Sunday, June 27, 2010

Reading... and Traveling

OK, finally I am figuring out that I really like reading :)

Read Sputnik Sweetheart by Murakami. I was glued to it till the scenes changed to Greece, but then I lost track of it, and somehow finished it. Not as evoking as Norwegian Wood, the other Murakami novel I've read, parts of which are still very much in my mind. But both are different types of novels. Me.

But even more than that, I've been reading the autobiography of Neruda, Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littín by Marquez (not fiction), and the second book of travels by Che Guevara. I also saw the City of God last week, and will never forget Motorcycle Diaries, and I am still hooked on to the images from these films. Latin America appears so dreamy, so romantic, so otherworldly...

But I am firmly on my foot back again, thanks to Away - a set of writings by famous Indians (politicians, writers, etc) about their experience as expatriates,edited by Amitava Kumar. The book is full of simple pleasures - the kind of stuff that you feel like reading on a calm, sunny, pleasant Sunday morning, with coffee. Unlike other books mentioned here, this one is familiar territory - I can relate to a lot of things people have written - and many a times with a smile. I would say I enjoyed Cowpath to America by Abraham Verghese, and the experience of Mulk Raj Anand among the most famous English writers (and full of ignorance about India) the most; but several others were equally interesting. The book is a simple read.

I am not staying in Grenoble for the next month. I know where I'll be spending the first half of the next month, but not the second. From Berlin onwards, I do not know. I want to visit Auschwitz. But then the next stopover would be Prague, Vienna etc, and I dont feel very keen on these. I am especially prejudiced against Prague, due to my experience with some Czech people here :) I also found that the travel writings of SK Pottekat (in Paris), and Santosh George Kulangara (of Sancharam fame) are mere details and full of boring prejudices, and have nothing "evoking" in them. Katha Urangunna Vazhiyiloode (K. Thayat) is still vivid in my memory, and even though its so simple, its very very beautiful in my mind.

I , obviously, have very little money for the travels, but hope I somehow manage.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Toddywalla instead of Gandhi, Indian democracy and secularism

This is about an old thought of mine, but anyway I am writing it down.

of a leader of Roman Catholic background (Sonia Gandhi) making way for a Sikh (Manmohan Singh) to be sworn in as Prime Minister by a Muslim (President Abdul Kalam), in a country 81% Hindu

This is an idea one often hears about (I am quoting Shashi Tharoor here). I am quite proud about this fact, of people of all religions having access to the seats of power in the country. What a charming way to present the idea of a country, and its success?

But a bit of closer look will point to a very different, rather sorry, state of affairs.

Like: How many Roman Catholic Prime Ministers we've had? None. Did anyone come near being one? No. But Sonia is a Roman Catholic, even though she was seen taking a dip during Kumbh Mela...

But of course she is there, in power, only because she belongs to the Gandhi family. She won elections because of her husband´s family name. Like Tharoor once said, what if Indira Gandhi had married a Toddywalla instead of a Gandhi?

Just like Rajeev Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi had easy access to power even though they were not real politicians and didnt earn it themselves, Sonia is also enjoying power without earning it. So, we cannot conclude that its possible for a Roman Catholic to be a Prime Minister of India from the data we have. But we can conclude - if you are from the Gandhi family - it does not matter what religion, sex or nationality you have, you can still be the head of Congress party, and control the power of ruling the whole country.

Now, about Manmohan Singh being Sikh and being a Prime Minister in a country with 81% Hindu population, the irony is that Singh does not contest elections (he failed the one he contested, when he was at the peak of his popularity - at least for a section of media and middle class intellectuals) and is afraid to do so. So he was just a nominee of the Gandhi family, someone who was injected by the powers above, who earned the power not because of their ability but because they belonged to the Family. So instead of Singh, it could have been Salman Khursheed or Ahamad Patel or AK Antony - had they enjoyed a bit more popularity with 1) Sonia 2) the Urban, English media.

About Abdul Kalam - he didnt hold any power, nor contested any elections. We have had Zakir Hussain and KR Narayanan (Dalit) before, and Prathibha Patel (woman), now. But the fact that a Non-Hindu has never held power in India on his/her own(i.e, non-symbolic, real power), but can hold only Symbolic power (President), doesnt it say something about the state of our democracy?

Is there much to be proud of all these symbolic things which go back to Nehru and his daughter´s husband´s surname? That even democracy shivers in front of that surname?

Random update...

I removed the McCandless picture from the right side, because I felt I´ve moved on from whether he was right or wrong. Not that I have a satisfactory answer. Just that: that question does not bother me now.

Spending time in the lab (i.e a computer lab, not a real laboratory) makes me happy. I have some great, very nice people as researchers (that is - bosses) here. Especially when compared to the complaints other people say about their teams and advisers. I´ve decided to continue here for next whole year, for the Master thesis. Somehow I feel comfortable. But this also means I´ve gone back to my ways in India, i.e, not meeting new people, not going for parties, etc. But good. Life seems bright. But for two months I take a break from my lab, and plan to go to Paris, Berlin, etc. Even though I have no plans for August.

I am not reading these days. Which means, mind is rather static, without new radically different ideas and passions coming to the mind. I took a book from the library today (Away - stories from Indian expatriate life - edited by Amitava Kumar), and read it on the way to the lab. I was quite disappointed by reading the letter written by Nehru to Vijayalakshmi Pandit - nothing much great and very mundane, but with plenty of complexes. May be I will write more about it later. I also read the love letters written by Sarojini Naidu to her lover and future husband, when she was in London and was merely 15 years old! The love letters are very warm and not much poetic, what much to expect from a 15 year old. Not that they are bad. But the letters by Tagore seem to be interesting.

Talking about Nehru, I also read about an encounter Neruda had with him - in his autobiography - when he visited India after her Independence, when Nehru was the Prime Minister. Nehru does not come up as much great in this narrative too. Not that he cease to be a hero for me, but just that I wished I had a more godly figure to admire.

I did some traveling, but they cannot be called travel. I saw some places, did some you-shouldnt-do things, and was mostly happy. But its not a travel I want to write about. Or where I have a story to narrate about, or think about with a smile. Not like that Tamilnadu trip I took few years back. I feel I am more suited to traveling alone - trips with friends are very nice and enjoyable - but they count more as vacation trips. But a good mixture of all these is the best, and I am glad I made the trip.