अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

December 1, 2011

The Original Mark Twain

A day or two ago Google put on its search engine interface what they call a doodle. It was for celebrating the 176th birthday of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain. I used to have trouble recalling his real name, so commonly known and popular his pen name has become, something like that of George Orwell, who, by the way, wrote an essay about him titled ‘The Licensed Jester’ (note this down as evidence of contradiction).

I had read Huckleberry Finn during my first college degree days. At that time I was aware of the fact that Mark Twain was a famous writer. I had read a few short things by him in English text books. I had also read a part of Tom Sawyer, but couldn’t finish it because it had to be returned. But I did not know about this book, Huck Finn. I didn’t know that it was considered the first Great American Novel. But even before finishing that shortish novel, I had no doubt that it was one of the best American novels ever written.

Note the self-referentiality and pomposity and keep it in mind while reading the rest of this article.

But this article is going to be more of a cut-and-paste (copy-and-paste, to be exact) job. That’s because this is the only way to do justice to what I want to say here. And there is no editor and a board of reviewers to look over my shoulder, so that makes it easy. The source is also in public domain, so no legal problems. If you are a fair use fanatic, go read something else.

If even people like me have trouble recalling his real name, it can be expected that few people (other than literary scholars and may be some other literary geeks) know the story of the origin of his pen name. Those who do know, only know a part of it, and that too the part that is less interesting.

Now I can add here that there is a theory among scholars that this story is perhaps not factual. I am not aware of their arguments and since Mark Twain himself explained in detail why he became Mark Twain, and I also know him to be one of most honest people in literature or elsewhere, I will ignore that theory and get on with the one that I like.

In fact, when I first read this story it made such a great impression on me that I have been aching ever since to write about it. The story forms Chapter 50 of another of his great books, Life on the Mississippi. I read it some years after I had read Huck Finn and this time I had borrowed the book (from the British Library, if I remember correctly: note this down for your later judgement). Since I had it in my own name and was ready to pay the fine for late fees (which I did very frequently and they were substantial sums for me at that time), I was able to finish this much longer book (I was as busy as anyone can be in those days: note it down). I liked it almost as much as Huck Finn. For the record, I completed reading Tom Sawyer much later and didn’t like it that much. No match for Huck Finn.

The story, or the part of the story that is commonly presented and known, is also given on the Wikipedia page about Mark Twain:

He maintained that his primary pen name came from his years working on Mississippi riverboats, where two fathoms, a depth indicating safe water for passage of boat, was measured on the sounding line. A fathom is a maritime unit of depth, equivalent to two yards (1.8 m); twain is an archaic term for “two.” The riverboatman’s cry was mark twain or, more fully, by the mark twain, meaning “according to the mark [on the line], [the depth is] two [fathoms],” that is, “The water is 12 feet (3.7 m) deep and it is safe to pass.”

The Wikipedia page goes on to say that he “claimed that his famous pen name was not entirely his invention” and that “In Life on the Mississippi, he wrote:”

Captain Isaiah Sellers was not of literary turn or capacity, but he used to jot down brief paragraphs of plain practical information about the river, and sign them “MARK TWAIN,” and give them to the New Orleans Picayune. They related to the stage and condition of the river, and were accurate and valuable; … At the time that the telegraph brought the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. I was a fresh new journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient mariner’s discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it was in his hands – a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say.

As I said, the complete story forms a full chapter of the said book. The title of the chapter is “The ‘Original Jacobs'”.

Mark Twain was not faultless, of course, and he was also not one of those who only seem to become faultless by adopting the current orthodoxy about political and social correctness, taking no risks of their own, and having done that, they entitle themselves to judge and sentence anyone from the present or the past, say, for having shown a little bit of racist tendencies in the seventeenth century or of being a little sexist in the first half of the 20th century.

That is not to say that he did not do some nasty things in his time. In fact, the interesting part of the story is about just that. Then there is also the fact that he displayed considerable literary/stylistic prescriptivism in blasting some writers and critics of his time, but I am not going to go into that.

The introduction to the story is that there was another man who had used the pen name Mark Twain. He wasn’t a literary writer, but he was something impressive: impressive enough for Mark Twain to say that it was an honor to be the only one hated by him.

So here comes the copy-and-paste of the 50th chapter of Life on the Mississippi (I have left out the final paragraph, which is not relevant to the story):

Chapter 50 The ‘Original Jacobs’

WE had some talk about Captain Isaiah Sellers, now many years dead. He
was a fine man, a high-minded man, and greatly respected both ashore and
on the river. He was very tall, well built, and handsome; and in his old
age–as I remember him–his hair was as black as an Indian’s, and his
eye and hand were as strong and steady and his nerve and judgment as
firm and clear as anybody’s, young or old, among the fraternity of
pilots. He was the patriarch of the craft; he had been a keelboat pilot
before the day of steamboats; and a steamboat pilot before any other
steamboat pilot, still surviving at the time I speak of, had ever turned
a wheel. Consequently his brethren held him in the sort of awe in
which illustrious survivors of a bygone age are always held by their
associates. He knew how he was regarded, and perhaps this fact added
some trifle of stiffening to his natural dignity, which had been
sufficiently stiff in its original state.

He left a diary behind him; but apparently it did not date back to his
first steamboat trip, which was said to be 1811, the year the first
steamboat disturbed the waters of the Mississippi. At the time of his
death a correspondent of the ‘St. Louis Republican’ culled the following
items from the diary–

‘In February, 1825, he shipped on board the steamer “Rambler,” at
Florence, Ala., and made during that year three trips to New Orleans and
back–this on the “Gen. Carrol,” between Nashville and New Orleans. It
was during his stay on this boat that Captain Sellers introduced the tap
of the bell as a signal to heave the lead, previous to which time it was
the custom for the pilot to speak to the men below when soundings were
wanted. The proximity of the forecastle to the pilot-house, no doubt,
rendered this an easy matter; but how different on one of our palaces of
the present day.

‘In 1827 we find him on board the “President,” a boat of two hundred and
eighty-five tons burden, and plying between Smithland and New Orleans.
Thence he joined the “Jubilee” in 1828, and on this boat he did his
first piloting in the St. Louis trade; his first watch extending from
Herculaneum to St. Genevieve. On May 26, 1836, he completed and left
Pittsburgh in charge of the steamer “Prairie,” a boat of four hundred
tons, and the first steamer with a STATE-ROOM CABIN ever seen at St.
Louis. In 1857 he introduced the signal for meeting boats, and which
has, with some slight change, been the universal custom of this day; in
fact, is rendered obligatory by act of Congress.

‘As general items of river history, we quote the following marginal
notes from his general log–

‘In March, 1825, Gen. Lafayette left New Orleans for St. Louis on the
low-pressure steamer “Natchez.”

‘In January, 1828, twenty-one steamers left the New Orleans wharf to
celebrate the occasion of Gen. Jackson’s visit to that city.

‘In 1830 the “North American” made the run from New Orleans to Memphis
in six days–best time on record to that date. It has since been made in
two days and ten hours.

‘In 1831 the Red River cut-off formed.

‘In 1832 steamer “Hudson” made the run from White River to Helena, a
distance of seventy-five miles, in twelve hours. This was the source of
much talk and speculation among parties directly interested.

‘In 1839 Great Horseshoe cut-off formed.

‘Up to the present time, a term of thirty-five years, we ascertain, by
reference to the diary, he has made four hundred and sixty round trips
to New Orleans, which gives a distance of one million one hundred and
four thousand miles, or an average of eighty-six miles a day.’

Whenever Captain Sellers approached a body of gossiping pilots, a chill
fell there, and talking ceased. For this reason: whenever six pilots
were gathered together, there would always be one or two newly fledged
ones in the lot, and the elder ones would be always ‘showing off’ before
these poor fellows; making them sorrowfully feel how callow they were,
how recent their nobility, and how humble their degree, by talking
largely and vaporously of old-time experiences on the river; always
making it a point to date everything back as far as they could, so as to
make the new men feel their newness to the sharpest degree possible,
and envy the old stagers in the like degree. And how these complacent
baldheads WOULD swell, and brag, and lie, and date back–ten, fifteen,
twenty years,–and how they did enjoy the effect produced upon the
marveling and envying youngsters!

And perhaps just at this happy stage of the proceedings, the stately
figure of Captain Isaiah Sellers, that real and only genuine Son of
Antiquity, would drift solemnly into the midst. Imagine the size of the
silence that would result on the instant. And imagine the feelings of
those bald-heads, and the exultation of their recent audience when the
ancient captain would begin to drop casual and indifferent remarks of a
reminiscent nature–about islands that had disappeared, and cutoffs that
had been made, a generation before the oldest bald-head in the company
had ever set his foot in a pilot-house!

Many and many a time did this ancient mariner appear on the scene in the
above fashion, and spread disaster and humiliation around him. If one
might believe the pilots, he always dated his islands back to the misty
dawn of river history; and he never used the same island twice; and
never did he employ an island that still existed, or give one a name
which anybody present was old enough to have heard of before. If you
might believe the pilots, he was always conscientiously particular about
little details; never spoke of ‘the State of Mississippi,’ for instance
–no, he would say, ‘When the State of Mississippi was where Arkansas
now is,’ and would never speak of Louisiana or Missouri in a general
way, and leave an incorrect impression on your mind–no, he would say,
‘When Louisiana was up the river farther,’ or ‘When Missouri was on the
Illinois side.’

The old gentleman was not of literary turn or capacity, but he used
to jot down brief paragraphs of plain practical information about the
river, and sign them ‘MARK TWAIN,’ and give them to the ‘New Orleans
Picayune.’ They related to the stage and condition of the river, and
were accurate and valuable; and thus far, they contained no poison.
But in speaking of the stage of the river to-day, at a given point, the
captain was pretty apt to drop in a little remark about this being the
first time he had seen the water so high or so low at that particular
point for forty-nine years; and now and then he would mention Island
So-and-so, and follow it, in parentheses, with some such observation
as ‘disappeared in 1807, if I remember rightly.’ In these antique
interjections lay poison and bitterness for the other old pilots, and
they used to chaff the ‘Mark Twain’ paragraphs with unsparing mockery.

It so chanced that one of these paragraphs–{footnote [The original MS.
of it, in the captain’s own hand, has been sent to me from New Orleans.
It reads as follows–

VICKSBURG May 4, 1859.

‘My opinion for the benefit of the citizens of New Orleans: The water
is higher this far up than it has been since 8. My opinion is that the
water will be feet deep in Canal street before the first of next June.
Mrs. Turner’s plantation at the head of Big Black Island is all under
water, and it has not been since 1815.

‘I. Sellers.’]}

became the text for my first newspaper article. I burlesqued it broadly,
very broadly, stringing my fantastics out to the extent of eight hundred
or a thousand words. I was a ‘cub’ at the time. I showed my performance
to some pilots, and they eagerly rushed it into print in the ‘New
Orleans True Delta.’ It was a great pity; for it did nobody any worthy
service, and it sent a pang deep into a good man’s heart. There was no
malice in my rubbish; but it laughed at the captain. It laughed at a man
to whom such a thing was new and strange and dreadful. I did not know
then, though I do now, that there is no suffering comparable with that
which a private person feels when he is for the first time pilloried in
print.

Captain Sellers did me the honor to profoundly detest me from that day
forth. When I say he did me the honor, I am not using empty words. It
was a very real honor to be in the thoughts of so great a man as Captain
Sellers, and I had wit enough to appreciate it and be proud of it. It
was distinction to be loved by such a man; but it was a much greater
distinction to be hated by him, because he loved scores of people; but
he didn’t sit up nights to hate anybody but me.

He never printed another paragraph while he lived, and he never again
signed ‘Mark Twain’ to anything. At the time that the telegraph brought
the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. I was a fresh new
journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient
mariner’s discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it
was in his hands–a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found
in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I
have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say.

The captain had an honorable pride in his profession and an abiding love
for it. He ordered his monument before he died, and kept it near
him until he did die. It stands over his grave now, in Bellefontaine
cemetery, St. Louis. It is his image, in marble, standing on duty at
the pilot wheel; and worthy to stand and confront criticism, for it
represents a man who in life would have stayed there till he burned to a
cinder, if duty required it.

I find it interesting that the part that this chapter focuses on is always left out from the usual accounts, as far as I know (I am not a Mark Twain scholar, so I am only talking about what I have read).

I also feel that there is a lesson somewhere in this story for those who are receptive. How many would be receptive to such a lesson is something depressing to think about these days.

As a bonus for having read thus far, I invite you to read this, which was not published in his lifetime and about which he said, “I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.”.

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December 25, 2010

Property Rights on Tragedies

Looking into a hypothetical future, let us suppose the (to be) richer countries of Africa were, like the richer countries of Europe, form a union as powerful and influential in World Politics as the present EU. While, as seems likely, India still retains caste based structure of its society. In this world, some politician in India professing to represent the lower castes makes a statement to the effect that India’s higher caste dominated parties discriminate against the lower castes, quite like the white colonialists in Africa against the black skinned people.

Should one expect the African Union to react sharply against this? Whether one should or not, one might have to, if one goes by yet another bizarre event in a world that once again seems to going totally mad.

There has been a strange tussle going on between a certain senior politician of the Congress party in India and the right wing Hindu conglomerate that goes by the name of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers’ Union) or the RSS. The Congress politician in question is as good or bad as politicians with a relatively better reputations go in India. The RSS is an organization directly connected to the party (BJP) that was in power at the central government a few years ago and still is in many states of India. The RSS has been the subject of numerous studies by scholars (Indian as well as Foreign) and everyone who knows something about it knows that the right wing conglomerate has always had more than a soft spot for Hitler, Mussolini and the Nazis. Therefore, it is quite common in India to find one of its critics (and that of its various offshoots) mentioning the Nazi connection. It might be that sometimes it is overdone, but there is no doubt that in order to understand the nature of the ideology and the politics of this massive but amorphous organization, whose history goes back to a time long before independence, you have to know and understand their admiration for the Nazis and the Fascists generally.

The tussle that I mentioned involves the death of one of the police officers during the Mumbai terror attacks (26/11, as they call it). The accusation made by the said politician is that some Hindu terrorist outfits (relatively new kids on the block as far shooting and bombing kind of terrorism by non-state actors is concerned) were responsible for the death of this officer.

This tussle has been going on for some time now. But what concerns us here is that during this tussle came a statement from the Congress politician that BJP kills Muslims in the name of nationalism, like the Nazis. And that their hatred towards the Muslims is comparable to that of the Nazis towards the Jews. On strictly objective grounds you might say that this is not hundred percent accurate. However, notice that the word used is ‘comparable’, not ‘equivalent’. But, if you want, you can also verify for yourself that there is a significant amount of truth in this statement. Again note that I mean the comparison with the Nazis, not the death of the police officer, about which I can’t say anything.

You can also verify for yourself that during the last two decades (at least) the ideological difference between the Congress party and the BJP (or its earlier avatar) has narrowed down so much that sometimes it is hard to make out which is which. Still, since they are the two major parties and they have to fight elections with each other, they have to criticize each other too, sometimes quite severely. Therefore, it is very normal to see such tussles between the two parties or their leaders, though usually they don’t involve something as spectacular as a multi-day televised terror attack. No one takes much notice as this is a part of the electoral routine, except those whose profession requires them to.

But what do you know. Once you have resigned yourself to the idea that strange things happen, you are made to find out that stranger things happen. Thus it is that we find that soon after the most recent Nazi-BJP/RSS comparison, the Israeli government has taken offence at the ‘invocation of the Holocaust’ by the Congress leader to hit out at the Hindutva (i.e., RSS) organizations. To quote:

The Israeli Embassy reacted to this on Monday through a terse, one-sentence statement that it didn’t approve of the massacres of the Jews being used for political sabre-rattling. “In response to the enquiries from the press, the Embassy wishes to stress without entering the political debate that no comparison can be made with the Nazi Holocaust in which six million Jews were massacred solely because they were Jews,” the statement said.

There are several things that one can note here. One is that the Holocaust as a single event was not mentioned. Another is that even if it had been mentioned, there were other victims: the Gypsies (who are in the news as victims again in 2010), the communists, the homosexuals, the handicapped, the Catholics and even German dissenters. Then there were the members of the conquered ‘inferior’ and not so inferior races, killed in huge numbers (even excluding those killed in battles). Yet another is that comparison is not equivalence and that comparison can, should, and has been used since the beginning of civilization to warn (or caution) against the repeat of the equivalent.

The Israeli statement seems to suggest that through some mysterious legal logic, Israeli state now holds copyright over the Holocaust. Not just that, the statement even seems to suggest that Israel holds the rights even over the Nazis, that is, if you want to compare some ideology or some atrocity to those of the Nazis, you have to first check with the Israeli government.

If only we could be sure that this is just an extremely unusual incident of idiocy. One can objectively try to understand this as an example of a process of mythology creation through which a real event has been appropriated by an institution (a religion, or more accurately, a government claiming to represent a religion) and has been entered in some sacred text so that it now comes exclusively in the domain of that institution’s rites and rituals and theology. But there is not much comfort in such an explanation.

There is another explanation, but it has been put forward previously and I will leave it to others or to the reader.

What next? India holding a copyright on the partition massacres? We will have to share it with Pakistan (and Bangladesh too). The EU holding a copyright on the Black Plague? American Indians on ethnic cleansing? Africans on slavery and racism? The EU again on chemical warfare?

It is said that the whole population of the city of Delhi was wiped out several times: as part of what is called Qatl-e-Aam (Universal Murder or Murder at Large). One of those supposed to have ordered a Qatl-e-Aam in Delhi was Nadirshah, one of the so many to invade India. There must be some exaggeration here, that is, there must have been survivors, just as there were in the Holocaust, but it is an historical fact there were general massacres in Delhi ordered by some invaders. Even the language (Hindi-Urdu) carries the residues in the form of expressions like Qatl-e-Aam itself and ‘Nadirshahi hukm’ (Nadirshah’s order).

So perhaps Delhi should get the rights over Universal Murders. Of course, the rights will have to be negotiated with other claimants. They will have to be narrowed down to Universal Murders in a Single City or something like that.

To be fair, on closer reading, the quotation given above says that “In response to the enquiries from the press, the Embassy wishes to stress…” In other words, it is ‘the press’ (presumably Indian – and right-leaning) that seems to have extracted the statement from the Israeli government. Were they playing their own role in invoking the Holocaust for political sabre-rattling on behalf of the party compared to the Nazis? The Israelis were ready to oblige though.

Be that as it may. What I know for sure from my personal – first hand – experience is that if certain people (and they are very large in number) were able to do as they badly want to do, there would be massacres in India on a scale the world has never seen before. And I am not talking about those who are formally known as the ‘terrorists’.

This is just a statement of fact which I make here, typing on this keyboard, without much feeling at this moment.

And I have realized (in the following moment) that it is now (Merry) Christmas.

December 8, 2010

A Day of Shame

It could have been, in a different world.

In today’s world, it is more appropriate to call it A Day of Shamelessness.

But History will ultimately call it A Day of Shame, if there is any hope even for History.

The night of the hunter being over, perhaps we should now prepare for the morning, when we will have to say hello, Mr. Stalin and hello, Mr. Hitler.

It would be a tricky thing. They would be behind the screen and we won’t have a way to make sure that they are even there. But we will have to behave as if they are.

Good actors will have better chances. Bad actors, like this one, will have to look for other options. Many have already started to look.

Have you?

November 25, 2010

Drones, Aerial and Otherwise

[This was meant to be a comment in reply to an article on the ZNet by Pervez Hoodbhoy about aerial drones and what he calls ‘human drones’.]

I feel very strange, in fact disturbed, to have to make this comment, as this comment is critical of the ideas of someone with whom I have a lot in common, whereas I have almost nothing in common with those he proposes should be killed by any means possible. The strangeness also comes from the fact that the author not only recognizes but has actually been writing about the grounds on which I will put forward my criticism.

I am not sure whether Pervez Hoodbhoy is one or not, but I am an unapologetic atheist and have almost the worst possible opinion about religious fundamentalism of any kind, especially when it is of the organised kind or has organisational support. I also have no hesitation in stating that there IS something that can be called Islamic Fascism and it should be called by its proper name. But I also recognize that often things get mixed up and we can have a resistance movement that is also a Fascist movement. That makes it difficult to analyze them, let alone judge them. We can, however, still analyze and judge specific facts and events and be mostly right about them if we have sufficient evidence and we make sure that we keep our intellectual integrity intact.

Thus, for example, the people who are being targeted by the American drones (excluding those caught in the ‘collateral damage’) have been doing things which no sensible human being can support. These include the horrible terrorist acts, but more importantly (as the author rightly points out) they include their atrocities on their own people: women, protesters of any kind, ‘blasphemers’ etc. I can very well see what would happen to me if I were living in that kind of society.

I also share most of what the author has been saying. The trouble is that, he also makes some leaps of logic or conclusions which seem patently wrong to me and I think I have to register my disagreement with them, because they are far too important to be ignored.

I could, perhaps, write a longer article about it, but for now I will try to say a few things which matter more to me.

The first problem is that the author mixes up the literal and the metaphorical and this logical error leads him to atrocious conclusions. We can surely talk about ‘human drones’ where we are using the word drone metaphorically and the usage is justified as he has eloquently explained by comparing them with the non-human aerial drones. But the comparison itself is metaphorical. And the justification does not remain valid when he goes on to establish a straightforward literal equivalence. The ‘human drones’ might be brutal, unthinking, destructive, (metaphorical) killing machines and so on. They might be, in a sense, inhuman or anti-human, but they still are not non-human. They do have bodies, minds and thoughts. To say otherwise is to abandon one’s thinking in a fit of rage. What they deserve or not may be a matter of debate, but it has to be based on a vision that does not ignore the fact that they still are human beings, however detestable and dangerous they may be.

I am sure the author is aware of some of the history of the world which seems to indicate that there were a lot other people – and still are – who might also be justifiably called ‘human drones’ and who might be considered as bad as the ones he is talking about. That definitely can’t justify their actions, but it has a bearing on what those taking up the task of judging them should think and do.

If you agree with my contention here, then the analysis will lead to different directions. What those directions exactly should be, I won’t go into, because I don’t claim to have the answers, but they would lead to conclusions different from those of the author.

Even the metaphorical comparison here has some problems, which can, as I said, be guessed from what the author himself has been writing. There are some similarities, but there are also many differences. The ‘human drones’ still come from a certain society and they are part of it. The aerial drones are just machines, they don’t come from any society. The ‘human drones’ come from societies which have seen destruction of the worst kind for ages, whereas the aerial drones are (literally) remote controlled by those who played the primary role in bringing about this destruction, as the author himself has written and said elsewhere. If you ignore these facts, you will again be lead to very risky (and I would say immoral and unfair) conclusions.

With just a little dilution of the metaphor, haven’t most of the weapon laden humans (soldiers, commandos etc.) been kinds of ‘human drones’? The ones author talks about may be deadlier, but the situation is more drastic too. On the one hand you have an empire that is more powerful than any in history and on the other you have an almost primitive society that thinks it is defending itself, just as the empire says it is defending itself. Will it be improper to ask who has got more people killed? What about the ‘human drones’ of the empire: thinking of, say Iraq?

As far as I can see, the use of aerial drones to kill people, whoever they may be, is simply indefensible. Because if their use is justified on the grounds of the monstrosities of the Taliban ideologues and operators, what about chemicals? If some people were to form an anti-Taliban group and they were to infiltrate the ‘affected’ villages and towns and if they were to use poisoning of the water supply or something similar to kill people in the areas where these monsters are suspected to be, would that be justifiable? The aerial drones are, after all, just a technological device. There can be other such technologies and devices.

There must have been some very solid reasons why the whole world agreed to ban the use of chemical and biological weapons after the first world war and stuck to that ban (with a few universally condemned exceptions), though they were very effective and the Nazis were very evil.

The other big problem I have with the author’s opinions on this matter is that he suggests that the American aerial drones are one of the unsavoury weapons we should use against the fundamentalist Islamic militants. This is a logical error as well as a moral one. The logical error is that ‘we’ are not using the weapons at all, the empire is using them. And it is the same empire that created the problem in the first place, once again as the author himself has said. We have no control over how these drones are or will be used and who they will be used against in the future. Can’t they, some day in the future, be used against ‘us’? Why not? Perhaps the empire won’t use them directly, but it can always outsource their use: think again of Iraq. Iraq of the past and Iraq of the present. The author, in fact, knows very well the other examples that I could give.

To put it in Orwell’s words, make a habit of imprisoning Fascists without trial, and perhaps the process won’t stop at Fascists.

The use of aerial drones, they being just a technological device, might perhaps be justifiable for certain purposes, for example in managing relief work during large scale natural disasters, e.g. the wild fires in Russia or the frequent floods in India and China (but not as just a cover for their more sinister use). Their use for killing humans is, however, of a completely different nature.

The moral error is that the author’s conclusions unambiguously imply that ends justify the means. As long as these monsters producing (or becoming) ‘human drones’ are killed, it doesn’t matter whether the weapons are, to use the author’s word, unsavory. It also doesn’t matter that they are being used by an empire ‘we’ are opposed to and which started the mess. (Actually, the mess was started long ago by another empire, but then we could say there were even older empires who played a role in creating this mess, so let’s not go into that).

I even sort of agree with the author’s idea that recommending the standard left meta-technique of “mobilizing” people (actually, it is not just leftists who use such techniques) may not be very practical under the conditions prevalent in this case. But, as I said, though I understand the severity of the problems, I don’t have the solutions. I only want to say that the kind of errors that the author makes can lead us to a worse situation. We should not forget (I am sure the author knows this too) that it is not just a case of some bad apples. Even if these were to be removed by using ‘unsavory’ forces and weapons, the problems are not going to be solved so easily. Because there is not just one clearcut problem but many problems which are all meshed together and the meshing is too complex and barely visible.

At the risk of making an unpalatable statement, I would say that if any party in conflicts like this has to be excused for using unsavory weapons or tactics, it will have to be the much weaker party, not the strongest party in history. But I don’t think I would include suicide bombing among those weapons or tactics. And I also realize the limits to which I can be entitled to sit in judgement over people living under such conditions.

The author need not offer me (business class or mere economy) tickets to Waziristan. I am scared to even go to places in India.

One more problem that I have with the author’s writings is that he seems to have assigned blame to most parties involved in the conflict: the Army, the militants, the Taliban, the Americans etc., but has he (I haven’t read everything written by him) considered, equally critically, the role of the Pakistani elite (not just the leftists) and the somewhat ‘secular’ middle class? He seems to have hinted at their role, but it seems to me that their role was, is and will be far more critical in determining what is happening and what will happen. After all, the rise (if we can call it that) of the Taliban closely parallels the Islamisation of the Pakistani society in general. How did the Pakistani elite (intellectual, feudal and official) help in this and what can they do to solve this problem?

That, it seems to me, is the crucial question to ask (though it won’t lead to a quick fix), apart from what people around the world can do about those controlling the aerial drones, towards whom, as the author earlier wrote, “we still dare not point a finger at”. After going on to point a finger at them, the author seems to have now moved to the position of accepting their support in terms of killings by the aerial drones in order to contain the ‘human drones’, which (to be a bit harsh) doesn’t make sense to me.

Related to this is another question: does the natural antipathy of the Pakistani elite towards these ‘primitive’ tribal communities has something to do with the position that the author has taken and which he says many others (‘educated people’) share?

There are, of course, other actors. The author has mentioned Saudi Arab, but Iran has a role. Even India has (or at least wants to have) a role.

But I want to end on a positive note. It’s heartening to see that the ZNet allows this kind of a dissenting view to be presented on its platform. That should be a good sign for the discussion.

[Unfortunately, I have to end on a slightly negative note. As I was going to add the comment to the article, I realized that I have to be a ‘sustainer’ even to post a comment. And I have not been able to become a sustainer for reasons I won’t go into here. Hence I post it here.]

July 23, 2010

It Could Happen to You Too

If it doesn’t, perhaps it should.

The third person pronoun used repeatedly above refers to this. A short quote:

Ocampo’s view of the timing of the arrest warrant in 2008, which applies just as much today, was that as any prosecutor, with such evidence in his hand, had a duty to act and did not have “the luxury to look away.” Ocampo, who also believes that he has a duty to contribute to the prevention of international crimes, has pointed out that every day which Bashir remains free enables him to engage in the commission of additional hostilities and abuses.

Sounds familiar?

And the second person pronoun in the title? Is it just one person? Is it hard to guess the candidates?

About the title itself? Well, the sub-editors have been following the local version of the Truman show and they got mighty inspired.

April 22, 2009

झगड़ा नको

चलो बहुत हो गया
कसाई और बकरे का झगड़ा
अब हाथ मिला लेते हैं
आज से हमारी-तुम्हारी दुश्मनी खत्म

आगे वही बढ़ते हैं
जो साथ मिल के चलते हैं
अब से हम-तुम भी साथ-साथ चलेंगे
मिल-जुल के सफ़र करेंगे

बहुत से हैं दुनिया में
जो झिक-झिक में वक़्त ज़ाया करते हैं
या फिर बड़ी-बड़ी बातें किया करते हैं
जहाँ भाई-चारे से काम चल सकता है
वहाँ बेकार की बहस में लगे रहते हैं

हमने भी यह ग़लती की अब तक
चलो आज से इसे सुधार लेते हैं
एक-दूसरे से कड़वी बातें नहीं कहेंगे
प्यार-मुहब्बत से ज़िंदगी भर रहेंगे

न तुम हमें काटो
न हम तुम्हें काटेंगे
ये एक-दूसरे को काटना खत्म
एक नये युग की शुरुआत करेंगे

दुनिया है और दुनिया में ज़िंदगी है
तो कटना-काटना तो होता ही रहेगा
पर अब मिल-जुल कर काटा करेंगे

कभी बकरा मिलेगा तो कभी कसाई मिलेगा
पर एकता की ताक़त के सामने कौन टिकेगा?

January 29, 2009

महाशक्ति-गान

रम-पपम रम-पपम
रम पपम-पपम
हम तो हैं महाशक्ति
जो चाहे करेंगे हम

घर में घुसेंगे तुम्हारे
सब तोड़-फोड़ डालेंगे
जो भी पड़ेगा बीच में
उसकी टांग तोड़ डालेंगे

रम-पपम रम-पपम
जो चाहे करेंगे हम

दो-चार जड़ेंगे तुम्हारे
बाहें डालेंगे मरोड़
हाथ-पैर जो फेंकोगे तो
हरजाना भरोगे करोड़

रम-पपम रम-पपम
जो चाहे करेंगे हम

मकान जो तुम्हारा टूट चुकेगा
उसे फिर से बनवाएंगे हम
खर्चा तो खैर तुम ही दोगे
बस मुनाफ़ा उठाएंगे हम

रम-पपम रम-पपम
जो चाहे करेंगे हम

चूं-चपड़ जो अगर करी तो
जोड़ देंगे लादेन के साथ
जंग छेड़ेंगे तुम्हारे खिलाफ़
दाँत दे देंगे तुम्हारे हाथ

रम-पपम रम-पपम
रम पपम-पपम
हम तो हैं महाशक्ति
जो चाहे करेंगे हम

नई-नई फ़िल्में बनाएंगे
विलन होगे तुम, हीरो होंगे हम
फ़िल्में जीतेंगी ढेर-से इनाम
कला के पारखी भी करेंगे सलाम

रम-पपम रम-पपम
जो चाहे करेंगे हम

ज्ञान हो, विज्ञान हो, अज्ञान हो
इतिहास हो, परिहास हो, बकवास हो
नाम तुम्हारा मिटा डालेंगे
तुम को तुम्हीं से लड़ा डालेंगे

रम-पपम रम-पपम
जो चाहे करेंगे हम

मार खाओगे तुम, मुद्दई होंगे हम
खून बहेगा तुम्हारा, दावा ठोकेंगे हम
तकलीफ़ होगी तुम्हें, आँसू बहाएंगे हम
हमीं होंगे पुलिस, जज भी होंगे हम

रम-पपम रम-पपम
रम पपम-पपम
हम तो हैं महाशक्ति
जो चाहे करेंगे हम

सभ्यता का पाठ पढ़ाएंगे हम
सलाम ठोकना सिखाएंगे हम
ताकत का आदर करवाएंगे हम
नाक फर्श पे रगड़वाएंगे हम

रम-पपम रम-पपम
जो चाहे करेंगे हम

गफ़लत में पर मत ना रहना
तुमको ना करने देंगे हम

रम-पपम रम-पपम
रम पपम-पपम

 

[2009]

November 2, 2008

Support Raj Thackeray

Outlook magazine has published an email received by it about the recent goings on in Mumbai, written by an undisclosed Maharashtrian reader (naturally, who wants to be lynched?). It gives no less than sixteen reasons for supporting Raj Thackeray. I wish to join in with my wholehearted support, although I am not too enthusiastic about one or two reasons.

You can read the reasons at the original location, but since I know most people don’t do that, here are a few samples to motivate you (in case you have reached here somehow):

2. Parliament should have only Delhiites as it is located in Delhi

6. All Maharashtrians working abroad or in other states should be sent back as they are SNATCHING employment from Locals

10. Let’s support Kashmiri Militants because they are right to killing and injuring innocent people for benefit of their state and community…

16. Ensure that all our children are born, grow, live and die without ever stepping out of Maharashtra, then they will become true Marathis

I can’t claim a place in the original version, but I can do so in the Delhi version of the sons-of-the-soil campaign, as I can call myself, with good reason, a Delhiite.

Who knows, Gods and Goddesses willing, I might finally land a respectable position. When all my qualifications and capabilities have failed to help me become somebody (even the security guards and the cleaning staff at the campus know this and treat me accordingly), my being a legal Delhiite might finally make a man out of me, instead of a wimpy whiny nobody so shoddy.

So how can I contact Delhi’s Raj Thackeray? I would like to apply as soon as possible. Hyderabadis don’t want me anyway.

AnywayS. AnywayS.

Isn’t lynching fun?

What about a spot on the Delhi police? Is firing 13 bullets to kill one katta wielding disgruntled youth who wants to send a message to the to be Messiah of the Dillivala Manoos, sorry, Bandaa, fun?

If you have the right outlook, you can find fun in anything. You can even find honour (honor for the dominant party) in it. Or you can go through life as a frustee-frustoo-frustrated.

Ask Deepak Chopra.

And he was born in Delhi too.

My Delhi. Great Delhi. Hindi Delhi. Cradle of Civilization Delhi. Capital of Successive Empires Delhi. Hindu Delhi. Muslim Delhi. British Delhi. Secular Delhi.

June 27, 2008

Evolution Doesn’t Like Music

 

 

But we do.

 

 

May 3, 2008

Evolution Doesn’t Have Nuclear Weapons

 

 

But we do.

 

 

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