If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Journey through a year of disbelief: From Dadri to Dangal

I believe it all began at 10.30 PM of 28 September 2015, when in Bisara village near Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, a 52-year-old farmer, Mohammed Akhlaq Saifi was murdered, his 22-year-old son Danish nearly killed, and seven others of the family, women and children, were brutally beaten by a Hindu mob for allegedly killing a cow that had never existed.

It happened in a two-storey house where the family had lived for 70 years and four generations. Muslims surrounded by Hindu families, they had lived in perfect harmony until that fateful moment. To their credit, some of their Hindu neighbours tried to save them. But they could not stop the mob incited by people close to the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), the ruling party of India today. Among those arrested and facing trial now is the son of a local BJP leader, Sanjay Rana. But what happened afterwards was even more shameful.

Any civilized society would expect that after such a horrendous organised crime, the government would do everything possible to avoid similar incidents in the future and put down the murderers and with a heavy hand. But no such thing happened. India’s normally garrulous prime minister didn’t utter a word on Dadri. Sundry leaders of the BJP spewed more venom on the family in particular and Muslims in general. The family had to leave Bisara and move to an Indian Air Force zone in Delhi a few days later. A false case was foisted against them, including the dead Akhlaqh, for killing the same imaginary cow.

Dadri was a turning point in recent history not because of the murder of a faceless law-abiding Indian citizen for no fault of his, but because it was followed by a series of terrible events that show a reckless ruling party is determined to turn India into a Hindu Pakistan. In 2016, India has made news in the international media for all the wrong reasons.

A brilliant Dalit research student in Hyderabad University, under the direct control of the federal education minister, committed suicide consequent to patently anti-Dalit discrimination by the university authorities. Another minister, who had no business to meddle in university affairs, had egged on the education minister to be tougher with students. Another Dalit, a student leader of Jawaharlal Nehru University was arrested just for expressing his views against the government and beaten up by pro-BJP goonda-cum-lawyers in front of TV cameras. This was followed by arrest of more JNU students who had expressed views against the government. Another student of JNU, Najeeb Ahmed, has been missing since 15 October 2016 after being attacked by ABVP (the student’s wing of BJP) activists. Strangely, a 25-point bulletin on the case released by the university, which too is under the Ministry of Education, omitted the fact that some ABVP students had attacked him the night before.

In July this year, we were shocked to see four Dalit boys – stripped to their waist – tied to an SUV and being beaten by evidently well-off young men in Gujarat. They took turns to beat their victims, calmly, ruthlessly, and unhurriedly, with the stick being exchanged at intervals. Their crime was that they had done what their ancestors had been doing since the beginning of Hindu history, skinning cows. And their tormentors? Shiv Sena (an ally of the BJP) activists and gau-rakshaks (protectors of holy cows). Over the next few months, cow vigilantes terrorized Muslims and Dalits, killing several innocent traders who sold or bought cows. The government as usual, responded with a stoic silence.

Parallel to this reign of terror against religious/social minorities, another war is being fought in TV studios, newspapers, and on the social media, where the BJP – in a coordinated manner – keep shouting the blithe clichés of their majoritarian ideology incessantly, and badmouth everyone else, from Nobel Laureates to academics to actors, who speak up against them. They are also asked to go to Pakistan. Surely, the Indian democracy is seriously unwell?

It was expected that people would explode against actions that fly in the face of the very idea of a pluralistic India. But the people of India hasn’t whimpered, at least so far.

On the other hand, the space for agitation was usurped by people who are worse than the BJP, a group of Patidars (Patels) from Gujarat and Jats from Haryana, two well-off communities – the first in business and the second in agriculture – backward in terms of education and thereby, largely denied of the benefits of white-collar jobs. Instead of starting a movement to spread education among their communities, thereby leading to long-term benefits, like say, the Kamma farmers of Andhra Pradesh, they have gone for the short cut of getting a share of the job quota pie, which guarantees a few government/quasi-government babu jobs and seats in colleges reserved for the underprivileged.

Both these agitations led to massive vandalism and loss of public and private property, Jats being more destructive. And on the sad night of 22/23 February on the Delhi-Ambala Highway in the Sonipat District, Jat agitators stopped cars, dragged women out and gang-raped them in the wheat fields of Haryana. Women’s underclothing was recovered from these fields later, but no victim complained. That shows how much women trust your government, Mr Prime Minister, and the Haryana government run by your underlings. After much prodding by the media, a few women did register complaints but their story ended in police files to gather dust for eternity.

The Jat agitators’ contempt for women is perhaps a reflection of the general atmosphere of disdain towards women there, including the notorious Khap Panchayats (kangaroo courts), the so-called “honour killings”, female foeticide, and the worst gender ratio in the country.

It therefore has a touch of irony that in the last week of a dismal year, a ray of hope, a story of courage that reestablishes our faith in humanity, emerges from the same state of Haryana.

Dangal is a film based on the true story of two sisters and their intrepid father, a former amateur wrestler, Mahabir Singh Phogat, who says the film is 98% facts. His daughters, Geeta Rani and Babita Phogat have won 14 medals in international wrestling competitions including seven golds. Sakshi Malik, the first Indian woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal, has been carrying the tradition forward.

For people like me who haven’t lived in the claustrophobic world of women in Haryana it would perhaps be impossible to imagine the extent of social obstacles overcome by the sisters on their path to glory. And we can only bow to Mahabir Singh for his vision and courage to stand up against social norms. Such people don’t just make their offspring champions.

They change the world.

And let me bow to Aamir Khan, a wonderful actor and human being, who too – incidentally – has been asked to go to Pakistan. Aamir has played the role of Mahabir Singh in the movie to perfection. And to prepare himself for the role, he put on 25 Kilograms of fat on his muscular frame in just six months. In the film, you just don’t see the superstar, you just see an ordinary Indian chasing his dreams in the face of impossible odds.

Mohammed Akhlaq is dead, but there are Indians like Mahabir Singh Phogat, his daughters, and Aamir Khan. No, we cannot afford the luxury of losing hope.

[In the pictures, you see the Phogats on screen and in real life.
Pictures Courtesy The Business Line and Hindustan Times]

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Keep well, Corruption, and please don't worry

Mr Rahul Gandhi, the owner of the political party under whose watch the biggest scams happened during the UPA 2 government (2009-14) is desperate to expose the corruption of the PM, Mr. Narendra Modi. 

A dozen or so of the West Bengal CM Mamta Banerjee's closest stooges were seen on screen taking wads of currency notes as bribe from a journalist pretending to be a businessman. Every one of them has been given important position in her party or government. And Banerjee's police, who are more loyal than the best of one-master dogs, are trying hard to get the journalist, most probably to give him the third degree! The poor man is still in one piece thanks to Calcutta High Court. 

Mr Arvind Kejriwal, who became a local satrap in India exploiting Indians' intense anger against corruption, a man who reportedly cannot sleep because of corruption in public life, is the biggest fan of Mamta Didi now. He is still a crusader against corruption, but now a little selectively against his political opponents alone, that's all. 

If Ms Banerjee, who is always an angry woman, is angrier today, her ire can be understood; a large part of the thousands of crores her henchmen collected over the last six years would have become dud by now. And naturally, she has been demanding a roll-back of demonetisation. She is also desperate to "unite" a ragtag opposition, almost every one of which is seeped in some sleaze or other, against demonetisation and the prime minister. 

And what about the prime minister himself? 

Let me give you just one example that is in the public domain. The VYAPAM scam in BJP-ruled MP was exposed shortly after he rose to his throne in 2014. It has possibly been the most well-organised and widest racket in HISTORY, involving thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, policemen, touts, and self-seeking ordinary men and women. The extent of the scam can be understood if we recall that MORE THAN 40 people, who could have exposed the scam in some way or the other, died "under mysterious circumstances" and not ONE of these mysterious deaths has been solved. But our garrulous prime minister, the biggest crusader against kale dhan or ill-gotten money ever, whose heart bleeds for the poor, hasn't uttered one word about this particular instance of corruption. 

With such a bunch of enemies ranged against it, Corruption in India doesn't need a friend. And I feel sorry for my honest, well-meaning friends who are still admirers of Mr Narendra Damodardas Modi. Their idol is fake, every cell in his body is different from theirs.


Bengaluru / 16 Dec 2016

Saturday, 10 December 2016

A Bong in Malluland

Long before Facebook and cell phones, in a distant past smudged in the mist of memories, a young Bong found himself a job in the capital of Malluland, which was then known as Trivandrum. And he happened to be from the capital city of the western half of Bongland.

When the appointment letter reached him from the unexpected corner, he took out a map of India and a compass. Putting one prong of the compass on the dot called Calcutta and the other on Trivandrum, he turned the compass around. To his utter surprise, he discovered that Trivandrum was farther-off from his hometown than any other place in India. Only Gilgeet in Pak Occupied Kashmir came somewhat closer. Yes, if you draw a circle with Kolkata at the centre and Thiruvananthapuram on the periphery, no Indian city will be outside. Singapore, Bangkok, and even Vientiane are closer. So the young Bong under reference, that is, yours truly, was awestruck by the distance he would have to travel to earn his maacher jhol and bhat.

The sense of surprise remained with me as I stepped out of my hotel on the first day of my new job in a suit still smelling of Lindsay Street. How stupid of me! I had reckoned that my low-profile-reasonably-high-pay job demanded that I turn myself out nattily. But I was alone in Western attire in a sea of white shirts, dhotis, and saris, sticking out like a cactus in a bed of jasmines. Stray dogs watched me with deep suspicion. When they did nothing more damaging, the first thing I thought was: “Hair oil must be cheap here!”

Every man and woman had soaked their head generously and had a shock of shiny black hair. At the East Fort Bus Stand, I noticed something else: everyone carried an umbrella, although it was December, and for some deep reason, they were holding them upside down, with the handles dangling near their feet. Well – I thought – handles should have something to do with hands, shouldn’t they?

On my first day in office, I was amazed by the fact that almost every colleague I got to know asked me what caste I belonged to. It was 18 years after the first elected communist government in history came to power in Kerala, which was incidentally led by an upper-crust Brahmin, Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad. I couldn’t help feeling that communism hadn’t even scratched the social fabric of Kerala. It couldn’t repeat the successful social engineering that had happened in Bengal under the leadership of Rammohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Swami Vivekananda, and others in the nineteenth century.

But first impressions are often misleading. There is much to learn from Kerala and one important aspect we learned soon after we set up our home is the respect that middleclass educated Malayalees give to manual workers. In Bengal it was common then to have separate cups and plates for domestic helps. With a deep sense of shame, I admit that my family was no exception. So when my wife offered our first domestic help tea in a separate glass, she protested: “Why do you have a separate glass for me?” And as we spent one of the finest slices of our life in Kerala, we kept learning.

I always try to help anyone who asks for help if s/he is not a child and doesn’t look healthy enough to work, particularly those who are elderly and frail. I do this not because I am generous – no one has accused me of such a foolish trait – but because once I read a line written by Sunil Ganguli that has got etched in my mind permanently: “I don’t disrespect beggars because I am yet to come across anyone who hasn’t ever begged in their life.”

Much later, one evening in a small town in Central Travancore, possibly Adoor, an elderly woman in an almost tattered sari stopped me as I was entering a restaurant for my supper. I gave her a rupee or two and climbed down a flight of stairs to reach the restaurant which was on the basement. It was full and I took the only table that was unoccupied. Minutes later, the elderly woman who I had given money came in and sat down on a chair opposite me. As we had our meals, we exchanged pleasantries and I tried to build a conversation with my pidgin Malayalam.

… And I secretly bowed to Kerala. This wouldn’t have happened anywhere in India in 1995 – not even in the land of Vidayasagar and Vivekananda.

I am afraid that my brother Samir, the President of TBA who has asked me to write an article for their Durga Puja magazine, is regretting his decision by now, unless he has already deleted the file from his computer. I am sorry to go on and on, and that too around a weighty topic like social engineering. So I will bring this to an end shortly, after discussing another lovely trait of Mallus.

They are wonderfully lethargic, argumentative, and unenterprising as long as they are in Kerala. They most favourite word for a shopkeeper then was “Illé”. He would say this and quickly go back to more important things like reading Matrubhumi. I had a similar experience in Thrissur early this year; so maybe, things haven’t changed much. But the moment they cross Kasargod or Palakkad, a magical transformation happens in Mallus. They become the most hard-working and enterprising workers, sought after by employers all over the world, be they nurses, carpenters, or corporate honchos.
Thanks largely to them, controlled population, and the frugal habits of its people, Kerala is one of the wealthiest states in India. Most Mallus are well-off and a significant number of them are rich. But in my 10 years in Kerala, I didn’t come across one Malayalee who flaunted his/her wealth (except at weddings, where women wear gold waist bands heavier than a bank vault). Barring exceptions, people in Kerala live simply and never show off.

In Trivandrum, we had a neighbour once whose father-in-law used to visit them often. The elderly gentleman was always in an ordinary mundé and an even more ordinary shirt, if at all he had one. He spoke authentic English and sat on the veranda of his home every morning and read two newspapers. A shortish man, he looked most ordinary, you would pass him on the road without noticing him at all. He also had a slight speech impairment and we could follow him with some difficulty. On Sunday mornings, I often joined him for a chat and had an excellent cup of coffee with him.

One day, I asked him, ‘Uncle, what did you do before retirement?’

‘I never retired, I never had a job in my life.’ Answering my raised eyebrows, he added, ‘I have a little plantation.’

‘What plantation?’

‘Coffee, and pepper and cardamom too.’

At this point, if I hadn’t asked him how much land he owned, it would have been a breach of protocol. People routinely asked me how much my salary was. And a few even inquired if I had any income under the table. So I asked, ‘How many acres?’

‘Sixty-seven’, he said slowly.

And I nearly fell off my chair. In those days, if you had four acres of rubber plantation, you could live in a bungalow with a large garden, drive a car, and send your children to boarding schools. And cardamom and coffee are costlier, aren’t they?

And uncle was not alone in wearing his wealth with humility. Later, when I bought a rickety second-hand Fiat, we sometimes called in a middle-aged driver called Unnikrishnan, who was an exceedingly polite man. He would talk in such a small voice that we had difficulty in catching him. Unni, always wearing a freshly pressed white dhoti and shirt and a deferential smile, would accept duty at any time even early in the morning, although he lived quite far away. I thought he needed the money badly and I secretly wondered if I could help him in any way. One day I asked him, ‘You said you don’t get driving duties often. How do you manage?’

‘I have some coconut trees sir’, said he.

‘How many?’

Unni folded himself in like the leaves of a touched touch-me-not plant and said in an even smaller voice, as if admitting a serious guilt, ‘I haven’t counted sir, but it’s nineteen acres, sir’.

I decided that the next time I needed money, I would touch Unni for a loan.

Bengaluru / Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Yesterday, today, and …

Yesterday was cloudy and windy. Except for brief moments of life-giving light, the sun was hidden behind the grey smog that covers Bengaluru often. It was gloomy almost through the entire day.

Yesterday was not just another day.  

It had begun brightly. There was a lovely message from a splendid young woman, someone who is like a daughter to me. I was touched.

But then came bad news from two quarters. Two other people who too are close to my heart are going through terrible times. For no fault of theirs, I believe. I believe because I know one of them for twenty years and the other for even longer. They are both wonderful souls and the kind of allegations that have been leveled against them … I would have perhaps believed had they been leveled against me … but not them. Never, not in a million years. They just cannot be true. Period.

And the icing on the bitter cake was a strange, completely unexpected response from a friend. One of our major failings is that we presume we know our friends, and accept them for what they are – good and bad. But every human being is like an ocean, it’s presumptuous to believe you know someone. And the worst part is that if you are hurt by a friend, it’s like a self-goal. There is no consolation.

The treble whammy nearly knocked me off. Gone was my to-do list. I couldn’t even sleep. So at around 11 in the night I went out and walked as briskly as my legs would take me … until I was physically exhausted.


When I got up today, there was clear sunshine. As I looked out, a huge cirrus cloud smiled broadly from the firmament. The blue sky that stretched to infinity. The universe smiled at me … the universe compared to what I, with my happiness and sorrow, fulfilments and failures, friends and strangers, am as insignificant as an isolated sub-atomic particle from my body would be to me.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter. Nothing does.

Bengaluru / 1 December 2016

Monday, 28 November 2016

Demonetisation at a Kolkata street corner

My friend, let me call him Amit, has been living in their own house in an upmarket residential area in South Kolkata for as long as I know him, that is, 58 years. Their two-storey house is just off the main road. Yesterday, he said this over the phone:

“Demonetisation happened in the night of 8/9 November. Within two days, the phuchka-wallah (panipuri vendor) vanished from our street corner. In another few days, the bhelpuri-wallah stopped coming. The ice cream vendor hung on for a week. Then he too was gone.” Then he added, “I had seen three generations of the phuchka-wallah. First his grandfather, then his father, and finally him. Since my childhood, hardly a day passed when they hadn’t been at the street corner in the evening.”

That was to be expected, wasn’t it? When people don’t have cash to buy vegetables, they aren’t expected to have panipuri. So although our prime minister believes the poor are sleeping peacefully after high-value notes were scrapped, the reality is quite the opposite.

We have lived in independent India where urban middleclass families were far from well-off fifty years ago, but now they are. Like my family

My parents struggled through their life to make two ends meet, but my sister and I don’t. In my childhood, the ceiling fan was the last word in comfort during the summer. Now we have air-conditioners. My mother used to take a public bus every day to go to her school at the other end of Kolkata, despite severe arthritic pains. A taxi ride was a luxury for her. These days, I rarely see the inside of a public bus. In contrast, Amit’s family have always been well-off. 

Every panipuri vendor in Kolkata is from either Bihar or Jharkhand. And for some reason, not one of them wears trousers. They still wear dhotis that barely cover their knees, and a long shirt. I can bet my shirt that nothing has changed for Kolkata’s panipuri vendors in three generations. The man who sold panipuri until 8 November 2016 is as poor as his grandfather.

Did I say “nothing has changed”? I was wrong. Something has just changed for them. These poor men who continued to eke out a living through economic ups and downs, through the Emergency and destructive communist governments, have suddenly been deprived of their livelihood. And as my friend was telling, if they go hungry for long, they might eat away their capital and they won’t have the cash to buy atta and suji to make panipuris when normalcy returns. The economist in Dr. Manmohan Singh expressed precisely this in the Parliament when he said, "Fifty days is a long time in a poor man's life." This will have one of the two consequences. Either they will fall into a debt trap and die slowly, or become paupers straightaway.

I would love to conclude with a stinging last paragraph, but I don't have to. The Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen, who has worked through his life on the economics of poverty and development, has summed it up beautifully. Please let me quote from the Indian Express of 26 Nov.

He said that both the idea [of demonetisation] and the way it was implemented, was akin to a “despotic action” and betrayed the “authoritarian nature of the government …”

“It is hard to see how [the move is going to cause any good]. This will be as much of a failure as the government’s earlier promise of bringing black money stacked away abroad back to India (and giving all Indians a sudden gift — what an empty promise!). The people who are best equipped to avoid the intended trap of demonetisation are precisely the ones who are seasoned dealers in black money — not the common people and small traders who are undergoing one more misery in addition to all the deprivations and indignities from which they suffer.”

PS: On Facebook, two of my readers have shared their experience on the topic. Quoting them with their permission:

Soma Sinha Sarkar: I have noticed that the junk jewellery sellers who stationed themselves at various points in South Kolkata have either vanished or their numbers gone down drastically. When enquired, they mentioned cash crunch as the reason for their ordeal.

Satyajit Mitra: I now stay in a place surrounded by villages who regularly take their vegetable produce to local market. The number of them started diminishing from the next day of historical announcement. I cycled to a few villages to find out the cause of their disappearance, they told that they don't have smaller denomination notes to give the customers who are giving 2000 rupees note they got from banks. The saddest part is that they are giving their produce to cattle as their food. Another fallout of 


Bengaluru / Monday, 28 November, 2016

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Ethiopia and West Bengal

A friend of mine who visited the country recently told me that Ethiopia (population 99.5 million, that is, approximately 10 crores) is a democratic country. But there, 100% parliamentary seats were won by the ruling parties, EPRDF and its allies in the last elections.

He also said that there is no civil law in Ethiopia. Every offence is a criminal offence. So if there is a car crash, the driver is put behind the bars straight away. And nobody knows when the trial will begin. If the poor bloke happens to be an opponent of the ruling party, the trial will possibly never begin. So there are no road accidents in Ethiopia. :) Great!

A little search on the Net … and I found that in the latest incident of human rights violation, 97 peaceful protestors were killed in Oromia and Amhara regions of the country (as estimated by the Amnesty International) in 2016. Ah! These perpetual protestors and their old whines: lack of freedom, rising prices, etc. etc.

I also found a report by Al Jazeera (11 August 2016) that says: A government spokesman, Getachew Reda told them that the Ethiopian government won’t allow the UN to investigate the killings as they (the government) alone were responsible for the safety of their own people.

How sweet of them, and how wonderfully they were discharging their responsibility towards their own people.

Also: “He (Reda) blamed what he called “terrorist elements” for stoking the violence from abroad, without giving further detail.” You knew it, didn’t you?

Gentle Reader, let’s move on to another bastion of democracy, the state of West Bengal in India, a state just about Ethiopia's size in terms of population. Just six months ago, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), swept the state elections with just under 72% of the assembly seats, although the margin of victory was slender to moderate in a majority of the seats. And it was a free and fair election – to a great extent – and even cynics like yours truly couldn’t complain of vote fraud. The national Election Commission had done a commendable job and there were central forces in large numbers.

Recently, in Bengal there have been by-elections in a few constituencies for various reasons and unlike six months ago, the Election Commission had given up. In these elections, the ruling party openly threatened voters, physically assaulted opposition leaders, not to mention workers, and openly rigged the elections while the servile state police cringed in deference to the ruling party goons.

The results? Let’s check the winning margins in different constituencies:


Manteswar – TMC won, 706 in May / 1,27,423 in November

Coochbehar – TMC, 87,000 in May / 4,23,000 in November

Haldia – TMC lost by 21,000 votes in May / won by over 1,00,000 votes in November

The omnipotent leader of TMC routinely urges her followers to win ALL the seats in every election. Yes, like Ethiopia’s EPRDF, she would love to win 100% of the assembly seats.

Human rights? Freedom of expression? Democratic right to protest? My bloody left foot!

Bengaluru / November 26, 2016

Pictures: Courtesy Wikipedia

By Africa_(orthographic_projection).svg: Martin23230LocationEritrea.svg: User:Rei-arturderivative work: Sémhur (talk) - Africa_(orthographic_projection).svgLocationEritrea.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8841388

By Filpro - File:India grey.svg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50825723

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The New Decree

Javed Akhtar

[A friend, Sourindra sent me the link to a YouTube video of Javed Akhtar reciting his poem Naya Hukumnama. It was captivating. Here is a translation followed by the original in Hindi. Thank you Ruchi and Aditi for giving me the English equivalents for the Hindi words I didn’t know. And of course, thanks Sourindra.

Please read. But you must listen to the original recital. You can go to YouTube and search for “Javed Akhtar + Naya Hukumnama”.]

Someone has decreed that from now on
The wind must always declare before it blows 
Which way it would like to travel.
Also, It must report 
At what speed it would flow,
Because right now, storms are not allowed 
And this caravan of sand dunes, 
The towers being built with paper
They must be secure.
And everyone knows 
Storms are their old enemies.

Someone has ordained that the waves on seas
Must control themselves and 
Be still.
Rising, falling, and then rising again
It’s illegal to create such a raucous disorder.
These are just signs of madness,
Symptoms of rebellion.
No rebellion will be allowed
No madness tolerated.
If waves wish to be, 
They must be quiet.

Someone has ordered that from now on 
All bouquets must have flowers of the same colour.
And an officer will decide
How bouquets are to be made. 
Indeed, the flowers must be of the same colour,
And how deep or how light the shade should be,
There’ll be an officer to decide.
How can you tell someone 
That a bouquet isn’t made with flowers of the same colour
It can never be.
Because a single colour hides countless shades.

Please look at the people 
Who tried to create monochrome gardens. 
When different colours leapt out of one, 
They were so upset, so broken …
How can you tell someone 
That the wind and the wave never follow decrees
That a magistrate’s clenched fist, or handcuffs, or jails 
Cannot hold a gust of wind,
And when waves are still, the sea gets livid
And later,
Her anger takes the shape of a calamity.
How can you tell someone …

Translated / Bengaluru / 22 November 2016

नया हुकुमनामा
जावेद अख्तर

किसी का हुक्म है सारी हवाएं,
हमेशा चलने से पहले बताएं,
कि इनकी सम्त क्या है.
हवाओं को बताना ये भी होगा,
चलेंगी जब तो क्या रफ्तार होगी,
कि आंधी की इजाज़त अब नहीं है.
हमारी रेत की सब ये फसीलें,
ये कागज़ के महल जो बन रहे हैं,
हिफाज़त इनकी करना है ज़रूरी.
और आंधी है पुरानी इनकी दुश्मन,
ये सभी जानते हैं.
किसी का हुक्म है दरिया की लहरें,
ज़रा ये सरकशी कम कर लें अपनी,
हद में ठहरें.
उभरना, फिर बिखरना, और बिखरकर फिर उभरना,
गलत है उनका ये हंगामा करना.
ये सब है सिर्फ वहशत की अलामत,
बगावत की अलामत.
बगावत तो नहीं बर्दाश्त होगी,
ये वहशत तो नहीं बर्दाश्त होगी.
अगर लहरों को है दरिया में रहना,
तो उनको होगा अब चुपचाप बहना.
किसी का हुक्म है इस गुलिस्तां में,
बस अब एक रंग के ही फूल होंगे,
कुछ अफसर होंगे जो ये तय करेंगे,
गुलिस्तां किस तरह बनना है कल का.
यकीनन फूल यकरंगी तो होंगे,
मगर ये रंग होगा कितना गहरा कितना हल्का,
ये अफसर तय करेंगे.
किसी को कोई ये कैसे बताए,
गुलिस्तां में कहीं भी फूल यकरंगी नहीं होते.
कभी हो ही नहीं सकते.
कि हर एक रंग में छुपकर बहुत से रंग रहते हैं,
जिन्होंने बाग यकरंगी बनाना चाहे थे, उनको ज़रा देखो.
कि जब यकरंग में सौ रंग ज़ाहिर हो गए हैं तो,
वो अब कितने परेशां हैं, वो कितने तंग रहते हैं.
किसी को ये कोई कैसे बताए,
हवाएं और लहरें कब किसी का हुक्म सुनती हैं.
हवाएं, हाकिमों की मुट्ठियों में, हथकड़ी में, कैदखानों में नहीं रुकतीं.
ये लहरें रोकी जाती हैं, तो दरिया कितना भी हो पुरसुकून, बेताब होता है.
और इस बेताबी का अगला कदम, सैलाब होता है.
किसी को कोई ये कैसे बताए.

@javed akhtar poetry

Monday, 21 November 2016

Notes to my Students # 16: Please do the needful

This is an Indian English expression we use at the end of almost every business email / letter. But sadly, the rest of the world doesn't understand it. I always thought there is hardly any other more self-explanatory phrase in English than this, particularly in the context of business communication. And I always believed it is just a matter of time before it became part of what is vaguely called Standard English.
But the world has started learning English from us! Please read this from wwwDOTgrammarilyDOTcom.


"Do the needful originated in India, is commonly used in African countries, and was once heard frequently in the United Kingdom as well. After the Victorian period, its usage in the West died out, but with the increase in outsourcing to and from India, it started catching the ear of English speakers in the West again.
"Do the needful means do that which is needed. It’s mainly used in formal written communication, especially when dealing with bureaucracy. It can be preceded by the words “kindly” or “please.” Ideally, it should follow an explanation of a problem that needs to be fixed or a request that is being made. It’s important to provide enough context about what “the needful” actually is, because the phrase itself doesn’t specify.
"There are many other phrases you could use instead of do the needful. “Please do what I asked” or “could you please fix this” might suffice, although “please do what needs to be done” or “please do what is required” are the phrases closest to the original meaning."


Here are a few illustrative sentences that I could think of:
1. "Madam, Of late, your dog has been using our porch as a free open-air toilet, with particular focus on my car tyres. I would request you to please do the needful."
2. "Sir, Raghu has started a side business of exchanging high-denomination notes at a discount. And unfortunately, he is doing this during office hours. Kindly do the needful."

So, if you think you'd like to use this phrase, please do the needful. That is, jot it down in your word book, frame a few sentences around it, and say the sentences in your head, and finally, look for an opportunity to use the expression. Cheers!

20 Nov 2016

Friday, 11 November 2016

The end of the world? JK!!!

A pathological liar, a disgusting dunce 
Who knows nothing about
Things beyond the borders of his country,
A dishonest businessman, hasn’t paid taxes for ages,
And cheated his contractors time and again,
A shameless racist who reminds us 
Of the USA a hundred years ago,
A sexual predator who 
On TV measured women’s bodies on a scale of 10 to 1,
Who routinely walked into women’s changing room because 
The hapless youngsters were participating in a pageant owned by rogue,
An employer who regularly assaulted his women employees sexually. 
A first-class passenger who browbeat / bribed flight attendants to 
Upgrade an economy-class lady passenger to his next seat 
So that he could attempt to rape her.
And to cap it all,
Bragged about his exploits.
Has just been elected the president of the US of A.

Because the so-called disenfranchised white Americans,
Including a majority of white women,
Many of whom university graduates
Voted for him. 


It happened because
Once upon a time
A white immigrant’s children 
Could enjoy a lavish life-style 
By a lot of real hard work 
Without any real education.
A school drop-out 
Could drive a truck 
And own a bungalow with a garden and two cars,
Could have six children, 
And send all of them to college if they qualified. 


Because, there was a time when they had to open their doors 
For qualified non-white immigrants who could 
Fill in the gaps 
That drivers and tradesmen with enviable life-style couldn’t.
The next generation of these new imports became 
University profs, and some even Nobel Laureates.
And the uneducated well-off just couldn’t compete.

But more importantly,
It refused to be bullied.

And brutal American businessmen 
Could no longer run banana farms in Columbia,
Or drug cartels in Venezuela.
Local thugs took their place.

Because the new tyrants in the Middle East 
Refused American Corporations to
Take their liquid gold for a pittance.

Because it was no longer possible 
To set up a cyanide plant in the middle of an Indian city,
Ignore safety rules completely,
Murder 30,000 people,
Maim many more,
And get away scot-free – no criminal charges at all –
And wash their sins
By paying a holy $750 for every human life they extinguished.

Because in the mean while
The world had become a lot more competitive.
Chinese workers produced computers,
Bangladeshi women stitched shirts,
And Indian engineers wrote codes
At a fraction of what it would cost in the USA.

But the stupid white Americans,
Who hate people who can read and “think”,
And don’t read the superb American newspapers
Produced by brilliant white, black, yellow, and brown Americans, ….
World affairs have never been their strong point,
Staunch anti-communists who’ve painted their country “red”
Had no clue, didn’t know, couldn’t believe that

And chose to elect the stupidest of their lot
Who happened to be a crook too,
and had promised them the moon.

The world has survived many dirty wielders of power.
It will survive Donald Trump.
Because for every dirty Donald Trump
There is a decent Barack Obama
Because for every Hitler,
There has been a Gandhi.
For every Mussolini, a Nelson Mandela,
For every McCarthy, a Martin Luther King.

So Cheers! 
This is not the end of the world.

[With thanks to Moumita for opening my eyes to some of the facts.]

Bangalore / 10 November 2016

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Stephen Hawking on Donald Trump

I have been trying to follow the US Presidential elections, which is due in two days, because the outcome will have a bearing not only on the USA, but on the entire world. Donald Trump’s victory – which is still possible – will be a great fillip to the forces of lack of reason, illiteracy, and bigotry. A lot of countries in the world including the land of “Bharat Mata” are being ruled by such people, let’s not have any illusion about that. On a day when 1700 schools in Delhi have been shut down because children cannot breathe in the toxic Delhi air any more, our wonderful Urban Development minister, who looks and talks like a mawali, is busy defending shutting down NDTV’s Hindi Channel for a day. What sense of priorities! (Don’t know who a mawali is? You must, if you are an Indian. Please google for the word.)

The American election has been one of the nastiest political battles which would put even our Mamtas, Mulayams, and Mayavatis to shame. In a way, it’s good. It has removed the façade of the so-called “liberal democracy” of the West. When the times are bad and the chips are down, most preachers show their teeth and claws.

Another aspect, which has been generally overlooked by the commentators on both either of the Atlantic, is that this election has been singularly devoid of humour. Lack of humour is a bad thing, it indicates something is seriously wrong somewhere. But no problem, the world is fine!

Stephen Hawking, said to be the greatest theoretical physicist of our time, did the job. Please read this hilarious New Yorker report (31 May 2016).

LONDON … Stephen Hawking angered supporters of Donald J. Trump on Monday by responding to a question about the billionaire with a baffling array of long words.

Speaking to a television interviewer in London, Hawking called Trump “a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator,” a statement that many Trump supporters believed was intentionally designed to confuse them.

Moments after Hawking made the remark, Google reported a sharp increase in searches for the terms “demagogue,” “denominator,” and “Stephen Hawking.”

“For a so-called genius, this was an epic fail,” Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said. “If Professor Hawking wants to do some damage, maybe he should try talking in English next time.”

Later in the day, Hawking attempted to clarify his remark about the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee, telling a reporter, “Trump bad man. Real bad man.”

In case you have missed the point, the USA is a land of native speakers of English. Political illiterates of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your ignorance.

Bengaluru / 6 November 2016

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The deepest pit and Michelle Obama

As we moved from the innocence of childhood to the confusion of youth, our conscience was partly shaped by one of the most asymmetric conflicts of modern history – the war in Vietnam. Children were Napalmed, small-built, skinny peasants were facing the might of the most powerful nation on the earth for no reason at all, and defeating them as much on the battlefield as in the theatre of global opinion. There were other theatres too … Salvador Allende murdered … countless cruel dictators propped up by the CIA at the cost of their peoples. Paraphrasing Salman Rushdie, it is impossible for a non-American to love the United States of America.

That impression is still valid, particularly after Iraq, but I got to see another, totally different face of the “Ugly American” when I stayed there for several months, and isn’t it an impressive face?

I was amazed by their efficiency, total absence of corruption in day-to-day transactions, their immense capacity for hard work, their free press, and most importantly, their respect for manual labour. A plumber in America often has a more comfortable lifestyle than a university teacher, and certainly less insecurity about his career. So, if I have to sum up the USA in one sentence: it’s a land of contradictions.

And contradiction is seen in every aspect of the American life. Its universities produce Nobel laureates in science at metronomic regularity, yet a fair number of Americans are arithmetically challenged. Americans dominate business in far corners of the world, but an average American is often astonishingly uninformed about anything beyond their borders. I recall, once, when I told a shop assistant that the Long Island potato chips she sold were excellent, she asked me, ‘Do you make potato chips in India?’ And it was not an isolated instance.

And as the world keenly followed the presidential elections in the US in 2016, it was amazing to see the deep pits to which American politics has sunk. Bernie Sanders, the only untainted person in the race, was too much of a leftist to be tolerated by the American establishment. He had to lose out. But the two major parties elected such terrible candidates with questionable pasts … it's almost incredible.

And yet, as the race progressed, one of them, Donald Trump turned out to be an utterly disgusting specimen of humans and as a consequence, Hillary Clinton has turned out to be the messiah who could save America and possibly, the world. Her numerous sins like the questionable sources of funds for the Clinton Foundation and her snugly warm relationship with the thugs in Wall Street have been happily forgotten. Oh God! Anyone but Donald Trump and his goons!

But it is America. A counterpoint to the murky politics had to emerge, sooner or later. And it appeared in the shape of a few speeches by Michelle Obama. In particular, her speech in Phoenix on 20 October 23, 2016 was spellbinding, but more importantly, it was stirring defence of values in public life. It was a political speech in support of the lesser evil in the election, but it went much beyond, it would have touched a chord in every human being who believes in gender equality in particular and decency in general.

If you haven’t heard the speech, please do. The following link also gives the full transcript of the speech:


Annie Perkins writes in the Guardian: “When she speaks, Michelle Obama doesn’t stop being the wife of the president, but she transcends it. She becomes the personification of the best of her country. … Who in Britain can make that nonpartisan appeal to ordinary human decency? Last night she spoke for everyone who thinks politics can be better than this.”

Replace the word Britain with India, or any other country, the statement would be valid, wouldn’t it?

(650 words)

Bangalore / 23 October 2016