Saturday, December 31, 2005

Another New Year

As new years come and go, I keep remembering a waiter that I met in Hyderabad in 1960. That was my second stint at university, I left home after a fight with my father. I had very little money, and stayed in a hostel which charged thirty rupees a month and gave two bad meals a day. I was young and used to feel very hungry and whenever I had some money, I used to visit a restaurant in Narayanaguda and eat a masaldosa which cost twentyfive paise. Somehow, a waiter discerned my condition and offered that I can charge to his account and pay whenever I had money. I do not remember his name and never saw him after those two years in Hyderabad. Now that my children are earning more money than I did when I retired, spend it on gadgets and world trips and expect expensive bail outs, I keep wondering how I can repay that waiter. Happy new year to all.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A story that I missed

From David Brin's website:

Take this oft-quoted passage from Ron Suskind's N.Y. Times article "Without a Doubt" - interviewing a Bush White House aide:
"The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.'"

My take on religion

From Telugudanam:
I write this with a lot of hesitation since I have been an agnostic most of mylife. I have even forgotten many stories from Hindu mythology. Last year I was reading "Being Indian" by Pavan K.Varma (Viking, 2004) and came across this story ( page 69):" In the holy city of Pushkar, the hereditary priests of the Savitri Devitemplehave gone to court to compel the guardians of the nearby Brahma temple to share the offerings received from devotees. Their argument is that Brahma,the creator of the world, had 'divorced' his wife Savitri because she did not arrive in time to participate in his yagna to create the world. As such- so lawyers were arguing in the local court in the year 2001- the creator should be made to pay alimony to the Goddess!"I always thought that Saraswati was Brahma's wife and remembered the name Savitri in another connection, the story of Sati Savitri. To make sure, I enquired about the story of Sati Savitri in a website and the post was rejected. I googled a bit and started getting various stories about Savitri, Gayatri etc and it got a bit confusing. I stopped since anyway it did not seem to be a matter of life and death. What bothers me more was what I saw in Hyderabada few months earlier. I was staying with some friends in Jubilee Hills and one morning went out around six to get some cigarettes. Most of the shops were not open and on the roadside, I found a lady selling tea and cigarettes. It was drizzling and she covered the stall with a plastic sheet but not herself. I was probably the first customer. When I bought a whole packet of cigarettes not one or two loose cigarettes, she immediately touched her eyes with the money in folded hands. This image still haunts me.
Coming back to Hinduism, I started looking through Pavan Varma's book again using the index. He says on page 96:"Hinduism has no organized church, no one god, no paramount religious text and no single manual of prescribed ritual. The predominant emphasis is on personal salvation, a journey in which the individual is essentially alone with his karma and his god". Again on page 102,"In Islam there is the Friday congressional gathering, and in Christianity th visit to the Church on Sundays. There is no such institutional counterpart in Hinduism, and almost no emphasis on the need for the individual to contribute to his community within the arena of spiritual search and fulfilment.The emphasis on the self as the centrepiece of the spiritual endeavour tendsto stunt the individual's concern for the community. This insensitivity to the external milieu, coterminous often with the most overt preoccupation withspiritual pursuits, has become so much a part of life that is not evennoticeable to the educated Hindu'. Similar thoughts in the context of povertythat dehumanises both those who have it and those who do not have beenexpressed by Claude Levi Strauss in "Tristes Tropiques". I do not know whether these are true or not and some may argue that Hinduism helped people survive such poverty. Note also the recent resurgence in the construction of temples. About religious conversions etc, he discusses on pages 176-178;"Hinduism has always existed in a remarkably self-assured way, largely immune to attack or demise because no one entity- scripture, church or god-limits its diffused omnipresence. For its believers it is more a way of life,notwithout its own certainties and rituals and samskaras, but without the constant need to test loyalties."" On the other hand, other religions have felt the need to resist the creeping encroachment of Hinduism. … Many converts to Christianity still identifythemselves according to the castes…"
These quotes seem to correspond roughly to what I know of Hinduism. Of course my lack of knowledge or interest do not mean much. Perhaps variouscultures like religious, linguistic etc are the ways people of different eras coped with the world. These may provide doors of perception different fromthe currently dominant `objective', `scientific' approach. It would be worthwhile recording this traditional knowledge, studying and `analysing' it. But as I indicated in the beginning, it is the continued poverty and hunger in these days of affluence and technology that bother me. I think awareness (of local, global politics of science and technology) and tolerance and a little charity are necessary to understand and tackle these problems.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Another Chomsky Interview

Continuation of the "Problems with News": See a recent interview with Chomsky
Some excerpts:
“A huge majority wants Bush to rescind tax cuts forthe rich, people with over $200,000 income and so on.Well how was that reported? Well a friend of mine dida database search and nothing. Zero. Only onenewspaper in the country - some small town newspaperin Iowa.”
“You and everybody else has read Animal Farm, I'msure, but you and everybody else hasn't read theintroduction to Animal Farm. There's a good reason forthat: because it was suppressed. The introduction wasfound 30 years later in Orwell's own published papers.The introduction to Animal Farm says look this book isa satire on a totalitarian state but I'm going to talkabout England, Free England. In Free England it's notthat different. Without state coercion unpopular ideascan be suppressed and are. And then he described how.He didn't go in much details but he said partly it'sbecause the press is owned by wealthy men who haveevery reason not to want certain ideas to beexpressed. But the more important reason, he said, wasbecause of a good education. By the time you've gonethrough, you know, Oxford and Cambridge and here youcould say Harvard and Princeton and so on, and evenless fancy places, you have instilled into you theunderstanding that there are certain things that justwouldn't do to say, and that's what a good deal ofeducation is. So the people who come out of it - andthere are many filters, if people go off and try to betoo critical there are many ways of discouraging themor eliminating them one way or the other. Some getthrough, it's not a uniform story.”
“The more educated you are the more indoctrinated youare. And you believe you are being free and objective,whereas in fact you're just repeating statepropaganda. “

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Problems with news

In, in the Miscellaneous Topics, there is a thread called "Picked from the papers today". Usually somebody picks up from the newspapers some item that he or she finds interesting and sometimes there is a discussion or somebody posts another news item. On 20th December, somebody gave several URLs: to top
The second article from OUTLOOK ia about a Hindu MP in Pakistan slapping a Muslim MP in the parliment. The last one is about abduction and conversion of some Hindu girls in Pakistan. The two seem present different pictures of Hindus in Pakistan. Similarly some of the other items paint contradictory views on other issues. I think that this juxtaposition of news items is deliberate just to show how we can pick and choose from so much information coming in.
There were a couple of artcles in the New York Review of Books:
about the difficulties of getting reliable news, more in terms of pressures on journalists, publishers profit concerns and omissions. Blogs do not seem to fare well either. There seem to be nexus between various blogs, radio and TV stations, particularly among the right wing.
So, the question is where is reliable news and how do we find it?
Probably, the two items about Pakistan can be reconciled by saying that anyway the rich and powerful get away with lots of things. How about other tems like terrorism ( there is British documentary saying that initially there was no Al Dueda and it was a myth created by the Americans) or economic matters. Perhaps we have to get numbers from 'reliable' sources and analyze them ober a period. it seems a difficult proposition. Perhaps this is what many political leaders bank on. just keep lying and by the time people have an inkling of what happenned, they are on to the next crisis.
Pl. let me know if you have any ideas about reliable news in these days of large scale disinformation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why do strikes take place

These are tentative observations that I posted in the thread of the above name in :
I write down a few tenatative observations; most of these should be prephrased by 'May be".
I think that strikes and boycotts were vigorous during the independence movement and were considered a legitimate part of the struggle. Independence did not bring an end to the injustices and in fact many who fought for independence themselves became corrupt. A song from 1954 film 'Peddamanushulu' talks of selfish people selling our independence in the market place ( 'Nandamaya gurudu nandamaya'). So strikes continued. Nehru already complained about this indiscipline and thought that even though strikes were legitimate for independence, they were not that suitable for nation building. See, Dipesh Chakraborty's article "In the name of politics": i
In any case the main party at that time, the Congress Party, consisted of a people of different ideologies whose common aim was Indian independence and the policies were mainly driven from the top with some socialistic ideals from Nehru but there was no coherent ideology. The standard technique during strikes seem to be try to put them down by force if possible and if things get out of hand then diffuse the crisis by setting up an enquiry commision.

For younger people who are frustrated by the slow progress and looking for quick solutions, the only party which gave a world view and a clear ideology and which worked at the grass roots level was the Communist Party. Moreover during the Telangana struggle of 40's various leaders from all over A.P. sacrifised and worked in Telangana. Even now, though it has split in to several groups, they are probably the only groups who educate people at the local level on politics and ideologies. Even though communism (or striving towards it) has failed in several countries, some parts of the Indian society still seems at the level where marxist ideology seems applicable. Moreover some of the contradictions of capitalism predicted by Marx are visible in some places. For example, his prediction about companies swallowing other companies and getting huge and exploiting workers seem to be still happenning in places like Guragon and with some of the multinationals and drug companies. The companies which got contracts after Iraq war are the same companies which are getting contracts after Katrina, and Bush has suspended laws about minimum wages and equal opportunity. I think that these continuing phenomena make Marx still relevant and appealing.

I myself am inclined more towards Scandinavian type social democracies, though my knowledge of them is very limited. I understand that poverty levels are low, salary disparities are less than other western countries, even prime ministers shop like commoners ( and one was killed coming back from shopping). There is good social security. My economist friend tells me that it may not be perfect but is much better than the system in countries like USA and the kind of scenes that one has seen after Katrina were never seen in the Scandinavian countries. He says that one of the main problems there is boredom. Assuming that it is a good compromise between communism and capitalism, how does one achieve such a system in India? For one thing, India is a much bigger country with diverse groups of diverse economic levels and a different evolution. It has not gone through an industrial revolution. Even now compared to China, industrial sector seems to be going down and service sector going up. Most people are too busy making a living in the given system rather than thinking about ideologies and government. During elections, people vote for who ever bullies them or whoever they think will give some benefit to them and are usually disappointed. Many politicians seem to have criminal cases against them. Moreover, there is a suspicion that some of them are working in league with multinationals other western ( this means mainly US and British and does not mean Scandinavian) interests for their own benefits.

Somehow US always comes in to the picture since it is one of the main advocates of democracy for other countries. Some feel that this is just an evolution in the American type capitalism, using some groups in poor countries to control others ( see, for example Kawaljit Singh's books on globalization). What has this got to do with strikes? Again Gurgaon is an example how this system works.
I feel that it is difficult for a few to control other human beings and some how things will evove for the better. How they will evolve I do not know. (My inclination is to work through non profit organizations at the local level). Some strikes which bring political awareness seem to be a part of this evolution.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Rao Balasaraswati Devi

I will start with some of my posts from other sites which I still like and agree with. This an old post from oldtelugu songs titled "The voice that I liked most":
During my Andhra days that essentially ended in1956, the voice that I liked most was that of Rao Balasaraswati Devi. It had the sweetness of a mother's voice, the allure of a lover's voice and the majesty of Samskrit. Then, I left Andhra but kept wondering: Is she still alive? Can she still sing? Is she pretty? What kind of person is she? She has been a mother, a lover and a companion for the rest of my life. After several years, I started enquiring and some news filteredthrough. She is alive and her career essentially ended since her husband discouraged a career in films. Now, my thoughts are different. Why is that such talented women put up with this type of injustice and still sing songs which perpetuate the stereotypes that cause these imjustices? By some accounts, she is an independent person, can still sing, and spoke (last year)freely about the injustices done by some of the icons in Telugu and Hindi film music.
There have been other Andhra influences from those days: Chalam,Srisri, Gopichand and Narla. But music is different. Even now. through wornout 78 RPMs where I cannot even decipher the words, Balasaraswati still touches me. Perhaps by seeing the injustices done to those who touch us, we can develop some empathy for the silent sufferers in this men-oriented world. After exploiting my wife for thirty years, I started cooking for her for the last oneyear. If at some stage, she finds fulfilment elsewhere, I hope that I will happily share my resources with her and wish her all the best.