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Sunday, August 15, 2010

The best speech ever written....

For the last twenty-five years, I have been listening to Indian politicians delivering speeches, on television, on radio, in parliament, and a zillion other places. Uniformly, I have found them badly written and badly delivered.
Speeches delivered extempore have been good: Vajpayee and George Fernandes used to hold the Lok Sabha spellbound when they started speaking.
But Vajpayee's written speeches were dull as ditchwater, and delivered in a deadpan voice. I remember asking Ashok Tandon, who used to be his Information Advisor, why the speeches were so poorly written, with jargon, cliches, and convoluted sentences. His one-line answer was : " That's because bureaucrats write them!"
One of the best speeches ever written, I believe, is Nehru's speech in the Central Hall of Parliament, on the eve of Independence, on August 14, 1947. The English is lean, spare and lyrical: the delivery full of emotion and rousing. Like Gandhi and Bose, his English language skills were terrific, and the accent clipped British upper-middle class.  Today's politicians, especially the younger ones, are not a patch on Nehru, Bose, Gandhi and Rajaji, even in language skills and oratory, much less other abilities. A look at that historic speech by Nehru, then, first a clipping on Youtube:

The text needs to be read, and here it goes;

"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity. 

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?

Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this Assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now.

That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.

And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this One World that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.

To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make an appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will or blaming others.

We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell. The appointed day has come-the day appointed by destiny-and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent. The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning-point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about.

It is a fateful moment for us in India, for all Asia and for the world. A new star rises, the star of freedom in the East, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materializes. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed! We rejoice in that freedom, even though clouds surround us, and many of our people are sorrow stricken and difficult problems encompass us. But freedom brings responsibilities and burdens and we have to face them in the spirit of a free and disciplined people.

On this day our first thoughts go to the architect of this freedom, the Father of our Nation [Gandhi], who, embodying the old spirit of India held aloft the torch of freedom and lighted up the darkness that surrounded us. We have often been unworthy followers of his and have strayed from his message, but not only we but succeeding generations will remember this message and bear the imprint in their hearts of this great son of India, magnificent in his faith and strength and courage and humility. We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest.

Our next thoughts must be of the unknown volunteers and soldiers of freedom who, without praise or reward, have served India even unto death. We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries and who unhappily cannot share at present in the freedom that has come. They are of us and will remain of us whatever may happen, and we shall be sharers in their good [or] ill fortune alike.

The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.

We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.

To the nations and peoples of the world we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy. And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service. Jai Hind."

That speech can be put along Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and Churchill's famous 'We shall fight them on the beaches" speech, in terms of its sheer beauty...

P.S: Wonder whether 40,000 crores spent on the Commonwealth Games fits in with "The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity." ??

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What would those idols inside the Ka'aba looked like?

Imagine this: that someone would rise up someday and say: the Tirupati temple is sacred, that is,  the structure is sacred, built in a sacred spot, but that the idol of Venkateshwara inside should not be worshipped, but should be smashed...
And then that person would say: you're worshipping the wrong way, and you need to do it my way. And then those worshippers would say: let us pray to  our Venkateshwara idol the way we want. And then that person would say: no, you need to give up that idol, but you can worship that structure in which the idol stood, and the place where it stood is holy.
So finally, a new religion is born; the worshipers of the idol finally give up the idol and the temple after years of war, and the idol is duly smashed, and the building in which the idol used to stand becomes the center of the new religion.
That, roughly, was what happened in the 7th century when the idols inside the Ka'aba were given up by the Meccan tribes, after they were militarily defeated . Prophet Mohammed smashed the idols inside, but the Ka'aba became the centre of the new religion, Islam. Muslims believe that the Kaaba is holy because it was built by the Prophet Abraham.
As an idol-worshipping Hindu myself, I always wondered what those idols would have looked like, inside the Kaaba.
Well, an ancient kingdom, Lihya, excavated in Arabia, threw up massive statues. Those statues are on  display at an exhibition in the Louvre, which is on now. Though those statues are thought to be of the Lihyan kings, they give us a clue as to how, artistically, those idols in the Kaaba may have looked like. The massive 2.5 meter polished red sandstone statues show amazing sophistication. Even more likely is another statue, with minimalist design, titled 'suffering man" which is probably closer to what those idols may have looked like.
I'm attaching a link to the exhbition, which has the pictures of both the Lihyan statue, and the 'suffering man', and details of the exhibition

You can be sure that the Saudi King, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, is not too happy with people excavating statues from Arabian sands, 14 centuries after the Prophet destroyed all the idols of Arabia....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Neo Colonialists

A hundred years back, no white man in India felt that he or she should be subjected to any laws by any "native Indian"'. Only an Englishman could judge or be trusted to judge an Englishman fairly. The result: no Indian, however senior, could be a judge over any case that involved the British. British judges, in cases which involved blatant transgressions by the whites, including murder, were mostly racist, and the accused got away lightly. The Times of India would be the watchdog for the British, utterly parochial and racist, keeping guard that no justice would ever be done to any Indian.
If you thought those days were over, you just have to follow the case of Blackberry, the global multinational which provides cellphone services across the world. In blatant violation of the conditions under which it was allowed to operate in India, it has been encrypting its services, and Indian enforcement officials have not been allowed to "listen" to selected customers.
During the Mumbai attacks, the terrorists were using Blackberries, not the "satellite phones" that we have been told they were using. Our police have neither been able to eavesdrop nor trace the calls, thanks to Blackberry's non-cooperation. But Blackberry has been allowing US officials eavesdropping facilities in America, and also other governments in much of the world. They apparently have problems only with places like India.
Blackberry had the nerve to refuse the Indian government which wanted both the code and listening facilities, at a meeting last month. The UAE banned Blackberry services after a similar refusal by Blackberry last month there, and one hopes that the Indian government follows the lead of that tiny country.
The only refreshing change has been the attitude of the cheerleaders, watching from the sidelines.Unlike Times of India a century ago, the New York Times today has a refreshingly non-racist attitude to the whole thing, which you can read below:
The NYT concludes its analysis of the case in a simple way : "But in the end, it is governments, not private industry, that rule the airwaves and the Internet. The Emirates acted understandably and appropriately: governments should not be timid about using their full powers to ensure that their law enforcement and intelligence agencies are able to keep their citizens safe."
Ofcourse, we'll probably hear the US ambassador in the next few days drop a veiled warning that banning Blackberry services in India will hit US investment, or CII/FICCI, issuing a statement, urging the Indian government to reconsider the situation in the interests of the Indian image abroad. Bet every single businessman whose company is a member of CII or FICCI is one of the estimated one million Blackberry users in times watching these jokers in action reminds one of the Marxist's axioms about the "comprador" class in each country, the handmaiden of international capital.....

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Barkha Dutt's "Scoop" : allowing Syed Geelani to preach on prime time

Anybody who has followed Syed Geelani's words and deeds over the years would know how much
of an India-hater he is, and what a Pakistan toadie he is.
The other day, I was flipping channels, and there he was, on NDTV, pontificating and posturing, pretending to be a dove.
Barkha Dutt was interviewing him, and it seemed that, in return for "scooping" other channels by allowing to be interviewed, she had decided to give him a free run.
I watched, as he spoke non-stop, mixing hate with lies, sanctimonious, and when Barkha tried to feebly interrupt,
just silencing her by raising his voice.
She looked totally out of breath, and totally out of control of her own interview.
If I were teaching journalism students how not to interview, this would be one interview I would show them: an interviewer who is ill-prepared with her questions, who is docile and awed by her subject's hostility, and finally an interviewee who can keep talking without having to pause for breath.
Geelani's ilk believe women are just animals, and  would choose an Islamic hell over a secular Heaven, given a choice. A clever interviewer would have exposed those attitudes: but I wished it was Tim Sebastien or Wolf Blitzer doing this interview: confrontational, irreverential, in-your-face, humbug-exposing...
Despite her  friendship with Omar Abdullah, Barkha Dutt is the kind who is referred to as a "heli-copter" journalist, who drops in on any news-making event, running down from Delhi, as though jumping out of a helicopter, and start yapping non-stop. That she was of the helicopter kind got confirmed, as the interview went on, and Barkha kept watching him open-mouthed, totally out of her depth...