A Naya Daur – Revisiting Political Niyat or Intent

Kejriwal, Kejriwal, Kejriwal—yes, the Putsch—we may officially call it that –is complete,  and maybe the Dissident Duo’s outreach on April 14th will be a damp squib. Only Kejriwal’s `yes men’ will remain in AAP. Though not exactly `Night of the Long Knives’ (1933), when Hitler had the Brown Shirts massacred ( those who had propelled him into power), there has been another kind of murder—the murder of independent thought. Kejriwal held the mace firmly and swatted the opposition like one would a mosquito.

But Kejriwal’s  Caesarian capture of the Supremo title in a “ jo jeeta voh sikandar” style brings Civil Society to a moment of deep introspection and self questioning—is Indian leadership ready for critical thinking and evaluation? Have we matured to actually stomach criticism from our own ranks?

To be able to carry everyone with you was quintessentially Vajpayee; it required  maturity and self-confidence and the recognition that no man can rule alone, or through clones. But take the BJP Conclave—founding fathers were missing? Or for that matter the reason why Congress leadership feels rudderless.

Then  how do we move forward as a nation from being patron- driven to merit driven? How will we compete in this fast moving world economy? Grandiose polices alone cannot deliver targets  if  `competition’ is stifled or policies are implemented by a substandard category of professionals/organizations fattened on a culture of patronage. Just look at any awards. We institute them to create an environment of aspiration and achievement, and then dilute their meaning so that  the curiosity with which one looks forward to a Booker or Nobel—is missing. Take the list of Rajya Sabha MP’s, Padma Awards or even the Tagore fellowships given out for substandard scholarship to wives, friends mistresses and cronies.

Dissent is a genuine part of democracy, but cronyism and sycophancy make up the ruling elite today in most institutions.

So  was democratic thought just a convenient tool to yoke off British rule and we now show ourselves to be, as before,  simply feudal in mindset. Look at Rajasthan–erstwhile  `Princes of Rajputana’ rule the roost, the royal suffix `HH’ that the Mahatma and Indira Gandhi rid the nation of,  back into our society with aplomb.  Within the  Congress too a royalty exists. It is this what Rahul Gandhi was trying to root out for which he was shunned. The message given was hierarchies are sacrosanct,  cannot be tampered with. (Some will argue he too is quintessentially that.)

Bhushan Yadav duo too asked some inconvenient questions—on financial methodology and personality projections. No one says  their motives were/are ideal—but the questions raised of `achhe aadmi’ and `saaf niyat’ are very relevant. The issue here is not that Kejriwal is wrong, or Bhushan/Yadav right, but whether Kejriwal can stomach another man sharing space for decision-making.

No one can doubt that IAC was a genuine people’s movement (Anna, Bedi, et al)  but maybe the AAP that is evolving from it, minus its base of critics,  will cease to be the tsunami Civil Society hoped for. Instead becoming just a parking ground for political wannabe’s who do not find space in the big-ticket parties for either reasons of `identity’ or `opportunity’.  As a nation, most sadly agree, it does not pay for our citizens to hold up standards for civilized thought and ideas. Nor ones that germinate into the seeds of movements symbolized by slogans like `Liberty Equality Fraternity’.  Or bring them to the forefront of discourse, be it politics, art or social change.

Unless we rise above this and accept that critical evaluation and thinking as an essential part of democratic life the nation cannot rise to the heights that we profess to wish to.  Without the ability for healthy self critique we cannot occupy a hallowed seat in the comity of nations that forge ahead on the grit of meritocracy.

The Mahatama’s ability  to galvanise a whole nation inspires every politician’s dream. Now it is the turn of Modi to re invent the Mahatma’s rhetoric and reap the rewards. (Certainly no one can argue with the logic of a Swatch Bharat.)  But Gandhi becoming a popular catchword for reasons other than what he stood for– a false inclusiveness, to wean hardcore Gandhians away from the Congress–is to not truly understand him.

The Mahatma ‘s drive was more than external it was of  motives and intent. Each action of his was based on introspection for common good. Again and again he questioned his motives and `niyat’.

“India of my dreams – I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that is their country, in whose making they have an effective voice, an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people; an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony.”

Just as AAP stood for reminding  the ruling Congress  the principles on which its own founding fathers and how small the men who rule it now had become, so another rookie outfit could be born out of the ashes of IAC to challenge AAP. Beware Kehriwal, for malafide intent always breeds the seeds of discontent.  You compromise in the system and the system corrupts you.

As the drive towards the Bihar and UP Elections progresses,  for Voters and Civil Society it will be most important to remember: are we voting to usher in a Naya Daur? Will there be fresh faces fielded to bring Parliament esteem? Or will it be as before—the hell with `criteria’ it’s `winnability’ at any cost?

Modi ji, Ab ki bari — Janta ki Baat

Dear Mr Modi,

Your continual rapid-fire announcements and pronouncements have led me to believe you are rooting for progress and honesty in governance. So I concede these 5 years to you. Besides even your opponents have conceded you are a man with a mission.

But I am confused. Reason being in the last few months your political pronouncements make me wonder where we are headed. Agreed until you have complete control over the non-BJP states, your governmental machinery and moreso of your own party,  you  are unable to make clear, powerful decisions of your own. So to achieve this control Mahatma Gandhi has been invoked in the same breath as Balasaheb Thackeray!  Perhaps you have a larger cause to serve than mere philosophical quibbling about minority rights be they of non- Maharashtrians in Mumbai or others. So you have put them both on your expedient fast moving rath.  Winning is all that matters. If Gandhi the Gujarati gets you votes why not—the state of Sabarmati Ashram be damned. You probably think if Indira Gandhi was the daughter of Kashmir and the daughter in law of the Parsis of Mumbai, then what’s the fuss  with a  little  political `farsaan’ mix of your own;  you too can be a compatriot of a liberal Gujarat ki shaan Gandhi, and a comrade in arms of fundamentalist Balasaheb. Bismarckian `real politik ‘ is invoked.

But when you have claimed your citadel, and undiluted power is yours, mustn’t we know what you truly stand for?  How will it be when the chips fall?  When you have conquered Kalinga & Kashmir, Avadh & NE, Dravid & Bangal  and given the overseas clarion call to  Buddhists of the World  to Unite in a “Dharam Dhanush” (my phrase) in a Dharam Yudh against proselytizing faiths  (read Islam & Christianity) –then what are we going to get? Which of the multi-headed avatars of Mr. Modi will stand up? Because,  foolish as we janta are,   we will not know if the real Modi will be saffron, green, blue or khadi white—I see your waistcoats too are in myriad hues. And if none of it matters and these pronouncements are simply `a costume’ that you will discard once the ‘play’ is over, then shouldn’t we be ready for that too.

Why is this important to know this now?  Because a wise writer  once warned (and yes he wrote in English)  “….I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake  of their public duties….they lead their countries by a short route to chaos.” (Robert Bolt: A Man for All Seasons)

Yes we will privatize the Railways,  SAIL and other PSU’s, indigenize defense production, buy the transfer of technology, sign MOU’s for roads and infrastructure, but sir how will we cure the nation of its real termites—the Yadav Singhs, the Ghoshs  and the Sri Saharas sheltered by your own compatriot netas who too win elections speaking convenient truths?  The need of the hour sir is good and honest governance.

I have been in Saurasthra before Elections 2014.  In the light of your “ Swach Bharat Abhiyaan” I must mention the alarming filth and garbage in poor areas, common civic amenities appear unplanned and uncared for, be it Junagadh, Porbander, Rajkot, or Jamnagar. (Just look at the pathetic makeshift railway stoppage just outside the state of the art Reliance Jamnagar refinery). The schools look the same, why the rear approach to your own Ahmedabad Railway Station is a mess (again Muslim area). Junagadh’s fabulous monuments are an eyesore—oops I forgot—Muslim heritage. You have not been able to clean Gujarat sir, how will you clean India—inside and outside.

As an Opposition leader surprisingly recently said, the Prime Minister means well, we must co-operate. But teamwork Mr Modi is the need of the hour, and a Party culture that uses good governance to garner votes and sheds its extremist positions will surely galvanize this nation.

Gandhi led such a movement but his war horses came from diverse strengths. They were stalwarts who did not have quick fix remedies. Seeing the truth of their intentions and, mind you words,  teeming millions followed. Why? Because they mostly stood for what they spoke.  Words come from the seed of thought and cast indelible shadows on our lives.

I have a hunch you want your name cast in stone like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Bose, Aurobindo , Tilak, and Gokhale and …the list is endless…I could add Kabir. All flawed but great men. You want to be remembered as one  too—or what was your life worth? As poet Robert Browning said—a man’s aim should exceed his grasp—or what’s  life for?  It would do you good to closely study their speeches, and to identify if they meant what they said. Or  were they  mere stunts—election or otherwise. I do hope it is not the former with you, at least then my confusion will clear for -I know Balasaheb and Gandhi were never one.

Great expectations rest on your shoulders—Perhaps more than fawning media you would do well to read the odd hesitant doubting voice. Aakhir jo thok peeth ke samajhne ki koshish karta hain—vohi acha samajhte hain.

Manju Kak

Nehru, Modi, and the Idea of India

There can be no doubt that Mr Modi is the best political thing that’s happened to the BJP in recent years. But the moot question is –is he the best thing to have happened to the Idea of India?

If Nehru’s Idea was right for post-Partition years, is Modi’s right for post-post Liberalization India? Endemic is the acceptance oft- touted by pundits that span both sides of the ideological fence– that if Nehruvian ideal held the fragile nation together when Partition wounds were raw, it is Modi’s decisive determination that will complete the residue of Rajiv Gandhi/ Narasimha Rao economic vision of India’s 21st century.  So in a sense Modi becomes the true inheritor of an India whose overarching scaffolding is Nehruvian? Some of Media and its accompanying accessories would have us believe so.

Now if we are to agree—that Modi is the best thing to happen to post-post Liberalization  India—both Congressmen and Saffronites will find it hard to swallow the linking of a truly liberal man with the icon of a Saffron Party–sheer political anathema? —kya baat hai!  Nehru & Modi? Certainly both determinedly wished to stamp upon this fragmented nation a unifying imprint. And in this vision they brooked/will brook no deviation from a cause.

Let us look at the blueprint which both Nehru & Modi vowed to serve. Nehru’s contribution is well chronicled—whether BJP wishes to acknowledge it or not–Institution building, Panchsheel, ashram for political refugees (Dalai Lama etc.), the PSU’s and 5 Year plans driven by socialist concerns—were the need of the hour in those nascent years when, let’s face it, neither `India’ or `Bharat’  existed as an entity in the Comity of Nations. Nehru made us accepted in world parlance of UN, NATO, Warsaw Pact countries etc. Through Panchsheel he made them sit up and notice us a `player’.

Modi tries for the same—he ostensibly wishes to be remembered for a `Grand Hindu/Buddhist’ alliance of SAARC countries, Japan & China? Or a Pacific alliance to include Australia, jostling against Nehru’s Panchsheel to place India a notch higher in the International Comity.

However his Idea of India needs a correction. For the lurking fear amongst many is that  this grand vision is accompanied by the rejection of the liberal outlook even as he speaks of `Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’, and the multiple  `Saath Saath’ slogans. Through statistics thrust at us on rate of growth, transparent governance, GST, single facilitation cell etc. it is the secular ideological frame work of our nation that is slowly but surely taking a back seat as soft Hindutva permeates–a wormhole into our collective consciousness.

But can a nation grown up on free thinking be muffled to hear the beat of but one sound? “Give me liberty or give me death.” Said Patrick Henry before the American War of Independence. Tagore famously wrote ”Where the mind is set free….” Even Veer Sarvarkar’s chains rattled ferociously in Andaman jail because he wanted freedom to propagate his idea of India however pernicious others thought it might be.  Bal Gangadhar Tilak our `Lokmanya’, famously said “ ..a true nationalist desires to build on old foundations…”

But were that liberal Idea of India to go—what would remain—a uni—dimensional Idea of culture engulf us? A veritable `kauf’ as we say in Urdu, a suffocation would descend on our polity. Time and again history has taught us that people need to be free to think as we please, a basic human need we hold as dear as water.

Hindutva apologists say Modi is correcting the wrong of ` over-appeasement of minorities’ of Congress rule, that the majority community sentiment is hurt.  Even middle of the road Hindus feel a sense of being drawn to this argument. They opine more liberal Muslims need to speak out over Muslim atrocities against Hindus in Kashmir, the terrorist attack on Parliament, the valid demand for a temple in Ayodhya. This is a must to protect the old Idea of India or many more may find themselves susceptible and it will be abandoned. To us who grew up post—Independence, when Nehruvianism shaped our thinking,  it will be a sad day indeed.

True Nehru had his flaws; just as history judged him, Indira, Atalji etc, so it will judge Modi. The Gods have not yet descended upon us in the form of its politicians. But Nehru was truly a grand visionary, patriot and statesman; that his daughter, the Iron Lady (hailed as a Durga) who avenged Partition too was a patriot,  there too can be no doubt. They however wore their patriotism on their Secular sleeve with panache and subtlety. Modi too needs to do the same to be able the tall leader he obviously wishes to be.

As one Editor of a leading paper said in private conversation, let’s face it to a Hindu, the lure of soft Hindutva, comes natural, just as Muslims may be drawn to right wing Islam.  It’s being a `liberal’ we have to work at consiously. That is the vision of an ideal world. That is the true legacy of Nehru.

With a red rose buttoned into his (Nehru) jacket lapel and churidar pajamas, Nehru spelt an aesthetic and sartorial elegance that was rooted, one Modi emulates only adding swathes of more colour even as he speaks like `Chacha Nehru’ through his Man ki Baat. And yet Nehru’s was a cultivated global mind that had shaken off parochialism. Can Modi shake off his  to absorb the myriad colours of India? If Modi does his Nehru jacket might actually spout a red rose.  Then only will Modi 2.0 be a hard act to follow

Dr. Manju Kak

Vintage Goa



Author: Maria Aurora Couto

Disclaimer–Maria Cuoto is known to me–but this review is in no way influenced by this.

Filomena’s Journeys is a remarkable and touching biography of Filomena Borges, a redoubtable Goan lady, who was born in 1909. It is also a story of migration from a homeland and the return, although it works at many other levels too: as a feminist story; a social study of the times—Goa in the 1930s to ‘Liberation’; and, a family history embedded  in a ‘portrait of a marriage’. It is also the memoir of an artiste, Chico Figueiredos—of his dreams and passions, angst and failures.

The historian Romilla Thapar aptly likens the biography to an installation of kinetic art, showcasing an intricate network of relationships, almost like living in a spider’s web. To deconstruct it would be to place it in the context of three vibrant characters; Filomena, Chico, and the locations of the book that, sotto voce, became the third.

To narrate an outline—Filomena, a gentle Goan girl, orphaned young, is brought up by her grandmother in Raia, her village, in South Goa.  In 1935, when  26, she marries for love—the dashing and intemperate Chico, scion of one of Goa’s most prominent families, the Figueiredos. She moves from rural Goa to the buzzing, fashionable town of Margao, where the terms of engagement change dramatically.

Chico’s maternal grandfather, Joao Manuel Pacheco, or JM Sr., was the patriarch of  Borda, a wealthy suburb of Margao, while his father’s landed  family (Figueiredos) owned the splendid,  ancestral ‘Casa Velha’, or the old house in the village Loutolim. Couto carefully details linkages with Konkan Goa when she mentions they were originally Podiyars from Sancoale before they moved to Loutolim around 1603–4, where they acquired the name, Figueiredo.

In these imposing, large homes, ‘observance of the rules of etiquette, deportment at the table, and interaction with elders were all carefully observed’.  Thus, by birth, Chico’s social position was clearly circumscribed, for big houses then usually defined one’s social standing as well as one’s calling.  For a young man, they also signified his eligibility to sustain and rear a family; he became a sought after groom in the marriage market. But what if his calling was else,  something that  Filomena soon realised.  Although, like his older brother (JM Jr.), he trained as a doctor, he was a musician by calling.

From the time of his youth, music was in his blood. He was the life and soul of every family gathering, with the piano as its centerpiece. The way of Goan gentry was this—chapel and church feasts in the village, and large house parties for birthdays, weddings, engagements, christenings, with munificent kitchens overflowing to cater to such events.

The chapels and churches, built on hilltops with commanding views and with soaring spires, play an important role in Couto’s recreation of the life of Goa’s feudal elite, stressing its European artistic and religious influences. It was a time of Western cultural elitism all over India, where one’s own roots were oftener than not relegated to an inferior position. However, the borrowings, be they in music, architecture, or language, or the bonding between Catholics and Hindus, ended in mutual enrichment, a legacy she has more than ably captured.

Once married, Filomena discovered that Chico was a troubled man with a volatile temperament and little discipline. Although gifted, he could not command the success he craved. To be fair,  music could at best be a pastime then, not a profession whereby one could sustain a life of reasonable privilege. Those who were full-time musicians were usually from the working classes, i.e., out of necessity, not choice.

Although Chico Figueiredos fathered  seven children, the eldest being the author, he found it difficult to sustain his family as his share of harvest income from the dwindling family lands was not enough. At the turn of the 20th century, Moreso Goa witnessed the vanishing privileges of the gentry and the emergence of a new social order, where the Konkani-speaking populace was assertive of its cultural and economic space.

Soon after, Chico lost his job as a music teacher at the Liceu in Panjim. Depressed, he turned even more to drink. Straitened financial circumstances forced  Filomena, in 1945,  to find a cheaper place to live.  Through a chance meeting, she heard of Dharwar in Karnataka as a pleasant but affordable town (with a ban on alcohol sales), and where a Goan community, lured by an English education, was domiciled. A cousin of Chico’s, the principal of Karnatak College, provided providential help. Filomena rented rooms to students and made a living that can be best described as genteel poverty. Here, in uncertain circumstances, the family grew up coping with Chico’s moods.

Soon, Chico’s condition worsened and he moved back to his beloved Goa, a broken man, while the family stayed on in Dharwar, a total of 27 years.  He spent the last four years of his life in Goa before his death at the age of 53, leaving  behind a traumatised  family.

Filomena’s journey from Goa to Dharwar is the story of a woman’s struggle in a marriage, and as a provider. Chico’s failures as a father and husband admirably bring out her true grit. Raia, Margao, Loutolim, Panjim, Dharwar, and later Bombay and Poona, become the locales of Filomena’s courageous life, rearing her seven children, and later becoming the fond grandmother of 19 grandchildren.

Many incidents display the exemplary courage and tenacity of women like her who held their families together by tenuous links, and whose stories are often not told. Fortunately, Couto tells hers.  Filomena ages gracefully, her inner beauty glowing through the pages. Even when the dice is loaded against her, such as the loss of the family house through a lottery between the two brothers, she, without a roof over her head, bears no rancour or bitterness against her brother-in- law. She just carries on.

This Goan family’s journey becomes a study of one of the most fascinating of the several hundred communities that enrich Indian culture. Couto’s use of Portuguese and Goan words, lend nuance and authenticity, which although a little confusing at first, become self-explanatory as one reads on. The families of Alvares, Pachecos, Correas, Noronhas and Colacos,  intermingle and intertwine in the villages of Raia, Loutolim, Benaulim, and the more sophisticated towns of Margao and  Panjim. From here, sons of the upper classes often found their way to Portuguese towns and colonies, such as Lisbon and Brazil, which appear contiguous with the Goan landscape. The sense of loss permeates the impressive casas;  large families are torn  asunder when professional growth for their sons also meant a life overseas and an abandoning of well- loved homes.

Sometimes, writers engaged in such dense and exhaustive work, wonder: will the work survive? Will it find a permanent place in the landscape it chooses to describe? Will anyone read them?

This well-researched book of the culture and social mores of Goa, embedded in Konkan geography and Portuguese conquest, will certainly find its way to the permanent archives that document those times.  But, foremost, it will be remembered as a tribute of a daughter to a mother, and an elegiac remembrance of a father. Its essence can be best described as dukha, a Persian word for remembrance that we often also mistranslate as sadness.

Maria Aurora Couto is a woman of many parts—teacher, author, critic.  Her own qualities enhance the multiple narratives in her work to lay bare the wounds of a family, and through it, of Goa. Couto explains her own outsider/insider relationship with Goa,  for although Goan-born she has spent many years away.  Her conversance with Konkanese, Portuguese and English, combined with her travels in India and abroad, give her an enhanced perspective of the land  upon which she chooses to cast her inimitable imprint.

Mahatma Gandhi, Modi & Sava Sau Crore

To remember the Mahatma is always a good thing, especially  for Cleanliness, those of us who have grown up on Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, miss him, in our daily lives; but revival of his legacy should transcend parochial political concerns and go beyond tokenism. To use the Mahatma to garner votes would have him turning in his grave. And when great souls ‘turn” the rumble turns into a roar of dissent as he himself proved when he valiantly unleashed people’s power against Colonial Raj. So let’s beware–the Intention is as important as the Act–says the Buddha.

The raging debate in the article by Minaz Merchant in the Economist & Pankaj Mishra’s article in Bloomberg gives an alternate view of the perception of PM Modi’s Madison Square performance. They take their cue further from Oliver’s ” You are a cliche.” and have drawn blood from the rabid. The Rajdeep Sardesai incident has provoked many to remember Goebbels–have I spelt him right–there is the spirit of Goebbels lurking in all of us because undiluted power is an aphrodisiac that even Gods cannot resist–the Mahatma had to keep reminding himself– which is why he undertook fasts, introspection and went into frequent retreats at Sabarmati Ashram.

Reflection on this is important fodder for the “sava sau krore” Hindustani listening. Chalo Mahatma ki yaad mein, hum bhi soochen.