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Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Year in Review: Fundamental Right to Equality before the Law

Article 14 of the Constitution provides to all (irrespective of citizenship), equality before the law and equal protection of the law. I would rant about Salman Khan here, but the fact is that he did face prosecution. Compare this to Madhya Pradesh governor, Ram Naresh Yadav, named as an accused in the Vyapam scam, who could not be touched because of the immunity he enjoys by virtue of his position. 
Note that this is not a violation of the Constitution-the law of the land allows for these exceptions. It is interesting however that this immunity from criminal proceedings is available only during the term of the governorship. It should be quite an easy thing to remove the governor (only an executive order is needed for this unlike in the case of the Presidency where an entire procedure for impeachment has to be followed), and then prosecute him. Then again this seems to be too much to expect given that  nobody seems to have been touched by the Vyapam scam, except for those who have been deprived of seats and those who have been, well…dying.

Another example of these exceptions at work was when a Saudi diplomat walked off after being accused of raping 2 domestic workers at his home. To ensure that the two Nepalese women now get equal protection of the law, we have to depend on the Saudi government to waive the immunity. Keep your hopes in check, on that. 

Friday, 25 December 2015

Year in Review: Secularism and Religious Rights

2015 was an interesting year for India. It began with the NITI Aayog replacing the Planning Commission, the institution that had set the country’s development agenda for more than half a century. It ended with PM Modi infusing new vigour into India-Pakistan diplomacy. And in between ISRO sent up India’s first space observatory, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act, Bihar elected Nitish Kumar to power again and Chennai recorded the highest rainfall it had received in 100 years (to put it mildly). Yet the story that probably dominated maximum newsprint and mind-space was the death of Mohammad Akhlaq at the hands of a lynch-mob in Dadri, UP.  It threw up questions on tolerance, secularism, and divided public opinion (if Twitter is a gauge for public opinion, in any case) like no other. Hence, at the end of 2015, it is worth an attempt to summarise the substantive changes that with respect to secularism and religious rights.

The Constitution and Indian Secularism

It is worth the effort to clarify the semantics at the outset, since disagreements are often a result of differences in understanding.
Secularism means that the state does not legally ally itself with any religion. In the West, this has taken the form of a separation between Church and State. The Indian Constitution also does not privilege any religion over another, but does allow the state to intervene in matters of religion. 
Article 30 extends the right to religious minorities to establish and administer educational institutions. Additionally, the state cannot discriminate against it when granting funds to educational institutions[i]. More crucially, Article 25, while granting individuals the right to follow, freely practice, profess and propagate their religion (subject to health, morality and public order),allows legislation to regulate or restrict secular activities associated with religious practice. The State may also enact laws to bring about social welfare and reform and is explicitly empowered to throw open ‘all Hindu religious institutions of a public character’ to all classes and sections of Hindus[ii].
One can argue about how fair the implementation of Article 25 has been, but without the allowance for reform, the purpose of a Constitution that went to great lengths to guarantee equality and individual liberties to its citizens would be defeated. This also means that the judiciary has to often step in to resolve conflicts between religious rights and other rights to delineate when state intervention is acceptable.

Indian State: Secularism and Tolerance

Secularism is a more accurate adjective for institutions or the state than people. So it is unfair to talk of the Dadri incident as an indictment of the failure of Indian secularism. After the event, as is its duty in any case, the police investigated the incident and the state took measures rehabilitate the family of the victims[iii]. In the process, some (either part of the government, or part of the ruling party at the Centre) made worrying statements that seemed to justify the lynching[iv][v]. The protests by civil society that followed were against this bigotry, not against the Indian state. Of course the discussion finally degenerated into slanging matches on Twitter and assertions and counter-assertions of ‘India is tolerant/ intolerant’, which did not do anything for demanding accountability of ministers, and everything to polarise further. In this din, areas where we should have been raising questions got ignored. For example in November, the Punjab Cabinet approved an amendment that would allow those guilty of ‘sacrilege’ to be given life imprisonment[vi]. Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) already provides for a punishment of three years or fine or both in case of “[vii]

Then there was the Government of Maharashtra which faced criticism twice this year-first for the ban on the slaughter of bulls and bullocks in Maharashtra (cow slaughter having been banned earlier), and second, the proposed meat ban during the days that Jains observe Paryushan. Both times,  they were accused of impinging on individual liberties and the right to livelihood, in order to appease a section of their vote-bank. More generally, the issue raised the question of whether religious sentiment and religious rights should be honoured above other fundamental rights-a subject matter for the judiciary for the coming years.

The Indian Judiciary and Secularism: No gain, (maybe) some loss

Article 21 of the Constitution states than an individual cannot be deprived of his right to life and liberty except through procedure established by law. Through the years, the judiciary has taken a broad view of this and included within the right to life, the right to livelihood, the right to live with human dignity, the right to shelter, the right to decent environment including pollution free water and air, among others. A petition to the Supreme Court invoked this last right, asking for a ban on the bursting of firecrackers during Diwali[viii]. The important question is whether burning crackers is an essential practice under Hinduism (and hence protected under Article 25). There are also attached questions of individual liberty, though there may be reason to curb individual liberties if they cause substantial negative externalities to others, and the right to livelihood of those working in the fireworks industry. Either way, the Supreme Court did not take a decision on it this year, with the next hearing scheduled for 2016.

The other case where the conflict between the right to life and religious practices remained unresolved was on the Jain practice of Santhara in which Jains renounce food and water towards the end of their lives. The adherents of Jainism do not consider this to be suicide, but an act of ‘purification’ that is practised only when the process of natural death has already started.  However, in Nikhil Soni v Union of India, the Rajasthan High Court (HC) directed the state to abolish the practice, reasoning that it violated Sections 306 and 309 of the IPC (suicide and abetment to suicide respectively) as the right to life did not include within it the right to die. Moreover, it argued that the Santhara is not an essential practice under Jainism, and thus need not be protected by Article 25. The decision was criticised on both grounds-that Santhara is in fact an essential religious practice, and secondly that while the Supreme Court did not recognise the right to die, it did recognise the right to die with dignity[ix]. The Supreme Court later stayed this decision, and will take the final call on this in the years to come.

An issue where we did get a decision from the Supreme Court this year was on whether the principles in the Agamashastras could be used to appoint archakas (priests) to temples. Agamas are scriptures that detail the manner in which worship is to be conducted in temples following Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism.  In 2002, the Supreme Court had affirmed that priestly appointments were a secular activity [thus open to state intervention under Article 25] and upheld the right of non-Brahmins to be appointed as priests. Accordingly the Tamil Nadu government issued an order allowing all individuals (irrespective of caste) to be appointed as priests in Agama temples, also opening institutes to impart training for this purposes[x]. The present case revolved around the challenge to this government order. The Supreme Court this time invoked Article 16 (5) which says that equality of opportunity in public employment does not render any law illegal that provides for only a member of a particular denomination to hold an office associated with the affairs of that religion or denomination[xi]. For example, in the appointment to a temple of the Vaikhanasa sect, it was membership of the prospective priest to that sect, that mattered, not caste per se. Hence, the court ruled that temples could appoint archakas in accordance with the Agama scriptures as long as the principles contained therein were not in violation of the Constitution. Whether the principles contained in a particular Agama were unconstitutional or not, the judgment said, could only be determined on a case to case basis[xii].

The problem with this reasoning is that while it recognises that denomination matters-such that not all Brahmins can become archakas in the temple of a specific sect, it does not answer whether only some castes can become archakas. For example, as the Hindu points out, the priests in a Vaikhasana or Pancharatra temple have to descend from a particular gothra. This may disqualify Dalits from priesthood completely, since categorised as ‘outcastes’ in the past, they may not have the status of being descendants of a rishi at all[xiii].

Wish-list for the New Year

2016 will probably see some clarity on some of the issues above. Here is hoping that the judiciary strikes the right balance between guarding religious rights while also upholding individual liberties, and the rights to equality and life. Let’s also hope that 2016 sees all governments, the Centre and the states, prefer liberalism to populism. And lastly, let’s hope that as citizens (and otherwise) we can begin to start having more civil debates and informed discussions on secularism and religion in India.





[i] http://indiankanoon.org/doc/1983234/
[ii] http://indiankanoon.org/doc/631708/
[iii] Admittedly, the media reported that the police team collected a sample of the meat consumed by the family the previous night, unnecessary if the purpose was to find out who was involved in the lynching.
[v] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/bjp-mp-yogi-adityanaths-outfit-offers-guns-to-hindus-in-dadri/
[vi] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/punjab-cabinet-approves-life-term-for-acts-of-sacrilege/article7897918.ece
[vii] http://indiankanoon.org/doc/1803184/
[viii] http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/supreme-court-refuses-to-ban-firecrackers/151582.html
[ix] http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-flawed-reasoning-in-the-santhara-ban/article7572183.ece
[x] http://www.caravanmagazine.in/perspectives/sacred-rights
[xi] http://indiankanoon.org/doc/211089/
[xii] http://supremecourtofindia.nic.in/FileServer/2015-12-16_1450255713.pdf
[xiii] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/archakas-verdict-supreme-court-gives-little-consideration-on-implementation-of-agamas/article7996598.ece


Friday, 20 November 2015

Of News and Other Stuff-the All Things Boring Edition

  1. There is a desert in China called Takla Makaan. My amusement at this is reflective of how bored I am.
  2. Someone should institute a glamour quotient of corruption. The more un-glamourous the scam, the more corrupt a country is likely to be. Everyone can spot opportunities for thievery when a mega event like CWG is being organised or when resources are being awarded. It takes a special kind of criminal instinct to start a ‘Jute Bag Scam’ where new jute bags at PDS packaging centres are replaced with old ones. The new ones are sent to middle men who sell the bags to jute mills at half the price at which the government procured them. So simple and so dull.
  3. In its bid to dumb itself down and sell more copies revamp itself, the Hindu has added entertainment pages in the main newspaper. And to nobody’s surprise, they have managed to make that boring as well. How do they manage this when they have (possibly) the country’s best film writer on their payrolls? Also, whose idea of a design change was to use different font styles on the same page? The consultant in me strongly disapproves.
  4. Talking of aesthetic sensibilities, as a child I used to colour human bodies and faces with ochre. Then somewhere down the line, some art tutor (and I just can’t remember which one), made me switch to peach. Did this happen to you? Was it harmless or was it some deep seated racism that I unknowingly partook in?
  5. The other thing I was made to practice unconsciously was religion. All through my childhood, every place we sight saw had at least one common pit stop-a temple (the other was a movie theatre, because nothing like watching a generic Hindi movie to get an understanding of the local culture).
  6. My sole preoccupation during these visits was the ritual of taking off my shoes while worrying about them getting pilfered, getting jostled in the crowd trying to get a peek at the deity, and then wearing those shoes again, invariably with damp feet, and pebbles and gravel lining the in-soles now. If I had concentrated on actually seeing my surroundings a little more, I would have found it a lot easier to study for competitive exams.
  7. The other annoying subject for study is the institutional maze of India. The National Commission for minorities is a statutory body set up under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. Members of the minority communities can send in their grievances to the Commission. A chart on their website helpfully marks out the religion of each member (2 Muslims, 1 Christian, Parsi, Hindu, Buddhist each and 1 Sikh member seat which is currently vacant). So inclusive we are.
  8. We really need to stop pretending that we are a secular country. It is one thing to provide special protection to the culture/ language of a group. Quite another to give out life terms to people for ‘sacrilege’.  
  9. Kaushik Basu once said that the worst part of coming into policy from academia was that he was consistently misquoted in the media. So his biggest worry was to construct paragraphs in such a way that sentences could not possibly be lifted out of context to prove that the economy was going to the dogs. Apparently even that did not work, so he had to focus on ensuring that no string of words could be lifted and reported out of context. Which meant that he ended up giving boring speeches. Our favourite Central Bank governor on the other hand, before giving a lecture on a completely unrelated topic, gives out the following disclaimer:

"For any hints on what we will do in the upcoming policy statement, please read the guidance in our last policy statement. I quote: “Significant uncertainty will be resolved in the coming months, including the likely persistence of recent inflationary pressures, the full monsoon outturn, as well as possible Federal Reserve actions. As the Reserve Bank awaits greater transmission of its front-loaded past actions, it will monitor developments for emerging room for more accommodation. Nothing I say in what follows is meant to offer further guidance, and please don’t read veiled meaning where none is intended".

Saturday, 17 October 2015

FAQs by Internet Hindus

Every time there is a terror attack perpetrated in the name of Islam, you can depend on some Muslims (sometime religious leaders, at other times intellectuals- not to imply that these categories are mutually exclusive) who will assert that such acts are un-Islamic, that this is not what the Quran says on jihad and so on. I always thought such arguments were besides the point; it does not matter what the Quran says or does not, there can be no justification for mass murder.

But turns out, that I am now thinking exactly the same things about Hinduism in response to some of the things I have been reading on Dadri and more generally, about the perceived rise in majoritarianism in India. And that's largely because some lunatics have been claiming that others eating beef hurts Hindu sentiments, and that somehow though Dadri was sad and regrettable, the lynchers had a fair grievance too.

Unfortunately the quality of our public discourse is so bad, that it needs to be clarified that in a country which calls itself democratic and has a Constitution,   justice cannot be delivered through a public lynching. Not to a murderer or rapist, and certainly not to a suspected beef eater. This is not to say that all these actions are equal 'crimes'.

Now coming to the questions of whether others eating beef hurts 'Hindu' sentiments.

Did Hindus never eat beef?

What came to be called Hinduism later, had its beginnings in the Rig Veda (generally placed at around 1500 BC, though the date is not central to the argument), a book of prayers. The Rig Veda is quite preoccupied with the question of cows. The Sanskrit term for war is 'gavishti', literally, the search for cows. Besides  wars being fought for cattle, priests (a privileged class even then) were presented with cattle (and female slaves). People prayed to the Gods for cattle (and sons). Yet, it is no one's claim, that cows were not consumed. In fact, agriculture came to be practised only around the 1000 BC, with the beginnings of the iron age and settled agriculture. Before that, people were primarily pastoral, and consumed a variety of animals including, beef.

Then why did we stop?

There is a simple answer. Practicality. Between 1000 to 500 BC, the other three Vedas-Sama, Atharva and Yajur came to be composed. The Atharva Veda for one, prescribed a host of rituals involving cattle and horse slaughter that needed to be performed in different circumstances. I am sure you have heard of the Ashvamedha ritual where a king lets a horse loose and effectively challenges other kings whose territory the horse traverses. Later, the horse had to be  killed. 

As you can surmise, these later Vedic people were also getting more territorial, hinting at the spread of settled agriculture. This in turn required the use of cattle for ploughing. Hence the ritual sacrifices were getting bigger irritants for agriculturalists.

During the 5th C BC, Mahavira and Gautama Buddha also arrived on the scene, with the religions they preached, opposing the killing of all animals. Jainism, with its insistence on killing no living being (including insects) could get mainly adherents among traders, while more and more farmers (whose occupation required more moral flexibility in killing pests that destroyed crops) took to Buddhism.

No faith likes losing adherents. Vedic people didn't like it either. But guess what, they didn't go on morchas or ask for a ban on proselytism, or sing and dance about ghar wapsi (okay fine they may have, we can't tell with any certainty). But we do know that their most successful coping technique was to simply change. (And also to announce that the Buddha was an avatar of Vishnu, but that's not particularly relevant here). Also not all of this was a response to new religions. By 600 BC, the Upanishads had been composed. These de-emphasised ritualism, and talked about an individual's karma being the key to salvation (put loosely). 

So then now the cow is sacred right?

If you still feel the need for that question, you are an idiot. Yes it is. But the point is that it need  not be any longer since modern agriculture obviates the pressing need for cattle. And also because there are people from other faiths, as well as some Hindus, who do consume beef,  basic human decency and respect for the constitution (since you guys are such  'nationalists'), implies that that you lay off.

But did you protest when Satanic Verses was banned? Or when Muslim groups threatened to behead the Danish cartoonist who drew Mohammad?

Yes. I don't think Satanic Verses was banned in my time, but I did think that the death threats were crazy. I might not have written anything about it, because you would think that there would be no need to. Only an ass-hat would think death threats can be justified. Just the way that only ass-hats would think that a lynching was a legitimate expression of someone's offended sensibilities.

But in Pakistan you would be lynched for burning the Quran.

Yeah, Pakistan with its shaky democracy, constant sceptre of Army rule, and a terrorist infestation is the country to aspire to.

Also, when a book falls to the ground, my culture tells me to touch it to my forehead as a mark of reverence. Why would I burn a book to spite a community?

But those people are eating beef to spite Hindus

No. That is a dietary preference, in itself a result of a person's culture.

As an example, this is the period of Navratras when some groups in North and west India observe abstention from non vegetarian food.

This is also when Bengalis eat more non veg than usual. That's not to spite your sensibilities. We do it because we celebrate Durga Puja (another Hindu festival by the way). This is when the daughter of the house comes home (probably during her kids' school vacations) and it's time to celebrate by going to meet her in new clothes, and eat good things. And playing loud Bollywood music (I can understand your irritation with the latter).

Anyway, as long as we don't take non veg inside your Garba pandals, I don't see how it should offend you (and we don't,  only Shiv Sena does such things). What gives you the right to block our access to fish in the neighbourhood market? Do you know how far CR Park is? What if you had to commute 2 hours by road to buy half a kg of paneer?

Also while on the subject, if meat eating during Navratras offends you, please don't come to the designated area in Durga Puja pandals where food is served. The disapproval in your beady eyes kills our fun.

But our constitution protects the cow as a sacred animal.

No.

It is a Directive Principle of State Policy. That means that the Constitution shows the general direction that state policies should take.

Fundamental Rights (to life and liberty) trump Directive Principles for the most part (there are exceptions that none of those are relevant here). 

But I still feel offended. Period.

That's perfectly fine. Racists, sexists,  religious bigots and paneer secreted into samosas and pav bhaji offend me. Beef eaters may offend you. But don't you dare talk for all Hindus. Not just because Hindu is a broad term for a collection of varied sects and groups with different belief systems but also because within your narrow sect, there may be decent, tolerant human beings who don't want to be a part of your divisive agenda.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Of News and Other Stuff-6

  1. Gregory Mankiw must feel sorry for writing that textbook on the Principles of Economics. But he couldn’t have known that harmless undergraduates he helped indoctrinate would grow up to be employees of donor agencies and pass off academic homilies of privatising water supply, and letting demand –supply determine who gets how much, as valid economic policy. And then shove it down the throats of developing countries as part of loan conditionalities.
  2. I realise I have a few pet topics-Agatha Christie, Sherlock, Harry Potter, Sanghi Appreciation, Condemning Vegetarianism and now the Mughals. Specifically, Akbar’s court and how much fun it must have been with all those intellectuals and wits hanging out together.  I can imagine Abul Fazl and Birbal high-fiving each other (while Akbar looks on indulgently) after  a polite (and lyrical) put down they gave to the orthodox clerics, when the latter got apoplectic about heretical stuff the Emperor liked to do. Like commission paintings, propagate tauhid-e-ilahi and treat people from other religions decently (tch tch). And Man Singh must have been the silent, well-mannered guy, who got the job done while these creative types kept things lively.
  3. The reason I am clinging to Akbar these days may be because the present is so depressing. Newspapers have been pointing out that the Dadri family that was subjected to a brutal attack by a local mob did not in fact consume beef the previous day, but mutton. Can they also please point out that it is irrelevant if they did consume beef? Because their insistence on this point is just legitimising the kind of narrative that the culture minister ‘Dr.’ Mahesh Sharma is currently trying to push-saying that the attack was a result of a misunderstanding, rather than a bigoted mind-set.
  4. Mamata Banerjee has clarified that there will be no meat ban during the Durga Puja. But is this a straw man she is destroying or are there some pious (and treacherous) Bengalis who are demanding such a stupid thing in the first place?
  5. About a dozen Bangalore based billionaires (Azim Premji, the Nilekanis and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw among them) have come together to set up a trust to fund digital media platforms. The IE reported Shaw saying that such initiatives would ensure balanced reporting that don’t push a specific agenda. Except you know, that of the super-rich.
  6. A Chinese tech company has invented a robot-journalist that can produce a 1000 word copy in about a minute on issues like changes in inflation, growth data etc. I don’t think journalists (or any class of professionals who write reports for a living) need to be worried about losing their jobs. It might free them up to pursue investigative journalism (or something more generally, worthwhile) that computers can’t possibly do. Yet.
  7. A cue to know when someone is faffing is when you see phrases like ‘lack of political will’, ‘democratic discourse’, ‘concerted effort from all stakeholders’ and the like being thrown around. Or when prime ministers start evoking Goddesses on being asked a question on what their government is doing for empowering women. Still, our government is trying to make it easier for more women to enter the workforce by revising our anachronistic Factory laws. On the other hand under Skill India, it is resorting to that perennial favourite-opening gender exclusive institutions for training. Besides my suspicion that they will be more likely to teach skills like stitching than motor mechanics, how will this equip women (and men) to survive in workspaces that will (and should) hire both men and women?
  8. I am planning to start a Raghuram Rajan fan-club. Not least for being one of the few academics who has made a smooth transition from that cloistered world to one in the public glare, but also for saying deep, intelligent things, gift wrapped in a cover of simplicity, and with a bow of optimism added to it. Also last year, he walked down the Red Carpet at the Filmfare awards. How can one not love the man? 
PS: Sorry for not providing any links. I am a lazy bum. (Let's face it my two readers, you were not going to look them up anyway).


Friday, 18 September 2015

Of News and Other Stuff 5-Delhi Sultanate Special

  1. Every time I feel sick of Delhi, I discover some new nugget of history about the city which makes me love it all over again. Did you know that Siri Fort was Alauddin Khalji’s capital? According to legend (which would probably explain some of our bloodlust) the word Siri is derived from the ‘sir’ (head) of the Mongols who Khalji defeated. Either he built it on the lands where the heads of the poor sods lay or decorated the palace with the decapitated heads. Maybe it's just me with the bloodlust.
  2. Feroze Shah Tughlaq was probably the first ruler of India (or at least Delhi) to have a Public Works Department. (This could be a defence when the Municipal Corporation decides to rename the Feroze Shah Road).
  3. You can blame our current leaders for trying to name and rename every road, airport and scheme after its own cultural ideologues (BJP) or friends and family members of the Nehru-Gandhi clan (Congress), but they are still better than Alexander, who went around naming multiple cities after himself.
  4. In contrast to most rulers who liked to take on pompous titles and names (think Shah Jahan or Vikramaditya), we had a Rajput ruler called Sadharan. Yeah. His son was the ruler of Gujarat in the late 14th Century and his daughter was married to Feroze Shah Tughlaq. Other than that, he was sadharan.
  5. Our middle school history texts do not emphasize enough on Razia Sultan. Not only did she head the Delhi Sultanate for three years, her father (Iltutmish) nominated her as successor, in preference to her many brothers. All other historical female figures I have heard about till now (including the daughter of Chandragupta II, Chand Bibi or even Rani Laxmibai) became famous for what they did, after and because their male relatives had died. [Note to self: Do a post on the women in Indian history].
  6. The Delhi government wants to cut down on school text book chapters to lower the burden on kids (possibly because they can quickly mug up the rest and pass exams with flying colours). One of the chapters they plan to can is on Jan Sangharsh (Public Struggles) in the 10th standard Civics textbook because they feel that children will learn that protests against the government and anarchy is a way to achieve social justice.
  7. Talking about lack of self-awareness, does the Sangh Parivar know that the first ban on the RSS, in 1948, was imposed by Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, whose legacy they’re trying to appropriate?
  8. In an edit in the Hindu, the writer recounts an ex diplomat saying that at one time, India had a choice between either pursuing real power by becoming nuclear capable or ‘illusory’ power by becoming a permanent member in the UN Security Council.  Even though we no longer face that choice, shouldn’t we be a little more circumspect in chasing UNSC membership? Given our foreign policy of getting along with everyone, from Saudi Arabia to Iran and from North Korea to the US, permanent membership could end up being a crown of thorns.
  9. Does the US Fed consider the feelings of others when backtracking on interest rate hikes? Does it stop to think about the painstaking work of the economists of the World Bank and IMF who conduct detailed surveys of analysts and track the economy fervently, in the hopes of getting their predictions right? Or all the writers of Financial Stability Reports who base their assessment of risks on the predictions of the IMF and World Bank? Or poor Raghu Rajan who will now face more pressure than ever on cutting rates in India? Or all the op-ed writers who had their articles ready on the impact of this move on India? Really.
  10. Pronab Sen, the Chairman of the National Statistical Commission and earlier Surjit Bhalla, explained why the GDP growth rate for Q1 of FY 2016 was lower than expected but with very different conclusions.  Essentially, they explain that the 7% figure was a result of an IMF imposed idiosyncrasy. GDP (at market prices) is the sum of Gross Value Added (or GDP at factor cost) and Net Indirect taxes. The IMF requires that the growth in the Net Indirect Tax in the quarterly estimates be taken as the growth in the nominal figure divided by the change in tax base (that is the nominal growth in manufacturing, services and exports). Hence if there are any increases in the tax rate or tax compliance, they get counted as an increase in the price. This means that there was an over-estimation of inflation in the last period. Since real growth of GDP is calculated by subtracting the inflation rate from the nominal GDP growth rate, the CSO subtracted more than what was ‘actual’ inflation, and thus got a real GDP growth rate that was lower than expected.
  • Sen used this to argue that the deflation scare is misplaced (and though he does not say it, possibly just scare-mongering by the Govt. to get the RBI to cut rates). The Chief Economic Advisor is assuming, or at least leading others to believe, that a fall in prices (as reflected by a negative WPI growth for consecutively 10 months now) means deflation. In reality, a deflation would be a cause for worry only if it reflected slowing domestic demand. This has not happened, as the explanation about the calculation shows. Instead the fall in the WPI has been due to falling global prices.
  • Bhalla says that even though growth rates are higher than what the data suggest, they ‘feel’ low, because the messianic BJP government has used the gains from the lower fuel prices to decrease deficits and inflation (hmm…). Now the RBI should cut rates so that the growth based on GDP feels high (hmm…again).
  • K M Chandrashekhar, an ex-bureaucrat, gives his own example and that of his buddies in the banking sector to claim that people are risk averse at the moment and so a rate cut on its own might not help (not to say he is wrong). To his credit, he doesn’t write with the brash confidence that comes easily to some of our economists who want their feelings to be the basis of economic policy (not to say that their hunches are wrong either). 


Sunday, 13 September 2015

Of News and Other Stuff-4

  1. Last week, the Indian Express published Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s reasonable and well-mannered defence of the Mahatma against the charges of being a racist and colonial sympathiser. It was refreshing to read him on the same day as Tony Joseph’s invective against Surjit Bhalla, part of a continuous back and forth between the two on the question of Christian conversions. Nobody is complaining about a debate, the problem is when columnists adopt the kind of tone, which should only be the prerogative of the anonymous Twitter troll.
  2. An interviewee in the Hindu had sensible suggestions on how to counter online hate speech. She says that pre-censorship or deletion of the offending pages is respectively undesirable and ineffective, and what is required is to change the terms of the discourse through ‘counter-speech’. She cites the example of ‘Flower Speech’ practised by a group of Buddhist monks in Myanmar to counter the alarming instances of online and off-line hate speeches against Muslims. In India I think it has been successful partly in discussions on rape. In spite of all the ‘Humanists’ on twitter who bemoan rape laws and 498A, there is now remarkable levels of outrage when a Mulayam Singh or Abu Azmi decides to air his opinion. 
  3. Christine Lagarde (the IMF Chief) opined that it is important to get women into the workforce to ensure higher economic growth-another striking example of the hyper-instrumentalism Pratap Bhanu Mehta highlighted. 
  4. Can 3 D printers make manufacturing and construction jobs redundant?
  5. Apart from the novelty of reading phrases like ‘India-occupied Kashmir’ and ‘Azad Kashmir’ used un-ironically, it is reassuring to see sane voices on both sides of the India-Pakistan border, decrying the respective ‘victory’ celebrations in the 1965 war. Not just because it is tasteless to celebrate something that led to massive loss of lives, but also because of the tiny factual detail of there being NO victory, for either side.
  6. Purists be damned, even the Government of India is not averse to using some Hinglish (Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana) in its relentless pursuit of interesting (if slightly inexact) scheme names. In this case, HRIDAY.
  7. Awkward name apart, it is a great initiative to spruce up some of our ancient cities, by improving last mile connectivity to heritage sites, bringing in elements of urban planning, increasing tourism, and hence expanding livelihood opportunities and economic growth. Some help will also be forthcoming from the Rs. 100 cr grant for infrastructure development under the Ministry of Tourism’s PRASAD (Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive) scheme. I am going to let the last one go without comment.
  8. But schemes hardly ensure citizen awareness. In Baghpat (UP), villagers have enthusiastically encroached on a ‘protected’ site of the Indus Valley Civilisation, to expand agriculture and build memorials for important men of the village. Who needs the ISIS when a passive ASI can facilitate the job? 
  9. That said, agriculture is probably still better use of heritage sites than for expansion of residential facilities. I am of course referring to the plans for freeing up Lutyen’s Delhi for private use.  Yet even in this case, the land-use-for-more-productive-purposes versus-preservation-of-heritage debate does not have any easy answers. On one hand, pretty much the only thing going for Delhi anymore is that limited area where you can walk safely on wide tree-lined footpaths, where the fumes of the passing traffic will not give you bronchitis, and the old-worldly homes are easy on the eye (as against the soul-less multi storeyed buildings or the box like DDA structures in the rest of the city). On the other hand, the rest of Delhi is choked for space. And the augmentation of the government coffers will certainly be welcome. Yet, it seems somehow unfair that people most able to afford homes in the area would be those who are least affected by the congestion problem, that is, the super-rich. Then again, I am not sure that disproportionate advantages to a certain group has ever stopped a policy from going through. (Or that, it is even desirable for that to happen).

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Of News and Other Stuff-3


  1. Popular literature is to blame for the fact that schoolkids don’t completely get the importance of Ashoka. Brainwashed by the trite ‘moral of the story’, it seems natural to them (it certainly did to me), that a cruel king realises the folly of his ways and reforms. Even literature targeted at young adults suffers from this handicap. Read how Dumbledore goes on and on about Voldemort being evil because he messed with the powerful magic, that of ‘love’, to know what I am talking about.
  2. This not to discount the inherent innocence of children. But I suspect that today’s kids, with generally greater access to information, and exposure to violence specifically, may be able to appreciate Ashoka better.
  3. Promise this is the last you will hear of Ashoka here.
  4. Talking of belabouring a point, if I hear of the ‘shared values of democracy’ one more time, I will blow a fuse. Democracy is not a value, it is a political system. And it is not just a feature of the usual suspects (US, UK, Australia) but also ostensibly, countries like Pakistan, Myanmar and Russia.
  5. Hindu’s headline writer, why is it so noteworthy that India is a key partner in the Indo-Pacific region?  I am sure you have never heard this, but learn from ToI.
  6. Pratap Bhanu Mehta had an interesting op-ed in the IE last week about how adopting the ‘development’ plank in politics (as opposed to caste, religion) has its own pitfalls. One among them is the ‘hyper-instrumentalism’ of institutions-nowhere clearer than in education. Nobody seems interested in who the professors and what their specialisations are-the focus is mostly on the ‘average package’ that the placement cell of the college can net for its students (not even on the job profile offered). This would be acceptable for professional courses, but somebody should be worried about how prevalent this is in academic courses at the PG level as well. More emphasis on the quality of education being dispensed at the UG level (so people realise the intrinsic worth of a good degree than just its signalling effect in the job market) would probably help ameliorate this.
  7. That’s not the same as standardisation of syllabus across the board. I think DU’s bane is the resort to hiring new ad-hoc teachers every semester. Most of them don’t have a stake in knowing the subject they are teaching better because they are likely to land in a different college, teaching a completely different course within a span of a few months. And they (wisely) don’t completely bank on the temporary job either, simultaneously juggling demanding PhD courses or RAships.
  8. Also, the NET exam is a joke. If you are trying to set a benchmark of basic minimum, at least ensure that the minimum reflects subject knowledge/ teaching aptitude/ analytical and critical thinking skills. Rather than the ability for uncanny guesswork.
  9. Unemployedness does a lot for your ability to dispense gyan. I finally understand the adda culture in Kolkata.
  10. May be the sanghis are on to something when they eulogise the glorious past. Did you know that tam-brahms (shorthand for abstention now) were wine and meat consumers in around the beginning of the Common Era?
  11. Since I am now too old to celebrate the very auspicious, very vegetarian festival of Janmashtami, I marked the occasion by listening to this song.  For your viewing pleasure-


Sunday, 30 August 2015

Of News and Other Stuff-2

1.       The last time I was exposed to the philosophies of Brahmanism and Buddhism, I was 10 years old. If I barely understand the difference between moksha and nirvana now (a decade and a half later), how did they expect me to know it then?
2.       An old History textbook for schoolkids I have been reading these days says, one of the reasons for the decline of Buddhism in India was that the sanghs allowed admission to women. Who the male monks lusted after.
3.       Are you really surprised that people grow up to be Mulayam Singh Yadav?
4.       Can we stop belly-aching about Akbar the Great and Maharana Pratap the Great, and concentrate more on Ashoka the Great, probably the first Emperor in the history of the world to stand firmly behind soft power?
5.      OK, let's not completely forget Akbar. He was awesome. Plus the best bits in history ARE the conquests and how they are brought about. The details about the administrative, legal and taxation system on the other hand are yawn inducing. Yes, I recognise the irony.
6.       The Indian Express reported that a couple of years ago, Indrani Mukherjea’s ex-husband had posted a joke on Facebook about how grandkids are the punishment you get for not strangling your teenagers-a post Mukherjea had ‘liked’. Yup, deep insight into the mind of a killer. Thanks IE.
7.       The guy who shot his two ex-colleagues on camera in Virginia last week, posted the shooting video on social media before offing himself.
8.       In completely unrelated news, last Monday, 1 billion people across the world logged into Facebook. Zuckerberg said in a statement that “a more open and connected world is a better world “.
      Sure.
9.       Rajiv Chowk is a metro station. The centrally located market housed within the white circular Colonial era building, around which you have walked aimlessly for years but still can’t tell your way about in, will always be CP.
10.   Also, don’t pretend you know Aurangzeb Road from Shahjahaan Road.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Of News and Other Stuff-1

1.       Talk about unintended consequences
State governments impose high taxes on alcohol, ostensibly to further Gandhian (and constitutional) ideals of prohibition. Yet, during the period of the eighties when the women of rural Andhra Pradesh were demanding a ban on the sale of arrack, the state government was less than willing to listen, due to the revenues that the sale of alcohol brought them.
2.       It has happened. The government has finally run out of innovative backronyms and rousing epithets for its myriad schemes. Indradhanush, the MoF’s seven-point (clever right?) plan to rejuvenate Public Sector Banks, shares its name with the government’s child vaccination programme against seven (big surprise) preventable diseases.
3.       The new Political Science NCERTs feel like they were written by people who remembered exactly how bad their school education was, and then went about, correcting it systematically.
4.       They are also shamelessly designed to brainwash kids into being bleeding heart liberals. As a goal of education policy, that’s not too bad.
5.       I always think of China as a bit of a brat, though it’s been acting very grown up lately with the whole talk of its Belt and Road initiatives. South China Sea is a different matter-where it is in competition with its mostly less powerful neighbours over territory. Taiwan happens to have similar claims. China says that’s only to be expected, given that Taiwan itself is a part of China.
6.       The ads for Swach Bharat Abhiyan have been criticised as reinforcing patriarchal norms since they tell families that having washrooms will help protect the izzat of the women of the house. Say what you will, it is still an effective message for the limited purpose of getting toilets built. Given the tack that the current government has taken on different issues (from marital rape to education policy), an alternative could be to extol ancient Indian culture where people in Mohenjodaro (more than 4500 years ago) had loos in every house.
7.       In a weird coincidence, the 3 ancient civilisations of the Bronze Age-Mesopotamia, Harappan and Egyptian were all in areas that are in turmoil today. On second thoughts, not really such a weird coincidence given exactly how much of the world today is in turmoil-of one kind or the other.
8.       There is nothing inevitable about murder. Not multiple marriages. Not children out of the wedlock. (I am looking at you, Hindu). 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Bye World

Over the past few days, I have been beginning to appreciate a shocking lack of depth of character in myself. It's not completely my fault. I just haven't experienced enough, I haven't travelled enough, haven't felt enough.

So I am going to stop blogging till I feel I have anything new to say.

The blog will still be up, since I love it too much to take it down (see what I mean by the lack of depth?). But there will be no new posts.

Hope to see you around :)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Initially, I was slightly disgusted that the IS was going to take over a place called Palmyra in Syria, and the only quote the newspaper reported was from the UNESCO. Then I saw the pictures.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Very Short Review: Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!

It was easy to be excited about this one. A film about a Bengali detective set in 1940s Calcutta. A director who inspires trust about being able to do justice to it. And YRF's big bucks. Were we finally to have a big fun franchise film which was also smart (in other words, not Dhoom or Golmaal)?

Not quite.

Because Byomkesh is just the reverse. It is a smart smart film which is also loads of fun.

Sushant Singh Rajput, an awesome Byomkesh, unibrow or not

Admittedly, the film had me very early (even before the fantastic credit sequence). We meet Byomkesh while he is playing chess in his college common room. Banerjee doesn't show us his face for almost a minute. And we start expecting a proper hero-esque build-up. But when the detective's face is finally revealed, it is completely devoid of fuss. I remember while watching Sherlock, how I knew I would love the show the moment they started playing *this-is-the-hero-and-he-is-awesome* music after Sherlock introduces himself to John. The makers had respect for Holmes (and filmy traditions), it showed. Byomkesh shows how a muted entry can also work wonders.

Like most good films, Byomkesh moves at a measured pace, giving the viewer time to get to know and like the protagonist and the other lovingly etched characters (especially the brawny sidekick Ajit, and the kindly Doctor-landlord) . Yet, the scenes and the sets were crammed with so many details, it became difficult to take my eyes or mind off. Like the reference to Bata shoes. Or the ex girlfriend's husband. Or the real life temptress playing demure roles in the movies. Or the codes designed to tell whether the other person was a cop.

Also if you ever needed proof to know that an arty-looking film need not be boring-it is Byomkesh with its fantastical, crazy plot.  Some reviewers I read, were not satisfied with the whodunnit aspect of Byomkesh. Which though true, leads me to believe that they have only read Agatha Christie in classic detective fiction. Indian writers like Satyajit Ray (and presumably Saradindu who I haven't read, to be honest) were however inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes (and there is a reference to this in the film) where the emphasis was more on action and adventure. The plots themselves were sometimes outlandish and sometimes plain mediocre. Which in cinematic adaptations at least, does not make a difference. If anything, Dibakar Banerjee's adaptation adheres fastidiously to the spirit of these traditions. Hence it is misguided to criticize the film's writers for succeeding at something they set out to do.

My only worry is that the less than spectacular commercial performance of the film is going to shelve the sequel that was so tantalizingly promised to us as a post-script to the film. If you are the kind of person who bitches about the Dhoom and the Golmaals that Bollywood produces, and still did not watch this one, I hope you are sorry.


Lessons from the Mughals (and their contemporaries)


I have been told in the past, that this blog is a waste of time, given my inclination to prattle on about things that don’t matter. That is all set to change now, as the blog turns 3, with me being committed to further our (you and me, dear reader) knowledge base with strictly fact based posts. Read on to learn more about the Mughals.

Delhi is the coolest city EVER
For close to two years, I passed the Old Fort every day while on my way to work. Without ever consciously registering that it was the same fort outside which, Hemu the military commander of the Suri Dynasty and the winner of 22 consecutive battles, was publicly hanged after the loss of the Second Battle of Panipat.
The Red Fort, which you pass every other weekend to get to the Daryaganj book bazaar is where the Mughal dynasty was brutally finished by the British.
Todar Mal road and Bhagwan Das road (near Mandi House, where you occasionally go to watch a play or eat at Triveni) are named after Akbar’s revenue officer and brother-in-law respectively. And it is not inconceivable that back in the day, they gallivanted across those very bits of land on horseback.
Of course, the Sanghis may want to interrupt at this point, abuse the Mughals and the other Muslim rulers (invaders, happy?) of medieval India, and talk about how Delhi was first Indraprastha, the seat of the Pandavas.
Any which way, in your face, you colonial upstart, Bombay!

Professional rivalries were as cutthroat then as today (maybe just more literally so)
Are you pissed at that senior who usurped all the credit for work you did? Or the junior who managed to ingratiate herself in front of the boss? Spare a thought then for Akbar’s wazir, who was back-stabbed (and I can’t stress this enough-literally so) by the Emperor’s foster brother Adham Khan, when Akbar refused to promote him. (Score for meritocracy, though.)

Their forms of capital punishment would put the Indonesians, firing squads and all, to shame
To punish Adham Khan for murdering his employee-the wazir, Akbar had Khan taken to the parapet of the Agra Fort and pushed from there. He died.
Was Akbar the dream boss (for the late wazir at least) or what?

There was no trade-off between chasing passions and having a comfortable bank balance
If you are still not convinced about Akbar’s greatness, you will be when I tell you that his civil servants (mansabdars) were the highest paid professionals in the world.
And I bet you already know about his navratnas- consisting of singers, writers and jesters who also enjoyed high mansabs (ranks) and attendant privileges.

The political leaders seem to have stellar economic sense
Sher Shah Suri imposed only two taxes on goods-one, an ‘import duty’ when the good entered his territory through Bengal or the North west, and second, at the time of the sale. Specifically, no taxes were imposed on inter-state movement of goods. To think, close to 500 years later, our leaders are still grappling with issues of establishing a common market by subsuming the entry tax, Central sales tax and octroi within the GST.

They were also as hypocritical as our present ones
Akbar (yes, him again) tried to bring in social reform by encouraging monogamy. A bit rich, coming from a man who used marriage as a tool of foreign policy, don’t you think? Then again, reminiscent of present day sons of the soil who insist on the adoption of vernacular languages as medium of instruction in government schools but send their own children to private schools, teaching in English.

Karma is a bitch You reap what you sow
Shah Jahan, who had revolted against his sick, dying father to gain power had to taste his own medicine towards his last years. In fact, his son, Aurangzeb, went one step further, imprisoning Shah Jahaan for eight years within the Agra Fort, in his quest to become the emperor.

Don’t be stoned all the time
The you-reap-what-you-sow argument cannot be used for Humayun who-bless his soul-did everything by the book. Not for him, his daddy’s decadent practices of making mountains of skulls of the defeated enemy’s soldiers, just for kicks. Not for him, his great-great-grandson’s power grab by killing his own siblings. In fact, he let his brother Kamran, take over Kabul, Kandahar, and Peshawar. He lost Gujarat and Malwa because of the idiocy of another sibling. He rushed to protect the kingdoms of others when sent Rakhis by widows of erstwhile opponents. Yet, after all this, after once losing his empire to Sher Shah, and then winning it all back, he died, not as a warrior in the battlefield or at the hands of  a scheming son/ underling, but due to a fall from the first floor of his library. I can only blame opium (since he probably didn’t have access to LSD).

Religion will always be used for furthering political ambitions
Humayun inherited his drug habit from his father Babur, who by all accounts was a party animal. Yet when it came to motivating his troops for the battle against Rana Sanga at Khanwa, he used religion. He called the battle ‘jihad’, throwing out his treasured stocks of alcohol to prove his religious fervour to his soldiers.
Guess who won the battle?

PS: Yes, the blog just turned 3!!
PPS: The Sanghis are a super-efficient force, as it turns out. See what they did on 15 May.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Why Margaret Mitchell was possibly a very Unpleasant Person*

It may be plebeian to quote from the Da Vinci Code, but I remember one of the characters in the book telling the heroine, Sophie Nevue, that history is always written by winners. This is not strictly true. Neither is it the case that an individual narrative of events (past or present) is necessarily one-sided. But look for example, at early efforts at documentation of Indian history, and this will ring, at least partly true. Max Mueller, VA Smith are seen as guilty of advancing accounts of ancient India that served colonial interests-the dominant interests in the 19th Century. Yet, there survived an alternative (possibly then-marginalised) description of events as seen through the ‘nationalist’ or ‘revivalist’ lens. This served as an important counter-point, but was surely not completely accurate itself. To add to the complexity-and as befuddled school students over the years in India may have noticed-a change in winner can change the dominant discourse of the time. This is not necessarily calamitous, especially not in the information age (excuse the cliché), as long as an outsider account of how things happened, exists.  And this is what makes ‘Gone with the Wind’ (henceforth GWTW), a fictional account of Civil War ridden America told from the Southern perspective, such an important book.

Yet, even as I realise the importance of GWTW from an educational perspective, I hesitate to stress on the politics of it in a blog-post, for the same reason as above. Since, it is meant to be the Southern point of view can I fault it for being well…one sided? And racist? An argument in favour of Mitchell (and any fiction writer) could be that she was writing a story of a particular person (Scarlett O Hara), and surely kindly slave owners and ‘freely’ loyal slaves could be true for the plantation her parents maintained? As a parallel, Haider was critiqued for being one-sided and silent on the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits, and a valid defence was that the movie was NOT a story about Kashmiri Pandits, but about a man who was incarcerated under AFSPA and who disappeared in the process. Hence the film was not obliged to show anything on Kashmiri Pandits. A third related defence could be that Mitchell was only being historically accurate in her illustration of race relations, so Mitchell or GWTW are not racist, but the people in the story are.

There is also the problem of calling someone racist if they ‘didn’t know better’. As an example, if my grandfather didn’t allow his wife to work outside the home, I would be more comfortable calling him ‘conformist’ than sexist. My father if he did the same to his wife, would probably be ‘conservative’. But if my husband were to prevent me from working, in spite of growing up in the same environment as me, he would be sexist. My dad, if he didn’t let me or his daughter-in-law to have an occupation while forcing my brother to have one, would be sexist. Can GWTW be absolved on this count?

My one issue with all of the above defences is that GWTW was narrated in the third person. Had all the racist or patronising commentaries about the “darkies” been coming from the viewpoint of specific characters, it wouldn’t have been a problem, to me. The third person narrative leads me to believe that it is Mitchell, writing 60 years after the Civil War (and who certainly should have known better), who is voicing the patronising commentary about the African-American slaves. And even that wouldn’t be grievous, except that the narrative is entirely devoid of any critique or self-awareness. More so because it is not just a story of the kindly O’ Haras, it is also the story of the Merriweathers and the Whitings and the Deans and the Wilkes and the Tarlestons. Hence, it becomes difficult to forgive the one-sidedness. Forget justifying slavery by accusing the blacks of lacking “gumption” and the ability to look out for themselves. Mitchell denies even stray occurrences of Southern cruelty towards slaves. Instead, it is the ‘Yankees’ who were intent on making blacks sit with themselves (“like they were as good as the Caucasians”), but would never hire them as domestic help. The Yankees were the racists.

The racism apart, the narrator of GWTW is also unfair to its spectacular heroine. Even when she helps her rival Melissa bear a child, supports her and her entire family through the War, she is called out for being self-centred, without any recognition that all normal people are a combination of vice and virtue. At one point she gets sexually assaulted on the road by a black and a white man, and her relatives and neighbours (part of the Ku Klux Klan, no less) take law into their own hands. Scarlett’s husband dies in the process. What follows is an unabashed account of victim blaming. At another point, there is, what suspiciously sounds like marital rape.

And yet, in spite of the deep problems that affect GWTW, all 800+ pages of it (the e-book), are a powerfully engrossing read. The author has to be credited for the fact that even in the absence of any attempt on her part, it is easy to empathise with Scarlett. The book is also dotted with vignettes of human behaviour that are universally recognisable, regardless of place and time. For instance Mammy and Ellen’s training of Scarlett for her role as a married woman-which often involves manipulation of the male sex-could be likened to the nature of advice young brides in India get from well-meaning female relations.  The incident that resonated with me the most was however, when Scarlett contracts prison labourers to work her plant. They are managed by a cruel man, who siphons off the food supply that Scarlett sends for the workers. At times he beats them to near death. Scarlett finds out and tries to get the manager in line; the men must be fed if they are to be productive. The manager retorts that he had been asked to be given a free hand till the time he was bringing in profits. Scarlett agrees that he was bringing in profits and leaves him alone. Clearly, the more times change, the more things stay the same (excuse the cliché’ again).



*I might have thought differently had I read GWTW when I was more impressionable

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Observations while Spring Cleaning

  • If I am sent to prison in the near future for past crimes, be sure that it will be for unreturned library books.
  • After resigning, my psychology teacher in school (who is now a rabble rousing comrade, but I digress) gave each of us a personalised good-bye card (even though it should have been the other way round). She seems to think I was a nerd.
  • When I hunted for my photo in the school magazine, it didn’t appear in the sections where my friends were listed for having some kind of talent-singing, dancing, writing, public speaking, social service, membership of Africa/ Palestine/ UNESCO/ Elocution/ Environment etc. clubs but for being a top scorer. Which is sad because if you went to school, you were supposed to be studying anyway.
  • In spite of the above I don’t think I was a nerd. In a diary entry, I had written that the Unit tests were beginning in two days from the day of the diary entry and that I hadn’t studied anything. My present self panicked a little at that but assumed that the kid-me was also feeling pangs of guilt and would presently start studying. Turns out she had to stop the entry after two lines because DDLJ was coming on Sony and she had to watch that. My present self prayed that the first Unit test was English.
  • Did the fact that I was writing about Unit Tests at all, make me a nerd?
  • I addressed my diary as ‘Cordelia’ (or ‘Cord’ or ‘Li’, as my mood permitted) since…I don’t know…’Kitty’ was too childish? I also seemed to think that the diary was a person. At the end of a very long entry, I wrote, “I will stop writing now. You must be tired.”
  • During the post-Board exam break I took to writing an illustrated description of the IPL’s first edition. After giving out the basic facts of each team, I put in “My View”, possibly inspired by the Times of India’s then-new editorial practice. Under that section, for Rajasthan Royals, I wrote that I didn’t want them to win, because, and I quote, “I don’t like Shane Warne”. Yes, sounds like me.
  • When anybody asked me who my favourite cricketer was, I always said Dhoni. But secretly, I had given my heart to Robin Uthappa.
  • A card my colony friends had given me for my birthday described me as “Moti, Moti, Tu hai moti, fuvvare jaisi hai teri choti”. If you had known me as a child, you would know how accurate the second part was.
  • My college friends gave me a ‘Welcome Back’ card when I joined them after skipping classes for more than a week during my sister’s wedding. Besides being the funniest and sweetest thing I have ever received, it is also proof that capitalism can make us happy.