The Intimate Enemy by Ashis Nandy


To most of the finest critical minds of West, Colonialism was a necessary evil, the first portal towards a more even homogenized world. But for the Colonized, the psychological after effects and the trauma of subjugation, in all postulated merits, have not yet let them embrace the egalitarian world the apologists conveniently then envisioned. In the prospect of creating a technologically and morally advanced society, even if we ignore hierarchy of market economy, it has created a polarized world that clearly defines between the modern and the primitive, the secular and the non-secular, the scientific and the mystic, the expert and the layman, the developed and the third-world, the protected and the expendable. Nandy argues that Colonialism has not only colonized the geographical material entity but also the mind; by compelling colonized societies to modify, if not alter, their cultural priorities towards the concepts of modern West. This psychological aspect permeates into contemporary politics, rather conspicuously, even after absolute demise of empires and shift in world orders. In this book, Nandy consciously connives to uncover what Western colonialism has done to its subjects unconsciously, and the alternative language of discourse colonized Indians might have created in the process.

I know the intro sounds like the first snooze button in a long boring lecture, but I find myself ill equipped to articulate the things that I enjoyed and found enlightening during the read. Even using Nandy’s own language, which is academically tharoorized like Khilnani’s, isn’t enough to produce my thoughts and disagreements, or even appreciation towards the things I couldn’t repudiate though I wanted to. As counterproductive as it is, I had no other option but to paraphrase Nandy a bit to make myself a comprehension in this review.

“Even in opposition, the dissent remains predictable and controlled. It is possible today to opt for a non-West which in itself is a construction of the West. One can then choose between being the Orientaist’s despot, to combine Karl Wittfogel with Edward Said, and the revolutionary’s loving subject, to combine Camus with George Orwell. And for those who do not lik the choice, there is, of course, Cecil Rhodes’ and Rudyard Kiplings’ noble, half-savage half-child, compared to whom the much-hated Brown Sahib seems more Brown than sahib.”

The book is comprised of two long essays, first one of psychology of colonialism where Author examines the nature of sex, age and ideology in British India, and latter about post-colonial view of West and India. And they both speak of victims than victors, and when victors are addressed they are considered as camouflaged victims in their earlier stage of psychological decay. Nandy’s logic is interesting, which in itself is an anti-thesis for the generalized categories by which world is viewed today – a recurring element in reading. According to him, one must choose the non-modern slave over the modern master. In this choice, author denies any effort to deify suffering or moral cajoling for slave is oppressed; rather, slave represents a higher cognition for regarding his master ‘human’, whereas master’s cognition perforce reduces the salve to a ‘thing’. Modern oppression, he argues, as opposed to traditional oppression is not a battle between the self and the enemy, or the oppressor and the revolutionaries, or the god and the demons. “It is a battle between de-humanized self and the objectified enemy, the technological bureaucrat and his deified victim, pseudo-ruler and their fearsome other selves projected on to their ‘subjects’.” Though I think a detailed look into the traditional oppression, taking the time period in consideration, can render them less monochromatic, I found this take very appealing and well in line with book’s title.

“The Hindu, for instance, is aggressive while talking of pacifism, dirty in spite of his ideology of purity, materialist while preaching spiritualism, and comically Indian while trying to be Western.”


It would be safe to say that Colonialism, at least over time, wasn’t concomitant with the economic and political gains that lured Imperial empires in inception. For France and Portugal, South Asian or African colonies have consumed more than they returned, and in Manchuria, Japan constantly lost money. But that didn’t make the subjugated land any less of a colony; and from this view point, Nandy tries to show the state of mind as the primary differentia between colonizers and the colonized, where a shared culture might not find its commencement with alien rule or closure in its departure. To illustrate it, author explores the homology between sexual and political dominance, and concludes it not just as a by-product of colonialism, but after effect of the sexual stereotypes and philosophy West possessed- denial of psychological bisexuality, acceptance of dominance by men and masculinity over women and femininity. During the early British rule in India, 1757 to 1830, British middle class were not dominant in ruling culture and administration was devoid of lordly prerogatives and race based evolutionism. Though rapacious, first two Governor Generals were committed to things Indian; proselytizing was banned, and Indian laws and system of education were followed. But towards the later stages of Industrial revolution that caused the rise of middle class and British-evangelical spirit, they began to ascribe salvatory meanings to British domination. Raj began to see India as uncivilized in their ‘white man’s burden’ and Indians began to see their progress in becoming more like the British, in friendship or enmity. In this ‘identification with the aggressor’, western view of hyper masculinity began to permeate into the socio-religious-literature-art movements of India, with ‘Kshatriyahood’ (the martial portion of Indian caste system) becoming the indicator of authentic indianhood. Indian concepts of purusatva (masculinity), naritva (feminity) and klibatva (hermaphroditism) were polarized against one another and the existence of later two or any forms of androgyny were now perceived as negation of man’s unalloyed political identity. Author identifies the moral and political dilemma this transition caused, and it’s chronic after effects in colonial India through two works of Rabindranath Tagore, Car Adhyay and Gora, which were twenty seven years apart in publication. This reader was able to identify, to some extent, the suggested transition in depiction of Gods, who are getting increasingly martial, or masculine or feminine, every day against earlier androgynous ardhanarishwaran (half man half woman God).

Arthanariswaran – Half part woman God

After the psychoanalysis between sex and political identity, author explores the subsidiary homology between childhood and state of being colonized. According to Philippe Aries, the modern concept of childhood, child as an inferior immature version of adult who needs to be educated than a smaller version of adult, is a product of seventeenth century Europe. Playfulness of a child remained lovable, but, any childishness or immaturity from adults became unlovable, even savage and primitive. Also along with delegitamization of femininity and childhood, Modern Europe also undermined old age. Semitic religious elements saw or a natural aging as decay or unfolding resulting from man’s inherent sinfulness, and according to this European ideology of ‘male adulthood’, only adult male can be representative of a perfect human being. The principle of productivity and performance, axioms that drive technology even today, eventually began to replace the wisdom of grey hair and render the elderly socially irrelevant. How Nandy plugs this into the psychology of colonization was fascinating and inline with the categorization of oriental scholarship by Amartya Sen in his book- The Argumentative Indian. Western civilizing gospel that worked well in Africa and other parts of the world was a bit handicapped when it came to India and China; for they both had a living past that Europe admired for long, however strange they were from western standards, with century old tradition of literati, philosophy, art and science. To circumvent this problem, colonial ideology drew a thick line between the once glorious bygone past and its senile vestige which is the present (This remind me of AL Basham’s ‘The Wonder that was India’ with my mind getting fixated on ‘was’ part in title; on second thoughts it might be an ill placed example for this discussion considering the historical age book graciously covers). To concrete this, colonial rule asserted existence of ‘yin’ in the ‘yang’ that is traditional Indian culture and presented themselves as the liberator from ancient retrogressive elements.

Cultural response to this colonial ideology is visible even now, in present day politics and social media, where constant validation is being sought out by Indians, often creating hilarious stereotypes. Author explains it based on works by Benkim Chandra Chatterjee, the social reformer who gave us the iconic song and slogan ‘Vande Mataram’. Revival of hindiusm on reinterpretation of scriptures unknowingly borrowed its core values from colonial world view, Nandy argues. In Chatterjee’s Anandamath, Hinduism was shown as an organized religion, hero hailed from an order of sanyasis similar to semitic priesthood, with a sense of history and passive acceptance for Raj as an inevitable phenomenon. He tried to recreate the imagery of Krishna as a martial God giving wisdom to Arjuna in battlefield than the lovable playful butterthief everyone was familiar with. And further, following the Semitic creeds, there were attempts to introduce the concept of singular holy Book, linear history unlike the cycle of ages and acceptance of ideas akin to monotheism. Such school of thoughts viewed cultural regression and even subjugation, earlier by Muslims and now by British, as a result of loss of original Aryan qualities which they shared with Westerners. Author gives the popular example of Vivekananda and Dayanand on this Chritianization of Hinduism and failed example of Iswarachandra Vidyasagar on primarily Eastern, anarchic federational version. And Gandhi, who later organized Hindus as Indians, not Hindus in his open ended mass mobilization against colonialism.


The ideological damage wasn’t a single sided aspect. Though ideology of colonialism induced a false sense of cultural homogeneity in Britain and gave the Island primacy over Napoleanic France and rest of Europe, long term cultural damage to the society was greater. Social Darwinism under the colonial ideologies de emphasized speculation and reduced softer side of human nature feminine and femininity altogether into limited cultural role. This is interesting if viewed through the later history of Britain where it wasn’t until 1918 did all men have voting rights, and 1928 for women to reach there, and as far as 1969 for lowering it to 18 years. For illustrating further cultural pathologies, author tries to reflect the ethical-religious responsibility and critic for totalitarianism through works of two British authors with Indian roots- Kipling and Orwell. Those who didn’t belong to or rebel out of this hyper masculine over socialized aspects of European personality were ostracized (classic example being Oscar Wild) and some, like Sister Nivedita, Annie Besant, Mira Behn found in Indian, a greater tolerance for androgyny, better legitimacy for women participation and mode for dissent. It will be a stretch and probably wrong to bring contemporary aspects to this argument – by binging early and continuing presence of women in political representation in South Asian nations than Western counterparts – but the idiot in me is yearning to do so. Nandy’s essay ‘Woman versus Womanliness in India’ can give a better picture about the difference in female participation in Western and Eastern society.

“Gandhi was a living antithesis set up against the thesis of the English”

The foremost and most creative response to this western modernity came from victims, in the form of Gandhi, who became the living symbol of the ‘other West’. His definition of ‘Swarajya’ was self-realisation, by liberating Indians from the British, in the realm of history and psychology. In his critique against modernity, through the idea of Non Violence (Nonviolence cannot be construed as an original Indian concept, Gandhi himself attributed Sermon on the Mount as his point of reference, and was influenced by the other marginalized West who had no place in colonial social construct, the likes of Thoreau or later Tolstoy), he wanted to liberate English as well as Indians. He challenged the existing neo stratification – superiority of masculinity over femininity and that of womanliness over femininity in men. Against the hyper masculinity or Khatriyahood, the forte of colonial ideology, Gandhi borrowed the tradition of saintliness in India- the divine bi-unity, superiority of ability to transcend the dichotomy of man-woman. He further elevated the essence of femininity over that of masculinity, implications of which can easily be lost by someone applying the framework of western definition. In Indian female identity, maternity has primacy over conjugality, and female principle is more powerful, dangerous and uncontrollable, like the Goddess Shakti and other manifestations. Thus he completely negated western cosmology and Khatriya world view, the colonial culture that was built on ability for violent activism. His principle of non-violence was not merely non-violence of the weak, but non-violence of the strong- liberation of courage in activism from aggression by being non-violent while having the means to be violent (Gandhi’s response to Arms Act would be the best example). Gandhian worldview also opposed the western or modern academic conception of history, a chronology of good and bad events with dis-junctions of revolution that defines a nation. History when seen as the authentic reality in this sense reduces ‘myths’ as pseudo history and cultures that follow them as primitive. In Gandhian view, ahistoricity affirmed dignity and autonomy of modern people, for unlike history, myths allow no strings attached access to processes which constitute history, and hence widen human choice than restricting them. It allows real time hold on present without any need to avenge the past. On the other hand, as rightly demonstrated in Independent India by the Hindu Right, historicization of myths can cause serious fissures in secular fabric and greater false pride to avenge the past.

“Gandhi’s concept of a free India, his revolution for racial, caste and inter religious conflicts and his concept of human dignity were remarkably free from the constraints of history. If the past does not bind social consciousness and future begins here, the present is the ‘historical’ moment, the permanent yet shifting point of crisis and the time for choice”.

In the second essay, author takes his psychoanalysis to the post-colonial view, of both India and the West. It gets into the nitty gritty details of Kipling’s life in relation with his literary view, and the materialistic obfuscations of internal critiques like Nirad C Chaudhuri and V.S.Naipaul, who in their loss, wanted to identify India as a martial opponent to the West. Nandy’s polar opposite is Aurobindo Ghose, who denounced his western middle name and western education to embrace India as India, not the non-West. To the former Orient should defeat the Occident in its own game by embracing ‘this-worldiness’ of Kshatriyahood, and to the latter the already superior ‘Spiritual India’ was the real India. Though pluralities of ideologies are always accommodated, this split is in present continuous tense, and when everything material fails people retract to the spiritual self for answers. This made me recall the title of Edward Luce’s book on modern Indian economy – Inspite of the Gods, a vocal affirmation to the notion that religion and technological progress cannot coexist except in rare exceptions. The major western worldview separates both philosophies, with conspicuous hierarchy and exclusivity. And this is where Gandhi stands as an original critique to modernity. He attacked the moral statement and civilizing mission of colonialism based on cultural superiority in their home ground-by declaring it evil through judgement via Christian values. And he further disproved the historical conception of colonization as an instrument of progress using western conception of ‘history’ itself. Gandhi endorsed a non-modern Indian cognition that viewed western model unsuitable for both parties, with its unequal distribution of power and social hierarchies.


“there are many kinds of failures, some of which succeed.”

A Passage to India, EM Foster

Idea of India was always compromising, fluidic and in a way ahistoric, with tolerance and willingness to learn the ways of outsider or civilized, provided its profitable. It would be more correct to put this aspect as something out of necessity than intrinsic trait, a survival strategy that keeps somewhat dynamic boundary conditions, to preserve one’s self-image. Here the ‘Spiritual India’ maintains pragmatism even with its weak grasp on reality and provides ductility over brittleness of egoistic identity. I can’t say I have grokked this unfathomable unheroic Indian response, and to the occident in me and you, these questions may offer more clarity than the answers author provides for them.

“But the question remains why every imperial observer of the Indian society has loved India’s martial races and hated and felt threatened by the rest of the India’s ‘effeminate’ men willing to compromise with the victors?

What is it in the latter that has aroused such antipathy?

Why should they matter so much to the conquerers of India if they were so trivial?

Why could they so effortlessly become the antonymous of their rulers?

Why have many modern Indians shared this imperialist estimation?

Why have they felt proud of those who gought out and lost, and not of those who lost out and fought?”

Nandy’s take on post-colonial literature reminded me of the permeation of romanticism of tragedy into Indian literature/movie scene and sensationalism getting accoladed in unwarranted places. Tragedy in literature as we know now had no precedence in classical Indian traditions; for, tragedy didn’t revolve around the final defeat of ungodly here, but rather in the majestic sweep of time and unavoidable decay that affected everyone, God-demon, mighty-humble alike. If we can compartmentalize complex characters and open dialogue between different philosophies out of discussion, it would be safe to assume that Tradition of tragedy of Greek theater entered in its might to Indian sub culture through European colonialism. And even after half a century, it is reflected in the typecasted National Award winning movies. More than their narrative brilliance or technological marvel, the decisive metric for award mostly is its social value. I am not saying that it is necessarily a bad thing, but a movie or book stands a better chance at being recognized if story ends or follows tragic path, than something uplifting or positive or anything that isn’t gloomy. Of course, this pattern has a lot to do with representation of contemporary ill practices and marginalized societies that are reduced like anomalies in modernity. Still, the empowering emotion in the winning piece is romantic sympathy than empathy, with the accepted notion of finding beauty in tragedy and divinity in suffering.

Colonialism might have opened secular hierarchies previously incompatible with traditional orders; its effect on cultural revives should also be acknowledged alongside the cultural baggage it brought up. But it would still be wrong to attribute all the secular elements as predominantly western, for India as a civilization has thrived on an argumentative culture that accepted and assimilated various opposing philosophies to its stream. But, Like Tagore says, it should not be a obstacle for accepting the proven good elements from other civilizations, by the stupid logic that they aren’t Indian enough. Unlike the ‘melting pot’ scenario of America where a dominant culture overtakes the less fortunate sub stratas though by popular choice, In South Asia and more specifically Indian case, culture continuous as ‘salad bowl’ or more specifically ‘thali meals’ where several separate identities coexist in the civilization enriching each other without losing their distinct essence. The post-colonial insecurity for validation and anxiety for separate nationality acceptable to the western norms, exists in modern India; and manifests itself through absurd political claims and orthodox logics. Recent efforts of Hindi imposition , compulsion of National Anthem in theaters, branding every expression of dissent anti national, construction of unwarranted statues, glorification of martial historical figures, direct and indirect forcing of religious logic into other fields under the excuse of ‘preservation of culture’, rising religious fanaticism aimed at righting the wrongs done centuries ago etc. are perverted efforts to make the salad bowl into a melting pot. Nandy’s analysis, in my eyes, doesn’t offer any counterpoise or solution, but a better understanding into its psychology and even better understanding on the reasons for their continuous failure in disrupting the cultural fabric.


The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism comprises of two parts, or rather two essays,

  1. The Psychology of Colonialsim : Sex, Age and Ideology in British India
  2. The Uncolonized Mind : A Post-Colonial view of India and the West

I would also like to give a shout out to the essay ‘History, Change and Permanence: A Classical Indian Perspective’ by Madhav Deshpande that examines the superimposition of Western notion of history on Eastern culture.


Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

“India is two countries in one: an India of Light, and an India of Darkness”

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga

tumblr_ndwhbcIg751sg83gco1_1280Last year, Coldplay’s single ‘Hymn for the weekend’ triggered an online debate for featuring Holi celebrations in Indian slums. The music video was criticized as oriental cultural appropriation and garnered angry YouTube comments for portraying the stereotype. But what those internet critics conveniently ignored was, the fact that, this is also India. The subcontinent is home to 1/3rd of planets poor and malnourished, who toil in country’s informal unorganized economy. At the same time India’s rising middle class, country’s well off representative sector and major shareholders in GDP, is suffering from an obesity endemic. This book is about the India of darkness that we don’t want to see, don’t want others to see and are eager to sacrifice in the rhetoric of “for the greater good“.

The structure of writing in itself is both the boon and curse of this book. There isn’t a central narrative or a plot to propel readers through, just interconnected stories that seem to go nowhere. Though aptly categorized as non-fiction, the reporting style makes it look more like a fix up novel. And the sole portion that justifies this style, perhaps the most important part of the book – Author’s note, is positioned at the end, at the mercy of readers. Behind the Beautiful Forevers tells the raw real life stories of people in Annavadi, one of the many squatter settlements adjacent to Mumbai Airport’s International terminal. Even though 40% of city’s population lives in low tier illegal settlements like Annavadi and fuels the formal economy by being the unaccounted blue collars; they are rarely counted by government standards and are often rendered invisible in country’s financial capital. In between Mumbai’s marbled megaliths, slums sort of appear like temporal anachronisms that escapes its affluent class like platform 9 3/4. Events and names in this book are real and were intensively documented over 3 years through photographs, audiotapes, video recordings and hundreds of supporting public records and interviews obtained over RTIs. Katherine Boo’s survey, however, is limited to Annavadi alone and it would be wrong to expect an encapsulation of poverty and inequality of country as a whole. The book doesn’t claim to be one as well. But by keeping herself to specificities, Boo’s narrative is free of generalizations and over interpretations or even dramatic fictionalizations. It is not pretty, it lacks big data sets or compelling narrative elements; and got nothing to offer on the flash side but non embellished honesty.498540318 MUMBAI, MAHARASHTRA, INDIA – 2015/09/28: Aerial view of Mumbai city and Dharavi slums seen from inside an airplane. (via Getty Images)

 She had by now seen past the obvious truth—that Mumbai was a hive of hope and ambition—to a profitable corollary. Mumbai was a place of festering grievance and ambient envy. Was there a soul in this enriching, unequal city who didn’t blame his dissatisfaction on someone else? Wealthy citizens accused the slum dwellers of making the city filthy and unliveable, even as an oversupply of human capital kept the wages of their maids and chauffeurs low. Slumdwellers complained about the obstacles the rich and powerful erected to prevent them from sharing in new profit. Everyone, everywhere, complained about their neighbors. But in the twenty-first-century city, fewer people joined up to take their disputes to the streets. As group identities based on caste, ethnicity, and religion gradually attenuated, anger and hope were being privatized, like so much else in Mumbai. This development increased the demand for canny mediators—human shock absorbers for the colliding, narrowly construed interests of one of the world’s largest cities.

Mumbai of the light, an appealing image

Like Sunil Khilnani(Boo’s husband) has rightly stated in his book The Idea of India, “Bombay’s congestion makes it impossible for the rich to flee the poor, rendering the contrasts of lifestyle vividly adjacent.” Transition of Bombay to Mumbai witnessed an undoing of city’s cosmopolitanism with increasing paranoia on migrant workers and land/caste based politics. But the nature of city still keeps open interactions unavoidable, and Annavadi, which isn’t any exception, presents a microcosm of those realities out there. The dynamic economy, post 1991 liberalization reforms, has been constantly redefining the definition of middle class;  but city’s historically poor, who weren’t prepared or equipped to embrace it, has been left on a sine wave of hope and despair, and this book soaks it. Asha aspires to be the next ‘slumlord’ while her daughter Manju strives to become the first graduate from Annavadi. Even with her caste and religion based politics, Asha isn’t able to separate herself off the neighbouring family of garbage collectors, Karam and Zehrunisa, nor does she wants to. Much of the later plot surrounds the self-immolation of physically and emotionally challenged Fatima and her false statement framing Karam’s son Abdul. Unfolding of events made me realize how extremely difficult it is even for talented people to enter the middle class and to break away from the slum. In addition to their obvious economic disadvantage, they are held by invisible chains of caste, compulsion to enter stigmatized occupations, rampant corruption and vested interests of influential patrons. And having their livelihood and life savings set up in the uncertainty of encroached slums, they are forced to comply for lack of any option to redress. From this bitter lifestyle, the poor finds solace in blaming each other for things they cannot control, and we, the well-off class, who stay aloof the ground realities, often are harsh in our reservations against the poor.

In the West, and among some in the Indian elite, this word, corruption, had purely negative connotations; it was seen as blocking India’s modern, global ambitions. But for the poor of a country where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained.

This book captures the ethical imaginations of people in a market dictated world where idea of a mutually supportive poor appear suicidal. Annavadi residents are not lethargic or helpless, and are constantly in pursuit of new economic possibilities. But the general definition of many things are skewed in their life, and far from the reality projected by government statistics. Entering a blue collar job isn’t a problem in first place, but knowing that this might be the sole profession for the rest of your life, might not appeal like a future worth waking up to. Here corruption is the secret key for many opportunities, ‘bridge schools’ intended to spark educational enthusiasm often becomes the only education, and financial intuitions are reduced to invisible loans from money lenders.

As every slum dweller knew, there were three main ways out of poverty: finding an entrepreneurial niche, as the Husains had found in garbage; politics and corruption, in which Asha placed her hopes; and education. Several dozen parents in the slum were getting by on roti and salt in order to pay private school tuition.

The caste systems, bhaiya hatred and shiv sena politics are never shown to be personal in Annavadi, but as regular unavoidable affairs to stay in the food chain, regardless of their position on pyramid. It was fascinating to see how Annavadi’s scavenging economy fared in global financial crisis, tracking behaviours of tourists and travellers, and how Bollywood bridged them with rest of India, rightfully or wrongfully. There were other imageries with unconventional perception, like spectre of Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar or the terrorist attack of 26/11. Unlike the rest of the country, they were more invested in moving on than finding sources to blame on.

a still from National Theater, from book’s 2014 stage adaptation

Seeing the exclusiveness in infrastructure of opportunity and poor translation of government’s socio economic policies made me question why haven’t these unequal societies, like Annavadi, that matters to the authorities only during elections, haven’t imploded yet. And in tracing an answer to that, I found myself back at Khilnani’s quote.

There is some truth in the western fascination towards Indian squalor, but this juxtaposed asymmetry in living conditions is not just an Indian specific problem. We all love to live in the cultivated ignorance of a well bound frog. During 2016 Olympics, Brazil government was careful to avoid favelas from reaching delegates sight. During recent Hyderabad visit by Ivanka Trump, the homeless were removed from the street by state government. We are mostly myopic towards on-going Rohingya refugee crisis or Syrian civil war; at the same time, find ourselves morally obliged to extend support on disasters happening in developed countries, even if its by flooding twitter hash tags. Similar is the public attitude towards tribal evictions for developmental projects, which is often characterized by this specific mentality, patronizing or disparaging, that we provide for them. This book’s unvarnished articulation and absence of special attributes, might not have been the most engaging narrative as far as storytellings are concerned; but, it made me realize how special and privileged I was and still am, merely by my place of birth.


There is a beautiful passage towards the end of the book that describes Abdul’s worldview. He has been repeatedly exploited for being a scavenger and now is behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. From his perspective, ice was distinct from, better than, what it is made of. He wanted to be better than the same material essence he shared with the cynical corrupt people around him.

“In Mumbai’s dirty water he wanted to be ice.”

And in the huge pile of media, print or other, that are criticized for showcasing poverty, rightfully or hyperbolically, this work floats on top, as ‘ice’.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity is a non-fiction book written by the Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo in 2012. It won the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize among many others.[1][2] It has also been adapted into a play by David Hare in 2014, shown on National Theatre Live in 2015. (source: wiki)

The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod

evlution of cooperation.pngRemember that iconic scene in Wonder Woman, where she crosses No Man’s Land amidst enemy bullets and inflicts damage at the other side. Well, she was ruining a relatively peaceful ecosystem built on mutual restraint over mutual punishment. World War I, on a national level, was a zero sum game where loss on one side meant gain on the other. But on local levels, specifically along the Western Front, between France and Germany, a curious system of ‘live and let live’ emerged. Trench Warfare, limited within narrow trenches few hundred yards apart, with all its disgusting horrors became the stage for something amazing- a classic example of reciprocal altruism in a world of unconditional defection. A feeling of solidarity developed among enemy soldiers over time, and it was characterized by ad-hoc weather truces, common lunch times and even combined Christmas celebration. During Christmas Germans put up decorated table top trees over the trenches, and British-French soldiers responded by singing Carol songs. They left their weapons in trenches and came up to shake hands in no man’s land; swapped presents, traded stuff, buried the dead, shared barrels of beers and cigars till the whole morning. In some portions along this hundreds of miles stretch, the period of goodwill lasted as long as a whole week. This restraint was not due to weakness, but rather the rationale of defection being self-defeating; much like modern day deterrence between Nuclear States over fear of mutually assured destruction.

Wonder Woman2.gif

In this seminal work, Robert Axelrod, with unusual clarity discredits friendship or kinship as the essential necessities for cooperation based on reciprocity, even in inception stage. And argues that, under suitable characteristics, cooperative relationships can well arise even between antagonists. According to Hobbes, and other earlier political theorists like Rousseau and Locke, human beings are primordially selfish individuals, who competed among each other for their own solitary, brutal and short life. Strong central authority (Leviathan) later entered into society by rationality of mutual interaction and hence, however unnatural of basic human nature, is required for maintaining cooperation among individuals. One can argue against this with evolutionary and biological examples that show social cooperation being hardwired into living consciousness. What Axelrod did was to arrange a computer tournament for an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma problem and invite computer program strategies from his friends and colleagues.


Prisoner’s Dilemma is a thought experiment, a set of circumstances that forms the building block of Game Theory. In a Minority Report scenario, two potential prisoners are captured and interrogated separately for conviction. Each of them can stab each other in the back for lesser sentence or cooperatively deny for a favourable outcome of walkaway. The possible scenarios in ascending order of pay offs are as follows- unilateral defection from partner, mutual defection, mutual cooperation and unilateral restraint from partner. Since individuals cannot control the other person’s behaviour, each player is in a dilemma whether to rat out ones partner for maximum pay off or to cooperate for the mutually preferable outcome. Game theory expands this to behavioural problem with mathematical formalities and tries to optimize strategies for negotiations in economics, diplomacy, biology, psychology etc. In Axelrod’s tournament, various computer programs competed against each other for over 200 times in this non zero sum setting.

In all the possible interactions one strategy came out dominant pushing every other programs into extinction and its relative success had nothing to do with its author or brevity or length. This simple strategy known, rather appropriately, as TIT for TAT, was just two lines of code.

First line – be nice.

Second line – do what the other player just did.

So T4T starts off cooperating with the opponent and continue doing that till the other player defects.9_07-tit_for_tat It will then defect and again switch back to cooperation once the opponent starts to cooperate. Though mathematically the optimum option is to defect in all moves, the nicer strategies was found to be outweighing the meaner ones in competition, with TIT for TAT dominating them all. It was a very robust program- nice to begin with, retaliatory when required, and was forgiving and clear; but not free of failures. A signal glitch or mistake in translation might cause a string of recriminations and counter recriminations between players employing T4T. So, it would be extremely important to reduce the echo effects while employing the strategy for high stake environments, as defection strings can cause escalations as far-fetched as Cuban Missile Crisis. A forgiving TIT for TAT was found to be effective, though not immune of exploitation, in such conditions, where it switches to a forgiving strategy after certain rounds of mutual defection. Axelrod argues that the maximization of outcome depends on characteristics of a particular strategy, nature of other strategies with which it most interacts and the history of interactions.

Trench Warfare, file picture

Coming back to the Trench Warfare, No Man’s Land basically represented a dynamic equilibrium of stalemate. The troops at both sides were large enough for accountability and small enough for controlling individual behaviour. Since not every bullet, grenade or shell fired in earnestness would hit the exact target, there was an inherent tendency towards descalation. Demonstration of retaliatory capacities and verbal arguments were internally suppressed by superiors, and during the rotation of troops, outgoing soldiers made it their business to familiarize the new recruits with the status quo. Infantries often offered delicacies for Artilleries as gentle incentives for not provoking the enemy side, since they were relatively safe with fewer stakes in this ‘live and let live’ system than them. And on a macroscopic scale, especially after the joint Christmas celebration, High Command of German, French and Britain wanted an end to these tacit truces as a pacified system will only sap morale from war’s ceaseless policy of offense.

Wonder Woman

Though I might come out as a heretic in this comparison, war time General’s behaviour can be observed in Wonder Woman too whose primary objective was killing Aries. The immediate and extended payoffs for both Aries and Diana were big enough to justify their actions. Though offensive demonstrations and firings can be heard in background, there was no direct enemy attack towards the trenches, even in the movie depiction. And it was her crossing of No Man’s Land that destroyed the truce and escalated the war on both fronts, killing the microscopic payoffs for macroscopic ones. Also, it would be worthwhile to note that the attack was instigated by outsiders (Trevor and Team) than the soldiers involved in the counterbalance, who might have been in the moral enigma of breaking their side of trust. Similarly in further history of actual WWI, High Command imposed raids and retaliatory efforts eventually collapsed the Trench Warfare system. Even during those orders for mandatory offense, ethics of cooperation was maintained keeping the per-functionary and routine firing aggressive enough to satisfy high command and contained enough to avoid any retaliation, as long as they could.

Axelrod extended his computer simulation strategies into an evolutionary scenario, where winning program gets to create copies of themselves, and running them for many generations. Even in a horribly hostile world, if the nice programs had enough chance to interact, it was found that they can eventually take over the world full of meaner strategies.

Cixin Liu Remebrance of Earth's past.jpgThe beauty of altruistic behaviour in negative spaces can be observed in evolutionary biology as well. Though rational agents always defect in Prisoner’s Dilemma, knowledge about options of other party drastically changes the scene. When third parties are watching, the stakes of current situation expands from those immediately at hand to the reputation and future interactions of players. Internet bullying under the mask of anonymity and friendliness a regular customer might enjoy in a shop can be considered as crude examples. Anyway it gets even more complicated with changing pay offs and concentrating interactions. I was constantly drawn towards Cixin Liu’s Dark Forest deterrence theory and its aftermath in later installments of Three Body Problem, as my very own literary example for applying the half cooked nuances of game theory and prisoner’s dilemma.

Real world problems are far more complex than Axelrod’s computer simulation, with multiple players and complex pay offs that demands sophistication in analysis. But this propensity for reciprocal altruism among antagonists was a theory robust and well-articulated enough to have my undivided attention. And this karma based upright, forgiving and yet retaliatory strategy is a nice take away for life, maybe with more leaning towards reconciliation.


Check out the movie Joyeux Noel for a silver screen depiction of Christmas Truce during Trench Warfare of WWI. It has got Diane Kruger.

The Idea of India – Sunil Khilnani

Khilnani-SunilToday’s newspaper had this shocking news of a disabled man being abused (verbally with snide remarks this time, but news of physical abuses has surfaced before) for not standing up during national anthem. Yeah, our Supreme Court has this weird obsession towards assertion of patriotism in inappropriate places. Like Amartya Sen rightly expressed: “Indian identity is a combination of internal pluralism and external receptivity”, and efforts to homogenize by coercion leads to perversions like this. The idea of India has been contested and validated over time, and now, we are more interested and invested in who we want to be in this world than who we are. Still even after 20 years of its publication, Khilnani’s trenchant analysis on this open, often revised idea of India is germane to our society in many ways.

Sunil Khilnani is an erudite scholar, and it is often reflected in his writing. On levels that it poses strict competition to Veronica Roth in finding jargons for naming factions in Divergent trilogy.  And language in this book is a bit baroque, if I may use words of his lexicon. I found many things rhetoric and repetitive in that narrative, well, they were hidden so well in his elegant prose that they rarely came up as irritants. He, in this book, tries to express Indian identity through conflicting ideologies of democracy, concepts of Economic progress and Social order. Though written during the time of disillusionment following Nehruvian socialism and emergence of Third Front in politics, it would be wrong to consider this book as a piece of rapporteur of things that has happened till then or as an irrelevant journal in light of events happened thereafter. For the arguments in this book are coherently articulated along the long history of India as a civilization than a nation state.


The frustrating thing about India” according to Cambridge economist Joan Robinson is that “whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true”. With constitutionally guarded universal adult suffrage, the principle of one man one vote was recognized politically, but socio economic structure continued to deny individual and collective values, in this land of contradictions.

04.jpgThis book has aged quite well and a hermeneutic reading is required to appreciate the nuances. It was published during 1996, time of hung parliament and coalition politics. United Front formed cabinet under HD Deva Gowda, the first India president to speak neither Hindi nor English, the two languages that are considered official among the list of 22 national languages. In Khilnani’s words, it was a ‘talismanic moment’ in India’s public life as it marked strong federal departure(gap between two political terms) from majority of two parties that represented conflicting schools of Indian identities- socialist Nehruvian legacy under Congress and resurgent Hindu nationalism represented by BJP. He then examines the prospective reason for sustenance of democracy in India’s huge impoverished crowd against its hierarchical social order, with respect to subcontinent’s history as a civilization. According to the author, pre-colonial history represents a perpetual instability of political rule, with constant rise and fall of dynasties and empires, where political authority was more a matter of paramountcy than sovereignty. Crown rule or its clone rule by British Raj considered India as their expatriate state in an exotic location, with a language of administration that required its own vernacular vocabulary like Hobson-Jobson. Macauly’s 1835 Education minute imposing English language was intended on dividing British rulers from their Indian subjects and also Indians from other Indians. “Indians who knew their Dicey from their Dickens, and those who did not”, Khilnani puts. Government of India Act of 1935 bought more Indians into administrative representation, but less than one third had the power to vote. Even Congress, “a protean party with an exceptional capacity to constantly reinvent itself” considered individuality as a social being precarious, until Gandhi turned it into a mass movement with culture of dialogue. The secular fabric was further challenged during the event of Partition, an event no one really wanted, but everyone conspired for. Khilnani argues that constitutional democracy was wrested to the people as the political choice of elite, by a remarkably unrepresentative body. I found author’s neglect to the century old tradition of dialogue in subcontinent, and representative politics of very first government in cabinet and drafting committee a bit difficult to digest at this point. The unique federal structure of India left the matters of socio economic reform to states, while retaining military and fiscal powers at center. Further, the federal identities got strengthened after Mandal Commmission with various caste communities competing among themselves for the benefits of affirmative actions for being ‘backward’.

Author argues that the historic success of Nehru’s rule was in establishment of the idea of state in Indian society and establishing its sovereignty in international arena. He briefly goes through the political history and separatists movements which over time got more and more consolidated into community representation in myopic focus on elections. Regardless these seemingly conflicting tussles between regional and central nationalism, the prospectus of affairs being under the democratic control of a collective of equal individuals, as an idea, has entered Indian imagination with permanence.

Temples of the Future

Bhakra Nangal dam inauguration where Nehru described Dams as ‘Temples of Modern India’

In India good reforms are considered bad politics. Though political freedom was attained from British Raj by 1947, it took almost half a century for India to be economically free, of the ‘License Raj’. The liberalization of market economy by 1991 was mostly a consequence of self-created fiscal crisis than reform for the future, and government sanctioned them half-heartedly and apologetically, with reiterations to socialist legacy. And modern polarized views are eager to point the finger than understand the wisdom of forefathers based on then world order. Khilnani traces the evolution of economic policies of India from colonial times and paternal role of state in it, from Dadabai Naoroji’s ‘Drain Theory’ to Bombay Plan to Karachi Resolution to National Planning Committee, and the ideological rifts between Industrialists and Gandhians. Historical reading, alongside global economy, is actually a perspective often ignored, a timeline of ground works that now enables the country to stand on its own, and evolution of economic and political stability through fiscal management. Khilnani’s treatment is highly comprehensive and might feel exhaustive without a prior introduction to Indian economy and politics.



Unlike principally universal European societies that are accessible to all individuals with common interest, modern Indian cities were designed and operated under strict criteria of exclusion. In this brilliant, the only portion of the book I genuinely enjoyed, Khilnani takes readers through the architectural history of New Delhi. It reminded me of Naipaul’s take on Indian Identity, which gave his expatriate grandparents a common history in foreign land; while in India, the same Indian identity tend to trace movement of goods and people even in most modern cities, along lines. Desired colonial interest in rational modernity of New Delhi was to let Indians see for the first time the power of Western science, art and civilization. City was designed in hexagonal grids with housing segments distanced from central acropolis in descending gradient of rank. Instead of creating a society of free intermingling individuals, Raj’s policies concreted the contrary tendencies of Indian society. I found this precedence extremely helpful in understanding the Gandhian economy and self-determination in villages in opposition with Ambedkar’s strong distaste for the same. Gandhi countered colonial nationalism that privileged urban educated elites with a say on behalf of whole country, with the idea of village. He decided to renounce colonial idea of city into village cosmology of Ashrams with his sartorial humility as ‘half naked fakir’ against British imperial pomp. He radically redefined public meetings like prayer meetings for nationalist purposes bringing women and lower caste into the spectrum of dialogue, while India’s colonial cities carefully avoided areas for public gathering in their design. To him, simple Indian occupation of departed English designs didn’t represent true freedom, and Gandhi advocated villages as sanctuary for civilizational powers. To Ambedkar, villages were beyond redemption and nothing but a parochial sink of narrow mindedness and communalism.


Nehru on the other hand was more pragmatic in his approach to modernity, where he drew a distinction between inauthentic modernity, represented by colonial city and genuine modernity, that India should be rational not to reject. Khilnani further illustrates this with development of city of Chandigarh, intended to replace Lahore, that was lost in Punjab partition to Pakistan. Chandigarh’s renouncement to both colonial imagery and nationalist monuments, was intended to place India in international appeal. Well, the city never achieved the cosmopolitanism it craved for, and it’s something for us readers to contemplate on. And story of Bombay, the foremost modern city of India, construes a centripetal narrative towards parochialism from its cosmopolitan past. Khilnani has a wonderful take on Shiv Sena’s narrow efforts to annex and distribute the benefits of modernity to one closed community against Bombay’s congestion which make it impossible for rich to flee the poor or any other selectivity to sustain in first place. Bombay might not be as cosmopolitan now as we can observe in Manto’s pre-independence stories, but it still isn’t that communal like author feared it would be 20 years back. What Khlnani calls as Rushdie’s lament for the old nationalist dream of Bombay-”.. what was beautiful in Bombay was that it belonged to nobody and to all”, still holds true despite everything, and that, to this reader, is a silver lining.

Who is an Indian

India has been weakly united as well as weakly divided, and though alien conquest and imperial exploitation promoted self-invention and unity, early nationalist movements asserted an Indianness based on commonality of religion, even with Gandhi. I found it difficult to digest author’s fascination towards Mill’s History of British India as a potential ‘tabula rasa’ for single historical narrative. Mill wrote it without visiting India nor having any knowledge on vernaculars, in his comfort closet in England, with a magisterial reading in mind, that would reassert ‘white man’s burden’ in young colonial administration. Nationalists found themselves in conflict with India’s sheer diversity to write a common history, and often found solace in ethnic nationalism and religious communalism, and rejection of everything West. Tagore on the other hand was against the rising nationalism in West and opened up fallacies in oriental reading of Indian history to public.

“She was like some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and, yet, no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously. All of these had existed in our conscious or subconscious selves, though we may not have been aware of them. And they have gone to build up the complex mysterious personality of India.” Jawaharlal Nehru, Discovery of India

The ideas collective of first NAM- Jawaharlal Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sukarno and Josip

In Khilnani’s argument, it was Nehru, who produced an unifying narrative of India’s past along logical accommodation and acceptance, against glorified hindu nationalism and hegemonic orientalists (hear, hear). He turned the gandhian language of colonial victimhood, over time and repair, into a language of confidence in world diplomacy. The existence of India as a single political entity in a neighbourhood where democracy makes cameo appearances, is the result of the responsibility enjoyed by common man to choose between its pluralisms.

Active or passive gerrymandering of the boundaries of Individual and collective selves are dealt with stark criticisms now than ever before. People are more content with the sense of India being a land of belonging, they being a part of accommodating ancient civilization than homogenizing modernity of nationalism. Here collective identities are affirmed through democracy in a political field of coalition between multiple ideologies. And unlike the West that had time to come in terms with equality and economics, India embraced democracy before capitalism and economic freedom, in a society based on inequality of caste and religion, and is still battling towards an egalitarian society.

In this extremely difficult job of consolidating an Idea of India, this reader, like author, also finds solace in tourism board poster caption that paraphrase Tagore, “India is a state of mind”.

One way of defining diversity for India, is to say what the Irishman is said to have said about trousers. When asked whether trousers were singular or plural, he said, “Singular at the top and plural at the bottom”.’

Khilnani hyphenates this diversity and federalism argument by A.K. Ramanujan into idea of India’s nationalism, which is plural even at the top, like a ‘dothi’ with endless folds (hear, hear).

Memories of a Father by T V Eachara Varier (Orachante Ormakurippukal)

The very first Habeas Corpus writ filed in India, after Emergency period was, Prof. Eacharavaryar vs Govt of Kerala. Verdict of the suit toppled then State Government, resulted in resignation of CM, and is still the exemplar of Police brutality and Human Rights violation. This book is an autobiographical account by T.V. Echaravaryar (Eswara Warrier) himself, of his relentless and lonely legal struggle for justice and truth behind the unaccounted disappearance of his son P. Rajan in Police custody.

1975 June 25 midnight to 1977 March 21 was one of the darkest period in modern Indian history when democracy was eclipsed by Prime Minister’s authority to rule by decree. Popularly known as Emergency period or just Emergency, this brief cameo of dictatorship was notorious for curbing of civil liberties, police brutality, imprisonment of political opponents and press censorship. Something present generation of mine cannot​ really think of, or have a reference on. Invocation of Emergency was Mrs. Gandhi‘s antibody against then prevailing political and civic unrest; which in turn was the byproduct of increasing government intervention in judiciary and dissolution of State legislatures. A lot of benevolent reasons have been brought up over time to justify the Emergency from 1973 oil crisis to split in Congress to fallacy of Raj Narain case. But every single one of them falls short when weighed against the violation of civil rights by police activism; a gritty dystopian scenario where fundamental rights of citizens were no longer justiciable nor defendable by Supreme Court.

Naxalism was one of the major target for police crackdown during Emergency. Originating from a small village in WB, Naxalbari, after the Communist split of 1967, the radical movement for tribal autonomy(obvious over simplification of the complex reasons here) gained momentum along the scheduled belt through their reactionary ideas and violent methods. Naxalite movement is still a controversial topic in internal geopolitics which puts sympathizers in a moral tug of war. In rural Kerala, the peak of this activism, during Emergency, involved direct attacks on police stations, which in return witnessed violent retaliations and often vengeance under the misnomer of ‘naxalism’. Police by State backing took full advantage of suspension of civil liberties and MISA (infamously expanded as Maintenance of Indira and Sanjay Act) act, a then civic version of current AFSPA, and went around raiding suspects for interrogation. P. Rajan, a student of Regional Engineering College, Calicut (Now known as NIT Calicut) was arrested by Kerala Police in one of those raids, citing alleged Naxal association and was brutally tortured in custody, and was killed. The interrogation happened in Kakkayam camp, under DIG Jayaram Padikkal, and was said to have employed the extreme torture practice of ‘uruttal’ (rolling); Rajan’s body was disposed off and was never recovered, and by the classic book excuse of no body-no conviction, DIG later managed considerable legal escape.

Rajan Memorial : P. Rajan, martyred during Emergency in 1976 March 2

Prof. Warrier was living his retirement in Cochin when Rajan got arrested; he immediately filed petition asking for his son’s whereabouts and objectives behind the arrest. He made enquiries after enquiries to police officers and to authorities, with all references he could garner, for details behind his son’s disappearance. Later, on learning that the arrest was directed by DIG, Crime Branch, he personally met K.Karunakaran, then Home Minister of State and escalated his petitions to Home Secretary, but none of these efforts were acknowledged. It is extremely difficult to read through his words, filled with sorrow, helplessness and uncertainty. Above all there was the ‘naxal’ tag. Authorities were shamelessly condescending towards Prof. Warrier, for his son was branded as a Naxalite, an anti-national of the highest kind. Media during that time, modulated and biased, and a sorry censored excuse for Press, was mostly antagonistic towards his struggle, and it was extremely difficult to gain a mass movement or even exposure for the excesses happening. He continued his indefatigable struggle by raising representations to President of India, Prime Minister and Home Minister of the time and to Members of Parliament, all with no result. He even appealed to general public by distributing pamphlets of his grievance, and Home Ministry retorted with a brand new excuse of  murder accusation for Rajan being detained. Thanks to convoluted coalition politics, C. Achutha Menon’s communist cabinet in Kerala had K. Karunakaran, a staunch Congress leader as Home Minister; during Emergency. Prof. Warrier was a Communist sympathizer and had friendly connections with many ministers on a personal note. They avoided him for information that could easily have been obtained from subordinate officers, and finally deplored him when pleads became unavoidable. And the communist connection was used as another ploy by Police under Karunakaran to assert Rajan’s Naxalite involvement.

Rajan is said to have been a bright student, with active interest in music and drama. During the time of accused Police Station attack, he had an easily verifiable alibi at neighboring Ferok College, where inter collegiate arts fest was going on. Police never cared for any verification, and is said to have arrested him mistaking for another student by the same name. They were more interested in torturing conviction out of the ones they have in custody than capturing the actual suspects. Over the course of events, a lot of contradicting claims have been made by Police, from denying the arrest altogether to accusing Rajan of murder. Anyway accused was never brought in front of Magistrate. Speculated accounts of torture procedure and body disposal are mentioned in the book, it is blood boiling and heart breaking to read even if you don’t consider, about whom and by whom they were written.

Kakkayam Dam, backyard of which hosted the infamous Naxal camp where Rajan was tortured

By the later stages of his struggle, Prof. Warrier had accepted his Son’s death. Till then he had been vigorously searching central jails and police camps and all other sources he could obtain, physically, to see if Rajan had been kept in any of them. He was careful in keeping the truth off his ill wife, feeding her with lies about their son’s disappearance. Over the course of events, she broke down mentally, got hospitalized and eventually died of the pain, expecting Rajan’s return till her last breath. Eswara Warrier was a retired Hindi Professor, and the long search drained him heavily off money and health, but he kept pushing forward, learning the ways of court in his old age. He writes about the secret eleventh hour struggle to file habeas corpus, when news of Democracy restoration reached him, to escape possible political thread pulling. Unchained mass media was eager to carry the details of writ to public and the very first habeas corpus in history of Kerala gained huge crowd during court hearings. Police finally confirmed Rajan’s death in custody, K Karunakaran was forced to resign from the post of CM which he had pledged only two months before and DIG Jayaram Padickal was convicted and arrested. He later managed to overturn the conviction via appeal. Prof. Warrier continued his legal battle to expose the state sponsored atrocities during the Emergency period, and has been a significant figure in human rights till his death.

A striking feature of the book is Prof. Warrier‘s catholicity in reporting incidents of such personal trauma. He writes about it all, and pleads with readers, not to judge the people involved based on his remote experiences, for he has to write the truth. During his fight, he made serious effort to find out Rajan’s sentiment towards Naxal movement. Though he was never involved in, Rajan sympathized with the cause, and Warrier doesn’t hide this fact from readers. It takes real integrity and bravery to look for and admit even the smallest detail that could point towards the alleged accusation he fought so fervently against. He also mentions previous mental incidents his wife had. Though Rajan’s disappearance escalated her condition to death, Warrier doesn’t try to use it to strengthen his narrative. The compensation amount from case was directed to sponsor a critical care ward in Ernakulam General Hospital, in Rajan’s memory. Rest of the money was donated to University as youth festival endowments, to commemorate Rajan’s interest in arts.

Piravi movie poster from Cannes (left) , Rajan file picture (right)

I am reminded of a quote by Nehru here – “democracy and freedom are in grave peril today, and the peril is all the greatest because their so called friends stab them in the back“. And, we ourselves are more invested in the question of identifying the culprits – Indira Gandhi? Supreme Court of world’s largest democracy that conveniently complied for removal of habeas corpus with a majority of 4 against 1? Communal schism and violent naxalites? MISA? Press? Police? State Government? other et cetras? In this heated debate, often disregarded is the answer to an important question that goes unasked- the victims and their struggle. And the unasked question here is, who are and on what basis are they considered expendable in the mega narrative of democracy that we are so proud of.

Rajan case has been the subject of many books and movies (Nation Award winner Piravi by Shaji N Karun for example) and passing references can be found in various popular mediums. This is because of the perseverance of his Father and his infallible belief in judiciary and constitutional methods as a citizen. Majority, if not all, of the excesses happened during National Emergency got drowned into oblivion over time, because of the censorship Press was subjected to. And then general notion was to overlook them as collateral damages. Sadly, this dangerous tendency is visible in modern democracy as well, where public opinion is often reduced into verbal squabbles over leaders and their ideology. Be it Emergency or Tribal evictions or recent Demonetization, general thought is either to gloriously condemn their political enemies or to find every probable reason, even if it defies ones conscience, to stand by their heroes. The expendable people who get disposed under the pretext of ‘for greater good’, like Arundhati Roy puts it, are rarely at the receiving end of our representation or even sympathy. Even when they are, they soon die once another fresh mishap, something our society aren’t short of, takes its place. And further from our safe vantage, we prioritize our sympathy in the ascending order of first world demographics. Where illogical blame games and subsidized morale cloud us from obtaining a sensible solution, this book is a reminder on how south things can go, when democracy and accountability fails. And that nobody is exclusive of it.

 A poster art commemorating P. Rajan from RAGAM 2017. The famous ToI advert during Emergency is featured.

This book might not reach many people, for its written language- Malayalam(an English translation is available now, DRM free I believe), but nevertheless it is a struggle for democracy and fundamental rights against the autocracy and plutocracy it tend to get reduced to. Second part of the book gives details of Habeas Corpus with court case files and result, is a bit difficult to read with all the legal lingua-franca.

NIT Calicut‘s Art Festival – Ragam, one of the biggest of its kind in South India, is named and celebrated after the memory of P. Rajan. I have personally observed in great admiration, the ardent enthusiasm​ students share in upholding their erstwhile colleagues memory, which is preserved and remembered in due respect over academic generations.


Emergency is a unique feature of Indian Constitution which covert federal structure into a unitary one where Central Government becomes all powerful, without a formal amendment of constitution. Three types of Emergencies are stipulated by Constitution

(1) National Emergency – war, external aggression, armed rebellion [Article 352]

(2) President’s Rule – failure of constitutional machinery in state [Article 356]

(3) Financial Emergency [Article 360]

Fundamental Rights will become suspended during the period (except those guaranteed by article 20 and 21), and State is free to take any legislative action abridging them. After the misuse of this provision during 1975, 44th amendment by Janata Government limited the power and nullified the distortions introduced previously. Emergency has been proclaimed three times so far- in 1962, 1971 and 1975.

Countdown by Amitav Gosh

During 1974 India conducted its first Nuclear explosions under the Prime Ministership of Indira Gandhi – Pokhran blasts, code name: Laughing Buddha. The country that pioneered the philosophy of Non-violence, found itself in the dilemma of justifying this destructive muse, with reasons and asseverations such as ‘for peaceful purposes’. In 1998, political coalition led by Hindu right wing under the leadership of BJP, tested five nuclear bombs within the third month of their coming into power- Pokhran II, codename : Operation Shakti. The nuclear tests were popular among middle class, who accepted the weapons of mass destruction into their mass popular culture, with respect; though there were people who refused to celebrate and raised their displeasure over time. The exaltations were rather short lived, for the very following month, Pakistan blasted six nuclear weapons at Chagai Hills, turning ‘the whole mountain white’. Within a year of these developments, India and Pakistan went to war over Kargil, leaving the whole subcontinent and the world under the fear of a possible nuclear holocaust.countdown

Amitav Gosh’s Countdown is more of a long essay than a short book, on the various reactions of nuclear tests at both India and Pakistan, among politicians, soldiers and activists. The book was published before Kargil War and therefore doesn’t account for the confrontations happened.

India’s nuclear programme had really little to do with defending the country, though already nuclear and occasionally hostile China was the cabinet’s excuse for Pokharan II. Paraphrasing one of the interview transcripts of the book, India had this inferiority complex, of being patronized by the colonial imperialism, and to prove herself internationally, she had to shout louder than anyone else. In simpler terms, Nuclear programme was more of a ‘global currency of self esteem’.

After Pokhran II, AB Vajpayee, George Fernandez, APJ Abdul Kalam, K Subrahmanyam (from left to right)

Gosh had the opportunity to closely follow George Fernandez, who was the Defence Minister during Nuclear Tests on 1998 and Kargil war of 1999. Before going into the political view points, Gosh provides a small account of the farmers and nearby occupants of Pokhran after the 1974 tests. The grievances, ecological and biological impacts might seem minimum in comparison with the population, still the under address-ment and under coverage of same, is seriously disturbing. The strategic mastermind of Nuclear policies was K. Subrahmanyam, a civilian defence expert, and the advocate of nuclear power as the currency of global power logic. His logic was clear, global nuclear order is dictated by a hegemonic council of five nuclear nations(The recent Iran nuclear deal and North Korea confrontations are on similar lines), and India had to be a player than an object in that. Though regional threats from Pakistan and Chinese missile programs were immediate excuses, he visioned the Pokhran tests as a card for permanent seat in UN security councils and universal recognition. Looking back to it now from 2017, India has well achieved universal recognition, but not via the means Mr.Subrahmanyan envisioned(I must admit my personal views lining with his reluctant nuclear-ism and super power, though they are rendered useless in terms of war), and UN Security council is still an obsessive dream.

The reactions to the tests, though venerated outside, sparked antagonistic arguments in Parliament, even within the ruling coalition. Indian villages were being washed away in floods, one-third of population didn’t have proper access to drinking water, fifty percent lived under poverty, and Pakistan has been offering friendship in recent years under Nawaz Sherif; arguments went on.

AB Vajpayee  and Nawaz Sherif during Lahore bilateral declaration

George Fernandez who himself belong to the right wing majority party by coalition, later admitted the lack of a political party of India, every party is either explicitly or in-explicitly propelled politically by the burning vote bank of sectarianism. Gosh speaks of him in reverence, as journeyman in the political wilderness, with no regional or caste based support. Neither bunker or fall out shelters were planned along side the nuclear tests, nor a long term policy. This existing adhoc-ism in Indian politics, where the leaders work around agendas for upcoming elections than long term objectives was visible in then economic policies as well; both of them failed later in elections. Gosh then takes readers to Siachin dispute between India and Pakistan and use it along with Nuclear policy to substantiates the lack of vision he been accusing above.

Siachen : Worlds highest and most inhospitable battleground

Though a formal cease fire was established in 2003, Indian military still stations soldiers on Siachen Glacier, a no mans land where temperatures dip up to -50 or -50 degree centigrade. It is the highest and without any doubt the most hostile battleground on earth, as the territory is demarcated beyond the Line of Control(product of first Indo-Pak war,1948) at NJ9842, both India and Pakistan maintains military presence there. And to both parties, the biggest enemy is the weather, it is the biggest causality claimer as well. One of the motive behind Pakistan’s occupation of vacated Indian posts which triggering Kargil War, was a presumed Indian withdrawal of Siachen. It would be good for readers to remember the time of authors visit- after the nuclear test, well before Kargil. It was really heartfelt to read about those soldiers who were then stationed there, who Gosh claims to have never found to be using a denigratory epithet of any kind on their Pakistani counterparts. Coming from the age of youtube/facebook/quora comment section wars, where everyone is too eager to establish on their arrogance of nationalism, this gave me a refreshing perspective. I will list down the words of a soldier, from the book below, which does a better explanation.

‘Most of us here are from north India’, a bluntly spoken major said to me. ‘We have more in common with the Pakistanis, if you don’t mind my saying so, than we do with South Indians or Bengalis.’

The point of mentioning Siachen are on two fronts, one a nuclear explosion there would melt everything and resulting flood would carry Pakistan away, the other is the immense amount of money that is being spend on Siachen stations. Like the nuclear programs, these too are solely matters of national prestige. The administrative structure that British left India with, is a structure that is designed to oppress, exploit and suppress people, Fernandez says. Nobody is interested in a disciplined growth, but adhoc-ism and temporary appeasements for their immediate future.

about one-tenth of the country’s entire defence budget. Pakistan’s costs are much lower but still substantial. The total cost of the Siachen conflict is probably of the same order of magnitude as that of the nuclear programmes of India and Pakistan combined. If the money spent on the glacier were to be divided up and handed out to the people of India and Pakistan, every household in both countries would be able to go out and buy a new cooking stove or a bicycle.

I have never been to Pakistan, but everyone who been to, were offered colouful cordial welcomes, except the personals at disputed territories and vice versa. Outside these conflicts, both sides got more in common than difference. We eat the same food, sing the same songs, watch the same movies, share the same history and the chance of an Indian and Pakistan being friends abroad is more likely than them with any other nationals. There are of course anomalies to this claim, mainly from the right extremists. Gosh’s experiences were more or less on the similar side, and the responses after Nuclear tensions weren’t any different, though it would be safe to keep in mind that this was the pre Kargil War times. His writing captures the economic anxiety at Pakistan, and the threat of Sharia law by a possible fifteenth amendment. And in general, Gosh argues and illustrates through his interviews that there was a greater realism in nuclear discussion there than in India. Being affected by the Cold War and Taliban, even ordinary Pakistani’s seemed well aware of the differences between weapons and icons. They saw nuclear weapons as instruments of mass destruction that pose a whole range of new threats, from political intimidation and blackmail to total annihilation.

Kargil War 1999

“If you ask me, anything is a possibility between India and Pakistan. Because our policies are irrational. Our decision-making is ad hoc. We have been surrounded by disinformation about each other. We have a historical enmity. We have this whole emotionalism of jihad against each other — on our part it is jihad; on your part there is a lobby that will never accept the existence of Pakistan. We are fa tali s-tic nations who believe that whatever has happened — famine, accidents, drought — it is the will of God. We learn to accept every catastrophe. Our decision-making is done by a few opinion makers on both sides. It’s not the ordinary woman living in a village in Bihar whose voice is going to be heard, who is going to say, for God’s sake I don’t want this nuclear bomb, 1 want my cow and milk for my children. She is nowhere, she doesn’t figure anywhere. It worries me. It really worries me.” Asma Jahangir, Pakistani human rights lawyer and social activist.

Gosh ends his book with a what-if nuclear holocaust scenario with scientific simulation. The geography of subcontinent will ensure the effects to entire region, in Nepal it would result in radioactive snow, the Tibetan plateau and Himalayan snow will become a radioactive reservoir, which will in turn affect all our Holy rivers, being the inception point of almost all of them. The immediate results would be far more catastrophic, which would wipe out almost everything that is required for even the reconstruction of a destroyed society. And neither side never answered the question of how to contain such a catastrophe. To give matters a perspective Gosh gives the example of Rangoon bombings, they never expected war at their doorstep and Calcutta located farther and safer from warzone, never any expected refugees at their doorstep.

I know, it is an overkill to write about a seemingly redundant old book, in the present era. But the strangest part is that, even after 18 years of publication, it is still somehow very relevant. Existing tensions between India and Pakistan, and the territorial and verbal annoyances from China shows the fallacies in the diplomacy of our subcontinent in general. And from election results and social media intellectuals, I would safely say that the ad hoc policies Gosh accuse in this book are working well, while real issues are easily sidelined without any coverage


India Unbound by Gurcharan Das

india unboundThough India achieved political independence in 1947, it missed the liberalization bus of Asian Tigers and had to wait till 1991 to obtain some comparable economic independence. Gurcharan Das captures this economic journey in this autobiographical narrative, through his life and that of people around him. But in that ambitious effort, I found him to be doing more of a personal unbounding than that of India as a whole.

According to Das, the economic timeline of India went through a series of crests and troughs. And after the episode of disasters by ‘British Raj’, Independent India adopted a more inward looking import substituting anti foreign(mostly west) economic strategy. Gandhi distrusted technology, though not businessmen and wanted smaller companies over bigger corporations; Nehru on the other hand distrusted businessmen, not technology, and preferred public firms over private establishments. And they both were in full favour of local make over foreign. But in these efforts for embracing an egalitarian socialist slanted mixed economy, Indian was actually chaining her Industrial revolution to neo-colonialisation by its ill managed bureaucracy- ‘License Raj’. Das is both critical and optimistic in his political scrutiny, he respects our forefather’s wisdom of age, in regards with the events happening around the world. In fact, he compares it with the responses of neighbouring Asian Tigers(Taiwan, Korea, Singapore etc.) after global nationalism tide, and tries to defend the then unique Indian stand, which unlike the rest of East, had Democracy before Capitalism.

Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru

Book works both as a memoir and a critical social investigation through variegated business narratives. A greater chunk of the first part is dedicated for exposure of India’s monopolistic public sector which seriously lacked autonomy of working. Industries Act of 1951 made it punishable by law to produce beyond granted capacity, and this over regulation of private enterprises further went into debarring of expansion via Indira’s MRTP of 1969. There was even an entry restriction up to 60 lakhs in Rupees, for certain selected small scale sectors, which did the ill effect of reducing incentives for technology and competition. These legislations pampered organized labour and discouraged foreign investment, there by effectively shutting down the ancient Indian prosperity tradition of export supplementation. Though unapologetic and critical, Das does acknowledges(with numbers) Second five year plan, Green revolution, White revolution and improvement in Indian savings and investments. And remote efforts for liberalization by Desai, Rajaji and Rajiv-Pitroda are also accounted with romantic reverence. But the ‘wage model’ economic slant, according to Das, was always overshadowed by political appeasements, which never followed the rule of demand and supply.

manmohan rao
Manmohan Singh and PVN Rao, architects of 1991

Balance of Payment crisis of 1991 by short term commercial borrowings of 1985 government, oil crisis, and many other complimenting reasons forced Narasimha Rao’s stop gap government to approach Bretton Woods for financial aid. This is where Das starts to actually breathe in the book, like he was personally strangulated by Fabian socialism and license raj till then. What follows is a celebration of Foreign Investment through statistics in dollars and numbers – reduced bank reserve ratios, reduced inflation, reduced duties, de-materialization of stocks, increased foreign deposit and borrowings and stuff. But these Rao-Manmohan-Verma reforms remained ‘soft’, for ‘ Inspection Raj’ still thrived and public sector bleeding, and lay offs followed the same old pattern. Das connects this Cabinet cripple-ment to ‘Elite to masses’ roots of Indian democracy, which will always has its vested interests in old legacies (Nehruvian-Gandhian socialism here).

The narrative is more gleeful towards the end, where he discusses the recent events through Sen’s take on ‘Identity’ and argumentative traditions. ‘Profit’ is no more a dirty word and ‘poverty’ isn’t divine either. The rise of consuming middle class is changing the mainland and diaspora, yet rising concerns are there in clashes of ‘modernity’ and ‘nationalism’. Though Author tries well not to be explicit, his right slant dominates his political scrutiny. And a general anxiety is visible on the the Hindutva movement gaining moment, which could bring back ‘License Raj’ under the pretense of so called ‘Nationalism’. At the start of the book, he argues that Brahmins of India love to chant in Sanskrit and rant in English, showing the class bias and theoretical preference over practical studies. Funny enough, it goes well with the later narrative of IT success, which could be and somehow is the flagship product of country. Anyway, he argues that the important change by this liberalization, privatization and globalisation(LPG) was people relying more on individualism than the hope on government to solve their problem.

an average IT/ BPO section in Bangalore

I was expecting this book to go dense into economy, with real statistics and comparisons. But the read felt a bit blunt in that realm, though it had its appeasing traits. Also, by later portions of the book, in his looking over a whole generation narrative, author was unknowingly painting himself as an Omnipotent outside panel ‘Watcher’ like figure. I found this nonchalant stance, off putting and suggestive of fictitious embellishments, as opposed to the more sincere personal takes I adored at the start. Another uncomforting detail, or absence of detail, was the lack of demographic analysis, for India is very different in parts and any homogeneous analysis without considering the heterogeneity poses threats of absurd results.

This is a soft book on Indian economy that you can sit back and enjoy. And the best part about the conviction of his numbers are the treatment of reality through dreams and lives of people from partition to 21st century. Though Das has done his best to sound catholic, underlying narrative is still an ode to Capitalism.