Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ram Manohar Lohia's 100th Birthday

One of my colleagues had his birthday on 23 March. I walked up to him as soon as he came in and wished him a Happy Birthday. As I shook his hand, I said to him, 'Do you know you share your birthday with...' Before I could finish, he quipped, 'Yes, the martyrdom of Baghat Singh and ...' 'No, no, I am talking about Ram Manohar Lohia.' And as I said this, another colleague, who loves a friendly bantering said, 'No wonder, there is something of Amar Singh in the birthday boy..." And we had a a little laugh about it.

This two-minute episode is quite instructive of our political sensibilities at this point of time. Politics for us is either a dead ideal or a living, though sick, cunning. In the middle of these two perceptions, the insights are lost. In contemporary Punjabi folklore Bhagat Singh is an icon of Sikh and not just Marxist pride. There are movies about Bhagat Singh, one of them has 23 March 1931 as part of the title. This has kept his memory alive. The other figure, that of Amar Singh, is as theatrical as any Bollywood film. He epitomises, in public eye, political opportunism at its worst and to the critics, this is what ultimately happens to the political heirs of Lohiaism.

But I want to know the man first hand. I have recently been reading about Ram Manohar Lohia. The trouble is that his books are just not available out there. So I've taken printouts of his few writings, which are scattered on various blogs, and read them off and on. On the 23rd, it was his birth centenary. It is generally a big deal when a political leader of such stature complete 100 years. But apart from one article in Deccan Herald and a report of a seminar in Goa there wasn't much that was available to me online on that day. I picked up a copy of the Hindu to see if there's any editorial or op-ed. Zilch.

I am not a socialist. But to me it was a bit sad to see this amnesia about an important person in our recent history. So I wrote a quick piece for the Herald of India, which the editor was very kind to publish and give a headline too.

One reader responded to the write-up with a very interesting anecdote.

The timely and informative piece, 'Deafening silence on Lohia', took me back to mid- sixties when I heard Lohia for the first time at an open rally in Chandigarh's Sector 15. It still is etched on my mind how he attributed most of our failures to our inherent indecisiveness. I remember even the fine example he gave to prove his point. On visiting a friend, if he offers us a choice between having tea and coffee we fail even to tell him our personal preference or choice. "Kuch bhi chaleyga", Lohia rightly lamented the attitude. He continued by lampooning Lal Bhadur Shastri, the then PM, saying that he too remains indecisive on many issues and he often sees two instead of one face of Shastri in Parliament, yeh bhi theek hai, woh bhi theek hai. -Balvinder

I love such personal memories and anecdotes but this was a particularly intriguing comment because I lived in Sector 15 of Chandigarh for most part of my life. That little connection warmed me up.

Later that day, I got to read the news that Kanu Sanyal committed suicide by hanging himself. Did somebody notice that he chose 23 March as the day of his death? And also, that three other revolutionaries died that way in 1931. Here are a few of links of some remembrances. Rediff, Times of India, DNA, The Hindu.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Converting footnotes to endnotes

Here's the editor at work.

In one MS Word document I was working on this afternoon, I had to change footnotes at the bottom of each page to endnotes, which would appear at the end of the document. It's not difficult at all to do that in Word, but there was one glitch, the endnote numbers changed to Roman (i, ii, iii...) from Arabic (1, 2, 3...). So there was an additional set of steps to ensure the numbers remain the same.
  1. Right click on any footnote anywhere in the document.
  2. Select Note Options… from the drop-down list.
  3. In the dialogue box, click on Convert… button.
  4. A small dialogue box will appear with one of the three options highlighted. For our purpose, it will be Convert all footnotes to endnotes. Click OK.
  5. Click Close.

That's it! But, in case you want Arabic and not Roman numerals for your endnotes,

  1. Right click on any of the endnotes.
  2. Select Note Options… from the drop-down list
  3. In the dialogue box, change Number format: to 1, 2, 3… Click Apply

Documenting my great rediscovery for posterity.

Disclaimer: I work with MS Office 2003, so it might be useless for those working on advanced versions.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Digression Teacher

I am sorry! I am not terribly excited about this bright idea of yours Honourable Education Minister. Is it a cover-up for the repeated failure of your ministry in providing a decent education facilities to children in your state? Your teachers are up in arms against you. Students are not coming to schools. The list of failures goes on and on.

Now the best way to divert attention, for her as for other Punjab MLAs, is to rake up the two most emotional issues the state has frequently exploited since Independence, Punjabi Language and Chandigarh.

I just hope there are no agitations in next few days! So tired of traffic snarls already! There are no digressions left for the commuters.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ambani/Mittal and Lohia: A Tentative Remark

One of the news that most Indian news portals flashed persistently throughout today was about Mukesh Ambani and Laxmi Narayan Mittal being the richest Indians. We, the Indian readers, are supposed to be waiting for one of these men to become THE richest man in the world. Because that will strengthen our tentative hopes that India is indeed becoming a developed nation. We are in a hurry to overtake America and other Western societies. We want to be rich like them. We want to be like them in all aspects. And in all this we forget that one of the reasons, besides others, for them becoming rich was colonialism. They were able to find a way to boost their economies at the cost of other nations.* Ram Manohar Lohia (on whom I am sipping lately) had an interesting insight about this. He said that we can't be advanced like West unless we ourselves become colonizers.** Either we find colonies on other planets or "colonize" the people within our own country. The latter is indeed happening. Singurs and Nandigrams are examaples of this internal colonialism. We can stretch it further to Kazakhstan where Mittal was accused of slave labour. Mukesh Ambani did not want to think beyond his profit in last year's gas crisis, completely overlooking public interest. Of course, the issue also exposed the inaptness of the petroleum ministry. It's ironical that these men have become mascots of our national pride.

We want more and more to look like Westerners in the way we do our business and the way we evaluate it's benefit to our society and our people. Is that the only way? The recent global recession and, closer home, the Satyam fiasco, should propel us to look for alternatives.

(16 March 2010: Apparently that insight came to Lohia via Gandhi, who expressed similar thoughts in his journal Young India on 7 October 1926 [cited by Kishan Pattnayak in his Vikalphin Nahin Hai Duniya, New Delhi:Rajkamal, 2000, p 87.])


* One can counterbalance this with Max Weber's idea of puritan ethics and developement of capitalism in Western Europe but that's for some other time.

** Lohia also recognizes the fact that the 'greatness' of modern Western civilization owes to spiritual dynamics of faith, which has been ultimately undermined by an unbridled cult of 'industrialism'.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Women's Day: Little Poetry, Little Pondering

It's Women's Day today. Women colleagues at the office were cajoled to treat us with some dhokla and gulab jamuns. But there must be more to this day of the feminine. Wife is away, so the second-best thing is to celebrate it with poetry. Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Women" is a hit with most women. I am immediately drawn to few poems of my own liking. I think of Nissim Ezekiel's "Poet, Lover and Birdwatcher" in which the "woman slowly turns around" as "myths of light/With darkness at core" or twists frantically in pain as the mother in the "Night of the Scorpion", who is grateful even after having been bitten by the scorpion when she says "Thank God the scorpion picked on me/And spared my children". The sensuousness of the former, in particular, has transfixed me every time I read it. This to me is one of the ultimate "woman" poems, besides some Neruda.

But then, also follow lines from Jayanta Mahapatra's "The Lost Children of America" (the text once available online is now only found in fragments), in which the poet makes a reference to a horrific event:
In the Hanuman Temple last night
the priest’s pomaded jean-clad son
raped the squint-eyed fourteen-year fisher girl
on the cracked stone platform behind the shrine
and this morning
her father found her at the police station
assaulted over and over again by four policemen
dripping of darkness and of scarlet death.
Oh! I wanted to concentrate on the positives. But tragedy is quite inextricably woven in the acts of reflection on contemporary times. How I wanted to identify with Ezekiel the aesthete but am not able to shake off the crude reality of violence that's so much a part of men's psyche. Wait! Why only men's psyche? Sujata Bhatt interrogates the revered figure of mother in "Voice of the Unwanted Girl". Extracts from the poem follow:
Mother, I am the one
you sent away
when the doctor told you
I would be
a girl – In the end they had to
give me an injection to kill me.
Before I died I heard
the traffic rushing outside, the monsoon
slush, the wind sulking through
your beloved Mumbai –
I could have clutched the neon blue one wanted –

No one wanted
to touch me – except later in the autopsy room
when they knew my mouth would not search
for anything – and my head could be measured
and bent and cut apart.
I looked like a sliced pomegranate.
The fruit you never touched.
Mother, I am the one you sent away
when the doctor told you
I would be a girl – your second girl.
These are the first two paragraphs; the actual poem is slightly longer. It is from Sujata Bhatt's anthology My Mother's Way of Wearing a Sari (New Delhi: Penguin, 2000).

As I had a baby, a son, recently I can in a strange way relate with this poem. The instinctive actions and reactions of a child (my mouth would not search for anything) are so vivid in my mind that it breaks my heart to read this poem. I am also aware of unspoken yet tremendous pressure created by family, society and part of our inner selves to bring forth a son, that I think I will always feel tender for a girl child.