Saturday, June 25, 2016

About... Britain's Exit from European Union

Overheard in a pub somewhere in England:

Them bastids want to take over our country, heard?
No way, mate. We take them back with what they call Brexit. It means exit from what those arseholes call EU.
Cor blimey! What the bellend is EU?
Some blighters, want to take our beers and our chicks.
Bollocks! I don't want nothing to do with them Twonks!
Then vote Brexit, I say.
Yay! I am bloody Brexit, myself!

The Real Reason behind Suicide of Cotton Farmers in Vidarbha

Today I met Ajit Chavan (name changed) who is from Yavatmal, a district in Vidarbha which is the cotton-growing region of Maharashtra. He works as a driver in our locality and he could only speak Marathi, which I, thankfully, am conversant enough to carry on a conversation. He had recently migrated to the city, which was the reason I became interested in his story.

I asked him why farmers were committing suicide in the cotton growing areas of Vidharbha. From 2012 to April this year, a total of 3,145 farmers committed suicide in the six districts in Vidarbha region – Amravati, Yavatmal, Wardha, Washim, Akola and Buldhana. He said it is because of BT Cotton, the cotton seeds sold by Monsanto’s subsidiary Mahyco. Having been a farmer himself, he could shed light on the real reason why there is a spate of suicides among cotton growers in this region. He had migrated because his family could no longer cultivate cotton which was the traditional crop of that area. He knew the economics of Mahyco’s supposedly superior seeds which are driving cotton farmers to desperation. Here’s what he had to say.

The seeds aren’t cheap, they cost Rs 2400 per 400 gram and you need Rs 6,200 worth of seeds for one acre of land. He has seven acres of land. Monsanto’s seeds have to be sprayed with its own herbicide Roundup (a lethal chemical and a carcinogen called Glyphosate) which cost Rs 1500 for 100 millilitres. (I am not going into the toxicity of Glyphosate in this short article.) Roundup has to be sprayed five times during the crop’s life cycle so it is an additional Rs 7500 for an acre, assuming 100 millilitres will suffice for an acre. And, he hasn’t included labour costs in this. By this time the farmer has already spent Rs 100,000 and is in debt. Mahyco’s seeds are supposed to give better crop, but it isn’t so. The finished cotton when sold in the market fetches Rs 5,000 per 100 kilograms.

BT Cotton Seed per acre = Rs 6,200
Roundup (herbicide) per acre = Rs 7,500
Total of BT Cotton and Roundup per acre = Rs 13,700
For seven acres it works to = (13,700 x 7) Rs 95,900 ... (1)
Labour cost (weeding, sowing, harvesting) = Rs 25,000 ... (2)
Total expenditure (1 + 2) for 7 acres of land Rs = Rs 1,20,900
To recover his investment he will have to get 2500 kg of cotton (@ sales price of Rs 5000 per 100 kilograms). He doesn’t even get that much.

After investing so much money – often borrowed from unscrupulous moneylenders – the subsistence farmer is not able to recover his investment, leave alone meet his food expenses. How could he maintain a family? BT cotton needs constant care and also needs more water in the water-scarce area of Yavatmal. This is what drives a farmer to suicide.

A word about traditional Indian agriculture would, I am sure, be of interest. Indian farmers being poor don’t buy seeds; they store seeds from their own crop to sow in the next season, because it is free. May I call this seed cycle? Mahyco wants them to buy their expensive seeds and herbicide every season. That’s an expensive proposition leading to high costs for the subsistence farmer.
So, Ajit’s family has abandoned BT cotton cultivation and has taken up soyabean and pulses cultivation, on which expenses are low. These crops don’t require constant tending and also requires less water. And, since he is working in the city as a driver he is able to send some money home to meet expenses.

Recently, the government has approved cultivation of GMO mustard seed in India. Monsanto’s brinjal, okra and other products will follow. A multinational can trot out many reasons to convince us that their seeds are better because they are genetically modified and are, therefore, high technology. But at the poor and illiterate farmer’s level, the above economic assessment shows that farmers end up being ruined and have to think of selling their land and migrating to cities to survive.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Shifting Paradigm

Today the whole paradigm is shifting from the performer to what is happening behind the stage. So, it’s not what is happening in Indian Premier League but what is happening behind the scenes (Who is paid what? Who gets to comment?). It’s not what is happening at Euro cup, but how and where the fans are clashing. It’s not about music but what the singers like Kayne West and Kim Kardashian are doing. It’s about why Justin Bieber – that chap who sings like a woman – and Selena Gomez split. It’s not about the movies anymore but what the stars did, how often they had sex, what they said after breaking up about the “silly ex.”
So, also in literature – since this is a passion – we are interested in Where Rushdie and Lakshmi holidayed and what they ate and wore. Our literature festivals are hardly festivals where people go to hear authors and ask questions. (I am assuming that they do read books.) The authors, faux authors I may add, who may have written a book ten years ago, or a celebrity who had her biography ghost-written, a la Monica Lewinsky, comes and pontificates about literature. And the true literature lover drools at the star value on display, the humour, the smart repartee. The audience gets talked down to, and when they want to ask a legitimate question they are told to shut up – had this experience – and told to take the conversation back stage. Only, the conversation backstage never happens.
In the interregnum, in this melee of sorts, the real artistic talent, or sportsperson gets sidelined. It’s always how much money was bet and how much made. Artistic talent is ignored. Therefore is it legitimate to develop artistic talent? Yeah, why not write a nonsensical book and spend a couple of millions hiring spin doctors and internet marketers to sell it. And fall in love with a celebrity of sorts and then break up and have the press writing vitriol about your sex life? Else, why not write a scathing caricature of a megalomaniac political leader and get a blackened face? Ah, you have made it my boy! Brilliant!
That’s what we are secretly aspiring for, aren’t we?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Architecture of the Flesh – Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar has the unique talent of combining the everyday aspects of life with eroticism and mysteriousness. This collection – mistakenly filed under Architecture by an ignorant librarian! – is about his obsession with the body and the things about it which shocks us on a daily basis. Sometimes, our bodies are fine, coasting along, till it, of a sudden, refuses to oblige. Then terror strikes. His poems may shock at first with their erotic content, but on a second reading there is a hidden sub-text of political comment, an apparent social injustice and a whiff of the exotic. How he manages all this is puzzling and enigmatic. His talents are in full show in his poetry collection, “Architecture of Flesh,” published by Paperwall.

Hailing from Kerala he has an excellent command over many languages including: Malayalam, English, and Tamil. In Aphrodisiac he writes:

“My balls!” he cries as shredded testicles
Find their way into dark alley eateries
Where powdered sperm with battered baby flesh
Are sold as phallic pills
To bolster flagging will.

There are places on earth where powdered sperms are sold as aphrodisiacs. Now this may deviate a bit from erotic, but the symbolism is one of mixing the esoteric sexual power of the Aphrodisiac with body parts. Bold and experimental the poet takes on known canons of poetry with his unique opinion about what constitutes poetry.

In a sensitive poem about death Intensive Care Unit – I he writes:

Four islands is a death row in a shroud
Glimmering and tearful glints that fade into the spirit.
Four square squints of machinery life
Chrome sores lit up with steely corroding tides.

Porthole lights went off in one island today
As it sank into a sea wet with wasted sadness
Its generators switched off and respirators cut off
And oxygen vents closed for public view.

Certainly it’s a poem about death and how one thinks of it when one is confined to a bed in an Intensive Care Unit. It is also about the architecture of the flesh, how our arteries and veins refuse to co-operate some times, how our bowels complain and then shut up.

All in all, a good collection from a major poetic talent from down south. Worth buying for a look for its provocative imagery and boldness of treatment with occasional erotic glimpses. (To buy online:, Rs 225).