Editorial / Infantile disorder
Children of time
This above all / Eat, drink and be merry
People / Arun Jaitley
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / INFANTILE DISORDER 
 
 
 
 
Nobody save the lunatic and the contemporary incarnations of Rip Van Winkle sighs for the days when the slogan, “China’s chairman is our chairman”, caught the imagination of some misguided and ignorant young men and of some old men as well. It is, however, entirely fitting that the formal demise of Maoism should be announced from the land of the Great Helmsman himself. Earlier this week, Mr Jiang Zemin, the president of the People’s Republic of China, told the king of Nepal that China would offer “moral support” to Nepal in the struggle against Maoist rebels. According to Nepal’s ambassador to Beijing, Mr Jiang Zemin condemned the Maoist activities as terrorism. It is to be hoped that Maoist comrades in West Bengal currently pursuing a programme of murder and terror will take cognizance of the Chinese president’s statement. The Chinese communist party still operates under the signature of Mao Zedong and yet it condemns in no uncertain terms what goes by Mao’s name in Nepal and also by extrapolation in parts of India. The point is significant because comrades in China have now accepted that the world has changed and the ideology that the party once trumpeted has been thoroughly discredited. But Indian Maoists continue to cling to what is no more than an antiquated ideological scarecrow.

The point needs to be made very sharply in the context of West Bengal because here Maoism tends to be shrouded by a peculiar and perverse mystique of romanticism. Even some educated persons, who should know better, are victims of such a mindset. In the popular mind, Maoism is still associated with the Naxalite movement which in the middle Sixties and early Seventies spread terror in and around Calcutta. Through some bizarre route, which only the Bengali psyche could take, young men who engaged themselves in murder in the name of revolution were given the iconic status of heroes. This myth, unfortunately, continues. Few bother to recall that these young men, often valorized as Bengal’s best and the brightest in the Sixties, shamelessly burnt libraries and destroyed laboratories in Calcutta colleges; they killed and tortured; they were dogmatic and even at times ignorant about the ism they professed. Who else but the ignorant could spout a slogan like “China’s chairman is our chairman” and accept a man like Charu Mazumdar as a leader?

The wheel of history has now turned full circle. China now condemns what is done in Mao Zedong’s name and the world recognizes that murder and terrorism cannot be described in any other terms, whatever be the cause. The taking of innocent lives to further a political cause has roots in 19th century Russian history. That form of protest against Czarist autocracy in an era of democratic politics is nothing more than terrorism. Those who live by the sword must be prepared to perish by the sword. Mao Zedong once wrote that political power flows from the barrel of a gun. Those upholding his anachronistic flag must accept that policemen also wield the gun and those that they kill are not as innocent as the victims of Maoist terror.

   

 
 
CHILDREN OF TIME 
 
 
BY RUKUN ADVANI
 
 
I have a daughter who will finish school next year and, like most parents whose children are about to move from school to college, I wonder if she will score the cent per cent marks that are now needed for a humanities student to gain admission into a college where the educational standards are not entirely abysmal. I am glad she is not a science student: in order to join an IIT, science students must all perform a miracle and score even higher than cent per cent. Only in a country as conceptually large as India is it possible to imagine scores which exceed the maximum: which, I suppose, is why you would only hear an Indian use figures of speech and dialogue such as this:

First speaker: “But yaar, are you hundred per cent sure?”

Second speaker: “O yaar, I’m not just one-hundred per cent sure, I’m one-hundred-one per cent sure.”

First speaker: “But yaar, are you totally sure?”

Second speaker: “O yaar, what I’m saying? I’m saying I am one-hundred-ten per cent sure.”

In all Indian minds lies buried the dream that their progeny will, some day, outstrip the unoutstrippable boundaries of mathematics and become just like Ramanujan.

When looking at the Indian educational scenario in the humanities, as I have begun doing because of gloomy thoughts pertaining to my daughter’s impending marksheet, you don’t have to think too hard to realize that the disparity between the school sector and the college sector is not just ridiculous, it is entirely bizarre. For, in relation to schooling, once your child has scored cent per cent in her pre-kindergarten examination — which happens by reciting the alphabet and not howling during the interview — and gained admission to one of the several decent schools which exist more or less in every Indian city, your parental worries, at least on this count, are over for the next fourteen or fifteen years.

In contrast, when college approaches and the same child is expected to repeat her pre-kindergarten feat — which is entirely unlikely to happen because she does not seem to have progressed much beyond reciting things, and howling in protest at how much she must recite — your parental worries are unceasing because there do not seem to be more than five or six colleges in the whole country where she’d get a really worthwhile liberal arts education, and those colleges are all full of the children who score 101 per cent from their pre-kindergarten to their school-leaving examinations.

The most prized — and the most justifiably maligned, for its insufferable snootiness — of these colleges is probably St Stephen’s in Delhi. It is prized because it has somehow managed to stave off the institutional debility and decay which affect more or less every government-funded educational and cultural institution in the country outside the science and medicine sectors. Other Delhi colleges often have better individual teachers, better departments, but they almost never have something larger, something institutionally powerful and vital, something that steadfastly resists the pervasive bureaucracy and babudom which corrode every Indian institution like a cancer.

You could call this an “ambience” for the lack of a specific word; the French might refer to it as je ne sais quoi; it could be some unfathomable combination which exudes an intangible air because of the proximity of a well-stocked library to a well-kept lawn, and certain institutional memories, handed down by teachers to their students, casually, in passing, during lectures and tutorials. I don’t know what it is, really. The essence of it seems to lie in not knowing exactly what it is, in not being able to delineate the spirit of a place or an institution with facts and figures. It certainly has a lot to do with physical cleanliness, as well as cleaning the place free of accountants, clerks, chaprasis, babus and the subaltern overmanning which kills institutions, but which no one will ad- mit to because it sounds so politically incorrect.

I once visited the Raman Institute in Bangalore to entice a likely author to publish a mathematics series with my publishing company. The institute was affiliated to the Indian Institute of Science, it had a large offshoot endowment in honour of the Nobel laureate. Mine was a business meeting in this institute — I didn’t have the foggiest notion about the contents of the proposed series. The ethos of the place was all I could “sus” out, apart from what scientist friends told me about the institutional record of the place.

The enormous fund it received from the government ought to have made this place crawl with babus and chaprasis, but in fact there seemed to be almost none around. The people in lungis were all mathematicians, and one of the institutional traditions, I discovered, was for these eminent academics to empty the out-trays themselves and carry miscellaneous papers to their destinations during coffee-breaks, or whenever they needed to stretch their legs. A bit idealistic, I thought, but it seemed to work okay.

Beyond their offices lay a manicured lawn, and under what looked like a very large poinsettia (it may have been some other red flowering tree), they said, were the mortal remains of C.V. Raman. He was going on contributing to institutional memory just by lying there dead. I got the feeling that the maths and number theory going on in the offices nearby might not have been in the Bradman League (G.H. Hardy’s category for Ramanujan) if the cremated remains of C.V. Raman weren’t enriching the proximate soil.

I don’t know what it was, really, there was just some special air about the place which I cannot describe without recourse to pop mysticism, and without sounding elitist. The place itself was elitist, but the elitism had a peculiarly native form: the exalted had chosen to perform the role of subalterns when they wanted to stretch their legs. I just knew that if my daughter had been into maths and capable of scoring more than cent percent, it’s the very place where I think she’d have imbibed a lot of good numbers.

But she wants to be a historian, and so I can only pray she gets into something that resembles or apes St Ste- phen’s. Something that has a lawn and cares for flowers and trees, where the library is not one where the babus outnumber the books, where the corridors are sometimes swept, where the accountants and the clerks are invisible. I take heart from the fact that history is still one of the better taught disciplines, and from the fact that some of the best younger-generation historians, such as Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Harjot Oberoi, Ravi Vasudevan and Radhika Singha, all learnt their history and emerged from colleges in Delhi.

I was reassured, in particular, by something that Sanjay Subrahmanyam — recently appointed Professor of Indian History at Oxford University — told me about his own early intellectual relation to history: “I drifted or perhaps stumbled into history after a number of false starts,” he said. “In middle school, I was rather interested in history and had a very good teacher at the Naval School in New Delhi, Maya Chakrabarty. Most of my Bachelor’s was spent away from academics, either reading literature or playing music.”

My daughter enjoys reading literature and playing music. One can never tell, of course, if these enjoyments will prove to have much bearing on her intellect in the future, but deep down it feels reassuring to know that, for the moment, she is only stumbling into history.

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL / EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
During the years I was an editor of some journal or the other, I had to contend with people on my staff who had a very lackadaisical attitude towards work assigned to them. Their motto was sab chalta hai, why bother too much. It used to get my hackles up. There was a very attractive and talented young lady who I had picked up myself in the hope that she would make her mark as a writer and a poet and bring credit to The Illustrated Weekly of India. After a few weeks of diligent work she became slack: coming late to office, slipshod in her work, being taken out for lunch by some admirer or the other, the first to leave before the office closed. I told her as gently as I could that she was not pulling her weight. She tossed her head disdainfully and replied: “Cheh! Why do you get so worked up about small errors. Tomorrow whatever you or I write will be sold to the raddiwala.” I lost my temper and spoke sharply, “You say that once more, I will sack you..” She stormed out of my room daring me to do so. A few days later she again made a faux pas correcting proofs. When I reprimanded her she repeated her formula of life Sab chalta hai. I lost my temper: all her looks and gifts were diminished in my eyes. I gave her the ultimatum as strongly as I could. “Either you put in your resignation by tomorrow or I will send a note to the management to order your dismissal.” She resigned. She could have made a name for herself. Hardly anyone knows about her today except as someone with great promise which came to nothing. But she is at peace with herself as a contented, fulfilled housewife. That is more than I can say for myself.

Should one really bother too much about what one has to do to earn one’s living. If modicum of work can earn you enough to live in modest comfort why strive for excellence? It is instilled in us from childhood that you should put your heart and soul into what you are doing, it becomes our dharma, our religion. The Bhagavad Gita exhorts us to put in our best without bothering about fruits it may yield. The opposite point of view is spelt out in passages of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament: “Vanity of Vanities, all is vanity. What profit has a man from all his labours in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away and another generation comes; but the earth abides for ever.” It goes on to add “that which has been what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” It is true that little or nothing remains of our worldly toil: “there is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after… all is vanity, and grasping for the wind.” The holy book assures us “the sleep of the labouring man is sweet whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep. “So why struggle hard to amass wealth? More disturbing is the statement that goodness has no rewards nor wickedness any punishment.” “There is a just man who perishes in his righteousness; and there is a wicked man who prolongs life in wickedness.” The inevitable conclusion is relax and enjoy life. Says the holy book: “I recommend enjoyment; because a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink and be merry; for this will remain with him in his labour all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun…Go eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart.” There is no guarantee that the deserving win the battle of life for “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding; nor favour to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all.”

The choice is yours to make: if you strive for excellence your only reward may be you did your best; or say why bother, it will make no difference.

Anything but a poet

America spawns poets like fish spawn roe. What they churn out may not sound like poetry to ears attuned to rhyme but in an inscrutable way it is not prose and it is surprisingly fresh. One such is Ron Koertge, professor of English at Pasadena City College in California. An American critic describes him as “the wisest, most entertaining wise guy in American poetry.” My raakhi sister, Prema Subramaniam, who is a saleswoman with Barnes and Noble in New York sent me Koertge’s latest offering, Geography of the Forehead . The poem with that title made little sense to me. But some others did. For example a series of questions and answers:

What exactly is a thesaurus?

A thesaurus is like a thousand family reunions, all in the same hotel, but each one in a separate ballroom. A dictionary, on the other hand, is like the army where everyone lines up for roll call.

I was particularly charmed by a child’s prayer on Christmas eve:

“If you exist,” I said, “ send me a pony.”
Immediately Jesus appeared in my
bedroom.
I got off my knees. “You heard my
prayer!”
He quoted Himself: “Except ye
See signs and miracles, you will not
believe.”
“Be reasonable, Jesus. It’s hard to just
take your word for it.”
“But I’m here. In your bedroom.
Isn’t that enough?”
“So is the pony outside?”
Koertge’s irreverence is most
refreshing:

I never liked being a Baptist: all those commandments, a fiery pit, and a heaven that — for all its glories— doesn’t have pari-mutual wagering.

But my Catholic friends aren’t any happier. Ditto the Lutherans and the Methodists. I know too many unhappy Jews and Buddhists and one absolutely miserable Sufi.”

Where have all the vultures gone ?

Where have all the vultures gone?

Concerned are the environmentalists as dwindles fast the population of the birds of prey.

In a scatter of putrefied carcasses lying unattended, stench and decay looms large the health hazard the spread of epidemics for sure ….

But comes a piece of a good news in the midst of such grim scenario:

In droves, of late, have been sighted the vultures perched as they are on the barbed wire fence all along the border of the rival countries

Thanks to the armies put on the alert on the either side of the border poised for a bloody confrontation.

(Contributed by K.C. Prashar Kullu)

Possessed by the devil

The printer’s devil almost created a diplomatic crisis when the German crown prince visited England in the 19th century. The London Times carried on its front page the headline: “visit of German Clown Prince.” The outraged German ambassador demanded an immediate apology and a correction. The next day The London Times published; “We regret the error in the report of the German Crow Prince.” Obviously the printer’s devil was at work again but the German ambassador wisely thought it best not to ask for another apology and a correction.

(Contributed by Roshni Johar, Shimla)

   

 
 
PEOPLE / ARUN JAITLEY 
 
 
 
 

All fall down

Into everybody’s life, or so said a Wise Man, some rain must fall. Arun Jaitley should have opened his umbrella — quite possibly a chic black number — at the right time. For the rain, when it came, caused quite a deluge.

Just the other day, the dapper spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was a senior minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee cabinet. He was a part of a select set of ministers that ruled the roost. He appeared on television to articulate the government’s view on everything from minor ministerial shenanigans to the violence in Gujarat. And after all that, he made it to the celebrity dos in the evening, and even managed to catch the society pages the next morning.

Last week, Jaitley moved out of his sprawling office in Shastri Bhawan to a more modest one in the BJP headquarters. The move was a quiet affair. But political weathercocks, who, just the other day, were in a Learesque manner muttering; ‘How pleasant to know Mr Jaitley’ had already begun to look elsewhere.

Quite clearly, the man who once epitomised the new face of the BJP is now a backroom boy. Four years ago when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government first took its seat at the Centre, Jaitley was the government’s visible face. He was everything that the doctor had ordered: he had a personable visage (indicating youth), a squeaky clean complexion (indicating health), glinting gold-rimmed glasses (indicating intellect) and a Punjabi surname (indicating the party’s powerful vote bank). This, friends of the BJP said, was its New Persona.

And then, something happened.

Several weeks ago, over a long lunch one balmy day, Jaitley told a friend that he was thinking of leaving the government to join the party. “The BJP organisation has to be strengthened,” Jaitley said. Clearly, the time had come for all good men to come to the aid of the party.

The Jaitley camp stresses that his move to the party is nothing more than the leadership’s desire to infuse young blood into what is turning into a geriatrics’ club. Two years before the next election, the party is in urgent need of a face-lift. A young president and a couple of even younger aides will lead the party to victory, they argue. And that is why, the Jaitley camp says, the best and the brightest have been plucked out of the government.

Actually, even Jaitley would have problems believing that. His face, in fact, was a dead give-away the day he took over last week. When he and his senior colleague, Venkaiah Naidu, returned to the BJP headquarters on Ashoka Road, there was jubilation in the party office. But the celebration seemed to centre around Naidu. “Naidu was being feted like a dulha,” said a BJP watcher present on the occasion. “But Jaitley stood in one corner, looking really out of place, as the crowd milled around Naidu.”

It does appear that Jaitley has been demoted. A theory is doing the rounds of the Capital on what caused the downfall. In the corridors of power, there has been some talk about Vajpayee’s growing disenchantment with Jaitley. Vajpayee, for those who came in late, was all for removing Narendra Modi from blood-soaked Gujarat. But at the party’s Goa conclave in April, Vajpayee’s feeble voice was drowned out by the party’s young leaders who argued that removing Modi would be giving in to Opposition pressures. The voice that was the loudest was that of Jaitley.

Vajpayee, not quite known for his forgive-and-forget attitude, returned to Delhi and made L K Advani his deputy. But in a quid pro quo deal, Advani loyalists in the government — notably Naidu and Jaitley — were sent back to the parent cadre.

For Naidu, the homecoming wasn’t that humiliating, for at least he got to lead the party. But Jaitley had to return to a position that he occupied when he was a youngster in the party.

For Jaitley, being asked to leave the Cabinet when he was doing well, would hurt. After all, his entry into the Cabinet had been a meticulously planned one. Jaitley — one of the most successful constitutional lawyers in the country — had given up his lucrative practice to join the government only after he had ensured that he had made enough money for his family to live in comfort. He bought a house in Greater Kailash, put his income in order and then joined the government.

On money matters, in fact, the alumnus of Delhi’s Shri Ram College of Commerce has always been carefully dotting his i’s and crossing his t’s. It is said in government circles that when his wife accompanies him on his official tours, he makes it a point to pay for her fare and her accommodation out of his own pocket. “He is very particular about all this,” says an associate.

But, notwithstanding his fairly unblemished career, Jaitley is not a very popular man in his own party. The man who began his political career in jail as an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activist during the Emergency lost out in the labyrinths of the good life somewhere down the line.

The BJP watcher gives an example to drive home the point. Jaitley, apparently, is often ribbed by his colleagues for not being able to sit in a place that is not air-conditioned. A Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activist derides it as the BJP’s growing “A.C. culture”.

There is nothing wrong with a man who likes it cool, but the derisive phrase typecasts Jaitley as a man removed from the people. Jaitley, for instance, has never fought a Parliamentary election.

He is a man who likes the good things of life, is fond of shopping and likes to wear a fine Cashmere. His shirts — often the palest of a pale pink — are trendy. He doesn’t play golf, but likes to hear his son talk about it.

In the BJP office, or at the RSS headquarters, where a putter is still the Punjabi for a son and a hole in one translates into a need for a new pair of socks, there are not too many people who will find Jaitley’s trappings all that endearing. So not surprisingly, his detractors in the party — and there are some in high places — are on the rise.

But those who are writing Jaitley’s epitaph can take a sabbatical. A man can’t be in politics for nearly three decades and not know how to stage a come-back. Associates predict that he’ll be back in a post that matters — sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, the lawyer has decided to resume his practice. He’ll make some more money, invest it wisely and then bide his time. For Jaitley — like everybody else — has been reading a certain gentleman called Alex Perry.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

We are sick of it all

Sir — It is now obvious that doctors in the city could not care less about human life. Why else would they fail to carry out a mandatory test before conducting a kidney transplant (“Transplant short cut to death”, July 11)? Only time will tell if the doctors in this case will be punished. One thing is clear though — if there is no accountability on the part of doctors, they will continue to violate procedural norms. Instead of protecting negligent professionals, the Indian Medical Association should devise stringent rules so that a few “black sheep” do not compromise the good work of others.

Yours faithfully,
Sangeeta Das, Midnapore

Death of a pioneer

Sir — The Telegraph deserves to be congratulated for the editorial, “Man of reliance” (July 9), which paid a fitting tribute to one of India’s greatest businessmen. It is incredible that Dhirubhai Ambani, despite his humble beginnings as son of a school teacher and his modest education, should become a pioneering industrialist. Other than his extraordinary vision, he possessed the willpower and the courage to translate his dreams into reality.

While it has taken other corporate houses several generations to build their empires, Dhirubhai Ambani achieved this in his lifetime. In the corporate world, the end always justify the means. People who point an accusing finger at Dhirubhai Ambani must remember that his shareholders had a deep respect for him, often regarding him as a kamadhenu, or the mythological cow, with all its powers of wish-fulfilment. From Indira Gandhi to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he successfully dealt with politicians. That alone is a commendable achievement.

Yours faithfully,
M.R. Sridharan, Kanpur

Sir — Rahul Bajaj aptly summed up Dhirubhai Ambani’s contribution to the Indian economy when he said, “if you have a thousand Dhirubhais in India, we will become an economic power”. Apart from building his own industrial empire, Dhirubhai Ambani gave the Indian middle class an opportunity to invest its money without having to worry about the attendant risks. While most corporate houses found the transition from a closed economy to a liberalized regime rather difficult, Dhirubhai Ambani’s able leadership helped Reliance Industries cross over smoothly. One hopes Dhirubhai Ambani’s success story will eventually inspire other young entrepreneurs to emulate his example.

Yours faithfully,
Amrita Chaudhuri, Calcutta

Sir — Need the nation have gone into mourning after the death of a businessman who left no stone unturned in building his own empire?

Yours faithfully,
J.C. Bose, Calcutta

Viewer’s choice

Sir — It is heartening to know that the government is taking steps to regularize cable transmission to Indian homes (“Sporting monopolies”, June 27). But the important question is will the regulations be strictly enforced and followed? Further, as the article itself points out, it will take years for digital set top boxes to arrive in India and even longer for them to be cost-effective. By putting in place a clear-cut price structure and then informing the public about it, the government will be able to ensure that consumers are not taken for a ride. Moreover, a transparent billing procedure would benefit both broadcasters and consumers. It would also help the government widen its tax net and make broadcasters and cable operators more accountable.

Yours faithfully,
Asheem Kapoor, Calcutta

Sir — Viewers should pay only for channels of their choice. If the government introduces a conditional access system, most senior citizens would opt for it. The introduction of the CAS would end the monopoly of cable operators over areas and prevent them from getting a free hand in fixing the subscription rate. The present system encourages cable operators to hide their actual coverage of households, which in turn annoys broadcasters who retaliate by hiking rates. Some cable operators even refuse to issue receipts for the monthly payments, thus making money on the sly.

Yours faithfully,
L.M. Ghose, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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