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Thursday, September 22, 2011

New poll

Look to your right: I have put up a new poll after ages to gauge reader opinion. You may select multiple options. Polling closes midnight, 31st October. Many thanks for voting.

P.S., Sept. 25: 35 votes in just three days, and 19 of them have voted 'educational'! This is absolutely wonderful, a very big thank you to all who have voted already. I shall be waiting eagerly to see how the voting pattern changes over the next few weeks...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

America, the beautiful!

There was this front page article in my newspaper (The Telegraph) on September 12 titled ‘Osama gone, hunger gnaws’, discussing how poverty is now rampant in the world’s greatest country. The United States of America, with a population of about 311 million, has 46 million people living on food stamps – government handouts, being the only thing that keeps them from crime and/or beggary. My economist’s instinct assures me that there must be at least another 50 million who are only just somehow managing to hang on above the poverty line; the sort who sweep floors at Wal Mart and man the counters at Macdonald’s, who live in poky rented flats in crumbling inner cities and can never afford holidays, or to go to good hospitals when ill or send their children to college. This, in a country which boasts of the largest number of billionaires and celebrities, and which over the last decade has spent an estimated $2 trillion on the ‘war on terror’, besides at least another three quarters of a trillion in bailing out totally corrupt giant corporations which brought about the recession by recklessly piling up bad investments in a nationwide orgy of greed, and whose directors, proven failures if not also crooks, still continue to draw tens of millions in salaries and perks…

Meanwhile middle class America, used to ease and security for too long, refuses to work hard at downmarket jobs (which is one reason so many of them have been ‘Shanghai-ed’ or ‘Bangalore-ed’), while the rich (about a quarter million earn more than $1 million a year) are paying much less in taxes than they – or their fathers – did twenty years ago, even while the nation’s fiscal debt, now astronomical, is threatening economic catastrophe (or maybe a Chinese takeover). Want to check out these figures? Look up this article written by Warren Buffett, not only one of the richest men in the world, but one of the very few brave and honest billionaires I have ever known.

This nation was the brightest beacon of hope for much of mankind since the end of the 18th century (read the inscription on the Statue of Liberty here),  and great even two generations ago. I personally think the rot began in the late 1960s, though it only started becoming apparent when Dubya Bush took over the reins. Yet she is still big and influential enough to bring about a global disaster if and when she sinks, not merely because much of the rest of the world survives and dreams of progressing by exporting their stuff to her and learning all kinds of technical tricks from her, but because millions of ‘educated’ young people in the rest of the world – India in particular – cannot begin to imagine a world that is not led by the nose by the US of A, in everything from dress codes and ‘music’ to eateries to slang and divorce agreements. God save America – if only because it will still take the rest of the world a long time to grow up!

Friday, September 09, 2011


Just watched this 2009 movie starring (not really) Richard Gere. It’s about the oldest bonding in human history, something that long pre-dates civilization. I hope it endures if civilization vanishes for a while.

I must confess at the outset that I am an inveterate animal lover – well, all large intelligent animals anyway – and given another chance in life I might well have made a career of living with them, the way Jim Corbett, James Herriot, Gerald Durrell and Konrad Lorenz did. Dolphins, elephants, chimps, horses would have all been fine, but dogs especially so: I am slightly crazy about dogs, I think. That might go some way to explain why I found this movie so heart-warming.

I had known about a lot of real and legendary faithful dogs, but somehow not about Hachiko (look up this wikipedia article: that will save me a lot of labour). Although the story has been transplanted to the US – and I found no good explanation for how the puppy turned up there from halfway across the world – it has been educational for me, too, therefore. Many thanks to young River Ghosh for bringing it to me. You can look up this link to find out a little more about the movie, and the comments at this webpage, I think, can only tell you how widely different human beings are.

As I said, the dog is both the real star and show-stealer. I wonder what directors have to do to make children and animals act like that…

I found it good to see that the audience reaction was on the whole very positive, and to learn that in Japan the memory of the (real) dog is still revered, three generations after it died. And it made me ashamed once more to be an Indian, thinking about how animals are treated in this country as a rule.

If you watch the movie, tell me how you liked it.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Crusaders, stand up and be counted!

The last post I wrote about the ongoing anti-corruption ‘crusade’ (A most frightening prospect) has been visited and commented upon a great deal. Now that Hazare-ji is taking a breather and feeling, I’m sure, very pleased with himself while the Parliamentary Standing Committee takes into cognizance some of his demands, I should like to bring up a connected issue that has been bothering me a great deal lately. Who are these ‘crusaders’ behind him – leaving alone the Kejriwal-Bedi-Bhushan types, who are all well-off big shots with their private axes to grind, and who are obviously playing for very high stakes?

One thing that has caught my eye repeatedly on TV and in newspapers is the claim that a huge fraction of Anna Hazare’s supporters belong to the middle class, which is supposedly sick and tired of corruption. Now I have been born in this very class, and have lived cheek by jowl with it all my life in an urban setting – they even supply me with my livelihood. If I have known them even a little, I cannot help wondering whether this claim that they are ‘anti-corruption’ is not the biggest joke of the century, at least in this country. Let’s see whether my readers can deny that the great majority of the middle class

  • Think nothing of cheating in examinations,
  • Get fake birth certificates so that their children can get a few years extra in their jobs,
  •  Think as little about bribing traffic policemen as about bribing gods in return for undeserved favours (if the cop or god does not oblige, he’s bad; and the cop, especially, is bad because he takes a bribe in return for letting them get away with breaking the law…),
  • Demand dowries despite knowing full well it is a punishable crime,  and the more ‘educated’ they are, the bigger the dowry expected, ‘naturally’, 
  • Spread vile gossip about colleagues and neighbours who seem to be happier and more successful,
  • Absolutely refuse to think that job-shirking is serious corruption,
  • ‘Respect’ their elders (both parents and teachers) only to spout the vilest abuse behind their backs,
  • Litter the streets despite knowing it is wrong,
  • Derive great pleasure from making the maximum noise while celebrating anything, from weddings to pujas, much of the pleasure deriving from the knowledge that a lot of harmless people are being disturbed,
  • Steal everything they can from the workplace, from company time (chatting on Facebook) to stationery, to padding travel bills to using the company car for sundry family purposes, and indulge in petty shoplifting everywhere they go (I have written about this before),
  • Cheat the medical insurance companies with false bills (to such an extent that those companies are getting increasingly stringent with innocent and honest customers – this is public knowledge),
  • Grown children don’t want to know how much of daddy’s money is honestly earned as long as daddy can shower them with largesse, whether daddy is a clerk or a factory manager or a doctor or a contractor…

I can extend this list indefinitely, but I don’t think I need to.

These people are supporting the fight against corruption? These people want to live in a clean India – an India where so many of them or their parents could suffer a drastic fall in their standard of living, if not go to jail? Is this black comedy, or pure farce, or am I dreaming, or is there something very deep and subtle about India that I still don’t understand? Educate me!

P.S., Sept. 08: Hmm. My readers all belong to the urban educated middle class, and few of them have been forthcoming with comments!

In this article, Prabhat Patnaik, retired professor of economics at JNU, has clarified several important things. One doesn’t have to be a card-carrying leftist to see that he is largely right. See, for instance, this line in the first paragraph: ‘what was Hazare’s own movement all about? It was certainly not about “corruption” in any definable sense’… and he goes on to elaborate lucidly and incisively what should be deeply disturbing about this and similar movements, most notably the possibility that in the course of denigrating and weakening the elected constitutional government, these movements are likely to push India into the arms of laissez faire capitalists and religious zealots of the worst kind. The great tragedy is that those who are doing it, being ignorant of history (our ‘educated’ middle class today consists by and large of techies and traders, doesn’t it?), don’t have the foggiest notion of what they are doing, swept along as they are by their incoherent, self-righteous rage…