Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Advertisment can stimulate the economy

When the economy is down, call the adman

From The Statesman

In spite of the fact that unemployment has been rising, more than 90 percent Americans still have their jobs. But people are not spending liberally as they used to do. In this season of recession here and depression there, the adman’s song and dance is becoming extremely loud and captivating.
In the United States, advertising since long has been a most important mode of social, political and economic discourse; it is partly so because the adman knows how to cut through the glut of information and hit the target audience with promises of fulfillment of needs and desires.

The adman knows who you are: your taste in wining and dining; your preferences for the car; whether you love kids or pets or both; what’s in your medicine cabinet; what’s in your refrigerator; whether you play golf or video games. He knows what you do each part of the day and how to reach you through your demographic-psychographic profile. The adman researches people not as individual human beings but clusters of interests, preferences and tastes; as communities of shared values, seeking similar pleasures. The adman is a cultural spy as well as promoter of culture.

You need to observe how the adman cleverly propels millions of children to toy stores in order to get to the parents’ pocket books. He does it through after-school television programmes and Saturday morning cartoons, programmes that alternate with commercials so rapidly that the kids can’t make sense whether they are watching programmes or commercials. And at the same time kids feel fascinated with imaginative characters from SpongeBob SquarePants to Power Rangers.

Few parents know how to withstand the pressure from their children, ranging from outright grumpiness to passive-aggressive non-communication. Even in these difficult days when household budgeting is a challenge for many families, children come first. Children and teenagers’ consumer market is huge. Adman turns everything into “cool,” and that is the buzzword.

But imagine how the adman is dealing with a most rational group in the United States, the physicians. Direct-to-the patient “Ask Your Doctor” ads about prescription drugs, which are mostly aimed at the elderly and women, have become so common that sometimes you wonder if Americans suffer from every global disease ranging from allergies and erectile dysfunction to sagging breasts in urgent need for uplifting.

A typical “Ask Your Doctor” advertisement, for example, Detrol, which is used for incontinence and overactive bladder, may show a happy middle-aged couple walking on the beach hand in hand, so happy because they have discovered Detrol through their doctor; or middle age buddies who can sit through an entire baseball game without rushing to the bathroom.

Through these direct-to-patient ads that seem to give vital and authoritative information, the adman uses persuasion to elbow people to take the initiative and ask their physician why this drug is right for them. Of course in a rapid-fire speed-reading mode, the narrator issues warnings for the drug’s side-effects.

In a behavioural advertisement, the adman appeals directly to people’s emotions and tickles the image they have of themselves especially when he sells a value product such as an expensive luxury car to uppity rising people trying to catch up with their neighbours. But by mixing both kinds of appeals, emotional and informative, many pharmaceutical companies make a direct pitch to patients from “If Viagra isn’t everything you hoped for, don’t give up” because there is Cialis for 36 hours and even for daily use to “Now I trust my heart to Lipitor”; and so on.

Many drug manufacturers are using television celebrities to push their prescription drugs, a strategy that might make a physician wonder if it’s worthwhile to resist the pressure and lose his or her patients to another healthcare provider.

The adman’s approach to these two large and almost captive markets, children and the elderly, is quite similar. To get to parents, the adman, like a magician, snares children by creating what is “cool”; to get to physicians, he goes to their patients by using a direct and immediate health benefit appeal. Both appeals use subtle emotional pressures, pushing on ethical boundaries.

But in spite of all his faults, the adman is indispensable to a free market society. The adman impacts society in multifarious ways by bringing buyers and sellers together in the marketplace of goods, services and ideas, and thereby helps distribute economic and intellectual resources of the society.

The social discourse today is all about stimulating the economy through buying and selling because in a consumer society like the United States if the trips to shopping malls diminish, so would the economy. Sooner or later, therefore, the adman would get us because he can take us everywhere we want to be. And he keeps the economy moving even in these times of recession when our lives have become rather fearful of tomorrows. The American adman may be President Obama’s best ally in fighting the economic downturn.

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

China, US, India

Battle of ideas shall continue

From The Statesman

Before the global financial meltdown began last September, the whole world watched with fascination the unstoppable rise of China as a model of economic progress. China as a global workshop ~ that exports, exports, and exports ~ became an exemplar of the energy born of nationalistic commercialism.

Except for those pesky Tibetans and their conniving agents abroad, it looked China had become a global brand with a single dominant story of harmony and peaceful rise. But now because these bankrupt Americans and Europeans are not buying much, many factory sites in China look like a vast wasteland. The euphoria of Asian values and uniqueness is no longer visible. China of course is not crumbling like a cookie but it is also not speeding like a shining silver bullet train.
China as an idea has to compete with others in the international marketplace of ideas. So you can never say that the battle of ideas has been finally won. For example, we did not realise that the end the Soviet Union was not the end of the battle of ideas but rather the beginning of new ones. Think of history as a dynamic landscape where the battle of ideas continues.

Some people, especially those trained in propaganda believe that all that a country needs is a new image and therefore it must re-brand itself. It is not that easy. Even a most authoritarian nation cannot control the message and its image even though it may be the sole source of information about itself. Of course you can never control the image of an open society because there are so many independent actors, institutions and corporations competing for attention.

For example, the Slumdog Millionaire image of India can never be done away. When some of my colleagues ask me as to how accurate is the portrayal of India in the movie, I say it’s a beautiful and accurate “misrepresentation” of India. But Mumbai slumgdogs are better than Mother Teresa’s hopeless downtrodden. Add to this tapestry, the millions of Indians who are using their mobile phones to become entrepreneurs; and the Tata Nano; and the rise of silicon whiz kids in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Gurgaon, Kolkata, et al, and you have a throbbing compelling image of India.

Similarly, Hollywood, IBM, Google, Microsoft, Wal-Mart and all others contribute to the US image abroad. But now you add to this mélange the financial meltdown, increasing joblessness, and the bloody news from Afghanistan! The US image abroad is the materialisation of what the USA is doing at home and abroad.

Foreigners who see only Hollywood violent movies and video games are likely to have a distorted image of the USA. But if you bring them to university campuses, cultural centres, and workplaces, you would see the image of the USA in their minds change radically. Keeping the dynamic nature of the emergent image, it should not be difficult to understand why the public perception of the USA differs from one country to another. The image depends upon the quality and the extent of its presence and its usefulness to the host country.

Even the smartest public diplomacy campaign won’t change perceptions overnight especially when America is deeply engaged in multiple missions abroad. Events might occur beyond its control, which could further blur the image in some countries. China’s presence in the USA is huge but poor quality China-made toys, tainted pet foods and defective tyres have shattered its image of a reliable manufacturer. No amount of public relations or threat of going to WTO as it recently tried to do with India over toys would help China unless it realises that good products are manufactured by countries where the Press is free, where there is political and corporate transparency.

The always-on 24-hour global communication, blogs, instant messaging, and news cycles, make it impossible for practitioners of public relations to devise a central strategy to impose a message control, as it can be done in advertising campaigns for a product or a political candidate. In an environment of unbridled communication, you might still control the message, but you cannot control the meaning when instant alternative interpretations are available.

Each nation is different, so what works in Indonesia may not work in Pakistan. The challenge is to find the right vehicle to carry the message for a specific local audience. Public diplomats must use local leaders to champion and advance their cause and they should do so in such a manner that it makes the local people feel good while at the same time generating goodwill towards the country that is using information culture to foster goodwill. Hollywood is still the best cultural export, but US popular culture, due to proliferation of senseless violence and explicit sex, creates negative impressions in foreign audiences, in spite of the fact the world has been spending billions of dollars importing American entertainment.

The paradox is that in spite of negative feelings about American popular culture that it depicts profanity, nudity, mayhem and crime, the popularity of mass culture, even in the Islamic world, remains strong. In countries like India and the USA, corporations, educational institutions, and non-profits organisations represent most precious values such as individual initiative, innovativeness, entrepreneurship, freedom of speech, and competition. Google and Apple, for example, embody as much of what America stands for as does Hollywood.

India’s massive general election starting 16 April in which an electorate of 714 million would participate makes the idea of India very persuasive and appealing. I would rather have free and fair elections in India than a glamorous summer Olympics.

(ND Batra blogs at http://globaldiplomat.blogspot.com and teaches communications at Norwich University.)

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Song of Tagore

Thou Hast Made Me Endless

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. RAJAT DAS GUPTA: Calcutta: e-mail: rajatdasgupta@yahoo.com
Rabindra Sangeet – Songs of Rabindranath Tagore:

Translator’s note: The songs of Rabindranath Tagore are known as Rabindrasangeet which number approx. 2500. It is no exaggeration to say that Rabindrasangeet has explored every corner of human emotion and perception to give them best possible expression. Their philosophical depth also is unparalleled in the music world. It may be claimed, Rabindrasangeet has climaxed wording of the ineffable in literature of all time. Anybody not knowing Bengali definitely miss this aesthetic treasure. A translation can at best explain the central idea of a song, but cannot surface the wonderful matching of music with the original poesy so intimate with its philosophical/spiritual canvas. Unfortunately, therefore, the best of Rabindrasangeet, with all its humanistic appeal of highest order, will remain confined within the Bengali circle. It may be possible, some highly talented musicians endowed with literary command also, will emerge with versions of Rabindrasangeet in other languages, equally appealing. Such experiment in Hindi has not been disappointing and has gained popularity. Hindi is of course quite close to Bengali which must have been a contributory factor to such success. But the Western languages are likely to pose insurmountable challenge to any such effort. While hoping that some highly talented musicians will some day perform this magic of perfect cloning of Rabindrasangeet even in the Western languages, a sensible suggestion in the meantime appears to be to keep its translation handy while the Westerners (and in general all not having access to Bengali) will give their ear to the original Bengali song and try to perceive its import. Those knowing Bengali can only sympathize those not so privileged for such a plight in their struggle to enjoy a song! Below appears translations of some Rabindrasangeets, with a few initial lines of the original Bengali given in Roman script to enable the listeners to relate the translation to the song.

Ganer bhitar diye jakhan dekhi bhubankhani
Takhan tare chini ami, takhan tare jani

[Note: Music of highest aesthetics and philosophical values starting from the Vedic hymns down to folksongs inundate the Poet’s university Viswa-Bharati at Santiniketan. The Poet’s own songs Rabindrasangeets, approx. 2500 in number, have freely drawn from India’s and also from West’s various musical traditions which gift us a new look to the world for our deepest perception of the creative wonder behind it. Maybe, the few songs translated here will give one glimpse of it, though not having access to the original Rabindrasangeets due to linguistic barrier.]

Through music the world as I see,
I know it, reveals its intimacy.
Language of its light
Fills sky in loving delight;
Its dust speaks the innate
Divine words ultimate;
Ceases to be external
In my soul melodies to spell;
On its grass
My heart’s throbs pass;
Beauty shapes up, flows the nectar
My own bounds to blur;
With all then I see
My camaraderie.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Amader Shantiniketan, Se je sabar hote apan,
Tar akash bhara kole, moder dole hriday dole

[Note: In various celebrations/functions of Santiniketan, the University of the Poet, this song is sung in chorus. Is there a better paean for any institution anywhere in the world?]

Our Santiniketan,
She is our very own;
Lapping our heart
Her sky rocks it to spurt
To see her novel again
In our renewed vein.
The rows of her trees
Our frolic in the field sprees;
Affection of the blue above
Dawn to dusk showers love.
In the shades of our Shawl trees
Music from the wood conveys the breeze.
The Amlaki (*) bowers gay *
With dancing leaves play.
Where we ramble for pleasure,
That never eludes from us far.
In our mind the Sitar (**) of love **
Is tuned to put us hand in glove
With my brothers
Who are one with me and others.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(*) tree (**) musical instrument

Purano sei diner katha bhulbi kire hai
O sei chokher dekha, praner katha
Se ki bhola jai.
[Note: This song as a rule is heard in the alumni associations of the educational institutions of Bengal when old mates meet after a long time gap after they have left their Alma Mater. There could not be a better outlet of their emotions at that moment than this song. Of course, this song is not the exclusive preserve for the alumni and may be appropriately used in similar other get together]

Will you forget that yore,
Our sighting then and heart’s talk that still lure;
O mate, come once more,
To my heart’s core;
Let’s talk our weal and woe
To quench our soul parched so.

At dawn we plucked flower,
Cradled in our bower,
Played flute under the Bakul tree
And sang in musical spree.
In between was our departure –
One from the other flung far;
If we’ve met again,
Be within my heart lain.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Amra sabai raja amader eai rajar rajatwe
Naile moder rajar sane milbo ki swatte?
[Note: In God’s kingdom all his subjects are one with their King. While we are bound by His axioms, we never feel the bondage, while the human kings or even the rulers in a democracy tend to be tyrants, maybe with a difference in degree.]

We all are kings in our King’s kingdom
Else how we be one with Him on what other term?
We are arbitrary
Yet, His cravings carry,
Not bound in slave’s bondage
To fear His rage.
He gives honour to all
That bounces on Him to fall;
None is there us to stunt
With any untruth blunt;
We go on our own
To meet the path He had shown;
We won’t die
In the whirl futile.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Austrian Culture

A darker side to Austrian culture
“When I moved to Austria last September to research a book on the Fritzl case I found a flat in Vienna’s Judenplatz, where Rachel Whiteread’s imposing monument dedicated to the Jewish victims of Austrian fascism was unveiled in 2000,” says Stefanie Marsh in Times (London). Read more..

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

US Global Pre-eminence

Obama and emerging American values

From The Statesman
IN every country there is always some or the other cultural struggle going on. When the struggle becomes too fierce to be contained in civil discourse, it becomes a cultural war that is fought in the media, legislature, or even in the streets. Jihad is essentially a cultural struggle over the interpretation of what Islam means; and when some extremists believe in the absoluteness of their interpretation, they think it is righteous to use violence to impose their meaning on others. But this is not limited to Islam. Culture-driven sporadic violence occurred during Valentine’s Day in India, for example.

For a long time a cultural war has been going on in the USA over gay marriages, abortion rights and stem cell research. Americans are no less fierce in their views than are Islamists, except that they use the ballot box rather than the gun in prevailing over their opponents. Most Americans, for example, believe in the traditional concept of marriage, that it should be a union between a man and a woman; but at the same time they condemn discrimination against gay couples, according to several polls. Some states, such as my home state Vermont, have enacted civil union laws that give same sex couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples enjoy, for example, health insurance benefits.

Massachusetts has made gay marriages legal. The gay marriage battle is being fought in every state but in the course of time most states would recognise some form of civil union. The 14th Amendment’s equal protection and due process clause that was originally meant to give equal rights to blacks after the Civil War is being invoked by gay rights advocates.

Last November, Californians passed Preposition 8 that banned gay marriages, which is now being challenged in the California Supreme Court. President Barack Obama has an open mind on gay marriages, which means he will go with the flow. As a presidential candidate he promised to fight hard for equal rights for gay couples in civil unions but now, as the President, he is confronted with the 1996 Defence of Marriage Act that extends health insurance benefits only to heterosexual spouses of federal employees. And let’s recall: the invocation at the January 20 presidential inauguration for Mr Obama was delivered by the anti-gay evangelist Reverend Rick Warren. The Obama big-tent politics accommodates so many contradictions.

Though Mr Obama, like most Americans, seems to be conflicted over the equal rights protection, including the right to marry for the gay community, he is more certain about abortion rights and life-enhancing embryonic stem cell research. Deep divisions no doubt continue about when life begins and the rights of the unborn from the petri dish to the womb; nonetheless the abortion rights of American women (vide Roe v. Wade decision) are not only intact but Mr Obama has struck down the Bush Administration rule which prohibited US money from being used to fund international family planning clinics that promote and offer abortion, provide counselling or referrals about abortion services. The right to life movement nonetheless continues to be very strong in the USA but its proponents have to use some other methods of persuasion rather than depend upon the power of the White House.

Although the controversy over embryonic stem cell research, which necessitates the destruction of human embryos but holds great promises for fighting diseases, continues more or less, Mr Obama has reversed George W Bush’s policy and removed all restrictions on the use of federal money for research using embryonic stem cells. Of course, when the health care benefits arising from embryonic stem cell research are commercially exploited by the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, even the most social conservative diehard pro-lifers would pipe down their shrill criticism. Embryonic stem cell research would eventually revolutionise healthcare and disease management and has an immense potential for the pharmaceutical industry. To some extent, the marketplace drives American values, which is perhaps true of other societies also.

Americans are absolutely undivided over the value they treasure and esteem the most: the USA’s pre-eminence in the world. Nor have they lost faith in the value of free market capitalism, in spite of the crash of the financial markets. Americans want the whole world be open to them so that they could look at what is going on. Shut doors intimidate Americans. Just consider China-US relations. In spite of its high economic growth and global ambitions, much of China’s foreign exchange reserve ($727.4 billion) found its way into US treasuries. China has no choice but to keep its door ajar. Disputes over trade and Taiwan and Tibet human rights can be managed diplomatically. Last week, the US House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution asking China to restore to Tibet its human rights. China huffed and puffed and lodged a protest but the USA will not give up its moral right to speak against human rights violation. China will not be able to shut the door on Tibet even if it agrees to buy a trillion dollars more of US treasuries.

Indo-US relations have been growing. The outsourcing of technology jobs has made India a breeding ground for knowledge workers, but at the same time it is a kind of co-dependent relationship that Americans have built up with China. India is now looking for development in biotechnology, auto outsourcing, civilian space programmes and nuclear energy, ambitious plans that would require transfer of advanced technology from the USA. India cannot opt out of this soft power mutually beneficial relationship with the USA. Nor can Mr Obama deviate much from the existing co-dependent relationship, whether it is India or China.

The USA is re-establishing its global pre-eminence through the principle of dominant co-dependency, which no other great power has ever done before. This is the new emerging value in American foreign policy.

(ND Batra teaches communication and diplomacy at Norwich University.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan Conundrum

Obama’s diplomatic initiative on Iran

From The Statesman

So far the USA’s focus has been shoring up unstable Pakistan with billions of dollars in direct aid as well as occasional bombing by drones the Taliban-controlled border region in order to stabilise Afghanistan.

The strategy is not working. Much more is needed. For example, it is being realised that ignoring Afghanistan’s historic neighbour, Iran, would not bring about lasting peace in the region.

In a new diplomatic initiative, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Iran would be invited to an international summit meeting on Afghanistan. Under the auspices of the United Nations, the Netherlands would host what Mrs Clinton called “a big-tent meeting” on 31 March. Iran’s response to the proposal has not been negative.

Unlike in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan against Al-Qaida and the Taliban is supposedly the NATO’s war, though the USA has a major commitment including 38,000 troops, while the rest of NATO has contributed 30,000 troops. President Barack Obama has decided to send another 17,000 troops by the summer, but the number would increase substantially as the US presence in Iraq decreases over the next eighteen months, according to the Obama withdrawal plan.

Since the 1979 revolution under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the toppling of the Shah and the holding of 52 American hostages for 444 days, Iran and the USA have treated each other, rhetorically at least, as mortal enemies. The diplomatic relations were broken off in 1980 after which the USA imposed trade embargo on Iran. Added to these cold war hostilities has been the Iranian support for the radical Islamic groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, which the USA regards as terrorist organisations. But what worries the USA most is Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme, though Iran claims that the nuclear programme is only for peaceful power generation purposes, which is hardly convincing.

At the same time, Iran cannot but realise that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, with opium flowing freely in all directions, would not be in its best national interest. Bringing about reasonable governmental functionality and political stability to Afghanistan would make Iran’s backyard safe. Geopolitically Iran’s diplomatic face is turned towards West Asia where it would like to play its historic role and exercise its influence, though it has growing trade relations with India and China.

A failing and chaotic state like Afghanistan ruled by drug lords and the Taliban (supported by Pakistan’s ISI) would be a terrible threat for Iran. So if Iran and the USA could cooperate in Afghanistan in pursuit of their common interests, so goes the rationale, there might be some thaw in the long frozen diplomatic relations. Eventually some acceptable international solution to Iran’s so-called peaceful nuclear programme might be reached.

Iran-US relations have always been marked with complexity and opportunism since the British-US engineered coup d’état against Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953 brought Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to power in Iran, who continued to rule the country authoritatively, albeit secularly, until he fled the country after the Khomeini revolution in 1979.

In 1986, the Reagan administration entered into a secret arms-for-hostage deal with Iran (through Israel) in order to get the release of American hostages held by pro-Iran militant organisation Hezbollah in Lebanon. At that time Iran was also fighting the long lingering war against Iraq under Saddam Hussein, who was ironically being supported by the USA.

During the brutal Taliban regime in Afghanistan (1996-2001), Iran supported the Northern Alliance, which after the 9/11 terrorist attacks became a US-NATO ally in the fight against the Taliban. Perhaps the US-Iran relations might have improved but in January 2002 President George W Bush in his messianic zeal clubbed Iran with other countries that formed “an axis of evil,” accusing it of clandestinely working on nuclear weapons.

The coming of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power as Iran’s president ~ with his rhetoric of Holocaust denial and a bizarre vision of a West Asia without Israel ~ further aggravated the relations. Nonetheless, Mr Obama in his new approach to global diplomacy expressed his willingness to talk with Iran, if it “unclenched its fist”.

The important point to keep in mind is that Americans are seldom shy of discarding dysfunctional political principle; rather they are eager to find new diplomatic ways to seek a workable solution to a difficult international problem. Consider this: Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 normalised relations between the two most ideologically extreme countries, which eventually hastened the end of the Vietnam war.

No principle is more sacred to Americans than their paramount national interests. Today the Obama administration is determined to stabilise Afghanistan by eliminating the Taliban and Al- Qaida regardless of the cost because Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, presents an existential threat to the USA.

So it may be necessary to develop working diplomatic relations with Iran whatever the carrot and stick strategy is needed. Although our attention is drawn to Afghanistan-Pakistan badlands that provide sanctuary to Islamic militants, Afghanistan’s trade relations with Iran have been flourishing since the overthrow of the Taliban. The new road network, one built by Iran that connects Herat to the Iranian border and the other built by India that gives Afghanistan access to the Iranian port of Chah Bahar and the Arabian Sea, has substantially enhanced trade between the two countries. This could be the beginning of the US-Iran cooperation for stabilising Afghanistan. Pakistan is the only problem for Afghanistan. “The whole question about Afghanistan and Pakistan is one that we’ve given a great deal of thought to,” Mrs Clinton said in Brussels after the NATO foreign ministers meeting, according Reuters. “It is clear that the border areas between the two countries are the real locus of a lot of the extremist activity. It’s becoming obvious that Pakistan faces very serious internal threats, and that Afghanistan faces continuing external threats that emanate out of Pakistan.”

So the biggest challenge for Mr Obama is to explore what would work in Pakistan, a country that gives the nightmarish impression that neither President Asif Ali Zardari nor the all-powerful Army (including ISI) is in complete control of the whole country, considering what happened in Swat.

Building bridges between Iran and the USA might be a challenging diplomatic role for India for which the rewards will be immense.

(ND Batra teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bansi: Tagore

Bansi (Flute)
Parishesh (The End)

Rabindranath Tagore, (1861 AD to 1941 AD) Nobel Laureate of 1913.

Translator: RAJAT DAS GUPTA, Calcutta
rajatdasgupta@yahoo.com & rajarch@cal3.vsnl.net.in
‘Phone: 91 33 2571 3699 & (M) 9874135773

[Translator’s note: Many take Tagore as an aristocrat who was by succession a Zemindar (=landlord), away from the hard realities faced by the common people close to the poverty line. This poem negates this idea and shows his deep insight into the tragedy of the deprived class of the society. Those who think that his sympathy for the poor was a poetic luxury, will be well advised to visit particularly Sriniketan, close to Santiniketan, where his Visva Bharati University situates, for a glimpse of the fantastic work he did for development of rural economy by way of promotion of vocational training on various crafts side by side with his mass educational programmes within all the constraints of his time. This may be convincing that he was not a ‘ivory tower’ poet.]

At Kinu Milkman’s Lane
I stay quite to my bane
In a building two storied,
On the ground floor the gate is grilled;
In my room wayside
Walls eroded, do not hide
Their brickwork, with sand shed
Here and there, and graffiti of damp displayed.
A portrait of Lord Ganesh
On a canvas no way fresh,
Who helps us achieve a score
Or so supposed, is fixed on the door.
Besides me, another creature
There, on the same rent, does feature;
A lizard it is;
Difference, it gets its meal more at ease.

A junior clerk at a merchant office,
My salary twenty five rupees.
With their son’s tuition blessed,
At Datta’s my meal is dished.
At Sealdah station
I spend the evenings for no emotion,
But to save the cost of light;
Bear with the engines’ sibilant or such plight,
As they whistle, the passengers’ hurry,
And the porters’ scurry.
Ten thirty as the clock will show,
To my dark recess I’ll go.

Lives in a village my auntie
By the river Dhaleswari;
Daughter of her brother-in-law,
The hour was without flaw
For her wed with this destitute
That auntie planned astute.
Indeed the hour brought luck
As judged by the almanac;
That very hour I did abscond;
Thus the lass eluded my bond;
And I backed to square one
Her passage to my abode to shun
To my dismay;
Though she visits my mind every day
Clad in a Dhakai Sari
Forehead with vermillion smeary.

At the thick of monsoon,
Again, no way a boon,
Cost rises for tram ride
With salary cuts by its side;
The nabs of the street
Mango skin, fish fins, kitten corpse et al greet
To pile and ferment
Their pungency to vent.
The umbrella with many a hole
As my fined salary, meets no goal.

Attired for the office,
Gopikanta Gonsai still does not miss
His sense of humour
From which I’m far.
The dark of the rainy day
Makes its way
Into my damp room
To trap me in a morbid doom,
With a world in limbo
As days and nights go.

At the turn of the lane
Stays Kantababu who would fain
To dress his long hair,
Posh, his round eyes stare –
Plays cornet as his hobby
In the loath of this lane shabby;
At times at dead of night
Or at dawn’s twilight;
Even in the light and shade
As in the afternoon the day will fade;

Or of a sudden in the evening
Sindhu Baroan (*) would spring (* an Indian Raga)
To flood the whole sky
With eternal separational sigh,
At once it is obvious,
This lane is a falsity enormous;
Like the drunk’s rigmarole –
Suddenly the message does unroll –
Between Akbar Badsha and Haripada clerk
Stands no dividing mark.
The music’s compassion
To the same utopia leads on.
The bruised umbrella and the royal one
Both for the same fate done.

Where this music holds true
In the eternal dusk that never knew
A break in the flow
Of Dhaleswari, and waits so
One at the yard,
That the river’s shore neared,
By the Tamals (*1) shaded deep;
She, through her veil keeps peep
Clad in Dhakai Sari
Forehead with vermillion smeary. (*2)
(*1 A type of Indian tree)
(*2 As per Bengali ritual the Bridegroom smears
the forehead of the Bride with vermillion at the nuptial hour.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Obama: Give Me A Lever Long Enough...

Only if the market would listen!

From The Statesman

President Barack Obama does not believe in taking small steps for mankind or the American people. He has been saying repeatedly that he will rebuild and renew America, whatever it takes.

“Now is the time to act boldly and wisely to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity,” he said addressing the joint session of Congress last Tuesday. Democrats cheered, as did most of the American people. Republicans were sullen. More energised today than he ever was during his long grueling presidential campaign, Mr Obama has seized the economic crisis as a God-sent opportunity to bring about fundamental changes in American society. His budget would usher in an era of universal healthcare covering the 47 million uninsured; make higher education accessible to every American through enhanced Pell Grants; and build cleaner energy by capping carbon levels and auctioning permits for greenhouse gases emissions that would raise billions of dollars. His tax plan would build an economy that lifts the bottom up rather than let wealth drip down from the rich to the poor ~ all this and much more for a handful of (trillion) dollars of governmental spending. Will it work? Where will the money come from?

Mr Obama reminds me of an optimistic and pragmatic international businessman from South Africa who said, “There is never enough money lying around to do a job… but money is never a problem. Money is a consequence of your activity.” So what is a few trillion dollars for a country whose minor hiccup causes a global earthquake? By pulling up the United States from the economic quagmire, the result of its profligate ways, Mr Obama might also save rest of the world from economic chaos and the consequent political instabilities. Weak states from Pakistan to Mexico threaten the peace; and breed terrorism, the jihadist and the narco.

Archimedes, mathematician and inventor of ancient Greece, said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Mr Obama wants to turn the hypothetical into a new economic reality. With his $ 3.6 trillion budget proposal Mr Obama not only plans to revive ~ pardon the change of metaphor ~ the etherealised patient lying motionless on the table but also wants to make him a global front runner once again. Embodying the spirit of American exceptionalism, he says he can do it and he will do it. Mr. Obama thinks boldly and walks tall and dwarfs all uppity comers. With Democratic majority in the House as well as the Senate, and his popularity stratospheric after the address to Congress, Mr Obama will most likely succeed in having his multi trillion dollar budget passed. But the global financial and economic system, albeit dominated and beaten by the United States, is not a mechanical system that could be moved by an American (Archimedean) lever-fulcrum. The global marketplace is a complex dynamic system always on the verge of disequilibrium, and chaos.

Before Mr Obama took office six weeks ago, the Bush administration had already infused $350 of the $700 billion Congress had sanctioned to strengthened the financial institutions; but the system did not move. The bail out money disappeared like sand through the hourglass. A couple of weeks ago Congress approved the Obama stimulus package for $787 billion but Wall Street fell into deeper depression. Nevertheless, Mr. Obama is not giving up. His rhetoric is awe inspiring. “Even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency and a determination that perseveres, a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity,” he told Congress. His opinion polls looked up.

His budget proposal is more than an economic revival plan. Republicans say that it has a subversive agenda, and to the shocking dismay and puzzlement of most Americans, some Republican governors have decided not to partake in the Obama massive stimulus package. For Democrats, it is a break from the past, a great paradigm shift, a fundamental change in thinking about the role of the government in people’s lives, a profound ideological transformation of the United States that would impact the world. There is no substitute for a good government, Mr. Obama asserts. The budget blueprint is a warning to the American people that the present economic crisis is “neither the result of a normal turn of the business cycle nor an accident of history. We arrived at this point as a result of an era of profound irresponsibility that engulfed both private and public institutions from some of our largest companies’ executive suites to the seats of power in Washington, D.C.” He knew what he was getting into when he chanted from coast to coast, Yes We Can.

Mr Obama believes that the function of the government is to lead and become the solution to the people’s problems. This is a total reversal of what Ronald Reagan, a most admired Republican US president, said in his inaugural that the “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Like President Reagan, Mr. Obama is a great communicator and has the ability to touch people across all strata of society; nonetheless, his political philosophy of governance is totally different. By lifting people from bottom up, where most African-Americans are situated, Mr Obama believes that the whole country could rise again. Only if the marketplace with its own stubborn mind and incomprehensible logic would listen to Mr Obama’s messianic rhetoric!

(ND Batra blogs at http://globaldiplomat.blogspot.com and teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University)