Thursday, February 9, 2012

Archival material


Fibbing: mythology and criminology

I wonder whether the story of lying in India starts with the little cosmic lies told by child Krishna to his friends and mother Yashoda. He was born in BC 3228! According to Christian belief the world is much younger and Cain was indeed the first to fib, and that was to God Himself! Considering the antiquity, the lie in Genesis Chapter 4 was terribly criminal in nature. This is how my copy of the Bible gives the story. Cain was unhappy with his brother Abel for being God’s favourite offering Him firstlings of his flock and fat thereof when his own offering of ‘fruit of the ground’ did not seem to please the LORD. God indeed noticed that Cain’s face fell and chastised him: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him”. “And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose against his brother and slew him” “And the LORD said unto Cain, where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” That was a bloody lie even by modern standards.

From these mythological origins to the present day lies, damned lies and cooked statistics, humanity has traveled a great distance. Lie detection has progressed too from being an art of inference to scientific feats of unbelievable technological complexity. It is universal knowledge that that fingerprints can be proof for conviction in criminal cases. But how many of us know that even toeprints are equally damaging? Biologically, toeprints are formed in the same way as fingerprints, by the random folding of the skin during foetal development, and equally distinctive. The first time toeprint evidence was used in a criminal case was in 1952 when Glasgow High Court convicted William Gourley in a bakery robbery case accepting the lone evidence of a single toeprint found on a safe he had dynamited.

Truth Serum

Newspapers are full of reports of possible use of brain mapping, and ‘narcoanalysis’ these days. The other day a national news television channel run jointly by an international news agency and a huge English language daily broadcast a tape of the narcoanalysis of a man said to have made Rs.30000crore from printing and distributing fake Stamp Papers all over the country, using old machines he bought as scrap from the Reserve Bank of India (!) What he said on constant prodding was sensational indeed: a top politician in the country who had handled even the national security as the Union Minister of Defence and is now the Honourable Minister of Agriculture was an ally in the business he ran! The man obviously was undergoing ‘narcoanalysis’ and not uniformed policemen, but women psychologists were seen around him asking him questions, telling him not to worry. It is another matter that the country’s top investigation agency that conducted the operation looked unimpressed, and that the canary too retracted the statements! Sodium Pentothal, a drug used by psychiatrists in what is called narcotherapy is what the CBI used for narcoanalysis of Abdul Karim Telgi. The chemical thiopental sodium is called Sodium Pentothal, a trade name given by its manufacturer. This drug produces a state of full relaxation and makes patients more susceptible to suggestion, allowing the psychiatrists to uncover the repressed feelings or memories. Since the "truth serum" makes takers very communicative it is commonly assumed that it will make them tell the truth. A person may lose inhibitions, but is unlikely to lose self-control and s/he may tell the truth if only s/he chooses to do so.

Lie-detection goes high-tech

Many lies we tell can be exposed by tests conducted by portable equipments like Breathalyser or in a genetic lab identifying DNA easily. But there are lies and secrets kept locked in human minds that worry governments about security of nations and peace on earth. Millions of dollars are being spent across the world to probe into the minds of liars to expose them. The technologies pursued are as diverse and complex as infrared imagers to study the eyes, scanners to probe the brain, sensors to spot liars from a distance and analytical methods to examine facial flutter and fluster that accompanies falsehood. Obviously, most of these developments are taking place in the post 9/11 US under the financial support of the department of Homeland Security.

fMRI
I had mentioned earlier in these columns on lie detector technology and fMRI capable of taking a ?picture of the mind?. A San Diego manufacturer is about to market ?No Lie MRI? using fMRI ?functional magnetic resonance ? claiming 90-93% accuracy. The functional magnetic imaging probes the oxygenation process in the three areas of brain?s cortex that aids and abets the manufacture of lies ?the anterior cingulated dealing with intentions and aims, the right orbital/interior frontal which possesses the sense of achievement, and the right middle frontal that governs tasks requiring higher levels of thinking. The idea is that brain requires blood, and more of it when working hard. Increased flow of blood and oxygenation of the areas mentioned could be assumed as a sign of processing a lie. But there is still a great problem to solve: how to get over the inaccuracies caused by a tumour or a stroke in the scan?

EEG and ERPS
Brains electrical activity is known and has been utilized for a long time in psychiatry in the form of electroencephalogram (EEG). It has been found using a high density EEG machine and 128 sensors attached to the face and scalp that the brain emits signals called event-related potentials (ERPS). If you are asked ‘have you traveled by train’ followed by ‘have you slapped your wife?’, you would answer truthfully to the first question and delay the answer to the second if you are lying because the brain must shift its data-assembly strategies from the first answer to the second. It is believed that telling truth and then a lie can take from 40-60 milliseconds longer than telling two truths in a row. According to scientists working in this area, the ERP patterns reveal truth or lie 86% accurately.

Brain Fingerprinting

'Brain Fingerprinting' is a technique developed by Lawrence Farewell, a scientist-businessman at Brainwave Science in Fairfield, Iowa (US) depending on what is called the P300 response of brain, exploiting a signal the brain emits when it perceives something familiar. This type of brain fingerprinting is perfect to get the truth from the accused in prosecution. A cool liar can look innocent while confronting the ‘Polygraph’ the ordinary lie-detector that measures BP, breathing, sweating from skin-conductance resonance (SCR) that can trap the nervous truth-tellers by measuring their limbic (emotional) activation produced by an image.

Eye Scans

The stress that creates the clues picked up by lie-detector measuring BP, breathing, sweating from skin-conductance resonance (SCR) traps the nervous truth-tellers by measuring their limbic (emotional) activation produced by an image. The stress is also shown to increase blood flow in capillaries around the eye. A technology called peri-orbital thermography - an offshoot of thermal imaging - using a high-resolution camera detects temperature changes as low as 0.025degrees centigrade is able to detect lies to the accuracy of 73% by a Mayo Clinic researcher and at the US Defense Polygraph Research Institute to the level of 84% accuracy. Scientists at the latter lab have found that an infrared camera tracking eye movement found that the eyes spend less time on familiar elements in a series of images since the brain needs less processing time to interpret them. The Defense Polygraph Research Institute developed an algorithm that can interpret the eye movement tracked by the infrared camera to provide clues as to whether a suspect recognizes a child he is alleged to have kidnapped to a level of accuracy between 85% and 92%.

Revealing Facial Expressions

In 1976 San Francisco psychologists Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen developed Facial Action Coding System to taxonomize every conceivable human facial expression. FACS is the most popular standard currently used to systematically categorize the physical expression of emotions, and it has proven useful both to psychologists and to animators. It defines expressions as one of 46 ?action units? which are contractions or relaxations of one or more muscles. For example, it can be used to distinguish the two types of smiles as follows:
  • Insincere and voluntary Pan American smile: contraction of zygomatic major alone.
  • Sincere and involuntary Duchenne smile: contraction of zygomatic major and inferior part of orbicularis oculi.

The 46 facial movements are further divided into 10000 micro expressions, which have been catalogued in the Facial Action Coding System. Researchers have used computers to automatically identify FACS codes, and thus quickly identify emotions. Facts used for long by airport security people in US and Great Britain, is now being rolled out to screen terrorists particularly. The problem however is in standardizing the skill of human analysts since cooler liars are known to give fewer clues than nervous ones. This has affected the polygraph too.

Well, the art of fibbing is facing enormous odds. But I am sure human ingenuity and imagination would work on its side as well to make the going tough for those on the other side of the enterprise.
T. M. Menon


Manners maketh not Mumbai!
For one who had lived happily in Mumbai (when it was Bombay) for 13 years and therefore a Mumbaikar at heart, the Readers Digest sponsored study declaring the city as the rudest on earth is hard to digest for me. The thirteen years in Mumbai was in no way a bed of roses by standards of my upbringing in Kerala. True, unlike a senior college mate of mine who had to live on Platform No.7 of Byculla railway station, I had the comfortable abode of a cousin to stay in. But I had to slog for several years before finding a comfortable living. For the first few years I traveled in the second-class compartments of the suburban trains, mostly on Borivli-Churchgate, Bandra/VT and Mankhurd/VT sections. To be pushed around and pounded inside compartments and ejected out on the Central Railway Vt/Dadar/Thane/Dombivli route or on the Western Railway section was no pleasant experience. (But one eventually learned to live with it and even found some thrill and excitement about it.) I had lived through the railway strike and occasional shortages of water in Mumbai as well as New Bombay (now Navi Mumbai) and for many years since I had this obsession with storing water hilariously depicted in an episode of the tele-serial `Wagle-ki-Duniya'much later.

So when I decry the RD report from the southern tip of India, it is not out of sheer nostalgic sentiments but out of long years of living and observing life around in Bombay and a dispassionate judgment arrived thereof. I must add here that during most of my Mumbai life I had marketing jobs and I was traveling all over the city, often asking around for addresses. Between `appointments' I had plenty of time to study human behaviour as depicted by eunuchs, vagabonds, vendors, and ordinary people going about their daily chores. I therefore find it unbelievable that a team of serious researchers could find `amchi Mumbai' the rudest point on earth after surveying 34 other cities in the world. How did they arrive at the astonishing assertion? People living in each of these cities were apparently judged on three major (!) counts: 1) Do they hold the door open for some one following them? 2) Do they help a passerby who has dropped something? 3) Are shoppers thanked after they complete shopping? Mumbai manners seem to have plumbed rock-bottom of the city civility standard thus measured.

Readers' Digest is said to have sent over 2,000 reporters to gauge the politeness level of leading cities in 35 countries where it publishes from. Mumbaikars are alleged to have failed to make those little gestures which generally the West consider essential ingredients in normal social intercourse and therefore their count in the survey was lower than even Bucharest, the Romanian capital considered the rudest of European cities for long thanks to Nicolae Ceausescu Communist regime's repressive and secretive regime. Asia, in general, appears to have scored low on the chart, with every city on the continent, excepting Hong Kong, finding a place among the bottom 10. The most hilarious parts of the report is indeed New York topping the chart with a score of 80 per cent and in Sao Paulo, even miscreants found saying "thank you"! The other notably polite cities are Zagreb in Croatia, where people on the streets are ever willing to help, and Stockholm, where shop assistants thank customers for making purchases.

I have no quarrel per se with any city being found full of very courteous people. My contention is that in any such surveys the history socio-economic contexts and the local cultures have to be factored in. The 2000 or so cub reporters recruited by RD obviously had no clue that the essence of good manners is to remember that what you think is the truth is actually only your opinion. In a world of Internet and easy global travel, social researchers should be humble when they encounter cultures and habits that seem odd and not to judge in a hurry what is ‘correct’ or `right’ or ‘polite’ or ‘true’. Don't etiquettes and courtesies mean different thing to different people as they differ from society to society to compare 35 different cities in different parts of the world and come up with a standard theory or just judgment? In spite of its juggernaut quality, globalisation is not a linear process not it happens to be yet the primary motor of contemporary history or sociology. Even territory, place, and distance have not lost all their significance. Cultural differences, linguistic variations, socio-economic disparities and geopolitical boundaries are still very important. Now let us look at it in this context: are Mumbaikars discourteous, impolite and rude?

Mumbai is India's main port and commercial capital, and hence lures the expanding middle class and poverty stricken rural population from all over India. The city and its satellite towns together perform 35% of the nation's total economic activity, and going by reliable statistics, contributes around 10% of all manufacturing employment, 40% of all income tax collections, 60% of all customs duty collections, and 20% of all central excise tax collections. The population boom in the city is continuously fuelled by the absence of opportunities in the rest of the country. It is said that some 300 people from other parts of India alight from trains in Mumbai everyday to seek a living and possibly permanent residence. Its water supply is pathetic; power generation and distribution inadequate. The public health engineering infrastructure is horribly poor. The city is being choked in its own refuse. Some one like Sage Vyasa will be required to record the appalling story of how this city copes with the challenge of tackling its mammoth housing shortage, disastrous health problems and huge pollution load.

Mumbai has a population of about 14.5 million, with a density of about 30,000 persons per square kilometre. There are 815 females to every 1,000 males - which is lower than the national average, because many working males come from far away rural areas in different parts of the country, leaving behind their families. The overall literacy rate of Mumbai is above 86%, higher than the national average. Mumbai has a large polyglot population and though the regional language Marathi is widely spoken, the most common language spoken on the city streets is a colloquial form of Hindi, a peculiar blend of Hindi, Marathi, Indian English and some original colloquial expressions. The religions represented in Mumbai include Hindus (about 70% of the population), Muslims (17% of the population), and Christians and Buddhist (roughly 4% each). Parsis, Jains, Sikhs, Jews and atheists constitute the remainder.

Most Mumbaikars rely on public transport to travel to and from their workplace due to the lack of car parking spaces, traffic bottlenecks, and frightfully poor road conditions. The city has two rail divisions - the Central Railway (CR) (headquartered at Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST for short, and formerly known as Victoria Terminus)), and the Western Railway (WR) (headquartered near Churchgate). The backbone of the city's transport, the Mumbai Suburban Railway, is composed of three separate networks running the length of the city, in a north-south direction. The Western Railway runs along the western region of the city from Churchgate in the south to Vasai in the north and beyond, while the Central Railway covers most of the central and northeast parts of the metropolis. Both lines extend into the exurbs, each covering a total one-way length of around 125 km. The `Harbour Line' is part of the Central Railway, covering a distance of 54 km along the southeastern section of the city, near the docks, and extending into Navi Mumbai (New Bombay).

The BEST Undertaking (an autonomous body under the Brihad Mumbai Municipal Corporation) runs buses to cover almost all parts of the metropolis, as well as parts of Navi Mumbai and Thane. Buses in Mumbai are only for commuting short to medium distances, while trains bear the bulk of the transport needs of the city. Train fares are also economical for long distance commutes. Metered black and yellow taxis, accommodating up to four passengers, cover most of the metropolis. Three-wheeled auto rickshaws, which can accommodate up to three passengers, and allowed to operate only in the suburban areas, are lately the main form of hired transport in Mumbai. With available space at a premium, Mumbai residents often reside in cramped, relatively expensive though dreadful housing, usually far from workplaces, and therefore requiring long commutes on crowded suburban trains, or clogged roadways. It is assumed that around 40% of Mumbaikars live in shantytowns and slums.

For a city of its size, and for all the rudeness and crudeness alleged against it, Mumbai has a rather moderate crime rate - recording only 27,577 incidents of crime in 2004, down 11 per cent from 30,991 in 2001.

While debating Mumbai's `rudest city' tag in the media I find many media stalwarts heartily agreeing to the pejorative with their own inputs in support. I have only this to tell these `cultural leaders': Mumbaikars may not hold doors open, but the city has always welcomed people from all parts of India to its fold. A Mumbaikar in a tearing hurry to board his local train on a daily trip lasting an hour and a half on an average one way to his work place may not pick your papers up on the street. But the city has always picked itself and its people up from the worst calamities, natural or man-made. Bomb-blasts, floods, riots, economic disasters and political neglect - they keep visiting Mumbai from time to time; and every single time, Mumbai has got up, head held high and chin up to face more problems. Mumbai teaches its inhabitants what life is and makes survivors out of the hopelessly distraught people who have landed there.

When my wife came to Mumbai from a village in Kerala with our 3-month-old son, we had to travel by the buses and trains. Sulu couldn't be comfortable sitting next to unknown men in seats courteously offered by others vacating their seats to `bithavo' a woman holding a child. She would ask me to sit and I would mutter in Malayalam that I would be scolded if not beaten by the men for being such a boor. To the confused do-gooder I would then politely decline his favour explaining in Hindi that she is new in Mumbai and comes from a place where women won't even occupy a seat next to boys of the age of their grandsons. All would then have a hearty laugh and order restored. Back home we then have regular quarrels: I shout at my wife for making me such an ass; and she would cry for my sharing a joke about her with others in a language she couldn't follow. Many a time I have seen and personally experienced men in jam-packed compartments of suburban trains giving right of way to women, just as the waters of River Yamuna parted providing a dry path to Nandagopar carrying infant Krishna. Unlike Malayalees, culture oozing in their `bol' Muimbaikars do not go about pushing their pink-tools in the backs of women fellow-passengers in buses or trains either. You may have pick pocketing or chain snatching, but never molestation of women. I believe firmly that Mumbai has its heart in the right place.

Life in Mumbai is a struggle for survival, more often against the worst odds. Ordinary Mumbaikars exhibit remarkable tenacity and exemplary work ethic in everyday life that come hell or high water, they arrive in their places of work. I would dare say that when you have to eke out a living in a dog-eat-dog city of 15 million or so people, etiquettes and verbal niceties are the last things on your mind. Still, can anyone forget the spontaneous acts of kindness that Mumbaikars showered on fellow city dwellers stranded in last year year's floods? What better signs of human warmth and caring do you need to certify Mumbai as a good place to live if not a courteous city by even social scientists? Remember Katrina made the Powerful United States of America look like a failed State and people were looting and raping in New Orleans in similar conditions. Mumbaikars may appear to have less civic sense as they don't speak the Queen's English and do not bother/remember to ask you every time you meet up ‘Are you Okay?’ or punctuate every sentence with a "Thank you", "Have a nice day" or ‘Take Care’. And they may not automatically open the door for some one else to go in first. Remember this survey finding the Sao Paulo miscreants saying ‘thank you’! Isn't that like giving a `D' for conduct and `A' for courtesy! What is the point of an artificial display of politeness with all those courteous words not meaning them at all?

Mumbai, it may be remembered, is a city of business. Rude behavior is known to ruin business. It is reported in scientific studies that when they encounter rudeness, 58% of people will take their business elsewhere. Civility and good manners eventually prove to be profitable. While the actual costs of rudeness is not quantified yet there is a perception that good manners and civility in business is not a 'soft skill' to be relegated to the 'nice-but-not-necessary' category. It has become a fundamental strategy in a business's ability to perform, compete, and profit in the modern times. By these norms, could it be said that Mumbai is a rude city? If it really had been, it would not have been such a magnet of business it is. Indeed, the cold mechanics of hard toil involved in making a decent living hold a level on every person's life in every strata of society. Many in metropolises like Mumbai live in virtual bedroom suburbs and therefore may have difficulty in recognizing people on the streets or paying heed to what goes on around them as they hop in and hop out of buses, taxis and trains and get on with the professions that pay them. They have a tough time finding enduring will and unquenchable hope and consequently live in a realm beyond the bounds of politeness.

Well, we Indians do have notoriously poor table manners by the Western standards. We slurp our soups, spill our salt and porridge, smack our lips loudly in appreciation and belch our blessings; all that could be seen as quaintly charming too! (How many western writers have made me cringe thinking about my ill-mannered squelching of rice and curd between my fingers!) We ignore burps and farts with equal consideration for the human condition. While I am on the subject of the last mentioned phenomenon, let me inform the reader that according to a gastroenterologist credited with considerable work on the subject of flatulence, everyone farts. Every day people expel between 800 and 1100ml of gas, which comprises of 51 per cent hydrogen, 30 per cent nitrogen, 10 per cent carbon dioxide, 4 per cent methane and 5 per cent other gases. In some cases it is not heard thanks to the anus size that minimizes the noise. I remember one of the reasons a friend of mine Kunnamkulam gave for marrying a Russian girl was that Malayali girls fart. If Dr.Michael D. Lewitt had published his paper then probably my friend would have married according to the wishes of his parents.

To come back to the debate on Mumbai's rudeness tag, I would invite the readers' attention to the acknowledged `American quality' - a heavy sort of private innocence coupled with complacent and natural unscrupulousness in ‘matters of business’. If that were approved as a quality, I would acquit the `flawed humanity' of my Mumbai living in our times of bitterness, envy, frustration and greed with their human aspirations, dreams, passions, extravagant hopes and eager expectations of the alleged rudeness outright. And if the RD is so very particular about finding a high-profile Indian city to adorn that tag, I would suggest the name of that sterile bureaucratic sponge we have as the nation's capital - New Delhi where you are no human being if you do not have at least a Deputy Secretary to the Government of India related to you or a Member of Parliament in nodding acquaintance!

Now, what about those who are perfect gentlemen and ladies in their own countries and become rude and rudderless with gay abandon when abroad? The Arab tourists and businessmen seen in Mumbai's Colaba area and in the sleaze bazaars of Bangkok have strictly different standards of morality and manners than what are mandatory at home. Across the world hotels, shops restaurants and travel agents are salivating at the prospect of millions and millions of Chinese tourists traveling abroad in the years to come. But then European shopkeepers already notice that compared to the Japanese, Chinese mainland tourists are ruder, louder and a pain? They have a marked tendency to smoke under the no-smoking signs, haggle over prices to the point of driving you crazy, and rip off packages at the checkout counters to make sure everything is in the box. Now, that would be very sensible according to the Chinese while for the Europeans it is downright crude and rude!

Although I oppose the `Courtesy Survey? or `Rudeness Survey', whatever that was, determining behaviors people consider rude, the Readers' Digest study perhaps enables Mumbaikars to focus their attention to address the alleged uncivil attitudes/behaviours and may gain insight into why people react negatively to them. The costs to correct rude behavior are minor compared to the exponential benefits. If people scrutinize how their communication is handled, how alert, interested, and attentive they are to customers, how they show appreciation to customers, employees, members of their families and neighbours, and how quickly they respond positively to other people's rights and privileges, they will have even solved many of the society's problems. While some people are intentionally rude, most people have no idea that their behavior is considered rude, or how much of a negative impact it has on the conduct of others around them. RD survey, therefore, is an eye-opener.

I suppose our society could afford proper etiquette now more than ever. Good manners maintain consideration and kindness in our busy lives. We need neatness, propriety, delicacy, and refinement in our lives while we could certainly dispense with the smug self-consequence and the cheap romance with etiquettes that are characteristic of the English middle class in the Victorian era. However, how many of us are able to get our points across without being rude? Some of us walk around shouting into our cell phones as if we are the only people for miles around. Many of us curse like mad, our kids think the world is their personal playground, and we drive like a maniacs on our pothole-ridden roads. I am not listing every nitpicky item here. How many of us would pull up a chair out for a lady as Big B does for his KBC female contestants, for example? We would make those about us happier and more happy ourselves if we recognized and appreciated the goodness in others and the things they do, and the way they do them, instead of being obsessed with the little things that are otherwise bad or rude. This applies to one and all, and perhaps more to the people who publish the Readers Digest.
T.M.Menon

Satyameva Jayathe! (Is Corruption corroding India?)
I draw the readers’ attention two newspaper reports on 14th March 2006. One was that about Santhosh, a stationery merchant at Thanur junction who committed suicide hanging himself in the bedroom of his house. The second was the tragic story of two Malayali youth, Sreedevan and Prince George hailing from Edacheri near Vatakara being found murdered at Hussaingunj in Bihar’s Siwan district. Yes, the place of the notorious RJD MP Mohammad Shahabuddin. However, there is a common thread running through the two tragedies, or innumerable similar ones reported in our country.

Santhosh ended his life out of being cheated by someone who promised to get him the job of a peon in District Housing Board on payment of Rs.2 lakh. The money was paid somehow, but the conman didn’t deliver on the promise. Choyimadathil Sreedevan was offered a job in the Railways by Imanul Haq, an acquaintance during the time he was employed in Saudi Arabia and already paid 2.1lakh before leaving for Bihar. Sreedevan took Prince George for company and Haq offered a job for him too, if arrived with a demand draft for 2.5 lakh. Both were found murdered when police made enquiries on receiving a ‘missing’ complaint; Prince had his throat slit, and Sreedevan had a bullet in his head.

I feel sorry for the dear and near ones of the young men who had lives cut short miserably at the end of frantic job-hunting. My heart bleeds for those who are left to mourn them and my blood boils in anger against the crooks responsible for the tragedies. But my concern here is more about the greater social evil that seems to be deep rooted in our society. Thousands of deaths similar to the ones mentioned above are caused by the mistaken assumption by people that jobs could be purchased short-circuiting the normal procedures which are cumbersome and more often impossible. I wonder whether there are any statistics about this, but I believe there are more Malayalees involved in the business of buying and selling jobs than the other Indians.

The worst aspect of the kind of corruption is that it begins quite early in our lives. Parents have to shell out donations for admissions at all levels. All sorts of irregularities are employed to come out with ‘flying colours’ in studies. To my knowledge, engaging someone else to write one’s examinations and 'chasing' the answer books are practices in our state from the late sixties. Did the Siwan MP caught recently writing LLM with the help of someone else learn the ‘secular’ technique from Kerala, I wonder. Manipulating the mark sheets was cultivated as a fine art here. Students who failed in degree classes here used to ‘correct’ their mark sheets and join for law degree courses in Mumbai. Failing again in the first year, they used to ‘correct’ mark sheets again and get into the second year LLB course in Kerala University with the help of staff unions politically close to them. A Vice Chancellor who was not allowed to sit in his official chair for lofty and laudable reasons for a considerable period of his tenure had all his problems solved in no time when he caught a few cases of the ‘Mumbai-returned’ students belonging to the SFI. Later one saw him giving keynote addresses in Left sponsored conferences and workshops in the AKG Centre auditorium. That reminds me of a scheme a friend of mine thought of to have his son pass HSC exam in Chennai after repeated failures in physics during early nineties. He wanted the boy to be an engineer like himself and admissions weren’t easy with low marks if the boy happened to scrape through the next time. It would cost a couple of lakh rupees or more for admission in a good college. The easiest option was to pay hundred thousand rupees in the computer center where the HSC mark sheets are finally tabulated and printed! It somehow didn’t work and the boy happens to be employed in a call center in Bangalore thanks to his English medium schooling.

Teaching jobs in Kerala have been on sale as long as I can remember. The job was thought ideal for women, and astonishingly, for the less intelligent and least smart men too; and ever since the salaries in private schools were paid by the Government and recruitment still a prerogative of the management, private school jobs were much ought after. The higher the demand, the higher the price too, and in my personal knowledge (read - somebody in my family had a deal!) the ‘price’ of a high school teacher’s job cost Rs.5 lakh in 1995. Inflationary pressures should have hiked it to Rs.10 lakh now, if not higher. The year I passed my Masters a private college teacher’s job cost one only Rs.50000. That year the Sub Inspector’s job in Kerala Police was available for Rs.5000, I was told. Well, to be fair to the then Home Minister, if only other conditions were satisfied. Not just money, there are other considerations that could get you employed: like being an activist in one of the ruling parties, or some personal relationship with the big and mighty in the society who could pull the right strings, and so on.

When we were interviewing candidates for jobs in Asianet when it was being established, there were candidates directly offering ‘donations or deposits if necessary’ to get the jobs. Though we were going through tremendous financial crisis, we refused to bite the baits. But when we sought deposits from franchisees for our cable network and offered to arrange bank loans for those who came forward, people were scared. Many who could not arrange the collateral the Federal Bank asked for spread canard about Asianet trying to dupe them. But those who deposited Rs.8 lakhs for a territory comprising of 1000 connections have been taking home Rs.80000 every month ever since. The kind of return on investment is unheard of. Well, I digress. To come back to purchasing jobs, I had these unbelievable first hand reports of Software companies in Kerala taking money from job seekers! The first shock came when my niece, a bright MCA told me she was offered a job (with a promise of frequent assignments in the US thrown in) on the condition of payment of Rs.50000. I knew some personnel manger was lining his pockets knowing the ‘job environment’ very well. The other was that of a nephew-in-law who told me that he had a problem getting jobs in the Technopark Thiruvananthapuram because of the record of a strike in his former company. I asked him why did he go on strike when the company pink-slipped him because they couldn’t possibly avoid it with no overseas contracts on hand, he revealed shelling out Rs.2 lakhs earlier for getting the job in the first place!

Now let me come to the central theme of this article. Going by the television chat shows, newspaper reports, magazine articles, movies and public opinion in general, we are all angry and unhappy about corruption. If that were the case, how do you account for the situation I have described above, which is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. When someone else is the beneficiary of an irregular transaction or employment you feel bad about the ‘corruption’ and if an opportunity presents itself you wouldn’t mind greasing a few palms to be at the receiving end of the gains. Why doesn’t it occur to us that a housewife luring an LPG delivery boy for an out-of-turn supply of a gas cylinder, an anguished rail passenger encouraging the TTE to allocate a berth on the spot, a home builder appeasing the Panchayath official/ Municipal staff or a City Development Authority official to obtain a house plan approval - are all examples of grassroots level corruption?

It must be clear to us that the municipal sweepers, who do not sweep the streets clean, are as bad as the Policemen who demand bribe from hooch dens or government doctors who do not serve the poor in the government-run hospitals. But all of us suffer from such ubiquitous corruption in silence and stage ‘revolutionary’ marches in the streets shouting slogans against the kickbacks, payoffs and scams that roar on newspaper front-pages!

At times I wonder whether ours is not a totally corrupt society. Take for example the authentic report of 12.6 lakh cases of power theft in India last year. The Electricity Boards have realized through penalty in just 9000 convictions Rs.500crore! Transferring people to plum posts has become another industry in India. Didn’t Kerala spawn it with a minister in the second EMS Cabinet and carry on till the last reported case of a Minister in Oommen Chandy Cabinet who resigned in ignominy? Ms. Mayawati as the Chief Minister of UP created a record of sorts in 1997 when she transferred over 1400 civil and police officers in just six months of her reign. Samajwadi Party Government headed by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav issued transfer orders of 814 officials in 1993-'95. Again, till June 2002, during her stint as Chief Minster of UP, Ms Mayawati ordered transfers of about 300 IAS and IPS officers and 600 PCS officers in the first 21 days of her rule. Of course, it is not money that is involved always.


It is so easy to transfer an official for a hefty consideration, as it does not involve serious reading or application of mind, or for that matter, intelligence. The administrative reasons could many and varied. It may be that some one more efficient, more pliable or less corrupt was required in the place. It may be because the present incumbent was growing ‘roots’. Generally, the upright officers are ignored because it does not suit their unscrupulous superiors to have them around. The efficient but corrupt and obliging men kept in safe and secure positions as there is a great demand such people who can combine acumen with shrewdness to gain wealth and other favours for themselves as well as their bosses. In the cases of doctors, and police officials it is known that the political masters have clear knowledge of the income on the sidelines in certain locations and they would like to encash the knowledge. You ask a price for not to ‘disturb’ or get a better price from someone who has an eye on the plum. Teachers and ordinary government employees are transferred to upset their lives and force them to part with money remain in convenient places.

Corruption is generally called a disease of bureaucracy because it is found in government organisations of all kinds, irrespective of government policies, place, or time. It is so widespread now-a-days that for all practical purposes, it can be regarded as normal. Didn’t Prime Minister Indira Gandhi famously tell her people that it was a ‘world phenomenon’? The abnormal are the few administrations not seriously tainted. The watchdog group Transparency International ranks India among the ‘rampantly corrupt’ nations in its latest Corruption Perception Index. I wonder whether you would give it?s report any credibility if you learn that according to its most recent report the least corrupt state in India is Kerala unless I reveal that Lalu Yadav’s Bihar (not Nitish Kumar’s!) was the most corrupt and the second in line is Jammu & Kashmir. Gujarat, Himachal Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra follow Kerala.

The eleven public services covered in the Transparency International-CMS India Corruption Study 2005 were: Police (Crime/Traffic), Judiciary, Land Administration, Municipal Services, Govt. Hospitals, Electricity (Consumers) PDS (Ration Card/Supplies), Income Tax (Individual Assesses), Water Supply, Schools (up to Higher secondary) and Rural Financial Institutions (Farmers). According to this survey, relatively Police stands out high on the corruption index. Judiciary (lower Courts) and Land Administration are rated next only to Police. The corruption in Government Hospitals is mostly to do with non-availability of medicines, getting admission, consultations with doctors and availing diagnostic services. Despite reforms, electricity service figure high on corruption index. PDS figures lower in the corruption index score because the problem of common man dealing with services is more to do with leakages in the system rather than direct monetary corruption.

Common citizens of India pay a bribe of Rs.21,068crores while availing one or more of the eleven public services mentioned above in a year. As high as 62 percent of Indians believe that the corruption is not a hearsay, but they in fact had the firsthand experience of paying bribe or ‘using a contact’ to get a job done in a public office. India Corruption Study 2005 brings out that the problem of corruption in public services affecting day to day needs of citizens is far more serious than it is being realized and calls for all out initiatives on the part of Government as well as civil society. Putting together corruption in all public services involving individual common citizens, will work out significantly high. Until now, this has never been reliably estimated specific to public service. Three-fourth of citizens think that the level of corruption in public services has increased in 2004-2005. Hardly ten percent thought that such corruption was on the decline. There are no significant differences between the States in the perceptions about the extent of corruption or in their experience with such corruption.

It may be noted that the all-India Services are seen being corroded by corruption year after year. It is indeed a pity when one remembers that one of the few instances where an institution was turned from corruption to probity was the Civil Service of the English East India Company, from the acquisition of Bengal in the late 18th century to the mid-19th century, when the Company’s responsibilities were taken over by the Imperial Indian Government, and the administrative body renamed the Indian Civil Service (ICS). Its equivalent formed after Independence gradually becoming the most powerful trade union was a consequence of the democratic polity, but the members of the IAS vying with the corrupt politicians greedy businessmen and criminals or in an uncanny nexus is the worst misfortune that has befallen this country.

The only good thing about the infamous Emergency that I can recall was the 42nd Amendment (1976) to the Indian Constitution depriving a person guilty of corruption of the right to represent against the penalty. However, the babudom cleverly introduced a clause for the Government sanction to prosecute them for corruption, and ensured help from the political masters to thwart any serious prosecution. And it may also be remembered here that without buttressing social sanctions, legal sanctions are weak because they are easily circumvented. And how does the society look at corruption? It is an age-old saying that “if you get a bad name while enriching your coffers, the money so earned would wash away he ignominy clean”. It is no secret that every father is happy about the son landing a plum job with little work and ample scope for ‘extra-income’. Ditto every would-be father-in-law. Haven’t we heard of proud relatives boasting of their boys having a roaring business in smuggling?

What is generally ignored is that corruption in economically underdeveloped countries like India has a particularly vicious effect on the entire society. In the words of Kofi Annan, UN Secretary- General, corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice, and discouraging foreign investment and aid.? Prof. Gunnar Myrdal in his 'Asian dram- An Enquiry into the Poverty of Nations' wrote: “Corrupt practices are highly detrimental to achieve modernisation of ideals. The prevalence of corruption raises strong obstacles and inhibitions to development. The corruption that is spurred by fragmentation of loyalties acts against efforts to consolidate the nation. It decreases respect for and allegiance to government and its institutions. It often promotes irrationality in planning and limits the horizons of plans”.

A World Bank study on the impact of corruption in the developing world including India says:
1. Macroeconomic stability is undermined due to loss of government revenue, excessive spending and linkages. The cost of this instability is borne by the poor.
2. Foreign direct Investment is severely constrained, sometimes even stopping totally.
3. Since corruption increases the costs of doing business and small firms bear disproportionately large share of these costs, small entrepreneurs are badly affected.
4. Since corruption compromises on all norms, including pollution, environment is endangered.
5. The poor suffer most since they are denied access or suffer low quality of public services and goods, and have no 'exit' option such as private schooling and health care.
6. There is a negative correlation between the level of corruption and that of investment in the economy. This severely constrains economic growth and employment generation.
7. Large-scale corruption is instrumental in death and destruction as in illicit liquor tragedies, building collapses, and accidents due to faulty equipment, due to consumption of spurious drugs.
8. Worse, by spawning inequality and injustice, corruption many times becomes the cause of militancy and terrorism which takes a heavy toll of human lives.

Corruption is the single major factor keeping India poor and backward despite having the best of natural and human resources. It is a major destabilizing factor in politics as well as economics. Those who argue, "Corruption is preferable to communalism" are of course, the same people who propounded during the Emergency that "discipline is preferable to democracy". In socialist theory income tax is considered a fine on success, enterprise and accumulation, not as a contribution from citizen to the government for services rendered by it say, by way of providing infrastructure, education, oldage pension etc. therefore, tax evasion has a certain social acceptance in our country. With the result, though we have all but abandoned the ‘socialistic pattern of society’ the country happens to be one with the least tax-compliance record. There are only 26 million income tax assessees in India and only 20 million actually pay taxes when the population crossed 1 billion a couple of years ago. But there are 43 million PAN cards issued and the IT Department agrees that one million of those are duplicates. Are you upset? Well, here is another one to shock you back into normalcy: An official survey in West Bengal recently revealed that the State has 37 lakh more ration cards than its total population. West Bengal is the only State in India that is Bharat empowering Panchayath Committees to issue them - in effect CPI (M) Local Committees issue them! Remember Ration Card is a voter-identification tool during elections in the absence of Photo ID Card issued by the Election Commission of India. No wonder West Bengal Left Front Convener Biman Basu could confidently predict their rule for another 50 years.

A few years back a former CBI Director Joginder Singh wrote in the Indian Express that since the Bank Nationalisation in 1970 Public Sector banks have lost Rs.500000 crore by way of principal advanced plus interests. 14 largest industrial houses then had owed banks Rs.15000crore. The 1992 Bank Scam involving late Harshad Mehta caused the PSU banks lose some Rs.10000crore. The present PM was then Union Finance Minister. He went hiding for a week and had to be brought back with a promise of no harm to himself. He went on to blame "systemic problems" for the scam.
It was reported a few years back that Delhi’s 5 lakh street vendors pay an estimated Rs.480 crore as bribe to ply their trade as only some 5000 licenses were issued. The Supreme Court of India tried to come to the help of the street vendors ordering the NDMC to set up hawking zones which was contemptuously dismissed by the body and Delhi administration. A government that could allot hundreds of acres of land for the samadhis and memorials of dead politicians refuses to provide few square meters to pavement vendors to earn their daily bread. Of course the hawkers are welcome to go on bribing to continue their trade most insecurely.

I cannot end this piece without getting off my chest a few thoughts on one on the largest avenues of corruption. Just the other day the CBI revealed that it had nothing against George Fernandes in the scandalous allegations about arms purchase during and after the Kargil War and so the former Defence Minister was being excluded from the on-going investigations. This rather quiet revelation came long after the poor man was hauled over coal by hostile politicians and media for allegedly buying all sorts of things at higher prices and earning commission. Indeed arms trade is hard wired for corruption mainly because the secrecy under which it happens and the special treatment it receives from governments on account of the national security angle. More over, the rich and powerful countries that export arms to the poor countries often employ kick-backs as a trick to entice the political elite in these countries in order to push the expensive weapons they at times do not require or cannot afford. The temptations are huge and so are the bribes. There is this case of a former minister defence and prominent Dalit leader described in an article in the Indian Express by noted criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani. Following the great man’s death, litigations with respect to property disputes filed in Delhi courts by his heirs pointed out to a fortune of over Rs.100crores in his name. His daughter is in the present cabinet. Satyameva Jayathe!
T.M. Menon

Social name-dropping

The habit of casually mentioning important people in order to impress your listener is a harmless practice. But it is very hard while doing so to avoid being too obvious about it. There are however, those who have mastered this ‘art’ in order to establish connections, which are increasingly important in the contemporary society. Social name-dropping is no more casual; it appears to be at the core of modern ‘networking’. The phenomenon manifests in many interesting forms.

My long-lost friend Viswambharan was an interesting fellow. When we met first in a Mumbai (Bombay then) hotel lobby, he impressed me greatly. He was quite handsome, fair and tall, with a hint of respectable balding decorating his crown. He spoke good Malayalam and better English. He rose to become Manager - International Trade in an upcoming autoparts company in the north. Consequently he had his name Americanized as ‘Vish’ though I chose to call him ‘Viswam’ when we became buddies. He had a beautiful flat in Mumbai’s South Indian quarter, Chembur and lived happily with his wife Ramya and two cute daughters. His only worry was about how to marry the girls away, though they were only six and three years old then. Viswam had a car, which was a  luxury in the early eighties. He used to park his car at the nearest railway station and get into a train to reach any meeting-place in Mumbai and advised me to do the same when I bought my first car a couple of years later. He was more worldly-wise and guided me in shopping for clothes, vegetables and even ornaments. He reminded me always that as salaried class we could ill-afford reflex purchases.

Viswam was a cheerful conversationalist. This eventually created frequent quarrels at home when I overstayed in Viswam’s company at his office, home or restaurants and came home late. We just used to sit and chat as he consumed good food and scotch in great quantities. Food and drink were his passion and his select and sumptuous gastronomic experiences in different parts of the world constituted a large part of his conversation in business meetings and parties. He would enthrall listeners explaining in detail about his meals in Mosimann’s in London, which was an extraordinary restaurant and a private dining club for members only, quartered in an old cathedral. Vish would talk about his meals there, which always was an amalgamation of the finest French cuisine, wine and the notable ambience. From the meal he would go to his friendship with Anton Mosimann, the Swiss chef and owner, who was always present in the kitchen, so the standards were impeccable. It appeared that Anton and he shared culinary secrets, Vish teaching him a thing or two about our own ethnic specialities of the South! I have often wondered how he could fund such expensive meals from the meager allowance the Reserve Bank of India allowed to managers of his level in those days, not to speak of the stingy chaps who sanctioned his tour at the corporate house that employed him. To listen to him on the lighter-than-air souffle’s and other flamboyant desserts he partook was, however, a feast in itself for someone like me who never ventured out of the run-of-the-mill items on the menu in the Class I restaurants in our part of the world.

Viswam had dozens of memorable gourmet dining experiences all over the world. He would hold forth on the chic, white-walled, divan-lined, nightclub-cum-restaurant called Bed Supper Club in Bangkok that generally attracted moneyed expats and tourists. When we were dining with the Russian Trade Commissioner in India Viswam declared to the dignitary’s awe that his most sumptuous dining experiences have been at a Russian restaurant in London called Borscht’n Tears. My eyes almost popped out. He went on to describe poetically how the sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows giving a magical ambiance and how the guests broke vodka glasses, a tradition there; not missing to mention the beautiful expat Russian waitresses as I pinched him. He will talk about a particular restaurant in Istanbul now and later about his favourite bar in Budapest, and so on. One day while dining at Copper Chimney in Worli (Mumbai) I couldn’t but ask him how he managed such fancy lifestyle abroad. He tapped my shoulder gently and said: “my boy, since you can’t suspend your disbelief any longer, I will tell you. I fake all those experiences. The places and people are genuine; but I gathered the information from others or from books and periodicals during my frequent travels. And those meals and acquaintances are my fantasies. They serve the purpose of engaging and entertaining you guys during parties, and I get a sadistic thrill from the bluffs as bonus on account of the ignorance and the envy felt by others”.

There are many such ways of embellishing and inflating one’s personality. A college mate of mine claimed that he ranked first in the first ear M.Com examinations and that he also won a Fullbright Scholarship. Before long the Head of the Department of Commerce had to announce that he had failed in the M.Com examinations, and that he was also bluffing about the foreign scholarship. Poor chap discontinued his studies shortly afterwards, his ego punctured and in great shame. I know of a TV channel promoter and consequently ‘media expert’ ever since, telling so many interviewers that he had resigned from the IAS to start his own thing. What was true was that he wrote the competitive examinations and failed to be called for interviews. One of his college mates who wrote the exam, and was selected to the IAS later resigned to start an industry too. The media man’s TV studio came up next to this particular industry, if that’s enough to transfer the credit!

I met this man KK in Delhi in the late 80s. He happened to be a Malayali, very handsome, smart and had this ex-JNU tag, which now-a-days is a passport to many great achievements in politics. He admitted to me that he was a JNU-dropout but had successfully courted a fellow student who got into the IAS later and married her. He made a career in lobbying thanks to the wife’s name giving him an easy entry to the offices of fellow IAS men and women who didn’t mind doing an occasional favour to an insider. He had penchant for demonstrating how high and mighty his connections were. It was Rajiv Gandhi’s time in Delhi and KK would call Arun Nehru, Arun Singh and the like from my Mumbai hotel room. He would chat up with their secretaries, the VIPs themselves and then to cheer me up, sweet-talk the hotel telephone operator and get a substantial discount on the bill! Later a mutual friend told me he was faking all those contacts and he was actually talking to his own Secretary Damu at home who made all the right noises to give authenticity to such innumerable calls everyday. If KK could do any work in the Central Government establishment, it was thanks to his natural flair for enticing people and his wife’s name in the IAS.

When I was living in Delhi, I understood that if you couldn’t drop the name of at least an MP or a Deputy Secretary, you are helpless in the National Capital. In Bombay, you don’t need that. But mentioning that you live in Cuffe Parade, Marine drive, Malabar Hill, Bhulabai Desai Road, Walkeswar, Napean Sea Road, Pali Hill, Juhu, etc. might help raise your status and give you some prestige and power to push your case. If you blurt out to someone that you live in Nallasappara you are doomed. That is why they say: “in Delhi who you know is important; and in Mumbai it’s where you live”. The latest is where you did your MBA. If you had been to Harvard, you are on top of the world. Being the alumni of Kellogg’s, Sloan’s, Stanford, and the Indian Institutes of Management give people an air of intellectual superiority and regality. I used to believe that having done my management course in Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies I had grown horns. But now Bajaj Institute is relegated to a lower rank by some of the noise-making new institutions and the asset value of my management diploma has fallen very low. The new kids on the block earn Rs.30-40lakhs per annum soon after passing out because they did a two-year course in some of the top-rated management institutes! I was reading recently about the MBA at INSEAD, which cost 53000 Euros by way of tuition fees alone. It is a one-year ‘International MBA’ and the recruiters arrive the two campuses (in Fontainebleau France and in Singapore's Buona Vista district) when the students are just two or three months into the course. So the boys and girls are picked up on the strength of the name and fame of the European business school. That brings me to the misuse of the IIM tag in faculty positions in order to attract students to the management schools mushrooming all over the country. I put my daughter for her MBA in a college that claimed to have five IIMians on their faculty, three permanently and two as visitors. One visitor stopped coming, and the three in-house experts had spent only a few weeks on the IIM campuses in the so-called ‘Faculty development Programmes’ after which they write their names as Prof.X (IIM-K) Prof.Y (IIM-B) etc. And my dear girl used to call her college IIM-Pu (you guess!) and left the course after 5 months saying that every day spent there would cut, and not add value to her personality.

Some of my friends and I have of late taken to playing this game of name-dropping to hilarious extremes. We all brag about having studied in the famous educational institutions like Harvard, IIM-A, AIIMS, and so on. And we know all the big people in various walks of life to speak of them or call by their first names. It is not very difficult to speak of Mukesh Ambani as Mukesh for those who watched the TV channels CNBC TV 18 or NDTV Profit. If the anchorpersons, girls and boys wet still behind their ears feel so free to call him Mukesh, why can’t I, older than him do so? So Tata Chemicals MD is just Prasad (Menon) for me, GE CEO Rick (Wagoner) Ford COO Jim (Padilla)! CPM Rajya Sabha Member mere Sitaram (Yechury) , BJP General Secretary dear Arun (Jaitley) , thespian Mohanlal just Lal, and so on whether the dignitaries are in India or are international figures.

The astonishing thing is that it has worked more often than not to our complete satisfaction and silent mirth. We could pull it off because we are all reasonably well-placed or well-heeled. It is great fun. But I suppose there is a bit of a ‘complex’ underlying all this cocking snook at flamboyance and arrogance and making fun. Aren’t we sad that we have to fake and pose while some people we mock don’t have to? Many times I have felt awkward as well as funny when in parties people not even remotely connected to him crowd around my first cousin who is a well-known industrialist and later claim having discussed this or that with him or of many matters he confided to them. When one such gentleman hinted to me that he was a related to Dr.Menon’s wife, I had to ask him which of his parents was Russian. He realized that his bluff was called and vanished from the scene. There are those who talk of just ‘flying in’ from London when they would have only made it as far as the loo and back. The graffiti on the back of a jalopy ‘my other car is a Mercedes’ succinctly and wittily expresses as well as exposes similar streaks of vain-gloriousness. Perhaps we all are victims of it and differ only in the degrees of its manifestation.
T. M. Menon

On being pet-passionate

I began composing this article when my wife was just out of hospital where her right shoulder joint was relocated in the correct position after a couple of hours of excruciating pain and at considerable expense. The culprit was Jackie II, our four-legged son. While I was explaining to the doctors and the crowd of attendants at the hospital how Jackie jumped on her as usual but eventually hurt her to the extent she was howling in pain, the orthopaedician spotted my daughter desperately smothering a smile. Sensing that he would jump into a mischievous conclusion that a husband-and-wife brawl had resulted in the joint dislocation I explained to him what could be the reason for my daughter’s mirth. She was simply amused by my repeating the word ‘dog’ several times during my conversation. The word is a taboo in my household.

Mine is a pet-passionate family: My wife, son and daughter are all as fond of all sorts of animals and birds as I am. I mention Jackie-II, our lovely black Labrador to my friends and relatives only as our four-legged son. Nobody treats him as a canine. In fact at home that is a subject giving rise to a lot of mirthful quarrel. When my wife occasionally makes the mistake of talking about him as ‘doggie-vaava’ or ‘patti-vaava’ I pounce on that terminological faux pas as an instance of unkindness and complain on behalf of Jackie. We talk a lot to our pets; talk about them and for them as well since they are not blessed with the power of verbal communication humans understand. It also makes our lives eventful and interesting to no end.

When Jackie I was alive I used to pray for my death before his so hat I didn’t have to suffer the pain of separation. But then he died at the age of six on account of a post-surgical mistake in medication, and I cried for days. I am a reasonably educated, rational person but I lighted an oil-lamp where he was buried every evening for 59 days (I shall explain the reason later) and cried begging forgiveness for the inability to save his life. Here I should reproduce a private e-mail my son sent to me from the US on Monday, August 16, 2004 11:04:25 AM (US Eastern Time). Jackie passed away at around 1AM IST:
“Dear Dada,
Both Aru and I were in tears when we heard the news. I look at his picture every day. He was easily the best son our family has ever had (even more than Tony, I come a distant 3rd). But I know this...Jackie gave us some of the most wonderful years in our lives. So many times the only comfort I had was that you and mama had Jackie to give y'all the love that kind of made up for the shortfall of us not being there all the time.
Dada, you both shared a very special bond. ...and I'll tell you this much, he was the luckiest creature in the world to have you and mama. You both and Neelu gave him so much love, I'm sure he had no unfulfilled dreams. It was just his time to go and we all know that it probably was for his best -just not our best. I understand the void that you, mama and Neelu are going through. Just pray to god to make the pain a little easier. Aru and I will. You know one amazing thing...After Tony left us, Neelu was born...Now Jackie left us and Diya is going to be born. I just think Jackie was here in our life for a purpose. He served it and God took him back.
I definitely want you to take up another pet (Jackie the Second) when you are ready and bestow all the love you can on him. Take care dad. Everything will be fine.
Lots of love,
Dileep, Aru & Diya”

That’s why on the 60th day of his parting I stopped lighting a lamp at Jackie’s burial mound. I forced myself to believe that he was born again in my family, in the distant Atlanta (US) as Diya, my first grandchild on 9th October. All of us have Jackie’s picture as wallpaper on our computers. I still stifle a sob as I see him on my computer or his large image in the framed photograph in our living room.

Tragedy struck us first a few months before Jackie’s demise when fate took away ‘Chundu’ (a variant of ‘Sundari’, the beauty) our cute black and white cat. She came into our lives accidentally. My wife who had gone to fill petrol in the car at a relative’s fuel station heard frantic meowing from a hole in a tree nearby. She picked up the abandoned and distraught little kitten with the help of a sales boy and brought her home. Even when she was a mother of three from her first delivery, she used to be told by my wife how the ‘mad-looking’ little bonsai lioness hissed and hit at ‘mama’ who was only trying to rescue her. Poor thing, her mother had not suckled her for long. I had to send an e-mail seeking advice from Maneka Gandhi (and she replied promptly!) when Chundu seen persistently and strangely sucking at my shirt, Neelu’s and her mama’s clothes and even bed sheets quietly after finishing her milk as if she was sucking her mother’s tits! And believe me, this continued even after she herself became a mother, irrespective of Manekaji’s advice to the contrary. Manekaji assumed that she was probably underfed or suffered from malnutrition while we were anxiously pumping into her meat broth, fish and milk in plenty. Manekaji suggested mashed potatoes and other vegetables as the most desirable menu for Chundu and my son roared in laughter over the phone when I told him of it.

One day when we came back from work we found that Chundu’s two kittens had walked out on us leaving the third one, Chinchu, the only girl, behind. The cries of their mother for the missing children were heart-rending. Jackie I who had taken to killing all animals, including big cats straying into our compound became very friendly with Chundu and very affectionate to her brood. But still Chundu was not quite willing to trust him and would rush to him and give a couple of pre-emptive blows every time he passed by looking curiously at the new members of his family. It was then we thought of the perennial problem of Chundu’s pregnancy and the possible future separation from the vanishing kittens. We were also worried about the prospect of having too many of them around to make our already uncomfortable maid run away. A friendly Vet told us that a simple surgery would stop Chundu from getting pregnant again and we fell for it. The surgery was simple indeed and Chundu came home as if nothing happened. We did not allow her tours for a week or ten days as advised by the doctor and then when she looked all right, let her free. One night I was a bit worried seeing her jump from some 3 metres height but she was fine. A couple of days later, one day I did not see Chundu at home in the morning to have her milk. At around 11AM Radha, our maid phoned me saying Chundu was seen in the bathroom with all her internal organs out and bleeding. I rushed home and drove like mad to the veterinary hospital with Radha carrying Chundu in a towel. By 4PM she was dead.
I cried for her as I buried her and lit an oil lamp at her burial place for 41 days. I have a large photograph of my late four-legged daughter at home. Chinchu was not at all like a typical cat. She would come with us when I took Jackie I for a walk. Halfway through, she would come in front and lie belly-up and cry, signaling me to carry her. The rest of the journey was interesting. She would go on prattling something in her language to her brother Jackie-I, leaning out of her perch on my hip and the passers-by would laugh at this strange sight. She got pregnant when she was only 6 months old. When I learned of this I remembered of a Mario cartoon in which an adolescent girl with a bulging belly exclaiming “I thought we were just wresting!” and got a disapproving scowl from my wife. Three days after she delivered two live kittens and a dead one Chinchu stopped taking food. She would go out ignoring the food. We gave her Vitamin drops, milk, fish and meat broth so that she would have enough milk to feed her kittens. The second day of her fasting my aunt’s maid saw Chinchu lying unconscious in their car porch. I rushed her to the hospital and she almost died in my arms. It seems she was completely dehydrated.

Now I pamper a cat that visits us daily for food. He ‘belongs’ to my neighbour, and visits us only when he is hungry. He has no time for my petting or my wife’s baby-talk. But he is no ordinary cat either. He will not eat meat. He will not touch waste food. He loves fish, which happens to be a major component in Jackie-II’s diet. As he did not want to be friendly when Jackie-II was a small pup it is impossible to have a working relationship with Jackie-II who is a huge fellow in his 13th month. Jackie-II is not very hostile to the little white-and-brown fellow demanding food from his dad. But he shows some disagreement to food being placed on small plates atop the 5’ compound wall that separates the two houses. I try to feed them at the same time to humour the big brother. And when he is reluctant to drink his milk or eat his food I pretend to offer it to the cat. Jackie-II gets his appetite back immediately and polishes his plate. Often I worry whether this adds to the ‘sibling rivalry’ of sorts.

I am not a crazy one-in-a-million type pet-passionate person at all. There are millions of people on this planet who passionately possess a variety of pets. By definition a pet or companion animal is an animal that is kept by humans for companionship and enjoyment, rather than for economic reasons. The most popular are noted for their loyal or playful characteristics or their beautiful appearance or behaviour.

While in theory one could keep any animal as a pet, in practice a small number of species of mammals, especially dogs and cats, and other animals such as birds have dominated the pet scene for a very long time. Fish have joined them more recently. Recently I came to know that the ‘glofish’, a genetically modified zebra fish with a bright red fluorescent color is the first genetically modified (GM) animal to be engineered as a pet. I also understand that in the United States, there are more tigers in homes than in the wild! Many of these are domesticated while others, often considered novelty pets, are not. With the exception of iguanas and non-venomous snakes, few reptiles and amphibians make good pets.


Recently I read of a study conducted by Mannutthy (Thrissur) Veterinary College students showing a 30 per cent increase in domestic dogs in the state. The study also finds out that more than watchdogs, people consider their pets as close companions. Pets can provide their owners with many health benefits. The keeping of pets has been proven to help remove stress. It is no new knowledge that walking a dog can also provide its owner (as well as the dog!) with exercise, fresh air, and the opportunity for social interaction. Pets are generally acquired from a pet store, a breeder, friends, relatives and sometimes from people who have too many due to births.

The one important difference that can be pointed about the way we keep pets like dogs now-a-days is that they are being considered more like family members than ever before. As a result, we find the expenses related to them are somewhat insulated from the economic pressures weighing on other consumer-discretionary items. As someone mentioned, if there is a choice between new shoes and taking your sick dog to the hospital, the latter finds preference. And, the more you know about humans, the more you love animals!

As I get older, I find my love for animals is no more confined to my pets. I am strangely concerned about stray animals, birds and all. I now understand perfectly well why a Maneka Gandhi or an Amala spend so much of their time and money trying to save animals. One day, driving to my office, I was horrified to see municipal dogcatchers at work. I felt uncontrollable bitterness and sorrow for a whole day and the image of half-a-dozen stray dogs in various stages of death-throes haunts me after a couple of years. Likewise the stories of ill-treatment meted out to domesticated elephants fill with a mad rage against the mahouts and elephant owners. I do not feel kindly towards the Guruvayoor Devaswom for chaining the temple elephants in a manner they can move only at paces a couple of inches apart. The sight of the caparisoned elephants enchant me no more. I can only feel anger at the sight of those majestic animals made to stand like showpieces in the blazing hot Sun. I think we have to be more compassionate to the animals. They are also God’s creations. And they cannot complain. We hear Adivasis insisting on living inside forests because the forests originally belonged to them. But we hear them demand afterwards that ration shops, schools, motorable roads bus services and electricity be provided to them. They also complain bitterly of wild-elephant menace. How I wish the animals could voice their views too!
T.M. Menon

Mumbai’s Old Buildings, Slums and related matters
- T. M. Menon

I lived in Mumbai for 13 years, when the city used to be called by its present name only by Maharashtrians and as ‘Bombay’ by the rest of us. I loved the place despite its crowds, and traffic jams which, for someone going from the quiet Kerala of early seventies was terrible. So many friends and relatives who had made short trips to the ‘commercial capital’ of India had asked me how some one who was so quiet and withdrawn like me managed to survive in the din and bustle of the place, especially commute by the unbelievably packed suburban railway compartments. Looking back, nearly 20 years later I wonder how I did. After I moved out of Mumbai PC Godha - Managing Director of the pharmaceutical company then owned by the Bacchan brothers, and old friend - asked me about the laid back life in Chennai, my new place of work: “Menon saab, battery charge nahi hottha heyna?” In our old Ambassadors and Padminis the battery got recharged only at steady and optimum speeds and that was indeed the perfect description of the life in Madras in the late eighties. Mumbai got you excited all your waking hours whether you were indeed part and parcel of the great commotion and surge the city went through. For all its problems of overcrowding, I still hold Mumbai dear to me and would recommend to any unemployed youth in Kerala as the perennial source of gainful employment and shaper of ‘destiny’. It was easy for me to get out of the city; but I can never take it out of me!

So, when I read of heart-rending stories of house collapses in Mumbai, and saw the painful visuals of those who were left homeless due to the fall of rickety buildings they had lived for decades, my mind revisited some of the areas so well known to me. Many a time during my life in Mumbai, I had to be in some of the old buildings of the old central business district of the sprawling city, where one felt safe only after coming out of the buildings, which housed offices and residences. Strangely, the feeling hit you only as you entered and as you left; since the offices or homes you visited were mostly furnished impeccably and the inmates gave you an impression that they were on top of the world. Some of the ramshackle buildings on the Mohammed Ali Road, or the Princess Street and why, even the DN Road had such swank offices in them trading in millions of rupees worth goods every hour. I knew they wouldn’t budge an inch from their comfortable office spaces even if you offered them brand new buildings elsewhere unless on the same streets. Because the ‘location’ was very important in Mumbai; I suppose it is, still.

There is a very interesting aspect to it. I had an 880 square-feet house in the Western Mumbai suburb Borivli (West) surrounded by an enchanting landscape of mango orchards on three sides and a football ground in front, and the creek - an extension from the sea - beyond. My home was the envy of many of my Malayalee friends who had come before me to Mumbai and held better jobs too, for its size and the beauty of the place. But genuine Mumbaikars had a different standard altogether to evaluate their place of abode. They would swap a 1500 square feet apartment in Borivli for a 300 square feet one in Mahim, which to me smelled to the high heavens thanks to the effluents, emptied into the Mahim creek from the many illegal tanneries and other factories operating in the notorious Dharavi chawls (slum)! 100 square feet in proper Mumbai - the old quarters was the ultimate possession. Even the poor who lived in Cuffe Parade, or Malabar Hills, Churchgate, Marine Drive, Walkeshwar or Napean Sea Road saw those who lived in Borivli or beyond in the distant suburbs as vermin.

Matters went curiouser even before I left Mumbai. Before shifting to Borivli I had lived in a 3-bedroom row house belonging to my cousin, in Vashi, New Bombay (now ‘Nawi Mumbai’). Ours was the last row closer to the (old) tollgate and some cooperatives belonging to the employees of BARC were planning to build apartment blocks in the buffer land between Sector 7 J Row and the Mumbai-Pune Highway. They were obviously smaller one-or-two bedroom bird-nest condominiums. Our neighbour, a rich and old lady, was initially very displeased with the ‘riff-raff’ coming to live close to our ‘posh’ homes. Some after-thought had her amend her initial stand thus: well, its okay, I suppose they are now shelling out twice the amount paid by us for our row houses. So they are likely to be rich, and educated too since they are BARC employees! That is what happened later. My cousin, who staunchly opposed my suggestion to buy some decent office space at Bandra in the mid-80s because his eyes were set on Nariman Point, quietly acquired one at Vile Parle in the early 90s. Bandra now is a better bargain than Nariman Point thanks to the Bandra-Kurla Complex redrawing the commercial map of Mumbai immensely. We Borivli residents considered Vasai and Nallasoppara remote areas then. Now they have become huge and posh satellite cities.

Cost of real estate had always been the most important problem in Mumbai. I am told they beat the Manhattan rates at times. Except the Consulates, the huge multinationals and the Central-state Governments and the banks and commercial establishments in the public sector, no employer offered accommodation in Mumbai. They would rather go for a second-rate chaps with ‘own accommodation’ than a first-rate men and women who asked for living quarters. In my time you could never get a house on rent in Mumbai. If you needed to, a bank guarantee for the cost of the house and a monthly rent equivalent to the bank interest on the investment was the bargain! So no one got a house on rent and if one did, he would never move out.

The Bombay rent Act of 1947 was a tenant-friendly statute, which bestowed some undue benefits to them. It froze the earlier rents to ridiculously unrealistic levels. In fact the house I ‘bought’ was rented out earlier to a relative who had given a ‘pugdi’(one-time payment) of Rs.3000 and a rent of 25 paise per square feet. Technically his tenancy was not transferable. But I could get this sorted out with less than Rs.50000 to the landlord who made me a tenant of the home I ‘purchased’ for Rs.3.5lakh and later allowed me to sell it for Rs.11.50 lakh in 1991, before the great boom. Had I waited for another six months, I could have easily got 25 lakhs! When I sold the house our building was 25 years old and in a very bad shape. The over-head water tank had a crack and hence did not hold any water. Not that we had a sump and a pump or water pressure to take to the top of a 3-storeyd building! Each flat had a storage tank in the attic and independent means that included suction pumps to collect water! But my buyer was not finicky or fussy. Anyway, he could not have afforded it six months later. Our landlord had virtually abandoned his building. Except an old Parsi gentleman who lived next door and me nobody had any compassion for the hapless chap who collected less than Rs.750 every month from 6 flats and probably had to shell out as much or a little more as taxes. When the landlord had volunteered to sell it to us earlier for Rs.25000 per flat, there were no takers except the two of us. Others found it foolish to own a house and pay taxes too when nobody could evict them as long as they paid Rs.125 per month as rent. That’s Mumbaikar’s economics for you!

That is precisely the reason why between 21 and 28 August 2005 four buildings caved in killing 18 people and injuring more than 50. Only a Mumbaikar would understand the situation fully, the economic nonsense, the pain and tragedy. Just as the old tenants occupying large flats in dilapidated old buildings are paying in the posh Nariman Point-like localities 10-20 paise per square feet per month, hutment dwellers in the underside of the metropolis are forced to pay Rs.4-5/square feet for their slum tenements with no water connection, no toilet facilities and built on illegally possessed lands. As landlords are forced to allow their buildings to fall into disrepair and make some money on the sidelines allowing more people to come in and stay, Government established the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority entrusted with the responsibility of the repairs and reconstruction of the buildings deemed hazardous.

The MHADA found nearly 20000 rickety buildings and started collecting a cess from the occupants in order to form a corpus of funds for repairs. The ‘Cessed’ buildings come in three categories - 16502 built before 1 September 1940 coming under category A, 1489 buildings constructed between 2 September 1940 and 31 December 1950 under category B, and 1651 buildings built between that date and September 1969. MHADA needs Rs.13500 crore for the replacement of the old buildings. The less said about their repairs the better too. Buildings repaired by them have collapsed sooner and buildings certified by them as hazardous have remained safe for decades thereafter. If the tenants bribed Municipal engineers the buildings would be certified fit to live in, and if landlords bribed them, even strong buildings would be certified as dilapidated. Landlords could rake in a huge amount of cash if new buildings are allowed to come on their properties under the hugely escalating real estate prices, but where would the poor tenants go? When the recent spate of post-monsoon collapses took place it was revealed that MHADA had only 40 engineers to inspect the ‘cessed’ buildings and every engineer would have to inspect 475 buildings and assuming they did this meticulously from one end, from the other buildings would fall one after another before they completed one round of inspection.

My heart bleeds for the 18290 families forcibly evicted from their old tenements and living in transit camps for 25 years now. Their story is known to the occupants of the 19642 cessed buildings under orders to vacate for ?their own safety?. Safety is the last thing on their minds. They are unable to leave their present homes probably chosen carefully for various reasons after many years in worse conditions in the slums, and shift to remote transit camps as refugees with the attendant problems of commuting, finding schools for their children, etc. If they shifted out, allowing the landlord to build anew another residential building on the plot, they could eventually hope only for 225 square feet flats free, and that too for the original tenants. That meant no living space for many who had huddled into the old buildings under various temporary arrangements and ‘adjustments’ in view unaffordable housing costs. Therefore, the tenants of the 108 buildings in the city Brinanmumbai Municipal Corporation has categorized as “dangerous” and another 213 in the suburbs as “extremely dangerous” are left with a Hobson’s choice.

Far away here, I can almost hear the sobs of the women evacuated from the collapsed Sadaf Manzil at Nagpada and the Rassiwala Building at Dhobi Talao and many others awaiting similar doom. I know the places very well. So do I know the 7-storey Poonam Chambers housing the offices of some of the prestigious organizations like the NABARD, Akai, Wockhardt and the like. Its top 4 floors tumbled down without any warning. Even though hundreds of people gravitate towards Mumbai every day, there is no difficulty in finding some sort of a job for all comers. But with the archaic and arbitrary FSI limits and land ceiling laws in place, a roof over their heads in Mumbai is likely to remain the greatest challenge ever for most of them. They would buy or rent rooms in any of those buildings certified as unsafe with their eyes wide open if that is the affordable accommodation they found. The women in some of the buildings with ominous cracks on walls and pillars were heard telling the television news reporters: “we have no alternative. We don’t mind perishing here as the buildings come down”. Didn’t we hear a few families in the Katrina-affected New Orleans and Louisiana speak the same way to the media, even as the state authorities tried to forcibly remove them to safer places, though for different reasons?

Many of the inmates of these decrepit old buildings in Mumbai are ‘well-to-do’ going by the possessions you would find in their homes. Telephones, refrigerators, washing machines, cable connections, colour TVs, computers etc. Even those who live in some of the smelly shanties have ‘amenities’ and possessions comfortable households in Kerala lack. I remember the shock I felt seeing an Inspector of Maharashtra Police coming out from his ‘jhopda’ near Mankhurd railway station. In a Malayalam weekly there was this cartoon once, depicting a youth who claimed back home that he had a ‘flat’ in Bombay located living in one of the large pipes lying unused near Matunga Road railway station. I have seen two families sharing a piece of a giant pipe with a partition in the middle separating their ‘homes’. I felt sad; but they looked very happy.

The slum dwellers who constitute close to 40 per cent of Mumbai’s population are known to contribute to more that 50 per cent of its economy though their goods and services belong to what is called the ‘informal sector’ that includes chores like cooking, cleaning, washing, gardening, driving which are at the bottom of Mumbai’s social infrastructure. The rich Mumbaikars who publicly wish the slums away privately though indirectly, sustain them and are likely to be as unhappy as the slum dwellers if the latter are relocated in far-away places. The slum dwellers also manufacture goods. Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum is said to manufacture R.100crore worth goods every month. The Time Magazine’s cover is known to be printed there! 400000 people, a majority of whom live in the slums in Mumbai, survive as hawkers?

What else?

- T. M. Menon
During the early days of Asianet, I used to do lot of interviews for the channel. A good television interview is excellent software, and comes very cheap. We had just started the channel and our inventory of software was rather small. There was no ad revenue; and the consequent vicious circle of poverty in software. No interviewer asked for money or expected to be paid in those days. Well, let me quickly exempt those who were interviewed earlier on Doordarshan. They were rather unpleasantly surprised or shocked when no vouchers and envelopes appeared at the end of the interview. And please remember, I generally interviewed people who were at the fag ends of their lives or illustrious careers.
To come closer to my story, one day Sashikumar asked me to call a young celebrity and fix a date for an interview. Though he had talked about it casually, it was all sort of agreed. The person was an upcoming chess player. I called him and told him about this interview. I said since he had just made it big in chess at the international level, he was a great role model for all chess-playing youngsters. In fact he was a youth icon and we wanted his story to inspire young Malayalees. At this point he asked me this terrible question: "what else is there?" The question, in somewhat effeminate voice still reverberates in my ears, ten years after it was asked. I knew what he meant. He had collected his first huge prize money a few weeks earlier, and that was several million Indian rupees if I remember right. Obviously he had ‘tasted blood’. I do not remember how I put it to him that there was nothing other than the glory of appearing on the satellite television in the bargain. The celebrity said something politely to mean that he was unavailable under the circumstances, at least for the next six months. I thanked him for that hopeful note.

The young celebrity rose further in his chosen field, earned heaps of money, brought laurels to his country and made Indians feel proud of him. I hear he earns handsomely and lives mostly somewhere in Europe. He must be getting good money from endorsements etc. I wonder whether he gives interviews and gets paid as well. But I have learned since what else is there in chess besides the game.

Robert James Fischer is considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time. At the age of 13 he became the youngest national junior chess champion in the USA and at the age of 14 he became the youngest senior US Champion. In 1958, at the age of 15, he became the youngest Grandmaster in the history of chess. He broke the Russian (Soviet) domination of the World Championship when he became the first American to win the title by defeating Boris Spassky of the USSR in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1972. I still remember the nasty scenes he made, complaining that Spassky’s side was applying psychic intimidation etc. He had his chair brought from the US. In 1975 FIDE refused to meet Fischer's conditions for a World Championship match with the Soviet Anatoly Karpov and Fischer refused to play. Consequently FIDE awarded the title of World Champion to Karpov. After this dispute Fischer vanished from public eye for twenty years and moved to Europe. In 1977 Bobby played 3 games against the MIT Greenblatt computer program. He turned down $250,000 to play one Chess game at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and $3 million to play in a tournament in the Philippines. In 1978 Bobby Fischer filed a $3.2 million lawsuit against the publishers of a magazine critical of the Worldwide Church of God. He claimed the writers taped his conversations without his consent. He later accused the church of reneging on their promise to finance the lawsuit.

The next we hear of Fischer was on May 26, 1981, when he was arrested in Pasadena suspect in a bank robbery. He was stopped by a police officer who said he fitted the description of a bank robber. Fischer refused to answer some questions as he was taken. In 1982 Fischer published a pamphlet "I WAS TORTURED IN THE PASADENA JAILHOUSE." under the pseudonym Robert James. In 1987 the House of Representatives passed House Resolution Bill 545 recognizing Fischer as the world Chess Champion signaling that Fischer was forgiven.
On September 1, 1992, Bobby Fischer came out of his 20year retirement and gave a press conference in Yugoslavia. He pulled out an order from the U.S.Treasury Department warning him that he would be violating U.N sanctions if he played Chess in Yugoslavia. He spat on the order. On September 30, Bobby Fischer began his rematch with Boris Spassky in Sveti Stefan. Banker Jedzimir Vasiljevic organized the match. The match used the new Bobby Fischer Chess clock. On November 11, Fischer won the match with 10 wins, 5 losses, and 15 draws. He pocketed $3.65 million for his winnings and Spassky received $1.5 million. In December 1992, a U.S. grand jury indicted Fischer for violating an Executive Order. Fischer was not home when the grand jury charged him and he has remained away from the United States ever since. Fischer faced ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine if he returned to the U.S. In addition, he must forfeit his $3.65 million to the U.S. Treasury and forfeit 10% of any match royalties earned. His former chess rival Boris Spassky had in an appeal sought clemency for Fischer from US President: “Bobby and myself committed the same crime. Put sanctions against me also. Arrest me. And put me in the same cell with Bobby Fischer. And give us a chess-set." The plea went unheeded.

In July last year reports came that the former Chess Champion Bobby Fischer was held in Japan. The Japanese authorities were anxious to hand him over to his parent country, which had meanwhile revoked his US Passport. But Bobby Fischer told U.S. and Japanese authorities that he wanted to renounce his American citizenship. He said he planned to marry a leading Japanese chess official, Miyoko Watai. But a Japanese court dismissed a request to halt deportation proceedings against the fugitive chess legend. The 62-year-old Grand Master was allowed to leave Japan as at this stage Iceland granted him citizenship and a home in Iceland, following relentless lobbying by chess lovers all over the world. Fischer left Japan, but not before blasting Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and U.S. President George Bush as he left! According to a news agencies he said, "Yeah, I feel good” and added that he was pleased to finally be free. He also said: "I'm very happy to be leaving. Japan is a nice country, but you have a criminal leadership." When Mizuho Fukushima, President of the Social Democratic Party, told him how she had applied pressure over a week on the Immigration Bureau Chief to make sure he allowed Fischer to leave the country if he secured Icelandic citizenship, Fischer snapped at her and asked "Why didn't you help me earlier? I've been in here for nine months." Fischer then blasted the ruling LDP. "The Liberal Democratic Party. That party are criminals. They've destroyed Japan. They've destroyed Japan in the past tense. The Liberal Democratic Party is a party of criminals."

I cannot forget the fact that Fischer was an American hero and worshipped as one of that country's most prominent Cold Warriors when he defeated Boris Spassky in Reykjavik on Sept. 1, 1972. From being a national hero to a fugitive from American Justice was indeed a terrible fall. What made matters worse for the maverick chess icon was the talks he gave from certain Philippine radio stations, including one immediately after the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., in which he praised Al Quaeda and blamed the U.S. for having "slaughtered" Palestinians for years. If you want to know the man’s mind, this is what he said: "This is all wonderful news. It is time to finish off the US once and for all. I was happy and could not believe what was happening. All the crimes the US has committed in the world. This just shows, what goes around comes around, even to the US”. Fischer had expressed anti-Jewish feelings since the early 1960s, and continued to do so ever since, though most media reports failed to mention them until after he lauded the terror attacks. Believe it or not, Fischer's deceased mother, Regina, was Jewish by birth. I understand that a grand jury investigating claims of tax evasion against Fischer can perhaps charge him even at this stage, in which case the U.S. is entitled to ask for his extradition from Iceland.

Bobby Fischer applauded the act of heinous terrorism that not just hurt American pride but killed a couple of thousand people belonging to several nationalities. But his views on chess aren’t very different for their shock value. "...People don't know how utterly corrupt chess is, and has been for many years...Just like when you go to watch a wrestling match, right. Saturday night wrestling. They are very good wrestlers, but anybody with half a brain knows it's almost all prearranged." That is what he said in his adopted country soon after arrival! I remember Bobby traveling to Argentina in 1996 to promote his random Chess, where you set up the pieces in a random manner. This obviously would take away the book knowledge of regular Chess. So much for the game that catapulted him to fame. I think for the US Bobby Fischer, a former national hero is a pain shut up in its bones. What else?

Religion, Politics and Science of Stem Cell Research
Stem cells are undifferentiated progenitors with an ability to become many different parts of the body. They come under two basic categories: 1) embryonic stem cells - that are primitive (undifferentiated) cells from the embryo that have the potential to become a wide variety of specialized cell types. 2) Adult stem cells - that are undifferentiated cells found among differentiated cells in a tissue or organ, can renew themselves, and can differentiate to yield the major specialized cell types of the tissue or organ. Researchers believe, for example, it should be possible to transform stem cells into the insulin-producing cells that are lost in diabetes, or the dopamine-making neurons lost in Parkinson's disease, thus curing these illnesses. Like many innovative scientific pursuits stem cell research also was a field pioneered in the U.S. in the late nineties. American researchers were the first to create long-lived cultures of stem cells, called "stem cell lines" in 1998, and the scientific community the world over immediately saw vast potential. But in August, 2001, President Bush, influenced by the Catholic Church's aversion to destroying human embryos in the process of extracting stem cells, restricted federally funded research to only existing stem-cells lines. That had a chilling effect on research in the U.S.

Religious opponents of stem cell research however, ignore the hundreds of thousands of surplus embryos at fertility clinics in US alone being destroyed when permission is denied to use them for research to cure diseases, improve health and enhance life. It may be noted that the embryos that are only clusters of cells cannot be said to have life unless they are implanted in woman's uterus. If embryonic stem cell research is banned alleging abortion in the process, what could be the name given to destroying the leftover embryos at the thousands of fertility clinics? Mercifully, the Catholic Church has not yet given a call to close down fertility clinics.

Fast and exciting developments are taking place in stem-cell research these days. Many laboratories abroad have announced major breakthroughs in quick succession, developments that move scientists closer to cures for a range of illnesses. British researchers have recently revealed that they had cloned a human embryo. Almost at the same time a South Korean team announced success in creating stem cells from embryos cloned from people with diseases. These cells could be theoretically used as treatments for the patients themselves. Korean breakthrough in creating gene-specific stem cells with transplanted human DNA is breath-taking. Earlier this year Japanese researchers had reported using stem cells to cure Parkinson's-like disease in monkeys.

The United States, generally a big spender and even bigger achiever in such frontier technologies, remain hamstrung by not only restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research but also on account of many state and federal threatening to ban much of the research. 37 university presidents and chancellors have sent the United States Congress a letter arguing that progress in foreign labs is "an indication that U.S. scientists are being hobbled in their pursuit of cures and therapies using this promising research." and urging for more freedom in the scientific pursuit that is expected to make great strides in the treatment of several incurable ailments and correction of congenital defects.

But when the House of Representatives passed a bill that would relax the limits on research. The bill would allow scientists to create more cell lines from thousands of embryos now slated for destruction at in vitro fertilization clinics. That could bring several hundred more stem-cell lines into play and is "like getting a foot in the door and trying to open it a little, when other countries are building huge gates" according to a researcher. But George W. Bush threatened to veto the bill if cleared by the Congress as well. President Bush categorically said that he wouldn't permit "the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science, which destroys life in order to save life." Under the circumstances one can only sympathize with laboratories like the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, which has raised $30 million in private funding. Scientists in countries like South Korea have far higher levels of government funding, for example Korean researchers are estimated to be spending more than $100 million a year on embryonic stem-cell work, compared to the $24 million last year from the US National Institutes of Health. Countries, such as Korea and Britain also explicitly allow the creation of human embryos as a source of stem cells which is looked askance at in the U.S. if not already banned.

True, it will take years for researchers to learn how to transform stem cells into new heart muscle, neurons, pancreatic cells, or other key tissues consistently enough to meet the requirements for the safety of new treatments. But the research will have more short-term applications, such as creating cells that the pharma industry can use to test new drugs. It is obviously dangerous to block such work and dragging science through moral mine fields. Ironically, the US Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation gives two-thirds of its grant money for embryonic stem cell research to foreign scientists! The proposal for an Institute for Regenerative medicine in Texas is dead as a dodo. The outlook isn't totally bleak though. The US federal government is spending several hundred million dollars on work with stem cells in mice and with adult stem cells. And some US states and private funding agencies are stepping in to compensate the lack of federal government support for research on human embryonic stem cells. California plans to spend $3 billion over the next ten years. The Starr Foundation is funding $50 million for three research centres in New York City over the next three years for stem-cell work. Such support is also enabling U.S. scientists in their continued strides. Stem-cell pioneer John Gearhart at the John Hopkins is successfully creating heart cells that could be used to treat heart disease.
Meanwhile, it was heartening to read that spinal cord researchers at the University of California have very recently helped paralyzed rats walk again helping regeneration of their spinal cord tissues by using human embryonic stem cells. That indeed convincingly demonstrates how great is the potential of the field. There is very good news from India too regarding stem cell research. The Indian Council of Medical Research has just licensed three major Indian companies engaged in stem cell research - Reliance Life Sciences, Asian Cryo-cell and Histostem Co. Ltd. - to set up private umbilical cord blood banks in the country. Cord blood is rich in stem cells and has the ability to substitute for marrow as a source of cells for bone marrow transplant, among many other uses. Thanks to this property many lives could be saved using cord blood cells that are normally thrown away. I think the "pro-life" activists have to convert themselves to "pro-science" group since stem cell research is more about saving life than all the religious and political debates put together.

LIVING DANGEROUSLY

What prompted me to write this piece was the photograph of a handsome young man published by the Thiruvananthapuram edition of a national English daily with an acerbic caption underneath: FACE OF CHENNAI POLICE: This young man is not a terrorist who was detained under POTA for carrying out subversive activities. His crime, according to police, was that he had manufactured fake mehendi powder. But that was reason enough for the Elephant Gate police to chain him on the station premises.? Well, though subversive activities covered by POTA are considered worthy of such treatment in this pictorial report, the paper had always a different attitude when it came to specific reports on the ‘victims’ of POTA. The report, in my opinion shows a certain malaise in our society that tends to minimise the culpability of petty wrongdoing and gradually ups the tolerance levels to higher crimes in the name of so many good principles ranging from human rights to moral scruples.

‘He had only made spurious mehendi, a non-essential beauty accessory’, would you say?
In the US they fingerprint any first-time offender, be it a case of overspeeding or wrong parking, because the Justice System fears that a person who made a minor infringement of a supposedly insignificant traffic regulation could perhaps have a latent tendency to break law in general. So they check back for fingerprints when any illegality comes to their attention for the offender’s background. I for one would like to believe that Chennai youngster, had he remained free to do the trade he had chosen to make a living, and become successful too, would have graduated to ‘manufacturing’ anything from masala to medicines in the same manner and therefore, posed a serious threat to the health and well-being of millions of unsuspecting compatriots. Well he could have exported his spurious stuff abroad and eventually earned notoriety for his country. His offence was by no means minor; and Police officials were therefore justified in temporarily chaining him to the wall possibly for want of lock-up rooms in the in the cramped Elephant Gate police station.

I remember the time when the notorious Keralite who claimed to cure HIV-AIDS was given good exposure through some Asianet programmes. He had come on the channel with the blessings of a very influential and well-known writer. I told this friend that he was promoting a fake doctor and allowing him to exploit hapless victims of a disease, which was incurable under the circumstances. The ‘cultural leader’ asked me whether Colgate toothpaste wasn’t a fake product that the channel promoted and made money from. I protested saying that all toothpastes worked on a scientific principle and helped clean the mouth and sometimes prevented tooth decay and plaque formation. Their claim of calcium ingestion into the teeth etc., was bogus indeed; but abuse did not take away use. That cannot be said about some so-called Ayurvedic concoction that promised a cure of lack of immunity. The author believed in the cure, just as he believed in astrology, vaasthu, and so many things just as in his own credentials as a very progressive and rational thinker. The con artist in the meanwhile had made his many millions and though exposed still plies his trade quietly. He is not alone. There are many who offer cure for diabetes, cancer, arthritis, heart ailments and so on with no knowledge of the medical science under any system.

The other day an acquaintance told me of his mother who had apparently lived a happy, healthy life suddenly complaining of stomachache and being diagnosed with terminal cancer of the colon. This gentleman believed passionately that his vegetarian mother had contracted the ailment from vegetables grown under a regimen of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. He was certain that the spinach she consumed in various dishes was the main culprit because the leaves were susceptible to various infections and hence the foliage was invariably drenched in various pesticide sprays. It was terrible to have one's ninety year-old mother suffering pain and I did not want to discuss with this man the other possible contaminants in our everyday life that could equally contribute to cancer and many other serious afflictions. I also did not want to tell my fried that in many western countries where meat was the staple diet of most people, an awareness is spreading that non-vegetarian food is the “root cause” of the spread of cancer.

Safe food is a prerequisite for good nutrition and health. This idea has driven scientific investigations and public policies that, in turn, led to major improvements in health and longevity. Changes in food production and consumption practices, population demographics, and health status and understanding the long-term health consequences of food-borne illnesses will impel future policy reforms. Despite of improvement in production, processing and packaging, more poisons seem to be entering our food chain. For example Indian spices or 'masalas' add taste and flavour to food and also help in digestion. Some spices like turmeric have an antiseptic effect on the body. But what is most important is the quality of these ingredients. Every consumer wants to get maximum quantity of a commodity for as low a price as possible. This attitude of the consumer being coupled with the intention of the traders to increase the margin of profit, where the quality of the commodity gets reduced through addition of a baser substance and / or removal of vital elements also commonly known as food adulteration.

Potassium dichromate is mixed in Haldi (Kurkumin), Sudan-1 in chilli powder, palm kernel oil and mineral oil in coconut oil. Milk is adulterated not only with water but also with urea! Mustard seeds are adulterated with argemone seeds. Ice Cream is adulterated with washing powder, sugar with chalk, crushed white stones and powdered glass. Honey, with water and melted wax or paraffin. Chicory powder is blended with coffee powder with the knowledge of the consumer as without. Tea is mixed with coloured leaves as well as mahogany shavings, red lead and coloured sawdust. Used tea also finds its way into fresh tea before packing. Paper pulp is used as a thickening agent in ice cream and lussi. Antibiotics available in strips and bottles as tablets and capsules are known to contain at times nothing more than chalk powder. Hundreds of patients have died in our hospitals, some of them coming under the "prestigious" category, on being administered contaminated glycerol. It s a chilling thought that prescription medicines might be counterfeit, sub-potent and even adulterated. The range of adulterants found in Ayurvedic medicines so far considered entirely safe, even if ineffective, include steroids, NSAIDs, anticonvulsants, benzodiazepines, hypoglycaemic agents and drugs used for treating erectile dysfunction. Soft drinks and mineral water is known to contain coliforms, pesticides and what not, though certainly not added as food additives!

There are innumerable "misbranded" products that we purchase too. Years back a consumer activist had dragged the manufacturer of an immensely popular fruit drink to court for deceiving the public with much less fruit pulp in the drink than required to label the product as a fruit drink. I believe the complainant was silenced quietly. I know of a large-scale manufacturer of jams using pumpkin pulp, pectin, a gelatinized solution consisting largely of water, etc. as substitutes for a substantial proportion of the fruits required. This is condemned in law as "misbranding" a product which "purports to be or is represented as a food," when the product does not conform to the prescribed standard when the ingredients are standardized. The tribes of manufacturers and traders in our country seem reluctant to promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers, though authorities concerned have promulgated regulations fixing and establishing for any food, drug, or other substances or goods under common or usual names so far as practicable, reasonable definitions and standards of identity, and reasonable standards of quality, and/or reasonable standards of fill of container and so on. The norms are flouted more often than not. It may be remembered that adulteration poses not only the threat of personal injury from dangerous contaminants, but also of economic harm resulting from deception, when consumers are deceived as to the quality or nature of the goods.

Police in our country are seizing routinely fake watches, paints, cement, degree certificates, audiocassettes, driving licences and registration certificates of vehicles, television sets, medicines and cosmetics. Spurious mineral water, soft drinks, tomato ketchup, masalas, milk, ghee, cooking oil, whisky, beer, you name it, stalk the unsuspecting consumer everywhere in the country. Flavours, 'essences' and colours of many hues are added to all sorts of edible things. Many of these are deadly! Preservatives are added in excess of limits prescribed. We are proud of a 'buyer's market' in our country now for many consumer goods and durables. Every consumer wants to get the best product or maximum quantity of a commodity for as low a price as possible. The sellers of goods are, at the same time, in the business to make maximum profits for themselves. These competing attitudes lead to the quality of the goods being reduced through addition of baser substances and / or removal of vital elements leading to the problem of adulteration, fake goods and false claims. But this aberration of an acquisitive society has grown cancerously to make life extremely dangerous. Under the circumstances, the expression "living dangerously" has lost its intended adventure and romance mixed with oomph and hope; it has disintegrated merely into an act of courting unknown perils, laying ourselves open to unimaginably stupid jeopardies and running into unmitigated disasters and dangers. What a life!

Living Forever

The late Dr. Christian Bernaard, known for performing the first heart transplant, whom I had interviewed on Asianet in 1995, had admitted to me during a private conversation that he was taking peroxide and water, several times daily to reduce arthritis and aging. Though the eminent heart surgeon quit what is known as the 'peroxide movement' under attack from the medical establishment which considered it was fallacious that more oxygenation would destroy cancer cells or prolong cell-life, Dr.Bernaard was known to continue various experiments on himself, including the ingestion of stems cells into the bloodstream in a bid to repair tissue damages and live longer. The 'Kaayakalpa' treatment in Ayrurveda is expected to help shed our age-related problems like wrinkles, gray hair, poor eyesight, bone-and-joints related ailments etc., and rejuvenate the person who undergoes the 41-days's rigorous regimen with complete health, new teeth and so on, though no one seems to have experienced the benefits of this in the known history.

Human Growth Hormone (medically, Somotropin) produced naturally by the human Pituitary gland is touted as an anti aging Hormone. As a proof it is cited that as we get older production of HGH decreases naturally followed by familiar signs of the aging process. It is claimed that the anti-aging qualities of HGH can help reduce the effects of the aging process, enabling us to "enjoy a more active, longer, healthier and happier life". Anti aging treatment with HGH products is promised to hold the promise of not only extending life span, but also addressing the aging disorders by repairing the old decaying cells, and "actually reversing aging". There are "revolutionary" diet-supplements, tonics, and any number of concoctions blandished as cure-alls and eternal life-givers for suckers wanting to simply live longer.

Ray Kurzweil plans to live forever. He consumes 250 supplements, eight to 10 glasses of alkaline water and 10 cups of green tea everyday. He periodically monitors 40 to 50 fitness indicators, down to his 'tactile sensitivity'. Kurzweil claims that he is "fine-tuning" his "programming". He's no crank, but a graduate from the prestigious MIT and a winner of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT prize, the world's largest award in invention and innovation - some sort of an Academy Award for inventors, and also the 1999 US National Medal of Technology Award. Kurzweil has written on the emergence of intelligent machines in publications like 'Wired' and the 'Time' magazine. The Christian Science Monitor described him as the "modern Edison." He was inducted to the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002. His inventions include the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flatbed scanner, and the first text-to-speech synthesizer His most famous invention is the first reading machine for the blind that can read any typeface. Raymond Kurzweil also happens to be founder and chairman of Kurzweil Technologies Inc.

Kurzweil is very serious about his health because if it fails him he might not live long enough to see humanity achieve immortality, a revolutionary development he predicts in his new book (Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever) in about 20 years from now. It may be a blink of an eye in history for you and me, but long enough for the 56-year-old Kurzweil to pay close attention to his fitness. The book is partly a health guide for people who want to live longer and benefit from the future explosion in technology Kurzweil foresees, which will eventually make deathlessness possible.

Millions of blood cell-sized robots, (nanobots) will keep us eternally young by sweeping through our bodies, repairing bones, muscles, arteries and brain cells. Improvements to our genetic coding could be downloaded via the worldwide web of Internet. We won't even need a heart. These claims are not "fantastic nonsense" as Nehru would have said, because Kurzweil has a brilliantly scientific logic behind his every assumption and every assertion. And Kurzweil's has been thinking big ever since he was 8, when he developed a miniature theater in which the scenery could be changed by a robotic device. When he was 16 he built his own computer and programmed it to compose original melodies.
Ray Kurzweil sees human intelligence simply conquering its biological limits, including death, and also of completely mastering the natural world. He sees man as more than just another animal and asserts that humanity can rise above nature's whims. To those scientists who term his predictions of immortality as wild fantasies based on unjustifiable leaps from current technology, Kurzweil tells that in the exponential nature of technological advance, knowledge doubles every year and startling progress could occur even in short periods. It may be noted that his predictions are based on carefully constructed scientific models that have often proven accurate. For example, in his book, 'The Age of Intelligent Machines' (1990) Ray Kurzweil had predicted the development of a worldwide computer network and of a computer that could beat a chess champion.

Well, since necessity is said to be the mother of all inventions, Kurzweil's interest in human health and by extension, to immortality, emerged out of a concern about his own health. His grandfather and father had suffered cardiac problems. His father died when Kurzweil was only 22. Kurzweil himself was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in his mid-30s. When insulin treatments were ineffective, Kurzweil found his own solution to the problem, which included a drastic cut in fat consumption that eventually brought his diabetes under control without insulin. He went along with a health regimen that could be described "peculiar" ever since. In the last few years, Kurzweil's interests in technology and health sciences have merged just as in the scientific world in general.

That brings us to the technology-health science interface. For example, according to Kurzweil all the 20000 to 30000 genes in the human body are little software programs. In the book, co-authored with Dr. Terry Grossman, Kurzweil lists three bridges to immortality. The "First Bridge" is defined as the health regimen he recommends to keep people fit enough to cross the "Second Bridge,"' a biotechnological revolution. He asserts that we already know how to prevent most degenerative disease through nutrition and supplementation and that this will be a bridge to the emerging biotechnology revolution. The "Third Bridge" is the nanotechnology and the artificial intelligence revolution, which would deliver the nanobots that work like plumbers or repaving crews in our bloodstream and brains. These intelligent machines will destroy disease, rebuild organs and consequently obliterate known limits to human intelligence, which in turn will be a bridge to the nanotechnology revolution. Kurzweil confidently predicts that by 2030, reverse-engineering of the human brain will have been completed and nonbiological intelligence will merge with our biological brains.

Kurzweil thinks that humanity is very close to controlling gene expressions and ultimately changing the genes themselves. With such powerful technology, humanity could resist disease-causing genes and/or introduce new ones that would delay or stop the aging process. Earth's natural resources are not endless and therefore a growing population living forever would greatly stress the planet's finite resources. The gap between the haves and have-nots would widen. The hope/vision of a united humanity would perhaps become ever more elusive. Since the inevitability of death is foundational to everything from religion to retirement planning the social order would be shaken. The age of deathlessness (Kaalanillaattha kaalam) is likely to create unimaginable consequences that would perhaps seek a controlled end to life later.

Frankly, I am delighted, I must admit. In 1965 when my grandfather died in his late seventies, I cried bitterly and couldn't sleep for days thinking of my own mortality. I did get over the gloom with adolescent life's interesting aspects engaging me soon. In Aldous Huxley's novel 'After Many a Summer Dies the Swan' one comes across an astonishing end result of this pursuit of life forever - the man who consumed the potion for long life found it working extremely well, literally, not just bringing back his youth, but taking him farther back in evolution, to be discovered years later as a monkey by another researcher into similar miracle potion! That was a letdown for me who had a secret hope that some such potion would eventually be invented by modern science in my own lifetime. But my hopes are rekindled by Kurzweil's promises of seismic developments in scientific and technological fields finding a way out of diseases and death. I too am tempted to believe that death is a tragedy, "a process of suffering that rids the world of its most tested, experienced members - people whose contributions to science and the arts could only multiply with agelessness". Now let me come to the end of this piece. So how long does Kurzweil predict we might live with all this technological help? I am astounded by his estimate of 5000 years. I am not sure I would like to live that long. It would be boring. How about you?

Nanotechnology - hype and hopes
With fabs and labs sprouting around the world, mankind is pinning its hopes in yet another emerging technology, “nanotechnology”. In humble Kerala we had two young medical graduates enthrall the State Cabinet in hush-hush confabulations and cast a spell over the entire Malayali population through the mass media, with TV channels, newspapers and magazines vying with one another to welcome the wiz kids offering incredible achievements of nanotechnology like gold at literally throw-away price such as a sovereign at Rs.50 or so! Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s announcement about investing Rs.500crore in a “state-of-the-art” nanotechnology centre under these home-grown scientific talents stemmed obviously from viewing nanotechnology as also a platform to put in place a research and development infrastructure and to attract jobs.

Those who have been confounded or impressed by Kerala Government’s investment plan might note that the Dutch chip-lithography powerhouse ASML Holding (ASML), joined by IBM, is building a new $400 million nanotechnology research center in Albany, US. That is more than 350% of Kerala’s investment kite flying. According to Lux Research, a company that specializes in studying nanotechnology companies, Government funding for nano-research is almost $5 billion per year worldwide, and corporations have so far invested $3.8 billion in nanotechnology research. Sematech International, a leading semiconductor research consortium, is expanding to have a new, $403 million research center in upstate New York. The state chipped in $210 million for equipment, construction, and specialized tools. IBM -- along with Sony (SNE ), Toshiba, Samsung, Infineon (IFX ), AMD (AMD ), and Charter - will spend $1.9 billion on nanoelectronics manufacturing and development. At the moment, the primary driving force of creativity and innovation in nanotechnology in America is the federal government. Only government can invest with returns coming decades into the future. It may be remembered that this follows the semiconductor experience - the U.S. government was investing 2% of gross domestic product in research in the late 50s and early 1960s, and the economic returns from the semiconductor industry created by government funding have repaid those investments many times over in the '70s, '80s, and even '90s, when semiconductors and all they enabled were the major contributors to U.S. economic growth.

Let us cut back to Kerala once again: It was in March 2005 that Dr. V.S.Ajithkumar and Dr.V.S.Arunkumar of ‘Institute of Advance (!) Research’ Thiruvananthapuram cast their spell over literate Kerala with their claims of high technology research background that earned them several patents in nanotechnology for ‘Kahlescope’ ‘helinaser/helical nanolaser’ ‘nanogenseq chip’ ‘nanoflownoids’, ‘splashtech’ etc. I was stunned. In fact I lost sleep over these brothers coming as guests on Asianet’s ‘Suprabhaatham’ programme just as I felt when the quack who used to ‘treat’ AIDS patients appeared first on our channel. As a student of science I knew there was something fishy about their claims and I was almost convinced that they were bluffing at least about their ‘nanaogeseq chip’ capable of decoding 99% of the human genome in less than two hours! I did not know, however, how to counter this ‘misinformation’ which Asianet was being a party to spreading among unsuspecting Malayalees lapping up new “scientific” information. It is said that ignorance gains confidence as it goes along, and sooner the press was interviewing the brothers. When The Hindu and The New Indian Express wrote about these Malayali wiz kids, I knew their time was up. These newspapers and their online editions are read all over the world and I hoped their bluff would be eventually called.

It was a Malayali scientist, Dr.Joshy Joseph of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta (Georgia-US) who fired the first shot against the false claims by the Thiruvananthapuram duo. Dr.Joshy pointed out that it was quite strange that the duo did not seem to know that the field of research needed sophisticated and expensive tools such as tunneling electron microscope, conductive atomic force microscope (cAFM), nanoscale impedance microscope, frequency-dependent impedance microscope etc. and an absolutely clean ‘Class Zero’ laboratory. The doctor duo with only MBBS degrees to their credit is unlikely to have any in-depth knowledge of solid state physics, experience in laser research and photonics or expertise in semiconductor fabrication technology. Joshy also found out that their claims to patents were bogus, and that they had not published so far any research papers either! The doctor brothers fought back first saying that their detractors are envious of their achievements; and later that they had only applied for patents. As to publishing research papers, they seem to be afraid of theft of their intellectual property of ideas! Though no one with half a brain would take them seriously anymore, the brothers are sought after by the media hungry for controversies and I saw the younger one holding forth on the breakfast show of a Malayalam TV channel, though less strident about it all.

Though interest in nanotechnology rose and fell quickly in Kerala, the rest of the world is going gung-ho over its present accomplishments and the potential for making a sea change in the field of applied science. Nanotech fever is rising all over the world. The term "nano" describes a size range between 1 and 100 nanometers, the difference of one-billionth and one-hundred-millionth of a meter. The width of one human hair, for example, is about 80,000 nanometers. In that range, thousands of different types of particles exist, and to give examples of approximate range and comparison, please see: human hair (diameter) 60-120nm; pollen 10-100nm; asbestos fibers(diameter) <3nm; diesel exhaust particles <100 nm-1 nm; soot <10 nm-1nm; quantum dots 2-20 nm; nanotubes (diameter) ~1 nm; atoms 1-3nm. It may be noted that we know some of these as possibly dangerous. Nanotechnology is nanoscale science and engineering. Nanotechnology refers to the science of manipulating particles on the subatomic level. All manufactured products are made from atoms. The properties of those products depend on how those atoms are arranged. If we rearrange the atoms in coal we can make diamond. If we rearrange the atoms in sand (and add a few other trace elements) we can make silicon computer chips. If we rearrange the atoms in dirt, water and air we can make potatoes. Today’s manufacturing methods are very crude at the molecular level. Nanotechnology is therefore a term that gets researchers and inventors hot under the collar.

There are arguments against using the term “nanotech industry” since it is a science that affects many different industries and not necessarily an industry unto itself. Nanotech will probably never be a big industry - on its own at least - like biotech. Every industry that involves manufactured items will be impacted by nanotechnology research - everything can be made in some way better - stronger, lighter, cheaper, easier to recycle - if it's engineered and manufactured at the nanometer scale. There are a differences between companies that happen to use nanotechnology for one specific application, in say, health-care or computer chips, and a so-called nano-platform company that's applying the science broadly to a variety of products. The promise of these broad platform companies is similar to that of a young Genentech (DNA decoding), and every pair of plastic eyeglass lenses coated with nano materials manufactured by the US firm Nanofilms proves it in real and tangible ways. Nanofilm's coating is on one of every five pairs of eyeglasses sold in America. The company recently introduced two new products to protect car windshields from fog, ice, and dirt.

The biggest nanotech investments are coming in electronics - for obvious reasons. Nanocomputing will result in manifold improvement in computer performance. Submicron lithography and many other possibilities can exponentially improve computer hardware capacity. Semiconductor manufacturers are now working at such tiny scales that the production of most chips involves the manipulation of materials on a nano scale - a nano being one-billionth of a meter. Nanotech encompasses engineering at between 1 and 100 nanometers, with the nodes in many of today's chips spaced at 90 nanometers. As the circuitry continues to shrink, chipmakers will need more help from new nanomaterials and control heat. Chipmakers try using nanotechnology to reinvent the integrated circuit, using different materials and devices that are more suited to operating at the nanometer scale than in silicon. In the next five years or sooner we will see some simple memory products and possibly some hybrid molecular-CMOS (complimentary metal oxide semiconductor) devices in a few more years hence.

The next industry in which nano will have a big impact is chemicals, with more exquisitely designed catalysts being able to produce higher value-added products more easily, with less feedstock and energy. Nanotechnologies are being developed for healthcare that will have an impact on a broad range of industries, including regenerative medicine, nanoscaffolds and substrates, intelligent drug delivery systems, smart biocompatible coatings whole cells as biosensors, nanorobots in surgery, nanomedical imaging and contrast agents, cantilever sensors, nanotechnology and stem cell research, ‘point of care’ devices nanoparticle toxicology, medical textiles, and new generation implants.

Nanosys, which is developing several products that use nanotech from medical-testing equipment to new-wave memory products for cameras and MP3 players. Nano-Tex makes stain-resistant fabrics, and ‘NanoDynamics’ has grabbed headlines with a golf ball that can fly straighter, thanks to nanotechnology. It's also working on fuel cells, with plans to start selling them later this year. Each of these is more than a good science fiction tale. They've got huge revenues, growth, and a pipeline of new products. In the short term, the biggest opportunities are in materials of all sorts. Nano-composites are being introduced that have combinations of properties that no naturally-occurring material has ever had, like hardness and toughness. This is leading to a variety of improved products, like car bumpers and drill bits, and as the cost of these materials falls, they'll find broader applications.

Nanoscience and nanotechnology are at the intersection of biology, engineering, medicine, physics, and chemistry. As a result, research and development at the nanoscale are very interdisciplinary. This means that individuals have the opportunity to choose engineering or research jobs and career paths in fields as diverse as biomedical and biotechnology, MEMs/NEMs, microfluidics, material science, optoelectronics, energy and the environment, pharmaceuticals/cosmetics, and microelectronics. Nanofactories will use specialized machinery to mass-produce small parts. The scenario would be like this: a belt carrying molecular tools (moving from left to right) would meet a belt carrying cylindrical parts. Each tool adds a single atom to a precise location on each part. Afterwards, the nanofactory will assemble small parts into larger products using tiny robotic arms or molecular scale positional devices that work much like the larger ones in the modern factories.

Nanotechnolgy will usher in magical quantum mechanical changes in nature when matter is manipulated on the atomic scale because the optical, electrical, magnetic, and other characteristics of materials change in the process. And new properties come out and make themselves available to be technologically useful. For example, when a hard material like a clay or a ceramic is powdered down to the nanoscale, and mixed with a polymer, we might get a nanocomposite that can have a combination of hardness and toughness never seen in the natural world. Other features that contribute to nanotechnology's promise are the expectation of cheap, low-polluting mass manufacturing and the possibility of making things on the scale of biological building blocks, that could imitate or augment living systems. While most applications so far have been around preexisting materials, enhancing their properties, new developments are in the works. A sampling includes lighter, more fuel-efficient cars, iron particles for immobilizing pollutants, and a liquid slurry that, when painted onto a surface, would collect solar energy. The sky is the limit, for the potential of nanotechnology; rather, it is limitless!

Demonizing Coca-Cola

Years back I was working in Mumbai and had come on a short vacation in Kerala. Traveling somewhere by train I remember buying a bottle of Fanta Orange and finding it tasting different. But I was worried a bit more noticing the orange colour remaining in the mouth for long. What splashed on my infant son’s clothes remained rather ‘fast’. I thought it tasted funny because only the bottle was cold, having been kept in cold storage for just a short while. Later when the matter came up during a chat with Malayalee friends in Mumbai, one of them told me not to be foolish anymore to buy soft drinks in Kerala. They are ‘home-made’; he said, and gave be a mouthful of stories so that ever after if at all I bought soft drink here, it was a colourless one in the hope they were difficult to fake.
Believe it or not, one among those Mumbai friends announced to me later that he was resigning his job to set up a soft drink unit in a ‘C’ class town close to my village in Kerala. My initial reaction was to advise him against quitting the well-paid job in a large insurance company. But then he was one of those typical Malayalees with a killing nostalgia. He would find fault with every vegetable available in Mumbai. I only found them expensive because back home we didn’t have to buy anything other than potatoes and tomatoes. As a Mumbai-Malayalee this chap would call the vegetables by their Hindi names, ‘bindi’ ‘baingun’ and so on, and insist they were tasteless compared with those produced in Kerala; and I would laugh at it. So I thought he had that itch to return, which incidentally affected me some twenty years later! Starting a business was great; it gave you a chance to be creative and perform all for yourself. And a businessman can have those dreams no salaried man can ever rationally have; and eventually I agreed that he was perhaps doing the right thing. I saw his ‘factory’ a year later, and when I heard the name of the drink he was making, I told him I would never drink something with a name like that and we laughed together. But my wife told me that the face of my friend’s wife fell as she heard my joke. I felt sad. One had to tread softly while treading on other people’s dreams. I got busier in life and my trips to Kerala became shorter and less frequent and therefore I had no opportunity to know the progress of the project. However, I did not happen to see a soft drink by that name after settling down in Kerala in the second half of nineties.

I remembered my friend and his soft drink with that curious name when Coca-Cola bashing became a serious pastime in Kerala. I am told there are dozens of soft drink ‘brands’ in every town and every district in Kerala; and the phenomenon is not unique to our State. A couple of national brands did wonderfully well, following the exit of coke in 1977. I also remember an international brand introduced in India by Malayalees known to me, the Double Cola flopping hugely. But Pepsi and Coke and their sibling brands have been ?a cut above the rest?. I remember, Rahul, my dear friend Madhavan’s son telling me half-seriously-and-half in jest after flying down from Mumbai to visit us in Chennai “uncle, one of the reasons why I came to see you all here is to have a Pepsi!” Pepsi was test marketed first in Chennai, then called Madras. I have seen bottling plants of Pepsi and Coke and their maintenance reminded me of the transnational pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Merck, Schering, and Wyeth I had visited in the seventies. The factories gave one confidence in the quality of their products.








Coca-Cola
After a gap of 16 years, Coke returned to India in 1993 (following Pepsi’s entry) investing $1bn employing directly 6000 people and indirectly creating employment for 125000 people. Coca -Cola India has 27 wholly-owned company operations (four of them in West Bengal), 19 franchisees, and 29 contract packers running the operations. To my knowledge, Coca-Cola Company’s operations in India were at far from the break-even levels till recently. But they went on spending large amounts in spreading the manufacturing and marketing operations in the hope of making up for the losses when the market potential offered by a fast-growing billion-strong population eventually materialized. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Coca-Cola has written off losses of at least Rs.1000 crore in Indian operations so far.

The claim is that “Coca-Cola refreshes people across the world” Coca-Cola (also known as Coke, Coke being a trademark of Coca-Cola Company) is a popular carbonated 'cola' soft drink sold in stores, restaurants and vending machines in more than 140 countries. It is one of the world's most recognizable and widely sold commercial brands, in fact, a ‘super brand’. You may find it difficult to believe, it was originally intended as a patent medicine in the late 19th century! A shrewd businessman bought it over and by his aggressive marketing tactics led Coke to its dominance of the world soft drink market throughout the 20th century. Although faced with urban ultra-environmentalist legends of perverse side-effects on the health of consumers and accusations of monopolistic practices, Coca-Cola continues to be a very a popular soft drink to this day.
Coca-Cola was invented by John S. Pemberton, a former lieutenant colonel in the Confederate States Army, in 1886 in Columbus, Georgia (US), originally as ?Pemberton's French Wine Coca?. It is said that the European Angelo Mariani?s Cocawine, a great success, inspired Col.Pemberton. The beverage was named Coca-Cola because originally cocaine taken from coca leaves of South America, was the stimulant mixed in the beverage. It was also flavored using kola (Cola) nuts. Today, caffeine has replaced cocaine, but the flavoring is still done with kola nuts and the coca leaf though the drink contains no trace of the drug. In the days when carbonated drinks were considered in America as good for the health, ‘Pemberton’s French Wine Coca’ used to be sold as a patent medicine for 5 cents glass. With the ‘Temperance movement’ it was relaunched as a soft drink. Pemberton ran the first advertisement for his beverage on May 29, 1886 in the Atlanta Journal.

Asa Griggs Candler bought out Pemberton and his partners in 1887 and began aggressively marketing the product with concerted advertising campaign, which however bore fruits much later. Coca-Cola was sold in Biedenharn bottles for the first time on March 12, 1894 and Coke cans were launched in 1955. The now familiar hobble-skirt design bottles came much later. In 50 years the drink reached the status of a national icon in the US. When the United States entered World War II, Coke was provided free to American soldiers, as a patriotic drink. The popularity of the drink exploded as war weary GIs returned home with a taste for Coke.

People love to speculate about the secret ingredient in Coca-Cola. Some believe it could be ferreted out by simple analytical chemistry. The exact formula of Coca-Cola is indeed a mysterious trade secret. The original copy of the formula is known to be held in SunTrust Bank's main vault in Atlanta. Its predecessor, the Trust Company, was the underwriter for the Coca-Cola Company's initial public offering in 1919. The rumour was that only two executives have access to the formula, each one having only half the formula. The truth is that while Coca-Cola does have a rule restricting access to only two executives, each knows the entire formula and others, in addition to the said duo, have known the formulation process. One Coke secret is certainly locked safely away in a secured vault. But another, more important to the lay consumer, is not far. It?s the consistent quality of Coca-Cola. While its distinctive flavour-base is enigmatic, the world’s premier soft drink is consistently delicious for its consumers. Wherever Coca-Cola is made the system is known to adhere not only to local and national laws for food processing and labeling, but also to their strict international standards for exceptional quality.

There are many who would claim to know the ingredients going into Coca-Cola. It is generally believed that Citrate Caffeine, Citric Acid, Vanilla extract, Lime juice, Coco, Sugar, Caramel, Oil Orange, Oil Cinnamon, Oil Lemon, Oil Nutmeg, Oil Neroli, and Alcohol are some of the ingredients and flavours contained in the secret formula.

Selling Coke
Coca-Cola's advertising has had a significant impact on American culture (and allegedly on Indian culture too, lately!), and is even credited (inaccurately) with the ‘invention’ of the modern image of Santa Claus as an old man in red-and-white garments. In the 1970s, a song from a Coca-Cola commercial called ‘I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing’, produced by Billy Davis, became a popular hit single, but there is no evidence that it did anything to increase sales of the soft drink. Coke's advertising has been rather pervasive, as one of its stated goals is to ensure that everyone on Earth drank Coca-Cola as their preferred beverage. Advertising for Coke is now almost ubiquitous, in all media, especially on television, with popular idols endorsing its consumption as a fun drink. Coca-Cola has gone through a number of different advertising slogans in its long history, including ‘The pause that refreshes’, ‘I'd like to buy the world a Coke’, and ‘Coke is it’. Jingles like ‘Things go better with Coca-Cola’ and ‘Thanda mathlab Coca-Cola’ have become very popular accompanied with snazzy visuals. Coca-Cola was the first-ever sponsor of the Olympic games, at the 1928 games in Amsterdam and continue sponsoring events on a large scale all over the world. Coca-Cola advertises itself as ‘the real thing’ and is said to have spent $12 million on “communications” in India in 2003. Its sales turnover in 2002 was $217 million. Signing on Bollywood stars like Amir Khan, Aishwarya Roy and the ‘Big B’ himself, not to miss the cricketing icons for ad campaigns has hugely benefited the brand images of Coke and Pepsi in India.

The Cola Wars!
During the 1980s, the rival cola, Pepsi ran a series of television commercials showing people participating in taste tests in which they expressed a preference for Pepsi over Coke. Coca-Cola ran ads to combat Pepsi's ads in an incident sometimes referred to as the cola wars; one of Coke's ads compared the so-called Pepsi challenge to two chimpanzees deciding which tennis ball was furrier. Thereafter, Coca-Cola regained its leadership in the market. It may be remembered that the ad campaigns of Coke and Pepsi generated a lot of heat again when Pepsi made fun of Coke’s “official drink” status in the 1996 Olympics with its famously successful spot saying there was ‘Nothing Official About It’ giving it a brand attitude positioning it cleverly as a youth drink. Coke refused to be drawn in with a highbrow comment that it responds to only consumers; it doesn’t need to respond to competition. In the US, in an attempt to broaden its portfolio, Coca-Cola had bought Columbia Pictures in 1982 and many Columbia movies providing subtle publicity through Coke product placements. However, after a few early successes, when Columbia began to underperform, Coca-Cola Company divested it in 1989.

Coca-Cola bashing as a pastime

Coca-Cola has been the favourite target of urban legends decrying the drink for allegedly containing copious amounts of acid (its pH value of 2.5 is midway between vinegar and gastric acid), or the ‘life-threatening’ effects of its carbonated water. These allegations used to take the form of ‘fun facts’ before Plachimada. For example, ‘Coke can dissolve a tooth in 24-48 hours’; ‘highway patrol use Coke to clean blood from highways after accidents’; or ‘a certain person had died in a Coke-drinking competition’ and so on. All of these stories are patently false, and evidence has been presented in numerous cases against Coca-Cola since the 1920s that decisively proves that the drink is not more harmful than comparable soft drinks. It contains less citric acid than an orange. There is a very ‘scientific’ urban legend on Coke’s use as a rust-control substance. I would however, refuse to swallow the argument that the minuscule phosphoric acid content in Coke could convert iron oxide to iron phosphate, and as such can be used as an initial treatment for corroded iron and steel objects being renovated!

Well, Coke is certainly not a food drink, and can have some ill-effects on account of excessive and long-term use. Many nutritionists believe that “soft drinks and other calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods can fit into a good diet”. It is generally agreed that Coca-Cola and other soft drinks can be harmful if consumed in large quantities, particularly by young children whose soda consumption is known to compete with, rather than complement a balanced diet. Stray studies have shown that regular soft drink users have a lower intake of calcium (which can contribute to osteoporosis), magnesium, ascorbic acid, riboflavin, and vitamin A. Use of phosphoric acid and caffeine has caused criticism too, though many of these criticisms have been dismissed by the soft drink industry as mere ‘urban myths’. Regarding caffeine, imagine South Indians who consume strong coffee with relish complaining of the small quantity of caffeine in Coke as dangerous for consumption by pregnant mothers!

Coca-Cola’s Image

As the largest seller of soft drinks in the world, the Coca-Cola Company has had more than its fair share of criticism and there are many controversies surrounding the company, its products and its trade practices. The most recent denouncement is for weaning young children onto junk food. But that allegation applies to many other foods and beverages as well. Coca-Cola is the best-selling soft drink in most countries. Exceptions are Scotland, where a locally produced Irn Bru is more popular, and in Quebec province and Prince Edward Island of Canada, and China, Coke’s rival Pepsi is the market leader. Coke is less popular in other places, including some Middle Eastern and Asian countries such as the Palestinian territories and some parts of India for being American! For a conscientious observer, it would be soon obvious that, the vociferous concerns of the socialites, the environmentalists and the NGOs campaigning against Coke and Pepsi are not particularly health, environment, etc. In some Middle-East countries and in Palestine, Coca-Cola is a hated drink, due to anti-American sentiment or the perception that Coca-Cola supports Israel. An “Islamically correct” soft drink brand, Mecca Cola, has become a hit in the Gulf region in the past few years!

The Plachimada saga

The Plachimada campaign against Coke was manifold and many-pronged. A controversy was kicked up first by a BBC Radio reporter who mysteriously picked up samples of some solid waste from outside the Plachimada Coca-Cola plant in Kerala, had it analysed in Exeter University lab in UK and announced to the world that it contained dangerous levels of led and cadmium. Coca-Cola was disparaged for polluting the earth. Later environmentalists and sundry NGOs took over the issue and raised suspicions regarding the health standards of the drink itself. A New Delhi-based NGO, CSE , collected samples on its own, analysed and published data showing several times the ?permissible limits? of pesticides in Coca Cola and several other branded soft drinks. It should be remembered that all this was all done in this country where the courts have thrown out of the windows cases of adulteration of various food products for legal infirmities such as not collecting the sample in presence of the vendor, or without the mandatory witnesses, or for not sealing the samples at the time of collection and in presence of the vendor and witnesses etc!

Nobody found anything abnormal about a BBC reporter curiously collecting samples of solid wastes outside a Coke plant. In the normal course of events no one would have been visibly attracted to the odourless compost-like heaps. But following the media hype even the Courts assumed that anybody could collect any sample related to Coke and Pepsi from anywhere and have them analysed according to their whims and fancies, and have the findings splashed in media and wreak havoc on the commercial activity of these two international soft drink companies. There are innumerable ‘deshi’ soft drink brands in this country. Most of them collect water from open sources, filter it in the crudest traditional manner, mix ‘essences’ or such soft drink concentrates as they please and sell at slightly lower prices. Millions of bottles of soda are manufactured and sold in the same manner. Millions of cane-juice vendors literally sell jaundice and amoebiasis on Indian streets to unsuspecting consumers. Nobody is worried about the multi-coloured ‘soft drink concentrates’ mass-marketed in the country. Nobody loses sleep over the sweet unbranded coloured water sold on the way side all over India either. When in the late Seventies the Bombay Municipal Corporation banned the roadside cane juice vending, for its proven role in spreading the contagion of jaundice in the metropolis, Shabani Azmi took up cudgels for the ‘ghana-juicewallas’ arguing mainly for their livelihood and that the fruit juice served in the Taj and Oberoi Hotels in Mumbai also will have larger quantities of coliform bacteria if analysed!


Pesticides in Colas

It was on August 4, 2003 that the Centre for Science and Environment, a non-governmental body, announced through a press conference that it had conducted tests which showed that Pepsi's soft drink products had 36 times the level of pesticide residues permitted under European Union regulations, Coca Cola's 30 times. The CSE said in all 12 of the soft drinks it tested it found toxins including Lindane, DDT, Malathion and Chlorpyrifos - pesticides that can contribute to cancer and a breakdown of the immune system. CSE claimed it had tested the same products in the US and found no such residues. “These companies take advantage of the fact that India has no regulations governing the quality of water that goes into soft drinks”, said Sunita Narain of the CSE. Following this sensational allegation (or revelation as many would see it) at a joint press conference the heads of Pepsi's and Coca Cola's India businesses - both wholly owned by their US parents - suggested the allegations were politically motivated. They maintained that both Coke and Pepsi used the same quality control standards to test their products in India and the rest of the world. Pepsi and Coca-Cola dominate the Indian soft drinks market, and were growing at between 12 and 14 per cent a year.

“There is a desire to create panic and a deliberate scare”, Sanjiv Gupta, president of Coca-Cola in India reportedly said challenging the methodology of the CSE tests and asking for a peer review by the top five scientists in India. What followed was a trial by media assuming that the CSE report was the Gospel Truth. There was no peer group scientists? review, but tests were ordered at various national testing labs in what looked like an attempt to locate a lab that would give reports acceptable to the media and the anti-multi-national lobby in the country. The media found manna in the news of Gotu Laxmaiah, a farmer from Ramakrishnapuram in Andra Pradesh, delightfully announcing that when he applied cola spray on several hectares of cotton, pests began to die. The original scoop belonged to the respectable Deccan Herald. The paper wrote that the main reason why Coke has become popular for use as a pesticide is cost. Traditional pesticides cost around 10,000 rupees per litre, but a litre and half of Coke costs only 30 rupees! Then followed reports of hundreds of farmers turning to Coke in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh. While there is no scientific basis for Coke's effectiveness as a pesticide and I would rank this as the best cock and bull story ever spread by media as news, there is a possibility that the sugar in the cola attracts red ants that feed on insect larvae and give results. Pepsi and local soft drinks would have been just as effective. The intelligentsia belonging to the Left and ‘Swadeshi’ breed fervently hoped that instead of paying hefty fees to international chemical companies like Monsanto, Shell and Dow for patented pesticides, Indian farmers could be spraying their cotton and chilli fields with Coca-Cola. Imagine pests dying of the infinitesimal quantities of pesticides in Coke and Pepsi when Indian farmers, in their anxiety to destroy crop-destroying pests were using larger than recommended quantities! There is a large volume of literature called Cokelore discussing lightly the other properties of Coke. Use of Coke as an effective lavatory cleaner, a good windscreen wipe and an efficient rust spot remover are part of it. The latest is from China claiming that the ill-fated New Coke was widely used there as a spermicide. The Indian media was so intoxicated by its own work in this area that a senior journalist and media advisor to a group of respected newspapers went gaga over the tale of Guntur farmers using Coke as pesticide that he wrote a peace titled “Pesticides with fizz. Enjoy, drop dead” on the front page of the national daily in English!
In 2004 Coca-Cola had a bad year in India!

Sucking the land dry!

Let us take up the other allegation that The Coca-Cola Company is wantonly exploiting groundwater in India. It is without any scientific basis and not supported by the authorities that regulate water use in India, ‘unattached’ academics, or the local communities in which their plants are located. Firstly, in India, the beverage industry is responsible for just 0.002% of total water usage. To single it out for tapping the country’s water resources dry is therefore ridiculous.
Secondly, the beverage industry is perhaps one of the most efficient users of water, by virtue of the nature of its operations. A typical Coca-Cola plant uses just two or three bore wells for its water needs and extracts that water with pumps of a similar capacity as those used by other industries and farmers in the same community. Within approximately five kilometers of the Plachimada plant, for example, there are about 200 open shallow wells. Coca-Cola uses only 2 open shallow wells within its plant. In the same area there are nearly 150 bore wells. There are only 6 bore wells within Coca-Cola plant which uses no more than 3 bore wells at any one time. But then the place has a river running by it, it has the Moolatthara dam, and irrigation canals. I am told there is a canal supplying water exclusively to a distillery nearby!

More significantly, Coke plant in Plachimada has established a rainwater harvesting technology in place long before it was made mandatory in the state. If ground water levels have certainly decreased, the reason could be only that the rainfall in the area has been well below average for several years. The Kerala State Ground Water Department has confirmed this maintaining that any depletion in ground water at Plachimada was due to poor rainfall and could not be attributed to the Coca-Cola plant. The Central Ground Water Authorities have also confirmed there were no abnormal changes in groundwater levels around the Coke plant that can be attributed to the plant?s operation. Most recently the interim report of the Centre for Water Resources Development & Management had come clear with an observtion that no logical connection could be established between the groundwater depletion and the Coca-Cola plant in Kerala.

Coca-Cola is perhaps one of the few companies to have made any contribution to recharging groundwater in India and uses less water, more efficiently, than many other industries. I would believe that a small number of politically motivated groups have just chosen to target The Coca-Cola Company, using the Coca-Cola brand name for the furtherance of their own anti-multi-national agendas. The allegations against Coca-Cola are motivated more by an anti-globalization agenda, rather than by those with genuine environmental concerns. The Judiciary in India, which is generally very cautious and conservative, has been very proactive and progressive when it comes to MNC-related matters. I remember how the Supreme Court of India took up suo motu the Coca-Cola ads painted on rocks in the Himalayan region and fined the soft drink giant a hefty sum for causing environmental damage. I was astonished to note that no Court took up the case of the Capital City of Kerala State stinking to the high heavens precisely during the time thanks to the Municipal garbage collectors not clearing the waste for more than 2 weeks. There was no environmental damage, I suppose. Coca-Cola ads were no doubt eyesores in the pristine environs of Himalayas. But do not the terribly polluting industrial activity, rotting slaughterhouse waste strewn about, indiscriminately disposed hospital waste, the unremoved garbage in a thickly populated city etc. invite similar judicial wrath? In the context Coca-Cola bashing appears only to be an easy route to publicity and prestige!

In November 2004, the Rajastan High Court ruled that the soft drinks in future must state on their labels the level of pesticides in the product in addition to the ingredients. Supreme Court on Dec.6th 2004 made it mandatory for Pepsi and Coke (the newspapers did not mention other names!) would have to display on their bottles a warning that the soft drinks may contain pesticide residues! What about the hundred of brands of “bottled drinking water” and “mineral water”?? If Coke and Pepsi contain pesticides, they must have entered these drinks from the water drawn from sources in this country. I am more worried about those who drink the water straight from the natural sources or from municipal taps - particularly those who cannot afford to drink Pepsi and Coke. Nobody seems to be worried. Would a public campaign to ensure that at least our open sources of drinking water are kept unpolluted be literally casting media concerns upon waters leading to dilution of its salience, solicitude, value, worth? No, who is bothered about people suffering innumerable ailments from drinking polluted water when Coke-Pepsi bashing presents better scope for more interesting copy, and it is also more ‘politically correct’, eh?
Besides being illogical and downright dishonest, this sort of pastime can be extremely damaging to the country?s reputation as an interesting investment destination. ?The radical and negative language? alone, with no follow-up action, i.e., the barks without bites, can dissuade many from coming in or sending their money. Some of the $45 billion FDI in here from US sources could make a vanishing act too. But then there are many here who refer to FDI as ‘colonizing capital’!
Tail piece: I read that the lawyers employed by Coke and Pepsi argued (unsuccessfully) in the Supreme Court that at levels like 0.027 parts per million etc., the pesticides are quite harmless. Did their Lordships understand the point? Probably they were furious and hence the ruling. I wouldn’t blame their Lordships either. And whether ‘infallible’ or not, they are final! Finally, I wanted to write this piece for a long time. But then Asianet was telecasting Coke ads and as an employee benefiting from the revenue, I would have been blamed for bias.

Cleanliness is Godliness!
 TM MENON
Gujarat has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for a few years now, and its Chief Minister, considered too soft to handle a ?sensitive border state? by The Week magazine a few days after his name was announced for the gaddi, has now a reputation worse than that of Hitler. I just happened to chance upon a very pleasant news item from the State many would love to wipe out of the map of India: Raj Samadhiyala, a small village some 25 km from Rajkot is going to be awarded the Nirmal Gram Puraskar (Clean Village Prize) by the Prime Minister of India at a function in New Delhi on the 24th of February. That is no mean achievement and it did not come by easy either. It appears that the Raj Samadhiyala Gram Samiti formed in 1978 for the development of the village has been also leading a unique clean-up drive. The village elders slap fines of Rs.51 to Rs.151 for offences ranging from selling gutka to children, littering the streets, spitting in public places and causing noise pollution bursting crackers during wedding ceremonies. Sale of gutka attracts a fine of Rs.51 and throwing garbage on the roadside Rs.151, for example.
The Samiti has evolved what its Chairman Hardev Singh Jadeja calls a fail-proof system to collect such fines, which are imposed in presence of a witness each. The witness acts as a guarantor for the offender as well, and the second time he commits an offence, the witness is fined half as much as the offender. That is more innovative than the schemes in Singapore! The Rs.17lakh the Village Panchayat has in fixed deposits has largely come from these fines over the years. In the initial years, the pickings were to the tune of Rs.40000-50000 per annum and with the powerful message of cleanliness and civic sense trickling down to every child, man and woman in the village, it has come down steadily to hardly a couple of hundred rupees now. And the village of Raj Samadhiyala has the singular honour of being 100 per cent clean. That does proud to the best known Gujarati and the most illustrious son of India, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi himself who always maintained that cleanliness was Godliness.

That thought brings me to the city I live in, Thiruvananthapuram, which was considered the cleanest Indian City in the early seventies. I would swear indeed that was minus the area known as Thampanoor, which comprised the KSRTC bus depot, stations and the Central Railway Station! It was dirty then, dirtier now and constantly upgrading that status, if you ask me. The railway platforms are swept clean and the garbage is simply thrown on the tracks. Kollam KSRTC bus station, located on the banks of the Lake Ashtamudi, could be a tourist spot if a little care is taken to keep it clean. But it is an eyesore. Kottarakkara KSRTC station from where you can catch a bus to Mookambika or Milan thanks to a gentleman from the area lording over the transport ministry for long, stinks to the high heavens and is littered like mad. The Venice of the East is a town with some of the larger effluent canals in the world criss-crossing it. It is such a beauty a meter over ground as the Larry Baker illustrations would tell you! Kochi is the litter capital besides being the uncontested mosquito-capital of Kerala. As motor vehicles move fast, you can see dust and the waste paper and plastic flying everywhere.

Guruvayur, the temple town, reeks with the smell of human excreta, damn it. I would love to make a pilgrimage to Shabarimala every year, but am unable to muster courage to do so for fear of loosing faith in the pilgrimage on account of the dirt I have seen piling up there and flowing down the Holy River Pamba. I have made three pilgrimages to the Lord Ayappa’s temple but each time couldn’t get my mind off the havoc wreaked by His passionate devotees. Each one of them thinks of only his/her quick return to normal life and hurries through every ritual and in the process, also making matters worse for others. Many defecate in the river, on its banks or on either side of the ascending path to the temple. Shabarimala, visited by 50 million pilgrims in the last season, must be infinitely worse than it was thirty years back I made the trip last. If we cannot keep our God’s abode and the Holy Rivers like Pamba (or Ganges, for that matter) clean, do we qualify to be called civilized human beings? God, I am thinking, will any tourist with some sense of cleanliness come back here a second time, whatever good things the travel literature write about this God-forsaken State of ours? I was pleasantly surprised when Kozhikode looked swept clean on a Saturday morning I got off the train there. I found the city clean in almost all other areas, including the notoriously crowded Mithai Theru. High marks for the polite and honest autorikshaw drivers, and high marks for the Corporation safaiwallas. But then from Kozhikode we had reports of fish being dried out in the open beaches, and deadly pesticides sprayed to keep flies off!

Whatever has happened to Malayalees’ celebrated sense of cleanliness? Come to think of it, even now we are all meticulously clean about ourselves. Perfect in personal hygiene, two baths, laundered and ironed clothes and all. We keep our homes clean too, and buy all sorts of things to make them look elegant and one up on our neighbours?. But we have no scruples regarding throwing our household waste into the vacant plot next door or on the pavement of the road in front of our house. I have seen motorists stopping their vehicles and throwing plastic carrier bags full of household waste unnoticeably into street corners, and defiantly into the Kocchaar as well as Karamanyaar. That terrible sight had raised murderous thoughts in my mind every time I had witnessed it. Nobody else seems to bother. I have seen well-dressed gentlemen waiting at bus stops go over to the middle of the road and spit sputum forcibly collected for the purpose, and walk back to their perches on the railings or the resting blocks. Once, taking advantage of my age I admonished a youngster doing this odious thing, and he come menacingly towards me and deciding not to hit me asked, ?trying to shine, old goon?? He went on to tell me that next time he would remember to do it on my head if I wished, to the visible entertainment of a few people at the bus stop. I wished I could thrash him without the law punishing me, and knowing its futility, prayed for yet another impossibility: for mother earth to swallow me up to spare further humiliation.

Not that I have not been humiliated before for similar reasons. In the early seventies at the Bombay (“Mumbai” only to Maharashtrians then) GPO I saw a postal employee back from his lunch spitting at the feet of one of the several pillars in the hall, behind the arched counters for the various postal services. He had done it close to the queue I was waiting in and I couldn?t resist shouting across “kya karthey ho” (What are you doing?) He came close to me and rasped a few choice epithets at me and threatened to give me a ‘thappad’ (slap) and my cousin, and old Bombay hand and fluent in Marathi said something to pacify him, and turning to me confided that I could even be arrested for troubling a government servant on duty or some such terrible thing if I did not keep quiet. Later, I have put up with much worse, like sitting at the end of the seat in a second-class Central Railway compartment unflinchingly when a card-playing fellow passenger “dropped” a mouthful of betel waste next to my feet; lifted my legs obligingly for the CIDCO bus conductor in New Bombay (now Navi Mumbai) to spit under my seat bending slightly from his perch on the footboard of the bus, and so on. There was a positive side to dirt: Mumbai cured me of my dust allergy!

Our hospitals are the dirtiest places on earth. Even the attitudes of doctors are not conducive for health, going by reports. Dr.Suneethi Solomon, AIDS researcher and activist, told us Rotarians in Chennai once that it was unfortunately the community of medical practitioners that was probably most responsible for spread of HIV-AIDS in this country. They have neither the time nor the inclination to autoclave surgical instruments after each surgery. They do not mind reusing the disposable syringes just for the sake of convenience and “saving time”! The viral spread of jaundice in the Kottayam Medical College points a finger at this dirty, unhealthy attitude. My wife bought a bottle of drinking water at the cost of Rs.10 at the Ernakulam South railway station and found it was not a sealed bottle. When she protested, the seller said she would have to pay five rupees more for water in a sealed bottle. Someone sitting next to her supported that argument. But she had asked for bottled drinking water, and that had to be tamper-proof, whatever is the price. And imagine selling tap water for Rs.10 per bottle! Remember, Lonely Planet, the widely read international travel guide mentions that one could die simply by drinking water from Alappuzha! Dying would be a better option than living with amoebiasis for the rest of one’s life.

I have always felt this deep anguish and pain watching my countrymen doing filthy things and wondered why they had to do those particularly abominable deeds, like dozens of Mumbaikars sitting along railway tracks with their bottoms up and exposed to passengers who have just flown into the commercial capital of India. I do understand they live in shanties and have no toilets to perform their daily ablutions, but do they have to do this in a manner that insults their country? At the entrance of the Charatsingh Colony off the Andheri-Kurla Road in Mumbai I have seen young and old women sitting and defecating with open umbrellas held in front of them. Well, that was some precaution, and it hid the more ugly aspects of relieving! They had an open space quarter the size of a football ground between the road and their ‘chawls’ and could have built makeshift public conveniences there. No, they would rather go through the tricky and embarrassing early morning chores on the narrow sidewalk. At the Nariman Point in Mumbai, I saw a wall wholly plastered with a pantheon of Hindu Gods, the Sirdhi Sai Baba, Lord Buddha, Mahavir, Christian icons and the picture of K’aba and scriptures from Holy Koran. I felt curious, and quizzed the panwallah. He said that was to stop people from pissing on the wall and flooding the area. That was in the late eighties when hundred thousand people were working in offices in the area and with the Vidhan Sabha and the offices of the Air India and Indian Airlines at least fifty thousand people must have been visiting Nariman Point. There was not a single public convenience in the locality, and only the fear of Gods would make people balk from attending to the call of nature No.1! Those are trying circumstances indeed. But more often than not, as a people we ignore lessons in cleanliness out of selfishness, and/or sheer carelessness. And perhaps Gandhiji would not have mixed the sacred and the profane in his aphorism sited earlier in this essay, had he foreseen these hyper secular times when many Indians would wallow in dirt with a vengeance just to be ungodly!

On War, Valour and Freedom

Believe me, I have not come across many soldiers who are fired by the legendary patriotic fervour that has from time immemorial sent the men in uniforms willing to kill and die for one’s Motherland. But, going by the records the world over, in the armed forces of various countries and in militant outfits seeking freedom, honour and heaven, there are millions of men and women willing to make that supreme sacrifice ordinary mortals like me find baffling, mind-boggling and no less exciting and heroic. My first brush with a man of that ilk was in the late sixties. Gajendra Singh Jasrotia was an instructor in the National Cadet Corps, which I could not join, though I very much wanted to. It was not compulsory then as was since the following year, and I missed the opportunity on account of being absent from college that day. Subedar Jasrotia was living in a room adjacent to my friend’s and we developed an acquaintance. One day I blurted out to him that most Malayalees joined the armed forces only when they could not find other options of making a living. Jasrotiasab’s face, already the colour of a Kashmiri apple, flushed further with emotion, very close to anger. He told me he had 7 brothers and all of them were in the Indian Army. He waxed eloquence on how proud the whole family was to serve the country’s defenses. He said we are free because of the sufferings and sacrifices of our Armed Forces. They are not mercenaries; they are patriots to the core. I apologised and clarified that I was not ridiculing the Armed Forces. I was talking about Malayalee attitudes. I told him how the ?marriage market? in Kerala allot a low priority to men in uniforms and among them preferred those who served in the IAF and the Indian Navy and nearly avoided the lowly foot soldiers of the Army. I learnt from him that in Punjab, it was the other way around: the infantryman commanded more respect and dowry! To this day I believe, right or wrong that we Malayalees are less patriotic, and ridicule ‘hyper-patriotic’ people as ‘Fascists’? inventing all sorts or intelligent arguments to defend cowardice in times of war. That brings me to another story that I wanted to tell you here.

In a cold winter night of 1965, a young US Army sergeant named Charles Robert Jenkins serving in the Korean front leading a night patrol near the demilitarized zone separating the two warring Koreas deserted. The reason? He was simply scared. The frequent patrols along the DMZ was dangerous enough and he was scrupulously avoiding the more adventurous ‘Hunter-Killer’ missions along the 38th parallel when he learnt that the unit was likely to be shipped to Vietnam shortly. He desperately wanted to quit the army and go home. So he fortified himself with some 10 cans of beer and went as the lead man and just walked away hoping to reach somehow in Russia and later, to the US to turn himself in. But he lost way and was taken into custody by the North Koreans and lived in the Hermit Kingdom as a prisoner, suffering unspeakable physical and psychological abuse for the next 15 years. In 1980 he was allowed to move into a house all for himself and shortly afterwards, a young Japanese nurse came into his life. Like many other Japanese who were systematically kidnapped and pressed into services in North Korea, Hitomi Soga also had come not on her own. She was a nurse by profession. Jenkins and Soga became man and wife and had two daughters. Along with many other forced settlers, Soga could go back to Japan on a 10-day visit following the meeting between Kim Jong II and the Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi in 2002. She did not return, and when yet another visit by Koizumi to Pyongyang gave an opportunity to Jenkins to join her and live happily in Japan, the North Korean authorities forced him to refuse it. But the Japanese influenced the U.S. to have Jenkins treated leniently if he turned himself in. Eventually, in 2004 July, Jenkins met Sogo in Jakarta, and went to Tokyo for medical treatment and afterwards surrendered to the US Army in the Yokosuka Naval Base. At the end of his harrowing 40-year journey, Sergeant Jenkins appeared before a US Army one-day general court-martial at Camp Zama near Tokyo. He pleaded guilty for desertion and aiding the enemy (having taught English to North Korean military cadets for 4 years) as per a pretrial agreement. He received a short confinement along with a demotion to private, forfeiture of all pay and benefits, and a final dishonorable discharge. He would live the rest of his life in his wife’s home island, Sado in Japan.

I told you the story to clarify further that I did not find Sergeant Jenkins’ behaviour very strange. Ever since the Vietnam War I had this lurking suspicion, that young Americans are not a particularly valiant people. Having never been under attack or even serious threat to their own country, (that is why 9/11 shook them and turned more people scared) they don’t seem to care much about fighting other people’s war for whatever glorious reasons. I had always attributed the huge processions in US opposing the ‘unjust war’ as a rather clever ruse not to send one’s children to fight it or not to be conscripted to serve in the frontlines of a bloody war overseas. It may be remembered that it wasn’t until the regular arrival of a large number of bodybags from Vietnam after 1965 that the Antiwar Movement actually found its roots and dug in. Words like “counter culture’, "establishment”, “nonviolence”, “pacification”, “draft-dodger”, “free love”, “Kent State”, and “Woodstock” were suddenly added to the American vocabulary. It was the beginning of the hippie generation, the sexual revolution and the drug culture. The country’s youth, who had more interesting experiments at home, did not want to die in the line fire abroad. So they began demanding answers to America’s high profile presence in Vietnam. Once the draft was introduced young people on college and university campuses all around the country began to organise protests against the war. Teach-ins and student organizations like the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) held rallies and marches, the first of which happened in Washington in April of 1965. Over the next 2 years the anti-war movement snowballed. Even the GIs stationed overseas began supporting the Anti-war movement in whatever capacity they could, from wearing peace symbols to refusing to obey orders.

For the Communists anti-Vietnam War protests in the US was manna falling from heaven. These “peaceniks” had very enthusiastic funding from the Soviet Union. The peace marchers could make life miserable for two US Presidents, one of whom had the misfortune to have the US forces eventually defeated in a war that they clamed was ?undeclared? anyway. Nobody ever thought declaring it would have mattered much against the determined Vietcong nationalist sentiments. The US forces did not know haw to fight a guerilla war then. They still do not know, as demonstrated in Afghanistan and Iraq where small bands of highly motivated jihadis are staging highly successful hit and run missions, sending those very unpleasant bodybags home. So you have the protestors marching the streets of US cities once again, waving those highly moralistic messages on placards and banners. To cap it all we had that “sleaseball film-maker” Michael Moore making a piece of “politainment” mixing sober outrage with mischievous humour and blithely trampling the boundary between documentary and demagoguery, exploiting the popular sentiments to influence the US Presidential election. For the first time in history the pomp and pizzazz of an American President’s swearing-in was marred by protestors carrying “War Mongers” sign and “He is not our President” on placards which distracted the media from many more with “Lov Ya Dubya” placards. Police had used pepper spray on some of the unruly elements bent on spoiling the celebration. That is the most powerful democracy on earth for you!

Students of history would remember that 30 years before the Vietnam War protests, another anti-war movement had gained momentum during the depression years, against the First World War. Some the protestors then were isolationists who thought that the US was best served by minding its own business. Others, shaken by he economic depression admired the apparent prosperity of the German and Italian dictatorships on the one side and the “dictatorship of the proletariat
” on the other. It paralysed American diplomacy almost until the Pearl Harbor and provoked the most hilarious Churchillian dig against an ally: “The president of the United States could be expected to take the correct decision when all other options are exhausted!” Its history coming full-circle.

Americans did not like Saddam Hussein a wee bit and rejoiced in his downfall. No doubt, Americans cherish democracy and would love to see Iraqi polity blossoming into a full-fledged open democracy. Their President would exhort them quoting the durable wisdom of the Constitution United States that they have to fight for democracy in the rest of the world for it to remain one. What they do not seem to like is the price to be paid for the messianic mission by their President to realize that dream. They don’t mind the Coalition soldiers bombing and shooting their way to free people of oppressors and tyrants, but hate those bodybags coming home. George W Bush feels that the future US security lay in spreading the “untamed fire of freedom” to the darkest corners of tyranny and threatens not to ignore oppression or excuse oppressors anywhere in the world. Many young Americans do not seem to share his enthusiasm. As I was about to conclude this piece, I remembered coming across a news item on Lt.Neil Prakash, formerly of the Indian Army and seen action on the Kargil heights, getting decorated for gallantry in Baqubah, Iraq in the summer of 2004 as a tank platoon leader of the 2nd Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment of the US Army. Is that Americans outsourcing military heroism from India?

Sex and Keralites

I am a conservative and feel that sex should be a very private, hush-hush affair. I always felt that elements of discreet silence and prudent deafness should be part of not only my own sexual escapades, imagined or real, but also of others around me. However, I for one wouldn’t worry about graceful, discriminating sexual transactions between two people in private. But this sort of ‘prudishness’, as it is called, is on the verge of disappearing. It was on the wane right in my college days, and I remember having come very close to getting beaten up one day on account of my above feeling and a flair for repartee. A scion of an estate owning gentry from Palai was holding court in our hostel and holding forth particularly on his irresistibility among members of the opposite sex. He bragged that he took after his father in this portfolio and went on to claim that there was no village around his place where his dad had not fathered his look-alikes. I was at the end of my patience and blurted out “we have heard this one long enough, now let’s know about the adventures on your other parent’s side if any, for a change”. It took a few seconds and a roar of laughter from others to send the dig home to his brain and as he lunged forward to attack me, friends over-powered him. I survived the huge fellow’s anger on the strength of my intense propaganda about the years I spent mastering Kalarippayattu! But never again he boasted of his sexual adventures.

People seem to flaunt their affection for not only the other sex, but for one’s own these days. Homosexual tendencies were supported and justified once upon a time as an activity one pursued in times of extreme difficulty for the natural liaison with the opposite sex. Now it is being considered not only as normal, but also as one of the inalienable human rights! There seem to be NGOs functioning only to protect these rights and to make prostitution a profession just as any other. ‘Sex workers’ are not only sympathised with, but also defended as people engaged in normal work. We are told that prostitution is just as essential and honourable as any other work, and that prostitutes only trade the only available products and services they have for a living. If they do dirty work, just as garbage vans carry only refuse, not guilt, they are not at fault. I do not think we are far from these premises to the present situation awash with sexual atrocities and attendant crimes. It looks like abuse besmirching use without any moral implications!

Don’t parents and relatives persuade and torture their wards into the education and professions they do not like? Haven’t we heard of students complaining half way through their college education that they never wanted to pursue engineering and medicine or chemistry and so on, and discontinuing studies, or even escaping the torture ending their lives? Well, such things are happening in the field of sex as well. Parents are seen less anxious to stop their daughters entering professions promising easy fame and money and slipping into prostitution, or relatives are pushing them into such. Pimps and other ‘interested’ people are enticing adolescent girls into the world of fun and frolic with clothes, perfumes, mobile phones, ornaments and plenty of cash. Girls are hired and fired, bought and sold. The rapacious acts of private sex are assuming proportions of a social menace, which now fill our newspapers, magazines and the visual media. Incest is not the rarest phenomenon it was in Kerala. In fact no relationship seems to have any sanctity. Boys openly crack sexual jokes about teachers’ wives. Sisters-in-law who used to be equivalent to mothers in olden times have also become desirable sexual objects these days. Friends’ mothers are no different. As late M.P.Narayana Pillai bemoaned, any female between the age of six and sixty is unsafe on the state’s thoroughfares even in broad daylight.

There are indeed no laws against consenting adults engaging in private sex. The laws are only against women soliciting favours offering sex and men making a nuisance of themselves against public order. But one of the most permissive societies in the world, Sweden passed a law in 1999 criminalising commercial sex. Most countries have laws against touting on streets and other brazen types of selling sex and pimping. Recently France outlawed commercial sex with vulnerable women, adding pregnant women in the category. Since ‘knowledge of English language’ is not a criterion in being engaged in sex work, the British found lately that there is an international work force practicing the trade in London and thought fit to curb the activity with stricter law. We are being advised by our neo-sociologists that we need to loosen our laws.

When the consenting adults are involved, it is hard to see either side as victims. But in this area Kerala’s major contribution seems to be in giving the go to the element of consent and dragging innocent girls and women in vulnerable plights into the sordid world of sexual exploitation. I do not know whether it is on account of a progressive improvement in Malayalee’s libido or his morality being on the descent, or simply because the law and order situation is scant, the stories of sexual assaults and atrocities involving minor girls of 3 or 5 years and women as old as 70 and eighty are regularly popping up in the media. College-going and school-going boys are being abducted and subjected to “unnatural acts”. Sex-starved scoundrels are reported to empty their semen sacs on unsuspecting female fellow-passengers in our public transports. Our institutions for the mentally ill have earned notoriety unheard of in the civilized world. A cartoon character in a local daily asking “if the boy is employed in the mental asylum why does he want to get married?” some time in the nineties has left a bad taste in my mouth to this day. The blood-curdling act of a hired male hospital attendant in Kozhikode raping a woman burn victim as he was “cleaning” her body is beyond even the limits of abhorrence. Such terrible reports make one prefer punitive measures such as beheading and stoning or even worse to the retributive justice meted out by our modern system of criminal jurisprudence. Sex which is perhaps one of the most enjoyable of human experiences is becoming increasingly associated with outrage and misery in ‘God’s Own Country’.

The ‘Suryanelli girl’ who was sexually molested by dozens of people over a period of weeks. The Kothamangalam girl who reeled off a list of 143 people including State and Central ministers. The woman pimp in Kozhikkode who ran a beautician course and an ice cream parlour tricked innocent girl students and customers to have ice cream and soft drinks laced with narcotic substances and into beds in the anterooms of the shop and later sent them to service her rich and influential contacts. The list of such atrocities in our contemporary society is rather long and unending. The above are a few well-publicized samples of the countless sexual crimes perpetrated in our state. The fact that men ranging from ministers and police officials to their drivers sexually exploited the beautiful girls is an extension of this tragic saga. It is sad that only the involvement of a Minister helped one of these cases to be an issue for public debates and protests. It reveals not our hypersensitivity, as many tend to allege, but the hypocrisy of the society. The Minister obviously transgressed only the 11th Commandment Moses missed: “thou shall not be found out”! Everybody knows that just as the liquor business, the flesh trade is a flourishing enterprise in the state. That we supply girls to the prostitution rackets in other states of the Union and short-term ‘brides’ to the Arabs is no secret either.

What alarms me is the prospect of such inhuman exploitation of women becoming “common” and being adjudged “normal”. A former Chief Minister tried to trivialize a hullabaloo over a sex scandal exposed during his regime with a casual and cruel remark that “wherever the fair sex are, there will be sex trade too”. When some foreign women tourists were tied up and gang-raped in the state’s main tourist spot, Kovalam, the same chief executive of the state said that it was no big calamity for the alleged victims as it is made out to be, since a rape is as commonplace as having a cup of tea in their country. Strange as it may seem, swords are drawn against a Minister in the present Cabinet for an offense that was officially and politically suppressed when he was in the Opposition. A non-issue then becomes a moral issue now, after 8 years because he is in power. If that is the level of our moral standards, the less noise made about it, and the less written about it, the better.

Once I happened to watch a Valentines Day special programme on a cable television channel in which a boy studying in 9th standard in a city school came on air declaring his ‘love’ for a neighbourhood girl even disclosing her identity. I saw a similar programme on a national Hindi channel too, and the boy here was asking a particular girl to come to a disco wearing a particular dress. Parents seem to have no control over such public behaviour. Girls are petted and pinched in public transports and crowded places and indecent advances are made to them right in front of their parents or escorts. When amorous approaches are resisted and rebuffed, threats and attacks follow. While healthy relationship between boys and girls is very much the need of the times, uncontrolled romantic affairs and sexual encounters gradually lead to sexual anarchy and loss of tenderness and poignancy in man-woman relationships.

I remember Suban, a character in a KA Abbas novel decrying romance and love. ‘Subanovsky’, as he was called in the college campus, was obviously a Communist and looked at everything through the red monocles. Boys and girls are like he-goats and she goats, according to him. “Every normally constituted young man would like to pop into bed with every normally constituted young girl, and vice versa”, Subhanovsky’s principle and praxis of the foundation of our human existence were that. Are we heading towards such a material interpretation? I am afraid the quasi-liberal experiments now going on in our society may not live up to our expectations of being ‘modern’ and on the contrary, perhaps lead to an ‘epidemic’ of under-age sex, physical and mental diseases, promiscuity, proliferation of prostitution, organised crime and wider collapse in morals. It is a pity that a state taking pride in its ?values? and educational and social achievements seems fast moving towards sexual anarchy and moral degradation.
TM MENON

 

 

The Express Highway

for Dr Raji Menon
Why should a small country like Dubai decide to build the tallest building in the world of the height of 609 meters that can withstand winds up to a velocity of 190 km per hour? Why would engineers dream of a tunnel between New York and London at a cost of anything up to $175 billion? It is because human imagination and ingenuity wants to and can solve problems of that scale which will take people from London to New York in an hour in trains on magnetic cushion. What of the space lift which contemplates a 99,700 km rope of composite fiber fixed on a platform somewhere in the Pacific Ocean with its other end attached to a satellite weighting 45 tons in a geostationary orbit? This will enable us to send goods weighting up to 5 tons using much less energy than with rockets! Dubai could worry about the lack of greenery, the Americans about international terrorism and the world at large, about poverty, disease and death. Is that the way to go? Take a child to the seashore and see how he or she will build a castle from sand. The desire to build is innate with human being. I get the creeps when people who know that the society gives them a patient hearing question the very basics of the need for the superhighway proposed. The state government and its Public Works Department in charge have aired explanations on the need for the express high way and they sound quite convincing to me.
It is often said that the civilization of a country may be judged by the condition of its highways. By this standard the current Indian one could be categorized indeed as a ‘wounded civilization’ as VS Naipaul (Sir.Vidya) found it years back. It is not only wounded, but also bleeding profusely, if you ask me! It may be remembered here that France had the best road system in the early 20th century, which inspired the Germans to build their autobahns. The Americans, under President Eisenhower emulated the Germans and began the interstate highway program and US roads are now better in terms of system connectivity, geometry and safety perspectives making them the world’s premier highway system.

Transport (together with communication) is recognized throughout the world as being instrumental in the social development and economic growth of any country with a vital role in augmenting the capacities of an economy as well as enhancing its competitiveness, providing access to markets, economic progress and consequently reduction in poverty. Kerala has the highest road density in India (over 3.4 km per square km). Out of this around 30.000 km are owned by PWD, the rest belonging to various departments (Forests, Electricity Board, Local Administration, etc.). But unfortunately, not even one percent of these roads have the requisite international quality in terms of various technical parameters including the correct ‘roughness index’. Nobody seems to have correctly quantified the enormous loss to the national exchequer on account of the large number of accidents, the wear and tear of vehicles, the loss of lives, wastage of fuel, the loss of time, bottlenecks and disruption in transport and communication, the loss of opportunities, loss of productivity and all the huge hidden costs on account of the poor road transport system.
Needless to say that the poor infrastructure makes it impossible for our country and our state from developing their full potential. Claiming the highest road density is not good enough. Claiming 100% literacy is also not good enough. We need to talk about the quality and level of our achievements. The existing infrastructure needs to be improved. The potholes need to be repaired, the roads widened, human encroachment (habitat pattern) parallel to the roads done away with. Utilization of massive loan code-named ‘KSTP’ from the World Bank has to be checked, the ratio of plan-target and achievement verified. Questions have to be asked on the GIS package awarded to an American firm. The shortcomings on the above cannot be the only reason for knocking down the present Express Highway concept conceived during the GIM. A quality highway as the shortest, safest and fastest way of commuting will stand us in good stead. The critics can enjoy the longer, slower and sadly dangerous highways that exist.

The development of road transport policies, however, should take into full account the need for integration with other modes of transport and the resultant beneficial community outcomes in economic, environmental and social terms. It should also incorporate promotion of global technology standards in order to maximize opportunities. New forms of financing, introduction of road pricing, promises of combined transportation, inter-modal platforms, corridors, etc. should be looked into.

I have serious doubts regarding the acceptability than the viability of a ground based Express Highway in Kerala, Kerala with its density of population and our ‘highway use culture’. The idea of fencing both sides of the road would certainly bring in images and accusations of erecting a ‘Berlin Wall’ and this cannot be totally unjustified in a state, which has an average width of some 70km. An Express Highway is meaningless if the bullock carts, bicycles, stray dogs, cats and cattle can transgress it. If you fence it, you are accused of cutting Mother-Kerala into two. With our density of population we can’t do that.
During the GIM a friend of mine excited with the concept of the Express Highway requested me to take the initiative in pushing the concept through. After due deliberations I arrived at the conclusion that the only option would be to build this Express Highway over the Rail line. The large sums of capital envisaged for land acquisition and rehabilitation of establishments and people can go to the railways for allowing construction of an overhead passage above the rail network. The railways can do with some infusion of funds; they can use it for correcting the current deplorable state of their affairs. You don’t have to cut away coconut groves, rubber plantations and fill up paddy fields and wells. You don’t have to cut through the hills and destroy human habitat. You have the shortest and straightest possible path that exists. I had shared this thought process with the concerned ministers in our Sate Government and the then State minister for railways had suggested that I do a presentation of this concept at Delhi. An ex-official of the railways advised me that the railways would not swallow the difficult engineering involved and I stopped pursuing this concept.

Now that the Express Highway is again under discussion I put in black and white what transpired some time ago. The Central grants for State’s road development can be partly adjusted to the cost of Indian Railways giving rights of way to the proposed elevated Express Highway. Part of it can be utilized including the engineering ingenuity involved in putting these two products together. I wouldn’t worry about my being denied the right to take a walk on this proposed superhighway or to bicycle across it, or to bullock cart on it. A quality highway as the shortest, safest and fastest mode of commuting across the state will benefit us all. Will someone dare say no?

The Public Sector

When Abbe Sieyes was asked about his achievement during the French Revolution all that he could say was ‘I survived!’ This could be the reply given by the Ministers in charge of industry, and employees from managers to the blue-collar workers if you asked them what are the achievements of the Public Sector enterprises they are running. 125814 people work in the 111 public sector industrial establishments in Kerala with a combined investment of Rs.16800crore. It may be noted here that Rs.8124crore invested in them as capital came from long-term loans taken by the State Government. 63 of these units are in the manufacturing sector employing 53270 people in all. A recent report by the Enterprises Reforms Committee highlights that the average loss made by the state PSUs is Rs.3510crore. One should remember here that the state’s total annual plan allocation for 2003-04 is only Rs.4430crore!

According the AG’s report placed in Kerala Assembly on 16/1/2003, of the 104 Government companies and 5 statutory corporations in Kerala, 72 companies and 4 corporations have not filed their annual accounts for periods ranging from 1 to 11years. 52 state PSUs made a combined loss of Rs.363.98crore in 2001-2002. Well, the situation is not very different in other states. A 2001 study of 946 state level PSUs in general showed that 241 of them were not working and 551 were incurring losses and 106 had not submitted accounts for decades. Out of 361 of the Central PSUs only 270 submitted accounts to the Department of Company Affairs during 1990-2000. Why do they shy away from reporting their financial performance? Well, they do not want to be ?accountable?; obviously, they generally have only embarrassing results to write home about.

The Central PSUs are indeed classic cases for their sub-optimal returns. An overview shows that in 1996-97, the return on an investment of Rs.202021crore in PSUs was Rs.10 258 crore - just 5.07%. The irony of the situation will be clear only when you understand that the same year the Union Government lost Rs.14000crore on PSUs, three times its total spending on agriculture! When you consider the fact that agriculture is not a capital-intensive economic activity and an incremental 3% growth in it would lead to 2.5% or more in industrial growth, this was a double jeopardy. Things have improved during the last 6 years. In 2002-2003 the ROI rose to 8% and the Public Enterprises Survey 2002-2003 shows 23% jump in the net profits over the previous year. The total investment has increased to Rs.333475 core and the ROI went up to 9.63% at Rs.32141crore. This however, is far from satisfactory because the Union Govt. is paying nearly 20% of Central Tax revenue towards interests on debt at rates much above the said ROI.

In the hoopla and hooray about the profits made by the PSUs, it should not be forgotten that hidden Government subsidies of Rs.12000crore were given to keep some of them running and waiver Rs.6000crore by way of interest on loans and Government guarantees for Rs.5000crore the PSUs took as loans propped them up. And let it be underlined that in less than a decade now, the Central government spent Rs.40000crore by way of 35 revival packages for the PSUs, but not a single enterprise benefited! Since Independence, the Indian Public Sector has consumed 40% of the nation’s gross capital investment and yet contributed to less than 25% of the nation’s output. Over the past 3 decades the PSUs have generated an average return of 2% or less on investment ? 1/10 of that of the private sector!

Since Nationalization in 1970, banks have lost Rs.500000crores by way of principal advanced and interest. The dividend received from Government’s investment of Rs. 13672.62crore in the 19 PSU banks in 1998-99 was Rs.384.19crore or just 2.81% ROI. Unofficially, the NPAs of our Public Sector Banks come to about 6-7% of the GDP! Government spent about 2% of the GDP in the last one decade to ?improve? their finances! It seems more will need to be spent. Indian Bank’s Association Chairman (Paneerselvam) said once that 50% of NPAs came from priority sector lending and the balance from big industry. Many of the big debtors are large industrial groups who enjoy political patronage as well as the benefits from a legal system friendly to the financial offenders than to their hapless creditors. The ‘Cooperative’ sugar factories and spinning mills in Maharashra give us telltale examples of how the wily politicians bleed the public sector banks. The cooperative sector in Maharashtra is actually owned by Congress-NCP stalwarts and owes Rs.750crore to the banks in unpaid debts. Sindhkhenda Sugar Co-operative in Dhule district, controlled by Hemant Deshmukh , NCP stalwart and Minister, took a loan of Rs.50crore from IDBI when the total assets of the mill were worth only Rs.5crore, and shut down the factory a year after taking the loan. At one point of time the UCO Bank and the United Bank had the highest NPAs in the country - 27% and 24.73%. It may be remembered that both these banks are headquartered in Kolkata, the heartland of trade union movement. Their promotion of unhealthy work practices caused maximum industrial sickness in the region resulting in the increase in loan default and NPA.

No private entrepreneur will run a business if it cannot be run profitably. The logic applicable to a public sector undertaking cannot be different. Yet it is a taboo to talk about their closure in spite of their abysmal performance, in many cases having incurred losses amounting to several times the invested capital. One important reason bandied about for maintaining loss-making PSUs permanently in the government sector with constant injection of funds is the “social obligations” they perform. Pray, what are their obligations to the society? In any society, institutions are notable for their specific functions. Public Sector enterprises therefore, have to perform their functions in providing goods and services to the community they are expected to serve besides also providing livelihood, career, and opportunity to contribute, to achieve, to be productive to their own workforce. A Government-run farm should contribute farm produce at fair prices besides providing livelihood to its workers. A public sector factory likewise, should churn out quality products as per its manufacturing programme at competitive costs to the consumers while ensuring comparative wage justice and job security to its employees. A government school or college should be engaged in teaching the students well; a government hospital in curing ailments to the satisfaction of all concerned; the government-run airline or railways or bus service should provide the best transport service at the most affordable costs. And, since they are all run with investments of public money, they should also earn reasonable return on the investment comparable with the best similar services in the private sector. If they are unable to come up with these results, they should rather be not in these activities.

Let us take a quick look at the Kerala scene. The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation has some 33,000 employees, but is short of drivers, conductors and mechanics! When a private bus operator spends Rs.20000-25000 per bus as salaries, KSRTC spends Rs.70000 on salaries and more on pension and other facilities. The Corporations monthly revenue in 2001 was Rs.50crore and monthly expense Rs.64crore. Let us hope it is not worse now! And how do they run the transport service? The Corporation is better known its rickety-ramshackle vehicles, for cancellation of schedules, for the untidy bus stations and passenger-unfriendliness.

Let us also see how the Kerala State Electricity Board, the PSU giant in the power generation, supply and distribution business, fares. Its monthly revenues are about Rs.160 crore. Its own power bill for purchase of thermal power comes to about Rs.130crore. Rs.60crore to go towards repayment of loans and interests on loans. Salaries and pensions cost Rs.30crore. How does it operate? Here is a sample: The SNC Laval Company offers to set up a Rs.100crore cancer hospital in Kannur gratis for KSEB granting it contracts for renovation of the Pallivasal, Panniyar and Chenkulam Hydroelectric projects. If you are a ‘normally constituted man’, what will you call this - quid pro quo? A ‘gentleman’s agreement’? How come this story befitting a banana republic in some Dark Continent was enacted in a highly literate and ‘politically conscious’ State like Kerala? That the Canadian Company walked away spending less than Rs.15crore on the hospital is another story. In 2002 the KSEB had 24,816 employees and their average salary was Rs.22798. If you go back in time, in 1992 KSEB had 24624 employees and their average salary was only Rs.4509. So they had a 500% increase in salaries over a period of 10 years. No wonder this self-licking ice-cream of a PSU loses about Rs.80crore every month.

The Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd., has a beautiful, air-conditioned factory in Alappuzha. Private entrepreneurs in the line of business all over the country have come up from hand-to-mouth existence to turnovers running to hundreds of crores of rupees. I remember some of them had started operations with the help of excess capacities in other people’s factories under ‘loan license’ scheme. KSDPL never had its head above waters. Since it could not find marketing talents to find a market for its products, the Government decided one day that it should be jus a captive consumption unit for the State’s Government hospitals. That did not make it viable either. The Health Department will not pay for the medicines supplied to the hospitals under it. Many a time the KSDPL found it difficult to pay the KSEB for the power it had consumed and came under threat of its electric connection being cut! It is either dying or dead now.

The sight of weeping women employees of Keltron Counters haunts me still. The wo/men who opted for VRS hoping to get a lump sum to start all over again in life complained bitterly when the authorities promised small amounts in installments. The Hindustan Antibiotics Ltd., IDPL, Kerala Soaps and Oils Ltd., Steel Complex Ltd., the FACT, TCC, hundreds of Central and State PSUs in various stages of ill-health, some of them terminally ill, some dying, and some existing only in paper, have leeched this country for long. And trade union leaders and politicians with vested interests are demanding that more and more money be pumped into them to ‘revive’ them so that their imbecile fantasies of the State controlling the “commanding heights” of the economy are maintained. Why, they also insist on creating more and more such demanding pits of non-performing capital.

All the State Electricity Boards, not just the KSEB keep on increasing power tariff in the absence of any statutory restrictions in enhancing them, to finance their extravagance and then also to keep their losses down. They lose mainly on account of “transmission losses” to levels unheard of in modern times and theft of power to the tune of 15% on an average! The annual loss to all State Electricity Boards put together is about Rs.20000crore and they owe Central power distribution agencies upwards of Rs.40,000crore. You can work out the opportunity costs involved on the intelligent assumption that a gas-based thermal power station costs roughly Rs.4.5crore per MW of power generation. It is said that many SEBs are able to bill only 55% consumers out of which 9% are left unpaid. It is also said that when the cost of production per unit of power is Rs.3.04 they realize Rs.2.12 per unit.

Our National carrier Air India is a sick company, making losses for many years and its present net worth (obtained by deducting liabilities from the current value of its assets) must be less than Rs.50crore. The only reason for its higher share prices is it being in the line of business for a very long time and its having monopolized a number of choice routes in its good old days. When a well-run, profitable private airline is able to perform its functions with 165 employees per aircraft, Air India has no reason to provide a less efficient service by similar standards with more than 650 employees per aircraft and making a huge loss. I once saw 3 truckloads of luggage belonging to an Air India manager returning from his foreign posting flown in by an Air India flight being carted away. All Air India employees and Indian Airlines employees also, for that matter, fly. I do not grudge them for the perks, but it costs the national exchequer quite a packet.

Ministers of Civil Aviation, Railways, and transport in various states routinely defend the mounting losses in their departments in the name of the various “social responsibilities” they perform. One such is ?employment generation?. If they were efficiently run enterprises, the PSUs would have made capital accumulation, grown in size, diversified into related or even unrelated areas of operation, increased their employment potential and created wealth for the nation. The manufacturing sector in India has not been providing jobs to the extent it should have. With the Public Sector Undertakings nose-diving in performance, the employment elasticity of output further declined from 0.52 to 0.16 during 1983-2000. The growth of manufacturing jobs in the last one decade was only around 1%. It is in this context that we should remember what Milton Friedman said: “it is difficult enough for business to do a decent job as a business. It is untrue to its social responsibilities if it concern itself with anything but producing goods and services customers want, and generating the profit need to form the capital for tomorrow’s risks, investments, and growth”.

Assuming that industries and other enterprises have social or political responsibilities to take care of, the Public Sector industries in India were woefully inadequate to the task during the 57 years since Independence. It may not be out of place to look into what industries in war-torn Japan and Germany did after World War II. It is historical record that the big industrial enterprises in Japan went about their business pursuing the “common good” worrying what was good for Japan rather than what was good for the industry in general. In West Germany the major banks are said to have attended to the industry’s needs thinking more about what was good for the German economy and German society. Indeed, it is also part of history that the Japanese and German business shed their political responsibilities soon after their recovery.

?Privatization? has been made the apocalyptic codex for our generation’s worst fears by the trade unions, primarily belonging to the Left. But a careful analysis shows that the trade unions’ attempt to raise the bogey of “privatization” is only to divert the attention from the real issue, which is the poor performance of the public sector. It may not be out of place or unjust in the context to suspect that what the trade unions are worried about is far from the enlightened causes that they project, but mundane self-interest. Private industries tend to attend to profitability of operations and therefore would try to squeeze out better efficiency. Private enterprise considers the issues of quality, cost-effectiveness, efficiency and reforms in synergy and in the context of market competitiveness. They expect a “reasonable” return on their investment. All this is anathema to our trade unions, and they are therefore nervous about a no work, no pay and no profit, no perks situation, and not about the “higher concerns” of “social responsibilities”, “national sovereignty”, the “sale of precious national assets to private parties” etc. they speak of.

When the Government sold Modern Foods Limited to HLL, it had 14 production units a capacity utilization of 15% and its losses had crossed 50% of its net worth. The GOI was earning Rs.48lakh by way of dividend when it sold its equity worth Rs.100crore for 195crore. Though this happened several years ago, you will hear Left politicians blaming the NDA government for sacrificing the national interests in the deal. Their main complaint is that the Government Modern Foods had 5lakh square meters of land and it would have fetched a fortune. They do not know, or ignore the fact that the assets of a company can be sold only after closing down the company, dissolving it. To close down, permission from local bodies, state governments are required. Closing charges will include settlement of all claims. This would have to be deducted from the asset value. And they also forget that the perception of the price depends on the buyer; not on the hopes of the Minister concerned, or the opinions of the political leaders on either side for that matter.

Those who swear by the central planning model of the erstwhile Soviet Union and India’s Public Sector should perhaps learn with the help of hindsight that they were not essentially meant to lead to establishing a more egalitarian society or massive industrialization. On the contrary, it was an exercise in power and an attempt to consolidate the power of the ruling political party - Communist Party in the USSR and Congress Party in India. In the recent history not only did the Communist Revolution take place, it also dissipated. Just as the industrial imperialism collapsed, Communism also failed. Having realized how poor its record is in delivering prosperity, the Congress party pays only lip sympathy to socialism now. The question before us therefore is not whether to go the Communist route or follow the Socialist trail, but how to cut loose from the wrecks of both and carry on creating wealth and national well-being. It may be mentioned here in passing that the obstacles in the path of Kerala’s industrial progress in particular, are neither natural, technical, nor economic. They are essentially political,  ensuing from the old prejudice that all capitalists are exploiters. They reflect the lack of appropriate institutional arrangement and apolitical will to resolve conflict in order to come to social compromises.

That organized industrial workforce is only 10% of the total workforce in India and 2/3 of the Indian workforce is still tied to agriculture shows the failure of public sector and import-substitution-driven economic model. In 1996-97 alone Communist China ‘disinvested’ or ‘privatised’ 30000 state owned companies. British socialists are, according to Prof.Galbraith, world’s most ardent defenders of doctrine for the sake of doctrine. But they had no problem giving up public ownership in most cases, and in rare cases reducing the commitment to the minimum for the sake of pragmatism and progress. India’s Left, particularly the Communists, however, exhibit an ideological orthodoxy, which is virulent as well as irrational. I for one, fail to understand why we talk about public and private sectors. There is only one sector- the national sector and it should be marked by transparency in operational and efficiency in performance. Since the private and public sectors of the economies are expected to be dedicated to the service of the people and the nation, the same standards of managerial competence and efficiency should be applied to both.

Late Nani Palkhivala had observed once that state ownership is to social justice what ritual is to religion (and dogma to truth). The fanatic devotion to the public sector as an end in itself is a conspiracy to loot public money at will and with impunity. If the small percentage of the workers employed in the public sector and their trade union leaders believe that their jobs, jobs to their dependents, various perks and privileges, are more important than their efficient performance and contribution to the economy, it is wrong. And if they believe, as they seem to, that the privileges of such employment are part of the ‘social justice’ package to be borne by the enterprises owned by the State, it is a very faulty and pernicious attitude. The resources of the State have to be employed to extract the maximum benefit out of them to the larger public. Growth in the number of young people is rapidly outstripping the ability of economists to provide them with gainful employment. The loss-making PSUs happen to be the greatest bottleneck in creation of employment opportunities in the country.

It should be remembered that while economic growth without social justice is cruel and inhuman, social justice without economic growth is impossible! Income is the foundation of many fundamental rights and when work is the sole source of income, the Right to Work becomes as much fundamental. But the unhampered right to earn a livelihood without contributing anything to the common kitty as is the case in many PSUs is criminal, and some jobs have to be cut in these White Elephants so that more job opportunities are created later. The basic law of economics teaches us that we cannot divide more than we produce. And Pareto’s Law lays down that that government cannot effectively change the distribution of incomes. (If it can help, please note, Pareto was an Italian mathematical economist) The redistributive welfare economics subtract achievement from the rewards of work and add to it to the consolations of idleness and inefficiency. Such social transfers sap the vigor of economies.

Don’t the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution of India instruct that the “State shall direct its policy towards securing that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good”? Interestingly, Article 39 (b) of the Constitution seems to provide for the very antithesis of nationalization though the government used it to justify nationalization! The government should maintain a ‘level playing field’ insisting that the ground rules are equally binding on private and public enterprises. When the Public Sector ceases to in the larger interests of the public it should be abolished. After all, National progress is only the sum total of individual effort; and the governments, State and Central, should have only a supportive role. The governments should essentially function in developing infrastructure paving the way for progress, and ensuring justice, law and order so that citizens can walk the streets safely and sleep peacefully in their homes. No more, and no less!
(TM MENON)

History - Whose story is right?
There is this story of three scientists going for a conference from London to Edinburgh. As they were crossing the border to Scotland, they happened to see a black sheep at a distance. The astronomer among them immediately declared that all sheep in Scotland are black. The physicist opined with a derisive smile on his face that it was an unwanted inference because all they could infer was that some sheep in Scotland are black. The logician differed with an air of finality that at that stage they could only surmise that one sheep in Scotland had at least one of its sides black in colour. The three scientists, of course, were applying logic of the situation based on their professional education and training.

There could be unbelievably different and perhaps alarming or even hilarious permutations and combinations of views if people from different strata of society, with different upbringing, education, interests, creeds, commitments, alignments etc., are asked to give their opinions/suggestions on any common issue; each one applying what J.K.Galbraith called ‘convenient reverse logic’ to any or all subjects under the Sun. For the uninitiated, ‘Convenient Reverse Logic’ is the logic of the preferred point of view influencing personal judgement. In medical terms, this would be the logic from preferred remedy back to the requisite cause in place of the normal logic proceeding from diagnosis to remedy! That is, if you have plentiful supply of aspirin with you (and only that!), you tend to diagnose all ailments as easily curable by it.

The ‘Convenient Reverse Logic’ comes into play in most human activity. There is nothing called objectivity, unless it can be of some advantage to us. The epic Ramayan can be considered a great religious text instilling timeless human values of filial duty, brotherly love, wifely devotion, princely dedication, and even ethics of war and peace. One could also have it stand on its head and call it an ‘epic of violence’ if one wanted. You can create terrifying ghosts out of divine incarnations! There indeed is a thin line separating myth and reality. For the devout Hindus the epics are true-life stories or myth and reality mixed to create parables for spreading Dharmic principles. For others Hindu epics and scriptures are just literary pieces while Christian and Islamic scriptures are historical documents and Jesus and Mohammed are historical figures. It is another matter, however, that there are also scholarly theologians among Christians who affirm that the Christ people revere, the Immaculate Conception, the miracles he performed and happened around him, the Crucifixion, Resurrection, etc. are only mythical lore that popular imagination created around a historical figure, if you legitimise part of the lore! Myths, whether Indian or Roman, belonging to the Hindu culture of Christian, are certainly the collective historical conscience of the respective communities; their instructions to the future generations. Preserving the memory of historical events, codifying religious rituals, and at times dramatising contemporary social conflicts in aesthetic forms as poems or parables, they do forge a collective identity.

The reason why I sited the above examples here is that they also exemplify the treatment of history at the hands of historians, amateur and professional alike. History, if not exactly ‘bunkum’ as a famous man has said, is more often the story according to s/he who writes it. Heredotus of Halicarnssum, the Greek historian generally considered the ‘Father of History’ was more interested in entertaining his audience than chronicling historical facts or in presenting serious historical analysis. Heredotus wrote a blend of history, anecdotes, folk tales, gossip, travelogues, and tall tales. The practice does not end with Heredotus though. Some in the current crop of his tribe are equally entertaining, and imaginative while being occasionally mischievous and dangerous to boot. Some of them have actually made “reconfiguring the past” a fine art!

Writing history is imposing a pattern on events that were mostly casual and haphazard and shaping them into a narrative that is logical and interesting at the same time. Imagination will be as important as information in it. Factual history borne of corroborative evidence on the ground in the form of written material, masonry, pottery, agricultural implements, etc. may be frugal and sufficient only to construct a bare skeleton of a historical period under study. The flesh, the blood and the skin to wrap it all together would more often than not, need immense imaginative genius. This imagination is likely to be coloured by the historian’s personal background and scholastic and political baggage. For example, depending on the historian’s predilections and preferences, s/he can seek and also find redeeming qualities in historical figures generally regarded as monsters. We have seen that distance in time in combination with preconceptions and prejudices could lend enchantment for biographies of the Mongol scourge Genghis Khan, Hitler, Tippu or Ourangazeb, Stalin? Some historians and politicians justify their own conscious intervention in history in the name of being progressive, for secularism, universal brotherhood, unity, and so on, in accordance with their political or sociological agenda and biases. There is also a puritanical view that history should not be used as an instrument of anything, even peace, just as physics teaching should be independent of making nuclear bombs. Marxian historiography, in its anxiety to evolve preconceived patterns in history, relentlessly employs a convoluted kind of scientific analysis, which invariably discovers eternal patterns and returning tragedies throughout our historical past. For them Marx, like Tiresias in T.S.Eliot’s The Wasteland, has “foreseen it all and foretold the rest” and therefore, their eternal quest is to prove him right unmindful of the repercussions. They do not mind the emotional context of felt, observed or historically recounted political grievances they ‘discover’ or invent in course of the above pursuit creating social tensions and eventually triggering unhealthy attitudes or shaping fanatical pathologies of extremism leading to murderous consequences.

Karl Popper was tempted to call Marxists in the above context as the “intellectual fifth column who penetrated humanitarian camp, shouted their slogans loudly and confused them and caused their disunity and turned Marxism the most developed and most dangerous form of historicism”. A number of Marxist professors are known to have cooked up theories and facts to indoctrinate their students. Teaching history serves them as a means of political indoctrination. These professors are just as entitled as the rest of us to engage in political activism; but they are not entitled to call their views scholarship. Nobody dares tell them that they should not be mixing two vocations! Instead of deriving theories from facts these propagandist academics arrive at facts working backwards from their theories! They recontextualise events that happened far back in history to provide lessons suitable for proving the Marxist theory of class war buttressing their right to manipulate history with the argument of a historical need for “course-correction” to alter the practice of writing history from the point of view of the rulers to that of the ruled, ?from the standpoint of the oppressed?. The argument, however, destroys its own credibility. But then, history, for them, is a socio-economic tool; an instrument of social and political change - as they want it. Caught up thus in a political environment, history becomes riddled with interpretation than truth. History is used as a cookbook of preferred recipes. It is also used to create a lynch-snob mentality and a hate dynamic echoing what a character in the novel Dead Lagoon says: “unless we hate what we are not, we cannot love what we are”. Astonishingly, it is very close to a passage in the Gospel of St.Mathew: “He that is not with me is against me.”

Marxist historians feel this deeply fearsome certainty about their views being unquestionably right, though this attitude is a very commonplace qualification for all Communists. Satyapal Dang agreed in a TOI article that “to claim monopoly of wisdom is part of Marxist Fundamentalism”. They have always maintained a God-given right to have people and events piously glorified or indignantly vilified according to their predilections. Marxist historians who were entrusted with writing history textbooks had no qualms about painting some Indian historical figures and religious leaders as thieves, robbers and racists and in subtly attacking and undermining the venerable ethos of the country and idols of our worship. They would use modern psychoanalysis and separate certain characters and stories from Hindu mythology to prove conflict between “patriarchal Puranic religion” and “Goddess-worshipping”. Or rather they would employ all tools to destroy anything that remotely suggests or promises a one-ness in Hindu society past, present or future. They had used the NCERT textbooks to negate Indian history downplaying the national resistance to the alien invaders by the Vjayanagar Empire, the Marathas, the Rajputs and Sikhs. Islamisation by Mogul conquerors was whitewashed as elimination of Brahmanical tyranny and upper-caste domination. But when a text prepared during the NDA government’s period mentioned the Mount Kailas as an example in the context of the Hindu reverence for hills, mountains and rivers, a quip from a venerable HIS historian was “don’t we have to go to China to revere Kailas?” In general, Marxist historians have perfected the art of doctoring history and arranging past events in order to present them in favourable or unfavourable lights according to their needs by inventing most impressive explanations that cannot be disproved by published facts! Dr.K.N.Panicker, in his keynote address at the 18th annual day of the magazine Safali, insisted that there couldn’t be any objectivity in history. I suppose he fell short of saying that “fluid prejudice” is used to write all history as Mark Twain did. Just as Hitler subverted the entire industrial might of a modern nation and harnessed it to create an industry of death, Marxist historians can be seen subverting Indian history, distorting it willfully, maliciously, felonically, criminally to destroy the Indian identity.

One serious allegation against the Marxist historians is that they believe they have a monopolistic right to exploit history. Others doing it in the name of their own ideological compunctions are distortion; and the resultant material ‘toxic’. Marxist historians feel strongly against a people winnowing the debris of their past (ancestry) for grains of glory. They wouldn’t want anybody enjoy extolling the glories of past, but they would insist that all should revel in cutting and dividing the society’s inherited guilt like a birthday cake. It would be interesting to see how the Communist countries went about writing their history. It is common knowledge that the erstwhile Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China tried their best to wipe out the non-Communist past of their countries. Lenin attempted cleansing the Russian society of “feudal obscurantism” and “bourgeois morality” and went further sweeping through art, architecture, language, family, clothing. (Hitler remembers these “endeavours to exterminate all those who represent the national intelligence” in Mein Kampf and feared that the Bolshevik “Jews who did it in Russia” would repeat it Germany unless stopped!) The state ordained, ideologically unexceptionable, monochromatic history that was force-fed to Soviet children had, however, a strong ingredient of Russian nationalism. The inventor of radio was not Marconi according to the Russian scientific history. It was Popov, a Russian. Marconi is not even mentioned as having parallely developed the technology. (Though discredited later, even now Stalinists find great merit in Lysenko’s theories.) Similarly, many scientific inventions were attributed to the Russians. That was unabashed image-making, and in tune with the attitude underlying the cynical observation by a German dramatist, Ernst Toller, that “history is the propaganda of the victors”.

It may be recollected that the Princeton Professor who wrote The Collapse of the Weimar Republic admitted to serious factual errors in his book when another professor crosschecked his facts. Out of 70 footnotes in the book only 4 was found correct. He had invented quotations and altered documentary evidence to buttress that Hitler collaborated closely with German industrialists. Similar attempts are being made here to bring about the “composite perspective” in writing Indian history. Unfortunately, the worldview of the Christians, Muslims and Hindus differ. With the active connivance of these historians Muslims and Christians, though Indians, feel responsible for not only defending those who converted their ancestors, but also to run down their heritage. Marxist historians like KN Panicker are also busy trying to create a “counter-culture”, opposing every move to inculcate a respect for India’s glorious past. The assimilationist/integrationist motif of the “melting pot” which during the early days freedom struggle and immediately after Independence had pioneered a belief in the possibility or at least the desirability of erasing Indian caste/community identities is a mirage now, thanks mainly to the strategy of “demoralization, division, and disorganization” of the people in which the Communists? inherent strength always lay. India for them is not a nation, but a conglomeration of various sub-nationalities. They attack and “deconstruct” the territorial self-concept of India through ages and yell at all assimilationist work as attempts at “homogenization”. For them patriotism is a bad word. Those who exhorted the workers of the world to unite, glorified “Stalin’s moustache as the moustache” “Lenin is more living than all the living”, and emphasised that “Chairman Mao is also our Chairman” and sang the “Communist Internationale” now abhor the apolitical globalization as anathema to our “national sovereignty”. But they also support all divisive elements either in the name of “self-determination” or “human rights”!

Anthropologist France Boss has written that ‘if we wish to take over the direction of a society we must either guide it from within its cultural framework or else eradicate its culture and impose a new culture’. Communists trying to eradicate the past culture and create a new one wherever they came in absolute power, therefore, seems to be in order. But Mao’s genius was inspired by his vision of Chinese history, and heroes like Sun Wu, the revered strategist who laid down for Mao the laws of guerilla warfare fully some 2500 years ago. The peasant leaders and popular uprisings that overthrew the tyrannical emperors and foreign usurpers fired his imagination. Mao’s vision was further coloured by the great historical romances of Chinese literature in which peasant outlaws outwit unjust authority; and craft scholar-tacticians confound the generals of despots. That is, the Chinese Communist Party could identify and exploit the “revolutionary usefulness” of the ancient Chinese mythology and traditions! But the Indian Marxists not only deny this privilege to nationalists here but also accuse them of “reconstructing dying traditions” unmindful of clarifications that they are only trying to create new possibilities of interaction and exchange within and across a vast wealth of living traditions from across time frames and cultural contexts in the long history of India.

When the Indian/Hindu Nationalists try to guide the Indian society from within its glorious cultural framework, Communists raise hell. The ‘secular’ historians strongly contest the view that the Indian culture is uniquely Indian and perhaps more than 5000 years old and talk about a “composite culture” existing in India. They are also convinced that the country could be held together and run by only the force of eloquent, strenuous, and unanimous clamour about secularism. For some politicians and social activists in India, casteism provides the dominant identity source and history should be read in a manner that interprets it in terms of repression and domination of lower castes by upper castes. Communists welcome the trend. For others, the Hindutva provides the identity; and if the votaries of casteism have logic in their arguments, Hindutva protagonists have even better and stronger logic on their side since Hindutva is simply a larger spectrum! Didn’t Vincent Smith write that the “unity underlying the obvious diversity of India may be summed up in the word ‘Hindu’”? Communists, in their ideological smugness, do not see eye-to eye with this idea. But then, if the leaders of Hindutva want to hold together the harassed and confused people, conceiving a deep horizontal comradeship, and trying to keep them in touch with the culture that sustained them from time immemorial, how can they be faulted? Can anybody deny that though India that is Bharat wasn’t always a unified country, a tradition did run through every piece of territory in the Aryavartha, and it still had its assurances and its dignity and the power to meld the variety of the vast land and its huge population?

Arab chronicler Al-Baruni wrote 9 centuries ago that the Hindus have no sense of history. As a result Indians have had to swallow what the British wrote as Indian history, and be subjected to Macaulay’s efforts to make India a nation of the deracinated. It may be noted, however, that the Moguls, were very particular about state chronicles recording for the posterity their deeds (and misdeeds too) in great detail. Selective reading of some of these could embarrass the diehard secularists who swear that Moguls were very cultured monarchs who gave us the Taj Mahal, soulful Sufi music and the great gardens. For a more “liberal” student of history and culture the civilizational space the sub-continental culture occupies would seem filled with Hindu mythology, literature, and music. The mediaeval Indian history is known for some spectacular Islamic masonry up in the sky besides sowing the seeds of pan-Islamism despite the tall claims by ‘secular’ historians lately of “coming of age of statecraft, engineering, metallurgy, physics, defence industry (!), weaving, ship-building and astronomy”. (Amaresh Misra)

Bernard Shaw had maintained that the historical facts need not be a bit more sacred than any other class of facts. “Why, you cannot even write history without adapting the facts to the conditions of literary narrative, which are in some respects much more distorting than the dramatic conditions of representation on the stage. Things do not happen in the form of stories or dramas; and since they must be told in some such form, all reports, even by eye-witnesses, all histories, all stories, all dramatic representations are only attempts to arrange the facts in thinkable, intelligible, interesting form; that is, when they are not more or less intentional efforts to hide truth, as they very often are.’ “Everything is true, except the facts” Malcom Muggeridge used to quote his friend AT Choleton, a Moscow correspondent in the 30s who was asked about the truth behind the great “show trials” in the Soviet Union!

No period of history  like a given space of time in our individual lives- contains within it one ‘true’ interpretation waiting to be unearthed. There could be several possible narratives, written, told or sung in different ways and different tongues, and the needs or demands and expectations of different people in different eras determine those expressions. Sometimes art has precedence over accuracy. Unification of a nation has to be a willed act, not a product of fate or accident. If history could be or should be used as a political tool, it should be used to unify, not to divide. I would therefore argue that the theory of Aryan Invasion should be dumped without even arguing that there were no pottery groups, utensils, weapons, graves or fragments of visual arts in the region east of Indus that could be labelled as belonging to the ‘Aryan’ people coming into India! In fact there is no compelling historical evidence to suggest that the Aryans originated outside India. Beyond the tenuous claims of comparative philology, there is absolutely nothing to suggest large hordes of Aryans sweeping across the Indian sub-continent. Toynbee has opined in his monumental work that many historians wrote that Aryans came in successive waves to India and destroyed the Indus Valley Civilization without any basis; but it was passed off in the absence of other theories. Similarly, in the 19th Century, Max Mueller tried to fix 1200 BC as the date of composition of the Vedas. It was no secret that it was primarily based on his Christian belief that the world was created on October 23, 4004 BC and the Biblical flood was in 2448 BC. History books, however, repeat the Mueller version of the antiquity of the Vedas as Gospel Truth ever since!

Since the Independence ‘National Integration’ has been chanted as a ‘manthra’ and considered the be-all and end-all of our national survival. National integration is at the basic minimum level “psychological and educational process involving the development of the feeling of unity in the minds of people, a sense of common citizenship and a feeling of loyalty to the nation”. History is also fantasy - an image-making of the past. And the writing of history in this context will be according to the concept of the image the historian(s) has in mind. It is here that we find the role of the cohesive sentiment of cultural nationalism. “Life can be only understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”, said Kierkegaard. Perhaps that is the reason why people delve deep into their history and culture every time they look forward to shaping a future. Somebody has pointed out the examples of Mohammed Ali Jinna, Harry Lee and Solomon Bandarenaike: Jinna was a secularist and ate pork. Lee was “the best bloody Englishman east of Suez”. Bandarenaike was brought up as a Christian. But as heads of the respective nations after independence, they all turned to their roots and indigenised. They all reverted to their ancient cultures, changed identities, names, dress and even beliefs. The English lawyer Jinna became ‘Quaid-i-Azam’ of Pakistan and a fervent apostle of Islam. Harry Lee became Lee Kuan Yew and learned Mandarin Chinese. Bandarenaike became a practicing Buddhist. In India, however, Jawaharlal Nehru continued to take pride being the last Englishman to rule the country and resorted to ‘Westoxification’!

If Indian history as taught in our schools could sustain a “nationalist fantasy” that there is continuity between the ‘Aryan’ Indus Valley Civilization and the Harappan culture, and it can hold together at least a majority of Indians with the help of a faith continuum that sustained them from time immemorial with assurances of dignity and acknowledging its honour in the history of the world, it should be encouraged and not disparaged. In fact, a scrupulous concern for discoverable truth about historical origins and a record of the past would shake the foundations of most nations. It has been pointed out that to claim that Aryans were the original inhabitants of India is far less controversial than the modern scientific evidence that the human race began with an original African Eve! More over, beliefs of ancestry - particularly related to religious faith - are profoundly important to all modern societies and a paramount source of inspiration and action. Irreligious societies based on ?socialism? have all but vanished. China is going back to Confucian values and worst still, to geographical claims based on dynasties as dead as doornails! An Aryan past, therefore, could very well be India’s authentic antecedent as a primary source of connectedness with its antiquity.

It could be argued that “India that is Bharat” is only a mythical land, an imagined political community; it may be a country that would never exist except by the existence of phenomenal collective will of Indians - except in a dream we all agreed to dream! Having had an academic diet of considerable quantities history devoted to Hellenic culture, Renaissance Italy, and Byzantine civilization, and the Mogul India, I wouldn’t swallow the Marxist view that India had a barbarian past. I would rather feel proud that the Hindu India was one of the great civilizations and its contributions in the field of literature, philosophy, and even science were immense by any standards. And I believed that the meaning of Indian culture lies beyond the recorded history, as love lies beyond desire. Will the Commies who have now got a foothold in the corridors of power in New Delhi and have begun to wield considerable influence in Government of India try to introduce an ‘attitude of mind legislation’ to deny patriotic Indians their pride? History, let us say, like beauty, is often in the eyes of the beholder. Why is that every ‘secular’ historian feels that the dreadful and dismal stories of a particularly sordid past of the ‘Hindu India’ is to be selectively rehashed and taught to young Indians? The History of United States is not all about slavery and Civil War!

There is a reprehensible historical incongruity in the tendency to judge incidents which took place thousands of years back or codes prevalent then by standards of present-day morals and values. It should be a matter of pride that before Christ an Indian political scientist, Kautilya had summed up Rajadharma thus: “In the happiness of his subjects lies the King’s happiness, in their welfare, his welfare; what pleases himself the King shall not consider as good, but whatever pleases his subjects the King shall consider good”! But Manu and Kautilya are not known to Indian students for their remarkably advanced thoughts, but for the misquotes showing their crudity though unmindful of historical incongruity in judging the ancient times in the light of modern sensibilities. All ‘secular’ historians seem to accept the Protestant Church’s defense of Luther’s intolerance that, after all, he was a child of the 16th Century and his thoughts should be viewed in that perspective. But Manu belonged to 200BC and is still denied his due for his insistence on earning wealth and enjoying life only by observing ‘dharma’ and giving women protection under all circumstances. That is a deliberate attempt to demean the society he was born into in retrospect. A misquote from Manusmruthi has served as a clever wedge to create a permanent antagonism between not only alleged ‘Manuvadis’ and the so-called ‘Bahujan Samaj’, but also between the sexes in Indian society. A nation is a community of people who must feel that they belong together, sharing deeply significant elements of a common heritage and having a common destiny for the future. In a sense, the nation is the largest community, which, when the chips are down, effectively command citizens’ loyalty, overriding the claims of lesser communities as well as the greater society or the mankind as a whole. Nationalism is therefore the political creed that underlies the cohesion of a country and centres the supreme loyalty of the overwhelming majority. It is an indispensable framework for all social, cultural and economic activities, and there is nothing regressive about or to be ashamed of it.

When you create divisions in society; you pave the way for its disintegration. When you try to create oneness; you sustain the nationhood and promote the country’s development. If and when history is used for social engineering, let intellectuals decide whether ‘deconstruction’ or reconstruction is preferable. No one in his/her right mind uses the shameful memories from the palimpsest of a people’s history for the purpose of social engineering. When we read Indian history by various authors, it is difficult to miss two streams: one group struggles with fragments of contrived distinctiveness, assiduously sore-rubbing for separating parts from the whole; and the other group builds on obvious commonalties as only architects of a massive whole can do. Fortunately for India, its majority population, the Hindus, have a sense of definable (not necessarily separate from others) collective identity that can act as a cohesive force and cling tightly to their national memories the more the liberal Left intellectuals seek to deprive them of such recollection. It may be remembered here that the nationalist feeling is one of the strongest in this world; and the most enduring.

Although no historic kingdoms ever spread their domain over the entire area of the contemporary India, the Indian past contained a rich lode of cultural commonalties, which could form the basis of an intensely felt identification with Bharat Mata. In his Discovery of India Jawaharlal Nehru shows his fascination to this mysterious unity of India that is Bharat through the ages: “the same national heritage and the same set of moral and mental qualities”, “some kind of a dream of unity has occupied the mind of India since the dawn of civilization” The Indian republic generally completed the metamorphosis from the artifact of colonial unification to a nation state. The Indian nationalism or ‘Hindu nationalism’ if you will, mobilised the frustrations, emotions, affinities and hatreds too attending the cultural humiliation of the encounters first with Islam (the Moguls) and Western Imperialism which devalued the Indian heritage. An overarching layer of common culture composed of the richly diverse symbols of Hindu Cosmology and history would perhaps help wipe out the cleavages of caste and community; provide a common ideology and a binding passion needed to unite a civilization and inspire it for progress. It is common knowledge that our differences as Hindus, Muslims, and Christians and Sikhs are far less significant than the things we have in common. Even our arts contain the signposts of our common culture and provide the symbols and vocabulary of our national identity. Some politicians are making hay off the differences. And some ‘historians’ are made cat’s paws in the despicable game of creating divisions. Our national message should be that we do not recognise special groups or ‘minorities’. We are Indian Citizens- equal in rights and privileges under law.

Contrary to the views propagated by Marxist historians, the Muslim League and its Two Nations theory did not take toots in hostile symbiosis with the Hindutva ideology. A proper study of history would prove that it was the other way around. If one goes by the official Pakistani history, “Mohammed Bin Quasim’s conquest of Sind in AD 712 was the first establishment of Pakistan… By 13th Century Pakistan had spread to include the whole of Northern India and Bengal and reached its zenith under Moguls when Hindustan completely disappeared and was absorbed by Pakistan (By the middle of the 19th Century) both Hindustan and Pakistan ceased to exist and British India took their place”. ZA Bhutto wrote – “great and terrible scourges have come to India from this side” “every invasion from this side has defeated their national memory overnight.. And we ourselves have ruled them for eight centuries”! It is not difficult to figure out which fantasy originated first, the two-nation theory or the Islamic India. But history proves at times that some of our worst nightmares could become streetscapes later. Nobody blames now the British for starting separate Hindu and Muslim Army units for the first time after 1857. Nobody visualises that the birth of Swadeshi Movement in 1905 could have frightened the British to inspire the Muslim League and Hindu political movements through the introduction of separate electorates in 1909. Gandhians of all hues refuse believe that the Khilafat Movement of 1919-1921 for the restoration of Khalifa in Turkey (!) lead jointly by Hindus and Muslims under the guidance Mahatma Gandhi slipped into the hands of radical Muslims headed by Maulvis and Mullahs and eventually deepened the Hindu-Muslim divide.

Under all circumstances, the Indian society should be wary of the attempts by Marxist historians to create further divisions in it. Communism succeeds only when the democratic system is unable to solve contemporary socio-economic problems created by their active connivance; and when the “centre cannot hold” and society is polarized. We have seen Communists supporting “self-determination” wherever they are not in power and unleashing the worst possible repression against any kind of human freedom or rights under their rule. They would promote Muslim/Christian communalism to gain bloc-votes and oppose Hindu unity as “communal Fascism” to set these communities against one another for the subversion of social unity. They would call caste-based politics of “Dravidian” parties in Tamilnadu as “social Fascism” when they are excluded from it and co-opt it as valid revolutionary activism against “Hindi chauvinism”, “upper caste exploitation” and anti-federalism when it suits them. Marxists are much more staunch supporters of the racial theory of “Dravidian legacy” based on Bishop Caldwell’s hypothesis now than the Dravidian organizations in Tamilnadu. The Dravidian movement represented the Mudaliars in the north, Kallars in Thanjavur, Gounders in Coimbatore, Thevars in Madurai, and Naidus in Thirunelveli and anti-Brahmin sentiment everywhere. There was no place in it for Dalits. The Marxist historians never thought of examining this or probing further what happened to the original concept of ‘panchadravidas’ including Tamils, Telugus, Kannadigas, Malayalees and Maharashtrians. Nobody considers that a poor Brahmin is caught in the same bind that the poor Thevar or Vanniyar or Dalit are caught in. Survival should become common cause and that should melt them into a caste-less new kind of relationship. In the range of Marxist opportunism, it may be pointed out that they would condemn a society for materialism when it is rich and for injustice when it is poor.

A plethora of ethnic, religious, cultural, political, boundary and river disputes have already created disunity among Indians. Politicians, thinkers, all sections of Indian leadership should try to find causes and reasons for our people staying together as members of an extended family - sons and daughters of Mother India. Hindus have been conquered and persecuted in their own land for hundreds of years; but their tormentors failed to destroy them. The remarkable resilience of the faith has to be recognised. Neither the spread of Islam nor that of Christianity was merely though ?change of heart?. But what creates most of the bad blood between the majority community and the Muslim and Christian minorities is the latter’s continued dismissal of the devoutly and sincerely held views of Hindus constituting more than 80% of the population. Even a minuscule minority like Christians in India seems reluctant to respect the majority’s religious faith. Even those who are forgivably disparate to avert a confrontation between the Hindus and Christians try to ignore this aspect. But when the minorities continue to chip away the majority’s identity, driving wedges into its old and forgotten cleavages to deepen them and reopen healing wounds, it makes matters difficult. The Dalit-Christian, Dalit-Muslim formations have recently begun constant attacks on the Hindu identity with an arsenal sophisticated tools besides many inducements even a concocted Indology that rigidly defines Indian inheritance separating Tribals and Dalits from the Hindu mainstream. Those who build memorials for the Afzal Khans of Indian history, and celebrate Heritage Day marking arrival of Vasco da Gama are not expressing their historical awareness, but trying to humiliate Indians in general. Incidentally, Claude Alwares and SM Mohammed Idris (President of the Third World Network, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award) were shocked against the celebration a celebration during the International reference on 500 years of Gama. Idris told the Muslims who enjoyed seeing Christians joining them in spiting the Hindus that it was to undermine the Muslim hold on India that the Portuguese king financed Gama’s voyage to Kozhikode. How’zzat?

When pestered to write forward for a Dalit activist’s book extolling the virtues of Dalit victimhood during the rather prolonged period of the aberrant Varnashrama Dharma practiced in Hindu society, Natajaja Guru wrote one, but adding in the text that such books intended to exacerbate communal passions and to reopening healing wounds in a society should not be written or read. Nataraja Guru understood that the philosophy of caste divisions has collapsed, thanks to the work of social reformers like Swamy Vivekanand, Dayanand Saraswathy and Sree Narayana Guru; and only the morphology remained in scattered pockets. That too is being demolished. While remembrance is part of the process of learning history, so is forgiveness. Hinduism and Hindu society were absorptive in character; gradually incorporating divers folk cults and communities, and characterised by much variety, according to India MN Srinivas, doyen of Indian Sociologists. Not very pleased with the Hindu ‘religion’ for its syncretism, Mexican writer and diplomat Octavio Paz called it a “metaphysical boa that slowly and relentlessly digested foreign cultures, gods, languages and beliefs into its cosmic matrix”. While it did indeed effect changes in Islam and Christianity as practiced in India, ‘Hinduism’ cannot be said to have even tried to swallow up minuscule religious communities like Zoroastrians and Jews.

Ashish Nandi once said that the structure of Hindu thought is mythic rather than historical; and asserted that this forms part of the charm and ineffable grace of India (Hindu) culture. In fact most communities have their own profoundly held views about the history and heritage of its homeland. Christians and Muslims seem to have some non-negotiable claims for certain sacred real estate in what were purely Jewish lands. Hindu nationalism, however, is not a methodological nationalism, nor is it methodological territorialism. Perhaps Al-Baruni was right in saying that Hindus do not have a sense of history. History teaches by analogy, not by maxims; and it tends to illuminate the consequences of human actions in comparable situations. Yet, each generation would discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable. In his Ideas of Sovereignty in Ancient People, Sardar KM Panicker observed that “the coronation of a King in ancient India was not regarded as assumption of power; but it was regarded as undertaking ‘deeksha’, a dedication; and a King bearing the crown became a ‘vrati’ a person devoted to a cause, the service of the people”. Many of us are thus pleased about India’s past weighed in history’s balance, and happy to walk proud. It is the common Indian heritage; despite the Macaulay-Missionary-Moulvi-Marxist line, and the “Albert Speers of Indian history”.

The (Hindu) nationalist thinking on Indian history could be simply described as “faith in relation to past and hope in relation to future”. I have a peculiar reason for taking this view. Suppose we insist that history should be a truthful account of the past: The truth about something is all the facts about it, rather than that are imagined, invented or even interpolated. Truth is also something believed to be true. Truth is also relative by nature. The history we read has more often than not traveled a circuitous route through filters and biases that leave the words on the page relatively hollow and meaningless. You will see how little resemblance there is between what is on the printed page and what you know about or have experienced personally. The ‘official’, ‘government-issue’ version of ‘history’ of Bangladesh has no mention of Bangabandhu Sheik Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation when it was born. In about 25 years the ‘truth’ regarding the birth of Bangladesh has changed so much so that the present generation Bangladeshis know Mujibur Rahman perhaps only as former Prime Minister Sheik Hasina’s father!
When we study the truth in history, we may also come across two manifestations of the phenomenon - the ‘Obvious Truth’ and the ‘Great Truth’ we have to look into. For illustration some home truths have to be reviewed. Borrowing anther illustrious writer’s idea let me take you through the history of Punnapra-Vayalar struggle. It is obvious that in the Punnapra-Vyalar incident, peasants and workers courted disaster in the hope of defeating CP’s armed forces and establishing a proletarian rule in the long run. Communists derive extra-ordinary pride in recognising this as a revolutionary act of courage on the part of the downtrodden and classify it as a major incident in the Indian Freedom Movement. But the Great Truth demands from the above obvious truth of a massacre of political nature an analytical explanation for its historical necessity and contemporary political significance; its relevance in context. What emerges then is that the “Punnapra-Vyalar Revolution” was at best a farcical political experiment in the Marxian mould; and at worst, a conspiracy to trap politically naIve and innocent peasants with crude weapons in a no-win confrontation with comparatively well-equipped professional army in an obvious effort to gain martyrs for the Communist movement’s political sustenance and popular memory. The statement of this Great Truth is perhaps as distasteful and even more painful to the purveyors of the manufactured mythology of Communism in India as their view that VD Savarkar had sought pardon from the British Government or that giving geographical locations for the birthplace of Ram and Krishna is nonsense, to the Hindu nationalists.

Swallowed up by time and by the cultural amnesia and political opportunism of a history still unwritten or written with malice or ulterior motive many truths still remain in the dark. But there is no escape from history. We are, so to say, “handcuffed to history”. Today we have economic history, social history, ecological history, and even the underside of history that talks about he development of women and their contributions to agriculture, industry and so on. With each specialization the opportunities for distortion, manipulation and outright blackout increases. In writing history is an open, persistent and articulate assertion of reality/truth possible, refusing to go by convenient beliefs? If we combine history and hindsight as Communist historians do, Marx will be deprived on any marks for economics! Should we therefore do that selectively and continue with the ‘rights talk’, ‘wronged talk’ and the ‘parts talk’, talks of rage and retribution intended to split India emotionally and pave the way for its geographical disintegration? Writing history sympathetically in no way prevents historians from writing truthfully, even brightly; nor the other way around. The only relevant question in this context seems to be whether history should be OUR story or yours/theirs.
(TM MENON)

THE WORLD BANK AND THE IMF

The World Bank, a whipping boy for almost all the ills of our economy - alleged, perceived, or real - has just raised its lending to India by about $1 billion a year for the next five years. Of course this report was soon followed by the Left’s hullabaloo over the appointments of its representatives along with those of the Asian Development Bank in some of the Consultative Committees of the National Planning Commission. That should not, however, sideline the fact that the World Bank has now identified infrastructure building, human development and uplift of the rural poor as its thrust areas, shifting its ?Country Strategy? from focus on states of Indian Union undertaking comprehensive reforms to ?where poverty is increasingly concentrated?. Under the new strategy unveiled for four year period 2005-2008 covering the critical period targeting the four states Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh, the World Bank hopes to make headway meeting the global ‘Millennium development goals’.

Vociferous critics of the bank, particularly belonging to the Left persuasion, seem to ignore the fact that the World Bank is no capitalist moneylender practicing usury and other unconscionable things on poor Third World countries. World Bank is not a ?bank? too, in the normal sense of the term. It is one of the agencies of the United Nations. In fact, ‘World Bank’ is the name commonly used to denote the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). The 184-nation bank was established at the close of the Second World War to serve as a pivotal institution to led money to the then undeveloped and under-developed nations. The World Bank loans have been provided at discounted interest rates supporting projects in the LDCs or ‘developing countries’ that over the years have dealt with education, health, infrastructure development, nutrition, poverty-focused rural strategies, environmental protection, and more recently, specific issues like fighting HIV/AIDS etc.

While Bank’s critics have waxed eloquence more on its alleged political role in ushering in globalization than anything else, it has been silently credited with playing a crucial role in the success of several Asian countries. In Indonesia World Bank assisted projects could pull at least 100 million people out of destitution prior to the 1997 Asian financial crisis. It is also true, however, that a sizeable share of the billions of dollars flowing out of World Bank for pro-development and anti-poverty programmes every year is known to be drained off by politicians and officials operating the said missions. There are 16 World Bank supported projects in Karnataka with total commitments of $977 million. Funds allotted for the development of the five Corporations in Kerala alone comes to over $300 million. One could hear the Marxist Mayor of Kochi smacking his lips while talking about the World Bank funds his party loathes. He almost came to tears over the reported move by PWD (ha) to divert the money to road building (ha-ha). There are opportunities galore for the unscrupulous elements in the local governments to skim money off the top as they distribute funds and award contracts. Businessmen pay bribes to win contracts, inflate the project cost, under-perform in execution and pocket the difference. Winning bids are pre-arranged; firms appearing to compete are owned by the same party at times; qualified bidders with lowest offers are not awarded contracts; contractors are paid in full when 20% work is left incomplete on projects such as road construction, water supply, drainage systems and flood control. Though rarely, even World Bank officials are known to have aided and abetted the activities mentioned above to make fast money. Corruption, it seems, is yet another ?development problem? for the World Bank these days!

Corruption is estimated to have siphoned off anywhere from 5-30% of the $500 billion plus World Bank money lent over the past 6 decades of its operation. Its notorious under-achievements have been in some of the most corrupt societies in Asia like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Philippines and Vietnam. Even China, which has earned notoriety for the highest known NPAs in its banking sector, has made free with World Bank money. It is not as if the Bank has turned a blind eye towards corruption. It has been fighting fraud in a big way particularly since the mid-1990s initiating action including suspension of lending projects found racked with sleaze and blacklisting crooked contractors and corrupt individuals. World Bank President James Wolfensohn launched a campaign in 1996 to uproot corruption from bank projects and the Department of Institutional Integrity established two years later has now 345 investigations in progress into corruption around he world. 25 criminal convictions have been reported from the graft cases World Bank referred to the national authorities concerned.

Corruption discredits World Bank in two ways: by under-achievement in terms of poverty-alleviation and development that cheat the people in the recipient countries; and it is also subjected to harsher criticism when the impoverished grantees are left to repay the resulting debt. US Senator Richard Lugar shocked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a recent hearing citing estimates by academics that the abuse of World Bank’s funds may have topped $100 billion over the past 60 years! Senator Lugar bemoaned the double jeopardy of corruption costing unaccounted lives contending with poverty and disease and the very people cheated out of development having to bear bank debts too. It should be remembered that they also suffer when the World Bank withholds or suspends funding in its anti-corruption drive.

The US, however, is not the biggest donor to the International Development Association, the part of the World Bank that provides interest-free loans and grants to the poor countries, as widely believed. While the US has given a total of $25.8 billion over the past 44 years, Japan recently overtook it giving a total of $26.2 billion. In the financial year ending June 30, 2004, World Bank gave out $20.5 billion in loans. The US government’s last three-year pledge to the IDA was $2.9 billion, or 20% of the IDA donor funding.

The IBRD is largely self-financed while the IDA needs replenishment every five years or so as it lends money at less than market rates. The lesser-known World Bank siblings are the International Financial Corporation (IFC) extending loans to private companies in developing countries, the Multinational Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) that provides insurance to foreign investment, and technical support for developing countries to formulate investment policies. The Compensatory and Contingency Financial Facility to help countries deal with temporary export shortfalls, Buffer Stock Financing Facility to assist countries with balance of payment problems arising from participation in commodity agreements are special agencies created to supplement the development assistance in different ways.

All the above does not remove the sting of the informed comment that the “dominant ideology, widely shared throughout the (World) Bank may be identified as that of neo-liberalism”. But such criticism and positive suggestions have too come from mostly the much-maligned West. The International Financial Institution Advisory Commission led by Prof.Allen Meltzer of Carnegie Mellon University that included noted Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs in its report to the US Congress indicted that the World Bank was nowhere close to its dream of a “world without poverty”. The Meltzer Commission found that 70% of the World Bank non-aid resources flowed into 11 countries that enjoyed access to private sector resource flows. The Commission recommended that the future lending by World Bank and the regional development banks like the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) should be channeled into countries that do not have access to private capital flows, strictly excluding countries with per capita incomes above $4000 and concentrating in countries with per capita incomes less than $2500.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), is yet another UN agency, and the central institution of the international monetary system. Its statutory purposes include promoting international monetary cooperation through consultation and collaboration, facilitating balanced expansion of the world trade, maintaining the stability of exchange rates, avoidance of competitive currency devaluations and the orderly correction of balance of payment problems of member countries. IMF focuses on macroeconomic performance of nations and on macroeconomic and financial sector policies, and provides financing only in general support of a country’s balance of payment and international reserves while the country acts direct to address its own difficulties. IMF has created an Extended Fund Facility (EFF) as its first-ever loans with a medium term focus giving countries time to deal with slow growth and BPO problems. Credit must be given to IMF for creating an Oil Facility to deal with the consequences of the run up of prices after 1973 oil crisis and a Trust Fund financed by IMF gold sales allowing countries access cash at a lower interest rate.

The IMF resources also come from capital subscriptions paid by member countries. The subscription quotas broadly reflect the member’s size in the world economy. The United States, for example, contributes 17.6% of the total capital; and Seychelles, the tiniest economy, contributes 0.004 per cent. As the only international agency whose mandated activities involve active dialogue with virtually every country on economic policies, the IMF is the principal forum for discussing not only national economic policies in a global context, but also issues important to the stability of the international monetary and financial system. These include countries' choice of exchange rate arrangements, the avoidance of destabilizing international capital flows, and the design of internationally recognized standards and codes for policies and institutions. It is in the context of execution of this onerous role that the International Monetary Fund is accused day-in-and-day-out of mirroring the “shifting priorities of the US foreign policy” and dictating American policy agenda through loan conditionalities. As the United States is the largest economy in the world and also the biggest power, it may not be totally improbable if many of the IMF stipulations are in tune with the US-centric global economic scenario.

Focusing mainly on a country's macroeconomic policies such as policies relating to the government's budget, the management of money and credit, and the exchange rate besides financial sector policies, including the regulation and supervision of banks and other financial institutions, the IMF has to pay due attention to structural policies that affect macroeconomic performance including labor market policies that affect employment and wage behavior. As a result the IMF advises members on how policies in these areas may be improved to allow the more effective pursuit of goals such as high employment, low inflation, and ?sustainable economic growth??that is, growth that can be sustained without leading to such difficulties as inflation and balance of payments pinches. These advices and their acceptance and implementation often lead to understandable, and sometimes unreasonable political confrontations in plural democracies.

The IMF gets caught in political crossfires between ruling parties and Opposition. You will see a ruling party in one Indian State going for IMF loans, while opposing it in another state where it is the main Opposition, in the name of unacceptable "conditionalities". ‘Politics’ is the name of the game here.
(TM MENON)

‘An Unequal World, This’

-TM Menon

ON 1ST July 1997, when the former British Colony Hong Kong was handed over to China at the end of the 99 year lease period, nobody asked the “docile and apolitical people” of the territory whether they would like to be a free people preferring a democratic polity to the Mainland China’s Communist society and government. Nobody remembered the July 4 crackdown on students in Beijing’s Tiannenmen Square demanding democratic freedom. The people of Hong Kong, obviously, didn’t have the “right to self-determination” which many smaller groups the world over have!

In the Hong Kong legislative elections held on 12th September, pro-Beijing candidates fared better than expected after mainland officials allegedly used voter incentives and intimidation. Chinese Olympic athletes came to perform and democracy supporters were denounced as traitors and one was accused of soliciting a prostitute and then jailed on the mainland for six months without trial. Candidates from the pro-democracy opposition captured roughly three-fifths of the popular vote, while Beijing's local allies captured most of the rest. In terms of seats, democracy proponents won 18 of the 30 chosen by the public, but only 6 of 30 selected by industries and professions. In addition to the 24 seats controlled by democracy advocates, for the first time two professions chose candidates with strong democratic leanings, and two industries re-elected candidates who occasionally favor greater democracy. There is some disparate hope that success of more pro-Beijing candidates than expected might have the unexpected and welcome effect of persuading the Chinese Communist Party to have less consternation over Hong Kong's universal suffrage ambitions.

It is clarified that the decline of pro-democratic seats is on account of the narrow margins of votes - a couple of hundred - to win a seat in some of the most narrowly defined industries. Some of those votes are cast not by people but by companies, which find it hard to defy Beijing. The Democrats did better representing professions, in which thousands of people are allowed to vote. It may be noted that Hong Kong's system of proportional representation essentially rewards political parties that get each candidate elected with the narrowest possible margin of victory, encouraging any additional voters to support another candidate from the same party or an allied party.
However, popular feelings have been on the whole against China keeping Hong Kong in its state of “caged prosperity” denying it proper democracy. Half a million people had taken to the streets of Hong Kong on the public holiday marking the 7th anniversary of the territory’s handover to Chinese sovereignty last July. It seems nearly 100000 had marched the streets on Hong Kong on New Year’s Day and another 80000 on June 4th to mark the Tiannenmen Square massacre. These were protests over the threat to their civil liberties, and over Beijing’s decision not to hold elections for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, reneging on its earlier promise of broad autonomy for the city within the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. According to a report quoting Communist Party statistics, “mass incidents or social unrest” have gone up 14.4% in 2003 from the previous year, to 58500 incidents. The number of people taking part in these ‘incidents’ increased 6.6% to more than 3 million. The peaceful and lawful manner in which the Hong Kong people have been expressing themselves have made it hard for Chinese authorities to crackdown on them so far. What they have done under the circumstances is to control the mainland tour groups visiting Hong Kong around the time of these historic dates so that the unhappiness emanating from the ?dollar-friendly tyranny? there does not spread to the mainland.

Uyghur, a region in northwest China’s Xinjiang province has been demanding ‘self-determination’, for a change. China has been very aggressive in denying the Turkic-speaking predominantly Muslim people the right to be heard by international media condemning this as ‘East Turkestan terrorism’ and berating their struggle “terrorist activities aimed at splitting China”. The Uyghur freedom movement must be just desserts for China, a country credited with a considerable degree of ‘extra-territorial untrustworthiness’.

Taiwan, where 2 million nationalists fleeing the Communist take over of Mainland China led by Chiang Kai Shek established the ‘Republic of China’ in 1949 built up a powerful economy and gradually a democratic polity is now facing trouble from the ‘Peoples Republic of China’. Taiwan was a staunch ally of the West and in stark contrast with the Communist mainland’s poor economy till the latter embraced the liberal economy under market system some 25 years back. But the West have all but forsaken Taiwan, first taking away its membership in the UN Security Council (undeserving, though), and later the rightful UN Membership itself currently preferring to call it rather euphemistically the Taiwanese province of China or worst still, just ‘Taipei’. The reason, of course, is that China is a big economic and military power now, and a huge, mouth-watering market to be eventually tapped. With the attendant clout, China is now bold enough to threaten military strike against Taiwan if ever it declared formal Independence though for the last 55 years it has existed as a de facto independent country. China has reportedly some 550 ballistic missiles targeted at Taiwan, and continues to add about100 every year! The most interesting aspect of the situation is that the economic might of China is partly funded by Taiwanese companies who have invested an estimated $100 billion in the past one and a half decade ($46 billion in 2003). Taiwan has contributed to more than 10 million jobs to the mainland in the bargain. China has also earned huge revenue from the 3 million Taiwanese who have traveled to China over the past few years for business and pleasure. Taiwan is no small principality; the country’s GDP last year was nearly $530 billion in terms of purchasing power parity. But the 23 million Taiwanese people whose per capita income is $23400, however, have no right to self-determination. If Taiwan declares formal independence, China would use force for ‘reunification’.

A document published recently by the Peoples Republic of China’s State Council under the title of ‘Tibet - Its Ownership and Human Rights Situation’, as some sort of a White Paper intended to convince foreign readers of China's right to rule Tibet and the great benefit it brought to the people of Tibet should be reviewed in this context. One aspect of the Tibetan situation has been insufficiently highlighted in the past, even though it is fundamental to understanding the context of much of what is happening in Tibet today. This is the profoundly colonialist nature of Chinese rule in Tibet. People tend to identify colonialism with only the European territorial expansion in the past two centuries. The Communist variety exhibited by former Soviet Union in the entire Eastern Europe and later in Afghanistan; and China in Tibet are, like similar Red excesses, either justified, or belittled or ignored altogether. That the events surrounding the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1949, the resistance to Chinese rule, Dalai Lama’s 1959 flight to India, the human rights conditions in the occupied Tibet, the deprivation of religious freedom, population transfer and control and militarisation of the Hermit Kingdom point towards a profoundly colonial occupation and the world has done nothing about it is one of the brutal paradoxes of International polity. It is no secret to Indians that China invaded our country in 1962 as a punishment for providing political asylum to HH Dalai Lama. China’s claim to occupy and “own” Tibet is on the basis of relationships at least 200 years back in History. It may be remembered that China has claimed the entire Arunachal Pradesh on the strength of the Tawangs paying tether to the Ming Emperors. If such logic is employed, a powerful India can lay claims to an ‘Akhand Bharat’ annexing huge territories from Afghanistan (which Maharaja Ranjit Singh ruled just two hundred years back) to Cambodia (Kambhoj)!

The White paper mentioned above dismisses as ‘untenable’ a proposal by Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader HH Dalai Lama, that the region be granted a high degree of autonomy along the lines promised to Hong Kong and Macau. China reiterates that the government led by the Dalai Lama has been replaced in 1959 and hence “the destiny and future of Tibet can no longer be decided by the Dalai Lama and his clique”. The monks and nuns now living in Tibet are required to denounce the Dalai Lama and declare their loyalty to the boy China installed in 1995 as the 11th Panchen Lama, the second most reverent figure in Tibetan Buddhism. They are also required to study the political theories of Ex-President Jiang Zemin!

You may wonder how the “self-determination” denied to the people of Hong Kong, Uyghur, Tibet, and Taiwan was presented on a platter to the one million people of a small island which belonged to the largest Muslim Country in the World - Indonesia- just five years back. On 30th of August 1999, in a UN-supervised popular referendum, the people of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia! On 20th May, The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste was internationally recognised as an independent state and the world’s newest democracy. The reason for the boon seems to be very simple: 90% of the 1019250 East Timor people are Roman Catholics; and only 4% Muslims. That is religious demography working against the Muslims, for a change. But that is because Indonesia didn’t have the economic clout or military might of China to blackmail the international community.

Pakistan and some of its allies have been harping on ‘self-determination’ for the people of Kashmir, 56 years after the state’s formal accession to India. The major reason cited in support of this demand is the UN resolution of August 13, 1948, conveniently ignoring the fact that Pakistan had refused to abide by the primary condition set by the same resolution, namely, withdrawing from the occupied areas and restoring the demography of the ‘occupied Kashmir’ to the situation existing before August 15, 1947. It is also forgotten that the UN resolution being under Chapter VI was purely advisory and not mandatory. Strangely enough, the Government of India had gone out of its way maintain a ‘Special Status’ for Jammu & Kashmir prohibiting by law any settlement there by people from the rest of India. As regards ‘self-determination’, India has an impeccable record of conducting elections to the state assembly and for the parliament without fail, the latest being under the watchful eyes of ‘international observers’. Therefore, the issue of ‘self-determination’ for the people of Jammu & Kashmir is a product of mischief and malice in about equal measures. Moreover, the ‘right to self-determination’ as is tom-tomed by some interest groups, can neither be automatic nor sacrosanct.

It may be remembered that prior to Independence India was partitioned on the basis of the strident demand for ‘self-determination’ for the Muslims living in India who wanted a ‘homeland’ for themselves. Though the history of the ‘Mopla Rebellion’ in the Malabar region of British India was very recently written into the freedom struggle, it is still considered by many as part of the demand for a ‘Maappilastan’ by Muslims living in the erstwhile Eranad. Marxist ‘historians’ led by EMS Namboothiripad did the whitewashing of this unhapphy and dirty episode in Kerala history. The theses of a Sikh-homeland was propounded in the 1940s, and believe it or not, it was drafted by no less a person than the present CPM General Secretary comrade Harkishen Singh Surjeet! This was revealed in 2000 by a book Siyasat Rustam-E-Hind on Surjeet by a journalist, Shameel, though till the writing of this book, undivided Communist Party’s leader Gangadhar Adhikari in whose name the theses was published in 1944, was credited with the work. Surjeet is also known to have “mellowed down” the Anandpur Sahib resolution of 1973, which was passed in the all-India Akali Conference in Ludhiana in 1978. It is one of the ironies of history that Surjeet vehemently opposed ‘Khalistan’ in the 1990s, and Khalistanis in their turn, began projecting Surjeet as ‘some kind of a villain and enemy of Sikhs’.

The point here is that the rights and causes of certain groups in this world seem to have always been attached with some special legitimacy that similar rights, faiths, and causes of others do not receive. This indeed is an unequal world.
(TM MENON)

The Games Nations Play

When international crude oil prices register record peaks again and again, oil-rich Libya is on the verge of resuming its previous role as a major source of energy supply to the US. Remember Libya and the US has been sworn enemies for nearly two decades! Libya’s new Prime Minister rather somberly conceded recently that his country needed a lot of investment. To know the reason why, one has only to see how the total oil output from its old oil fields operated by Libya’s National Oil, now is less than 100,000 barrels per day when in 1970, the Occidental Petroleum run by the legendary CEO Armand Hammer was pumping out 660,000 barrels per day peak output from them. And the Americans have reason to be anxious to enter Libyan market once again when the average price of gasoline is more than $2 a gallon across their country. On 16.8.2004 Libya announced international bids for oil and gas drilling licenses in its land and sea, the first bid of their kind since the lifting of American sanctions; and for the first time again US companies are permitted to compete.

But Libya is still a ‘terrorist nation’ in the US administration records and their embassy in Washington. D.C., President Reagan ordered closed in 1981 remain unopened. But the Bush administration lifted economic sanctions and travel restrictions recently in its anxiety to move towards normalcy in mutual relations and more so while seeking partners in the war on terror. Libya has made some right moves and noises too. It paid $10million each to the 270 victims of the Pan Am flight that exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988 and another $170 million as settlement for the victims of the 1989 UTA passenger jet bombing. Taking a new step forward to earn more ‘good conduct entries’ and rebuilding relations with the West, Libya has also agreed to pay some $35 million in compensation for a restaurant blast in Berlin 18 years ago. For his own reasons Col.Muammar Gaddafi has dissociated with the Arabs bemoaning that he had endured them for a long time paying them blood money for which the West despised and demonised him as well. While he antagonized the US and allies for the sake of Arab-Muslim solidarity, the Arabs, according to Gaddafi, mocked at him joining the US and Israel against Libya! As recently as in the OIC meeting in May, Gaddafi threw tantrums and walked out in a row over its ‘weak’ agenda to further alienate himself from the Arabs.

US administration would like to believe for the time being that while Gaddafi would pompously project himself as an African Muslim leader, he has turned his back on terror associated more with the Arab Muslims and wouldn’t like to be looked at as the ‘mad dog of the Middle East’ by the West. When the KSA is experiencing a wave of Islamic terrorist attacks, with an estimated oil reserves of 36 billion barrels (the 9th largest in the world at recent estimates), a nonvolatile Libya is perhaps worth betting on for US government and US oil companies. And it is not as if the friends of US were not doing business with this hated country while the US/UN embargoes were in place. Spain, Austria and France have substantial oil interests in Libya. That would have made the Americans bite their lips in anger since the Libyan oil reserves have the black gold at 5000 feet below the surface costing only a few dollars per barrel to pump up as against $5 to $10 in Texas or North Sea. Crude selling at above $40 per barrel, Libyan oil must be mouth-watering indeed.

Now let me come to the more juicy part of the story. When the sanctions were going strong (for as long as 18 years!) Libya had really no problem getting whatever they wanted from the ‘free world’. It only meant more money and lead-time for the supplies. With Libyan oil exports fetching 30-40 million dollars a day, the suppliers of American oil parts had no problem getting markups as high as 300%. US firms used their European subsidiaries or third-party suppliers to route their products to the Gaddafi kingdom.

That takes me back to the other games nations have played in the past. I was exuberant when some time during 1985 a top official of our public sector giant Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation called me up in Menon Impex Limited and asked for help to get rough diamonds from the Soviet Union. As a director of the company, trade with the erstwhile USSR was my forte. But my Moscow office poured cold water on my enthusiasm coming back with an emphatic niyeth from the Russian organization handling the diamond trade. Reasons were difficult to come by, and when they slowly emerged from beyond the ‘iron curtain’, I was shocked. USSR would sell diamonds only the South African cartel De Beers International! Yes, the same Soviet Union, which spewed venom on USA for the Reagan administration’s ‘constructive engagement’ of South Africa in the name of a virulent anti-Apartheid stand. The erstwhile Soviet Union could get away with anything because it was ‘progressive’, ‘socialist’, powerful, and capable of using that power to boot, you think what you may; come what may. Similarly, you would notice that a behavior that is plainly racist, when practiced by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia seems not to be racist, because, Saudi Arabia has plenty of Oil and is an Arab country in the Pan-Islamic mould.

That reminds me of a couple of interesting stories involving the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan when he was US Ambassador to the UN. Moynihan, who was US Ambassador in India earlier had an acid tongue and was considered by many in US administration as quite undiplomatic and often almost a liability in foreign policy, thanks to his abrasive outspokenness. “The Committee on Decolonization”, he told UN General Assembly once, “consists of 16 police states, 4 democracies and 4 in-betweens. We are not about to be lectured by police states on the processes in electoral democracy”. On another occasion when the UN Credentials Committee questioned the representative nature of the Chilean delegation on the ground that the military Junta which overthrew Allende doesn't represent the Chilean people, irrepressible Moynihan stood up and told them: “that is an interesting question; and since you brought it up, we have 45 military governments and 35 other governments installed by military coups here in the UN; and let’s talk about them all”. The Committee dropped the matter! So that’s the story of games nations play. The likes of Prof.Moynihan who could call a spade a spade have now disappeared from international affairs.

Haven’t you asked yourself, why did the Americans find the military dictatorships in Pakistan worthy of their support and ‘estrange’ themselves from democratic India? Why did the erstwhile USSR find the theocratic Arab dictatorships closer to its heart than the secular democracy in Israel? Why did the ‘non-aligned’ India keep quiet about the Soviet Union occupying Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, but took every opportunity to mount attacks on the US for various ‘infringements’ of human rights and national sovereignty in the UN? Why did the US look the other way and was selectively deaf too, when Pakistan clandestinely acquired technology and equipment for nuclear weaponization and also missile capability to use them notably with the help of China and North Korea even though we cried hoarse to invite their attention and intervention? And why did they suddenly wake up to the dangers of nuclear proliferation in the Indian sub-Continent when India tested its nuclear devises in 1998? There is nothing strange, therefore, if the Americans could fight Libya-sponsored terror if it persists, while still tapping cheap Libyan oil. Why not? Didn’t our own Kautilya (BC-320) say that “there are no permanent enemies and permanent friends; there are only permanent national interests”?

TM Menon


From Marxism to ‘Fourth World’ Activism

Dr.M.P.Parameswaran was back in news again recently with a book enunciating his views on the ‘Fourth World’, which had led to his expulsion from the CPM. The book, ‘Naalaam Lokam: Swapnavum Yadhaathiavum’ (Fourth World: Dreams and Realities), published by DC Books is yarn-spinning in the familiar Communist tradition projecting the vision of an interim stage before the Communist ideal of a socialist society coming into being.

There is plenty of lip sympathy for the ‘democratic values’, which for Communists universally have a different meaning than what the “normally constituted” people have. The pejorative was not used to taunt; the scheme of things spun by Dr.Parameswaran and the punishment meted out to him for this party ideologue by the CPM bring Kafkaeque images of unreality. And thereby hangs a tale of political deceit and manipulation. That the concept of a Fourth World is not Dr.M.P.Parameswarans original idea is now common knowledge. But it was of Indian in origin unlike many of MPP’s treatises, which his friends now allege, are ‘lifted’ from western sources including the UN and World Bank documents.

Coming from Shuswap chief George Manuel’s 1974 document ‘The Fourth World: An Indian Reality’ the concept was indeed subversive in intent, trying to project the indigenous peoples descended from “country’s aboriginal population” as the ‘Fourth World’ and separate from the mainstream so as the harvest of their souls becomes legitimate. In a CWIS (Center for World Indigenous Studies) paper Dr.Richard Griggs of the University of Capetown makes it even more explosive describing the ‘Fourth World’ as “nations forcefully incorporated into the states which maintain distinct political culture but are internationally unrecognized ‘nations’”. According to Griggs, some 5000-6000 ‘nations’ representing a third of the world’s population are thus engaged in a struggle, or have the right to do so, for sovereignty over their ‘national homeland’. The field indeed is large enough for any ‘faith’, religious or political, to sow and harvest its creed.

Back home in Kerala someone who dictated every move by undivided the Communist party for long and continued to wave his magic wand over everything written, spoken or done in the CPM after the split, had said with the authority and suitable superior air (and slur!) and attitude that India was no single nation but only a loose conglomeration of many sub-nationalities which had the right for autonomous existence.

Detractors sniffed and snided then saying that Comrade EMS was cleverly petitioning for advance bail for the inability of his party to capture power in India as a whole. They had a point too, since the undivided Communist party had polled 6% votes in the first General Elections in free India. After the split the two splinters CPI and the CPM together have managed to get 1% more in 2004 though the number of seats are above 10% thanks to various alliances including with sworn ‘class enemies’!

DrMP.Parameswaran’s rethinking of Marxism and moving closer to Gandhian Socialism or ‘Ecological Marxism’ is in line with a welter of ‘reforms’ offering spot remedies for the ills and abuses of communism. It is interesting to note that Parameswaran’s posture is that of ‘planning for a post-capitalist world’ as if capitalism was breathing its last. While capitalism has evolved and the ‘neo-liberal globalization’ has devoured even most Marxist-Leninist-Maoist societies while ensuring its survival, whatever Parameswarans of the ‘flat-earth societies’ theorize about its terminal ills, it is Marxism, which needs oxygen and energy now. And in this context MP.Parameswaran’s ‘Fourth World’ is perhaps about liberation of communists and fellow travelers from a self-imposed bondage of a curiously treacherous kind and its replacement by a new social and moral order minus the stain of the politics of the past awash in atrocity and anguish. Is MPP set out to save Marxism from itself, cleansing it of accretions of a totalitarian and counter-revolutionary Stalinism and return to its western libertarian origins. MPP, like the most famous Marxist for some years, Jean Paul Sartre, has come to recognize that the Soviet model imported here was pre-fabricated socialism, and refuses to take shape?

It is a curious thing that many scholars of distinction, steeped in the profoundly humanistic Indian culture like MPP, could co-exist with the cult and culture of Stalinism, and fails to shake off its influence wholly. Parameswaran’s ‘Fourth World’ model has failure embedded in its genome, which has unmodified Marxist genes in it. While the clusters of his many assumptions are rational in themselves, they are in profound conflict with the ?mother-module? besides being irrelevant to one another. He swears by the concept of ‘class war’ but has a vision of a participatory and decentralized democracy akin to Gandhiji’s ‘self-sufficient village republics’, which he identifies with the ‘Soviets’. The idea of a social class is historically specific, the product of modern era -  industrialization, in Marxian context - of modern sociology. The notion of a people, which Gandhiji had in mind, on the other hand, dates back to antiquity. It is associated to places and understood symbolically through our stories, legends, moral traditions folk remedies, foods, rituals, festivals music, languages, memories and so on. This has its umbilical cord connection with everything that matters to human beings and excludes nothing.

Parameswaran is against the ‘ideological fish bazaar’ and his reference to non-party political formations filling the ideological vacuum (!) is quite intriguing. His aversion to the ‘ideological fish bazaar’ is understandable since pluralism is anathema to Marxism. It can be tolerated only to ensure survival of the Marxist ideology while the latter assiduously strives to subvert the mother society from within, leading eventually to the confines of a one-party ‘democracy’. Parmameswaran gives his own meaning to the word ‘subversion’ to sanitize and sublimate it. In fact Parameswaran makes no bones about his concern for the survival of Marxism in either in his treatise on the ‘Fourth World’ or in the many explanations forced out of him by CPM hardliners, and leftists of all hues. Left ideologues’ recent love for Gandhi and Gandhian ideals is a transparently self-serving strategy to hold on to the one set of deep-rooted socio-political points of view and ethical values in this country that refuse to decay or die. The saintly Vinoba Bhave had rather violently denied any positive connection with Marxism and ‘Gandhism’ pointing out the unbridgeable chasm between an ideology that justifies any means so long as they lead to the goals and them other that considered the moral purity of the means as important as the goals. Parameswaran’s terminology that include ‘wounding action’ ‘subversion’ etc. should make Gandhiji turn in his grave. Coming to ‘Ecological Marxism’: this concern for ecology lately shown by former Naxalites and hard-core Marxists only demonstrates their anxiety to take up non-controversial issues dear to the people in general and the intelligentsia in particular in an era of downright disgust and revulsion for the degradation of day-to-day ‘politicking’. It is also analogous to the Communist outfits in the former Soviet block countries assuming names hiding their former identities. There they choose the colour of their party flags in a reversal of the famous Ford colour scheme, i.e. ‘any colour as long it is not red’!

I wouldn’t blame Parameswaran for the subterfuge because, to come to power in France the French Communist Party had used ‘social democratic’ tactics like giving firm commitments that pluralism will not be tampered with, that agriculture will not be collectivized, that French Constitution will be scrupulously respected and so on. At a realistic level too, it may be difficult for Parameswaran to conclude anymore that a Communist society can be built on the basis of Marxist beliefs. Think of Marx’s dated theories for example: that the division of labour will cease under socialism; that the state will wither away; that the poverty of the working class will rapidly increase under capitalism; and so on. These ideas were drawn from the state of British society and the state of science in the mid-nineteenth century, and had some relevance perhaps then. They are horse feathers now. Marxism as a political programme in the 21st century is the height of absurdity. And hence Parameswaran has to marry Marxism with the still respectable and realistic Gandhian ideals to give it a fresh lease of life. But the Stalinists among his erstwhile colleagues are unwilling to let even some ?breeze and light? come in, not to speak of political disguise and peeping shows. For many Comrades any admission of the collapse of ideological motivation and loss of the value-system is acceptance of defeat and retreat. They cannot tolerate the removal of familiar signposts; it would mean chaos and threat of the unknown.

Parameswaran swears by the Marxism even as he moots apolitical work in the Fourth World’. And there indeed is a hidden agenda - and that is to avoid continued operation of a multi-party system at the grassroots level. It is a ploy to snatch away the political rights and initiatives of a pluralist society while bringing the people under the social, educational and cultural influence of CPM with the help of its well-oiled media/propaganda machinery and the self-help projects of development using the resources of the state/society in general. It is no secret that a communist will never surrender a leading role to the Communist party, and tolerate plural democracy as a necessary, inexorable evil only in a certain milieu. Communists have not been known to accept unlimited freedom of the press or public opinion unless it is to their exclusive advantage. It may be noted that Parameswaran has nothing much to say about the state of civil liberties when he was in the Soviet Union or of the purge trials earlier. Two decades before the collapse of the USSR the ‘Eurocommunists’ had predicted the eventual collapse of the repressive regime and its senseless economic policy.

It has been held for long that Communism as a system of government goes against human nature; once a man satisfies his basic needs, obtains some consumer goods and get some education, very soon he acquires the same desires to work freely, travel freely, think freely and talk and worship freely as any of us in non-communist societies. Any system of government that denies these things sooner or later is bound to crumble from inside. There is no use and no sense either in blaming Gorbachev.

There is a lesson in all this: we all can see perfectly well that the Marxist party could do with a new political outlook; but it is impossible to convince them by ideological means - even if you are an insider with impeccable credentials. Talking of reform in a communist movement is the ideological equivalent of mentioning the rope in a hanged man’s house. On the one side we have a Malayalam Professor rasping and raving about the need to employ the ‘mushroom-type of management’ in ‘revolutionary’ organizations like the CPM “keep the revolutionaries in the dark and feed them s..t”! There is also former CITU leader VB Cheriyan quoting the Basava Punniah line against plural democracy. At the other end of the spectrum is this well-read ideologue ‘PG’ who made some soul-searching in public and quickly backtracked to follow the party’s directive of the modified Koestler-Bukharin principle. If it was “you do a last service to Communism and the party by signing this false testimony and save your wife’s and children’s lives” elsewhere, here it is now “recant or repent now and keep quiet so that you can go to your grave with your body draped in the Red Flag”. (And in Heaven you can talk in person to all the Communist heroes, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Hochimin, and EMS. Remember the late EM Sreedharan’s wrote in his column in the ‘Malayala Manorama’ daily about his son Kuttan who had died in infancy jumping from his grandfather’s lap to Lenin’s in Heaven?)

The Marxist intellectual’s theoretical gobbledygook and reformist agenda seem to be a mere eyewash and mainly intended to persuade the followers to continue nursing a pleasant fiction that the system is improving itself- like the repeated claim of socialism coming back wherever it had collapsed in the early nineties. The fact that people like MPP claim that Marxism is a body of unalterable truths is proof that it is a credal affair first and foremost and scientific only in the 19th century sense even if the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad issues a ‘fatwa’ on it. And once you accept the credal side, you have an interest in believing certain things to be true and possible and others not so. While MPP, with the aura of a ‘nuclear scientist’ flatters himself as a critical intellectual and of having scientific attitudes, seems to have psychologically maneuvered himself into a position when his Marxist ‘faith’ has overshadowed his critical thinking. The sooner people like MPP realize and accept that only liberty, tolerance, the spirit of compromise and forgiveness can resolve conflicts within society, among communities and even nations. These do not occur in Marxism or Leninism. In Marx’s philosophy of social hatred there can be no room for the above virtues. It will be scandalous to the point of a sacrilege therefore, to associate the name of Gandhiji with Marxism.
(TM MENON)

Go out and get dirty!

I was born into a household obsessed with a concern for perfect personal hygiene- cleaning the teeth before break-fast and after dinner, two baths everyday, spotlessly white clothes, short hair, trimming nails, keeping footwear out, washing feet before entering the house, and so on. Still, an uncle of mine used to say that I have in me ‘jalappishachu’ considering the number of times I got into the nearby rivulet or one of our many ponds in the sultry-dusty summers. Mohammed, a friend and college-mate (he died very young) used to look at my clean toenails and remark that they looked like those of a corpse. A teacher who had a complex about her very dark complexion had once a dig at three of us in MA class who wore always-white suggesting that in many cases white attire meant dark thoughts inside. In water-stressed Mumbai of early seventies, my cousin with whom I stayed remarked in a lighter vein once that I should rightly be a candidate for attack from ‘Shiv Sainiks’ being a ‘Madrassi’ using at least a thousand litres of water everyday! And because I constantly nagged her about cleaning vegetables bought from way-side vendors, my wonderful sister-in-law warned my wife on her very first day in Mumbai that one day, in course of my ‘disinfecting’ her, I would drown her in Dettol-laced water in the bathtub!

When my first child was born, I made it clear to his doting mother that I loved only him, not his urine, faeces and when he started walking about, added the dirt he brought home from outside in the list of ‘unacceptables’. Though playfully, I used to warn the little fellow that if ever he fell in the sewer passing our ‘row-house’ I would simply throw him away! For fear of his dirty fingernails taking pathogens in along with food, till the age of 6 or so I used to insist on spoon-feeding him. And that, my wife says, is the reason why he is such a messy eater even now! Perhaps all these prompted him to call me from the US and talk about some interesting print media commercials in which Wisk laundry detergent claiming that it “puts its strength where the dirt is”. That is how ‘getting dirty’- its philosophy, science and sociology - became the subject-matter for an article here.

In what appears to be an innovative campaign, my son Dileep told me, Wisk is trying to put its strength behind celebrating dirt. The campaign, by Lowe & Partners Worldwide in New York seeks to gain attention from consumers by turning the traditional trappings of detergent marketing on their head. Rather than decry dirt, the campaign for Wisk, sold by the Anglo-Dutch consumer products giant Unilever, proclaims proudly, “America needs dirt”. The embrace of the one-time nemesis of all soaps seems silly, but at its core it looks very sensible, and even clever. If the consumers do not get dirty, why would they need to clean their clothes? An associated website (americaneedsdirt.com) says, “a life without dirt is a life half-lived”. That is the philosophy expressed by the theme of the Wisk campaign, “Go ahead. Get dirty”, which is borrowed from a campaign for a sibling Unilever detergent brand in India and Canada called Sunlight.

The agency obviously feels that the consumers know that the detergent brand cuts through tough dirt and stains, so doesn’t have give them a message about its cleaning ability. Instead, they wanted to develop a provocative campaign that would be disruptive, so they'd notice it! My son says the campaign showed jars of soil labeled ‘Dirt’ as if that were the product being pitched. Among the headlines on the initial posters: “From the makers of water and air”, “Reintroducing the world's first toy”, “Keep in the reach of children”, “Messy = Fun”, “Cures boredom”, “Your long-lost childhood friend” and “Have you ever noticed how pigs are happy”? The branding was added later to the campaign, by affixing stickers to the posters that carry the Wisk logo and the “Go ahead. Get dirty” theme.

It seems for a couple years the ad agency has been working on a campaign saying dirt is good, quoting from the recent scientific knowledge that kids playing in dirt can be a learning experience. My son adds with a chuckle I can sense from the distance between TVM and Atlanta that the campaign taps into “a confluence of societal trends” like a growing interest in getting children - and grownups - to exercise and play more to fight obesity (Dileep weighed 90kilos when I saw him 6 months back.) with the help of ‘factoids’ included in the lower corners of print ads. Among them are gems like: “the average American child watches four hours of television a day, on average, Americans spend over 90 percent of their lives indoors”, “Studies suggest that preserving a sense of fun helps manage stress” and “Ninety- three percent of moms notice their children's motor skills improve when they play outdoors”.

What would come next in the detergent campaign? I am told there would be “mini- infomercials” selling dirt and perhaps promotions offering dirt from exotic places around the world in exchange for Wisk ‘reward points’. “Be sure to go out and get dirty”. Don't you worry about a couple of stains here or there. Stains are badges of an exciting life. Besides, with the stain-dissolving power of Wisk, you're free to enjoy DIRT again and again!
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I cannot honestly say that dirt was “the timeless toy” of my generation; that is to say, consciously so. But, I do admit that for the present day children, it is increasingly becoming a casualty of technology. With TV, computer games and innumerable other sophisticated ‘diversions’ captivating kids’ attention, this young generation is choosing to sit indoors more than its predecessors. For a long time now, children are increasingly loosing their playtime and the appalling drop in their unstructured outdoor activities is very visible. Schools are cutting recess. Childhood inactivity is at an all-time high.

Because of the importance it places on children playing outside, having fun and learning important life lessons the detergent brand’s ad “America Needs Dirt” seems to me as an outreach campaign worthy of emulation in many of our cities where ‘bedroom suburbs’ are developing fast. I would happily jump on board a campaign to kick-off community programs that give Indian parents information about the benefits of playing outdoors and share tips on how to get children off the sofas and chairs and encourage them to get outdoors, play hard, get dirty and have fun so they can develop healthy attitudes and behaviors that last a lifetime. Perhaps it is true that by simply bringing dirt back into children's lives, setting them free to play outside, parents provide a basic and cost-free solution to the problems associated with inactivity such as obesity and stress, aloofness and selfishness.
When I was young my parents did not see that outdoor activity and sports were the best ways for children to stay fit, express themselves and relieve stress, etc. Staying outdoors playing and getting was never viewed then as a method for enhancing self-esteem and a provider of informal learning experiences that benefit children in the classroom either. Sporting careers and sports quotas were distant. My orders were to “go and read your text books” with an ominous stress on the word ‘text’, lest I should pour over periodicals and novels. As a parent I did recognize the importance of outdoor play and allowed my children complete freedom to “go out and get dirty” when they were in school and college, though a nagging fear of dirt as a health hazard worried me ‘like hell’ when they were too young.

Experts now declare “vigorous play outdoors means children have been developing their physical fitness, enhancing their imaginative thinking and appreciation for nature. When children are allowed free play outside, they increase the growth of fundamental nerve centers in the brain that facilitate clearer thought and increased learning abilities. When children get dirty, they reap many cognitive and physical benefits, but feel as though they just had fun”. “The long-term detrimental impact of decreased play will impact society for generations to come unless we quickly address the issue”, they stress. That the benefits of supporting dirt today will raise the next generation of adults who are not afraid to embrace an active life, play hard and experience life to the fullest never crossed my mind earlier. Nor did it appear to me that getting dirty was indeed one of the ‘healthy life habits’. I may not extol the virtues of getting dirty, but at this stage of my life, and in the present context, I would approve the detergent brand commercial’s call for a “commitment to dirt” and exhortation to living life to its fullest harnessing the power of enthusiasm and outdoor activism.
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Tailpiece: My wife has volunteered to look after our first grandchild when s/he arrives so that the little one’s parents can pursue their budding careers in the US without hassles. I suppose I would encourage the little ‘monster’ to go out and get dirty. But wouldn’t I dip him/her in disinfectant-laced water three times a day, and insist on spoon-feeding for fear of gastroenteritis, jaundice and worms, etc. is a $64million question.

An epitaph to the IIM fee imbroglio
This article is perhaps an epitaph to a controversy around an attempt to make the Indian Institutes of Management accessible to ‘common people’. There was a time when why I was worked up to pen something about it and swim against the then fashionable trend opposing the former Union HRD Minister for suggesting a drastic cut in the tuition fee charged by our prestigious management institutes. But unfortunately, I went on putting it off. What prompted an emotional reaction in me then was a letter written by an IIM aspirant, a girl, in The New Indian Express. In a beautifully worded, and passionately argued ‘Letter to the Editor’ she was asking what provoked the generally pro-reform paper to attack Dr.Murli Manohar Joshi for slashing the fees charged by the Indian Institutes of Management in an editorial piece titled ‘High cost of low fee’. She wrote that her worry till Dr.Joshi’s decision to ask the IIMs to slash their fee to Rs.30000 per annum was how would her father raise Rs.1.5lakh-plus for her education next year, if she happened to be lucky to get admission.

I had later come across statements by the IIM alumni, the students currently pursuing their studies in the IIMs, the doyen of industry and commerce in this country and sundry ‘think-piece merchants’ in newspaper columns arguing vehemently against Joshi’s “interference”. A common thread in their argument in favour of the higher fees was that it was no matter for worry since there were loans available aplenty and the students could repay them from the high-paid jobs they get through campus recruitment. Had anyone of them thought of parents who were unable to provide collateral for the bank loans? I am sure, such mundane affairs are infra dig for most of them. If you happen to approach the Canara Bank, for example, they are not likely to be very enthusiastic supporting your/your ward’s education in the IIM-B whose graduates top the list of education loan defaulters! To avoid running after out-station candidates duping the bank and disappearing, only students from Karnataka can avail of loans now.

In the above context calculating, a ‘minimum’ Rs.4lakh in cash plus perquisites and a modest 20% annual increment and arriving at an NPV of Rs.47lakh over 6 years for an IIM graduate is putting the cart before the horse. A bright boy or girl from a village or a ‘C’ class town in India getting into an IIM, under the present circumstances, is as difficult for the proverbial camel to enter the eye of a needle. The Narayana Murthys and Omkar Goswamis of the corporate world would not understand the stark realities of the ‘other India’ and ‘other Indians’. Professor Bakul Dholakia and his ilk wouldn’t be bothered about this aspect of Indian reality from their academic ivory towers and acute sense of ‘autonomy’. What happened to the autonomous institution’s responsibility when the CAT papers were stolen from under their noses and sold to the highest bidders across the country? This time around, it was found out; but who knows how long the trade was going among the high and mighty, with or without the knowledge of the autonomy-seekers!

If the Indian Institutes of Technology rated well above most universities offering degrees in engineering and technology in the West are charging Rs.30000 per annum as fees, providing world-class coaching, laboratory and library facilities, you bet the IIMs also can. I was astonished to find IIM-A Director Prof.Dholakia and Chairman of Board of Governors NR Narayana Murty bemoan the reduction in tuition fees saying the IIMs have not asked for it. “The students like me ask for it; our harassed, hapless parents ask for it; isn’t that enough?” the girl wrote to the New Indian Express editor.

When the former Union HRD Minister promised to fund the IIMs’ expansions and other projects and pursuits filling the revenue-expenditure gap, those who otherwise complain of ‘self-financing culture’ in education accused him for plotting to control higher education. The question asked by Mr.Omkar Goswami, a former Chief Economist of the CII is that why should the government of India want to subsidise “people who would belong to the top half percent of Indian income”? He weeps for the under-funded courses in humanities and other subjects and asks the government to take up their cause. The logic seemed very much like “leave the IIMs to our boys and girls”. The whole argument put forward by Murthys and Goswamis smack money-mindedness and elitism. I would not blame any Union HRD Minister if he viewed the IIMs as institutions developing human resources for managing the nation?s productive sectors and not as centres awarding degrees fetching the highest salaries from corporate bodies. Indeed, the Minister’s priorities have to be different from those of corporate bosses who hire and fire managers based on mainly the supply and demand situation.

High-minded critics of Dr.Joshi claimed that they suspected his “fascist predilections” were behind the move or at least his desire to reduce the financial independence of the IIMs in order to make them dependent on the government. There was this angry alumnus who mentioned that he had in 1969 paid only Rs.7500 for two years for his IIM-A education. Responding to the reported threat by Union HRD Ministry to the defiant IIM-A that it might be required to refund the tuition fees collected in excess of the Rs.30000 prescribed, s/he asks angrily whether the early batches be asked to shell out cash to compensate the IIM-A. With his/her current NPV should s/he worry at all?

The visual media went berserk at the suggestion of IIM fee cut as if it was the freedom of expression under attack and started going around interviewing the students who are already on the rolls of the IIMs about the fee-hike. And would anyone of them want the expensive education they got to the future students at cut rates? You had plenty of Joshy-bashing visuals and soundbites thereby. I suppose the highest judicial forum in this country gave an inking of its thinking by asking the IIM governing bodies to have a dialogue with the Union HRD Ministry before seeking judicial remedies. Then the elections came. Dr.Murli Manohar Joshi and his party lost the elections. The man who replaced Joshi is Arjun Singh, an old war-horse who had gone to seed and wants to prove at the butt-end of his life and career that he is a racehorse. He was quick to grant “autonomy” to the IIMs and according to journalese, let the premier institutions “off the hook”. Why, he went on pompously to declare that he would consider actions against directors of a couple of IIMs for towing Dr.Joshi’s line. That is some ‘autonomy’ to begin with!

I am indeed happy to see that the IIMs have suddenly woken up to the need of offering need-based scholarships. That is perhaps a legacy Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi’s policy left behind. Nobody is likely to remember former Comptroller and Auditor General VK Shunglu’s report on the financial requirements of the IIMs at this juncture. Shunglu was pooh-poohed for endorsing reduction in the fees in IIMs and pointing out that the IIM-A, IIM-B, and IIM-K are so cash-rich that they can do without charging any fee at all. A national newspaper editorially commended that “management education was not just a matter of balancing cash registers”! That should have been addressed rather to those who talked about the future salaries and NPVs of the management graduates from these elite institutions. And if you ask me, I would gladly see the huge subsidies currently eaten up by various inefficient sectors of our economy going into subsidies for education, even at the levels of higher education. The power subsidy to the tune of an unbelievable Rs.30000crore can translate into totally free education at all levels. What could be more rewarding for a society that considers education as the greatest of all riches? -T.M.Menon

Water literacy - Lesson 1

“Nothing is more useful than water; but it will purchase scarce anything. A diamond, on the contrary, has scarce any value in use; but a very great quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for it”, wrote Adam Smith in his seminal book The Wealth of Nations. This paradox seemed to plague the Father of Economics though he had solved it explaining that the difference in price between diamonds and water is one of scarcity. If the supply conditions changed, the value of the products changed too. When a rich merchant is lost in the Arabian Desert, he would certainly value water dearer than diamonds! Similarly, there is possibility that if the quantity of diamonds could “by industry be multiplied”, the price of the diamonds would also drop significantly.

My subject here is water, and not diamond. Because of its “abundance”, the marginal utility and the price of water is low in spite of its higher ‘total utility’. Keralites, famous for their higher consumption of water for cleanliness, have realized very recently that they cannot be very optimistic anymore about the continued use of water as liberally as before based on the ‘abundance’ taken for granted till now. Known for its 44 rivers and the many lakes and 250 ponds dotting every square kilometer of our State, we are now told, Kerala is actually a water-stressed region. Our rivers are, by definition, no rivers at all! They are rain-fed; and we used to get some 300cm rain in a good year. But most of the rain water, some 730billion cubic meter of it, flows into the sea within a matter of 48hours thanks to the topography of the state. Forest cover that helps bring the rains and retain the rainwater in the soil for ensuring a perennial supply as ground water and through rivers is fast vanishing. It is said that 1sq.Km forests can collect 1.2million litre water. Our 10000Sq.Km forests have disappeared. If the capacity of the Idukki reservoir is taken as a reference point, the damage could be illustrated saying that forests that could retain groundwater equivalent to ten Idukki-sized reservoirs have been destroyed by land-hungry, timber-hungry Malayalees. Moreover, while Kerala receives 2.78 times the average national rainfall, it has to support a population density that is 3.6 times the national average. In comparison with arid Rajasthan, it is said that the lush green Kerala has a lower per capita availability of rainfall!

Happily building their dream homes and mansions, Keralites have spawned a huge construction industry hungry for river sand. Most of the riverbeds have therefore become quarries for sand resulting in the death of many of them. The disappearing rivers have led to the lowering of water table all over the state. The groundwater reserve of our state is depleted to 3536 million cubic meters presently (1999 estimate) from a capacity of 6229 million cubic meters. Damage to the environment, climatic changes, and pollution, all pose serious threats to the availability of water. Human requirement for drinking alone is calculated at 2.5L water per day; cattle, farm and industrial requirements are besides.

This summer Keralites suddenly realized how acutely water-stressed the state was with 4 whole districts suffering unprecedented drought. Crop loss alone is responsible for a cash loss of Rs.503crore to the farming community in the state. Inadequate water in the reservoirs feeding the hydroelectric power stations amounted to more than twice as much. Drinking water shortage in the rural and semi-rural areas became an explosive issue. All these have led to panic reactions with our amateur environmentalists clamouring for state intervention in stopping consumption of water for almost all non-drinking purposes.

While no one would dare suggest that Keralites cut on their bath water consumption, reasonable restrictions on water use for all purposes will be a sane counsel. Water experts the world over have been arguing for cultivation of water-efficient crops in water-stressed regions. They have introduced the concept of ‘virtual water’ on the basis of the ‘water efficiency’ of various farm products. For example, 2000 litres of water would be needed to produce 1 Kilogram rice; 500 litres for 1 Kg potato; 900 litres for 1Kg wheat; 3500 litres for 1Kg chicken and 100000 litres for 1Kg beef. It is therefore suggested that water-deficient countries should only export water-efficient commodities and import from water-rich countries commodities that have low water-use efficiency. By this standard we cannot justify India’s export of beef, chicken or wheat and rice, because that would be exporting huge quantities of ‘virtual water’. Kerala might have to reconsider its cropping patterns and avoid cultivation of rice and plantains in water-deficient seasons. Selection of industries for future economic growth also needs to consider the water-efficiency of the individual sectors. Existing industries may have to use more efficient water-use equipment. The case of Kaiser Steel Mill in Los Angeles reducing its consumption from 65000 gallons of water per ton produced to 1600 gallons referred to by Alchian and Allen in University Economics (1972) is worth noting. Utility systems will have to check their pipes for leakages.

Residential and industrial users have to use water more efficiently, avoiding wasteful run-offs. Moderation in watering lawns, washing cars, etc. will be ideal. In times of water shortage reducing consumption by various ways including rationing and raising of prices for piped supply can be considered. Studies abroad have found that increasing water prices could effect phenomenal decrease in domestic household water consumption, meaning that the overall demand of water, and essential ingredient in our lives, can be surprisingly elastic. In the context of water shortages, pollution and cost efficiency, many local and state governments around the world have thought of privatising water supply in order to reduce the cost of supplying water to residential and industrial users. Europe has moved towards privatisation in a big way. The idea may be scandalous to Kerala though! Our own ‘Jalanidhi’ scheme, in which the local self-government organizations charge the users, is being vehemently opposed in political circles.

The ‘Varsha’ scheme for harvesting rain water scientifically, the ‘Jalavahini’ scheme to renew traditional water sources, the attempt to restart the abandoned projects under the ‘Jaladhara’ and the ‘Jalanidhi’ scheme (with the ‘users pay’ concept) for distribution of drinking water are commendable programmes of the Water Resources Department. What is required under the water-stressed conditions of the state is a close coordination and concerted efforts by the Departments of Forests, Agriculture, Industries, Power, and Education to evolve schemes for the spread of a water literacy in the state and efficient use and conservation of water in the days to come.
(TM MENON)


Three Cheers to Globalisation

Since the 1990s ‘Globalisation’ has become an economic buzzword. Many consider it essential, others hate it as the evil that causes the downfall of traditional industrial sectors in the third world, and still others debate it as an inescapable phenomenon whether we like it or not. What most of us forget is that the concept of a global economy is not new. If you happen to hate India?s own heritage conceiving ‘Vasudhaivakudumbakam’, please remember that the Communists celebrated the idea with the call to the “workers of the world” and establishing the ‘Communist International’. ‘The Nation of Islam’ has a similar world-view though for different appeal and reasons. Half a century before the 1st World War had seen large cross-border flows of capital, goods, and people. Capital flows from Britain to the New World were massive, relative to the size of the 19th Century economies. Migration from Europe to America and Australia was freer than cross-border movements today. The present surge of Gobalisation is in fact a resumption of that previous period, aided and encouraged by the speed and ease of transport and communication. The earlier attempt at globalisation had ended abruptly though, with the first world war, following which fierce trade protectionism and tried controls on capital movement were introduced by various governments trying to insulate their economies from the impact of the Great Depression.

The more positive view about globalisation is that it is an unmixed blessing with the potential to boost productivity and living standards across the globe, the integrated global economy exploiting the better division of labour among countries, allowing low-wage economies to specialize in labour-intensive tasks while the high-wage countries use their skilled workers in more productive ways. In a globalised scenario, capital can be shifted to whatever country offers the most profitable investment opportunities, not trapped at home financing unviable projects.

Two forces have helped the global flow of goods and capital; the first: technology, and the second, liberalization. The fall in the cost of communication and computing brought down the natural barriers of time and space separating national markets. As a result of GATT negotiations as well as unilateral decisions based on national self-interest, most countries have lowered international trade barriers. Almost all of them have welcomed international capital as well. Greater international capital flows mound mean allocating savings and investment more efficiently. The poor nations are not hamstrung anymore by lack of capital. Savings can be invested around the world seeking highest returns. In any closed economy, greater government spending monetary growth has shown attractive short-term growths; but the long-term consequences were higher interest rates and higher inflation. With a strong banking sector and the Reserve Bank of India, we can manage the uncertainties of exchange rates in a mobile capital market. It is this tricky situation that supports the argument that under globalisation stock market traders and currency speculators would determine macroeconomic policies of the government in place of the finance ministers.

Flow of trade is the other most important aspect of globalisation. This creates more misunderstanding in our country than anything else. It is argued that cheap goods from the more developed countries would flood our markets driving away our native products and producers. The responsibility for our inefficiencies and resultant higher prices and/or lower quality of our produce in the traditional sector is already thrust upon globalisation. The vagaries of our climate and the loss of crops on account of it also is dumped at the door of globalisation. Freer trade means only one thing for most of our politicians: freer imports. Exports are considered the be-all and end-all of desirable trade. Economists, however, would consider earning foreign exchange for imports the only reason for exporting. Trade is a mixed bag of blessing. It is not as if the developing world was the cheaper producer of all goods. There are absolute and comparative advantages in manufacturing goods. The advanced countries may have “absolute advantage” in manufacturing high-technology, high-end goods, but each country has a ?comparative advantage. It may not always be availability of natural resources, low-wages, or high technology; it could even be pure chance or history. But that specialization in manufacturing gives and edge in trading profitably cannot be contested. And trade stimulates growth.

Those who sing songs about the integration of product and capital markets, however, are less enthusiastic about the third ingredient in the scheme - integration of the labour market. Though millions work now a days outside their home countries, the labour mobility is more restricted in the 21st century than in the second half of 19th century! Language barriers, cultural bigotry, and the imagined or actual incompatibility in educational qualifications and professional competence keep or try to keep labour markets national and insular. The United States, the apostle of globalization, cry foul when its own industries send jobs out for reasons of sheer competitiveness. If you listen to the election rhetoric of US politicians of all hues, you will think the ‘business process outsourcing’ is overseas charity like the ‘CARE’. The Less-Developed Nations (or the ‘Developing Nations’ to be politically correct) find this unfair. The unskilled workers in advanced economies cannot be protected at the expense of the skilled and low-wage workers in the developing world. If that is resorted to, it will undermine the foundations of globalization because next in line would be another trade-and-labour linkage which would perhaps show that the imports from poor countries in fact expand the supply of unskilled labour in the developed countries!

One of the great advantages of globalisation has been the “enabling environment” it produced in developing countries like India. It has brought in concerns of global quality and competitiveness and increased the confidence level that took many Indian companies farther than they would otherwise have gone. For the first time in history Indian manufacturers and service-providers in particular were forced to convince themselves of a unified level of competitiveness and quality for the domestic and export markets thanks to the presence of global companies operating here. Globalisation was responsible for a Tata Indica made in India to be re-badged and sold as a Rover in UK. Many cheers for globalisation!

TM MENON

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Dentopaedology in foreign policy


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to clarify in the parliament on 16.12.2004 that External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh’s statement in South Korea holding the NDA government responsible for India becoming a nuclear power was not a statement of foreign policy. That is very interesting indeed. The earlier occasion an Indian Minister of External affairs had done something equally baffling and perhaps a little weird and out of line with diplomacy was when Madhav Singh Solanki passed to his Swiss counterpart a letter urging his country to not to cooperate with CBI’s attempts to find the truth behind the Bofors payoff. He was at the time in Davos attending the 1992 World Economic Forum and took the opportunity to hand over the note to Swiss Minister Rene Felber while the Swiss government was executing the Letter Regatory sent by India seeking assistance in the probe. The Minister of External Affairs trying to scuttle the Bofors investigations was exposed in the parliament and Solanki lost his job even as he admitted to be ignorant of the origin of the infamous letter. In the latest case India’s Minister for external Affairs did not seem to know his government’s foreign policy. Um, some improvement in the affairs of the Indian state.

It may be remembered here that Natwar Singh is no ordinary politician-turned-minister. He was a career diplomat who retired as Foreign Secretary and later held several ministerial posts including one as the Minister of State for External Affairs and had the opportunity to head the foreign affairs cell of the AICC besides circulating for long in the high profile cocktail circuit centering the India International Centre and various other foreign policy outfits. He is also a highly literate person, an author of several books. Incidentally it is said that he has made a career of cultivating literati in various parts of our country and abroad too and this is subject for many a joke and allegation that he was doing it at the expense of the country. Cynics have maintained that the members of the former ruling families seen in the IFS were appointed by Jawaharlal Nehru based on the general assumption that the guys had more often than not good looks, good education, good table manners and experience in wining, dining, playing bridge, polo and golf. They could also be expected to speak what is drafted and given by foreign office and sign where instructed by MEA and generally conduct themselves in style. Nehru possibly did not foresee one among them (Natwar Singh belongs to the family of erstwhile rulers of Bharatpur) growing beyond and exceeding his brief to performing an act of dentopaedology to mortify his PM. Well, for the uninitiated to this art, let me explain in layman’s terms: it is the act of putting one’s foot in one’s mouth.

Natwar Singh in his latest role as the ‘big Chief’ of MEA exhibits more spring in his legs than they had ever in his youth, and a tendency to brag when as a diplomat he is expected only “lie abroad”.  When you ignore the political sparring on foreign policy issues, it could be observed that the country’s foreign policy was always based on continuity and consensus, and above party politics. Natwar Singh therefore had indeed broken a tradition followed by successive governments, taking the political differences in perspectives to foreign shores. Indian Minister for External Affairs was in Seoul for a meeting of the India-South Korea Joint Commission, and not a private meeting. The fact that he chose to tell the foreign media that he regretted the 1998 Shakti series of nuclear tests, shows that he went too far in discrediting not only his country’s nuclear policy but also its foreign policy and national security concerns as well. Natwar Singh’s reported statements certainly do not appear as misquotes because he went on and on to explain his views, and in a philosophical mode advised the two Koreas not to emulate India’s example, since there was nothing he could do about what his country did (“…you can’t put it back in tube. It’s out.”); so, let others beware. He had earlier embarrassed his party and GOI, (in that order) telling on television in the company of Colin Powell very authoritatively that India’s Iraq policy was ripe to be reviewed in the context of sending troops there for peace-keeping. The Government denied it because the Left supporting it objected to the statement and the Minister again blamed the media which it turn, didn’t want to humiliate him further

It is a pity that in his ill-conceived and unexplained anxiety to blame the former NDA government for the events leading to the nuclear weaponization programme Minister Natwar Singh forgot all about his party’s claim to the original credit for the achievement. The Congress party used to say that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who thought of nuclear energy programme (just as all the other good things ever conceived in India). It was Indira Gandhi who shook the world with the Pokhran I in 1974 and in March 1989 Rajeev Gandhi gave the security establishment clearance to pursue a nuclear weapons programme.  The Nehru family acolytes insist that Rajiv did it when he was convinced that China was supplying nuclear technology to Pakistan. Congress party remembered that Prime Minister Narasinha Rao was almost ready to explode the bomb in 1995 (and former President Venkataraman is on record saying that his Prime Minister chickened out in the face of American opposition!)

Nilolpal Basu of the CPI (M) sought to make much of the “great divide across the polity” following the NDA government’s decision to cross the nuclear threshold on May 11, 1998, this time to come to the help of Natwar Singh. And thereby hangs a tale too. It may be recollected that the undivided Communist Party of India had rejoiced over China becoming a nuclear power but the Communists cannot suffer their country acquiring a “minimum credible nuclear deterrent”. Their objection to Pokhran II came from two reasons: one,  that would endear BJP to a large section of India’s population because the party was revisiting a major plank of theirs right from the Jan Sangh days to fulfill a long-cherished dream. Two, Prime Minister Vajpayee’s letter to US President Bill Clinton in the wake of Pokhran II cited India’s threat perception from the direction of China.

According to strategic analysts, Pakistan, though historically a more intransigent adversary for us, is adept more in trying to disrupt societal and communal stability. They have plans to bleed the country from within, encouraging insurgent groups here and funding ‘jihadis’ from the Islamic countries too, but their more serious aim is erosion of the national cohesion of India. But China is different. The US took a “principled stand” against nuclear proliferation and slapped sanctions against India with the Communist and Congress parties gleefully making terrible prophesies about the implications. But India had the grit and stamina to face economic and technological sanctions. Gradually the punitive and containment policies of the Super Powers gave way to “constructive engagement” of India. 

Pokhran II was a functional test of devices indigenously developed by us. Pakistan’s was a coercive demonstration of a clandestine capability acquired with technology illegally obtained or pilfered from various labs in Europe and supplemented substantially by China which included designs of weapons tested in Lopnor ranges in Xinjiang. China must and will remain a permanent factor in our security perceptions in a situation of nuclear asymmetry with it. China’s defense cooperation with Pakistan and Myanmar can be a reasonable worry for India. There is the probability of a strategic encirclement of India. While there has been a thaw recently in the diplomatic relations with China agreeing to recognise Sikkim as an Indian state, their maps still depict India’s international boundaries incorrectly. China’s missile capabilities and nuclear warheads in a hostile axis with Pakistan can profoundly affect India’s security concerns. In the context, the only credible alternative was to develop our own capability. 

If External Affairs Minister is unaware of these positions, he is unfit to continue in that office. If he is aware and chose to say irresponsible things while representing a “responsible nuclear power”, he should be thrown out of the Union Cabinet, even if he happens to correspond with Comrade Lenin in Heaven.  The less said about the MEA for trying to explain away the minister’s indiscretion as “merely stating the fact; not expressing any disagreement or agreement with that decision” the better. External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh cannot indulge in the luxury of “statement of facts” intertwined with his political passions and moral indignation, particularly in foreign soil; and certainly not to the foreign media. From his professed stand there is no escape for India from ratifying the CTBT and thereby limiting our nuclear potential at an unacceptably lower level. Mr.Natwar Singh’s one interview has destroyed in one stroke several years of patient diplomatic efforts to maintain the credibility and dignity of India’s security establishment.  He has to be in full agreement with the settled position of the country’s national security objective and related foreign policy and if he cannot, he has to be sacked from the Union Cabinet. As it is, from the many a faux pas in his career this minister has left the impression, despite his being a St.Stephenian, that if he a sole entrant in an intelligence contest, he would come out third.

 










The Sociology and Economics of ageing

When fertility rates (births per woman) drop below 2.0 there are not enough kids to replace the old. Once fertility rates begin to decline, the average age of the population will start climbing. It is said that the population ‘ages’ from ‘below’. In many affluent countries the fertility rate has now fallen to 1.3 or even less. The combination of a worldwide decline in birth rate and increase in life expectancy of people has created a so-called gerontological drift or Grey Revolution. The net result is the proportion of working youngsters falling and that of retired old people rising. This strains the traditional social situation in which the young supported the old.

Some very real moral and socio-economic issues have converged here to place the question of the elderly on our social agenda since in recent years ageing has been transformed into a new “population problem of our times”. Many people are talking and writing about a ‘Global Ageing Crisis’. Census 1991 had recorded that 9% of people in our state are ‘aged’. Census 2001 records are yet to be available; but by 2010 the percentage of old in our society is expected to rise to 12%.

I feel that broadly the following issues are pertinent to the subject of this think piece:
1. Our society is becoming less and less hospitable to the elderly.
2. Early retirement is being officially discussed/sanctioned as a fairly bloodless way of coping with redundancy and unemployment.
3. The elderly are marginalised not only from the labour market but also from society at large.
4. The erosion of traditional communities and of family networks has led to the difficulty of establishing harmonious relationship between the elderly and the rest of the society.
5. The ‘nuclear family’ system finds little time or place for the care of parents and grand parents. With the size of the family shrinking, when the children go to far-away places in search of careers, the parents and grand parents are left to take care of themselves, and more often they fall victims to social deviancies.
6. The age when ‘old age’ begins is heavily influenced by certain social, man-made influences and practices, starting with, say, the notorious allusions to the ‘comparative uselessness’ of people above 50 or the entire dispensability of those over 60. This is a very sad state of affairs.
7. To make matters worse, there is also a growing worry of inter-generational conflict, which reinforces the negative connotations of ageing.
8. It is not very realistic, under Indian conditions, to suggest that the elderly should develop a concept of ‘productive ageing’ to avoid physical and emotional dependence.
9. Feeling deserted, dependent, and deprived of love and opportunities to be useful, or at least to be participant observers of the life and activities of their dear ones, the ‘Senior Citizens’ are craving for care and quality time from them.

Early death, in our society, was till very recently, usually interpreted as a misfortune; and ageing, a state to aspire to. However, now it is either considered as a mixed blessing or worse still, as a grave burden to the society. Terms like ‘vulnerable’ and ‘at risk’ are bandied about to describe the position of elderly people in families. There are fears that the age profile of some great economies is no more conducive to rapid growth. ‘A lower capacity for growth’ and perhaps a ‘lower appetite for growth’ are attributed to an ageing population. Japan, the ‘oldest’ of the G7 countries seems to have slowed down in economic growth since the 90s for this reason. So the major apprehensions associated with ageing are 1) the pension time bomb 2) the health time bomb; and 3) the cause for stunting growth

The Western societies have traditionally taxed the working population to provide ‘social security’ like medical benefits and pensions to the aged. The disproportionate increase of the retired to the working has upset this arrangement with the US pension liabilities growing to an estimated $10.5trillion, more than its GDP! In some European countries the situation is much worse. There has been a rethinking in the western countries regarding the ‘pension funds’ with the new stress shifting from fixed pensions based on tax contributions to ‘funded pensions’ with employers and employees contributing to the pension fund, which is invested in securities etc. If the investments do well, the benefits to the retirees go up. With the home investments raking in less and less following the law of diminishing returns, the latest is investing abroad for more lucrative returns. (Pensioners and retired people in India too are deeply hurt by the fall in interest rates from 14% to 6.5% eroding their economic security like never before.) A recent article in the Economist referred to the huge pension fund like Calpers investing in some emerging markets.

After retirement the only solace and support to those who have retired from work remain here too the pension. For those who do not have pensions, our society is yet to devise any support mechanism to replace the eroding family ties and social values. Astonished and worried by the huge requirement of pension funds the governments are forced to consider withdrawing pensions beyond a certain age, creating angry and sad protests from the ‘senior citizens’. A recent attempt by the Union Government to start a funded pension scheme for workers in sectors that lack it drew flack instead on encomiums. Well, the worry about ageing provides a paradoxical complement to the long established Indian concern about too many babies with the aged dependency ratio and young dependency ratio growing menacingly.
(TM Menon, the author, is Vice-President, Asianet Communications Ltd)

China-gazing

China-gazing was an old pastime with the Left, and the extreme Left in Kerala for long. (Remember, the “madhura-manohara-manojna China…”) But now, from development economists and politicians of the Left persuasion to lay persons all are praising the great leaps of industrial growth China has made. There are many Indians who find our democracy a hindrance to making the kind of progress China has registered. There are many more of those who do not want some facts coming in the way of their hypercritical attacks on those who rule India at the Centre for being responsible for our failure to measure up to China. Most people ignore the fact that China took to market reform in 1978, 13 years before India, realizing that trade was a powerful instrument for promoting progress, regional clout, and international standing. China, however, remained a closed society, but one with an open mind and India the other way around. The difficulty of Indian democratic system in generating consensus on complex economic policy decisions cannot be wished away either. Didn’t Lord Curson say long back “one cannot have good administration without continuity”? I believe the Indian State has never had the kind of stability in decision-making ever!

China’s 70% domestic accessibility in petroleum requirement, credit at 7-9% for capital investment and at 6-7% for working capital was an advantage that Indian industry could never enjoy. China, one would recall, focussed on small-and-medium enterprises (SMES) and ensured large avenues of employment. It implemented ruthless labour laws long before its WTO entry, effecting a high level of flexibility in labour market. It retained almost 5 million workers in 2700 special economic zones. Employers have freedom to dismiss employees on 1 month’s notice if they are found incompetent even after retraining. Though wage costs in China and India are comparable, the high labour productivity and capital intensity makes labour cost as percentage of value of production considerably lower. Add to this situation low cost of infrastructure and raw materials, you have the ideal conditions for economic growth. Government and FDI have driven the Chinese economic model. In India economic growth is basically entrepreneur-driven. Here while the ‘permit-licence-quota-Raj’ has almost disappeared, the volatile democracy ensures a certain uncertainty and insecurity about all enterprise.

But, for judging progress the increase in consumption is a more meaningful criterion than the increase in output because, isn’t the aim of development after all, to raise the consumption level of the people? It is here that India scores over China. While hard statistics on China is not available easily, it is well acknowledged that more Indians live ‘comfortably’ than their Chinese neighbours do. If proof is required one has only to take note of the fact that India’s rate of savings is 23% of GDP. In the absence of much consumption China has as an astonishing 45+% savings. This surely generates enormous capital for plough-back investments.

Many of those who admire China as much for its growth-oriented economy as for the Great Wall rely so much on the certificates issued by the West to China and their fond hopes for that country. But those hopes, I am afraid, are more based on the great potential of democratic China as a buyer of Western goods and services. Those who haven’ come across the book ‘The China Dream: The Elusive Quest for the Greatest Untapped Market on Earth’ by Joe Studwell (Profile Books, $21.44) must try to get hold of a copy. In the renewed hype surrounding China’s entry into the WTO, investors, business-people salivating about the world’s largest potential market and also ‘think-piece merchants’ who would enjoy hole-in-corner innuendoes and slimy insinuations against Indian Government would do well to read Studwell’s Odyssey through overblown hopes and investments by foreigners in China!

Those who praise the Communist China for being on its way to defeating the capitalist world slowly and surely, might as well have a look at some of the unfair advantages its politics gives China. Excessive government protection, an underpriced currency, cowed and underpaid workers, exports dumped below cost…villagers who come to urban centres to work 8-10hrs for a salary of $120 a month considering it a pretty good deal in a nation where urban per capita income is barely 65% of that. The huge pool of cheap Chinese labour- up to 500million peasants - are expected to migrate to cities in search of factory work over the next two decades. China already produces a quarter of the world’s television sets and washing machines and half of its cameras and photocopiers. A uniquely American product - AT Cross pens from Lincoln, Rhode Island - moved whole factories to China! In 2003 China surpassed US as the world’s biggest recipient of foreign investment, attracting an estimated $60billion. For the benefit of the die-hard Stalinists in our midst, I would mention here that the Communist (!) China is far more open to foreign investments and imports than Japan was during its boom years in the 1980s. Anyways, China is worth watching intently for its economic miracles and political contradictions.
(TM Menon is Vice-President, Asianet Communications Ltd)

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