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Among my friends in the business world Henry is one who has done reasonably well in field of freight forwarding, which is really a big business in India. He came as a migrant to Bombay and today has a business, an office, a home, among many other comforts of life.

Henry hails from Kerala as I do. On our walks in the dam near our home (he lives close to my home) we discuss all issues, including those of a political nature. What is happening in Syria is of particular worry for him as some of his shipments to this country are held up in port, and incurring demurrage (a tax for uncollected goods in port). There is nothing he can do except wait. And he is a patient man.

We also discuss the current situation in India which is not too good as our currency is not doing well internationally. This makes imports more costly and therefore most companies aren’t importing as they used to earlier. And, naturally, no importing means no business for Henry, as no clearing activity is required in that case. So these days Henry is a worried man.

However, there is hope as the central bank (Reserve Bank of India) has a new governor and all eyes are on him to see if he waves the magic want to improve the rupee’s standing vis-a-vis foreign currencies. All Henry can do is wait and watch for the clock handles to turn and the days to turn into weeks and months.

 

It’s Apocalypse Now! A Financial Meltdown Would be Apocalypse.

This is a solution to the banking crisis in Cyprus. However, it might be termed as daylight robbery by some. What else can a bankrupt nation do? Go the Zimbabwean way and change to US currency? That would be too extreme. Plus you are disrupting the sovereign composition of the country. Woe to anyone who thinks about that as a solution.

But what else was the Cyprus government to do but tax bank deposits? One day you will be looking at your bank balance and next day you find that steadily it has been wiped out. The government has been taxing your bank deposits. Tut tut. Not done.

Here, in India, if it was implemented it would have drawn howls of protest. We value our hard-earned money as our own and the government can go to a bad place, which I won’t name. As such we sold our gold when there was a liquidity crunch and people said we were “selling family jewellery.” We we value our gold jewellery, you see.

Go behind any deficit budgeting nation and you can see the looming crisis. The US budget deficit is more than 1 trillion, which is more than a 1000 billion. The congressmen won’t let Obama cut this deficit. And if US banks go belly up, one can imagine what would happen to the world.

So, it is apocalypse for now. The end of the world will not only be due to fire or water but could also be through a financial meltdown.

Kerala, a Green Tropical Paradise

Kerala is a tropical paradise that lies to the south of Indian peninsula. It has green vegetation, plenty of sandy beaches, natural beauty, and an educated citizenry. Every year it sends thousands of skilled manpower to the Persian Gulf for employment and thus received billions of rupees as remittances. Of late, tourism has been the state’s mainstay, whereas it used to be agriculture in the past. Tourist resorts are everywhere and you can see a lot of foreigners enjoying the warmth and the sun when it is bitterly-cold winter in Europe and North America. I was born in this state and am back from a short visit there.

However, the prosperity that should have automatically come with a high rate of income hasn’t yet arrived in the state. Infrastructure projects are languishing, roads are still narrow, an airport which was to start operation is still entangled in a bureaucratic muddle. The reason is political interference at all levels. The state is a beehive of left-wing and centrist politicians who like to browbeat each other in the administration of the state. Thus, an airport – near my home in Kerala – which was sanctioned by the Communist parties when it was in power is now languishing because the centrist Congress government cannot make progress because of political interference. There are strikes and work stoppages every month, and the standard of education has gone down. The agricultural economy has suffered because of the rampant increase of farm labour rates (the rate here is Rs 500 per day compared to an average of Rs 300 in other states) over the past several years rendering paddy fields fallow and overgrown with weeds. The burgeoning wage and pension accounts have depleted the coffers of the state and there isn’t much left for social development or medical care.

Still, on a primary level, the state continues to compare well with others of the country because of foreign remittances of its expatriates. Literacy is high and close to 90 per cent in most districts. Life expectancy is 75 years compared to 65 in other states. It has a functional medical care system. Tourism has contributed to its prosperity as can be seen in the rapid growth of this nascent industry. So, all in all, the state limps on, on its way to progress or “vikasanam” as it is called in Malayalam. Yes, “Vikasanam” is the most-touted word on every tongue in this green tropical paradise, which lies like a shining green emerald on the south-western coast of India.

Controversial Film Vishwaroopam is Released

I have written about throttling of artistic talent in this post on the website you are now reading. Now one of the controversies have come to an end. However, the resolution is not to my satisfaction. The reason for my disquiet is that the artist made compromises. Kamal Haasan the director of the movie Vishwaroopam (on which the controversy was based) agreed to cut the controversial portions of his movie. The movie has since been released on February 7 in Tamil Nadu, the state to which Haasan belongs. This is like an author agreeing to delete the portions of his novel that people – or groups of people for that matter – object to. So where is artistic freedom? How does this become a good precedent for other artists around the world, I do not know. How can this capitulation occur when artists should have stood as one and opposed sectarian forces? The Indian art scene is so divided that not many artists came to Haasan’s rescue. Only a few ventured their support.

Apparently, for Haasan a lot was at stake. He had mortgaged his house in the making of this movie and a failure to release this movie must have led to his financial ruin. Which is understandable and pardonable given his commitment to making meaningful movies. I am a great fan of his movies and his elder brother – Charu Haasan – is a good friend of mine and we write to each other often. What I am afraid of is that henceforth movie makers would shy away from creating works of art based on their free will and thinking, afraid of antagonising this or that religious group. This will be like censoring oneself, before a script becomes a movie. India has a strict board of censors who go into every movie to see if there is anything objectionable. It seems they will not be needed anymore if artistes decide to edit, cut, delete and mutilate their works of art themselves.

Throttling of Artist Talent in India

We, here in India, are going through another frenzy of attack against artistic freedom. Two instances in the past week have delineated this for the observer. One is the banning of Salman Rushdie from the Calcutta Literary Festival and the other is the protest by Muslim organisations over actor Kamal Haasan’s movie Vishwaroopam.

Firstly, Rushdie is in India to promote the film based on his novel Midnight’s Children which gave him fame and, obviously, fortunes. While Bombay, his native city, didn’t protest, the chief minister of West Bengal Mamta Banerjee, a firebrand, has banned him from appearing at the Calcutta Literary Festival because of a book – Satanic Verses – he wrote decades ago, in fact, in 1988. Haasan’s film Vishwaroopam is on the subject of terrorism and Muslims have objected to its exhibition in theatres because of some objectionable content.

Now, freedom of expression has been guaranteed by the Indian constitution. However, these days this freedom has been exercised more to suppress the freedom of artists and writers. Most of these suppressors haven’t read or seen the artistic work in question but work on the basis of some assumptions, as in Rushdie’s case the very title of his novel. Indian politicians are reluctant to act on behalf of artists because they have the votes of the protesters to think about. The Muslim community’s vote is a big decider in any state of the country and so those in power do not wish to antagonise them. Even earlier, in 2012, the Jaipur Literary Festival had to cancel Rushdie’s appearance in it because Muslim groups protested against it. This year they expressed their displeasure at a few authors who read from Rushdie’s book in 2012 which must have led to Rushdie abstaining on his own.

Such diktats kill artistic freedom and drive a stake into the intellectual backbone of society. The lack of intellectual discourse which can be engendered by books and films have thus been curtailed. It’s so sad. An atmosphere of fear has been created in writers’ and artists’ mind about the consequences of their writing, which has led to self censorship, or, their reluctance to write about controversial subjects. The corollary is stunted development of Indian thought and the throttling of the work of emerging writers and artists. A lot of new talents exists who have not been given their share of fame because of the reluctance of publishers and self-styled censors to accept their work. Also, the partisan way in which the politicians in power look at artistic endeavour needs to be examined, though all of them profess to be patrons of the arts.

Which is to say all is not gung ho with the Indian literary and artistic scene.

The Question of Gender Equality and Demographics in India

I would call it an Indian phenomenon. I mean “eve-teasing.” In the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape and the outrage that followed the discussion in the media (and offline) has provided some new insights. (Even the word “gangrape” has been made into one word in Indian media, which would point to its wide prevalence.)

For example the term “eve-teasing” is clearly labelled as an Indian phenomenon by the Oxford English Dictionary:

Indian

  • the making of unwanted sexual remarks or advances by a man to a woman in a public place.

Surprised? Apparently, because in other parts of the world – less crowded than India – this may hardly take place. There private spaces are respected. In India men take advantage of the crowds on the street to get away by touching, groping, and even pinching a woman, which has become so common that women accept it as a given. In fact, no Indian woman can say that she hasn’t been touched or groped in a crowded street or public place. It seems to be prevalent in cities mostly because that’s where the crowds are. The cities also have a huge unattached male  population who have no outlet for their sexual desires.

The term has also come to be termed as street harassment, a new connotation, it might seem. How come it hasn’t been such a grave internationally as it is in India? What is so peculiar about Indian men? After all, we have written texts on the art of making love – the Kamasutra. So the question is why is India such a sexually repressed society? The answer may lie in the changing demographics of gender numbers. Considering the high dowry payable to give a daughter in marriage most families want male children. This has led to detection of the sex of the child and aborting the fetus if it is a female. So, overall, there are more men than women and in the cities where men come to work the sex ratio is even more disparate. This leads to eve teasing and street harassment.

What’s the solution? Practices like dowry are banned, but it continues to be given and taken. There needs to be more education for women, and appointment in positions of power in society. All this takes a lot of struggle on the part of women at an ideological level and not just slogan shouting and calling for the death penalty for rapists.

The Delhi Rape Case, the Aftermath

After the dust had died down in the aftermath of the gruesome gangrape – and death – of a girl in a bus in Delhi, there has been a rising wave of anger and outrage against rape in India. One of the accused is a boy of 16 years, still a minor. It has shocked Indians how so many rapes go unreported in the country as more cases of rape are coming to light. The women, and men, have been emboldened to speak out and seek justice. It appears that in India of modernisation and glitzy malls something like violation of a woman’s right to exist is being threatened. For example see this page in the leading newspaper Times of India which is full of news about rape that occurred in different parts of the country. Women have been warned by politicians not to go out after dark and to cover themselves up when going out. However, this seriously curtails the freedom of the modern liberalised Indian woman.

Strict laws including chemical castration and death have been discussed for offenders. However, even in the event of imposing these laws the justice system in India remains painfully slow and resolution of cases take months. The political pundits have been slow to react to protesters who thronged the India Gate in Delhi demanding justice. A solution needs to be worked out soon, or, else, the anger will lead to either a political change at the centre or some other dire consequence. Only lately is the political class – who move around in guarded bullet-proof vehicles – waking up to the realities.

There has been endless coverage in the media, discussions following discussions in gory detail about the case. Will all the talk be forgotten and will the country return to the dark ages of atrocities against women remains to be seen. However, from the anger and outrage expressed it doesn’t seem likely.

A Threat to Freedom of Expression?

The recent arrest of two girls from the Palghar area near Bombay has thrown up several issues regarding freedom of expression. The girls – Shaheen and Reenu – had posted a message on Facebook when the ultra-right Hindu party leader Bal Thackeray had died. The original screenshot of the post can be seen on the official page of Shaheen Dhadha here.

It seems that in India freedom of expression, though guaranteed as a democratic right by the constitution, has been hijacked by religious groups, who can curtail them at will. Mostly, this is done with the connivance of the police as has been seen in the above case. There are some more instances of such arrest taking place because of pressures exerted by religious groups. A rationalist Sanal Edamaruku was sought to be arrested because the supposedly holy water coming from a statue in a Catholic church was actually issuing from a leaking pipe. Well, Christianity is against idol worship, so why this extreme step of asking for Edamaruku’s arrest?

Several other cases of freedom being hijacked come to mind. The human rights groups in India have their hands full and, that too, how far can they fight these battles. The whole issue of democratic freedom then becomes questionable, when its primary freedom has been curtailed.

Will India find a solution to the problem? Can the authorities control the religious forces that take law into their hands and destroy public property remains to be seen. Writers in India live in constant fear of something they write being taken as offensive by a section of the people. They censor themselves, before the government can censor them. And, to be frank, this is not a good signs of a healthy democracy.

India Will Not Be Able to Send Athletes to Olympics

“To suspend the Indian Olympic Association with immediate effect pursuant to Rules 27.9 and 59.1.4 of the Olympic charter until the Indian Olympic Association is in a position to satisfy all the conditions set out in the Olympic Charter and IOC’s requirements.”

That’s a quote from a letter from International Olympic Committee (IOC) to India Indian Olympic Association (IOA) banning it from participating in any Olympic activities, including the Olympic games. The reason is that IOA hasn’t conformed to the mandatory rules for free and fair elections and internal transparency in its dealings. The present office bearers were elected unopposed, probably due to fear in other members that any opposition would endanger their lives. Sitting on a chair in the IOA entitles the occupier to luxuries such as free travel to foreign countries, bribes while conducting selection games,  and much more and the same people who have dominated IOA have time and again held office as if the position belonged to their dynasty. There is considerable resentment about it but, as so happens in India, no one is willing come forward and put his neck in the noose.

The man who is king-maker in IOA is a convicted politician and his word is law. How can this be true in a democratic set up? Well, that’s the way it is in India. In the last London Olympics India peformed its best ever by winning four medals. (A poor tally considering its size and scope.) But it seems it will have to content with not winning any medals in future because of corrupt politicians and their lackeys who are in power in IOA.

Times Literary Carnival to Take Off on December 7, 2012

Another literary festival is going to be held in Bombay on December 7. This is in addition to the Bombay Litfest organised by India’s top business how – The Tata Group – that concluded a few weeks ago in controversy over its awarding the lifetime achievement award to VS Naipaul, a writer of Indian descent. Playwright Girish Karnad tore into the works of VS Naipaul using the platform of the festival itself, resulting in anger and red faces and jaw-dropping embarrassment.

This festival is organised by the country’s leading newspaper The Times of India and has in its marquee writers such as: Anita Desai, Kiran Desai (Anita’s daughter), and a wide range of authors from around the world including the peripatetic William Dalrymple who organises the Jaipur Literary Litfest (boasting of being the biggest such festivals in the world). The festival starts on December 7 and ends on December 9, 2012. (Those interested can go to the programme at www.timesliterarycarniaval.com.) A lifetime achievement award is being conferred on Anita Desai, also an expatriate and one hopes this also doesn’t end in controversy.

Now an anti-view, a kind of warning about these literary jamborees comes from a newspaper from the south The Hindu. The account is written by Akshay Phatak and lists some of the sordid goings on behind the glitz and glamour. He isn’t kind to literary festivals and especially the ones organised in India. Do these festivals serve any purpose? Are they mere waste of time? Well, I will be attending to check things out as it is being held in my city, Bombay.