Sunday, January 18, 2015


Dr Tatyarao Lahane, Padma Shri recipient, who has performed over one lakh eye surgeries so far, came from a poor rural family. He writes in Lok Satta:

...I topped my exam centre in std 10th. Took admission for 11th...The college was going to select a batch of 20 bright students who were to get special coaching for the std 12th board exam. I went for selection.

They asked me to read from a zoology textbook. I read the word `stomach' as st-mu-ch (last syllable as `much' instead of `m-k'). That's how my school teacher used to say the word. Everyone laughed; I was denied seat in the special batch. For the next two years, my classmates ragged on me; they would call me `st-much'. But I did not lose heart. I was determined to prove that brilliance doesn't come from diction. I supported my education by working part-time....made it to the medical school. Later I learnt that only one student from that special batch had made it to the medical school....

Monday, December 8, 2014

Balance of Newspapers

From N C Kelkar's biography of Lokmanya Tilak (my translation):

`In one of the letters written to the present author from Mandalay (prison), Tilak compares 
the newspapers to (weighing) balance. He says: "A newspaper must be like a good balance, stable and sensitive at the same time." 

`If some new and glorious sentiment emerges in the country, the newspaper must deal with it and communicate it to its readers. must not get engulfed by that sentiment. A good balance, when a weight is added to one of the scales, tilts, but the moment it is removed, the pendulum should return to the centre. A balance which doesn't tilt at all isn't a good balance. The one which remains tilted even after the weight is removed too is useless.'

Monday, November 24, 2014

Who bothers?

I do not know how much credit Narsimha Rao should receive for initiating the economic reforms, because they seem to have become unavoidable when he became the Prime Minister. I do not know if he had advocated the reforms earlier when he was Mrs Gandhi's minister or subsequently her son's. I  also do not know what he thought of the Emergency. It is difficult to pass a moral judgement on his act of bribing the MPs to save his minority government if one were to pass that judgement standing in his shoes.

But I remember reading reports of his speech, delivered in chaste Marathi, at the annual Marathi literary convention at Karad, and feeling pleased. Rao was the only Marathi-speaking Prime Minister we have had. So that should endear him to Raj Thackeray. He also spoke Sanskrit fluently, which should win him a fan in Dinanath Batra...

My respect for him went up several notches when I found out, after googling for his speech at Karad, that he had translated H N Apte's novel `Pan Lakshat Kon Gheto' (But who really bothers/ understands this'). It is a novel that I could not read when I was in school, because I found the subject very painful. Published in 1890s, it is about a young girl, widowed, who is facing the wretched ordeal which awaited all Brahmin widows those days: to have the head shaved. 

Whatever Rao's contribution as the PM may be, the fact that he chose to translate this novel into Telugu is enough for any self-respecting Maharashtrian to feel a warm  admiration for him.  

I don't think Pratibha Patil has read that novel. Or the brother Thackerays have. Who bothers?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Learning To Associate

Mitali Parekh writes about how an elephant is trained in her story `Elephant Whisperer' in Open:

"When an elephant is brought in.....he is kept chained in a dark room. The senior mahout will stand in front of him and shout loudly. Four or five others will stand in the shadow around the elephant and rain blows with polished teak clubs and chains. This continues until the elephant associates pain with the voice of the mahout.... 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

2014: The Jury Spoke

It was a marathon trial, going on almost interminably, with thousands of witnesses and hundreds of lawyers on both the sides.

At the end of it, the judge said: "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, 
In this courtroom, it's not I who is going to judge the man standing in the dock,
it is you who would judge him. You have heard the arguments, you have heard the witnesses. My job is to sum up all that you have heard and seen, and let YOU reach a decision.

The defense lawyers and the defendant himself made much of his background. We heard how he, born into a backward community in a small town, helped his father at the family's tea-stall when he was a school-boy, how he walked out of the house at the age of 17 and wandered in the Himalayas, how he, imbued with spirit of patriotism, joined a vast organisation of volunteers and rose through its ranks. In short, you heard, that he is what he is today because of his grit and hard work, not because of his birth and surname. Indeed, among his peers -- but really does he have any peers? -- this can be said of none. 

You heard, from defendant's own lips, how, after becoming the ruler of a small state, he took it to new heights of industrial and agricultural growth. How investors from foreign lands flocked to the capital of his state. You also heard his lawyers pointing out that world-renowned economists had heaped praise on him. Indeed, some had said that he is the only man who could save our national economy from going over the cliff. You will also note that defendant himself was his own best lawyer, better than others in his team.

On the other hand, ladies and gentleman, is the prosecution's case against him.
You heard the prosecutors describing elaborately what happened in his state, on his watch, on the morrow of February 28, 2002 and the next two days. You heard prosecution telling you about some of his inexplicable decisions that arguably caused the communal passions of the majority community explode and result in a carnage. You heard how his ministers allegedly parked themselves in the police stations while the riots raged and the innocent died. You heard some of the culprits purportedly speaking into the hidden cameras about how they had been granted a free hand for three days. You heard how a man, his house besieged by a murderous mob, allegedly kept calling the defendant's office for four hours before he and scores of his neighbors were killed. You heard how, later, those who raised their voice against this barbaric crime against an entire community were allegedly persecuted. 
You must have, at the same time, noted the defense lawyers' argument that there was nothing which connected the defendant's actions and directives during those three days to the deeds of the crowds of murderers. 

You will, ladies and gentlemen, now retire to the jury's chamber and confer among yourselves merits and demerits of the defendant's case. You shall weigh his alleged virtues and his alleged sins, and then, without fear or favour, your shall return your verdict. 

The jury retired. Six weeks later, the court reassembled. 
"Do we have a majority verdict?" judge asked.

"Yes M'lord," said the foreman of the jury. "It is 339 vs 222, in favor of the defendant.

The packed courtroom gasped as one man. 

"And what is the verdict? Guilty or non-guilty of the stated crime?"

"The verdict is, M'lord: Let him be our King."


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Narendra Modi's `Thank You' speech of May 16: a draft

Bhainyon Aur Bahno,

As my 3-D hologram stands before you on this historic day,  a humble 56-inch from side to side , I must say Thank You to six billion Gujaratis...I mean billion-plus Indians. But there are some whose special debt I must acknowledge: the members of my CORE TEAM. They were the unsung heroes who made me what I am today.  

Thank you, Mr A Raja. I mean, your audacity in scamming was breathtaking. My departed friend, Pramod Mahajan, too had faced some accusations when he was the telecom minister, but you were in a different league altogether.

Thank you, Suresh Kalmadi. I often wonder why you didn't think of organizing the Olympics in Delhi instead of the CWG; that would have handed my party a 300-plus majority in the Parliament and no need for NDA.  
Thank you, Digvijay Singh, for declaring that Batla House encounter made Madam Sonia Gandhi tear up, for granting the honorific `Ji' to the late Bin Laden and making RSS glamorous.  I mean, before you unleashed your loose cannon, those under -35 used to think that RSS was a software tool for accessing website feed. Also thank you for making the countrymen wake up and realize that UPA III meant Rahul Gandhi standing on the ramparts of Red Fort on August 15, threatening Pakistan and China with empowerment of women. 

Thank you  Rahul Gandhi, for obvious reasons.

And last but not the least, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Manmohan Singh-ji. Your silence was my gold mine.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Baru's Book: A favor to Manmohan, not a stab in the back

Contrary to the perception, Sanjaya Baru may have done a great favor to his former boss, Dr Manmohan Singh, by writing the memoir on his years as the media adviser to the PM.

I finished reading the book late last night. It is unputdownable, and the Manmohan Singh that emerges from its pages is an intelligent, hard-working, upright man, who navigated the muddy waters of Delhi politics skillfully (with some significant help from Baru himself, the writer seems to suggest) and got India out of the nuclear isolation. He almost sealed a pragmatic and humane deal on Kashmir, but anybody who seeks to solve the K-problem would need enormous amount of luck which he didn't have. What he and Musharraf were proposing? One: borders can't be changed. Two: borders can be made irrelevant. Three: Pakistan and India should evolve a joint mechanism for governance in both parts of the Kashmir, without giving up the ghost of each country's suzerainty. Had this worked out, Singh and his Pakistani counterpart would have surely won the Nobel peace prize. But Musharraf was unseated by judiciary and lawyers in his country. Benazir Bhutto, who would have likely won the elections and succeeded him, was on board for this deal, but she was assassinated. 

The prime-ministership of Dr Singh unraveled in the second term. Baru says he urged Singh to contest the Lok Sabha election in 2009. He didn't, and according to Baru it was a great mistake. Dr Singh wanted Baru back in the PMO, but Congress didn't allow that. (The book suggests that during the first term Baru wasn't just a speech-writer and a spin doctor, he was Singh's Man Friday and a trusted adviser on many occasions; his counsel was taken by the PM on some important issues.)  He wanted C Rangarajan as the Finance Minister, but Pranab Mukherjee was foisted on him. Pranab didn't even inform the PM before introducing the controversial retrospective taxation in his budget speech. Congress ministers reported to Sonia Gandhi almost every day, but would forget to call on the PM even after returning from crucial visits to Washington. Singh didn't want A Raja in his cabinet in the second term, but he had to back down.  

Baru blames Dr Singh for not asserting himself post-2009: who hasn't? After reading the book, Manmohan remains an enigma. Why didn't the old man, who was ready to quit if Congress didn't back him on nuclear deal in 2007, show the same steel later on? Was there an overwhelming sense to gratitude towards Sonia? Baru offers no insight into the reversed evolution of his gentleman boss. May be nobody can. But he certainly repairs Dr Singh's crushed reputation by reminding us what kind of PM he was during the UPA 1, and how he came to be admired inside and outside the country.

If anybody should be furious with Baru, it is the Congress, because he exposes how the party-men never came to terms with the possibility that in Dr Singh they had an excellent alternative to untalented Gandhis. I loath the Gandhi dynasty, for I feel that barring Nehru,  the rest of them were petty and lacked talent. (Indira Gandhi was a good foreign minister material, though.) But I also feel that Congress, since Indira Gandhi made it her own courtyard, has never had any alternative. Narsimha Rao couldn't win it the election. Evolution of Dr Singh as a well-respected PM by 2009 was, therefore, a godsend for Congress, but the deity of 10-Janpath couldn't see it, or she was a plain selfish mother.