Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What do the Chinese want from India?

First, a disclaimer: I am not an expert on Indo-China relations. But as one who sticks to a basic journalistic quality of tracking news and events that make headlines, I am aware that all is not well in the relations between the two countries. From the news I have been reading and watching in the last few weeks, it is quite obvious that the two Asian giants have upped the ante against each other.

The Indian media appears to be egging on New Delhi to adopt an aggressive stance and match the rhetoric of the Chinese, who have staked fresh claims over the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese protest against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to the North Eastern State evoked strong reactions in the media – quite justifiably.

In my view, China is behaving like the typical school bully, who would pick up fights with every other boy in the school, just to show who the boss was in the campus. The bully would have a free run till he gets his nose bloodied some day or someone at least stands up, looks him in the eye, and says, “Ok, dude! Let’s fight it out, if that’s what you want.” India has to respond in a language that the Chinese would understand.

English daily, Deccan Chronicle, adopted a balanced view in its editorial titled “It’s time to speak frankly to China.” While advocating a bilateral summit to resolve the standoff between the two nations, it noted in the issue dated 19 October 2009: “India needs to prepare itself to deal with any situation that may be thrown up. Economically, politically, militarily, and in terms of its weight in the international system, it is a more capable entity than it was in 1962.”

However, contrary to the general thinking in the media, The Hindu continues to believe that the Chinese and Indians can remain friends forever. It perceives the current turbulent phase in the Indo – Chinese relations in a refreshingly optimistic manner.

In an editorial dated 19 October 2009, “How to end this discordance,” the paper noted: “The tone, although not the substance, of India – China relations has recently been through a problematic phase, with misperceptions and motivated media campaigns creating the impression of some kind of crisis.”

The Hindu further added for clarity: “That this is not so has been made clear by the governments of both countries; in their own ways, they have made the point that the positive overall trend of the “China – India Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity” remains unaffected.”

Is it so? Well, an IANS report from Kathmandu, which was carried by many dailies the following day (20 October 2009) - The Hindu was understandably not among them – provides a contrasting picture.

Deccan Chronicle ran the report with the headline: “Kashmir not part of India, claims China.” The report said: “Besides issuing separate visas to Indian passport holders from Jammu and Kashmir, China is also projecting the disputed territory as an independent country in other ways.

Visitors to Tibet, especially journalists invited by the Chinese government, are given handouts where Kashmir is indicated as a country separate from India.

Media kits providing "basic information" about Tibet - which China attacked and annexed in the 1950s - says Tibet "borders with India, Nepal, Myanmar and Kashmir area".

It could be noted that barring the so called “Kashmir area,” the other three are sovereign countries. So what are the Chinese trying to say? Or still better to ask, what is it that China wants? That’s some food for thought.

The writer PC Vinoj Kumar is a Special Correspondent for the Indian weekly magazine - Tehelka. The views expressed are his own.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Boycott Threat Looms Over Sri Lanka

The ‘Boycott Sri Lankan Sports’ campaign has taken a significant turn with the filing of a petition before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court seeking to restrain the Indian cricket team from taking part in a tri-series involving India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. In his petition, advocate Joel Poul Antony, stating that he is a great fan of the Indian cricket team, makes a prayer for calling off the Indian team’s tour to Sri Lanka citing the earlier precedent of India snapping sports contacts with the racist South Africa in the 1980s.

The petitioner charges Sri Lanka with committing genocide against the minority Tamils in the country and of violating international human rights laws. Citing the confinement of the Tamil speaking war refugees in military controlled camps, and treating them as slaves, he argues that by these actions Sri Lanka is violating provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948. The petition also notes that the Sri Lankan navy has killed more than 500 Indian fishermen (in the last three decades) and there have been frequent agitations in Tamil Nadu against these killings.

The court has ordered notices to the secretaries of Home, External Affairs and Youth and Sports Welfare ministries of the government of India. Whether the Indian team’s tour is going to be called off or not - the tri-series is scheduled to start next week – this petition by the Madurai advocate could be a forerunner to future campaigns against the Sri Lankan government.

The ‘boycott Sri Lanka’ slogan is a powerful weapon that Colombo will find it difficult to handle with its military power. This campaign has been going on for some time on a low key, with the ‘boycott’ emails doing the rounds. With the petition by the Madurai lawyer, the campaign has been taken to another level.

A sustained campaign by the Tamil diaspora, who are present in large numbers in the cricket playing nations of Australia and England, can turn around public opinion so swiftly that before Colombo realizes it, President Rajapaksa and his aides would be fighting a diplomatic battle with their back to the wall. It will be a difficult battle for them. Surely, it will not be as simple as getting the support of China and Russia in the United Nations security council to block a debate on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

The genocide charges against Colombo will be discussed on the streets, play grounds and sports pages of newspapers and magazines around the world. The spokespersons for the Tamil cause may not be a Thirumavalavan, or a Vaiko or a Nedumaran in Tamil Nadu anymore, but possibly a Sachin Tendulkar or a MS Dhoni or a Ricky Ponting.

The cricket boards of the respective countries will have to respect the sentiments of players. They would have no choice except to boycott Sri Lanka if the players feel so. Just last year, Zimbabwe was isolated by the other cricket playing countries of the world because of the racist policies – against the white minorities – and human rights violations of the Robert Mugabe government.

English player Andrew Strauss spoke out against Zimbabwe last summer. A BBC report in June said, “The batsman feels both the England and Wales Cricket Board and the government have missed previous chances to send Mugabe a message by refusing to play. He said: "In the past there've been chances to show the strength of feeling here and the government chose not to. If it comes down to players to do that we'll definitely have to look at it."

A few weeks later, the England and Wales Cricket board announced that it was canceling its 2009 tour of Zimbabwe. “All bilateral arrangements are suspended with Zimbabwe cricket with immediate effect,” the board said. A disgraced Zimbabwe cricket board announced that it was pulling out of the 2009 Twenty20 world cup in England “in the larger interests of the game.”

Zimbabwe cricket chairman Peter Chingoka said, “"We have been informed that the British government may not grant visas to our players and that situation may prevail during the Twenty20 World Cup. We don't want to be gatecrashers."

However, for the ‘boycott Sri Lanka’ campaign to be successful, the Tamils should get the support of top international players. They need to apprise players like Sachin, Dhoni, Ponting, Hayden, and others, on the sufferings of Tamils in Sri Lanka. They need to tell them how Sri Lanka has been indicted by human rights agencies around the world over the rampant “disappearances” of people in the country. They need to tell them about the absence of safety for journalists in Sri Lanka.

A senior journalist Lasantha Wickrematunga was killed by unknown assailants early this year. Last week, the editor of The North Eastern Monthly, J S Tissainayagam, was sentenced to twenty years rigorous imprisonment on charges of receiving funds from the LTTE. Over forty Sri Lankan journalists have fled the country fearing for their lives.

The moment international cricketers become aware of the situation, they themselves would lead the campaign for an international sports boycott against Sri Lanka.

The writer PC Vinoj Kumar is a Special Correspondent for the Indian weekly magazine - Tehelka. The views expressed are his own.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sri Lanka: India’s latest security nightmare

Sri Lanka is fast emerging as a security nightmare for India. Basking in its military success against the separatist Tamil Tigers, Sri Lanka is cementing its ties with China and Pakistan, ignoring Indian security interests. By embracing India’s enemies and inviting them home, treating them as guests, and doing business with them, Sri Lanka is embarking on a dangerous foreign policy that has the potential to undermine India’s national security.

The Chinese are developing a port in Hambantota in Southern Sri Lanka, which experts feel could be converted into a Chinese naval base at short notice. In a recent interview to Tehelka, Colonel (retired) R Hariharan, a Sri Lanka expert, had stated: “Though Hambantota is being developed as a merchant shipping port, it can be converted into a naval base by adding a few facilities.”

The Chinese are building an expressway in Colombo and are also involved in an important power project in North Sri Lanka. As the two countries keep signing more collaborative projects, and the Chinese presence increases in Sri Lanka, it would bring the Chinese within breathing (or striking) distance of India’s southern coast, where several sensitive installations including atomic power plants are located. Chinese personnel will be all over Sri Lanka.

In a recent article titled, ‘Growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka’, Gunjan Singh at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, writes: “This increasing closeness between Colombo and Beijing is a reason for concern for New Delhi. During the construction of the (Hambantota) port a large number of Chinese experts are to be expected to be present in the region and this is proving to be a security concern for the Indian side.”

Sri Lanka doesn’t lose an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to one-China policy. By doing that Sri Lanka accepts Chinese claims over Taiwan. But Sri Lanka maintains a stoic silence on Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. It doesn’t want to spoil its relations with Pakistan or China by coming out with a pro-India stand on Kashmir or Arunachal Pradesh. For all the military and financial assistance it has got from India, Colombo has done few favours in return.

Despite bending backwards to woo Sri Lanka, by providing it with arms and training its personnel, India has failed to win over Colombo to its side. Journalist Nitin Gokhale has revealed in his recent book, ‘Sri Lanka: From War to Peace’: “Publicly India maintains that it would not give Sri Lanka any offensive weapons. Yet, in early 2006, India quietly gifted five Mi -17 helicopters to the Sri Lankan Air Force…The only Indian condition was these helicopters would fly under Sri Lankan Air Force colours. New Delhi clearly did not want to annoy UPA’s Tamil Nadu allies like the DMK unnecessarily.”

Who are these Chinese whom the Sri Lankans are cozying up to? What intentions do they have about India? D S Rajan of the Chennai Centre for China Studies recently shook the Indian security establishment with his article titled, “China should break up the Indian Union, suggests a Chinese strategist.” A China expert, with the added advantage of knowledge of the Chinese language, Rajan translated the contents of a Chinese article that advocated breaking up of India.

Rajan states in the article: “The writer (of the Chinese article) has argued… (that) China in its own interest and the progress of whole Asia, should join forces with different nationalities like Assamese, Tamils, and Kashmiris and support the latter in establishing independent nation-states of their own, out of India. In particular, the ULFA in Assam, a territory neighboring China, can be helped by China so that Assam realizes its national independence.”

Strategic expert B Raman commends Rajan’s analysis. Rajan concludes his article stating: “In any case, an approach of panic towards such outbursts will be a mistake, but also ignoring them will prove to be costly for India.”

Raman writes in his blog: “What is wrong in this analysis? In the 1950s, a number of maps of the Indo-Chinese border started circulating in China and appearing in sections of the Chinese media. The Indian intelligence rightly brought these to the notice of Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister, who took up the matter with Chou En-lai, his Chinese counterpart. He assured Nehru that these maps were circulated by private individuals and had been prepared by the Taiwanese before 1949. He told Nehru that India should not worry about them. Nehru was shocked before the 1962 war when the Chinese used the very same maps, which Chou had described as not official, for claiming large parts of Indian territory and occupying much of it. Today, it is on the basis of the very same maps which the Chinese portrayed as not official that they are claiming Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory.”

Discussing the combined threat posed by China and Sri Lanka, M G Devasahayam, a retired bureaucrat, writes in The Statesman dated 22 August 2009, “The premonition of Bharat Verma, editor of the Indian Defence Review, that ‘China will launch an attack on India before 2012 and there are multiple reasons for a desperate Beijing to teach India the final lesson, thereby ensuring Chinese supremacy in Asia in this century’ has been in the making for the last few years. By that time Sri Lanka would be fully prepared with an Armed Force of 300,000 (the 8th largest in the world), near-fully trained and equipped by China and Pakistan, forcing India to open a massive land-sea front in the south, which till now has been peaceful. It is thus evident that India’s ‘foreign policy’ on Sri Lanka has been palpably against national interest and security.”

As if Chinese presence in Sri Lanka was not enough, Colombo is now all set to train Pakistani army personnel in anti-guerilla warfare in soon-to-be established training schools in the Tamil dominated North Sri Lanka. Lankan army chief Lt General Jagath Jayasuriya has said that these schools would be established in Mullaitivu, Killinochchi and Vavuniya. The proposed training to the Pakistani personnel is to be provided based on a request from Islamabad to train their officers in ‘small team operations.’ What the Pakistanis are capable of doing to weaken India is known to everyone. Their presence near India’s southern borders should ring the alarm bells in the Indian security establishment.

The writer PC Vinoj Kumar is a Special Correspondent for the Indian weekly magazine - Tehelka. The views expressed are his own.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Kerala Flavour in Delhi

M G Devasahayam, a retired IAS officer, has written an informative article on the proposed ‘Civil Services Bill, 2009’. The article was published in The Statesman on July 7. I bump into Devasahayam occasionally when I go for my (irregular) evening walks in the beach. During our last meeting he mentioned about this article. Later, he emailed it to me. He has made the article spicy, in the style of journalists, by adding some Kerala pepper. While discussing some important features of the bill, which would impact the Indian bureaucracy, he has also highlighted the domination of Malayalee bureaucrats in Delhi. I enjoyed reading the piece. Do check it out.

PM Must Guard Against A Parochial Agenda
By MG Devasahayam

TO beat the Prime Minister’s 100-day governance agenda, the mandarins in his office are working overtime to evolve an efficient and effective public service to serve the UPA mascot ~ aam aadmi. As part of this new initiative, these reformers have placed on the fast track the enactment of a public service code that will lay down a strict performance evaluation regime for promotions and postings of senior civil servants. But even before the process has been initiated, one breed of civil servants ~ those who hail from ‘God’s Own Country’ ~ seem to be exempt from this code.
The Civil Services Bill, 2009, a draft of which is being fine-tuned, will enunciate this code. It will provide for parliamentary scrutiny on all bureaucratic appointments, transfers and postings. It is believed to be an improved version of the Public Service Bill, 2007 which did not materialise during the UPA’s previous dispensation. These provisions will first be applicable to IAS and IPS officers and may later be extended to all services that come under the all-India service category, including the Indian Forest Service.
The Bill, which incorporates various suggestions of the second Administrative Reforms Commission, envisages the setting up of a new Central Public Service Authority (CPSA). It will not only manage the civil services in a professional manner, but also serve the interests of civil servants and citizens through checks and balances. Fixed tenure
IF the Civil Services Bill becomes an Act in its present form, all bureaucrats will get a minimum fixed tenure of three years. If any bureaucrat is transferred before three years, he or she will have to be compensated for the inconvenience and harassment caused due to such a move. This is a vague provision. What sort of ‘inconvenience and harassment’ can an official claim if he is transferred ten times in three years within the same building and retains the same residence?
As regards the top-level appointments in states, the Chief Secretary and Director-General of Police will be selected out of a panel of suitable candidates by a committee comprising the Chief Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the home minister. Currently, the Chief Minister alone decides on such appointments.
Similarly, the leader of the Opposition will also have a say in the appointment of the Cabinet Secretary who will be selected from a panel by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the home minister. If the government deviates from these norms while appointing bureaucrats, it will have to inform Parliament about the reasons for doing so.
The new Bill will put in place a different kind of performance evaluation system. Unlike the current practice of Annual Confidential Reports which take a panoramic and often prejudiced view of a civil servant’s work, the new performance management system will evaluate officials on their job-specific achievements and the number of tasks that they perform as a team leader in a particular department.
The system will be managed by the CPSA which will work under a chairman whose rank will be equivalent to that of the Chief Election Commissioner. The CPSA, comprising three to five members, will have the power to recommend action against the public servants who do not adhere to the codes and values of public service. The Authority will assist and advise the Centre in all matters concerning the organisation, control, operation and management of public services and public servants.
The CPSA will also be the custodian of the public service code for civil servants. It will be framed to facilitate civil servants ‘in discharging official duties with competence and accountability; care and diligence; responsibility, honesty, objectivity and impartiality; without discrimination and in accordance with the law’.
The incubating Public Service Bill, 2007 contained certain Values of Public Services: (a) patriotism and upholding national pride; (b) allegiance to the Constitution and the law of the nation; (c) objectivity, impartiality, honesty, diligence, courtesy and transparency; (d) absolute integrity. It is a travesty that after six decades, a law has to be enacted to inculcate values in our elite civil servants, indeed values that are expected of any ordinary citizen.
The reforms to develop the public services as ‘a professional, neutral, merit based and accountable instrument for promoting good governance and better delivery of services to the citizens’ is a bold and assertive step by the Prime Minister and his team and, therefore, deserves to be welcomed.
Quite the contrary
BUT what is actually happening, presumably with the knowledge of the Prime Minister, is quite the contrary. Of late, a mini-replica of ‘God’s Own Country’ has been created in New Delhi’s corridors of power, originating from the Prime Minister’s Office itself. Almost every conceivable top civil service post has been captured either by those who belong to ‘God’s Own Country’ or speak the language of that ‘land of lagoons’.
The list looks endless and impressive ~ National Security Advisor; Secretary to the President of India; Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister; Cabinet Secretary; Home Secretary; Foreign Secretary and the Secretaries to the Government of India in the Ministries of Civil Aviation, Coal, Mines, Labour and Employment, Legal Affairs, Overseas Indian Affairs, Urban Development, Space, Textiles, Heavy and Information & Broadcasting! Till recently Finance and Commerce Secretaries also belonged to this ilk.
It looks as if those who were involved in this process of selection and placement ran out of candidates. Otherwise, the list would have been much longer. These ‘selectors’ are forever alert. In anticipation of the retirement of the incumbent Foreign Secretary at the end of July they have already announced his replacement ~ another lady from ‘God’s Own Country’! Even the next Police Commissioner of Delhi would be from this clan. The list seem to be endless.
No public service code or reform initiative will have any meaning or credibility if this debilitating parochial inbreeding doesn’t stop. The least that the Prime Minister can do is to submit this ‘parochial’ agenda to parliamentary scrutiny as envisaged in the proposed Civil Services Bill. The question is: will he or can he?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tamil refugee camps of Sri Lanka

Much has been written about the abysmal conditions of the Tamil refugee camps in Sri Lanka. Reports say people there are suffering due to shortage of water, and lack of proper sanitary facilities. Media has also reported outbreak of chickenpox and hepatitis in the military run camps, where an estimated 3 lakh Tamils are housed in overcrowded tents. Several international agencies have voiced their concern for the suffering masses, but no relief appears to be in sight.

Their appalling condition moved even Sri Lanka’s Chief Justice Sarath N Silva, who made the following comments after visiting one of the camps. (That the honourable judge is a Sinhalese adds more credibility to his remarks.) Here goes his assessment of the camps:

I visited 'relief villages' where Vanni IDP families are sheltered. I cannot explain their suffering and grief in words. It is an utter lie if we continue to say that there is only one race and no majority or minority in the country. I visited Cheddiku'lam camps where IDP families live. I cannot explain the pathetic situation they undergo. I was unable to console them. They survive amid immense suffering and distress.
We construct massive building on our side. But these IDPs live in tent-shelters. Ten IDPs live in one tent-shelter. They could stand straight only in the centre of the tent shelter. Their neck will break down if they move to aside of the tent-shelter.
IDPs are seen waiting in queues, extending from 50 to 100 yards to take their turn to answer a call of nature. This is the life of Vanni IDPs in Cheddiku'lam camp.
I attempted to smile at these IDPs. But it was without success. I failed to express my feeling towards them. I was unable to tell them that we also were crying with them for their suffering. I was unable to tell them that I would supply new clothes to them.
They should be provided with enough relief. We would be blamed if we fail to supply them with enough relief.They cannot expect justice from the law of the country. Their plight and suffering are not brought to the court of law in our country. I openly say this. I will be penalized for telling this.”

Now, contrast these remarks with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rating of his army run camps in an interview with senior Indian journalist and the Editor of leading Indian English daily, The Hindu. To a question from Ram on whether he was satisfied with conditions in the Vavuniya IDP camps, Rajapaksa said (I am quoting in part)…

I would say the condition in our camps is the best any country has. We supply water. There is a problem with lavatories. That is not because of our fault. The money that comes from the EU and others, it goes to the NGOs and the U.N. They are very slow; disbursing money is very slow. We supply the water tanks; we have spent over [Sri Lankan] Rs. 2 billion. Giving electricity, giving water, now we are giving televisions to them. They have telephone facilities. Schools have been established. Some of the leaders are using mobile phones.
I had a special meeting on the disposal of waste. I sent a special team of specialists to see how mosquitoes can be eradicated.
We know there are shortcomings. Slowly, we have to overcome them. In some camps there are no problems. What these people I sent told me: they are satisfied with the housing, the shelter. They have undergone much worse conditions earlier [when they were under the LTTE’s control].”

Rajapaksa also revealed during the course of the interview a very powerful theory that he has formulated and which he is propagating among his countrymen.

He said answering a question:

“I have warned my party people, all party people, whether Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, that “I don’t want any statement, anything that creates a disturbance among our three communities.” Now my theory is: there are no minorities in Sri Lanka, there are only those who love the country and those who don’t. They tried to twist that but I still maintain that position.”

Now you go paraphrase what the President means when he says there are no minorities in Sri Lanka. Good luck to the Tamils!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Inspiring Fathers - Nehru and Lincoln

I am reading Jawaharlal Nehru’s Glimpses of World History. Truly, leaders such as him, are scarce to find in the present world. I found Nehru’s keenness to pass on his own values to his daughter, Indira, most touching. Through the letters he wrote to her from the prison, he attempted to impart knowledge to her, while at the same time, sneaking in capsules of character building verses. Narrating historical events from around the world, he tries to mould her character, subtly infusing into her the qualities of legendary heroes who had lived in the past.

At times, he is quite blunt in telling her how she should live her life. I liked this passage, early in the book:

Often we may be in doubt as to what to do. It is no easy matter to decide what is right and what is not. One little test I shall ask you to apply whenever you are in doubt. It may help you. Never do anything in secret or anything that you would wish to hide. For the desire to hide anything means that you are afraid, and fear is a bad thing and unworthy of you. Be brave, and all the rest follows. If you are brave, you will not fear and will not do anything of which you are ashamed.”

This passage is part of Nehru’s letter to Indira on her thirteenth birthday. No wonder, Indira grew up into a daredevil politician and was once hailed as “the only man in her cabinet.”

No less inspiring is former American President Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his son’s teacher…

He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just, all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero: that far every selfish politician, there is a dedicated leader…

Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend. It will take time, I know a long time, but teach, if you can, that a dollar earned is of more value then five of found.

Teach him, to learn to lose…And also to enjoy winning. Steer him away from envy, if you can, teach in the secret of quiet laughter.

Teach him, if you can the wonder of books…But also given quiet time wonder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun, and flowers on the green hillside.

In a school teach him, it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat…

Teach him to have faith in his own idea, even if anyone else tell him they are wrong…

Teach him to be gentle with gentle people and tough with tough.

Teach him to listen to all men…But teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth, and take only the good one that comes through.

Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he is sad. Teach him there is no shame in tear.

Teach them to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidder but never to put a prize tag on his heart and soul.

Teach him gently, but do not cuddle him, because only the test of fire makes the fine steel.
Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself because then he will always have some sublime faith in mankind.

This is a big order, but see what can you do… He is such a fine little fellow, my son! Dad

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Poems I fell in love with

I have no great interest in poetry. Whatever little poetry I had read, was in school and college. But some of them made a strong impression on my mind at that young age. Those few poems I liked were written in simple language - a style I adored, and wished I could emulate. Using simple words to convey powerful messages and stir up human hearts and minds, calls for extraordinary skills, and more importantly, a total dedication to the cause one espouses.

My top three favourite poems are: The Patriot by Robert Browning, Laugh and be merry by John Masefield, and Stopping by woods by Robert Frost.

The lines I took to heart and drew inspiration from were Masefield’s:
“Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.”

And Robert Frost’s:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”

Check out the full poems, if you would like to.


An old story

It was roses, roses, all the way,
With myrtle mixed in my path like mad:
The house-roofs seemed to heave and sway,
The church-spires flamed, such flags they had,
A year ago on this very day.

The air broke into a mist with bells,
The old walls rocked with the crowd and cries.
Had I said, "Good folk, mere noise repels--
But give me your sun from yonder skies!
"They had answered, "And afterward, what else?"

Alack, it was I who leaped at the sun
To give it my loving friends to keep!
Nought man could do, have I left undone:
And you see my harvest, what I reap
This very day, now a year is run.
There's nobody on the house-tops now--
Just a palsied few at the windows set;
For the best of the sight is, all allow,
At the Shambles' Gate--or, better yet,
By the very scaffold's foot, I trow.

I go in the rain, and, more than needs,
A rope cuts both my wrists behind;
And I think, by the feel, my forehead bleeds,
For they fling, whoever has a mind,
Stones at me for my year's misdeeds.

Thus I entered, and thus I go!
In triumphs, people have dropped down dead.
"Paid by the world, what dost thou owe Me?"--
God might question; now instead,
'Tis God shall repay: I am safer so.


Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.
Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.
Laugh and be proud to belong to the old proud pageant of man.

Laugh and be merry: remember, in olden time.
God made Heaven and Earth for joy He took in a rhyme,
Made them, and filled them full with the strong red wine of His mirth
The splendid joy of the stars: the joy of the earth.

So we must laugh and drink from the deep blue cup of the sky,
Join the jubilant song of the great stars sweeping by,
Laugh, and battle, and work, and drink of the wine outpoured
In the dear green earth, the sign of the joy of the Lord.

Laugh and be merry together, like brothers akin,
Guesting awhile in the rooms of a beautiful inn,
Glad till the dancing stops, and the lilt of the music ends.
Laugh till the game is played; and be you merry, my friends.


Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping here,
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer,
To stop without a farmhouse near,
Between the woods and frozen lake,
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake,
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep,
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The man who wanted to dry up the pond

Here’s a story that my father narrates often. It was his mother’s favourite, he says. I don’t know if any of you have heard it before. But it’s fun, and has a moral too. Here goes the story.

Many years ago, there lived a blacksmith in a village. He was a talented craftsman, but was proud and conceited. He constantly preened of his skills. He boasted that he had the skill to bend iron and do with it what he liked. The nice villagers did not mind his bragging. They were happy as long as he did the work for them.

As days passed by, the blacksmith’s ego became so bloated that he thought without him nothing would work in the village. He demanded preferential treatment at functions and expected people to show him respect.

One day at the marketplace, he picked up a quarrel with a villager. A wordy duel followed. The issue was petty, but the blacksmith was agitated in his mind. He was so upset that the villager had dared to talk back to him.

He was angry that none of the villagers had supported him. So, he decided to teach the villagers a lesson. A lesson the rustics would never forget for the rest of their life, he thought. He sat up in the night and began to scheme. Then, he hit upon a plan.

He thought of the red-hot hammer in his workshop. With it he had forged the strongest iron at his workshop. He played back the scene in his mind. All of a sudden a brainwave hit him. He froze the picture in his mind. What he saw was the red-hot hammer dipped in the bowl of water. And, the scalding tool licking the water with a hissing sound.

He did not wait for long. In the middle of the night he set out to his workshop. There was no time to lose. He hurriedly built a fire and heated the hammer till it shined red in the dark. He picked up the flaming tool and ran towards the village pond. The pond was the only source of water to the villagers. The people would die if there were no water in it.

Perched on the bank of the pond, he took one last look around the place. Satisfied nobody was watching him, he threw the hammer into the pond. “Sorry folks!” he thought. “This is the price you have to pay for what you did to me. From tomorrow, you sons of the devil, will have no water to drink. Die, all of you!” he cursed, and ran all the way to his house.

Back home, he packed up his things. Under the cover of darkness he fled the village. The story goes that many months later, the now impoverished blacksmith returned to the village to check the plight of the villagers.

Of course, the pond was brimming and the villagers were happy and there was a new blacksmith in the village.

Moral of the story: Nobody is indispensable in this world. Those who think they are, invariably learn the hard way they are not.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Auroville - In the News Again

The news item in Times of India (TOI) some days ago, ‘Frenchman’s killing stuns Auroville,’ caught my eye, and set my mind racing back to my brief stay in the international township near Puducherry. We had done a story on the Auroville township in Tehelka last September. I thought it would be a good idea to post the TOI report and the Tehelka story in my blog. Auroville has never ceased to be in the news. The Tehelka story was an attempt to peep into the inside of the much hyped dream city. Happy reading!
Frenchman's killing stuns Auroville
28 May 2009

PUDUCHERRY: A French industrialist, Andre Viozat, 66, who settled in Auroville nearly four decades ago, was hacked to death in his 13-acre farmhouse on Wednesday.

The murder sent shock waves across the international township in suburban Puducherry where more than 1,300 foreign nationals from 35 countries have made their home. Andre’s body was found on the lane leading to his house inside the sprawling farm. Police sources said some unidentified persons managed to enter the farmhouse, ‘Turiya’, tied the French man’s hands and legs after sprinkling chilli powder in his eyes. He was then hacked to death with sharp weapons inflicting wounds on his neck and head. Andre married an Indian woman Chandrika Krishnan from Kerala. However, they were separated four years ago and Chandrika now lives with their daughter Savithri in Puducherry. The couple had sought a divorce and a case is pending in court. The police said the culprits damaged the surveillance cameras inside the farmhouse and also attacked a pet dog of the Frenchman. "We have begun investigations from all possible angles," inspector A Sabibullah said. Inquiries with Andre's neighbours revealed that the Frenchman taught mathematics in France and Africa before reaching India inspired by the teachings of Sri Aurobindo in 1971. He built huts for residents of Auroville and a poultry farm. He set up a factory to manufacture electronic leather-measuring machines and sprayers to paint leather. The firm was initially established as a part of Sri Aurobindo Society but was separated later. He was also instrumental in establishing another unit to manufacture ozone generators. He taught mathematics at Lycee Francaise during his early days of stay here to fund his industrial units. "He was a perfectionist and a hardworking man. He was always engrossed in work," said a neighbour.

The End Of A Dream?

Auroville was created as a ‘universal city’ free of discord, but is riven by allegations of paedophelia, dubious land purchases, and racism, discovers PC VINOJ KUMAR

THERE SHOULD be somewhere on earth a place where no nation could claim as its own… a place of peace, concord and harmony… In this ideal place money would no longer be the sovereign lord; individual worth would have a far greater importance than that of material wealth and social standing.”
Such was the dream of Mirra Alfassa, Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual partner and successor, known to her followers as The Mother. In 1968, five years before her death, the dream led to the establishment of Auroville, a “universal town” as it calls itself, currently home to around 2,000 residents from 40 countries. Located 8 km from Puducherry, Auroville is run on government and UNESCO grants and the proceeds of its commercial projects. Best known today as an offbeat tourist attraction, deep rifts with the local community have, however, seen serious charges levelled against the community, ranging from allegations of certain residents sexually abusing children from nearby villages to claims of extortionate land acquisition. Local resentment has now burgeoned into an active campaign to have the town shut down, with some opponents even decrying it as a threat to national security.
Auroville started out as part of the Puduchery- based Sri Aurobindo Society, under Mirra Alfassa’s direct control. Following her death in 1973, divisions between residents and the Society resulted in almost two decades of wrangling over the town’s administration. Ultimately, in 1991, the Auroville Foundation (AF) was established by Parliament.
Not all who live in Auroville agree that this has worked. Some are frustrated and feel that the community’s original ideals and freedoms are fading. The AF is optimistic, though, and its Master Plan predicts Auroville’s population will reach 50,000 by 2025. In its design, however, the plan included several acres of yet-to-beacquired land belonging to nearby villages. While expansion of the 20 km campus has been sluggish, current AF secretary M. Ramaswamy, a senior IAS officer, has made land acquisition a priority, and, by January 2007, as reported then in community bulletin Auroville Today, purchased around nine acres for the town. This more than tripled in the following year, with the creation of the Auroville Land Fund, whose April-June newsletter states that 31.97 acres had been bought during 2007-08.
Villagers, however, allege that not all these purchases have been conducted on an entirely principled basis, and accuse the AF of using strong-arm tactics. S. Mathialagan of Edayanchavadi village says he ran foul of the AF after he refused to sell his land and accuses Ramaswamy of behaving like a property broker. “Ramaswamy uses the police to intimidate villagers who don’t want to sell,” Mathialagan told TEHELKA. “When I turned them down, they lodged a complaint against me and I was taken to the police station. I was only freed after the villagers protested.” Villupuram SP A Amal Raj, however, denied any villager had lodged any complaint on the issue.
Villagers are also unhappy with Auroville’s attempts to regulate land transactions in the area. In 2002, the late LM Singhvi, then an MP and a member of the AF governing board, wrote to the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa, proposing an order that would bar land development or sale of areas that fell within the Auroville Master Plan, unless under AF approval. The order did not come through, but Ramaswamy is said to be pursuing the matter.
While a land tussle could be said to be a purely local issue, far more serious are the charges of abuse. M. Kandavel, who leads a ‘Ban Auroville’ movement, alleges the place has become a haven for paedophiles. To back his claim, he quotes an August 2001 issue of Auroville News, in which a resident writes: “How many of us know, that there are Aurovillians who have sexually abused their maids, that Aurovilians have sexually abused village children; that Aurovilians have funded political gangs and allegedly incited violence in the villages?”
The child abuse charges got additional attention following a BBC report in May, which, while acknowledging Auroville’s endeavours in education and reforestation, reported the community authorities as admitting that it “did in the mid-90s include a convicted paedophile”. Talking to TEHELKA, Auroville Working Committee member Carel Thieme placed the number of Aurovillians asked to leave because of suspected involvement in paedophilia at three.
As Aurovillians themselves ruefully admit, not all who come here in pursuit of the ‘ideal’ life are themselves ideal. Residents and visitors have been known to overstep the bounds of decency, as evidence of which Kandavel cites a 2002 incident involving the wife of Tathagata Satpathy, a Biju Janata Dal MP from Orissa’s Dhenkanal constituency. When contacted, Satpathy, a devotee of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, told TEHELKA he had planned to spend New Year’s Eve in Auroville but was repulsed by the atmosphere. “I had gone there hoping for a spiritual experience. What I encountered was the opposite. People were drunk. Many were high on drugs. My wife wanted us to leave, but as we were doing so, some foreigners misbehaved with us.”
Adding to local animus are the state benefits Auroville receives, including a fairly sizeable grant, with Rs 5 crore allotted for 2008-09. Its commercial units also enjoy tax exemptions. The Chief Income Tax Commissioner has reportedly argued for having these enterprises taxed, but Auroville has managed to retain the exemption. The arrangement requires owners of commercial units to pay 33 percent of their profits to the AF while keeping the rest. AF members, however, claim that these profits ultimately return to the community.
All Aurovillians work in one or the other of the town’s commercial units or in its administration offices. A maintenance stipend is available, though not all Aurovillians avail of it, particularly Westerners. Of those who do live on the stipend, some maintain that the stipend of Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,000 is insufficient. “The cost of living is quite high in Auroville,” rues resident Ramachandra Mohanta. Other Indian Aurovillians echoed his views, saying life here is difficult if one does not have sound financial backing. AF member Sanjeev, however, points out that residents and their families get several facilities free, such as education and healthcare. When asked about the economic disparities among Aurovillians, he wryly remarked, “Auroville is not an egalitarian society.” The realisation of the equality the Mother envisioned is still some way off.
WHEN TEHELKA visited Auroville, this reporter stayed four days in ‘Aspiration’, one of the community’s oldest settlements, and also one of its poorer ones. Members share food expenses and have a common kitchen and dining hall. Though it is claimed that Auroville fosters human unity, complaints of racial discrimination persist and rarely did we see people of different nationalities interact.
Critics also disapprove of Auroville’s financial handling, which, in keeping with the way the rest of the community runs, is relatively unstructured. The Auroville internal audit of 2004-05 practically concedes this — while bringing no charges of funds mishandled, it made reference to several irregularities and systemic deficiencies in financial management. “There is no centralised accounting of income reflecting the totality of income and expenditure,” it said. “There is no overall budget for Auroville. The Foundation has no system to ensure that all money received through various channels is properly accounted for and utilised.”
Aurovillians will tell you their community is a “living human laboratory” and should be looked at with sympathy, not critically or analytically. However, while local antagonism toward the town and the resultant criticism of its practices and philosophy does not abate, it is perhaps time Auroville took heed and looked to ways of reaching greater accord. •

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 37, Dated Sept 20, 2008

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Post War Quest For Justice In Sri Lanka

For those following the ‘post-war quest for justice’ in Sri Lanka, The Times editorial, ‘Time for Witness,’ is a must read.

The Editorial States: “The Sri Lankan Government has much to account for. Yet it has responded with disingenuity and fantasy. It first denied the deaths of civilians and then claimed that the photographic evidence, repeated by independent witnesses, had been forged. In doing so, it is perpetrating sins of omission in order to obscure those of commission. Mr Ban must speak; the UN must investigate. Nothing else will demonstrate a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.”

Some recent articles in The Times, New York Times and Washington Post, on the dark happenings in Sri Lanka have created the impression that the western media appears to be determined to get an investigation into the war crimes of the Sri Lankan government. Their resolve has not diminished even after what happened at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last week. Sri Lanka managed to get the majority support in the 47-member UNHRC and successfully thwarted a probe into allegations of massacre of an estimated 20000 Tamils in the final phase of its battle-to-the-finish with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

But true journalism is all about the determined pursuit of truth, and the unrelenting quest for justice, even against seemingly heavy odds. Those who doggedly fight injustice are bound to win. Villains of humanity cannot always prevail. Their downfall is just a question of time. History has demonstrated this time and again. Sri Lanka cannot be an exception.