Joe Nye aka “Mr. Soft Power” in 'The Future of Power' has argued that, in today's information age, it is the side with the better story that wins. Thi...more Joe Nye aka “Mr. Soft Power” in 'The Future of Power' has argued that, in today's information age, it is the side with the better story that wins. This book is Tharoor’s conscious or unconscious attempt to ensure that India is the party with the better story (of course to one’s own eyes one always has the better story). To Tharoor, India is gentle and reasonable and completely justified in all its actions; where they cant be justified, they can be explained away with the excuse that a functioning democracy will take circuitous routes (the elephant metaphor). Thus the benign elephant dances with starry-eyed smaller countries, reluctantly peeping neighbors, a very naughty dragon, a ferocious but almost toothless opponent with a weapon that can't be used, some failed states and a big circus master with a big funny hat. But all that is incidental because the elephant is gentle enough to be above reproach. So, who is the hero of the story? I leave that to your guessing skills.
Other than that, this reads like a sequel/update (with even the metaphors not being spared) to Malone’s wonderful book - with all the edges carefully shorn off and decorated in cheerful Diwali lights.
The second half of the book which takes a look at North Block and UN and their many idiosyncrasies, arguing for and against continuing relevance is more entertaining - because Tharoor actually has original stuff to contribute here along with many anecdotes which are well-worn but still funny. And though the book's cover boasts that he tries to evolve a grand strategy (which Malone had criticized India of lacking and Tharoor wants to prove exists inside of the folds), it only delivers some passably good platitudes.
In the end though, I cannot forgive Tharoor - the primary reason for me picking up this book was my irrepressible curiosity on how the author would justify such a presumptuous title. And Tharoor never bothered to oblige, except for a two line justification which only talks about a redefinition of what the 'pax -ica' latinization means in this new century. Disappointing? Yes. But, perhaps true too - it gels well with Pinker's Angels. (less)
"Hello, Bastar" is a scary book to read — it shows how organized, serious, wide spread and entrenched the Maoist movement...more The Revolution That Was Not
"Hello, Bastar" is a scary book to read — it shows how organized, serious, wide spread and entrenched the Maoist movement really is.
This book is an authentic and detailed introduction to the Maoist movement, brought to you through some brave investigative journalism. It is also an excellent introduction to the Maoist viewpoint (yes, ideology) and operational strategies too. Trying to figure out first hand the issues and the conditions that gave rise to and sustains the revolution (if one may call it that, if not please use insurrection), Hello, Bastar goes a long way towards expanding the reader’s understanding of what is really involved. Pandita deserves plaudits for that.
This is especially so because, for the ordinary reader, the only access to the movement is through the popular press. To such an ordinary reader of the newspapers (or worse, a watcher of news channels) the key question is inescapably one of violence — the first image that the word ‘Maoist’ conjures up is of dense forests, gunfire and knives. But Pandita shows that this is a very selective image, even a censored one that is shown to us — in fact, the question of violence is secondary. The real question is one of inclusive development, human rights and the very core of democracy itself: Participation & Voice.
The Urban/rural/tribal oppressed are the ones most targeted for recruitment to the movement. They are recruited primarily by giving them human dignity, by giving them a voice — this is a clear indictment on the massive failure of government that afflicts these areas. The question is: In a democracy, why don’t they already have a voice?
The very existence of the Maoist movement is a present and clear signal that there is a void, created by a a government that opted to withdraw and leave the people to their own devices. Of a government that left class and caste oppression fester for so long that the tribals and villagers found it safer to opt for violent revolution over democratic option.
The Naxalites are only filling the void created by the Government.
But I believe that in spite of this, the movement, at a fundamental level, is still misguided — at least in terms of ideology and methods if not in sentiment.
At the same time, while I do believe that the Naxal leaders are misguided, the way they have achieved legitimacy is nothing short of miraculous. To run a quasi-govt for so many years is no mean achievement. Which again points us to the crying need for proper government in the area.
In any case, the question is whether it is inhumane to consider a well-intentioned (at least in propaganda) movement misguided? And my answer is, Yes. That is because it is a democratic country, and they could have done the same under the strictures of a constitution that was framed with express intention of social revolution. It could have been an vindication of the revolutionary potential latent in our constitution. It would have taken longer and would not have had the romance and urgency of a revolution. But with enough effort and mass education, they should have been able to command mass support, for the government and bring about change without the massive violence. Revolution too has proved to be interminably wrong. The same energy invested more constructively could have truly revolutionized the lives of the people in the affected areas, and perhaps beyond. I think the existence of the Maoist movement is a double disaster — perpetrated first by the missed opportunity for a democratic government to rule well; then by well-intentioned revolutionaries who opted to follow the ideologies blindly and visit devastation to the people who supported them, rather than choosing the more practical and productive options available.
All that is in the past, the burning question of the day is to bring about a resolution that is politically feasible. The human scale of the tragedy that has been unfolding is unimaginable. And it might be time to accept that it is the needs of the people who live there that has to be the primary consideration, not the race for power by the two sides contending for power over them. It is the obligation of the nation to deliver to the people of the affected areas their due: Participation. They should be allowed to choose for themselves.
Looked at in this perspective, the answer should not be to suppress the movement but to empower it and bring it within the overall democratic framework — this is precisely the greatest strength that a democratic framework has. And we should employ that to end the double-fold suffering inflicted on the poor ordinary citizens of the area who are caught in the crossfire.
One option that seems feasible to me is this: How about an election supervised by a third party (say UN) in which the Maoists contest along with the other major parties? At the end of which a separate constitutional status could be awarded to places where the Maoists win, which would allow them to institute the major reforms, which they will make part of their campaign commitments. We can also institute safeguards to ensure that the usual aftermath of a revolutionary victory in which the victors in turn become the oppressed is avoided by allowing a democratic revolution of this sort. In my readings, I have not come across such an option being discussed, even though it sounds perfectly obvious to me. I hope it gets political currency soon. I will try to elaborate on this in a separate article, preferably in the mainstream media.
Mention of the media brings me back to the book. As I said, the newspapers feed us the story through a perception-filter. The editorials may talk of some of the issues more humanely but the headlines always scream at us, demonizing the Maoists. A book like this is important to read to ensure that the human faces stay with us in the midst of this assault. The civilian society condoning military repression is unpardonable, especially when it is uninformed confinement. The least we can do is to take the effort to understand more and then react according to our won best ideals. Popular pressure is the only way to make the government seek more civilized (and democratic) ways of settlement. As long as we conveniently turn a blind eye, the government cannot see either.
As the afterword by the jailed Maoist Ideologue, Kobad Ghandy says, understanding the Maoist viewpoint is important for the furtherance of dialogue. That is an important goal toward which this book is aimed. I would only add that understanding the lives of the people under the Maoist sway is also important — to give moral force and direction to the dialogue, to ensure that it is no longer conducted through spitting gunfire.(less)
He had not minded the dust that lit up the damp light of the room. He had read it...more Twilight’s Children
He had found the letter under his brother’s bed.
He had not minded the dust that lit up the damp light of the room. He had read it immediately. But now that he was back in his room, he took it out again, wanting to read it one more time, as always.
He remembered all the letters he used to receive from India and of how he could hear his Udayan’s childhood voice as he read it, even when the voice was long changed. In this letter he could not.
This time he picked up from the third page of the letter, glancing at the parts that did not make sense to him.
What defines identity once you are away from your center? What defines the center when you are away from our identity?
He wondered why Udayan would take the trouble to write all this when it must have been such a struggle to write at all. With that hand of his… Is it because he wanted to take comfort in talking with me? Or does he just write whatever comes to mind, arrange them in a semblance of order and mail them across the oceans? He looked back at the page.
Is it anger in the obvious betterment seen all around you? Is it shame that you were never really part of it? That you were not part of building it? And instead of building one you have just taken the easier path? Is it pride, perhaps, in your independence? Is it the blustering of the intolerable journalist when he talks about the better ‘systems’? Is it just a sense of loss of all that is left behind?
He skipped the last few lines and then skipped to the next page. Udayan’s handwriting always used to deteriorate towards the end of a page and now it was almost unreadable. ‘Not that I am missing much,’ he said to himself.
Wherein lies the center of the modern man’s existence?
Is it in an imaginary village consisting of all that mattered to him as he was growing up - do they ever break that circle? Or is it constantly expanded as you grow? Or is it constantly redefined?
If you don’t have the less developed multitudes (relatives like me) to look upon you from that left-behind circle, will any achievement truly matter in life? Can your center, your point of reference and your identity, only be defined from a transpositional view from below? Or is It from a patriarchal view from above that leaves you smarting?
He was not sure why Udayan had taken to writing to him as if the roles were reversed - as if he was the one who had never set foot beyond his home city and as if Udayan was the one who had roamed the world and thought about a home that had been left behind with such ease. Of course, Udayan wouldn’t have been able to leave behind anything. He had been able to. ‘With ease,’ he repeated doubtfully.
He had skipped ahead again without noticing it but decided to carry on. He knew he would be reading it over later. Again.
What of the constant sense that assaults you of not being part of the ‘real’ world - of the world you inhabit - the ones outside your country, your center being somehow artificial? Is it this artificiality that gives you wings? Soaring in a flight of fancy to heights you wouldn’t have dreamed of back where the real things are?
It is not as if he didn’t know that this was probably Udayan’s way of teasing him into coming back home. And it is not as if he didn’t know why it was never posted. He started skipping across the letter faster, eager to reach where he was addressed directly. Eager to see if could recapture the childhood voice when he read his brother addressing him directly instead of talking platitudes. He uttered a faint hum as he skipped across increasingly badly scribbled lines.
Is it a requirement to step outside the circle to be able to step outside it?
How do you view the real world then? Are they the dream now that you are living the dream?
Can you sleep knowing that the dream is never to be dreamt?
Why wouldn’t you try to dream up some solutions as well then? Why wouldn’t you start believing that your newfound wings would work in that ‘real’ world too? Why wouldn’t you even consider flying back?
Why wouldn’t you attempt to solve all the problems?
Even if you never attempt it, you know that with these wings of yours, any problem is an easy one, especially those - the ones in that ‘real’ world. The shadow world of reality.
He felt a faint irritation with his brother now. What right did he have to lecture? What had he done except read a bunch of books and preach around? Then he checked himself. Udayan had always stopped teasing whenever he got angry. He used to always know why.
It is not necessary, of course, that the circle of identity had to be a country or a village or a society or family - stepping outside your circle, outside our reality gives you wings and solutions - but the solutions and the wings are never to be allowed back in - you may step back in but you step back in as yourself, without the fancy stuff. And then you have to forget the dream. You can only inhabit the twilight or the sunrise. Never both.
Ah, he remembered, now is when he talks about the book he had asked me to send to Anita. Udayan had ended up reading it first. Mostly because one of the main characters in the book shared his name. He tried to recollect the little he had read of the book before wrapping it. He knew that much of Udayan’s ramblings in this letter might have come from the book.
After all, there were some parallels. It was the eternal afterlife of the exile that Jhumpa Lahiri was always expert at dissecting. ‘Maybe it was all a build up towards telling me why I should read it too,’ he mused, ‘maybe he was not taunting me at all’. Or maybe he felt the book could do that job much better.
There are some books which once read you have a compulsion to make others read - as if the enjoyment is not complete until it is shared. Until you can see the expression of amazement in the other’s face when they have read too - your enjoyment growing in the realization of theirs.
This book is not like that - it is a quiet pleasure to read but there is no expectation of pleasure from the sharing of it - there is no compulsion to talk about it - there is nothing much to talk about really. It is boring in its own way: a beautiful and boring stream that you saw on your way - you paused to see it but you don’t run home to get your wife to stare at it together.
I was excited to read it, to see how it would capture the times that we have lived through. Times that held so much meaning for us. But, it was not meant to be of the masses and the loudness of the massed struggle - just of the individuals and of the quietness of their desperations — it requires no knowledge of our complicated history or the nuances of our anger that ignited the streets. It was not even remotely concerned about all that…
He started searching for the book among the shelves. Then under the bed. His brother loved to sleep with a book and let it slide under his bed as one arm arced and drooped. There it was. Almost brand new. Only two pages bent to mark places to return to. He turned back to the letter.
We are Twilight’s Children, brother, the Midnight’s Children was still some way ahead of us - we are the ones without definition. We were born before the darkness set in, and the day too far off.
After reading The Namesake (the one that you had sent me years ago - ordering me to read it and that you wanted me to get a sense of your University student life), I searched for something new in this one… trying to find what excited the author, trying to get a glimpse into your life - the intimacy with the characters was there - that was expected, that was known; the reality of private lives was there - again known, again expected. What set this apart from the other one? Is it the suffering? But what is suffering? Where was it? I couldn’t see it? Is it necessary that your own anguish has to be less than that of a character’s for you to be able to feel empathy?
But, when I read about this one (in an editorial review), I half thought I could get you to read it... to understand me - another book from the same author. There seemed to be a symmetry to that. But it was not to be. It was not about Bengal, at least not the Bengal that I lived through… it was not to be.
I am told the author grew up in Rhode island - that intimacy is visible. Rhode island becomes more of a home to the reader than his own Bengal. Again, my purposes were not being served by the author.
He looked at the marked pages of the book again and noticed that both seemed to be underlined faintly on lines that described their city. The language was exquisite. Maybe the time away from his expected times and places put him off the book. Udayan was never one for relishing language. He always wanted meanings and words to speak loud and bold.
You had told that you would try to read this before sending it to me. If you managed to complete the book, you must have realized that the book is not very atypical of Lahiri. I am afraid she will find it hard to win another Booker until she breaks out of her own mould or a Booker Committee comes along that doesn’t take the trouble to have read the previous winners.
He smiled at his brother’s silly mistake and continued reading. But he found that he was skipping through the lines now, without reading much. Soon he had reached the end of the letter. It did not end with the usual wishes and he knew that it had not been finished. He quietly flipped back to the beginning again. He could hear the milkman cycling outside on his early morning rounds.
Their relationship had been stretched - stretched halfway across the world - refusing to break, no matter how much he tried.
He walked slowly to the window-sill and lit the candle he had placed here. He watched as the ashes settled nearby and turned away as the breeze started to carry them away. (less)
Is Yunus the only practicing (as in the type who never came across the proverbial armchair yet) nobel laureate in economics? (his field is, if not the...more Is Yunus the only practicing (as in the type who never came across the proverbial armchair yet) nobel laureate in economics? (his field is, if not the nobel)
His ideas and beliefs are rooted in and grown from the experience of running what sounds like hundreds of companies and offshoots and sister concerns - almost all successful, launching an entire industry and redefining one of the oldest businesses of the world.
Yet, in spite of full awareness of the credentials of the author, everything inside a reader militates against the seemingly utopian picture Yunus paints. You want to shout at him: all this is fine but REALITY is different! But the reader forgets - Yunus has seen and succeeded in the stark reality of one of the poorest, most torn landscapes in the world and he is proving that the ‘reality’ that economics teaches us is a very constrained reality. All the talk of incentives being the fuel of the human growth engine fall flat. But you don’t give in, you keep drilling deep holes in every cheerful statement of Yunus throughout the introductory chapters, after all you have years of economic training to back you up.
Finally Yunus gets to the case studies, and you read on with growing astonishment that the very principles outlined earlier, the principles that you had in your economic wisdom so thoroughly cut into pieces, all seem to just work on the ground. You scratch your head and try to figure it out. Then you forget your criticism and congratulate yourself on your own positive outlook towards humanity. Until next time.(less)
More than anything else this collection of essays and papers is a tribute to the sheer range and scope of Amartya Sen’s work. Each author picks up a t...more More than anything else this collection of essays and papers is a tribute to the sheer range and scope of Amartya Sen’s work. Each author picks up a theme from Sen’s voluminous writings and elaborates on it, usually with a summary of further work done on the theme following Sen’s lead.
The papers deserve credit for how they stick to the core principles of Sen’s writings even when disagreeing with him, but are too dry and overly mathematical in comparison to most of Sen’s works. It would be a far more pleasant experience to just stick to reading the original. I will be giving volume two a miss.(less)
The authors try to give a comprehensive framework on which to understand how the growing fields of psychology and behavioral economics can be integrat...moreThe authors try to give a comprehensive framework on which to understand how the growing fields of psychology and behavioral economics can be integrated into economic decision making and policy choices. Unfortunately, the presentation is very dry and highly repetitive. A better choice for a primer would be Nudge by Thaler and then it would be advisable to skip directly to advanced texts.(less)
Picked this up as a follow-up to this, on an Eco Prof's recco, no less. Turned out to be a poor choice. Hardly anything about Public Choice. A few wea...morePicked this up as a follow-up to this, on an Eco Prof's recco, no less. Turned out to be a poor choice. Hardly anything about Public Choice. A few weak examples of Public Choice examples crammed into a standard economics textbook. Read it through in any case just to makes sure not to miss anything. Have to hunt outside textbooks for more about Public Choice from now on out.(less)