Books; People; Ideas : These are few of my favourite things. As I live between day-to-day compromises and change-the-world aspirations, this is the chronicle of my journey, full of moments of occasional despair and opportune discoveries, of connections and creations, and, most of all, my quest of knowledge as conversations.
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On A Naked Fakir in the Parliament Square
The unveiling of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the Parliament Square in London is a moment of triumph for the British Asian community. The statue of the man, who, like no other, represented an unique resistance to British commercial imperialism, being put at the very heart of such institution indicates the prominence and influence of the British Asians in the public life of the UK. The representatives of the community turned up in large numbers, along with a number of students from Hindu faith schools in London. It was a great moment of asserting a community identity and of celebrating integration in the life of their adopted country.
This is a triumph without a corresponding defeat though, fittingly for the man being celebrated. This is not one identity getting better of another - which is the usual zero-sum meaning we associate with the word 'triumph' - but the realisation of a much subtler message Gandhi embodied in his work. Vijay Merchant, the ex-Indian Cricketer who dropped out of the Indian Test Cricket Team in 1932 in protest against the treatment of Indian Nationalist leaders including Gandhi, told a story about Gandhi, which might be appropriate for the occasion. Mr Merchant described the moment when he had the opportunity to meet Gandhi in person first time and presented him with an autograph book, belonging to his sister. Gandhi took the autograph book and chose to sign on the page containing the autographs of all the members of the 1933 MCC Cricket Team (captained by Douglas Jardine) - and he appended his name at the bottom of the list, signing as "17. M K Gandhi". [A slightly different version of this story appears in Judson K Cornelius' Political Humour, which put Laxmi Merchant, Vijays sister, as the main protagonist] The message was indeed unequivocal - Gandhi saw no quarrels with the English Cricket Team, and by extension, the common people of England! Indeed, for a long period of time, he also served as a loyal member of the empire, serving as a Nurse in the Boer War and recruiting Indian servicemen for the Allies in the First World War. He, as a man who believed in the goodness of English people and the British sense of fairness and justice (not unlike many of the Founders of America, including Benjamin Franklin), does indeed have a rightful place in the Parliament Square in London.
However, an observer may also note the omnipresent irony, again quite fittingly for a man who was a master of sarcasm. It would not be amiss that the statue presents Gandhi in his trademark loincloth, which he adopted after dismissing his gentlemanly attire, and which earned him the epithet from a dismissive Churchill - "A Naked Fakir!" The presence of David Cameron, the Conservative British Prime Minister so keen on resurrecting some of Britains past glories, also highlight the irony - Churchill, the last Conservative Prime Minister during Gandhi's lifetime famously demanded to know "Why Gandhi is not dead yet?" when he was told about dying millions during the Bengal famine. The statue was unveiled by Shri Arun Jaitley, the current Indian Finance Minister, who built his political career as a leader of the student wing of Rashtriya Sayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu supremacist organisation which plotted for and carried out the assassination of Gandhi. To heighten the irony, the presence of a left-wing economist, Lord Meghnad Desai, and a famous Indian actor who made his name as a drunken violent young Indian, Amitabh Bachchan, should also be noted.
The timing of the unveiling of the statue also represents many a contradiction that marked Gandhi's life and career. He abstained from sex in his later life as he blamed himself for indulging in his lust for his wife during the moment his father, who he was supposed to be attending, died unattended. He spent 15th August 1947 without celebration and in fasting, in a decrepit house in Calcutta, as he saw India's independence, which came with partition, as defeat, not a victory. The unveiling of his statue, fittingly, comes as India intends to embark on an undefined quest of 'Development', visualised as an unrestrained opportunity to evict the farmers from their lands to create roads, bridges and factories, in a direct opposition of whatever Gandhi stood for.
To conclude, Gandhi's statue in the Parliament Square sums up his legacy in more ways than one. And, we may as well return to the theme of patricide, a powerful obsession throughout Gandhis own life, to understand what Gandhi means to Indians. The Swiss Philosopher, Bernard Imhasly, observed the deification of Gandhi - in his statues and numerous Mahatma Gandhi Roads that mark the Indian urban landscape - but the desertation of his message in modern India. Somewhat like a modern day Moses, who, in Freud's incisive portrayal, was killed by the Jews, the same people he helped liberate, Gandhi stands as a symbol, as our feeble minds crave for one and can not go beyond a statue to grasp the complex, higher order principles he really stood for. In that sense, the statue of Gandhi is both an illusion and a hope : An illusion, as this visible celebration undermines the abstractness of his vision which we proved ourselves incapable of carrying; And a hope, because it is a reminder of our patricide, a guilt that we may collectively carry, and a redemption that we may eventually seek.
1. Vijay Merchant In Memorium - Published 1988 by Marcus Cuoto, Bombay.
2. Moses the Man and Monotheistic Religion (1938) - Sigmund Freud
3. Why I Assassinated Gandhi (2015) - Nathuram Godse, Surya Bharati Prakashan, New Delhi
4. Gandhi and Churchill (2009) - Arthur Harman, Arrow
5. Churchill's Secret War (2011) - Madhusree Mukherjee, Basic Books.
6. The Death and Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi (2015) - Makarand R Paranjape, Random House India.
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."
The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which appeared …
Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper etal, 1991). Arunthanesetal (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something).
The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive season, is …
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago.
Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so.
Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself.
Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as I …
In an earlier post, I pointed out that the application of 'platform thinking' in education misses the mark, as it fails to understand how value is created in education. Since this apparently contradicts my earlier enthusiasm for the university as a 'user network', this statement needs further explanation.
To start with, Clayton Christiansen's idea that the universities of the Twentieth Century needs to evolve from its current 'value chain' model - wherein its value lies in its processes - to a form of User Network, where its value emanates from its community, still resonates with me. The Value Chain model, with departments, examinations, textbooks and degrees, that we know the university for, is very much a late Nineteenth/ early Twentieth century formulation. And, indeed, one can claim that the universities were always communities, and its value came from being a member of that community rather than its end product - the degrees - for much of history. It …
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind, which echo the pessimism somewhat.
I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope.
However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right inside …
I didn't write for almost three weeks as I was in India. The essence of my work there is to deal with employment creation. Part of my work is pro-bono - a city initiative focused on Industry 4.0 - and the other part is commercial, advising a large Indian corporation on the development of next-generation Skills training programmes. But the sense of crisis regarding unemployment cuts across scale and scope of my work and is a recurrent theme that pops up everywhere.
India has a really big challenge. About 2 million people reach working age every month in India, and even if only half of them are actively seeking employment, the few thousand jobs that the organised sector creates are woefully inadequate. India may be the fastest growing large economy in the world, but demonetisation of 2016 and poorly implemented General Sales Tax (GST) have hit businesses hard and froze up recruitment in many sectors. The widely promoted 'Make in India' initiative - the government's atte…
Smart presentations don't mean valuable insights. So it is with the current fad of presenting the vision of an all-new 21st-century education - through presentations, conferences and infographics - style trumps substance all the way through.
For, despite the claims of revolutionary changes in society and the workplace, the neat charts that lay down 21st-century skills next to the 20th-century one's show do not how different they would be, but rather how similar these are projected to be.
We are told that we have arrived at a fundamentally disruptive moment in history and we need new skills. So, we need, for example, communication and critical thinking, learning to learn and a host of other cool things. Indeed, many of those terms are very familiar to the educator: Many of those were around for more than two centuries, ever since the dreams of liberal education were spelt out.
When these slides were presented, I often wondered whether the point about critical thinking meant …
India's unemployment rate has reached a historical high and the government is panicking. It has rejected and suppressed the report and committed itself to inventing a new set of numbers. Members of the national statistical body have resigned, and the bad job numbers have become one of the worst kept secrets in its modern history.
As the government went down the road of obfuscation, it had also fooled itself believing that everything was fine. Once the statistical reports were questioned, the best explanation that the Head of the apex economic policy-making body could come up with was that Uber and other taxi-hailing companies have created millions of jobs in India. But then, the crisis is anything but hidden - walk on any street in any neighbourhood in any Indian city, and it is likely that you will see a few working-age people loitering, waiting or playing cards or carom in the middle of the day. IMF has recently warned that youth inactivity in India is highest among all develo…
Today is the Birth Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore.
Tagore was the first global Literary Superstar, the first Nobel Prize Winner from Asia, whose flowing robes and the white beard helped form the public image of an Indian sage on the global stage.
It is somewhat peculiar what Tagore is now known for. Given that many people reading this blog wouldn't know his name, I had to mention his Nobel prize. Yet, Tagore was somewhat resentful - and said so when he was facilitated in Calcutta after receiving the prize - that his countrymen would only recognise him only after the West had given him an award. The alternative way to tell who he was - that he was the man who wrote the National Anthem of India, as well as of Bangladesh - is equally problematic: Not just this brings up an old controversy (see An Exceptional Man) but, at least in case of India, reminds one of a Cosmopolitan Republican Nationalism that the current Indian government so love to hate.
Robots were supposed to take over the universe. Singularity - the end of human history - was due in about a decades time. And, then, it was to be a different world altogether - one with self-knowing, self-replicating machines.
But it seems that future may have been postponed.
If there is anything that the history of technological progress should teach us, it should be that we ought not to believe in the excited predictions that technology industry loves to make. It is part of their style - all those world-changing predictions! There is a vast difference between the rhetoric of Microsoft's seamlessly connected world and the reality of clunkiness of Windows; E-Commerce did well but the prognosis far outstripped the performance, and these are only the good examples. No aircraft ever fell out of the sky despite all the warnings of the Y2K doomsday: It did create a multi-billion dollar outsourcing industry though. And, there are those who are still waiting for the day when everyone l…