Thursday, November 29, 2012

Clay and dust from history!

Book Review: Fiction/Between clay and dust by Musharraf Ali Farooqi , Aleph, 213 pp; Rs450 (Hardback)
Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s Between Clay and Dust does not receive the attention that it deserves, not least because his novel departs from the west influenced literary trend in Pakistan that has been in vogue in recent years. The book sets on the early post Partition years, in the old part of a town somewhere in the northern side of the subcontinent. The exact location of geography is blurred under the prominence of main plank which tries to recall the passing of the composite,

Urdu-speaking urban culture that Partition tolled as relative loss.
Between Clay and Dust notes the changes in a confined plot, which too affected in the wake of bloody partition. Basically it investigates the change that made mostly disastrous impact on the precious possessions and beliefs of the people. Change antagonizes the value and existence of long living tradition, with escaping the truths that these things conventions hold prominence in personal and collective life. Between Clay and Dust establishes the rational in broadly defining, how to cope the changes to save the valuable tributes of tradition. But the change is not infact bad, only some of the endgames it leads appear like adversity.

The current literary genre of Pakistan is receiving high accolades in India and western countries, though most of the writings from that block lack the broader purpose in defining the trends and currents of change. The two prime characters of this novel appear like the successor of culturally rich civilisation, now on the wane under the wave of continental hate politics. Both are ageing and theirs nostalgia are for the patronage for creative works, which was actively prevailing before the partition in Indian subcontinent. Now the ‘patronage’ was a past practice and that was being substituted by the sense of high insecurity for ones art and life!

One among the characters is a champion wrestler, who runs an akhara with having high sense for ritual and tradition; the other is an accomplished courtesan performs riyaaz to the rising sun every day. Both the artists struggle with the passage of time and the extinction of their art; however the approaches are different-where one accepts it quite decently, and the other agitate against it. The most forceful revelation, these two characters feeds that the tradition dies not by itself or the changes but by the bearers of tradition, who forgets to act how it keep floating.

Between Clay and Dust resembles a fall-from-grace story, although that decline is more related with the characters than the overall phase of late fifties, on which the book is centered. The central argument of Farooqi states beyond the obvious and goes deeper to the unpredictable zone of human behaviour. Primarily, the author says that one’s weakness is part of being the controller of own action, in external sphere, the same person appears much dynamic and confident. Albeit here, the inner debate hardly defunct the existing social norms, neither it allows even a tint of room for pontification.

Between Clay and Dust is written in Farooqi’s favourite ‘restrained way’. Here he has followed the natural style of his earlier works-especially the translation of Lucknowi epic Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, and Sholay, based on iconic Punjabi film Maula Jatt. Farooqi goes the simple but elegant way with his prose, which addresses the concern related with the themes and the standard style of narration. Besides that, Farooqi’s keen eye for detail meticulously brings lively colours to the two main protagonists and their respective artistic and worldly existence.

Farooqi’s book is different from many others that have emerged not only from Pakistan but of south Asia, because of his natural urge to be in writing devoid the odds in his unusual career that began as dropout of an engineering college to turning later as petty restaurant worker to a sensible reader and translator of the rich Urdu literature. That sort of life is not so easy to lead; as Farooqi has did it before gaining credit of elite writer. His fiction is not solely imaginative, instead it’s culmination of long experiences that finally came out through this book, few writers going this way these days.

May be or not, this book will win the big prizes or popularity, but Farooqi has succeeded enough as a writer of sensible choice, hence even in conservative estimation, he will secure some fan among avid readers. Also, he should be happy being the first writer of Aleph, a literary enterprise run by the genius publishing brains. On the scale of design and editing as well, aesthetic presentation is superseding the optimum functionality. This work of fiction is worth of reading by the serious tribe of literary world, who may lately also think to add much needed constructive evaluation on such hard labored creative project. Most often, it lacks, so is this gentle reminder for greater common good!
Atul Kumar Thakur

Monday, November 26, 2012

Obama’s re-election is blessing for India

The US President’s sharp and well-woven South Asia policy will be crucial for all stakeholders. Both India and the US will benefit from the new arrangement
As per The Wall Street Journal, “Obama's victory in the bruising campaign marks a landmark in modern election history. No sitting president since Franklin D Roosevelt in 1940 has won re-election with a higher unemployment rate, which stands at 7.9 per cent.”

Also, this election will be remembered for the excessive reliance on economic policies as its rallying point. With India-US total merchandise trade touching $57.80billion in 2011, the US is now India's third largest trade partner and hence shares many concerns jointly.

Despite WTO's reservations on such sound bilateral trade relations between these two countries, it's unlikely that any significant change will take place in their cooperation in the days to come. India's current diplomatic engagement with the US is primarily being driven by the hope that Mr Obama's return to the White House will make his economic sense more ‘improved'. But, stepping away from his anti-outsourcing stand would not be easy for the US President, leaving Indian corporates not much to cheer about at this stage.

During the presidential debates, India attracted only fleeting interest of the candidates. Though much like the rest of the world, India too breathed a sigh of relief at Mr Obama's re-election. By choosing to look askance at Mr Obama's first term, where US economic policies were shaped mostly against Indian interests, India has shown a progressive and pragmatic approach towards strengthening ties and dealing with the US Government's ‘new protectionist policies’.

Mr Obama's presidency started off on a less friendly standing with India when he initiated a short-lived, albeit deep, engagement with China. But the past four years have shown that his views have turned significantly in India's favour. His distrust of military-dominated Pakistan in Afghanistan clearly marks India's expanding future role in the South Asian region. So, it's hardly surprising if Mr Obama is now building Bush-era like close ties with New Delhi.

In his new term, an older and wiser Mr Obama is likely to rearrange policy on South Asia and adopt a stricter line on Islamic terrorism emanating out of Afghanistan-Pakistan region. So, in strategic terms too, the US President is looking to India for decisive cooperation in Afghanistan and West Asia.

Washington knows that a decade-old operation in Afghanistan can be ended only through a more proactive role by India. India, on the other hand must not forget that the “Americans are adept at producing or reproducing well packaged formulas”, and should follow the course with proper guard for maintaining its own foreign policy fundamentals.

In the post-Cold War scenario, the US is pre-eminent but nowhere has it held supreme position. The current global strategic scenario is heavily influenced by the US, but it will be too simplified if it is called anything close to ‘unipolar dominance'. USSR's breakup had strengthened the chances of a homogenised world. India must resist such developments as an idealistic leader of global politics. In the last six decades, India has been maintaining its independent stand on foreign policy unmindful of the brickbats and bouquets that came its way. Since 1947, the country has moved up and now it has a legacy to offer.

So, it was not by chance that Mr Obama named Gandhi as his inspiration just after winning the presidential election. With amazing diversity and capacity to act as a bridge between industrialised and developing world, India is now a prominent soft power state. It's a fair development that US now realises India's security concern more responsibly and accepts ‘terrorism' as the immediate target to fight with. The world's two great democracies, India and the US, face many common challenges and also share similar conditions to act on them.

Mr Obama's sharper and well-woven South Asia policy will be crucial for the all stakeholders. India and the US will be benefit in the new arrangements, which might be a conservative estimation though would be closer to the reality. The responses and counter-responses in the main areas of cooperation between the two countries will decide the future course. The present is promising enough with Mr Obama's return.
Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer,dated on November21,2012)

India’s financial regulator at loggerheads!

At the height of the ongoing worldwide recession, the Fed chief, Ben Bernake’s predictably shocked appearances used to discourage we all, who so far didn’t stopped believing in the might of otherwise a foregone power-‘central banks’. The current case of RBI’s Chairman-D.Shubbarao is not much different after escaping his contagious ‘smile’ that essentially translates nothing much than invisible ‘unease’ around him. And here, common men have to pass through a sort of ‘illiteracy syndrome’ every-time while decoding such unbreakable code.

Ironically, unrelenting mysterious smiley’s from the RBI’s head is troubling for this dreaming nation alike, as finance ministry responds every such move with the irritated doses of ‘we will march alone’ and other principles, which are practically unconquerable. A close look on the financial policy making suggests the inherent contradiction within it. The ambiguity on two goals, respectively, lower inflation and high growth is the basic reason behind the unusual mock and verbal tussle between north block and mint street. This unworthy raw is a fruitless exercise without having any clear end in its sight.

The RBI’s stubbornness on keeping interest rates in anti-growth mode has deteriorated the chances of bouncing back for Indian economy, which is grappling with a very odd combination of high inflation and lower growth. In all, the rational part of governance is completely lacking even now, for pushing up the momentum in right course. Earlier, the meltdown sentiment had favoured RBI and its conservative role with ‘no touch and playing safe’ approaches were hailed like ‘concert of chimes’.

Those difficulties have given a new sort of complex time for the Indian financial market, where the issues of working or not on the stated agenda are heavily depends upon the rapport, finance ministry and RBI maintains. It utterly disappoints, the way RBI is losing ‘ease’ with the government and attention from the core issues. Here, it will be also worthwhile to recall that somewhere government too is overstepping in the shoes of central bankers-the abrupt announcement of more private sector banks in the budget speech of Pranab Mukherjee and later lax handling by the RBI on this shows the prevailing s state of affairs.

After twenty-one years of liberalisation programme, Indian economy has grown up in the size and maximization of the wealth is also no longer a ‘non-reality’ for the different income groups. But in these years, the income gap has also spiraled up like never before and the ‘income security’, which both the good socialistic and capitalistic system necessitates, as the programme to execute has been cornered over the years. The system, which walks with the two foremost powers- regulation and capital, is not keeping concern for an equitable system under immense pressure from the cronies and political classes, with large though hidden business interests.

However, not to miss the case of allowing fair and advanced banking in the country, the RBI must ensure the action requires without stopping the strict regulatory watch over the players in the fray of financial sector. As at some point of time, the buzz of innovation too needs careful handling. On this count, the RBI has so far responded well with treating the exotic financial products quite stringently. But its proactive part remained in hibernation, when chances arose to lift the Indian financial market out of working below potential.

Once the RBI was a well shaped moderator but under the changing pattern of financial businesses, it’s falling in the league of its peers, where the desperation is virtue in dealing with the stagnant economies. Much to dismay of the optimists, finance can no longer be handled with the extreme of liberal or stringent set of rules; instead believing in the capacity of spontaneous action by the leadership would make tone much better. In all weather and season, the RBI’s governor should know the pulses of economy down from the rural terrains to the up-market areas of metro cities.

The balancing exercise would be critical here to the further course of action for India’s financial market. The combination of populist politics and over mechanized economic bureaucracy would do no well to the India’s economy, which is in perplexed state on its own future. Knowing where to act effectively in the policy making would solve the petty issues in the high circle that causes endless troubles to the believers of sound financial administration. Access to the institutional finance plays vital role in ensuring the fair chances of employment for the youths.

The entrepreneurial zeal is not weak in India albeit more practical banking approaches are the need of this hour. Still, it would be wrong for the RBI or finance ministry to compare India with the western economies, which have shaped through the different historical developments and ofcourse with the support of colonial projects. India can’t go artificially in the history for overlooking on odd economic issues.

Unlike, India as a new nation and old civilisational land, needs to keep growing and under the aegis of its commendable democratic system. Neither the totalitarian China nor the lightly floating USA would make India, what its majority of people dreams relentlessly. The loggerheads must stop and RBI should think for the common men and business communities too, as nothing would go untoward hereafter!
Atul K Thakur
November2nd, 2012, Friday
(Published in Governance now,dated on November10, 2012)

The Unfinished Memoirs of a Complete Past!

Book Review: Non-fiction/The Unfinished Memoirs by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Penguin/Viking, 323 pp; Rs699 (Hardback)
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s diaries, on a very important phase of twentieth century, came into the light in 2004 and now have been compiled as a book in the English. These memoirs were written during the prison days of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, when he was a state prisoner in the epochmaking years: 1967-1969. His autobiography begins with him recalling his days as a student activist during the movement, aimed for the creation of Pakistan in the early 1940’s. Further, the book covers his experiences of the Bengali language movement, besides offering new insights on the initial struggle of the Bangladeshi independence movement and self-rule. The major events and political planks up to the time of struggle for democratic rights in 1955 are given prominence in Mujib’s memoirs.

His notebooks have some remarkable details and it is hardly surprising since he was catalyst behind the birth of Bangladesh. His autobiography, though doesn’t enable a reader to judge the status of his convictions but at a different level, gives enough space to introspect those early conditions that came into existence after the creation of Pakistan and not very lately, with the birth of another nation-Bangladesh. Troubled and impatient, yet that was a very interesting timeframe in the Indian subcontinent. Mujib’s autobiography, remotely distant from any soft ends, leads to the unusually abnormal past that affected the geography and psyche of south Asia.

Though compelled by bitter circumstances, patriots of highest order were not less accountable for carrying out the procession of partition. Indeed, Pakistan was born as the outcome of those unfortunate tussles, but the creation of Bangladesh, was more the result of Muslim League’s failure to live up to Jinnah’s dream of ‘working democracy’, than any other factors. This book establishes some vital facts, such as, why more than India’s role, the idea of Bangladesh materialised under the unrelenting failures of Muslim League’s leadership which maintained ‘disconnect’ with the people of East Bengal for long time.

The top Muslim League leaders were appearing more as the representatives of the party than people. Institutionally, democracy was functional in Pakistan, since it became a nation state but its liberal attributes were missing and that caused impractical maneuverings on socio-political fronts. Later on things went the wrong way and progresses were not as normal as desired. Shockingly, a leading Muslim League leader, Liaquat Ali Khan, was too not ready in any case to accept the existence of other parties, apart from Muslim League-his speech underlines it more clearly…
“I have always said, rather it has always been my firm belief, that the existence of the League, not only the existence of the League, but its strength is equal to the existence and strength of Pakistan. So far as I am concerned, I had decided at the very beginning, and reaffirm it today, that I have always considered myself the Prime Minister of the League. I never regarded myself as the Prime Minister chosen by the members of the Constituent Assembly.” (Page-144)

And from the opposite side, Suharawardy and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was not less vocal towards the chasm, the new nation was running with. This statement of Mujibur Rahman highlights the geographical/cultural divide Pakistan affronted those days…
“I am from East Bengal, a land where one can go through an entire winter with only a light blanket. Here you have to wear layer upon layer of warm clothes and wrap yourself in blanket after blanket. And yet it is so cold that sleep evades you despite the layers of clothes and the blankets!” (Page-149)

In its part, the Muslim League leaders failed to understand the repercussion posed in downsizing the leadership from East Bengal, on which, the discomfort was being felt by culturally distinct and much reserve natured Bengali speaking population. Most surprisingly, Jinnah too was unaware of the truth, holding that Pakistan’s way ahead was not rosy and as easy, thought out by few in high degree of complacency. More than an assumption, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman got the political height in ‘isolation’ that the Islamabad’s bureaucratic machinery allowed him in unmindful.

Post 1947, the whole political processes were being controlled by the distorted aspirations of political elites. Then in Pakistan-two nations were making strides. Marginalization of real issues for the deviant political policies harmed in general and caused for the condition that led to the brutal partition and immense shock to the people at both sides of the border. Later, similar fear haunted in 1971, when hawkish situation again made people the easiest target of irrational power play.The birth of Bangladesh happened under the ‘guise of cultural isolation’ of East Bengal’s population, but the real reasons were more political.

This was clear to few, as the euphoria was at sky high and Mujib had so far established himself an unchallengeable authority in Bangladesh. But his edge couldn’t sustain for long. Though initially, Mujib received an unprecedented response on his call to move for the economic freedom by uniting the entire nation. The economy picked up rapidly. Production increased substantially. The prices of essential came down sharply. With greater hope, the new conditions for inclusive growth were near the reality but all ended shortly!

On 25January 1975, the country switched to the Presidential system of government and as expected, Mujib took over the charge as first President of Bangladesh. But not very late, in August 1975, he was assassinated in Dhaka along with his family (barring two daughters)-that immediately caused for Martial law in the country. The basic democratic rights were withheld. Thereafter, the politics of killing, camps and conspiracy were revitalized. Nine years later, almost similar scene was replicated in India too after the assassination of Indira Gandhi-in both the countries, innocents’ people were seen at margin in those ugly days, on the wake of violent reprisals from authority!

With straight talking and revelations, an autobiography makes its place prominently established. This book broadly qualifies in that category with its less ‘conformist’ stand-it allows readers to engage on the pages without any epistemological load. In simple words, Mujib’s biography tells the history of making of a nation, not of farce.

In the wish lists of serious readers on modern south Asian history, any miraculous turn out of Nehru and Jinnah’s hidden autobiographies would make the picture of regional politics much comprehensive than it has been over the decades with feeble documentary sources. More than the technicalities of wardrobe, theirs descendant can produce anything ‘exclusive’ on the passed fate of subcontinental history!

Atul Kumar Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Monitor, dated on November11th, 2012)