Saturday, November 19, 2016

Some more thoughts on this currency/demonetisation mess...

... and on an empathy deficit that is now rivalling the shortfall in cash. I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot of the Mahatma Gandhi quote “Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him.” It’s a fine thought (and one that can be put to good ironic use these days, what with Gandhi’s face on currency notes smiling gently at – or, if you squint hard, mocking – poor people who can no longer use their cash), but it isn’t a practical one. Very few of us can pretend to be saints who adopt that stance in our daily lives – or even once in a while, when agonizing over major decisions.

Perhaps a more realistic talisman would go something like this: each time you feel tempted to comment on an issue that you have been directly affected by – but which you know is ALSO affecting the lives of people who are much less fortunate – in any such case, before you make that sweeping statement, please count to twenty quietly; introspect a little, allow yourself to consider the possibility that there are things you have been shielded from, that the worst of what you have personally gone through is not necessarily the worst that anyone else might experience.

If you have spent a tough few hours in a bank queue (perhaps made a little less tough by the entertaining conversations around you, or the weather being relatively pleasant, or the option of playing a game on your smart-phone) and felt the relief of having seen some money at the end of it, along with the satisfaction of having contributed to the grand National Cause in some yet-to-be-fully-perceived way – even in the self-congratulatory euphoria of this moment, give yourself some time to consider those who may be facing greater hardships, and much more serious repercussions when they leave their work for days on end to stand in lines.

Consider that if you’re reading this post, that in itself is a guarantee that you are immeasurably better off than a very large number of people in this country. That from the vantage point of some of these people, the difference between your lifestyle and Mukesh Ambani’s might be negligible.

A notable characteristic of our species is the inability of even generally well-meaning people to see how privileged or lucky they are compared to many others. And linked with this, a self-absorption that leads to the inference of general lessons from our own very specific experiences. These traits show up in many general contexts, of course. (Feminists have long been subjected to casual, irresponsible remarks about feminism being too shrill, angry or exaggerated because, you know, things aren’t as bad as they are made out to be – and such assertions come not just from men but also from privileged women who don’t recognize the long and complex history of the movement and how they have benefited from it.) But they seem to come snarling to the surface in extraordinary situations like the current one.

It’s too easy now to cross a line from being happy for ourselves to being unthinkingly callous about others. Take a tweet from a journalist-columnist a few days ago, about how the bank she happened to go to in a certain colony at a certain time was well-managed and her work got done quickly. Up to this point, no problem – she was simply sharing an experience – but this was then transformed into a general statement of How Things Are; “the crisis has passed”, she ended by saying. Well, no, it hasn’t for millions of people – and that’s the politest, mildest observation one can make at this point.

Yes, of course many of the severely affected people (definitely not all, but many) are finding ways of “getting by” for the time being: helping each other, extending credit, relying on trust and goodwill, using our ancient philosophy of jugaad. Many of them are also deeply conditioned with a fatalistic impulse that comes partly from religious faith, from ideas about today’s suffering being a necessary prelude to a better tomorrow (in this life or the next). But just because the worst-hit are putting on a brave face and using whatever tools are available to them doesn’t mean that others should pretend that “everything is okay” or that “these are only small sacrifices”, or that anyone who raises questions about the manner in which this whole thing has unfolded is a “Congress stooge” or a “presstitute”.

I’m not addressing the larger question of whether this was a good idea or not, and what it may or may not achieve for the country's long-term future – I’m no expert on the subject, and many people who are can’t seem to agree with each other about the details. (Plus, if I’m advocating introspection, I have to consider the possibility that my dislike for Modi and his party might taint my views on just about anything this government does.) But there have been all-too-clear problems with the implementation. Even in an age where anyone with a computer or a smart-phone can express an opinion hastily, and 50 times a day, it should be possible to stop and consider that there may be some truth in the constant stream of reports about people suffering; that the trials of the underprivileged aren’t just the private fantasies of change-resistant libtards.


  1. Yeah. I agree. We are numb on most days to suffering of others. Only in my 30s that I have started thinking if my rash generalisations would stand if a much poorer/unfortunate person were to listen to them. I was thinking (I may be terribly wrong and I am not religious) that Hindu religion at least doesn't tell people to have a kind of brotherly or neighbourly bond with fellow humans. This might not be the MOST important reason for people to behave irresponsibly even in their communication towards others. And even if it's done, in all probability, it will not help the cause.

  2. You've put so well what I've been seeing (and ruing) these days. There's a frightening tendency among the relatively well-off to say that 'things are looking up' and that it's only a matter of time, one has to stick it out. I agree that this demonetization has had little direct effect on me - I am privileged enough to have credit cards, to not need to stand in queues and so on - but that doesn't mean I can't see and hear what's happening to others. If things in Delhi are so bad, what happens to the rural poor? The thousands of villages that don't have banks anywhere close? Where even if there are banks, people don't have bank accounts? (and I disagree with someone on my FB network who airily commented that "Villagers are happy, because they anyway don't have 500 and 1000 rupee notes").

    Sigh. I could go on and on.

  3. "Villagers are happy, because they anyway don't have 500 and 1000 rupee notes"
    Madhulika: this point has been addressed ad nauseum in numerous columns, but I guess some people will continue seeing and believing what they want to. 1) The 500 and 1000-rupee notes represent 86 percent of the cash flow in the country - even very poor people regularly got paid in these denominations, and used these denominations to hoard cash that they might require in an emergency, 2) this is not exactly high-value currency on the order of the 1000-rupee note that got demonetised in 1978 - that was a note that, it is estimated, only around 1 percent of the country even got to see.

    I could go on and on and on too. But what's the point. We are Facebook/blog activists too, in the final analysis, and our time might be be better served in making small efforts to help the underprivileged people around us. I'm trying to.

  4. One of sensible articles out here. Thank you for this.

  5. "The 500 and 1000-rupee notes represent 86 percent of the cash flow in the country"

    Yes. All the more reason for this move. If the move were to demonetize 5 or 10% of the cash in the country, we wouldn't be talking about it. The fact is that it takes big measures to move the needle in a country as dysfunctional and large as ours. And I find it ironical that a conservative like myself is supporting this very radical move and "radical" liberals who scream for "change" all the time are oddly conservative in their reaction this policy measure.

    "our time might be be better served in making small efforts to help the underprivileged people around us."

    Sure. By the way these very "underprivileged people" did put up with an establishment that kept them poor and destitute for over 4 decades without complaining. Infact they kept re-electing those politicians with large majorities. I didn't see as much rage among the intelligentsia then on rolling back policies that rendered India one of the poorest countries on planet earth in the 60s/70s.

  6. "it should be possible to stop and consider that there may be some truth in the constant stream of reports about people suffering;"

    Some of these "sufferers" have good reason to suffer, as the move has impoverished them of their ill-gotten wealth which took them years of assiduous "dealings" to accumulate. And yes, many of these types do live in small towns and even villages :) Not every villager is impoverished. Nor is every city dweller "rich".

    "Consider that if you’re reading this post, that in itself is a guarantee that you are immeasurably better off than a very large number of people in this country"

    Not very sure about that. I still remember those dark days back in 2008-09 when my father passed away and I had just started reading this blog and writing "long" comments to divert myself. My net worth at that point in my life was less than Rs 200,000. All I had was a job, which I had just joined from college. My dad did not own a house and he had lent out all his savings to ungrateful relatives in his efforts to be a good-samaritan. I inherited zilch from him. So here I was, a 25 year old with a dependent mother, and a newly opened salary bank account with 2-3 months of salary. At that point in my life, I was probably in the bottom 20-30% of the Indian population in terms of networth. What I inherited, however, from my father was cultural capital. Something that more than made up for my impoverishment.

    But I digress.

  7. "constant stream of reports about people suffering"

    There is always suffering in this world. People tend to selectively notice it when a particular event that they are personally ill disposed towards, causes that suffering.

    When Mrs Indira Gandhi nationalized banks, she hurt millions of Indians for a couple of generations by rendering Indian finance uncompetitive and depriving common Indians easy access to credit. This wasn't something that could be seen readily, but it had that repurcussion, regardless of the lady's intention.

    When Mr Nehru chose to impose a licence-permit raj regulating the setting up of businesses he inadvertently hurt generations of Indians by nipping many promising businesses in the bud. It was a damage of gargantuan proportions, though not as evident on the surface as the "suffering" caused by Mr Modi's bank queues.

    When a village zameendar chooses to keep his savings of Rs 500,000 in 500 rupee bank notes in his chest, rather than keeping the money in the bank account, he is depriving someone of 5 lacs worth credit, which the bank would've lent out if the money were in the bank. That's the cost of having cash! Every rupee you keep in the house is a rupee not lent out to someone who badly needs cash - that "someone" could be a farmer, a businessman, a student, a man and wife looking to build a house....anybody. That's suffering too! But we don't talk about it as it is not visible to us.

    1. Shrikanth - Where is the study by RBI or MoF that the estimated black money recovered in these 50 days will be more than economic costs in terms of trade lost? It's not a well thought out move. You issue Rs 2000 notes which will make it even easier to keep cash. What is the IT dept doing in cases where money is deposited in banks and PAN number given but that money is not in line with income of the individual? What efforts have been taken in the last 2.5 years to improve tax administration? what efforts will be taken to ensure that tax administration improves? Unless govt answers these questions, there's no justification for this move

    2. @shrikanth: While there is always suffering in this world, this particular bout of suffering has been deliberately created by an elected government. So whatever be the intentions of the move, a government setting out to create suffering for large swathes of its people is not quite cricket. And in that sense it really is no different from the governments that came before. About those keeping cash in a chest rather than banking it and creating credit, let's not lose sight of the fact that for all the wonder it does, the banking sector is also responsible for much of the misery in the world. The zameendar could have banked his 5 lakhs, which would promptly have been lent to a Malyya or other business man who racks up tonnes of debt and then heads off into the blue, leaving the bank and its account holders holding the baby, while the man and wife looking to build a house will still be looking...

    3. haha....not every borrower is a Vijay Mallya.

      The borrower could well be a dalit businessman. A dalit farmer. A Muslim student. A gay entrepreneur.

      All those "identities" that liberals care for so much.

      The world is what it is because of banks. If all of us keep money in our chests, the only source of credit would be the miserly baniya charging 40% interest. As was the case for much of Indian history.

      Banks created the modern world.

  8. Well put. Even if one agrees with the govt's intent the execution must be questioned. To target 30-40 lac hoarders by wrecking havoc on the lives of those who have nothing to do with black money is simply bad policy. Everyone is going to feel the impact of this reckless move even those who believe something good is going to come of this mess. But its the faceless poor that will bear the real brunt.

  9. "To target 30-40 lac hoarders by wrecking havoc on the lives of those who have nothing to do with black money is simply bad policy."

    This betrays an ignorance of what this policy is about. THis policy is so much more than eradicating "black money". Even if the policy did nothing at all to address the issue of black money it would still be a move of enormous significance.

    This is a move that should dramatically improve the health of banks bringing in a windfall of deposits and leading to a massive expansion of credit in the economy. The fact that it hurts "black money" holders is a mere side-effect. As I said in the previous comment, every rupee you keep in your house is a cost imposed on the economy. Every banknote in hand causes "suffering" as it is a note that could've been lent out to people who need it badly. That's what this measure is attempting to address.

    Already within a week we have $30B deposited in banks already. So it is clearly working. And the gains will be enormous in the medium-to-long run.

  10. The hatred or simple annoyance that Modi seems to cause is a bit of a surprise to me. It seems similar to the annoyance and plain hatred Clinton caused in a lot of the so-called progressive liberal pockets of the electorate, and of course, the conservatives. I would have thought the emergence of a leader who seems to be his own man, seems not-of-the-political-establishment with a rags-to-professional-success story would have endeared him to people like this blog's creator. I mean, do they prefer a well-educated sock-puppet like our previous PM in whose reign the country's coffers were depleted to woeful levels by a corrupt administration? I genuinely wish to understand this perspective that vilifies Modi (who, at least to my mind, is the most interesting and involved leader we have had since Narsimha Rao) while not being bothered by really, really corrupt and guileless politicians like the Gandhis, and their cronies. Is the fact that he is a religious man the reason? But surely that shouldn't bother people considering many, many leaders of the free world are men of faith? Is it the 2002 riots? Wasn't he exonerated by the highest court in the land? I'm sorry to post this here but I am truly curious, and none of the so-called progressive journalists ever address this well enough in their comments or writing. I mean the writings of Barkha, Ghosh, such as they are, suggest them to be to the Congress what Fox news is to the Repulbican party, and therefore, renders their criticisms of Modi baseless. But Jabberwock doesn't strike me as an avowed Congress/Gandhi-family aficionado.

    1. Fascinating that you haven't once, in this long comment, addressed the things that this particular post was actually about.

      But thanks for the sweeping assumptions you've made here (notwithstanding that qualifying last sentence). Not that this should need to be clarified, but no, it isn't true that I'm "not bothered by really, really corrupt and guileless politicians like the Gandhis, and their cronies". At the same time, it's ridiculous to imply that Modi himself isn't from a political establishment. He comes from one that did everything it could back in the 40s and before to create an idea of India based on hardline Hindutva, and is now doing as much as he can to re-achieve that goal.

      Anyway, definitely not getting into a prolonged conversation here about my anti-Modi feelings (or my anti-any political party feelings, including the Congress).

    2. P.S. I'm not sure why a rags-to-professional-success story is automatically deserving of praise or respect. Can think of dozens of highly successful people across every imaginable field who have done very dubious things to reach "the top".

  11. Thanks for the write up. You have put my thoughts into words. Is it ok to share this link on Facebook? (yes, I am slowly becoming a social media activist, something I detest myself)

    Srikanth: "This betrays an ignorance of what this policy is about. THis policy is so much more than eradicating "black money""
    - Please do not blame the economics-ignorant cash starved masses. The Government/PM himself announced that this move is to eliminate black money. I am also not so sure if the starving population should care if banks have money. I am sure the banks would have more money if the foreign accounts came back.

    "Every banknote in hand causes "suffering" as it is a note that could've been lent out to people who need it badly."
    - Yes sure, but seems like now it cannot even be given back to those who actually own the money, leave alone lending (daily withdrawal limited to 2000).

    I understand that the banks lost money when Adani and Mallya defaulted, but to rob the people who actually have white money to compensate for the loans to the big sharks seems unfair, no?

    1. Aparna: of course sharing isn't a problem. (I originally wrote this as a Facebook status myself, and it's a public post that was shared quite a bit.)

    2. "I understand that the banks lost money when Adani and Mallya defaulted, but to rob the people who actually have white money to compensate for the loans to the big sharks seems unfair, no?"

      Oh C'mon. Who is robbing whom here? The government is not confiscating your cash. If you have cash, please go and deposit the same in a bank or get notes in exchange.

      You have every right to cricize the policy and so have I on certain aspects of it. For instance I disapprove of the issue of 2000 Rupee note as a replacement. And I also believe the implementation has been far from optimal. But to say that Mr Modi's measure is "robbing the poor" is to get it totally wrong. Nobody is being robbed here.

      "I understand that the banks lost money when Adani and Mallya defaulted"

      I am not sure why Mr Mallya is brought up in these conversations. Banks engage in a business. Most repay. Some don't. That's the business of banking. Yet banks are essential. They create the modern world for you.

      To argue against banks is to take a curiously conservative obscurantist stance that will take us back to medieval times when the only source of credit was the Kanhaiyalal across the street charging 40% interest (remember Mother India?). Opposing banks is not "liberalism". It is the worst form of obscurantism.

      Men like Kejriwal who are claiming that cash in the mattress is safer than money in the bank are setting up a dangerous counter-productive backward looking discourse.

  12. I had hoped my comment was respectful in its tone and honest about its curiosity to not warrant bristly responses or sarcasm. And it was meant to be a non-sequitor of sorts; I apologize for not stating it in my previous comment. I was, truth be told, responding to some recent reading on the Indian political scene, including a Frontline article about how Modi was the bottom of the barrel for India. Your few words on him seemed to reflect a similar opinion, and the comments section provided me with an outlet to respond to all that writing I had read recently. So, in a way, I wasn't responding to your post as much as using it as an excuse to share views on some writing/narratives I recently encountered on Modi, Indian administration, etc. As I indicated, the Modi narrative among the Indian journalists and media personnels who identify as "liberals" is of interest to me, and as an expatriate having devoured the writings on the American election including the narrative around Sanders, Clinton and Trump, some themes seems to pop out at me. Although for some reason (2002 riots probably) the Indian journalists I've read seem to want to cast him in the Trump mould, the ignorance of the severe problems and threats I see the Manmohan Singh administrations bring about make me see him as more of a Clinton figure. He's hounded about 2002 as much as she has been about Benghazi and the servers, when he/she are the ones (of the candidates in the fray) more likely to ensure policies that invigorate or support the middle class (I am including the lowest classes in this category) in the long run, and ensuring a healthy democracy. After all, the loss of livelihood among middle class Americans is being mentioned as a reason for the electoral debacle in America. Anyhow, I just intended to share a perspective (mine) that I see in contrast to the one your post seems to suggest. And I agree, a rag-to-riches story is not always interesting but Modi is, to me, an orator of great skill, and any man of words has my attention, as I do love good/carefully crafted writing/speech. I like to believe I am closer to being in the middle of the spectrum about Modi than others and I would love to see deep, critical analyses of his policies and governance, but unfortunately, like you admitted, quite a few people are so polarized in their opinions of him, that they can't let themselves engage in a more moderate, policy-driven critique of his, which is a shame, I think.

  13. Sorry, I meant guileful, not guileless in my earlier comment. Anyhow, very taken aback by the tone of the responses to my comment. It was meant to be polite sharing of an alternate viewpoint. Wow! I guess, they're right in saying politics and religion should be set aside if you need to keep the peace. I hope your monetization related woes sort themselves out sooner. With cheers from an alternate universe.

  14. Slytherin / Se V (assuming you're the same person now): nothing in the tone of my responses that wasn't already there in yours. But I'm biased, of course!

    quite a few people are so polarized in their opinions of him, that they can't let themselves engage in a more moderate, policy-driven critique of his, which is a shame

    Completely agree with this - except that I'd say this problem is far more pronounced among his devotees who treat everything he does with awe (even when it's something unbelievably stupid such as cracking a currency joke while introducing a Coldplay concert, and then quoting Bob Dylan lines in the tone of a school headmaster), and heap the vilest abuse on anyone who even questions his policies. (For proof of he latter, you might want to go to Twitter/Facebook and take a look at any Modi-related conversation.)

  15. Also, just had to comment on this: "Is the fact that he is a religious man the reason?"

    That's a pretty spectacular understatement of what Modi has represented in the revival of fundamentalist Hinduism! But actually, I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't a particularly religious man in his private life - he could even conceivably be an agnostic or a very moderate believer who is simply using the worst chauvinistic-religious impulses in people for his political purposes.

  16. And just in case you're wondering: here is just ONE example of something in your original comment that might warrant a slightly sharp or sarcastic response: I mean the writings of Barkha, Ghosh, such as they are, suggest them to be to the Congress what Fox news is to the Repulbican party, and therefore, renders their criticisms of Modi baseless

    No. Examine the arguments for what they are, and then dispute/attack them if you feel the need to - don't dismiss all the views expressed by a particular person based on your perception of what their biases or allegiances are. We all have biases, allegiances and blind spots - even you do - but it tends to be easier to get snarky or to distrust the motives of people who are influential public figures, like established journalists. That is, more often than not, a highly simplistic approach.

  17. I stand by my comment about Dutt/Ghosh's writings. I am yet to come across something more holistic in their critiques. Which is why, I explicitly said that I never considered you to be into such agenda-driven writing (for lack of a better term). Which is also why I addressed this comment to your blog and not, say a post by Dutt/Ghosh/Rajdeep/Arnab. I think we have to concede that a lot of high-profile political journalists derive their high profile from pandering to a certain view/audience be it Rajdeep or Arnab or Barkha Dutt, or CNN actors/Fox news etc (remember Sagarika's internet-hindu posts. I wish Saturday Night Live would do a skit on it...). Their relevance and big pay checks require them to give view/perspective that generates the greatest ratings for their network/magazine. In greater contrast to that is someone like David Remnick and his magazine, The New yorker, which is more journalistic and "holistic" in its reporting and assessment of stories. They support progressive/democratic policies, but are not an unequivocal supporter of the democratic party. As for your point about 40s events and Modi, I admit to being ignorant on that. But I also admit that I feel that your being an atheist may be contributing towards your distaste of the so-called hindutva. It is, as used by RSS ad their ilk, a political ploy (to me). I detest such political theatre but it exists across the board and is a sad truth of modern political scenarios. But I for one am practical enough to accept and support a skilful administrator even if his cronies and political affiliations are with such grandiose political theatre. I have no reason, so far, to fear the fascism argument simply because to me, Hindus will remain a minority/niche world faith, and most of its adherents would be hard pressed to find an ideology to cling to as it is so diverse in its writings/mythology, and most of it is entirely about (as I understand it) bonding with nature and non-violence. And I would like to point you to a LongReads article I recently read wherein they analyzed the electoral outcome in America, and I thought that was a good article in how they began with what I find exhausting (Modi=fascist) but built up a very sound and well-crafted piece of writing that I prompted me to think and analyze my own understanding. This is what I've wanted from the so-called liberal brigade in Indian media, and so far, I have been severely disappointed. The only voice I found interesting and informative from this political leaning is a blogger called GreatBong. His political writings are quite interesting, engaging and informative. And for the snark, I agree, my snark is your wit, and vice versa. Anyhow, peace out.

  18. Peace out, sure. Though before ending this, I will point out one more time (with a wry smiley) that you still haven't commented at all on the subject that this post was really about.

  19. "I genuinely wish to understand this perspective that vilifies Modi"

    Slytherin : I guess the discussion digressed but the reasons for this vilification are deep rooted. It is partly because Mr Modi represents a departure from what we have come to expect from our leaders.

    He is loud. He is vulgar. He is direct. He is low brow. But yes, he is also smart. And very effective at most things that he does. For much of the elite establishment this is an odd assortment of qualities/traits. How can a guy as brash and gross as him enjoy as much success? How can this guy occupy the same office that was once graced by distinguished gentlemen like Mr Nehru - the man who wrote "Discovery of India" or his daughter - the woman with that graceful manner and charm, or Mr Vajpayee - that moderate "Hindu" leader who was also such a gracefully discreet alcoholic and womanizer, in addition to being a poet of refinement.

    Mr Modi lacks the grace and pretence of these distinguished predecessors of his. He is a puritan from the hinterland - a man who represents India, warts and all. A man who embodies both Indian virtues as well as Indian shortcomings and Indian prejudices. A man who reflects us. And this is a change that is too hard to digest for many people - on both the Left as well as the Right (as indicated by the distaste shown by refined "right wingers" like Mr Advani and Shourie for this man).

  20. Shrikanth: have told you this before, in many other contexts, but it's time for you again to take a deep breath, and take a break. As you well know, I always find your views interesting and provocative, even when I strongly disagree with them, and your comments have enriched the discourse on my blog over the years (many of my left-lib friends don't feel this way, but I do). But you have this habit of becoming very reductive, and giving the impression that you're wielding a hammer, once you've posted a barrage of comments on a single day - and this one was a good example. There are good reasons to dislike Modi apart from the simple, straw-man one you cite. Let's leave it at that for now.

    Again, take a break from this thread for a bit.

  21. Jabberwock, one last comment before I sign off on this thread. You suggest, I think, that I should open my mind and read the writings of Dutt/Goswami/Rajdeep before I judge them. Or judge them on a piece-by-written piece basis. I agree this would be the best approach. But what I have learned about myself (as I am sure have other people) is that trust is a very fragile emotion that is not entirely mine to offer, especially when I believe it was callously squandered. I know I sound like Sanders or Trump supporter who finds himself unable to trust Clinton, but I was, in a very early point in my life, quite enthusiastic about and trustful of the reports that Rajdeep, Goswamie, Dutt etc. would bring into my parents' living room. They were, understandably, at the beginning of their TV careers and quite raw themselves, which was refreshing. And then, as I grew more probing with age, I found them to be less honest. I can't remember how many times I sought probing questions from them to, say, Sonia Gandhi, and they treated her with an obsequiousness that nearly made me throw up. And this continued on and on, each such absence of "journalistic rigour" pricking a tiny hole into the balloon that was my trust, till, one fine day, the balloon became unable to hold any air at all. I say this with a decided sadness because it is a very sad day to lose hope in someone who you thought of almost as a hero. I felt something equally dramatic and drastic with Arundhati Roy. Her first book, her essay on the beginning of the war on Afganistan, had me in her thrall. She seemed like just the thinker to help guide my thought. And then unfolded her career and ambitions, and all was never the same. So, all I can say is that if I find myself unable to offer my trust once again to someone (e.g. Rajdeep or Dutt) once I feel its been squandered, I am just revealing my human limitations. I went through something similar with Shashi Tharoor as well. I think I'm still licking my wounds. Anyhow, the reason I chose to (in so far as I had a choice) to vent in your blog is because, thus far, I trust your mind and writings. I trust they come from a place of sincerity and not one that is preoccupied with the very human ambition of a bigger office, fatter pay check, easier access to the high and mighty, adulation etc. The day I encounter something that shatters this trust, I will, I am afraid, be unable to bandage the holes in my balloon and have it refilled to cheer you one. Sorry but I am contained by my humanness, far too much I imagine.

    1. Se V: points gracefully made, and well taken. Though I assume, from the mature tone of your comments, that you are also introspective enough to realise that just because YOU have lost trust in someone doesn't necessarily mean that they sold out or betrayed their profession. (And I'm saying this now from firsthand experience, being of course very small fry compared to Sardesai/Dutt. I have had people tell me in my blog comments, email and elsewhere that they were convinced I had sold out while, say, reviewing a book because it was supposedly published by a house I was close to or by an author I was on good terms with. This was not at all the case, but try telling that to the person in whose view Jabberwocky Singh had been irredeemably corrupted. I hope you don't ever come to such a conclusion about my blog and writings - but just saying, even if you do, you might simply be wrong. As you might be about some others.)

    2. Se V: since I realise the last comment sounded abstract and hypothetical, here's a concrete (and very recent) example of what I'm talking about. My book was given the Mumbai Film Festival award for cinema writing a few weeks ago. Since then, I have heard from very reliable sources of at least one other author - who also had a cinema book published over the last year - shaking his head and making noises about me having "contacts" in the literary and publishing world, knowing the jury members etc. The idea that my literary-world connection had anything to do with the award is ridiculous, but for some people who are on the outside, looking in and speculating about unholy alliances, it can seem plausible. Just to let you know that things aren't always as they might seem...

  22. Final comment to Shrikant: Thanks! I think we've all, understandably, lost sight of when or why someone became or failed to be our hero. I can't recall when, for example, I became cynical beyond control about someone like Sonia Gandhi. Equally, I don't recall when Sanders became my hero :-) Or Obama, for that matter. s for your view of Modi being crude, I can't help but disagree. If anything, for a man from a very humble background, he always came across as very put together and dignified to me. Not crude at all. But then, I don't consider spoken English as a benchmark for sophistication anymore (although I do think he is fairly good in that regard but others might feel differently). This could have something to do with him modelling himself (consciously or not) after Vivekanand, who in his more austere garb, always struck me as very elegant and sophisticated. But this is merely my view that has changed with time and place to the point that it might be completely at odds with the prevailing view in popular culture back home.

  23. Sure. I am just replying to specific comments made by you and others on this thread.

    These are not totally random unrelated rants. These are very pointed responses to specific comments. I don't see that as hammering. I don't claim to be right, ofcourse. I am just representing the other side.

    Anyway I will cease if it is annoying.

    Se V : I was just presenting the perceptions of the other side. I don't believe he is particularly crude either. I was doing "Purvapaksha" - putting oneself in the opposing party's shoes - an essential step in any argument as per Mimamsa theory.

  24. Dear, dear Jabberwock,
    Thank you for taking the time out to make your points with patience. I agree, and I now understand that you are arguing against the principle of assuming journalists have sold out if their perspective and output does not match the readers' expectation. Your admirable defence of the principle is well, admirable. I think some of the ire that comes your way is because people mistakenly assume that you are standing up for Dutt/Ghosh/Goswami, when in fact, you likely couldn't care less (in a I-mind-my-own-business sort of way, I think) about the. What you appear to be fighting for is a perspective which if we all adopted, could make things less prickly and heated in discourses around political events and news stories. I can't promise I will always be able to do this, particularly when I watch someone whose work I have now lost respect for, asking inane questions. For example, if I am a journalist who claims to be bipartisan, and I interview a powerful political operative, then I would feel compelled to ask them questions I know could be uncomfortable but would require answers. I don't mean browbeating them into a response like Karan Thapar or Goswami do, but I would like to see, at least on the part of the journalist, an attempt to address those prickly questions like Charlie Rose does on his show (at least, I think he does). The interviewee may choose to not respond, or throw a hissy fit, and I realize that these things need to be taken into account when working out the logistics of mounting a television show (much more so than writing a new report). But I would like to see at least some attempt at surmounting these practical hurdles that have been placed in front of the journalist, to do a more rigorous job at finding information and communicating it to the audience in the most objective way possible. In the same vein, I'd like to see people (whether journalists or not) who dislike, despise or vilify Modi would be focused on a policy and fact-driven criticism that was tempered in its approach. And I do think people considered to have an off-the-charts religious zeal can be skilled administrators that can implement the knottiest of policies well, and at times, better than the ones with the progressive view on faith (e.g. the head of the multi-million dollar Human Genome Project is a man of deep Christian faith who has found a way to reconcile the edicts of science with the tenets of his faith, and one cannot dispute his skill at mounting and successfully completing that huge project). At some point, one has to concede that a country needs to be run with skill for progress to happen and a democracy to thrive, and often such skill could come from the unlikeliest or unseemliest of sources. I do not see evidence of such nuance in the criticisms of Modi's detractors, and that is what infuriates me because it brings too much emotion and too little concrete fact into the discourse, and leaves little room for people to improve their understanding of the issues involved. All I ever here are words thrown about with little context like "bhakt", "hindutva", "fascist" etc. Surely, after being at the help of affairs for so many years, there is more to talk about, particularly about our economic present as a nationstate. I think the so-called left needs to rethink the nature and tone of their discourse against Modi because so far, it appears to be no more than angry diatribe and rants. And another point: if someone is uncomfortable with say, alternate sexuality because they don't understand it, they are not necessarily "homophobic". I see too much of such semantic tagging in the discourse on the Left, and too little introspection on what the tags could mean, or how little meaning they offer. Anywho, congrats on your book and blog, and I am glad things reached a happy note between us, yet again.
    PS-Shrikanth, thanks for your comments. They added a nice flavour, I think!

    1. Jai, reluctant to trespass on your blog like this, but did want to attempt a partial answer to @Slytherin's questions about why the left dislikes Modi. Finding an answer to that would be a bit like figuring out why those who support Modi dislike the left and are generous with descriptors like 'libtards' 'sickulars' 'presstitutes' and 'anti-national' to those who express the slightest reservation about him. Little introspection and lots of semantic tagging in that too, no?

    2. Slytherin - Thanks...your comments are interesting. But I think we are digressing a lot, no?

      There is no end to it if we want to have a philosophical discussion on liberalism or conservatism here...Maybe one should exchange letters as Burke and Paine did in the 18th century :)

    3. Thanks! I had no idea about Burke and Paine or about them being the founding fathers of the modern Western political thought (the left and right dichotomy, at any rate). I am unsure about the dichotomy such as it is in the Indian political discourse and from what little I know, I don't think it matches up exactly with the Western dichotomy on an issue-by-issue basis. Thanks for giving me a newer subject to seek out for my skimming/reading.
      And to the anonymous commenter, I should have mentioned that I was referring to the most visible strains of thought emanating from the Indian political left(journalistic writing and some blogs, mainly) or people considering themselves a part of that fraction. As for the slurs you mention, I personally have never used them (or even heard of most of them) in my discourse, so I can't apologize for their use. And in case this information can have any use, I would be considered, according to a political leanings questionnaire, a socialist-democrat or a far-left person (in the Western scheme of categorizing political thought). So I am not sure if you were indeed addressing me through your comment or grouping me with the PM Modi aficionados who have sent those novel invectives your way. I am certainly curious about PM Modi's administration and his choices and how they play out. And a word for the wise: lets not judge the man by his most rapid, fanatical followers including the rather theatrical spectacle that is the RSS and SS. If you judged Agatha Christie's work based on my rabid love of her, you might be ready to retch at her mere mention without having read a word of her writing. Just a thought..Peace out.

    4. lets not judge the man by his most rapid, fanatical followers including the rather theatrical spectacle that is the RSS and SS

      Slytherin: are you saying the RSS are followers of Modi? I would think it is very clearly the other way round. He has spent essentially his entire sentient life being immersed in their ideology.

    5. "He has spent essentially his entire sentient life being immersed in their ideology."

      Sure. The same thing holds for Mr Advani, Mr Jaitley, Mr Vajpayee among many others. I don't necessarily see a problem with that.

      Many things contribute to our making. Mr Ramachandra Guha was a Marxist in his youth, but has now abandoned Marxism, and is now a centrist liberal. Marxism is a very deleterious ideology that has contributed to the death of millions of people in the 20th century - an ideology that has had a far more malevolent influence on human civilization than the so-called Hindu nationalist ideologies.

      Many many artists, intellectuals, politicians, writers who we have admired over the years were Marxists at some point. Including many movie makers both of us admire. The fact that they were Marxists doesn't make them evil in my eyes.

    6. Also talking of RSS and its so-called "ideology", some thoughts on the same -

      RSS is not a think-tank. Nor an academic organization. It is a cultural organization with significant political involvement since its incipience.

      Let's talk of the "ideology" which has stemmed out nevertheless, from RSS "thinkers" over the years. I don't agree with all or even most of their "ideology". But here are its basic premises from what I know. Please note that this summary is my understanding of their premises. I am not endorsing all of it. But none of these points are wholly false.

      1. India is a country of Hindus, just as US and UK are Christian countries. Does that mean non Christians cannot live in US? Ofcourse they can. But it still remains a Christian country. And I respect that. For eg : Bigamy is illegal in US and in most Western countries. While it is legal in most Muslim countries. Now why is it illegal in the West? Because these countries are "Christian" countries. Period.

      Also does that mean US is a "Christian state"? No. It is a Christian country, but not a Christian state. Big difference between these two phrases.

      2. India is secular, precisely because it is a Hindu majority country. Again this is not something that is easily deniable. The country was not secular between 1200 and 1800 when vast portions of the land were ruled by Muslim rulers in Delhi/Agra. It was a Muslim state. Period. If you were a Hindu in North India during those 500-600 years, the odds are that you would pay a higher tax rate than your Muslim neighbor. Yes. That's true. Hindus did pay a higher tax rate than Muslims as that was the law of the land for much of the medieval period. Again this isn't something you can deny. This is not "ideology". This is a historical fact. India turned secular only when power shifted from Muslim to HIndu hands with the rise of the Hindu middle class during the British raj.

      3. Most Muslims of India are not descendants of Muhammad or migrants from Central Asia. Most of them are in fact Hindu converts. Nearly all of them. And contrary to Marxist propaganda, not all of them converted to escape the clutches of "caste". Many so-called "upper castes" also converted to Islam. Because that was incentivized by the state. It paid to be Muslim. It did not pay to be Hindu. Also there is little doubt that coercion was a major factor in converting many, though not all.

      4. The fourth point in the RSS playbook is that - Islam has largely had a net-negative influence on Hindu society over the past 800 years. Yes, we have the Taj Mahal. We have our shayari. We have the biryanis and samosas. We love our Kurta and Pyjama. Great. Fine. But on the whole, India did regress as a civilization during those 800 years. And foreign rule had a lot to do with it.

      Is this a controversial statement. Maybe for some. But not for all. Many distinguished intellectuals - be it Fernand Braudel, Will Durant, VS Naipaul, among others have endorsed this assessment.

      5. The non Hindus of India should acknowledge their ties to this land ahead of their ties to any supra-national religious body. Fair. I see no problems with this thought. If I were a Muslim, I should honour this land more than I honour Mecca. The safety and prosperity of India should count for more than the safety of Palestinians. Perfectly fair. Is that the case with most Indian Muslims? I am not sure.

      Now which of these points is "Evil" or even "False". I dont think any of them are. However I do agree that a lot of the elaboration on these premises are intellectually sub-standard and often assumes rabble-rousing tones. But the points by themselves are not invalid.

    7. If 4 people go to the same school, that doesn't mean that you can't choose one and say that he has immersed himself in that school's teachings. His being immersed may or may not have anything to do with others degree of immersion. And, bigamy is illegal in the west because they are scared of feminists.

    8. "bigamy is illegal in the west because they are scared of feminists."

      Sure you are free to entertain that view :) Just as people are also free to believe in flying saucers.

  25. At an individual level, we should have empathy. Though, I am wondering if there is something wrong in assessing and supporting positions according to how they affect us and people like us. After all, it is something we are most qualified to do. It is not ethically wrong, I guess. But is a self serving middle class good for collective national interest?

  26. Excellent piece and echoes my thoughts. Thank you for writing it.


    Please read this and may be forward to liberals in South Delhi