Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wonderful book

I came across Raga'n joshin Delhi and read about half of it. I did not finish reading it since I wanted to savor it later on. Lot of the book is available at the above link. From this review :
"In her book “Raga’n Josh – Stories from a Musical Life” (Black Kite, 2005) that combines her two earlier books “Here’s Someone I’d Like You to Meet” and “The Cooking of Music and Other Essays”, she writes about her interactions with bureaucrats and musicians, about her experience listening to some of the great masters of Hindustani Classical music and about her own thoughts on Indian Classical Music and the changes it has gone through during her times."
A write up Pungent melody: the life of Sheila Dhar by RUKAN ADVANI.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

RTI and Social Audit

RTI Act 2005 (Blair said that his biggest mistake was the introduction of RTI in Britain)and Social Audit seem to be two of the reasons to feel optimistic about Indian democracy which I find quite vibrant. Both have been provided to me by old friend Shekhar Singh whom I first met in 1977 in Shillong when he was working in the Philosophy Dept. and I in the Mathematics Dept. of North Eastern Hill University.

Social Audit: A People's Manual by Shekhar Singh and Rajakutty online.
The first few pages are also availablehere.

As the booklet says in section 3 "One essential and critical requirement for conducting social audits is the availability of all relevant information and decision making processes that are totally transparent. The beginnings of social auditing owes much to access to information, especially to bills,vouchers and muster rolls related to expenditure by Panchayats and other government institutions. Initially, this information had to be accessed despite stout resistance from the concerned officials, and without legal backing. Initial right to information acts, in some states, though relatively weak and ineffective, provided some legal basis for accessing these documents. Fortunately, a very powerful and comprehensive national act was passed in 2005.The Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005 significantly facilitates the process of conducting social audits. There are many provisions in the RTI act that directly support public scrutiny of schemes and programmes."

See also Right to Information Act: A primer by Suchi Pande and Shekhar Singh which can be ordered online and as the blurb says:
"This small booklet is designed to help general public as well as authorities. Through a question answer format, it introduces the lay reader to the RTI Act and its implementation, its use and function as well as details of how information can be accessed and appeals filed."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Some views of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee

It seemed natural to revisit Sarat while in Kolkata. I found this SARATCHANDRA CHATTOPADHYAY by RAMESH CHANDRA MAJUMDARwho seems to a friend of Sarat. Sarat clearly states his mission in a conversation with his friend's wife:
"Didi (Sister) you women have never got your due in society. I am determined to protest against this through my novels as long as I live."
The article also describes the politics of his D.Litt award from Decca University. Sarat's views on Islam do not seem to be so well known. Here are excerpts from a speech by Sarat . It is a surprise that the author of Mahesh , perhaps the best Indian short story that I read, had such opinions.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

A strange book

I have read a few articles and interviews of Amartya Sen before but The Argumentative Indian is the first book by him that I started reading. But after reading the first four articles beginning with the one with the same title as the book, I did not have the stomach to read the rest of it and quickly browsed through the rest of it. The article claims that there is a long standing argumentative tradition in India and the evidence is givef from quotations from ancient books, discussions there, budhist councils and so on.I assume that Sen is talking of Indians in general not just some elites or text communities; he does say "We do like to speak". Of course talking, gossip and expressing opinions is not the same as an 'argumentative tradition'. If Sen wants to substantiate the later, he should give some examples as to how ordinary people discussed perhaps looking at books of various periods such as plays where ordinary people were represented or from travelogoues which existed for at least 2000 years/ There is none of that and there are also paeans to people like Aryabhatta. My own suspicion is that the opposite of what Sen says may be true. In fact there was too much respect for elders and what some allegedly great people said, even in science.
From Johannes
Bronkhorst in his artcle "Panini and Euclid: Reflections on Indian Geometry",
Journal of Indian Philosophy, 29,p 43-80, 2001:
"Aryabhatta is wrong where he gives the volume of a pyramid as:
"Half the product of the height and the [surface of the triangular base] is the volume called `pyramid'." The correct volume of a pyramid is a third, not half, of the product here specified. In spite of this, Bhaskara accepts Aryabhatta's rule and carries out some (incorrect) calculations with its help. The same is true of Aryabhatta's incorrect rule for the volume of a sphere.
Aryabhatta's incorrect rules have drawn the attention of scholars, some of whom have tried to interpret the rules differently, so as to obtain a correct result......

And yet it seems obvious that these mistakes do throw light on the intellectual culture of their authors. It seems inevitable to conclude that the theorems propounded by Aryabhatta and Bhaskara were apparently not accompanied by proofs, not even in private, not even outside the realm of the written commentary. They were handed down as received truths, with the result that incorrect theorems were not identified as a matter of routine by any student who checked the proofs. Bhaskara
confirms that he regards the theorems and other information contained in Aryabhatta's work as received truths in his commentary on the first chapter, the Gitikapada."
See also Aravindhan's comments quoted towards the end of the post A.K.Ramanujan's famous essay /
Apart from this attitude of taking for granted statements of 'great' people there seems to be strong currents of seeing even scientific matters through the religious prism. From Christopher Minkowski's artcle The pandit as Public Intellectual , we have
"Aside from Nilakantha the authors of these works were predominently astronomers. Nevertheless they wrote primarily as defenders of Puranic authority and validity. The general approach of the argument is that faced with an apparent contradiction between Siddhanta and Purana, the Purana overrules the Siddhanta in its authority claim."
In a later chapter,on page 173, in the essay "China and India", Sen quotes Alberuni "On the whole, there is very little disputing about theological topics among themselves...On the contray all their fanaticism is directed against those who do not belong to them- against all foreigners. They call them mlecha, i.e. impure, and forbid having any connection with them, be it by intermarriage or any kind of relationaship, or by sitting, eating, and drinking with them,'
Sen quotes Alberuni in the first chapter but does not mention this quote.
It seems to me that the kind of things that Sen says (reading what he wanta to in the past by selective choice of material)without much evidence encourages the unfortunate trend of seeing glory in the past topics and encourages this common tendency among many young people particularly of Hindvatta extraction. I see a comment from one of the bloggers on the blurb "This is how history should be written...". I have read "The Aryans" by Romilla Thapar. There is painstaking reasearch based on several areas from archaeology to linguistics to numismatics to reach tentative conclusions and these conclusions got modified over several years afterwards. I do not think that there is any serious danger of historians taking these particula essays of Sen seriously but non-experts may. I have no expertise in these areas and am quite prepared to be proven wrong and learn more.
Sen seems to come in to his own in some of the later chapters. I liked the one on Tagore and Tagore's view on patriotism. But the later chapters where he clearly has expertise, somehow I started having doubts after the impressions I had from the first chapters. At some stage, I should try to read related material by others to make sure.
P.S. Searching about Sen through Nilanjana Roy's blog Akhand of Swat (the blogger whose comment is one of the comments in the blurb about the book, I find that there has been much discussion about the book including a long and erudite one from Ramachandra Guha in EPW Arguments with Sen

Monday, March 05, 2012

Sunday, March 04, 2012

A book on India's development

The 2006 book "In Spite of the Gods:The Strange Case of Modern India" by Edward Luce is hard edged yet affectionate and optimistic and got favourable reviews in many places;for example here and here.
Lant Pritchett's 2009 review is here and complements the book.
A related article by Lant Pritchett Is India a Flailing State?