ART LESSON FROM MAGRITTE

IMG_0675 copy.JPG

ART LESSON FROM MAGRITTE

Neither Sankara’s formulation

of Maya

nor  Russell’s tract

Appearance and Reality

made any sense to me

until one fine morning

at LACMA, L.A.,

I stood transfixed

for more than twenty minutes

before a Magritte

that epitomized

The Treachery of Images:

Ceci ne’est pas une pipe”*

 

Life hasn’t been the same again:

what matters now

are only things deeply felt within;

the gloss and sheen,

the dirt and squalor outside

of little consequence.

 

 

*This is Not a Pipe

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/René_Magritte

 

 

p4  (c) pradeep gopalan

 

 

GETTING RID OF OUR OMERTA PACTS…

SANDEEP DWIVEDI’S ENGAGING AND BY NOW widely read evaluation of the relative greatness of Sachin Tendulkar and Muhammad Ali (“SACHIN, UNLIKE ALI)” in the Indian Express of June 7, 2016 is important because it also raises, amongst other things, the not often discussed elephant in the room : the phenomenon of “following the omerta“, something that most of us indulge in, day in and day out ,as if it were our second nature.  I had vaguely heard of the term “omerta”  and when it surfaced this time round in Dwivedi’s incisive piece, I looked up the term in the Chambers lexicon.  I was embarrassed to the core. The entry for the term read as follows :

 noun : 1.The Mafia code of honour that requires silence about criminal activities and stresses   the disgrace of informing;  2.Criminal Conspiracy of silence (Origin: 19th Century Italian)

IT TOOK ME BACK TO SCHOOL AND COLLEGE days and soon to my tenure as a legal and compliance professional in shipping and financial services for nearly three decades.  I remembered  class/college mates who were nicknamed “tale-bearers” and “black legs” for simply violating the unwritten omerta code and much later in the senior echelons of management in the various organisations that I served, one witnessed omerta in full play. Omerta was indeed the safe harbour rule,  the mantra being “Conform ! Conform !” : no feathers to be ruffled, no tables to be turned. Only accept conventional wisdom. Belong. You don’t lose anything but you have everything to gain.  It was nothing but the earnest preservation of status quo.

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME, while in a minority of one, we voiced a strongly felt opinion about something that was patently wrong and unjust ? Our reluctance to move out of our comfort zones consciously blinds us to uncomfortable truths or situations and we simply play along in the hope that the music will never stop. The fear of losing our privileges and reputation binds us to the unmentioned but ever present omerta pacts that we have tacitly entered into.  The pact gives us our perfect alibis and others who surround us (and who are similarly engaged) also nod in unision, so to speak.  Everything is seemingly hunky-dory. How long can we keep deceiving ourselves ?

IF ONE WERE TO EXAMINE BEHAVIOURS A LITTLE MORE CLOSELY, one doesn’t actually become a gadfly when the so called omerta code is broken. We only begin to live more truthfully. We are all individually endowed with a circle of influence – the circumference of the circle varies depending on our stations in life and includes our family, workplace, and the social circle we move in.  We can actually work magic when we are capable, with the influence that we wield, of proactively disallowing unfairness and wrongful conduct that keep raising their ugly heads, time and again.  The positive influence that such an attitude creates will have its impact, even if slowly – and we see the world gradually transforming itself.

THE NEED FOR BREAKING THE OMERTA PACTS may rather be herculean for those who are less privileged and live in the margins and hence the responsibility  of proactively breaching such pacts rests with the elites first who have nothing to lose but their pretences.  They only need to be childlike and proclaim fearlessly that “the Emperor has no clothes” as was done by the kid in Hans Christian Anderson’s famous tale.  This bias towards  the elites is not deliberate. It is a truism that for those to whom much is given, much is expected. As Burke said long ago, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing !

ALTHOUGH SANDEEP DWIVEDI attempted an interesting  comparison between two great sportspersons, its subtext was indeed a much needed wake up call to modify our own behaviours that we can ill afford to ignore.

 

 

NOT JUST SMILES, A LITTLE INSIGHT TOO !

IT IS A PITY THAT I CANNOT RECALL the name of the first cartoonist in print that I came across when I was in class 4 in Mangalore (now Mangaluru). It was in a Kannada daily called Navabharata.  The cartoon featured a hassled, ordinary citizen, pretty much like the ubiquitous common man created by R. K. Laxman in You Said It that graced the pages of Times of India for so many years. The Navabharata character had an interesting nose formed by a concentric circle in contrast to the bald, achkan and dhoti clad citizen created by Laxman.

SINCE WE LIVED IN MANGALURU for nearly two decades, we children mostly conversed in Kannada and English although Malayalam was our mother tongue. My mother however devised an interesting strategy to make us learn Malayalam.  The Manorama weekly (in Malayalam) which we subscribed to carried a very interesting comic strip titled Bobanum Mollyum (Boban and Molly) that featured the antics of a boy and girl with social commentary as its sub text. My mother’s pre-condition for reading aloud to us the conversations accompanying the cartoon strip was that we begin to read and write Malayalam.  The comic strip was created by Toms (real name V. T. Thomas  [1929-2016) who passed away last month.  Toms started his career as an electrician but soon the famous cartoon strip became an integral part of Manorama weekly from 1957 to 1987 until he branched out on his own after a copyright dispute.

THE ENGLISH PAPERS WE SUBSCRIBED to were Times of India and The Hindu.  Those days, in The Hindu, John Thomas (cartooning under the name Jomton) and an interesting column On Second Thought by Emery Kelen (which usually carried the caricature of the personality discussed) provided principal relief from  the bombastic prose of G. K. Reddy and the sombre editorials of the newspaper.  Equally, Laxman’s You Said It and his weekly summations gave us adequate escape from the high faultin pieces from the likes of Girilal Jain and Sham Lal.  Our neighbours subscribed to Indian Express and I was simply bowled over by Abu Abraham’s Private View and his lead cartoons.  Abu also wrote exceedingly well. His travel pieces and sharp political commentary were simply delightful. Years later when I landed in a job in Mumbai, I began subscribing to Debonair since it carried his column although I must also confess that its centrespreads were also another reason for buying the mag !  It is here that I also discovered Bhatlekar.  Mumbai also introduced me to Mario Miranda.  He was probably the only cartoonist in the world who demonstrated that nature abhors a vaccuum.  On his larger cartoons, so full of characters and objects, you could not even place a pin and his Rajni Nimbupani, Ms Fonseca and Bundalbass are the stuff of legends !!

I ACCIDENTALLY BEFRIENDED A CARTOONIST in a Mumbai local years ago. We used to take the same train from Andheri to Churchgate.  He was Raobail (real name Prakash Rao Balebail) who was also a mimicry artist.  His cartoons had a rare sort of life in them and his personalized post cards were truly unique.  Sadly, after I left Mumbai, I lost touch which I still regret.

THE NUMBER OF CARTOONISTS WHOSE WORK I became acquainted with are too numerous to be mentioned here.  The novelist O.V. Vijayan, Rajinder Puri, Ajit Ninan, Keshav, Surrendra, Sudhir Dhar, Murthy, Ravi Shankar, Unni, Gafoor , Shankar Pillai of the Shankar’s Weekly, and, yes, Bal Thackeray, have all made an indelible impression.  And who can forget Manjula Padmanabhan who has carved a niche for herself with Suki ! I am also beginning to enjoy Sandeep Adhwaryu nowadays.

THE CELEBRATED FILMMAKER ARAVINDAN was also a first rate cartoonist. His series Cheriya Manushyarum Valiya Lokavum (Small Men, Big World) first published in Mathrubhumi  weekly remains one of the most powerful social commentaries on Kerala which has acquired an iconic status almost equal to his award winning films.

AS I MOVED OVERSEAS FOR NEARLY 15 years, I began to read The New Yorker and Punch magazines which threw open a whole new world of cartoons and caricatures – arguably the world’s best.  Yet, the cartoons that one truly enjoys are those with local flavour where there is immediacy in their sub texts and which are also truly heartwarming.  Great cartoons do not merely raise a heartfelt smile, they also communicate insightfully which Charlie Hebdo tragically failed to achieve.

LEO ROSTEN DEFINED HUMOUR AS THE AFFECTIONATE communication of insight.  Cartoons do precisely that and elevate our prosaic existence.  One is happy to learn that The Indian Institute of Cartoonists has been established at Trinity Lane in Bengaluru by V.G.Narendra.  New talent needs to be discovered and nurtured in these times when we have almost lost the ability to laugh at ourselves !!

Postscript:

This piece was written on the occasion of World Cartoonists’  Day – May 5.

 

 

 

 

 

REMEMBERING VOICES AND FINDING MINE

BEFORE I RETURNED TO MUMBAI with my family, for nearly 15 years, every Friday or Saturday, depending on where we were domiciled, around 12 noon, fresh after a bath, my mother  in Kerala, would park herself besides the phone in the living room waiting for a call from us.  The gist of each call made was pretty much the same : pleasantries, inquiries about health, medication, regularity of the home nurse and house maid, et al. But the tone, pause, pitch, volume and spontaneity was different at each call.  The listeners at both ends “looked”  for clues for anything amiss or fresh and the conversation at times took unexpected turns depending on what was discerned in the act of listening.  It was during these calls that I realized the importance of the human voice and soon it became a matter of habit to observe in each voice that I listened to, a whole range of qualities : interest, earnestness, energy, indifference, fatigue, empathy, honesty, tenderness, enthusiasm, pretence and  even Freudian slips!!

AMIDST “THE INFINITE PROFUSION OF  HUMAN VOICES” I was also lucky to stumble upon Anne Karpf’s interesting  book titled “The Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent” (Bloomsbury) where I learnt that “air filtered through our larynx produces the human voice” and that “to speak, you need to control the movement of the larynx, glottis, soft palate, jaw, lips and tongue, as well as be able to synchronize the respiratory cycle with the activity of the vocal chords.”  And, “saying ‘Hello, how are you” requires the coordinated use of more than 100 muscles”! Besides, “voice acts as an exquisite psychic barometer.”

I HAVE ALSO FELT AN  INCREDIBLE ASSOCIATION with voice, time, and memory.  During the radio days in the early  70s, 7.25 am meant invariably listening either to Shankaranarayanan, Gopan, Sathyendren, or Rani reading the Malayalam news on All India Radio and by the time it was 7.55 am it was always a memorable song from K.L. Saigal on what was then Radio Ceylon that my Dad insisted on listening till it was Loma Time – 8 am for adjusting our watches.  The radio then became alive again at 9 pm for the news in English and this time it was either Melvyn D’Mello, Surajit Sen, Pamela Singh, or Lotika Ratnam.  The voice overs for all the Films Division documentaries that preceded the main  feature film screenings that we were sparingly allowed to watch were invariably Pratap Sharma or Zul Vellani.  One also remembers John Tusa, Michael Ashby and others who read the news on BBC broadcasts long before the advent of television. And who can forget the ever fresh Ameen Sayani on Binaca Geet Mala ?

ALL GREAT VOICES HAVE WELL KNOWN STORIES associated with them – be it that of Churchill’s or Dylan Thomas’s.  Nearer home, last year, I read an interesting autobiography of one of Malayalam cinema’s leading dubbing artistes, Bhagyalakshmi, titled “Swarabedhangal”, which loosely translated into English would mean “Modulations”.  It won the Sahitya Akademi award in 2013.  The book has very interesting tales related to the tough grind that dubbing artistes face.  It is a pity indeed that their talents are not accorded the recognition they deserve.  Very recently, in an engaging article in The Hindu, titled “Recognizing ‘Behind the Voice’ Actors”, Radha Rajadhyaksha, laments about the recognition that was denied to dubbing artistes like Mona Ghosh Shetty and Rita Koiral while lending their voices to Deepika Padukone and Kiron Kher respectively.  On the other hand, she also tells the story of John Abraham who publicly acknowledged his debt to dubbing artiste Viraj Adhav.   In context, she cites the interesting plot of R. Balki’s film Shamitabh where the key issue explored is who should get greater credit – the dubbing artiste or the actor who employs the former’s voice “since voice and dialogue delivery undoubtedly amount to half the performance ”   She also tells us the not so well known story that the credit for mentioning the names of Hindi playback singers against the songs they sung on records as well as on screen goes to Lata Mangeshkar who had to wage a battle for getting this recognition first way back in 1949 for her famous song “Aayega, Aayega, Ayega Aanewala” in Kamal Amrohi’s film “Mahal”

THE BEST VOICE THAT I EVER LISTENED TO  is that of Scott Hicks, director, expounding on his memorable film “Shine”.  It was a bonus feature on the film’s DVD.  And when I find the going dull, I switch on my iPod and listen to Shreya Ghoshal, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohamed Rafi, Kishore Kumar , Yesudas and Chitra. Favourites apart, I continue to think about voices in distress, voices that are ecstatic, voices that reassure, argue and plead, as well as lullabies and sweet nothings – all of which provide the sum total of human experience itself.

LISTENING TO VOICES IN OUR MIDST requires a certain degree of attentiveness – besides, the focus we give to the person who is talking to us is also a measure of respect that we bestow upon the person. Attentiveness to sounds, let alone speech, is, as we all know,  exceedingly sharp in the case of the blind and there are particular challenges that the deaf encounter when they try to decifer the lip movements and gestures around them. Their challenges have been set out by the late Oliver Sacks in his beautiful book “Seeing Voices”(Picador), which is a must read.

AS SOMEONE PERENNIALLY IN LOVE WITH THE HUMAN voice, I was thrilled to read an interesting report titled “Kahaani (short story) makes a comeback on Radio” by Joeanna Rebello last week in the Sunday Times of India. It speaks, amongst other things, of a collaboration between Rajkamal Prakashan and Radio Mirchi for the series Ek Purani Kahaani (An Old Story) that is aired every day at 11 pm. When it aired stories by Saadat Hasan Manto, its RJ Sayema received a response even from Manto’s grandson in Lahore !!  One couldn’t help thinking that in these days when reading is on the wane, at least the spoken word can restore our interest in beautiful stories and help us understand life itself !

LASTLY, IT MUST NOT BE FORGOTTEN THAT the  voice of every human being on this planet is different and distinct and this analogy is also applied appealingly to what one writes as well.  The  best advice I received as I began writing full time was this : FIND YOUR VOICE.

P.S. This piece was originally written on April 16World Voice Day

SHOULD RHODES FALL ?

ONE VIEWS WITH MIXED FEELINGS the #Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) movement which began sometime in 2015 (and which is still continuing) for the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College, Oxford, his alma mater.

CECIL RHODES  (1853-1902) WAS A MINING MAGNATE and politician who founded the South African country of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia). He was also one of the key founders of De Beers, a world leader in diamond trading.  There is no doubt at all that Rhodes tried to perpetuate British imperialism and the gains made from the unremitting plunder of South Africa’s natural resources were partly used to fund the Rhodes scholarship which commenced in 1903 in terms of his will.   The Rhodes Scholarship is the world’s first international study program and it continues till date.  Rhodes scholars are chosen by a rigorous selection process and 89 persons are chosen from all over the world every year. Rhodes scholars from India include Lovraj Kumar, Girish Karnad, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Prabat Patnaik, Deepak Nayyar, Mahesh Rangarajan, Boria Majumdar and Argya Sengupta. (The list is not exhaustive).  Tony Abbot, the former Australian premier and the current Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong are Rhodes scholars.

UNLESS I HAVE MISSED IT, NONE OF the eminent Indian Rhodes scholars appeared to have come out in the open in support of the RMF movement although, today, those demanding the removal of Rhodes’ statue from Oriel College are the young Rhodes scholars themselves.  As a matter of fact, memorials to Rhodes have been opposed since the 1950s beginning with the removal of Rhodes’s statue at the University of Cape Town.  In the Oxford Union debate, there were 245 affirmative votes for the removal of the statue against 212 negative votes.  People like Tony Abbot and Noam Chomsky have actively supported the #RMF campaign. What is puzzling however is that even if the Rhodes’ statue is removed, it will not signal the end of “institutional rascism” present in British institutions of higher learning which is actually the main target of the #RMF movement. So why go through the pains of removing the statue ? If anything, the statue serves a kind of ironic reminder that even though Rhodes was a “white supremacist” and possibly the first well known practitioner of “apartheid”, he gave the world one of its best scholarships.  Further, if one were to publicly disgrace the celebrated rascists of the past, the campaign should not stop at Rhodes alone.  The list may well include persons like Sir Winston Churchill – this was the point made by the key speaker, Nigel Bigger, Professor of moral and pastoral theology at Christ’s Church,  against the resolution moved at the Oxford Union debate. His key point was that ” If we insist on our heroes being pure, then we aren’t going to have any.” On the other hand, his successful challenger in the debate, Ntokozo Qwabe argued : ” I will not hold that I’m a hypocrite for taking money that was stolen from my people. This idea that money can buy our silence is exactly what the problem is….”

THE RMF ACTIVISTS ARGUE THAT their main grouse is against “institutionalized rascism at the higher portals of learning.” (Only 24 black students were accepted last year at Oxford undergraduate courses).  The fight against rascism cannot merely be symbolic – it has to be a sustained, long drawn out campaign.  The removal of Rhodes’ statue away from his alma mater will not take the movement far.  Other forms of protest must be devised before long coupled with a sustained campaign for affirmative action.

WHILE THINKING ABOUT RHODES,  in the present context, I  could not help thinking about Michael Milken, the world’s most famous junk bond trader who was convicted for racketeering and securities fraud in 1989.  Milken later donated millions of dollars to the Prostate Cancer Foundation and for combating melanoma.  If the millions donated by Milken for medical research were refused on the ground that it was “tainted money”, significant progress towards the cure of prostate cancer would not have been achieved so early.  The criminal record of Milken or  for that matter the less than salutary past of Rhodes will not diminish the force of their philanthropy.  It would  be difficult to live in a world of absolutes always. Besides, in the truest sense, when the world partakes the generosity of persons like Milken and Rhodes, it is not at all condoning their questionable past but rather acknowledging that for the bad deeds done, the individuals in question have, after all, made some amends.

SO, LET THE STATUE OF RHODES stay where it is.  It will not diminish the essence of what the Rhodes scholars are fighting for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AWARDS AREN’T EVERYTHING

LAST SUNDAY, BENOIT VIOLIERchef (reportedly also the world’s best) at the Swiss de l’Hotel de Ville  committed suicide a few hours ahead of the release of the Michelin guide’s new star ratings.  The restaurant in question was being downgraded. This, incidentally, is not the first case of suicide associated with the Michelin star ratings, as a handful of chefs have, not so long ago, taken their own lives in similar circumstances. The extraordinary importance attached to honours conferred in one’s profession and the extreme disappointment that ensues when such honours elude one needs a closer examination.

THERE ARE ‘GOLD STANDARDS’, ‘BENCHMARKS’ or ratings in most professions and all those who take their vocation seriously compete vigorously for these honours. Naturally not everyone makes the grade. But is this such an issue that should be life-denying ?

PERFORMING TO THE BEST OF ONE’S ABILITIES is the halmark of every true professional. One aspires to do a good job always. But here is the catch : others judge our performance. But why should such evaluation matter if we are truly convinced that we gave our very best each time we performed our tasks ? Also, did we raise the bar each time? If the answer is a resounding “yes” to both questions, awards be damned – well, they are a good thing to have, but not a matter of life and death.  The trick is to be so pre-eminently good in what we do that the world cannot “keep a good man down!”

THE HISTORY OF AWARDS, OR MORE CORRECTLY, the system of conferring awards in any field of human endeavour is replete with controversies – be it the Nobel or an Oscar, let alone the Michelin stars.  Bias, undue influence, fraud, prejudice, have, on several occasions denied merit when it was actually due in hundreds of cases.  A true professional has only got to grin and bear it and not allow a missed award or honour to dissipate his professional competence.

A TRULY HONEST JUDGEMENT OF ONESELF matters more than an award. If in all honesty one truly feels that one has slackened somewhat, the tomorrows that we have to live in anyway, beckons us to reach greater heights and when we give our everything in what we do, we will have redeemed ourselves fully, awards or no awards.

LASTLY, IN A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT AND MUCH BROADER CONTEXT, when thinking about Benoit Violier’s death, I remembered the memorable book The Ajax Dilemma by Paul Woodruff which examines the larger issue of distributing rewards and public recognition without damaging the social fabric and which is set against the backdrop of the ancient conflict in Greek mythology between Ajax and Odysseous.  Woodruff argues that a perfect system of distributing just rewards is very difficult to create and that the dilemmas will always remain on “whether it is fair or right to lavish rewards on the superstar at the expense of the hardworking rank and file.” The distribution of a limited number of awards fairly is a problem that will never go away.

 

INDIAN BANKS & ATUL GAWANDE

RBI GOVERNOR RAGHURAM RAJAN has been pushing Indian Banks to deal with their non performing assets (NPAs) effectively and to clean up their balance sheets by March 2017. As of March 2015, the gross NPAs of scheduled banks have stood at INR 30,200,000,000 which amounted to 4.6% of advances in absolute terms. The figure has deteriorated and private estimates put the numbers between 17% to 25% of advances.  Close on the heels of  Raghuram Rajan’s putsch, the Niti Aayog is also making a pitch for “taking the tumour of NPAs out of the banking system.”  The same old remedies of forming asset reconstruction companies for corporate debt restructuring are being mooted and the poor Indian tax payer keeps wondering whether he has any escape at all from shouldering the proposed write off of NPAs.

IN THE RECENTLY DELIVERED CD DESHMUKH LECTURE at New Delhi, Raghuram Rajan also spoke of bringing in more talent in PSU Banks for better management.  Of course, there is still a gap in salaries between professionals working in PSU banks and in the pay packets of private and foreign banks.  Indeed a substantial majority of Engineer-MBAs today are simply number crunching at banks doing project appraisals and debt rescheduling.  The problem of NPAs cannot however be easily solved by improvement in salary and perks.  As Raghuram Rajan repeatedly pleads, Indian corporates (and Banks) have to transit from the “culture of impunity” to the “culture of accountabilty”.

IN THE ABOVE CONTEXT, INDIAN BANKS need to pay attention to what Dr Atul Gawande has done vis a vis health care. Dr Gawande, is arguably, one of the world leaders in a rigorous adherence to checklists for reducing mortality in hospitals and improving patient care.  His work The Checklist Manifesto is a must read and indeed its philosophy applies to any activity.  Banks of course are not without checklists.  Indeed there is an entire list of well-developed checklists that could be conveniently used by the banking industry but in terms of the approach and compliance Banks do need to take some lessons from Dr Gawande’s work. Checklists for banks are in place right from the pre-sanction of loans followed by checklists related to pre-commitment, pre-disbursement and post disbursement of loans.  The process actually continues with the regular preparation of performance monitoring reports until the loan is fully repaid.

EACH OF THE ABOVE CHECKLISTS have action points to be initiated on reaching the given milestones during the life of a loan.  The checklists are also embedded with early warning signals for initiating remedial action so that the situation is well within the control of the Bank that has advanced the loan and indeed before the loan goes bad.  If the banking system has come to such a sorry pass it is either because bank managements have either simply chosen to ignore the early warning signals that the checklists and performance monitoring reports have intermittently thrown up or simply overlooked compliance issues.  Or quite bluntly, bank managements have simply caved in to political pressure to continue helping rank defaulters. If the above apathy persists no amount of tinkering with various corporate debt restructuring measures will yield any desirable results.  The crying need of banks is to emulate the Gawande approach for rigorous adherence to the already well established checklists so that tax payers are spared of shouldering the burden of huge losses that the loan write offs would entail.

UNSPARING ADHERENCE TO CHECKLISTS, strict performance monitoring of loans, greater respect for internal auditors and in-house legal and compliance professionals is the need of the hour. No jugaads will work and lastly, the time is probably overdue for the public naming and shaming of all wilful defaulters and rent seekers. And sooner the unwritten, adversarial relationship that exists between Corporate Banking and Legal and Compliance departments within  banks ends, the better it would be for Indian banking.

 

ON RESOLUTIONS

BY THIS TIME SEVERAL MILLION NEW YEAR resolutions would have been made only to be broken with impunity weeks or months later and at any rate before the year draws to a close.  Obviously such resolutions are either  made purely as a year end ritual or in a half-hearted way without any real intentions to implement them.  It may also be the case that some of us genuinely believe that we could adhere to the resolutions made without properly taking into account the homework or preparation required or for that matter the habits to be cultivated assiduously so that no breaches occur of the resolutions made.

THE SUCCESSFUL FULFILMENT of a resolution is actually dependent on the degree of our own determination to be the change that we want to be. That requires a great degree of mindfulness as well as a constant visualisaton of the outcomes that we seek to achieve.  Sometimes it could be life-changing events that re-enforce our desire for change.  I know two stories associated with smoking. A chain smoker gave up smoking after witnessing the death of a close friend who had a similar habit.  It took him just a week after attending his friend’s funereal to kick the habit and as far as I know he has not handled a cigarette yet.  Another quit smoking after his child was born and he has stayed resolute since. Interestingly enough, this person was actually wanting to quit smoking for quite a while  but at the back of his mind still felt that he would indulge in his habit at least for the time until he became a father !

THERE ARE A WHOLE VARIETY OF RESOLUTIONS – some need external help for bringing them to fruition besides our innate desire for change that still holds the key. It is also true that the duration of sticking to a resolution is directly proportional to efforts required for realizing it.  A website http://www.stickk.com has created a system of self rewards and penalties for its subscribers who are required to publicly proclaim the resolution that they have undertaken and the time frame by which they would achieve this.

MY MAIN RESOLUTION (AMONGST OTHERS !) has been to write at least 500 words a day of  a novel that I plan to complete by June this year.  Incidentally, this resolution has been a “carry over” of the past year and I have not really adhered to this strictly.  I have now tweaked it to provide for 500 words – not necessarily for my novel, a work-in-progress.  It could also encompass a poem, a middle, a blog post such as this or even a diary entry : but write, I must.  I know that I need to only put pen to paper at the appointed hour every day and as Woody Allen aptly put it, I do have SHOW UP at my desk for the purpose so that the ritual of writing becomes part of my nature, my habit, my routine – an essential thing to be done without which I should not allow myself to retire for the day.

SHERRYL SANDBERG, THE COO OF FACEBOOK, recently spoke of “ruthless prioritisation” for achievement of one’s goals. Well, I am not so sure if we need to be so didactic.  A day in anybody’s life may have unforseen emergencies and situations that compete for attention.  If we are able to attend to these and still make sure that we have done what we resolved to do before we switch off the lights for the day, even the world would perhaps support us in achieving our goals.  After all, as the saying goes, we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.

 

 

 

 

 

IS INDIA UP FOR GRABS ?

NOT SO LONG AGO, BEFORE THE JAPANESE PREMIER, Shinzo Abe, embarked on his much publicised trip to India, the Mayors of the cities Nagasaki and Hiroshima had written to him requesting a reconsideration of the proposed nuclear deal with India.  Aside of the burden of historical memory that these cities carry, the Mayors were only highlighting the risks associated with nuclear technology at a time when nearly 77% of Japanese have supported the phase out of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe.

The Hindu NEWSPAPER OF TODAY carries a very timely and thought provoking analysis titledThe Strange Love for Nuclear Energy”  co-authored by physicists M.V. Ramana and Suvrat Raju who are associated with the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament.  Even allowing for bias of the writers’ association with a campaign, India could ill afford to ignore the warnings they raise in their article : India is on the verge of constructing untested and expensive reactors; the technology is not at all likely to be cost effective even after allowing for the so called reduction in construction costs in India under the so called Made in India campaign – itself a distant reality as far as the nuclear project is concerned.  The authors point out that a reactor that costs USD 11.6 Bn in Europe is likely to yield a first year tariff of about Rs 19/unit of electricity (compared   with Rs 4.50 and Rs 5.50 per unit for electricity generated using coal and solar power respectively).

THE AUTHORS ALSO DRAW OUR ATTENTION TO THE fact that the proposed Indo-Japanese nuclear deal is only meant to clear the way for Japanese corporates to sell their wares in India which are unwanted elsewhere in the world given the serious downturn in the nuclear industry.  Westinghouse (where Toshiba owns a majority stake) which is the vendor for the reactor to be installed at Mithi-Virdi in Gujarat has accumulated losses of USD 290 mn since 2006 when Toshiba took a stake in the company. Likewise, Areva which is installing its equipment at Jaitapur in Maharashtra is virtually bankrupt and is poised for a takeover by the French state electricity company and Mitsubishi. And GE has aligned with Hitachi for supply of its reactor to Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh.  The authors point out that nearly 50 years ago, Japan had succumbed to pressure from nuclear suppliers and had even passed a law to indemnify them , as a result of which, the authors allege,  GE was fully protected for design defects that arose in the reactors they had installed at Fukushima. The cost of the entire clean up at Fukushima estimated at USD 200 Bn was entirely borne by Japanese tax payers !!  The authors also warn that none of the reactor designs  for aforementioned Indian locations are operational anywhere else in the world and that they distinctly run the risk of escalating project costs year after year.  They cite the examples of the reactors currently being built in Georgia, U.S., and in Flamanville, France,  where the costs have escalated from USD 14 Bn to USD 21 Bn and from Eur 3.2 Bn to 10.5 Bn respectively !!

WHILE PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI’s keenness to see India in the forefront of technology and economic development is laudable, it cannot be at the cost of India’s safety and security.  The speed at which environmental clearances are given merely to project India as an industry friendly country does not augur well for the country either.

THE PROPOSED INDO-JAP NUCLEAR DEAL cannot be implemented in haste and there is every opportunity for India to do business on its terms vis a vis the Japanese Vendors after instituting adequate safeguards and guarantees. We also need to pay heed to the financial resources required.  High profile projects do not really solve India’s problems in the long run.  As with the nuclear projects, the high speed rail project for bullet trains may not actually be the one that India badly needs now.  The resources contemplated for the Shinkansens (bullet trains) in India could be easily redeployed to attend to the more crying needs of Indian railways such as the renewal of rakes and passenger safety.

INDIA CANNOT BE UP FOR GRABS for multinational vendors who think they can exploit the Indian anxiety to be in the big league.  Business with such vendors should be on our terms.  India rightly stood its ground at the recently concluded Conference of Parties on climate change in Paris and its stance at the WTO is robustly correct.  The same logic should guide our dealings with MNC businesses.

 

THE CURIOUS CASE OF SANJIV CHATURVEDI

SANJIV CHATURVEDI, AGED 40, an electrical engineer from National Institute of Technology, Allahabad, originally belongs to the Indian Forest Service.  After a series of transfers, he was eventually posted as Deputy Secretary holding additional charge as Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO) of the All India Institute of  Medical Sciences (AIIMS).  During his stint as CVO, Chaturvedi initiated action in about 200 corruption cases.  Punishment was imposed in 78 cases, charge sheets filed in  87 and more than 20 cases referred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for further inquiry.  He has since been removed from the above position and his services have reportedly been sought by the Delhi Administration to be in charge of its Anti Corruption Bureau.

DURING HIS TENURE AT AIIMS, Chaturvedi was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award for “his efforts in painstakingly investigating corruption in public office”.  The award carries a prize money of USD 30,000 (say Rs 1.98 million) which he promptly donated to AIIMS to be spent on poor patients.  AIIMS however rejected  his donation, reportedly at the behest of the Health Minister Nadda who apparently held a grudge against Chaturvedi for his earlier expose of the misdeeds of officers close to the Minister while Chaturvedi served in the Haryana Cadre.  Surprised by the non-acceptance of his donation, Chaturvedi  sent in the money to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund.  He has also sought an appointment with the Prime Minister for conveying his anguish and anxiety on the plight of honest civil servants in the country (Read Raghav Ohri’s report in The Economic TimesDecember 8, 2015)

IT IS PERTINENT TO NOTE THAT CHATURVEDI  had earlier pleaded for a Central Government deputation in 2010 after he was fed up with the harassment he faced in the discharge of his duties while posted in Haryana. He was transferred as many as twelve times.  The harassment was intense in the extreme to the extent that even his father-in-law filed a case against him and his marriage ended in divorce.  Between 2008 to 2014, the President of India had passed as many as four orders in his support quashing the Haryana Government’s orders that were issued to him.

ONE PRESUMES  THAT THE MEETING between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chaturvedi has either already taken place or will take place soon.  Narendra Modi had cleared the earlier appointment of Chaturvedi while chairing the Cabinet Committee on Appointments and in fact, the Ministry of Environment and Forests proactively pushed for acceptance of his request for deputation to the Central Government when  the Haryana Government was refusing to relieve him.

THE CURRENT CONTROVERSY surrounding Sanjiv Chaturvedi  may take an interesting turn given the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi  himself trusts his small coterie of civil servants that he transplanted from Ahmedabad to New Delhi than his ministerial colleagues to implement  his agenda.  The civil service was once described as the sheet anchor of the Indian republic and although the description was attributed to the Indian Civil Service (ICS) established by the British when they ruled India, it still holds good for the homespun Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and other allied services such as the Indian Revenue Service, the Indian Police Service, the Indian Audit & Accounts Services and the Indian Forest Service – the last mentioned being the cadre where Sanjiv Chaturvedi’s baptism by fire began.

THERE ARE A HANDFUL OF CIVIL SERVANTS LIKE CHATURVEDI  who may carry on with the diligent discharge of their duties unmindful of the harrassment they face while serving their political masters.  India is however critically poised at a juncture where the commitment of its civil servants for implementation of national agendas matters most.  If officers like Chaturvedi are relentlessly subject to  harassment,  the civil service will no longer attract talent that could change the face of India but only draw elements purely for enjoyment of  the power and privilege civil service jobs carry.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to warn his ministerial colleagues to treat their officers with dignity and respect.  Already the secretaries in the key ministries of finance and home were subject to abrupt transfers  and change of postings and this has sent unwholesome signals to the bureaucracy that is not in India’s best interests.