Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

How the West was Lost (Short Version)

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Pic: courtesy

I grew up on a diet of  Wild West novels and a dominant American narrative that celebrated the victory of the white man against the native American Indian. It was always about how the West was “won.”

The turning point in my thinking occurred in 1996 when I was lucky enough to attend a lecture and solo performance by the legendary R. Carlos Nakai at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. Nakai spoke poignantly about how the West was “lost” by the Indians. If the point had been missed by anyone, he played a set of brilliant scores on the native American flute, which transported the audience to the America of a few centuries ago. A few days after the concert, I had bought 3 of Nakai’s albums which included this masterpiece – How the West was Lost.

In the last few months, as I re-read the complete 17-novel Sackett series from master storyteller Louis L’Amour, an extract from Treasure Mountain stood out. I reproduce it below – the short version of How The West Was Lost (as recounted by Powder-Face, an old Indian, to William Tell Sackett).

Powder Face shrugged. “I know,” he said simply.

“We killed them and killed them and killed them, and still they came. It was not the horse soldiers that whipped us, it was not the death of the buffalo, nor the white man’s cows. It was the people. It was the families.

“The rest we might conquer, but the people kept coming and they built their lodges where no Indian could live. They brought children and women, they brought the knife that cuts the earth. They built their lodges of trees, of sod cut from the earth, of boards, of whatever they could find.”

“We burned them out, we killed them, we drove off their horses, and we rode away. When we came back others were there as if grown from the ground—and others, and others, and others.”

“They were too many for us. We killed them, but our young men died, too, and we had not enough young men to father our children, so we must stop fighting.”

And William Tell Sackett’s subsequent conversation with Powder Face reveals the American value system relevant even in the 21st century:

“Remember this, Old One. The white man respects success. For the poor, the weak, and the inefficient, he has pity or contempt. Whatever the color of your skin, whatever country you come from, he will respect you if you do well what it is you do.”

“You may be right. I am an old man, and I am confused. The trail is no longer clear.”

“You brought your people to my cousins. You work for them now, so you are our people as well. You came to them when they
needed you, and you will always have a home where they are.”

The flames burned low, flickered, and went out. Red coals remained. The chill wind stirred the leaves again. Powder Face sat silently, and I went to my blankets.


The need for political skepticism

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Nobody reads essays anymore, especially those from the early twentieth-century era. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that the large majority of our “pulp library” is still in California (most of the books are in my sister’s garage and some in my cousin’s attic).  If you want to know how unconventional our US-to-India move  was, check out A sense of satisfaction… and accomplishment. We managed to bring 10-odd books with us, sorta “Desert Island mini library”. The rest of the books are coming home  via a patent-pending “Web 2.0 meets slow-boat-to-China” shipping strategy – more on that in a separate post.

Bertrand Russell’s Skeptical Essays was a volume I picked up at one of the annual Bangalore book fairs in Palace Grounds. As you can imagine, it’s not easy reading but compared to other philosophy works, several essays are lucid enough. I found the eleventh essay, The Need for Political Skepticism, particularly educational and relevant to put in perspective the struggling and bumbling democracy that is India. Remember that this essay was delivered as a a presidential address to the Students Union of London School of Economics and Political Science in 1923!

On political parties

One of the peculiarities of the English-speaking world is its immense interest and belief in political parties. A very large percentage of English-speaking people really believe that the ills from which they suffer would be cured if a certain political party were in power. That is a reason for the swing of the pendulum. A man votes for one party and remains miserable; he concludes that it is the other party that was to bring the millennium. By the time he is disenchanted with all parties, he is an old man on the verge of death; his sons retain the belief of his youth, and the see-saw goes on.

I want to suggest that, if we are to do any good in politics, we must view political questions in a different way. A party which is to obtain power must, in a democracy, make an appeal to which a majority of the nation responds. For reasons which will appear in the course of the argument, an appeal which is widely successful, with the existing democracy, can hardly fail to be harmful. Therefore no important political party is likely to have a useful programme, and if useful measures are to be passed, it must be by means of some other machinery than party government. How to combine any such machinery with democracy is one of the most urgent problems of our time.

On specialists in party politics

There are at present two very different kinds of specialists in political questions. On the one hand there are the practical politicians of all parties; on the other hand there are the experts, mainly civil servants, but also economists, financiers, scientific medical men, etc. Each of these two classes has a special kind of skill. The skill of the politician consists in guessing what people can be brought to think advantageous to themselves; the skill of the expert consists in calculating what really is advantageous, provided people can be brought to think so. (The proviso is essential, because measures which arouse serious resentment are seldom advantageous, whatever merits they have otherwise.) The power of the politician, in a democracy, depends upon his adopting the opinions which seem right to the average man. It is useless to urge that politicians ought to be high-handed enough to advocate what enlightened opinion considers good, because if they do they are swept aside for others. Moreover, the intuitive skill that they require in forecasting opinion does not imply any skill whatever in forming their own opinions, so that many of the ablest (from a party-political point of view) will be in a position to advocate, quite honestly, measures which the majority think good, but which experts know to be bad. There is therefore no point in moral exhortations to politicians to be disinterested, except in the crude sense of not taking bribes.

On politicians

Wherever party politics exist, the appeal of a politician is primarily to a section, while his opponents appeal to an opposite section. His success depends upon turning his section into a majority. A measure which appeals to all sections equally will presumably be common ground between the parties, and will therefore be useless to the party politician. Consequently he concentrates attention upon those measures which are disliked by the section that forms the nucleus of his opponents’ supporters. Moreover, a measure, however admirable, is useless to a politician unless he can give reasons for it which will appear convincing to the average man when set forth in a platform speech. We have thus two conditions which must be fulfilled by the measures on which party politicians lay stress: (1) They must seem to favour the needs of a section of the nation; (2) the arguments for them must be of the utmost simplicity. Of course this does not apply to a time of war, because then the party conflict is suspended in favour of conflict with the external enemy. In war, the arts of the politician are expended in neutrals, who correspond to the doubtful voter in ordinary politics. The late war showed that, as we should have expected, democracy affords an admirable training for the business of appealing to neutrals. That was one of the main reasons why democracy won the war. It is true it lost the peace; but that is another question.

There are more nuggets of beauty in this essay so I’ll likely post a part 2 in the future.


In which the very same Ephraim Trout waxes eloquent on marriage

January 10, 2012 1 comment

Pic: courtesy (New hardcover edition to be released in Mar 2012)

Ephraim Trout is a highly competent lawyer and one of the founding members of Bachelors Anonymous – a Los Angeles-based circle of luminaries whose charter is to ensure that men remain bachelors. Earlier in the story, Trout argues ardently against marriage. A mere day later, after an unexpected encounter with a woman, Trout falls in love. In the passage below, Trout’s transformation (from allergic-to-marriage to family-man) is complete. Trout has just answered a call from Vera Dalrymple and has confirmed (on Igor Llewelleyn’s behalf) that he will be dining with Vera. And then he launches into a paean for the institution of marriage.

‘And you couldn’t do better,’ said Mr. Trout heartily. ‘I have not had the pleasure of meeting her, but I assume that she is charming, and the thing that matters is to get married. Who was it described bachelors as wild asses of the desert? I forget, but he was right, and what future is there for a wild ass? Practically none. It just goes on being a wild ass until something happens to end its aimless existence, and nobody gives a damn when it’s gone. You’re crazy if you intend to go on being a lonely bachelor, not that I suppose one could actually call you a bachelor. Marriage is the only road to contentment and happiness. Think of the quiet home evenings, she busy knitting the tiny garments, you in the old armchair with your crossword puzzle. Think of the companionship, the feeling that you are never going to be alone again. Get married, I.L. Give this Dalrymple dinner tomorrow and over the meal attach yourself to her little hand and ask her to be yours. Excuse me,’ said Mr. Trout. ‘I must be going. I have to get a shampoo and manicure in addition to the hair-trim.’

The effect of this eloquence on Mr. Llewellyn was to add to the emotions of the Lady of Shalott those of Julius Caesar when stabbed by Brutus. We can put up with the knavish tricks of enemies — we may not like them, but we can endure them — but when we are betrayed by a friend we drain the bitter cup and no heel taps. The one thing Mr. Llewellyn had been sure he could rely on was the stability of the Trout doctrine. Whoever else might fail him, Trout was a solid rock. And here he was, mouthing these dreadful sentiments without, apparently, a qualm. He could not have been more horrified and in the depths if he had been a Tory member of Parliament and had heard his leader expressing the opinion that there was a lot of sound sense in the works of Karl Marx, and the Communists were not such bad chaps if you got to know them.

In order to fully appreciate I.L.’s (Igor Llewellyn) sentiments at this stage, you need to know that Trout has helped I.L. negotiate all five of his previous divorces. Trout has also voluntarily offered his services (as the founding member of Bachelors Anonymous) to ensure that there’s no sixth divorce for I.L. to worry about.


In which Ephraim Trout argues against marriage…

January 8, 2012 1 comment

If you’ve been fortunate enough to have discovered Wodehouse early in your life, this extract from one of his classics, Bachelors Anonymous, might remind you that there’s no such thing as ‘too much’ Wodehouse. If, on the other hand, your education has hitherto been incomplete, I bid you to make haste and get yourself a Wodehouse (you can’t go wrong with any of his books) and discover an idyllic world of pleasure that can never go stale. Mr. Ephraim Trout is one of the founding members of  Bachelors Anonymous – a Los Angeles-based circle of luminaries whose charter is to ensure that men remain bachelors and draw their inspiration from Alcoholics Anonymous. In the extract below, Mr. Trout makes the case against marriage to Joe Pickering, the story’s protagonist who’s madly in love with one Sally Fitch, though all is not well between the couple at this stage of the story.

‘Yes, Pickering, you are well out of it,’ said Mr. Trout. ‘You have had a most merciful escape. Have you ever considered what marriage means? I do not refer to the ghastly ordeal of the actual service, with its bishops and assistant clergy, its bridesmaids and the influx of all the relations you have been trying to avoid for years, but to what comes after. And when I say that, I am not thinking of the speech you would be compelled to make at the wedding breakfast. That and the service that preceded it are merely temporary agonies, and a strong man can fortify himself with the thought that they will soon be linked for life, with someone who comes down to breakfast, puts her hands over your eyes and says “Guess Who”? From what you were saying about the dimple on this girl’s left cheek I gather that she is not without physical allure, but can she drive a car? Somebody has got to drive the car and do the shopping while you are playing golf. Somebody has got to be able to fix a flat tyre. Letters, too. What guarantee have you that she will attend to the family correspondence, particularly the Christmas cards? Like so many young men,’ said Mr. Trout, ‘you have allowed yourself to be ensnared by a pretty face, never asking yourself if the person you are hoping to marry is capable of making out your income tax return and can be relied on to shovel snow while you are curled up beside the fire with a novel of suspense. Yes,’ said Mr. Trout, warming to his subject, ‘you are one of the lucky ones. If, as you say, she refuses to see or speak to you, you ought to be dancing sarabands and congratulating yourself on –‘

The conversation (more like a monologue as Trout discovers) is rudely interrupted as Pickering, whose full attention is on the cab in front of them (the cab which is carrying away his beloved Sally Fitch to an indeterminate location) betrays the fact that he’s not been listening to Trout. Undaunted and with more than a touch of the never-say-die spirit which animated all members of Bachelors Anonymous, Trout continues.

‘May I resume my remarks?’ he said. ‘I touched briefly on the more obvious objections to marriage, and later I will go into them again, but at the moment what I would like to stress is what I may call the family peril inseparable from the wedded state. Most girls have families, and why should the object of your devotion be any exception? I very much doubt that you have bestowed your affection on an orphan with no brothers or uncles. You speak enthusiastically of the dimple in her left cheek, but are you aware that statistics show that eighty-seven point six of girls with dimples also have brothers who are always out of a job and have to be supported? And if not brothers, uncles. In practically every home, if you examine closely, you will find an Uncle George or an Uncle Willie, with a taste for whisky and a distaste for work, whose expenses the young husband is compelled to defray. In the vast majority of cases the man who allows himself to be entrapped into matrimony is not so much settling down with the girl he loves as founding a Haven of Rest for the unemployed.’

Next post in this series – In which the very same Ephraim Trout waxes eloquent on marriage.


Kurien and Golwalkar’s Friendship and RSS Supremo’s real reason for cow protection movement

January 3, 2012 2 comments

Dr. Verghese Kurien (Pic courtesy:

[Editor’s Note: In light of the Madhya Pradesh (BJP) government’s ban on consumption of beef,  it’s relevant for us to understand RSS’s original reasons for evangelizing the cow protection movement in the 1960’s. Verghese Kurien’s autobiography (I too had a dream) casts unique light on this subject, through a burgeoning friendship that developed between Kurien and Golwalkar during their 12-year association on the committee.]

In 1967, as Chairman of NDDB, I was asked to be a member of a high-powered committee, set up by the Government of India, to look into cow protection. It was a collection of rather individualistic and interesting personages. Justice Sarkar, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was appointed its Chairman. Among the other members of this committee were Ashok Mitra, who was then Chairman of the Agricultural Prices Commission, the Shankaracharya of Puri, H.A.B. Parpia, Director of the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore and M.S. Golwalkar ‘Guruji’, the head of the RSS, the organization which had launched the entire cow protection movement.

Incredible as it might seem, this committee met regularly for twelve years. We interviewed scores of experts from all fields to get opinions of all shades on cow slaughter. It was a tedious and time-consuming process. My brief was to prevent any ban on cow slaughter. It was important for us in the dairy business to keep weeding out the unhealthy cows so that available resources could be utilized for healthy and productive cattle. I was prepared to go as far as to allow that no useful cow should be killed. This was the point on which the Shankaracharya and I invariably locked horns and got into heated arguments. I constantly asked him, ‘Your Holiness, are you going to take all the useless cows which are not producing anything and look after them and feed them till they die? You know that cannot work.’ He never had any answer to my query.

For twelve years the Government of India paid the committee members to travel to Delhi and attend the meetings. We continued like this and it was only when Morarji Desai became Prime Minister that I received a little slip of paper, which said, ‘The cow protection committee is hereby abolished.’ We were never even asked to submit a report.

Shri Golwalkar Guruji, RSS's 2nd Sarasanghachalak (Pic courtesy:

However, one rather unusual and unexpected development during our regular committee meetings was that during that time, Golwalkar and I became close friends. People were absolutely amazed to see that we had become so close that whenever he saw me walk into the room he would rush to embrace me. He would take me aside and try to pacify me after our meetings, ‘Why do you keep losing your temper with the Shankaracharya? I agree with you about him. But don’t let the man rile you. Just ignore him.’

Golwalkar was a very small man — barely five feet — but when he got angry fire spewed out of his eyes. What impressed me most about him was that he was an intensely patriotic Indian. You could argue that he was going about preaching his brand of nationalism in a totally wrong way but nobody could question his sincerity. One day after one of our meetings when he had argued passionately for banning cow slaughter, he came to me and asked, ‘Kurien, shall I tell you why I’m making an issue of this cow slaughter business?’

I said to him, ‘Yes, please explain to me because otherwise you are a very intelligent man. Why are you doing this?’

‘I started a petition to ban cow slaughter actually to embarrass the government,’ he began explaining to me in private. ‘I decided to collect a million signatures for this to submit to the Rashtrapati. In connection with this work I travelled across the country to see how the campaign was progressing. My travels once took me to a village in UP. There I saw in one house, a woman, who having fed and sent off her husband to work and her two children to school, took this petition and went from house to house to collect signatures in that blazing summer sun. I wondered to myself why this woman should take such pains. She was not crazy to be doing this. This is when I realized that the woman was actually doing it for her cow, which was her bread and butter, and I realized how much potential the cow has.

‘Look at what our country has become. What is good is foreign: what is bad is Indian. Who is a good Indian? It’s the fellow who wears a suit and a tie and puts on a hat. Who is a bad Indian? The fellow who wears a dhoti. If this nation does not take pride in what it is and merely imitates other nations, how can it amount to anything? Then I saw that the cow has potential to unify the country – she symbolizes the culture of Bharat. So I tell you what, Kurien, you agree with me to ban cow slaughter on this committee and I promise you, five years from that date, I will have united the country. What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m not a fool, I’m not a fanatic. I’m just cold-blooded about this. I want to use the cow to bring out our Indianness, So please cooperate with me on this.’

Of course neither did I concur with him on this nor did I support his argument for banning cow slaughter on the committee. However, I was convinced that in his own way he was trying to instil a pride across our country about our being Indian. This side of his personality greatly appealed to me. That was the Golwalkar I knew. They had accused him of plotting the murder of Mahatma Gandhi but somehow I could never believe it. To me he came across as an honest and outspoken man and I always thought that if he were the Hindu fanatic that he was made out to be, he would never have been my friend.

Verghese Kurien’s answer to Lal Bahadur Shastri and the genesis for NDDB

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

This story (from Verghese Kurien’s I too had a dream) continues from Why Lal Bahadur Shastri wanted to spend a night in a Kaira district village.

I assured the Prime Minister that all his observations were absolutely correct but that there was one difference, which he had failed to notice. The solitary difference was that Amul dairy was owned by the farmers themselves. The elected representatives from among the farmers managed it. These elected representatives had employed me as a professional manager to run their dairy. I was an employee of the farmers.

In this dairy that was owned by the farmers, therefore, my job as a Manager was to satisfy the farmers who supplied milk to the dairy. I had to provide the infrastructure to the farmers to help them increase production. I had to ensure increased production so that they benefited. I could never refuse to collect the milk they supplied. This was a dairy that was sensitive to the needs of farmers and responsive to their demands. I explained to the Prime Minister that just as in Anand, in all advanced dairying countries, the dairies were owned by farmers. I pointed out to Shastriji that all we had done at Anand was to prove that what was true for New Zealand, Denmark, Holland and even the US, was also true for India.

They employed me, a professional who, in their judgement, was capable and honest. They were satisfied with my trustworthiness, competence and honesty. They left me free to run the cooperative as I thought best. What is more, they had protected and supported me during the initial stages until I found my feet and did not allow anyone to interfere with my work.

The Cooperative Societies Act of India is a stagnant act. It does not encourage the creation of truly democratic institutions. It is nothing but an appendage of the cooperative department of the government. But the Kaira Cooperative – Amul – in spite of such an act was a true and functioning cooperative because of the efforts of its Chairman, Tribhuvandas Patel, who was selected by Sardar Patel, and the farmers had complete trust in him. I explained all this, at great length, to our Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister, who had been listening to me avidly, looked excited and said, ‘Kurien, this means that we can have many Anands. There are no special reasons to have an Anand only in Gujarat.’

I nodded my head in agreement.

‘So then, Kurien,’ he continued, ‘from tomorrow you shall make it your business to work not just for Anand, not just for Gujarat, but for the whole of India. The Government of India will give you a blank cheque, it will create any body, any structure you want, provided you head it. Please replicate Anand throughout India. Make that your mission and whatever you need for it, the government will provide.’

I heard him out and then told him that before I could agree to his request, I had certain conditions. The first was that I would remain an employee of farmers. I would not be an employee of the government. I would not accept a single paisa from the government. When Shastriji wanted to know the reason for the condition I told him that an employee of the government inevitably has to please his superiors; an employee of farmers has to please only the farmers.

My second condition was that the new body, responsible for replicating Anand throughout the country, should not be located in Delhi. ‘People in Delhi think about many things but they hardly ever think about farmers,’ I reasoned. ‘In Anand, we think of nothing else other than farmers, agriculture and dairying. We have no other interests. So whatever body the government creates must be located at Anand. I refuse to move to Delhi.’

The Prime Minister agreed to both these conditions.

Why Lal Bahadur Shastri wanted to spend a night in a Kaira district village

December 19, 2011 2 comments

This story (from Verghese Kurien’s I too had a dream) continues from When an Indian Prime Minister spent a night in a 1964.

He visited the huts of Harijans in the village. He sat with them and talked to them. He visited the Muslim families in the village. Till two o’clock in the morning, he was busy talking to the farmers and their families about their lives and their problems. The Home Secretary had to remind him about his next day’s programme, which was to begin at seven a.m. He was forced to retire for the night.

The next morning the Prime Minister visited the village milk cooperative society run by the elected representatives of the village. I met him there for the first time and explained to him the working of the cooperative. Only after this did he come to Anand and to my house. Later, he declared open the cattle-feed compounding factory and addressed the gathering with an inspiring speech. Then we returned to my house.

At home, he sat me down and told me something extremely interesting. He said, ‘Under the Second and Third Five Year Plans, we have built so many dairies. All of them owned and run by the government. All of them were unmitigated disasters, running at a loss. But I heard Amul dairy and its products are liked throughout the country. It’s available throughout the country and has an extremely high growth rate every year. I want to know why this particular dairy is a success when all the others have failed That is why I decided that I would stay here and find out. And that is why I spent a night with the villagers, trying to fathom the reasons for the success of Anand’s Amul dairy. But I am sorry to say, Kurien, that I have failed.

‘I looked at the soil. Good soil, but not as good as the Indo-Gangetic plains. I asked about the climate here. Cold in winter, very hot in summer, I was told. So it is in most of India. Nothing special. I enquired about the rainfall. Thirty inches of rain for three months of the year during the monsoon – much like the rest of the country. I had expected to see the entire landscape green, with cattle grazing contentedly, but the whole place is brown, just like the rest of India. I did not find any abundant availability of fodder and feed here. I looked at your buffaloes and don’t mind my saying this, Kurien, but they are not as good as the buffaloes in my home state of Uttar Pradesh. Those buffaloes are certainly better and even give more milk. Lastly, I looked at your farmers. They’re good people – farmers are always good people – but they are not as hardworking as the farmers of Punjab. I can’t find a single reason why Anand is such a great success. Now, can you please tell me what is the secret of its success?

… to be continued.. [In Part 3, Verghese Kurien’s answer and the genesis for NDDB.]

When an Indian Prime Minister spent a night in a village.. unannounced.. in 1964

September 29, 2011 3 comments

There’s no better way to relate this story than to transcribe the relevant pages from Verghese Kurian’s I too had a dream.

In 1964 the Kaira Union’s new cattle-feed compounding factory sponsored by Oxfam was ready at Kanjari, approximately eight kilometers from Anand. This was a revolutionary step for the dairy industry of the country. We thought that such a plant should be inaugurated by the nation’s Prime Minister. We invited the Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, to come to Anand and officially commission the plant. The occasion was to be Sardar Patel’s birth anniversary, 31 October. Shastriji accepted our invitation.

Shastriji’s demand proved to be even more complex. He made an unusual request to modify the programme we had prepared for him, sending many of us into a bit of a tailspin. He sent word to the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Balwantrai Mehta, that he would like to come a day earlier and spend a night in a village as the guest of a farmer — preferably a small farmer in Kaira district.

As far as I knew, no Indian prime minister had ever asked to stay in a village, so naturally this unusual request caused some consternation. The Chief Minister asked me to help them arrange this stay. I told him that if India’s Prime Minister went to a village, at least three hundred policemen would be dispatched to that village even before he arrived. Most villages in Kaira district had an average population of around three hundred and with such a strong concentration of policemen the village would resemble a police camp. Why would the Prime Minister want to go to a village to see a police camp? However, if the Prime Minister really wanted to see a village in its normal and natural condition, the Chief Minister would have to entrust the Prime Minister’s security to me.

Balwantrai Mehta sent for F.H. Heredia, the Home Secretary, Gujarat, and informed him of my suggestion. Heredia was not at all convinced. “This will not do,” he said. “If something goes wrong, it’s my neck on the line and not Kurien’s. I’m sorry I cannot agree to this. The security of the Prime Minister is my business and I will not delegate it to anyone.” But he did understand the point I was trying to make and since we were friends he promised to arrange it in a way that would meet his needs as well as mine.

“How will you manage it when Kurien insists that there should be no policemen and you say there have to be policemen?” the Chief Minister asked him.

“It’s quite simple,” explained the Home Secretary. “No one — simply no one — should know that the Prime Minister is going to the village or which village he is visiting. The the Prime Minister would be safe.”

This seemed to make sense. Secrecy was to be the basis of our security arrangements.

“In that case, you and Kurien arrange everything,” Balwantrai Mehta agreed.

Heredia and I met. We picked Ajarpura, a village a few kilometers from Anand. Ajarpura had one of the oldest registered milk cooperatives in the district. I had also identified the farmer — Ramanbhai Punjabhai Patel — and explained to him that two foreigners were visiting us; since they wished to spend a night at the village, could he arrange for their stay? Ramanbhai was perplexed as to why these foreigners would want to do that. I convinced him that these foreigners were a bit quirky and asked him if it would matter if they stayed in his house for one night. I asked him not to do anything special except tidy up a bit and clean up the bathroom. He agreed.

On the day of the Prime Minister’s visit, at about five-thirty p.m. the guard of honour was kept ready and all the official arrangements were made to receive him at my house in Anand. The ministers, too, had arrived. At this stage, I called the Collector and handed him a sealed envelope.

“What’s this?” the Collector asked in surprise.

“It’s merely a letter signed by the Home Secretary which says that there’s a slight change in the Prime Minister’s programme and you will now take instructions from me,” I told him.

The Collector and I then drove to the village. Ramanbhai, after sprucing up his hut and sprinkling water to keep the dust down, was waiting for his two ‘foreign guests’ to arrive. I went to him and said, “Now you should know who your two guests really are. They are the Prime Minister of India and the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat.” “The Pradhan Mantri in my house? What have you done to me, Saheb?” exclaimed Ramanbhai in anguish.

“Nothing,” I said, trying to calm him. “Believe me, they’re good people. Just as good as you and I. You treat them as you would treat any guest of yours.”

“Saheb,” he said, “I have not cooked anything special. You told me not to.”

I assured him that they did not want anything special. I introduced him to the Collector, the head of his district, and then I said to the two of them, “I leave the Prime Minister to both of you. You look after him now and I’m going home.”

I explained to them that Shastriji had no fixed programme. He would come here and decide what he wanted to do while he was a guest of the village. I told them that I had to return home because my wife was there, coping alone with all the other guests who had no idea that the Prime Minister would not be arriving that day.

According to the plan, as the Prime Minister’s convoy drove from Ahmedabad to Anand, the Prime Minister’s car alone was diverted to Ajarpura village while the rest of the convoy proceeded to Anand.

… the story continues in Part 2 – Why Lal Bahadur Shastri wanted to spend a night in a Kaira district village.

Verghese Kurien On a Roll

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m reading Verghese Kurian’s autobiography I too had a dream – an authentic account of his life’s work, as told to Gauri Salvi. The following excerpt from the chapter On a Roll might persuade you to go buy the book.

There is nothing wrong in building flyovers in Delhi. What is not fair is when we do not also build an approach road to villages across the nation. There is nothing wrong in having fountains with coloured lights in the capital. After all, Delhi should be beautiful. But it is unjustified when we have not provided drinking water to all our villages. There is nothing wrong in having a modern, private hospital in Bombay, or the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, or other large medical institutions in our big cities. But it is not justified when we have not arranged to have two drops of a medicine put into the eyes of a farmer’s newborn baby, and that baby goes blind. While this would have cost us nothing, we have preferred to spend crores of rupees in building five-star hospitals in cities. Why does this happen? Because policy-making is in our hands — in the hands of the elite — and naturally, even unconsciously perhaps, when we make policies we make policies that suit us; we usurp the resources of this land somewhat shamelessly to benefit ourselves. The most charitable interpretation of it is that we do it unconsciously.

I opted to remain an employee of farmers all my life, not because I could not get a job in the city of Bombay or any other city anywhere else. It was only because I felt that I had the best job that I could ever get. Nor did I do it out of any great nobility of character — I did it because I realized I had a job which gave me the greatest pleasure, the greatest satisfaction. The idea of working for a large number of farmers translated itself into a concept of working for social good. I soon realized that money is not the only satisfaction that one can seek, that there are several other forms of satisfaction and all of these were available to me at Anand.


Tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

[Editor’s Note: I’ve been reading Francine Prose’s Reading like a Writer recently. The subtitle of the book, A guide for people who love books and those who want to write them, gives an indication about why it’s not a book one can read cover to cover without a break. After reading a few chapters, one begins to feel that perhaps Francine Prose has read every notable book ever written, perhaps multiple times. Several amazing excerpts in her collection and I bring you the second – a paragraph from Philip Roth’s American Pastoral.]

The old intergenerational give-and-take of the country-that-used-to-be, when everyone knew his role and took the rules dead seriously, the acculturating back-and-forth that all of us here grew up with, the ritual postimmigrant struggle for success turning pathological in, of all places, the gentleman farmer’s castle of our superordinary Swede. A guy stacked like a deck of cards for things to unfold entirely differently. In no way prepared for what is going to hit him. How could he, with all his carefully calibrated goodness, have known that the stakes of living obediently were so high? Obedience is embraced to lower the stakes. A beautiful wife. A beautiful house. Runs his business like a charm…. This is how successful people live. They’re good citizens. They feel lucky. They feel grateful. God is smiling down on them. There are problems ,they adjust. And then everything changes and it becomes impossible. Nothing is smiling down on anybody. And who can adjust then? Here is someone not set up for life’s working out poorly, let alone for the impossible. But who is set up for the impossible that is going to happen? Who is set up for tragedy and the incomprehensibility of suffering?  Nobody. The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy – that is every man’s tragedy.