Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lets Eat Grandma

An unfortunate part of the debate surrounding the ban on beef was it didn't lead to a wider debate about morality of eating animals. I am a vegetarian, but I felt like expressing opposition to the ban because it takes away a secular freedom.

Probably no religion, except Jainism, preaches compassion for animals. Hinduism protects only cows. Islam and Judaism spare pigs out of disgust, but ordain that other animals, if to be eaten,
can not be made unconscious in a humane way (to lessen the suffering) before the slaughter. They must die fully conscious. Bible says you may eat all the animals that chew the cud and have two separate hooves. So the mercy be upon camels and cats.

What prompted me to write this was a passage from V S Naipaul's `Masque of Africa'.
`The land is full of cruelty which is hard for the visitor to bear. From the desert countries to the north long horned cattle are sent for slaughter here in big ramshackle trucks, cargoes of misery...to Abidjan (capital of Ivory Coast), to the extensive abattoir area near the docks. And there in the trampled and vile black earth these noble creatures, still with dignity, await their destiny in the smell of death, with sometimes a calf, all alone, without a mother, finding comfort of a sort in sleep, a little brown circle on the dirty ground, together with beautiful goats and sheep...When sights like this meet the eyes of simple people every day, there can be no idea of humanity, no idea of grandeur.
.....only on the last morning of my stay...I found out what was the best way in the Ivory Coast of killing a kitten.You put them in a sack and then you dropped it in a pot of boiling water. The thought of this everyday cruelty made everything else in the Ivory Coast unimportant.' (END)

My own resolve to be a vegetarian was firmed up some ten years ago when I read J M Coetzee's novel, `Elizabet Coestello'. It's about an old, famous lady writer who is also a champion of vegetarianism. She earns the wrath of her daughter-in-law, who objects to the old cow preaching her food fads to her grandchildren at the dining table. At this point I stopped reading, because the novel seemed to be nothing but a series of sermons. However Ms Coestello's argument was enough to affirm my resolve not to eat animals. Perhaps they gave Coetzee a Nobel in a wrong category: it should have been for Peace, not Literature.

 I am curious as to how the novel ends. Perhaps the grandchildren say, at the dining table, without a comma, "Let's eat grandma."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Alpha Male and the Old Grumpy

Bhalchandra Nemade must thank Salman Rushdie. Nemade won Jnanpeeth, the hightest literary award of the land, two days back. On the web, nobody picked up the story. No English channel `broke' it. PTI put it out only in the evening. Next day's English papers only took note.

On the same day the award was announced, Nemade, in a speech, trashed the Indian writers who write in English, specifically Rushdie and Naipaul. He also reiterated his opinion that English, as a medium of instruction, should be banned in India.

Now, when someone trashes Rushdie, he becomes a story. But for Rushdie, the old man Khomeini -- peace be upon him -- would have the same recall value as Gulzarilal Nanda. So the news websites picked it up, and Rushdie promptly reacted with a tweet, where he called Nemade an `Old Grumpy Bastard'. Result: Nemade, perhaps the finest Marathi novelist ever (in my ill-informed opinion), got more print footage. (But not on TV, sadly.) The English journalism and its readers are now fully aware of Nemade's existence. Let's hope he continues the name-calling thread by lashing back.

I wouldn't comment on Nemade's views on Naipaul and Rushdie, but in essence he has a point: English medium education is killing the Desi languages. This is not to say that it should be banned, because there really is no alternative if Indians are going to move from one state to another, and Hindi is unacceptable down south. But it doesn't make the truth in Nemade's reactionary statement go away. English is slowly destroying the other languages. (Once it had nourished them, by introducing them to the modern world and it literary forms.) 

Languages are like Alpha Males. They can not coexist in a single territory on equal terms; one of them has to retreat and live on the margins. As India shrinks, English the UK-born gorilla is driving others out. European languages have survived it only because they each have a nation to themselves. But even within the European Union, English is the de facto official language. The question now is not whether to ban English medium or not; it is how to provide sanctuary to the other apes in the Indian jungle.  

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. But...it 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."