Times of India

Lalu Prasad is like Reagan

Train journeys have increasingly become a part of my life. My ancient mother had been ailing in an ashram on the banks of the Beas River in Punjab, and I would try to visit her as often as I could. But she was 91 and age finally caught up with her. She passed away one night after living a life that I expect was better than that of most of my countrymen.

Don’t despair over integrity

One ought to read a great book twice, at least. When I first read Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace I was too young. I was only interested in the plot and the relationships between Natasha, Andrei, and Pierre. When I read it again in my forties, I was deeply moved by its moral concerns. I realised that the novel is really about the way we deceive ourselves, how we are false to others, how we oppress fellow human beings, and how we're deeply unjust in our day to day lives. Most of this moral blindness seems man-made and avoidable. It makes one wonder if this is an intractable human condition, or can we change it?

How to score a self-goal

Truly, we are a wondrous land! In a country where two thirds of the children are undernourished, where 70 percent of the people cannot access safe sanitation and 65 infants die out of a thousand born, we are seriously debating the pesticide levels in a product that is probably the safest in the world from a pesticide perspective. Sadly, the controversy has created a scare in a nation which has among the lowest pesticide residues in its food chain. Indian diets contain roughly 18 percent of acceptable daily intake levels of pesticide versus Western diets which have 40 to 50 percent, according to international experts. The reason is that our diets are extensively vegetarian; and meat inherently has higher pesticide levels via the grains ingested by animals in the food chain.

The difficulty of being good

There is a green playing field near my house where children can usually be found playing cricket. Over the past two months, however, they have quietly switched to football. Since I love football, I stop and linger and watch, hoping to see someone score a goal. But my neighbour says he misses the cricket, and blames this change on “insidious globalization”. He is referring, of course, to last month's World Cup, which should have been a dazzling climax to Zinedine Zidane's glorious career, but instead it left the memory of an angry moment and exposed the tragic flaw in a hero who carried the burden of a divided nation on his shoulders. Like a tragic hero, he went not to his coronation but to his disgrace.

My next Men and Ideas column

Inglish, it's cool!A few years ago TV viewers in Tamil Nadu were entertained by pictures of irate children and grandchildren of Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, scolding the police in chaste English while apologetic policemen grovelled in Tamil. The scene was not remarkable except that the amused viewers had been victims of incessant sermons by the mighty minister on the evils of English, and the irony did not escape them.

My next Men and Ideas column

Curse of seniority

Two weeks ago I was invited to a glamorous event in Manhattan celebrating the launch of a special issue of the prestigious Foreign Affairs magazine titled The Rise of India to which I had also contributed. A knowledgeable and well heeled audience heard our moderator begin with Jim Rogers' famous line that he wouldn't invest in India because “it had the worst bureaucracy in the world”. An odd note to begin an event honouring India's rise! It soon became apparent, however, that we must be celebrating the rise of a “private” India. A worrisome question hung over the whole evening--is India rising economically despite the state?

A highway called India

Homi Bhabha, the distinguished professor of English at Harvard, recently described India as a multi-lane highway. This is a happy metaphor, I think, because it captures nicely our diverse multilingual, multicultural, open society in which all are moving forward, albeit at different speeds. At the same forum Amartya Sen added that India had experienced huge gains from the economic reforms and everyone seemed to be rising. The only question is if those in the slow lane are gaining enough from the reforms. He went on to remind us about the English philosopher, David Hume's astonishing thought--market expansion makes us aware of others' lives and thus expands our ethical horizon.

A question of merit

In the recent debate on reservations we have heard much talk about merit. Ever since the decision by the cabinet to extend reservations to the OBC, I have been deluged by anguished email whose common refrain goes like this: Just when things were going well for India, just when we were building a competitive nation based on merit, why did this tragedy have to fall on us?

A hot summer of envy

Ever since the state election results, there has been more than the usual talk about “soaking the greedy middle class” by the emboldened Left. As it is, this government has been obsessed with redistributing poverty, and has done too little to create prosperity, which will only come through genuine reforms. Meanwhile, Arjun Singh, smelling an opportunity to become a Left immortal, has trumped his OBC coalition partners and declared a caste war. It promises to be a long hot summer of envy.

Scholarships, not quotas


When the cabinet meets to consider the proposal for raising caste reservations in institutions of higher learning from 22.5% to 49.5% it should imagine itself to be the admissions committee of one of the Indian Institutes of Technology. It has to choose whether to admit the son of a backward caste businessman from a posh South Delhi address who received low marks or the son of a poor brahmin schoolteacher in Muzaffarpur who got much higher marks. Under Arjun Singh's proposal, the IITs will be forced to admit the privileged son of an OBC businessman and reject the high scoring schoolteacher's son.