April 23, 2014

Your vote tomorrow

A note I sent out to my friends in Bombay today, April 23 2014.


Dear friend and fellow-citizen of this vast fascinating maddening incredible city:

Tomorrow is the day we'll all vote. May I count on our years of friendship to be bold enough to say a few things about that?

1. First and above all, please vote.

2. You probably know my thoughts on this, but nevertheless: Yes, I hope you will not vote for a candidate whose victory will help Narendra Modi become our Prime Minister. At this late stage, I'm not going to burden you with reading material. Instead, just three points:

- 2a. This is a man who, in 2007, appointed a murderer (Maya Kodnani) as his Minister for Women's Development and Child Welfare. I realize Modi is speaking an inclusive, near-faultless language these days. But he's aiming for the nation's highest elected office: he knows better than us all the need to come across as inclusive, thus to speak this language. Therefore I judge him not on today's rhetoric, but on his record. Among much else in that record is his Kodnani appointment. There is no explanation for this that makes Modi look good.

- 2b. I realize we all see what we want to see in Gujarat. But that alone should tell us that the story of a state far better than every other in every respect has holes in it.

- 2c. What worries me most about a Modi government is not Modi himself, but the loose cannons his ascent will give legitimacy and voice to. We've already seen examples like Giriraj Singh, Praveen Togadia and Ramdas Kadam. When a major politician announces that (for example) those who oppose him must be sent to Pakistan -- well, that kind of attitude simply worries me.

3. Finally, I also realize that I may have stepped on a few toes with this mail. Still, I trust that whatever our different views of politics, we can and will remain friends. That's also my faith in democracy, that we have different views that we are unafraid to express. This country has seen too much that divides us. I believe you will go to vote with the same hopes for a better tomorrow as I do. If you finally choose a different route to that better place than I do, that's your prerogative and mine. But if we let that choice itself interfere in our relationships, we let the divides win. I don't plan to let that happen.

All good wishes tomorrow.

Your friend,

(Comments intentionally disabled until after the vote).

February 22, 2014

Raptor Red

Does it say something that my favourite book of 2013 is one I read for the second time? (The first? When it was released, in 1996). "Raptor Red" is a delightful novel -- but for me, not so much because it is an engrossing story, which it is, or beautifully written, which it isn't. Nor even because its dinosaur protagonists are so engaging.

What makes this book memorable is what it says about an unsung virtue of science: how scientists build edifices of reason from the tiniest scraps of evidence. After all, dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, and all we know about them comes from the fossil record. Yet palaeontologist Robert Bakker wrote this book to support his thesis that they were "warm-blooded, active and social animals."

It positively warms the cockles of my heart that a scientist proposes this, and plausibly, after poring over rocks buried for aeons. Then he writes a beguiling novel. Wow.

Raptor Red by Robert T Bakker
Bantam Books, 1995

January 19, 2013

How Rahul Gandhi blew it

My column in the Daily Beast is about the Gandhi family's reaction to the Delhi gangrape. Please do take a look: How Rahul Gandhi Blew the Indian Rape Crisis

Comments welcome, as always.

January 17, 2013

Know that

(A series of tweets that went out earlier this evening. Collected as a single post here).

There's an open letter about Gujarat. There's a Vibrant Gujarat summit. And as always, there's plenty of hot-headed defence of Modi.

Also as always, his defenders sometimes seem baffled that there are actually some who are not enamoured of him. This is for them.

Know that your fellow Indians slaughtered about 1000 fellow Indians in Gujarat in '02. The families of the dead deserve justice.

Know that plenty of your fellow Indians don't believe all those families have found justice.

Know that plenty of us think justice is fundamental to the functioning of a society.

Know that good roads & efficient administration are fine - only what we expect from a government - but don't substitute for justice.

Know that victories in elections are also fine - and kudos to Modi for winning - but they don't substitute for justice either.

Know that plenty of us believe Modi, as CM, is ultimately responsible for the safety of his state's residents.

Know that we believe he failed that responsibility in 2002.

Know that we believe he must be held politically accountable for that failure in 2002.

Know that it mystifies us that you don't want to hold him politically accountable for that failure. That you instead applaud him.

Know that maybe it doesn't mystify us.

Know that we will keep the chorus for accountability going until it happens. We're patient.

Know that, finally, if you choose to be uncritical fans of Modi, it's not incumbent on the rest of us to be uncritical fans too.

January 08, 2013

Owaisi, Thackeray and 25 crore

Speaking at Nirmal in Andhra Pradesh on December 24 2012, Akbaruddin Owaisi said this:
If the police are removed for just 15 minutes, 25 crore Muslims in the country will show they are mightier than 100 crore Hindus.

The mention of 25 crore (completely wrong, but never mind) rang a bell. Because on December 9 1992 -- twenty years earlier -- Bal Thackeray of the Shiv Sena used that same number. In an editorial in his party mouthpiece Saamna, he wrote:

Pakistan need not cross the borders and attack India. 25 crore Muslims in India will stage an armed insurrection. They form one of Pakistan's seven atomic bombs.
(Note that if 25 crore was wrong in 2012, it was a hell of a lot wronger in 1992, but never mind that as well).
Note the (completely justified) uproar over Owaisi's statement. Note how Thackeray was eulogized after his death.

And if you have any idea, please let me know which of those two statements, if any, should be treated as more offensive and why.


Postscript: For those who like to quibble, here's another Thackeray statement from twenty years ago yesterday. Just in case you don't remember -- or have chosen to forget -- both these were from the time of the carnage in Bombay, December 1992 and January 1993, that left some 1000 Indians dead.

In another editorial in Saamna (January 8 1993), Bal Thackeray wrote:

Muslims of Bhendi Bazar, Null Bazar, Dongri and Pydhonie, the areas we call Mini Pakistan ... must be shot on the spot.

Owaisi has been arrested, and faces charges of (among other things) sedition. What do you think happened to Thackeray? What do you think should have happened to Thackeray?

January 07, 2013

Help me support Ummeed

I'm part of a fundraising effort for an organization called Ummeed. I'm doing this because I have a personal interest in this: our daughter (now nearly 9) is dyslexic and Ummeed has been a great help to us in diagnosis, treatment and advice. While I'm naturally anxious about how she will cope, Ummeed is the reason I'm confident that she will.

And this is why I think Ummeed's work is important. And yet they reach only a fraction of all the children in Bombay with developmental disabilities: the need, as ever, outstrips the capacity to serve it. And this is why I signed up to do this fundraiser for Ummeed.

Admittedly I'm no good at this. I've never done it before. I mean, I've never run/walked/biked/cartwheeled for a cause before, I've never asked for pledges/donations before, and I've never walked 55km on a beach in one day before. (About 45 km one day through the forests of Madagascar, but that's a story for another day).

But I'm doing all that now. With some 20-25 others, I'm going to walk up and down the 27km+ length of a Goa beach -- totalling about 55km -- on January 12 2013. (Five days away!)

So it's this simple: I need your support to help me complete that trek. I need your support to help Ummeed in its work. I'd be grateful for pledges/donations in any amount at all. And if you contribute, I promise to carry your name on a small label on my person. (I've stocked up on pins).

Contribution details:

Your contribution is tax-deductible.

In India: Please make your check out to Ummeed Child Development Center and mail it to Ummeed, 1-B, 1/62, Mantri Pride Building,  N. M. Joshi Marg, Near Chinchpokli Station (W), Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 011. Alternatively, you can donate online here. 

Elsewhere (e.g. USA): Please make your check out to Ummeed Child Development Fund and mail it to 218, Harvard Street, Quincy, MA 02170. Alternatively, donate online here. 

Either way, let me know if you donate, either via a comment here or on Twitter (@DeathEndsFun).

Some details about Ummeed:

Ummeed was started by someone I've known since we were both teenagers, Vibha Krishnamurthy, to work with children with developmental disabilities (which is her specialization). In the past year Ummeed has provided direct services to over 1000 families of such children. Their goal has always been to create best practices, and also work on advocacy, research, and sharing their knowledge through training.

Some Ummeed highlights of the past year:

  • They established a brand new social work team to serve low-income families, including educating them about the rights of children with developmental disabilities and taking patient advocacy to another level.
  • They benefited thousands of children indirectly by training staff of eight organizations to work with children with developmental disabilities and their families through their Child Development Aide (CDA) program and Mental Health training program.
  • They also ran several shorter training programs for schools and NGOs working with children at risk for disabilities.

However, there are still so many children and families with little or no access to care. Ummeed remains committed to reaching out to them in different ways.

September 12, 2012

Talk about ethics

I've been trying to leave this post as a comment at this post: All Facts: No Conjecture, but it has not made it through moderation there. Please read it first.

Now ...

Let's see what we have here. Halarnkar writes an article. Babu thinks it is "plagiarized". He tells Mishra. Mishra then dissects Halarnkar's article and finds parts of it are not attributed in place to Lappé (Lappé's name and a quote from her do appear later in Halarnkar's article).

Fine so far. I have no problem with anyone dissecting anyone's article.

First "hmm" moment: Mishra goes public with this dissection, in a post on his own site titled Samar Halarnkar and Ethics?. There's no attempt made to ask Halarnkar what he has to say, what explanation he might have, so that might at least form part of the post. Any excuse that Mishra did not know how to ask for a response ("how do I ask for a response" are his own words in a tweet today) is so much hogwash, because in the post is this sentence: "[Halarnkar] tweets at handle @samar11".

Second "hmm" moment: Niti Central then publishes this post on their site. Again, there's no attempt made to ask Halarnkar for an explanation.

Third "hmm" moment: On the Niti Central site, the post has a different title. It is now "Left liberal journalists and ethics". Whether on Mishra's site or on Niti Central, the post is about ONE journalist, but Mishra and Niti Central have decided that this gives them leverage to question the ethics of ALL "left-liberal" journalists, whoever those are. (Mishra probably telegraphs that intent with this line in his post: "[Halarnkar] is part of an endangered species of 'Indian liberals'").

Mishra and Niti Central want to discuss ethics? Tell me another one.


Postscript #1: Unlike Mishra's reluctance to ask Halarnkar for a response, I asked Mishra to correct this title. His response: "that is part of the story. It is not an error."

Postscript #2: As is also well-known by now, Niti Central also posted a piece about Aseem Trivedi that turned out to be taken from an earlier NDTV report. They have removed that now, leaving up only a note that speaks of a "regrettable error" by "an enthusiastic junior member of the editorial staff."

Funny: for Halarnkar, it's plagiarism. For this junior member, it's enthusiasm.

But funnier: I am yet to see anyone -- Mishra, Niti Central or anyone -- putting up a post dissecting that Aseem Trivedi article that copied from NDTV, and calling that post "Right-conservative journalists and ethics".

Yes, tell me about ethics.