Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Corporate diplomacy: Posco of South Korea

Posco’s people diplomacy in India

From the Statesman

Posco of South Korea seems to be doing all the right things for its $12 billion massive steel project in India, if you look at it from a global prospective. But the company cannot afford to say that resistance is futile. It must continue its people diplomacy, catering to people at the bottom of the pyramid, so that its success becomes a business model for other multinationals.

In China, Posco would have faced no problem at all once the government had given it the green signal. The Chinese government would have simply moved the troublesome people out of the way and shut them out of the media view and the world, which explains its rapid industrialisation and export-oriented economic growth at more than 10 per cent annually. China’s one-party authoritarian government does not owe any explanation to the people.

In India, it is not only the government but opposition too that needs to be convinced by global corporations planning to set up their manufacturing plants, especially if they necessitate dislocation and dispossession of the local people. Unlike India, China is a corporate state, the state as a single mega-corporation that brooks no opposition and must succeed in its economic goals. India is a people’s state, where there is a hundred-year tradition of political agitation and direct action.

So it will be naive to think, for example, that the ruling communist party of West Bengal has the same control over the Bengali mind as the Chinese communist party has over the Chinese mind. That explains the trouble at Nandigram, where violence erupted killing 14 people on 14 March for the simple reason that the state government’s decision to acquire 22,000 acres of land to build a petrochemical hub including a shipyard was not based on persuasion but coercion. For three decades, the communists have been ruling the state of West Bengal and they have gotten used to getting away with whatever they did.

Don’t get me wrong. West Bengal needs to industrialise rapidly to create job opportunities, especially for its youth, and keep its fleeing brainpower in the state. Nor will anyone disagree with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that industrialisation in the state is irreversible, but that should have been said and done three decades ago when his party took power in the state.
A man in a hurry should not forget where he came from.

In Singur, Tata Motors is building a small car plant on 997 acres of farmland and there too there have been serious protests. A farmer is reported to have committed suicide a few days ago. Every political party is shamelessly trying to take advantage of the tense situation and jockeying for a better position in local elections. But no one can escape the hard facts about India that it is an over-crowded country. There is a paucity of land.

Turning fertile farmland into factories is not only a socio-economic challenge, for global companies waking up to the advantage of cheep labour at the bottom of pyramid it is a diplomatic challenge too. The Tatas’ massive project by all accounts will stimulate economic growth opportunities in West Bengal, as it will happen in Orissa once Posco learns and practices lessons in people’s diplomacy.

Let’s look at Posco. Its reputation as a global steel maker is unquestionable. Its steelworks at Pohang and Gwangyang in South Korea produce 31 million tons of varied steel products annually that feed global demand in 60 countries. The South Korean company touts that its Indian subsidiary will “build one of the world’s most competitive steelworks with advanced technology and stable iron ore supply from captive mines, together with the economic development of Orissa.”

Posco uses all the buzzwords that the Indian news media, business school graduates, and globally conscious intelligentsia want to hear: “Sustainable competitive advantage”; “the steel industry as the locomotive for economic growth” to “catapult India into a steel superpower.” For a moment, my pride soared to dizzy heights when I saw India rising on steel girdles. And that is what happens to a person like me who has been away from India for decades until I began to visualise the sprawling steel expanse with captive mines, captive port and captive infrastructure from the point of view of a small betel growing farmer with a piece of land that might be taken away from him (Remember Bimal Roy’s movie Do Bigha Zameen?).

Posco and Tatas and other multinationals that want to build manufacturing plants should look at the bottom of the pyramid. That is where the government should look at before it agrees to projects at special economic zones and understand that the opposition is not against industrialisation but to building factories on fertile farms. Farming is a highly valued way of life in industrialised Japan, the United States and Europe. Ask a Frenchman to give up his farm! Fortunately, Posco has been taking the right steps in committing to maintain the local culture by providing the betel growers alternative land sites. One should not underestimate the place of betel in Indian culture.

Mr Soung-Sik Cho, Posco-India chairman-managing director, was quoted saying: “Posco-India strongly believes in growing together with the community, it will make all possible efforts from its side to ensure that the betel vine cultivators are not only relocated properly but also enjoy a better environment by all means.” I have not heard such gentler and kinder words coming from the mouth of chief minister Bhattacharjee.
A politician in a hurry should not forget his democratic manners.

The Centre’s new policy allows companies to negotiate directly with landowners, but that will be watched by public interest groups to assure that there is no exploitation as companies negotiate with tribal and other people at the bottom. Posco’s intentions sound wonderful; consider, for example, the company celebrating Orissa’s **Utkal Divas**, and providing free training to youths from displaced and affected families for employment; guaranteeing employment to all displaced families for which vocational training programmes will be imparted regularly. And the company’s commitment to preserve the waterfalls in the Khandedhar mining area by turning it into a tourist spot, if it is allowed to develop the mines. The Tatas and West Bengal chief minister need to show the same sense and sensibility about the people at the bottom of the pyramid.

(ND Batra teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University. He is the author of Digital Freedom

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Remembering Tagore

Part III

From Rajat Das Gupta

A few leaves from the letters/diaries ofRabindra Nath TagoreNobel Laureate 1913
Literature of Tagore along with his songs is a vast ocean with inexhaustible treasures in it where paramount aesthetics, spirituality, philosophical insight, cosmic perception etc. abound.

Very reasonably, this should not be a benchmark to assess Tagore’s letters and diaries behind which there was no creative goal neither these were primarily for the public eye. Yet, the Poet’s sparkling wisdom in scores of these letters/diaries is worth sharing by us even to-day when they have hardly lost their relevance.

So far, about 4200 of the Poet’s letters both in Bengali and English have been classified, besides the numerous others lying in heaps in Visva Bharati (Tagore’s University at Santiniketan, West Bengal). ‘Shrayan’ is a bi-annual magazine running for last 8 years. The January-June ’03 issue is a compilation from Tagore’s letters and diaries. Stress has been given on the letters which voice the question, how should we survive in this genocide afflicted world, which process had a great upheaval in early 20th century and is snowballing alarmingly even to-day. No letter has been produced in full.

Only their extracts have been presented which have been found serving the purpose of the book.The editor of the magazine Mr. Pathik Basu has done this hard work with amazing dedication which has made these invaluable documents handy to us. One might opine, these documents, though originally meant for consumption at personal levels, their publication will give opportunity to all and sundry to have a glimpse of the Poet’s brilliant mind, though somewhat less than his creations purely with literary and aesthetic pursuits.It is my pleasure to translate a few selected passages from Mr. Basu’s 343-page book, at his desire, into English, hoping these will reach worldwide across the narrow Bengali circle. Here follow a few samples.(August, 2003 RAJAT DAS GUPTA: rajarch@cal3.vsnl.net.in)


Wisdom above science

…. What we call science is inherent in man always. Now, we have isolated it from the other human faculties and become conscious of it with a special appellation. The reason is, modern man is hell-bent on harnessing natural forces for his ‘convenience’. Cultivation of this ‘convenience’ has outgrown his other endeavors. But whenever man had hammered rock, shoveled earth, loomed cloth, his instinct for convenience roused. There he was victor. But never did he sing on his tools, which he did with his sword, not as a tool to convenience homicide, but as a relevance to his valor which has an ultimate value, but not as a means to an end. Man’s music revealed wherever he touched this ‘ultimate’.

A beautiful jar is not precious for its utility, but it is so because it is priceless, transcending all utilitarian haggle into an aesthetic glory. … However amazing ‘efficiency’ may be, it never provoked music in man’s mind; implements have made man wealthy, but never inspired him. Where a perfection is in itself plenty, or, rather, where it has reached infinity, there it has turned man into a poet, a creator. Man is prepared to lose to his fiancée, but not to the implements of a mechanic. To-day, in this worldwide market of ‘convenience’ man has built enormous implements, which were not there at the time of Plato or Eskil, yet want of those never dwarfed humanity. Aided by scientific instruments man’s limbs have enlarged and multiplied to grow him into a ‘giant’ but never ‘great’.

The scope for mundane utilitarianism is not nobler than man’s ‘personality’. So, with our factories no modern Dante is writing Vita Nuova as there may be ‘Nuova’ in it but not the ‘Vita’ .When man first lit up fire, he hailed it with his hymn, not because it was convenient for his cooking, but for its inherent ultimate mystery which is missing in his axe and shovel. Where we encounter the atomic theory amazed by its ultimatum, we hail that absolute with our awe. But where steam runs the rail engine….there we enter a workshop, not in the mysterious temple of creation. There ugliness is unabashed, the inchoate is nude, the muscles are inflated, but where is the grace? There we observe the blunt, not the ineffable. There we applaud, but without rhythm. Before the massive workshop of to-day, the entire Earth’s populace in fright or greed applaud in chorus, but never genuflect as this does not fount from their reverence. Building up of new temples has not followed the ruthless iconoclasm.
[To Amiya Chakraborty, 28 March 1925]

Thoughts of welfare in social problems

On earth there are two sects whose religions are aggressively opposed to others’, which are Christianity and Islam. Their satiety is not merely in observing their own religion, but they are at daggers drawn to others’. So, there is no means to integrate with them except by adoption of their religion. One advantage with the Christians is that they are modernists, not captives of medievalism. Religion has not engulfed their life intimately. So they do not keep others at bay with their fence of religion. European and Christian are not synonymous. ‘European Buddhist’ or ‘European Muslim’ are not self-contradictions. But ‘Muslim Buddhist’ and ‘Muslim Christian’ are impossibilities. On the other hand, Hindu as a nation is akin to Islam i.e. religion engulfs both closely. The external difference in case of the former is that their opposition to other religions is not active, theirs is ‘non-violent non-cooperation’ with all non-Hinduisms.

A Hindu’s religion is a heritage and ritualistic and, hence, its fences are more rigid. Islam permits equating others with the Muslims which passage to Hindus is also narrow. Muslim customs do not reject other communities, where also Hindus are cautious. So, on Khilafat etc. the Hindu participation drawn by the Muslims cannot be reversed by the Hindus. Customs are the bridges for human relations where the Hindu has raised his fences at every step. When I had first engaged in my estate work, I noticed in my office that that the Muslim subjects being offered seats on the floor, removing the carpet thereon (least the carpet meant for the Hindu subjects would be defiled).

There is no greater hurdle for combining humans than treating others’ customs as unholy. India is so fated that the two communities like Hindus and Muslims have assembled here. Resistance of Hindus is not harsh on faith, but on rites it is, whereas with Muslims it is the other way. One’s door open on one side but closed on the other juxtaposes the reverse order of the other. So, how they will combine? Once upon a time India was open to free mixture of the Greeks, Parses, Saks et al. But mind you, it was in the pre-Hindu stage.

The Hindu era has been one of reaction, when Brahmanism solidified with impenetrable walls of rituals, indifferent of the truth that if you stifle a living being foolproof, you murder it. On the whole, soon after the Buddhist era Hindus drew close the Rajputs and such aliens to solidify their protection from ‘foreign’ influence. Thus the Indians developed Hindu religion enclosed in fences, whose inherent nature is prohibition and rejection. Nowhere on earth resistances for human union has been built with such skill. This resistance is not merely between Hindu and Muslim. People like you and me, who want to preserve our freedom in pursuit of our customs, are also split up and hurdled. The problem is right here but where is the solution? It is in change in our ethos and a change in era.

The way Europe transited to modern era leaving past the medieval one through cultivation of truth and knowledge, Hindus and Muslims also must similarly set out of their boundaries. To turn religion into a sepulcher to rest the nation in post-mortem is no way to progress, neither to come close to others. If we cannot dispel the obstacles in our ethos, we shall get no liberty. We have to put right our root by education and dedication- overhaul our heredity that we should be reverent to the cage rather than our wings, only after that our welfare will follow. Integration of Hindu and Muslim is awaiting a change in era. Yet, this should not be reason for our apprehension, as in other countries man has changed time by dedication to emerge into the new era stretching their wings breaking through their egg-shells. We too shall follow suit cutting through our mental blockage; if we won’t there is no other way.

[To Amiya Chakraborty; Santiniketan; 21 June, 1922]

He – from dust to Universe

My heart holds the perception of the life of a tree, which I can confess because I have been a human. But why the tree alone, perception of the entire inanimate world is imbibed there too. All the vibrations of the Universe pass me the thrill of camaraderie – within my heart, the Anandam (heavenly joy) of the trees and plants mute over ages has found expression- else, when to-day the mango buds are wild on the trees, on whose invitation do I go forward to organize the spring festival! There is an enormous Anandam in me which is within the land, water, trees, birds and beasts here also.

When I have seen through the open window of my boat the sunrays falling on the saffron soil of this ancient earth, my entire body stretches to the remote border of its dust and green there. When at some holy moments my feel is deep that I am integral with all the soil, rock, water and all here, my body and soul delight up in a clear music of an all pervasive existence. This is my nature and not a mere fancy, from which founts my poems, songs and stories. This does not inhibit me. A man I am and so I am everything – which is my glory – in my senses the world’s history illuminate, there culminate the existences of all animate and inanimate. That is why the waves of my blood rhyme with the sea’s, but the sea waves don’t know me so, my euphoria delights up combined with the trees’ but they don’t know me; I am not within their subconscious.

[To: Ramendrasundar Tribedi, from Selaidah (Bangladesh); 29 February 1912]


(RAJAT DAS GUPTA, August, 2003)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Dances with credit cards

Americans reeling under credit card debt

From the Statesman

In the United States, cash only life style has long been gone, as dead as the dodo.

A graduate student, let us call him Johnny Footloose, told me the other day that money was his least worry, though he would be under debt to the extent of $150,000 by the time he graduated.
Every body in the United States lives on credit, he said nonchalantly. Banks are eager to loan money to anyone who has a minimal threshold of creditworthiness. Last year according to the New York Times the industry mailed more than 8 billion solicitations to people offering them credit cards. There are 640 million credit cards in circulation in the United States for a total population of 300 million. American economy depends on consumer spending.

Will the American model work for a country like India, especially now when credit cards are being issued as generously and liberally as they are done in the United States? Sooner or later, as Indians pursue the American way of life, they too will be sucked into the consumerism tidal wave with unforeseen consequences for the economy.

Whether it will create an economic miracle or bubble bust, it is difficult to say; but a middle class Indian will live in perpetual debt, as Johnny Footloose will do for many years to come, making monthly payments not only for his college debt but also for the home mortgage, home equity loan, car loan, and his children college education. And if Johnny Footloose faces divorce, a highly probable domestic future for many Americans, or if there is a major medical catastrophe uncovered by his health insurance, he will look at his college days of freedom and misplaced optimism with nostalgia and much regret. Of course usurers (banks and credit card companies charging from 12 to 39 per cent interest on credit card debts) are doing well in America.

There was a time when American consumers used credit cards mostly during a holiday season. Now it is an all season credit universe. When bills begin to pour in and borrowers are unable to pay them, they juggle their debts from one credit card to another. In spite of the fact that the law in the United States now makes personal bankruptcy rather more difficult, about a million people are likely to file for bankruptcy by the end of the year.

Once out of bankruptcy, they will do it again. Bankruptcy is no shame in the United States; only a minor embarrassment. Call it a method of reorganizing one’s life. Americans routinely use the card to make all kinds of payments: medical bills, groceries at the supermarket, college tuition bills; and even online porn. It is so convenient. In fact consumers are rewarded for using their charge cards. Many card companies offer cash back, frequent flyer miles, or some other sexy temptation every time the customer uses the card. Enter any major chain store, especially during a holiday season, a beautiful girl greets you: “If you open the credit card account now, you will get 10 percent discount on all your sales today. Just do it. You can cancel it any time” With very little background check, instant credit is issued to the customer and the spending spree begins.

The US economy is very healthy and has been growing at a slow but steady pace in spite of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq war; but one wonders where the money is going. The average household carries $ 10,000 debt. Without savings, how can a family balance its budget in tough times, except through more borrowing with the credit card? According to Federal Reserve estimates, the total credit card debt carried by the US households last November was $750 billion, which is more than 10 times the gross domestic product (GDP) of Bangladesh.

Bankers nonetheless do not feel that credit card delinquencies pose a serious threat to the banking system because most card customers are good, so good that their business covers up not only the losses due to bankruptcies but also due to frauds. Although the cardholder liability in fraud cases is limited, it is a terrible hassle to face inquiries.

Every year thousands of people become victims of card frauds. There have been several reports from major news networks whipping foreign hackers, Nigerians and Russians, for most of the card frauds in the United States. Nigerians or the Russians may be slick operators, but credit card thieves come in all shapes, colors and nationalities and they have the same modus operandi: hack into the data bank of a major retailer and once logged on, download customers’ social security, credit status, and addresses. With stolen ID they can live the other person’s life for a long time and then move on to another victim. Credit card companies are not much scared of frauds because they pass on the cost of fraud to their good customers in the form of higher finance charges. The Federal law limits to $50 the cardholder’s liability for unauthorized use.

The usurer, the debtor, and the crook are all doing well in the United States, but it is a continuous challenge: life in perpetual debt, instead of freedom from worrying of paying next month’s bill. That should not become the future of a middle class Indian family in 2025, when, according to a McKinsey & Company report, there will be 583 million uppity Indians dancing with their credit cards.

(ND Batra teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University and is the author of Digital Freedom forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Digital Freedom

If people have to choose between freedom and sandwiches, they will take sandwiches.
~ Lord Boyd Orr ~

Digital Freedom: How Much Can You handle?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Saving Pakistan

Heed the voice of Dawn’s Haroon

From The Statesman

ND Batra

Pakistan is undergoing political and cultural turmoil unnoticed by rest of the world, says Hameed Haroon, the publisher of the Dawn group of newspapers, in a piece published in the Wall Street Journal last week. People opposing the high-handedness of President Pervez Musharraf against “infringement of judicial independence” are lawyers, journalists and other “mainstream groups striving to bring Pakistan under the rule of law,” he says.

Since Musharraf removed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on March 9 on allegations of misusing authority, there have been countrywide protests. Pakistan’s landscape is much more variegated and complex than the Western media has been portraying: that religious extremists are keeping the country under siege. Haroon says that Musharraf has victimized the Dawn group “precisely for exposing his failure to firm up the country’s security situation. We have reported on the pattern of ad-hoc deal-making between the Pakistan government and pro-Taliban militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, not to mention the government’s continued covert support of Kashmiri militants.”

India should take note. The United States should redirect its resources in Pakistan.

Instead of depending upon the questionable political strength and commitment of Musharraf for war against terrorism, the United States should reach out to a wide variety of constituencies in Pakistan including the media, universities, businesses, non-profit organisations, tribal leaders and intelligence communities.

More than two months ago on a visit to Pakistan, Vice President Dick Cheney chided Musharraf for not doing enough to prevent Al-Qaida and Taliban from rebuilding and strengthening the infrastructure of terrorism in the safety of tribal areas from where they have been operating to carry out terrorist attacks against Afghan and NATO troops. The suicide bomber attack in Afghanistan during Cheney’s visit that killed 23 people provided enough evidence that the Taliban and Al-Qaida have been regaining strength.

Cheney is not known for his diplomatic subtleties but since he is the closest to President George W Bush, the Pakistani ruler should have gotten the message that US aid might be in jeopardy if the Taliban growth was not checked.

Pakistanis have never been enamoured of how Musharraf was forced into an alliance with the United States after the September 11 terrorist attacks. But in order to cooperate with the United States in its struggle against terrorism, Pakistan has turned itself into a country warring against the very elements, Islamic extremism and militancy, that its super intelligence agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), nurtured as tools of foreign policy.

Musharraf has not been able, or may be he is not willing, to make a total break from the forces that have supported him in his hold on power and hence the reluctant approach toward helping the United States. Once again, especially after Musharraf cut the deal last year with tribal leaders virtually relinquishing sovereign authority over the tribal territory, Pakistan has become a safe haven for Al-Qaida and the Taliban.

John D Negroponte, Deputy US Secretary of State, told Congress in February that Al-Qaida was “cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders’ secure hide-out in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.” Pakistani authorities have not challenged his statement.

In spite of what Dawn’s Haroon says about the administration’s attempt to control the media by withholding government advertisement, the question is whether Musharraf is indeed in full control of the forces operating in his fractured country. If not, what can the United States do about it?

First of all, the United States and NATO forces should not hesitate to cross into the tribal territories in pursuit of the Taliban, since Pakistan has virtually given up control over them. Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, chief operations officer for the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last March that “we have all the authorities we need to pursue, either with (artillery) fire or on the ground, across the border.”

The United States should think of establishing direct relations with tribal leaders in order to wean them away from the Taliban and Al-Qaida. The United States must keep pressuring Musharraf to break the nexus between ISI and the Taliban and other sectarian extremist groups. In many ways ISI works much like an independent power center, a state within the state, and it may become necessary for the United States intelligence to establish direct relations with its hierarchy, since nothing happens in Pakistan without its acquiescence.

The United States needs to do much more aggressive public and business diplomacy in Pakistan to reach out to the intelligentsia and middle classes, who have the same global aspirations as other countries with growing economies. The prospects of rapid economic growth and rising prosperity would present Pakistanis with an alternative future, one based on science and technology and globalization.

Last but not least, heed the voice of Dawn’s Haroon. He is saying something that the world has not heard before. He represents a future that might happen: a progressive, liberal, and more or less a secular Pakistan.

AsiaMedia :: Pakistan in turmoil

AsiaMedia :: Pakistan in turmoil

Friday, May 11, 2007

Remembering Rabindra Nath Tagore

From Rajat Das Gupta
Calcutta (India)

Remembering Rabindra Nath Tagore

A few leaves from the letters/diaries ofRabindra Nath TagoreNobel Laureate 1913
(Second lot forwarded after the first one published on November 1, 2006)
Translator’s forewordLiterature of Tagore along with his songs is a vast ocean with inexhaustible treasures in it where paramount aesthetics, spirituality, philosophical insight, cosmic perception etc. abound. Very reasonably, this should not be a benchmark to assess Tagore’s letters and diaries behind which there was no creative goal neither these were primarily for the public eye. Yet, the Poet’s sparkling wisdom in scores of these letters/diaries is worth sharing by us even to-day when they have hardly lost their relevance.So far, about 4200 of the Poet’s letters both in Bengali and English have been classified, besides the numerous others lying in heaps in Visva Bharati (Tagore’s University at Santiniketan, West Bengal). ‘Shayan’ is a bi-annual magazine running for last 8 years. The January-June ’03 issue is a compilation from Tagore’s letters and diaries. Stress has been given on the letters which voice the question, how should we survive in this genocide afflicted world, which process had a great upheaval in early 20th century and is snowballing alarmingly even to-day. No letter has been produced in full. Only their extracts have been presented which have been found serving the purpose of the book.The editor of the magazine Mr. Pathik Basu has done this hard work with amazing dedication which has made these invaluable documents handy to us. One might opine, these documents, though originally meant for consumption at personal levels, their publication will give opportunity to all and sundry to have a glimpse of the Poet’s brilliant mind, though somewhat less than his creations purely with literary and aesthetic pursuits.It is my pleasure to translate a few selected passages from Mr. Basu’s 343-page book, at his desire, into English, hoping these will reach worldwide across the narrow Bengali circle. Here follow a few samples.

August, 2003 RAJAT DAS GUPTA (rajarch@cal3.vsnl.net.in)

1) The Beauty of Commerce

In the animal world, competence of man does not lie in his physical excesses. Man’s skin is soft, his muscles feeble and the power of his senses too falls short of the animals’. Yet, he has acquired such a strength which is not visible, not occupant of space, not based on a mass of soil, yet it is omnipotent all over the Earth. Man’s strength has dodged the boundary of his physique and has become powerful invisibility. Bible says, he who is modest will conquer the world. This means, strength of modesty is not external, but it is internal, less it hits more victorious it is. It does not fight in a battlefield, but earns its victory by accord with the powers in the world.

The demon of Commerce too must one day be humanistic by restraining its demonic havoc. This Commerce has little brain and no heart, so it is only increasing its burden on earth. It is aiming victory by extending its occupied area with its deadly resolve. But that which will be victorious one day, is humble in size with its simple procedures, that accepts Man’s heart, his aesthetics and religiosity. It is modest and not shamelessly greedy. Its stability is in its inner order, not in its external size, not by depriving others but by its harmony with all. Of all the human razzmatazz this Commerce is the ugliest. It has brought fatigue on Earth by its own weight, deafened it by its noise, blighted the Earth by its garbage, and wounded life by its greed. Coronation of this greed on the world’s throne and endorsing our slavery to this worldwide ugliness, this revolt against all beauty, aesthetics and human heart, is daily lashing the noblest human undoubtedly. This chess game, mad about ‘profit’, with man as its pawn, will continue how long? This game must be aborted – where in greed of ‘profit’ man is losing himself continuously.

[On voyage to Japan, on board Tosamaru- May, 1917]

2) Introversion of Indian religion

Dear Rani,
Our ship will go round two isles, so two days’ journey will elongate to three. Here Viswakarma’s (god of Engineering) holed bags have let out soil to scatter over the sea to form many an isle. Those are under Dutch command. The isle where our ship is anchored now, is known as Biliton. Population is sparse. There are tin quarries manned by their managers and labourers. It is a wonder how they are milking the entire earth. Once upon a time these people sailed off in swarms into the unknown seas. They had went round the earth to be familiar with it, to measure it. That history of familiarization is long and hazardous. I ponder, when they had first lowered their sail here at these coasts, far away from their homes, how full were those days of apprehension and expectation as well. The greenery, animals, humans here were all strange to them. But to-day, everything is known and vanquished!
They have defeated us, why, I ponder. The main reason is, we are static they are dynamic. So they could go round easily and that is why they have known and their appetite for knowledge has been further whetted.. That appetite is feeble among us because of our stagnation. Even our knowledge about our neighbors is vague neither we have urge to know them better. Because, our home encloses us too much. Those, whose vigour for knowledge is low, so is that for their survival. With the same vitality that enabled them to earn all rights over Java, is the dedication of their archeologists to explore this island. Yet, like this island, its archeology too was totally alien to them. We are indifferent about knowledge of our neighborhood while their urge to know the distant is limitless. Not only by muscle, but by vitality of their quest they are conquering the ins and outs of this world. But, we are domestic intimately. This means, we are mere components of our family, trapped in a thousand bondages. Our responsibility for a livelihood is entangled with that for the rituals, the redundant load of which has almost crippled our genuine duties. From caste related obligations up to the funeral rites, all the duties have burdened us throughout our mortal and post-mortem phases, have made our movement impossible and is only siphoning out our vitality. The offspring of such homes are bound to be lashed by others, which we are feeling inwardly.

…..But, if it is easy to demolish age-old orders, how long it will take to build the foundation for the new ones? About duty and non-duty, each society has habituated itself to certain principles, based on which the populace keeps going. By argument and logic only few can keep righteous. But it is not easy to replace one habituation by another. All our habituations are for cohesion of the myriad inane in our family life. It is easy to learn from Europeans their science, but not their social habituations.

[Letter to Rani Mahalnobis while on the way to Java – Sept 1927]

3. Islam and Mahabharata
Dear Amiya,
My visits here are nearly over. It was my wonder to observe their people’s theatre, clumsily integrating Indian fragments. I had written you before how Ramayana and Mahabharata are animated in their life. Because it is living, it is not a prototype of any documented literature. It had drastic metamorphosis through thoughts and imaginations of the people here. They did not get in store in any scriptural sermon all the principles of life, but had those embodied in the characters of these two epics. The yardsticks to judge good and bad in the humans are these characters. So, with dynamics of life its prerequisites have changed variously. It is like oral transformation of Vidyapati and Chandidas’ (poets of mediaeval Bengal) compositions relayed down by the Bengali musicians from age to age. Yesterday we went for a shadow show. Its typed story was given to us. I’m sending it for your eye. Translate it into Bengali and judge it vis-à-vis the original Mahabharata. The distinction of the story is, there is no Draupadi (the central polyandrous female character of this epic having all the five Pandava brothers as her husbands) in the story. The neuter Brihannala of Mahabharata has been named ‘Kenobordi’ as a female. Kitchaka was beguiled by her beauty and fell victim to Bhim (the 2nd Pandava). This Kitchaka is enemy of the fish-king in Javani Mahabharata. Pandavas, by exterminating him, earned the gratitude of the King Birat.

The balcony of the palace of the king titled as ‘Monkunagro’, where I am sitting now to write this letter, abounds with Ramayana stories beautifully drawn on silk to be seen all around on the foundation pillars. But, they are Muslims by religion. Yet, they know ins and outs of the Hindu deities. They have taken as their own all the ancient streams of the India narratives.. In fact, there is nothing wrong in it, as the characters of Ramayana and Mahabharata in abstraction are roaming around in their land. Rather, they do not have such all pervasive camaraderie in our country., where they do not figure in all their festivals as at every home here.

[Written to Amiya Chakraborty while on Java trip: 17 Sept. 1927]

4. About songs

For sometime, the debate on relative positions of ‘word’ and ‘music’ in a song is going on. I am not a maestro, but my common sense says this subject is not exclusively for a debate, but is very much inherent in Creation with its frolic. The high hand runs its steam roller on a fixed track to protect our rules and destinations. But, in the meantime, the Creator showers His creations in a myriad branches- where ‘words’ go alone and so does ‘music’ and, again, they go entangled too. In both this ‘isolation’ and ‘entanglement’ flowers joy. Those who advocate a ‘communal’ divide between the two, my appeal goes to them, to stop from hoisting these ‘class banners’ thus standing on the way of the creative streams only as a nuisance at the cost of peace. (Written to Dhurjoti Prasad Mukhopaddhay on 8 Oct. 1937).

I am inclined to equate the daytime with the Western music, a big medley of harmonized music and mal-music clubbed up in bits and pieces, and the night with our Indian music, an immaculate solemnity of unpolluted pathos. Both move us, though paradoxically. But what to do? There is an inherent contradiction in Nature, with splits between the King and Queen, day and night, varied and homogenous, spatial and infinite. We Indians live in Night’s domain. We are obsessed by the indivisible and eternal. Ours is a solo in solitude. Europe’s is the song for the public place. Our song transcends the listeners beyond the boundary of their daily weal and woe to transport them to a solitary land of recluse, whereas European music dances one variously through the endless ups and downs of life.
[Selaidah (now in Bangladesh). Chhinapatra (=stray letters) 10 Aug. 1894]

You were talking about senility of Hindustani music. What happened is, it has turned classic, which means an immaculate perfection, steadfast in format. Such fulfillment is suicidal. Fulfillment, along with accomplishment brings stagnation. But this is a stumbling block which can never crave liberation of art. So, you’ll find in history that catastrophe occurs when our fastidiousness beguiles us to this classicist archaism.
[To Dilip Kumar Roy, Baranagar (Calcutta), 26 Mar. 1938]

5. Form and value of literature

Values are of three types. One is for marketplace, the second for religion and the third for aesthetics, being purely personal. From the last intellect is not banished, but it is secondary. Here the main architect is the person building the image, who can observe form and shape it.. Form does not merely mean that which has area, weight and outline. Here, form attaches some aesthetics which provokes unnecessary interest. Unnecessary because, this interest is the ultimate goal without any more ‘why’ and ‘what’. In this world a ‘person’ is that type, his/her reality is my very own and no other verbiage is above it. My curiosity about a ‘person’ is entirely naïve – beyond question and last answer to all questions.

So I say, creation of form is art- through which with inane inquest I perceive the form of a good song, in rotation of music and rhyme it casts such a spell which from my heart I feel as truth; but don’t feel this ‘wall’ as such. What provokes this perception of truth is that form which has various components, the main being ‘emotion’. Because, through ‘emotion’ our consciousness knows ‘self’ deeply. Even ‘immaculate perception’ as propounded by the yogis is one of Anandam (divine joy), or an emotion to say. ‘Thoughts’ also may be component for creation for art, but not to transcend one to truth. But, the thoughts may be so arranged that will generate a nuance beyond ‘arguments’ into an aesthetic, to give us Anandam without reason, else those would be rabid elephants in a lotus garden.

Words and sentences convey literature. In words there is sound and meaning, both needed in literature, but not for the sole purpose of ‘information’. ‘Information’ will of course be there, but as a subordinate. If it gives a picture and aesthetics, then only it helps create an art. The word ‘empathy’ does not offer any music, picture or aesthetic. But somehow the word ‘compassion’ is accepted. Yet, on intellectual judgment ‘empathy’ is appropriate, accurate and explicit i.e. to be one with others to feel alike with them, which definition goes with the word. Yet, it did not work, as it has explanation but no form. Form embraces a ‘totality’ beyond analysis and does not lob in your mind in isolation.

If you want to build literature placing the intellectual bricks one upon another, each brick cannot contribute there more than its own quantity. But in a tree with life, each segment is superseding itself, possessing a charm which at once manifests the totality. In a literary work, if every word possesses such ‘form’, then the totality is available in each segments. This is called creation.

[To Sudhindranath Dutta, from Santiniketan]

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Cut and run from Iraq? No way

No way the US can abandon Iraq

From The Statesman

George Tenet, the former CIA director, who was awarded the presidential medal of freedom (for providing intelligence about Afghanistan and Iraq) has come out with a book in which he states that the Bush gang, Vice-President Dick Cheney and former secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld, turned the intelligence agency into nothing but a propaganda machine for educating the US Congress into supporting the war against Iraq and bamboozling the international community into believing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and in fact he was the enemy of mankind (read the United States.)

Since his retirement from the cloak and dagger agency, Tenet has been a sort of an academic at Georgetown University; and now with a $4 million book advance, the former spymaster has been going from talk-show to talk-show peddling his own version of truth and washing his hands of all that had been said and done in his name. But every time he opens his mouth, the talk show host shows the picture of the former secretary of state Colin Powell showing fake satellite images of Saddam’s preparations for weapons of mass destruction. Behind Powell is seen Tenet with a “Slam Dunk” confident face.

Tenet’s book cannot undo the television images of his complicity in the war that has turned Iraq into a hellhole. Based on faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, in 2002 the US Congress authorised President George W Bush to go to war in Iraq. Mission accomplished, said Bush four years ago on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of California; but instead of drums of freedom Iraq ironically exploded with ancient Shia-Sunni hatred. The United States has been trying to stamp out sectarian civil war with the help of an impotent government, albeit democratically elected.

There seems to be no way out. Americans did not expect a future of this kind, a bloody mess that has killed hundreds of thousands of the Iraqis and driven millions out of the country. Seeing the ceaseless daily carnage of civilians being blown off in streets and the marketplace we have become numbed. Why no one ever in the US Congress imagined the probability of this kind of scenario of hell? Having been complicit in the war, along with the US news media, Congress has no means of ending the raging sectarian violence, insurgency or civil war, by whatever name you call it, and bring peace to the region. With its funding power

Congress tried to force the president to bring troops back home but Bush vetoed the spending bill. Bush does not want to abandon Iraq. That will be an act of cowardliness and national humiliation. Supporting the US combat forces in Iraq while opposing the additional deployment represents the raging but impotent rhetoric in the country. Like most of the American people Congress wants troops back home but does not want to leave the Iraqi people to chaos; or at the mercy of their neighbor Iran or other surrounding Sunni Arab countries. Hence the political schizophrenia and confusion worse confounding at the Capitol Hill.

Iraq is splintered on ethnic lines among Kurds, Shias and Sunnis, and unfortunately there is no well-organized force strong enough to transcend sectarianism and impose order on the country and put it together again. The American people, though overwhelmingly opposed to the President’s Iraq policy, do not want troops to be denied of necessary funds. And probably there in lies the source of Bush’s persistence in pursuing his policy of troop surge in spite of the fact that repeated polls have been pushing him down the popularity ladder. He refuses to be a lame duck. He is still a man with a mission though you see the agony of failure on his face.

Increasing confrontation with Democratic controlled Congress is nonetheless compelling Bush to explore some other ways of mitigating the situation; for example, reluctantly recognising Iran and Syria as parties to the conflict and bringing them to the negotiating table as it was tried in the last week’s Middle East conference held in Egypt. A diplomatic breakthrough the kind recently achieved with North Korea, based on negotiations with regional powers, is a way out. But the search for diplomatic solution requires that the Bush administration must think about new strategies in dealing with Iran.

Congress can be very effective in using its power of the purse by stressing the importance diplomatic means of negotiating peace in Iraq. It must urge the Bush administration to shed its inhibition in talking with Iranian authorities and develop common grounds with Iran in ending ethnic conflict in Iraq, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been trying to do with Syria. In the meantime watch people like George Tenet getting out of the White House and run after mega-million book deals.

There is nothing more spectacular and pathetic than a former loyalist develop sudden pangs of conscience and begin telling kitchen and bedroom tales for a handful of silver.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

March of wirelessly mobile masses

Challenge of wirelessly mobile masses

From The Statesman

India’s phenomenal growth in cell phone users, now totaling to 166 million, will have tremendous political and cultural repercussions. Last year 67 million new users were added and by the year 2010, at this rate of growth, India will have more than 400 million cell phone users. Cell phones are not just for calling.

While we become used to picture taking, web surfing and photo and music sharing on cell phones, we should look forward to newer uses of the tiny handheld: live television broadcast, credit card purchases for airline tickets, and ID for security checks and data access. With the spread of WiFi hotspots and ability to roam wirelessly, cell phones will become, for some of us, better than (hmm!) our better-halves. Most of all cell phones will be used as a tool for mass political actions.

On 20 January, 2001, President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines became the first head of a state that lost power to a digitally smart mob in Manila, a million of them who used cell phones to exchange text messages and swarmed like bees for a peaceful demonstration at Epifanio de Santas Avenue (EDSA). The message was: GO 2EDSA, Wear black. It was impossible for Estrada to hold on to power in the face of the people’s mobile power. Whether that would happen in China or not is a matter of speculation. But the 2008 Summer Olympics is upon us and anything could happen.

Different cultures use the same technology differently. Koreans and Japanese use their cells for text messaging. Americans love to talk and listen to music. Music mobility is big in the United States and before long cell phones and mobile music devices would converge. Let’s see how Indian culture assimilates cell phones now that the technology is penetrating even rural areas. Millions of Indians cell users cannot chat idly all the time.

They will make money, they will change minds, and they will change the government. I wonder whether we would become more responsive to the human condition if we are able to surf the Web through wearable computers, eyeglasses or do instant messaging through picture cell phones. But there is no denying the fact that as wireless computer chips get embedded into various devices, communication ecology would change, so would society.

Wireless networks are collapsing space and time, turning Indian geographic space into cyberspace, and are bringing people together through digital presence for collaboration in the workplace and cultural space. The experience of the presence of others in a virtual environment created by networked communication is a new social experience for many. Virtual presence could become active political presence, as it might happen during the Beijing Summer Olympics. Terrorist networks too could organize virtually to strike anywhere. Every human activity from a child’s laughter to the most complex mathematical hypothesis is nothing but information in the binary format. Every human activity that takes place in an analogue world can be turned into digital data, and can instantly be distributed globally through computer networks, thus extending the reach of human communication.

Digital data can not only be stored and retrieved instantly anywhere but they can also be transformed into predictive intelligence about human behaviour regarding commerce, national security or any other social or political activity. Books, music files, love bugs or terrorist messages, for example, become indistinguishable as they converge in a digital stream and surge through cyberspace.

Convergence, instantaneity and feedback interactivity make the Internet the most powerful medium of communication ever developed. Since the traditional media including books, television, newspapers, magazines, radio, music and interpersonal communication are converging on the Internet as a multimedia stream into which anyone can plug in, their power increases manifold and in ways whose implications we still don’t understand. Outsourcing, for example, has given India a constant state of virtual presence in the American corporate discourse (Read the latest Wall Street Journal report, “Getting China and India Right”).

Unlike the offshoring of manufacturing, outsourcing of research and development and other forms of intellectual and professional work is bringing India, the European Union and the United states into a virtual world where brain power and creativity are shared and enhanced. The Internet thus is revolutionary in the sense that it is lowering barriers for cooperative co-existence of cultures.
Cultures prosper when they share boundaries, interpenetrate and cooperate with each other. Computer networks and the Internet have altered our view of space and time.
A networked organisation or an individual with instant messaging and e-mail has different feel of space and time than the people of the pre-digital era.
Cell phone is the new door to cyberspace; and once you are there, you are simultaneously in a synchronous and asynchronous world, a world that gives a greater illusion of freedom and control than the real world.

Today cyberspace has become a multi-dimensional virtual universe in which activities are as real as they are in physical space. With the rise of mobile digital power in India we will see the emergence of collective brainpower to solve complex problems. As more and more people experience activities in cyberspace through wireless presence, they will see that what is local is becoming global.

(ND Batra is the author of Digital Freedom: How Much Can You Handle? forthcoming from Rowman and Littlefield. He is working on a new book: This is the American Way)