Thursday, November 10, 2016

RANDOM MUSINGS OF A SOLITARY WALKER - 1


After the two shocking events I wrote about yesterday – election of Trump and demonetisation of 500/1000 rupee notes in India – my mind is searching for answers, which are hard to come by. My post about the latter has invited a lot of comments from friends and trolls, praising the PM for his bold move, overnight transformation of the economy, et al. A lot of people are put to needless harassment and loss and people in well-paying jobs are saying: it’s for the good, so grin and bear it. So, you, urban middle-class office workers, what do you know about the rural villager who has to walk a few kilometres to the nearest bank, and, when there, he is handicapped as he doesn’t know how to fill in a form? We are living in frightening times where every day brings some new revelations, or, news of revelations not made. Therefore, here are some rambling thoughts on democracy and development.

When you dig deeper, you find that the malady lies buried down in several layers of a deep gorge of misdeeds in this unipolar world. Is there a disregard for democratic norms? Is there a lack of proper understanding of how democracy works? Was democratic institutions compromised? Is the one who is better at compromising democratic norms the winner in an election? If so, what have we done to safeguard democracy? Is communism the better alternative, in a world where the world’s leading communist countries have turned capitalists with a vengeance?

It’s a fearful world we inhabit. First let me deal with the election of Trump to the highest office of the world. There were allegations of Russians having hacked into Clinton’s emails. It’s quite possible. Maybe, even Clinton had rigged the Democratic nomination to be the nominee. As I said it’s a fearful and distressful world we inhabit. The winner could be the one who knows how to subvert the democratic process. As the Wikileaks revelations reveal the world is not a safe place for governments and corporations anymore. However, the Wikileaks revelations came too late, didn’t it? By the time it came out everything was over. Anything could happen today. We are probably experiencing the first shocks of this horrid future as demonstrated by recent incidents.

There’s no doubt that the America (By America I mean the U.S.A.) that stands for truth and democracy may be truly compromising its democratic ideals. To get ahead it is willing to sacrifice anything, as Obama’s support for fracking and the Keystone pipe line shows. Around the world also, America says it has interests, meaning private business interests, not interest of a free and democratic world. The point is, America is no longer interested in propagating its democratic ideology, nor is the leadership here in India, as seen by the oppression of minorities in recent times.

In its quest to be a world economic leader, China has created one of the biggest commercial-industrial complexes in the world, leading to pollution of its air, water, and cities. We have to ask ourselves if this is the development we want and aspire for. Our present dispensation wants to follow the path shown by China, i.e., development at all costs: smart cities, superfast trains, industrial corridors, exploitation of earth for minerals, etc. There are some pitfalls here, which we aren’t aware of.
After plundering its countryside for coal, iron, copper, gold, and bauxite, China is aggressively seeking mining licences in Africa and less developed economies. At the forefront of development, China is today the world’s largest economy and is increasingly being belligerent militarily also. And, discreetly, America and Russia are partners in China’s growth.

Meanwhile, the vast military-industrial complex in America keeps wars going on in Asia and other parts because it’s in their interest to do so. There used to be a sacrosanct rule that militaries will not attack civilian targets and places where people lived. These days, wars are going on in city neighbourhoods putting the women and children there to unnecessary trauma as the wars in Homs, Aleppo, and Mosul in Syria show. Soldiers and militia-men are pictured blasting whole towns and neighbourhoods.

America is perhaps one of the few countries where arms can be manufactured and exported to foreign countries freely. There is the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) by which the President can stop export of arms, but it’s rarely enforced, because, as often seen, the President himself acts as the salesman for American arms. There are curbs on exporting arms to groups who are of an extremist ideology, but these rules are conveniently overlooked. The military-industrial complex and its lobbyists see that the flow of arms to even extreme groups is maintained.

In India, when we have development as the foremost ideal to generate jobs, we tend to overlook the pitfalls into which America and China fell. We are following them in the mad scramble for development, giving mining rights in our pristine lands to Chinese corporations, buying arms from America, and generally revelling in our new friendship with America. But, do not forget, America only has interests, meaning business interests. Once this is kept aside America will consider India on par with Pakistan, even favour the latter.

America is a big user of biotechnology. Many believe that biotechnology is an advancement of science and its use can alleviate world hunger. In fact, this fallacy has no basis in truth. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may give marginally increased production for a few years, but take a heavy toll on the soil on which cultivation is done. The pesticides that form a part of GMO-based cultivation have been proved to cause cancer and birth defects. American corporations have used biotechnology with disastrous results in the developing world, spreading poisonous pesticides, giving birth to mentally-challenged children, and increasing the number of sick people in the world.

The powerful GMO lobby in the US can bend laws to their advantage, and appoint chairmen to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) which regulates biotechnology. Over the years, it has been found that top executives of GMO companies are appointed as chairmen of FDA because, ironically, they are experts and have the knowledge. They, in turn, turn a blind eye to the doings of GMO corporations with the result that today harmful carcinogens like Glyphosate are widely used in America. Obama assumed office with the promise of labelling GMO products on their covers, but, as he remits office, he has signed into law, a proposal that precludes the labelling of GMO products.

The GMO lobby sees India as a big market and is waiting to introduce their products through legislation in India. The danger to India is that GMOs may be seen as bringing about development and, therefore, adopted, as a part of the development agenda. So also is the condoning of the demonetisation of 500/1000 rupee notes. It’s a part of development, isn’t it? It’s because of the stiff fight put up by activists such as Vandana Shiva and others that, so far, India hasn’t become a GMO-cultivating nation like Argentina. Argentina has discovered, albeit late, that GMOs are harmful because of the increasing cases of birth defects in its child population. Venezuela has totally banned GMO products from the country, after its bitter experience with its usage. In India, BT cotton is the only GMO product that has been approved for cultivation, and has caused untold sufferings to farmers in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

More in the next instalment of “Random Musings of a Solitary Walker.”


Wednesday, November 09, 2016

TWO BIZZARE SCENARIOS (Written on 9th November 2016)



I
The day dawned polluted and grey. Sinister, I may add. It was a day like no other. The pall of pollution hung in the air, obscuring the heat from the sun. I am feeling cold. Two things were at a crucial juncture for which people were anxious to get through. Say, “Fu*k it” and “go away.”
When I went for a walk there was an eerie silence around me. Yeah, it’s all those people with stashes of black money counting them and keeping them ready, not knowing it will be waste paper they couldn’t even wipe their behinds with. Remember those photographs where you had these stacks of 500 rupee notes and 1000 rupee notes in a room, of which the owner was a guy who ran a medical school. He had collected all these bribes for admissions and was storing in a granary, those traditional ones in Kerala, as if it were rice or tapioca right after harvesting. There were people committing suicide in the rest of the country and this man was accepting bribes for giving admissions to future doctors. Well, it’s these future doctors who would treat you and me, when we are sick, peoples. What will he do with that money which is paper now? Make a bonefire of it and cry?
II
On this same day, at another end of the world, a long and vicious fight had come to a close. Two candidates accused each other of being monsters on public platforms. Yes, monsters! A man who is a racist, a misogynist, a rapist facing a rape charge (what else?), a man who threatens to jail his competitor, a man who is known as a sexual predator, win, becomes the president of the most powerful country in the world. What? You ask? Who elected him? Ask yourself?


9th November 2016, I will never forget you! What's about these 9/11s?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Interview to Dhauli Review

INTERVIEW TO DHAULI REVIEW

John P. Matthew


Why did you want to be a poet?

The decision was spontaneous, not one made as planned, or foreseen. I have a Mahakavi (Mahakavi Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan) in my family who wrote in Malayalam and naturally I ended up reading poetry. The real trigger was an English teacher in Secondary School who romanticised poetry and poets. This teacher inspired me to experiment with the poetic form. This led to more reading and contributing to a slew of magazines that featured poetry in those days: Illustrated Weekly of India, Youth Times, Mirror, Debonair, Imprint, Onlooker, Caravan, et cetera. Most of these magazines are extinct except Caravan. Today, when I think of those days, there was great interest in Indian poetry in English and there were many talented poets. I don’t know where they have disappeared.

Who is your model for your style?

My style is eclectic and I draw inspiration from a lot of poets. I write both rhyming and free-form poetry, and also classic poetic forms like Odes, Sonnets, and Villanelle. Recently I wrote a Villanelle in the style of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that night.” My poem is called, “If Death Comes Calling Tonight.” I am inspired by the romantic poets and also poetry of Whitman, Keats, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, and closer home Tagore, Dom Moraes, Nissim Ezekiel, Jeet Thayil, etc. This is not by any means exhaustive.

What is the usual process you adopt before writing a poem?

To be honest, there is no process. I don’t plan to write a poem on this or that subject. I always carry a notebook and pen with me. Some of my best poems have come to me as whole stanzas on my morning walk and, I seize the opportunity and write it down immediately. Then the process of developing the rest of the poem comes, and it evolves into what I post on online social media and on my poetry blog.

How do you distinguish between poetry and non-poetry?

I agree that the internet has generated a lot of interest in poetry, I must also state that most of what you read online is not poetry. Many of them are expressing their internal angst and their obsession with the self by creating violent and disturbing images. I think poetry should move away from the self into neutral territory to be of true aesthetic value. Personally I think poetry – and all literature – should move out of self-obsession, subsume the self, and reflect the state of existence we live in. Our lives have become so complicated that trying to capture its intricacies has become very difficult. A novel, a short story, a poem has the potential to do that. However, interest in the novel, the poem, and short stories – three of my favourite artistic expressions – has been waning. When a writer makes a sincere attempt to reflect society, we should admire it, not denigrate it. However, we live in a standardised society which worships success and makes celebrities out of successful people. By successful people I mean actors, sportsmen, and politicians. The days when writers and poets were admired and revered are gone.

What fundamental misconceptions about poetry irritate you and how would you correct or refute them?

It is said that unlike prose – for which you have to work very hard – poetry should come naturally, like a star falling from the skies. And, I will vouch for this, when you are mature in your writing, whole lines, and stanzas will form in your mind without much effort. The problem is when a writer sits down saying; I am going to write a poem. Then the effect is laboured and full of artifice. And some of these efforts are un-editable and irredeemable. So instead of getting irritated it is best to let it pass and hope the poet realises where he/she is going wrong.

How does a poem come into being?

As I have mentioned, it can be triggered by a thought, something I pass when I am walking, or something I watch from my terrace. I know poetry, and its accomplice music, which I believe is an attempt to capture what is beautiful about this life, are eternal, and everyone has these fleeting inspirations to capture what is beautiful.  So for me poetry exists all around me. In scientific terms, there is a point when the magma transforms into rocks inside the earth. That’s the point at which I make a note and, at home, I go through the note and decide if there is a poem in there.

How does the timeless appeal come to poetry?

Poetry of a time and age has a timeless appeal. No longer. At least, in India. Today, when I want to buy an epic poem written by my great uncle Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan, there’s nowhere I can get it. I have hunted it in bookshops and online, but they appear nowhere. I want to buy Nissim Ezekiel’s poems, Dom Moraes’ poems, I can’t get them anywhere, except, maybe, a few poems in some anthology. Like I said before, from the seventies to now, a whole generation of talented poets have come and gone. Today we don’t remember any of them except a few. Therefore, in the present context, in India, poetry has no timeless appeal.

What is the fundamental as well as essential nature of poetry? Does it change over time?

Wordsworth said poetry is, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity." I would go to say that everybody is a poet. Yes. Everybody has poetry and a poet in them. I have seen people humming tunes, people drumming tunes, people looking and exclaiming, “how beautiful.” The trained poet gives shape and form to this spontaneous overflow of feelings through skills in language and by long exposure to poetic forms. Rhyme is an essential part of poetry everywhere. Poetry in Kerala is rhymed on the first word, a word in the middle, or, the end word. For example here’s a verse from poet Kunchen Nambiar:

Nabi arennu chodichu,
Nambiarennu chollinen,
Nabi kettathu kopuchu,
Thamburaney kshamikkaney!

Now coming to the question of has poetry changed, yes, poetry has changed over the years. What was strictly iambic pentameter has become a loosely connected tapestry of vivid images these days. Punctuation canons are flouted, as poets see no point in wasting thought over it. The result is an amorphous collation of images, somewhat, personal and shocking in nature. Fixed form poems like odes, villanelles, and sonnets aren’t written these days, because they are rather difficult to write and takes weeks to perfect. The idea these days is to be spontaneous and never mind the form.

What is most important in poetry? What makes a genuinely great Poem?

Take for example Wordsworth’s Daffodils, Frost’s The Road not Taken, and Dylan Thomas’  villanelle Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night, Keats’ Ode upon a Grecian Urn. These are great poems that have withstood the test of time. A poet these days need to experiment with form. There are a few poets in India who are experimenting with form, and I love to read them. I must admit they are quite few in number.

What is the relationship between poetry and truth?

Well, to me poetry must be the truth, because if you write something false the insincerity would be quite obvious. Poetry is not something you fabricate as you do fiction. It has to occur naturally, through a vision of truth and beauty, delicately woven by the poet into words.

What is the relation between tradition and innovation in poetry?

There have been many traditionalists in poetry and many innovators. Among traditionalists I include the romantic poets, sonneteers, ode, and villanelle writers. Innovators are e. e. cummings, T. S. Eliot, Allan Ginsberg, Shel Silverstein and others who showed us that poetry can be written in a different format.

In India, in my mother tongue Malayalam, poetry is still sung and is not recited. Malayalam poets almost all have great deliveries and singing voices. They don’t mumble like some Indian-English-language poets. Poetry reading is an art and poets must cultivate this art.

Can poetry counter the paralyzing effect of globalization?

I don’t know. Poetry may have been the agent of change many years ago, but its role has diminished in the use-and-throw world. People are no longer drawn towards poetry the way they were used to. We have globalised very fast, but poetry hasn’t kept up. We have these literary festivals in which hardly any poets are featured. Of course, there are poetry slams and poetry readings, but the audience has been dwindling. Maybe, poets should reinvent themselves for their art to survive to the next century.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Will Chicklit and Dudelit Destroy Indian Writing in English?

  The problem with IIT-ians writing these days is that there are too many of them, and mostly they are men. If they wanted to write novels why didn’t they do BA literature and an MFA? No. They would rather go to IIT where all the smart people can be found doing smart things, and then they will see what they want to do. In the meantime, they want to try writing a novel. So, they write a kind of DUDELIT – of and by dudes – akin to CHICKLIT, the genre about girls facing growing up pangs. There’s heartbreak in between terms, there are those mischievous episodes, laboratory shenanigans, wild parties where alcohol is consumed, and dread of coming exams, which all of them pass. They drift to their management jobs, family businesses or go to IIM (Indian Institute of Management) to learn management. Then they will be called the “Double Aiis”. Basically, they are very confused about their career choices.

Do Dudelit writers know that the government is subsidising Rupees two to three hundred thousand for their education every year? What has the Indian government gained by making Chetan Bhagat a mechanical engineer when he went on to become a banker and then a writer of pulp novels? Yes, he pays taxes, but didn’t he deprive a poor deserving candidate of a seat in the prestigious IIT, who would have gone on to pay taxes and invented better railway coaches, or, better toilets?
The United States has a system by which meritorious students get scholarships and grants for studying in prestigious institutions. Therefore they realise the benefits of hard work and progress in life using the lessons they have learnt using these scholarships. They do not abandon their engineering degrees, but work in them for years as dedicated engineers. Here our government – not universities – provides the subsidies, the hostel accommodation, purportedly to create excellent engineers, but ends up getting an individual who writes pulp novels.

So what does it all say to those beholden readers who approach the dude’s Dudelit book with a reverent look, and a feeling of trepidation? “Look we are cool. Dude, we made it. And, believe us, it’s no big deal. Most of all, we had fun.” An IIT-ian enters his career with an advantage. Irrespective of whether he has done mechanical, civil, or, chemical engineering, he is directly recruited into a management position without having to go through the grind. Yes, life is unfair. From my personal experience, I rotted in middle management jobs all my life where I did all the work and had to report to such IIM managers who didn’t know an “artwork” from a “work of art.” And when it came to promotions and increments I wasn’t given any and they became vice-presidents overnight.

There have been many novels in this genre including ones by India’s most successful indigenous Dudelit writer, Chetan Bhagat. In the US literature about the growing up pains of girls is called Chicklit, Dudelit is something similar. There is growing up pains, problems with teachers, problems with girlfriends, a bit of allusion to books and famous writers, a lot of technical stuff which a lay reader won’t understand, the heavenly tea at the nearby kiosk, and, ultimately, heartbreak.
Dudelit and its sister Chicklit have done much damage to Indian literature. They have rather successfully closed the doors for a few emerging literary writers, translators, occupying their space with titles such as “Half Girlfriend,” and “An Indian Girl.” Love and heartbreak occupies a major chunk of the narrative, though a sanitised kind of love. Now you can find novels with titles such as “Why I will always love you,” “Endlessly in Love,” and “I can’t but love you.” In other words, it’s the deliberate pandering to a low taste by publishers and their agents who deal in pure tripe. Sometimes, the dumbing down is deliberate, a lowly attempt to titillate the reader to browse through the book and then buy, as it is priced cheaply. These novels are empty of any intellectual content because they are written in a hurry and are badly edited. The authors of these books regularly appear on television shows and in literary festivals and even endorse corporate entities. Eager news channels give them that opportunity.

Reading these novels one would almost think India is a land of well-heeled middle-class people who address each other as “dude,” and “guy.” [Some also address each other as “laudey” meaning, phallus.] There would be no mention of the raging problems which can be seen in IITs like suicide and casteism. Their worlds are sequestered and the huge gorilla in the living room of poverty and environmental changes are never mentioned. Reading them you will believe love is the panacea to all ills of society. Publishers are making the mistake that Indian film industry made years ago, i.e., give the audience what they want and forget about the art of film-making and scripting.

It’s painful to see the slow decline of what authors such as Khushwant Singh, Anita Desai, Kiran Nagarkar, Shashi Deshpande, Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Anita Nair, Amit Chaudhari, CP Surendran, et al have tried to build up, i.e., a tentative fledgling identity for Indian writing in English. I am not including Salman Rushdie, or, Vikram Seth because they are expatriate writers and their points of view are unique and extraneous. It was a small beginning which should have led to something bigger and better. One almost thought that there would be a lot of translations of prolific regional language writers and poets. But this dream remains a dream. Today, regional writers would consider themselves lucky to be published by Sahitya Akademi, if at all. Even those authors published by the Akademi have not been successful in establishing a readership because of Chicklit and Dudelit novels.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Book Review: Junkland Journeys, as Whacky as Ajith Pillai Can Get!



Junkland Journeys, Ajith Pillai, Author Upfront, Rs 325

Here’s an author, a former senior editor of Outlook, who can beat the s*** out of the dudelit masters such as Chetan Bhagat and, other nameless ones. Here’s a novel that’s balanced and can shed light on the world of a drug addict, his redemption and the hollowness of his soul, well captured in scintillating prose, punctured by witticisms that would make you want to crack up. Well, do please roll on the floor! Ajith Pillai is a friend, but that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the book. It is a definitive work of fiction owing to its humour and authenticity. The novel is at once subtle and hard hitting in its narrative full of scenes drawn from everyday Bombay.

“He was an anti-national in the guise of a holy man – an enemy agent with a mission to poison the herd of the gullible.”

That’s the description the author gives of Hari Menon, failed copywriter, whose father wanted him to be a doctor, or, failing which, an engineer. Rebellious Hari, on the contrary, wanted to be a journalist, but his father didn’t want him to have anything to do with journalism, except if he is being written about. The novel tells the story of Hari, who is on the detox path after slumming it out with his girlfriend Vandy in Antop Hill, the official quarters for government servants.

What follows is a detox program which results in a trip to Hari’s father’s hideout in a little-known village in Kerala. A dog strays into Hari’s life when he is having an LSD high and he believes firmly that the dog is god incarnate. The dog is named “Bow-mata” and an Ashram named Niravan is created for the dog by Hari’s father, a businessman, who treats it as a business enterprise. The dog becomes god and is worshipped by common people, film personalities, and even Hari’s ex-boss. His girlfriend Vandy abets him in this grand larceny of people’s adoration and wealth.

The author makes it abundantly clear that in this country, to be a goddog is simple, the dog only has to put his paw on his devotees’ heads to bless them. Of course, it has to be toilet trained so as not to shit or piss during a darshan.

All in all, the novel is a brilliant debut, worth a read because of its wit and perspicacity. The author transports the reader into the world of an addict with felicitous ease.

A must read novel, as unputdownable as the best available literary works in India today. Hope it wins some awards and recognition for its author.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Lionel Shriver "Cultural Appropriation" Issue

My video blog about the Lionel Shriver "Cultural Appropriation" controversy. Well, it's nothing but a controversy about who can write about whom, whether a white writer can write about a black woman, and vice versa. Do have a look, if it interests you.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

How the Mainstream Media Let Readers Down

Take a look at this discussion about how our reading habits have changed, how it has been curtailed by the oppressive mainstream media. We have been deprived of the following:

1. Book/music/art reviews
2. Engagement/Events column
3. Crosswords
4. Poetry
5. Short stories
6. Letters to editor, etc.

Instead we have paid PR news about:

1. Which star is in bed with whom
2. Leggy models at parties and fashion shows
3. Which marriages are breaking up
4.  Holiday destinations of stars
5. Who bitched what about whom
6. Ghost-written columns by stars
7. Which star punched whom
8. Which celebrity is rising and which one is falling.

Is this responsible mainstream journalism. The newspaper publisher in mainstream media seems to be saying:

"We don't care fuckall for your five rupees. We get enough from the PR agencies. Your readership be damned, take it, or, leave it. Take your five rupees and scram. Your opinion is worth shit compared to the celebrities we have on board."

And, the readers seem to be saying, "If you are not careful, mainstream media, you will soon be dead as dodos. We know how to get news from the social media. You aren't doing us a favour. So, rest in peace, Mainstream Media."

What do you think?

https://www.facebook.com/JohnMatthew101/posts/10157272939225459

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book Review: Anu Vaidyanathan's Anywhere But Home

 
Gutsy and humourous!
Anu Vaidyanathan’s Anywhere but Home is an engagingly written account of a woman’s commitment to sports. Written in a wry, humorous, and whacky style, Vaidyanathan unveils the intrepid Indian’s journey through her chosen sport of triathlon – a combination of running, cycling, and swimming. What seems impossible to an old codger like me seems possible for this woman owing to a can-do spirit and a gutsy temperament. I learn a few things like if you are chased by a pack of dogs while on your morning walk/run – as I have been – sing to them. Yes, it does the trick and the dogs wag their tails at me, after my tuneless singing of old Rock-and-roll hits.

Engagingly written, well produced, this book is worth a look because of what it can offer, especially after the Olympics where it was our girls who picked up the medals. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Book Review: B Ground West



Disclosure first: B Ground West is a novel written by a Siddhartha Bhasker, an author I know, whom I met at the launch of an anthology which published his short story as well as mine. Let me introduce him, he has been to IIT, Kgp (Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur) – that hallowed institution of engineering – and this is a story which may have autobiographical elements, though I don’t know for sure. For people like me, who balked at the thought of even writing the entrance exam to IIT, approaching the book itself holds a sense of trepidation. What happens inside the IIT? How brilliant are these superbly endowed beings? What do they do for leisure? Are stories I heard true?

Yes. Stories I heard are true, so the book tells me. What the student looks for is a respite from the intensive coaching that they have been subjected to right from ninth standard. There is also respite from the demands of hands-on parents who are worried that their wards will not make it. One way of rebelling against this merciless drubbing they receive is to write it all and let the world know. That’s how an IIT author is born. The IITs were created to train hardcore engineers who would build the nation, but they turn out to be softcore, confused generalists who would then work as authors, copywriters, film people, consultants, or sales and marketing managers. In short, IIT-ians are considered as the IAS brigade of the corporate world.

Bhasker studied in IIT Kharagpur and wants the world to know the zeitgeist they can expect in this prestigious institution. Wild parties with booze do exist, so also does ragging of a minor kind. The author has chosen the self-publishing route to publication which clearly shows, insofar as editing is concerned. After all, engineers are engineers and not sub-editors.

The present novel B Ground West, is a frank and forthright look at the life of an IIT graduate going through a life crisis, which his friends help him overcome. Kabir, who works in a consultancy, is caught in the firing at a terrorist hit in Churchgate station and becomes depressed. The style is light and readable, and the editing leaves much to be desired. The camaraderie, the chumminess of undergraduate life is obvious as the story shifts from IIT Kharagpur to down-market Kharghar in New Bombay. We get to read a lot about IIT Kharagpur and how the hostel inmates spend their days of youthful abandon. The novelist is good in parts and since the author has also shown commitment in publishing a collection of short stories, he needs to get his act together and read and understand more about the issues facing India and how his characters face them, and, probably overcome them.

Read this novel if you are a fan of IIT novels.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Will GMOs Be Approved in India

One of the crucial debates that’s going on in the country is whether Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foods will be approved for India. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee which comes under the ministry of environment is considering whether genetically engineered okra, brinjal, mustard, etc. should be allowed to be cultivated in India. Both proponents and opposers are trading charges and accusing each other of being misguided, corrupt, and unreasonable. After all, the activists claim, it’s in the interest of our own children, grandchildren that GMOs need to be banished from this country, as has the Soviet Union and Europe. The dangers of GMOs-related-pesticides and the associated abnormality bring to new-born babies and their parents have been studied independently and verified. But GMO proponents sweep all these under the carpet and claim that it is harmless and bio-degradable.

Recently, around 110 Nobel laureates came in support of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). They signed a memorandum endorsing GMOs and especially Golden Rice which is a product that the GMO-giant Monsanto has been developing over the past 20 years, without success. The endorsement has been spearheaded by one Nobel-winner Richard Roberts who is the chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs. New England Biolabs according to its website is, “a recognized world leader in the discovery, development and commercialization of recombinant and native enzymes for genomic research.” In fact, it is closely related – for comfort – to the GMO manufacturing companies in the scope of its research and products.

Roberts has succeeded in getting the 110 Nobel-laureates to believe that those who are opposing GMO rice – in this case Greenpeace and other NGOs – are entities which aren’t scientific, and who do not follow scientific thought. For example sample what he says:

“We’re scientists. We understand the logic of science. It's easy to see what Greenpeace is doing is damaging and is anti-science," Roberts told The Washington Post. “Greenpeace initially, and then some of their allies, deliberately went out of their way to scare people. It was a way for them to raise money for their cause." What made the GMO-producing company choose the head of a laboratory of a similar research company to garner signatures of so many Nobel laureates? What’s not clear is who funded the signature campaign Roberts initiated, and who funded the special-purpose website which was created to tom-tom support for the GMO, golden rice. No, Roberts wouldn’t spend time and money to do it himself, if he had no monetary incentive given to him.

In fact the activists opposing GMOs have always been repeating the very same thing. They have been stating again and again that they are for scientific discussion and discourse on GMOs based on third-party scientific research, which GMO companies like Monsanto are firmly opposing. Monsanto has been researching and arriving at its own conclusions, which, according to another hoary Indian saying, is like appoint a thief as the guardian of the treasury. Monsanto has it going smoothly as most of the top functionaries in US’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are people who have been associated with it in some capacity. Michael Taylor, a Monsanto director, was appointed in 2010 as commissioner of FDA. The current chief of FDA was Monsanto’s vice-president for public policy. This also applies to US department of agriculture (USDA) where most of the top people are linked to Monsanto as executives or lobbyists.

India has had a record of GMO use since the eighties with its approval of BT cotton, which is grown in the cotton-growing areas of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Increasingly, the farmers who have been using BT cotton seeds have been committing suicide because of the high cost of seeds and the weedicide Roundup which goes by the chemical name of Glyphosate. Glyphosate is known to destroy gut bacteria, which helps in digesting food and assimilating nutrients into the body.

It’s this weedicide Roundup which is causing more problem than the GMO seeds itself. It is a carcinogen and has been found to penetrate human bodies, and is found in the blood, urine, and milk of humans. Moreover, it pollutes aquifiers and causes trans-gene pollution of other crops. The delicate ecosystem of Vidharba’s cotton-growing areas have been so compromised by Glyphosate that farmers who want to return to traditional cotton cultivation are finding that the soil has become fallow and unproductive.

Even the produce of the GMO seeds is questionable. As Dr Michael Antoniou of King’s College London School of Medicine in the UK states:

“Research studies show that genetically modified crops have harmful effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials and on the environment during cultivation. They have increased the use of pesticides and have failed to increase yields.”

Monsanto is like the Microsoft of genetic engineering, wanting to control and hold its market to such an extent that it wants nothing but world domination. Like Microsoft it will brook no interference in its way of functioning and policies. It saw a window when the present dispensation in India announced its Make in India initiative. It came with a big bag and promised so much investment to appease those in power, the rider being that its products would have a smooth introduction into the Indian market. It seems, an unsuspecting public that has tasted the fruits of GMOs (BT cotton) is being force-fed other GMOs with the delusional argument that they are scientific and, therefore, good for people.

So, now, in addition to BT cotton a whole lot of products like okra, brinjal, mustard, rice, etc. are going to come to India in the near future if their introduction is approved by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). Proponents of GMOs are fighting tooth and nail for its introduction saying it will end hunger from our midst if the GMOs with magical properties are approved. Activists and right-thinking people who know the perils of GMOs have been opposing it. The problem is that once GMOs gain entry it would be very difficult to make them leave, as the GMO-producing companies will use every trick in the books to stay. The fight is evenly balanced now and there’s no knowing which way it would tip.