Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Creepy Crawly Feeling

A few days ago I finally figured out how to get Google Webmaster Tools to divulge traffic statistics about this blog, and made a rather unexpected discovery: someone is trying to block access to it.

A report I downloaded on 25 November said – if I am reading it right – that there had been 363 recent cases of “restricted by robots.txt,” “Not Found” responses had been returned five times, and “Unreachable” once.

That cleared up the mystery of the small “Web page cannot be found” sign that always floats over some part of my blog even when the page is open and readable. (I had paid it no attention, thinking it was caused by the slow speed of my Photon link,)

After some research I discovered that the “robots.txt” file is meant for outdated pages that site-owners do not want search engines to find. It is the Web equivalent of a No Entry sign; the page thus marked does not show up on keyword search results.

Who would want to block a private blog that is admittedly opinionated but hardly a threat to anyone?

I discovered a number of anomalies also on the www.undiplomatictimes.com website, which has of late been difficult to update because of what I had thought were technical glitches.

As Google's Blogger is beyond the reach of direct queries from users of its free services, I sent off an email message to the company in Goa, Netsparx, that has arranged for the hosting of undiplomatictimes.com. That was yesterday. No response yet, but I have a creepy crawly feeling that it won't be good when it comes.

If readers of this blog have any advise about what to do about this problem I would be grateful for advise to: papamenon04@yahoo.com.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Only Thing Worse Than a Fool ...

Markandey Katju seems bent on demonstrating the truth of Mark Twain's observation that the only thing worse than a fool is an earnest fool.

In a Times of India Op-Ed piece last Saturday (25 November) the former Supreme Court judge and new Chairman of the Press Council of India blathered on about the need for freedom in the context of Indian industrialization, which alone could "abolish poverty and unemployment -- the main causes of crime and terrorism -- and get us respect in the world community."

The piece proceeded in a cascade of similar idiotic statements to this:

"I wish to clarify that I am a strong votary of liberty and have been misunderstood. However, liberty cannot be equated with license to do anything one wishes. Should one be given the liberty to spread superstitions, to fan caste or communal hatred, or put overemphasis on film stars, pop music, fashion parades and cricket in a poor country like ours? I think not."

The dummkofp doesn't seem to realize that to propose the need to restrict coverage of cricket and film stars because India is a poor country is to be quintessentially against liberty. It is to adopt the logic of the Taliban who, in the name of God, ban music and film.

Further, to put the fanning of communal and caste hatred on par with cricket and film coverage is cynical overkill in an attempt to justify his extremist views.

The man is a menace to Indian society in his current position and should be dumped.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Democratic Change in Burma/Myanmar?

Indian mass media coverage of developments in the strategically important country on our troubled eastern border has been dismal.

Of the four newspapers I get in Puducherry – The Hindu, The Times of India, The New Indian Express, and The Deccan Chronicle – only the TNIE has made any attempt to provide perspective.

In a perceptive edit-page piece in TNIE on 12 November, Whiff of Spring in Myanmar, Sridhar Krishnaswami, Head of Media Studies at the SRM University in Chennai, put the surprising reform initiatives of the new civilian government in the context of the Arab Spring and peer pressure from the Association of S.E. Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma/Myanmar is a somewhat pariah member. Naypyidaw (the junta's new jungle capital), wants the rotating chairmanship of the group in 2014.

 The other three newspapers have done no more than publish Western news agency reports, with The Hindu characteristically providing also an Op-Ed reprint (19 November) from The Guardian in Britain. In keeping with the general tenor of British media coverage, the piece struck a sceptical and disbelieving chord. That is understandable, for the junta has very little credibility; but readers are left wonderning what is happening and why.

The closest TOI came to providing its own coverage of the matter was a preachy, muddled edit-page piece on 15 November, Towards an Asian Century, by a “current affairs analyst and former CEO of a public sector company.” It exhorted India to “shed its hallmark lethargy and stupor” and make Burma/Myanmar a land bridge to China, which it portrayed as having a commanding position in the country. (China has seen its position significantly eroded as newly installed President Thein Sein, bowing to popular pressure, cancelled without warning or consultation a major dam project Beijing had funded in the expectation of getting 90 percent of the hydroelectric power it generated.)

 So what is really happening in Burma/Myanmar? (The two names are, respectively, of colonial and junta origin, one sharpening and the other blurring national identification with the country’s dominant tribe.)

 To get an informed view of recent developments I called up Vijay Nambiar, the seasoned Indian diplomat who is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Chef de Cabinet and has worn a second hat as special envoy to Burma/Myanmar ever since Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeria left the post in some ignominy in February 2010. (In an oblique but acid comment on Gambari’s performance, a writer in Irrawaddy magazine called on the UN to appoint someone who would not “spend his time at Rangoon’s Traders Hotel nursing hangovers after late-night drinking sessions with Burmese girls.”)

Nambiar had just returned to New York from the Asia-Pacific summit at Bali when he took my call. There was no one reason for the changes that were afoot, he said. The government was impelled by a desire to move into the ASEAN mainstream, get increased economic support from the West, and avoid over-dependence on China. Equally important was a change of attitude on the part of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democratic opposition.

“I’ve met her three times now,” he said. She originally dismissed what was happening as a “parody of democracy,” saying it’s “worse than outright dictatorship” because people were fooled into thinking the situation had improved. Her National Democratic League (NDL) had split after it decided not to participate in the elections; a splinter group went on to field candidates and win a few seats as the official party procured a two-thirds majority. At their last meeting, Nambiar had suggested that a more receptive attitude on her part might help bring about real change, and she had altered course.

 Nambiar thought that the reforms were real and meaningful. Some political prisoners had been released, and there was talk of releasing all of them (a total of 500 according to the government, several multiples of that number according to the Opposition). The government seemed to be heading towards the “Indonesian model” of democracy. International agencies and important Western governments had acknowledged the government's sincerity by initiating a general thaw. The UN Development Programme, the World Bank and the IMF were all preparing to extend support; Hilary Clinton would visit the country in December.

New Delhi has not publicly pushed Neypyidaw towards democracy despite overt pressure from Washington; but India has obviously been a positive and supportive influence, especially in balancing a heavy-breathing Darth Vader-like China. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi last summer and President Thein Sein’s recent visit to India were both important markers of progress.

What are the chances the reform process will stall and go into reverse as it did under Prime Minister Khin Nyunt in 2003? Although the third ranking member of the junta and in charge of Intelligence, Khin Nyunt's tentative moves to relax the political situation in the country ran into opposition from other Generals and he was eased out.

In trying to understand the headwinds facing reform in Burma/Myanmar it is useless to look for information from sources bound by the prevailing Western omerta regarding the international criminality of its elites, or from the UN, which is religious about the Hear-See-Speak-no-evil rule when it comes to the underhand dealings of powerful member States.

To find an explanation we have to begin by looking at how the country fell under military rule and why the junta has remained so implacably hostile to democracy for half a century.

The story begins in the times of Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San, the widely popular leader of the Burmese struggle for independence. He had allied himself initially with the Japanese to drive the British out of Burma in 1942-1943, and then, at the end of the war, switched sides. The British signed an agreement to hand over power, but six months before the scheduled date an assassin armed with a machine gun massacred Aung San and all his senior aides. A few low-level British officers were among those tried for the murders – the assassin's weapon was of military issue – but there was no actionable evidence against higher-level British officials who were obviously involved.

The xenophobia generated by those events gathered strength as the British continued to back armed uprisings by Burma’s secessionist tribes and the CIA’s “secret war” in Laos made the country the world centre of illicit opium production during the savage struggle for Viet Nam. That happened in the 1960s, just as the British began to develop, as a replacement for their dissolving Empire, a second imperium in the form of a global black market. The Burmese Generals became key players in the opium trade and heavily invested in the new underground British money management system.

After the end of the Viet Nam War, as opium production shifted to Afghanistan to fund another supposedly clandestine war (with the ISI as Britain's local drug runner), the Burmese share of the illicit trade dropped to about 15 per cent. However, trafficking the country's rich lodes of gemstones and hardwoods took up the slack, not to mention the junta's take from above-ground trade surpluses; the latest statistics show Burmese exports of $8 billion and imports of some $4 billion annually.

As with the ISI in Pakistan, Britain has provided the Burmese junta with solid financial incentives to remain firmly opposed to democratic rule.

In these circumstances how realistic is it to expect Burma to become a democratic country?

The answer lies not so much in the jungle lair of Naypyidaw as in The City of London. If the current American push to democratize lands long under autocrats propped up by Europe's neo-colonial elites extends to British bankers, there is hope. If not, we can expect the process in Burma/Myanmar to stop well short of meaningful democracy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Katju Displays More Ignorance

Markandey Katju’s “clarification” of his outrageous comments about the Indian people and mass media has confirmed that his ignorance is multifaceted and extends to history.

 Consider just one paragraph in the long excerpt from an interview published by The Hindu on its OP-Ed page on 16 November.

 In it Katju says India is making “a very painful and agonizing” transition from a “feudal agricultural society to modern industrial society.” Europe during a similar transition from the 16th to the 19th Centuries experienced “turbulence, turmoil, wars, revolutions, chaos, social churning and intellectual ferment. It was only after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe. India is presently going through that fire.”

The unexamined, undigested quality of that assessment is breathtaking. How did this man ever ascend to the Supreme Court!

 First, Europe and India are in no way comparable. Our societies, histories and experience of modernity are all completely different.

Second, Europe’s “turbulence, turmoil” etc., had nothing to do with the advent of “modern society.” The agonies of Europe reflected the impact of a set of racist, violent, materialist philosophies. Insofar as Europe dragged India into its affairs we have been affected, but as a society, we have not endured anything comparable.

 Third, the “modern" values Katju esteems as the product of painful European transformation actually emerged from the American Revolution. The subsequent French Revolution also proclaimed the “rights of man,” but bloody tyranny submerged them quickly. The European “scramble for Africa” in the 19th Century brought back slavery, colonialism and genocide.

Fourth, it was not until Gandhi took up the cause of Indians in South Africa that the European darkness began to lift. Gandhi’s attack on racism in Africa and colonialism in India let loose the modern human rights revolution. The values Katju ascribes to industrial modernity are Indian and homegrown.

 Fifth, European societies did not embrace “modern" values voluntarily or enthusiastically. The onset of the Cold War in 1946 allowed Britain and France to shape-shift into "free-world" good guys, but their international policies continued to be dank with blood and corruption. Both societies have continued to glorify their colonial past, brushing under the rug a record of violence, oppression, exploitation and genocide.

There is much else in Katju’s “clarification” that reflects a fundamental ignorance of Indian and global realities. He should be dumped from the Press Council.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Frisking Abdul Kalam

The frisking of former President Abdul Kalam by New York Airport security has incensed Indians. Especially because the insult was both deliberate and egregious: Security officers followed him on board an Air India flight and asked him to remove shoes and jacket for inspection.

The Indian Ambassador in Washington has been instructed to protest officially, and the Press has taken note that she herself has been patted down in the past by overzealous American airport cops; also, our Ambassador at the United Nations was asked once to remove not only his shoes but his turban.

Some parliamentarians have called for reciprocal treatment of American VIPs; one recalled on television that on a visit to Brazil a couple of decades ago he found that arriving United States nationals were required, purely as a tit for tat arrangement, to form a separate line at Immigration, to have mug shots and finger prints taken. Foreign Minister S.M Krishna has noted the possibility of retaliatory action in the most diplomatic terms.

 While such action might be necessary, Indians should keep in mind some American ground realities. The United States has been “a national security State” since the beginning of the Cold War in 1946, its constitutional structure subverted and corrupted by an incubus put in place by the “military-industrial complex” (to quote President Dwight Eisenhower).

The terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 further empowered that command centre and brought into the open many of its fundamentally un-American activities; one might almost describe them as anti-American activities, for they are deeply harmful to the country’s democratic ethos. Ordinary Americans have seen their rights trampled in the process, and the country has seen two stolen presidential elections.

In this situation, the constitutional officers of the country are essentially powerless. The State Department has already issued a formal expression of regret about the treatment of Kalam, but neither Foreign Secretary Hilary Clinton nor indeed, President Barack Obama, can promise that it will not happen again.    

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembering Guru Nanak

Two saint-poets stand at the beginning of the Indian renaissance that is still gathering force. One was Kabir, a Muslim foundling raised by a Hindu, the other was Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion.

Both of them revived the distilled excellence of Indian tradition, freeing it from centuries of meaningless ritualism.

They were born (Kabir 1440 and Nanak 1469) before Columbus made landfall in Hispaniola and Vasco da Gama came ashore in Kerala; but their legacy is very much part of the modern Indian mainstream.

Both were “Bhakti” (devotional) poets, part of a movement rooted in the Gita that was revived in Tamil Nadu during the long, slow decline of Buddhism, first by the Saiva Nayanars (5th-10th Century) and then the Vaisnava Alwars (6 to 9 Century).

Spreading to North India as Islam made inroads into Indian society the vibrant faith of the Bhakti poets sustained Hinduism as it came under foreign assault and, especially in Kabir and Nanak, sought to enfold the invading religion.

Kabir’s impact on India was spiritual and literary; that of Nanak was more: like the ancient Rishis, the Buddha and Sankara; he set the wheel of Dharma moving anew. The rise of the Sikhs as a warrior community sparked that of the Marathas under Chatrapati Shivaji, and together they doomed the Mughal Empire. To say that is not to slight the Mughals, who were by then thoroughly Indian by blood and vision; but they were, barring Akbar, firmly of the country’s past as Nanak and Shivaji betokened its future.

On 10 November, Nanak's  542nd birth anniversary, all Indians owe it to themselves to consider the significance of his life, for he set India as a whole on the path to rediscovering its own lost self.

He preached a rigorously sensible faith scorning caste and Hindu-Muslim divisions, and asserting without philosophical complexity an intense devotion to the loving, universal and indivisible reality of God.

Almost uniquely for his time, serving the poor was always a special concern to Nanak. At 12, when his father tried to initiate him in business and gave him some money to invest, he fed a number of poor people, declaring that “true business.” The gurudwara of Sacha Sauda now stands where he fed the poor.  

He accepted followers from all backgrounds, declining only those who lived ascetic, isolated lives outside society, a rejection that emphatically located spiritual life within the household. His teachings were an antidote to the weaknesses of India’s fractured, caste-ridden society that had made it possible for Arab, Persian and Afghan invaders to make slow inroads into the country, bringing with them the missionary religion of Islam.

Nanak addressed frontally the new split those invasions had caused, beginning his career as a religious leader in 1496 with the dramatic proclamation: "There is no Hindu there is no Mussulman. I follow the path of God who is neither Hindu nor Mussulman."

His own relations with Muslims were always close: at 16, he went to work as storekeeper for the Muslim ruler of Sultanpur, where he befriended the much older Sufi minstrel, Mardana, later his boon companion as he preached across the length and breadth of India. Nanak went as far as Assam in the east, Kabul in the north, Tamil Nadu in the south and beyond Sind to Mecca in the West.

The scope of his travels underlined his desire to reform the whole body of Hinduism rather than to create a new sect. Islam was as much his object of reform as Hinduism: the story is told that in Mecca, when upbraided for sleeping with his feet towards the Kabba, he asked his inquisitor to point them in the direction that God did not exist.

Did Nanak fail in his wider aim of reforming Hinduism and Islam? Does the existence of the Sikhs as a minority religious community mean that the rest of India has remained and will remain unaffected by his distillation of all that is best in our traditions, Hindu and Muslim?

The answer must be categorically in the negative. If there is one overwhelming lesson from the Indian past, it is that history does not move in a straight line. It has subtle detours and byways, triumphs that turn into long term defeat, weaknesses that evolve into strengths, contradictions that resolve themselves in magical new unities.

Nothing exemplifies that as much as the transformation of Nanak’s legacy. When he died in 1518, the Portuguese were the only Europeans in the Indian Ocean and Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty, was still a youth in Afghanistan. In the time the Mughal Empire rose to its intolerant peak Nanak’s peaceable community changed under nine successive Gurus into a cohesive society of warriors, and that had a direct influence on the upbringing of Shivaji in Maharashtra.

The rise of the Sikhs and Marathas doomed the Mughal Empire, laying India open to the stealthy invasion of the British, who sought to strengthen their tenuous control of the country by setting its people against each other on the basis of religion and caste.

In the aftermath of that era the Granth Sahib, containing the hymns of the ten Gurus and of 22 Hindu and Muslim sages, offers the nonsectarian vision that is at once the best of Indian tradition and the hope of our future. For an India committed to the physical welfare of its people yet sustained by its spiritual core it is an invaluable guide. In moving towards that goal, the following extract from one of Guru Nanak’s hymns should serve as an essential adjunct to Satyameva Jayate:

 “Though man perform lip-devotion, penance, and austerities,
   Dwell at places of pilgrimage, bestow alms and perform acts of devotion,
   What are these without the True One?
   As he sows so shall he reap; human life is lost without virtue.
   O silly one, happiness lies in being a slave to virtue.”

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Jug Suraiya's New Book

Jug Suraiya bills his new book, JS & The Times of My Life, as “a worm’s eye view of Indian journalism.” That might make you think it dishes up gritty stuff about a profession – trade rather – that has long been the receptive home of drunks, cynics and misanthropes. It does not; the book is an elegantly written memoir of a person who declares, “I never wanted to be a journalist” and is far too gentle at heart to say anything mean about the interesting menagerie of the newspaper industry. In fact, he keeps his eyes firmly fixed on the decent (if not always admirable) people who came his way during four decades in journalism. There are, however, many oddballs and eccentrics, finely observed and presented with the deft economy of style that is the hallmark of his “Jugular Vein” column in The Times of India.

 For many readers, especially fans of the now defunct JS, India’s first break-the-mould “youth magazine,” the book will be a trip down memory lane. Jug was one of the small group that launched the weekly in 1967, initially with the irredeemably square name Junior Statesman. In a city caught in the tumultuous, angry rise of the CPI (M) to power, the JS tried to be “fun” in a derivative, campy, Carnaby Street way, but with enough of desi spice to earn an ardent young following. However, it could not escape a host of dour well-wishers: those who willed it into a well. The critics were particularly annoyed because the editor who launched the magazine was the multi-talented and irreverent artist Desmond Doig, large and pink and very much a remnant of the Raj, except that he wasn’t. The Brits in Calcutta, especially those who administered The Statesman, looked down on him as chi-chi, their term for Anglo-Indian. Unlike them, his heart was firmly in India, or perhaps more accurately in its northern hills.

 Jug describes the early mad, desperate days of JS when a handful of us – I was part of the gang, along with “Dubby” Bhagat – took on the job of putting out a profusely illustrated weekly magazine without a day of experience in what needed doing. “Months of planning, of preparation, of stockpiling articles, and pictures, and comic strips, and columns, had culminated in this. And suddenly all the planning and all the preparation were as though they’d never happened at all. … How had zero hour come about? It all seemed a blur. The four of us – Desmond, Dubby, Papa and I, with Desmond leading, always – had done all the work. Desmond had planned, designed, done layouts, selected the pictures, drawn illustrations. Dubby, Papa and I had written and written some more. … That was the easy part. The hard part was the blocks, and the physical and social structure of The Statesman.” The “blocks” were the lead plates that went on The Statesman flatbed press; we had to lug them down from the etching shop to the Job Department and bring back the page proofs when they were ready. Strictly speaking, that was the job of the paper’s army of “peons,” but they were by then strictly unionized, and entirely unenthusiastic about the additional work for the JS. In Jug’s description of The Statesman social hierarchy we inky writers were the “Shudras,” the “untouchables.” 

Jug’s account of what happened at and to JS is valuable historical material, not least because of his description of the diversity of interesting characters the magazine attracted or brought into focus. At one extreme there were Mother Theresa and Edmund Hillary, at the other the schoolboy duo of M.J. Akbar and Shashi Tharoor, early contributors to the Schooltalk column. There is Jayaprakash Narayan, there is Rekha the Sonagachi prostitute, there are Dev Anand, Shirley Maclaine, Zeenat Aman and Boris Lissanevitch, ex-ballet dancer who had come to India with Diaghilev’s troupe and done a bunk to marry and settle in Nepal as Kathmandu’s first European hotelier, running the famous Yak and Yeti. [Unfortunately, Jug has left out Desmond’s favourite anecdote about how Boris, put in charge of hospitality for visiting Princess (or was it Queen?) Elizabeth, had found too late that the flush in the royal loo did not work; he arranged for a Nepali boy to keep watch through a peephole and pour down a bucket of water whenever necessary.]

The book has a priceless description of C.R. Irani, the Managing Director who took over The Statesman when Andrew Yule & Co. sold it. “The new MD exuded a military air, as pervasive as the musky scent of the Aramis cologne that he wore. He sported a safari suit, with epaulettes. From his pockets, crammed with cartridge-like ballpoint pens, dangled metallic fobs, like wartime medals. The lens of spectacles flashed with combative zeal. He did not walk; he quick-marched to battles only he could see, a short, strutting Napoleon in the making. He scared the shit out of me.”

After Mrs. Gandhi declared the “Emergency” and took to arresting journalists, Irani grew paranoid. “Each morning the MD would come to the JS, tucked away on a mezzanine floor of The Statesman building. Striding into Desmond’s cabin, he would as for the JS team to be summoned. All of us would troop into Desmond’s cabin. … The MD would address the congregation. ‘Desmond, boys, they’re coming to take me away. I expect them at any moment. But even after I’ve gone, remember: Keep Fighting the good fight, keep the flag of freedom unfurled. That’s all. Thank you and God bless till we meet again.’ Then, heels clicking counterpoint to the silent strains of ‘We Shall Overcome,’ the MD would march out, presumably into the arms of the waiting constabulary. They never came. In the afternoon, Desmond would phone the MD’s secretary, Gaver, to ascertain his fate.

 “‘The MD’s gone’ she’d confirm.

“‘To Lalbazaar lockup?’ Desmond would ask.

 “‘To the Bengal Club for lunch, she’d reply.”

 Irani soon became the man that Statesmanwallahs most loved to hate; and they had their reasons. For the JS crew that reason was the manner in which he closed the magazine. They got word of it when Johnny Angel, the man Desmond had hired to carry the “blocks” down to the Job Department, returned one morning to say there would be no more JS

 Jug’s description of his next super-boss, The Times of India’s Samir Jain, is kinder, but equally revealing. The account of his life and times at the Times as the paper arced down in ethical and editorial quality is probably less judgmental than many would like, but then, that is Jug. The stories from Delhi are more diverse and broader in scope than those from Calcutta, and for me it was a reintroduction to someone I had lost track of during four decades away in New York. I am glad to say he has not changed centrally. He has managed in the book, as in his column, to maintain his integrity as a person, to keep his beloved wife Bunny in view, to stay in touch with his humanity in a world that often loses sight of it, to give voice to Brindle the street dog that became part of his family, and to keep a fascinating story flowing effortlessly from cover to cover.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Expose! A Katju Television Network!

According to a wild rumour that we do not believe for a moment, the Honourable Markandey Katju, newly installed chairman of the Press Council of India is setting up his own television broadcasting organization. KTN-1984.

According to a document in our possession that is obviously fake but too sensational not to report, the following is the pitch that KTN-1984 is making to potential investors:

KTN-1984: Television With a Difference!

KTN 24-hour News Channel is being launched to set an example of what television programming in India should be. Under the expert guidance of Honourable Markandey Katju  a staff of journalists imported from developed countries, all certified heavyweights in philosophical and scientific thought, will seek to enlighten the 80 to 90 per cent of the Indian population that is steeped in superstition and ignorance.

The programming for KTN-1984 will report cricket and other sports news but will not cover matches live because Caligula in ancient Rome is reported to have given Romans circuses instead of bread. Of course, this might not actually result in additional bread in 21st Century India, and the overwhelmingly ignorant Indian population might express some discontent, but television should observe strong moral standards. No cricket coverage!

KTN-1984 will report the daily news with a strongly educational slant. There will be regular "How To" programming prepared by our imported crew of learned journalists on gutting priests, drawing out their entrails, and strangling kings. It is not envisaged that we will run out of priests any time soon, there being a very large supply in the temples and other religious institutions that spread superstition and ignorance. However, India being a democracy, there will be a shortage of kings. It is envisaged that people like the new Nawab of Pataudi can be prevailed upon to volunteer for the "king" roles. It is the principle that matters.

Our coverage will ignore terrorist attacks or pretend that they are accidents for which no one is responsible. If the Police issue a statement saying they suspect a certain organization we will not report it, as that will be divisive. In the interests of social unity, the imported philosophical heavyweights reporting the news for KTN-1984 will evolve a secret code, the meaning of which will be understood by the 10 per cent of Indians who are enlightened. The 90 percent steeped in superstition and ignorance will not notice what is happening, so it will not matter.

Panelists on KTN-1984 talk shows will not interrupt each other or raise their voices. A panelist who interrupts someone will receive one warning, and then be expelled from the show. Those who raise their voice will have a gag placed over their mouths.

Under a plan submitted by KTN-1984 to the government, with a copy to the major opposition party, other broadcast organizations will be terrorized into adopting similar programming. Their shows about astrology, worship, and other feeble-minded pastimes like film, sports and gossip about film actors and actresses, will be replaced with instructional programming produced by P. Sainath about farm suicides and rural migrant labour.

P. Sainath will be the only Indian journalist allowed on KTN-1984. His method of manipulating statistics out of context will be held out as an example for all the benighted Indian journalists of other channels. Particular attention will be paid to not providing international comparators showing that the Indian suicide rate is about the same as in the United States or any other large country. Sainath's analyses of migrant statistics extracted from the incomplete reporting of  2011 Census data will be held out as a particularly elegant illustration of Mark Twain's observation that there are "lies, damn lies and statistics."

Cuts in government advertising and delicensing of broadcast organizations will be the means by which KTN-1984, with the cooperation of the government and the main opposition party, will instill fear in Indian journalists and make them subservient in dealing with politicians.

Friday, November 4, 2011

TOI Editor Needs Psych Help

The Times of India editor responsible for matching the photographs to editorial content in the following stories is obviously in dire need of psychological help. Or perhaps he just needs to get laid. If anyone starts up a fund for that, count on support from me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

7 Billion Would Fit in Paris

People have been led to believe that 7 billion people make for a crowded planet. Not so. They could all fit into Paris. Or with less elbow room, into Manhattan.The web site www.persquaremile.com has a series of maps illustrating the area 7 billion would occupy if their density were equivalent to that of existing urban areas:

The "population problem" is actually a "consumption problem." If 7 billion were to consume per capita as much as people do in developed Europe, the global ecosystem would be sent into a rapid and disastrous decline. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Indian Morality Tale

There was an interesting little morality tale in The New Sunday Express on 30 October.

Shampa Dhar-Kamath in her column Unfaithfully Yours told about Ram Singh, a family servitor in Delhi’s Safdarjang Enclave who was “aghast” at receiving an air gun with instructions to shoot pigeons disturbing the sleep of his aged and ailing “master.”

“Wracked by superstition at the best of times,” wrote Dhar-Kamath, the old servant said he “would be sinning, and his soul would be cursed forever for taking lives.” However, he proceeded gingerly with the task, at first trying to scare the birds away from the window, then, reluctantly, killing a few. His attitude changed after workers at an adjacent building site offered to buy his kills, “Many lives have been lost in the last one month,” the column concluded: “Commerce versus conscience; it’s a one-sided battle.”

That little tale is ponderous with significance, especially Dhar-Kamath’s use of the term “wracked with superstition” to describe the context of Ram Singh’s stricken conscience. It relegated belief in karma to the level of magical thinking. That she should express this view so casually, without feeling the need to explain or justify, indicated the expectation that her readers would receive it without challenge.

That is truly mindboggling. Yet, it is very likely to be true. If it were not we would not be so neck deep in elite corruption. If we ask why this has happened, the unavoidable answer is that it is the result of Western contagion: “education” in India has meant acceptance of a view of “modernity” that is the enemy of the best in our tradition.

That sad truth flashes at us from every aspect of “shining India,” most explicitly in commercial advertising. “Greed is good” declared the moronic ad for a mobile phone company that nestled at the bottom of the Doordarshan screen during much of its coverage of the recent ODI series against Britain. Greed is not good. The Bhagavad Gita places it among the triumvirate of tamasic delusions at the root of evil (the other two being fear and anger). If we stop to consider the value-content of commercial advertising, much of it is negative by traditional Indian standards.

That brings us to the other staggeringly casual assumption in Dhar-Kamath’s column: that the struggle between conscience and commerce is unequally weighted. There is, of course, much evidence that this is true. In the case of poor Ram Singh, conscience was silenced with a mere Rs.15 per bird. Yet, it could be argued that a kindly providence was washing his sin of negative karmic content: he was no longer killing to please his “master” but so others could eat.

There is no such comfort for Kiran Bedi who cheated petty cash from those who admired her and now stands exposed as a hypocrite; nor are there any extenuating circumstances for the celebrity residents of Tihar Jail caught in the web of their own egregious greed.

In that lineup, only Ram Singh is on record as expressing fear for his immortal soul, and it points to a larger difference between him and the others. For belief in karma is only one element of a larger dynamic worldview, of the universe as a moral construct. In the Indian scheme of things all things have dharmic content, even Time; it is moral quality that determines the passing of the great Yugas.

The individual soul progresses towards self-realization through that moral matrix, and it was Ram Singh’s primary concern. Not to believe in that concept is to deny the existence of the Param Atman, the Universal Soul, God in common parlance.