the following appeared on indiafacts.org on oct 13, 2014 at http://www.indiafacts.co.in/nobel-peace-prize-meets-eye-kailash-satyarthis-selection/#.VDtoUfmSySp

economist top 3 nations in GDP oct 2014isro women celebrate mangalyan sep 2014

The Nobel Peace Prize: was there more than meets the eye to Kailash Satyarthi’s selection?

Rajeev Srinivasan

Let me be quite up-front about a few things. One, I confess I had only vaguely heard about Kailash Satyarthi before the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 came looking for him. Two, I am as delighted as anyone else that global recognition has come to an Indian who’s involved in a good cause. Three, I do believe the issue of preventing child labor is as good a cause as it gets, especially as in dangerous occupations, and worse, in pedophilia.

Nevertheless, I have a few concerns about the award of the Nobel Prize to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousufzai. First is the implied, and articulated, hyphenation between the two. Second is the overtly political nature of the prize. Third is the over-broad nature of assumptions made about what constitutes child labor. Fourth is the root cause of child labor and how to ameliorate it.

First, it has been a foregone conclusion that Malala Yousufzai would sooner or later get the Nobel Peace Prize, for her exceptional courage in the face of the oppression of women and girl-children in Pakistan. But how the prize committee suddenly chanced upon Kailash Satyarthi and decided to co-anoint him and to make a broad generalization about child labor and child protection is a bit mysterious.

It almost sounds as though the committee wanted to recognize Malala, and for good measure (two-for-one) decided to throw in a somewhat obscure Indian activist too. Not to diminish Satyarthi, but there is a decided feeling of “let’s now force-fit an Indian into this, so we can have some fearful symmetry”). For, there is a vast gulf between the concerns the two deal with. To say they both deal with children is banal; you might as well say they both deal with people: for gender is the big divide.

Perhaps the prize committee is ignorant of the fact that, despite the geographical proximity of India and Pakistan, the two countries are like chalk and cheese: we have almost nothing in common with each other. There is a western tendency to lump India with Pakistan (a hyphenation of India-Pakistan-equal-equal which annoys Indians because India is seven times larger, has ambitions to be one of the G3 of global powers, and is not a theocratic failing state and a military dictatorship as Pakistan is).

This hyphenation is about as absurd as hyphenating, say Cuba with the United States just because of geography.

Furthermore, the issues Kailash and Malala deal with are vastly different. Kailash Satyarthi has been working on the exploitation of children as domestic servants, in hazardous professions, in pedophilia, and in other ways robbing them of their childhood, their education, their health and their sense of self.

This, unfortunately, is a problem of poverty. Child labor happens everywhere where people have a hand-to-mouth existence, and in particular because an extra pair of hands in the field or the factory is economically rational because the marginal cost of feeding that extra mouth is minimal. It has nothing per se to do with India, or Hinduism for that matter.

On the other hand, what Malala was fighting against is a purely Islamic issue: the devaluation of women and girl-children. Her home area in Pakistan had come under the sway of fundamentalist and patriarchal Muslim clerics of the Taliban, who decreed that women, as per their interpretation of their religion, needed to be cloistered, and denied education.

In fact, this is a peculiarly Muslim problem, and there is no point in obfuscating it. Consider the women of Saudi Arabia who are not allowed to drive, or to work except in all-woman environments. Consider the endemic female genital mutilation in some Muslim cultures. Consider the Christian schoolgirls abducted as sex-slaves by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Consider the 4,000 Yazidi girls and women continually gang-raped by ISIS in Iraq.  Womens’ rights of various kinds are a problem in Muslim societies.

While it is true that there are many issues of exploitation of women in India, there is little justification for that based on religion, and Indian women are increasingly visible in all walks of life. One of the delightful photographs about Mangalyaan showed very traditional-looking, middle-aged, middle-class women aerospace engineers in mission control whooping it up! Now that is about as male a domain as it gets – rocket engineers; I don’t remember seeing photos of many women in NASA control rooms.

However, the Nobel committee’s citation explicitly hyphenated the two countries. This is a gross error of extrapolation, and is unfair to India. They said, and I quote, that the committee “regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”

Why are they bothered about the nationalities or religions of the two? So far as I know, when they offered the Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, they did not say how wonderful it was that “a Jew and a Buddhist”, formerly bitter adversaries as “an American and a Vietnamese” had worked together for a peace deal. When Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin were honored by another Peace Prize, they were never “a Muslim and two Jews” of warring “Palestine and Israel”.

Why, then, this special treatment for “Hindus and Muslims” and “Indians and Pakistanis”? This raises several questions – is the West attempting to interfere yet again in the Indian subcontinent? Especially as Malala called for both Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi to attend her prize ceremony? This could well be child-like and genuine on her part, but geopolitically, it is yet another, in the ad nauseam series of interventions that the West have made in the subcontinent, much to our detriment.

One clue is in the personalities in the Nobel Peace Prize committee. The chairman of the committee used to be the president, it turns out, of Socialist International, which is a worldwide grouping of far-left ideological groupings. No wonder it has made some baffling selections, such as Barack Obama (2009) and the European Union (2012), not to mention M Teresa (1979) and Henry Kissinger (1973). The Peace Prize has become overtly political, and it has deteriorated into geopolitical point-scoring rather than honoring a genuine achiever.

Furthermore, there are severe ethnocentric assumptions about exactly what constitutes ‘child labor’. Apparently, American children delivering newspapers or washing cars or mowing lawns or slinging burgers at McDonald’s doesn’t count as child labor. But an Indian child, son of a farmer, who helps his father while learning the craft of farming, is being forced into child labor? So there is ‘good’ child labor and ‘bad’ child labor? Is that like the ‘good Taliban’ and the ‘bad Taliban’?

It is not appropriate to use Western norms to judge what Indians might do. Western norms are not universal, as much as the West and their sepoys in the mainstream media (and other brown sahebs/sahebas) might claim they are. For instance, the transmission of a craft has traditionally been from parent to child. Traditionally, all craftsmen have passed on their craft using apprenticeships.

I accept that there are many egregious and illegal practices that go on in India regarding children. Some children are abducted, maimed and turned into beggars. Some are forced to be domestic servants or equivalent in restaurants, hotels and homes. Others work in dangerous jobs such as rag-pickers sifting through mounds of rubbish. Yet others have been forced into child prostitution. It is entirely laudable when Kailash Satyarthi and others focus on these terrible practices.

The problem is when blanket bans are imposed. For instance, on the face of it, the ‘Rugmark’ certification that no child labor went into carpets sounds like a good idea. But then what of weavers who are passing on their skills to their children? Are they violating some law? The issue of weavers is particularly galling based on historical wrongs, as we shall see in a minute.

It turns out that sometimes the imposition of a ban leads to even worse abuse. When children are forced out of work by ‘Rugmark’ and over-zealous inspectors, then the only avenue open to some of them becomes prostitution. Let us note in passing that the biggest customers for child prostitution and child pornography tend to be Westerners. Frying pan into the fire for the children?

There is a broad sociological question: given that Indians are among the most attentive and affectionate parents in the world, why on earth would they allow their children to be exploited? Survey after survey shows that Indian parents will sacrifice to great extents for their children. A recent example was Rural Postal Life Insurance. Even extremely poor people were willing to put aside their pitiful savings into life insurance if it helped ensure that their children would get an education even if they themselves died.

Why on earth would such parents – and perhaps this is an example of Indian exceptionalism in a world where increasingly the State is supposed to provide for children and later for elderly parents – condemn their children to a life of unfulfilled promise by forcing them into child labor? The only answer is poverty. As much as Kailash Satyarthi might disagree, poverty causes child labor (although I accept the reverse may also be true). I have plenty of anecdotal evidence to that effect, first hand observations in Kerala.

When I was a child and teenager, we used to have in our modest middle-class home an occasional live-in maid who herself was a teenager. Several of these girls were sent to live with us by their indigent parents, because they figured the girls would get to go to school, and get sufficient food. Interestingly some of them were from recently-converted SC families: they even retained their Hindu names, but went to church. And apparently the church lost interest in them as soon as they converted, so they were back in penury.

I am not sure if these girls considered themselves exploited. But the fact is that there are no such girls any more in Kerala. A perennial complaint housewives have is the lack of maids. The maids I see these days are all middle-aged, and no live-in service, thank you: they come for a couple of hours each day, and get paid fairly well on a per-hour basis. What has changed is that prosperity has come to Kerala, in the form of overseas remittances. As poverty disappeared, so did child labor.

Thus child labor is a symptom of an underlying disease: underdevelopment. Therefore the solution to it is development. To focus on child labor, a symptom, is to do premature optimization, which leads to unforeseen (and usually negative) consequences to the system. Granted, development doesn’t come overnight, but if you recognize poverty as the issue, it’s better to work on that.

And where did the poverty come from? Ironically, on the very same day as the Nobel was announced, The Economist magazine was kind enough to publish the following chart showing how the world’s top three economies fared in the past 2,000 years.

I have seen variants of this data from the economic historian Angus Maddison, and the sum and substance of it is that India was the world’s biggest economy throughout the history that Westerners recognize (not surprisingly, it is the Christian Era). Yes, the biggest, all the way from 1 CE  until 1700 CE except for a single blip when the Chinese overtook them in 1600 (possibly because the Muslim invasion had damaged India’s competence somewhat, especially because of lots of wars.)

In 1700, India was once again the biggest economy, but then look at what happened to it: the Battle of Plassey took place in 1757, and enabled Britain’s conquest of Bengal. India’s GDP plunged, and by 1900 it had disappeared altogether from the top 3, to be replaced by Britain! In fact, Britain, 2% of world GDP in 1700 and India, 27%, virtually swapped places. Thus, it was the Christian invasion that totally impoverished India, far more than the Muslims. Colonial looters destroyed India’s industrial capability and forced it to regress into a raw material supplier and a market into which they could dump goods. A simple reckoning suggests that they extracted $10 trillion from India, at current exchange rates.

In 1700, the world’s biggest centers of industry were four river deltas: the Brahmaputra and Kaveri in India, and the Pearl River and the Yangtze in China, which, together accounted for some 20% of global output in manufactured goods. In India, a large part of it was in high-quality textiles and other light manufacturing. The case of Dacca muslin is especially poignant.

The city of Dacca, the source of the finest fabric in the world, declined precipitously after the British systematically destroyed the weavers: legend has it that they cut off their thumbs. Perhaps more prosaically, the British forced Indians to buy Lancashire mill cloth made of Indian cotton, with a ruinous transfer price, extracting usurious profits and degrading the hitherto prosperous weavers from skilled artisans into unskilled labor, from which they have not recovered even now, three centuries later.

Thus, it is reasonable for Indians to feel a little queasy when that very same industry, weaving, is targeted by the very same imperial forces bent on maintaining their dominance. India lost its onetime stranglehold on fabric – just look at the plethora of Indian words (seersucker, paisley, chintz, calico, cashmere, madras) related to it – and has yet to recover.

Thus, while I am glad that Kailash Satyarthi has won an important prize, I cannot but feel that there is something slightly cynical and calculating about the way the prize was awarded and that it is not intended to help India at all.

2280 words, 12 Oct 2014

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Versions of this were published by the New Indian Express on Apr 22nd at http://expressbuzz.com/opinion/op-ed/man-who-changed-strategies-in-the-business-world/167215.html and by rediff.com business at http://business.rediff.com/column/2010/apr/21/guest-c-k-prahalad-the-man-who-knew-strategy.htm

CK Prahalad – the man who knew strategy

Rajeev Srinivasan considers the legacy of the man who popularized strategic intent and the Bottom of the Pyramid

The term ‘guru’ is casually tossed around to denote anyone who has managed to jump on the bandwagon of some idea as it became popular. But there are some genuine thought-leaders in the business world who have created truly earth-shaking ideas; C K Prahalad of the University of Michigan, who passed away this week at the age of 69, was a giant of that kind.

Prahalad was responsible for propagating not one, but at least three outstanding ideas. In addition, as an extraordinary speaker and communicator, he influenced thousands of students and hundreds of companies with his vision and perspectives. Along with the late Sumantra Ghoshal and a few others, Prahalad was part of a phalanx of Indian-origin stalwarts making waves in business schools in the West.

As a professor of strategy, Prahalad was perhaps peerless; he teamed up with Gary Hamel to come up with the seminal idea of the “core competence of the corporation” in a famous Harvard Business Review article from the 1980s. According to Prahalad and Hamel, “stick to the knitting” made a great deal of sense – they suggested that a company figure out its true strength (an almost Shakespearean “to thine own self be true”), focus on building up its ability to become impregnable in that area, and then produce a slew of products all based on this core competence.

Furthermore, they felt that creating competing strategic business units would lead to unhealthy competition and the hoarding of resources within the units, whereas it would be more optimal for all human resources were to be available wherever in the firm’s far-flung operations they could be most useful.

The duo followed this up with the even more stunning paper on “strategic intent” – a true HBR classic. Impressed by the then seemingly-unstoppable Japanese invasion of the automobile sector and the electronics sector, Prahalad and Hamel argued that unlike short-term-focused Americans, Japanese planned a long-term strategy based on an intent that was clear, easily articulated, and around which all its activities could revolve.

This research led to a resource-based perspective of a firm’s strategic direction, which nicely complemented the incumbent theory of competitive advantage as articulated by Harvard’s Michael Porter. Porter’s theory held that a firm’s competitive strategy was determined by external, market issues: the bargaining power of suppliers and customers, the threat of new entrants and substitutes, etc.

Prahalad and Hamel articulated the resource-based perspective of how a firm could pursue its long-term by incrementally improving its capabilities. They used examples such as Canon (core competence in optics) and Sony (in miniaturization and packaging) which used them to expand into adjacent markets – such as laser printers and video recorders respectively.

Thus, by deciding a priori on where they would invest their resources, and by working towards ambitious stretch goals (for instance earth-moving equipment maker Komatsu had the singular goal to “Beat Caterpillar”, its entrenched and much bigger competitor), Japanese firms outsmarted their American rivals who were more focused on short-term goals related to stock price and thence executive compensation.

Intriguingly, the idea of intent can be applied to nations too: those that have strategic intent do well, which those that do not flounder about with no direction. The contrast between the performance of China and India can be explained by their respective strategic intents (China intends to be number one, India lamely wants to be an also-ran).

This body of work would have been enough for Prahalad to be considered a serious thinker, be lionized and become a favorite on the lecture circuit, as usually happens with the one-trick ponies in the business hall of fame of the moment. But Prahalad was not content, and his next idea was even more compelling. And timely, just as poor nations were metamorphosing from ‘less developed countries’ to ‘emerging’.

Prahalad’s insight was into the nature of poor societies. He may not have invented the concept of the purchasing power of the masses – quite possibly development economists had recognized it already – but it was certainly he who popularized the idea of the Bottom of the Pyramid, in eponymous books and essays.

The idea is that even though individual consumers in poorer countries may not be able to afford much by way of discretionary spending, in aggregate they do form a tempting market. Therefore, if you were able to create products that made sense to them, packaged in ways that they could afford, you might open up a whole new class of consumers.

It turns out that many of the world’s potential consumers – and certainly India’s – fall into this category. And firms which succeeded in reaching out to them have demonstrated that these are viable customers. Examples include Nirma in detergents, and others who have created tiny one-rupee sachets of health-and-beauty products, which would fall into the discretionary spending power of even relatively poor people.

Prahalad was the prime mover behind the idea that large firms including multinational companies could profitably target these customers: a version of “doing well by doing good”. There has been criticism in some circles who maintained that Prahalad over-estimated the profits that could be made; others suggested that there was something unethical about the very idea of, as it were, exploiting the poor.

The fact remains, though, that the poor pay disproportionately more for what they consume. Almost everywhere in the US, the cost of gasoline in poorer neighborhoods is higher than in tonier ones. Grocery stores charge more and carry less healthy merchandise – there are few fresh fruits and vegetables, and lots of high-fat, high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden processed foods. Even under micro-finance programs, the poor in India pay much higher rates of interest than their wealthier peers. Some of this is justified by enumerating the high costs of default, crime, pilferage, etc.

In his most recent work, Prahalad combined elements of the BoP idea with work on innovation. With ‘the innovation sandbox’, he showed how imposing constraints often engenders creativity of the first order. For instance, there are the success stories of Aravind Eye Clinic, Narayana Hrudayala and the Jaipur Foot, all of which offer uncompromising world-class services and products at a fraction of the prevailing cost, through astonishing process and product improvements.

This is the true inspiration behind what has come to be known as ‘frugal engineering’. In its April 15th survey on innovation in emerging markets, the Economist magazine talks about signal successes such as the Tata Nano, the low-cost electrocardiograph made by General Electric in India, and other products that are changing the rules of the game, cutting costs by as much as 90%. These products represent ‘innovation blowback’ that will discomfit established western corporations that have not paid sufficient attention to the challenges and rewards of dealing with BoP customers.

Thus, after a lifetime of advising multinationals, Prahalad heeded the call of his roots in India. Companies have been paying attention to the needs of India’s customers, taking his advice to heart – for instance, the Tata Group with its successful Ginger brand of moderately-priced business hotels; some multinationals, notably Cisco, are even setting up their innovation operations in India.

It is tragic that at a point when his blueprint of India in 2020 – his essay on India@75 — is almost within grasp, CK Prahalad has moved on to the ages. His vision was that India could take advantage of its demographic dividend, but only if it created 500 million skilled and trained people, he declared at his pan-IIT keynote a few years ago. He believed in an India that could provide spiritual and not merely technical leadership. That vision – so close to that of giants like Sri Aurobindo – is something that Indian firms need to keep firmly in mind as they develop their strategic intent.

Reflections on Slumdog Millionaire

Rajeev Srinivasan

Despite the hoopla in some circles about Slumdog Millionaire, I find it a disturbing film: empty-headed in one way, and malicious in others. A number of reviewers (for instance, the London Times’ Alice Miles http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/alice_miles/article5511650.ece ) have called the film “poverty porn” – a prurient voyeurism focusing on the suffering of others, especially of children. I agree.

There is nothing wrong about portraying poverty. Some of the greatest films of all time, for instance the magnificent Pather Panchali, focused on the troubled lives of the poor. But they treated their poverty-stricken protagonists with sensitivity and caring. Slumdog Millionaire treats the poor as disposable cartoon-characters to be ill-treated and tortured; of course, they also break into song at convenient moments.

 

There have also been very good films focusing on the nasty, brutish and short lives of street children in Mumbai and Sao Paolo respectively: Salaam Mumbai and Pixote. Neither was easy to watch: it is never easy to see children being brutalized. But there was a certain air of truth to them; and beyond any hackneyed saccharine endings, there was the feeling that at least some of these children would survive and thrive.

 

There is no such redeeming virtue in Slumdog, which is unapologetic about graphic violence. There is a harrowing scene where a young child has his eyes burnt out with acid. There is a similar scene in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s masterpiece Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, set in fascist Italy, where a handsome young man’s eyeball is gouged out. Salo is one of the most brutal and horrifying films ever made: and it was intended to be so, in a Brechtian way – the viewer was supposed to be horrified at man’s capacity for evil.200px-saloposter

 

Salo was set in an Italian castle, to which four aging libertines – the Duke, the President, the Magistrate, and the Bishop — kidnap a group of absolutely beautiful young men and women. These youths – no more than teenagers – are put through the most gruesome physical, mental and sexual tortures imaginable, including brutal and public rapes, tongues ripped off, nipples burned with candles, violent sodomy, the forcible eating of feces, and so on.

 

Salo was a meditation on the nature of evil, with the four men, representing four pillars of society, bringing to life Dante Alighieri’s vision of the medieval Christian hell, along with a dash of violence straight out of Marquis de Sade. Pasolini, a homosexual and a leftist, probably intended this as an indictment of fascism.

 

Perhaps Danny Boyle imagines he is following in Pasolini’s footsteps when he portrays Mumbai as a living hell. Is this film, similarly, an indictment of India? Is there more to the film than an exercise in artistry? Is it purely coincidental that it carries an eerie echo of the official position of the British government, as recently articulated by their Foreign Minister David Miliband, on a visit to India?

 

Let us be charitable and assume that Boyle wanted to condemn whatever it is in India that has caused this abject poverty to happen and continue. Who were the culprits? Ironically, it was British imperialists who beggared a hitherto prosperous India by “borrowing” capital that is worth $10 trillion — yes, trillion — in today’s terms. Besides, tens of millions of Indians were starved to death by uncaring British imperialists, as graphically described in Mike Davis’ Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino and the Making of the Third World. Perhaps this would be a good time to ask Britain for reparations?

 

And who has kept 250 million Indians in poverty even after the imperialists left in 1947? Why, the Congress, and the Communists! Through mind-numbingly idiotic schemes whose main result was the large-scale transfer of public wealth to private hands, the Congress and the Communists, through sixty years of their rule, have successfully prevented a large number of Indians from rising from poverty. So Boyle is targeting the true villains.

 

If only this were the case! But we all know it is not. Danny Boyle’s target – everybody’s soft target, because it does not retaliate with violence – is Hinduism, as Kanchan Gupta suggested in the Pioneer (“Slumdog is about defaming Hindus” http://www.dailypioneer.com/152164/Slumdog-is-about-defaming-Hindus.html). This is similar to how Deepa Mehta and Shabana Azmi dissembled about their use of the names “Sita” and “Radha” – names pregnant with meaning for Hindus – in the over-rated film “Fire”, as I pointed out ten years ago on Rediff.com (“The problem with Fire” http://www.rediff.com/entertai/1999/jan/11fire.htm )

 

There is a tendency among the British to stereotype and demonize Hindus in particular and Indians in general. For some reason, this is welcomed with nothing short of rapture by a section of the media and the self-proclaimed “intelligentsia” of New Delhi. There is, for instance, a second-rate historian who routinely thunders against Hindus. The level of his incompetence was exposed in a BBC film where he suggested that the Christian apostle Thomas “could have” come to India. Well, he didn’t – and history is generally about what happened, not what “could possibly have” happened.

 

Another example is the local stringer for a magazine. He arrived in India after a stint in Pakistan, and he declared at the time that he liked Pakistanis, whom he “could sit around with, and wonder what the heck was going on.” On the contrary, he condemned Indians as “prickly nationalists”, for whom he obviously felt distaste. Unfortunately, his declaration has vanished from the website, but he backs up his assertion in each and every one of his dispatches. His prejudices are there for all to see.

 

Why do they do this? I have a few theories. One is that the British always found it easier to relate to Mohammedans, because both thought of themselves as natural conquerors. British rule was also heavily influenced by the Church, as is documented in Suhash Chakravarty’s brilliantstudy The Raj Syndrome: A Study in Imperial Perceptions. The Christian British found Hindus incomprehensible, and this 

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continues to this day.

 

The other theory is based on the decline of Britain. The New York Times carried a story (“Falling Pound Raises Fears of Stagnation” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/22/business/worldbusiness/22pound.html?_r=2&ref=world ) that suggests Britain is going to be very severely affected by the global downturn. This must increase the urgency with which the British – after all, branded a “nation of shopkeepers” by no less a personality than Napoleon Bonaparte – need to seek economic help. The most obvious donors are Arabs, with their stockpiles of cash; therefore it makes sense for the British to appease their sentiments, never mind the cost to India.

 

Whence, for instance, the Miliband statement, which, taken to its logical conclusion, suggests that India should simply hand over Kashmir to Pakistan. No skin off their British noses, I suppose. This sentiment is widespread among British politicians, who are also influenced by the vote-bank-appeasement politics (alas, so familiar to Indians!) because of their Mirpuri and Pakistani constituents who tend to live in compact urban ghettos, unlike Indians who have dispersed into the suburbs.

 

The British will make all sorts of compromises for the sake of trade. This was demonstrated some time ago when, annoyed at something the British said, Malaysia’s then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed abruptly cancelled all British contracts. The alacrity with which the British apologized, nay, crawled abjectly, was a wonder to see.

 

Therefore bad behavior is expected from the British. It is not with the Indians involved – the writer (an Indian diplomat named Vikas Swarup – this is how Indian diplomats present India?) or the actors, or, in particular, A R Rehman. It is disappointing that Rehman has collaborated in such a venture, demeaning and demonizing Hindus and Indians.

 

For several reasons. One, that he is a master artist. I was listening to his songs from Roja the other day, and they are marvelous, especially the one titled “Choti si asha”. I was reflecting how the Tamil original was better than the Hindi version, and the irony of me, someone whose Hindi and Tamil are both pretty rusty, still being able to appreciate them. And the film itself was wonderful, a patriotic and beautifully told tale that emphasized the civilizational unity of India.

 

Two, I was watching a video on youtube about IIT Madras, and there was a professor saying “There was a marvelous keyboard player named Dilip from Loyola College who used to come for Mardi Gras in the 1980’s. Of course he is now known as A R Rehman”. Rehman converted to his new religion a few years ago, and no Hindu objected. He must know that Hindus are not running around slicing Mohammedan women’s throats on a whim or burning them alive. If anything, it is the opposite – the Sabarmati Express in Godhra, Radhabai Chawl in Mumbai.

 

Three, Rehman has sung passionately about the nation in his best-selling arrangement of “Vande Mataram”, which may well have aroused some negative comment among his new co-religionists. Someone who has that feeling of pride in India should not have collaborated with Danny Boyle in this abomination.

 

Yes, I am disappointed in Rehman, despite my very great respect for his artistic genius.

 

Danny Boyle, on the other hand, doesn’t matter. He may get his Oscar, and he may make his next film about the man, somewhere in the US, who kidnapped a teenage hitchhiker, raped her, cut off both her hands, and left her to bleed to death. The girl, somehow, survived. Or about the man in Austria who kept his daughter captive in his basement for twenty-four years, raped and impregnated her repeatedly, and fathered seven children with her. Or about those teenage-runaway-junkie-hookers in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, who accost passers-by with a drug-dazed “Wanna party?” Their lives are unlikely to be better than what the New York Times reports about teenage prostitutes in Cambodia http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/01/01/opinion/edkristof.php . There are many depraved people, and equally depraved voyeurs will never run out of subjects. And if Boyle ever wants to make a quiz show a metaphor for a culture, he would do well to study Robert Redford’s intelligent and provocative Quiz Show, a minor masterpiece.

Image Management

November 7, 2006

This is something I wrote last year; I never published it.

Image management: style before substance

By Rajeev Srinivasan

I saw a recent news photograph of an India-Pakistan meeting. It reminded me of other photos I have seen: an Indian diplomat and a Pakistani diplomat – a study in contrasts. The Pakistani, tall, fit, clean-shaven, dapper, in a well-cut suit, well-coiffed, looking younger than his age, at ease; the Indian, short, pot-bellied, with facial hair, in a shapeless Nehru jacket, with an indifferent haircut, looking old and unfit, avuncular, ill-at-ease.

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