Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The BBC in India

The BBC ran a special series of programming on India recently, and I caught two pretty awesome episodes of HardTalk. First Stephen Sackur drilled my erstwhile schoolmate [Feroze] Varun Gandhi, who came off as genial and well-meaning, but not ready or suitable for politics. Sackur later took the Communist Party's Brinda Karat to task in what was more like a wrestling rumble than an interview. Good stuff.

I didn't catch his interview with Narayan Murthy, but thankfully, the Indian Express carries the transcript (link from Amit Varma).

Money 'graf:

India will continue to lead as long as our politicians, bureaucrats, corporate leaders and academicians realise that we have to work harder and smarter need to do things with a sense of alacrity, we need to create better physical infrastructure, better education infrastructure.

I wonder who he was referring to? As they say, read the whole thing.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Deve Gowda Must Go

The Times of India sounds the clarion call. Read this from Shekhar Gupta as well. Ever since Gowda has exercised power as the leader of the junior partner in the governing coalition in Karnataka, good governance has taken a major beating. He insisted on a light-weight puppet to be the Chief Minister. He has called for scrapping the Metro rail project. He has thrown a wrench into the Airport plans. He has picked fights with the former Chief Minister, his own deputy, Siddaramaiah, the IT industry, and now personally with Narayan Murthy. Where does he think he gets off?

His only motivation seems to be a pathetic desire to remain relevant, even if his relevance is actually the notoriety of the continual spoiler. A former Prime Minister, Deve Gowda is ashamed (with good reason) that all he can muster now is a minor say in the governance of one state. Furthermore, his power in this state is also eroding, and he is trying his damndest to hold on to some of it. Money, land, infrastructure, entrepreneurship, talent - all these sources of power are eluding Deve Gowda, and his helplessness is palpable.

It's time we got rid of this weak good for nothing. It's time the people of Bangalore and Karnataka demanded good governance as opposed to lunatic, egotistic posturing. How do we do this? Keep this discussion going. Narayan Murthy's resignation from the Airport authority is the pebble that can start an avalanche. Industry leaders and opinion makers need to discuss this on a daily basis. Narayan Murthy must be defended from baseless, idiotic accusations. Gowda's misrule must be on the front pages of newspapers everyday for the next few months. Pressure must be exercised in Delhi to bring Krishna back and to dump Gowda's JD(S). Siddaramaiah can be encouraged to pull the rug out from under Gowda in rural constituencies.

Keep in mind, that Deve Gowda's own worst enemy is his mouth, backed by his shrivelling brain. Keep him in the news, and you force him to put his ugly mug on the front pages. Keep his enemies talking and you force him to open his trap. He does these things, and he'll bury himself. All we need to do is to continue to stress his weaknesses and to tout the relative strengths of his adversaries. He will do the rest, with a little help from Sonia.

Madam, a fresh set of elections in Karnataka will rid you of this troublesome pest.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Gods, Myths and Women

Amit Varma links to this interview with Mallika Sarabhai where she says that Draupadi "is the epitome of the 21st century woman." In the same post, Amit Varma also links to this blogger who disagrees with the above quote and instead says that Draupadi "comes out like she has no personality and personality is what defines a 21st century woman... That was then; this is now."

Personally, I prefer to view these people as literary characters rather than historical figures. I find it's easier to discover the divinity in them that way. And, I have to agree with Mallika Sarabhai when she says:

"I have always felt that our mythological women and historical women got a
raw patriarchal deal. The writers of history were men: the priests were men, the
storytellers were men, the historians were mostly men. And they ended up by
reducing all the women into cardboard cutouts – wimps, in fact."
I had a similar feeling when I read the Ramayana and pondered the problem of Sita. Mallika Sarabhai follows up the previous statement with this:

"And yet they (the women) could not have been so. Think of this -- why are
all the men identified by their women? Radheshyam -- Radha's Shyam; Umashankar -- Uma's Shankar; Sitaram -- Sita's Ram etc?"

Alternatively, couldn't one argue that the women are defined by their men? In fact, that's exactly the case with the women of the Ramayana. Here's what I wrote last year about that epic (after reading R.K. Narayan's adaptation):

"The female is treated very unfairly (from a modern and feminist persepective)
in the entire 'Ramayana', and Sita's trial [by fire] is just the culmination of
that sentiment, developped through the epic. The major female characters in the
story are Sita, Kaikeyi, Manthara (Kooni in this version), Soorpanaka and Tara
(Sugreeva's wife). None are given their full due as independent characters, and
all seem to exist solely for the men in their lives. Sita's sense of dharma
compels her to follow Rama into exile. Had she chosen otherwise, it is clear
that the moral judgement would be negative. Kaikeyi's disobedience of Dasaratha
forms part of the ethical charges made against her. Kooni's evil nature is made
clear by her attempt to interfere in the male-centric ritual of succession.
Soorpanaka, the one independent female in the story is given a very unflattering
portrayal, and even she ends up with a Rama-centered identity. Tara is flung
from one husband to the next with no concern for her preferences. Even Ahalya,
is forced to live an eternity as a rock for being raped by Indra.

All the classic feminist critiques apply to the Ramayana. While stacked with
powerful male characters like Rama, Ravana, Hanuman and Vali, the Ramayana lacks strong female characters. Sita's greatness lies not in her independence or
strength, but devotion to Rama. Given all this, it is easy to see why Sita's
trial by fire fits in with the general narrative of the Ramayana and with Rama's
own code of ethics...

This is not to say that Sita's trial by fire is excusable. In fact modern re-tellings of the tale can quite easily skip the sordid chapter and not lose any of the narrative. Sita's trial by fire, like Vali's killing is inexcusable and indefensible, but the latter is also inexplicable."

I wrote this as part of a larger essay on "Rama's Moral Lapses". The main focus of the piece was Rama's killing of Vali, but as mentioned above, Sita's trial by fire is just as revealing, if not more so, about Rama's character. I'll post the full piece on this site one of these days. Today I just wanted to add my two cents to the issue of women in our epics.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Damned and the Saved

Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Tsunamis and War: is the end of days here? Has your soul been saved?

Well, to help you on your way, you can check out the guys mentioned here by Sepia Mutiny's Manish. Don't miss the discussion in the comments section - very interesting stuff.

Anyone familiar with the issue knows that there is a problem regarding Christian missionaries in India (for that matter there's a problem regarding Muslim preachers too, but let's table that one for another day shall we?). Upper class and upper caste hindus find Christian missionaries offensive and intrusive, Christian missionaries see themselves on a holy crusade and fascist Bajrang Dal thugs see all this as a good opportunity to burn people alive.

Now for the history: Christian missionaries have been coming to India for a long time and have done their fair share of good and bad. They set up schools and hospitals for the poor (and the rich - the top schools and colleges in the major metropolitan cities in India were invariably set up by Christian missionaries). They brought the ideas of equality of individuals, the benign nature of Divinity, and the notion of helping your fellow man regardless of social station. They also rubbished our traditions, undermined our social harmony, dismissed off-hand any wisdom in Indian religious traditions and acted as handmaidens of our imperial overlords, providing theological justifications for our continued subjugation.

So where does that leave us today? Well, India is a free country, so people have the right to proselytize and to convert. There's nothing really that the government should do to stop them. Our society however, should act like a mature one and adapt to a new situation. Christian missionaries today are backed by a lot of cash, zeal and infrastructure (television channels, global networks etc.). Just like the quality of clothing produced in India is expected to get better by competing with foreign brands, the quality of our ideas should be honed by the constant challenge brought by missionaries.

Defend your beliefs and you will understand them better. Also, accept whatever wisdom is provided by the new ideas and reject the baggage. I like that - there's something essentially Hindu to such a response.