अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

February 6, 2010

The Elite Strikes Back, Fetishiously

From right after the transfer of power from the British to the local English Elite (the Babus in the broadest sense), one recurrent theme in the Indian ‘National’ press, which translates as the English press, has been to come down like a 16 ton weight on anyone who so much as mentioned the case of the Indian languages and the extraordinary privileges enjoyed by the English speaking Elite in the country. So, for example, if any politician of the Hindi belt suggested that students should be allowed to write some important exam in Indian languages or that English should not be compulsory at the primary level or even something much less radical-revolutionary and world shaking, there would be (without fail) editorials in the ‘National’ newspapers about how the language chauvinists are going to lay waste our great democracy.

With the changes that have happened in the last 15 years or so (some for better and more for worse), this trend became less common. But now the lumpen antics of the Thackerays have given the Elite a golden opportunity to come back with a 32 (or is it 64?) ton weight on the ‘language chauvinists’.

The way the Thackerays have been able to carry on their thuggery (in the Hindi as well as the English sense of the term) is so absurd that only a few things can compete with it. And one of those things is the fact that the English Elite of the country have been so amazingly successful in summarily suppressing all Indian languages including the legally National Language (Hindi), the language that has the most chauvinistic support from its speakers (Tamil) and the language of the most intellectual community of the sub-continent (Bengali). These and many others are not endangered languages (at least not yet). Most of them can be called mega languages in terms of the number of speakers. All of this is so well known and so often repeated that I feel weary of having to write this. Also equally well known is the fact that only a very small fraction of the Indian population is comfortable with English. However, as India is a society whose structure is mainly defined by the caste system, no one except the top caste wants to remain in their own caste. They all want to make the transition to the higher castes, even as they list the reasons for the greatness of their caste. And the highest caste now effectively is that of the English speakers, who have replaced the (literal) Brahmins from their perch at the top (I know, ‘replaced’ is not a good term because a large fraction of the Elite is Brahmin). Naturally then everyone wants ultimately to make the transition to the top caste. This has lead to an extremely comic and absurd fetish about any language anywhere in the world. It is the fetish for the English language. This fetish too is a well known, though rarely talked about in the English media. A recent issue of the Outlook magazine was an exception. (The issue was the exception, not the magazine). The ‘language media’, of course, used to talk about it. Innumerable books have been written about it. Movies have been made about it (a recent one being Tashan, one of whose stars is now living out his character’s fetish in the real world). And sometimes politicians have talked about it for electoral purposes. But most of them have learned that it doesn’t pay much as the Indians (especially the North Indians) are not very keen to be seen speaking their own languages when in respectable company. They don’t even want it to be known to anyone that they are not good at English. Parents who can’t speak the language will parade their English learning children in front of any visitor and have a little performance of nursery rhymes being chanted in English, even if the visitor as well as the child feel tortured. They will also mention with pride that their child is very poor in Hindi (or any other Indian language).

It’s not that no one in the English speaking community has noted this. Even Nayantara Sehgal had mentioned this in one of her novels long ago. More recently Arundhati Roy had written about the oustee villagers from the Narmada dam site being scolded by Maneka Gandhi for not writing their petition in English, after they had travelled all the way, enduring hardship and hoping to save their lives. There have been others like Namita Gokhale among the (English speaking) writers and artists who have at least hinted at the absurdity of the situation.

But, by and large, the Elite has managed to suppress all talk about any fairness with regard to Indian languages which account for the overwhelming majority of the population of India. They have used diversity as an argument for maintaining the hegemony of English. They have used chauvinism as an argument. They have pitted one big language (Tamil) against the other (Hindi). They have pitted small languages (the so called dialects of Hindi) against big languages. They have pitted Dalits against the upper castes: no matter that most of them belong to the upper castes themselves. They have used linguistically spurious claims about the superiority of English over the ‘less developed’ Indian languages. They have steadfastly refused to concede even a pinhead worth of territory to the Indian languages.

Talk of divisiveness.

Unfortunately for them, The Market (whose praise they are now singing, be they from any part of the political spectrum) may be a brutal place, but it has allowed the Indian languages to gain some territory. As had the linguistic reorganisation of the states, which also (like the demands for linguistic fairness, not like The Market) they have always kept riling against.

When Pepsi and the others came after The Reforms, they didn’t give a damn about what language can get them more customers. Before that, big companies in India preferred to make commercials in English, unless their product was some low brow thing that no one would want to talk about. It is understandable why: the top advertising agencies are mostly dominated by the elitest of the Elite. It must have been hard for them to get used to the presence of Indian languages in their midst. To give the devil his due, they have managed the transition quite well, at least on the public front. It has turned out that these underdeveloped languages can be used ‘creatively’ after all, whatever may be the purpose. I don’t know what to feel about this.

The people may be ashamed of their own languages and of being seen reading books in them (chauvinism indeed!), but they are hooked to the movies and T.V. serials in those same languages. The movie scene is not any less hilarious either. The people involved in these movies may be making their career, earning huge amounts of money and generally being the gods of urban life in India (along with the cricket stars) through Indian languages, but they too are equally ashamed of the languages they make movies in. The scripts of Bollywood movies are written using the Latin alphabet. More than one big Bollywood Hindi movie star has been on record saying he hates Hindi. One of them said he didn’t want anyone around him speaking in Hindi. Offscreen, all they want is for their lives to be copies of Hollywood stars. And they are prepared to pretend that their mediocre work in ‘foreign’ English movies (to the extent they get such work, the chances of which are increasing now as the real superpower focuses a little bit more of its attention eastward this side) is by far better than their best work in Hindi movies. They will tell you the reason for this too: English movies give them far more exposure than Hindi movies (if they do, what does quality matter?). As for the criticism which suggests otherwise, well, ‘it will die its own death’.

Another of the cards the Elite uses against any demand for linguistic fairplay is that of communalism. The fact that the Jan Sangh/BJP and the Sangh Parivar in general have been shouting the slogan of ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’ has been used time and again to put down (and discredit) any such demand. This time they are vehemently talking about how the ‘Hindi fetish’ of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar has brought about the Thackerays’ Marathi version of the same. One of them has grudgingly noted, though, that there are differences between the two.

The only part of the slogan in which the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are interested in is the Hindu part, and they have made a travesty of even that. The preferred name for India for them is Bharat, not Hindustan. India is referred to as Hindustan (or Hindostan) more in the Urdu literature than in the Hindi literature or in the literature of these right wingers.

As a person whose mother tongue is Hindi (standard Hindi, Khari Boli) and who wants to write in Hindi, I refuse to surrender all the rights of this language or the terms Hindustan, Parivar, Sangh (or even Hindu) etc. to the Sangh Parivar conglomeration. The Elite has done its best to give exclusive rights for all these to the conglomeration. I keep the rights to these as an individual, not as a member of a group. I also keep the rights to contribute and participate as an individual, without being a member of any group.

The plain fact is that injustices are committed on a large scale every day in this huge country in the name of languages. However, there can be no doubt that the largest number of these injustices are in the name of English. Time and again I have seen (first hand) how careers of even brilliant students go the steep downward path because they are not so good at English. And careers are a just small part of the picture. If you are involved in a court case, you are unlikely to be heard if you use an Indian language.

I am not talking about a polish person’s case not being heard properly in France because he can’t talk in French. Even that, as a lot of the members of the Elite perhaps know, can be a valid grievance.

The plain fact is also, as a prominent Hindi writer said in an interview on Doordarshan, that ‘we’ (the people talking about the Indian languages) have accepted English as an Indian language and as our own: the question is whether ‘you’ (the English Elite) are prepared to accept the Indian languages as Indian and as your own.

She said this when the first great lit-fest was held a few years ago at a former royal palace near Jaipur where the guest of honour was V. S. Naipaul, who came with all his knightly glory. And where hardly any Indian language author was invited.

If you don’t listen to people like her, then some day you might have to listen to people like the Thackerays. And you might have to pretend that you like what they are saying.

Another plain fact is that most of the mainstream literary writers in Indian languages (whatever might be their other shortcomings) are neither chauvinists nor communalists. In fact, they are the most committed opponents of the right wing politics of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. And hardly any of them has ever been able to survive from literary writing alone, except perhaps those whose books become textbooks, which is itself a long story. Dismissing the whole idea of linguistic fairness by waving the communalism card is something that we usually expect from unscrupulous politicians, but the Elite (especially of the Left variety) has been doing exactly this ever since the transfer of power to them. Absurd as it may sound, one can understand this if one realizes that they have always felt threatened that some day the vernacular hordes will take the power away from them. There is a great deal they have at stake. I suspect part of their initial vehement opposition against the BJP was motivated by this. And the BJP saw this and made good use of this: they started talking about political untouchability being practiced against them and they gained a lot of sympathy votes on this point alone. The same Elite later became much more tolerant of the BJP once it came to power. Perhaps they accepted it as the fait accompli.

Fait accompli is another card that is heavily used by the Elite. English is the most powerful language that can give you any chance of a decent career and the possibility of some kind of justice so just shut up and try to improve your English. As one strategic think-tanker recently wrote about the Taliban, if you really want to get something done, then you have to go and talk to the people who have power.

As a not so irrelevant aside, consider the paid news affair, which is causing quite a stir these days. Newspapers have been always been used as weapons by both small and big power mongers. While the big newspapers are used more subtly, the smaller ones (with exceptions and to varying degrees) have either been directly owned by the powerful political and corporate people or have been available for hire. But after the Great Indian Reforms and Liberalisation, some big newspapers like the Times of India started the business of paid news quite openly. Till recently, however, there was only a little murmur of protest from the rest of the English Media. Then the ‘vernacular’ newspapers (for whom it is much harder to compete as they get less advertisements and at lower rates) started following the example of the TOI, but they did it more crudely. Suddenly it became a big issue, with even Dilip Padgaonkar telling us what a scourge paid news is.

Why would the editor of a National daily spend the time and effort to write an editorial about every non-committal language related statement from every two penny politician?

The Left part of the Elite is prepared to talk about all kinds of injustices except those related to language. Except when it is Indian language vs. Indian language. In that case it’s great fun for them.

What we actually have is a strange kind of fanatic language chauvinism practiced by the Elite against all Indian languages: more than just fetishist chauvinism. It’s so real that you only need to walk the roads of any Indian city and read the posters (among other things) of English teaching joints.

Not that there are no injustices in the name of Indian languages. The situation very much fits the big-fish-small-fish metaphor. There is also the infinitely indecent situation in Indian villages of there being separate upper caste and Dalit languages. The Dalits are not allowed to use the ‘upper caste language’. Language is used as a tool for domination, oppression and daily humiliation. In this language-eat-language world, the biggest fish by far in India (as in most parts of the world) is English. Even if it is spoken by a miniscule minority.

Trying to cover up this situation with slick diatribes about chauvinism and communalism might go on paying for a long time, but it might also lead to more dangerous situations than what we already have.

I really haven’t believed for one moment that the Thackerays have any love for Marathi. It’s their only possible ticket to power as of now. If they find some other better ticket, they will gladly drop the whole Marathi Manoos issue. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar are a bit more serious about the Hindi part of their slogan, but as their conduct while in power has shown, they care about Hindi only as much as the Bajrang Dal cares about the Indian culture. And everyone knows how much and of what kind that is. I abhor all kinds of chauvinism, but I still think it is an insult to the real chauvinists (like the ones who took part in the anti-Hindi riots a few decades ago) to call the Thackerays (or even the Sangh Parivaris) language chauvinists.

(1) What people like the Thackerays say, goes something like this:

  • Give licenses to taxi drivers only if they are Marathi speakers.
  • If the above is not done, we will get us some North Indian migrants kicked.
  • We will not allow anyone to do whatever we might decide they shouldn’t do.
  • We will thrash anyone who doesn’t agree with us.

(2) Here is what a real chauvinist might say:

  • Marathi is the greatest (or one of the greatest) language(s) in the world.
  • No Marathi speaker should use any word borrowed from any other language.
  • Hindi is actually a corrupted version of Marathi.
  • There is some evidence that the languages of Central Asia are derived from Marathi.

(3) A Marathi fetishist (if there are such people) might say this:

  • I am afraid to read English (or Hindi) books because they bring bad luck to me.
  • I must have a temple in my house to worship Marathi.
  • If my son doesn’t speak Marathi, I think he will become a pervert.
  • The captions of the Playboy centerfolds should be pasted over with Marathi ones before one looks at them.

(4) Then there could also be demands like:

  • English should not be compulsory at the primary level. It should be left to the parents to decide.
  • Students should not be punished for speaking in Marathi.
  • Knowledge of English (or Hindi) should not be compulsory for certain jobs.
  • Marathi writers (and newspapers, magazines, books) should be treated in the same way as English (or Hindi) ones.

There can’t be any debate about (1), (2) and (3), but as far as I can see, the three still have to be treated differently (say, for moral, psychological or political discussion). But there can (and should) definitely be debate about (4). That is, if by democracy you mean something substantial, not just a protective shield to keep your hold on the power indefinitely. If you put all four in the same group and dismiss them all, then there is some chance that this might lead to some bad things, even if Indians are ashamed to use their own language for higher purposes.

To touch upon another taboo topic, a great great deal has been written about Bombay becoming Mumbai, but I don’t remember anyone pointing out that Bombay had already been Mumbai for the Marathi speakers (not to say that it was and is Bambai for Hindi speakers), just as Calcutta had been Kolkata for Bengali speakers and Delhi has been either Dilli or Dehli for Hindi speakers. Is that completely irrelevant?

If we were to take the English Elite’s rhetoric about chauvinism seriously, one would have to call even Orhan Pamuk a language chauvinist. And Satyajit Ray. And Tolstoy. And every French writer. And so on.

In many places in his books Tolstoy resentfully showed how French was treated as the superior language among the Russian Elite and how no one among them wanted to be seen speaking Russian. Except may be when talking to the inferior people: servants, peasants etc.

As one member of the Elite (in a moment of frankness) living in New Delhi narrated in a ‘middle’ in The Hindustan Times several years ago, she was embarrassed when a foreigner from the West came to visit them and tried to talk to them in Hindi. Because for her and for the people in her class, Hindi was a language to be used when talking to vegetable sellers.

Most members of the BJP would love to make a transition to the same class. Some have already done that.

There are schools in India where students are punished for using an Indian language. Not in the class room. Not just for any formal or academic purpose, but even in their private conversation, say while playing in the playground.

So much for chauvinism.

Not to mention the Fetish part.

As for the Thackerays, I wonder why they don’t write their surname as Thakre.

They are defiling the name of one my favourite writers.

May 11, 2009

Useless Fellas

A Skeletal Figure (SF), surely aged above seventy, wearing kurta and trousers, enters a large room where a meeting of academics is being held. The lower end of the back of the kurta is curled so much that it can make you recall the tail of an irritated chameleon. His hair is grey, as is his thin beard. Both look very ungainly. Giggles and other varieties of laughter can be heard at his entry. Some of it comes from the few students doing the duties, but most of it is from the academics. Most seem to know him, but none seem to be friendly. He seems even less friendly. In fact, he seems enraged. Yes, he is. And here he goes, as seems to be his habit:

SF: You useless fellas! You intellectual rowdies! You academic rascals! You dreamers of Turing Award! Have you ever tried to find out who Turing was? Do you know what kind of a person he was? Have you tried to know what happened to him? What was done to him?

More giggles. Some faces smile as at a likable senile.

SF: You worthless key hitters! You lazy brained paper fillers! Have you heard of Chomsky? Have you ever read a single book on libertarian socialism?

Giggles continue, but many are back to their business, now ignoring the intrusion.

SF: If you can’t do anything else, at least go and read Government in the Future and try to find some fault with it. If you can’t read, go and get the audio from the Internet. But don’t waste the bandwidth. Try first on the LAN.

Rushes out. Feelings of relief.

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.

July 25, 2008

Access Denied (Arbitrarily, or May be Not)

Filed under: Absurd,Flickr,Google,Network,Rants and Raves,So It Goes,Work — anileklavya @ 8:36 am

Have been getting these quite frequently over the last few days:

Access Denied (Flickr)

 

Access Denied (Google)

There have been many others, but I can’t post them all here, of course.

Here is a book from the MIT Press about such things.

June 8, 2008

Some Political Disclaimers

While reading a rant today against Arundhati Roy (Not again!), I came across a new (balancing) label. Neo-Marxism. The ranter says that she and others like her are neo-Marxist ‘intellectuals’. Since my political views have a lot in common with hers, I couldn’t help thinking that I too could be accused of being a neo-Marxist (‘intellectual’ or not).

The idea offends me. So much so that I have decided to declare in advance what I am not. What I most certainly never was. Or will be. I hope this will save the time of those (if any) who bother to pay attention to me and then may want to rant against me. I hope this would allow them to make better use of their energies.

Just in case.

And these are the things I wasn’t, am not and will not be:

  • I most definitely am not a Marxist, let alone a neo-Marxist (whatever that means).
  • I am, most emphatically, not a communist.
  • If I am not a communist, I couldn’t be a Maoist. I hate Stalin and I rank Mao only a little better than him.
  • Nor could I be any of the other things like Leninist, ‘Trotskyst’, etc.

Not just that. I don’t believe in a sudden (violent or non-violent) and quick revolution that will change the world overnight magically. I am almost sure that there will be no final victory and living happily ever after. There can only be a continuous long struggle which is unlikely to completely end ever. Because there are too many things (abstract and concrete; human, inhuman and non-human) which are too strong to be overcome easily. I am not even sure whether some of them can be overcome. Even to overcome a few of them is not going to be possible through just polite academic discourse and a bit of charity here and bit of social work there.

In other words, a dystopia is very likely (almost certain if we don’t try to keep preventing it continuously) but a Utopia is out of the question.

The fact is, I am not even sure whether I am ‘very left liberal’ as I have written on my Orkut profile (which no one visits, including me).

Sure, I might be a lot of other things which people like the above mentioned ranter might find worthy of attack. Or those who advocate ‘let’s discuss it over dinner and not make a fuss’ even if it’s a matter of thousands of lives (or deaths). The latter variety includes those who claim to be admirers and even followers of Gandhi. As far as my knowledge, intelligence and reasoning goes, Gandhi was a Big Fuss Maker (even if not big enough for many) for any cause that he was active for.

That takes me to another disclaimer. I am not a Gandhian either.

Am I a socialist? Am I a leftist? Am I a liberal?

It all depends on what exactly these terms mean for the person who is asking. They could be used to mean anything.

The other day I read someone’s comment on the Outlook website ranting against ‘communal Congress’ and raving in favour (favor for the dominant party) of ‘secular RSS/BJP’.

Even as a BJP national leader was feeling diminished by Nepal being declared a secular republic.

But I am not going to give out disclaimers about not being a communalist or fundamentalist or anything of the sort. Don’t think it’s necessary.

Am I definitely something? I could be, but I am not much interested in being labeled. I want to do many things. I have been many things. I am many things.

Who the heck cares? And why on earth?

Exactly.

June 3, 2008

The Fine Art of L.K. Advani et al.

L.K. Advani is one of those people who turn hypocrisy into a fine art. One of the prerequisites of this art is having at least somewhat charismatic personality. The ability to project a decent middle class ‘measured’ persona helps too.

His party, after the retirement of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is now making the most of Advani’s abilities, as it is of Modi’s. And Modi himself is now suggesting that we fight inflation with fasting, as once advised by India’s former Gandhian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.

From Advani to Jaswant Singh. Add the charms of being a former Maharaja.

As we all know, Nepal has finally got rid of the monarchy (lock, stock and non-smoking barrel, unlike Britain). Moreover, that country will now also be a ‘secular republic’, like India. This is our (possibly) future Prime Minister’s ‘measured’ take on these developments:

As for abolition of monarchy, Mr. Singh said, “It is for the people of Nepal to decide not to have a monarchy.”Was the BJP happy about Nepal becoming a secular state? He said: “As an Indian and a believer in ‘sanatan dharma’ [Hinduism], I feel diminished. … There are four ‘dhams’ [pilgrimage centres] in India and the fifth, Pashupati Nath, is in Nepal. There is nothing more secular than ‘sanatan dharma’. … This is a negative development [in Nepal].”

If there is nothing more secular than ‘sanatan dharma’, why does he feel diminished about Nepal becoming a secular state?

Don’t be insane. Be measured. It’s not good to ask such questions.

And here is the not-so-measured take of his party president Rajnath Singh on the words ‘secular’ and ‘dharmanirpeksh’.

Nice combination.

Winning Combination.

Where do I find the words for Modi?

June 1, 2008

Who’s Afraid of Arundhati Roy?

[This is an extended version of a comment posted on the Outlook magazine website in response to an article by Reeta Sinha.]

I couldn’t really understand what exactly is your point (if any). I do get it that you are enraged by the attention that Arundhati Roy is getting (through her ‘attention grabbing devices’). That’s fine with me. It’s true that she is getting a disproportionate amount of attention, just as her ‘one-book-wonder’ has earned a disproportionate amount of money.

Apart from that, I don’t understand what objections you have which made you write such a long piece on a non-issue. Are you objecting to some particular stand taken by her? To some particular protest she has been involved in?

Or are you just saying that all that she has been arguing for is wrong and that all her ’causes’ are unworthy of support? Or that the causes may be alright but her arguments are wrong?

Frankly, I am not able to get any clue about the answers to these questions from your lengthy tirade against Arundhati Roy, the celebrity.

Do you actually have any stand about any of those causes? Or do you believe they should be left to the experts?

I will tell you my opinion. Of course, what she is saying is not very original in terms of the content. It’s not meant to be original. The purpose of (explicitly) political writing is not to be original, but to effectively argue about some cause or some issue or even about the world in general. Effectively enough for people to pay attention. This means originality in terms of style, at least.

Now, even though you seem to be enraged by the attention she is getting (people interviewing her about herself), you seem to be suggesting that people are actually not paying attention to her, i.e., to what she is saying about the causes and the issues. Is that really so? I don’t think so. Yes, more people are paying attention to the members of the RSS family than to her. In fact, more people are paying attention to Narendra Modi than to her, but then the very nature of what she talks about is such that no one usually wants to listen to those things. Because it can make you uncomfortable and disturbed. It can even shake your very foundations, brainwashed as you may be by the whole system of manufactured consent.

Those people in Nepal who have been brought up on the culture of devotion to the King are still not able to accept the fact that monarchy is a bad idea. Devotion to the monarchy may be at the root of their philosophy of life. They are not going to be convinced easily. Perhaps some will never be. Till they die. But their children (or grandchildren) will have no problem in getting convinced.

So, even if, in absolute terms, not many may be paying attention to her political writing, in relative terms, a large number of people are paying attention to her. And people are not just paying attention to *her*, they are actually paying attention to the causes she is talking about. She has managed to convince some people. Not you, perhaps, but some people. And you may not think so, but a very large number of activists, including those who are scholars of the highest repute and the highest order, do believe that her arguments are convincing and persuasive. You are entitled to your opinion, but then so am I. And so are those who agree with her. And by any standards, the quality of people who agree with her is, on the whole, much higher than those who don’t. You can find the details about this claim if you do your own research (without leaving it to an expert) on her, and on the people I am talking about.

And also about the problems she is talking about.

Why don’t you take your own advice? Ignore the person and focus on the cause. That is, if you think there is a cause. I could have said more about this had you shown any interest in any cause while writing your piece and given some indication of where you stand. For example, what is your position on the War on Terror? Or on the Big Dams? Or on nuclear weapons? Or on Fascism? Or on globalization? Or on Salva Judum? The only hint I can get from your article is that you don’t think any of these issues are important enough for anyone to ‘shout from the rooftop’, as Arundhati Roy described her attempts. Like so many others, you perhaps don’t mind people shouting from the rooftop about safe issues (or non-issues), which doesn’t shake anyone’s foundations.

To make clear why I am writing this, I will repeat again. Ignore the person if you don’t like her talking about herself. Instead focus on the issue or the cause. It is possible, you know.

To me, it doesn’t matter much whether she likes being called an activist or not. Or a writer-activist or not, for that matter. To me, what matters is whether what she is saying about the Big Dams or about corporatization (in the name of globalization) or about Fascism has any validity or not.

Yes, she does get hyperbolic sometimes, but then no one is perfect.

You can avoid hyperbole completely by being a loyal obedient orderly, for example. But I would have no respect for her if she followed this course.

I prefer Kabir (who did use hyperboles quite a lot) to Birbal or Tenali Rama (who also used hyperboles, but in a very safe way).

I like Ramachandra Guha’s writings, but I like P. Sainath’s writings more. But some might say that Sainath also gets hyperbolic. Some might even say that he is glorifying suicides. I know what is the problem with such people.

Literary writing, fictional or non-fictional, explicitly political or implicitly political (there is no such thing as non-political), is not (fortunately) dictated by what teachers of English composition say.

Ever heard of James Joyce? Samuel Beckett? Kafka? Gabriel Garcia Marques? Salman Rushdie?

Pablo Neruda? He was a big celebrity too.

Shakespeare? He is so full of attention grabbing devices. And all his devices have been adopted into the English language. Did your English composition teacher tell you this?

Arrogance! Arrogance!

What about ignorance?

More importantly, what about willful ignorance?

April 23, 2008

Network Goons Pay Tribute

Sometime ago I had written about the wireless notwork. Apart from the genuine technical problems, there are network goons out there who make sure that the network becomes the notwork.

The people in charge who implement ridiculous rules and block sites for no apparent reason and take action against people (who get caught) for the smallest and the silliest reason, are apparently powerless against these network goons. If the statement sounds hyperbolic, let me mention just a few facts:

  • The URL www.cs.rochester.edu has remained blocked for around two years now. The only reason (if it can be called that) seems to be that this sub-domain has a page where NLP and Computational Linguistics conferences are listed.
  • So is the India Together site which publishes articles by people like P. Sainath.
  • For some time, even the site of the national newspaper The Hindu was blocked.
  • Many other sites are blocked at one time or another, such as the YouTube.

Just a few days ago I checked the network activity on my system and found that many other systems were connected to my laptop, even though there was no reason for them to be and I had even switched on the Windows firewall. This is not happening after I did some things like blocking connection on the netbios-ssn port etc.

Why am I writing this post instead of talking to the people in charge? Because I don’t really think anything is going to come out of that. This rant was provoked by a particularly bad network notworking day.

Another thing that has happened is that the goons who are forming the private network and thereby causing problems for the others, have named their network with my initials:

Goons on the Wireless Notwork

I take it as a tribute. The people who hate you and create problems for you for no reason (whom you don’t even know) pay tribute in this way. It is one of the best tributes one can have.

Of course, there are the side effects, but, as they say, no free lunches.

Except perhaps for those who already have a lot of purchasing power.

The more, the better.

The more, the free-er.

The more, the more.

March 23, 2008

An Example of Gory Details

I have been familiar with the phrase ‘gory details’, as anyone has been who has read newspapers or watched TV.

However, today I saw this phrase with a completely new meaning. It was quite a revelation. This is how it goes:

Even if you have severe constraints on resources due to funding (I sympathize…), I recommend not discussing them in quite as gory detail as you do. A very brief mention of the amount of effort invested to date is sufficient.

Gee, thanks for the sympathy. Now I will be able to run my next project on this great resource.

And these are the gory details (complete and unabridged) to which the above quote refers:

Since x has so far mostly been the result of individual effort and it is a non-funded project being undertaken on part-time basis, there were the most stringent resource (financial, temporal, etc.) constraints.

(Only the names have been changed).

Quite a lesson in Semantics. Or is it Pragmatics? Perhaps both. Great. Very original.

By the way, another lesson I have learnt over the years is that your project is not a project unless it is funded.

Without funding, your work is illegitimate, at least in the research community.

Oops! Sorry for the gory details. Obscene. Vulgar. Indecent. Pervert. Lewd. Salacious. Detestable. Repulsive. Repugnant. Abhorrent.

 

 

(I will add more context for this post later).

March 12, 2008

Beware of Sirring a Nobody

Sirring is a technical term (so what if I have coined it) that means frequently or always addressing someone by an honorific term like ‘sir’. So, if you keep addressing someone as ‘sir’ or ‘mam’ etc., you are sirring them.

You have to know when sirring is a positive and recommended practice and when it’s not.

For example, sirring someone is a positive and recommended practice if that someone happens to be, well, Someone. Not just Anyone. And a Someone is a person, as you might know, who has some power over you or has a higher designation than your’s or has more money than you do or, in general, is materially superior (socially, financially, politically etc.) to you. It’s alright, in fact, it’s highly advisable if you practice sirring with some such materially superior person.

However, sirring can be harmful to you in some cases. For example, you can get into trouble if you practice it with someone who has no power over you, has no more money than you, has no higher designation than you, has no social, economic etc. status higher than you.

Sirring a Nobody is not alright. It’s not recommended. It’s foolish. It’s not part of civilized behavior. Please refrain from it. It might hinder communication with those who really are (materially) Somebodies.

It doesn’t matter if that person knows more than you, is more capable than you, more experienced than you, more (non-materially) accomplished than you.

Sometimes it also doesn’t matter if that someone is older than you.

Or has done much more in life than you.

Or has more publications than you.

A person who could have but hasn’t risen above you materially doesn’t deserve respect. Doesn’t deserve to be addressed by an honorific term.

Unless that person is a saint or a prophet or is, at least, recognized as one.

It’s Pragmatics, stupid!

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