MARLON JAMES AND THE ATROCITY TIME TABLE

MARLON JAMES, WHO WAS RECENTLY AWARDED the Man Booker Prize for his novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings” (based on Bob Marley, the Reggae Superstar on whom there was a murder attempt in December 1976) had several insightful things to say in his interview to Neville Hawcock, the Deputy Books Editor of the Financial Times (FT Weekend October 17/18).

THE JAMAICAN NOVELIST UNDERWENT A LOT OF FRUSTRATION when he faced rejection from many publishers for his first novel “John Crow’s Devil” (2005).  But as with all great writers, the strength of his inner conviction egged him on to keep writing. “I just thought,” James says in his interview, “well, if 70 people didn’t think this was a book that was worthy, then clearly it would’nt possibly be good. But sometimes, “majority” can mean all the wrong people are on the same side.” It would have indeed been literature’s loss had it not been for James’ steadfast belief that he had a distinct voice, which one day, the world will have to pay attention  to. What James’ says about the “majority view” is also worth pondering in these troubled times when majoritarianism drowns voices of sanity and dissent in the interpretation of events – both historical and contemporary. Well-meaning dissent is being slowly but inexorably forced out of discussion rooms.  It is even being smothered and we have to really take great pains to find out, let alone understand, what is actually happening. As I said in my earlier post, we have several Rashomon-like versions for pretty much every unrest in any part of the world today.

MARLON JAMES, ALSO WROTE A BOOK ABOUT slavery in 19th century Jamaica titled “The Book of Night Women” (2009). While discussing this book with Neville Hawcock, he coins an interesting term :  Atrocity Time Table.  He elaborates the concept : “Atrocity time table is when people who have not been through an atrocity or hardship or an injustice still feel they should dictate when we should stop talking about it. For example, people who have never experienced slavery and never had to live with the legacy of it say : I think we’re done talking about it.”  How very true !

WE ALREADY SEEM TO HAVE AN ATROCITY TIME TABLE for several outrages that have occurred in India.  Be it the Anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the Gujarat pogrom of 2012,   Turkman Gate, Marichjhapi, Moradabad, Mandai, Nellie, Malliana, Hashimpura, Bhagalpur, Gawadakal, Mumbai, Bijbehara,  or Sopore (borrowed  from Tavleen Singh’s recently compiled list cited in her column in Indian Express (October 18).  When we draw up our own Atrocity Time Table we should however remember that for those who have survived these atrocities their whole world-view would have undergone a sea change, their lives scarred forever, and without any reparation and rehab, the seeds of violence and retribution may have been already sown in the midst of their own helplessness.

WE DO NEED TO ALSO KNOW THAT IF WE DO NOT  talk about the truth, it will not simply go away although the spin doctors of today’s political parties and their cohorts in the media think otherwise.

THE GRAMMAR OF PROTEST

YESTERDAY,  #MUDDU TEERTHAHALLI, A 16-YEAR OLD student of Sahyadri High School in Shimoga, returned the Karnataka Sahitya Akademi award that was conferred to her in 2011 when she was barely 12, for the best young writer.  The return is in protest against the murder of rationalist #Kalburgi that occurred on August 20.  Forty or so awards have been similarly returned recently  by writers and artistes in various Indian languages and the number is rising.  Even if the protest is somewhat unprecedented, it has not made any difference to the ruling dispensation.  In fact its Minister for Culture #Mahesh Sharma remains unmoved and he has even exhorted writers to stop writing! “We will see,” he said with all the sarcasm he could muster and his ministerial colleague, also India’s finance minister #Arun Jaitley, termed the protest “a manufactured paper revolt”.  In a debate last night on NDTV, the participants appeared to have reached a consensus that India is under the grip of “culture wars” and that these protests are just so inevitable!!

THE IDEOLOGUES CLOSE TO THE RULING PARTY are analysing whether or not the  writers in question protested earlier against the imposition of Emergency. If they haven’t the present protest need not be taken seriously at all ! The sub text of this position is simply this : if you have not protested earlier, don’t do it now. Allow us to get on with the job – be it the silencing of rationalists or alleged beef eaters.  In a country that is so steeped in illiteracy, the return of awards may not cause tremors in the countryside but those roaming in the corridors of power ought to realise that a tipping point will soon be reached even as the State diktats on what one should read, eat, wear or learn  continues unremittingly.

THERE ARE LIMITATIONS TO THE EXTENT TO WHICH writers can protest.  From the Government’s standpoint it may well be the case that it does not at all matter presently if writers make a noise or threaten to stop writing as #Perumal Murugan decided to do not so long ago.  However, the language or the manner of protest in a civilised society has a certain grammar – the articulation of a position in public forums and the performance of certain actions that are symbolic including but not limited to the return of awards.  It is for the authorities to pay due heed to what is happening and take remedial action.  The groundswell of dissent may soon intensify into a global embarrassment which the Government may find it difficult to handle. The so called “climate of freedom” that the Prime Minister markets abroad may ring hollow, after all, and as #Ruchir Joshi put it with a sense of righteous indignation in #Economic Times: “…this returning of awards throws an international spotlight on the fact that …the suited-booted emperor is walking around naked and covered with the blood of innocents.”

SEIZED WITH POWER, THE RULING DISPENSATION has regrettably resorted to something that is spectacularly sinister.  As #Pratap Bhanu Mehta pointed out recently in the Indian Express  the strategy is to “hijack meaning” by “shifting the markers of language and public norms, where we lose control even over basic meanings.”  Who is a true patriot ? (Not Muslims? – Recall the Minister’s remark when Aurangzeb Road was being re-named). What is democratic protest ? (Express your disagreement with a person by waylaying him and his daughter and by painting his face with paint of high lead content).  To cite  #Pratap Bhanu Mehta again, “criminality and democracy have been fused” and a violent act is now termed brazenly as an act “of non-violence”.  We already have the celebrated euphemism of #Swapan Dasgupta who earlier termed the #Kalburgi murder as a “disagreeable incident” and his fellow travellers have already called the #Dadri murder as “only a misunderstanding”!!  Mr Mehta also alerts us to the fact that “a lot of the resentments and conflicts of Indian society are working out in unpalatable ways, with complicity of the highest echelons of the political leadership.”

IN THE CONTEXT OF THE WRITERS’ PROTEST a useful and timely book titled “The Public Intellectual In India”  has been published by Aleph Book Company this month.  The book has an introduction and a lead article by the distinguished historian #Romila Thapar with contributions/responses from #Sunder Sarukkai, #Dhruv Raina, #Peter Ronald DeSouza, #Neeladri Bhattacharya and #Jawed Naqvi.  It is an eyeopener and indeed helps us to understand the underlying rationale of the writers’ protest even if it is viewed as a forgettable aberration in the corridors of power. On the fly page of the book is an apt quotation from #Faiz #Ahmed# Faiz which serves as its leitmotif:

Bol, ye thora waqt bahut hai           Speak, this brief time is ample

Jism o zaban ki maut se pahle       Before the dying of body and

                                                                      tongue

Bol, ke sach zinda hai ab tak          Speak, for truth still lives,

Bol, jo kucch kahna hai kah le       Speak, to say what needs to be

                                                                     said

 

 

 

 

REEL AND REAL LIFE #RASHOMONS

THE RECENTLY RELEASED FILM #”TALVAR” is doing well at the box office. By all accounts it whets our natural appetite for enjoying a scandal non-stop for over two hours.  We are all voyeurs anyway.  The essence of film entertainment is nothing but vicarious enjoyment and there should be no guilt attached to it.

THERE ARE A FEW THINGS HOWEVER THAT #”TALVAR “ draws our attention to.  Firstly, it is based on a crime that actually occurred and where the final verdict has yet to be pronounced : the appeal of the real life Talwars, currently languishing in jail, has yet to be heard and disposed of.  Will the film #”Talvar” have any influence on the verdict ? Your guess is as good as mine.  In essence, what we have are alternative, self-serving, and contradictory versions of the same incident.  Every scandal that breaks out carries with it these possibilities. We can set aside the meaningless debates about “the subjectivity of truth” or “the uncertainty of factual accuracy” because, whether we like it or not, facts are sacred – only their interpretations are free and herein lies the gold mine for lawyers battling the justice system on behalf of their clients whom they represent.

WHEN A CRIME OCCURS, IT IS THE OBLIGATION of the State to bring the guilty to book. But in India, by and large, from day one, and in particular if the persons involved are high profile,  there are huge lapses in investigation leaving the field open to the guilty to construct a #Rashomon like spectacle. In the real life #Aarushi #Talwar case, I kept asking myself this question : who amongst the suspects had the financial muscle (beside the motive) to tamper with evidence or influence the investigation ?  The police or the investigating agency would ordinarily have no axe to grind in any crime because the real life process of investigation is a boring routine of ticking all the boxes and following  all leads. Coming to think of it, we would have actually had no #Talvar if the investigation of the #Aarushi#Talwar case was done honestly and without any undue influence.

THE INTERESTING THING ABOUT #TALVAR is that it is co-produced by the owner of India’s largest newspaper group. The TRPs of the group’s channel Times Now is said to have reached dizzy heights in the wake of the #Sheena#Bora murder investigation where the #Rashomon effect is in full play. (The makers of #Talvar have acknowledged their debt to Akira Kurosawa’s  celebrated film #Rashomon where the viewer is dazzled by several interpretations of the murder of a samurai – we have a wife’s story, the bandit’s story, the woodcutter’s story and even the dead samurai’s story speaking through a medium!). For the first time, Times of Indiadid something unusual and questionable for #Talvar’s  publicity : it splashed across the pages of its Bombay Times supplement audience reactions (largely those of late #Arushi#Talwar’s friends, classmates, neighbours and acquaintances) that only contributed to additional theories surrounding the crime.  Was it then a trial by media, after all ?

SELF-INTEREST IS AT THE CORE OF EVERYTHING that we do and believe in. Our own self-interest – without our realising it – is what others take advantage of. Truth then becomes the biggest casualty. Kurosawa’s #Rashomon will not just remain a cult film as long as films are made: we will continue to have real life Rashomons as long as our investigating agencies allow themselves to be influenced by the players in crime: be it, for example,  the #Godhra incident or poor #Akhlaq’s death in Dadri.  Filmmakers need to be good spin doctors for effective entertainment : #Meghna Gulzaar and #Vishal Bharadwaj  acquitted themselves very creditably in #Talvar But  Akira Kurosawa must be spinning with envy at the interpretations unleashed  to the country at large by our own Culture Minister #Mahesh #Sharma and his party ideologue #Tarun Vijay on the unfortunate and shameful #Dadri incident.

WHEN RISKS GET PRICED IN..

AROUND EURO 13 BILLION MAY HAVE BEEN wiped off Volkswagen’s (VW) market capitalisation last week and at least more than half a million cars will soon be recalled by this auto major in the wake of emission tests cheating caused by software algorithms in “defeat devices” installed in its cars.   But is Volkswagen really worried ?  According to Financial Times (FT), VW’s cash pile at the end of the year is expected to reach Euro 30 Billion and the company has already set aside Euro 6.5 Billion to cover fines and penalties.  And #Martin Winterkorn, its CEO who resigned has walked home with pension benefits amounting to USD 32.5 million.  (Until his resignation, he was the highest paid CEO of a listed German company). In India, VW exports 60% of its annual production and about 50,000 cars are shipped every year to Mexico.  At the end of it all, VW would perhaps only be facing a manageable liquidity crunch and the company appears capable of tiding over the crisis.

WRITING ABOUT THE SCANDAL, #John Gapper, the business columnist of FT wrote nonchalantly : “The key to getting away with bending rules is that it needs to be done subtly and discreetly. Abuse may be common but it cannot become too blatant, or it will alert regulators that tolerate some grey areas.”  However he also found it appropriate  to quote a Wall Street banker :“Ethics  are absolute, not comparative.”  The paper’s Lex column concluded rather clinically: “Fines will make the headlines now, but the future is still a matter of making the right car.” The interesting thing to note is that the scandal was uncovered as early as 2013 by an engineer named #Daniel Carden and his research team at West Virginia University in a USD 50,000 study that was sponsored by the International Council on Clean Transportation.  It is still unclear why it took so long for the scandal to surface in the public domain.

IN THE ABOVE CONTEXT, #STUART PEARSON, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas said : “The artificial gaming of emission tests threatens to become the car industry’s Libor moment.”  He was alluding to the trillions of  dollars plus scandal in LIBOR (London Interbank Offer Rate) fixing (read rate rigging) that involved some of the world’s top most banks who are still anticipating further penalties.  Of late, scandals have engulfed banking, pharma and the auto industry.  Irregularities in several other sectors will soon be discovered perhaps for their  individual “Libor Moments”!  But if the cost of doing something patently wrong is already priced in the operational budgets of the scandal-ridden companies, the credo seems to be : Laugh your way to the bank, until your get caught. If something implodes, it has been priced anyway!!

CURIOUSLY ENOUGH, THINGS TAKE A DIFFERENT TURN IN INDIA. For instance, of the thousands of companies making food products,  only Nestle gets singled out and the officer in charge of food safety standards who spearheaded the investigation gets shunted to an inconsequential desk job in the newly constituted Niti Aayog (the new avatar of the erstwhile Planning Commission under the Modi Government)!

WE HAVE TWO WORLDS HERE : ONE, WHERE you do what you want and pay the fine when you get caught; the other where anything goes! The fundamental question we should ask ourselves is whether markets alone should determine our ethical standards.   #Michael Sandel dwelt at length on the subject in his book that cries to be read aloud : What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.  

HAS GOVERNOR #RAGHURAM #RAJAN USED A MISNOMER ?

LAST FRIDAY, ON SEPTEMBER 18TH 2015, BARELY TEN days after Prime Minister #Narendra Modi hectored the heads of Indian business who were collectively urging like Oliver for more, it was the turn of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), #Raghuram #Rajan to do some plain speaking. His audience consisted of leading bankers and businessmen of the country and he was delivering the #C.K. Prahalad Memorial Lecture.  A précis of his speech would be : “Stop jugaad, don’t pressure for shortcuts: we need the long haul.”

FOR THE PAST FEW MONTHS, THE RBI GOVERNOR   has had to face a deafening demand from business and industry, self-styled economists and miscellaneous commentators, the financial press, and stock market players for a rate cut as if it was the sole panacea for India’s economic woes.  Even the Government (read Finance Ministry) did not hesitate to drop strong and subtle hints that mirrored the aforementioned demand.  On September 29th 2015, we will have the official response from India’s central bank.  In the interim however, the C.K. Prahalad Memorial Lecture was an excellent opportunity for Rajan to speak his mind with refreshing candour and clarity. He expressed his disenchantment with jugaad that must have driven his audience to a long spell of introspection.

NOW, “JUGAAD” IS A HINDI-URDU TERM FOR “improvised solutions born from ingenuity and cleverness.” It has also various subtle shades of meaning such as  “an innovative fix for a simple work-around, solutions that bend rules, or a resource that can be used as such, or a person who can solve a complicated issue.”  In an interesting aside, #Akarsh Mehrotra posted 51 photographs that “prove Indians are the ultimate kings of jugaad”.  The instances that he posted at http://www.scoopwhoop.com/humor/pic-of-jugaad/ can surely bring a smile on one’s face where the mantra is indeed to make the most of what one has.  He writes, ummeed pe duniya kayam hai aur India ki ummeed jugaad pe (“While the world rests on hope, India’s hope is on jugaad”).   Authors #Navi Radjou, #Jaideep Prabhu and #Simone Ahuja have penned a best-seller titled “Jugaad – Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth” where the essential elements are (a) taking advantage of opportunity in adversity (b) doing more with less (c) thinking and acting flexibly (d) keeping it simple (e) including one’s margin and (f) following one’s heart.  By this token, jugaad should not be a bad thing, after all !  And the companies covered by the authors included, amongst others,  Google, Facebook, 3M, Apple, P&G, Pepsico !

ON THE OTHER HAND, JUGAAD HAS NEGATIVE connotations too.  #Dinesh Unnikrishnan, in First Post  wrote: “The average Indian entrepreneur has always ways of finding solutions to everything through quick fixes or jugaads – be it to escape the taxman, to get bank finance and not to repay it, or to show healthy balance sheets, even when things aren’t quite healthy.”  Rajan rightly went for the jugular on jugaad : “Jugaad or working around difficulties by hook or by crook is a thoroughly Indian way of coping but it is predicated on a difficult or impossible business environment. And it encourages an attitude of short cuts and evasions, none of which help final product or quality or sustainable economic growth.”  He pleaded earnestly for the resolution of fundamental structural issues of the economy and clearly told his audience that jugaad may no longer be needed if India had the discipline to stick to its strategy of building the necessary institutions and creating a path of sustainable growth. The audience was urged to think long term and abandon short term fixes.  In his inimitable words : ” India must resist special interest pleas for targeted stimulus, additional tax breaks and protections, directed credit, subventions and subsidies, all of which have historically rendered industry uncompetitive, government overextended, and the country incapable of regaining its rightful position amongst nations.”

RAJAN’S AUDIENCE COMPRISED OF BANKERS AND HIGH PROFILE Borrowers. His oration was a clear signal that the window dressing of bank balance sheets and the less than transparent restructuring of debt will no longer work.  Rs 60 Bn of tax payer’s money is already at risk.  A mere clamour for a reduction in bank rate would remain just a jugaad if the structural inadequacies are not immediately addressed.  At the end of the day, it was clear that Rajan did not at all use a misnomer – the jugaad he wanted his audience to abandon was the “impatience and pressure for quick impossible fixes.”

INDIA  IS LUCKY THAT IT HAS RAGHURAM RAJAN AS ITS CENTRAL BANKER.  He was grossly misjudged as a Luddite although he was the first to identify the Fault Lines* of the global economic system even before they imploded. He must be allowed to get on with his business sans jugaad, and without fear or reproach.

___________________________________________

*Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy

by  Raghuram Rajan (Princeton University Press) 

 

WHY IS THE SUPREME COURT RESTIVE ABOUT #MEGHDHANYSHYA ?

YESTERDAY, JUSTICES ANIL R DAVE AND ADARSH K GOEL of the Indian Supreme Court passed an order that many would consider as truly obscurantist.  It effectively increased the financial hardship of the film director #K.R.Devmani who would have otherwise been entitled to entertainment tax for his film #”Meghdhanyshya(The Colour of Life) which is based on the true story of #Manavendra Singh Gohil, the gay prince of Rajpipla.

ALL GUJARATI COLOUR FILMS PRODUCED after April 1, 1997 are entitled to exemption from entertainment tax.  Although Meghdhanyshya was cleared for screening by the Censor Board, entertainment tax exemption was denied to the film based on the arbitrary assumption by the State Tax Commissioner that if the exemption was granted, “it would send a message that the State was endorsing and encouraging homosexuality and would create friction in society.”  Luckily, for the Director, the Gujarat High Court rejected the Tax Commissioner’s reasoning and ordered for the restoration of tax exemption.  The Director’s luck ran out yesterday when the Supreme Court allowed the appeal of the Tax Commissioner to be heard in due course (say after 3-4 years !!) and granted the Director the liberty to release the film without entertainment tax exemption !!!  While passing its order, the judges observed that “a section of society may perceive homosexuality as akin to “social evil”.

THE LGTBQ COMMUNITY EXISTS IN VIRTUALLY ALL SOCIETIES.  Their presence, can by no stretch of imagination, be construed as a threat to society even if one is unable to empathise with  their sexual orientation.  As a matter of fact, we have to be grateful to directors like #Devmani for presenting a slice of life that would have been otherwise unknown to most of us.  The incidence of homosexuality is pretty commonplace and although public declarations of their sexual orientation by persons like  Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, has contributed to the acceptance levels of gay persons, life isn’t still hassle free for them and the attitudes of institutions like the Supreme Court of India as outlined above  will only make life more difficult for queers, most unfortunately.

INSTEAD OF ACTING POSITIVELY AND EXPEDITIOUSLY IN THE APPEAL, the Supreme Court appears to have taken a calculated, negative approach that not only perpetuates a prejudice but also causes serious economic hardship to a  film director. It also appears to send, unwittingly or otherwise, a subtle hint to creative artists out there not to attempt any portrayal of marginal men, outsiders or queers.

PERSONS OF DIFFERENT SEXUAL ORIENTATION have indeed enriched literature and the arts and even the corporate world.  We ought to judge such persons  for their individual contributions and not for their sexual preferences just as we evaluate  everyone else.  If  #Ang Lee’s #Brokeback Mountain, #Deepa Mehta’s #Fire or #Amol Palekar’s #Daaiyraa has enriched our understanding of “sexual outsiders”, by yesterday’s order, the Supreme Court has ensured that they would be fewer portrayals of such lives.  Given the Court’s attitude, who indeed would risk the effort, time and money in such efforts ?

IN THE COURSE OF ARGUMENTS, #DEVMANI’S  lawyer #Anand Grover had drawn the attention of the Supreme Court to the fact that Director #Onir’s film  #”I am” which dwelt on the subject of homosexuality had won the National Award for Best Film to which the judges are said to have responded as follows :

“We agree there can be different views.  We know your personal views. But there are people in whose views this may be akin to social evils.”

Note:  The blog relies on the reportage of the Indian Express on the subject today.

THOUGHTS ON TEACHER’S DAY

WHEN HE WAS EDITOR OF THE ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY OF INDIA, Khushwant Singh ran a series called “India of My Dreams”.  In his memorable contribution, the late Mr Minoo Masani wrote about the undying optimism of the Indian teacher in a village in India , diligently correcting the compositions of his students with only a kerosene lamp by his side, hoping that his earnest efforts will make his students “better persons”.    On #Teacher’s Day, as I write this, there is indeed a procession of teachers streaming into memory who influenced me one way or the other,  right from primary school until graduation !

I CANNOT FORGET THE RAPS I RECEIVED ON MY KNUCKLES from Miss Dulcine during the cursive writing sessions (when I was in class 3  I think) that probably went a long way in shaping my handwriting or the insightful lecture by Mr Victor about any person’s first brush with death as he explained the nuances of John Crowe Ransom’s memorable poem “Janet Waking”.  Indeed, Mr Victor’s English classes instilled in me a lifelong interest in poetry.  The soft but energetic voice of Ms Cynthia in class 4 talking about “the camel’s ugly lump” in a Kipling poem has somehow remained with me all these years.  Ms Cynthia had brown hair, cat’s eyes, and usually wore bright sarees and I adored her.  Did I have a crush on her ? I don’t know – I am not sure.  Kipling’s “If” is a favourite poem of mine but my journey towards savouring Kipling’s oeuvre began  with “the camel’s ugly lump” in Ms Cynthia’s class !   Vishnumoorthi Sir used to take us back in time in his history classes.  One minute ago, is history, he used to say but he also reminded us that history is the greatest teacher. If we are clever, we will avoid the mistakes of the past, otherwise history repeats itself !!  How right he was !  Compelled by my Dad to take up Commerce (instead of literature) I was wary of attending  Mr Raman’s accountancy classes.  But his lectures worked magic and if I secured a B.Com degree with a first class, I owe it largely to Mr Raman.  His book on accountancy is still followed by many.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW THAT TEACHERS are not found only in classrooms.  We encounter them every day in life as long as we keep our eyes and ears open.  There are teachers at our workplaces too.  As long as we keep learning, teachers will remain in our midst.  I remember Lilian Wong, my assistant in Singapore who kept admonishing me now and then : “Why can’t you keep your work table neat and clean ?” and later Hetal in Dubai who literally pushed me into writing.   One fine morning she even sent me a template so that I had no further excuses but to blog !  She was among the first who led me to think that I should take up writing seriously.

WHEN ONE IS AWAY FROM THE PORTALS OF LEARNING or for that matter from a job, it does not mean that we have lost the companionship of teachers or mentors.  Life itself is our best teacher.  Before the day draws to a close, if we care to reflect on how well spent the day was, life’s lessons for that day will inevitably surface and if we are optimistic enough, we will face the next day with hope.

ON THIS DAY, I BOW TO ALL THE TEACHERS at the portals of learning and to life itself – our greatest teacher !!

LOSING OUT TO OTHERS

ON  JULY 28, 2015, WHILE INAUGURATING THE #Meghnad Desai Academy of Economics in Mumbai, #Raghuram  Rajan, Governor of the #Reserve Bank of India (RBI), lamented that India has lost a generation of economists who found other opportunities as the economy opened up.  He was worried that a lot of policy making is done without a proper understanding of the fundamentals of economics.  Rajan’s comments are  quite apposite and timely.  Not so long ago, the Queen of England asked why there is so much economic mess in the world when we have so many economists around.  She was probably wondering if economists were  doing their job properly !!

IT IS INTERESTING TO NOTE THAT STUDENTS of economics at #Oxford University staged a campaign recently for a thorough overhaul of their economic syllabus as they thought that economic theory as articulated in the groves of the academy had a disconnect with real world.  One understands that the requests of students have been acceded to and that the economic curriculum at Oxford is now being revamped.

TO RETURN TO #RAGHURAM RAJAN’S LAMENT,  good economists are probably seeking greener pastures in the private sector where their advice is at least heeded to besides being paid handsomely for their competence in analysis and policy making.  Rajan’s comments assume significance in the context of the proposed establishment of the #Monetary Policy Committee (MFC) under the aegis of revised #Indian Financial Code where the Government nominees would outnumber those of the #RBI.  On the key issue of containing inflation and in the overall management of the economy, the  #Reserve Bank of India and the #Ministry of Finance may not necessarily be on the same page.  It is here that the independent external nominees on the MFC play a key role and they do need to have a robust understanding of both economics as well as the economy.  The idea of Government majority in the proposed MFC has not been welcomed by the RBI.  But as #Rita Khemani pointed out recently in her perceptive letter published in the #Financial Times of  July 28, 2015, “the situation can be turned to an advantage for sound monetary policy decisions” since more competence “adds to the diversity of views and adds to the richness and new considerations to the debate.”    For this to happen we need persons with impeccable credentials and standing and “not persons who cannot see above and beyond their own vested interests.”  #Raghuram Rajan, for instance, was the Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund and was the inaugural winner of the #Fischer Black Prize given by the #American Finance Association to the best economist under forty in the year 2003.  (Rajan also holds a degree in engineering and is an MBA from the Institute of Management, Ahmedabad).  Rajan’s paper titled “Has Financial Development Made the World Riskier” that was presented on August 27, 2005 to the world’s central bankers at their annual retreat at Jackson Hole, Wyoming  foresaw the coming financial crisis before any one else could but was roundly criticised for his insight although at that point of time he was in a minority of one.  #Lawrence Summers, the then President of Harvard University and former Treasury Secretary found Rajan’s paper “Luddite” and “largely misguided”.   The world now knows who was right in the end.  [Readers are strongly recommended to read Raghuram Rajan’s lucid book Fault Lines : How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy  (Princeton University Press)]

IF  GREENER PASTURES OF THE PRIVATE SECTOR continue to lure away competent economists from Government service or  if the challenge of being part of monetary policy making becomes unattractive to them, India’s monetary policy making would run the risk of being hijacked by short termism and political expediency that India could ill afford at present or for that matter in the future.  If the Government wishes to have a properly balanced MFC, it needs to start the search for really competent individuals right now and offer them the guarantees of  complete independence, respect, continuity of service and  remuneration that befits the challenges of the position.

AS WITH ECONOMISTS, SO WITH POETS !!  I would imagine that literature has lost poets to advertising.  Since there is virtually no money in poetry nowadays,  the energies and insights of poets and poets-in-the-making are now probably directed in writing lyrics for Bollywood or in penning the winning lines of  TV commercials and ad copy.  The metamorphosis of would be poets into copy writers is already happening !!

THE RESPECT AND THE SUPPORT PROVIDED  to thinkers (economists and poets surely belong to this category !) for rendering their service to society is a good enough indication of the direction in which it is headed towards.  Hope India does not continue to lose its stellar economists to do number crunching and policy analysis at  say, commercial banks and  consumer durables companies and  its poets-in-the-making  to ad agencies for merely producing glib copy.

 

 

FROM #K.R. MEERA TO #SANJAY SURI – WHITHER INDIA’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM ?

IN NOVEMBER 2012, A PUBLISHING SENSATION occurred in Malayalam literature : former Assistant Editor of the newspaper Malayala Manorama, #People’s Union of Civil Liberties’ award winner and a Nuffield fellow, #K.R. Meera published her novel “Aarachar” which has since run into more than six reprints and by now swept all the major literary awards there is to win in Malayalam literature.  The novel has since been ably translated into English by J. Devika and published by Penguin in 2014 under the name of “Hangwoman” and is quite simply an arresting read.  The novel is a fictional account of  the highs and lows of India’s first hangwoman, Chetna, the 22-year old daughter of the Kolkatta-based Grddha Mullick family and is a richly layered work that covers the plight of women in India, violence, media hypocrisy and the drama that surrounds the execution of a death sentence in India.  An actual execution of death penalty that occurred in Kolkatta was very deftly adapted for fiction by #K.R. Meera to present one of the most trenchant social commentaries on contemporary India.

As I write this, the death sentence for #Yakub Memon for his role in the blasts that devastated Mumbai in 1993 has just been reconfirmed by the Supreme Court of India.  The verdict brings closure 22 years after the blasts occurred  (and barring an unlikely change of mind by the President of India on a mercy petition filed for the second time by #Yakub Memon), Yakub Memon would be executed early morning tomorrow (July 30, 2015) at Nagpur Central Jail.  A posthumous disclosure barely a few days ago of a hitherto unpublished article written in 2007 by B. Raman, a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat who headed the Pakistan Desk in the Research and Analysis Wing and who  coordinated the operation to bring back Yakub Memon and other members of his family from Karachi expressed concerns that the Yakub may have been denied the advantage of mitigating circumstances in his case as these have not been highlighted earlier to the courts seized of the matter.  It remains a real mystery why the article was released posthumously but its impact was such that several jurists and other eminent Indians thought it fit to file a petition requesting the Supreme Court to reconsider the death sentence.  The two-judge bench of the Supreme Court considering the  request for stay of the execution of the death warrant itself rendered a split verdict yesterday leading the Chief Justice to constitute a bench of three judges which  finally dismissed the petition today. Against the background of controversial and inconsistent judgments of the apex court of India on the issue of death penalty on several occasions, the debate on the conduct of the Supreme Court in the matter will not die down so soon although today’s verdict at last brings closure.

EVEN AS THE #YAKUB MEMON PETITION WAS BEING HEARD a book titled 1984: The Anti Sikh Violence and After written by the journalist #Sanjay Suri (who worked with the Indian Express newspaper and Outlook magazine) has been released by Harper Collins.  The book is a full coverage of the mass killings of Sikhs that occurred immediately after the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31,1984.  Says, Sanjay Suri: “(I feel) betrayed by one Government after another, betrayed by the police, betrayed by the judiciary. The police, first, failed to protect; second it made sure that there would be no prosecutions. They did not register FIRs (First Information Reports), they killed the process of justice itself.  I feel betrayed by the Supreme Court commissions of inquiry, one  after another, which were set up. It was not just me who was betrayed, all of us were betrayed.  You were betrayed as an Indian, as a person. What is it to live in a country, in a city, in which 3000 murders took place and there was no justice ? What does it feel ? Is it not betrayal ?”

FICTIONAL AND NON FICTIONAL ACCOUNTS OF India’s justice system that have been cited above leaves one wondering that it is not just art that imitates life in India, the converse is also true.  Meanwhile the country awaits with anxiety the final verdicts in the Malegaon blasts case and the several pending cases related to the riots in Gujarat that occurred in 2002.

A FAVOURITE NEWSPAPER CHANGES HANDS

LAST THURSDAY (July 23, 2015), A DEAL WAS SEALED between the #Pearson Group (a leader in the education business) and Japan’s largest media company, #Nikkei (a privately held, employee-owned company) which changed  the 58-year old ownership of Financial Times from the former to the latter.  The Berlin-based Axel Springer was also in the running for the deal but lost out against the Nikkei offer which was higher by GBP 100 mn.  Nikkei is also  part owner of the lifestyle magazine Monocle (whose editor #Tyler Brule has a long standing column in the #FT Weekend titled Fast Lane) and the digital note taking service Evernote.

WHILE NIKKEI IS 138 YEARS  OLD,  FINANCIAL TIMES (“FT”)  has a 127 year-old history: it was first published in 1888.  (A curious fact to note is that its Founding Chairman Horatio Bottomley  had spent five years in jail for fraudulent conversion).  Pearson which was owned by the Cowdray family paid GBP 720,000 for a controlling stake in the newspaper in 1957 which according to #John Gapper would be GBP 60 mn at today’s prices.  The present sale of FT to Nikkei at GBP 844 mn is about five times what #Jeff Bezos of Amazon paid for acquiring The Washington Post in 2013.  (Incidentally, #The Wall Street Journal was bought by #Rupert Murdoch for USD 5 Bn in 2007).

NIKKEI (WHICH WILL NOW OWN THE FT ) SELLS a little over 3 mn newspapers daily in Japan and the FT has currently 734,000 print and digital subscribers.  The sale of any interest in  FT was vigorously resisted by Pearson’s  former CEO #Dame Marjorie Scardino until she stepped down in 2012.  #John Fallon, who succeeded her was however able to convince owners that the group should increase its focus on its core business in education and sell the FT when its market value has probably peaked.

READING A NEWSPAPER IS HABIT FORMING and my day is made only when I finish reading the FT.   Some of the world’s best columnists write for FT and it is a delight to read them. I also look forward to reading the FT Weekend edition every Saturday  which is arguably the world’s best.  It carries probably the finest book and art reviews in addition to great columns on food, gardening, and personal technology.  The FT has a crisp, highly readable style and its Big Reads and Analysis have greatly helped readers understand complex economic and political events.  Its columnist #Lucy Kellaway is always alert to debunk management speak and #Tim Harford demystifies arcane economic concepts beautifully.   My only quarrel has been with #Martin Wolf  who packs graphs and statistics in every alternate sentence to drive home his point.   The insights contained in the columns of #John Kay,  #Simon Kuper  and science writer #Anjana Ahuja stay with the reader long after they are read and #David Tang’s column on manners and etiquette can sometimes cause death by laughter .  The column that I like most is Small Talk which contains probably the most insightful interviews with all sorts of writers from all over the world  and  interviews carried in the #Lunch with FT column are by now world famous and I consider artist #Ferguson’s caricatures for this column the very best in class.

AS A READER OF THE FT FOR MORE THAN TWO DECADES, I was rather surprised to learn of the sale first when #N. Ram of The Hindu tweeted about it rather sadly.  He was probably worried about the future editorial freedom of the newspaper.  Nikkei has been known to be less critical of local businesses in Japan and interestingly the accounting fraud at the Japanese technology company Olympus was first uncovered by the FT !!  Nikkei has promised zero editorial  interference with FT after the change of ownership.  But this remains to be seen.  One is not so sure if this freedom is as robustly ring fenced as that of The Guardian.  The next few months will tell.