A Deficit Of Trust

A WORLD largely in the developed parts of the globe this time accusing bankers and politicians of wrecking their economies’ it’s time, perhaps’ to cast a closer and more meticulous look at some of the basic premises of the corporate mantras so effortlessly ingrained into our collective conscience.

While the global protests may — or may not — have been galvanized by the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US, the fact is that it has been moving in all direc- tions so far — Auckland, Rome, Sydney, Tokyo, Manila, Taipei, Taiwan, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, Frankfurt, Vien- na, Sweden, Helsinki…

It perhaps was no sheer coincidence that the erup- tion of the global protests had coincided with the Group of 20 meeting in Paris, where finance ministers and central bankers from the major economies were hold- ing crisis talks.

In fact, one of the questions uppermost on the minds of people in these rather extraordinary times is when London would see its very own ‘Occupy the London Stock Exchange’ as well!

More than anything else, the current wave looks driv- en by a deficit of trust; increasingly, people around the world seem to be losing their faith in the political and corporate classes and even fewer seem to be counting on their political elites to help them wriggle out of the crises after crises.

Austerity cuts are a reality all across the world and it may not be about just a handful of countries. “What is happening (debt-driven financial melt- down) in Greece now is the nightmare awaiting other countries in the future. Solidarity is the people’s weap- on,” the Real Democracy, a Greek group was recently quoted as saying sometime back.

The problem is that for far too long the bankers and financial mandarins were given a free hand to run the affairs the way they liked to while they continued to run riot with the public money, the economies started to bleed.

However, it’s the growing disparities among peoples across nations that have acted as the real multiplier of woes digging the hiatus deeper and deeper in these times of global recession.

The invisible hand of the market no longer has the unquestioned support and trust of the people the suf- fering of the people all around is just too plain visible to give a short shrift to.

Exposed and bare, and no longer seem to be the desired and highly cherished values.

A recent Facebook post posted by a journalist friend said a lot. “One man died (Apple founder Steve Jobs) and a million cried, a million died (in Somalia) and not one cried!” There clearly seems to a subtle anger against the premises that the profit motive of the corporates is the most desirable thing for the mankind; that everything else can, and should, wait.

The point here is that while a visionary like Jobs continues to inspire one and all, a large number of peo- ple are now questioning the ethos where the invisible market forces are supposed to take care of the teeming millions, a very substantial chunk of which goes to the bed hungry not knowing where the next meal will come from. So long as the global economy was working fine, few questioned the status quo. Just transport yourself — for a moment — to an era just half a decade back and try imagine an anti-corpo- rate demonstration in the streets of Greece! What? Not possible! Just plain unimaginable…isn’t it?

Times have changed. As a large part of the developed world gets entangled deep into the debt morass, the fears that we might be standing on the thresholds of yet another bout of global recession, is writ large on count- less faces all across the continents.

We are indeed living in extraordinary times these. It’s time the political and corporate class does a serious re- think on the ‘profit-is-supreme’ motto.

It’s time to seriously ponder the future of the future generations. The corporate leitmotif is leading us no- where close to a solution to the global financial crisis. Leaving the masses sans social security to fend for themselves and to continue supporting the corporate goals without any remorse is anything but a value asso- ciated with what we call a welfare state.

In fact, besides the politics, the economics of the wars of the recent times needs to be scrutinised too, because some indeed trace the winds of the global recession to those illegal wars.

Not much serious academic work has been done to study the economics of the wars of the past decade — how much of the global economic quagmire the man- kind faces today owes to the rushed and rash decisions of some of the most well known leaders of our times? These questions are crying out for attention now.

(This article first appeared on the Edit Page in the Times of Oman newspaper on October 25, 2011. Below please find the page)

Edit Page - Deficit of Trust

When Newsmen Become News Of The World

WITH ALL due respect to this lexicon that has somehow found its way into Queen’s English, a dog, actually’ doth not eat a dog! As the consequences — both short term and long term — of the News of the World fiasco become more and more opaque, and the dust refuses to settle down, one idea that often strikes us, we journos, is precisely that very saying: dog eat dog.

As always, spin doctors are ready and set with their bows – already shooting off, in fact – aiming at those running without a cover (cover, shall we say?).

‘We told you so!’ ‘These journos, most of them, are like that only; they can go to any extent chasing a story!’

The credibility question, or crisis, as many would like to call it, is going to haunt our fra- ternity for long. However, the roots of the cur- rent thunder, I strongly believe, are not con- fined to the land of the River Thames alone. It’s a truly global ‘equation’.

The rot, as it turns out, is somewhat like an LPG gas pipeline crisscrossing continents, breaking the barriers of geography. As one tries disseminating the symptoms, the traces of a common virus become visible, rather ominously.

We have ‘all’ given up. That’s the first thing; resigned to the dictates of the ‘management’, often the corporate management, for a long while now.

Aren’t we supposed to get it ingrained in our minds that we are, after all, working on a product that is be sold like anything else: a toothpaste, for example, or detergent, or a soft drink!

And, don’t we know these are the ‘Dumbing Down’ times? Muster up courage Let us come to it straight away. How many times are we able to muster up the courage – and, as a corollary fail to gobble up that – to nail down a Big Entity, while we are armed with plenty of supportive evidence?

In these times of compromises, it’s rather an uncompromising choice to keep aside “those lofty” ideals of the profession (that we had fooled ourselves into believing they existed, before starting to peddle the new boat). And if we do not, where shall the boat head to?

‘Does it sell?’ they ask. ‘Why not?’ you retort back. ‘Does it matter?’ they prod. ‘How do you know it doesn’t?’ you quip. “Do it this way!” And that’s it. Full stop!

The point is, the best of the talents prob- ably no longer join this profession of pen-pushers anymore. It was the freedom of pushing the boundaries that was the big pull. Rising every morning believing that this day one would prob- ably end up doing something that’d give one a bout of professional pride. That, one was able to make a difference to the lives of some in a meaningful and positive way.

But that, alas, is no longer the mantra. Either you take it (‘do it this way’), or go scouting for a new destination, and designation, mind you!

The problem is, there are too many pulls and pressures on the journalist today. While they can still battle it out on the external front, it’s often the ‘internal battles’ that leave them completely sapped, helpless, confused, fearful, status quoist, unimaginative, and as it turned out in the case of the News of the World, deceitful and conniving. Dog eat dog!

(This article first appeared on the Edit page in the Times of Oman newspaper on August 1, 2011. Below please find the page)

Edit Page - When newsmen become news

History And Literature

ONLY A moron would question his greatness. V.S. Naipaul is, of course, one of the greatest and arguably the best English writers of his era.

Generations have grown up admiring his voluminous works of literature, including some that are set in India. No Indian student of English literature, at least, can consider his education complete unless having pored through in detail the various nuances of the myriad of his characters and by corollary his characterization of the Indian history and polity.

Quite naturally, therefore, what happened in Mumbai last week at the Tata Literature Live! Festival— has kicked up a dust that is fast enveloping the conscience collective of a very large number of people: literati, literature aficionados, and even hard-core politicos.

The elaborate, and, as what is being iterated on the various news channels, “the rather unexpected and uncalled for” criticism of Sir Vidia by playwright-actor Girish Karnad has already been touted as a controversy of Himalayan heights. Only, thus far, we haven’t heard from Sir Vidia himself. We know not if he too feels offended the same way as the countless others who have already jumped to the chorus even before he may say a thing or two about the episode.

One doubts if the main contention of Karnad’s arguments (I shall definitely not term it as ‘vitriolic’) against Sir Vidia — his worldview of Indian Muslims, as indicated by his widely quoted remarks — would now, or ever, be disputed by the author himself.

Those who have read him, especially his early work A Wounded Civilization, would discern fully well Sir Vidia’s views about the Medieval India. Now, herein lies the bigger issue. One stream of thought considers this period as the ‘Dark Phase’ of Indian history; they will go to any length to meticulously explain how this phase indeed ushered in bad tidings and how it “wounded” the civilization, a view, many believe not much different with Sir Vidia’s.

Now, coming back to Karnad’s arguments on Sir Vidia (or vitriol, whichever way you look at it!), it becomes increasingly difficult for one to stand on the fence, to be objective. Nay! One has to take a stand this way or the other way. And that precisely is the tragedy of the subject that goes by the name of ‘history’, which is de facto not about some enlightened or bigoted individual’s opinion. On the contrary, history is about empirical evidence, it’s about collection and collating of verifiable facts and sources, it’s about using the best possible methodologies that curtail subjectivity and bring it to the minimum possible of course 100 % objectivity in social sciences is considered unattainable— and coming out with a narrative that is substantially verifiable through the maze of materials available to the historian.

One can say with reasonable assurance that any attempt at arriving at sweeping generalizations about a community through the prism of history must be backed with arguments or logic that can stand the scrutiny of the methods of science —it has to be valid for the realm of social sciences. Otherwise, what one is theorizing or ‘sociolizing’ is all about one’s own worldview, albeit it’s perfectly legitimate for one and all to have one’s own worldview. Why not? Sir Vidia is fully entitled to his own views about Indian Muslims (or others) and their place in history or their ‘rightful’ or ‘wrongful’ place in the modern context. To that end, none can strike a discordant note. After all, we all are entitled to our views. Aren’t we?

But there is one facet to it that needs to be discussed threadbare. The subjective views of an eminent personality, especially a great like Sir Vidia, are likely to be misconstrued and suitably embellished by ‘interested parties’ to suit their own political or other agendas.

And it is on this count that one is tempted to rather agree with at least some of the flak (again, one is not calling it a ‘vitriol’ because one can always present one’s viewpoint in a democracy and criticize the one with the other worldview, just as Sir Vidia does) that Girish Karnad had so specifically reserved for one of the greatest writer of our times.

For example, in the times of what one believes growing intolerance of various hues and shades (and not just along the communal lines), does an eminent writer’s (not necessarily Sir Vidia) unapologetic branding of an entire community as belonging to the ‘invader’s race’ serve to further the cause of integration and coexistence? Does such a view inspire more and more people to be proud of their holistic traditions? And, does it not negate the basic ethos of ‘unity in diversity’ in a multicultural and plural society?

And now the bigger question: If Sir Vidia makes himself available to be “politically appropriated” by adherents of one particular ideology that is not fully backed by all sections of the society, and is seen as ‘divisive’ by many (one of the points raised by Karnad), where does such a worldview stand? And, more importantly, will others (one is talking about those who don’t adhere to this ideology) not be tempted to see such a stand as equally, and perhaps needlessly, divisive?

The reason one is asking these questions is that the personal views of an eminent person like Sir Vidia matter a lot to all of us, as we all are equally proud of his accomplishments and his unique place in the history of English literature as a writer of Indian origin.

It was not without reason why Karnad quoted Sir Vidia’s views on Taj Mahal, a monument that the countrymen look at with great pride and consider as a symbol of the syncretic Indian culture: “The Taj is so wasteful, so decadent and in the end so cruel that it is painful to be there for very long. This is an extravagance that speaks of the blood of the people.”
Again, Karnad, one would argue, is not off the mark in quoting Sir Vidia on ‘Ayodhya’, which he said, “is a sort of passion. Any passion is creative. Passion leads to creativity.”

One can agree or disagree with Karnad and it’s not the objective here to argue in favour of his remarks on Sir Vidia. It’s also not the case to question Sir Vidia’s views about Indian Muslims. The contention of this article is this: History will judge Sir Vidia’s views on Indian Muslims —after he’s gone— as either having contributed positively to, or having negatively influenced, the great Indian tradition of unity in diversity. And therein the crux lies.

(This article first appeared on the Edit page in the Times of Oman newspaper on November 7, 2012. Below please find the page)

Edit Page- History and Literature