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Friday, August 20, 2021

HOLLYWOOD DOES IT BETTER



Hollywood script writers have done way better than American policy planners and generals put together. The movies accomplish impossible missions , while the American administration not only leave their tasks unfinished , they create a huge lot of mess , leave behind their allies in the lurch ,and the believers in American superpower status in deep shit. But when it comes to cost, neither the Hollywood nor the USA worries about it , whether in terms of dollars or in terms of misery of the people whose human rights etc , etc , etc had beckoned American intervention in the first place .The US of A enters with a bang and exits with a whimper . It is by now accepted as the style statement of the super power. But their naivety is beyond imagination. Apologists say they have stitched a face saving exit by the treaty with Taliban; actually it was something much more precious they got away with, considering the predilection of the Taliban. Americans have been sleeping with Pakistan for ages and still they have not figured out whether it is their trusted “keep” or a two timing ally , their spy or a double agent.

To provide a historical context , Independence Day- a film made in 90s , is chillingly smug and self-assured in its basic assumption of the idea of a unipolar world of which America is the unquestioned leader .The experience that I was able to bring back from the viewing was an overwhelming sense of gratitude , that Americans were members of the human race and a reinforced belief that under the global leadership of America, we shall overcome even the more advanced extra-terrestrial monsters.

A satellite engineer detects a 3000 mile-wide mothership approaching the earth with none to friendly intention. Before an appropriate response could be mounted it has caused significant devastation and now America is threatened. Let that sink in- "America is threatened." It is decided that the lives of "more innocent American civilians' should not be risked". The President-a former fighter pilot dons his G-suit, helmet and gloves teams up with scientists and others who have reverse engineered the technology of the aliens to combat their design. After that it is all over. The Africans emerge then some seeming Arabs, a timely reminder that it is Americas burden to save these hapless creatures as well. Which war is unwinnable which difficulty insuperable if America is in forefront of the enterprise? Which cause, which treaty, which world order can be questioned if the Americans sponsor these? The President of America appropriately declares July 4-The American Independence Day as a day of commemoration for the entire planet which is just as well perhaps because America takes a decision and expects the world to ratify it.

Cut back to reality. James Reston, one of the most influential political commentator of his time in an interview with Paul Niven Of the National Educational Television described the American foray into Vietnam thus "(I was) worried whether we could really exercise our power all across the' Pacific Ocean...the big easy walking American kids...! saw the same kids walking in the elephant grass. They had gone to a strategy of searching the enemy and destroying him on his terms, in his country." This same millenary mission took them to the Desert Storm "we went…we didn't ask why-our country called and we felt proud".

It is the privilege of the homo Americanus to feel proud in whatever they do. Whether they rain napalm bombs on innocent civilian population or spread chemical defoliants in Vietnam or sow land mines like some malevolent tubers . To these immemorial events , we must now add some of its more recent humanitarian acts in the interest of saving democracy from non-existent WMDs . During the Iraq War, a squad of Blackwater mercenaries killed 17 civilians at Nisour Square, a traffic intersection in Bagdad. But it pales into insignificance before the much more heinous and culpable Haditha carnage. In 2005, a squad of U.S. Marines shot down 24 unarmed civilians ranging from age 3 to 76 , one of them was in a wheelchair, some still in their pyjamas in their bedrooms reviving brutalities memories of the My Lai massacre. No one, however , came to grief and even the squad leader, Staff Sergeant Frank D. Wuterich, was acquitted in a court martial. It needed telling in some detail because America keeps a very detailed account of all transgressions against Human rights all over the world.

But think what they might even the American might is worsted sometimes and they were forced to retreat from Vietnam , with as much good grace as they could, in a sticky situation. (They have overhauled this record in Afghanistan. In Vietnam there was a decent interval in the change of regime , Taliban did not even show them this courtesy).

To Hollywood now falls the task of redeeming their self-esteem which was denied them in history. Regular sorties are made in films like Lost In Action to rescue American soldiers who were taken prisoners of war by the mean and "yellow Asians." The likes of Sylvester Stallone finish the task of "destroying the enemy on his own terms in his own country", piecemeal. Unmindful of the historicity or the morality of the issues involved in Iraq , Afghanistan etc, the simplistic movies use conflict simply as a backdrop , as in Iron Man , or merely as a pretext for display of individual heroism in Lone Survivor . As an American film critic observed movies are becoming a way to create public memory.

In reality Americal also manipulates public memory. Taliban was once poison? It was the epicentre of global terrorism. Americans travelled 12,000 kms and hunted them for decades to make their homeland - and the world -safe from terrorism. In the end they departed in a spirit of bonhomie and making the gift of a fully fitted out modern military state. What happened in these twenty years? Those who know should have known, because America changes its views about worst offenders without notice.

Look at mainland China. It was not recognised by it, till 1979.As an entity it stood in the same category of political evil as Russia. Thanks to its ally Pakistan , America saw great possibilities in China. Its appalling record in human rights, organ harvesting, political executions, detention of the dissidents, and other unedifying activities suddenly ceased to matter. A well-crafted narrative made engagement not only acceptable but the Chinese isolation for so long look like a bit of a 'mistake. Mr Clinton who had squarely denounced George Bush for "coddling" to the Chinese leadership in the end decided “ Let us go and make our visit.”
The Chinese charmed the world by unrolling its Oriental pageantry at its best, something even Hollywood could be proud of , to make this event truly historic.This was a different kind of footage shot "live", but it exploited to the full the possibilities of what Umberto Eco calls "event as mise en scene and life a scene setting.' Mr. Clinton and Xiang clashed over human rights, as scripted , at Tieneman Square- the symbolism need not be lost - for the benefit of the audience back home. Clinton was fielded all the right questions at the Beijing University, and the host spared no effort to make "the democracy in Chinese village", that President Clinton saw appear credible to the rest of the world. This time round, in the interest of democracy global peace etc , America stooped to conquer the enemy, to capitulate to the enemy "in his own country on his own terms". China became wholly good.( The the process of revising the memory has been undertaken timidly. )

So are there any lessons to be learnt from Afghanistan, other than what Kissinger’s, which was not taken seriously. It is dangerous to be America’s enemy but to be its friend is fatal. To me there appear to be two: one , beware of the American bearing the gift of democracy. Two the moral capital of America is its dollar and if expenses in dollars mount , then saving dollars becomes a moral imperative greater than ushering in democracy. General Smedley Brown once said , “ The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.” The reverse is also true .If costs in dollars of a noble mission start mounting the American flag folds up ,retreats and the American soldiers follow their flag .

Sunday, August 1, 2021

AS ABOVE SO BELOW :HOW POLITICAL CONTROL OF POLICE IS THREATENING THE FEDERAL CHARACTER AND EVEN THE INTEGRITY OF THE NATION


There is nothing new to be said about our police forces , what was said fifty years ago or seventy years ago will hold good even today .Writing for The Indian Express two decades back I had said that “The growing ineffectiveness of state police forces in the face of powerful offenders creates a demand for CBI investigation, even in cases which are well within the professional and logistic competence of the state police. The CBI itself becomes eminently vulnerable to charges of bias once the affairs of the Central Government become the subject matter of enquiry. The state police forces are well on way to being reduced to a level where they will be good for nothing but ceremonial parades and watch and ward duties and a day may come when the CBI too may face an erosion of credibility. Who shall we turn to then? The Interpol, the FBI, or Scotland Yard?”
The moment of reckoning for the CBI seemed to have arrived . The family members of SSR sought the intervention of the Supreme Court to bring in the CBI . Then we are told members of SSR family seem to be distressed at the way CBI is investigating the case. What shall be done now?
The reiteration of the trite fact will help illuminate the dilemma of both police and the public. “The popular mind has a very straightforward and simple expectation from the police. It is that police should make itself useful to them in all sorts of circumstances. It is a demanding task. You cannot be useful to the victim and the offender, to the complainant as well as the accused, to the party in power and the ones in perpetual quest of wresting it, to the underprivileged and the powerful, all at the same time.” The only way in which police can navigate this situation is by remaining strictly neutral and following the dictates of law. Therein lies the rub. Police never was, nor is, the agent of law , it is the handmaiden of those who control it. The word has gotten around that those who bring to bear the most pressure on police win the day.
The organizational culture of police puts too much premium on their blind obedience of orders . Stanley Milgram, a management expert conducted a series of obedience experiments in Connecticut in 1961 and advanced a hypothesis that human beings have a natural tendency to obey men in authority and they will even stoop to needless brutality and inhumane treatment of their fellow beings should they feel so commanded by an authority. In the light of above findings we can better understand the conduct of the police force in which obedience is drilled in day in and day out. The senior police leadership of the day, and in days to come, need to be put through a crash course in disobedience to refuse to make the organization available to the dictates of political expediency. But who will do it?
One must also now admit the sad but inescapable fact that increasingly it is the criminality of various echelons of governments that often require to be investigated . The fate of political leaders holding responsible positions in governments sometimes depends on the outcome of the investigation of a criminal case. The manifest centrality of impartial investigation for the functioning of democracy can no longer be ignored . The political control of police is leading to unheard of situations. Police officers acting as flag bearers of their respective governments find themselves pitted against each other. In West Bengal it was the CBI vs local police , in the instant case an IPS officer from Bihar was incarcerated by BMC. But the worst instance of police the mistaken direction that police has taken is the exchange of fire and tragic death of police men.
“As above, so below” was one of the central tenets of the ancient hermetic philosophies – the world in which humans lived was a reflection of the glories of Heaven, but at the same time, the heavens were affected by what happened on the mortal Earth. The eternal truth, “as above so below”, holds good .

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Life In The Shadow of Covid


The decline of Covid cases to double digits ,in both Delhi and Bihar, signaled for me the opportunity to head for home.I booked my and my wife's tickets for Patna;a planned visit to Delhi for 18 days became a near permanent residency. I was under the absolute maternal care of my daughter and son in law ,and my two grandchildren but thoughts of how things might be at home never left me .
I arrived home to an uncertain welcome. The torrential rains thwarted the many attempts of the pilot to land at Patna ILS,notwithstanding.We got diverted to Varanasi and could land only after the weather at Patna had cleared .
The Covid figures have again started going up , from a low of 25 thousand sometime back to 43 thousand yesterday .Kerala accounted for more than 22 thousand of those 43 thourand , a state with less than 3 percent of the population toted up 50 % of the total number of new cases. Kerala, we are told is the most literate and progressive state. Its monitoring system was publicised as worthy of emulation. Maharashtra another standard bearer of modernity and prosperity has been consistently adding disproportionately large number of new cases .It is not in good taste to question these states. Only when poorer ,laggard states fumble , it becomes a matter of national concern . Meanwhile the two states keep the hope of an early third wave alive . Or has it already , as one report on twitter says?
Covid 19 has proved to be the greatest disruptor known to mankind in recent times. We, in India, looked for redemption in the heat of the scorching Indian summer; it was a virus of the colder climes, we told ourselves. But summer came , the way it always did, spent its fury in vain and made way for an uneventful rainy season. Covid 19, contrary to our hopes ,stood taller and firmer, if anything ,notching up new heights every day. The fabled Indian immunity, acquired by our long association with filth , dirt, lack of civic amenities , its familiarity with tuberculosis and measles did not seem to be giving us a free pass either. It was another one of those chimera which we had been pursuing!
Days passed by , seasons changed but we still had no idea how long would this ordeal continue. There seemed to be no end , no event , no hope in sight , only a paralysing sense of fear and foreboding : it could last a life time or go away in a year. Living and partly living, we pinned our hopes on 2021, in the upcoming Vaccine . Vaccine was the new redeemer!
But come 2021 and Covid 19 numbers petered off. And up surged the self-esteem of our leaders, like ink to the nib. Some needless frontier bravado and avoidable chest thumping at having defeated the disease percolated down to the grass root levels. A wave of mass delusion swept the country and people let down their guard. In The Plague in the city of Oran had similar delusions, “Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others; they forgot to be modest, that was all, and thought that everything still was possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences”
The virus bounced back with vigour and redoubled ferocity, as if to mock the vanity of human agents. While we are getting the logistic right ,we had overtaken as world leaders, notching up a figure of more than 4 lacs per day and rising . The surreality of dead bodies being cremated on pavements foregrounded our fears of an apocalypse. Those who tried to wish it away realised that , “A pestilence isn’t a thing made to man’s measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven’t taken their precautions” . Not even to a super man’s measure , one may add. The redeemer vaccine was way off in the future and has now started trickling down. The redemption had been postponed We are still bobbing up and down the second wave, but at our backs we already hear the winged chariot of the third wave hurrying near. If we are able to vaccinate a large number of people soon enough, we may open a window for some fresh air to get into our lives. We are clinging to that hope, desperately . We hope to live a little between the second and the third wave because Covid like “the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”
I guess, “That is how life will have to be: with happiness and moments of delight when all goes well, but with the threat hanging there—life set between parentheses.” as Simone de Beauvoir says in Adieu. Like the proverbial mice , we will play a while, till a fresh Covid wave sends us scurrying behind masks and for cover in our homes

Sunday, July 25, 2021

A few lines of Brecht in Hindi Translation

I guess receptivity to a particular poem, or even some lines, also depends on the mood of the moment . The most sublime poetry may sometime pass you by but something by its sheer topicality may arrest your attention. Here are a few lines of a long poem by Brecht “To those who have been brought into line," which I have read several times, appealed to me disproportionate to its poetic worth. I translated it in Hindi for a larger audience.
“They describe
The fearful misdeed as something as unremarkable as the rain
Also as unpreventable as the rain.
So, by way of their silence, they lend support to
The criminals, but soon
They will notice that in order not to lose their bread
They must not only remain silent about the truth, but also
Tell the lie. Not ungraciously
The exploiters embrace those who are prepared
“Not to lose their bread.
They do not go along like men corrupted
For they have not been given anything, rather
Nothing has yet been taken from them.
When the eulogist
Rising from the table of the powerful, opens wide his mouth
And you can see between his teeth
The remains of the meal, then you listen
To his speech with scepticism.
The exploiters embrace those who are prepared
But the eulogy of him
Who but yesterday reviled the powerful and was not invited to the victory banquet
Weighs heavier.
प्रस्तुत है इसका अनुवाद , कैसा लगा बताइयेगा .
कितनी सहजता से वे बयां करते हैं
उन भयानक कृत्यों को मानो बरसात का बरसना हो
मानो आम सी कोई घटना हो , वैसी ही अनिरोध्य ।
पर जल्द ही महसूस होने लगता है उन्हें कि अपराधियों का चुप्पा
सहयोग नाकाफी है अपनी रोज़ी रोटी बचाने के लिए ।
सिर्फ चुप्पी से काम नहीं चलेगा झूठ बोलना लाज़िमी है. ।
बहुत शालीनता से शोषक अपना लेते हैं उन्हें
जो तैयार है रोटी की कीमत चुकाने को।
चलते भी हैं वो सर उठाकर पाक साफ़ की तरह
उनके दामन पर भ्रष्टाचार का दाग नहीं ,
न उन्हें कुछ पाया , न ही उन्होंने कुछ गवायाँ
लेकिन जब चारण स्तुति गान करता है
तो उसके दांतों में फँसे हुए भोजन के अवशिष्ठ खोल देते है भेद
समर्थ लोगों के टेबल पर दावत में सहभागिता का ।
उसके वक्तव्य खो देते है विश्वसनीयता , अनायास।
लेकिन कलतक जो कोसते थे ,
विजय भोज का न्योता न पाकर .
उनकी स्तुति कुछ ज्यादा ही वजनदार होती है.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

POLICE REFORM IN A NUTSHELL

A couple of days ago I heard a retired IPS officer delivering a lecture , well researched , all the facts and figures on his fingertips, he looked east and west, gathered the best practices from USA and Japan , as models to emulate , suggested ways to harness science and technology to the service of better policing. In every such lecture the words of generations of police men and scholars are modified, revised, updated by those who come after them. It is generally believed that the police reform is an idealist problem of knowledge . Only if we knew then we would. In my younger days I also used to write for many newspapers. Like everyone else I believed that Police would be reformed . It is not so .Close to forty years in the IPS disabused me of this notion altogether. It will need considerable elaboration but I am not going to do that today.
People often ask me, as indeed they should, why are the police the way they are, hostile to people, lawless and uncaring? Depending on my mood of the moment, I tell them that police is not for those who pose such a silly question. Police is for those to whom this question never occurs. This gnomic answer either befuddles them and they clam shut or seek further clarification. Again, subject to my whims or vagaries of weather, I put a counter question: have you ever found his majesty the President of India, the PM of India, the CM of states, holders of capital, merchant bankers, complaining about police? You hear only good things about the police from any government, every government, even after its police have indulged in killing, looting, unabashed atrocities on the weaker sections. It is – has been -ideal for their purpose, for every government that has been or yet to come. Why should they reform it?
After forty years in the Indian police service if I were to give my opinion about police reform, I would keep simple : Indian police needs an Indian pill. It is no longer a matter of the much talked about nexus of crime and politics, criminality of many governments themselves is a sad, but inescapable, fact of our lives. Police officers have to internalize the fact that they are the agents of law and they - especially the IPS officers - must incorporate the habit of firmly saying “no”to illegal orders, not as a one-time act of heroism and valour but as a reflex response. Police officers seem to have forgotten this all important lesson that saves the rule of law from degenerating into rule of men.
When I find Singhams-the new breed of police officers- sprouting like mushrooms on the Facebook , their brave deeds recounted by some similar breed of journalist , I begin to wonder whether there is a nexus between deteriorating law and order and the rise of Singhams. I am reminded of the interesting observation, which many claim is based on scientific facts , “the louder the monkey, the smaller the balls.”

Sunday, July 11, 2021

No i'll not take half of anything

This is certainly not the best of Yevtushenko’s  poems but for some inexplicable reason  reading it last night, I was swept off my feet . I read it several times and then translated it in Hindi to  see if it tastes different. You may tell me , without being unduly insulting , how much of the flavour has been lost in translation. Mind you it is a translation of a translation  

No I’ll not take half of anything..

No, I'll not take the half of anything!

Give me the whole sky! The far-flung earth!

Seas and rivers and mountain avalanches-

All these are mine! I'll accept no less!

No, life, you cannot woo me with a part.

Let it be all or nothing! I can shoulder that!

I don't want happiness by halves,

Nor is half of sorrow what I want.

Yet there's a pillow I would share,

Where gently pressed against a cheek,

Like a helpless star, a falling star,

A ring glimmers on a finger of your hand.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Translated by George Reavey

कल रात येवितेशेन्को  की  उपर्युक्त अंग्रज़ी में अनूदित  कविता मन  को  छू  गयी. सोचा  इसे हिंदी में बांचते है शायद कुछ और रस  आये। इसलिए इसका अनुवाद - अनुवाद का अनुवाद - कर डाला।   पेशे खिदमत है।  आप  बताएँगे कि कैसा बन पडा  है. 

फितरत नहीं  मेरी आधा अधूरा लेने   की ,कुछ भी 

देना है तो दे  दो  मुझे पूरा का पूरा आसमान ,पूरी धरती जहाँ तक है इसका  फैलाव 

सारे  समुद्र और  सभी  नदियां, पर्वत और उसके   हिमस्खलित अंश 

सब हुए   मेरे  ,इस से कम कुछ भी स्वीकार्य  नहीं है मुझे। 

सुन ऐ  ज़िन्दगी , अधूरी तुम मुझे लुभा नहीं सकती 

ज़िन्दगी हो तो भरपूर नहीं तो कोई  परवाह  नहीं 

मुझे न तो  अधूरी ख़ुशी चाहिए न ही अधूरा ग़म 

हाँ एक तकिया साझा कर सकता हूँ.  

हलके से गाल में गाल सटाकर,

अनायास, एक  असहाय टूटकर गिरते तारे की चमक 

तुम्हारी ऊँगली  की एक अंगूठी में जगमगाती है।


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

या दिल की सुनो दुनिया वालों , या मुझको अभी चुप रहने दो , मैं ग़म को ख़ुशी कैसे कह दूँ , जो कहते हैं उनको कहने दो।

Facebook removed a post of mine on the covid crisis sometime back because it had violated some community guidelines.( whatever that may mean but Facebook claims to know what is best for the community interest )The censored post was more in the nature of anguished musings, a rhapsody meditation, a Crie de Coeur on the moral deliquescence of our society. I rued my sense of utter helplessness- and erumpent anger at the gross mismanagement – as well as my inability to make one bit of difference to the lives of people in distress, who made desperate calls for help in this hour of national crisis. The post was removed within minutes and Facebook warned me that I had violated community guidelines . The tone of the admonishment was indulgent, it said people do commit mistakes, but should I persist! I was not surprised, I did not take umbrage . Facebook is the new opium, and I know how the west had turned oriental addiction to good account in the past . History records that East India Company had come to trade and took control of our lives. It seemed so natural, that I almost ridiculed myself for the first impulse to quit Facebook as a bit of theatrical excess.
The custodians of the representation of reality in a society view themselves in exclusively political terms and they are intolerant of any other reality that is inconsistent with the official account of things . That is why dispensations where only a single reality holds sway, writers are reduced to silence by expulsions, arrests, or by simply being cut-off from all realities for good. Capitalist and communist systems may appear to be hostile and mutually exclusive but they appear to be united in abusing their power in silencing dissent .
But why should ordinary people, people who haltingly and hesitantly string together a few words for the consumption of a few friends be a matter of concern to authorities? Do they seem to believe what Simon de Beauvoir says in her autobiography Adieu that “there are always words of this kind, thrown out absent-mindedly, which are like the absent-minded smoker’s match in some forest…and which set the whole lot ablaze.” In their anxiety they exaggerate the potential of idle musings of insignificant people. Don’t worry Facebook we are not only non combustible , we are inert matter.
The linguist Dan Jurafsky writes of a phenomenon called semantic bleaching, in which words, most often in the affective realm, lose their power with the passage of time, or as George Orwell says because of the lies that they are made to convey. The “awe” fades from “awesome” and the horror is drained out of “horrible” . A tragic spectacle loses its tragedy and remains merely a spectacle. I am reading and hearing a lot of things about my beloved state of Bihar, but unfortunately I am very bad at semantic bleaching . All that I can say is या दिल की सुनो दुनिया वालों , या मुझको अभी चुप रहने दो , मैं ग़म को ख़ुशी कैसे कह दूँ , जो कहते हैं उनको कहने दो।