Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Pink and Consent in Hindi Films

A couple of months after the December 2012 gang-rape in Delhi (probably the watershed for discussions of gender justice and consent in India) I was travelling in the general compartment of a reasonably crowded metro. I was standing near a row of seats occupied at one end by two middle aged women, most likely returning home from work. A feet from me, stood a young couple, holding hands and making calf eyes at each other. Adequately repulsed by their PDA (as prudish young women are wont to) I proceeded to eavesdrop on the middle aged women. Apparently they didn’t approve of the PDA either, going on to assert that ‘these’ (referring to the female half of the couple) are the kind of young women who first ‘make’ young men fall in love with them and then cry rape. 

From a neutral perspective, Pink is an above-average movie. The first half is crafted like a thriller, and in spite of all the stomach churning scenes (and as a woman in Delhi, your stomach is bound to churn), it holds your interest. The second half however is unrelentingly preachy with Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone doing everything to convince you that no means no.  From the perspective of a person with vested interest however (that is, an average urban woman facing close mindedness from aunties in the metro, neighbourhood uncles, family friends and relatives), the second half of Pink is like a well-made pamphlet for propaganda of the feminist cause.

And you have to admit that this is a reason for some happiness. After all, as late as 1980, the same Amitabh Bachchan was lecturing Zeenat Aman to wear more clothes to the beach as a solution to avoid others’ lechery. He helpfully tells her, “aise kapdo mein aapko seetiyan nahi sunayi degi toh kya mandir ki ghantiya sunayi degi”. Did I mention he was a cop?

Then in 1990, in Ghar ho toh aisa, Anil Kapoor harasses his secretary into changing out of her modern clothes into “decent” ones. Of course he may have been commenting on her fashion sense (the dress was truly hideous, see pic below), but his elation at seeing her wear a sari later (“inn kapdo mein tum shareef ghar ki ladki lag rahi ho”) puts an end to such hopes. And I am not even going to go into the numerous successful attempts by Jeetendra to stalk, molest and generally harass Sridevi into dating him.

The most egregious failure to understand matters of consent was of course Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, an all-time favourite for many young people. 

Waking up after a night of drinking, Raj convinces Simran that the two of them had sex the previous night. Simran does not remember anything about the night and quite justifiably, freaks out. Raj tries to calm her down and admits he was joking. And then he tells her that he knows she is Indian, and therefore understands the importance of her virtue. The point about the ‘bad boy’ not being evil could have been equally well made if he had pointed out that Indian or not, if he had had sex with a girl too drunk to have given her consent, it would be rape. But maybe that wouldn’t have had the NRIs cheering…

In Raaja Ayegi Baraat, Rani Mukherjee marries her rapist (apparently not an uncommon outcome of the great justice system’s working in India) and makes nice with him even as the rest of the family plots to off her. But even in the better made, YRF sanctioned Ishaqzaade, Arjun Kapoor has sex with Parineeti Chopra under false pretences (still rape). Not only does she forgive him, but by the end of the movie they are a pair of star crossed lovers killed by their feuding families.

In fact the only time at the movies when I felt satisfied with the consequences faced by men when they treated women badly, was Chak de India.

At a visceral level, this was more satisfying than the favourable court verdict in Pink, which I know reflects quite poorly on me. Of course a court mandated punishment is better for democracy than a public lynching. Yet this scene allows its women to vent their frustration that Indian women (or at least I) feel on a daily basis and cannot express, while also doing justice to the characters (watch how Bindiya trips one of the goons while continuing to sit with a certain amount of detachment).

There is a second non-cinematic, illogical reason why Pink did not make me rave. At one point, Falak points out that even if they were sex workers but withdrew their consent at any point, it would still be assault. For that moment, I suddenly wished that that had been the storyline. I thought back to an episode of the serial Sidhhant, a courtroom drama that used to play on Star One while I was still in school. I only have vague memories of it (and I can’t find a link online) but that had been my introduction to the issues of consent. And if a television serial could tackle that a decade earlier, there is no reason why a movie with that many resources at its disposal could not be slightly bolder.

Friday, 9 December 2016

End of Year Resolutions

There is a frightening possibility that all the bad things I say tend to come true. I always thought that it happened, but I took it as an amusing coincidence. But last week, just to irritate my sister, I predicted that her end of year vacations would get cancelled. I didn't even mean it. Turns out that I was accurate in even how it would all play out. And given how flippantly I talk of gruesome deaths and world annihilation, I have decided it is time to stop being so negative. Well I can still think it, but I won't say it.

PS: I also tried to think back to something good I had said that came true. Turns out I can't remember the last time I had been positive about the future.

PPS: To think of it, I had said that from the trailer, Fantastic Beasts seemed to be better than the Potter movies. Of course I was right.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

"You know, today's nut may be tomorrow's prophet. The essence of free speech is to preserve the opportunity for nuts to turn into prophets."

                                                                           -  Milton Friedman

Thursday, 25 August 2016


  • Does Janmashtami mean anything to anyone anymore besides dp changes and inspirational Watsapp forwards?
  • My colony, which has a surfeit of little children on other days, had a grand total of one tiny jhanki made by a little girl, right outside the gate to her home.
  • People outside my colony were more enthusiastic. One group of people had hired trucks to ferry children screaming devotional slogans, in turn drowned by devotional music blaring out of speakers. There was also a chariot with two children dressed as Radha-Krishna. (I have a feeling that both of them were girls). And of course they blocked traffic.
  • As is my yearly ritual on this day, I pined for my childhood when my friends (and enemies) and I, struck the right balance between religious fervour and maintaining public decorum.
  • I don't think I celebrate any festival anymore. I have always hated Diwali, have lacked the safe space to play Holi for many years now, Janmashtami ended with my Board year (as far as I remember), Christmas and New Years were/ are generally followed by exams, I have no taste for sewai, or Kumar Sanu-Alka Yagnik Bollywood Nights and Durga Puja has become this thing where I mark mandatory attendance every year, to promptly avoid other Bengalis my age by staring at my phone.
  • I would also like to open up about how I mark the three national holidays but am really afraid I will be called anti-national, so I will refrain.
  • I would have called this post something festive had I not wanted to add a few other pointless observations and conclusions about random things.
  • People should marry much younger people. Then these much younger spouses are in a better position to tend to you in your sickness than spouses who are closer to you in age. Of course, not everyone can marry people much younger to them. But since the readership of this blog is rather limited, you are in luck.
  • People should have children late in life. Then when they are old and sick, they can have relatively young, fit people to tend to them.
  • I think I am as grown up now, as I am likely to ever be. All the floundering, indecisive adults around me make me feel so.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Educational Rant (Promise)

  • I deeply want to be South Indian. Or at least know the four languages there. Because otherwise it is impossible to remember that Therukoothu is a dance form in TN, Pavakoothu a form of rod puppetry in Kerala, Kudiyattam, a theatre form in Kerala and but Kavadiattam a dance in Tamil Nadu. Why can’t you at least use different sounding words so that stupid-exam givers (the exam being stupid, not the givers) can devise mnemonics to remember what infernal dance/ puppetry/ theatre form belongs to which state?
  • It is worth noting how many people say they want to clear the UPSC/ CSE exam, versus the numbers who say they want to be in the IAS/ IPS/ IFS etc. What does UPSC aspirant even mean? UPSC is the recruitment agency! Do you want to be the recruiting agency?
  • If you say you are an IAS/ Civil Service aspirant, you are only linguistically correct. Because you have to be a dumbass to aspire to a generic administrative designation.
  • Bomalattam is string puppetry from Tamil Nadu but Tholu Bommalata is shadow puppetry in Andhra Pradesh. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?
  • India is the seventh largest country in the world by area, second largest by population. Azerbaijan is 119th by area, 89th by population. The latter has a Kashmir too-Nagorno Karabakh. Of course I am simplifying, but the point is that we will be hard-pressed to find a country where a certain section does not want to ‘leave’.
  • I don’t want Kashmir to leave India. Now that I have learnt that the Kashmiri New Year is called Navreh, that their dances are called Rouff and Dhumal, that they practice a form of folk theatre called Bhand Pather and their folk music is called Gulraj. Or it may be it is the little Sanghi inside me. In my defence, if I were British, I would oppose Brexit too.
  • I know feelings are not facts, except when you have fever. Then, what you feel is far more important than the 99.4 temperature that the thermometer insists on showing.
  • There is a theatre form called Maach. That’s one of three Bengali phrases every non Bengali knows (maach khabo, jol khabo, and Kemon acho, said in a very weird sheepish tone). But is this theatre form from Bengal? No, it’s from MP, which is not even coastal! Matlab even Odisha or Andhra or Maharashtra would be easy to remember!
  • Though come to think of it, why would you call a puppetry form from any state, as generic a term as Fish?
  • Lest we think that a Qandeel Baloch would not happen in India-at least the Twitter folks would lay off celebrating an honour killing-we should remember that India does worse than Pakistan on the Gender Development Index as well as the Gender Inequality Index.
  • Bhavai is a dance form in Rajasthan as well as a theatre form in Gujarat.
  • According to an OECD Survey in 2014, India has the second highest proportion of people surveyed who said they trusted the national government. Switzerland holds the top rank [which means that the Scandinavian countries rank behind us]. In case you think this is a jabra-fans driven exercise, note that the proportion of people who trusted the government in 2014 was actually a decrease over the proportion recorded in the previous version of the survey in 2007. I guess the idiot media is to blame.
  • I know I have it on the blog about how Hinduism is diverse and allows space for hedonism/ atheism. But it’s also true that this may be the case for other religions, and we are simply not aware. For example, Islam had the Mutazila school that believed in monism-essentially there being no difference between the creators and the created. Sure it faced opposition from the orthodox, but then that’s pretty much their job description.

 Latest edition of how things never change:
  • The Vernacular Press Act sought to impose pre-censorship on the Vernacular Newspapers that were considerably bolder in their criticism of the British government than the English newspapers. It empowered the police to also confiscate the printing materials of the newspapers, if they were found to be publishing seditious things.
  • An educational committee led by Hunter in 1882 suggested that there be a two track education system-the more deserving students get to have a higher secondary and University education, while the not-as-good students get to choose a vocation and have a commercial career.
  • A Raleigh Commission of 1904 also suggested that more time be spent on academics and research in our universities, otherwise known as ‘dens of political activity’.           

Friday, 17 June 2016

In which we establish my Sanghiness

  • There is much wrong with the Mohenjodaro poster, and the movie may be worse (or better). But the worst part is that there is nobody to represent them. I am not trying to defend the cottage industry of ‘hurt sentiments’ but when it came to Jodha Akbar, there WERE people from Rajasthan at least registering protest. The Barber community protested against Billu Barber and the Mochi community against Aaja Nachle. Sikhs were upset at Jo Bole So Nihal, Muslims at Vishwaroopam and Hindus at PK. But there is literally no one to take up the cudgels, file random FIRs, burn posters or block screenings, on behalf of the Harappans.
  • Okay my feelings just turned from outrage to grudging admiration. Well played Ashutosh Gowariker.
  • My second favourite Indian empire after the Mughals (because I have those now) is the Mauryas. Emperor Ashoka, who I have rhapsodised about before, is not the only reason. They also had India’s favourite economist-policy maker, Chanakya. Even Subramaniam Swamy loves him, I suspect, because apart from being suitably ‘mentally Indian’, he was three-quarters Raghuram Rajan, one-quarter Amit Shah with a dash of Arun Jaitley.
  • A recent scientific study (using DNA samples, no less) pointed to the Guptas as being the period when endogamy within a caste began to be followed (though the caste system as such preceded the Guptas). It was also the period when the Vaishyas and Shudras rebelled against the slavery imposed on them. This was the precise point when the wise Brahmanas declared the beginning of the Kali-yug, i.e., the period of most depraved human values. We just call them anti-national now.
  • The obsession with #Ease-of-Doing-Business did not start with 2014. That happened in 1608 when Jahangir started handing out rights to the British to set up ‘factories’ first along the West coast and then all over India.
  • If you go to the Gaekwad’s palace in Baroda, you get to hear the audio recording of one of the princes whining about how their house was so big that the coffee would go cold before the servant could lug it up to his room. #Upping-the-ante-on-urban-poverty.
  • Turns out such a sense of entitlement will also make you intensely unpopular among your subjects. The revolt of the Wagheras of Baroda, was a rare case of opposition to the own ruler (Gaekwads) that took place in the pre-1857 period. In contrast, in most cases people supported their rulers (despots they may be) in revolting against the British.
  • Did you know that Hinduism (or Brahmanism more precisely) derived its practice of idol worship from Buddhism? Till the point I read about it, I was quite sure that Buddhism did not sanction idol worship. This could be reflective of how badly we were taught anything in school but also of how little attention I paid, while there. [Let me know if you thought so too, then we will know who to blame].
  • Hinduism is a most interesting religion. In fact I am inclined to believe that it’s not a religion at all. At the risk of sounding Sanghi, it does seem like a way of life. How else do you explain schools of thought within Hinduism that tell you to not believe all the balderdash about karma or rituals and enjoy life (even if you have to borrow ghee to do so)?
  • We have been discussing marital rape for more than a century now, and the terms of the debate are not radically different. In 1891 the Parliament introduced legislation to increase the age of consent from 10 years to 12 years for women female children. (Of course as long as she was older than 12 and married, her consent or lack thereof did not matter). This was after the reported death of an 11 year old when her husband forced himself on her. Tilak opposed the law. Clearly Swarajya was a birth-right only for a few.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Of Mostly Other Stuff

  • Every time I hear the turuturututuru chorus from the Dil toh Paagal Hai music album, I visualise, not Madhuri Dixit and Shah Rukh Khan, but Govinda and Aruna Irani from Haseena Maan Jayegi.
  • The reason I love the Jabra fan song so much is because even though the words sound nonsensical, they perfectly sum up everything about fandom.
  • For example, if you have been a fan of anyone (jabra or not) you would know how ‘tujhe dekhte hi dil mein dhan te nan ho gaya’ has deep meaning.
  • Once a friend thought Benedict Cumberbatch looked like a 16 year old school girl. You bet I got touch-y.
  • Also yes, uski aankhon ki garmi mein sar se paon tak tan hona is a thing.
  • Epiphany of the week: Marketers have a very high capacity to bullshit. How else do you explain a razor brand calling itself Mach 3 when some of our satellite launch vehicles are unable to (and are not required to) reach those supersonic speeds?
  • On VK Singh’s proposal to rename Akbar road to Maharana Pratap Road, I feel like an 80s Bollywood heroine who has been separated from her boyfriend by her parents because he is poor/ off-spring of sworn enemies/a creep who sexually harassed her into dating him. Uska naam signage se toh mita doge, dil se kaise mitaoge?
  • Oh wait, the text-book editing may help.
  • The Economic Survey says,
Decline in enrolment in government schools and some shift to private schools might be largely related to the poor quality of education offered in government schools, since it is free or offered for a nominal fee [bold italics mine]. 
  • I know it’s only half a line of idiocy (in a government document, no less), and I know this is probably a result of poor editing than an insidious intent to privatise all education (since the author mentions the poor learning outcomes in private schools as well), but if I were idealistic and had an active twitter account, I would outrage about it.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Of News and Other Stuff 13

  • Taking their philosophy of will-do-anything-for-a-fun-acronym further, the Power ministry has recently rehashed a barely year-old scheme to distribute LED bulbs to the poor. The scheme is called Unnat Jyoti Affordable LEDs for All (UJALA).
  • I think allegations that the current PM micro-manages everything are false. Because then he would know that he had just launched the PM Ujjwal Yojana to provide LPG connections to poor women, besides an Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) last year. 
  • Giving credit where it’s due, this bureaucratic (or prime ministerial) doggedness in naming schemes has led to a really pretty (for lack of a better word) name for India’s version of GPS--NAVIC or Navigation with Indian Constellation.
  • Pratap Bhanu Mehta puts the visadenial issue in perspective. While others have been talking about how it shows up our weaknesses to deny the visa on technical grounds, after first having granted it, he asks whether we should use our visa granting policy as a tool of foreign policy at all. Especially since a visa for a conference is essentially a ‘visa for ideas’ and all ideas should be welcome in a liberal democracy.
  • There is sometimes an odd joy in knowing trivia. The word ‘meander’ has become more lyrical to me since I registered that its etymology has to do with the erosional/ depositional action of rivers.
  • I know that doesn’t sound too lyrical.
  • I am ditching the use of the word ‘bhakt’. I will henceforth call them ‘jabra fan’. Just because.
  • I realised recently, how these days we are doing a stellar job of sticking to the fundamental duties given in the Constitution. I wish I could say these were the sole preserve of Jabra fans but political leanings don't determine IQ.

Fundamental Duty
How we see it
Abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions
Demand beef ban, as per the DPSP
Respect the national flag and the national anthem
First heckle and abuse people who don’t stand up during the anthem that plays out before movies.
Then initiate Twitter discussions on whether Vande Mataram would not have been a more appropriate choice for the anthem.
Follow the ideals that inspired the freedom struggle
Call for a ban on Bipan Chandra’s India’s Struggle for Independence for #Insultingourfreedomfighters without knowing who Surya Sen was.
Uphold the national sovereignty and integrity of the country
Hate people from JNU/ JU/ HCU
Defend the country and perform national service when called upon to do so
Uninstall the Snapdeal app because Aamir Khan voiced an opinion
Inculcate a spirit of enquiry, scientific temper and humanism
‘I failed because she mixed menstrual blood in my food.’
Promote harmony and spirit of common brotherhood among all people of India disregarding religious, linguistic and regional differences.
Preserve India’s composite culture.
Renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women
Oppose criminalising marital rape because #marriageisasacrament #whathappensinthebedroomstaysin thebedroom
Protect the environment
Call out the anti-Hindu conspiracy behind people opposing a private party being held on a precarious river-bank
Abjure violence and destruction of public property
Much Lolz
Ensure provision of opportunities for education for 6-14 year olds
Wants RTE to be repealed because “those madrassas” are exempt
Strive towards excellence in individual and collective activity
Yeah, I should probably get back to studying

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Of News and Other Stuff-12

  • Maharashtra is trying to enact a law to ban social boycott of individuals by caste panchayats. Apparently they have previously banned superstition. I am hardly a libertarian, but how are they going to implement this law? Or is that precisely why they are passed? No headache of implementation, with all the positive press.
  • Pratap Bhanu Mehta, when willing himself to be comprehensible, is brilliant (yes, I used that word). Here he defends judicial over-reach calling it the ‘jurisprudence of exasperation’. 
  • Economic theory, as you know it,may soon be extinct. At least that’s what I am telling the well-meaning relatives/ family friends who insist I do a PhD.
  • The problem with being a social science student (and economics at that) is that you assume the worst about people. When I heard about the Yellow Sea to the east of China, my first reaction was to assume that this was an act of racism by the British. Turns out, the sea actually looks yellow (in colour) due to its sand and silt deposition.
  • I think I have regressed as a writer. I was reading an answer I wrote in college on the variance in regional experience of human development in India. If I had to describe it in one word, I would call it ‘strident’. Somehow I can never command that much feeling in anything I write now, leave alone an examination answer (not saying it was a good answer-it wasn’t).
  • Krugman calls himself an SOB. Student of Bhagwati.
  • Have you ever wondered why leftists refer to MNCs as ‘transnational corporations’? Bhagwati explains:
My favourite example [of the importance of the use of suitable phraseology] from economics is the business schools’ preferred use of the word “multinationals, nudging your subconscious in the direction of multilateralism and hence evoking the image of a benign institution, and the radicals’ insistence on calling these international corporations “transnationals”, strongly suggesting transgression.
  • Hence Bhagwati does not refer to growth-led poverty alleviation as ‘trickle-down’ but as the strategy of ‘pulling up’ the poor.
  • If you read some of Bhagwati’s older scholarly writings (and not his invective filled newspaper columns), it is remarkable how his position sounds so much like Sen’s. Before the 2014 general elections, when the two were having a public spat on the right strategy of poverty alleviation (nerds!), neutral commenters, called it a question of sequencing-i.e. what should come first-growth or redistribution. But Bhagwati is not even that radical (or conservative, depending on your world-view). He insists that growth is the principal instrument of poverty alleviation (as opposed to Sen who says it is important, but not adequate in itself), but also that there need to be institutions to ensure that growth have a pro-poor bias.
  • May be I just want the two old men to get along.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Of News and Other Stuff-11

·         I think right wing trolls have a point-Indians are intent on forgetting their (Hindu) roots, sometimes to their detriment. I refer of course to the punar-janam genre of movies. Punar-janam (rebirth) is a belief in Hinduism in which karma (actions) determines what we become in our next life.  Admittedly, there is an icky part to it where they used this as a justification for caste, but shorn of that, it is a fantastic (in every sense of the word) plot device. You would think more film-makers would milk it given that you already have a buy-in from a majority of your audience. Yet it’s been 25 years since Karan Arjun. [There were the shoddy Love Story 2050 and Karzzz in the interim but they don’t count]. A new age punar-janam movie will have to of course star Ranveer Singh. Can’t think of an actress could pull this off with conviction though.
·         A Croatian has developed an electric supercar. That is the second thing I have ever heard about Croatia.
·         In the budget, the FM announced an income tax declaration scheme that allows people to (belatedly) declare their true income and pay a penalty of 7.5% (besides a 30% tax and a 7.5% Krishi Kalyan cess) on this amount. It however excludes those already under the scrutiny of the tax department from availing of the scheme. Important people from 2 of the ‘Big Four’ accounting companies, see this as unnecessarily excluding people with high income who have been picked up for scrutiny mechanically (some proportion of returns are picked up every year for closer scrutiny as a matter of routine). I may be missing something (likely, given how I know nothing about taxation), but this seems like an incredibly stupid thing to say. If I got picked up as a matter of routine, but I have undeclared income, I am obviously going to want to turn my black money, white the legal way. It is the income tax department’s good fortune that they picked up the right person. Why should they let me get away by paying 45% only when they can presumably take me to the cleaners?          
·         Now some devious foreign agents are making films where seditious Indians are shown disrespecting our mahaan currency. What do you do with this bunch? [Answer: ban their films].        
·         I don’t get the bellyaching about the Pragati Maidan building. It was built to serve a purpose-if it doesn’t serve that many more, and the government wants to raze it for a modern, bigger structure, I absolutely see no problem with that. Really, it’s not even that pretty.  Or old.
·         Why are educated, urban, English speaking people working in the print media now resorting to polarising rhetoric? I admit, I never like anything R Jaganathan writes but this seems to make a broadly inoffensive (even welcome) point- a ‘Hinduism Lite’ needs to be developed to engage more people. Yet he decides to raise the bogey of ‘Hinduphobia’ (which is a downright stupid construction in a Hindu majority country) to explain his idea. To him, the environment is an excuse used by the ‘anti-Hindu lobby’ to oppose the AoL Wold Culture Festival. Firstly, that’s not the benign way in which Islamophobia [which inspires the term ‘Hindu-phobia’] plays out. Secondly you don’t have to hate any religion to be wary of self-anointed Godmen or oppose what seems like a misuse of resources (the Army), arbitrary application of rules (with the NGT not staying the festival because it was ‘too late in the day’), and perceived impunity with which rules were flouted (with ‘Sri Sri’ refusing to pay a ‘fine’).
·         The Tea Board of India is targeting some specific export markets encapsulated by the term ‘KRUCIAL’-Kazakhastan, Russia, US, China, Iran, Arab Republic of Egypt and Latin America. Is anyone else worried that they might just be targeting the wrong markets, in pursuit of the fun acronym? [The laborious use of ‘Arab Republic’ is a source of comfort].

Sunday, 14 February 2016

S. Chandrashekhar on Patriotism

Oh, I knew him [CV Raman] moderately well, but not really as well as one would think. His role essentially was to bring my attention to science. Of course, you see, the general sentiment in India at that time was quite curious. I mean, of course, it was the time when Nehru and Gandhi and others were active in politics; and like all young men, I was also very involved in that. And it was also a time when India was very proud of its men. For example, I knew about (Srinivasa) Ramanujan and his life, and that he became the first Indian to become a Fellow of the Royal Society (in 1918).  
It was all very much in the air, and of course, we were - i.e., all young students - all very proud of men like Nehru and Gandhi. It was a part of the patriotism of those times to try and see what Indians could accomplish with respect to the external world. Accomplishment in science was one way of expressing what Indians could do, you see. And I would say that this motive was present. Patriotism is a word which is not a very popular one to use these days; but Patriotism, as it was understood in India in the twenties, was one in which it was a part of everyone's wish to show that Indians could be accomplished, in a way which the outside world can recognize. To accomplish in science, to show what one could do in science, was a part of my feeling. And certainly that was one of the early motives that I had. But of course, motives in science change as you grow older. I mean, that attitude towards science is not present in me at the present time, but it was present in those days. [Bold italics mine].

S Chandrashekhar became a naturalised US citizen, and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 for his work on the Chandrashekhar Limit. One of NASA's four Great Observatories [the Chandra X Ray Observatory] is named after him.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Tagore on Nationalism

Where The Mind Is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

The Sunset of the Century

The Last Sun of the century sets amidst the blood-red clouds of the West and the whirlwind of hatred.
The naked passion of self-love of Nations, in its drunken delirium of greed, is
dancing to the clash of steel and the howling verses of vengeance.
The hungry self of the Nation shall burst in a violence of fury from its own shameless feeding.
For it has made the world its food,
And licking it, crunching it, and swallowing it in big morsels,
It swells and swells
Till in the midst of its unholy feast descends the sudden heaven piercing its
heart of grossness.

The crimson glow of light on the horizon is not the light of thy dawn of peace,
my Motherland.
It is the glimmer of the funeral pyre burning to ashes the vast flesh, - the self-love of the Nation, - dead under its own excess.
Thy morning waits behind the patient dark of the East,
Meek and silent.

Keep watch, India.
Bring your offerings of worship for that sacred sunrise.
Let the first hymn of its welcome sound in your voice, and sing,
'Come, Peace, thou daughter of God's own great suffering.
Come with thy treasure of contentment, the sword of fortitude,
And meekness crowning thy forehead.'
Be not ashamed, my brothers, to stand before the proud and the powerful
With your white robe of simpleness.
Let your crown be of humility, your freedom the freedom of the soul.
Build God's throne daily upon the ample bareness of your poverty
And know that what is huge is not great and pride is not everlasting.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Of News and Other Stuff-22*

  • Economics reporting in India (at least in the generalist newspapers) is quite poor. I am not still talking about the lack of op-eds here. I am talking about vanilla reporting. For example the Indian Express and the Hindu both reported that Raghuram Rajan expressed skepticism about the new GDP series. What he said was, that if two mothers baby sit each others' kids, and pay each other, their wage gets added to the GDP. If they cared for their respective kids, the same activity would not be considered as a 'market good' and would be excluded from the GDP numbers. This is, quite obviously, a problem with the concept of GDP calculation itself, not a criticism of a particular methodology to get there. Similarly, Rajan has reportedly said that having a state backed Asset Recovery Company would cause moral hazard. The Indian Express in its edit on 2 Feb, explains this as the unfairness of taxpayers taking the hit for corporate wrongdoing and lack of banking sector due diligence. But more precisely, moral hazard is the situation where the corporate/ banking sector, expecting to be bailed out when in trouble, does not take adequate action to avert the trouble.
  • KN Raj was 26 years old when he co-authored the first Five Year Plan. How does that make you feel, you bunch of millenials?
  • I am generally quite proud of the lack of extreme religiosity in my family, and most of the Bengali community I know. But even I am uncomfortable about how my mom's philosophy of performing Saraswati Puja is to wing it. 
  • Amartya Sen is an almost disappointing public speaker. But maybe I would be really disinterested too if my all-adult audience did not know that it was polite to keep their phones on silent during lectures. [I also want to snark about the not-too bright person who introduced him, but since I don't even know his name, I will leave him alone]. 
  • You could be a Bharat Ratna and a Nobel laureate, the writer of multiple books, and really, really smart, but you will still fail in the Bengali popularity sweepstakes to Sourav Ganguly and Subhas Bose. Because you and your Bengali wife got a divorce and then you moved on. 
  • No I did not forget to mention Tagore. Just that nobody beats Gurudev at anything. (Incidentally Tagore christened Sen).
  • Did you know there many Bengalis keep a photo of Tagore hanging on the wall? Like the Gandhi picture in government offices. I think I spotted in Piku's sets as well, though I am not completely certain.
*Because I figured you are not keeping track of the post numbers anyway.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Ditching the Washington Consensus?

Pulapre Balakrishnan and Ila Patnaik take opposing views on how to revive the economy. He advises revving up public investment, she says-follow easy monetary and tight fiscal policy.

Who is (more) right?

Both focus on the need to increase private investment. This is backed by the mid year economic review that shows that its contribution to GDP growth has been muted in FY 2015 and 2016 compared to the period from 2004-11.

Theoretically either method could work. If we assume the flexible accelerator model of investment, producers are looking to reach a certain 'desired capital stock'. Higher the expected GDP of the economy, higher would be the desired capital stock, because of higher likelihood of output produced being sold. Producers will typically adjust slowly to this desired level of capital. How much they add to the capital stock in a given period (that is, investment), depends on the cost of making the investment. This could be rate of interest or regulatory factors (for example, a temporary investment subsidy or tax holiday).
More public investment => producers expect higher demand for their output in the future = increase investment.
Easy monetary policy => lower rate of interest => ability to finance the investment more easily.

Other findings of the mid year economic review:

    • Real consumer credit has picked up while industrial credit has slowed. Note that this slowdown is in spite of the RBI's loosening of money supply.

    • The Review conjectures that stressed balance sheets have caused corporates to go slow on investment. Interest cover-i.e. the ratio of earnings to interest payments have been on the decline. Profit after tax between FY15 and FY14 also dipped slightly.
Both above facts make it difficult to understand how a (further) lower interest rate in isolation will help increase investment. This is because-
1. If the RBI already reducing rates has not helped increase investment, while consumer credit has picked up, this is possibly due to a lack of credit demand from the corporate sector.
2. If the balance sheets already stressed, reducing interest rates henceforth does not help the past issues.

[The government is planning to ask the RBI to change NPA classifying norms such that projects that have more than 2 years of delay (currently classified as NPA) not be classified as NPA if the delay is not due to the fault of the promoter. Similarly, they are asking that banks be allowed to provide additional funds to promoters to meet cost overrun on projects, even if the overrun is greater than 10% of the initial cost (10% being the current limit for such additional support, at present).]

Hence, stepping up public investment so that it boosts profit expectations more likely to help in activating 'animal spirits'.


  • It is possible that increasing investment only props up the desired capital, and not the yearly investment which is more sorely needed.
  • In that case, temporary investment incentives may be given, announcing clearly that these incentives will not be available, say three years hence. Businesses likely to want to take advantage of these incentives then.
  • More public investment does mean higher rate of interest, thus dulling the ability of the private sector to invest. So Patnaik right about the undesirability of 'tight' monetary and easy fiscal policy. 
  • The Mid year Review seems to suggest that the RBI should not stick to its avowals of reaching the set CPI inflation target and possibly follow easy monetary policy. But then why go to the trouble to announce inflation targeting as the goal of monetary policy and sign an RBI-government agreement  'guaranteeing the same', if you backtrack at the first hint of trouble? But then this is the classic discretion versus rule based monetary policy dilemma.
  • More public investment likely to worsen the fiscal deficit and the debt to GDP ratio. Already the 10 year G sec yield exceeds the nominal GDP growth. Balakrishna says rejigging the public finance- away from unproductive subsidies to productive investment and raising more funds through disinvestment may help reconcile the two objectives of growth revival and fiscal consolidation. 
  • I bet you are now smirking at how welfare subsidies are a waste while subsidies for investment are seen as incentives [hence not a waste].  
  • Arun Maira takes the easy way out by plumping for institutional change and nice alliterations.
  • I am now beginning to wonder whether the call for reducing non-merit or unproductive subsidies is also an easy way out...given that you can pretty much expect that the government will never follow through on that. [The reduction in the LPG subsidy has been an exception, but then that too will not affect a large part of the voter base].

Monday, 25 January 2016

Five Ways in which India changed the World

Every time someone needs to extol India’s virtues-be it the PM at his galas for the diaspora in different countries, the FM, while pleading for FDI at different fora abroad, or sundry political and business leaders or foreign diplomats while making domestic speeches-they have to rely on some stock phrases. Largest democracy in the world, diverse, emerging economic behemoth, global bright spot, young, are some. For the more imaginative, Lord Ganesha is held up as proof of India’s prowess in cosmetic surgery and the Pushpak Vimana as our contribution to aeronautics.  On the eve of our 66th Republic Day, I am guessing we will have to hear more of the same. So I have helpfully compiled a list of five of India’s contributions to the world which I haven’t seen being used in public discourse before.

[I would add in a disclaimer about tongues being in cheeks, or taking stuff with pinches of salt, but that goes without saying in a country where scientific conferences point to Lord Shiva as an environmentalist.]

We invented the concept of ‘soft power’. (Or it could have been Egypt.)
Much before McDonalds’ and KFC, Ashoka pointed out that it was better to win people and territory over through ideas than through the coercion of war. [There might have a Egyptian king called Akhnaton before him who said that too, but Ashoka could not have known that]. Of course, our soft power was in Buddhism and peace. The Americans exported obesity and reality TV.

We made the USA.
Bengal, that Communist fiefdom for more than 30 years, played a crucial part in the making of the flagbearer of all things capitalist, the United States of America.
Between 1756 and 1763 the French and the British were fighting the Seven Years’ War for control over more colonies across the world. Some part of this was being played out in India as well as the two battled it out mostly in South India. The British won, largely due to the resources they were able to command from Bengal after 1757, when they used supreme levels of skulduggery to beat Siraj-ud-daulah.
Winning in India, no doubt contributed to the overall win over the French. It also led the British to demand that the American colonists pay them ‘rent’ for the land they were using in America, since it was after all the British government that won it for them. Subsequently, the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act led the colonists to get weary of cheapo Britain fight the American War of Independence in 1776 and establish the United States of America. And who should they thank for it? The nice, self-effacing Bengalis.

The French revolution, you ask? All us.
Incidentally, the Colonists in their War of Independence were being supported by the French, who in a close approximation of cutting off your nose to spite your face, managed to bankrupt themselves in the process. This in turn caused the French revolution. [Aside:  I think Bengal should let Odisha claim the roshogolla. Since they you know, helped create the modern world, as we know it today.]

The industrial revolution was our idea.
We have all heard of how British merchants coerced India to sell (cotton) cheap and buy (final goods) dear, leading to ‘primary accumulation’ of capital that allowed the industrial revolution to take place. But we may have had a more important to play-essentially, by creating a market for cotton textiles in the first place. The British capitalists piled on, realising that there was a ready market they could serve, if they could only displace the market leaders.  This was hardly going to be difficult given their political control over India-imagine Steve Jobs as the majority shareholder in Nokia. But they went about it the civilised way first-by raising tariffs on Indian goods. By 1813, they were able to pressurise their government to end the monopoly of the East India Company in India, and subsequently flood the Indian markets with cheaper machine made goods. Interestingly, they also tried to increase the uptake of British goods in India by bringing in English education and Christian missionaries.

Maybe the firang love for FabIndia is their way to atone for the past.

Desi kids, your childhood dynamic with your friends/ siblings is the model of international diplomacy/ belligerence
North Korea is claiming that it has tested its first hydrogen bomb. In retaliation South Korea is broadcasting criticism against the North Korean government through loudspeakers on the border. North Korea is returning that in kind. It’s basically like when you were five and cheated in kho-kho and then somebody called you a cheater-cock and you got back by saying “no ji, jo bolta hai wahi hota hai”. 
Have you heard of China's frenzied island re-claiming activity in South China Sea? You, with your spitting-lightly-over-the-chocolate-before-the-blasted-sibling-can-make-a-claim behaviour, inspired it.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Of News and Other Stuff-9

If there are two things I am extremely suspicious of (apart from displays of extreme religiosity--in my limited experience, the car with a 'Jai Bajrang Bali' bumper sticker is mostly likely to be driven by a lech), they are international agencies and conferences.  So I will admit that I have an inbuilt bias against the World Economic Forum which is a combination of both. Their mission statement confirms my worst fears:
The World Economic Forum, committed to improving the state of the world, is the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.The Forum engages the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.It was established in 1971 as a not-for-profit foundation and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. It is independent, impartial and not tied to any special interests. The Forum strives in all its efforts to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest while upholding the highest standards of governance. Moral and intellectual integrity is at the heart of everything it does.Our activities are shaped by a unique institutional culture founded on the stakeholder theory, which asserts that an organization is accountable to all parts of society. The institution carefully blends and balances the best of many kinds of organizations, from both the public and private sectors, international organizations and academic institutions.We believe that progress happens by bringing together people from all walks of life who have the drive and the influence to make positive change.
 [The bold italics above are mine, and basically represent the stock BS phrases I have learnt to be very wary about.]
There also some other FAQs, their website answers:

  1. Why does our work matter? Short answer: It doesn't. Long answer here.
  2. What makes us unique? Short answer: a seemingly unashamed backing of crony capitalism. Long answer here.
  3. How do we do our work? Short answer: We sit around and chat. A lot. Long answer.
  4. What are our focus areas? Short answer: Do you still care? Long answer here.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Krugman's 2007 essay on Milton Friedman shows us what we are missing in India- economists who can communicate ideas about economics to non-economists in a manner that is not dead boring to the latter. Amartya Sen writes beautifully and simply but rarely, and when he does, he is basically angsting about the lack of government expenditure in health care and education (not that, that's not worth angsting about, I hasten to add). Jean Dreze primarily writes about the Food Security Act or poverty talking more in terms of policy than economics. And then there are these bunch of people (Surjit Bhalla, NIPFP professors, chief economists for random banks or their underpaid, uncredited subordinates) who write on issues that can only be lumped under economics (inflation and investment and manufacturing growth and other things regular people don't give a shit about) but they never talk about economic theory, always focusing on the dal-chawal issues, to  harangue the RBI or the government about policy rates or Make in India or the fiscal deficit.  Subir Gokarn is a sometimes-exception. Having read a collection of old columns by Kaushik Basu however, I vote for him to start writing for newspapers again. 

Friday, 8 January 2016

Of News and Other Stuff (Links mostly)

Apparently Piketty and I agree on how much economists know about anything...almost nothing.

Also you call yourself a science? Compared to this stuff, economics is pure hokum.

And it's scary given how much economics influences policy. Like after months of study, and deliberation, the whole idea of the RBI targeting the CPI is turning out to be not that great. And that's in spite of their success in achieving the target. Essentially, while the CPI inflation turned out to near target levels, such that the returns on savings for consumers is attractive, the negative WPI has meant that the borrowing cost of investment [nominal rate of interest minus (minus WPI inflation)] is too high. Lower borrowing means lower investment which means lower real growth. So the projected tax revenues, calculated on an assumed growth rate cannot be met. More so, because the projection is based on the nominal growth rate, which a priori is expected to be higher than the real growth rate. This turns out to be wrong however, when inflation rates (that is the WPI or the GDP deflator-which in turn reflects the WPI more closely than the CPI) are low or negative.

Ila Patnaik argues  that the conversation about inflation targeting is misplaced. Whether it is the WPI or the CPI, the government should concentrate on keeping inflation low (which will more likely be missed if the fiscal deficit is high). Hence she roots for a mix of easy monetary and tight fiscal policy, where the fiscal policy, instead of the monetary policy directly attacks inflation. The reverse-where the there is a easy fiscal and tight monetary policy is not the best option because higher government spending could crowd out private investment if it raises rates of interest-in this case a tight monetary policy will aggravate things further. In India, such a policy is defended on the grounds that monetary policy transmits only weakly while government spending increases aggregate demand immediately. Patnaik argues that government expenditure is often allocated, but the spending takes place only with a lag. Moreover private companies already have stressed loans they have to repay, so it is unwise to burden them more with a tight monetary policy.