Sunday, December 28, 2014

The simple, complex explosive power of a book

It’s easy these days to be distracted from the simple, complex explosive power of a book by all the more glamorous-seeming novelties winking around us. A YouTube video seems to bring Cuba home to us more vividly than any travel book could do. Tweets and updates and Instagrams flood in on us at such a rate that we hardly have time to sink into the private cathedrals of space and light erected by Henry James or Proust. The world is in such a rush right now that it’s tempting to think that it’s more important to be up-to-the-microsecond, on top of things, with the latest news streaming into one’s palm than in fact what renders us richest and most attractive as humans, the spacious, deepening, timeless world of books.
---Pico Iyer

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Recommended reading: "War by Media" by John Pilger

The information age is actually a media age. We have war by media; censorship by media; demonology by media; retribution by media; diversion by media – a surreal assembly line of obedient clichés and false assumptions.
--John Pilger 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

West Bengal: Is the Change in Power three steps away?

We had these words from Siddhartha Nath Singh, the BJP leader now in charge of West Bengal, in the big rally held on December 30 in Kolkata.

Bhag Madan Bhag (2014)
Bhag Mukul Bhag (2015)
Bhag Mamata Bhag (2016)

Bhag is a Bengali word used in defamatory sense to mean to order Run.

Is the Power really three steps away?

Would it really happen exactly in the sequence as described above?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Nitish Kumar combats Narendra Modi, and how solidly

Politicians have always been a problem with me: I can't just put up with their rhetoric, their false promises and their inconsistencies. They most often outrage you, but you have no way to respond to them because they are fiercely powerful and vindictive.

Well, Nitish Kumar, himself a politician, has a way, He is now conducting public meetings in Bihar with CDs of Narendra Modi's pre-election speech. In between his speech, he lets people hear what Mr Modi told just months ago and what he's doing anything in that direction. Nitish illustrates this with concrete examples. Like,"Mr Modi promised he would bring all black money from abroad within 100 days of his being in power. It has already been more than 150 days. Has he kept his promise?"

We all know Modi's government is now playing around with the issue, Though it has bagged a list of people who stashed away black money abroad, it's not really interested in making the list public.

I like Nitish's way of exposing someone so powerful as Narendra Modi. His approach is solid and down-to-earth, and I hope it will work and be followed by others.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Free-market ideology

“I don’t think it’s an ideology that should be taken entirely seriously. I don’t think people come to it for the most part out of intellectual curiosity. I think it is a story that is incredibly convenient to elites because it rationalises extremely antisocial behaviour. It’s an ideology I don’t want to make peace with.”

Saturday, October 04, 2014

"Who do you think deserves a Nobel Prize and why?"

The Swedish Academy posts this question at its website. Why?

Is it to remind the people of Alfred Nobel's dictate that the prizes are for "..those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind."

Or is it a ploy to change the selection process by seeking public mandate to choose the winners?

We view this question with suspicion.  The Academy should maintain its distance from the public, and under no circumstances, undermine/ dilute its policy of selection of the winners.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lotus blooms in Bengal

I must admit I react ambiguously to BJP's victory in Basirhat South by-election. While I'm happy that it defeats TMC -  which put in all of its resources and muscle power to win the seat-thus giving a blow to Mamata Banerjee and her corrupt regime, I can't entirely accept that the lotus blooms here in Bengal.

Judging by the political environs right now, this debut will snowball across the state, and in the absence of a real people's party (the so-called Marxists have done extremely badly in both the by-elections), is going to occupy the centre-stage anyway.

An extreme right-wing party seems to be the destiny of the state.

 It has always happened to every state or country where the leftists misruled and went out of power.

I don't see any chance of the leftists -real or fake or whatever kind - returning to power in Bengal any time soon.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sardha Scam show is no ordinary thriller

A top dog of a well-known football club managing the SEBI and RBI problems up there  and a top ex-police officer sorting out the issues down here with the aam admi investors: this is cheat fund business as we know now, thanks to Sardha scam that is unfolding each day as the CBI sleuths dig in.

The scam has gripped my attention for quite a while. I enjoy it like a thriller, reading it in papers, watching it on TV, and finding myself thinking about its width and implications. I try to understand the scam in the context of our polity and economy. No simple thing this: it's a criminal web connecting a whole lot of things - politics, administration, police, business persons, well-known names, you name it. Once we had faith, a bit of it at least,  in all of these things.  

Sudipta Sen was a criminal genius. No doubt about it. But what do you think about Debabrat Sarkar, Rajat Majumdar, and soon-to-be found-out others who actively helped in swindling crores of money from the investors? What do you think about Aparna Sen, the actor-film director, who worked as editor of a Sardha-funded glossy journal and as  CEO of a media training centre that never came into being? Her excuse that she didn't know it was a cheat fund project is at best funny. Of course, she knew all, but her seven-lakh monthly salary was more important than anything else. And like many, she never thought she would be caught.

The interesting thing is, Sudipta Sen has failed to digest the money, his money has flown to Rajat/Debabrata to politicians/Sebi RBI officers/ celebrities/businessmen, who face the same problem of digesting it.

It reads like a China Mieville thriller.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Jean Dreze on social spending in India

The idea that social spending in India is too high would be amusing if it were not so harmful. According to the latest World Development Indicators (WDI) data, public spending on health and education is just 4.7 per cent of GDP in India, compared with 7 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, 7.2 per cent in East Asia, 8.5 per cent in Latin America and 13.3 per cent in OECD countries. Even the corresponding figure for “least developed countries,” 6.4 per cent, is much higher than India’s. The WDI database does not include social security spending, but the recent Asia Development Bank report on social protection in Asia suggests that India is also an outlier in that respect, with only 1.7 per cent of GDP being spent on social support compared with an average of 3.4 per cent for Asia’s lower-middle income countries, 5.4 per cent in China, 10.2 per cent in Asia’s high-income countries and a cool 19.2 per cent in Japan. If anything, India is among the world champions of social underspending. The view that social spending is a waste has no factual basis either. The critical importance of mass education for economic development and the quality of life is one of the most robust findings of economic research. From Kerala to Bangladesh, simple public health interventions have brought down mortality and fertility rates. India’s midday meal programme has well-documented effects on school attendance, child nutrition and even pupil achievements. Social security pensions, meagre as they are, bring some relief in the harsh lives of millions of widowed, elderly or disabled persons. The Public Distribution System has become an invaluable source of economic security for poor households, not just in showcase States like Tamil Nadu but even in States like Bihar and Jharkhand where it used to be non-functional. Of course, there is some waste in the social sector, just as there is much waste in (say) universities. In both cases, the lesson is not to dismantle the system but to improve it — there is plenty of evidence that this can be done.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

You have to be free when you write

I think you have to be free when you write. If you think of a reader, you are not free. To do something good you have to step out of society, almost out of humanity, if that’s possible. That doesn’t mean that you don’t respect the reader, but that comes later. I don’t think Joyce considered what anyone would think when he wrote Finnegans Wake, because that’s an unreadable book.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Obituary a celebration of life!

An obituary writer's take on death
“I never mention how people die, because I don’t think that’s important at all. I think an obituary is a celebration of a life.”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Oh, Bengal!

Was there ever a time when West Bengal was a peaceful land? 

I've been living here since 1971 and have seen only violence in different forms. Police vans invading the houses in deep hours of the night and killing the dissident young folk at random, ghastly fight between rival political party members,  violence in electoral booths, violence in educational institutions, state massacre of the hapless people at Marichjhapi, brutal killings of the Anandamargis, violence in forcing people to attend meetings at Brigrade Parade Ground, violence in establishing the Promoter Raj, violence in taking away lands from the poor, senseless killing of the Maoists in Jangalmahal, Nandgram genocide etc etc.

The current rulers have also proved their fascination for violence in an extra-ordinary way as you see in the just concluded Loke Sabha poll. 

Violence escalates each day. Violence gets to be the order of the day. 

Despite my leanings towards the left, I've began to increasingly believe that it's the left - the CPIM in this case - who is responsible for the state of violence that is today. As it has moved away from its ideologies over time, the Leftists, like their comrades elsewhere in the world -  has resorted to violence more and more to retain their grip on the people.

The leftists here seem to have gone a full circle. From their zero to zenith position,  they have long been on their downturn spiral. Having got just two seats - that too in two remote districts - out of forty two, they can well be a signboard party in the coming assembly election. What a fall!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Saffron on Us

Who could ever thought that the BJP alone would emerge as the single party with the majority? Who could ever think the BJP alone would bag 284 seats - much more than 272 seats required to form a government?

Narendra Damodardas Modi's was not just a wave, it was a sunami that inundated the whole of the country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, to use the old cliche. 

Can you explain it? 

Nobody apparently loves NaMo, but he wins in a big way. Not because of his party, but because of his own charisma or whatever.

One way to explain it: the dismal performance of the most parties, especially the Congress who was deep in multiple scams, and pushed the country to the edge with people reeling under sky-rocketing price rise, among other things. The mandate might be a reflection of the desperation of the masses to lift out of the pit they were thrown in. It could be the casual but reckless let-us-try- Modi -this- time attitude.

The widespread desperation had wind from media blitzkrieg generated by fund from top-notch industrialists like, for example,  Ambanis who spent crores for victory of Modi - their blue-eyed boy.  In the process, NaMo obscured his own party and reigned supreme as a messiah of the masses during the election process.

As we see now, he 's a successful salesman. He may have a bloody past, his look may be hard and menacing, his words harsh and rhetorical, but he is spot on. He's unstoppable. That's Modi magic.

With Narendra Modi in power, the right-wing force in India blossoms in full. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Kerala as I saw it

I had a seven-day Kerala tour recently with my family. As we went to, and returned from, Karala by air, we wasted little time, and were able to explore the state better. It was, though, a hectic tour. Starting from Kochi airport through Erneculum, Fort Kochi, Alleppi, Munner and finally to Trivandum we were always on the move, staying the nights at different city hotels.

Keral is touted as "God's own country". But it's more of a hype than reality. Fort Kochi is dirty and smelly, and the stink that I caught up from there didn't leave me until I reached Munner two days later via Aleppy.

What I liked about the state is its simple hard-working people. From auto-rickshaw drivers to shopkeepers to hoteliers, they were all well-behaved and helpful, and except in Verkala, no one tried to fleece us. The only jarring thing was Pinaryl Vijayan's posters and cutouts along our way among the fluttering red flags.

The law and order situation in the state is superb. You don't hear any story of rape or violence against women. The people here seem to have regard for the woman. What a relief to sense this as I come from West Bengal where rape happens everyday.

I have this feeling that there are a lot of poor people around in the state ( Or why would there be a Marxist party at all?). I encountered some lepers and beggars as well.

It is of course an old civilization trying to slowly catch up with modernity.

We visited many beaches along our way: Kobalam, Lighthouse and Verkala  among them. These beaches have more foreigners than native visitors. Lighthouse seems occupied by the foreigners. The state panders to them for the revenue.

Verkala is like old Puri beach, and is really serene and de-stressing.

It was the last on our itinerary.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Beware of Kiran Bedi

Kiran Bedi  is now pitching for NaMo as next prime minister, and I'm not surprised.

She is perceived as honest and daring ex-police officer. But if you have really examined her track record, she has always wanted to project herself as one up over her peers. She is simply a hypomanic and egotist.

When Arvind Kejriwal and his followers fell out with Anna, Kiran chose to side with Anna. And we were led to believe that she, like Anna, wears apolitical views on her sleeves as an activist.

But no, she's political, and very much so. Blame it on her frustration on seeing AAP  and Kejriwal team in the centrestage not only in Delhi, but in the whole of India. How could Bedi bear with this? Her oversized ego can't see through and accept the history that is in the making.

I don't give a damn about Bedi, but one thing I'm really concerned about: Ms Bedi may now convince old Anna to pitch for Modi. 

I hope I'm proved wrong.


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