New York based Bengali author Amitav Ghosh was interviewed by some Benaras Hindu University Department of English students recently in — Varanasi. All of what he had to say to Baniprata Mahanta, Somdev Banik and Namrata Rathore in a long interview, which was printed in The Hindu Literary Review of 21 May, was interesting, but I would like to excerpt this bit as I think it applies to all South Asia: "If you ask me what the most important problem that faces India today is, I would say that people do not really try to do what they do really well. Or to achieve some kind of excellence in what they are doing, or pour their heart, their mind, the entirety of their whole existence into what they are doing. The people who do it in India are very few. And most of them are musicians.
"Mushahid Hussain was riding high during the time of Nawaz Sharif's latest stint in government, as his information minister. The highly cerebral and articulate former journalist and expert on geo-strategic affairs, particularly on central Asia, lost favour with his peers when he became too much of a band-leader for Nawaz's increasingly autocratic proclivities. That having been said, it has to be acknowledged that while Mushahid may have loved his power, he was not corrupt. His wife is a lecturer, and when he stopped doing the lucrative foreign news agency assignments after joining politics, he was living in university housing. After the Pakistani coup, Mushahid was kept in jail for six months, and only on 27 March was he 'released'. Well, actually he is now under house arrest, living in his sister's house, and allowed a one-hour walk in the garden every day. In Pakistan, no one is campaigning for him, as the Sharif family is concerned about Mian Sahab wilting in Attock Jail, while the Pakistan Muslim League hierarchy will not go to bat for Mushahid (as he is seen as an outsider). Without a charge, a capable Pakistani is being kept away because he would talk and make life difficult for the Chief Executive. Not enough reason to keep him incarcerated.
From devlopment ' journalism to 'mainstream journalism, increasingly globalised and catering to quite a sizeable chunk of a rapidly expanding consumerist class in Bharat Mahaan. I present facing pages 48 and 49 of the 8 May issue of India Today, left column reading"Sizzler of a State" ("Sachets of water cost Rs 3 each, taps in swanky hotels run dry, trees are seared — there is no respite.") Right hand side shows shapely beauties showing lots of skin, astride a well-endowed swimming pool, and the ad is for sinks and cisterns.
As Far as India today is concerned, I have this problem that I know now one can solve. It is the inability to make a lofty analysis of the current Indian condition by starting a sentence with, "In India today..." That's because this terms has been hijacked by —you guessed it — India Today, the weekly magazine. I know that this problem has existed for the 25 years that the magazine has been around, but does not make the problem any easier. The only way out is to use punctuation, "In India, today, as I was saying, there is a magazine called India Today, which does not allow one to get right to the heart of the matter by saying, 'It is impossible to talk about India today without tripping on India Today'."
See. How technological fixes that seem just the answer to our ills come back to haunt us. The Farakka barrage in West Bengal just before the Ganga enters Bangladesh, was meant to divert water to 'flush' the Hooghly, and thus far it is only the Bangalees downstream who are shouting, whereas India has stayed the course citing rights of the upper-riparian. Well, now we know from the Hindustan Times that Farakka has destroyed the hilsa (fish) population all along the Ganga river system since it became operational in 1975. You used to get hilsa all the way upstream through Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and as far as Delhi-on-Jamuna, but not anymore. Shall we get more technical fixes in place, such as opening up the Farakka sluices to allow hilsa through? Bangladesh, for one, would not mind.
While there is a lot of self-censorship in South Asia, and don't we know it, it is the Sri Lankan press, which ever since the 'Third Eelam War' took a turn for the worse last month, has been facing the brunt of officially imposed censorship. The picture printed by The Hindu shows a Colombo man reading The Sunday Times of 21 May.
Over across in Dhaka, here is wishing Ekushey TV well, South Asia's first non-governmental terrestrial and satellite television channel. May it show the way to an alternative, more sensitive, but always professional (and where necessary, absolutely journalistic) television, in an arena monopolised by the super-commercial private sector on satellite, and governmental media on satellite and terrestrial. What difference will Ekushey make? Time will tell...
Now , let me share some good words about Chief Executive Musharraf. He is a singular coup leader for being so willing to be questioned on live television by a clearly (if not hostile, then skeptical) press. It was on 24 May, when PTV beamed down on all South Asians the press conference from Islamabad, and Musharraf speaking extemporaneously on all issues including corruption, downsizing of government, elections, PIA, the blasphemy law, elections, provincial discrimination and Kashmir. Whatever the circumstances and exigencies of the situation, the fact that the man is a social liberal came across (he even used the term 'progressive' once). However, at least in the outside-Pakistan media that I read, there was not enough analysis of his response on the two areas which are critical at this point: on the blasphemy law, Musharraf was not able to justify why he backtracked, although he was disarming enough to say that going into "confrontation" with the religious leadership on a matter as "inconsequential" as that seemed not worth it. On whether Musharraf would go in for elections in three years time as the cut-off set by the Supreme Court, the world media reported with alacrity the fact that the general had said, "Yes". But if you watched the press conference, you would have noticed that in two earlier questions el commandante had waffled and even implied that he may go back to the high court if the situation desired.
Kuensel, OF Bhutan, continues its crusade of subtly reminding the newly-emerging Druk classes of the dangerous path of unbridled modernity. The editorial on the 6 May issue of the weekly reported on how during a "social football match", the older veterans were running like spring chicken, while "the younger men quickly buckled under physical exhaustion". Writes the editor: "(This) brought home the message that the luxuries of development could easily result in a decadent generation... As physical comfort becomes a goal, the Toyota way of life, and other amenities more easily available, we are suffering a fast deterioration in fitness... Just one generation removed from a farming life, many young Bhutanese, especially the so-called educated, are becoming poor representations of the hardy mountain race we claim to be."
Lastly ,a good bit of news photography, but I wonder if the editors of The Independent of Dhaka should have opted to present this particular picture, that too in full colour on the front page top of the 4 May issue. A ferry which had sunk on the Meghna was dragged to shore, and the picture shows the process of bringing the bodies out from the vessel. As always, photo editing is a skill that requires both technical and human sensibility, something that we have tended to neglect at our social peril in media.
Romila Thapar addresses invitees at the
Southasian relaunch of Himal Southasian,
IIC, New Delhi, January 2013.
China, Southasia and India
On May 19 2013, newly appointed Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in New Delhi for a series of meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The visit is Keqiang's first outside of China since assuming power in March.
From our archive:
Purna Basnet discusses Chinese engagement in Nepal vis-a-vis security issues in Tibet and broader geo-strategic plans in Southasia (April 2011).
Fatima Chowdury relates the story of Calcutta's Indian Chinese community through the lens of political and economic upheavals in Southasia and China (May 2009).
Simon Long notes the importance of the Sino-Indian relationship for the rest of Southasia (September 2006).
J.N Dixit ruminates on the strategic concerns of the 'Middle Kingdom' in the wake of India's 1998 nuclear tests (June 1998).