leave Petition seeking deferment of the Allahabad High Court judgement which was slated to be delivered on the 24th of September, the decks have been cleared for the said judgement to be pronounced now at 3.30 afternoon tomorrow, the 30th of September, 2010.

At the heart of the issue in court is a title suit to determine who is in rightful possession of the site where the demolished mosque stood—a Muslim organization or a Hindu one.

Remarkably, after some sixty years of litigation in the matter, all parties to the dispute have welcomed the prospect of a legal determination regardless of who wins or loses, or whether the judgement-to-come confronts the parties with a mixed bag of determinations. But leaving the way open to all to go in appeal to the Supreme Court depending on how the chips fall.

It is to be recalled that one justification preferred for the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 was that the courts were taking forever, and that the Rambakhts were thus obliged to take matters into their own gruesome hands to level the ground for the construction of a “grand” temple to lord Ram, who they simply believe was born at the very exact spot where the main dome of the mosque stood.

Interestingly, the BJP whose stalwarts were in the forefront of the demolition event on December 6, 1992, and which till now had been holding to the view that the Constitution and the Courts have no locus standi in the matter of “civilizational” convictions, seems suddenly as fervently favourable to the judicial pronouncement as the Muslim litigants who have consistently argued that any final legal determination of the matter will be accepted by them without demur, however it turns out for their side.

The BJP’s new stance of course may not be as straightforward or upright as it seems. As much as we can forsee, having understood that the national mood in India is visibly transformed, it will be their further tactics to “go to the people” come national hustings and ask for a legislative majority in parliament so as they can legislate that “grand temple” to be “lawfully” constructed at Ayodhya—something they have tried before and failed to achieve. Which suggests importantly (something that tends to be brushed under the polemical carpet) that however they have sought to make the temple issue a “Hindu” one, endorsement for such a read has not been forthcoming. Remarkably, to this day, the BJP has failed to obtain the electoral patronage of some 70% among the Hindu electorate.

Cannily, most Hindu Indians who after all are not averse to a Ram temple being built also understand that it is not the temple so much that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar want as an anti-Muslim political and civilizational assertion, and a seal on the fascist view that the concerns and convictions of the sectarian-cultural majority must take precedence over electoral majorities as mandated by the Constitutional regime. A programme that ordinary Indians across the board do not concur with.

We have often defined India’s democracy as indeed still work-in-progress. There has been no better evidence of that than the manner in which two momentous arms of the state have through the years tended to deal with the Ayodhya imbroglio, namely the Executive and the Media.

In 1992, the year of the watershed demolition of the mosque, the central government led by the “secular” Congress party simply went into deep siesta the whole day long, allowing the vandals and the criminals to finish off the job in glee and glamour. And even now when there is overwhelming demand on all sides that the court be allowed to pronounce on the title suit, the characteristic pusillanimity of the Congress remains unaffected: it would much rather avoid having to assert the Constitutionally obligatory mandate of the State to sort out the publicly disorderly consequences, if any, of the judicial pronouncement, but will reluctantly do so if the parties to the suit fail to reconcile—something they have failed to do over six long decades of trying.

All that in stark contrast to its willingness to launch “operation greenhunt” against recalcitrant tribals in some six states of India and to fire real bullets at stone-pelting teenagers in the valley of Kashmir.

At the heart of the pusillanimity, let us repeat, has been the peculiar version of secularism adopted by the State from its inception, namely not a separation of church and state, but an “equal” regard of all religious faiths.

Clearly, where some 85% of all Indians are Hindus of one kind or another, that mandate of “equal” regard finds its own disequilibrium in the politics of “mainstream” India. Just as dependable citizenship remains coloured by denominational proclivities and preferences.

For those reasons, therefore, (and especially when a “new” young India refuses to be much drawn to the dispute), it will remain to be seen how the Congress party and the state led by it now rise to the occasion. No more inspiring words than those of the Supreme Court that just as the judiciary cannot be prevented form doing its job, it is for the State to do its.

As to the Media, especially of the big corporate variety: its class allegiance willy nilly obliges it to oscillate between the Congress and the BJP, its dream of long that such a two-party dispensation comes to gel to the exclusion of the plethora of other political formations whose agendas tend to be either inimical to big business or wholly localized and “socially retrograde.”

And between the Congress and the BJP, it has tended to prefer the latter for its more openly and completely market-friendly predilections. And where the BJP practices a non-lethal variety of religiosity, this is also seen as a boon, to the extent that such a stance taps the energies of the mass of working Hindus whose devotions to the deities are legendary, keeping them away from mobilizing on livelihood issues. No better ploy to keep the pretentious politics of the Left in its sidelined place. It is only when a communal mayhem is let loose that the corporate media begins to fidget, since the image of an India on the march to accumulation and profit maximization is then severely dented and thwarted.

In the current moment, there is evidence that some sections of this media are more boldly out to support the Constitutional assertion of the judiciary and the state than they have been hitherto.

Some others who have been more closely in embrace with the BJP are strangely and distressingly heard to counter the general mood in favour of a judicial determination of the Ayodhya issue with the old “tea party” argument about the non-justiciability of “faith.” A sort of back-up to the clandestine BJP position which the party itself for now seems to have suspended in the hope that any further prolonged career of the dispute in the Supreme Court will open the route to its demand for an electoral majority so that the temple construction be legislated.

But, finally, more than all these, a great deal of what may or may not transpire will depend on new civil society and mass attitudes to the judicial verdict due tomorrow.

A distinct watershed moment then in the post-Independent history of “modernizing” India which will tell us whether the Constitutional clock moves ahead or suffers a circum ambulatory regression in time.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Games

By Badri Raina

However you may cavil,

We got the game, the game;

However it may unravel,

We have no shame, no shame.

Only a hundred workers lost their lives,

Only a footbridge fell;

Only the beggars were put to the knives,

Our hands remain in the till.

The white man does not appreciate

How well we negotiate

Reality and bluster,

Third world and first world state.

Our metaphysics teaches us

To look with benign eye

On scoundrels and scalawags

Who leave us high and dry.

O India we assure you

Your image shall not be dented;

However the shit may hit the fan,

Our glories shall be scented.

Be not the anti-national wag,

Sing praise to national pride;

Whatever be the price to pay,

We shall bring in the bride.

And when we do the beggars will

Be back where we know them;

And they will so rejoice with us

When we show them

All the infrastructure we built

While they were in quarantine;

They will dance to national pride,

They will say it is fine

If they never have a belly full,

Or a shanty in their fate,

So long as the Queen acknowledges

How the games made India great.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Science of Happiness: New Research on Mood, Satisfaction -- Printout -- TIME

from TIME

Seligman, in contrast, puts the emphasis on the remembering self. "I think we are our memories more than we are the sum total of our experiences," he says. For him, studying moment-to-moment experiences puts too much emphasis on transient pleasures and displeasures. Happiness goes deeper than that, he argues in his 2002 book Authentic Happiness. As a result of his research, he finds three components of happiness: pleasure ("the smiley-face piece"), engagement (the depth of involvement with one's family, work, romance and hobbies) and meaning (using personal strengths to serve some larger end). Of those three roads to a happy, satisfied life, pleasure is the least consequential, he insists: "This is newsworthy because so many Americans build their lives around pursuing pleasure. It turns out that engagement and meaning are much more important."

Science of Happiness: New Research on Mood, Satisfaction -- Printout -- TIME

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

David A. Bell Reviews Mark C. Taylor's "Crisis On Campus: A Bold Plan For Reforming Our Colleges And Universities" | The New Republic

Taylor is obviously right to say that university systems today, in this country and abroad, face an unprecedented crisis. Costs continue to spiral upwards even as revenue shrinks. Successive cohorts of graduate students move from the Ph.D. to the unemployment lines, or to the wilderness of adjuncting. While magnificent advances in knowledge continue to take place, many tenured professors produce little of real scholarly value. But it is one thing to say that universities have problems. It is another to argue, as Taylor is effectively arguing, that the universities are the problem—that the system that allegedly began with Kant (in fact it began much earlier) has reached the end of its intellectual and social usefulness, and needs to be swept away in favor of something radically new and untested, in accordance with technologies that are still evolving at breakneck speed. That is a reckless, wrong-headed idea, and it has no place in serious discussions of higher education’s future, even if it puts a buzz on an op-ed page.

David A. Bell Reviews Mark C. Taylor's "Crisis On Campus: A Bold Plan For Reforming Our Colleges And Universities" | The New Republic

Frank Kermode

Mary-Kay Wilmers

from London Review of Books

Papers speak through their writers. And of all the London Review’s writers Frank Kermode was the one through whom we spoke most often and most eloquently. In all he wrote nearly 250 pieces for the LRB, the first in October 1979, a review of J.F.C. Harrison’s book on millenarianism, the last, in May this year, a review of Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. ‘Eloquently’: was that the right word? Not really. Frank’s writing was so much more exact, more stylish, more patient, more ironic, more playful, more attentive, more cunning, more cagey than ‘eloquence’ can suggest. ‘Stealthy’ is another possibility – a word Michael Wood used in introducing the collection of Frank’s essays we published to mark his 90th birthday. But as I pile on the epithets I hear Frank’s voice in my head and I stop.

LRB · Mary-Kay Wilmers · Frank Kermode

Sunday, September 5, 2010

May sanity prevail

Here is an urgent message from Amritjit Singh, Langston Hughes Professor of English, Ohio University, USA

Dear Colleagues,

Much is happening around the country right now to inflame hatred toward Muslims and Arabs. As one dear colleague noted today with understandable alarm, “I am deeply worried about the poisonous environment swirling around the Park51 initiative. Glen Beck and his ilk have given public permission to revile and attack Muslims and their institutions. Mosques are being burned, there is a threat to torch Qur'ans on 9/11, and individuals are being physically assaulted.”

Further, those of us with origins in South Asia or the Middle East (Muslim or not) – that is, those of us who are perceived as Muslim or Arab based on our phenotype or our dress – are also beginning to catch the fire.

As educators or as individuals otherwise concerned about civil rights and civil liberties, we need to be on the alert and be prepared to do whatever we can to speak up and to educate.

At the very minimum, we could take a few minutes of class time to address this burgeoning social issue and help in raising our students’ awareness of how such bias might hurt and scar real human beings around us.

We could also consider developing and sharing information sheets or power-points on Islam & Islamophobia for our courses and offer some programs for campus at large.

Have a good Labor Day weekend, Amrit

Friday, September 3, 2010

Daily Targum - Electronic books turn new page in literature

It wasn’t until recently that I was forced to reevaluate my stance on the e-book. While researching the negative effects of e-book sales on brick and mortar bookstores, I came across an essay by the science fiction author Charlie Stross. In the essay, “CMAP #5: Why Books are the Length they Are,” Stross lends his support to the e-book, stating that the success of the e-book may lead to a revival of non-novel formats, like novellas and serials, which have been floundering for some time.

With this one simple statement, Stross brought me over to the dark side and showed me the brilliant light I’d been missing there all along. If the e-book can revive dead formats, it can also create new ones. We are now in a position wherein we can drastically redefine what counts as a book. As Stross says in his essay, the processes and costs of printing and binding usually dictate the lengths of books, and we have come to define books according to the very narrow specifications of publishing companies. But the e-book frees books from these constraints, giving writers more room to experiment and making it easier for readers to engage with these experiments.

Daily Targum - Electronic books turn new page in literature

The War Artist | Online Only | Granta Magazine

‘When do I start?’ the war artist asked.

The captain glanced at his watch, his thin lips pressed into a sliver. Thirty seconds passed.

‘Today,’ he said.

From down the hallway a pistol shot rang out, followed by the sprightly pop of a champagne cork.

‘Right now, in fact.’ He handed the war artist a neatly folded uniform, saluted her, and walked out the door.

The War Artist | Online Only | Granta Magazine

Remembering my teacher

By Rajesh Kumar Sharma

A friend, who also is a teacher, recently sent an sms: satinder singh passed away this morning.

Satinder Singh introduced me to the art of reading literature. He taught us to read patiently, to wait like birds even as reading hatched taking its own time. And he taught us to navigate literary works like wayfarers exploring the labyrinthine patterns of some Persian carpets.

I remember the day -it must have been in 1980- I first went up to Satinder Singh. As always, he was there outside the classroom well before the class began. I had been reading a poem by Tennyson and had some questions. He heard me out and asked me to see him again the following day.

'Read this book over the weekend and come back to me,' he said, handing me The Complete Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson. I looked apprehensively at the forbidding tome but he reassured me, 'You'll read it through, I know.' And he smiled, patted my shoulder and walked into the class.

I was in the first year of my Bachelor's course and full of doubts, including those about my ability. But he seemed to know his students better than we knew ourselves. He believed in us and made us believe in ourselves as if by magic. He was the only one who used Goethe, Kierkegaard, TS Eliot, e e cummings, Stephen Spender, Milton and Voltaire in composition and translation classes. He would often stay with a word or line for a whole hour, mining and polishing its gold. At times, he would spend days on a short passage. He taught, and taught us to read, unhurriedly.

It so happened once that he had to share a course with another teacher. He taught Julius Caesar, while she did poetry. She sliced her way through poems at such a pace that she often ended up finishing off three poems in forty minutes. 'A teacher's test is how long his cupped hands can hold water,' he had once remarked. He was so right, I realized.

After one of his brightest students did his Master's with a gold medal, he said, 'I want you to be a teacher. Because you are one of the best.'

His house overflowed with books just as he did with kindness, affection and modesty. Such men are lonely seekers of wisdom. Several among his colleagues secretly envied him, often letting the envy show itself, in unguarded moments, as scorn. They bought shares and land and enlarged their houses, while he quietly laboured to enlarge his library and mind.

When I went to Panjab University to continue my Master's, he was probably the happiest among my teachers at Government College, Hoshiarpur. 'We've given you whatever we could. Now you need more. Learn and grow.'

I last met him some fifteen years ago. He asked me, 'Do you still read books? Or have you stopped reading?'

Thursday, September 2, 2010

So, What Colour Is Terror?

By Badri Raina

From: Z Net - The Spirit Of Resistance Lives

/“Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,/

/Stains the white radiance of Eternity.”/



Shelley was never more wrong, but to that I shall return.

Currently, one of the “burning issues” on media channels here in India is what colour we may ascribe or not ascribe to terror. A conundrum, if there ever was one.

The matter has arisen from a comment made by the honourable Home Minister (read Minister of the Interior, incharge of “security” of the realm) to a conclave of senior law-enforcement officers on the state of alertness required of them in these troubled times.

Detailing the many sources and forms of terror that now bedevil the even march of the country towards progress and “development,” he made a politic or impolitic “depending on who is listening” reference to a newer source of terror, namely, “saffron” terror, since many cases have come to notice since 2006 that involve terrorists aligned to organizations with classical Hindu names: Abhinav Bharat, Sanaatan Sanstha, Hindu Janjagruiti Manch and so on.

Individuals close to the RSS as well seem under scrutiny, while many are indicted and in jail.

At which the cry has gone up from predictable quarters that such a nomenclature is calculated to malign all Hindus, since saffron is a shade sacred to Hindus, and one that adorns Hindu rites and rituals. There is also the case that saffron forms the topmost strip of the national tricolour. That the tricolour also has a green (an Islamic hue) strip is another matter, and usually a discomforting reminder to the espousers of Hindutva who regard India as in essence a Hindu nation. Reason why the RSS refused to acknowledge the tricolour as the national icon till some two years after Independence, being then forced to do so as a quid pro quo to the release of its Chief from jail where he was placed after the murder of Gandhi.


So what are we to think and do?

The naming of names remains a fraught enterprise; and the current lot of protestors are right that many peace-loving and secular Hindus who oppose Hindutva the most are also likely to feel uncomfortable with the “saffron” allusion.

Such, infact, has been the argument adduced by civil society at large whenever Muslim names have come up during investigations into terrorist activity that rubrics like “Islamic terror,” or “Jehadi terror” etc., likewise malign some 99.9% of Muslims who equally oppose terror conducted in the name or on behalf of Islam. Never mind that the Hindutva brigade never quite admitted that argument until the boot came to be on the other foot.

Thus it came to be that on a talk show the other day, a happy resolution was found. Ergo, if terror has a colour, it can only be “black.”

Now, as any student of world history would know, black has been everybody’s bug bear. If among the Christian world, Satan is the Prince of Darkness, and all things evil happen by night (God, you remember, is the “Light”) among us dried-in the-wool Aryan sun-worshippers, it is no different. The authentic Brahmin brow has always been thought to be /“tejaswaie”/, to wit, burnished with light, since the Brahmin was anyway born of Brahma’s brow, and the shades got darker with declension into the shoulders, the limbs, and the feet, as the lower orders of castes also emerged. You can see why some historians should conclude that the genesis of the Indian caste system lies in a racial idea (/“varna” /in Sanskrit literally meaning colour).

Now if all terror, in essence, is “black,” it must be concluded that the chief terrorist sits in the Whitehouse, not to speak of the whole continent of Africa and wherever else black folks live and do good work. Not a workable idea, you would concede.


Which brings me to my own take.

Any good Physicist will tell you that black is infact the most unmixed and uncontaminated of colours, wholly itself and none other.

And that the colour that has gone down in history as the purest of the pure is the one, in scientific fact, that harbours a conglomerate of colours, namely White.

No finer lay evidence for that startling fact than the rainbow. It is when white light is refracted that them colours can be seen which make up the “white.”

Now apply that discovery to the history of the world and you might get a colossal rainbow of terror -- 50 million dead in the slave trade (all black), millions during the colonization of the Americas, of Africa, and of Asia, hundreds of thousand in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 6 million we are told in the Holocaust, millions in the Gulag, hundreds of thousand again in Vietnam (ah that saffron Agent Orange), a million or more again in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who knows what is to come.

And all under the camouflage of the colourless (sic) White, with the black, the brown, the pale, and all shades in-between at the receiving end.

I say therefore that be it the red, the black, or the green, or the saffron varieties of terror, they are all midwifed by the great White. That is the one that has the hugest of Jaws, and the most insatiable appetite for violence and grab. Is it a surprise that many hopefuls worldwide who had expected peaceful and peace-loving things from Barrack Obama today conclude that he is proving to be just another White, after all?

What the lovely Shelley seems not to have known is that the “many-coloured glass” of his lament is indeed the manifest of Eternity which he supposed to be an unsullied White.

If you have a better case, do let me know.