Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Depression and Creativity: Brothers in arms?

The question of how depression and mental illness are related to creativity has been raised sinces time immemorial. Several studies have tried to prove some sort of a link between the two. Now, a survey that compares mental health and the number of sexual partners among the general population, artists and schizophrenics has found that artists are more likely to share key behavioural traits with schizophrenics, and that they have on average twice as many sexual partners as the rest of the population.

On analysing 425 responses, the psychologists found that artists and schizophrenics scored equally high on "unusual cognition", a trait which gives rise to a greater tendency to feel in between reality and a dream state, or to feel overwhelmed by one's own thoughts.

But the artists and schizophrenics scored very differently on another measure called introvertive anhedonia, which is characterised by social withdrawal and emotional emptiness. Unlike schizophrenics, artists, in line with the general population, scored very low.

According to Dr Nettle, a psychologist at Newcastle University who headed the survey, the results suggest that the creativity of some artists is fuelled by the unique world view mental illness can provide, but without the completely debilitating aspects of the condition. Instead, the artists are able to direct their creativity into artistic projects.

On Guardian.

In the pic, Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night, one of the classics of modern painting. A website dedicated to him details the demons that haunted this artistic genius towards the end of his life.

Towards the end of 1888 the first signs of Van Gogh's mental illness began to take hold. He suffered from various types of epilepsy, psychotic attacks, and delusions. One such episode entailed Gogh pursuing Gaugin with a knife and threatened him intensely. Later that day Gogh returned to their house and mutilated his ear, then offered it to a prostitute as a gift. Gogh was temporarily hospitalized and released to find Gaugin swiftly leaving Arles and his dream of an artistic community shattered.

As the year of 1888 came to an end Gogh traveled to Saint Remey where he committed himself to an asylum. Here his paintings became a torrent of activity. Although he could not draw and paint for long periods of time without suffering from an attack, he managed to create 'Starry Night' which resides as his most popular work and one of the most influential pieces in history. The swirling lines of the sky are a possible representation of his mental state. This same shaken style is visible in all of his work during his time in the asylum. Gogh left Saint Remey in 1890 and began contacting his brother Theo. Van Gogh continued working and created a number of pieces; nearly one painting day. Gogh viewed his life as horribly wasted, personally failed, and impossible. On 27 July 1890 Van Gogh attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He survived, but died two days later from the wound.

Gaugin- Paul Gaugin, was Gogh's lover.

Bad Sex Award wins again

The only thing of any lasting value in the publicity surrounding the bad sex award is the award itself. It has carved a unique space for itself in the awards canon despite being in the league of googlies like the Ig-Nobels. The Indian interest is in Tehelka's environment being very conducive to bad sex writing. Some years back, Aniruddha Bahal, more known for pulling a mild shakeout within the BJP with his exposé, won it for his Bunker 13. And this year, Tarun Tejpal's The Alchemy of Desire is in the reckoning for this not exactly bad piece of kinkiness:

Leaving everything else for later, I went looking for where her hair began and worked my way through its musky trails to where there was none. And having found her burning core, and having drunk of it, I left it, and wandered her body, only to keep circling back to it for sustenance.
We began to climb peaks and fall off them. We did old things in new ways. And new things in old ways. At times like these we were the work of surrealist masters. Any body part could be joined to any body part. And it would result in a masterpiece. Toe and tongue. Nipple and penis. Finger and the bud. Armpit and mouth. Nose and clitoris. Clavicle and gluteus maximus. Mons veneris and phallus indica.
The Last Tango of Labia Minora. Circa 1987. Vasant Kunj. By Salvador Dalí. Draughtsmen: Fizznme.
Fizz screamed silently through it all - through gritted teeth, through wide-open mouth - and only those who have known a woman screaming silently in orgasm know how loud it is. It ripped through the room and set me to pounding frenzies.

Paul Theroux and John Updike are perennial favourites for the award. They land up on the shortlist every other year. Longlisted passages here.


Turns out the award does manage to live up...uhm down to its name. Giles Coren has won it for this rather novel description of the mayhem that the male member can unleash :)

And he came hard in her mouth and his dick jumped around and rattled on her teeth and he blacked out and she took his dick out of her mouth and lifted herself from his face and whipped the pillow away and he gasped and glugged at the air, and he came again so hard that his dick wrenched out of her hand and a shot of it hit him straight in the eye and stung like nothing he'd ever had in there, and he yelled with the pain, but the yell could have been anything, and as she grabbed at his dick, which was leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath, she scratched his back deeply with the nails of both hands and he shot three more times, in thick stripes on her chest. Like Zorro.

What was that? A penis or a dead lizard suddenly sprung to life? You decide.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Uma Bharti wronged

The BJP is passing through another crisis. It seems like a pattern now. The party alternates between good and bad news. Within days of the NDA's stunning victory in Bihar, the party is saddled with the MP Chief Minister issue, and I for one stand by Bharti on this. She is the one who got them the state (with a 3/4th majority at that), and it is sad that her voice is being muzzled. Why is the "party with a difference" killing democracy within? Why was her demand for a secret ballot rejected? I think the villain of the piece is Arun Jaitley. His animosity for the sanyasin is well-known. He is trying to carve a niche for himself within the party because there is one thing he sorely lacks: Sangh support. With Advani vacating the party presidency in December, the race for the top spot is hotting up. Jaitley plans to bank upon the Bihar victory to inch closer to the finishing line.

Uma has mass public support in the state, she is a fiery orator and also shares a good rapport with the RSS. She was also instrumental in Bihar. She might just land the presidency. If that were the case, however, the Sangh would have communicated to her not to raise the CM issue just now. Since that has not happened, it indicates that she might get trumped for the post by seasoned Machiavellis Jaitley and Mahajan. Ironical, considering it is Bharti who shares her birthday with the Italian genius (May 3). Only Govindacharya (another fine leader given a raw deal by the party) has come out in her support. What is surprising is that the holy trinity: Advani, Vajpayee and Sudershan are witnessing this drama without action or comment. Advani's silence may be attributed to his own weakened position in the party post-Jinnah, but what about the Sarsanghchalak?

Perhaps Bharti and Govindacharya should float their own outfit. MP will welcome this alliance hands down. It may also receive the blessings of that other disenchanted leader: Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi.

Personal accounts of racism

In the Hindu, Kermaan Satha Munshi's account of the racism that he experienced first-hand at the hands of the French. Relevant in this time of internal strife that France is witnessing anew:

AS I walked down Boulevard Massena in the 13th district of Paris, on my way to a community get-together, I decided to drop in at a supermarket to buy some vanilla ice cream to complement the chocolate flavour I already had with me as my contribution to the party. I was late. I had barely stepped into the store when I decided to avoid the crowd and distractedly started walking out of the store with the pack of chocolate ice cream bought some days ago from another store. I was instantly, and rather aggressively, hauled up by two security guards.
I was first asked if I was Algerian. Being Indian did not help, as I discovered after they checked my papers. Passport, student card, stay permit, everything was in order. Since I had not kept the bill of the former purchase they were heatedly asking me for, I apologised for my mistake and nervously tried explaining the situation in my correct, though mildly accented, French.
While the ice cream pack was taken for scanning, I was put through the most humiliating interrogation possible. "We know the ways of kleptomaniacs like you," they snarled at me. "Don't act innocent. You may be able to get away with these things in your country; here you are in France. Go back to your country if you can't behave. Here, we are a civilised people." When the ice cream pack was finally deemed innocent of being stolen, I was let off with a warning and no apology.

Contrasts well with Shahid's angst in The Black Album, a book I am currently reading. At the start of this Hanif Kureishi novel, Shahid Hasan's curious dilemma is brought out in a coversation that he has with some of his college mates. Having grown up in Britain and identifying completely with the British life, Shahid feels ashamed of his Pakistani moorings. His reaction are typically extreme. He finds brown skin revolting (this considering he is brown himself) and longs to join the racist British National Front. "I began to turn into one of them," he says. "I was becoming a monster."

Goes to show racism is a state of the mind, and has little to do with colour.

Monday, November 28, 2005

'Intelligent Design' debate flummoxes Vatican

The Vatican's chief astronomer Rev. George Coyne has said that "intelligent design" isn't science and doesn't belong in science classrooms. He asked for intelligent design to be taught alongwith history and culture, not science. Intelligent design supporters claim that the universe is too complex to have not been created by some higher power. Proponents of intelligent design are seeking to get public schools in the United States to teach it as part of the science curriculum. Critics say intelligent design is merely creationism, a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation, camouflaged in scientific language, and they say it does not belong in science curriculum. The Vatican, on its part, will face a tough time reconciling the image of God with its criticism of creationism.

Hopefuls who thought that this latest move on the part of the Vatican signals a change in its orthodox ways can delay popping the champagne a while. The Vatican has circulated a directive that deters gay men from joining the Order. Questions on why it is important to be heterosexual in orientation are being raised. Does God view gays differently? Can the Church, the fountainhead of love and equality, censure a community for its orientation? Such faith-based questions are bound to increase at a time when homosexuality is gaining wider social acceptance.

The problem lies also with the hierarchy. Pope Benedict XVI is a known hardliner with extreme views on abortion, women’s rights and homosexuality. If the Vatican intends to be relevant to the times, it must open a serious debate on its role in the current global order. This holds true as much for Christianity as for other faiths. The primary conflict of our age is one between tradition and modernity. Antediluvian mindsets garbed as cultural organizations must ask themselves if their so-called social concerns are not doing more harm than good.

Tookie and the Death penalty debate

President Kalam has brought the death penalty issue into the spotlight again by referring a list of 20 death row convicts back to the Home Ministry to reconsider their mercy petitions. Kalam has asked for an omnibus review of pending mercy plea cases, and his enthusiasm indicates a wish for the practice to be abolished. Article 72 of the Constitution theoretically grants the President the power to pardon, but in practice, he is obliged to follow the recommendations of the council of ministers. He has also pointed to the discrimination factor in the awarding of death penalties in India. At a function at Hyderabad’s National Police Academy, he wondered why only the poorest of poor were convicted for heinous crimes. This is a pertinent point because the outcome of any trial is dependent on the quality of legal advice that the convict receives, and here the rich have a definite edge over the poor. Also, the rich may influence trials involving them extraneously.

The death penalty has been a bone of contention in the Indian judicial system for quite some time now, with opinion divided equally. Contemporary juristic thinking though is veering against it. CJI-designate Justice Y.K. Sabharwal is personally in favour of abolishing it. Despite the SC proclamation of awarding the capital punishment in the “rarest of rare” cases, the prospect of even a minor error in jurisdiction is terrifying. Here is an excerpt from an article written by former solicitor general of India Mr. Andhyarujina, illustrating this very facet:

This was dramatically demonstrated in a case in the Supreme Court itself in 1981. Jeeta Singh, Kashmira Singh and Harbans Singh had all played an equal part in the ghastly murder of a family. Because separate petitions were made to the Supreme Court by each of the convicts, one bench of judges of the Supreme Court rejected the first petition of Jeeta Singh who was later executed. Kashmira Singh’s petition was heard by a different bench of judges which commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. On the eve of his execution, Harbans Singh’s petition came before yet another bench of Supreme Court judges, who when coming to know of Kashmira Singh’s case, directed that the case should be sent back to the president for reconsideration of his clemency petition. As Justice Bhagwati has said “This is a classic case which illustrates the judicial vagaries in the imposition of death penalty.”

It may be argued that some crimes are particularly heinous and no amount of sympathy must be shown to their perpetrators. These may include gruesome killings or terrorist acts. But this raises the question: what is the purpose of any justice system? Does the State have the right to deprive another person of life as a means to mete out justice? How can the State administer a system that discards the possibility of reformation of a person mired by criminality? Human nature is not incapable of transformation. A case currently hogging media attention in the U.S. relates to one Stanley “Tookie” Williams (in the pic). A former street gangster and convicted killer, he is due to be executed this Dec 13. He was convicted in 1981 for the murders of 4 people and has been incarcerated in a small cell on the death row of San Francisco’s San Quentin prison since then. But since receiving his death sentence, Williams has renounced his gang past and authored children’s books. He has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Today he is a changed man whose anti-violence proclamations have won him wide public acclaim. Yet his chances of survival are slim. His clemency petition is likely to be shot down by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who since becoming governor has rejected two clemency requests from death row inmates. Latest reports claim that the governor has agreed to hold a private meeting with Tookie's lawyers to consider his plea for clemecy.

Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. A survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002, failed to provide any proof that death penalty acted as a greater deterrent against crime compared to the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment. Around 124 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. The membership of the EU is incumbent upon having no death penalty. Some countries are wary of signing extradition treaties with India for this very reason. This was brought into focus by the arrest of gangster Abu Salem in Portugal a few years ago, when India wanted him here for trial.

Thus, capital punishment as a means to award justice is not just futile but also barbaric, and serves no purpose save giving the State a brutal, bloody name.

Also read At life's noose.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Terrorists making fine use of earthquake

News reports of an increase in infiltration post the devastating earthquake. Even as India ponders earthquake diplomacy, no less than 100 terrorists have entered Srinagar and are said to be the source of the increase in fidayeen attacks. Earlier, there were reports of LeT adopting "earthquake orphans" to recruit them into their rank and file. The government as always is twiddling its thumbs by trying to push the peace process forward. When will the babus realize that the strategy is backfiring? It almost looks like another backstabbing akin to Kargil in the making. Bleeding hearts for the earthquake victims is fine and even justified, but what can possibly condone this blatant misuse of a humanitarian tragedy? The least the Centre can do at this point is tone down the dovish tone a bit and see where it moves from there. When Pak is bearing the American brunt for not doing enough to contain terror, India would be foolish to overlook these vital intelligence reports.

Also read It's a war on the IE newsdesk.

A bibliophile's n-th dilemma

Susie Boyt's enchanting take on the pleasures and pains of arranging books on one's rack, in The Guardian. Should one give primacy to those revered classics which don't see to make all that sense today (and this does not include Virginia Woolf, mind you), or go in for lighter chick-littish stuff that you wouldn't be caught dead reading? Should it be done alphabetically (strictly not) or should one go author-wise (recommended: one reason I find Crossword so easy to navigate)? This and more of her personal tribulations in dealing with those pearls of wisdom (or bawdy trash, whichever you take). Don't miss her parting shot on filling up space when you are literally badgered by books.
(Boyt in the pic)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

More trouble for Iran

In a move that could spell trouble for Iran at the UN, the EU has come up with the statement that Iran is in possession of documents that could serve no possible purpose save the development of nuclear weapons. Britian's ambassador to the IAEA Peter Jenkins briefed the media and his hawkish posturing at the meet is symbolic of the impatience that is brewing in the international diplomatic community over Iran. Iran has not helped matters. Within days of the emergence of the A.Q. Khan link, its demand for being in full control of uranium enrichment has raised eyebrows. Chances of a compromise are wearing thin with the Russian plan for brokering peace nowhere in sight. Iran is on its way to becoming a mirror case of its problematic neighbour.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Laloo's defeat a respite for UPA

Strange are the ironies of politics. Though the Congress has (once again) been reduced to a non-entity in Bihar after today's verdict, it will draw solace from Laloo Yadav's crushing defeat. Yadav has been a thorn in the flesh for the Centre with the cases aginst him and his nasty shenanigans which forced the government to dissolve the Bihar Assembly in the first place. The SC's interim verdict chiding the government for the latter induced much heartburn within the Congress. It would be pleasantly relieved by Yadav's humbling. The Left is also expected to bow down a bit and start assisting rather than hampering governmental work. Arguably, its capitulation on Iran had as much to do with the expected Bihar verdict as with its commitment to the principles of non-alignment.

This however does not spell the end of troubles for the UPA. The SC's final verdict on the Bihar Assembly dissolution is expected any day now, and the Manmohan Singh government will find it hard to save face. It has to face the double humiliation of losing in the second round too, a chance to prevent which had been the reason for dissolving the earlier Assembly. The routing of Paswan in the polls will invite its own share of tribulations. Added to this is the winter session which convenes tomorrow. Amidst the deluge of news, the BJP has certainly not fogotten the Natwar-Volcker scandal, and will doubtless raise a hue-and-cry on it. All in all, a worrisome week for the government and an interesting one for our tribe.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Red terror from Monday

As the Parliament convenes for the winter session this coming Wednesday, the "red" spectre hangs heavy on the Manmohan Singh government's head. The Left parties under the stewardship of CPM general secretary Prakash Karat have already upped the ante on the Iran issue. What is curious is the inclusion of the Shia angle in the debate, something not commonly expected from the "secular" Left. This comes within weeks of the Left opposition to the minorityism in AMU that Arjun Singh has been perpetuating so blatantly. Why the Left has chosen to side with Mulayam Singh in communalising the sensitive Iran issue is beyond the grasp of even seasoned analysts. The BJP-led opposition will anyway raise the heat on the Volcker scandal, though Sonia Gandhi has earned some reprieve for her party by blasting any hints of being hands-in-glove with the devil at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit this week. The government will also have to reclaim some authority since the preception that the Left has brought the administrative machinery to a virtual halt is gaining ground. Finance Minister Chidambaram boldly announced the decision to offload 15% equity in Shipping Corporation of India in a move that seems symbolic for reasons other than economics. As it is, BHEL hangs as a noose around the government's disinvestment..oops, dilution program (vocab's changed, folks: it's the red effect) and has seriously dented Chidambaram's reformist image. SCI therefore comes as a breath of fresh air for those who think beyond Marx and Lenin, and are willing to be shouted down at public gatherings in Left-infested grottos (sorry Prime Minister). With FDI in retail gone for a toss "for the time being", let not the divestment program be hijacked. Hopefully the government will better deal with this menace. It can't seem to do anything about the others in any case. Mr. Patil, would you wake up please? Naxalism, terrorism: home's burning, minister.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Lalit Suri to acquire Great Eastern

Hotelier Lalit Suri is all set to acquire the landmark Great Eastern Hotel in Kolkata. This place was to be my destination for 2 months of TCS training, before labour troubles and enduring losses brought the WB govt. to finally open its doors to a selloff. TCS informed us of this change at the last moment, and my hopes of staying in a relic of the Raj were dashed. Anyway, here's to a brand new innings for Great Eastern.

Developing nations wary of US predominance over Internet

They are demanding the UN step in and address "public policy" issues. When will they learn? Asking the UN to interfere is only prolonging the task at hand. It is bound to be an ineffectual body like so many other UN interventions in the past. The organization could not prevent a war, what to say of governing the net. In any case, the net is too nebulous a medium to give in to UN-style bureaucratic governance. Only the private muscle of the Yahoos and Googles of the world can undertake this task, which for all practical purposes, cannot be constrained by rules and boundaries. Let us not demand the setting up of another elephantine talk-shop, ill-eqipped to deal with the day-to-day working of a medium which since its inception has worked only on the principle of entropy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

It's a war on the IE newsdesk

Readers of IE would agree that almost every other day, one comes across totally differing points of view on the Indo-Pak scenario in the main edits, and that only indicates the democratic nature of the desk. On Nov 14, Saubhik Chakrabarty wrote a biting piece on the Delhi blasts questioning the government's tame attitude in tackling terror. The piece is well-timed, what with the Salem arrest and the steady moving forward on the Delhi blasts. On the night of Nov 13, we also witnessed the mayhem unleashed by Naxals in Jehanabad. The piece made some pertinent points, raising doubts on the traditional liberal versus conservative straitjacketing:

Those who are forever arguing that we must search for the roots of terrorism and not search and destroy the perpetrators of terror forget, or don’t care, or don’t know, that the state’s moral and practical incapacity in the face of thugs-with-a-cause is symptomatic of a greater failing: The state doesn’t respect citizens, it doesn’t respect their liberties.

If the state that governs us doesn’t deeply care if we die because of a terrorist bomb, how can it care if in our lives so many rights are circumscribed. Think about the callousness you have encountered from so many representatives of the governing class. Think about the boorish cop, the arrogant bureaucrat and the venal politician. Almost none of them subscribe to the foundational principle of a civilised society — that every individual and his rights count. That is why a state that is soft in its response to terrorism is not liberal, if we take liberalism to principally mean the recognition of the individual.

That is also why the state’s responses to natural disasters are so horrendously ineffectual in India. We are not a sub-Saharan basket case with meagre resources and zero institutional capacity. The Indian state doesn’t do as much as it easily can because the people are on its radar screen as an undifferentiated mass. Two thousand killed in an earthquake, 20 killed in a terrorist bomb and two killed in a hell hole of a public hospital — they are all, in the most dreadfully apt meaning of the word, statistics.

Hard-hitting stuff there. The very next day, Nov 15, C. Rajamohan writes on the need to forge a brave diplomatic frontier and overlook the irritants to initiate a new era in the dialogue process, fully utilizing the rather meanly termed "earthquake diplomacy":

After that, it just took one brutal act of terrorism in the Capital to take the chutzpah out of India’s quake diplomacy with Pakistan. Although India held its peace and did not blame Pakistan for the bombings, and went ahead with the talks on opening the Line of Control in J&K, Delhi’s quake diplomacy has begun to lose steam.

Given the bitter past in Kashmir, the opening of five new points of contact between India and Pakistan along the LoC looks revolutionary on the face of it; at the functional level, however, it is in the danger becoming a trivial pursuit.

Concerns about terrorists taking advantage have prevented India from accepting an easy movement of people across the Line of Control. By insisting that lists of people have to exchanged and their bonafides verified before letting them cross the LoC, India has left desperate relatives on both sides of the divide deeply disappointed.

Worse still, quake diplomacy appears to be losing its strategic and tactical purpose — to affect a fundamental change in the ground reality in Kashmir over the longer term and win influence on the other side in the short term.

It was India which initiated the quake diplomacy. It compelled Musharraf under pressure at home for inept relief operations to respond. Yet when Musharraf finally came around to accepting the Indian proposals on making the LoC irrelevant, it is India that is holding back.

My predilection lies with Mr. Chakrabarti on this one. The Indian state has gone way too far in its magnanimity and must make its stance firmer. There can be no compromise on the security of the Indian citizen regardless of the movement on Pakistan. Let us not crawl when asked to bend. Crawling does come naturally to our political class, but on this issue, let there be no compromise.

Mr. Chakrabarti's piece here and Mr. Rajmohan's here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Briton claims to be cured of HIV

A British sandwich-maker has allowed trials to be conducted on him after it was revealed that he was miraculously cured of the HIV virus. Andrew Stimpson has tested negative for the virus after having it for more than a year. Tests have confirmed the earlier as well as the recent reports correct, which means he did have HIV in his blood, and does not now. If true, Stimpson's body can provide a minefield of information on a virus that has wiped off 20 million across the globe. Here.

Children's Day

Azim Premji writes with candid resoluteness on how the current craze for coaching institutes is taking the fun out of adolescence. This has been an issue close to Premji's heart, and every time you hear him speak, he provides meaningful insights into how modern education is killing our children's creativity. Particularly interesting is the comparison he draws between a bonded child labour and the daughter of a high-profile executive in his company both of whom toil from day to night, the former to help her family make ends meet and the latter to gatecrash anyhow into an IIT. In today's TOI (print edition, not online yet).

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Iran armtwisting India

Even as the Bush administration plans a face-saver to prevent bitter acrimony erupting into a conflagration, Iran has sent India feelers that the gas pipeline deal might not come through if the latter does not revise its position in Vienna on Nov 24. It is unknown what promped Iran to suddenly make these demands since in the aftermath of the first vote, the country had been remarkably understanding of India's stand (this notwithstanding Ahmedinejad's outburst against Israel, but that is a separate issue). Perhaps, and this is a wild guess, its brinkmanship was prompted by our esteemed ex-Foreign Minister Natwar Singh's outburst that he was pained by India ditching Iran, and all the other historical tragedies that he could never really overcome, and to bide the sadness of which, he took to accepting kickbacks from dear friend Saddam Hussein...all right, enough of shooting from the lip. This could land me in trouble :)

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Kalam kicks another row

After his controversial decision to resend the list of 20 death row convicts to the Union Home Ministry for reconsideration, President Kalam has kicked off another political storm by questioning the inteference of the judiciary in the working of the executive. Referring to the SC judgement deeming "unconstitutional" the dissolution of the Bihar assembly, he raised the need for an in-house mechanism for the executive to correct its wrongs, rather than having to be rebuked by the judiciary before acting. The case is likely to invite Opposition ire in the approaching winter seession of Parliament. Kalam was making these comments in a speech delivered on the National Legal Literacy Day. On the dais, interestingly, was Justice Sabharwal, who had headed the 5-judge Constitution bench that passed the Bihar order. Arun Shourie also spoke, and in his trademark passionate style, supported the President's contention.
Shourie's speech here.

Republicanism backfires in France

I have been reading about the Paris riots and analyses on what sparked them, and what most commentators agree on is the fact that France, following the best traditions of republican governance, has adopted a policy of zero discrimination. This means that during census, a person is not enquired about his ethnicity. Now in a perfect world, this strategy might work, but people unfortunately don't live by ideals. And the situation has come to such a pass that Muslims from Algeria and other African countries who settled in France years ago, reside in distinctive ghettos that are the mired in poverty and filth. They have no job opportunities and there is a silent rage, whose violent venting we are witnessing today. Everyone is French in Franch, not Indian-French, or Irish-French.

This is in marked contrast to the US model, where immigrants are encouraged to retain their ethnic identity and add to the salad bowl their unique experiences. That is why phrases like Italian-American are common. But as Jonathan Freedland writes in The Guardian, this too is not a perfect model, as witnesed in the aftermath of Katrina.

France might like to look west and see how Britain copes with immigrants. Notwithstanding the hawkish undertones in polity post- 7/7, Britain has evolved a unique way of integrating its society. It's called multiculturalism, and recognizes differences. It even celebrates those differences by providing avenues for the Browns and Whites to share and relish one another's cultures. One example of this is the popularity of chicken tikka masala in Britain. This perhaps, more than the US and French models, is the way forward. Because it promotes the meeting of hearts and minds in a common milieu, it has the most chances of success in western soceities grappling with immigrant fury.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

At life's noose

In the Sunday Express, Shashi Warrier's chilling yet sensitive account of the scene inside a gibbet. For both sides on the death penalty debate, this article (and Warrier's Hangman's Journal) must be compulsory reading. In the vortex of arguments, finger-pointing, name-calling, facts and figures, the real human story of crime, guilt, redemption and the limits of one's conscience gets lost and the issue of capital punishment gets mired in intellectual-ese. But Warrier takes no sides. He asks simple yet searingly painful and complex questions, and brings you to question your assumptions:

I participate in debates on the death penalty. In the context of modern-day terrorism, I tend to argue for the death penalty. The hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar comes to mind always. The argument for the death penalty runs thus: Imagine if one of the militants released in exchange for the hostages returns to kill another few innocents. What can we say to those bereaved? If we had executed the terrorists we had to release, we wouldn’t have had to face this question at all.
The counter runs thus: Each time you execute a terrorist, you create a martyr who inspires a hundred others. How would you face those bereaved by these hundred others?
There are other arguments, of course, and counter-arguments. The debate rages on. Every time I think of it, though, my mind returns to Murugan. Eventually, I ask myself this: If I had to put a noose around Murugan’s neck and pull the lever on the trapdoor beneath the gibbet to execute him, would I be able to do it? The answer comes with surprising ease: No, I wouldn’t. What if he killed someone dear to me? Many people dear to me? This time the answer comes slowly, and with difficulty, but it’s the same: No, I wouldn’t.
And I wonder, if Janardhanan Pillai thought about it and had to do it over again, would he? I think I hear his ghost answer: ‘‘No, I wouldn’t!’’


Australia averts terrorist attack

Australia averted a major terrorist strike by LeT-trained terrorists this week. The targets were the Sydney Opera House (in the pic) and the Melbourne Stock Exchange. This is the second such plan that has been successfully busted by the Australian intelligence, which no doubt, proves its effectiveness. Other countries would do well to take a tip or two from the Australian military. It is reported that 2 Islamic cells were competing to be the first to strike in the island-country. Abu Bakr, Australia's answer to Omar Bakri Mohammed, has been arrested for masterminding the plot. Now Australia must go the British way of banning belligerent clerics, who preach violence and justify terror.

British PM Tony Blair has, meanwhile, failed to get his terror law cleared by the parliament. Blair had made this bill a test of his leadership which has been going downhill since the Iraq misadventure. One of the more controversial provisions in the bill pertains to the rule that would have allowed police to detain terrorist suspects for upto 90 days without filing charges. The knifes are out not just in the Opposition camp, but within his own Labour Party, that has been gunning for Gordon Brown to take over.

Found a place, finally

So there, this is what house-hunting feels like. It's tiring, back-breaking, staircase-climbing, lift-swapping, traffic-crossing...basically something that makes you not care about grammatical niceties, as clearly displayed above. Ha-ha.

After days of being utter nomads, shifting places quicker than one can imagine, my sis and I have finally found our own cosy nook to settle in. It would have been lovely to find one in Gurgaon (the place is fab, beginning with my serendipitous discovery of Carol Shields's Unless at a Cafe Coffee Day bookshop (have been looking for it for ages, from Bombay to Goa, Kolkata to Indore, Delhi to everywhere- yes Anamika, we have shared that misery)) but we are happy enough with our current accomodation. Plan to shift in the latest by Sunday, and now the reason why I am mentionng this gaatha: will finally install my comp and start blogging from home. And then you can expect to be bored more frequently than these erratic jabberings.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Google giving conventional businesses sleepless nights

Businesses such as retail and manufacturing are beginning to feel the heat as Google blazes newer trails in its effort to digitize nearly every aspect of our lives. Goggle Print, still disputed because of its ability to provide searchable databases of all reading material the world's ever known, was only the beginning. By letting customers know the best deals, it can seriously jeopardize the business interests of retail giants like Wal-Mart. It can, in the words of an expert, bring about exactly those changes which we always expected from the Internet, but which we are witnessing only now, thanks largely to Google. Now I am no Google loyalist (2 posts in quick succession notwithstanding) but you cannot overlook the way technology's taking over our lives, and Google is very much the leader of the gang.

Fanaah raising Bollywood hopes

Kunal Kohli is to begin shooting for his Aamir Khan- Kajol starrer Fanaah, a mature love-story (or so Yashraj claims). The movie is generating a buzz not only got the unusual star-casting (who can imagine a gravid Aamir with the bubbly Kajol?) but also because it is being hemmed by Kohli, known for changing the rules of the game with his Hum Tum. The movie will be shot majorly in Delhi and Yashraj Films has obtained the permission to film prominent Delhi landmarks such as Jantar Mantar and Chandni Chowk. Kajol has been going around town saying it's a brilliant script, and the entire world and its aunty know that Aamir would not associate himself with mediocrity. Let's hope we are in for a pleasant surprise.

Natwar Singh stripped of portfolio

Failing to read the writing on the wall, Natwar was stripped of the External Affairs portfolio, even as he was receiving the visiting Czech President. He thinks it is the effect of Shani that's landed him in a soup. He has called in an astrologer from Bangalore to help him tide over the crisis. Sorry, Mr. Singh, I have sad news. I don't think any astrologer can help you right now. You are neck-deep in serious trouble and nothing, no chance circumstance is likely to exonerate you. You can look forward to a career as an (in)famous op-ed writer.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

At the Queen's service

Newly anointed James Bond- Daniel Craig has begun signing into hotels as Jimmy Bond to get into the groove of playing the world's most famous spy. Good thinking, Daniel.

After years of indecisiveness from the proprietors of the James Bond franchise, it's nice to come across a lead who is just so devoted to playing the part. It kinda brings the charm back into the magic of James Bond. And Mr. Brosnan, please stop whining. You had your day. Let Daniel have his.

Revolutionizing Reading

In a new bid to bring technology in the domain of reading and books, Amazon and Google are developing models to allow customers to purchase bits of books online for as little as 5 cents a page. This is a compromise formula being worked on to defeat Google's attempts to digitize books and provide a searchable database of all its material. If implemented, this proposal would revolutionize reading as it will allow people to but material relevant to them at throwaway prices, bringing many more people into the "reading fold". I don't know if everyone would be happy with this though. I for one like my books in paper format and the costs and the effort in printing out material might just prevent me from clicking that link. The corner bookshop for me any day. But this news for all you online junkies. Go get your online reading dope, well soon enough.

Options running out for Natwar

In an interesting take on the oil-for-food scandal, Indrajit Hazra likens the situation to the famous tea party incident from Alice In Wonderland. Dormouse is our very own Mr. Natwar Singh, March Hare the honourable but very lameduck Manmohan Singh and above all, "sphinx like" Alice, Sonia Gandhi. Read Malice In Wonderland here.

Volcker had notified Natwar of his inclusion in the list. That can only mean that the latter conferred with the Congress leadership and behind closed doors & in hushed tones, they decided that it was best to keep the issue under wraps, until it came in the open, and then behave scandalized and disbelieving. This takes the cake in l'affaire Singh. The planning, the scheming. As mentioned earlier, packing him off will only be the beginning. Scams come and go, and people in this country have developed a "devil-may-care" attitude to them. It's sad but true; it is impossible to keep getting agitated about something that you see in its different avatars every other day. There have been Natwars in the past and there will be others in future. One Singh doesn't a crusade make.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

You haven't missed this, have you?

Well, if you haven't come across it already, it's Shahrukh Khan's 40th birthday today, and the Indian websphere is going ballistic. Perfectly sane and respectable newspapers are publishing eulogies that appear written by some goggle-eyed teenager. Comeon guys, by all means, report it, but do it objectively, don't make it sound so Filmfarish. Now before you Shahrukh Khan fans start chopping me to bits, I personally am quite fond of the actor. He has tremendous charisma and has consistently ruled Bollywood over the last decade. But that doesn't justify this kind of reporting in, for God's sake, Indian Express. Somehow, images of the queeny Koffee With Karan get mixed up with the hard-nosed Op-ed of Shekhar Gupta, and I pant with subconscious confusion.

Hindu gets it better, but you can't really appreciate them for this. They cover all of Entertainment drearily. Gimme masala any day, but not on IE, please. Rediff gets you all of it without killing you with editorial u-turns.

Car bomb in Srinagar leaves 6 dead

On a day when the new CM Ghulam Nabi Azad is to be sworn in, a powerful car bomb has ripped through Srinagar, near the residence of outgoing CM Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for the attack. Of the 6 dead, 4 were civilians. More details awaited.

Shifting house...

...over the next 2-3 days, so the posts would be erratic. Will try and update once a day at least, but can't say for sure. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Good News from Abu Ghraib

The US Army has released 500 prisoners from the controversial Abu Ghraib prison complex located near Baghdad, as a goodwill gesture on Id. Detainees who had no serious charges of bombing, torture (ironical given the abuse of Iraqi prisoners) or kidnapping were released. The photographs of the Abu Ghraib torture had appeared in the New Yorker in its May 10, 2004 issue. The report roused a furore and severely dented the credibility of the US army. The torture came at a time when the US was already facing flak for thrusting another unnecessary and unfortunate war on the Middle East.

Delhi Blasts

Horrific stories of loss and desperation are appearing in the mainstream media. The Indian Express has covered the case of 14-year old Rahul Kocchar who lost both his parents on Saturday. Rahul has his half-yearly exams round the corner and has just returned "home" after cremating his parents. Kind offers of help are pouring in from all quarters, but nothing, no amount of aid can diminish the trauma that Rahul must be facing 24x7. Rahul's story here.

Outgoing CJI Justice Lahoti has lambasted the country's political setup for lacking the will to fight terror. He deemed terrorism "a crime that needed an altogether new kind of investigation". Justice Lahoti also favours retaining capital punishment in the statute book, in sharp contrast to the views held by his successor Justice Sabharwal who was sworn in today. In a snide reference to POTA, he chided the UPA Govt. for repealing the anti-terror law.

Orhan Pamuk: The fight for a novelist's soul

Novelist Orhan Pamuk faces trial in December for referring to his country’s massacre of 30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians. He presented a powerful case for a novel’s power to liberate, in Frankfurt last weekend, upon accepting the 2005 Friedenspreis, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Maureen Freely translated his stirring speech for Guardian Review:

What drew me to the streets of Frankfurt and Kars was the chance to write of others' lives as if they were my own. It is by doing this sort of research that novelists can begin to test the lines that mark off that "other" and in so doing alter the boundaries of our own identities. Others become "us" and we become "others".

A Turkish novelist who fails to imagine the Kurds and other minorities, and who neglects to illuminate the black-spots in his country's unspoken history, will, in my view, produce work that has a hole at its centre.

Pamuk’s problems don’t restrict themselves to a writer’s need for looking grim realities in the face. He must also be a keeper of truth and conscience. His country Turkey is a bridge between the Western and Islamic worlds. Given its liberal history, it has a vantage position to moderate the “clash of civilizations” dialogue which is so much in currency today. But for that to happen, it must first confront its past. Every nation must come to terms with its history, however bitter the outcome. Turkey would also have to face the Armenian genocide sooner or later. Pamuk, the person, has been inconvenienced by the trial, but in the ultimate analysis, it is Pamuk, the novelist, who will have had the fortune of launching this crucial debate.

Pamuk says it’s a novelist’s task to imagine other realities, to delve into the minds of the silenced, the oppressed, the victimized, and give them a voice. Empathy: a singular quality that every writer must possess. Vikram Seth had shared similar sentiments in an interview a few days back, saying that half the world’s problems would vanish if we only learnt to put ourselves in others’ shoes. For Pamuk, the larger political implication of the trial is only a distant addendum to his solitary fight for the soul of the novelist.

The political tone of the article doesn’t take from some of the thrills of reading that Pamuk outlines for us. He also delves into how the act of reading is as transforming as that of writing:

We have all known the thrill of going down the path that leads into someone else's world, and engaging with that world, and longing to change it, as we engross ourselves in the hero's culture, in his relationship with the objects that make up his world, in the words the author uses, in the decisions he makes and the things he notices as the story unfolds.

Sometimes I try to conjure up, one by one, a multitude of readers hidden away in corners and nestled in their armchairs; I try also to imagine the geography of their everyday lives. Then, before my eyes, thousands, tens of thousands of readers will take shape, stretching far and wide across the streets of the city, and as they read, they dream the author's dreams, and imagine his heroes into being, and see his world. So now these readers, like the author himself, are trying to imagine the other; they, too, are putting themselves in another's place.

Even if we have picked up a novel hoping only to divert ourselves, and relax, and escape the boredom of everyday life, we begin, without realising, to conjure up the collectivity, the nation, the society to which we belong.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Diwali Spirit

The Times of India lashed out at the Indian trait of complacency in a rare show of teeth from a media house known for its liberalism. In a front-page edit this Diwali day, it mingled the festive feeling with a stern reminder: it’s time we got angry. The article was eminently sensible, but I was seriously left wondering if it wasn’t the Indian Express that I was reading. It asked the people and the government to throw the mask of gentility away and consider Saturday’s occurrences in Delhi an act of war. Peace cannot be a one-way road, and the blasts- so soon after our offer of help to Pakistan- indicate the terrorists’ resolve to derail the peace process. India is in the line of fire, as evidenced by the spurt of attacks in J&K after the Oct 8 earthquake, and must maintain eternal vigil. The editorial saw the crying need to bust terrorist sleeper cells spread across the country, and the strengthening of soft infrastructure in law & order and intelligence. Finally, and this takes the cake, it justified US homeland security laws (widely touted as discriminatory) with the clinching argument, “if that’s what it takes to save innocent lives, it’s a sacrifice worth making”.

Good going, TOI.

Right next to this edit is the news item of Pak-based LeT operative Mohammed Arif alias Ashfaq receiving the death penalty in the Red Fort attack case. Two of his Indian accomplices, Nazir Ahmed Qasid and his son Farooq Ahmed Qasid were awarded life for waging war against the State. This case was the ostensible precipitation behind Saturday’s blasts.

It is a sad comment on our times that I am writing such a post today. Our world is rampaged by tragedy and grief. Sadness peeks at us from every nook and corner. Hopefully tonight’s rituals will introduce a semblance of normalcy in the dreariness that marks these days. Happy Diwali!

Double Treat: Chomsky Interview

I couldn't have asked for a better gift this feative season. First Arundhati, and now Chomsky. Recently voted the world's top public intellectual (buy the latest issue of Tehelka for an in-depth analysis of what makes one) by Prospect magazine, Chomsky sat down with Guardian's Emma Brockes to speak on a host of issues: activism, journalistic ethics, childhood experiences, Bosnia, capitalism. Broadly he maps out in the course of an hour how his whole life has conspired to bring him to do what he's best known for today: speaking up against injustice (though he has a day job as Professor of linguistics). By turns quirky and charming, "vibrating with anger" one moment and smiling the next, Chomsky has a knack for provocativeness. Read this piece for a brief primer on some pertinent issues of our times.

Amrita Pritam passes away

Noted Punjabi writer Amrita Pritam has passed away in Delhi this afternoon. Recipient of the Padma Shri and a former Rajya Sabha member, Pritam was the author of Pinjar (available as The Skeleton in Khushwant Singh's translation), a hard-hitting Partition story that was recently made into a film starring Urmila Matondkar.

The Little Magazine has two of her stories online:

Wild Flower
Sahiban in exile

This tragic news comes within a week of the demise of noted Hindi litterateur Nirmal Verma.

The Volcker Stain: What Next?

It couldn't have been more ironical. The man responsible for handling India's relationship with the outside world is today charged with supping with the one of the most venal and unwholesome regimes the world has seen. And Natwar Singh's not going down alone. The Volcker report also indicts Congress for having supported Saddam for money. Congress may try hard to evade the implications of the report, but will find it impossible to deflect criticism from the findings of a committee set up by no less than the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and which names top-notch politicians from around the globe. First Mitrokhin and now Volcker. With what face can the party seek the Kashmiris' confidence as it instils its own CM on Wednesday?

The PM's immediate response should be the packing off of Natwar Singh. Knowing the public persona that is Manmohan Singh, I am sure he finds himself lost in this murky world of underhand dealings and blatant hypocrisies. There is unfortunately no magic solution to wipe this taint. Only some drastic political shakeup at the Centre can remedy it. The least the government can do is establish an independent inquiry to clarify the extent of dirty money which changed hands.

Terror Revisited

Today is the death anniversary of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Her death, as is well known, unleashed one of the bloodiest chapters of hate in Indian history, whose political repercussions are being felt to this day. This was 21 years ago. Payal Singh Mohanka, a Sikh journalist, was traveling in a train with her family that day. She presents an account of the horrors she witnessed that day.

There was a glint of madness in their eyes and murder etched across their faces. Ominous shouts and cries of "Koi Sardar hai? Goli se maar dalenge" (Is there any Sikh? We will shoot him) followed.

Not one anticipated the disaster that awaited us at Ghaziabad. A bloodthirsty mob, almost like a pack of hungry wolves hunting for prey, went from coach to coach in search of Sikhs. In a frenzy of madness the mob, armed with iron rods and knives, brutally dragged out Sikhs, burnt their turbans, hacked them to death and threw them across the tracks.

It is an impactful piece which brings the terror of those days alive. What makes one shudder is the thought that these crazy mobs, so bloodthirsty, still manage the level of discernment to choose their prey. How they come to exercise that discretion when they are baying for blood is something that confounds me no end.

Full text here.

Fuel Cars: Need to revamp duty structure

Worldwide, the phenomenon of hydrogen fuel cars is gaining currency. These cars produce zero-pollution, because the fuel i.e. hydrogen combines with oxygen to release the energy that propels the car. The by-product of this process is, of course, water, which surprisingly, is clean enough to drink. India, however, is lagging behind in this technology because the high duty imposed on fuel cars here. Toyota and Ford, worldwide leaders of the technology have been lobbying with the Indian Government for many years to relax duty norms so that these cars can become the vehicle of choice for consumers. Presently, their costs, owing to the duty structure, are prohibitive. Hopefully, the government would agree to their demands and pave the way for this technology to be mass-marketed in India.

On a lighter note, my use of hopefully in the above paragraph is considered incorrect by linguistic standards. But since this usage is so common, let me err.

(Report from the print edition of Times of India)