Saturday, September 29, 2007

The laughing broom

Thou Hast Made Me Endless- Part VII

From RAJAT DAS GUPTA, Calcutta

[The following poem is the preamble of the book Prahasini (Satirist) in Bengali by the Rabindranath Tagore written in 1939, two years before his death at the age of 80. While the poet endowed us with his superb literature, music and philosophical thoughts, albeit being a personality of highest dignity, he could easily come down to the level of lesser mortals around him and amuse them with the sparks of his brilliant wits whenever occasion would arise. The Poet was a guest of Mrs. Maitrayee Devi at Mangpu (a hill station near Darjeeling) a few times towards the end of his life. She collected all the wonderful dialogues of the poet as she could in her book ‘Mangpute Rabindranath’ (Rabindranath in Mangpu) translated by herself from the original Bengali into English with the title ‘Tagore by Fireside’. As the book records, the Poet was amazingly mobile between the highest aesthetic/philosophical thoughts and the lighter humor.]

The laughing broom of the comet at times
Sweeps fun down the Universe to our climes
Speeding past the bewildered Sun’s dominion
With flashes of wit to lose into oblivion
Takes leave the Universal jester.
Along my life’s orbit, I know not why
The crazy comets at times do pass by.
Rushing in the void the tail of rigmarole
With momentary frolic without a goal
Shaking up the hood of the somber.
At times the world relaxes
Either in hilarity or amuses
Glitters laughter brilliant,
Yet not lasting, in an instant
Blots out its trail;
The night in meditation on its dark seat
Scatters meteors in its freakish beat
Countless sparks of wit it does fling
That booty beyond reckoning –
Discharges in a few hours’ frail.
In this Universe there are matters crazy
Creator’s amused affection thereon I do fancy,
Mirth and frolic, God’s gift so
Inscribed in my dignity do go;
At heart I know, it is precious;
So much senile I shall be never
To call caddish fun and laughter;
If so the old will grunt
With God I’ll merrily share its brunt;
Grant it forthwith and not turn serious.

* * * * * * * * * * ** *** *** * ** * ** ** * ** * *

Poem from the book ‘Khapchara’ (Crazy) written to the Poet’s friend Rajsekhar Bose in 1937.
[Translator’s note: Rajsekhar Bose of Tagore’s time is still popular among the Bengali literati for his spoof literature which he wrote under the nickname Parasuram (a legendary sage of ancient India, notorious for his bad temper). The poet here upholds nonsense as a valuable part of human life as a design of God. In Hindu mythology Brahma is considered as the God of Creation, having four faces. In other words, man is of myriad character encompassing humor and frolic. In this poem the Poet gives a witty explanation of the four faces of Brahma.]

If you find this senile
Shedding his pretensions awhile-
Naughty seems to be,
Blabs successfully,
Notice his childish fruition
And lapses in dedication
Towards Vedas (*), not solemn (* 4000 year old scripture)
Like the Atlantic Ocean,
His words
Tend to farce;
Brain crazy,
Mind borders lunacy,
And so you condemn
His education as vain –
Why the Creator, I’ll ask
Has four faces, for what task?
One for philosophy
To preach homily;
The other for Veda accent,
That too well meant;
The third is for poetry profuse
Our mind in emotion to muse;
Then, the last one you must know –
Is the preserve for “Ho! Ho!”. (=laughter)
Wild folly all fences to overflow;
At its push
In my brain all nonsense ambush,
And spiral up to rigmarole
Without a goal.
A disciple of that four faced
I happen to be; so has been said;
However much that may amuse you
Support documents, not a few;
Creation plays my fancy, you may see
Yet, I tilt for ramble with no less glee.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

RAJAT DAS GUPTA: Calcutta: e-mail:
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941 AD) the Nobel Laureate of 1913 was introduced to the West primarily through the collection of English translation of some of his poems/songs captioned as ‘Gitanjali’ (=Offering of Songs).More translations of his works followed by the poet himself and others after he had won the Nobel, including poems/songs, dramas, short stories etc. However, such efforts were sporadic and sluggish, mostly on individual initiative, which still remain so.As a result, a vast volume of the poet’s works remains un-translated while, it appears, it is an impossible proposition to translate even a substantial part of the poet’s total works to permit those, not privileged by the knowledge of Bengali language, a reasonably broad view of his myriad creations where unfathomable perceptional depth of top grade aesthetics runs through, literally true to his song “Thou hast made me endless / Such is Thy pleasure”.Notwithstanding this, an upsurge of Tagore translation took place in the last decade of the twentieth century by virtue of a good number of eminent poets/translators e.g.William Radice, Joe Winter, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, to name a few, all of whom left their valuable contribution to this oeuvre and my book THE ECLIPSED SUN is a modest addition to this. I have put stress on a few aspects of the poet’s works, particularly those in his twilight years, which seemed to me quite inadequately covered so far. The followings are presented mostly based on this book.

Tagore the wag:
Preamble: While Tagore was an embodiment of supreme dignity, spirituality and aesthetics, his mobility between that height and the mundane, including very refined practical jokes, was indeed amazing. I am tempted to refer here quite elaborately to Maitrayee Devi’s ‘Tagore By Fireside’ (a translation by herself of her original book in Bengali ‘Mangpute Rabindranath’ i.e.’Rabindranath at Mangpu’, a hill station near Darjeeling which was the workplace of her husband) based on her diary she maintained while Tagore was her guest intermittently between 1938 and 1940. Her book is a unique literature of its kind. In no other writing one gets the poet so closely as in this book, through the eyes of Maitrayee Devi. The undernoted incidents/quotes from this book will hopefully be found relevant to the following two poems.
There was no dearth of scandal mongers against Tagore which disturbed very much Maitrayee, a great devotee of the Poet, whenever she would hear all these. Once, when the Poet was in Mangpu, she heard the scandal that the poet must have champagne every evening (the fact is, the Poet was a teetotaler and also that wine & alcohol are taboos even now among the hoi polloi in India). Overcoming her inhibition one day, she reported the Poet about this baseless scandal. The Poet answered, “Ah, no less than champagne! But even after hearing all these, I find no improvement in your hospitality!” Maitrayee’s reply was- “Hell!”
Another such scandal was that the Poet never allowed those women to come near him who were not beautiful. Having this report from Maitrayee, the Poet said, “But those who speak thus, must not have seen you!’. Indignant Maitrayee said, “Such insults on appearance and age is intolerable!’. The Poet said, “But I never told you anything about your age! (It seems, on some earlier occasion he did.) I know well that you can’t be older than 45!” (At that time Maitrayee was only 25 years old). Now, thus he mollified the still indignant Maitrayee – “But why are you still cross? Just think how nice an arrangement it would have been had I been really so (i.e. averse to women not beautiful). Santiniketan would have been free of the womenfolk there!” (Only Tagore could be intrepid enough to dismiss all of them as ‘not beautiful’!)
Once again in Mangpu, Tagore conspired with a few of his associates to play a practical joke on a female relative of Maitrayee, whom all of them (including Tagore) addressed as Mashi (which in Bengali is the address for one’s mother’s sisters, but may be applied to any woman around their age. For jest it is applied to much younger girls also, as in this case). Mashi was terribly afraid of insects which were then abundant while it was monsoon time. In the morning the poet predicted the girl that it would be a bad day for her, pretending that it was his astrological reading. On persistence of the girl for more details of the impending mishap, the Poet replied that it might be of any kind which could not be precisely foreseen. Then, in the words of Maitrayee Devi:]

“Early in the evening, at about dinner-time, I was waiting to give the Poet some medicine, when I suddenly heard a piercing shriek and a loud crash of falling crockery. I ran into the dining room to find Mashi standing on a chair, thoroughly distraught, with the dining table in complete disorder, while the others, whom the Poet used to call his three lords, were eating a huge beetle with much gusto. Then it came out that the beetle was made of chocolate. The great lord had ordered it from a confectioner’s in Darjeeling, and then by previous unanimous agreement it was placed ready on Mashi’s plate neatly covered with a serviette. I came back to the Poet’s room and found him laughing to himself to his heart’s content.
‘Mashi, didn’t I predict that the day would end badly for you?’
‘Amazing! You were also in this conspiracy?’
‘Really, I am also in it, am I? That is too bad, it really has gone too far – please do not release the news to the Associated Press, for the Poet Emperor (The poet is referred in India as the Poet-Emperor, The World Poet, The Great Poet etc.) would lose his prestige altogether, specially in our Guru-ridden country! Had I sat on a high pedestal, behaving like a proper preceptor and now and then showered sermons from the high, who would have been the loser? Those who fix themselves on the top do not realize how much they lose.’
Words, that are limited by fixed meanings, seem inadequate to express how all the fine and sensitive touches of his personality revealed themselves to us, how we found him at once detached and absorbed. Even when absorbed in deep thought, engrossed in serious writing, he would return to us in a moment. He was interested in our smallest pleasures and pains, our trivial problems of our everyday life, watching over us with affection and anxiety. He did not stand like an onlooker on the bank, but came right into the middle of our life stream and felt its flow. Yet, in a moment, he would be off on a voyage to some far away region. At one moment he would talk on ordinary topics and regale everyone with humorous conversation, but the next moment he would relapse into a silence that would change the whole aspect of his personality, as if a door had closed, leaving us outside it, to gaze into a mystery we could never aspire to reach. Sometimes, in moments like this, we have felt, at least I have felt, that I should not speak at all, even if there should be something urgent to say. The tranquility that emanated from him at such times cannot be transmitted to my readers through the medium of language. Sometimes he would sit for hours without moving a hair, a hush would descend over the trees, over the dark masses of bushes; at such times all noise, even the voices inside the house, would disappear from consciousness, something would reach out to me from that absolute stillness. I longed to sit at the feet of my Guru in those tranquil hours, but it was not an easy thing at the beginning; for ordinary persons like us to be able to sit in perfect stillness for a while needs training. One’s back would start itching, or toe would go to slip, something or other would tickle somewhere, making it absolutely necessary to change position. In the beginning, I was amazed to see him sit in the same position for hours, forgetting the existence of a body. Sometimes in the early hours of dawn, I have found him sitting thus, quite unmindful of the centipedes that were crawling up and down his arm. And then I would be confronted with a problem, not knowing whether to brush them away or leave them undisturbed. I find it impossible to express not only what he was, but also how I saw him. I can take down a little of his conversation, but how I can explain that eloquence of his silence, which was a deeper expression of his personality, as I felt sitting there in an ineffable companionship, filled with a glow of well-being that baffles all description?”

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Living Digitally

Shamelessness or transparency?

From The Statesman
ND Batra
Last week a flamboyant student Andrew Meyer raised a ruckus at a meeting held at the University of Florida by Senator John Kerry, who in 2004 lost the presidential election to George W Bush. During the question answer time, Meyer in a length tirade accused Senator Kerry of being a wimp for not challenging the results of the election.
“There are multiple reports of disenfranchisement among black voters on the day of the election in 2004. There was also voting machines, electronic voting machines in Volusia County Florida that counted backwards… Didn’t you want to be president?”
The campus police took the unusual step of using electronic stun gun to subdue Meyer, who went on shouting, What have I done, what have I done, let me go… Soon the video was YouTubed and has been seen millions of time.

The world is becoming a digital theater, a place of grand and cruel and some time comic gestures in cyberspace. A well-rehearsed and structured tableau of victims and perpetrators in action, for example, could be uploaded for instant global spontaneous reactions, of curses and condemnations, of revenge and retributions. Anyone who wants to make an impact would develop a digital strategy to be on the centre-stage.

Terrorists digitise gruesome killing and let loose the images in cyberspace. In 2004 American television withheld from the public how the 26-year-old American telecommunications contractor Nicholas Berg’s head was chopped off in one fell swoop. But sooner or later those who loved the macabre and heinous surfed the net and discovered on their own the digitisation of terror. And millions did, as if it were another reality show.

In times like these when we are deluged with unceasing barrage of commentaries from talking heads and pundits, digitally capsulated significant moments tell the real story with telling effects. Whether you hear the click or not, somewhere a cell camera might have taken a snap of the moment that might become a witness to an atrocity or crime; but before the image finds its way to an inquiry commission or a court, the public would have the chance to see it in cyberspace, where court gag orders don’t always work.

Shortly after the picture of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by the US troops were published in 2004, the Daily Mirror, a London tabloid, published photos of Iraqi prisoners being abused by British soldiers, which subsequently turned out to be fake. Instead of verifying the accuracy of the pictures in the light of mounting public criticism, as a responsible editor should have done, the Mirror’s editor insisted that the pictures were genuine and the newspaper’s account of the abuse was accurate. Though the editor lost his job for publishing fakery, there’s a lesson to be learned that in the Internet age the responsibilities of media gatekeepers, anchorpersons and editors, have become all the more crucial. Sometimes the camera blinks and lies: digital distortion and manipulation is easy. By the time the Daily Mirror realized its error the damage had been done. Apologies cannot erase digital memories.

Databases exist in perpetuity. In the pre-digital era too faking photo was not difficult but now cut-and-paste can be done with a few clicks and uploaded for the world to see. Imagine if that had been done during the Nazi concentration camps, Holocaust might have been a different story. The Vietnam War is enshrined in two images: A little Vietnamese girl running scared and stark naked on a highway after a napalm bomb attack; and the other, a Viet Cong prisoner being shot point blank. If instead of a digital camera, which has no negative and needs no development, an analogue camera had been used at Abu Ghraib prison, someone probably would have stopped the picture development for fear of exposure. The words wouldn’t have captured the sexual humiliation and degradation of Iraqi prisoners whose only fault was that they were captured and wouldn’t respond to military intelligence experts’ extreme interrogations. Torture of prisoners of war and others has been an ignored but universal practice, regardless of Geneva Conventions, but now that unobtrusive cell cameras can not only capture the outrage but instantly put it on into cyberspace, thanks to wireless satellite uplinks within the reach of most of us, transparency and instantaneity have become a modern condition and a diplomatic hazard.

When Abu Ghraib prison atrocities were uncovered, some practitioners of dark humor said that the torture chambers of Saddam Hussein were under a new management, the United States Management, and it’s business as usual. The liberators have become torturers, instead of spreaders of democracy in the Middle East. Probably this kind of reaction was uncalled for and excessively vituperative, but you might say, what better way to tell that Americans had lost their way in Iraq.

Republican diehards were shocked that someone allowed those sadomasochistic pictures of prisoners to be shot at all. And worst still, they bemoaned why no one ever stopped them from finding their way into the media. They forget that in the digital age, it is impossible to stop information or images from being shared.

The Internet is a shareable, collaborative and un-censorable medium. Whatever can be digitised will find its way on the Internet, where brazen shamelessness, some call it transparency, is the norm.

(ND Batra, professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University, is the author of Digital Freedom. He is working on a new book: This is the American Way.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A total surveillance society

China surveillance copies USA

From the Statesman
ND Batra

George Orwell’s 1984 failed to materialise, but Keith Bradsher of the New York Times recently wrote how Wall Street has been colluding with the Chinese authorities to turn China into a total surveillance society.

Bradsher wrote: “China Security and Surveillance Technology, a fast-growing company that installs and sometimes operates surveillance systems for Chinese police agencies, jails and banks, among other customers... has just been approved for a listing on the New York Stock Exchange... the latest signs of ever-closer ties among Wall Street, surveillance companies and the Chinese government’s security apparatus.” Another company that trades its shares on Wall Street is China Security and Surveillance.

Just as China is supporting genocide in Darfur through its oil trade with Sudan, the United States is supporting the suppression of human rights by allowing Wall Street to funnel funds to “install surveillance systems providing Chinese police stations with 24-hour video feeds from nearby Internet cafes... Hedge fund money from the United States has paid for the development of not just better video cameras, but face-recognition software and even newer behaviour-recognition software designed to spot the beginnings of a street protest and notify police.”

China says something similar is happening in the United States too. Search companies like Google, Yahoo, AOL and others collect and archive huge amounts of personal data from which can be profiled the behaviour of the user.

Last year, America On Line (AOL), an Internet search company, inadvertently released from its archives millions of search queries done by more than 600,000 users during a three-month period. Thought their names were not released but it would not have been difficult to put together the profile of searcher #167845, for example, and what possessed him or her. The American people are quietly submitting to whatever brings them a feeling of assuredness. Protests against intrusiveness by the government and businesses into our personal lives have become muted.

We are slipping into a low-intensity surveillance society. Every time there is a terrorist attack, we feel that the government might be right. Chinese are no different. Online surveillance devices are being increasingly used by businesses to track users when they surf their websites. Tracking is done unobtrusively and the user can never suspect that he is being watched; nonetheless, the practice is questionable, especially when the website does not declare in its privacy policy.

But who cares in China or Tibet?

Most of us are familiar with cookies, small software programmes the advertisers put on our hard drives to track where we surf so that they can customise the most appropriate advertising message for us to achieve target marketing, reaching the right person with the right message. But a web bug can be programmed to collect whatever data is required without the knowledge of the user. When you look at your online mutual fund statement, or a pornographic site, the web bug too could be monitoring it. So when a Chinese searches for Falun Gong, Catholic Church or the Dalai Lama, do you know what might happen to him? Some American companies claim to inform their visitors about the tracking devices they use and for what purposes. Users can opt-out, but most of them don’t know whether the option is available, nor do many of them pay attention to the privacy statement.
In China, you cannot opt-out.
Surveillance technologies are not limited to the Net. Several companies are using biometrics, face recognition, radio frequency and global positioning system (GPS) technologies, to keep a watch on their properties and track suspects. Many car rental companies in the United States use GPS to keep track of their rental cars. If a car is stolen or is involved in an accident, the company would know the exact location of the car. GPS also enables them to check the speed of a rental car.
Many airports have started using digital fingerprint identification technology to conduct background checks without any protest from employees. Face recognition technology is being extensively used not only in airports but also in ballparks, banks and other business establishments. If a suspect turns up, his face is digitally matched in seconds with the image database.

The US Customs and some airports are using low-dose X-ray machines, such as Body Search, to electronically scan a person for drugs, bombs and contrabands. Body Search electronically strips a person naked and projects the image on the screen for scrutiny without the person being asked to take his/her clothes off - all in the name of security. Hundreds of air travelers, including women, are randomly subjected to electronic Body Search.

An interesting security tracking technology is the radio-frequency identification tag (RFID), which is attached to a suspect’s baggage as he checks in. The tagged baggage is automatically routed to a security area where it is screened with special cameras and sensors for explosives and other hazardous materials. Along with our baggage, we too might have to wear radio-frequency ID tags so that we can be monitored as we move from one airport to another, from country to country via GPS.

Only if we could put an RFID tag on every terrorist!

Nonetheless, the United States is an open society. One can always go to court to seek a remedy against the state as well as corporate America. What can the Chinese do? Go to the Olympics, of course. Or McDonalds.

(ND Batra teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University and is the author of Digital Freedom. He is working on a new book, This is the American Way.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sweet is the Earth's Dust

Thou Hast Made Me Endless- Part VI

Poem: “Madhumay Prithibir Dhuli” (Sweet is the Earth’s dust) of the book AROGYA (=Recovery) written on the 14th Feb. 1941, the year of the Poet’s death at the age of 80.

[Translator's (Rajat Das Gupta) note: In his various essays marvelously interpreting the perceptions of Upanishada (the oldest scripture written/compiled by the sages in India 4000 years back), Tagore illustrates us that everything from the dust of this earth to the stars and planets of the cosmos are imbued with Anandam (Divine Joy) and Amritam (Immortality). This poem conveys us the same message.]

Sweet is the Heaven; so the Earth’s dirt
That I’ve lifted close to my heart –
As my supreme hymn
Life’s ultimate to deem.
All gifts of Truth day by day
That I had, have no decay;
So at Death’s threshold
Resounds the Mantra (*) age old (*= religious hymns)
With the joy of eternity
Resplendent, defying all losses petty.
With Earth’s last touch
For final flight as I’ll perch –
“My forehead I’ve anointed” – I’ll declare
“With Your dust; seen the eternal glare
Beyond the havoc of the tempest
Deluding the Immortal’s joyous form truest;
In Your dust that is manifest –
So on it my head I rest.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Poem No: 18 of the book Sesh Saptak, written in 1935.

[Translator’s note: The following quote from the Poet’s essay Dukkha (Sorrow) from his book Santiniketan will explain well the implication of this poem – “The hymns of our prayer include – ‘I bow down to the Euphoric and the Benevolent’. But, our homage is to the former and not always to the latter. Because, the Benevolent is not necessarily euphoric always, but also grievous. We accept only happiness as His gift and count our sorrows as the result of ill luck.

So, we, the grief fearing , like to hide in various shells of our creation to save ourselves. But, the result of it is, we deprive ourselves of a full exposure to Truth.

If we always coddle our mind from the blows of grief, our living on this earth is then incomplete which never nourishes our health and vigour. The man who on this earth never had a grief, has not received his total dues from God, and his subsistence for his journey remains deficient.

Our dues of grief is not necessarily justified always. We shall have to accept also whatever we call wrong or unjustified. Man cannot develop himself on a refined calculation of his legitimate due and even if one can, it is not to one’s ultimate welfare. We should be capable of gracefully accepting even wrongs and injustices.

But, are all the advantages that come to us are calculated ones? There are occasions when we get more than the price we pay. At that time we don’t think that we don’t deserve it, but usurp the undue advantage without hesitation. Only in case of sorrow we try to balance justice and injustice. The fact is, our recompense is never based on refined calculation.

Process of life is based on acceptance and rejection; centripetal and centrifugal, both the instincts are equally glorious to us. Our faculties of intellect, aesthetics, welfare and all that comprise human superiority, go on the maxim that we should accept as well as sacrifice…..Those who accept all injustices, pain and grief without hesitation, not only strengthen themselves but also become serene, fully exposed to the abrasions of this world, all unchaste in them wear out.

So, be prepared heart and soul – bow down to Him who causes sorrow; only then you will gain health and strength; that will mean bowing down to Shiva (Lord of Destruction) and the neo-Shiva.”

To strive for such a mental male up is the way out of the distress which we tend to cherish when we feel that we have been wronged.]

Do we desire our grief to terminate?
Is it our pride or hate?
But our pain most intense
Carries not Truth’s permanence –
Such a confession true though,
Only hurts our Grief’s ego.

Life scatters all its hoard
On Time’s charioting road
Under its ceaseless wheel
Faint out the severest woe or weal.
Death of our dearest,
Leaves only demand earnest –
“Forget me not” –
While passing into naught.

But countless are demands of life
Which put our minds in strife;
Amidst the present day babel,
That past appeal rings not a bell.

Though the words might remain,
Gone is the pain,
Yet, the pride of Grief
Denies Life its leave –
In its impertinent ardour
Bolts door to Life’s messenger;
In the sprouting soil of Life
Distressed Grief in its hype
To precinct the benefice will assert
To coddle its beloved desert.

With Death’s hoard piled,
His suit against Time filed;
Only to compound frustration
In this futile petition;
Burial in self dug sepulcher
Becomes its intense desire.

All ego is serfdom;
Grief’s is a hard one;
Society, wealth and fame,
In love of these is addiction same,
But it is deepest indeed
In our grief morbid.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Poem No: 10 of the book Prantik (At The Border) written on 8 December 1937

[Translator’s note: Following quote from the Poet’s book Santiniketan well explains the underlying philosophy of this poem –

“One day gods were terror to man. To please whom for a comfortable life or whose displeasure brings disaster, could not be decided by man. To please the power with which there is no spiritual link, humans gathered to worship it with animal sacrifice and such rituals. That worship out of fright is not a festivity. Just as when we are in the hands of the dacoits, we say, ‘we give you whatever I have, but please spare our life’; similarly, to keep pleased the invisible power, on earth man said that day, ‘We’ll give You everything, please don’t put us in crisis’. But that is not a gift of Joy. Once you perceive the God of Joy, there will be no fear. This God of Joy means ‘More’ – that surpasses all; whatever I had or understood, He is more than that; whatever I had not or had lost, He is more than that too. He is greater than wealth, honour and comfort. So, in the worship of ‘More’ man has joyously said, ‘take my wealth, life and honour’. To know this ‘More’ within one’s heart and outside, is not for mundane comfort. The day man has realized that he is not a beast neither his God is, that he is great and so is his God, he has accepted utmost sorrow. That day man became victorious, a hero and so it was celebrated. Just as a bird on the verge of darkness founts its song of joy at the very touch of the sunrays, so does man when divinity touches him; he declares, ‘I am the son of the Immortal’; says he, ‘I have got it!’, with the strength of which he perceives the Immortal within himself, fears no more, and death cannot daunt him; facing the danger he says, ‘my journey is ahead; stop I won’t; I have no defeat; O Terrible, Your grace is boundless’.”]

O Lord of disaster, from your court
The messenger of Death came all to abort.
Snatched me up to Your vast domain
Through dense dark, naught to remain.
In the folds of the dark deep
I noticed not the invisible lights peep,
That illumine awake all inborn
From the shade of Self’s blinding vision. (*)
The holy song of that light
From the depth of my being to radiate bright
I had my invitation
To resonate at the border of Creation.
In my strive to poetize the Ultimate,
My songs on the life’s stage could not vibrate
Creation’s music of dreadful pain, (**)
Thus I returned in vain.
But some distant day it may be so pliant,
The poet’s message will drop silent
As a ripe fruit in heavenly joy
In the basket of eternity free of his ploy;
As life’s last price for ultimate redemption
On final journey for final revelation.


(*) It seems to imply that Man’s ego obscures his vision of the total truth.
(**) It seems, the poet’s remorse is that he could not capture in his literature the
mysterious intent behind God’s creation to culminate into the animation
world through dreadful cosmic metamorphosis.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941 AD) the Nobel Laureate of 1913 was introduced to the West primarily through the collection of English translation of some of his poems/songs captioned as ‘Gitanjali’ (=Offering of Songs).More translations of his works followed by the poet himself and others after he had won the Nobel, including poems/songs, dramas, short stories etc. However, such efforts were sporadic and sluggish, mostly on individual initiative, which still remain so.As a result, a vast volume of the poet’s works remains un-translated while, it appears, it is an impossible proposition to translate even a substantial part of the poet’s total works to permit those, not privileged by the knowledge of Bengali language, a reasonably broad view of his myriad creations where unfathomable perceptional depth of top grade aesthetics runs through, literally true to his song “Thou hast made me endless / Such is Thy pleasure”.Notwithstanding this, an upsurge of Tagore translation took place in the last decade of the twentieth century by virtue of a good number of eminent poets/translators e.g.William Radice, Joe Winter, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, to name a few, all of whom left their valuable contribution to this oeuvre and my book THE ECLIPSED SUN is a modest addition to this. I have put stress on a few aspects of the poet’s works, particularly those in his twilight years, which seemed to me quite inadequately covered so far. The above are presented mostly based on this book. RAJAT DAS GUPTA: Calcutta: e-mail:


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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Women in Cyberspace

Oh dear, you’re so valuable in cyberspace

From The Statesman
ND Batra

Savvy businesses see cyberspace as a repository of valuable information left by surfers that could be turned into databases for target marketing, which eliminates wasteful advertising and lowers costs.
A company like Google is much more than a search engine; it is a gigantic information sucking and manipulating device, a global mind that profiles people and places and cultures.
Cyber profiling is emerging as an important business tool for reaching the right customer through narrowly focused and targeted popup and banner advertising and e-mail marketing. But since most of the domestic buying in the United States is done by women, data miners and cyber profilers are concentrating on websites aimed at women, which has been raising some serious concerns in academic circles about information privacy. Nevertheless, users don’t seem to care much about their privacy. Convenience is all.
Once cyberspace held so much promise for women, wrote Ann Bartow in University of San Francisco Law Review, that it was the closest women could come to be accepted as equal to men in brainpower. “In cyberspace, we would not be judged by our bodies. No one would know when we have bad hair days. We would not have to wear make-up and high heels. We could be even ‘men’ without hormones or expensive surgery. Then we began shopping and chatting over the Internet. Shortly thereafter, we learned that anyone in cyberspace could ascertain our gender, ages, incomes, education levels, marital status, sizes, consumer purchase proclivities, aspects of our health, and employment histories, and the number, ages, and genders of our children, and that this information could be used to sell us goods and services. Now, instead of brains in boxes, we are ‘eyeballs with credit cards’.”
That’s a great disappointment for women who thought that the anonymity of cyberspace would enlarge their freedom and empower them vis-à-vis men. But what is true of women is equally true of men. Instead of reaching new thresholds of freedom and equality, both men and women are giving up privacy through profiling.
May be privacy has become an overrated virtue in cyber age. It is no great surprise that advertisers and marketers have begun to use the Internet in befriending women because they control effective spending at home. Only in the matter of high expenditure items like buying a new house, car or going on a vacation, men throw their weight around.
Mostly the woman’s voice is decisive. Advertisers of course have known the truth about women all along. In the 1920s radio began to develop as a mass medium with a potential to reach millions of women, most of whom did not have jobs and stayed at home with children and extended families. Companies like Proctor & Gamble that sell household products developed daytime serial dramas to entertain and keep women listening to soap commercials. That’s how daytime radio dramas came to be called soap operas. In the 1950s when television started to dominate American homes, soap operas moved on to the new medium and they have continued to retain their popularity, in spite of the fact that most women work today.
“The Guiding Light,” the oldest daytime serial drama, began in radio in 1937 and was transferred to television in 1952. You can see the last seventy years’ visual history of American women in this remarkable soap opera, which along with other daytime dramas is moving to the Internet, YouTube and other platforms. Soap operas dramatise women’s problems ranging from date rapes and workplace harassment to raising children and keeping up with husbands in a culture where sometime “I Do” is quickly followed by “Now I Don’t”.
Those who do not succumb to the charm of slow moving daytime dramas cannot resists the temptations of Oprah Winfrey, her talk show, her “O” magazine, and her Oxygen Media, where TV and the Web converge. She has become probably the most glamorous and sexy platform where women come and go talking of democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama today and Islamic jihadists’ guiding light Osama bin Laden tomorrow. But every time they log off her website, they leave an immense stream of date behind. Women are incredibly desirable not only in cyberspace but also in the media because ultimately they control the shopping cart. It’s that simple. Women love to shop and they shop for everything. Men do not know even the size of the shirt they wear, though they may be particular about their beers and wines and vodkas. Home Shopping Network and other interactive television shopping malls run on the power of women, which is increasing everyday as more women enter the global workplace.
The future of cyberspace as a medium of e-commerce is growing.
More and more businesses are building high quality websites where women feel comfortable and do not mind shedding valuable data that can be aggregated and collated into reliable individual profiles.
Imagine every woman having her own personal boutique in cyberspace where everyone knows her tastes and preferences and where all her problems can be solved. So when Jane enters or Oxygen Media portal, she could join women’s chat group and make new virtual friends; explore fitness and beauty, food, working from home and parenting; find advice about her job and tips about marriage, dating and love; and publish her personal story on the Web.
As women become comfortable in their own personal cyber retreats, they will be scanned lovingly of all their personal data, including the size of their breasts, but unlike at the airport, where touching and probing and electronic scanning can be so humiliating, in cyberspace it will be so entertaining that they would love it. If women are turned into databases, can men be far behind?

(ND Batra is the author of Digital Freedom and Professor of Communications and Diplomacy at Norwich University)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

India and terrorism

Something like US Patriot Act will save India

From The Statesman

An Indian minister was quoted in, as saying: “Do you want us to keep vigil on all the chaat-eating people? How many chaatwallahs can we guard?” What a contemptuous disregard for the hoi polloi! How shameful!

Terrorism is a local and national scourge and it must be fought at every level with imagination, intelligence and persistence, with all the available resources, as the United States has been fighting. Americans are convinced that terrorism can and must be prevented whatever the cost. The Indian minister would not have survived a day in the United States. Nor should he in India.

Whenever an attack occurs anywhere in the world, the US Homeland Security authorities redouble their vigilance, and update their plans to meet any contingency. It could happen here, they acknowledge the reality, but it must not; and that’s the steely determination writ large on their faces.

Days before the Mumbai train attacks last year, for example, the authorities had discovered a plot to blow up the underground tunnel system that connects New Jersey with New York City. The discovery of the plot was not a serendipitous occurrence. The Homeland Security is always on the lookout for terrorists in order to pre-empt any kind of attack. Apart from the Federal government, every state has a list of potential terrorist targets for which there are contingency plans. The Federal government and state governments work hand-in-glove to fight crime and terrorism.

Islamic terrorists in India whether they belong to Harkat-ul Jihad Islami, Students’ Islamic Movement of India, Lashkar-e-Taiyaba or some other terrorist group know that nothing serious would happen to them even if they were apprehended. Politically and financially they must be well provided for; otherwise they would not have been in business so long. Uncover their local supporters, most of who will be politicians, and eliminate them. In the United States and increasingly in Europe, there has been a paradigm shift. The policy has been not only to nip the evil in the bud but also to eliminate the evil at the prenatal stage by establishing an early awareness system. An early awareness system is different from am early warning system.

Unless India adopts and ruthlessly executes a policy of total elimination of terrorists and their local supporters, which means using all the available means to hunt them under the law, poor Indians will be wondering where the next target will be. India needs to re-balance its priorities, human rights and domestic security.

The idea that what’s anticipated can be prevented especially applies to terrorism of which the Hyderabad bombings were the latest manifestation. Pre-emption is preventing acts at the inspiration, aspiration, thinking stage before they become a concrete reality. Al-Qaida and other Islamic terrorists have not given up on the United States. They keep trying. Last year the US Congress renewed the Draconian anti-terrorism law, The US Patriot Act. The Department of Homeland Security’s constantly changing alert system has made life somewhat uncomfortable. Personal liberties have been affected, especially in big cities, though most of the United States is as free as ever. Airline travel security checks take longer. But on the whole there is no fear mentality in the United States. You wouldn’t feel afraid of walking in the streets of New York or elsewhere. Living in the United States is safer than anywhere else in the world.

The US Homeland Security doctrine is very coherent, pragmatic and highly ethical; and it is simple: choose the lesser evil. It is better to put a few thousand people in jail than let terrorists strike, which might put thousands and thousands of people into a state of constant fear. By protecting a chaatwallah, you protect everybody. Think of a chaatwallah as a canary in the mine.

The Patriot Act, which allows intelligence and law enforcement authorities to go into places of worship, the working of charities, telecommunications of suspected militants, and libraries is not what a free society should do; but it is a lesser evil than letting Islamic terrorists take advantage of constitutional freedoms to commit mass murders.

Fighting terrorism is not a saintly act, as President George Bush knows. Superb intelligence gathering, pre-emptive and preventive measures and anticipatory disaster plans could go a long way in minimising the damage, if India wants to take terrorism as seriously as the United States does, and politicians are prepared to pay the price. President Bush’s popularity is down the gutters but he keeps fighting terrorism. He wants to protect everyone.

Although its origin lies in religious fanaticism and a blind hatred of non-believers, at an organisational level terrorism must be considered as an enterprise that manufactures dread, customised for each city and town. Hit and disrupt the terrorists’ supply chain anywhere, if it is a decentralised operation.

In the United States, law enforcement authorities have been given expanded powers of surveillance including wire-tapping and e-mail scrutiny. Most Americans approve President Bush’s domestic surveillance practices to fight terrorism, though his overall approval rating has sunk very low.

Open societies need not be handcuffed by their enlightened doctrines when law enforcement authorities try to locate and destroy terrorist cells functioning openly or clandestinely in their own backyards.

The struggle against terrorism is going to be a long drawn-out relentless campaign from which India cannot escape. India has no choice but to keep fighting, but it must fight both with political will and intelligence. Unless India vows to protect every chaatwallah, India will never be safe.

(ND Batra, the author of Digital Freedom, is working on a new book, Dr Apu Comes to America)