Friday, 31 August 2012

Tehelka's support for Narendra Modi.

Journalists are often last to get the memo- at least this is true of crusading investigative journalists like Ashish Khetan, of Tehelka.
 His work on the Godhra riots earned him nothing but condemnation as Narendra Modi's, stooge fabricating horror stories of anti-Muslim genocide so as to get Modi re-elected by the Hindu majority.
'The Congress party, which we thought would make our story a national issue, instead tried its best to skirt the revelations made in the TEHELKA tapes. A few Congress leaders even floated the conspiracy theory that as the Congress party was all set to trounce Modi in the upcoming Assembly election, Modi had hired TEHELKA to whip up the communal sentiments of the Hindus by way of inflammatory statements of the riot-accused. On the other hand, the BJP was accusing us of having conducted the sting at the Congress’ behest.'
  Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi (the Congress Minister for Information and Broadcasting) made a statement in Parliament suggesting that the sting operation was the result of a conspiracy hatched by some BJP leaders sitting in Delhi. He even defended the Gujarat government’s decision to ban the telecast of TEHELKA sting in Ahmedabad. Dasmunshi claimed that Central agencies had solid intelligence of the ‘deep-rooted conspiracy’ and the truth would emerge soon. My brother called me from my hometown in UP and said local Congress leaders were asking him how much was I paid by Modi to do this story.
The problem with Tehelka's spy camera sting operation was that ordinary Indians know that every street corner hoodlum has a similar story to tell and will tell it to anybody- spy camera or not- in return for a bidi. The other side of paid-for News at the top is the manufacture of testimony- which might even be true- at the bottom. Tehelka (which probably isn't funded by anybody) committed an act of strategic folly by portraying Modi as a man who kept faith with the fringe element- getting them out of prison and so on. The proper way to attack a leader is to convict him of disloyalty- of abandoning the people he used as a stepping stone to power. In view of Modi's role in putting an end to the cycle of riots which began in 1969, this was a charge which could have genuinely damaged him. 
Sonia Gandhi may have used the 'merchant of death' slogan against Modi- arguably, she had to do so to keep her own core support- but she gave tickets to blood stained rivals of Modi in plenty, sending the right signal to the Gujerati voter. Tehelka needlessly upset that apple cart by making Modi look the strong-man even way back in early 2002, when he had scarcely got his feet under the table.

Still, at least Teesta Setalvad stood by Tehelka. Ever since she was accused of all sorts of financial misdeeds, her reputation is secure. 

Prof. Chris Bertram- the undemocratic exclusionist.

Prof. Chris Bertram has a paper which, appealing to the Public Justification Principle,  argues that it is only morally right for a State to exclude would be migrants from its territory if it offers compensation to make them equally well off.
... in order to be justified in coercively excluding individuals from their territory, states must be able to say that those individuals are not thereby denied adequate life opportunities or, perhaps, that they may exclude provided they compensate the excluded in some manner...
The difficulty here is in deciding what 'adequate life opportunities' or appropriate 'compensation' might be. How are we to decide if 'remaining in Bangladesh and being part of the struggle to fight the consequences of Climate Change in that beautiful country' is not just as good a life-chance, if not a morally more worthwhile one, than 'immigrate to the U.K and work supplying already well off people with superb Bangladeshi cuisine while also paying taxes to support all the things the majority community in the U.K thinks desirable' ?
  John Rawls, in his Theory of Justice, offered us a way to make this judgement. Behind the veil of ignorance, in the original position, people don't know whether they will be Bangladeshi or British. Thus, they can come to some consensus regarding the 'maximin' i.e. maximum minimum acceptable provision of 'primary goods' (this assumes people are risk averse) in line with the difference principle (i.e. deviations from complete equality of outcome are only permitted if they raise up the worst off).
  However Bertram, at Crooked Timber, denies that his argument depends on this theory of Rawls. (Just as well, because he is too stupid to make a Rawlsian type argument). Still, he explicitly says that Liberalism has to justify any coercive measure by the State and that justification must be in line with intuitions re. an equitable duty to compensate for damages inflicted. In other words, Bertram is using something like Rawls' Public Justification Principle by which 'reasonable' people in a well ordered Society are willing to discuss its  basic principles in a sincere, truthful and intelligible way. Sadly, Bertram is too stupid to sustain his position within that discourse and so he simply tells ridiculous and stupid lies-
1) about the cause of migration- e.g. that the U.K is causing global warming in Bangladesh and American policy on Narcotics causes the breakdown of law and order in Mexico and that millions of Mexicans and Bangladeshis have to flee to the U.S or the U.K to save their own lives.
2) about the character and conduct of people employed in the U.S or the U.K as part of Immigration Control- Bertram paints them as Nazi thugs using Nazi methods.
Bertram also makes a deeply Racist assumption about quality of life and what constitutes life chances in non WASP countries like Mexico and Bangladesh. He denies that remaining in Mexico or Bangladesh to fight for a better future for those nations is just as worthwhile as emigrating to the U.S or U.K. Bertram refuses to explain why this should be so. The Rawlsian can give a reason, but Bertram says he is not relying on Rawls. What is he relying on? If it is the revealed preference of pent up demand to immigrate to the UK from Bangladesh, then the relevant type of analysis would involve Coase's theorem and a general equilibrium analysis for which he is woefully unequipped. If his argument is based on some sort of ad captum vulgi intuition re. the relative worth of life in non WASP dominated countries, then how does his position not cash out as Racism? Is it really obvious and self-evident that life in the U.K or U.S is better than in Bangladesh or Mexico? During the Blitz, life in London was worse than life in Mexico. Yet, I'm sure there would have been British people who tried by hook or crook to come back to England to help it in its hour of need. As a matter of fact, some Americans decided to come to the U.K to join the Armed Forces.  Even had the Nazis invaded, they would have come to Britain to join the Resistance. The implicit assumption Bertram appears to be making is that life in countries not run by WASPs must suck and suck worse and worse as time goes on. Mexicans and Bangladeshis working to improve their own countries are simply deluded. Bertram's position, unless he takes more trouble to ground his thesis (though, on available evidence, he is simply too stupid to do so), is nothing but National Frontism in liberal guise.
Betram says he is arguing against 'democratic exclusionism' but has no hesitation to ban anyone who calls him on his mendacity and methodological idiocy. Not surprisingly, he is a Rousseau scholar. His contribution to Public Justification discourse is- tell stupid lies and ban anybody who points out how mischievous those lies are.

Vivek 08.27.12 at 3:51 pm
This post ‘… argues that those who have been placed at serious risk of harm by the actions of wealthy democratic states should not be barred, by those states, from fleeing to them. It does not preclude those states also following policies that relieve these harms in other ways. But so long as the harms are continuing and those policies are not actually in place, exclusion does those would-be escapees an injustice. Your willingness to throw these victims under the bus because you (perhaps erroneously) think this is necessary to protect first-world living standards strikes me as repulsive.’
In other words, the right of immigration is vested in those who have a claim for damages against a nation as a sort of ‘second best’ solution- the optimal one being that they are fully compensated.
How can the feasibility of a ‘second best’ solution become the basis of deontic argument?
The first best solution, on this line of argument, is to maximise the sinking fund for damages- for e.g. by letting healthy billionaires who agree to contribute to that sinking fund through taxes in to the country but keeping poor disabled people out.
That can’t be what Chris wants.
Vivek 08.27.12 at 4:40 pm
The problem with Chris’s argument from damages is that Coase’s theorem applies for finding the first best solution. But that opens the door to a type of analysis which would militate for conclusions Chris would find extremely perverse.
So, the argument from damages is not the way to go especially because, at the beginning of the post, Chris looked liked he was going to rely on imperative logic.
Still, Chris has a right to some ‘democratic exclusionism’ by simply ignoring comments like this. Indeed, the best course would be not to publish them. Chris is a Professor after at all and Academic Credentialism is a rent seeking exclusionism indifferent between legitimating ideologies.

My comments may seem cruel or inconsiderate to Bertram- but, they were far from thoughtless as the following show-

vivek 08.28.12 at 8:28 am
I think Chris argument goes as follows
1) Liberalism needs to justify (as opposed to merely rationalize) any coercive measure by the state and Rawls’s ‘difference principle’ is relevant to that justification.
2) States which have imposed a huge cost on people outside its borders should let them in to their country so that they are compensated by State provision of goods and services allocated according to the difference principle.
Chris is not claiming that compensatory migration is a ‘first best solution’. Moreover, he has framed the OP in such a way that the onus of proof is on the democratic exclusionist that their position is indeed compatible with ‘difference principle’ Liberalism. Judging by the comments on this thread, no JUSTIFICATION as opposed to Rationalization is available to the Exclusionist within the framework of Rawlsian Liberal political philosophy.
Furthermore, Chris is not merely making some arcane intellectual point. Migrants themselves use this argument to legitimate their action. Mr. Masud may be a pious Muslim. As such, he has a negative duty to avoid settlement in a ‘Dar ul Harb’ like U.K or U.S, and a positive duty to remain within Bangladesh to build it up as Dar ul Salam in line with Islam’s own ‘difference principle’. However, Mr. Masud can and does (I happen to know an actual Mr. Masud from Bangladesh who is well settled in the U.K) use Chris’s argument. Essentially, this comes down to the past sins of the East India Company which destroyed an Islamic State in Bengal with catastrophic results for the ordinary people. Britain used the wealth it extorted from Bengal to finance the industrial revolution. The Industrial Revolution caused Global warming. Only advanced countries can
1) shield their populations, in line with the difference principle, from Climate Change
2) devote resources, derived from tax payers, to combat Climate Change.
Hence, if Mr. Masud moves from Bangladesh to the U.K, he is both shielded from the consequences of, as well as contributing to the solution of, Global Warming.
Furthermore, Chris Bertram, who is not some armchair intellectual or bloviating blogger, would be aware that, prior to 1960, Masud would have had automatic right of entry and settlement in the U.K. Indeed, even now, as a Commonwealth citizen, should he acquire British residence, he would be entitled to vote in the U.K. Thus, the onus is on the exclusionist to show that between 1960 and today something changed such that a right which previously existed ceased to do so and that this can be JUSTIFIED (not rationalized) in line with the difference principle.
Another country, India, faces a similar dilemma but in a far more pressing and urgent manner- especially in view of the recent violence in Assam and its terrible repercussions for people from the North East domiciled in other parts of India (many fled fearing Muslim violence in retaliation for a clash between indigenous tribals and Bengali Muslim migrants).
The situation in India is especially piquant because if the forested areas in the hills and mountains are cut then flooding in Bangladesh will be worse- i.e. people escaping the consequences of deforestation on the plains make that particular problem worse by migrating to the hills. In other words, protection of indigenous tribes- but also wild life- from encroachment or ‘infiltration’ (ghastly word) by the demographically dominant cultivating class is essential to secure the livelihood of that very class in their own natal habitat.
It may be India, whose present masters are certainly Liberals, will resettle Bangladeshis away from tribal areas and, clearly, that would be the right thing to do given that no political party objects to Bengali migration- clearly Bengali speakers are ‘Indian’- and the only issue is the suspicion of ‘Islamophobia’ which can endanger the Secular nature of Indian democracy.
Speaking personally, I feel that States are more unstable, subject to worse Agent Principal, Preference Falsification and Moral Hazard type problems than voluntary coalitions- if Mr. Masud is the same age as my father he would have been the subject of three different States within his life-time- thus the onus is on Chris to show that
1) State action in this regard is justifiable on the basis of the difference principle
2) the State can survive after taking the action he suggests without violating the difference principle.
Chris Bertram 08.28.12 at 8:39 am
Vivek – nothing I’ve said rests on anything in Rawls, let alone the difference principle.
vivek 08.28.12 at 9:51 am
@ Chris- two questions-
1) Is that ‘what natural justice requires’ or what the rule of Law (Rechtsstaat) requires (i.e. a State that doesn’t compensate foreigners who have suffered damages by its actions by permitting them to settle within its borders is somehow on a slippery slope to the ‘State of Exception’).
If the argument is from natural justice it fails because the restitution offered is of a vastly different type than the damage inflicted. Indeed, under plausible assumptions (viz. that those who want to immigrate from Country X have similar preferences- including the desire to contribute more to Global Warming- to those inflicting the damage on Country X) it is adversely selective in a perverse way. It is like saying Vampires are required by natural justice to compensate the humans they prey upon by admitting any human who wants to become a Vampire to their fold.
If the argument is Agambian in some sense it fails because Agamben is clearly some sort of unclean Continental type who probably eats horse flesh and is nasty to donkeys and wears too much cologne and sports a gold medallion on his hairy chest and is currently sleeping with my wife.
2) Is Rawls’s difference principle relevant to similar arguments you have made elsewhere and if so are you sure it isn’t implicit in the reasoning behind your OP?
vivek 08.28.12 at 10:55 am
@Chris- Sorry, just looked again at the paper on your web-site on this topic and it differs from what I remembered it as saying. I read the difference principle into it so as to avoid the problem your argument faces when it comes to showing that M and H have an option at least as good by being denied entry. This follows because no M or H would be caught dead denying the proposition that – ‘Being ‘coloured’ and living in a mainly ‘coloured’ dominated country is just as good as being WASP and living in a WASP dominated country.’ The corollary is that it is perverse for people to want to immigrate and perhaps they are only doing so because of preference falsification or adverse selection or irrationality or ‘false consciousness’ (the ‘self-hating nigger’ or Niradh Chaudhri type East Bengali who decides to move to England because one can’t write proper English unless one lives in Oxford and eats with a fork and knife and wears tweeds rather than a Dacca muslin)
Rawl’s original position behind the veil of ignorance- such that no one knows if they are going to be Bengali rather than British, Mexican rather than from Massachusetts- can give rise to agreement re. what constitute primary goods and also what ‘fair’ usage of resources (such as those involving Carbon emission) might be. Add in Rawls’s (empirically false and non Evolutionarily Stable Strategy of) maximin assumption and you get a global difference principle which can make claims about primary goods such that your argument is not shot down immediately by playing the race card in its Politically Correct form.
Chris Bertram 08.28.12 at 12:55 pm
vivek: sorry, your comments require too much work to extract a clear meaning.Vivek 08.28.12 at 1:52 pm
@Chris- :-) That took me back to my days at the LSE!
Let me break it down for you-
1) You say it is unjust to stop people we’ve harmed coming to our country so as to escape that harm. I say this ‘is like saying Vampires are required by natural justice to compensate the humans they prey upon by admitting any blood thirsty human who wants to become a Vampire to their fold.’
2) You say your argument does not depend on Rawlisan reasoning- in particular that by which the application of the minimax principle under the Original Position makes it plausible that people can agree on what constitute Primary Goods. I say you have left yourself no way to maintain that the option ‘remain in Bangladesh and struggle to improve things there, if necessary attaining martyrdom in that true Jihad for the greater glory of God and the honour of the Bangladeshi nation’ is not at least equally good as ‘settle in the U.K and consume ten or twenty times as much non renewable resources as you could otherwise do’.
It may be you have a non-Rawlsian way of establishing consensus regarding Primary Goods.
What is it?
Unlike you, I have done the work to try to extract a clear meaning from your writing on this topic. IMHO no such meaning exists.
Vivek 08.28.12 at 2:33 pm
@Katherine- ‘This is all sounding a bit People’s Front of Judea/Judean People’s Front.’LOL!
The problem is that righteous indignation jus’ feels so damn good that the market will support both such products as actually address the root cause of the underlying injustice as well as others that have no interest in addressing the underlying cause and concentrate instead on maximising the feeling of outrage and moral superiority that dwelling on the topic induces. This ‘second order’ Public Good (i.e. not the provision of a Public Good but the demand for it) can crowd out the Public Good whose deficiency gave rise to it.
The Psychoanalyst, Christopher Bollas, has written of the psychic violence done to the insulted and injured when their pain and suffering are, as it were, confiscated by someone in a superior position- a parent, a politician- for their own self-dramatization leaving the victim inwardly empty and no better off.
Worse than this ‘extractive introjection’ is Munchausen’s Syndrome where supposed care-givers cause or aggravate harm to the person they claim to care for so as to attract attention to themselves.
Bad Political Philosophy has great appeal to those whom, were they in loco parentis, we would accuse of extractive introjection or, worse, Munchausen’s Syndrome. For this reason, it is worth making the attempt to communicate with people who produce bad Political Philosophy though, of course, anything sensible one might write would be far too much work for them to extract a clear meaning from.

Vivek 08.28.12 at 3:10 pm
I have the highest respect for both Bangladesh and Islam and certainly did not mean any sort of slight. Great Bangladeshi Muslim thinkers have shown how true Islam enables rather than denies all the virtues of liberal democracy with functioning institutions. Plenty of British people including Bangladeshi origin British ers visiting ‘Sonar Bangla’ for the first time, fall in love with it and scheme to make their home there.
This is not to say that Bangladeshis are stupid or perverse if they want to leave. On the contrary, It makes sense for people with the same preferences or endowments to move to a Schelling focal point where the provision of Public Goods and infrastructural Social Capital is optimal for that preference set. However, such movement does not need Chris’s brand of polemics to come into existence. On the contrary, the history of Bangladeshi immigration to the U.K (which increased under the voucher scheme after the earlier clampdown on free migration) shows that immigration in line with preferences/endowments is best left to those who actually have an interest in the matter. They can strike bargains with Govts. Britishers like Bangladeshi food. Bangladeshi restaurants needed more Sylheti cooks. They spoke, the Govt. listened. Everybody was better off.
Chris is using an argument for lifting migration controls which has no merit and poses significant dangers to precisely the cause he has himself shown genuine dedication.
Since he is a Professor of Political Psilosophy (or whatever) and (I’m guessing) he is using this forum as a sounding board, it is worth our telling him that Bad Political Philosophy is not the solution to this or any other problem arising from grievous injustice. My own principled refusal to have any truck with the number 6 or 9 led to my failing my Accountancy exams while at the LSE even though I explained that the terrible sufferings of the Palestinians made it incumbent on Accountants everywhere to, like, stop counting stuff and just sign the Audit report already the way Arthur Anderson would later gain acclaim for doing.
Alas, I was ahead of my time.
Vivek 08.30.12 at 2:54 am 
S, t sm p, Prf Brtrm mks bnch f hystrcl, mprclly fls nd mprtvly flwd clms t dvrts hs wn mrl sprrty. H gnrs r sys tht ‘t s t mch wrk’ t xtrct clr mnng frm sttmnts sch s ths. Nt n sngl prsn fnds h hs sd nythng wrthwhl. Bt tht ds nt mttr.
ftr ll, ths Wht Mn, whs bd fth s rvld by th mly mthd mnnr n whch h dls wth vn nt whlly dvrs cmmnts, s n n wy dscmmdd f th cs h prtnds t dvnc s nt ttlly scpprd by th vry mldrt mnnr n whch h xprsss hmslf.
Nnc dmmts th gd nd fthfl Srvnt. D s ll fvr nd jn th Ntnl Frnt.
(this comment was deliberately garbled by Chris Bertram. He won't, or can't,  produce a defense against the following charges
1) he is lying when he says the U.K and U.S have a duty to open their borders because in the one case the UK is responsible for the effect of global warming on Bangladesh and in the second that US drug policy alone is responsible for a Law & Order crisis in Mexico
2) His assumption that Bangladeshis and Mexicans don't find it worthwhile and rewarding to build up their own countries, that they don't have the determination and skills to do so, is based on the same racialist assumptions as those of right wing, Hitler loving, outfits like the National Front.
This is his response. Chris Bertram 08.30.12 at 4:49 am
Vivek: I don’t have to put up with that. A site-wide ban for you.

So much for his critique of 'democratic exclusionism'. He is just an exclusionist without the 'democratic' camouflage.
That's what happens when shit-heads read Rousseau. Bertram thinks there is some fundamental principle lurking somewhere such that he gets to do Political Philosophy without taxing his brain unduly. He says

In other words, since the real world is complex and demands a lot of brain work to understand, some fundamental principle must exist such that Political Philosophy can avoid that brain work while continuing to pretend to occupy the moral high ground with respect to a real world issue.
Bertram is not wrong. Such a principle does in fact exist. It is called lying. Bertram tells stupid lies- U.K is causing global warming in Bangladesh and that's why Mr. Masud wants to immigrate to Britain- and Bertram thinks that makes him one of the good guys. It doesn't. Lying is the basis of a Rousseauian Political Philosophy. It is called Nazism. Bertram is a Professor. I shudder to think what effect he is having on his students.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

haqeeqat-e-muntazir nazar aa libas-e-majaz mein

Why bruit the Saqi as Metaphor?
Brims the flute, her Truth
Rumi, Death, I'm better for
To whose Breath is Ruth.

Text of Iqbal's haqeeqat-e-muntazir here

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Not Usury alone is the rust of Gold

That thy Tavern, by their blazon, should my tomb encroach
Saqi, drunk in the cemetery, I my odes reproach
For Wine is a cup more than words can hold
Not Usury alone is the rust of Gold.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Gandhi & Ayurveda

Ayurveda , off which Baba Ramdev has grown rich, is the ancient Indian system of medicine based on poisoning people.
 '20% of Ayurvedic Indian-manufactured patent medicines contained toxic levels of heavy metals such as lead,mercury and arsenic 41% of the products tested contained arsenic, and 64% contained lead and mercury. Other concerns include the use of herbs containing toxic compounds and the lack of quality control in Ayurvedic facilities.'

Unfortunately, Mahatma Gandhi was to wily for it to permanently incapacitate him.

January 1, 1945
This is the first letter to you on 1st  January  in  the  place  of
speaking to you. I shall speak only at the time of opening the prayer
at 7.30. My sin in playing with Ayurveda has laid me low. Now I am
weak because according to the law of natural science I am throwing
off the poison. Don’t you be anxious for me.
From a photostat: G.N. 2100
January 1, 1945
Having written my first letter to Rajaji I now write this to you.
Do not at all worry on my account. I am paying for my sins. I had too
much of Ayurveda and I suffered. And now I am slowly throwing off
the poison. I have therefore grown very weak but I am watching the
developments. Hook-worm and amoeba, my old enemies, won’t leave
All this is but flushing out the poison that I had taken. I do not
know what other suffering is in store for me. I shall go on doing as
God dictates.
Blessings from

In contrast to lead and arsenic, Ayurveda declares milk to be a poison. The great and good Menaka Gandhi, proud mother to Varun Feroze Gandhi, who has never drunk milk in his life, which perhaps explains his gentle nature, quotes Ayurveda as saying Milk is 'white poison'. This is a link to her Arundhati Roy like rant against Big Milk- i.e. Dr. Kurien, Operation Flood & the Amul dairy co-operative.
The only way to get rid of corruption is to force all politicians- not just politicians but also Swamis and Babas like that Ramdev fellow- to take Ayurvedic medicines. But, what if that doesn't finish them off?
Perhaps the traditional Indian milk-man, with his proverbial love for his cow, can show us a way forward.

Nandy- But the doodhwalas love their cows. They live off them.
Menaka Gandhi- Have you seen how cows are milked? In the villages they practise phukan. A stick is poked into the cow's uterus and wiggled, causing her intense pain. Villagers believe this leads to more milk. In the cities they are given two injections of oxytocin every day to make the milk come faster. This gives her labour pains twice a day! Her uterus develops sores and makes her sterile prematurely. Oxytocin is banned for use on animals but it is sold in every cigarette shop around a dairy. Every illiterate milkman knows the word. In human beings, oxytocin causes hormonal imbalances, weak eyesight, miscarriages, cancer. Recently, Gujarat started raiding dairies for oxytocin. In one day, they found three-and-a-half lakh ampoules in Ahmedabad alone!

So, now you know. All you need is a stick and somewhere to poke it and wiggle it around. This is the true Go-seva incumbent upon all Hindus.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Kant & Maimon

To Kant's Mendelsohnian medley
Maimon's Votive is Vatic
Silent but deadly
An incense apophatic

My letter to the LRB re. Perry Anderson on India

This is the text of the letter to the LRB I wrote regarding Perry Anderson's essays on India. The fact that they did not publish it, despite my unsubtle hints that the comelier amongst their interns were welcome to Monica Lewinsky me as a quid pro quo, militates to the conclusion that their decision was prompted not by considerations of good taste but a mean spirited desire to deny avenues of spiritual advancement to young people belonging to the large breasted community. 
Here is the text of my epistle-
10th July
'Prof. Anderson writes-
 'Nehru’s claim of an ‘impress of oneness’, going back six thousand years, persisted from the prewar writings collected in The Unity of India to his final dispute with China, in which the Mahabharata could be invoked as proof that the North-East Frontier Agency had been part of Mother India from time immemorial, rather as if the Nibelungenlied were to clinch German diplomatic claims to Morocco.'

What Prof. Anderson is referring to is the Indo-Chinese border dispute which led to a brief war in 1962. The Chinese claim to Arunachal Pradesh (N.E.F.A) is based on their claim to Tibet which in turn is based on the special relationship that obtained between the Manchu conquerors of China and the Tibetan theocracy. Perhaps Prof. Anderson believes that the Chinese claim to both Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh is well founded. Since Hong Kong once belonged to Britain and Macao to Portugal, he may believe that the Chinese have a legitimate claim to both London and Lisbon.

Prof. Anderson compares Nehru's decision to defend N.E.F.A to the German Kaiser's saber rattling during the Agadir Crisis. Is this a fair or reasonable analogy? Are Morocco and Germany geographically contiguous? Was the German Kaiser seeking to stir up his people to sacrifice blood and treasure to preserve their own kith and kin- or people mentioned as such in the Holy Book of his people- from a stronger and more ruthless foreign adversary? This begs the question, is the Nibelungenlied indeed a Holy Book for the German Nation? Does it state that peoples of entirely different languages, complexions and mores are all inalienably part of Germany? Does it contain anything comparable to the Bhagvad Gita within its covers? Prof. Anderson may believe it does. If so, his choice of analogy is apt. If not, it is a proof of bad faith.
India- that is Bharat (the official name of the country and the one by which it is denominated in the vernacular language of countries where Sanskrit has flourished- e.g. Indonesia)- has a special relationship with the great epic, the Maha-bharata. Nehru, an Indian, was descended from Sanskrit scholars. That is why he was called Pundit Nehru. A goodly proportion of the Indian intelligentsia at that time were similarly descended from Sanskrit scholars.  As a practical politician, if he chose to highlight the Mahabharata in connection with the defense of N.E.F.A, he is to be commended for it. He did the culturally appropriate thing. Had he, instead, simply blurted out the truth- viz. that Chairman Mao was a crazy dictator, like Hitler or Stalin, and that his regime was inflicting horrendous atrocities upon its own people, not to mention the Tibetan nation it had brutally enslaved- then he would have alienated some of his fellow Left Wing 'Liberal' friends. 

Prof. Anderson tells us -  'Of the three larger empires it witnessed, none covered the territory of Nehru’s Discovery of India. Maurya and Mughal control extended to contemporary Afghanistan, ceased much below the Deccan, and never came near Manipur. The area of Gupta control was considerably less. Separated by intervals of five hundred and a thousand years, there was no remembered political or ideological connection between these realms, or even common religious affiliation: at its height the first of them Buddhist, the second Hindu, the third Muslim. Beneath a changing mosaic of mostly regional rulers, there was more continuity of cultural and social patterns, caste – the best claimant to a cultural demarcation – being attested very early, but no uniformity.'  

What is the point Anderson is making? Is it that proper countries are those all of whose territory fell within an Empire? If so, the United States is not a proper country. Perhaps, he is saying that countries must have the same language and legal code- in which case Canada and the United Kingdom are not  proper countries. Surely, as a historian, Prof. Anderson understands that no large country displays complete uniformity. Nor are Empires very exactly definable- where does suzerainty shade into paramountcy or something more ambiguous yet? Is Prof. Anderson really unaware of the implications of the work of people like Morton Fried or Elman Service for tribe and caste formation in India? 

Anderson mentions three Empires- Maurya, Gupta and Mughal. He thinks the Maurya Empire was Buddhist and that meant it shared nothing in common with Hinduism. Anderson is wrong. Some Mauryas were Buddhists, others were Jains- and though Ashoka, the Buddhist slaughtered Jain monks- he himself, like others of his dynasty, was a patron of Brahminical Hinduism. 
  The Mughals, as Muslims, were not permitted to have Brahmin Purohits or Shraman Gurus but did patronize the patrons of those religions and also indirectly subsidized them by richly rewarding artists and intellectuals from those traditions for things like dhrupad music, riti poetry, kathak dance etc.

If Anderson has read Prof. Sheldon Pollock, he may have been mislead into thinking that Sanskrit is somehow Hindu and associated with the Gupta Empire and that this marks some sort of watershed.
The truth, however, is that Jains and Buddhists and Hindus all adopted Classical (Paninian) Sanskrit at the same time. The motivation was to have a way of distinguishing Scholastic texts from Scripture-  a bread and butter issue because otherwise Vyavahara (i.e. rules relating to diet, livelihood, etc) might metastatize and kill off Dharma- and also to 'bracket', or place in Epoché, Ontological differences between Schools, which, for quotidian Soteriology, had become 'distinctions without a difference'.
Thus, to apply the method of an Auerbach to Indian literature- a temptation for those approaching India through English language anthologies with their modishly stupid translations- is to subscribe to Anderson's folly. It might seem that there is a marked disjunction between 'margi' and 'desi'- i.e. High vs Folk Culture. 
No such distinction exists. Today, as throughout Indian history, it is more difficult to write correctly in the lyrical Vernacular than in any Classical language- and Academic English is a Classical Language- precisely because the threshold for meta-meatphoricity is more steeply raised whereas the lintel of entrance has been borne down and fractured by the greater weight that living languages carry, thus requiring a superior gracility and suppleness from Poetry's votive offerings- which explains perhaps the proverbial irritability of the genus irritabile vatum.
 What, in Hindi, are called riti texts, occur in every vernacular. Far from being songs of the soil, they are the pourriture noble of Classicism's vineyard. Thus, contrary to my cherished belief, Keshav Das wasn't really some rustic rube chased away from the bathing ghat by irate village belles. Nor are references to Buddhism in Sheikh Noor ud Din Wali (Alamdar-e-Kashmir) derived from 'subaltern' interaction with Ladhaki traders. Kabir wasn't ignorant of 'High Caste' Religion and Philosophy any more than Valmiki. On the contrary, the people I've named weren't ignorant shit-heads like myself. What there was to be known was known by them. They mightn't have been born into well off families. So what? They weren't stupid and did nothing to deserve the horrible modern English translation of them.

I don't deny that it was and is possible for learned men not to be aware of great classics in their own language possessed by those of different sects. It may well be that the compradors amongst my 'Iyer' ancestors only rediscovered the sublime 'Sillapadikaram', by the Jain Monk, Ilango Adigal towards the end of the Nineteenth Century. But the important point to note is that it was a re-discovery. There is no reason to believe that Kumbakonam Iyers did not know that text in the first half of the Eighteenth Century. The fact is, contact with Jain monks or nuns, by itself, is enough for any Indian- no matter how stupid, no matter how 'tamsic'- i.e lazy, uneducated or (in my case) plain downright vicious- to gain 'darshan' of the synoptic kerygma of the whole of Indian history, Indian geography, the entire Jurassic Park of Time's fossil forms.

Prof. Anderson says- 'The ‘idea of India’ was a European not a local invention, as the name itself makes clear'What on earth could he possibly mean? If Anderson is referring to the Hindu idea of India- it is well defined as Jambudvipa- a sort of notional island in which certain rituals or religious practices have a specified soteriological result. To move out of Jambudvipa is to lose caste. Indeed, one of the causes of the Mutiny of 1857 was the demand that Hindu sepoys cross 'the black water' thus losing caste. 
Prof. Anderson continues-'No such term, or equivalent, as ‘India’ existed in any indigenous language.' This is entirely untrue. Every dynasty from every part of India has at one time or another made a claim to paramountcy of Jambudvipa and there are numerous highly poetic ways of expressing this concept as attested by epigraphic evidence and surviving literary works. 
The absurdity of his own position does not strike Anderson even when he writes - 'A Greek coinage, taken from the Indus river, it was so foreign to the subcontinent that as late as the 16th century, Europeans could define Indians simply as ‘the natives of all unknown countries’ and use it to describe the inhabitants of the Americas.' 
Let me try to make sense of what the Professor is saying. Europeans invented 'the idea of India'. No Indian ever had a thought which corresponded to this European idea. Actually, even the Europeans didn't know the meaning of this idea. They didn't call the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas 'Indians' because Columbus believed he'd reached India; no, their idea of India was imperfect and included the American and other indigenous peoples they encountered on their voyages. Fortunately, at some point, the Europeans corrected their idea of India and passed it on to the Indians. however, because the Indians didn't invent it, nor did any Empire of theirs (that we know about) correspond to the present borders of India- therefore... therefore, what precisely? Well, for a start, clearly Pundit Nehru, the democratically elected Prime Minister of India, had no business resenting the Chinese invasion of Arunachal Pradesh. Why? India is a European idea. Nehru, despite his European education, was not European. Thus, he had no right to invoke it. But, if not European, what was he? Indian? No, Indians don't know the meaning of that word or, if they have learned it from the Europeans, still, precisely because they are Indian they can't validly claim to be Indian. Clearly, this is a question of Intellectual Property. Europeans invented the word India and a couple of thousand years later decided what that word would mean. Anderson is European, Nehru is not. Nehru might claim to be using the word 'India' under a license agreement on which he is paying royalty. However, Anderson, being European, can cancel that license at will. That will teach them darkies! 

The remainder of Prof. Anderson's essay on Gandhi, because rather than in spite of the (all utterly worthless) books listed in the bibliography, is similarly flawed in its arguments and conclusions. I have recently published an essay on Gandhi in a volume titled Ghalib, Gandhi, & the Gita which suggests that the two interesting things about Gandhi were the meta-metaphoric aspect of his thought and the manner in which this facilitated 'interessement' such that Gandhi became an 'obligatory passage point' in Indian politics. However, I confess I'm Indian. What's more I don't know Greek. Since 'India' is a Greek word, clearly I don't know India. Now, if only I could forget how to reason, I'd be fully qualified to write about Gandhi for the LRB.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Saqi as Swedenborg

Callous is the Saqi & Capricious sure
But the Wine she serves, alas!, is pure.
Thoughtless Love yet must torments devise
& Heaven above, let Lust surprise 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

God is more than I can Google

'The last shall be first' is not a bitter Thought
If stayed from the Vineyard by Noble Rot
More than Pyrrho poor, or Occam frugal
 God is more than I can Google

Mixed inferences & Meta-metamaphoricity

What does this mean- 'Let he is who is without sin cast the first stone'?
The context is the homely Hebrew custom of stoning adulterers to death.
If St. Paul had made this statement it would read as an example of mixed imperative inference and the meaning would be 'Don't stone adulterers. The only righteous stoning of a sinner occurs where the first stone is flung by Lord Jesus Christ himself.' This is because St. Paul is a sinner just as we are, for in  Adam's Fall, we sinned all, only Lord Jesus Christ being free from Original Sin.
What, logically, is the meaning, from the point of view of an orthodox Christian, of attributing this statement to Lord Jesus Christ?
His statement permits stone throwing but asserts his own right to throw the first stone in the same manner as the President has the right to the ceremonial first pitch in American baseball.
However, Christ did not in fact throw a stone. Thus we know that though it would have been permissible for him to throw the first stone, it was not obligatory for him to do so. But, Christian orthodoxy does not consider that there were any obligation arising from Jewish law that it was incumbent upon Christ to follow. Nor was it incumbent upon him to conform to later Christian Canon Law. Thus, from the fact that Christ did not actually throw the first stone we gain no knowledge about whether the act itself is obligatory rather than merely permissible to people free of Original Sin.
Had Christ said 'Stop stoning adulterers. What is wrong with you? This is so not what Ezekiel meant when he prophesied- 'Yea, Israel shall kill in dodgeball so the Greeks can just suck it, Hossanna.'- the meaning would be unequivocal.
Instead, He said 'Let he who is without Sin cast the first stone'. Metaphorically, to say 'throw the first stone' is to actually throw the first stone. Meta-metaphorically it is the opposite.
Which is good because I've tried both Adultery and Dodgeball.
Dodgeball sucks.

Steve Landsburg legitimately rapes Todd Akin.

Steve Landsburg's latest post rapes and fathers a parricidal baby upon this controversial remark of Congressman Todd Akin's -  
It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Mr. Akin said of pregnancies from rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
 Landsburg parses Akin’s statement as follows-
Well, somebody told me — I’m not sure if it’s true — that pregnancy from rape is rare for biological reasons, and of course if that is true it would be relevant. But my argument does not depend on that in any case. My position is that we have a duty to preserve the life of any zygote, regardless of how it was conceived.”
and adds
‘I believe that’s the most reasonable guess as to what Akin was trying to say, and I think it’s reasonable for him to have wanted to say it.’

Steve is an economist. So, presumably, by reasonable he means rational. So, he is applying a rational choice hermeneutic to Akin’s statement.
But Steve’s interpretation reads into Akin’s statement an utterly fatal admission which Akin’s certainly wouldn’t make if he is indeed a rational or reasonable being
‘…pregnancy from rape is rare for biological reasons, and of course if that is true it would be relevant’
Why make the gratuitous admission, that something is relevant to the argument, if your own case really is water-tight without it?
Either something is relevant to an argument or it is not.  It is not reasonable to say of the same fact that it is relevant while maintaining that it is irrelevant. Steve thinks that admitting that some piece of evidence is admissable but adding ‘well, I don’t need it to make my case’ has no consequences. But a lawyer who admits something is admissable gives his adversary an opportunity to rely on that evidence. A good lawyer, one with reasoning powers, would not do so.
So, Landsburg is saying that Akin gratuitously admitted the admissibility of a type of evidence, regarding which he had no expert knowledge, which could be used against his own case and, moreover, reasonable people do things like that.
This is not true.
Here is an example of a reasonable man making a reasonable argument.
I say- ‘It is wrong to kill.’
You angrily counter- ‘But some Jordanian Steel Workers have less ear wax than Mongolian Actuaries! What about their plight? Can we really ignore their suffering? Moral imperatives only come into their own after the fundamental right to life, the right to happiness, has been secured for all moral agents.’
‘That is irrelevant.’ I reply sternly. ‘It is wrong to kill.’
Suppose the argument had gone as follows-
Me- ‘It is wrong to kill’

You – ‘Jordanian Steel Workers need more ear wax. Mongolian Actuaries have a super-abundance of ear wax. Haliburton must construct a ear wax pipe-line because it says in the bible- ‘Yea kill not for it is wrong but smite mightily Hallelujah’.’

Me- Well, I admit that if it is really true that Jordanian Steel Workers can profitably trade in ear-wax with Mongolian Actuaries then that fact would be relevant to my argument.

You- Fooled you! Actually Mongolian Actuaries, for genetic reasons, have less ear wax than Jordanian Steel Workers. (Wikipedia). Mongolian Actuaries are poor but proud. By kindling the Jordanian Steel Worker’s avarice for Mongolian ear wax you have sown the seeds of a brutal war.

Me- Be that as it may, the point is my argument does not depend on the earwax situation at all.

You- But you said earwax was relevant.

Me- Yes, well, I was reading Steve Landsburg and thought that saying something is relevant when it isn’t is what reasonable people do. I was just trying to be reasonable is all. What? Is it really so unreasonable to be guided by Landsburg’s reasoning?

You- Yes.

Me- You know, being right isn't a good look for you. I mean, I'd still do you but like reverse cow girl only. 

You- That breaks my heart.

Me- Yes. Well. Them's the breaks honey.

Wine more than I can drink

The World has Woe more than we can know
 & Thoughts more fraught than we can think
This Cellar'd kiss I stole a score Summers ago
  Is Wine, Saqi, more than I can drink.

Monday, 20 August 2012

James Hilton vs Graham Greene

  The blitz- the Nazi bombardment of London- evoked a similar response in two great writers whose work translates well to the big screen. Both chose to write novels about distraught men, suffering from amnesia, burdened by some nameless guilt, who nevertheless find themselves, and perhaps are redeemed, as the bombs rain down.
   James Hilton's 'Random Harvest' is explicitly political. Britain itself is the amnesiac which forgot the promises it had made to itself at the end of the First World War. The 1930's themselves had been as 'a long Weekend'- a golden afternoon of declining effort and increasing rewards- but also a 'lost Weekend' in the sense of a man on an alcoholic bender who will retain no memory of the enormities he perpetrated while drunk.
  Graham Greene's 'the Ministry of Fear' is simply a thriller- a pot boiler- it turns out his amnesiac was guilty of murdering his own wife whereas Hilton's hero had merely abandoned his. But, it was a mercy killing and so, in Greene's novel, there is a sort of redemption to be found in battling Nazi agents and in the arms of some slightly shop soiled girl with ambiguous loyalties. Hilton's hero, however, had absent mindedly remarried the very wife he'd abandoned and so the recovery of his memory is either a truly damning indictment of his fundamental superficiality, the superficiality of his class and caste, or it is a Divine Comedy vouchsafing the Universal Truth that all Good Marriages are based on the husband's amnesia, his absent minded remarrying of the woman whom he abandoned, and wives probably only put up with husbands in the prospect of getting in this truly devastating last word.

  James Hilton, like Graham Greene, was the son of a headmaster- but the headmaster of a State funded School rather than a 'Public' School- and he too went up to Oxbridge after the War but, it would seem, before the aestheticism of a Harold Acton established its reign.
  Literary success came earlier to Hilton- he is credited with setting off the paper-back phenomenon- and Hollywood made hugely popular versions of his 'Lost Horizon' and 'Goodbye Mr. Chips'. Interestingly, these versions remain pretty faithful to the original novel- whereas American directors often reversed the meaning of Greene's, but also Maugham's, stories.
 In terms of Class origin and political views, Hilton is close to, the Economist, Ronald Coase and his American sojourn, like that of Coase, was productive of the type of insights the British tradition of Liberal Political Economy needed to reinvigorate itself as opposed to the Continental nonsense that grafted itself onto the aestheto-Anglo-Catholic colocational availability cascades that shitheads like Chesterton and Belloc, but also Wyndham Lewis and D.H. Lawrence, were propagating.
  Greene, unlike Waugh, had no feeling for British tradition in political economy and his attempt to be a sort of dingy Dos Passos in the 30's fell somewhat flat. By contrast, Waugh's 'Work suspended' was anthologized by the Soviets because it showed a sharper grasp of Political Economy than that displayed by any of their partisans or fellow travelers.
   Hilton died relatively young and with him was buried that portion of the childhood of Judas in which Christ hadn't yet been betrayed. Greene was the Garden that overgrew what can never grow up. Both were blind alleys. The Toys finally threw away the children and successfully adjusted to bitter-sweet careers in Media Sales and Business Process Outsourcing.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Keshavdas & Abu'l Fazl

Keshavdas was the court poet of Raja Bir Singh Deo of Orcha, the usurper infamous for murdering Abu Fazl to earn a huge reward from Akbar's rebellious son- later the Emperor Jehangir. I have read that this Raja built a temple in Mathura which Aurangazeb later destroyed prompting, the poet, Chandrabhan 'Brahman' to write
Bibin karamat-i-butkhanah-i'i mara ay shaykh
Kih chun kharab shavad khanah-i' Khuda gardad
(Look at the miracle of my idol-house, o Sheikh
That when it was ruined, it became the house of God!)

Interestingly, Keshavdas's poem on his patron contains high praise for Abu Fazl.
Allison Busch, a scholar of Braj at Columbia, writes 'Abu’lFazl’s death is treated with a narrative generosity that approaches reverence: his body is said to have emitted a miraculous fragrance at death, indicative of his spiritual power. Emphasized in a string of eulogizing verses are Abu’l Fazl’s nobility; his intrepidness on the battlefield; even his support for Brahmans – all high terms of praise in the classical Hindu literary imagination.'

Dr. Busch highlights the word-play in this verse of Keshavdas-

The question that arises in my mind, in connection with Dr. Busch's theory that Keshavdas moved from a position of hostility to the Turkish invaders to one of conciliation, is whether riti (court) poetry was ever really wholly divorced from bhakti poetry- as the school of Sheldon Pollock might hold. The opposite view enriches our reception of both types of poetry- it reconciles maryada & virodha bhakti- but this raises the possibility that Indian people weren't stupid brutes at some point in their history. Clearly, this is Hindutva gone mad and so Keshavdas really was just a moronic sycophant utterly without morals or character.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Murli Manohar Joshi & Amartya Sen's parable of the flute

' Social choice theory undermines the idea that there are viable democratic procedures for aggregating the preferences of voters, which makes a niti-oriented approach to democracy problematic, but the value of government by discussion is readily understandable in terms of nyaya—the kind of society that it produces. The final section of the book defends the proposition that nowadays a concern for justice must have a global dimension.'

Is this true? The short answer is no. Social Choice theory shows that public discussion- i.e. talking heads on T.V representing different attention-span-of-a-Goldfish think-tanks- will militate for preference falsification, the manufacture of wedge issues, moral panics and Credentialist availability cascades. Neither Social Choice theory nor ideas from Mathematical Politics show that, for large enough populations, with sufficient but not too much preference diversity, Democratic elections aren't vastly better than the endless concurrency deadlock of pi-jaw represented by Sen-tentious 'public intellectuals'.
The niti represented by a clean and efficient Election Commission trumps having senile Professors on tap to talk nyaya nonsense.
Take Sen's parable of the flute-  'Ann, Bob, and Carla, are quarreling over the fate of a flute (p. 12). Ann claims the flute on the basis that she is the only one who can play it, Bob claims it because he has no other toys to play with whereas the others do, and Carla's claim is based on the fact that she made the flute in the first place. All of these statements are taken to be true, and Sen's point is that one can produce intuitively plausible reasons for giving the flute to any one of the children. Utilitarians—and for different reasons, Aristotelians—would favor Ann, 10 egalitarians Bob, libertarians Carla, but the real point here is that there is no reason to assume, as Rawls and most of his followers do, that we have to decide which of these answers is the right one. Sometimes there is simply a plurality of "right'' answers. The idea that there is only one kind of just society—a liberal society defined by principles set out in Rawls's model—and that all others represent a falling off from this ideal does not seem a plausible response to the pluralism that undoubtedly exists in the modern world.'

The problem here is that Sen has created an illegitimate entitlement- viz. the power to dispose of the flute- and vested it in us. Assuming this entitlement is permanent, we can easily show that a solution exists, involving the redistribution of the flute at a speed with a lower bound based on synaptic responses and an upper bound based on the speed of light, such that all the various types of Ethical theories are satisfied and the children expire of their wounds in  the shortest possible time.

Perhaps this is the true meaning of the verb murli as in Rahul baba's pet phrase- murli Manohar Joshi, murli him but good.

Happy VJ Day!

   Indian Independence Day, I have recently come to learn, is celebrated in the West as VJ Day.

  Manmohan (aka Man Mouse) Singh has departed from longstanding protocol- an unwarranted departure in my view- not by omitting to make some tasteful allusion to this happy coincidence when called upon, in his official capacity, to respond to routine felicitations from World leaders on August 14, but by congratulating them in a manner neither adequately effusive nor of mandated vociferousness, upon the shining splendor of their own Veejays that too, mealy mouthed little man that he is, only when 'geographically & gender appropriate'.

  As so often happens under this Administration, behind this sinister departure from hallowed Hindu tradition, we dismaying discern the fine Italian hand of Sonia Gandhi.

   Ramesh Jairam, on the other hand, far from being remiss in terms of offering VJ day felicitation to all and sundry, regardless of sex, just is a great big VJ, that's all. Actually, so is Chidambaram. But, spectacles on a VJ is always funny. Rahul Gandhi, please note.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Vertigo to go.

On my knee, the babe, to thwart & trounce me
Asks- 'Am I a cheque that thus you bounce me?'
Kids today being so querulously Slovak
They'd say the same to Kim Novak

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

English History 101

 For English is a Children's History fraught
With Silly Wars, Savage Roses fought
The Truth is- for aught utterly Alive
Naught 'tis Love dare survive

The Clepsydra's eye.

Did a look between us pass?
Like Wine in a falling glass
Or music suddenly hushed
A Last Supper rushed.

There is no place we might belong
Nor night to a nuptial song
Nor Time to teach to cry
The Clepsydra's eye.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Aryan Invasion Theory in action

Many years ago, when I was still invited to semi-diplomatic Cocktail parties in London, I displayed a Gandhian skill in Satyagraha- a Saintly patience, a Socratic persistence, in struggling towards the Truth- that Truth being that all White people- at least, those with posh accents and double-barreled surnames- are actually second generation immigrants from Jalandhar. This was in line with  hard-line South Indian Hindutva thinking re. the Aryan Invasion Theory at the time and often resulted in other guests forming a tight but highly mobile phalanx, in the corner farthest from me, all vigilantly seeking to evade my slower moving peripatetics of inquisition.

Something similar, it seems to me, has happened to everything else. To my knowledge, this is the only conclusive proof that the Twentieth Century never actually happened.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

An executive summary of my book 'Ghalib, Gandhi & the Gita'

'Meta metaphoricity in Ghalib- if that Dutch cap still fits
Or the same in the Gita- douching Bengalified  twits
Or any Gandhi who, to Congress, yet parties
A butt holes but pirates, so Yo Ho me hearties!'

Thanks anon whom I hope to personally thank anon.

Pico Iyer, Graham Greene & the Malgudi Blues

N.B- In view of negative comments received, I have substantially revised this blog-post.

   Pico isn't from Malgudi. Nor was his dad- the late Raghavan Iyer. But, back then, Bombay, at least for  our clannish Iyerarchy, was still a small place and so my father, being a couple of years younger than Pico's dad, had to hear much kolaveri paternal palaver about  the latter's slimness, scholastic achievements and his not needing specs.
  However, it was Raghavan's self-confidence- there being no Iyer prodigy higher than himself- which set him apart. Few Indian origin Scholarship winners failed to be overawed or feel uncomfortable when translated to Oxbridge. Even Ramanujan, who was a genius, came to see the shortcomings of his methods and adapted himself to Western Mathematics on the urging of his Guru, Prof. Hardy. On the other hand, it was  Chandrashekar's Guru bhakti for Sir Arthur Eddington which placed a restriction on the development of his own theory. Similarly, under the blazing Eye of Tolkein, Naipaul was left blighted by the Shires' dreaming Spires, while Amartya Sen, according to Bhagwati, was intimidated away from his own, presumably Pigouvian proclivities, by Leftist harridans like, the blonde bombshell, Joan Robinson and the bald blancmange, the gorgeous, pouting, Nikki Kaldor.

  Raghavan Iyer, however, seemingly effortlessly, gathered up all the glittering prizes, save an All Souls fellowship, without compromising his own atavistic, Adyar, beliefs. Perhaps, the cult of Radhakrishnan in the 1930's, when he was the Spalding Professor at Oxford, boosted Raghavan's self confidence. Equally likely, Raghavan's faith in Theosophy- which found Universal Messiahs in the unlikely shape of Tamil Brahmin shitheads like the two Krishnamurtis- instilled in him a sense of a World Historical Mission. Annie Beasant, after all, had wanted Jeddu Krishnamurti to attend Eton & Oxford- but the boy was too dim. Raghavan, like his son Pico, had no such problem. Indeed, not Oxford, it was New Delhi which posed the difficulty. The India to which he returned had rendered marginal the verbose Theosophical/Servants of India Society Liberalism to which he had pledged an early and spontaneous allegiance.
   Later on, Raghavan's move to America might have seemed a flight from, rather than an expression of faith in, his boyhood creed. Even in Careerist terms it seemed retrograde; had he remained in India he might have become Manmohan Singh's boss or, if he'd settled in England, gained a seat in the House of Lords and become a household name as a BBC 'talking head'. But Raghavan had correctly identified California as the happening place and got there as the Sixties began to swing.
 The question is whether he had escaped Malgudi or actually, and atavistically, returned to that imaginary and geometrically frustrated topos by way of having failed Bombay, at least the Bombay of the Bombay Plan, by his 'contribution to democratic planning' while Research Chief to the Planning Commission. The reason I say this is because the very year that Raghavan and Nandhini settle in California is also the year Hollywood fucks up, Malgudi's Guide, Raju's metamorphosis into a Mahatma, not to mention, the Mem Sahib, Rosie's, metamorphosis into the bayadère, Nalini-  whereas Bombay redeems both R.K Narayan's novel as well as his Swedenborgian barzakh by concretizing it as Limdi- the little town that pioneered Women's education and which set Vivekananda on the path to World fame- and where Chetan Anand had once taught English. In other words, Bombay- I will not say put Malgudi on the map, it was there already, Narayan's talent is unquestionable- Bombay connected Malgudi to everything else on every map of India- Rosie to Gulab (that was name of Waheeda Rehman's character in the immortal 'Pyaasa'), Rosie/Nalini to Rukmuni Arundale, Scripture to Forgery, India's good behavior in the British Prison to its early release from the sort of famine Pearl S Buck chronicled (well, except for that experienced during the tenure of Muslim League Govts in Bengal and Punjab- the food surplus state refusing to sell grain to the food deficit province- the Muslim League having disdained both British Prison and good behavior), and finally early release from this Earthly Prison to the release of waters from clouds of Krishna hue which, verily to view, is the darshan of all release.
 What of the Hollywood version?
I found this on the web-  'Whereas the backdrop is authentic, the romance of a provincial Indian tourist guide with the dancing-girl-wife of an older merchant seems partly artificial and contrived, much more in the Hollywood spirit than in that of, let us say, Bombay. And the development of the narrative continuity is so erratic and frequently slurred—so clumsy and artless, to be plain-spoken—that both story and emotion are vague.'
  This is the problem with both Raghavan and Pico. When Nandhini Nanak Mehta/Iyer writes something she may get her facts wrong or her judgement may be faulty but what she says is meaningful precisely because it isn't vague, if not vacuous.
 Her husband and son, on the other hand, though not charlatans- 'the background is authentic'- yet make the romance of dialogue- and travel is a dialogue, dialogue is travel- seem 'artificial and contrived'- something much more in the Hollywood spirit than in that, certainly, of Bombay. It is the deficit in continuity, of connectivity, which mars their Art- I will not say Thought for neither has had an original thought- it is not that they do not subscribe to a Grand, or merely garrulous, Narrative, nor that their emotions remain unengaged - it is that both are nebulous and therefore without nuance.
   This is Pico writing about R.K Narayan-
Writing in English, perhaps, allowed Narayan to step just an inch outside his territory. Is this true? Surely, the opposite is the case. Writing in English allowed Narayan access to a collocational English availability cascade, which secured him an imaginary appellational terroir as a sort of after dinner Tamil Tokai, something sui generis- the highly acid and accidental product of a 'noble rot', or gangrene, disconnecting it with its natal sub-continent

 'The other thing that strikes you, within three pages of the beginning of The Man-Eater, is how you can hear the jingling ox-bells, smell the spices, see the humble scene with “appetizing eatable on a banana leaf and coffee in a little brass cup.”

It is perfectly natural to read books in line with stereotyped perceptions. Pico, like R.K. Narayan is a professional writer, who has trained himself to notice things. The jarring note enters when Pico says 'see the humble scene...'. Why humble? Does Pico really not know that Maharajas, that too from 21 gun Salute States, relished 'appetizing eatables served on a banana leaf' and drank coffee 'in little brass cups'? They may have also eaten of Sevres china when hosting the Viceroy, but that entailed ritual purification and besides, made everything taste less nice.
The odd thing here is that an English, Anglican, author, like Robert Wood, with a PhD from Oxford in Nuclear Physics, understood Narayan differently even before he first set foot in India. Why? In the English language, the very word Brahmin denotes something that is not humble for the same reason that it is the reverse of luxurious. 

'There are snake-charmers and swamis and elephant-doctors here-  but none of them are seen as more unusual than a knife-sharpener or a seller of “coloured drinks”;  everything is regarded with the unflappable good nature of a man just looking in on his neighbors. In that way, the exoticism of India is never Narayan’s selling-point or his interest; he writes of–and seemingly for–his associates as Isaac Bashevis Singer might of the Upper West Side or Alice Munro of rural Ontario. 

Pico's comparison of Narayan to Singer is interesting- psychologically, it might be illuminating, but what it highlights here is Narayan's deracination, he did not write in Tamil or Kannada, and the fact that whereas Singer's Yiddish readers- survivors like himself- demanded he continue with his writing against the judgement of his editor, Narayan might never have been published but for the accident of his catching Graham Greene's editorial eye.
Pico confuses a very English Pooterishness with Iyer authenticity.
 'Again, I can hear my South Indian uncles speakingly fondly of their wives as “The President of the Union” (or “The Speaker of the House”) - but so did suburban Solicitors in Slough back in the 70'sand catch all- all? All!-that is engaging and heartfelt in India when I read of the tough guy devouring a hundred almonds every day to train to become a taxidermist, the poet trying to write the entire life of Krishna (the completion of even a part of which causes mayhem), the forestry officer making up a collection of “Golden Thoughts,” arranged alphabetically. The textures and flavors and cadences are as Indian as palaver or hugger-mugger; the dramas and hopes and vexations belong to us all.'
Surely, all the things Pico highlights are what makes R.K a second rate writer- his Theophrastian cartoons advance no Aristotelian agenda. Kipling, the consummate journalist, had great powers of observation. He never resorted to cliches. There is always some new fact of sociology or ethology that re-reading his work yields up.  He shows more than he knows and, in consequence, everything he writes about becomes more interesting not less so.  Malgudi is almost infinitely less interesting than Mysore. It contains no intelligent or cultured people. It has no Balzacian depth. It is as fucking stupid and worthless and utterly and deracinatedly shite as Raghavan and Pico's own oeuvre. R.K was a Tamil speaker. For us, Kannada is a treasure trove. Ours is 'vanilla' Hinduism.  Kannada literature is inexpressibly rich and complex to us precisely because we are its Levinasian alterity- its material, that is Expressive, needs match exactly with our Spiritual ones. Neither R.K Narayan nor A.K Ramanujan make this explicit. Their homage, alas, is too humble, too Iyer Tamil. Kannada, like the God of the Vaishnavas, the Arhat of the Jains, is not content that merely the perfume of its incense settle on us from a distance. No. Something more is called for.

   Pico, of course, is deaf even to Iyer Tamil. He thinks the edible on the banana leaf humble. Chief Justice Anantanarayanan- Updike made a poem of his name- also has banana leaves and brass cups but the quality of his language, his poems, his scholarship is such that an enchanting image is created. Had Kipling himself gained employment in Madras, rather than Lahore, he could not have penned a more eloquent tribute to Tamil womanhood or, more to the point, avvial and applam- the both to be served upon banana leaf only, just mind it kindly I say

   In a sense- the sense in which Narayan speaks to Pico- Malgudi's idiolect is palaver- that last not being an Indian word, not even an Indglish word, though it does sound a bit Tamil, if you don't actually know Tamil- in other words, it is a sort of facetious literary pidgin from the Slave Coast- India no longer being a country of slaves though, perhaps, this Iyer at Eton didn't get the memo.

Similarly, hugger mugger is an old English word- meaning something done secretly or in a muddled manner- but the secret to this muddled thinking is that there is no secret, it's all just a facile availability cascade. Narayan believed in the silly American Spiritism dating back to the middle of the Nineteenth Century. Raghavan Iyer subscribed to Col. Olcott's generous but gullible Theosophy and speculated about whose reincarnation Eisenhower represented.

  Pico, like his Dad, is self-evidently a very bright guy- a person of good character, he attended Eton and Oxford in reverse order because of some administrative mix-up but was a good sport about it. Nor is his essay on Narayan a sloppy piece of work. Read the whole thing for yourself. Essentially an academically stupid guy with bad Tamil is being valorized by an academcally smart guy with no Tamil because that's how academic availability cascades in Literature operate. The joke here is that Narayan expresses India's disenchantment with Education. The heroes of K.S Venkatramani's novels- Murugan the tiller, Kandan the Patriot- only succeed when they turn their backs on passing exams and gaining Bureaucratic promotion. It was the pallidty of this world view- a future Chief Minister of Madras Presidency would advocate the destruction of factories, another would recommend that Schools teach lower caste students only their traditional skills- its futile gestures towards retrogression, which enabled Tamil- like that of Karunanidhi, but also the Kannada of Veerappa Moily- to rise up and displace the stupidity of English, the envenomed stasis it bequeathed Lawley extension. For Pico, Narayan is a high priest. Yes, but only because the Temple has been abandoned. India- of which Victor Hugo said 'India ended up becoming Germany'- had been downgraded by the Global Credit Rating Agencies of Credentialist Enlightenment and Education. All it was permissible to believe about India was that nothing happened there, nothing could happen, it was a Club of Rome basket case, R.K. Narayan the Virgil chronicling its transformation not from brick to marble but marble to mud.
'Reading Narayan, you soon see, is a little like sitting on a rocking-chair in a steadily churning train; the story is always pushing forwards, with not a wasted sentence or detail, and yet its theme and often its characters are all about going nowhere and getting nothing done.'
  Why is this so? Pico, son of Raghavan, though a Classical Scholar, doesn't answer quod nescis quo modo fiat, non facis- R.K's Occasionalist humility in denying any programmatic understanding of how or why he writes, extends also to his characters. Instead, Pico turns Narayan into Malgudi's malign Mayin- a feckless and effete Demiurge- orchestrating futility in a manner Bureaucratic and dilatory.

'There is a kind of ambling inevitability to the rhythm of a Narayan story, sleepy but intensifying, that at once evokes a leisurely and mischievous master-plotter and puts you inside the frenzied, but changeless, world of India right now. The fortune-tellers and astrologers who are such a staple of this world are always figures of gentle fun because no one can begin to predict what’s going to happen next. People learn to rue their acts of kindness and are constantly urged, for the good of all, to be cruel. No good deed goes uncomplicated, and no sin is ever overlooked.'
  In the light of the above, Raghavan Iyer must actually have been, to his son, a particularly cancerous hypertrophy of a R.K. Narayan character.

  He did unexpected things- he became a lion-tamer and married a tightrope walker- or, no, he became a Rhodes Scholar and married a Gujerati- same difference really- but the fact remains that his inner life retained the sort of synoecist legibility, or collocational familiarity, of a Malgudi character and, as such, ought to have interested- by being the reverse of interesting- Graham Greene in the sense of affording him a dimly nitid cameo for one of his dingily gaudy Entertainments- like the Indian 'Mass Observation' volunteer in 'the Confidential Agent'.
   Pico, of course, is the opposite of a 'Mass Observation' volunteer- having successfully fed a Mass Market taste for vicarious explorations of Observation's vacuity- and he takes Greene as a sort of literary father figure because he wishes to affirm the Theosophical, or, Obeyesekere 'Small-scale Society', truth that reincarnation means one becomes one's own Dad and so- since R.K Narayan's dad too was a Headmaster, and since all Iyers are R.K Narayan characters, and since Character and Inwardness and Thought and other such shite is merely Samskara, and since only pi jaw is eternal- it therefore follows that everybody is everybody and has a Global Soul and it turns out Greene was just the timid son of a Tamil headmaster who became a lion-tamer or trapeze artist in Lawley Extension and so, obviously, his books are all about fathers and sons and how- ever since the Brits chivied the Iyers out of their village agraharams- where, like Bihari Brahmins of the best stripe, they had previously spent their time cracking each other's skulls open with farm implements- it's like there's this hiatus valde deflendus between them if, but only if, both son and sire are the sort of little shits who get scholarships and publish worthless books because otherwise they could spend their time taunting each other for not getting scholarships or not securing Publishing deals for their worthless books.
  For Greene, for Waugh, Catholicism meant the World mattered because, as do families in the father, the World can find a Center, and since their travels in the wastes and the wilds had shown them that that Center was Everywhere, it therefore followed that the Father has a Son whose Passion is unspent and so writing is the ongoing project of inventing everybody's lost childhood for it is only in the concurrency of that alterity, as of Judas's lost boyhood, that Christ, that is everybody, has already been betrayed.
  For Raghavan and Pico, nothing has a Center because Eternal Recurrence makes everything the same. Pi jaw's Palingenesia ensures that samskars remain merely samskars, they never become stigmata, and are thus unconnected to Grace. At least, this is true with respect to the sort of samskar we term literary writing- which of course is only reading. Here, it makes for a facility without felicity, a yeasting without yearning, Polonius's Annunciation as opposed to Hamlet's Himmelfart.

And, no, since you ask, I haven't read Pico's book. Silly question. But I did read this-

'the father's last phone call to the son consisted of an answering-machine message racked with sobs, left in response to 'Sleeping with the Enemy'- an essay by Iyer on Greene. Greene's great gift and his fount of despair, Iyer had written in that piece, was his ability to "see the folly and frailty of everyone around him"- 

and this-

'and then his voice gave out and he began to sob. I couldn’t ever remember hearing him sob before, least of all over an answering machine. It was a shocking thing, to hear a man famous for his fluency and authority lose all words.”
Father and son had one brief subsequent meeting. “Ten days later, he was dead, at sixty-five, and the last real time I’d heard from him was the gasping call about Graham Greene.”
As he was finishing his non-memoir, Iyer found himself unable to explain to his wife, Hiroko, which man within his head he was addressing. He concludes that he knew — or knows — Greene better than his own father and that Greene knows Iyer better than Iyer knows himself.
That reads a bit too neatly.
What resonates is Iyer’s response when asked to cite a Greene passage that stays with him, emotionally.
His choice: the last line from A Quiet American: “Everything had gone right for me since he had died, but how I wished there existed someone to whom I could say that I was sorry.”

   It's an odd choice or a clever-too-clever one. For Greene, for Graves, for Le Carre's 'Naive and Sentimental Lover', the elimination of the sexual rival is the collapse of Adultery's trisexual house of cards- every arrested adolescences's last defence against prospering in Realty's Potter's field- but there's always someone you can drunk dial and say you are sorry to- well, at any rate, Raghavan managed it because by a splendidly Iyeronic atavism he had Theosophised his wife into the Goddess- Gandhism having foreclosed that possibility for his own Mum- and thus reverse Oedipalized Pico's conception.

 'A couple of days before I began reading The Man Within My Head, a friend told me she had met the author’s father, Raghavan N Iyer, many years ago. At that first and only meeting, the celebrated philosopher, Oxford University professor and theosophist told my friend that he had abstained from sex until his wife was ready to conceive. He wanted to ensure that the product of their union would be exceptional, he said. The result was their only child, Pico Iyer.'

In every act of abstention or indulgence, there is a man within us that is angry with us. Perhaps,  a Divine satire upon a diabolical satyriasis, Graham Greene- who feared his Anglo-Indian doppleganger, a vulgar con-man named Meredith de Varg, because to meet your double is to die- doubles for Pico as the unquiet ghost in the geometrically frustrated triangle between this chaste-all-too-chaste Iyer father and son.