Arundhati Roy and Indian De-MOCK-racy

Speaking her mind Arundhati Roy’s views on the Kashmir issue have invited brickbats from all possible quarters (Tehelka). PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

The democratic tradition in India is only skin deep. It’s as superficial as the skins or membranes we buy to put on expensive cellphones and other gadgets. You realize this whenever a public figure criticizes the government, or generally adopts an unpopular position.  How dare they? A virtual fatwa is issued against the offending party by irate citizens with not even the slightest pretence that they might have the right to express their views, whatever these may be. So after weeks of outrage expressed on Twitter about the writer Arundhati Roy’s stance on Kashmir (that it should be allowed to secede) today the inevitable happened. A horde of protestors accompanied by TV cameras lynched the writer’s home, vandalizing property and shouting slogans at her and her family.

As fellow writer Salil Tripathi tweeted: Everytime Arundhati Roy writes or speaks, she incites people and there’s unrest, demonstrations, and threats of violence: erm, against her.

If only people would get their knickers in as much of a knot over serious things like the corruption that was highlighted during the Commonwealth Games or the scandal over the Chief Minister of Maharashtra allotting several posh apartments in a fancy building to himself and family members. To make matters worse the building “originally meant to be a six-storey structure to house Kargil war heroes and widows … was later converted into a 31-storey tower, apparently in violation of environmental laws,” and divided up among top politicians and army personnel in Mumbai.

How on earth is it that in the face of such crimes people can find the time to lynch a writer merely for expressing her views? And even if some people were foolish enough to do this how come members of the media accompanied the unruly protestors to the location and stood by doing nothing while the writer’s house was attacked? Is this the Indian version of ‘embedded media’? Below is the statement issued by Arundhati Roy on the mob attack this morning.

SOMETHING FOR THE MEDIA TO THINK ABOUT

Arundhati  Roy

October 31st 2010

A mob of about a hundred people arrived at my house at 11 this morning (Sunday October 31st 2010.) They broke through the gate and vandalized property. They shouted slogans against me for my views on Kashmir, and threatened to teach me a lesson. The OB Vans of NDTV, Times Now and News 24 were already in place ostensibly to cover the event live.  TV reports say that the mob consisted largely of members of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha (Women’s wing). After they left, the police advised us to let them know if in future we saw any OB vans hanging around the neighborhood because they said that was an indication that a mob was on its way. In June this year, after a false report in the papers by Press Trust of India (PTI) two men on motorcycles tried to stone the windows of my home. They too were accompanied by TV cameramen.

What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the ‘scene’ in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime? This question is important, given that some TV channels and newspapers are in the process of brazenly inciting mob anger against me. In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred. So what if a few people have to be sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings? The Government has indicated that it does not intend to go ahead with the charges of sedition against me and the other speakers at a recent seminar on Azadi for Kashmir. So the task of punishing me for my views seems to have been taken on by right wing storm troopers. The Bajrang Dal and the RSS have openly announced that they are going to “fix” me with all the means at their disposal including filing cases against me all over the country. The whole country has seen what they are capable of doing, the extent to which they are capable of going. So, while the Government is showing a degree of maturity, are sections of the media and the infrastructure of democracy being rented out to those who believe in mob justice? I can understand that the BJP’s Mahila Morcha is using me to distract attention the from the senior RSS activist Indresh Kumar who has recently been named in the CBI charge-sheet for the bomb blast in Ajmer Sharif in which several people were killed and many injured. But why are sections of the mainstream media doing the same? Is a writer with unpopular views more dangerous than a suspect in a bomb blast? Or is it a question of ideological alignment?

One of the best responses to the entire situation came from Vir Sanghvi. In a cunningly argued article in the Hindu Times he asks a crucial question and then provides the answer:
Is the damage to India so great that it justifies curtailing free speech?

Obviously, it isn’t. No violence followed her statements and nor did she incite it. Moreover, there will still be an India with Kashmir as an integral part of it long after Roy herself is forgotten.

So, let’s just cool down. We have a perfect right to dislike Roy. We are entirely justified in being angered by her statements. But the moment we compromise on the principles that make us a liberal society —especially when her remarks pose no real threat to us at all — we start playing her game.

We become the repressive, authoritarian society she suggests we already are.

The Indian Mujahideen and the Commonwealth Games

As i sit here listening to samples of songs on the split personality riddim, one of the latest products from Kingston’s teeming studios, I’m actually battling a sense of dread. News has just come of an attack on tourists in India’s capital Delhi, two weeks ahead of the nineteenth staging of the Commonwealth Games there. The attack was accompanied by an email to the Indian media from a group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen. They want vengeance and are threatening retaliation for alleged atrocities in Kashmir. Congratulating India on its hosting of the CWG, the email goes on to say:

“Rejoice! We will now rightfully play Holi with your blood in your own cities. Scores of fidayeen are restless to drop the Evil ones into the hellfire… we Warn you to host the Commonwealth games if you have a grain of salt. We know that preparations for the games are at its peak; Beware!! We too are preparing in full swing for a Great Surprise! The participants will be solely responsible for the outcome, as our bands of Mujahideen love death more than you love life. In Kashmir you have succeeded in usurping our Right of self-determination with all your Chanakya policies.”

The language is accidentally poetic in places, occasionally striking a tragicomic note: Remember! As we bleed, so will you seep…

It’s hard not to weep. India presents a large, slow-moving target and is inadequately equipped to deal with the fallout from situations like the long-standing war over Kashmir. Just yesterday we (#JNSS) distributed “safety catalogues” to foreign tourists in Paharganj came a tweet from Delhi.

Only a short while ago India was faced with the prospect of shooting young 9 and 10 year old boys in Kashmir who were pelting stones at the army. Today the situation in Kashmir has escalated to the point where the nation is now being held hostage. Perhaps its time to let go? Incidentally  Arundhati Roy’s advocacy of independence for Kashmir (see video at the end of this post) was one of the issues that earned the person tweeting in her name the wrath of Indian tweeters.

A recent article What Are Kashmir’s Stone Pelters Saying to Us? (Economic and Political Weekly, VOL 45 No. 37 September 11 – September 17, 2010) summed up the problem well:

Like an obstinate nightmare, Kashmir has returned to haunt India’s political discourse, in this third consecutive summer of massive protests. For almost two months now we are witnessing the brazen  courage of Kashmiri youth, armed with stones in their hands, in groups of no more than a few hundred at a time, taking on Kashmir’s much vaunted “security grid”. This carefully welded network deploys at least 6,00,000 soldiers in uniform, and another 1,00,000 “civilian” intelligence and surveillance operatives. But pinned down by this summer’s showers of carefully aimed rocks, the grid has begun to appear clumsy and vulnerable.

As the sang-bazan, the stone-pelters, insolently stormed into prime time, they brought with them an intensity that made the newspaper pundits, and the usual chorus of television-studio experts, briefly wilt. Images of boys as young as nine and ten being dragged off into police vehicles, or shot dead by the paramilitary forces, have begun to dent conventional truisms about what is happening in Kashmir. Startling photographs of middle-aged (and middle class) women in the ranks of the stone-pelting protesters have also destabilised those who have hidden behind a morbid panic of the “Islamists”, or the fear of Pakistan’s venality, to obscure their understanding of events in the Valley. Although reluctant to grant this uprising the same political pedigree, at least some Indians seem to be curling their tongues around the word intifada. On the whole, the David and Goliath disproportion of the protests, and its sheer effrontery, has begun to capture the imagination of a growing number of people in India.  So beyond their furious defiance, what are Kashmir’s stone-pelters saying to us?

Channeling Arundhati Roy…*Twirl*



So @arundhati_roy is no more. Today a Twitter campaign is afoot asking @Twitter how come twitter.com/Arundhati_Roy was suspended. The answer is simple. It was suspended because the account was set up and operated by someone other than the famous writer. A New York City based-graphic artist has claimed she was the one tweeting in Roy’s name and as she herself put it “I wish @arundhati_roy was coming back, too…but being too much like her is misleading apparently…”

I don’t remember exactly when the Twitter account in the novelist’s name began transmitting but when I started following her she had less than 50 followers. She surprised me with how adept she seemed to be at manipulating the medium for I had always imagined that Roy might be somewhat hostile to new technologies, considering her sustained and caustic critique of the exigencies of market capitalism.

After all wasn’t it she, in the astoundingly successful God of Small Things, who had lamented the Procrustean packaging of Kathakali, Kerala’s epic performance artform, into byte-sized morsels that tourists could fit into their schedules?

In the evenings (for that Regional Flavor) the tourists were treated to truncated kathakali performances (`Small attention spans,” the Hotel People explained to the dancers). So ancient stories were collapsed and amputated. Six-hour classics were slashed to twenty-minute cameos.

But there was something about @arundhati_roy’s tweets that made me certain this was the writer herself. I actually quoted her tweets in 3 different posts. Her bio read: I’m bored with globalisation. You can see it in my face. I, alone, am Moral, lest, Moral-Less, More or Less. Amor, alas… It was her way with words, her verbal economy, her taut, tart wit that I imagined I recognized; it made me write the following, now eminently cringeworthy, paragraph:

People seemed to doubt that it was really her but i didn’t need persuading, I recognized her voice immediately. “Flags are bits of coloured cloth that governments use to first, shrink wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.” “Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story.” And something i profoundly agree with her on: “Democracy is the biggest scam in the world.” Last week Thursday Roy only had 75 or so followers, today its 905. Let’s see how many more she attracts by the time she really gets going.

That was in April. By the time the account was suspended in August it had approximately 9000 followers.

I wanted to get 10k…then I was going to quit it and say, Up yours, @KanchanGupta. I don’t even know who he is, but he’s just been an ass@JonBenetRamsey told me via Twitter’s direct message (DM) feature saying that she, or the person behind her pseudonym (Twitter bio: If you love me *twirl* with me. No pageantry here. Just high fashion sheeit *smacks ass and stomps away* *twirl* and *wink*), was the one who had operated the account. She DM-ed me after my post  ‘A Voice for the Voiceless’: @Arundhati_Roy vs Arundhati Roy was published.

In the days leading up to the account’s suspension @KanchanGupta (editor of North Indian newspaper The Pioneer) had been ferocious: @Arundhati_Roy Pakistan wants you. Pakistan needs you. Won’t you rise to the occasion and buy a one-way ticket to the promised land? Another tweeter who relentlessly hounded @arundhati_roy was @Shonatwits.

Funnily enough it was one of @arundhati_roy’s tweets featuring Kanchan Gupta that had previously persuaded me that this was actually the writer Arundhati Roy. Months ago the crusty editor had engaged in an exchange of tweets with @arundhati_roy that sounded positively flirtatious by the end of it. There was talk of meeting up for drinks with @Arundhati_Roy purring We must. You look like a dark liquor on the rocks kind of man…

It was her, i thought, she’s trying to disarm her critics; for no one could have been a harsher and more dismissive anti-Roy voice than Kanchan Gupta. And here he was seemingly eating out of her hands. I was filled with admiration.

“She’s a fake,” urged the sensible voice of Bombay-based @rimeswithcya, “though she does have a sense of humour”. How do you know i asked? One of her tweets was a quote from Bono, she replied.

Well, @rimeswithcya was right. When i eventually got to interrogate @arundhati_roy’s author about some of the mystifying non sequiturs she tweeted in the waning days of the account she admitted: I made a habit of quoting pop/rock songs in the final stages of that account…What Roy writes I see in America, where I live. I’m in NYC…

So, thank you for all your kind words about @Arundhati_Roy…She was truly my finest creation…*twirl* said @JonBenetRamsey when i first heard directly from her via Twitter. Her trademark aside–*twirl*–is an ironic reference to the modelling career of the precocious American child beauty queen, Jon Benet Ramsey, brutally murdered at her Colorado home in 1996.

I asked her to tell me more about why she chose @Arundhati_Roy as her Twitter handle. I have read everything by Arundhati Roy…She’s fantastic. But when I started the account, I wanted to make it more of a tribute… When the initial hate mail came in, it was a little unexpected. I was kind of alarmed, and didn’t know how to respond, except obviously… But, yes, I did quote U2 Sunday, Bloody Sunday. It was genius. And thanks for saying I was good at being Roy’s twitterer. I honestly thought she wouldn’t mind, to be honest. And I refused to say anything too off the mark.

Twitter just suspended the account. It was pretty clear I wasn’t her & she probably had a lawyer communicate impersonation. It’s upsetting. It’s interesting bc I was gonna do inspirational quotes, but I discovered a perspective that alarmed me, & the accnt became an experiment. The Naxal Movement is new to me for the most part.

I particularly like watching her on YouTube. She’s beautiful and intelligent. And generous. And a little haughty. Thus the bio line.

I asked @JonBenetRamsey about the mysterious image she had tweeted the link to one day. Was it tiny children’s toys on a chapati? an appam? a dosa? as various tweeters had speculated at the time?

…the image is of a family farm in Pakistan after the flood…So sad… I saw the image, and I wanted to just put it out there. We got such a reaction to Haiti’s earthquake, but this ended up having three times more damage…but where were the televised charities and such? Nothing here, really. Just more anti-Muslim rhetoric…which sickens me…

How did she manage to get the tone so right so often, i asked.

If i wanted to reply to someone, and sound accurate, i would refurbish a quote from her. Because she’s always very consistent. Easy, too… I love Arundhati Roy. I don’t think people understand how she thinks because people aren’t ready to admit their own privileges happen to…..exist at the expense of another person, or group of people. That’s why she said that the American way of life is unsustainable……and that way of life, democracy, is becoming synonymous with so many terms, including capitalism and sometimes christian……It’s a new way of waging war & creating empires…by allying yourself with like nations…and that’s why some injustices go unreported…

…She’s very consistent. And I can usually apply things she’s written about, say, Palestine to the Maoist conflict. I mean, ultimately…that dialogue is going to be an even more religiously based conversation between the indian public and the media. Anti-Muslim rhetoric… Have you read The Family? It’s amazing, I suggest it. It’s about evangelical Christianity and American Democracy…

I asked if the hostile tweets that came pouring in were responses to @arundhati_roy’s tweets or to the real life position and actions of the Indian writer and activist (see here for some of these tweets). Roy’s engagement with Maoists and Pakistan, which she visited in 2009, have earned her the wrath of quite a few Indians.

The hostile comments I received were usually responses to things people had heard about her, whether from the news or other bloggers……I always received things like, “What if your mother was on that train the Maoists bombed?” or something similar, and I’d routinely be……villified. People weren’t ever satisfied. Why are you worrying about Pakistan when this happened in Kashmir? She had to point out……every wrong, or she seemed like a fake activist. & that’s a lot of responsibility 2 put on 1 person, who isn’t even into policy making…

Did she feel a sense of loss at losing the account so suddenly? Did she have an account in her own name as well?

…And I don’t feel loss really for the account. I never suspected it’d get suspended, tho. It was an experiment in language. I loved it. i also have a twitter account in my own name…it’s kept private…few private details…@JonBenetRamsey is my release…Since I’m like a little girl…

*Twirl* i could almost add…

Well, there you have it, @arundhati_roy was certainly a fake, but the most empathetic, persuasive fake you could come across, a fascinating character in her own right. The woman who operated the account seemed to be performing Arundhati Roy, channeling her even. And I for one miss her tweets.

Immediately below are three tweets in which she quoted song lyrics along with info on the songs themselves. They’re great songs, I enjoyed listening to them, especially Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights…

I am in love with what we are, and not what we “should” be. And I am. I am starstruck with every part of this whole story.
Kesha (Animal)

Lost inside.
Adorable illusion and I cannot hide.
I’m the one you’re using, please don’t push me aside.

Blondie (Heart of Glass)

Bad dreams in the night, they told me I was going to lose the fight. Leave behind my wuthering heights
Kate Bush (Wuthering Heights)

When I feel like I don’t belong, draw the strength from the words when you said, Hey, It’s about you, baby. Look deeper inside you, baby
Janet Jackson, (Together Again)

POSTSCRIPT:

Since posting this @jonbenetramsey has informed me that she’s a guy. ok, this is entirely my fault, I leapt to the conclusion that the account holder was a woman–social conditioning? myopia? who knows why?–and never actually posed that question. I like that you think i’m a girl. lols. he tweeted after reading my post. To my chagrined response he tweeted the following:

Lol…I’m a gay man…But a young one. That’s why I think the flirtation between me and Kanchan Gupta was hilarious…he’s so Brokeback…

What can i say? Everyday i learn a hundred new things through Twitter! Highly recommend, it’s the twenty-first century version of a free education.

‘A Voice for the Voiceless’: @Arundhati_Roy vs Arundhati Roy

I like the way the author of this virtual poster has co-opted former US President Bush into such a neatly executed visual sabotage rescue mission. The USA’s political shenanigans. Will Obama survive the concerted effort to derail him? Waiting and watching…

Meanwhile the following terse message arrived by email this morning:

i am Mrs. Bintu Mahmud. Please contact my lawyer Ramli Sariman (barr_ramli_sariman09@gala.net) for a very important thing ALLAH wants you to do for Him. May ALLAH be with you always.

Surely no practising Muslim would be foolish enough to circulate such a message in today’s climate. Is it part of some anti-Islam campaign? All i know is that Yahoo has been really good about catching all such Spam messages with its filters, i wonder how this one escaped?

And by snail mail i received a tiny envelope, the kind the postman leaves for you before Christmas, postmarked Trinidad and Tobago. Inside: two business card-sized cards. You are not who we thought you were, says one, and We are not who you had in mind proclaims the other in 14-point serif type. On the back of each card is a green star in the upper left corner and –Les Argotieres, in the bottom right corner. My address is written in ink on the envelope in chiselled letters by a calligraphic hand. Is this a new company? an advertising campaign of some sort? What? Who? One awaits full revelations at the earliest.

Finally @Arundhati_Roy whom many believed to be the author of The God of Small Things has had her Twitter account suspended. I had written about the purported Roy account in its early days. More recently Roy’s Twitter avatar has been proclaimed a fake, something i find hard to believe, the tweets were so typical of Roy’s taut, tart x-ray observations on life in the late capitalist lane. What we do know is that before the account was suspended @Arundhati_Roy came under attack for views the activist had expressed on Pakistan and India’s Maoists among other things. Below are her/his last few tweets and some tweets from Roy’s critics. For convenience I have prefixed @Arundhati_Roy’s tweets with the label ARoy:

ARoy: As long as your heart beats, make sure it’s with good intentions… RT @vjlive: @Arundhati_Roy Should a good heart need contours to beat…
Wed 18 Aug. 12.46

ARoy: “Businesses resist ‘conflict minerals’ law.” First the Congo, then where? Who will mine the bauxite? http://bit.ly/dA9bAB
Wed 18 Aug. 2.31

ARoy: Glad you have that philosophy. Suiting you well? RT @krishnakacker: Unfortunately, the way to hell is also paved with good intentions!
19 Aug 14.14

ARoy: When I feel like I don’t belong, draw the strength from the words when you said, Hey, It’s about you, baby. Look deeper inside you, baby…
19 Aug 14.17

@KanchanGupta @Arundhati_Roy Pakistan wants you. Pakistan needs you. Won’t you rise to the occasion and buy a one-way ticket to the promised land?
19 Aug 14.19

ARoy: @KanchanGupta tickets i find are never one way. I have places to go. This WORLD is my home…Go be antagonistic to someone who cares for it.
19 Aug 14.20

@KanchanGupta @Arundhati_Roy I wouldn’t dare antagonise you, what with your bum-chums with big-big guns.
19 Aug 14.23

@Arundhati_Roy By the way, Maomata recently told me you are a “claash owan frawd” and a “tormooj” — green outside, red inside.
19 Aug 14.28

@Dilir123 @Arundhati_Roy earlier asked you a question. Just saw myself how an indian j0urno hates you! you were very calm. i’m not paki nor indi just
19 Aug 15.21

@Arundhati_Roy just a bangladeshi want to knw what did you do/write that these ppl r so mad about?
19 Aug 15.26

ARoy: @Dilir123 I think that one whom you’re speaking of is just jealous that I have a few more followers than him. Just ignore him… #noisemaker
19 Aug 15.51

ARoy: maybe in US RT @aurosan: Up to 10% of Pakistanis might die due to cholera in water http://bit.ly/9bhAZH Why isn’t anyone talking about this?
19 Aug 14.35

ARoy: Bad dreams in the night, they told me I was going to lose the fight. Leave behind my wuthering heights…
20 Aug 8.39

ARoy: http://bit.ly/bV0F1j
20 Aug 10.04

ARoy: I family on their lot in Pakistan, yes. RT @Libraryben: Pakistan? RT @Arundhati_Roy: http://bit.ly/bV0F1j
20 Aug 13.04

ARoy: If caring for ppl not part of a political agenda makes me one, so be it RT @mahasamant: @Arundhati_Roy PAKISTAN GIVES YOU POPULARITY#TRAITOR
20 Aug 13.04

@Shonatwits @Arundhati_Roy When you can serve people at your door step what will you serve in Pakistan? Stop this hypocrisy u r just losing ur respect!
20 Aug 13.19

ARoy: @Shonatwits Statements have been stated. Press releases have been released…Criticize policy makers, not a voice for the voiceless…
20 Aug 13.22

ARoy: Lost inside adorable illusion, and I cannot hide. I’m the one you’re using, please don’t push me aside…
20 Aug 13.26

@Arundhati_Roy Ms. Roy, you ROCK.
20 Aug 13.57

ARoy: @aseemvadehra what “rocks” is reading the critics disassemble that one…
20 Aug 14.02

ARoy:  I am in love with what we are, and not what we “should” be. And I am. I am starstruck with every part of this whole story…
23 Aug 03.07

I echo the question asked by one of the tweeple quoted above: Arundhati Roy what did you do/write that these ppl r so mad about? Because their questions were addressed to the author and activist regardless of who was tweeting in her name…

A Few of my Favourite Posts/Essays/Tweets

Arundhati Roy: Photo taken from http://noliesradio.org/archives/6572

A few days ago @Arundhati_Roy tweeted the following:

Men have become the tools of their tools. – Henry David Thoreau

There were many retweets (RTs) and responses to Roy’s update of her timeline with Thoreau’s dry observation; there was one brief rally that aptly illustrated the essence of Thoreau’s  point, and being Twitter, did so with economy:

but is there any escape from that ? asked @sreecube.

certainly not with an iPhone 4 came the answering stop volley from Roy, irrevocably staunching the conversation. One-love.

Novelist and  political critic Arundhati Roy recently came in for some sledgehammer criticism from a reviewer in The New Republic: The New Republic excoriates Arundhati Roy as a ‘reactionary’ tweeted @harikunzru; others also remarked on the harshness of the critique lobbed at the petite activist and writer.

Titled ‘The Reactionary’ the review of Roy’s latest book Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers aimed to take apart the Indian writer’s ‘assault on democracy’, and what it called the ‘righteous hyperbole’ enlisted in her often cogent critique of the free-market capitalism-sponsored ‘democratic’ rituals we live daily. There have been many times when i’ve thought Roy has gone overboard in the tone and strategy of her critical project  but she remains one of the most active voices raising questions and casting doubt on our ‘corporate present’, as Andrew Ross neatly terms the contemporary obsession with ‘enterprise’–literally the zeitgeist of buying and selling–to the detriment of true democracy.

Her Twitter bio playfully proclaims her outlook:

I’m bored with globalisation. You can see it in my face. I, alone, am Moral, lest, Moral-Less, More or Less. Amor, alas…

I’m deliberately not linking to The New Republic article in this post because i don’t see why i should promote it; you can google and find it if you really want to read it.  Roy is obviously hitting her mark if the conservative mainstream US media find it necessary to use such demolition tactics. Go deh Arundhati!

In the rest of this post i’m going to share links to some excellent articles i came across last week.

Taken from Digital Inspiration

First there was I Tweet, Therefore I Am, a New York Times magazine article about how tweeting changes you, how it alters the way you look at things but also the way you present yourself to the world; Twitter as performance. It reminded me of the frustration i felt some months ago when trying to persuade a friend that she needed to get on Twitter asap if she was interested in promoting the research she was doing. “Oh, i’ll just get my assistant to do it for me,” was her response. Do you send your assistant to the gym when you want to get fit i asked, after which i relapsed into silence, because i didn’t have the words to describe the range of effects Twitter has on one. Well this article makes the argument i would have tried to make, while adding several insights really worth sharing. Read it if you’re interested in exploring the new ‘ways we live now’ (or the way some of us live now, i should hastily add, having no desire to incur Arundhati Roy’s wrath here).

Then, if you don’t know him already, let me introduce you to Tunku Varadarajan, who writes for The Daily Beast. “What Does Julian Assange Want?” asks @Tunku inviting us to ‘shower the attention-craving, vainglorious “truth-seeker” with our contempt’. According to Tunku “Assange is the founder and prime mover of WikiLeaks, a shadowy, show-offy little outfit that last week unloaded into the public domain vast quantities of classified American military intelligence stolen from the vaults of the war in Afghanistan.”

Bob Englehart, copyright 2010 Cagle Cartoons

In intent and tactic the article is trying to do just what the New Republic critic attempted with Arundhati Roy. It’s just that Tunku is far more adept at it, and ultimately more convincing i think:

These latest leaks weren’t, of course, Assange’s debut on the world stage. This episode was preceded by “Collateral Murder,”  his own Breitbart Moment, when he infamously edited the leaked video of a gunship attack by U.S. forces in Iraq to make it appear more damnable. How is that different from the editing, by Andrew Breitbart, of the clip of the lady from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the NAACP meeting? The New York Times wouldn’t touch anything Breitbart was peddling, but it gave Assange, who professes not to know where these documents came from, the full Pentagon Papers treatment.

In What’s the big deal about Blogging? Amit Varma, the author of India Uncut, recounts his own engagement with the medium of blogging and its impact on his life:

Over the last seven years, blogging has changed my life. As a medium, it has offered me opportunities I did not have as a mainstream journalist. It has broadened and deepened my perspectives of the world around me. It has sharpened my craft as a writer. It has introduced me to ideas and people I’d never otherwise have known.

I discovered Varma, along with most of the other Indian bloggers and Tweeters, in the wake of the attack on the Bombay Palace hotel in Mumbai a couple of years ago. He is also the editor of the opinion section of Yahoo News India where this post appeared.

Andrew Ross

In The Case for Scholarly Reporting, prolific documenter and critic of American culture, Andrew Ross, writes a really engaging account of his search for a voice and orientation as a public intellectual who has tried to marry ethnography with investigative journalism in his practice. In the process of mapping his own trajectory Ross also fluidly sketches the movement in leftwing scholarship over the last few decades and the history of the field of American Studies.

. . . it took me a long time to work off the habits of my training and find my own voice as a practitioner of scholarly reporting—the genre in which I have come to feel most comfortable. There were particular obstacles in the path. I had been trained, first and foremost, as a “reader,” alert, above all, to decoding the secret life of words. This meant that I was not a very good listener, especially to the spoken testimony of others.

By the way Andrew has written about Jamaican culture and music in his 1998 essay “Mr. Reggae DJ, Meet the International Monetary Fund in which he describes reggae as “the sound of cultural justice worldwide”. The essay documents the rise of ‘cultural’ reggae, and speculates on its emergence at that particular moment. In the process he disproves Ian Boyne’s thesis that it is a clutch of star-struck University of the West Indies academics who’ irresponsibly’ promote dancehall and DJs by focusing benevolent analytical attention on them. But more on all that in a post on the subject at some later date.

A Hazel Dooney watercolour

In a really good post on copyright, new media and artists’ rights blogger Barney Davey republishes a blogpost by Australian artist Hazel Dooney, one of the most outspoken writers i’ve come across. Dooney who blogs frankly about her life as a successful artist operating without a backing gallery, her fragile psychological states, her admission to a medical facility and her escape from it has useful knowledge to impart on how and when to assert one’s copyright in a world mediated by the internet. As Davey says:

I believe what Dooney is stressing is important and that we cannot avoid assessing the reality of how digital media and our interconnectedness truly have changed everything. What was will never be again. Facing what is and making it work for you is the only reality and only way to make headway in the shifting paradigms we face. Sitting still is not the answer. The famous Will Rogers saying hold’s up well here. “Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.”

And finally a really funny one: 5 things you should know before dating a journalist:

We don’t take shit from anyone, so don’t lie to us or give a load of bullshit. We spend all day separating fact from fiction, listening to PR cronies and dealing with slimy politicians. If you make us do the same with you, you’re just gonna piss us off. And don’t think we’ll be quiet about it. We’ll respond with the vengeance of an Op-Ed page railing against society’s injustices — and we’ll enjoy doing it.

Just tell us the truth. We can handle it.

Hope you enjoy these picks from my weekly archive of favourite articles, blogposts, tweets and random texts and images.

MY Dad, IIMA and CK Prahalad

The parents trying to beat their rivals, the rat bats,

to the fruit of this chikoo or naseberry tree.


The parents were just here on a visit. This was probably their ninth or tenth time here and they spent two and a half weeks during which my Dad celebrated his 80th birthday. It’s quite amazing having your parents depend on you for a change, however briefly. Well, of course, assuming that you aren’t normally one of their main sources of support. One of my friends, all of 25 years old, is putting his Mom through university. Seriously. Not for nothing is he known as Biggy.

My parents, on the contrary, like most Indian parents, want to look after us from the cradle to the grave, if possible. Try telling them that you CAN cross a road alone by now or that you figured out how to use the toilet without their help some decades ago. They just won’t buy it, they’re still in instructional mode. Do this, don’t do that, if you do this remember that etc…What is your cholesterol level, they demand and your bank balance. I mean one can’t complain especially if they’re given to enhancing the latter from time to time.

At the age of 80 my father is moving like a 60-yr old. Resident in Bangalore he was in Turkey the week before leaving for Jamaica and in Manila the month before–on work, no less. In fact the parents arrived bearing Turkish Baklava among other things, a delightful way to gain weight, if you must.

Unfortunately for them it wasn’t just my son and me who were delighted to receive the parents; a flotilla of mosquitoes also arrived to meet and greet them, extending their visit to the duration of their stay. Even the heat waved at my parents though on my father’s birthday, April 11, the drought finally broke. Everything is now satisfactorily green and the water shortage has briefly abated.

 

One of the things i had asked my parents to bring me from their home in Bangalore was a beautiful rosewood plaque my Dad was given by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) (see above), when he retired from there in 1984. The plaque is a replica in silver and rosewood of the stunning Siddi Saiyad Jaali, one of the screen windows at the Siddi Saiyad mosque in the centre of the old city. The arched, semicircular window portrays a beautiful Peepal tree with curving, sinuous, intertwined branches, intricately carved out of yellow stone to give the effect of filigree. There is also a palm tree in the centre. It is a stunning example of sixteenth-century stone tracery decorating a mosque built in 1573 by a Siddi General. The Siddis are Africans who have been living in India for centuries. More on them in a future post.



When IIMA was set up in collaboration with the Harvard Business School in the early 60s its logo incorporated a simplified version of the Sidi Saiyad Jaali. I wish i knew who the designer was. Whoever it was I’m grateful to them for presenting me as a child with this fine exemplar of graphic design, this ingenious conversion of a centuries old emblem of vernacular visual culture into a twentieth century symbol or trademark. It signalled the best possible use of India’s iconic ancient heritage, yoking it with modern typography to produce a memorable brandmark for one of India’s most avant garde institutions. To this day the IIMA logo remains a most elegant and sophisticated trademark, an ingenious marriage of the Oriental, the Islamic and the modern.


Sidi Saiyeed Mosque in Ahmedabad, India, Nichalp, 28-Jan-2006
Louis Kahn designed the IIMA campus see above; note the arched windows echoing the numerous arches to be found in traditional Ahmedabad architecture.

I had the good fortune to grow up in Ahmedabad, specifically on the campus of the Louis Kahn-designed IIMA where my father worked from 1963 to 1984. “According to the Economist‘s survey of global business schools in 2009, IIMA is considered to be the “toughest in the world to get into” as over 600 people compete for every seat.” One of its earliest graduates, Batch of ’66, was CK Prahalad whose untimely demise last week shocked management circles all over the world. Dr. Prahalad was the author of the New York Times bestseller, “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits”.

Source: http://www.the-south-asian.com/Feb%202003/Davos%202003-South%20Asian%20voice.htm

Professor CK Prahalad

As the Hindu put it:

Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad, 68, Distinguished Professor in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, and a world authority on management thought, passed away on Friday in San Diego after a brief illness. He was known for his work specialising in corporate strategy focussing on top management in large, diversified, multinational corporations.

Professor Prahalad’s seminal work, alongside Gary Hamel in the 1990s, on the concept of “core competence” of companies won the McKinsey Prize and sold the maximum number of reprints in the entire 80-odd years of history of its publisher, the prestigious Harvard Business Review.

In his paper with Hamel, he urged corporate leaders to think of diversified company as a tree: “The trunk and major limbs as core products, smaller branches as business units, leaves and fruit as end products. Nourishing and stabilising everything is the root system: core competencies.”

He was also known widely for his interest in the “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” and his book on the subject is considered an authoritative exposition of the potential for large corporations to improve the conditions of the poor in countries such as India. They could do so, he argued, by “mobilising investment capacity [along with] the commitment of NGOs and the communities that need help.” The poor must become active, informed and involved consumers, he urged.

Yet Professor Prahalad’s illustrious career was not restricted to academe: he equally established his reputation as a corporate consultant par excellence, working with a wide cross-section of companies from the CEOs of the top 30 Fortune 200 firms to Hindustan Lever Limited and Microsoft Corporation, India.

Very few people know that CK was my Dad’s student and protege in those early years at IIMA. By the time he graduated CK had impressed his professors enough for them to arrange for him to proceed to Harvard to get a Ph. D in Business Administration. IIMA underwrote the expenses on condition that CK return to teach there for a minimum of five years when he obtained his doctorate.

As agreed CK came back to teach at IIMA in the mid-seventies; by then my father was director of the Institute. Soon after returning CK received an offer from University of Michigan to teach there, one he apparently couldn’t refuse. He left IIMA before serving the full five years of his bond, a fact the Ahmedabad newspapers made a lot of at the time, with headlines such as “IIM Professor leaves country like a thief in the night.”

For years after that when i heard news of CK’s successes in the US I would relay it to my Dad but he would make a wry face and turn away. He had been sorely disappointed by CK’s premature departure from IIMA and never quite forgave him. But when i told him on the morning of April 17th after checking my twitter feed that CK had passed away in San Diego the day before he was visibly shocked and sorrowful.

Although he didn’t complete his tenure at IIMA CK Prahalad did repay the money that had been spent on his Harvard education. And with his stellar career, his championing of the poor and India and the mark he left on the world CK more than repaid his debt both to IIMA and the country i think.

It was an eventful two weeks while my parents were here. The day after news of CK’s death broke came news of Shashi Tharoor’s resignation from the Indian cabinet. Again i caught it on Twitter as it happened. Tharoor may have left national politics but he will be back, trust me. ST was at St. Stephens’ College when i was at Lady Sri Ram College at Delhi University from 73-76 and he was already a personality then. He topped his batch at DU and became President of St Stephens’, then a ‘men only’ college. His class notes were greatly in demand and being the consummate politician he seems to be, he never turned down a request for his famous notebooks, generously turning them over to those who requested them. It was discovered much later that he had two sets of notes; one set especially prepared as a loaner for circulation and his own private notes, never circulated, with which he aced his exams. A man like that doesn’t quit in the first round, even if he suffers periodically from irrational exuberance. He will be back, whether in politics or some other arena.


Finally, Twitter was abuzz last week with Arundhati Roy’s recent entry into the tweeting classes (this was later discovered to be a fake account but with a beguiling twist. read my post on it here). Calling herself @Arundhati_Roy the author of The God of Small Things surefootedly negotiated Twitter, charming journalists such as @KanchanGupta who had been cursing her only the week before. @KanchanGupta purred @Arundhati_Roy. We must. You look like a dark liquor on the rocks kind of man…


People seemed to doubt that it was really her but i didn’t need persuading, I recognized her voice immediately. Flags are bits of coloured cloth that governments use to first, shrink wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.”Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story. And something i profoundly agree with her on: “Democracy is the biggest scam in the world.” Last week Thursday Roy only had 75 or so followers, today its 905. Let’s see how many more she attracts by the time she really gets going.


With the exception of Prahlad, all the principals in this blogpost are from Kerala, India’s most unique state, a state that you must look out for, the first state in the world to freely elect a communist government, a state that is maddening and inspiring all at once and where i happen to have been born and where my roots lie. It is a state like Jamaica that exports its people far and wide, while welcoming people from around the world to the self-titled splendours of God’s Own Country.