Monday, December 29, 2008

The terrorist in us

The first time I read about farmer issues and about the spiralling suicides among them was through some articles written by P Sainath in the Hindu in 2004/ 2005. Some of those articles were real eye-openers. I had a chance to live vicariously in rural agricultural India through Sainath.

In early December, a new article gave figures of the number of farmer suicides in India in 2007. It said that more than 16,500 farmers had committed suicide in 2007 alone. The figure took me unawares. I always knew that problems existed amongst the Indian agriculturists, but never thought that the problem was this big. We have been having one Mumbai terror attack almost every week; not in the Taj or the Oberoi, but in interior Maharashtra, Andhra, Kerala; those places which have largely been deemed to be ‘uninteresting’ by the print and electronic media. And these attacks are not by non-state actors from across the border, but by you, and me and all around us, who have cocooned ourselves from the rural reality and have been indifferent to such happenings.

When would we see group discussions on CNN-IBN or NDTV discussing these ‘insignificant’ issues? When would we see a candle light march in the big cities for these tillers of the soil? How much time more would it take for this news to prick our collective conscience?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Profound tought from Obama's victory speech at Chicago

Obama ends the victory address with this line -

'I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.'

It is still very early to comment on him or his proposed ideas. This one line though, gives me hope. And what is life without hope?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Promising signs

We have been hearing a lot of troubling news from India lately. But along with the sad news, I also had a glance of some promising signs, which could be the change we need to see in our country.

The Lok Sabha session which was held last week, mainly discussed national security, with the aim to thwart any terrorists' plans. For a change, we saw the whole house united. The leader of the opposition said that the opposition would back any measure the government would take against terrorism. Terrorism was our common enemy. It was said that Indians (irrespective of religion, caste, or political inclinations) were on a war with terror. I enjoyed watching our leaders speak about our national identity.

Our Prime Minister apologized for the attack that he accepted could have been avoided. I understand that this apology would mean nothing to the families who lost loved ones in the dastardly act. My respects to them. Nonetheless, I must admit that it takes courage to accept that one has done wrong. I hope that he and the government now speak through their actions. I hope they can walk the talk!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Women on top

I was having this discussion with one of my friends last week. He was of the view that women, whom he had met in his life, which he himself agreed was a very small sample, are in general intellectually inferior to men. It seemed he had not met one girl who could intelligently question something some of his teachers taught. He gave examples of famous CEOs of companies. The male subset of the CEO set is much bigger than the female one, he said. I tried to counter him by providing names of some famous women in fields like sport, music, business, media and politics. Even this did not force him to nudge from his earlier position.

I was quiet for some time, with my mind trying its best to make the knockout argument. During the search for the argument, I happened to think of the most obvious person in our lives. I was reminded of someone whom we all take for granted so easily. I reminded him of our own CEOs at home. The CEO, who works and manages our households, who makes homes out of the places we live in. Our CEOs do not expect much more than our love for all they do. They work when no one is watching so that our lives run smoothly. They make lives so much easier for the menfolk (read: CEO of some chip manufacturing company in the Silicon Valley!) without whom, I do not think my friend's presumed male dominance might last.

Any doubts on who is on top?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Blame game

A week has passed since 26/11. We have been exposed to the lackadaisical measures that were taken by the government in dealing with intelligence reports warning such mayhems There have been stories of the media taking advantage of the situation for their own ulterior motives. There were some stories that doubted the competence of the Indian defense forces. All is well and good until we are not to blamed for what happened in Mumbai.

How many of us pay taxes honestly? How many of us have used some arm twisting to get things done in India. How many of us take responsibility for trouble (be it at home, or in our colonies, or on our roads)? We know very well about the ills that exist in our society today. How can we expect some men who are form this society to lead us well? It is from the same society that you and me are a part of that politicians and journalists come. Would it not be right to blame ourselves for everything we have seen over the past week instead of finding scapegoats?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Newspaper ad - the polity making the most of the terror strike

This is a front page ad printed in the Hindustan Times Delhi edition yesterday.

I have nothing personally against the BJP. I am sure we could probably expect something similar from the Congress if the BJP were in power. Nonetheless, this ad is troubling. Can they not have waited till the situation normalized in Bombay?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Letter to a terrorist

I do not know whether you have a bigger cause you are fighting for. Maybe you do. I do not want to know about how just your cause is. All I can tell you is that, even if there was a small group of people who wanted a dialogue with you, who wanted to understand your problems and try to solve them in a sane manner, the means you have taken to attain victory has totally derided the little amount of respect that the people affected by these acts of terror may have had for your cause. I do not know whether you achieved what you intended to do with the attack; I believe instead of winning over the people, you have actually made them move even further away from you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A new dawn

‘Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.’ - The Dalai Lama

Monday, November 10, 2008

Religious conversions in India

One of the first pieces of news about India which I received on reaching Edinburgh was about the communal tensions in the Kandhamal district of Orissa. Similar cases, where churches were burnt and Christians ill-treated, in Mangalore and some other parts of Karnataka followed suit. It is only when these occurred, did I try to find out about the magnitude of the problem we are dealing with. I have enlisted here some of the observations I made through articles/ web pages I read and discussions I had on the issue.

There is no doubt that the atrocities that have been committed on the Christian converts in these places in the last month or so can not be justified. Indians have the best example of non-violence being used as a mode of struggle, which proved to be more of a success than other violent means people have adopted since then. Why forget what history has taught us?

On the contentious matter of conversions, the first question that can be raised is about ethics. Are the means adopted by Christian missionaries to coax people to convert ethical? There are two sides to this question. These missionaries live with and try to propagate the belief that it is only Christians who reach Heaven and that they have been assigned the duty of helping people at large to reach there. Through the conversion activities they are involved in, they believe they are answering their true calling and performing their duty. They believe that whatever the means they use ( like providing monetary benefits, education, jobs etc to the converts) to induce conversions, the end justifies the means. On the other hand, if their intention was to do good alone (through charitable activities), they could easily provide the destitute with these economic benefits without asking them to convert. That would be the idealist's way to make sure that the destitute, who were not taken care of by the government (and the people who are represented by the governments) are allowed on to the first rung of the ladder of economic development.

Another fact that caught my attention was that most of the converts were 'dalits' (untouchables). I thought this to be a good enough reason for a person to convert. M y argument was that these people, when were Hindus, may have had faced instances when they were discriminated against, which instigated thoughts about converting. One of my friends, who has worked with tribals in Jharkand, informed me that the term 'dalit' was being used to label almost every tribal group in India by the media. He showed me instances where tribals (even though they were classified as Hindus), followed completely different rituals (eg. they considered trees/ plants sacred). There is a distinct possibility that the tribals who have been converted in Orissa and some other parts of India, were such groups. Although I say this, I do not discredit the caste based oppression many of the 'dalits', or tribals for that matter, are still facing in many parts of India.

Next, my friend gave me his reasons as to why he was against these conversions. He said that through these conversions, these tribes were losing their culture. He added that when everywhere in the world various organizations have been trying to preserve tribes and their traditions, under the name of religious conversions we were directly causing the 'extinction' of such tribes and their traditions. I respect my friends views on the matter of protecting tribes and their values, but I fail to see the same motive in the opposition shown by some parts of the Hindu right wing groups. If the subject of protecting the culture of these tribes is important, why is it that these right wing groups bring about this matter only when the situation at hand is grave?

What can cause a person to change their inclination (be it political or religious in this case)? Isn't it dissatisfaction? If the converts before they turn to Christianity were fully content with the kind of lives they were leading, would they ever convert for material benefits? I do not think so. So what is it that is not working right? These tribes surely would be having desires. They would love to have health care, would love to have their children educated, which promises jobs for them when they grow older. Why isn't the government trying to provide these tribes with what they need, so that they remain rooted in their rich tradition. One would also need to figure out whether these tribes would keep up with their tradition once economically developed (as Christians or Hindus)?

I know I have not provided any one who has read this write up with answers. In fact there are more questions to which solutions need to be found. I hope I have helped you to see the problem at hand in a different light. I would like to thank my friends Srinivasan C J and Udit Kumar who helped me gain a different perspective on the issue.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The cure

I have my eyes closed,

and I see you in tears.

You have wrinkled up your face

in sadness or fear.

I hear the room's silence interspersed

by your repressed whimper.

I move my fingers to your face,

taking them softly from your temples,

caressing your cheek,

till they reach your chin;

undoing at every instant

the wrinkles that blemish your face.

You begin to feel at ease,

resting your head on my shoulder.

I keep stroking your hair,

till you fall into a peaceful slumber. 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Everybody loves a good drought – stories from India's poorest districts

There has been a recent spurt in articles (in newspapers and web sites) explaining the laxities in the definition of the poverty line in India. Eminent journalists wrote about how ineffective the definition of the line is and gave shocking numbers of the extremely poor in the country (which are much more than the numbers found in government reports). After reading these articles, I understood the numbers; the statistics that measure poverty, but never realized what it meant to live in extreme poverty. The book 'Everybody loves a good drought', a compilation of reports filed for the Times of India by P. Sainath, stands as the portal through which we could peek into the lives of the extremely poor in India.

Statistics reveal that 39.9% of the Indians live below the poverty line – that is they do not take in the 2400 or 2100 calories (for rural and urban Indians respectively). Sainath realizes that there are some other issues – government intervention, health, education, forced displacement, dependence on agriculture (of a vast majority of the poor, forcing migration during the lean season), availability of resources (water, forest land, money, alternate employment etc) – which play a significant role in keeping the poor from climbing to the lowest rung of the ladder of economic development. The sections in his book target these issues individually with stories from rural India. 

This book in a real eye-opener. Reading the sometimes touching and sometimes inspiring stories in it I realized the vastness of the problem of poverty and understood that it needs a concerted effort on all these fronts to make a change. The book transcends mere statistics to raise troubling concerns which need to be addressed. Sainath chides the media for failing in its duty to raise awareness on the range of issues. Most of the stories in his book are succeeded by a postscript, which tells us what government actions followed the publication of the story then. Some of the work done since the publication of these stories show what a dutiful media can accomplish. 

Sainath in the last few chapters provides some hope, with stories of seemingly small successes in rural India. Reading them I am reminded of what Robert Kennedy said: ' Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence'.

Read another review of the book here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Sainath: Let’s revert to the latest maternal mortality figures released by the WHO and others. Some 536,000 women died in childbirth in 2005. Of these, every fifth one of them, at least, was an Indian. That is, 117,000 of them. A total that could only be matched by Nigeria, Afghanistan and Congo together.

Sainath-bashing: Does Sainath not understand the concept of per-capita mortality rates (which makes him innumerate at best and stupid at worst), or is he intentionally not bringing them up (which makes him dishonest)?

Using averages (which the per capita calculations measure) is the best way possible to hide from reality. Averages flatten or help level the peaks and trenches. When used craftily, it could be used to protect the interests of a few.

Firstly, take the case of the spread of AIDS in India. India has more that 5.1 million (this was the figure two years ago) infected with the HIV virus. When this number was published in the papers two years back, there were talks of India being the worst AIDS affected country in the world (if we were to take the number of infected alone). A counter-story appeared soon after the first one was published which asked us to take refuge in the fact that the number of AIDS patients formed only 0.91 percent of the population (dividing the number by a much larger population of India!). The counter-story's view was to dilute the crisis on hand. African nations which had India’s HIV infection rate of less than one percent of their population a decade ago, are grappling with the AIDS/HIV epidemic of unimaginable proportions. Facts reveal that in the tiny African state of Botswana, which about a decade ago had only a small HIV problem, more than 30 per cent of its adult population is HIV positive today. Simply putting it, we can not take refuge in our large population making any average a seemingly meager number.

Next, I would like to point out one of the arguments the Indian polity has been making in global meets discussing climate change – low per capita carbon contribution from India. Again here the Indian polity seems to be making use of the large population of the country for the benefit of a few. It is a fact that the carbon contribution from certain groups of people in India equals, or some times even exceeds those in the Western countries. These sections have been literally subsidized by the presence of a very large poor community in our country. Drawing parallels with the maternal mortality rates, a large percentage of the 117,000 women who died in child birth in 2005 are from these poorer sections of the population without access to community health care. Though Sainath does not explicitly speak about the large divide in the society, he has done so in many of his previous writings. Through the article Sainth provides an insight into not just the blemish of having a large maternal mortality figure, but also a means to understand the divide which is plaguing the country. If we were to take the Maternal Mortality Rates (number of deaths of the mother in 100,000 childbirths), of smaller segments of the society (segments based on economic standards of the family, whether the family is living in rural areas etc.) we would get troubling figures.

Sainath-bashing: Sainath had written that the maternal mortality figures of India is as much as the total maternal morality figures of Nigeria, Afghanistan and Congo together. What is significant is that the population of India is five times the total population of these three countries taken together.

Compare the history (from the 1950s) of these four countries (including India). Since the late 1970s Afghanistan has suffered continuous and brutal civil war, which included foreign interventions in the form of the 1979 Soviet invasion and the recent 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban government. The civil war (though not officially called so these days) continues and the number of deaths in Afghanistan due to this fighting continues unabated. Nigeria saw thirty-three years of oppressive military rule (which ended in1999). The military rule was studded with corruption and mismanagement which saw only a few in the country make use of the oil driven money. Nigeria's government officials and police have been accused of serious Human Rights violation and abuse during the military rule. Even after democracy made way in 1999, the situation is not much better. The elections of 1999, 2003 and 2007 have been condemned by the international community of being flawed. The Democratic Republic of Congo too has been a war-torn country. Even in the recent past (form 1998-2003) Congo saw the second Congo war, which is the deadliest conflict the world has seen since World War II. This central African nation also saw war and civil strife in some of its neighbouring countries (like Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda) spill into her. The atrocities committed by some of the authoritarian rulers of the country are well documented. The war situation and civil unrest in these three countries have made life of women precarious. In many of the African countries still plagued by strife, violence against women is considered to be normal.

Leaving the population question aside for a moment, can we be happy about the comparisons of the MMRs of these three countries with India's? India has had a more or less stable existence since independence. India has had its share of misery and trouble, I agree, but not in such a large level as seen in the other three countries. We have had a democratically elected government (the emergency period being the only aberration) since 1947. Seeing India's background (and when comparing it with these three countries), does it not make sense to compare India's Maternal Mortality figures (which is equal to the MM figures of these three countries put together) without putting a big emphasis on the population of the countries?

These are some of the blogs from which I took these excerpts -




I would take this opportunity to thank my friend Lakshmi Kishore who informed me of such views being discussed online. I would also like to thank the authors of the blog and the article without whom I would never have given a deeper thought about the issue at hand.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Learn your way to excellence

To the reader

I would like to say to the diligent reader of my writings and to others who are interested in them that I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am in age, I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will stop at the dissolution of the flesh. What I am concerned with is my readiness to obey the call of truth, my God, from moment to moment, and, therefore, when anybody finds any inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the later of the two on the same subject.

M K Gandhi
Harijan, 29.4.1933

This extract is taken from the book 'India of My Dreams', written by Gandhiji. Such a profound insight on his constant endeavour to improve and learn. Something all of us would do well to learn from.

Family Matters - A review*

When I picked up the book, Family Matters, written by Rohinton Mistry, I wondered what it might contain. The back cover said that the book had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2006 which fueled doubts on the book; my experience with books written by Booker prize winners had not been a very comfortable one.

I have always loved reading about the culture of different peoples. Mistry in his book, gave a view of the lives of Parsis in India. Having my roots in Bombay (but not having had the 'Life' experience of living in the metropolis), I also loved reading about a typical middle class family life in Bombay in his book. I could draw parallels between instances and people in the story, with the lives my parents, grand parents and their relatives must have had in the great city.

The depiction of the last few years in an old, dying man's life, as seen by the innocent eyes of his young grandson, produces a beautiful effect in the narration. I had never thought about how the old felt at the end of their lives- unfulfilled wishes, dreams troubling them- until I read Mistry's work. The seemingly small things we could do for them, mean a lot to them. They mean much more than what we presume. Simple instances give them pleasure. For instance, in the story, dinner being eaten on the best dish available at home, which had been reserved only for special days, meant a lot to the old man. For him, the numbered days he had, had to be special. The utter helplessness (and sometimes shame) that he felt at having others help him do what he had been doing for so long, is beautifully portrayed in the book. The sadness (which was occasionally shown through his tears at night) at having to trouble his daughter and her family, would touch any humane reader of the book.

The story proves that every being, however strong he might have been in his youth, cedes to difficult situations when old. And the truth that every one of us would grow old some day, is good enough reason to treat the old in our families, in our neighbourhood, with simple gestures that would go a long way in making their lives more livable today. And not to forget, there are young ones watching every step we take; learning from us.

* This write-up may not be a review in conventional terms. A Google search would give ample to choose from. A review written by Shashi Tharoor may be read here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Nuke deal – an unconditional waiver for India?

Some of the features of the Indo – US nuke deal -

1.The Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) has to change rules to accommodate India, and for this the Hyde's act asks for a permanent ban on nuclear tests.

2.Access to uranium would be tightly regulated (by whom, we know).

3.All civil nuclear fuel-cycle technologies would be prohibited (including spent fuel reprocessing. Reprocessed fuel may be used in weapons - as suggested by the Bush administration in the Iran imbroglio).

4.The NSG has the right to demand the return of transferred items and material (including fuel, which the deal promises India to have).

5.Forced shutdown of Cirus, one of the two research reactors in India, producing weapons grade plutonium.

6.India is to be barred from ever halting international inspection of its entire civil nuclear program, even if the US unilaterally terminated cooperation.

My hugely pessimistic views on these clauses -

1.Being opposed to having and developing nuclear arms, I would not mind India stopping the development of nuclear weapons. But that decision should be taken by India alone and not be imposed by any other nation in the world. It is easy for one to ask the other to stop smoking, when the first one himself has a cigar between his lips.

2.This looks like a way through which the countries (read the US) can pull the strings on India's foreign policy. We saw India vote against Iran in the IAEA just as the deal was being discussed. What would be the scene once the deal is operational?

3.One of the reasons environment groups like the Greenpeace opposed nuclear energy is the matter of spent fuel. No full proof method is available to dispose spent fuel. People may say they have methods, but can they say this with complete conviction? Fuel reprocessing is one way by which we could reduce the harms of the spent fuel. In the sense, the spent fuel after one cycle of energy generation may be reprocessed, and used again as fuel for energy generation. This would mean that the final spent fuel, is much less radioactive when compared to the spent fuel after the first stage of generation. By imposing a ban on fuel reprocessing we have a question to answer – what to do with the spent fuel? Can we just send the spent fuel to these developing countries who themselves are worried about the amounts of spent fuel being generated in their own lands?

* The six points of the deal have been taken from the article Emulate America's bipartisan handling, written by Brahma Chellaney, published as the leader page article in the Hindu dated 28 June 2008.

Read the article here -

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Indo-US nuke deal - hidden fact?

I had always been perplexed on the contentious issue of the Indo-US nuclear deal ever since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US in 2005. I read editorials, articles, and interviews discussing both sides of the matter, but could not come to a reasoned conclusion myself.

India has to look into herself for the uranium required for her existing plants and also for the plants under development according to an article (read here ) by Associated Press journalist Neelesh Misra published in the Hindustan Times.

I am still no where close to finding a stance on the Indo-US nuke deal. But I have one question – why has this information been kept as a loosely guarded secret for 3-4years now?

My thanks to M J Akbar for his leader page article, in the Khaleej Times dated 22 June 2008, that brought this news out (read article here).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Is Globalization the cause of it all?

Yesterday, I received the second serious response to something I had written in this blog. I loved the effort Selva took to jot down his thoughts on the lecture by Sainath. I have put the first part of his thought for discussion. It seems he doesn't want to be Nero's guest anymore. This is the change we need to see in today's world.
Selva : Ok. Coming to the point. First, the title. Globalizing inequality. As Mr. Sainath points out, globalization indeed makes rich people richer. That is, if they are able to cope up with the changing winds. But we cannot claim that globalization makes poor people poorer. Globalization was neither meant to bring up inequality nor to abolish it. Inequality existed before globalization. It exists now, when there is globalization. It'll exist in the future, whether there is globalization or not. This claim is based on the books I read and on my social, economical and mainly psychological observations.

>> I do not know whether I can confidently say that the poor are not getting any poorer due to globalization. Before I start with this, proponents of globalization - the likes of Thomas Freidman and Jeffrey Sachs - speak of globalization as being a panacea for all world problems (Sachs in his book The End of Poverty, keeps repeating the globalization mantra!) Even if globalization is not making people poorer, it is not in any way improving the conditions of the poor in societies as these people say it will. How much longer can the poor wait? There is this disparity that has crept in. Accumulation of feelings of unfairness and resentment against the rich, which the disparity brings in the poor, may break the dam any time (as it has in many parts of the world).

With the advent of Manmohanics (in the early 90s) the inequality in India has only become larger. It has made the poor poorer, symbolically at least. The policies adopted by the various governments since then have undermined the traditionally strong sectors in India (eg. the agricultural sector). The opening of the markets has done some good to the affluent, but has caused misery to the poor, scaled much more than earlier times(exemplified by the ever increasing number of farmer suicides).. The priorities of the government have changed – not for the good of all. Something that strengthens some sections of the society while undermining the poorer sections can not be a solution in any sense.

Leaving the discussion of one country, and taking the world as a bigger market, we can find evidence that the farm policies of the ‘globalized’ world is pitted against the poor farmers in the developing world, while the subsidies rich farmers in the rich countries are not affected as much. In many countries the food produced by the local farmers are being sold at prices higher than the food being imported from the rich world. Since most of the people living in these countries are farmers themselves, the decrease in food prices (due to imports) does more harm than good. Moreover, when the rich farming corporations mint money when the farmers are suffering, the poor farmers feel they are being stolen from.

The global markets are under the control of a few very powerful people (read as governments, MNCs). They would go any way to twist the arms of the poorer countries for their good. Take the case of the high price of the anti-retroviral drugs being sold in Africa. Diseases like AIDS that are in epidemic proportions in some African nations can be the reason why these countries fail to make it up the economic ladder. When the medication against this disease is not sold cheaply in the poor countries, the realization of this unfairness causes much more than merely making the poor poorer. Many of the world issues revolve around relatively new terms like terrorism, which can be attributed to such feelings of hostility against the few who wield all the power.

Taking the bigger picture, the world is becoming poorer – the poor as well as the rich.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Globalizing Inequality

P Sainath is a rural journalist and has written about people and places we do not hear much about in today’s ‘flat’ world. He spends 270 days a year living in households in rural India - with villagers in Vidharba, Wayanad, Andhra, Orissa and elsewhere - who have been struck most by government non-intervention. The number of farmer suicides at these places corroborates this.

This lecture ‘Globalizing Inequality’, which he gave at the State University of Washington, Vancouver in 2005, is a real eye-opener. He gives accounts of events that took place in the developing as well as in the economically rich world, which justifies his stand against the kind of globalization plaguing us today, with a few men wielding all the power and controlling the masses.

Through these cases he takes up during the lecture, he convinced me that today’s world does not take up matters that are of no consequence to the few in the driving seat. Today, when we measure economic success of a nation based on its stock exchange value, we are moving further away from the ground reality – from the masses - which do not have an influence on the stock exchanges.

There is a historical text by Tacitus (from his annals), which speaks about Nero burning down Rome. It was during a party that he had organized which had guests that included intellects, columnists, and political figures, when the fire started. And how? He had used the poor from Rome and had put them on fire as a source of light for the guests at night. Rome’s poor then and today’s poor are no different. They are being burnt by the various policies pursued by governments in their home countries as well as by international organizations and nations. We know who today’s Nero is. We are Nero’s guests in today’s world. Sainath asks us to stop being his guest, and watching this lecture would be the most appropriate way to make a start in this direction.

Watch the lecture here.

Read the citation for Sainath read at the Ramon Magsaysay award presentation ceremony here.

Read all his editorials, op-ed articles, reports here.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


I am in my Sunday evening walk.
This is the time I get to be myself,
This is the time I get to sing out loud.

When with people, I have to be
what they see in me.
When alone, I am myself.
I do not have to consider people’s
plight at having to hear me sing.

Today the only ones present,
are the trees;
and the cold that pokes firmly at my sinews.
Then, there is the wide empty road
lying ahead, and the star-filled sky and me.

The greener other side

I watch you crawl
across the muddy path, in large numbers.
Looking for the never
reachable ‘greener’ other side.

I have seen many before you
being trampled by men,
who have lost touch with nature.
There will be a similar stampede
in a few minutes today.
Cross quickly!!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

It’s all about the man!

The name Lance Armstrong always brought in my mind the image of a superhuman. I had heard about his painful meet with illness (testicular cancer) and the strength with which he came back from it. When the whole world questioned his ability to return to competitive cycling, he answered – with seven straight wins of the Tour de France, which is considered to the most grueling of all cycle races in a cycling calendar year. Such a feat surely brought him to the ranks of a superhuman, I thought.

When I picked up his book “It’s Not About the Bike – My Journey Back to Life” (read reviews at, I never thought I would be seeing facets of his life, which I had never seen, nor had imagined him to have. He takes us through his childhood days, from the first time he starts riding his bicycle, to the difficulties he and his single mother faced then. When I say he takes us, I literally mean it. I could feel my heart beat faster and sometimes even skip a beat, reading about his cycle races. Spending almost all the time after school, either in the pool, or on his bicycle, he was trained to be a sportsman from a very young age. He had everything what a high school kid of his age, with so much success would have – insecurity, along with the habit of seeing only in black or white – in terms of victory or defeat.

Then came the battle – the battle which he says transformed him to be a better competitor, father, son and a human being - the battle against cancer. He was 25, with money in his hand, a supportive mother, a loving fiancée and a very promising career in cycling. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer with a large metastasis to his lungs and his brain. After a brain operation to remove his lesions, removal of one of his testicles, and a cycle of extremely strong chemotherapy, with his future very hazy, he returns. He speaks at length of his fear, the medication, and its side effects – which do not make a very good reading for the faint- hearted. But he wanted to beat the disease, and he had his mother’s, fiancée’s and friends' support during that period. He met angels, in the form of doctors, nurses, family and friends who helped him get through.

Once the chemotherapy succeeded in getting his lungs cleared, he lived his next one year in fear – fear of a reoccurrence of cancer. He had lost his physical strength and never thought he would be involving himself in competitive cycling. He had some money and a good wife by then - he still is very grateful to her. This period saw his loose aim in life. Spending hours on the golf course, and not thinking of cycling anymore, he started losing interest in life. With some prodding from his wife and friend cum coach, he begins riding again. While on one of his rides, he discovers his destiny – in cycling. There has been no looking back from then. He started a cancer awareness and help organization LIVESTRONG with which he is involved in fully after his retirement from cycling in 2005.

In the book’s last chapter, he says the win over cancer stands much higher than his victories at the Tour de France. He says he stands for giving hope to others with cancer. He says that he still doesn’t know whether it were the drugs, or his family, or his doctors, or his will, that saved him from succumbing to the disease . If he knew, that would be the cure for cancer he adds.

Reading this book, I unearthed that Lance is very human. Like you, me and anyone around. He found a cause to work for, and never looked back since. Nonetheless, his story is rightfully the stuff of legends (as quoted by Independence). And we all could become legends in our own little ways.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The ride downhill

I took a bicycle for the small trek to my swimming pool one evening. After my usual swim of a few laps, exhausted, I dressed and wore my running shoes. I checked my mobile phone for any calls or messages I had received during those forty minutes. Sometimes I feel the mobile is such an annoyance. It keeps you chained to your past, and to your future, when all your heart wants, is to be in the now – carefree - enjoying the surrounding - the cold touching your skin, the freshness of the air entering your lungs, the ruckus of the birds nesting for the night. There are other times I love being connected to my past and my future, along with my present, because they were created by people who made life worth living.

The short ride back to my room was down a hill. Without the least of efforts from my side I went down, full throttle. Even with my mobile phone jumping about in my pocket, I felt I was living in the truest sense. I had to slow down soon when I entered a road with some traffic on and began wondering. I thought of how much I had struggled to get on top of the hill, just an hour back, on the way to the pool. I remember, I had given up some twenty meters before I had reached the pool. My thigh muscles could not carry me any further. And since I was going for a nice workout in the pool, I had to conserve some energy.

That evening, I decided to take my bicycle to the pool more often - to remind myself of the ride downhill that follows my effort to the top.

Monday, May 12, 2008

On your lap

I dream of lying down on your lap
insulated from the outside world.
Wish I were a little boy still;
crying on your lap, without attracting
stares from the others.
I would not have had to explain to the world
why I am thus;
on your lap, I feel safe being myself.