Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A 'Crezendo' and After

The Puritans of his time, British poet John Milton wrote, prohibited bear fighting, not for causing pain to the bear but for giving pleasure to the viewer. The upholders of public morality in contemporary India seem to spring from the same gene pool. Their latest contribution in the crusade to contain public morals from contamination is the strident demand to ban sale of the Condom pack, Crezendo, manufactured by the state owned Hindustan Latex, for containing a vibrating ring, which they allege is a sex toy. What astounds me is that leaders of all political parties, spanning a wide ideological spectrum, from militant right to extreme left have come out publicly in support of the demand.
This camaderie crossing party lines was visible on earlier ocasions. The closure of dance bars in Mumbai, the response to actress Khusboo's comments approving pre-marital sex, the controversy over Richard Gere kissing Shilpa Shetty at a public venue, all drove home the point that Indian politicians speak in one voice, though with varying degrees of intensity. There is no point in blaming the political class for holding retrograde views. They only reflect the conservative values and mores prevailing in the society of which they are a part.
The challenge facing Indian liberals, men and women, is to transform the old and establish a new order wherein sexual freedom is an article of faith and sexual relations between consenting adults remain the sole concern of the people involved. A sexually open society can never be against Indian traditions. The civilisational heritage of India is of sexual openness and experimentation. Sexual repression was never its agenda. The erotic sculptures in Hindu temples, the serious study of Kama Shastra, the practice of Tantra which says union with the divine can achieved through sexual ecstasy, all prove that our civilsation was never prudish.
Somewhere along the line, attitudes changed and we began to associate sex with guilt and secrecy. Society imposed restrictions we meekly accepted. The regimentation of sexual behaviour gained legitimacy. The need of the time is to write the liberal testament on matters sexual. But we must ensure the freedom doesn't degenerate into licentiousness. To allow so, would be to play into the enemy's hands.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

June 26, 1975

Thirty two years ago, on this day, and to be precise, at mid-night on June 25-26, a murder took place in the darkness and foreboding silence of Raisina Hill in New Delhi. A spineless Rashtrapati (as India's President is known), Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, signed the proclamation declaring a State of Emergency in the country, blindly putting his signature on the piece of paper send by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Democracy and Individual freedom had been murdered and their corpse buried. The young Indian Republic was facing the first major challenge to its existence, not from external enemies but from inside.
Day break saw prominent leaders of India's Opposition like Jayapraksh Narayan , Morarji Desai and many others put behind bars. Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution were suspended and Censorship imposed on the press. The ruling Congress party and its leader Indira Gandhi trampled on the democratic traditions carefully nurutured by the stalwarts of the freedom struggle, many of whom were also the founding fathers of India's Republic. What the British once did to their Indian subjects, Congress was repeating on citizens of free india. 'Indira is India and India is Indira' was the Congress slogan.
Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka's 'The Man Died' is about a similar situation in Nigeria. It's opening line ' The man dies who remains silent in the face of tyranny' echoes in me as I write this. Thousands of Indians, civil servants, judges, professors, journalists, doctors, technocrats, writers, all remained silent, before the ruthless might of the Establishment. They had died to ther conscience.
This blog entry is a tribute to those Indians who dared to fight the Emergency regime and stood up to the powers that be. It is not proper to list names, for all cannot be included. 'Indian Express' was the only English newspaper to challenge the dictatorship of Indira Gandhi. A 'Journalism of Courage' marked its presence. Justice H.R.Khanna boldly wrote a dissenting judgement allowing Habeas Corpus which led the New York Times to comment editorially 'If ever freedom and democracy returns to India, a grateful nation will erect a monument to Justice H.R.Khanna of the Supreme Court'.
This entry also salutes the rustic,illiterate, and simple people of the Indo-Gangetic plain, who in their millions, hit back through the ballot box in 1977, defeating Indira Gandhi and the Congress Party. They alone helped restore the democratic freedoms of the Republic . If they had done the reverse, perhaps, I would not be writing this entry today.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ramachandra Gandhi - A Tribute

I confess that I never heard of Ramachandra Gandhi till reading newspaper reports announcing his death on June 13th at India International Centre, New Delhi. Of course, I had heard of his more famous brothers, Rajmohan Gandhi and Gopal Krishna Gandhi. The three are the grand children of two illustrious Indians, Mahatma Gandhi, on their paternal side and C.Rajagopalachari,India's last Governor-General, on their maternal side. Of course, it is not lineage that is on focus here but that Ramachandra Gandhi was a Professor of Philospohy with a Phd. from Oxford and an exponent of Advaita-Vedanta with a few erudite works to his credit.
Articles written about Ramachandra Gandhi in the Hindustan Times and New Indian Express, immediately after his demise, have convinced me to find and read his books and understand his ideas.
In the Hindustan Times, Sanjay Baru, now media advisor to the Prime Minister of India, has written of how he first met Ramu ( as Ramachandra is affectionately called),in 1979, immediately after joining the teaching faculty of the University of Hyderabad. Ramu was Prof. of Philosphy there. Ramu would jokingly say that his office was in the bathroom of Sarojin Naidu's Hyderabad home, 'Golden Threshold', (which the Nightingale of India had gifted to the University) while the Prof. of English sat in the bedroom. This, Ramu would say signified the status of Philosophy in modern University life in India. Sanjay is first introduced to Ramu at a seedy bar where he is enjoying his beer and listening to Hindi film tunes. Sanjay describes himself as being thrown off his feet when told that his fellow drinking companion was a Prof of Philospohy and the grandson of the Mahatma. Sanjay narrates how Ramu had launched a mini-chipko movement, with the support of students, against the cutting of a huge neem tree planted by Sarojini Naidu to build classrooms. And how the University authorities did chop it a few days later in the dead of night leading to Ramu resigning his job in protest. Sanjay shares more of his personal encounters which bring out the warm human being that the late Prof. was.
Chandan Gowda, writing in the New Indian Express devotes more attention to Ramu's philospohical inquiries, his deep understanding of Advaita and other Hindu scriptures and how he drew their connections with modern life from which they have been banished in the name of progress. Ramu was concerned that modern day politics had freed itself from trancendental concerns with the meaning of life and death to dwell in exlusive identities of caste,class,race,nation and religion. He warned that such identities wouuld only give false answers to the question of 'Who am I' or ' Who are We'. This reminds me of reading Raja Rao's book, 'The Meaning of India', where he quotes the French writer Andre Malraux telling Jawaharlal Nehru in Paris in 1936 'keep India from duality... let the great Sankaracharya, let him guide India. such my prayer'. Ten years later, Malraux confronts the Indian Socialist leader Jayapraksh Narayan in Paris with the question 'What influence has Sankara on the government of modern India? to which a startled JP could only smile . Ramu, Gowda points out, was very conscious of the fact that while economic domination of the West was widely criticised, there was little concern about the domination of the Western intellectual framework over the rest of the world. He considered the second as dangerous as the first and wanted to ensure that India's civilisational autonomy (svaraj) was preserved amidst the wild charge of globalisation.
Ramu's interest in Hindu names led him to discover that the word gandhi is a derivative of the word 'gandha' meaning perfume and that the gandhis are traditionally perfume sellers.
'Svaraj - A Journey with Tyeb Mehta's Shantiniketan Tryptych', 'Sita's Kitchen',
'I am Thou; Meditations on the Truth of India' and the novel 'Muniya's Light' are among his famous books.

Monday, June 18, 2007

How Reason's Work

We give reasons and receive them from others each day of our lives. But have we, for a moment, paused to inquire into the how of these reasons. Charles Tilly did!
Charle's Tilly is a social scientist, a Professor at Columbia University, who spends the major part of his professional life analysing large-scale political processes like revolutions and democratization. During this he discovered two patterns that forced him to think in different terms. One, that fellow-social scientists, mass media amd students explained complex social phenomena as the decision-making of a few influential actors, neglecting the unanticipated consequences, incremental effects and the subtle negotiation of social interaction. It is obvious that people rarely accomplish what they set out to achieve and events unroll differently than planned for. Yet in explaining social and political processes, conscious deliberation is emphasised to the exclusion of all else.
Second, that social processes resemble an intense conversation rather than soliloquies or a grandmaster's planning of chess moves. But few stood convinced of what he said.
Addressing this double challenge led him into the world of reasons, how people give reasons, how people receive reasons and how the relations between givers and receivers are negotiated, established, denied or repaired by the social process of reason giving. And the search resulted in his writing a very excellent book with one of the shortest titles a book could have 'Why?'
The author does not lay bare his theory of reason for he sees no need to have one for his purposes. Nor does he depend on anyone's theory. It is not his lot to worry as to whether the reasons people give are right or wrong or good or bad. Nor is he concerned about how individual nervous systems process new information as it comes in or in intellectual discussions of why things occur as they do. He does not question their significance; only, they are not the subject matter of this book, which concentrates on the social process of reason giving at the person - to - person scale.
Reasons, according to Tilly, fall in four broad but overlapping categories. They are:
1. Conventions
2. Stories
3. Codes
4. Technical Accounts
The four varieties of reasons differ significantly in form and content. Reasons match relationships. Reasons also justify practices that would not be compatible with other reasons and/or definitions of relationships. Reasons, Relationships and Practices are aligned.
The types of reasons are explained in detail by Tilly, devoting a chapter to each. They must be read carefully to get a proper grasp of what the author is aiming at. Stories are reasons which interpret events in terms of cause and effect. They are circumscribed in space and time and have a limited number of actors and actions. They re-work complex social processes and simplify them. They are grounded in commonly accessible every-day knowledge and throw hints of justification or condemnation. Conventions are bound by the logic of appropriateness and can be recognised by their simplicity and by the absence of further discussion. Conventions follow widely recognisable formulas. Codes, like Conventions, gain their credibility from the criteria of appropriateness rather than from cause-effect validity that prevails in stories and technical accounts. Of course, codes serve a variety of purposes in addition to justifying reasons and are made up of specialised sets of categories, procedures for ordering evidence and rules of interpretation. Technical accounts, like stories, combine cause-effect explanations but they are based on a systematic specialised discipline.
The author engages in vivid descriptions to make the reader understand the issues of the book. In the process, he also introduces the reader to new ideas and writers. Tilly refers to frames, first introduced by Erving Goffman. It shows how the very structure of organisations establish frames that focus attention on some kinds of information while screening out a great deal of other information that could, in principle, significantly affect their operation. He quotes Russell Hardin on street-level epistemology, Aristotle on Rhetoric, Anatole Broyard on Illness, Jessica Stern on terrorism and Thane Rosenbaum on legal theory, to name a few.
If it is believed that people give reasons based on their upbringing, fundamental beliefs, group membership or deep down character, then they must give the same reasons across a wide range of social circumstances. Do they? In contrast, some may claim that people give reasons at two levels - deep,authentic reasons for intimate acquaintances and quick, superficial, convenient reasons for the others. Reading this book would distance you from such beliefs, which to the author, are erroneous . The book's arguments and evidence prove that the reasons you give match your relations with those to whom they are given. Or in reverse, the reasons people give you reflect their relation with you.

Why? - Charles Tilly.
Princeton University Press.

Monday, June 04, 2007

In the Greens!

I play tennis. I am doing so for many years. It has been the only game in which I have been involved. Cricket has flown over my head like a sixer. Near the tennis courts, where I have been playing for the last few years, tucked away is a Golf Club. I have always been curious about Golf but never toyed with the idea of learning it. All of a sudden, I decided to give it a try and submitted an application to the Golf Club, ( ). The Executive Committee has accepted my application, made me a member-elect, and today I started training under an able coach. The first day on the practice greens was not without its difficulties and minor struggles, but under proper guidance I hope to catch on to all nuances of the game and become a seasoned golfer in the days ahead. I am bound to learn the game within six months and play with the Captain who will assess as to how far I have picked up the essentials.
Well, I look forward to happy golfing days and will share with you my experiences as a budding golfer.