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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Tomb, and the humble villagers..

The tomb at the Center of the Lodhi Park is absolutely great for those who like to sketch...many an afternoon have I spent in the shade of that tomb, pleasantly drowsing away ...wonder what ever happened to those who were forcibly shifted out from here, when the Park was made in the 1930s ? For there was a village here when the British decided to build the Lady Willingdon Park, as they called it. Guess there are no eye-witness accounts of forcible translocation of poor people. Imagine, after living for centuries near the tomb, being thrown out to some godforsaken wilderness...

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The Lodi Garden...

This must be one of the most photographed spots of Delhi, but still the Lodhi gardens are so photogenic, especially towards the end of winter, that I could not resist the thought of inflicting my amateur photos on those who read this blog...

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Pictures of the HUDCO park in Andrewsganj..

You would never believe this, but in the concrete jungle that is South Delhi, there are secret oases which flourish, tended by god knows whom, for whatever purpose.. This oases, the HUDCO Udayan, near my house is a little known garden, beautifully landscaped, dotted with flowerbeds and silkcotton trees..One morning, as I took my walk, I clicked a few pics to give you a feel of how it looks...

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Friday, June 25, 2010

A meeting with David Davidar..

As I read the controversy over David Davidar's alleged sexual harassment of his female colleague at Penguin Canada, I remember my only meeting with him.
It took place when I was in All India Radio, and was looking for an interesting personality to interview for the then newly started FM Rainbow channel.
Since Indian writing in English was then (as now) the flavour of the season, and since Penguin, under Davidar was one of the trailblazers, I called him up, and he agreed to the interview.
The Penguin office was in Shahpur Jat, a congested urban village set in South Delhi, squalid, with electricity wires  sprung up all over the place, jostling with banana sellers, and ofcourse, the huge inevitable Mughal ruin rising out of it all.
It was a fifteen minute interview, and Davidar was articulate, pleasantly modulated, and very learned.
He had absolutely no airs at all, despite being the Chief of India's most famous publishing house, and his office was unassuming and modest.
After the interview, we chatted: both of us had done our college from Chennai - he had done it at the Madras Christian College, while I had done from a college nobody had heard of- and it was a very interesting chat.

We were also from the same District, Tirunelveli. His forefathers were Dalits who had converted to Christianity, and I was a Brahmin. In other words, we were from the two sides of the caste divide from the same district of Tamil Nadu. Davidar would write his first novel, "The House of Blue Mangoes", based on the circumstances which had led his people to convert. We, of course, like civilized Indians, did not discuss caste or religion.
Funnily enough, despite being Tamilians, we did not speak a word in Tamil.
As I went back to AIR to edit the interview, it did cross my mind: two people from the same place, but such different fates and careers...I envied him his success, his job, the job of publishing English novels, the celebrity glamour of Page 3 parties...
As I read the headlines yesterday morning, I finally understood: never envy a man till he is dead.! Maybe he should have named the "House of Blue Mangoes" simply as the "House of Blue" ?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Anthem of Doomed Youth..

More than a decade back, we were doing a radio documentary for All India Radio on the 1971 war. We interviewed  one of the heroes of that war, Gen JFR Jacob. At the end of the interview, his eyes misted over, and in his faltering voice, he recited this beautiful stanza from a poem, as a homage to all the young men who lay down their lives in war:

"What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

- Only the monstruous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires."

Back at the editing suite, I was moved by the soft sad voice of the General reciting this sad poem, and I ended my documentary with the stanza.

It was only sevaral years later, thanks to the internet, that I looked up the poem. I found it had been written by Wilfred Owen, a young British chap who perished  in the great carnage that was World War I. Before his death, he wrote several pacifist poems, the best known of which was the poem called the "Anthem for Doomed Youth". Gen Jacob's stanza was from that poem, a brief and shining gem, which I place below in its entirety. Above, I'm also attaching a link to the flash version of the poem, which tries to convey the sadness and futility of WW I, with the whine of shells, the patter of rifles, photos and great music. So, a la Kurt Vonnegut, here it goes:

"Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

- Only the monstruous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.

The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds."

The flash version of the poem, is also at:

However, till today, I am amazed at Gen Jacob, an old soldier,
showing such sensitivity and poetic taste.....I guess in his old age,
after all the glory and valour, he had to find something to console
him for all the friends that he had lost to the grim reaper Death....


Monday, June 14, 2010

To strive, to seek, to find, ...and not to yield

Guess all of us have a favourite poem, one which has almost become a kind of motto of our life,  to which, one seeks to match our actions. The poem that always inspired me, ever since i read it as a 13-year old schoolboy, was "Ullyses" by Lord Tennyson. The poem is about the the hero Ullyses, who has come back home from the Trojan war after twenty years of wandering in the Aegean sea, but who once again becomes restless, and his wanderlust begins to rise again...the poem starts gently enough, but rises to a  glorious crescendo. It gives a raison d'etre for discovering things, for doing heroic things.....great stuff to read when you are a schoolboy, with stars in your eyes, and also to keep remembering, even when the grey has touched your temples...and so it goes:

   "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,

By this still hearth, among these barren crags,

Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole

Unequal laws unto a savage race,

That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink

Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed

Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when

Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;

For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known; cities of men

And manners, climates, councils, governments,

Myself not least, but honoured of them all;

And drunk delight of battle with my peers;

Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough

Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades

For ever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!

As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remains: but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,

A bringer of new things; and vile it were

For some three suns to store and hoard myself,

And this grey spirit yearning in desire

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle —

Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil

This labour, by slow prudence to make mild

A rugged people, and through soft degrees

Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere

Of common duties, decent not to fail

In offices of tenderness, and pay

Meet adoration to my household gods,

When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:

There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,

Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me —

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads — you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep

Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,

'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Culture of Obedience, as opposed to the culture of professionalism...

Those in the government who are watching the TV channels and newspapers unravel the true story of how Union Carbide chairman Anderson got away, after being arrested , should not be surprised...The bureacrats- the District Magistrate, the Superintendent of Police, the Chief Secretary himself- gets oral orders from the Chief Minister to find "some way of releasing Anderson", and presto, he is released, flown back to Delhi...this is the culture of unquestioned obedience that prevails amongst India's bureaucracy. Most bureaucrats in their position would have acted in the same way.
After all, from day one at the academy, what is taught is obedience to one's seniors, deference to orders, and the
dangers  of "insubordination" in  a civil servant, rather than the need for integrity, honesty, and professionalism.
Edgar Hoover ran the FBI for two decades, never allowing any political interference from any US President; Richard Nixon was brought down trying to cover up a burglary that he had authorized on his political opponents, which was being investigated by the FBI; in India, it is the civil servants who have to run for cover from their political masters..
I know of one IAS officer from the Maharashtra cadre who was implicated in several criminal cases by a spiteful local politician who was angry that his benami companies were not being given contracts.Today, the honest officer, fed up with the corruption in the State, is on deputation to the centre, in some obscure post, but happy nevertheless...
Only when we have real debates within the government, and the replacement of this culture of deference with a culture of professional pride can administration improve. Right now, across various ministries, in every meeting, the senior-most officer/politician speaks, speaks, and goes on speaking through the meeting, and the others listen, listen and nod..and take notes...if any officer brings a problem to the table, or has a different opinion, it is taken as downright misbehaviour, and he is told to shup up and carry out orders.
A real weighing of pros and cons, a real assesment of the situation never takes place. I wonder how much of this is a colonial legacy, how much of this is the "ji, huzoor" culture inherited from the Moghul empire, and how much of it the Hindu fatalism about life....

Why the government's social message advertising does not work...

I joined DAVP yesterday, after 2 years and four months as Director (IEC) in the Ministry of Rural Development.
For those who are curious, IEC stands for Information, Education and Communication. Despite there being a lot of money ( 52 crores this year, for instance), it was virtually impossible to carry out effective publicity and awareness campaigns for the Ministry's programmes (NREGA, for instance) due to continuous interference from  the senior levels of the Ministry. I found that everybody claimed to be a specialist in fhe field, and my experience or expertise counted for nothing: despite an Annual Plan, adhoc expenditure was the order of the day.
I now realize why the social message advertising of our government is largely a failure: there is no consistency, and at the end of the day, the whims of bureucrats and politicians for various TV channels and newspapers ensures that effective publicity of progamme messages remains an impossible task. If one Minister likes to put out full-page advertisements across the country's newspapers at the cost of one crore rupees a day, another Minister wants to put advertisments aimed  at Below Poverty Line families in pay-TV satellite channels!!
All this is in sharp contrast to private sector advertising, where, if your publicity is not well-researched, well-planned and effective, your product just does not sell, and your company goes broke, and you lose your job.
In the government, even if the publicity is ineffective, and even if the social "product" is not sold, nothing much happens, and there is the next budgetary allocation of huge piles of money to look forward to...
In addition to political interference, there is the bureaucratic ineptitude: in most Ministries , IEC is a minor function, looked after by a Deputy Secretary or Director who is given additional charge. Since most of these officers are not from the Information Service, they think of this as just an additional irritant, and carry out the work without flair or interest.
With this kind of systemic weaknesses, even if the funds increase, the poor are largely likely to ignore the goverment's poverty alleviation schemes, and remain,  untouched and  unaware...