Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CAG report on the Mother of Scams

If the Bofors scam, which triggered a collapse of Rajiv Gandhi's government, was worth Rs 64 crore, what would you call the Telecom scam?
Comptroller and Auditor General of India has indicted Telecom Minister A Raja confirming the allegation that he caused a revenue loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore during 2G spectrum allocation.

Highlights of the 77-page report:

  • Raja ignored Prime Minister’s advice on the issue

  • Issued 2G spectrum licences arbitrarily, at throaway prices

  • “flouting every canon of financial propriety, rules and procedures”

  • 85 out of the 122 licences were granted to “ineligible applicants” as these companies did not have the stipulated paid-up capital when they applied.

  • 45 of these 85 licencees were given to companies which failed to conditions of the main clauses in the Memorandum of Association, the report said.

  • Dual technology licences were given to without giving equal opportunity to other operators, the report said. Undue benefit were given to Swan Telecom, Shyam Telelink, HFCL.

J Gopikrishnan, a young reporter from The Pioneer, broke the story and followed the story relentlessly leading up to Raja’s resignation. This is his story

Read the full text of http://www.cag.gov.in/

Monday, November 15, 2010

Michelle Obama's interaction with children

Michelle Obama danced to AR Rahman's Rang De Basanti title song, and then to a koli dance (unique rhythmic dance of Maharashtrian fisherfolk) on both days of her Mumbai visit. The first one was during an interaction with underpriveleged children organised by an NGO at the Mumbai university, and the second one was a convent school. She mixed freely with the children, laughed a lot and really charmed them. She removed her shoes and played hopscotch. She picked up the koli dance steps very quickly compared to Obama. The First Lady was amazingly graceful compared to the president who swung awkwardly. But then thats the case with most guys!

Here's the brief transcript of Michelle Obama's interaction with the children at Mumbai university, hours after her arrival on Nov 6.
Transcript courtesy: American Center

MRS. OBAMA: I love dancing. Oh, that was fun! (Applause.) We should do that again. (Applause.) Okay, we’ll do that before we leave.

I just want to thank you all. Thank you. And I want to thank all of your teachers and mentors. Do you know how lucky you are, just lucky and blessed, because if you keep working hard, education is all that you need to be whatever you want to be. That's it.

I didn’t grow up with a lot of money. I mean, my parents -- I had two parents. I was lucky to have two parents, and they always had a job, but we didn’t have a lot of money. But it was because of working hard, and studying, and learning how to write and read, and then I got a chance to go to college, and then college opened up the world to me, I started seeing all these things that I could be or do, and I never even imagined being the First Lady of the United States. But because I had an education, when the time came to do this, I was ready.

So just remember there is nothing that you guys can’t do. You know, you have everything it takes to be successful and smart and to raise a family, right?

What do you say? You’ve got something to say. (Laughter.)

That's all you need. And you’ve got a great start because you’ve got all -- there are so many young people like your teachers who care about you guys. And there are many programs like -- just like this one in the United States where young -- I call these young people -- to you they seem old, but to me they’re young -- but they’re helping kids all across the country. And we should give -- let’s give a hand, a clap, for your -- all of your teachers and mentors and all the volunteers who help. (Applause.)

So I don't know if you feel comfortable -- you have to sort of ignore those people there. Pretend like they’re not here. Do you guys want to ask any questions? Is there anything that you want to know? Even -- don't worry about it being the -- saying it the right way. If there's something that you want to know, or did you want to talk about, that I can tell you -- anybody?


Q I feel like my dream come true.

MRS. OBAMA: You feel like your dream has come true?

Q Yes.

MRS. OBAMA: Why, because of me?

Q Yes!


Q Yes!

MRS. OBAMA: No, you are my dream come true.

Q This is a dream for me -- (laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA: Well, we are very proud of you all. We’re very proud, you know? When me and the President get a little tired because our work gets hard sometimes, it’s because -- it’s when we get to spend time with you all that we go, yeah, this is what it’s all about. This is why we do what we do, because we’re trying to make this whole world better so that kids like you have the opportunities, the same opportunities, as every other kid, right? That's what we’re working for.

So we’re very proud of you. We’re proud of the amount of energy that you put into learning, the excitement that you put into dancing, and to learning how to spell, and to learning how to speak English. You guys are going to do great. You’re going to do just great. All right?

So thank you. Thanks for letting me spend time with you.

Anybody else have anything they want to say or ask -- or practice? (Laughter.)

Oh, if that’s the case, then I think we should dance some more. Let’s dance some more! One more dance! You guys show me one more dance? (Applause.) All right, show me one more dance.

END 5:40 P.M. IST

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Obama's statement on 26/11

I think Barack Obama's emphasis on a Mumbai visit is indeed an extremely positive gesture. Though India has its reservations about the role of David Headley, there is no doubt that India could mount a much stronger case against Pakistani terrorist due to active help from the FBI and other American agencies. As Obama himself pointed out in his Parliament address, he has consciously chosen to place India higher on his priorities. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the first Prime Minister to be invited to Washington after Obama took over the presidency, and his first stop during his Asian tour has been India.

Obama was criticised in the Indian media for not mentioning Pakistani establishment's involvement in 26/11 attacks, but clearly he was being judged too early during his three visit. I think Obama's Mumbai statement on 26/11 is unequivocal on condemning terrorism, and emphasising that US will always stand with India. His statement also holds great symbolism as he not only stayed in the portion of the Taj hotel which was heavily damaged by four Lashkar-e-Toiba gunmen, but also paid homage to the Tree of Life memorial to 26/11 victims inside the Taj hotel.

Read on the full text

This transcript is available thanks to American centre.

2:25 P.M. IST The Taj Hotel

THE PRESIDENT: On behalf of Michelle and myself, I want to say what an extraordinary honor it is to be here in India. I want to thank the people of Mumbai and all of you here today for your extraordinarily warm welcome. And I want to say to the people of India how much we are looking forward to spending the next three days in this remarkable country and to deepening the partnership between our two countries.

I know there’s been a great deal of commentary on our decision to begin our visit here in this dynamic city, at this historic hotel. And to those who have asked whether this is intended to send a message, my answer is simply, absolutely. Mumbai is a symbol of the incredible energy and optimism that defines India in the 21st century. And ever since those horrific days two years ago, the Taj has been the symbol of the strength and the resilience of the Indian people.

So, yes, we visit here to send a very clear message that in our determination to give our people a future of security and prosperity, the United States and India stand united.

A few moments ago, Michelle and I had the opportunity to visit the memorial here and to honor the memory of those who were lost. And we also had the privilege of meeting with some of their families, as well as some of the courageous survivors. I thank them all for joining us here today, along with so many others who endured the anguish of those four days in November.

We'll never forget the awful images of 26/11, including the flames from this hotel that lit up the night sky. We’ll never forget how the world, including the American people watched and grieved with all of India.

But the resolve and the resilience of the Indian people during those attacks stood in stark contrast to the savagery of the terrorists. The murderers came to kill innocent civilians that day. But those of you here risked everything to save human live.

You were strangers who helped strangers; hostages who worked together to break free and escape; hotel staff who stayed behind to escort guests to safety; including the hotel manager, even after he lost his own family; a nanny who braved the bullets to protect a young boy; and Indians in uniform who stopped the carnage and whose colleagues made the ultimate sacrifice.

The perpetrators wanted to pit believers of different faiths against one another. But they failed. Because here in Mumbai, the diversity that is India’s strength was on full display: Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jews and Muslims protecting each other, saving each other, living the common truth of all the world’s great religions, that we are all children of God.

Those who attacked Mumbai wanted to demoralize this city and this country. But they failed. Because the very next day, Mumbaikars came back to work. Hotel staff reported for their shifts. Workers returned to their businesses. And within weeks, this hotel was once again welcoming guests from around the world.

By striking the places where our countries and people come together, those who perpetrated these horrific attacks hoped to drive us apart. But just as Indian citizens lost their lives on 9/11, American citizens lost their lives here on 26/11 -- along with the citizens of many nations. And just as our people prayed together at candlelight vigils, our governments have worked closer than ever, sharing intelligence, preventing more attacks, and demanding that the perpetrators be brought to justice.

Indeed, today, the United States and India are working together more closely than ever to keep our people safe. And I look forward to deepening our counterterrorism cooperation even further when I meet with Prime Minister Singh in New Delhi.

We go forward with confidence, knowing that history is on our side. Because those who target the innocent, they offer nothing but death and destruction. What we seek to build -- to welcome people of different faiths and backgrounds, and to offer our citizens a future of dignity and opportunity. That is the spirit of the gateway behind us, which in its architecture reflects all the beauty and strength of different faiths and traditions, and which has welcomed people to this city for a century.

That is the hope that in towns and villages across India, across this vast nation, leads people to board crowded trains and set out to forge their futures in this city of dreams. And that is the shared determination of India and the United States -- two partners that will never waver in our defense of our people or the democratic values that we share.

For just as your first Prime Minister said the day that the father of your nation was taken from you, we shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest. We believe that in America, and we know you believe it here in India.

God bless you, and thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 2:35 P.M. IST

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Potus and Flotus in Mumbai

Air Force One at Mumbai airport
Presidential chopper Marine One at Mumbai airport
Obamas arrive at Mumbai airport on way to Delhi
(pix taken from my phone camera)

Two new words entered my vocabulary thanks to Obamas who came to Mumbai last week. POTUS stands for President of the United States, and FLOTUS stands for First Lady of the United States. I was incredible for many reasons, but I am particularly impressed with the small details that figured in all of Obama's speeches, and the ease and comparative simplicity with which both Barack and Michelle Obama handle their exalted status.

I am posting a transcript of their conversations with young college students at St Xavier's College where a young student first forced Obama to utter the P-word. I think it is worth reading for those who were not there.

The transcript is thanks to the American Centre:


11.30 am, St Xavier's College quadrangle

MRS. OBAMA: Hello, everyone. Namaste. It is a pleasure and an honor to be here in India. Everyone, please sit, who can sit. Rest. It’s warm. We are thrilled to be here and to have a chance to spend time with so many outstanding young people from St. Xavier’s College and so many other schools across Mumbai.

Now, this is my first trip to India, but it is not my first exposure to India’s wonderful culture and people. See, I grew up in Chicago, which is a city with one of the largest Indian-American communities in our country. And of course, last year, as you know, we were proud to host Prime Minister Singh and Mrs. Kaur for our very first state visit and dinner. It was a beautiful evening under a tent on the South Lawn of the White House, and we got to hear some pretty great Bhangra as well. I danced there, too. (Laughter.)

So I have really been looking forward to this trip for a very long time. The time that we spend with young people during our travel is very special to both me and to the President. When I was your age, I never dreamed of traveling to countries like this and meeting with young people like all of you. In fact, there were a lot of things that I had never imagined for myself growing up, including having the honor of serving as my county’s First Lady.

My family didn’t have a lot of money. My parents never went to college. I grew up in a little bitty apartment in a working-class neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. My parents worked hard to pay the bills and to keep a roof over our heads. But even though my parents couldn't give us material things, they gave us something much more precious -- they gave me and my brother strong values. They taught us to treat others with dignity and respect. They taught us to push for excellence in every single thing we did. They taught us to be humble and to be grateful for everything we had. They taught us to put every last bit of effort into our education and to take pride in our work. They taught us that our circumstances didn’t define us, and that if we believed in ourselves, if we made the most of every single opportunity, we could build our own destinies and accomplish anything we put our minds to.

And I try every single day to take those lessons to heart. And the fact that all of you are here today tells me that we all share these same values, that we all learn these same lessons. You're here today because, like me and my husband, you believe in your dreams and you're working hard every single day to fulfill them. More importantly, you’re here because you’ve committed to something greater than yourselves. You're here not just because of your academic and extracurricular activities and achievements, but because of what you’ve done to give back to your schools and to your communities.

Your willingness to serve is critical for all that lies ahead once you finish your education. Because the truth is pretty soon the responsibilities for building our future will fall to all of you. Soon we're going to be looking to your generation to make the discoveries and build the industries that will shape our world for decades to come.

We'll be looking to you to protect our planet. We're going to be looking to you to lift up our most vulnerable citizens. We're going to be looking to you to heal the divisions that too often keep us apart. And I believe that you and your peers around the world are more than up to the challenge, because I've seen it firsthand right here in India.

Just yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to visit an organization called Make A Difference. It’s an amazing program designed and run by young adults who recruit other young people, outstanding college students like themselves, to mentor and teach children who, as the founder said, haven’t had the same chances in life as many of the mentors have had.

These young volunteers understand and believe in something very simple, that all children, regardless of their circumstances, deserve the same chance to get educated and to build productive and successful lives. And I know that many of you here today are doing equally important work in your communities and your schools -- everything from holding camps for kids in need to teaching computer literacy skills, to finding new ways to conserve energy.

And let me tell you, this work is amazing, and it is vitally important. And that is why, as First Lady, I have tried my best to engage young people not just in the United States but around the world, letting them know that we believe in them, but more importantly, that we need them. We need you. We need you to help solve the great challenges of our time.

And that's also why when my husband travels abroad, he doesn’t just meet with heads of state in parliaments and in palaces. He always meets with young people like all of you. That's why he’s been working to expand educational exchanges and partnerships between the United States, India, and countries around the world.

Right now, more Indian students like you come to study in the United States than from any other country. And I'm proud to see that so many American students are doing the same thing right here in India, building the types of friendships and relationships that will last a lifetime. Our hope is to provide more Indian and American young people with these types of opportunities to continue to connect and share ideas and experiences.

And finally, my husband is also working to encourage young entrepreneurs everywhere to start businesses, to improve the health of our communities and to empower our young women and girls because it is never too late or too early to start changing this world for the better.

So I want to end today by congratulating you all -- congratulating you on everything you do. We are so proud of you. I want to encourage you to keep dreams -- keep dreaming big huge, gigantic dreams -- not just for yourselves, but for your communities and for our world.

And finally, I want to urge you today to ask my husband some tough questions, all right? (Laughter.) Be tough. He loves doing events like this. This brightens his days. But you got to keep him on his toes, all right?

So if you promise me that, without further ado, I would like to introduce my husband, the President of the United States, Barack Obama. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. Thank you so much. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Everybody, please have a seat. Have a seat. Namaste.

AUDIENCE: Namaste.

THE PRESIDENT: It is such a pleasure to be here. Now, I have to say, first of all, I don't like speaking after Michelle. (Laughter.) Because she’s very good. Also because she teases me. You notice how she said for you to all ask tough questions. If you want to ask easy questions, that's fine. (Laughter.)

But on behalf of Michelle and me I want to thank St. Xavier’s University. I want to thank Rector DeSouza. I want to thank Principal -- I want to get this right -- Mascarenhas. (Laughter.) But it’s a little smoother than that, when you say it. I want to thank Vice Principal Amonka and all of you for being such gracious hosts.

And I know it’s hot out here today. For you to be so patient with me, I’m very grateful to you. I also want to thank the city of Mumbai and the people of India for giving us such an extraordinary welcome.

In a few minutes, I’ll take some questions. I come here not just to speak, but also to listen. I want to have a dialogue with you. And this is one of the wonderful things that I have a chance to do as President of the United States. When I travel, we always try to set up a town hall meeting where we can interact with the next generation, because I want to hear from you. I want to find out what your dreams are, what your fears are, what your plans are for your country.

But if you will indulge me, I also want to say a few words about why I’m so hopeful about the partnership between our two countries and why I wanted to spend some of my time here in India speaking directly to young people like yourselves.

Now, as Michelle said, we have both looked forward to this visit to India for quite some time. We have an extraordinary amount of respect for the rich and diverse civilization that has thrived here for thousands of years. We’ve drawn strength from India’s 20th century independence struggle, which helped inspire America’s own civil rights movement. We’ve marveled at India’s growing economy and it’s dynamic democracy. And we have personally enjoyed a wonderful friendship with Prime Minister Singh and Mrs. Kaur, over the last two years.

But of course, I’m not just here to visit. I’m here because the partnership between India and the United States I believe has limitless potential to improve the lives of both Americans and Indians, just as it has the potential to be an anchor of security and prosperity and progress for Asia and for the world.

The U.S.-India relationship will be indispensible in shaping the 21st century. And the reason why is simple: As two great powers and as the world’s two largest democracies, the United States and India share common interests and common values -- values of self-determination and equality; values of tolerance and a belief in the dignity of every human being.

Already on this trip, I’ve seen those shared interests and values firsthand. We share a commitment to see that the future belongs to hope, and not fear. And I was honored to stay at the Taj Hotel, the site of the 26/11 attacks, and yesterday, in meetings with some of the survivors, I saw firsthand the resilience of the Indian people in overcoming tragedy, just as I reaffirmed our close cooperation in combating terrorism and violent extremism in all of its forms.

                 The US First Couple offered homage to the Mahatma at this spot in Mani Bhavan

We also share struggles for justice and equality. I was humbled to visit Mani Bhavan, where Gandhi helped move India and the world through the strength and dignity of his leadership.

We share a commitment to see that this era after globalization leads to greater opportunity for all our people. And so yesterday, at a summit of business leaders and entrepreneurs, we discussed the potential for greater economic cooperation between our two countries -- cooperation that could create jobs and opportunity through increased trade and investment, unleashing the potential of individuals in both our countries. And even as we are countries that look to the future with optimism, Americans and Indians draw strength from tradition and from faith.

This morning, Michelle and I enjoyed the chance to join young people here in Mumbai to celebrate Diwali -- a holiday that is observed not just here in India but also in the United States, where millions of Indian-Americans have enriched our country. I have to point out, by the way, those of you who had a chance to see Michelle dance, she was moving. (Laughter.) And it was just an extraordinary gift for these young people to perform and share this wonderful tradition with us.

Tomorrow in New Delhi, I’ll have the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Singh and many other leaders, and I’ll have the privilege to address your parliament. And there I will discuss in greater detail our efforts to broaden and deepen our cooperation and make some specific announcements on important issues like counterterrorism and regional security, on clean energy and climate change, and on the advance of economic growth and development and democracy around the globe.

Just as the sites I’ve seen and the people I’ve met here in Mumbai speak to our common humanity, the common thread that runs through the different issues that our countries cooperate on is my determination to take the partnership between our two countries to an entirely new level. Because the United States does not just believe, as some people say, that India is a rising power; we believe that India has already risen. India is taking its rightful place in Asia and on the global stage. And we see India’s emergence as good for the United States and good for the world.

But India’s future won’t simply be determined by powerful CEOs and political leaders -- just as I know that the ties among our people aren’t limited to contacts between our corporations and our governments. And that’s why I wanted to speak to all of you today, because India’s future will be determined by you and by young people like you across this country. You are the future leaders. You are the future innovators and the future educators. You’re the future entrepreneurs and the future elected officials.

In this country of more than a billion people, more than half of all Indians are under 30 years old. That’s an extraordinary statistic and it’s one that speaks to a great sense of possibility -- because in a democracy like India’s -- or America’s -- every single child holds within them the promise of greatness. And every child should have the opportunity to achieve that greatness.

Most of you are probably close to 20 years old. Just think how the world has changed in those 20 years. India’s economy has grown at a breathtaking rate. Living standards have improved for hundreds of millions of people. Your democracy has weathered assassination and terrorism. And meanwhile, around the globe, the Cold War is a distant memory and a new order has emerged, one that’s reflected in the 20 members of the G20 that will come together in Seoul next week, as countries like India assume a greater role on the world stage.

So now the future of this country is in your hands. And before I take your questions, I want you to consider three questions I have for you -- questions about what the next 20 years will bring. First, what do you want India to look like in 20 years? Nobody else can answer this question but you. It’s your destiny to write. One of the great blessings of living in a democracy is that you can always improve the democracy. As our Founding Fathers wrote in the United States, you can always forge a more perfect union.

But if you look at India’s last 20 years, it’s hard not to see the future with optimism. You have the chance to lift another several hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, grow even more this enormous middle class that can fuel growth in this country and beyond. You have the chance to take on greater responsibilities on the global stage while playing a leading role in this hugely important part of the world.

And together with the United States, you can also seize the opportunities afforded by our times: the clean energy technologies that can power our lives and save our planet; the chance to reach new frontiers in outer space; the research and development that can lead to new industry and a higher standard of living; the prospect of advancing the cause of peace and pluralism in our own countries but also beyond our borders.

Which brings me to a second question. Twenty years from now, what kind of partnership do you want to have with America? Just before I came to speak to all of you today, I visited two expos right in another courtyard here that underscore the kind of progress we can make together. The first focused on agriculture and food security, and I was able to see innovations in technology and research, which are transforming Indian farming.

A farmer showed me how he can receive crop information on his cell phone. Another showed me how tools appropriately sized and weighted for women are helping her and other female farmers increase their productivity. Many of these innovations are the result of public and private collaborations between the United States and India, the same collaboration that helped produce the first Green Revolution in the 1960s.

And tomorrow, I will be discussing with Prime Minister Singh how we can advance the cooperation in the 21st century -- not only to benefit India, not only to benefit the United States, but to benefit the world. India can become a model for countries around the world that are striving for food security.

The second expo I toured focused on the ways that innovation is empowering Indian citizens to ensure that democracy delivers for them. So I heard directly from citizens in a village hundreds of miles away, through e-panchayat. I saw new technologies and approaches that allow citizens to get information, or to fight corruption, monitor elections, find out whether their elected official is actually going to work, holding government accountable.

And while these innovations are uniquely India’s, their lessons can be applied around the world. So earlier this year, at the U.N., I called for a new focus on open societies that support open government and highlighted their potential to strengthen the foundation of freedoms in our own countries, while living up to the ideals that can light the world. And that's what India is starting do with some of this innovation.

We must remember that in some places the future of democracy is still very much in question. Just to give you an example, there are elections that are being held right now in Burma that will be anything but free and fair based on every report that we’re seeing. And for too long the people of Burma have been denied the right to determine their own destiny.

So even as we do not impose any system of government on other countries, we, especially young people, must always speak out for those human rights that are universal, and the right of people everywhere to make their own decisions about how to shape their future, which will bring me to my final question, and then you guys can start sending questions my way.

How do you -- how do each of you want to make the world a better place? Keep in mind that this is your world to build, your century to shape. And you’ve got a powerful example of those who went before you. Just as America had the words and deeds of our Founding Fathers to help chart a course towards freedom and justice and opportunity, India has this incredible history to draw on, millennia of civilization, the examples of leaders like Gandhi and Nehru.

Gandhiji's room preserved at Mani Bhavan. He lived in this room whenever he visited Mumbai for 17 years, and took several key decisions here.

As I stood in Mani Bhavan, I was reminded that Martin Luther King made his own pilgrimage to that site over 50 years ago. In fact, we saw the book that he had signed. After he returned home, King said that he was struck by how Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.

You have that power within you. You, too, must embody those principles. For even within this time of great progress, there are great imperfections, the injustice of oppression, the grinding punishment of poverty, the scourge of violent extremism and war. King and Gandhi made it possible for all of us to be here today -- me as a President, you as a citizen of a country that's made remarkable progress. Now you have the opportunity and the responsibility to also make this plant a better place.

And as you do, you’ll have the friendship and partnership of the United States, because we are interested in advancing those same universal principles that are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.

The lives that you lead will determine whether that opportunity is extended to more of the world’s people -- so that a child who yearns for a better life in rural India or a family that's fled from violence in Africa, or a dissident who sits in a Burmese prison, or a community that longs for peace in war-torn Afghanistan -- whether they are able to achieve their dreams.

And sometimes the challenges may be incredibly hard, and in the face of darkness, we may get discouraged. But we can always draw on the light of those who came before us. I hope you keep that light burning within you, because together the United States and India can shape a century in which our own citizens and the people of the world can claim the hope of a better life.

So thank you very much for your patience. And now you can take Michelle’s advice and ask me some tough questions. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

So we have I think people in the audience with microphones, and so when they come up, if you could introduce yourself -- love to know who you are. And we'll start with that young lady right over there.

Q Hi, good day, sir. Hi, my name is Anna and I’m from St. Davis College. My question to you is, what is your take on opinion about jihad, or jihadi? Whatever is your opinion, what do you think of them?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the phrase jihad has a lot of meanings within Islam and is subject to a lot of different interpretations. But I will say that, first, Islam is one of the world’s great religions. And more than a billion people who practice Islam, the overwhelming majority view their obligations to their religion as ones that reaffirm peace and justice and fairness and tolerance. I think all of us recognize that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted to justify violence towards innocent people that is never justified.

And so I think one of the challenges that we face is how do we isolate those who have these distorted notions of religious war and reaffirm those who see faiths of all sorts -- whether you are a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Jew or any other religion, or your don't practice a religion -- that we can all treat each other with respect and mutual dignity, and that some of the universal principles that Gandhi referred to -- that those are what we’re living up to, as we live in a nation or nations that have very diverse religious beliefs.

And that's a major challenge. It’s a major here in India, but it’s a challenge obviously around the world. And young people like yourselves can make a huge impact in reaffirming that you can be a stronger observer of your faith without putting somebody else down or visiting violence on somebody else.

I think a lot of these ideas form very early. And how you respond to each other is going to be probably as important as any speech that a President makes in encouraging the kinds of religious tolerance that I think is so necessary in a world that's getting smaller and smaller, where more and more people of different backgrounds, different races, different ethnicities are interacting and working and learning from each other.

And those circumstances -- I think all of us have to fundamentally reject the notion that violence is a way to mediate our differences.

All right. Yes, I may not get to every question. I’ll call on this young man right here. Right there, yes.

Q Good morning, sir. My name is Jehan (phonetic). I’m from H.R. College. So my question is more about spirituality and moral values. We see today in today’s world, there more of a materialistic frame of thought when it comes to generations -- budding generations. So what do you believe is a possible methodology which governments, rather yours or any other governments in the world, they can adopt to basically incorporate the human core values, the moral values of selflessness, brotherhood, over the materialistic frame of thought which people work by today?

THE PRESIDENT: It’s a terrific question and I’m glad you’re asking it. India is making enormous progress in part because, like America, it has this incredible entrepreneurial talent, entrepreneurial spirit. And I think we should not underestimate how liberating economic growth can be for a country.

In the United States, I used to work with a lot of churches when I was still a community organizer, before I went to law school. And one of the common phrases among the pastors there was, it’s hard to preach to an empty stomach. It’s hard to preach to an empty stomach. If people have severe, immediate material needs -- shelter, food, clothing -- then that is their focus. And economic growth and development that is self-sustaining can liberate people, allow them -- it forms the basis for folks to get an education and to expand their horizons. And that's all for the good.

So I don't want any person here to be dismissive of a healthy materialism because in a country like India, there’s still a lot of people trapped in poverty. And you should be working to try to lift folks out of poverty, and companies and businesses have a huge role in making that happen.

Now, having said that, if all you’re thinking about is material wealth, then I think that shows a poverty of ambition. When I was visiting Gandhi’s room, here in Mumbai, it was very telling that the only objects in the room were a mat and a spinning wheel and some sandals and a few papers. And this is a man who changed history like probably no one else in the 20th century in terms of the number of lives that he affected. And he had nothing, except an indomitable spirit.

So everyone has a role to play. And those of you who are planning to go into business, I think it’s wonderful that you’re going into business and you should pursue it with all your focus and energy. Those of you, though, who are more inclined to teach or more inclined to public service, you should also feel encouraged that you are playing just as critical a role. And whatever occupation you choose, giving back to the community and making sure that you’re reaching back to help people, lift up people who may have been left behind, that’s a solemn obligation.

And by the way, it’s actually good for you. It’s good for your spirit. It’s good for your own moral development. It will make you a happier person, knowing that you’ve given back and you’ve contributed something.

Last point I would make -- I think this is another thing that India and the United States share, is there’s a healthy skepticism about public servants, particularly electoral politics. In the United States, people generally have -- hold politicians in fairly low esteem -- sometimes for good reason, but some of it is just because the view is that somehow government can’t do anything right. And here in India, one of the big impediments to development is the fact that in some cases the private sector is moving much faster than the public sector is moving.

And I would just suggest that I hope some of you decide to go ahead and get involved in public service -- which can be frustrating. It can be, at times, slow -- you don’t see progress as quickly as you’d like. But India is going to need you not just as businessmen but also as leaders who are helping to reduce bureaucracy and make government more responsive and deliver services more efficiently. That’s going to be just as important in the years to come. Because otherwise you’re going to get a imbalance where some are doing very well but broad-based economic growth is not moving as quickly as it could.

Excellent question.

I’m going to go boy-girl-boy-girl, or girl-boy-girl-boy, just to make sure it’s fair. Let’s see. This young lady right there -- yes.

Q Hello. I actually wanted to ask you -- you mention Mahatma Gandhi a lot usually in your speeches. So I was just wondering how exactly do you implement his principles and his values in your day-to-day life, and how do you expect the people in the U.S. to live in those values? Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s a terrific question. Let me say, first of all, that he, like Dr. King, like Abraham Lincoln, are people who I’m constantly reading and studying, and I find myself falling woefully short of their example all the time. So I’m often frustrated by how far I fall short of their example.

But I do think that at my best, what I’m trying to do is to apply principles that fundamentally come down to something shared in all the world’s religions, which is to see yourself in other people; to understand the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, regardless of station, regardless of rank, regardless of wealth, and to absolutely value and cherish and respect that individual; and then hopefully, try to take that principle of treating others as you would want to be treated and find ways where that can apply itself in communities and in cities and in states and ultimately in a country and in the world.

As I said, I often find myself falling short of that ideal. But I tend to judge any particular policy based on, is this advancing that spirit; that it’s helping individuals realize their potential; that it’s making sure that all children are getting an education -- so that I’m not just worrying about my children; that I’m thinking, first and foremost, about the United States of America, because that’s my responsibility as President, but I’m also recognizing that we are in an interrelationship with other countries in the world and I can’t ignore an abuse of human rights in another country. I can’t ignore hardships that may be suffering -- that may be suffered by somebody of a different nationality.

That I think more than anything is what I carry with me on a day-to-day basis. But it’s not always apparent that I’m making progress on that front.

One of the other things I draw from all great men and women, like a Gandhi, though, is that on this journey you’re going to experience setbacks and you have to be persistent and stubborn, and you just have to keep on going at it. And you’ll never roll the boulder all the way up the hill but you may get it part of the way up.

This gentleman in the blue shirt. Do we have a microphone? Oh, here we go. Thanks.

Q Good afternoon, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon.

Q It’s an honor to question you. What my question would be is, when you were being elected as President, one of the words you used a lot was “change.” After your midterm election, the midterm -- it seems that the American people have asked for a change. The change that you will make, how exactly is it going to affect young India, people from my generation?

THE PRESIDENT: That’s an interesting question.

Q Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: The United States has gone through probably the toughest two years economically as we’ve gone through since the 1930s. I mean, this was a profound financial crisis and economic shock, and it spilled over to most of the world. India weathered it better than many countries. But most of the work that I did with Prime Minister Singh in the first two years in the G20, we were focused on making sure that the world’s financial system didn’t collapse.

And although we’ve now stabilized the economy, unemployment in the United States is very high now relative to what it typically has been over the last several decades. And so people are frustrated. And although we’re making progress, we’re not making progress quickly enough.

And one of the wonderful things about democracy is that when the people are not happy, it is their right, obligation, and duty to express their unhappiness, much to the regret sometimes of incumbents. But that’s a good thing. That’s a healthy thing.

And my obligation is to make sure that I stick to the principles and beliefs and ideas that will move America forward -- because I profoundly believe that we have to invest in education, that that will be the primary driver of growth in the future; that we’ve got to invest in a strong infrastructure; that we have to make sure that we are taking advantage of opportunities like clean energy.

But it also requires me to make some midcourse corrections and adjustments. And how those play themselves out over the next several months will be a matter of me being in discussions with the Republican Party, which is now going to be controlling the House of Representatives. And there are going to be areas where we disagree and hopefully there are going to be some areas where we agree.

Now, you asked specifically, how do I think it will affect policy towards India. I actually think that the United States has a enormous fondness for India, partly because there are so many Indian-Americans and because of the shared values that we have. And so there is a strong bipartisan belief that India is going to be a critical partner with the United States in the 21st century. That was true when George Bush was President. That was true when Bill Clinton was President. It was true under Democratic and Republican control of Congress.

So I don’t think that fundamental belief is going to be altered in any significant way. I do think that one of the challenges that we’re going to be facing in the United States is at a time when we’re still recovering from this crisis, how do we respond to some of the challenges of globalization? Because the fact of the matter is, is that for most of my lifetime -- I’ll turn 50 next year -- for most of my lifetime, the United States was such a dominant economic power, we were such a large market, our industry, our technology, our manufacturing was so significant that we always met the rest of the world economically on our terms. And now, because of the incredible rise of India and China and Brazil and other countries, the United States remains the largest economic and the largest market but there’s real competition out there.

And that's potentially healthy. It makes -- Michelle was saying earlier I like tough questions because it keeps me on my toes. Well, this will keep America on its toes. And I'm positive we can compete because we've got the most open, most dynamic entrepreneurial culture; we've got some of the finest universities in the world; incredible research and technology. But it means that we're going to have to compete.

And I think that there’s going to be a tug of war within the United States between those who see globalization as a threat and want to retrench, and those who accept that we live in a open, integrated world which has challenges and opportunities and we've got to manage those challenges and manage those opportunities, but we shouldn’t be afraid of them.

And so what that means, for example, is on issues of trade, part of the reason I'm traveling through Asia this week is I believe that the United States will grow and prosper if we are trading with Asia. It’s the fastest-growing region in the world. We want access to your markets. We think we've got good products to sell; you think that you’ve got good products to sell us. This can be a win-win situation.

So I want to make sure that we're here because this will create jobs in the United States and it can create jobs in India. But that means that we've got to negotiate this changing relationship. Back in the 1960s or ‘70s, the truth is the American economy could be open even if our trading partners’ economies weren’t open. So if India was protecting certain sectors of its economy, it didn’t really have such a big effect on us. We didn’t need necessarily reciprocity because our economy was so much larger.

Well, now, things have changed. So it’s not unfair for the United States to say, look, if our economy is open to everybody, countries that trade with us have to change their practices to open up their markets to us. There has to be reciprocity in our trading relationship. And if we can have those kinds of conversations, fruitful, constructive conversations about how we produce win-win situations, then I think we'll be fine.

If the American people feel that trade is just a one-way street, where everybody is selling to the enormous U.S. market but we can never sell what we make anywhere else, then people in the United States will start thinking, well, this is a bad deal for us. And that could end up leading to a more protectionist instinct in both parties -- not just among Democrats, but also among Republicans. So that's what we have to guard against.

All right, it’s a young lady’s turn. This young lady with the glasses -- yes.

Q A very warm welcome to you to India, sir. ]

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.

Q I'm from H.R. College of Commerce and Economics. We were the privileged college to host Mr. Otis Moss this January. Sir, my question to you is why is Pakistan so important an ally to America, so far as America has never called it a terrorist state?

THE PRESIDENT: Well -- no, no, it’s a good question. And I must admit I was expecting it. (Laughter.) Pakistan is an enormous country. It is a strategically important country not just for the United States but for the world. It is a country whose people have enormous potential, but it is also, right now, a country that within it has some of the extremist elements that we discussed in the first question. That's not unique to Pakistan, but obviously it exists in Pakistan.

The Pakistani government is very aware of that. And what we have tried to do over the last several years, certainly -- I'll just speak to my foreign policy -- has been to engage aggressively with the Pakistani government to communicate that we want nothing more than a stable, prosperous, peaceful Pakistan, and that we will work with the Pakistani government in order to eradicate this extremism that we consider a cancer within the country that can potentially engulf the country.

And I will tell you that I think the Pakistani government understands now the potential threat that exists within their own borders. There are more Pakistanis who’ve been killed by terrorists inside Pakistan than probably anywhere else.

Now, progress is not as quick as we’d like, partly because when you get into, for example, some of the Northwest Territories, these are very -- this is very difficult terrain, very entrenched. The Pakistani army has actually shifted some of its emphasis and focus into those areas. But that's not originally what their armed forces were designed to do, and so they’re having to adapt and adjust to these new dangers and these new realities.

I think there is a growing recognition -- but it’s something that doesn’t happen overnight -- of what a profound problem this is. And so our feeling has been to be honest and forthright with Pakistan, to say we are your friend, this is a problem and we will help you, but the problem has to be addressed.

Now, let me just make this point, because obviously the history between India and Pakistan is incredibly complex and was born of much tragedy and much violence. And so it may be surprising to some of you to hear me say this, but I am absolutely convinced that the country that has the biggest stake in Pakistan’s success is India. I think that if Pakistan is unstable, that's bad for India. If Pakistan is stable and prosperous, that's good.

Because India is on the move. And it is absolutely in your interests, at a time when you're starting to succeed in incredible ways on the global economic stage, that you [don’t] want the distraction of security instability in your region. So my hope is, is that over time trust develops between the two countries, that dialogue begins -- perhaps on less controversial issues, building up to more controversial issues -- and that over time there’s a recognition that India and Pakistan can live side by side in peace and that both countries can prosper.

That will not happen tomorrow. But I think that needs to be our ultimate goal.

And by the way, the United States stands to be a friend and a partner in that process, but we can't impose that on India and Pakistan. Ultimately, India and Pakistan have to arrive at their own understandings in terms of how the relationship evolves.

Okay. I've got time for one more question. It’s a guy’s turn. This young man right here, in the striped shirt.

Q Good afternoon, Mr. President. It’s an absolute honor to hear you, and I must say this, that one day I hope I be half as good as a leader as you are today.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you're very kind. Thank you.

Q Mr. President, my question relates to your Afghanistan policy. In light of your statements that the troop withdrawal would start in 2011, there have been recent developments that would indicate that USA has been in talks with Taliban so as to strike out a stable government in Afghanistan as when you withdraw. Now, does this point to the acceptance of the inevitability of the U.S. to fulfill the vision which they had, with which they invaded Afghanistan in 2001? Does it point out to their inability to take a military control of all the southern regions so that we can install a stable government? You notice that in Iraq where there’s a lot of instability now. So does it point to a sort of tacit acceptance of U.S. inability to create harmony in Afghanistan?

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I want to just unpack some of the assumptions inside the question because they were broadly based in fact, but I want to be very precise here.

I have said that starting in the summer of next year, July 2011, we will begin drawing down our troop levels, but we will not be removing all our troops. Keep in mind that we ramped up significantly because the idea was that for seven years we had just been in a holding pattern; we’d had just enough troops to keep Kabul intact but the rest of the countryside was deteriorating in fairly significant ways. There wasn’t a real strategy. And my attitude was, I don't want to, seven years from now, or eight years from now, be in the exact same situation. That's not a sustainable equilibrium.

So I said, let’s put more troops in to see if we can create more space and stability and time for Afghan security forces to develop, and then let’s begin drawing down our troops as we’re able to stand up Afghan security forces.

Now, in fact, it turns out that in Iraq -- you mentioned Iraq as a parallel -- in Iraq, we have been relatively successful in doing that. The government is taking way too long to get formed, and that is a source of frustration to us and I’m sure to the Iraq people. Having said that, though, if you think about it, it’s been seven months since the election, and violence levels are actually lower in Iraq than they’ve been just about any time since the war started -- at a time when we pulled back our forces significantly. So it shows that it is possible to train effective, indigenous security forces so that they can provide their own security. And hopefully politics then resolves differences, as opposed to violence.

Now, Afghan, I think is actually more complicated, more difficult, probably because it’s a much poorer country. It does not have as strong a tradition of a central government. Civil service is very underdeveloped. And so I think that the pace at which we’re drawing down is going to be determined in part by military issues, but it’s also going to be determined by politics. And that is, is it possible for a sizeable portion of the Pashtun population in Afghanistan that may be teetering back and forth between Taliban or a central government, is it possible for them to feel that their ethnicity, their culture, their numerical position in the country is adequately represented, and can they do that within the context of a broader constitutional Afghan government.

And I think that's a worthy conversation to have. So what we’ve said to President Karzai -- because this is being initiated by him -- what we’ve said is if former Taliban members or current Taliban members say that they are willing to disassociate themselves with al Qaeda, renounce violence as a means of achieving their political aims, and are willing to respect the Afghan constitution so that, for example, women are treated with all the right that men are afforded, then, absolutely, we support the idea of a political resolution of some of these differences.

Now, there are going to be some elements that are affiliated to the Taliban that are also affiliated with al Qaeda or LT or these other organizations, these extremists that are irreconcilable. They will be there. And there will need to be a military response to those who would perpetrate the kind of violence that we saw here in Mumbai in a significant ongoing way -- or the kind that we saw on 9/11 in New York City.

But I think a stable Afghanistan is achievable. Will it look exactly as I might design a democracy? Probably not. It will take on an Afghan character.

I do think that there are lessons that India has to show not just countries like Afghanistan but countries in sub-Saharan Africa. I mean, some of the incredible work that I saw being done in the agricultural sector is applicable to widely dispersed rural areas in a place like Afghanistan and could -- I promise you, if we can increase farmers’ yields in Afghanistan by 20 percent or 25 percent, and they can get their crops to market, and they’re cutting out a middleman and they’re ending up seeing a better standard of life for themselves, that goes a long way in encouraging them to affiliate with a modern world.

And so India’s investment in development in Afghanistan is appreciated. Pakistan has to be a partner in this process. In fact, all countries in the region are going to be partners in this process. And the United States welcomes that. We don’t think we can do this alone.

But part of our -- and this is probably a good way to end -- part of my strong belief is that around the world, your generation is poised to solve some of my generation’s mistakes and my parents’ generation’s mistakes. You’ll make your own mistakes, but there’s such incredible potential and promise for you to start pointing in new directions in terms of how economies are organized, in terms of how moral precepts and values and principles are applied, in how nations work together to police each other so that they’re not -- so that when there’s genocide or there is ethnic cleansing, or there are gross violations of human rights, that an international community joins together and speaks with one voice; so that economic integration isn’t a source of fear or anxiety, but rather is seen as enormous promise and potential; where we’re able to tackle problems that we can’t solve by ourselves.

I went to a lower school -- do you call them high schools here? It’s sort of a high school. And Michelle and I saw this wonderful exhibit of global warming and the concerns that these young people have -- they were 14, 15. And their energy and their enthusiasm was infectious. And I asked them, which one of you are going to be scientists who are going to try to solve this problem? And all of them raised their hands. And I said, well, this is hugely important for India. And they said, no, not for India -- for the world.

You see, their ambitions were not just to be great scientists for India. Their ambition was to be a great scientist for the world -- because they understood that something like climate change or clean energy, that’s not an American problem or an Indian problem -- that’s a human problem. And all of us are going to have to be involved in finding solutions to it.

And as I listen to all of you, with your wonderful questions, I am incredibly optimistic and encouraged that you will help find those solutions in the years to come.

So, thank you very much for your hospitality. Thank you, everybody. (Applause.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Days with My father

A wonderful new gallery from my favourite Time magazine. Photographer Phillip Toledano kept a photo-record of his father over a period of three years from 2006 to 2009. Do check Days with my Father

Toledano received tremendous response to his photographs, which capture the last years of his father's life very warmly. You can see some more pictures from the collection on a nicely designed Website of the same name. Many of those who viewed the website voted for a particular picture which was chosen as the cover of the book that was brought out by Chronicle Books this year.

If you view this please leave a comment about what you felt about the pictures.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Akaler Shandhaney @ 9th Asian Film Festival

In the pix: Smita Patil and Dhritiman Chatterjee in Akaler Shandhaney

Courtesy: www.mrinalsen.org

Akaler Shandhaney (In Search of a Famine)


Cast: Smita Patil, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Gita Sen, Rajen Tarafdar, Sreela Muzumder, Dipankar De

Directed by Mrinal Sen


7 September, 1980. A film crew comes to a village to make a film about a famine, which killed five million Bengalees in 1943. It was a man made famine, a side- product of the war, and the film crew will create the tragedy of those millions who died of starvation. The film documents the convivial life among the film crew and the hazards, problems and tension of film making on location. The actors live a double life, and the villagers, both simple and not-so-simple folk watch their work with wonder and suspicion. But as the film progresses, the recreated past begins to confront the present. The uneasy coexistence of 1943 and 1980 reveals bizarre connection, involving a village woman whose visions add a further dimension of time—that of future. A disturbing situation, indeed, for the “famine-seekers”

Awards: National awards for Best Film, Best Editing, and Best Direction and Best Screenplay for Mrinal Sen. Also won Silver Bear at Berlin International Film Festival

(9th Third Eye Asian Film Festival opens on Oct 29. 2010 in Mumbai. Over the next seven days, the festival will screen 80 contemporary Asian films and 50 short films at YB Chavan Centre in South Mumbai, Plaza Cinema in Central Mumbai, and Fun Republic in Western suburbs. For more information on the festival, you could log in to http://www.affmumbai.com/ The film schedules will be uploaded on the website before the festival opens.

To watch the festival, you have to register as a festival delegate at the delegate counters opened at the three venues from Oct 15 between 1 and 7 pm. A registration fee of Rs 400 will enable you to access any film at any of the three venues. Students and film society activists can avail the delegate card at a concessional rate of Rs 200 by showing an ID proof. Registration is a simple process, and no photographs are required for acquiring the delegate card.

Please do not forget to pick up a copy of the festival catalogue, your definitive guide to the festival fare along with your card. It is edited by well-known film critic Maithili Rao)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Blade of Grass

A close friend of mine was clearing her mailbox, and found this mail from me sent three years ago. She forwarded it back to me. What goes around comes around. Read on:

Said a blade of grass to an autumn leaf, "You make such a noise falling! You scatter all my winter dreams."

Said the leaf indignant, "Low-born and low-dwelling! Songless, peevish thing! You live not in the upper air and you cannot tell the sound of singing."

Then the autumn leaf lay down upon the earth and slept. And when spring came she waked again -- and she was a blade of grass.

And when it was autumn and her winter sleep was upon her, and above her through all the air the leaves were falling, she muttered to herself, "O these autumn leaves! They make such a noise! They scatter all my winter dreams."

- from K Gibran (Blade of Grass)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Thought-fox

Homage to Ted Hughes by Reginald Gray.
Held by Bankfield Museum, Yorkshire

This is a Ted Hughes poem about the poet's creative process of how a poem appears on a blank page. I think we had this in Class IX textbooks in school. Does anyone remember?

The Thought-fox

I imagine this midnight moment's forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock's loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow
A fox's nose touches twing, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

NYPD detective's photographic record

Photo copyright: Greg Semendinger/NYPD/ABC/AP

Every visit to the Time magazine's photo section always reveals something interesting to see.

Months before he retired, photography enthusiast and New York Police Department detective Greg Semendinger shot dramatic images of 9/11 while the two towers were going down from a helicopter. He was airborne minutes after the towers were hit and shot this great photographic record. Check this Time Magazine gallery to see 9/11 from the sky.

He shot 240 images which were part of a photographic project undertaken by the US-government run National Institute of Standards and Technology, which probed the physical destruction of the World Trade Centre towers. The NIST had collected over 2700 pictures from amateurs and professionals as part of its project. They remained out of the public domain till ABC News got to know about the photographic project, and used the Freedom of Information Act to get them released in Feb 2010.

Also check Semendinger interview recalling the moments when he shot these pictures.

While Semendinger was shooting from the sky, two photo journalists James Nachtwey and Steve McCurry were shooting the collapse of the towers from the ground. You could see Nachtwey's images on his website. He actually went inside the towers before they collapsed. They were first published by Time magazine.

Web Site Hit Counter
stats counter

Friday, August 27, 2010

Music over Matter

Posting after a long, long time. I had a hairline fracture on the left elbow and was down for a fortnight.
Posting an interesting story I wrote in The Telegraph for those who may not have read it. The context of the story is the 50-year-old border dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka over marathi-speaking villages and towns. The dispute is currently before the Supreme Court, and a war of words was on between politicians of both states. On this background, Bhimsen Joshi was chosen for the first Gangubai Hangal Memorial Award by Hangal's family.
I also need to thank my editors R Rajagopal and Arijit Dasgupta who have polished, edited and rewritten my verbose report. A reporter's byeline appears on a news story, but there are a number of people who fine-tune the copy before it goes to the page. This one appeared in the coveted, sacred space -- Page One Lead.
Read on...

Memory of music wafts past strife

Mumbai, July 18: Music has bridged a chasm that language created and nurtured.

Amid the inflamed passions over a 50-year-old Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute, the Hubli-based family of legendary singer Gangubai Hangal has decided to confer the first lifetime achievement award in her memory to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who lives in Pune.

Joshi, 88, and Gangubai, who passed away a year ago aged 96, had, of course, learnt music together under Sawai Gandharva’s tutelage and “were like brother and sister”, their family members said. Still, to many, the award may take on a symbolic significance at a time politicians are stoking emotions over Maharashtra being denied the Marathi-speaking areas of Karnataka.

Joshi represents, as Gangubai did, the Kirana gharana of the Belgaum-Dharwad-Hubli region, parts of which fall within the disputed area. The vocalist is now the sole living torchbearer of the musical legacy of the region that also produced Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur, Pandit Kumar Gandharva and Basavraj Rajguru.

The Pune-based Joshi was born in a Brahmin family in Dharwad, but Maharashtra has long claimed him as its own.

He speaks both Kannada and Marathi at home and accepted awards from both state governments — the Maharashtra Bhushan in 2002 and the Karnataka Ratna in 2005 — before the Bharat Ratna in 2009 stamped his status as a treasure belonging to the nation.

Gangubai’s grandson Manoj Hangal, reminded that the honour to Joshi comes amid an inter-state political controversy, said: “We wanted to show that music is above these political considerations.”

He added: “When we asked her about the border dispute, Gangubai would say there are no boundaries of nationality, caste, colour or language for a musician. She herself always considered Mumbai her maher (mother’s home).”

Joshi’s son Shrinivas Joshi said: “Panditji is very happy and honoured to receive this award. Gangubai always treated him as her younger brother, and they shared a wonderful bond.”

Language, the fulcrum of the border dispute, had never been a barrier for Joshi or Gangubai. Joshi is as well known for his Kannada renditions of Purandara Dasa’s kirtanas in the album Dasavani as for his Marathi abhangs.

“We speak Kannada as well as Marathi,” Manoj Hangal said. “Gangubai not only spoke fluent Marathi, she would visit the Mumbai All India Radio office once every month since 1936. Some members of my family have married Maharashtrians and live in Maharashtra.”

To many, the Gangubai Hangal Music Foundation’s move to honour Joshi — and the maestro’s acceptance — has set an example at a time artistes have often failed to rise above ethnic strife.

Tamil and Kannada film stars had demonstrated in support of their states during the Hogenakkal water dispute in March 2008, some even supporting the boycott of films and TV channels from the rival state. Rajanikanth was accused of making “anti-Kannadiga” comments after criticising Karnataka politicians.

The foundation’s — and Joshi’s — decision also shows courage because celebrities can face a backlash if they are perceived as ignoring emotional issues, or as tilting towards one of the sides, even if unwittingly. A week ago, Hollywood star Jennifer Lopez had to call off her birthday show in Cyprus’s breakaway Turkish north following a campaign by incensed Greek Cypriots.

Manoj Hangal had announced the award in the run-up to the first death anniversary of Gangubai on July 21. The first Padmabhushan Gangubai Hangal Memorial National Award for Lifetime Achievement, consisting of Rs 50,000 in cash, a citation and a certificate, will be presented to the ailing vocalist in October.

Joshi would visit the Hangal home every time he passed through Hubli during his whirlwind concert tours, son Shrinivas said.

“When they studied under Sawai Gandharva in Dharwad, Gangubai had to travel from Hubli. Panditji would take a lantern and drop her at the railway station at night. Panditji’s first public performance was organised by Gangubai’s husband in Hubli in 1941,” Shrinivas said.

If Joshi took Dharwad’s legacy to Pune, Marathi culture too exerted its influence on Hubli-Dharwad, political commentator Arvind Kulkarni said. “Dharwad has a huge Marathi library, and leading Marathi writer G.A. Kulkarni lived in Dharwad,” he said.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A poem on global warming

Posting after a considerable break. I had posted two poems from Srishti Shenoy, the daughter of my Sharjah-based Praveen and Vidya Shenoy. This time Srishti's best friend Joanne has penned a poem on global warming.

Joanne is the daughter of their family friends, Joseph and Deepthi, and studies in DPS at Jebel Ali in Grade V. Vidya describes her as an "extremely creative girl who loves to read, is very very independent, and thinks ahead of time."

Copyright: http://nadhealady.wordpress.com


When we are alone in a cold place,
with no one to face,
We go home and light the pyre
and sit by the fire.
At first everything was okay,
At last no chill, no cold day!
But suddenly the world began to melt,
And then I knew how the creatures felt.
Soon there'd be no fantasy to enjoy, no one to know,
No place to hide, no place to go.
After the world had melted,
I found myself belted,
Out in the space, with lots of place,
An alien was playing ball with a silly face.
I said as my voice echoed in the universe's black sheet,
"Wow, what a feat!"
The alien said,
"Thank you, my name is Ted."
I asked him why did the earth melt,
as well as how the alien felt.
The alien who had many places to go,
Told me all the reasons I should know.
And finally said,"Now scram of my place,
Before you pollute as well the outer space".

Do tell me how you like Joanne's effort.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Life's iconic images

I was glancing through the astonishing archive of Life Magazine. Except National Geographic, perhaps no other magazine in the world has such a phenomenal collection of iconic pictures. During its peak, some of the world’s best photographers worked for it. Henri Cartier Bresson, Margaret Bourke White, Alfred Eisenstaedt to name just three. I once remember picking up an issue of Life with Jackie Kennedy's pictures from a road-side bookseller at Fort at some Rs 50. It was an absolute steal.

But, I was a bit stunned to look at Life magazine site. They have put everything on sale, which is good in a way for the readers, but it seems reduced to an online shop. I wish Life had continued being that classy magazine and carried on the good work though its inevitable. Photography itself has undergone such a change both technologically and stylistically.

I was looking at Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic picture Kissing the War Goodbye showing a US soldier kissing his partner passionately at Times Square to celebrate the end of World War II in 1945. What a picture!

Surfing on Life website is a great journey. One just comes across iconic images after images. Life takes you inside the homes of some of the biggest Hollywood icons. Another evergreen gallery is Classic Hollywood romances. Paul Newman’s first marriage was brief in characteristic Hollywood style, but the second with Joanne Woodward turned out be a Hollywood rarity for its longevity. These pictures tell the sweet story

Friday, April 23, 2010

Through Raghu Rai's eyes

Picture Copyright: Magnum Photos

India’s finest photojournalist Raghu Rai’s new book on classical musicians promises to be interesting. Titled India’s Great Masters: A photographic journey into the heart of Classical Music (Collins, Rs 3,500), the book takes you up close and personal to some of the legends of classical music. Pandit Ravi Shankar, Annapurna Devi, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar, Pandit Kumar Gandharva, Mallikarjun Mansur, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Bismillah Khan and others.

Years ago, my friend Neeraj Priyadarshi, presently the Photo-editor of The Indian Express, had done a joint exhibition with Raghu Rai on flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. All the images were black and white and both had captured Panditji in different moods. Rai had clicked some pictures that were stunning for its candidness. The camera is lurking close to the subject, but the moments captured look so amazingly natural as if the camera is not present at all.

The book promises to have more of these. Many of these pictures appeared in India Today magazine in 1980s when Rai worked as Director of Photography for 10 years. Mallikarjun Mansur on his deathbed having a puff of a cigarette. Bhimsen Joshi in an introspective mood in his Merc. Kumar Gandharva chatting on his bed in Devas. Catch a glimpse of some of these pictures in this review in The Telegraph. Tehelka's April 10 issue on Vidarbha suicides also has pictures of Rai's book.

Impressed by his work at a show in Paris in 1971, Raghu Rai was invited to join the Magnum Collective by the legend himself - Henri Cartier-Bresson

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kolhapur Kushti akharas

Miami-based Ami Vitale zipped through Maharashtra last month, and photographed the kushti or wrestling schools in Kolhapur. The traditional sport has been photographed before, but Ami has done the photo-story because red-clay wrestling is in its last lap.

"...The Indian Fighters Federation in the capital of New Delhi stunned thousands of fighters when it announced prohibition of fighting on red soil and ordered fight clubs to buy mattresses for their arenas. Ending the traditional red clay wrestling was an idea sprouted from the aspiration to achieve more Olympic medals since the last and only medal India brought home in wrestling was a bronze in 1952," she wrote in her 84-picture photo essay

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Iceland's volcano

Photo copyright: Whitehotpix/ZUMA press

National Geographic’s volcanologists and teams of experts must be tracking Iceland’s volcano which erupted and disrupted air travel across continents. And so would be hordes of journalists and photojournalists. What an assignment!

I wanted to see pix of the phenomenon and found two nice photo-galleries taking one closer to the volcano. Check how the volcanic eruption looks from NASA’s satellite cameras.

National Geographic has sourced pictures from the Icelandic Coast Guard. Some pictures of the Lightning at volcano And the plumes of volcanic ash shot by Arni Saeberg

Time magazine has put up a collection of pictures in The Eerie Beauty of Iceland’s Volcano

Monday, April 05, 2010

Faces of the Holocaust

Caption: German soldiers of the Waffen-SS and the Reich Labor Service look on as a member of an Einsatzgruppe prepares to shoot a Ukrainian Jew kneeling on the edge of a mass grave filled with corpses in Vinnitsa, Ukraine, USSR.
Photo Courtesy: United States Holocaust Memorial [Photograph #64407]

My friend Abhijit Bhatlekar from Mint sent me this link. Polish photographer Maciek Nabrdalik, who is part of the mentorship programme started by James Nachtwey's agency VII, decided that he needed to capture the faces of the survivors of the Holocaust before they fade away forever into history.

I think the concept and the pictures are brilliant. Do check Maciek Nabradik’s project Also read the reader comments on this New York Times photo blog, and tell me what you think of these pictures.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Two poems

Srishti Shenoy, the lovely daughter of my Sharjah-based friends Vidya and Praveen Shenoy, has arrived in India on annual summer vacation, and guess what she has started doing lately – writing poetry! And I remember a line from Polish poetess and Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska: I prefer the absurdity of writing poems to the absurdity of not writing poems!

So, I reproduce the first two poems Srishti, who is eight years old and will join Class III this April in Sharjah’s DPS School, has written for her school magazine.

If I were…
If I were a butterfly,
I would spread out my wings
If I were a bear,
I would eat sweet things
If I were a crocodile,
I would go snap snap
If I were a fish,
I would go swim swim
But I am happy to be me…

Lovely Colours
Red is bright
Orange is light
Yellow is a sun
Green lettuce in a bun!

Blue is water
Indigo is darker
Violet is the last
So lovely are the colours of the rainbow!

I don't think I even knew how to clean my running nose when I was eight, forget writing rhyming poetry. When I pointed out that the last two lines don't rhyme at all, she replied matter-of-factly, "No they don't". Thats good I thought. That way, she would come out sooner out of the confines of rhyme meters.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Inge Morath

Picture copyright: Magnum Photos

I came across Inge Morath’s legendary photograph of Marilyn Monroe on the sets of Arthur Miller’s The Misfits in a photo exhibition Leica, the great camera-making company, brought to Mumbai a few years ago. That exhibition also had some images from Henri Cartier Bresson, who always used a Leica 35mm camera for all his pictures. Two images - Morath’s Monroe, and Bresson’s painting like portrait of Kashmiri women dressed in traditional clothes on a hill top at the crack of first light – remained etched in my memory.

Like Cartier-Bresson, Inge Morath has also captured some of the leading global thinkers, poets, artists, writers, film-makers and film stars in portraits. Born in Austria in 1923, she completed her studies in Berlin, and became first a translator and then a journalist. A friend of photographer Ernst Haas, she wrote articles accompanying his photographs. It was Robert Capa who invited Morath to join Magnum Photo agency as an editor. She began photographing in 1951, and later assisted Cartier-Bresson as a researcher for two years. In 1955, she became a full Magnum member.

Morath travelled extensively and worked for a number of world’s leading magazines. She shot photographs on the sets of John Houston films. Her photographs of Marilyn Monroe on the sets of Houston’s 1961 film The Misfits (which was scripted by playwright-writer Arthur Miller) brought her instant fame. In 1962, she married Miller. Her initial work is black and white, but she continued shooting in colour right up to 2002, when she passed away.

Thanks to the wonderful re-design by Magnum Photos recently, about 12 different features of Morath’s work are now available for us to see on their website. Apart from portraits of Houston and Miller, her camera has captured painters like Pablo Picasso, Francoise Gilot, writers Francois Sagan, John Updike, Anais Nin and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, playwright Harold Pinter, fashion legend Yves St Laurent, French couturier Pierre Cardin among others.

Apart from the Marilyn Monroe series, Morath has captured pictures of Hollywood legends like Yul Brynner, Audrey Hepburn, Peter Houston, Ingrid Bergman, Elia Kazan, Dustin Hoffman (who starred in Miller’s Death of a Salesman), Liam Neeson (who acted in Miller’s play The Crucible in 2002). There is also a beautiful portrait of Anthony Quinn shot in 1959 at a cafĂ©. Quinn’s two companions can’t get their eyes of the star!

Since her death in 2002, Magnum Photos gives away the Inge Morath award for women photographers below the age of 30 who want to work on a long term documentary photography project. Please also check the work of Olivia Arthur , the 2008 award winner.