Archive for April, 2019

The 1930 Peshawar Mutiny …

Posted on April 27, 2019. Filed under: Regimental |

Gen KM Bhimaya –

 I have not read Gen Palit’s biography of Gen Rudra, but I had two opportunities to engage the Grand Old Man in conversation. He was very guarded in his reference to Peshawar 1930.

I also faintly remember to have read another connection between General Rudra and Peshawar incident, in which the General was referred to as “Jick Rudra.”

I do not have a shadow of doubt about Gen Rudra’s statements, provided it has been correctly recorded by Gen Palit whose writings, however, are controversial.

Notwithstanding the above, we have to recognize the following facts:

  • The following comprised the Court of Inquiry – President: Maj Gen C. Kirkpatrick, C.B., C.B.E., Commander Kohat  Brigade
  • Members:  Lt Col King. 10/1 Punjab; Lt Col  A.H. Radford 10/13 FF. Lt Col L.M. Heath C.I.E, MC  1/11 SIKH —- DATE – 28th April 1930 to 7th May 1930.               

There were many confidential follow-up inquiries that were carried out by the Battalion as well as the local formation.

Notable, among them were the inquiries conducted, at the instance of the British by Gen Jick Rudra, and Lt Col G.R. Mainwaring who assumed command immediately after the previous CO was removed.

I have already summarized the account by Lt Col Mainwaring in one of the Garhwali Journals and have quoted relevant primary evidence supporting my inferences.

Lt Col Mainwaring was largely responsible to restore the dignity and reputation of the Battalion.

The iconic Hony Capt Nain Singh Chinwan OBI, MC also visited the Battalion to boost its morale. He was Sub Maj of the 2/39th for five consecutive years in France and elsewhere.

By the way, Lt Col Heath was GOC III Corps in Malaya during the British capitulation and was responsible to raise the combined 2/18 and 5/18 as 18 Royal Garhwal Rifles (Malaya), instead of mixing the Garhwali draft and remnants into a mixed Battalion.

I am sensitive to the fact that Peshawar incident is an emotional focal point among Garhwalis, but we have to recognize and respect documented facts, not runaway myths.


A. The troops were not briefed properly; they were confused whether to open fire in self-defense, or whether they should await orders from an officer; Capt Ricketts, MC was badly wounded;

B. per, Lt Col Mainwaring, this officer was away from the Regiment for a long duration and his statement about the conduct of troops did not represent the facts;

C. The DG police, Mr. Isomenger’s statement about the conduct of our troops was highly subjective: his anger as to why the Garhwalis were not infuriated when Capt Ricketts was wounded misread the Garhwali psyche:

D. the Garhwali needs a real enemy to fight and was confused about how to resist a violent and partially armed crowd, particularly when they had been repeatedly told not to open fire unless ordered by an officer.

E. Subsequent inquiries within the Battalion revealed that Havs Chandar Singh Bhandari and Narain Singh Gusain had been attending meeting organized by Arya Samajis in Peshawar.

F. One senior JCO of A Coy was disgruntled for unspecified reasons and his discontent was aggravated by the punishment meted out to him by the Commanding Officer for dereliction of duties, the previous day. Eventually, he opted for premature retirement.

G. The disaffection and insubordination was confined to two platoons of A Coy, and the rest of the Battalion complied with lawful commands.

It transpires that the then- CQMH Chandar Singh Bhandari was given a minor punishment, as was the Senior JCO of A Coy.

At the end of the GCM, however, when it was established that Hav Narain Singh Gusian and CQMH Chandar Singh Bhandari were the ringleaders who encouraged some OR to sign the mass request to be sent on premature retirement, the CQMH was given stiffer punishment than before – penal servitude for life.

Eventually, because of political pressure, notably from some British MPs in Parliament, all of the convicted except two were released before 1937. CQMH Chandar Singh Bhandari was released in or about 1940.

None of them had to undergo penal servitude. The convicted NCOs and OR were incarcerated  within the shores of India: Attock, Bareilly etc., not in the  Andamans, as is generally believed.

The collateral damage had been done, however: About 39 OR were summarily dismissed under the orders of the Brigade Commander!

Field Marshal Chetwode, the then-C-in-C India, played a major part in hastening the release of the convicted OR before completion of their respective sentences.


CQMH Chandar Singh Bhandari was nowhere near the scene of action. Therefore, there was no question of his countermanding Rickett’s orders, or inciting the men not to fire.

In fact Jemadar Luthi Singh IOM, did fire to snatch his revolver back from some violent members of the crowd.

The langar gap that the Sardars at the GOs (Garhwali Officers) mess had decided not to fire on unarmed, agitating crowd was making rounds. This was untrue.

I am prepared to review Gen Palit’s narrative, provided it is substantiated by documentary proof. Oral history is interesting, but seldom accurate.

I will be glad to continue with the discussion, if there is interest.

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Road trod by all Tyrants …

Posted on April 26, 2019. Filed under: Books |

Book Review by Pramod K Nayar who teaches at the University of Hyderabad – Courtesy The Wire

Stephen Greenblatt, Pulitzer winner and Harvard professor, returns to his oldest hunting ground in a highly readable account of the Shakespeare’s most enduring theme: Power.

But, and this is the catch, it is not (just) a Shakespeare book. It is a book about our times: its totalitarian regimes, its demagogues, its dictators and, horrifyingly, its democratically elected tyrants. 

The case Greenblatt makes for tyranny is emphatically not restricted to Henry VI, Richard III, Lear, Macbeth, Leontes – the ostensible subjects of his study, but can be applied to the people who occupy positions of power, institutional, state, corporate.

Greenblatt begins with Henry VI (Part II), where he shows how a perceived weakness at the centre of a state enables a less-than-able person to occupy the throne, and acquire the power that comes with it. 

Chaos is also engineered – there is always the bogeyman of ‘national security’ – so that what Greenblatt calls ‘fraudulent populism’ drives the successful bid for the throne. The leader-in-waiting has only contempt for the underclass: ‘he despises them, hates the smell of their breath, fears that they carry diseases, and regards them as fickle, stupid, worthless, and stupid’ but ‘they can be made to further his ambitions’. 

Appeals to various segments of the society with promises of their welfare if elected, but underwritten by contempt and issuance of threats, are instances Greenblatt’s analysis of Shakespeare directs us to, and from our own time.  

There is a promise, in one case, Greenblatt says, to ‘make England great again’ and appeals made to the people on the basis of parochially inflected jingoism about ‘us’ and ‘them’.

It is the break down of basic values – respect for order, civility, and human decency – that enables a tyrant to capture power. 

But Greenblatt shows how political propaganda in terms that would have ‘provoked charges of treason’ and outrage at some point in the past – hate speech, exclusionary and discriminatory language, unverifiable accusations, implied threats from within, the attack on established national values enshrined in the constitution – become acceptable as a build up to the demagogue’s ascent.

In another case Greenblatt maps the psychological make up of tyrants: ‘barking orders’, ‘has no natural grace, no sense of shared humanity, no decency’, and ‘the feelings of others mean nothing to him’. 

A tyrant divides the world into winners and losers alone. More worryingly, Greenblatt notes, ‘the public good is something only losers like to talk about’, and what a tyrant likes to talk about is only winning. 

In an age when the public good has been subsumed under the target of corporate good (and corporate greed), and anybody defending the former is a ‘loser’ (read: liberals!), we understand Richard III, the immediate subject of analysis. Such tyrants are supported and encouraged by ‘enablers’.

First, there are those who cannot accept and see the tyrant for what he is and what he will do to the nation: ‘they have a strange penchant for forgetting … just how awful he is… they are drawn irresistibly to normalise what is not normal’. 

Then there are those who feel ‘frightened and impotent in the face of bullying and the menace of violence’. Then there is a group that hopes to benefit from the rise of the tyrant. Finally, there is a crowd that simply carries out orders, ‘hoping to seize something along the way for themselves, still others enjoying the cruel game of making his targets … suffer and die’. 

Greenblatt makes it clear that all these are persistent ‘types’, and each one, in their own way is complicit with the tyrant. This is lived experience, transformed into theatre, emphasises Greenblatt.

But uneasy lies the head that wears the undeserving crown – the tyrant having reached his goal is solely obsessed with loyalty and suspects everybody around him, there is growing fear and frustration at not being able to keep the confidence of his ‘trusted’ people. 

He only seeks ‘flattery, confirmation, and obedience’. Naturally, there is no appeal to the general populace, who never count in his scheme of things: he only seeks to secure his position, further.

When signs and portents – or accusations, dissent, public opinion – appear, finally, the tyrant lashes out. He ensures the exit of anybody, from within his party/inner circle, or even his older mentors, through any means. 

In Shakespeare they are killed, of course, as is the case with the Stalins and the Pol Pots, but Greenblatt’s reading allows us to see how even in democracies the former more-moderate comrades and mentors are erased, marginalised, sent away. 

Those with a vestige of self-reflexivity – a rare thing in any tyrant – discover what they have brought upon themselves. 

Greenblatt cites Macbeth as an instance here, and his ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ soliloquy.

When the tyrant makes absurd promises or indulges in crazy rituals or unwarranted exercise of power, few recognise them as a deteriorating mind and personality, evidenced for Greenblatt in Lear’s actions that precipitate the crisis in the kingdom eventually. 

As Greenblatt argues, even in systems with ‘multiple moderating institutions, the chief executive almost always has considerable power’, but the question is: is he fit to employ it? ‘What if he begins to make decisions that threaten the well-being and security of the realm?’ 

This is a question that resonates throughout history, as Greenblatt makes clear. Those who object are summarily dismissed, counter-opinions are discounted. Those who stay silent, are complicit and commit the wrong  with the tyrant (Gandhi is reported to have said, ‘I serve the empire by not partaking in its wrong’).

Greenblatt explores resistance, such as it is, from courtiers, insiders, and well-wishers of the realm, but acknowledges that it is hard to fight a tyrant. 

However, there are unlikely possibles: such as the very minor servant who says ‘hold your hand, my lord’ when Cornwall is about to gouge out Gloucestor’s eye in King Lear. Then there is a courtier’s wife, Paulina, who stands up to the tyrant-king, Leontes, in A Winter’s Tale

Greenblatt reads the former as an unforgettable moment when ‘someone in the ruler’s service feels compelled to stop what he is witnessing’. 

Although the common people, ‘easily manipulated by slogans, cowed by threats, or bribed by trivial gifts’ do not resist, ‘tyrannicides are drawn … from the same elite whose members generate the unjust rulers they oppose and eventually kill’. 

But even the small voice of dissent, Greenblatt seems to suggest, is a blow against the tyrant.

Greenblatt gives pride of place to two lines in A Winter’s Tale when Paulina, threatened with death by burning by the king, Leontes, retorts:

It is an heretic that makes the fire, Not she which burns in’t.

Greenblatt calls this ‘some of the most magnificent words of defiance in all of Shakespeare’.

As early as 2016, soon after Donald Trump came to be elected, Greenblatt had formulated a question in a NY Times piece that went astronomically viral:

In the early 1590s, Shakespeare sat down to write a play that addressed a problem: How could a great country wind up being governed by a sociopath?AThis is the book in which he sets out the answers.

More worrying, Greenblatt shows, is the complicity from many sources that enables the tyrant to seize, reinforce and iterate the power endlessly. Look around, says Greenblatt and we see tyrants practise power (but not necessarily authority) over the people they claim to govern and guard. 

They expect loyalty, quash even a minor difference of opinion, are megalomaniacal as they are fed, like tweets, flattery, fake news, rumours and shallow promises by their inner circle, which alone stands to gain. 

In all of this, the public good – after all, as many respected government servants in India declare ‘I don’t care if public money goes waste’ – is not even in shouting distance.

Greenblatt makes Shakespeare speak to us, always a contemporary even to non-fans (I am one) for the relevance and the sheer topicality of his characterisation and plots. 

Pop cultural references might be not be too inappropriate as analogies to Greenblatt’s reading.

Everybody kneels to Loki in The Avengers when he screams, ‘kneel’ at them. After hearing a couple of insults directed at the human race (kneeling to power, says Loki, is ‘the natural state’ of humans), one old man stands up. ‘Not to men like you’, says the old man. ‘There are no men like me’, retorts the supremely arrogant Loki. 

‘There are always men like you’, the old man responds. 

Greenblatt calls attention to such craven obeisance and the minor figures of dissent in a world populated by tyrants, or incipient tyrants. 

The ones who start the fire are the heretics, not the ones who burn in them, Greenblatt asks us to remember this, for ourselves, in a world given to tyrants.

Stephen Greenblatt. Credit: Facebook/Brattleboro Literary Festival

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Forty Yr Old Film on Jesus …

Posted on April 25, 2019. Filed under: Movies |

Excerpted from The Wire – An Article by Philip Almond, emeritus professor in the History of Religious Thought, The University of Queensland.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the release of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The film met with instant controversy in 1979 and was banned in Ireland, Norway and parts of Britain. In the US, protesters gathered outside cinemas where it aired.

Life of Brian tells the story of Brian of Nazareth (played by Graham Chapman), who is born on the same day as Jesus of Nazareth. After joining a Jewish, anti-Roman terrorist group, The People’s Front of Judea, he is mistaken for a prophet and becomes an unwilling Messiah. 

All this eventually produces the film’s most remembered line, courtesy of Brian’s mother Mandy (Terry Jones). “He’s not the Messiah,” she tells us, “he’s a very naughty boy”.

In November 1979, the BBC famously televised a debate between Pythons John Cleese and Michael Palin and two pillars of the Christian establishment, journalist Malcolm Muggeridge and then Bishop of Southwark Mervyn Stockwood. 

Each side totally failed to understand the other. Muggeridge’s point was that Brian was nothing but a “lampooning of Christ”. The Pythons argued this couldn’t be so because Brian was not Jesus. Technically, they were right. Still, this did not satisfy the Bishop, or the film’s many critics.

How does Life of Brian – which is being re-released to mark the anniversary – stand the test of time? 

Watching it today, it seems, as parody goes, it is a pretty gentle, even, respectful sort. Ironically, to be properly offended by it or even to get the joke – then or now – requires a good knowledge of the life of Jesus in the New Testament Gospels.

What of the Church’s complaint that Brian was Jesus and thus the film was sacriligious or even blasphemous? 

There are three places in it where Brian and Jesus are clearly distinguished. Firstly, when the wise men – having worshipped the wrong baby – realise their mistake, they return to the stable to retrieve their gifts. 

Secondly, Brian is seen in the crowd listening to Jesus deliver the Sermon on the Mount. And in another scene, an ex-leper (Palin) complains to Brian about the loss of his livelihood as a beggar because Jesus has cured him.

Still, Brian is in some sense, “Jesus”. 

For the film relies on both the similarities and differences between the lives of both men. They are both born in stables. They both meet their deaths through crucifixion, although the one ends in Jesus’s resurrection from the dead and the other in Eric Idle’s nihilistic song ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. (“For Life is quite absurd, and Death’s the final word.”) 

The Pythons also make the point that there were many others like Jesus at the time (such as Palin’s really boring prophet) all proclaiming the end of the world was at hand.

Life of Brian was certainly considered blasphemous in 1979 – and the film itself makes references to the absurdity of blasphemy as a crime.

Today, however, blasphemy is no longer on the cultural agenda of the non-Muslim West. 

Christians and others look disapprovingly on Islam’s understanding of blasphemy and the severe punishments meted out for it. 

As a crime, it has been religiously “othered”.

The virtue of the film today is its capacity to offend a whole new generation of viewers for different reasons. It is now more likely to be criticised for breaching the boundaries of “political correctness” around issues of gender, race, class and disability than blasphemy.

It is difficult, for instance, to hear Brian assert his Jewish identity in anti-Semitic terms:

I’m not a Roman, Mum, and I never will be! I’m a Kike! A Yid! A Hebe! A Hook-nose! I’m Kosher, Mum! I’m a Red Sea Pedestrian, and proud of it!

Still, as gender transitioning becomes culturally mainstream, the desire of the revolutionary Stan (Eric Idle) to be a woman, to be called “Loretta” and to have babies, will strike a chord.

And one cannot underestimate the sheer pleasure certain memorable scenes bring: from the misheard Sermon on The Mount – 

“Blessed are the Cheesemakers”) to the sight of Brian rewriting “Romans Go Home” on the palace walls, after a passing Centurion disgusted at Brian’s faulty Latin grammar, forces him to write out the correct protest message 100 times.

Life of Brian is undoubtedly a criticism of the unthinking nature of religious belief, from the perspective of the freedom and authority of the individual. 

In a key scene, Brian tells a crowd they are all individuals. “Yes, we’re all individuals,” the crowd responds.

Then one lonely voice, Dennis, chimes in. “I’m not,”

In this assertion of the freedom of the individual, of the virtue of thinking for yourselves, the film exemplifies modernity. 

As Immanuel Kant put it in 1784, “‘Have the courage to use your own understanding!’ — that is the motto of enlightenment.”

This notion was at the heart of all of Monty Python’s work and is the central message of Life of Brian.

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Short, Sweet Story of the Simple …

Posted on April 25, 2019. Filed under: American Thinkers |

Ronald James Read (1921 – 2014). worked as a gas station attendant and mechanic for 25 years.and then took a part-time janitor job where he worked for 17 years.

He grew up in an impoverished farming household. He walked or hitchhiked four miles daily to high school and was the first high school graduate in his family.

He died bequeathing US $1.2 million to a Library and $4.8 million to a Hospital.

He had amassed a $8 million fortune by investing in stocks, avoiding the stock of companies he did not understand, living very frugally and being a buy and hold investor in blue chip companies.

Surely a Full Life. Brings to mind Duke Ellington’s Quote when his friend Louis Armstrong, passed away, “He was born Poor and died Rich and in between hurt Nobody on the Way” …

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KPS Gill – Meglomaniac …

Posted on April 25, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

By Basant Rath, a 2000-batch Indian Police Service officer who belongs to the Jammu and Kashmir cadre. Extracted from The Wire.

On May 26, 2017, Kanwar Pal Singh Gill died at Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. Of cardiac arrest. 

Exactly 20 years earlier, on May 23 1997, Ajit Singh Sandhu, an Ex Police Officer died on a railway track. He committed suicide. Before he threw himself in front of the Himalayan Queen that morning, he left a note: “It is better to die than live in humiliation.”

Gill was the much-hyped super-cop who led the Punjab police twice during the peak of militancy; Sandhu was the Punjab police officer who took on the challenge of battling Sikh militants in their stronghold in Tarn Taran in 1991 when KPS selected him due his ruthlessness to rule the district as Police Chief.

Under suspension after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) indicted him in two of 16 cases involving serious violations of law, Sandhu had served time in Amritsar jail before he was released on bail in January 1997 following an assault by militants lodged in the prison.

Gill was conferred the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour; Sandhu was decorated twice with the president’s award for gallantry.

By the time Gill retired from the IPS in 1995, the state government of the day, faced with the increasing number of lawsuits against more than 500 police personnel, had set up a separate litigation wing under an inspector general (IG). 

By May 1997, 1,100 petitions were filed in different courts. Twelve hundred cases were registered against police officials. In the aftermath of Gill’s ‘war on terror’, the Punjab police was facing 85 CBI and 91 judicial probes. 

Thirty policemen were in jail, around 100 were out on bail and 140, including seven SPs, were facing prosecution. The CBI, on the direction of the National Human Rights Commission, was also probing 2,000 cases involving partially identified or unidentified bodies and mass cremations and disappearances from police custody. 

In those two years alone, the state government had to shell out as much as Rs 80 lakh as compensation in 18 cases. After the next director general of police took charge,  there were 723 complaints of high-handedness against the police within three months, 15% of them related to corruption.

When Sandhu committed suicide, his despondency was symptomatic of the growing despair of more than 2,000 police officers in the state who were being hauled up in various courts for the extra-judicial methods they had employed in fighting terrorism. 

With the CBI, on the Supreme Court’s order, investigating cases involving partially identified or unidentified bodies, the future looked dark and hopeless.

The “great men make history” model of sociological explanation is a shallow way of looking at social reality. It is neither objective in its understanding, nor reliable in its judgment. 

Those who claim terrorism in Punjab died a painful death because of Gill’s extra-legal counter-terrorist operations need to understand the politico-economic milieu of that fateful decade. 

The tacit understanding between Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi had a substantive role to play in cutting off Islamabad’s support to Khalistani terrorist groups and their political mentors. 

Moreover, while foreign-funded terrorist groups enjoyed some support among Sikh separatists in the earlier decade, that support gradually disappeared by the early 1990s. 

The insurgency weakened the Punjab economy and led to an increase in mass disaffection with the criminalised insurgents. 

The contribution of the average villager in rural Punjab in rooting out criminal-infested terrorist gangs needs special mention. So does the role played by Gill’s predecessor and boss for two years at the time of Operation Blue Star, Julio Ribeiro, as his efforts to galvanise the Punjab police helped make Gill’s job in the police administration easier.

Gill, as a police leader working under the checks and balances of India’s constitutional democracy, was a disaster. In matters of policing and security, Gill didn’t have much time and energy for institutions and processes. 

He had no concern for the consequences his decisions brought upon the very police officers who followed his orders blindly. 

People like him are great crisis managers and brilliant executioners but they are a threat to democratic institutions and their legitimacy. They like the limelight and crave it – and if there is no crisis, they create one by outraging the modesty of women. 

He romanticised the “break the rules” kind of freedom and broke down institutions and processes as if they were enemy bones.

Gill, as the chief of Indian Hockey Federation (IHF – the then national body for the sport) for 14 years, lost his position when the Indian Olympic Association suspended the IHF in 2008. 

If Gill, as an individual shorn of uniform-clad charisma and stripped of any institutionalised police authority, had any claim to inspiring leaderhsip, what he did to India’s hockey in that period, as the puppeteer in a one-man management show, does not reflect well on him at all.

During those  14 debilitating years, India’s hockey tripped from one off-field controversy to another while the performance of the national senior team on AstroTurf continued, minus two Asian tournaments, to be pathetic. 

In 2008, India failed to qualify for the Olympics. It was the first time since 1928 that the Indian hockey team did not play in the tournament. And no media criticism disturbed Gill’s confidence and no on-field debacle troubled his conscience. And then came the suspension.

K.P.S. Gill led a good number of his officers to jail and did nothing to save them other than writing a letter to the prime minister, with a copy to the chief justice of India, the speaker of the Lok Sabha and the chairman of the Rajya Sabha.

These are his words, taken from the letter that he wrote on his return to Delhi from the funeral of Sandhu:

“A constitutional commission should be set up to examine the records of judicial processes and judgments during the years of terrorism in Punjab; to identify the judicial officers who failed to discharge their constitutional obligations, and to honour their oath to dispense justice without fear or favour; to determine their accountability; and to take suitable action to ensure that the judicial and criminal justice system does not collapse or fail ever again in the face of lawlessness.”

These words came to his mind only after his retirement. And he didn’t think that the same measures could apply to him and his wayward officers as well.

India’s police leadership has a huge task at hand. Armed insurgent groups are fighting the legitimacy of the Indian state in 172 districts in the form of insurgency, left-wing extremism and terrorism. 

From Bastar to Baramulla, from Imphal to Nalgonda, from Gadchiroli to Purulia, India’s tryst with democracy is being challenged by gun-wielding groups that claim no allegiance to her constitution. The rule of law can’t be given a royal go-by in the name of fighting these insurgents in the national interest.

The kind of protection that is given to members of the IPS as an all-India service under Article 312 of the Indian constitution is not available to all the police personnel (state police and central armed police forces) working under their charge. 

If lionising Gill is an act of love for his labour, if placing him in the pantheon of IPS heroes is a hat tip to the greatness of the fraternity, if his questionable acts of commission and omission are permissible in the interest of the country’s territorial integrity, we need to remember Sandhu and thousands of faceless police personnel who lived their nameless lives and died their obituary-less deaths, and whose family members survived the ignominy of court cases for no fault of their own – other than of having blindly followed illegal orders.

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Gen KMB – Tiger Woods …

Posted on April 23, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

There aare two pieces On Tiger Woods in the Wall Street Journal

The first one extols the magnificent comeback of Tiger Woods and thrusts his profile, after a long interval, into the front and center of the  golfing Universe. Haunted by arrest for alleged substance abuse, buffeted by the pangs of divorce and custody battle, and debilitated by aches and pain,

Tiger made several unsuccessful forays into various golf championships and almost gave them up as lost causes. He suffered the humiliation of being rank-ordered to a lowly 1000.

Yet, he fought back, held his cool, and scored a spectacular and historic win, earning kudos from friends and detractors, alike.

The 2nd piece that appeared in WSJ  had a more sobering tone and did not wax eloquent on his stellar performance; instead, it dwelt at length on the transformative interregnum between his last triumph and the latest on.

In particular, it eulogized about how Tiger Woods trained himself in the unforgiving school of hard knocks and eventually emerged as a humble and human learner.

Tiger Wood’s sad decline and remarkable rise remind us of the famous verses of Lord Tennyson in his magnum opus, “Idylls of the King”.

“Rapt in this fancy of his Table Round,
And swearing men to vows impossible,
To make them like himself: but, friend, to me
He is all fault who hath no fault at all:
For who loves me must have a touch of earth;”

Line 130.

Tiger Woods seems to have reclaimed his “touch of earth”.

Does resilience have implications for the armed forces? An attempt to glean the implications, at first blush, appears to be a stretch.

On deeper reflection it is no exaggeration to assert that military leadership is marinated in resilience: study how the Maratha leadership snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the third battle of Panipat, which is rued as one of the ignominious defeats in the annals of military history.

Internalize how Slim turned defeat into victory; critique how MacArthur brought to bear his experience of “island hopping” to smash the North Koreans at Inchon;.

ast but not the least how Sagat Singh, having tried and failed in set-piece attacks against Pakistan’s border posts, came up with an innovative version of the “indirect approach” to bring about the “physical distension” and “psychological dislocation” of the enemy, the twin pillars of the Strategy of Indirect Approach a la Liddell- Hart.

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Anjan Basu on Satyajit Ray Stories …

Posted on April 20, 2019. Filed under: Books, Movies |

The Tales of Little Men That Satyajit Ray Told

On what would have been his 97th birthday, a look at how Ray effortlessly weaves tales of perfectly ordinary, indeed insignificant, women and men whose lives are a testimony to the triumph of simplicity and basic goodness over arrogance and selfishness.  

 ‘Patolbabu, Film Star’ is very near its end, and Patol is done with his share of the film shoot. 

He “jostled  his way through the crowd as he wiped the sweat off his brow, walked over to where the paan shop stood, and stopped in its shade. Clouds had covered the sun, lowering the heat somewhat, but he took off his jacket nevertheless. Ah, what relief! A sense of deep satisfaction, of happiness, took hold of his mind.”

Patol had been an amateur stage actor a long time ago. He was young then, and hoped to make a name for himself one day. Now, very much on the wrong side of 50, short, balding and always hard up, he had not held a steady job in years and felt very grateful when Naresh, the production manager of a film company who had known Patol for many years, offered him a bit role in a movie. 

Patol was dismayed, however, when he was given the script: his role, that of a pedestrian on a busy street, consisted of a single grunt –an irritated ‘Ah!’—when the hero  carelessly bumped into him and moved on without so much as a look back at him. 

Unsure at first if Naresh was pulling his leg, Patol yet managed to put his heart and soul in the ‘part’, and when he knew he had played it well, he walked off from the scene at a languid pace, a happy man.

When Naresh, the production manager, came looking for Patol near the paan shop, he was surprised not to find him anywhere. “What a strange man! And how very forgetful! Didn’t even wait for his payment!” Meanwhile, Patolbabu walked on cheerfully. “…

Today his work was quite satisfying. Even though nobody had given him a part all these years, his artistic sense had luckily not blunted yet… Well, these film people! All that concerned them was getting some hands together to somehow get the job done. And then pay them off. 

Well, how much do they pay: five, ten, twenty bucks? Of course he needed money, needed it quite desperately, but after all what is five or ten rupees compared to the happiness he found today?”

An attentive reader of Satyajit Ray stories – and he published nearly 90, not counting his incredibly popular ‘Feluda’ stories in the whodunit genre and the sci-fi ‘Shonku’ stories – comes across the Patolbabus of the world every now and then. 

These are truly ordinary men. There is nothing of note in either their appearance or their occupation, or even in the way they go about their lives. 

These lives are lived at the far edge of the city’s lower-middle class quarters, dull, shabby lives as uneventful as a muddy pool of stagnant water whose surface barely a ripple ever touches. 

Their future as much as their present is destined to be vapid, colourless. And yet once in a long while, something quite out of the ordinary happens that lights up these lives. From somewhere comes a sense of fulfilment, of a day passed meaningfully. The wretchedness of the quotidian life is forgotten in a trice. The stagnant pool comes alive suddenly.

Ray’s first-published short story was ‘Bonkubabu’s Friend’ in 1961. Bonkubehari Dutta teaches Bengali and Geography at a suburban primary school. His poor pay makes sure that he lives from hand to mouth all the year round, and his mild, almost timid, manner makes sure that he is the butt of everyone’s jokes everywhere, including at the evening get-togethers at friend Sripatibabu’s. 

Sripati, a prosperous lawyer owning an imposing house and pots of money, is the town’s only opinion maker. Neither Sripati nor his many flunkeys ever let go of an opportunity of hectoring Bonku, or pinning him down with the most vicious joke. 

They ‘sweeten’ his tea with salt, make his paan with chalk-dust, hide his umbrella or his slippers, and relish calling him ‘bnyaka’ (or, ‘twisted-face’, a play upon ‘Bonku’).

Their heartlessness often brings Bonkubabu to the verge of bitter tears, and he toys with the idea of giving these evening parties a miss. But he does not dare. After all, Sripati’s money gives him enormous influence, and he could if he wished make night day. Besides, Sripati would not dream of letting Bonku absent himself; for what is a party without someone really funny, someone you could do what you wished with? 

So Bonkubabu has to be in attendance every night, gritting his teeth as he sat through these interminably long, tiring sessions.

Such a man, of all men, one day runs into Ang, denizen of the planet Cranius from another galaxy. Ang speaks 14,000 languages, can thought-read at will, shows Bonku an arctic seal through his magic glasses one moment, and a Brazilian piranha the next. With his rugged hands, Ang touches Bonku’s sunken cheeks and says, “Even though you are from an inferior species, you don’t seem to be a bad man. Your problem is you are way too timid, so you don’t make any headway in life….. Anyway, I am glad to have met you.” 

As Ang shook his hand and got into his space-craft, Bonku suddenly realised what an extraordinary piece of luck he had just had; he a nobody from a place nobody had heard of was perhaps the only man in the whole world to meet this visitor from another planet. 

As the realisation began to sink in, Bonkubabu walked to Sripati’s house for his evening ordeal. But it was a different day today, and Bonkubabu a different man. He burst into Sripati’s room like a  Nor’wester, laughed a long, ringing laugh that swept across the room, taking in all those present in the room and stunning them into silence.

He then proceeded to address his friends thus: ‘…”Friends, I have the pleasure of announcing that I am here at your adda for the last time today. But before I leave your company for good, let me tell you a few home truths. First, all of you talk a lot of rubbish all the time. You should know that when you don’t know what you are blabbering about, people call you dumb. 

Number two, and this is meant for Nidhibabu, at your age fooling around with someone else’s umbrella or shoes is grotesque. Please send my brown canvas shoes and my umbrella to my house by tomorrow. 

Nidhibabu, mind you, if you any more call me bnyaka, I will call you chhnyada (the crack-bottomed) and that’s that. 

As for you Sripatibabu, you are a rich man and I can see you will need flunkeys all the time. But I am no more available for that kind of thing. I can send you my tomcat, if you want. It licks one’s feet quite well…”. 

Having said this, Bonkubabu with his left hand slapped Bhairab Chakraborty soundly on his back, making him sit up with a start, and then walked out of the room with a neat bow.’

At that moment something rare touched Bonkubabu, much as it had touched Patolbabu on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The shy, nervous Bonku, the poor, pitiable primary school teacher, of a sudden rose above his miserable existence, walking with his head held high. The quintessential Little Man had had his day, and we readers exulted with him.

Such little men dot the landscape of Ray stories. These are simple, uncomplicated stories. Ray tells them unselfconsciously, in the familiar idiom of the Bengali middle class city-dweller. Nothing very clever or exceptional here, very little is designed to startle you. The willing suspension of disbelief, the stock-in-trade of every master story-teller, works so well with these tales because they are imbued with a deep, simple humanism with which  the reader can identify naturally, unobtrusively.

Thus, you have Asamanjobabu, in ‘Asamanjobabu’s Dog’, who refuses to part with his pet, an otherwise undistinguished mongrel who laughs like a human, even when the fabulously rich William Moody, a tourist from distant Cincinnati, makes him a stunning offer of 20,000 dollars. 

Asamanjo, a modest clerk in a little office, knows that his life could change dramatically if he were only to say yes to the exchange. But he says no, says so quite simply, much to the chagrin and bewilderment of the visiting American and his Indian lackey. 

Utterly insignificant a man though he is, Asamonjo has no qualms about telling an incredibly powerful man just what he thought about the limits of his power, the power of money.

A still from the movie Mahanagar. Credit: Youtube ScreengrabR

In ‘The Pterodactyl’s Egg’, Badanbabu, a humble clerk in a government office, is conned by a glib-talking sorcerer who conjures up images of the Jurassic age for Badanbabu who is perennially looking out for new stories to tell his eight-year-old son, the paralytic Biltu who is confined to his bed. 

As Badan succumbs to the conman’s mesmeric charms, he is neatly relieved of his wallet. It was payday, and Badan loses his precious, but measly, salary in the blink of an eye. “Oh, what a shame! What an ass I made of myself today!”, muses Badanbabu as he trudges his weary way home. 

By the time he reaches home and enters Biltu’s room, however, the father can  bring a carefree tone to his voice: “Today I have a really nice story for you”. 

As he watches Biltu’s face light up with pleasure, the very ordinary Badanbabu – always worried because he is always short on cash – wonders if it was really worth losing sleep over the loss of his pittance of a salary. Wasn’t the smile on his sick son’s face worth at least that much?

The protagonist in most Ray stories is this archetypal little man. His back has been bent by long years of struggle to keep body and soul together. He is a mere foot-soldier, no more, battle-scarred and unsung. But once in a while in the midst of his dreary life, he is brought magnificently alive by a magic wand, maybe only briefly, and he manages in that brief instant to rise above the pettiness, the squalor of his own life. 

The essential humanity of these powerless little men is brought home to the reader with great force.

Is the teller of these stories of a piece with Ray the cinema legend? Yes, without a doubt. 

A deep-running humanism is the common refrain in Ray’s films as well, as any viewer familiar with Ray’s cinematic oeuvre knows. Recall any sequence from Pather Panchali, orThe PostmasterOr think of the demure housewife in Mahanagar who, though she knows she is the sole bread-earner in a largish family, does not think twice before giving up her job for the sake of a colleague’s dignity. 

Recall the King of Halla in Gupi Gain Bagha Bain who, at last free from the evil machinations of his prime minister, erupts in joy and runs along the ramparts of his fortress, threshing his arms about like a child and shouting “I am free”, startling a flight of pigeons that take off from his path with a noisy flutter.

In his stories as in his films, Ray effortlessly weaves tales of perfectly ordinary, indeed insignificant, women and men whose lives are a testimony to the triumph of simplicity and basic goodness over arrogance and selfishness. 

And in his films as in his stories, Ray tells his tales in a brilliantly rich but subdued voice, with great compassion but unsentimentally.

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Baba Ramdev …

Posted on April 18, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

Extracted from an Article in The Wire –

Baba Ramdev took India by storm in the early 2010s. His shirshasanas, or headstands, have extended far beyond the world of yoga, upturning India’s multi-billion-dollar consumer goods industry.

Over the years, Ramdev has adopted many avatars: Hindu ascetic, anti-corruption crusader and the guiding force behind the Patanjali empire.

But when the final chapter of his story is written, his role as a low-key media mogul, beaming commodified spiritual content to India’s masses, may be end up being the most interesting. 

Over the last two decades, India’s devotional TV industry has boomed and rapidly evolved, with Ramdev’s journey being symbolic of how the sector has changed.

The billionaire yogi has always had a strong bond with media. His tryst with television goes back to 2002 when he was spotted by Aastha TV’s founding editor Madhav Kant Mishra, who met him at one of his small yoga shivirs in Haridwar in early 2002.

“My first impression about Ramdev was that he can make it big. I found two of his traits sellable: firstly, he was a ‘sanyasi’, and secondly, he was able to do ‘nauli kriya’, churning his stomach. The moment I saw him doing it, I knew he would be a big hit. However, the top management was not convinced and we lost Ramdev to our rival channel – Sanskar TV,”

Back then, it was a gamble for Sanskar to bet on an unknown yoga guru from Haridwar. But the show was a huge hit, and the channel’s TRPs were going through the roof.

Stunned by his sudden rise in popularity, Aastha TV realised its mistake and poached him for the same slot within a year. It was through these two channels that Ramdev found his mass following.

Though Ramdev is now more popularly associated with all things ‘Patanjali’, his yoga guru image on devotional TV channels is the oldest of all his avatars.

Around 25 years ago, Ramdev started his self-appointed mission of popularising yoga and Ayurveda in India. In 1995, he founded the Divya Yoga Trust along with with Acharya Balkrishna and Karamveer in Haridwar. 

He would have still been in Haridwar, like many of his other peers in the holy city, had the appearance on Sanskar TV not happened.

Cut to 2019. Ramdev has owned both Sanskar and Aastha TV for some time and has aggressively expanded the ambit of his media business since these two acquisitions. He has a controlling stake in and operates ten Hindu devotional channels.

The gamble taken by Sanskar TV not only changed the fortune for the channel and Ramdev but also shaped this segment as a whole.

Now widely recognised as industry pioneers, both channels were launched in the mid-2000s. Within a few years, they were followed by a flurry of similar-looking and sounding competitors. 

Every telegenic yogi looking for a bigger audience has tried to replicate Ramdev’s success, and every new devotional channel wants to become the next Aastha or Sanskar TV.

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Picasso in Barcelona …

Posted on April 17, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

Extracted from an Article by Anjan Basu carried in The Wire –

Museu Picasso happens to be the first-ever museum dedicated to Picasso’s work. Opened on March 9, 1963, it was also the only one created in Picasso’s lifetime. Originally, the idea was to set it up in Malaga – where he was born and spent his childhood – but Picasso opted for Barcelona, the city he felt most drawn to in all of Spain.

Courtyard of Museu Picasso. Credit: ctj71081/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

It was his ‘coming-out’ place as a 13-year-old adolescent from a small town and here he struck many friendships that shaped him. Also, it was here that he returned to again and again from his sojourns in Paris till Franco’s rise to power made it impossible for Picasso, an ardent Republican, to return to Spain again.

It was the artist Jaume Sabartes, Picasso’s life-long friend and later his secretary, who conceived of and piloted the museum project with help from the Barcelona city administration. But Picasso was unwilling to allow the museum to bear his name until Spain had fought back dictatorship and was again a democracy.

So it started off as the ‘Sabartes Collection’ and Sabartes’s opening donation of over 670 Picasso canvases and drawings, gifted to him by the artist, got the project off the starting block.

David Douglas Duncan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Over subsequent years, donations, transfers from other Spanish institutions and fresh acquisitions from different sources have enriched and significantly widened the Picasso’s permanent collection and archives.

Major donors have been members of the Picasso family (his mother, sister and nephew), his painter friend Salvador Dali, his second wife Jacqueline Roque and the Barcelona city council.

Today, Museu Picasso boasts nearly 4,300 exhibits in its permanent collection – drawings, paintings, etchings, engravings, sculptures, ceramics, photographs and sketchbooks –making it one of the largest dedicated art museums in the world.

The David Douglas Duncan album of 163 brilliant black-and-white photographs, documenting the Picasso family’s time at Cannes (1957-60), got added to the museum collection on the day I happened to visit the museum in 2013.

The steadily expanding collection has obliged Museu Picasso to spread out beyond its original location at Palau Aguilar, a 13th-century nobleman’s mansion on Carrer de Montcada, to four other adjacent buildings – the Castellet, the Meca, La casa Mauri and Palau Finestres, all originally built in the 14th century.

There is a quaint, old-world flavour about these structures, with wide open verandahs running along the sides and broad exterior staircases winding around their cores.

Some rooms are as large as a basketball court and the ceilings thrice as high as the ones in fashion today. Therefore, the first thing that strikes you about the galleries is the sense of space and light they give you and the exhibits do not crowd around you.

The original/main building, Palau Aguilar, has an extensive public library which can be used for reference purposes. A documentary film on Picasso’s life and work runs at designated hours through the day in the library auditorium.

Museu Picasso is the biggest repository of the artist’s early work. There are some ink drawings and oils from 1890 even, when Picasso was not yet nine, and by the time you reach 1894-95, you are face-to-face with a full-grown, accomplished artist.

It looks as though, by age 13/14, Picasso had come to terms with, indeed mastered, nearly all the different mediums and idioms that past generations of painters had worked in before he himself came along.

His portraits of his parents, sister Lola, aunt and his pet dog – done when he was not quite 15 – take your breath away not only by their absolute mastery over form, but also by how cleverly he was experimenting with his palette at an early age.

While noting how Picasso always sought out writers and original thinkers, rather than other painters, for friends, the American writer Gertrude Stein, one of Picasso’s earliest patrons, made this interesting observation:

“He needed ideas….. but not ideas for painting, no, he had to know those who were interested in ideas, but as to knowing how to paint, he was born knowing all of that.”

His early work includes a fairly large number of oils on wood – not only on canvas which was later pasted on the wood slab, but painted on the wood directly – which gives a quite distinctive tone to the painting, a little darkish and craggy, not very bright or cheerful even when the subject is care-free, gay.

Even before coming to Barcelona, he had done some landscapes which look striking in tone and composition even today: I am thinking of Casa de Comp, a Catalan house standing under a spring-day sky that could well have come from Van Gogh, except that the lone human figure in it was drawn with sharper contours than we would associate with Van Gogh’s oeuvre.

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (1896)

Man Sitting on Barcelona Beach (1896) would not have been unworthy of Manet, or Ciutadella Park (1896) of Monet at his splendid best.

There are some watercolours in the ‘Pointillist’ style (made famous by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac) also, with the difference that, unlike Seurat or Signac, Picasso always places one or more human figures within his frame that are drawn in the more common impressionistic style, without ‘points’, and somehow it is these figures that readily draw the viewer’s attention.

Increasingly in Barcelona, Picasso turned his gaze to the humdrum, dreary lives people lived around him. Poverty, loneliness and loss of hope emerge as major themes. Man in a Beret is clearly a rootless man who looks at you blankly: he has nowhere to go and he has stopped bothering about it.

An even earlier work, called Head of a Man, presaged the overriding interest in the human form vis-a-vis other subjects: here was a plainly ordinary man with no distinctive features in his physiognomy whom the young Picasso had drawn with great sensitivity and care.

This same interest was driving him to a concern for the human condition which underpins much of his later work. The 1900 painting The Embrace in the Street (pastel on paper), done probably in course of Picasso’s first visit to Paris, shows a couple, a simple working man and woman, united in an embrace that seems to melt them into a single whole.

‘The expressionistic deformation of the bodies is accentuated with intense colours and the marked edges of the figures’, as the museum catalogue explains. The union is taking place as it were in a separate space isolated from the urban landscape, which appears only dimly, distantly.

Back in Barcelona, Picasso embarked on what is known as his Blue Period (1901-04), a time when his palette consisted of monochromatic shades of blue, or a variant of blue-green rarely warmed up by other, more lively colours.

Many canvases of this period are on display at Museu Picasso, and they show him engaging repeatedly with the hopelessness of lives lived at society’s margins.

Barcelona Rooftops (1900)

Motherhood (1903) captures this theme with remarkable vividness: here, a poor mother shields her child from the harsh winter weather, her disproportionately large hand contrasting sharply with the expressionless faces of both mother and child. Touches of white pastel lend great luminosity to the faces, but the round, black eyes look on resignedly.A

To the same period, but to not the same medium, belongs the etching (on zinc) The Frugal Meal (1904), which was a recurrent motif of the period, finding expression in a number of paintings and drawings of the period displayed at different museums.

Misery and desolation envelop a desperately poor couple seated at a pathetic meal, the man sightless, the woman melancholy despite her partner’s tender embrace around her. Both have elongated, spindly fingers that deepen the impression of raw hopelessness.

The Embrace on the Street (1900)

Picasso aficionados will not find many works from his cubist/analytical cubist period here, though some sculptures (mostly in bronze) done in that genre are part of the collection. In fact, there is no painting in the museum catalogue after 1917 – until the 58 paintings from the Las Maninas (1957) series make their appearance.

This series has, as its point of departure, the eponymous Velazquez canvas from 1656, and goes on to interpret that famous painting from the standpoint of a 20th-century compatriot of the old master.

Picasso explores the world of Velazquez by branching out into different directions, by shifting one or more figures from their original place on the canvas, or modulating, sometimes changing, the amount or even the kind of light that illuminates the scene and/or the characters.

Unlike Velazquez, he does not paint the human figures (or even the dog) in the semi-realistic or heroic (the king in the original) style, but draws them the cubist way, or flattens or reshapes them, highlighting their gestures / bodily signals.

The series evolves with its own sense of drama, and you almost get to see why Picasso makes a particular change, or what he was trying to find out.

The focus is on the child, the princess Margarita, and through a fascinating sub-series of sketches and even finished oils, Picasso finally arrives at a representation of the girl that is basically cubist but retains the original’s features with minor exaggerations.

In the process, the light-and-shade of the Velazquez canvas has been transformed into a drawing room scene on a bright summer’s day, not a room in the royal palace, but rather the living room of a middle-class home in a city today with a TV and other usual bric-a-brac.

There are layers of social commentary underlying this process of reinterpretation that critics have often commented upon.

The David Douglas Duncan exhibition provided a fascinating window into an extraordinary life lived, for the most part, like any ordinary human.

Duncan was an ace photojournalist who had made his name covering the Second World War and the Korean War (and later, the Vietnam War). A friend of Picasso’s, he stayed with them as a guest in their home in Cannes off and on during the late 1950s.

Motherhood (1903)

Remarkably sensitive portraits of the great man, wife Jacqueline, their young children, their pets (including a Billy Goat with a formidable beard) adorn the collection together with outstanding pictures of their garden, living and dining rooms and Picasso’s studio.

Picasso was on the wrong side of 75 then, but still manically energetic and sharp as a razor.

There are quite a few photographs of his at work in his studio, bare-bodied but for a pair of white shorts, fiddling with a sculpture or standing before an unfinished painting, scratching his head; also some showing him playing with the children in the garden, with the goat fooling around them.

There is a memorable photo of the man and the wife sitting side-by-side, examining a painting, their faces presenting a wonderful contrast. Jacqueline’s face is tender and soft, Picasso’s as leopard-like and taut as ever, his brows wrinkled in concentration, his eyes glowing with suppressed excitement.

The photo showing them leaving their house forever is a very moving one: wearing his Tyrolean hat, Picasso looks back at the house and the garden one last time before he turns the key in the lock and walks out.

The exhibition was as appropriate a tribute to a great and restless man as one could imagine.

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Nirav Modi – The Diamond Merchant …

Posted on April 17, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

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