मेघदूत: "नीचैर्गच्छत्युपरि च दशा चक्रनेमिक्रमेण"

समर्थ शिष्या अक्का : "स्वामीच्या कृपाप्रसादे हे सर्व नश्वर आहे असे समजले. पण या नश्वरात तमाशा बहुत आहे."

G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

Friedrich Nietzsche: “Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.”

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

सदानंद रेगे:
"... पण तुकारामाची गाथा ज्या धुंदीनं आजपर्यंत वाचली जात होती ती धुंदी माझ्याकडे नाहीय. ती मला येऊच शकत नाही याचं कारण स्वभावतःच मी नास्तिक आहे."
".. त्यामुळं आपण त्या दारिद्र्याच्या अनुभवापलीकडे जाऊच शकत नाही. तुम्ही जर अलीकडची सगळी पुस्तके पाहिलीत...तर त्यांच्यामध्ये त्याच्याखेरीज दुसरं काही नाहीच आहे. म्हणजे माणसांच्या नात्यानात्यांतील जी सूक्ष्मता आहे ती क्वचित चितारलेली तुम्हाला दिसेल. कारण हा जो अनुभव आहे... आपले जे अनुभव आहेत ते ढोबळ प्रकारचे आहेत....."

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Samuel Huntington’s Crystal Ball

What does year 2009 hold for us?

The father of “The Clash of Civilizations” Samuel Huntington has just died more than fifteen years after he wrote it.

I have just finished reading William Dalrymple’s book “White Mughals” (2002).

I loved the tragic tale but don’t agree with the author's inference: “…As the story of James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair un-Nissa shows, East and West are not irreconcilable, and never have been. Only bigotry, prejudice, racism and fear drive them apart. But they have mingled in the past; and they will do so again.”

Mingling is fine but anything more I have my doubts. Dalrymple has not produced strong enough evidence in five hundred plus pages to convince me otherwise.

Fouad Ajami attacked Huntington’s “The clash” in 1993.

“… I wrote my response with appreciation, but I wagered on modernization, on the system the West had put in place. “The things and ways that the West took to ‘the rest,’” I wrote, “have become the ways of the world. The secular idea, the state system and the balance of power, pop culture jumping tariff walls and barriers, the state as an instrument of welfare, all these have been internalized in the remotest places. We have stirred up the very storms into which we now ride.” I had questioned Huntington’s suggestion that civilizations could be found “whole and intact, watertight under an eternal sky.” Furrows, I observed, run across civilizations, and the modernist consensus would hold in places like India, Egypt and Turkey…”

Fifteen years later, Ajami would say: “…Huntington’s thesis about a civilizational clash seems more compelling to me than the critique I provided at that time.

…And Huntington had the integrity and the foresight to see the falseness of a borderless world, a world without differences. (He is one of two great intellectual figures who peered into the heart of things and were not taken in by globalism’s conceit, Bernard Lewis being the other.)

I still harbor doubts about whether the radical Islamists knocking at the gates of Europe, or assaulting it from within, are the bearers of a whole civilization. They flee the burning grounds of Islam, but carry the fire with them. They are “nowhere men,” children of the frontier between Islam and the West, belonging to neither. If anything, they are a testament to the failure of modern Islam to provide for its own and to hold the fidelities of the young.

More ominously perhaps, there ran through Huntington’s pages an anxiety about the will and the coherence of the West — openly stated at times, made by allusions throughout. The ramparts of the West are not carefully monitored and defended, Huntington feared. Islam will remain Islam, he worried, but it is “dubious” whether the West will remain true to itself and its mission. Clearly, commerce has not delivered us out of history’s passions, the World Wide Web has not cast aside blood and kin and faith. It is no fault of Samuel Huntington’s that we have not heeded his darker, and possibly truer, vision.”

In 2008 we certainly saw riches depreciating and Indo-Pak 'love' growing stale and in Samuel Huntington’s crystal ball our future contains more pain than that just coming from ulcerated tooth.

Artist: Alain, The New Yorker, 7 March 1936

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Let Ajmal Amir Kasab Stay in the Hell of an Indian Jail

Debate is raging in India on the subject of terrorist Kasab’s entitlement to legal assistance.

If Nathuram Godse नथुराम गोडसे- the killer of Mahatma Gandhi- was entitled to a lawyer and a 'grand' speech (the speech that still motivates Hindu extremists), why not Kasab?

Ram Jethmalani has the most interesting take.

He says: “…If I had been a judge I would not sentence Kasab to death for a different reason. It is only by remaining in the hell of an Indian jail that he would realise that what the Mullahs told him is false.

Long stay in an Indian prison will detoxify him of all the superstitions and illusions instilled into him. Those who did it surely deserve a sentence of death if caught.”

This sounds like the Hindi film villain Ajit’s rationale on why someone should be thrown in the tank of liquid oxygen: Liquid will not let him live, oxygen will not let him die!

Hell indeed comes in many forms.

‘I never expected hell to be as bad as this.’

The Spectator

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nandan Nilekani: Samyukta Maharashtra Movement = “Rioting and Protests”

First it was Nana Patekar नाना पाटेकर equating Samyukta Maharashtra movement संयुक्त महाराष्ट्र चळवळ with Raj Thackeray’s recent activities.

Now, it is Nandan Nilekani who says:

“…Jawaharlal Nehru proposed that Bombay become a separate, bilingual area, but the rioting and protests that ensued forced him to back down, and the city became part of Maharashtra. Since then, Indian cities have been passive and subordinate to the state governments. The bulk of city taxes are collected by the state and central governments and administration is dominated by state-run agencies…”

(Times of India, December 13, 2008)

Instead of holding political leaders, top civil servants, and many private sector parties responsible for the decay of Mumbai, Mr. Nilekani finds faults with Samyukta Maharashtra movement, the movement that most think was responsible for the city becoming part of Maharashtra.

This is very unfortunate dumbing down of history. We are being trained for more and more simplification as the world becomes more and more complicated.

If historian Y D Phadke य दि फडके were to be alive-he has been dead for almost a year now- I would have recommended Mr. Nilekani a visit to him.

'Could you dumb it down?’

The Spectator

Friday, December 19, 2008

Prescribing Drugs to Win the Worm

Rema Nagarajan, Times of India, December 15, 2008:

“Are your drugs boosting your doc’s lifestyle?:

A platinum coupon if you prescribe drug `X' to 10 patients. A gold coupon if you prescribe brand `Y' to 25 patients. The more coupons you get, the greater your chances of winning. The prizes: cars, frost-free refrigerators, television sets, digital cameras and silver coins.

If you knew your doctor was a contestant for these prizes, how confident would you feel that what has been prescribed to you is what you need, not what improves his chances in the contest?…”

Artist: Harry Bliss, The New Yorker, December 22, 2008, Cartoon Caption Contest # 174

My caption:

“Oh it’s you – friendly medical rep…you followed me even here... OK, which unnecessary and expensive drugs do I have to prescribe to win that giant worm?”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What did Ministers carry from the Office after they were Fired?

In the wake of terrorist attacks on Mumbai, three ministers and zero civil servants have been fired.

Artist: Tom Cheney, The New Yorker, December 15 2008, Cartoon Caption Contest 173

My caption:

“I never thought I would need a trolley to carry the chits I received from my part chief advising me on diverse matters such as transfers of civil servants, manipulation of evidence, selective burning of files, snooping on his political opponents, collection of party funds, promotion of his children’s careers, protection of land mafia..."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Nanasaheb Peshwa (1720 – 1761) and Mumbai Attacks (2008)

(There are a number of entries on this blog on Shivaji, Panipat 1761, T S Shejwalkar. Nanasaheb Peshwe. You can search it to reach them.)

William Faulkner: “The past is not dead; it is not even past.”

If I were India’s navy chief, November 26, 2008 would be one of the saddest days in my life. Only on November 20, 2008, “Indian warship sinks Somali pirate vessel in the Gulf of Aden” was FT’s most ready story. Indian navy was darling of the international and local media.

Sea is a great leveler.

My first thought after hearing about the Mumbai attacks on the morning of 27th November: India’s vulnerability from the sea-borne invaders has changed little since medieval times

Robert D. Kaplan has put it well: “…the tragedy has caused the world to focus on India’s weaknesses — its lax security, its vulnerability to age-old maritime infiltration and, most of all, the constant threat of caste and tribal violence — that have been obscured by its economic success…” (NYT December 8, 2008)

Notice: “India's vulnerability to age-old maritime infiltration.” Exploiting that, Europeans entered, looted, and ruled India.

Since the dawn of 17th century, Shivaji शिवाजी was perhaps the only Indian ruler who understood the importance of an effective navy. But Peshwas- his successors- were not that wise

T S Shejwalkar त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर and his classic “Panipat 1761 पानिपत 1761” will continue to remain relevant –even prophetic- as long as volatile situation prevails in South Asia. After analysing contemporary actors of 18th century India and Afghanistan, he has blamed Mahatma Gandhi- for whom he had enormous respect- and J L Nehru for not learning from Panipat.

Shejwalkar has pilloried Nanasaheb Peshwe- who also was a principal actor in 1761- for destroying the Maratha navy created by Shivaji. Read scanned image- given below- of a passage from Shejwalkar’s essay: “Nanasaheb Peshwe नानासाहेब पेशवे” (1925).

("निवडक लेखसंग्रह" त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर; परिचय गं दे खानोलकर "Selected Articles” by Tryambak Shankar Shejwalkar 1977 introduction: G D Khanolkar)

Has modern Indian state learnt enough from Shivaji (1630-1680) when it comes to self-defense? Or is Shivaji there only to be abused for waging wars against fellow Indians?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Priyanka Chopra Wins 23rd Vodafone Pune International Marathon!

I was used to seeing a picture of the winner of a race- waving or showing victory sign- especially when it was splashed on the front page of a newspaper that was borne in one of the foremost regions of India when it comes to sports (Vijay Hazare to Veerdhaval Khade).

Therefore, looking at following picture in Marathi news daily Pudhari पुढारी, I concluded that Priyanka Chopra was the winner of 23rd Vodafone Pune International Marathon that was run on December 7, 2008.

After all in India, there is no limit to what cine-tv-stars, politicians in power and cricketers can achieve.

Reviewing Dietmar Rothermund's account of India for Spectator, WILLIAM LEITH says:

“…India’s media is heading for ad-backed celebrity hell faster, and more comprehensively, than ours (UK’s)…”

Pudhari December 8 2008

p.s. If you read Marathi, notice the sloppiness of the copy above Ms. Chopra. It does not even mention full names of the winners.

Why and when did we reach here?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Painless to the Criminal and Terrible to the Beholder?

Laxmibai Tilak’s लक्ष्मीबाई टिळक Smritichitre स्मृतिचित्रे (Memory-pictures) 1934 is one of the best books written in Marathi.

It opens with a devastating event for the family. In an act of John Company's terrorism, her mother’s father is hanged by the British after the revolt/war/mutiny of 1857. This drives her father crazy resulting into disastrous consequences for her family.

I wish I could get to read the story of Laxmibai’s grandfather. She says he enjoyed the trust of poor and was loved by the town’s (Jalalpur जलालपूर)

There is very little documentation of that period available, in easily accessible Marathi sources. The only exception is “Maza pravas” by Godse Bhataji माझा प्रवास, गोडसे भटजी.

GEOFFREY WHEATCROFT writes in his review of “THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE 1781-1997” By Piers Brendon (NYT Books Update on November 23, 2008):

“…The growing realm in India was a corporate enterprise, literally so, run by “John Company,” as the East India Company was known, until what Indians no longer call the Indian Mutiny. This was put down with the most horrifying brutality by the British, raising not for the first time the question of who were the “savages” and who the civilized…”

I have always found darkest humour in following description of the event that took place much before 1857.

Elphinstone did not hesitate to order the (Brahmin) ringleaders (of a plot to murder all the Europeans in Pune) to be blown from guns, observing that this method of execution ‘contains two valuable elements of capital punishment; it is painless to the criminal and terrible to the beholder’.” (Philip Mason. “Men Who Ruled India”)

'Due to staff cutbacks...'

The Spectator

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I Smile because I have an Exclusive from this Land of the Dead

Nicholas Taleb:

"....journalism may be the greatest plague we face today- as the world becomes more and more complicated and our minds are trained for more and more simplification".

“To be competent, a journalist should view matters like a historian, and play down the value of information he is providing…Not only is it difficult for the journalist to think more like a historian, but it is, alas, the historian who is becoming more like the journalist.”

Gnani Sankaran: “…Flash "exclusive" — even if the reporter is sending in reports from outside the Taj Mahal Hotel, where at least 400 reporters are stationed. And for viewers gone blind while watching blood-curdling reportage, scream "exclusive" after every nine words…Why should Arnab and Rajdeep and Barkha keep harping every five minutes that this piece of information was exclusive to their channel, at the time of such a national crisis? Is this the time to promote the channel?…”

Michael Crichton:

“Jennifer had no interest in the past; she was one of the new generation that understood that gripping television was now, events happening now, a flow of images in a perpetual unending electronic present. Context by its very nature required something more than now, and her interest did not go beyond now. Nor, she thought, did anyone else's. The past was dead and gone. Who cared what you ate yesterday? What you did yesterday? What was immediate and compelling was now.

And television at its best was now.

So a good frame had nothing to do with the past. Fred Barker's damning list of prior incidents was actually a problem, because it drew attention to the fading, boring past. She'd have to find a way around it—give it a mention and go on.

What she was looking for was a way to shape the story so that it unfolded now, in a pattern that the viewer could follow. The best frames engaged the viewer by presenting the story as a conflict between good and bad, a morality story. Because the audience got that. If you framed a story that way, you got instant acceptance. You were speaking their language.

But because the story also had to unfold quickly, this morality tale had to hang from a series of hooks that did not need to be explained. Things the audience already knew to be true. They already knew big corporations were corrupt, their leaders greedy sexist pigs. You didn't have to prove that; you just had to mention it. They already knew that government bureaucracies were inept and lazy. You didn't have to prove that, either. And they already knew that products were cynically manufactured with no concern for consumer safety.

From such agreed-upon elements, she must construct her morality story.

A fast-moving morality story, happening now…”

Artist: Lee Lorenz The New Yorker December 8, 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 172

My caption:

“I smile because I have an 'EXCLUSIVE' to report from this land of the dead”

Monday, December 01, 2008

Wall Street Journal recommends Tukaram, Sane-guruji, and Vinoba Bhave

Hemant Karkare: "A terrorist has no religion."

Mr. Nandan M. Nilekani says: "...Do you want to pursue a path which will bring us to a great future, or do we go down the path of more and more divisiveness. I mean all this Hindu Vs Christian, Hindu Vs Muslim, Bihari Vs Bombay. I call these the vertical divides (gestures), you know, this religion and caste. We should go beyond this and look at horizontal aspirations..." (Asian Age November 26, 2008)

Sounds good.

I wonder if his book has any 'ideas' on how to 'go beyond' because it is perhaps many times more difficult than creating a Fortune 500 company?

Mr. Nilekani also says:"...You know, leaving apart his (Narendra Modi's) Hindutva and all that triumphalism and Gujarat riots and all that..."

Leaving apart Gujarat riots and all that?!!! Read a related post here.

DANIEL HENNINGER says in WSJ: “…What really went missing through the subprime mortgage years were the three Rs: responsibility, restraint and remorse. They are the ballast that stabilizes two better-known Rs from the world of free markets: risk and reward.

Responsibility and restraint are moral sentiments. Remorse is a product of conscience. None of these grow on trees. Each must be learned, taught, passed down…”

Note WSJ is talking about responsibility, restraint and remorse.

"According to John Bird, founder of the Big Issue magazine: “In the 21st century, it’s no longer right or sexy to be a greedy bastard.”

His pithily expressed thesis is that the crisis in conventional business has given impetus to social enterprises, which combine the pursuit of profit with the quest to do good." (FT, Jonathan Guthrie, November 26 2008)

As I have said on this blog often: Shouldn’t we be teaching ‘responsibility and restraint’ and 'the pursuit of profit with the quest to do good' in our schools and colleges? Maybe they will help us tackle violence unleashed by the vertical divides created by religion, caste and language.

Maharashtra’s school education needs to incorporate Tukaram तुकाराम, Sane-guruji साने-गुरूजी and Vinoba Bhave विनोबा भावे a lot more. Our times need these guys more than ever.

Instead, I see more and more focus on examination oriented science and mathematics.

Some of India's thought-leaders don’t mind this because they need armies of these “technical” graduates to staff their organizations. They routinely complain about the “employability” factor but rarely about “wholesomeness” of education.

Teaching science as a fun thing also will never compensate abject lack of place for soft skills and moral values in our curricula.

“…But the ideal of science as lingering childhood has given way to one of timeless adolescence. Richard Feynman and James Watson are the poster boys for this kind of scientist, who bathes in the fountain of perpetual fun. The triumph of that cultural ideal coincided with the heightened recognition of a deeply serious role for science in affairs of state. The legend of Feynman originated during his time at Los Alamos, which he described as a delightful time of cracking safes and seducing girls in bars. Surely he was joking, and the blackness of the humor is made evident by juxtaposing his antics with disturbing images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Eniwetok, of tens of thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles poised to destroy life on Earth, and hundreds of thousands of scientists and engineers laboring every workday to increase the power and precision of those weapons. The popular contemporary understanding that doing science is about fun has an aura of whimsical self-indulgence and offers comic relief and distraction from realities of this kind… “

(students of IIT's in 2007 were up against Dow Chemical. Good start. Now they should refuse to join any US or European or Indian defense contractors)

“…. We no longer expect scientists to display qualities of personal integrity beyond what we would demand of lawyers, businesspeople or store clerks. Their involvement with war and their willing subordination to the expectations of profit-driven industry seem to support this doctrine of equivalence, and the modern intermingling of academic research with entrepreneurship exemplifies the decline of an ideal of disinterested truth…”

(In India scientists enjoy far more credibility than lawyers, businesspeople or store clerks. I wonder why. Remnants of Brahmanism? For me, the most celebrated Indian scientist Dr A P J Abdul Kalam's personal integrity is no more or no less than any other President of India before him.)

“…Anyone who has witnessed capitalism from outside the economics textbooks knows that business life depends deeply on personal relationships of trust. The same is true of science, and Shapin has taught us as much as anyone about what this means in practice. Trust is rarely absolute, and in business and science as in most human affairs it is important also to develop a nuanced sense of when and how to withhold trust. For an outsider, it is difficult to know how seriously to take the scientists' avowals of intention to do good in the world. Even the most idealistic of biotech researchers are destined to become dependent on medical corporations to test their products and bring them to market. "Big Pharma" and its ilk have acquired, I think justly, a bad reputation, and any residual altruism on the part of the scientists will be the first victim of their involvement. They profess to be humanitarians, but if we measure that claim against the actual consequences of high-tech science-based medicine, our admiration must surely fade…”

“…In the same way, if we look beyond parables of geese and gold, we must doubt that basic science is the indispensable engine of technological change, the prime mover for economic prosperity. This is a legend, one that is repeated like a mantra by advocates of science in search of resources, but which is not well supported by historical and economic research. Universities and corporate labs alike must now justify their budgets by claiming economic payoff. In pursuit of research money, scientists have propagated dubious scientific claims, such as single-gene causation of all kinds of human traits and maladies. Those who found companies, not surprisingly, like to emphasize the symbiosis of good science and profit-making enterprise…”

(Theodore M. Porter’s review of The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation by Steven Shapin)

Artist: Rea Gardner The New Yorker 10 November 1945

Friday, November 28, 2008

I may have Escaped the Shells but was Destroyed by it

When Suredra Paul was brutally murdered by militants in Assam near Chabua on May 9 1990, my wife and I almost heard the gunshots of AK-47 because we lived only a few kilometers away from the scene.

Later we came to know that there was a weapon called AK-47 and that it was easily and cheaply available in Assam.

I still remember the eerie afternoon.

Many such afternoons have now come and gone.

In the wee hours of November 8, 1990, we left our homes on a gun-mounted military truck before being airlifted from Sookerting airfield of the RAW to dodge the bullets of Ulfa.

To paraphrase Erich Maria Remarque, I may have escaped the shells but was destroyed by the experience.

I loved Assam and was forced to flee from it. Only the deaths of my mother and aunt have pained me more.

It’s another November, 18 years later, all over again.

Artist: Gahan Wilson The New Yorker December 1 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 171

My caption

"Wouldn’t it be your worst nightmare if these girls came to life, took the hacksaw behind you, pressed your head against the counter and sawed it off ? Now, you may begin to imagine what happened to the people of Mumbai on the night of November 26”

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Maruti Suzuki Twice as Valuable as General Motors!

India , as Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden recently reminded, remains firmly a third-world country.

Looking at Pune’s creaking infrastructure, arguably at its lowest point in last many years, it’s a matter of time before it became even fourth-world. (It's so bad that even the current police commissioner has become frustrated very quickly after his arrival here: "No trace of 'transport culture' in 'culture city'.")

But hope lives. Things change. They do very rapidly. For instance, could any one have believed the following development even in year 2000?

Business Standard reported on November 13, 2008:

“The stock market value of Indian automobile makers Mahindra & Mahindra and Hero Honda has surpassed that of General Motors…Two other Indian companies, Maruti Suzuki and Bosch also had market cap more than GM.”

As on Tuesday Nov 11 2008, Maruti Suzuki’s market capitalization at INR 16,528 cr was almost twice that of General Motors at 8,565 cr.

I don’t like personal cars. I never liked them. Particularly the big ones. Ayn Rand should have written a novel- based on the idea of all private cars going on a strike- titled: "Detroit Shrugged".

Therefore, I was happy to read many arguments that were put forth in favour of not saving Detroit from bankruptcy.

Sample them:

"...On Sunday, President-elect Barack Obama asked, "What does a sustainable U.S. auto industry look like?"

Well, it looks a lot like the automotive industry run by "foreign" car companies that insource jobs into the U.S..." (MATTHEW J. SLAUGHTER, WSJ)

“…How could these companies be so bad for so long? Clearly the combination of a very un-innovative business culture, visionless management and overly generous labor contracts explains a lot of it. It led to a situation whereby General Motors could make money only by selling big, gas-guzzling S.U.V.’s and trucks. Therefore, instead of focusing on making money by innovating around fuel efficiency, productivity and design, G.M. threw way too much energy into lobbying and maneuvering to protect its gas guzzlers…” (THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, NYT)

“…But, before the cash starts flowing to Detroit, here are three reasons this bail-out is a bad idea.

First, it will reward failure. To read Mr Iacocca’s memoir is to realise that, while Detroit often pledges to change and periodically shows progress, one thing is unchanged in two decades. It is still overpromising and underdelivering against Japanese and South Korean rivals.

GM, Ford and Chrysler are better at talking their own book than making cars, which is a tough business. It is particularly hard when you are stuck with high structural costs, an inflated dealer network and regulations that provide you with incentives to make trucks and sports utility vehicles.

GM can point to some new cars, such as the Chevrolet Malibu, that are of high quality and that 14 of its 15 new vehicles between now and 2010 will be passenger cars or crossovers (lighter SUVs). But when Detroit says things will be different this time, why should we believe it?

Second, it will preserve chronic overcapacity. For years, the Detroit car companies have pumped up US sales to 16m or 17m units a year with financial incentives in order to keep their factories going. They made it so cheap to buy a new car that the average age of cars on the road has steadily fallen.

As a result, when recession looms, customers can stop buying cars because the ones they already have work fine. GM now expects annual US sales to fall to about 12m per year in 2009 and 2010, which amounts to financial catastrophe for Detroit.

The big three want tax breaks and subsidies to inflate US sales again, although the sustainable level is far lower than they have been pretending. “This industry needs to lose capacity. It is obsessed with vehicle renewal and accelerating the replacement cycle, which pushes up fixed costs,” says John Wormald of Autopolis, an industry consultancy.

Third, a Detroit bail-out will harm the US auto industry as a whole because it will benefit the least efficient companies, while the most efficient ones – Asian companies that build vehicles at non-unionised plants in southern states – will face subsidised competition…” (John Gapper, FT)

“….In the U.S., the auto industry is a particularly awful candidate for a bailout. For generations it has represented the epitome of arrogance toward customers and inattentiveness to major societal changes. For decades, Detroit ignored the challenge from Japan, even as Toyota and Honda made cars that were of much higher quality, more stylish and more economical. Since the 1980s, Detroit automakers have lived off the profits of their captive finance companies rather than the sales of autos themselves, acting more like banks than highly competitive manufacturers. At every adverse turn, U.S. auto chiefs ran to Washington for help—for the bailout of Chrysler in the 1970s, for trade protection against Japanese imports in the 1980s, for help in breaking into the Japanese market when Japanese consumers couldn't figure out why they should buy gas-guzzling cars with steering wheels that were, for them, on the wrong side of the road. Time and again, the U.S. auto companies lobbied against even modest environmental laws, as if they bore no responsibility for the air they pollute.

The demise of the Big Three would not be the end of the U.S. auto industry. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and others could fill the market. Most already make cars in the U.S., and if Detroit craters, they will move more production there, perhaps taking over some of the Big Three's facilities. Which raises another point. Of course, America would prefer to be a manufacturing superpower with its own brands. But it just may be that the future of auto production is in Asia. After all, it won't be that long before China and India join Japan and South Korea in having a world-class auto industry. Tata & Sons now owns Jaguar, and it has also produced the first viable auto costing under $3,000. In subsidizing Detroit, Washington may only be delaying its inevitable demise…” (Jeffrey E. Garten, Newsweek)

“…I understand that the argument "you saved X from bankruptcy, why won't you save GM from bankruptcy?" is very hard to deal with in a soundbite. And I believe the federal government has an obligation to autoworkers and retirees. But this obligation is not well-exercised by keeping GM out of bankruptcy…” (Brad DeLong)

Artist: Patrick Chappatte, International Herald Tribune

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Running like Headless Chicken. For Five Years.

Where do I see chicken that has lost its head?

In one of the severest indictments of India’s UPA government, Business Standard said on November 19, 2008:

“…A review by the Planning Commission is reported to have found that barring rural telephony and housing, all other sectors chosen for focused attention under the Rs 1.76 lakh crore five-year (2005-09) rural infrastructure programme are lagging behind the set targets. Notably, the situation is particularly dismal in key areas of irrigation, rural roads and rural electrification, though it is below par also in the provision of safe drinking water. Sadly, in the first four years, only one-third of the target for rural connectivity and electrification, vital for inclusive growth, could be attained. Worse still, the progress was an abysmal 10 per cent in the case of electric supply to the below-poverty-line households. The achievement in critical areas of irrigation and potable water supply, too, was far from satisfactory, being 50 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively…

…The track record of many a critical programme under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is equally dismaying. Provision of sanitation facilities to curb open defecation, deemed a national scourge, is a case in point. It is estimated that as many as 1,12,300 toilets need to be built every day if the MDG aim is to be attained by the set deadline of 2012. What really needs to be appreciated here is that the country is paying a heavy economic price for poor sanitation that causes diseases and consequent manday losses. Such losses are estimated at around Rs 1,200 crore, including 180 million mandays, a year. Little wonder that the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), in its recent report on South Asia, has ranked India far below its neighbours like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in terms of sanitation. Notably, between 1990 and 2006, only around 20 per cent of additional people gained access to sanitation facilities in India, against 40 per cent in Pakistan, the UNICEF reported to the discredit of India.

Such a woeful profile of the fundamental facilities for the people is disgraceful. What makes the situation all the more disconcerting is that all these programmes, even if executed by the ministries concerned, are supposed to be monitored regularly by the Planning Commission and, more importantly, the Prime Minister's Office…”

Artist: P C Vey The New Yorker November 24, 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 170

My caption:

“…For today’s presentation, I found no better symbol than headless chicken to sum up running around of India’s coalition government for last five years.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Yes, I Heard Crocodile Bark in Our Bedroom

In July 2008, we have moved to a place that is only a few meters away from one wall of the historical Katraj Lake of Pune.

So far from the balcony of our house, we have managed to spot monkeys running on the wall and storks (?) trying to hunt fish.

But I was not prepared for this excitement:

On November 17, 2008, all newspapers in Pune reported spotting of a crocodile on the banks of Katraj Lake on November 16.

However the coverage left me disappointed. It talks only about fear and commotion among weekend revellers.

There is no sense of awe and curiosity let alone any thing on what poor crocodile must have felt surrounded by ruthless, noisy Homo sapiens. Do we want to experience crocks only on our TV screens?

There also was no mention that perhaps crocks will outlive us on the planet. They surely did “mighty” dinosaurs who once “ruled” the earth the way we do today.

Pune Authorities were sure that the animal would reappear on Nov 17 to sunbathe so that they could “deal” with it. But nature had the last laugh.

Whole of Monday it remained cloudy!

Following iconic cartoon is by legendary artist James Thurber.

Paul Johnson writes of him: “…When aged six, in 1901, his left eye was destroyed by a toy arrow shot by his brother. His mother, a Christian scientist, refused to let his condition be properly treated, and as a result ‘sympathetic ophthalmia’ developed in his right eye, and eventually led to virtual sightlessness. By the time I met him, in 1958 I think, he was effectively blind…”

Artist: James Thurber The New Yorker 30 January 1932

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Can a Texan Cowboy Win Big in India?

Artist: Leo Cullum The New Yorker 17 November 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 169

My caption:

“...What brings me to India? If an African can win big in USA, sure a Texan Cowboy can win in India. Isn’t India first country in the world to welcome and assimilate migrants from every corner of the planet? And don't forget popularity of a fellow Texan- George W. Bush-here.”

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On a Clear Evening You can see Glory of MMU on the Moon

Look at the picture below.

Joy in the room is infectious. I too started smiling.

Every one looks so happy…Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and IT pros, commodity traders, investment bankers, Ivy League graduate students and teachers, scientists, doctors, retired actors of Hindi cinema…

They are not ordinary people. They are Marathi speaking Masters of the Universe (MMU). Naturally, they are based in center of the universe: US of A.

It wasn’t easy. But MMU did it. They won and now have projected their prize- All India Marathi Literary Meet अ भा म साहित्य संमेलन -on to the moon. India’s moon mission must have witnessed it from the close quarters.

Or are MMU catching reflection of their crowning glory that had already reached the moon via America's space missions?

Only Vasant Sarwate वसंत सरवटे knows.

Like every thing MMU have done to possess what they do in their personal lives, they pursued this matter until they laid their hands on the 'grand prize'.

Notice the lady, serene like Kausalya. She is reading out Rama’s story to her healthy and cute looking son named Ram.

Notice how Ram is trying to sit in Vajrasana. Notice his expensive pair of Nike. Do you know he speaks Marathi better than many back home? He knows his epics better than his Desi cousin! Do you know he recites Sanskrit Shlokas every second Saturday and fourth Sunday of a month? Do you know Kausalya writes a weekly column for a popular Marathi daily whose editor, by the way, will be attending the meet and staying with Ram's family?

Therefore, when he grows up, Ram is likely to protect the ‘Marathi' culture far more effectively than his poor, disease-prone cousins back home. That is the reason his father follows his religion more vigorously than he ever did in India, donates to “religious" organizations back home and supports self-styled stone-toting “culture protectors” of Maharashtra...

Artist: Vasant Sarwate Lalit Diwali वसंत सरवटे ललित दिवाळी 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Turn the Damn TV Off to Get Your Life Back: Remembering Michael Crichton

Deepak Parekh is one of the few sensible commentators on Indian economy and financial markets.

Business Standard November 7, 2008:

“Deepak Parekh has never been known to mince his words. He’s upset that so much panic has been created unnecessarily in the money market and feels the media, through irresponsible articles and because of too much publicity on television, is partly to blame….”

He happened to say this on the same morning when newspapers carried the sad news of Michael Crichton ‘s death. (I found it strange Marathi news bulletin on Vividh Bharati never mentioned it. Inbreeding nature of Marathi middle-class culture?)

Mr. Crichton has appeared on this blog many times before. He is also my 14-years old son’s favourite author.

I like Mr. Crichton's work best for his views on our culture.

Following are a few quotes from his novels.

“…In other centuries, human beings wanted to be saved, or improved, or freed, or educated. But in our century, they want to be entertained. The great fear is not of disease or death, but of boredom. A sense of time on our hands, a sense of nothing to do. A sense that we are not amused…But where will this mania for entertainment end? What will people do when they get tired of television?…”

“…Jennifer had no interest in the past; she was one of the new generation that understood that gripping television was now, events happening now, a flow of images in a perpetual unending electronic present. Context by its very nature required something more than now, and her interest did not go beyond now. Nor, she thought, did anyone else's. The past was dead and gone. Who cared what you ate yesterday? What you did yesterday? What was immediate and compelling was now.

And television at its best was now…”

“…A lot of people complain that television lacks focus. But that's the nature of the medium. Television's not about information at all. Information is active, engaging. Television is passive. Information is disinterested, objective. Television is emotional. It's entertainment…”

“…The media image is the reality, and by comparison day-to-day life seems to lack excitement. So now day-to-day life is false, and the media image is true. Sometimes I look around my living room, and the most real thing in the room is the television. It's bright and vivid, and the rest of my life looks drab. So I turn the damn thing off. That does it every time. Get my life back.

salesman: "What would you an off button for?"

The Spectator

Friday, November 07, 2008

Are State Borders of India the Greatest Divide in terms of Rights and Equities?

Bill Gates: "If you ask what's the greatest divide in terms of rights and equities, it's national borders. That doesn't seem to bother people as much as I think it will."

"मास्तर मास्तर बघा कसा
हिसडे मारतोय भिंतीवरती
भारताचा नकाशा
गेला उडत खिडकीबाहेर
ड़ोंगरांसकट नद्यांसकट खुंटीसकट
गेला सरळ आकाशात”

(“काय डेंजर वारा सुटलाय” अरुण कोलटकर "अरुण कोलटकरच्या कविता" १९७७)
("What Danger Wind is Blowing" by Arun Kolatkar "Arun Kolatkar's Poems" 1977)

Artist: Tom Cheney The New Yorker November 10, 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 168

My caption:

"On a Diwali day a dapper-looking self-styled czar of Marathi culture brings his family to a five-star restaurant where a North Indian waiter is too scared to serve him."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

After George W. Bush, what will I be Hawkish about?

If Mr. Obama becomes the president of the US, the feat will be even greater than Ms. Mayawati-a Dalit woman- becoming the chief minister of the biggest state in India.

However, I don’t think much will change for the rest of the world as far as America is concerned because what Paul Krugman says in following quote is not going away in a hurry.

“… I was born in 1953. Like the rest of my generation, I took the America I grew up in for granted – in fact, like many in my generation I railed against the very real injustices of our society, marched against the bombing of Cambodia, went door to door for liberal candidates. It’s only in retrospect that the political and economic environment of my youth stands revealed as a paradise lost, an exceptional episode in our nation’s history…”

Not just that the excitement and expectations are so high with Obama, the disappointment is likely to be even higher.

The Janata Party became the first political party to defeat institutions-destroyer Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s Indian National Congress in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, forming the central government from 1977 to 1980.

It was the worst administration that ruled India. I felt crest fallen by 1980.

FOUAD AJAMI said in The Wall Street Journal on October 30, 2008:
“…the tragedy of Arab political culture has been the unending expectation of the crowd -- the street, we call it -- in the redeemer who will put an end to the decline, who will restore faded splendor and greatness. When I came into my own, in the late 1950s and '60s, those hopes were invested in the Egyptian Gamal Abdul Nasser. He faltered, and broke the hearts of generations of Arabs. But the faith in the Awaited One lives on, and it would forever circle the Arab world looking for the next redeemer.

America is a different land, for me exceptional in all the ways that matter. In recent days, those vast Obama crowds, though, have recalled for me the politics of charisma that wrecked Arab and Muslim societies. A leader does not have to say much, or be much. The crowd is left to its most powerful possession -- its imagination…

…The morning after the election, the disappointment will begin to settle upon the Obama crowd. Defeat -- by now unthinkable to the devotees -- will bring heartbreak. Victory will steadily deliver the sobering verdict that our troubles won't be solved by a leader's magic.”

(By the way I am surprised to read the verbal attacks on Fouad Ajami by the likes of Brad DeLong and James Fallows for saying this.)

Personally speaking I will miss George W. Bush's tremendous sense of humour. Every time I see him on a TV screen, I start smiling in anticipation. Indian government will miss him too.

He may have been a kind of mafioso. But he was like one of those 'bad men' who are portrayed very kindly in Hindi films. For me, one of the most moving images of 2008 is his embrace of Indian Prime Minister when they met last at the White House. I thought both had a hint of tears in their eyes.

But above all, once Bush is gone, I won’t know for a while what to be hawkish about!

Artist: Barney Tobey The New Yorker 23 August 1969

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Rat-meat, Beef, and Pork: Affordable Sources of Protein for Indian Poor

Where I live in Pune, there is an explosion of the population of pigs . I think there are more pigs on the roads here than either stray dogs or cows.

If you drive a two-wheeler, pigs are a bigger threat to you than a fellow scooterist.

Is there a reason behind this?

Times of India reported on October 15, 2008:

“India fares badly on global hunger index…India ranks 66 out of 88 countries on the 2008 Global Hunger Index (GHI), far behind comparable developing countries as well as smaller, less diverse and resource deprived nations…”

As bad as hunger is the problem of malnutrition.

“…Collating data, researchers found that India performed badly in the index primarily because of high malnutrition in children and consequent underweight children below the age of 5.

Almost 60% of the children in Madhya Pradesh below the age of 5 were underweight, the authors calculated. In Bihar, they computed 56.1% to be malnourished. Punjab might be the grain bank of north India but almost one-fourth of its children below the age of 5 were found to be underweight…”

A report in Asian Age on September 10, 2008:

“" Beef (buffalo meat) is increasingly becoming popular as a protein source compared to pulses, some of which have become more expensive than buffalo meat…Beef consumption continues to rise as it remains the cheapest of all the meats available in the domestic market…"

I remembered cartoonist Abu Abraham’s spirited article in The Sunday Observer where he argued how beef and pork were the most affordable sources of proteins for many poor in India and hence banning them was wrong headed. That article was an eye-opener for me.

Times of India reported on August 19, 2008:

“The Bihar government is encouraging people to eat rats in an effort to battle soaring food prices and save grain stocks…They even plan to offer rats on restaurant menus…”

In US however, MICHAEL SHAE says:

” These are not the happiest times for beef lovers. They have to tune out doctors’ warnings about saturated fat and stories of E. coli outbreaks, not to mention worries about mad cow disease. Raising and processing cattle on an industrial scale is an environmental catastrophe (among other things, the United Nations has accused the world’s livestock industry of being responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire global transportation fleet), and if it has made cheap beef democratically available to the many, it has also made a truly tasty steak harder to come by…”

(NYT, October 19 2008)

Artist: Mischa Richter The New Yorker 19 March 1955

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Animal Farms of Maharashtra: Hunting in the Name of Gyanba’s Marathi

I consider myself lucky that after spending almost 11 years outside Maharashtra- else where in India- I came back with 5 medals- to put in the words of a US veteran of Iwo Jima: Two Hands, Two Legs and a Head.

Although I didn't speak any of their languages, Tamilians, Bengalis, Assamese (including ULFA), Kannadigas and numerous other language speakers I met did not kill me.

Not just that, most of them were very kind to me. Suckers!

Of course being a Brahmin in today's Maharashtra, I still run a considerable risk of getting hurt in the name of caste.

Artist: Frank Cotham The New Yorker 3 November 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 167

Proposed Caption:

“Don’t be afraid. I am Chief Minister of Maharashtra. I know you are totally helpless, defenseless in front of armed goons roaming the streets of our major cities, trying to kill you in the name of Marathi. I also know it’s my constitutional duty to protect you…But er…since you stay in Maharashtra, shouldn’t you all be speaking Marathi?”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Still You and I together Shall Pole-vault that Pimp-like Fate

This year I have received a Diwali greeting card from Madhukar Dharmapurikar मधुकर धर्मापुरीकर that speaks volumes about his sensitive eye and his panache. (Earlier on this blog, I have written about his son's wedding card. Read it here.)

See the picture below.

Dharmapurikar calls the boy in the picture ‘Balkrishna बाळकृष्ण'. It reminded me of Shree Ma Mate श्री. म. माटे calling his child protagonist- who is an orphan- ‘Banseedhar बन्सीधर’. (A title of one of his stories reads "बन्सीधरा, आता तू कोठे रे जाशील?" “Banseedhara, Where will you go now?”)

But there is no trace of sentimentality of Mate-mastar’s question in the posture of Balkrishna. He is not wasting anytime in crying or playing. He is busy navigating his own destiny.

He perhaps is telling his mother:

"तू आणि मी मिळून अजूनही त्या भडव्या नशिबाला टांग मारू" (जी ए कुलकर्णी ’पिंगळावेळ’ कैरी १९७७ G A Kulkarni Pingalavel Kairee 1977)

Or is it even one better the way Balkrishna has anchored himself?

"तू आणि मी मिळून अजूनही त्या भडव्या नशिबाला पोलवाँल्ट करू."

Floods in my beloved Assam

Sunday, October 26, 2008

“Fed Shrugged” by Ayn Rand- Nearly Perfect in its Immorality

Financial Times October 24,2008:

"Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, said on Thursday the credit crisis had exceeded anything he had imagined and admitted he was wrong to think that banks would protect themselves from financial market chaos."

In 1984, my first job with corporate India was at the then most fashionable now almost-extinct multi-national.

Along came the company of some pretty girls. There was just one problem. Most of them were very fond of Ayn Rand and I didn’t know who Ms. Rand was.

Paul Krugman said on October 17, 2008 in NYT:

“…Despite repeated interest rate cuts, which eventually brought the federal funds rate down to just 1 percent, the unemployment rate just kept on rising; it was more than two years before the job picture started to improve. And when a convincing recovery finally did come, it was only because Alan Greenspan had managed to replace the technology bubble with a housing bubble…”

Housing-bubble fame Alan Greenspan is a disciple of Ms. Rand.

Paul Krugman said on December 21 2007 in NYT:

“…So where were the regulators as one of the greatest financial disasters since the Great Depression unfolded? They were blinded by ideology.

“Fed shrugged as subprime crisis spread,” was the headline on a New York Times report on the failure of regulators to regulate. This may have been a discreet dig at Mr. Greenspan’s history as a disciple of Ayn Rand, the high priestess of unfettered capitalism known for her novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

In a 1963 essay for Ms. Rand’s newsletter, Mr. Greenspan dismissed as a “collectivist” myth the idea that businessmen, left to their own devices, “would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities, and shoddy buildings.” On the contrary, he declared, “it is in the self-interest of every businessman to have a reputation for honest dealings and a quality product.”

It’s no wonder, then, that he brushed off warnings about deceptive lending practices, including those of Edward M. Gramlich, a member of the Federal Reserve board. In Mr. Greenspan’s world, predatory lending — like attempts to sell consumers poison toys and tainted seafood — just doesn’t happen…”

HARRIET RUBIN said on September 15, 2007 in NYT:

“…Shortly after “Atlas Shrugged” was published in 1957, Mr. Greenspan wrote a letter to The New York Times to counter a critic’s comment that “the book was written out of hate.” Mr. Greenspan wrote: “ ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should...”

Gore Vidal has described Atlas Shrugged’s philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality.”

Artist: William Steig The New Yorker June 1, 1968

Friday, October 24, 2008

They said India’s Economy was Decoupled from that of USA

"...More than 1.3 lakh people died on Indian roads in 2007, giving India the dubious honour of topping the list of road deaths across the world..." (Times of India October 23, 2008)

Artist: Farley Katz The New Yorker October 27 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 167

Proposed Caption:

"hey, American economy, I am your Indian cousin. I was supposed to have been decoupled from you...Instead, it looks like I was riding pillion with you on a Pune road."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Driving us Crazy after Thousands of Years

Was Alam Ara, India's first sound film, ever made? Or is it pure fiction?

Future historians are likely to conclude that it was never made because prints of it are not available with the National Archives of India, as per Information and Broadcasting official.

Our historians now want hard proof.

That's the reason all non-Brahmin, Marathi-speaking historians are asking the government of Maharashtra to remove every reference to Dadoji Konddeo Konddev, a Brahmin ब्राह्मण as a teacher of Shivaji.

I am always deeply moved by what following passage claims:

“…Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of ancient Indian history is the humility of rulers. Even a king whose territories were as vast as Asoka's (304 BCE – 232 BCE), covering practically all of the subcontinent, hardly, even in his numerous edicts and inscriptions, mentions his own name. He is just described as “devanampiya piyadassi”, “beloved of the divine” and “one whose vision is filled with adoration”. This is not a title he had given himself; it is a term used for his father, his grandfather, other Indian kings and even for kings beyond Indian shores.

This is the same period of time when a thousand years of art does not have one portrait of a king, in sculpture or painting. The only exception was the period of the Kushanas, who hailed from southern China. They had portraits made of themselves in the 1st century A.D. After them, Indian art reverted to its traditions and the first portrait to come was 700 years later, in the time of the Pallavas, at Mamallapuram…”

(Frontline dated September 12, 2008)

But can we trust even a so-called 'proof'?!

Artist: Ed Fisher The New Yorker 26 January 1963

My caption to the cartoon above:

"I just carved- Chanakya, a Brahmin, was never a teacher of Chandragupta Maurya. This will drive them crazy in distant future."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Alas India has no Jon Stewart because there is no more Pu La Deshpande

Homer Simpson [episode 2F12 The Simpsons] “Homer the Clown”:

“Aw, being a clown sucks. You get kicked by kids, bit by dogs, and admired by the elderly. Who am I clowning? I have no business being a clown! I've leaving the clowning business to all the other clowns in the clowning business.”

MICHIKO KAKUTANI asked on August 17 2008:
“Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America?”

“…In fact, Mr. Stewart regards comedy as a kind of catharsis machine, a therapeutic filter for grappling with upsetting issues. “What’s nice to us about the relentlessness of the show,” he said, “is you know you’re going to get that release no matter what, every night, Monday through Thursday. Like pizza, it may not be the best pizza you’ve ever had, but it’s still pizza, man, and you get to have it every night. It’s a wonderful feeling to have this toxin in your body in the morning, that little cup of sadness, and feel by 7 or 7:30 that night, you’ve released it in sweat equity and can move on to the next day.””

My answer: Jon Stewart is the most trusted American. He is also funny.

India today has a few good commentators, India has some good comedy shows (e.g. Sony’s Comedy Circus where artists like VIP, Kashif Khan, Ali Asgar have shown an early promise of reaching the heights scaled by Johny Walker, Mehmood, Ganpat Patil गणपत पाटील and Om Prakash) but it does not have anyone where both those skills confluence as they do in Jon Stewart.

No one is even close.

It was not always so.

Versatile, multi-talented artist and philanthropist P L Deshpande पु. ल. देशपांडे participated vigorously in the election campaign of 1977 to defeat tyrant Indira Gandhi’s Congress party. Congress leader Y B Chavan derided Deshpande as a clown at election rallies.

After Mrs. Gandhi’s crushing defeat, Pu La said: “Now I go back to being a clown.”

Indeed clowns don’t grow on trees.

Artist: Warren Miller The New Yorker 20 October 1962

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tax Avoidance: Tirumala Tirupati, Corporate America and Poor Jaya Prada

Times of India reported on August 11, 2008:

“The annual budget of the temple administration of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) has almost touched the Rs 1,000-crore mark. But, interestingly, the country's richest religious body also happens to be the biggest tax-evader in Andhra Pradesh.

The temple management owes Rs 5 crore each to the Tirupati Urban Development Authority (TUDA) and the Tirupati Municipal Corporation (TMC), besides Rs 19-crore tax to the state government for human hair sale…

However, the temple administration is 'casual' about tax evasion and argues that as it is a renowned dharmic institute, it should be granted an exemption…”

NYT editorial said on August 18, 2008:

“Here is a crazy idea to address the United States’ gaping fiscal deficit: persuade corporate America to start paying taxes.

An investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that almost two-thirds of companies in the United States usually pay no corporate income taxes. Big companies, those with more than $50 million in sales or $250 million in assets, are less likely to avoid Uncle Sam altogether. Still, about a quarter of them report no tax liability either…

We find it hard to believe that some two-thirds of American companies fail to turn a profit. What we find easier to believe is that corporations have become increasingly skilled at tax-avoidance strategies, including transfer pricing — overcharging their American units for products and services provided by subsidiaries abroad to artificially reduce their profits here.

Even as corporate profits have soared — reaching a record of 14.1 percent of the nation’s total income in 2006 — the percentage of these profits paid out in taxes is near its lowest level since the 1930s…”

Asian Age reported on March 24, 2008:

"Jaya coughs up Rs 2.5cr: Filmstar-turned-Samajwadi MP Jaya Prada coughed up Rs 2.5 crores to the Chennai City Corporation to get herself declared "solvent" because the corporation had declared her and some of her family members insolvent after she refused to pay fines levied by it.

Had she remained insolvent, Ms Jaya Prada would have lost her Lok Sabha seat. These fines were levied as she and her two brothers failed to pay local taxes for two cinema halls, Raj theatre and Jayaprada theatre on Mount Road.

Last week, Ms Jaya Prada declared herself insolvent to avoid coughing up the tax and going to jail. But she took a U-turn soon after realising that an insolvent person cannot be an MP under Article 102 (1) C of the Constitution.”

Poor Jaya Prada. She should learn from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, American corporates and many other rich Indians how to avoid taxes successfully.

‘Only two certainties in life, Miles: death and tax avoidance.’

Artist: Spectator

Thursday, October 16, 2008

US Fed Learns from India’s Rulers

James Surowiecki:

”…The Fed has historically been the lender of last resort to banks. Now it’s becoming the lender of last resort to everyone…”

(The New Yorker October 20 2008)

Artist: Mick Stevens The New Yorker October 20 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 166

Proposed Caption:

“It has been ordered by US Fed: Shower of currency notes on raging public…that’s what they do in India at the time of every elections.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

India US Nuclear Agreement Heralds New Age of Toys for Indian Kids

Now that ‘123’ agreement is signed into the law and because Indian culture is more and more imported from US, it’s time to look at some new ideas for toys on this historic occasion.

Notice "Fun with fission"!

Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker 6 December 1947

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It’s The Sacred Cow’s Pee Again. W H Auden and B S Mardhekar.

President George W. Bush:

“…In the final days of the San Francisco Conference, the delegates negotiating the U.N. Charter received a visit from President Harry Truman. He acknowledged the enormous challenges they faced, and said success was only possible because of what he called an “unshakable unity of determination.” Today the world is engaged in another period of great challenge. And by continuing to work together, that unshakable unity of determination will be ours. Together, we confront and defeat the evil of terrorism. Together, we can secure the Almighty’s gift of liberty and justice to millions who have not known it. And together, we can build a world that is freer, safer, and better for the generations who follow…”

(United Nations General Assembly, New York, September 22, 2008)

San Francisco Conference is formally known as United Nations Conference on International Organization (April 25–June 26, 1945). President Harry Truman visited the conference riding “The Sacred Cow”.

This blog had a take on that historic ride with the help of B S Mardhekar बा. सी. मर्ढेकर. Read it here: Our Globe- Not Guaranteed Against American Sacred Cows and their Pee.

After I wrote that post, I came across W H Auden’s 1938 sonnet about League of Nations that ends:

“Far off, no matter what good they intended,
The armies waited for a verbal error
With all the instruments for causing pain,
And on the issue of their charm depended
A land laid waste with all its young men slain,
The women weeping and the towns in terror.”

W H Auden was, as he described Freud, not a person but a climate of opinion. No doubt he was the greatest influence on B S Mardhekar बा. सी. मर्ढेकर.

Artist: Sam Cobean The New Yorker 22 September 1945

Friday, October 10, 2008

Have Signposts of the World Changed? Paul Theroux and Maurice Isserman Think So.

My favourite book “The Great Railway Bazaar” has been rewritten.

“…Thirty-three years and 40-odd books later, Theroux — ‘twice as old as the person who had ridden those trains’ — set off again, travelling in his own footsteps to see how much he and the world had changed…

Theroux’s idea, as before, is to cross eastern Europe, India and Asia, but he faces deviations from the original route. When he last passed through Iran, portraits of the Shah 15 times life-size dominated station walls; now he is refused a visa. Afghanistan is a no-go area. Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers create difficulties. Plane-hops and buses are unavoidable…

The world has boiled and resettled since that first journey. The Soviet Union has collapsed, China risen. India is IT- affluent and optimistic, but the population explosion defeats Theroux: just too many people. He flees. ”

(Spectator, Lee Langley, 10th September 2008)

Paul Theroux’s verdict: ‘Only the old can really see how badly the world is aging and all that we’ve lost.’

Maurice Isserman (NYT, August 10, 2008) informs how much we have lost. Reading it was devastating.

WILCO VAN ROOIJEN, a Dutch mountain climber, managed to survive the debacle this week that took the lives of 11 others in Pakistan on K2, the world’s second-highest peak. Describing the chaotic events that ensued when a pinnacle of ice collapsed and swept away fixed ropes that climbers from several expeditions high on the mountain had counted on to aid their descent from the summit, Mr. van Rooijen lamented: “Everybody was fighting for himself, and I still do not understand why everybody were leaving each other.”

Himalayan mountaineering is an inherently dangerous pastime, and climbers are always at risk from the unexpected. But mountaineering has become more dangerous in recent decades as the traditional expeditionary culture of the early- and mid-20th century, which had emphasized mutual responsibility and common endeavor, gave way to an ethos stressing individualism and self-preservation.
The contrast between the two eras is vividly illustrated by the experience of an earlier expedition that ran into peril on K2…

“We entered the mountains as strangers, but we left as brothers.” Today in contrast, as was evident last week on K2, climbers enter the mountains as strangers and tend to leave the same way.”

Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker 15 June 1957

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Prince Charles Talking About Dying Indian Farmers Once Again Turns His Back on Science.

PTI reported on October 7, 2008:

“Appalled by the increasing rate of suicides by debt trapped Indian farmers, Prince Charles of Britain has said that the tragedy is due to the use of "Genetically Modified (GM) farming techniques." Referring to the "failure of GM crop varieties in India" which have contributed to the plight of the farmers, the British Prince pushed for readopting the traditional farming methods…”

This is very simplistic and plain unscientific. Reasons for farmer suicides are very complex.

I think the prince has forgot about the open letter he received from Richard Dawkins.

“…But your hostility to science will not serve those aims; and your embracing of an ill-assorted jumble of mutually contradictory alternatives will lose you the respect that I think you deserve. I forget who it was who remarked: "Of course we must be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out."…

Next, Sir, I think you may have an exaggerated idea of the natural ness of "traditional" or "organic" agriculture. Agriculture has always been unnatural. Our species began to depart from our natural hunter-gatherer lifestyle as recently as 10,000 years ago - too short to measure on the evolutionary timescale.

Wheat, be it ever so wholemeal and stoneground, is not a natural food for Homo sapiens. Nor is milk, except for children. Almost every morsel of our food is genetically modified - admittedly by artificial selection not artificial mutation, but the end result is the same. A wheat grain is a genetically modified grass seed, just as a pekinese is a genetically modified wolf. Playing God? We've been playing God for centuries!…

Incidentally, one worrying aspect of the hysterical opposition to the possible risks from GM crops is that it diverts attention from definite dangers which are already well understood but largely ignored. The evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria is something that a Darwinian might have foreseen from the day antibiotics were discovered. Unfortunately the warning voices have been rather quiet, and now they are drowned by the baying cacophony: "GM GM GM GM GM GM!"

Moreover if, as I expect, the dire prophecies of GM doom fail to materialise, the feeling of let-down may spill over into complacency about real risks. Has it occurred to you that our present GM brouhaha may be a terrible case of crying wolf? …”

Artist: David Borchart The New Yorker October 13 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 165

Proposed Caption:

‘Prince, Are you leaving because you think they are bleating "GM GM GM GM GM GM!"? Actually they should be leaving because you are crying wolf!’

Monday, October 06, 2008

Ratan Tata’s Dinner Date with Mamta Banerjee

Ratan Tata:

“Two years ago, I said if somebody puts a gun to my head, you would either have to remove the gun or pull the trigger. I would not move my head. I think Ms Banerjee pulled the trigger.” (October 3, 2008)

Artist: P C Vey, The New Yorker October 06, 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest #164

Proposed Caption:

“Ms. Banerjee, We have frisked you. You are 'clean'. We have checked the toilets. There are no firearms taped to any flush tank. I wonder how you are going to get the gun to shoot Mr. Tata."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

In US, Main Street Vs. Wall Street. In India, Street Vs. No Street

It’s interesting to watch US lawmakers fighting a street game called: “Main Street Vs. Wall Street”.

In India, we too play a street game. It’s called: “Street Vs. No Street.”

I am lucky and in minority. I have a street. Sort of. Most months of a year.

Majority of Indians are not that lucky. Ladies, like in the picture below, may think they are all bums.

Artist: I.Klein The New Yorker 14 December 1929

Friday, October 03, 2008

What is Deadliest? Traffic,Temple Queues and Terrorism. In that Order.

We are not driven around in a chauffeur driven car. We don't live in a gated community. Our family has to worry about bombs.

But I am more worried about Pune traffic.

Recently my wife and I met with an accident. Luckily for us we were not knocked down by a truck.

It had to happen. Stochastic Processes.

I go for a morning walk. My wife's cousin has warned me that the benefits that accrue to me by that walk are offset by the risk I take by walking on a busy Pune road for almost an hour.

Another "deadly place" in today's India is a queue of devotees.
Times of India said on October 1, 2008:

"NEW DELHI: Stampedes are bigger killers in India than bomb blasts that so dramatically capture our mindspace. In 2008 alone so far, over 360 people lost their life in major stampedes compared to 156 killed by bomb blasts.

This year is not an aberration. Data collated for the last nearly nine years shows that while 875 people have lost their lives in stampedes that were big enough to make the national press, 766 have been killed by terror bombs.

The actual number killed in stampedes may be even higher. What we have collated is based on press reports, since no centralized data base exists for such incidents, unlike with terror attacks. It is also clear that single bomb blasts rarely kill people in the kind of large numbers that are associated with stampedes..."

Luckily my family does not visit popular temples.

I wonder why people get so upset about terrorist bombs but not about deadlier traffic and temple queues. Is it because they think something can be done about terrorism but nothing about traffic and temple queues?

Artist: Sudhir Tailang Asian Age October 1, 2008

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I’m all for Putting Newsweek in its Place

On July 16, 2001, Fareed Zakaria wrote in Newsweek:

“Last week I celebrated my first Fourth of July as an American

A South African judge recently addressed a group of students at a major American university. She began by noting that the newspapers in the United States seemed full of trivia. Then she explained her deep and fervent hope that one day the newspapers in her country would also have nothing serious to report. For me, and I would guess most of the people in that Brooklyn auditorium, the big news about America is that there is no big news.”

I wrote to him saying there was plenty of “big news” in US even then.

I never received a reply but starting September 11 of that year then there has been no shortage of “big news” in US.

Later Mr. Zakaria went to justify Iraq war with the enthusiasm of a new convert. I stopped reading him after that but continued my subscription to Newsweek.

After reading Newsweek issue dated September 29, 2008, I think time has come to say goodbye to the magazine.

Instead of focusing on all aspects of one of the biggest financial scams in human history that is causing much pain around the world, they have ended up glorifying one of its culprits- Henry Paulson.


“IMAGINE, if you will, that a man who had much to do with creating the present credit crisis now says he is the man to fix this giant problem, and that his work is so important that he will need a trillion dollars or so of your money. Then add that this man thinks he is so indispensable that he wants Congress to forbid any judicial or administrative questioning of anything he does with your dollars.

You might think of a latter-day Lenin or Fidel Castro, but you would be far afield. Instead, you should be thinking of Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and the rapidly disintegrating United States of America, right here and now…

Why didn’t Mr. Paulson, the Treasury secretary, see it? He was once the head of Goldman Sachs, an immense player in the swaps world. Didn’t people at Treasury have a clue? If they didn’t, what was going on in their heads? If they did, why didn’t they do something about it a year ago, when saving the world would have been a lot cheaper?

If Mr. Paulson and Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, didn’t see this train coming, what else have they missed? What other freight train is barreling down the track at us?

(September 28, 2008 . “In Financial Food Chains, Little Guys Can’t Win” )

Artist: Leonard Dove The New Yorker 2 November 1929

Monday, September 29, 2008

How can Our Democracy Afford to Provide Third-rate Services to the Poor?

Arundhati Roy recently wrote

“…all Indians who are not nanga or bhookha are—and have been—complicit in complex and historical ways with the cruel cultural and economic systems that make Indian society so cruel, so vulgarly unequal…”

Financial Times, that beacon of modern America-led capitalism, agrees with "rabid Roy".

David Pilling (FT September 24, 2008) said:

“…the neglect of basic education and healthcare which, as well as being scandalous in its own right, deprives India of the fit and literate workforce any competitive industry requires. Mao Zedong, for all the reckless horror he unleashed, did bring schools and rudimentary healthcare to the peasants. “The train of China’s industrialisation runs on the secure foundation of Maoist rails,” says Prof Sen. If India is to become a car-owning democracy, it will have to solve some basic problems first. “

Now many Indians want to hold only their “government” responsible for this so that they can continue to party.

They should read Suhas Palshikar's brilliant Marathi essay in Samaj Prabodhan Patrika April-June 2008:

“…When patients die in government hospitals because of adulterated medicines, government and civil society look at them coldly because of the contempt for human life. When homeless poor die in summer and winter, children die only because of lack of access to clean water, they don’t become scandals for our civil society. Therefore, we assign the question of homeless, support-less, old, physically challenged to either a joint family or an invisible system called ‘government’…”

(“गरिबांना भुक्कड सुविधा पुरवणं आपल्या लोकशाहीला कसं परवडतं?”)

Peasant. 'Ah! I'd like to be cared vor half as well as thee be!'

Artist: John Tenniel,'The Pig and the Peasant' Punch 9 September 1863

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What is the Breed of Your Tethered Dog? Financial-Watchdog?

"The chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a longtime proponent of deregulation, acknowledged on Friday that failures in a voluntary supervision program for Wall Street’s largest investment banks had contributed to the global financial crisis, and he abruptly shut the program down..." (NYT, September 27, 2008)

Artist: Robert Mankoff The New Yorker Sept 29 2008 cartoon caption contest 162

proposed captions:

“He turned out to be a financial watchdog. True to his breed, he bolted when they came to rob me.”


“Your bitch wears coloured contact lenses. And my Dev Anand didn’t want to kiss her eyes.” (read more here)