Corruption, surruption.Let us change the subject. I am quite taken aback by continuous talk of greased palms in South Asia, and here is Transparency International once again taking South Asia to task. India and Pakistan have been ranked as among the most corrupt countries of the world the second time in a row.
Then there is the Bribe Taker Index, where too we did not show up too well. Question: Can TI take us into the more productive discussions on the sociology of corruption and bribe-taking? When will TI headquarters in Berlin and its national chapters lead us into clearheaded debates on the whys of corruption? Why is petty corruption to be condoned (as Chhetria Patrakar believes) until such time that governments cannot find a way to pay their bureaucrats decent wages, and why is TI not willing to name names when it comes to the rich and corrupt in business, bureaucracy and politics? Specifically, what is TI’s take on the Bofors imbroglio; who makes hay when the Sri Lankan army goes in for attack helicopters; who are the main commission agents who muddy the national waters in Nepal, etc, etc? And what is more heinous, to give bribes or to take ’em? TI should stop pussy-footing around and be more real and less fashionable. Fake activism is for the corrupt.
Mark tully to help save steam engine,” and am I glad. If there is something of the cumulative South Asian past that needs to be kept burning, it is the furnace inside the steam engines. Just as I feel for the younger generations who have not had tea in mitti-ka-cups (and fling them down on the adjacent tracks as the train speeds on), so do I feel their loss for never having smelt the burning coal during their journeys. Railgadis are supposed to go chuk chuk chuk, except that they (powered by electricity or diesel) no longer do. One suggestion for Tully-Saheb —rather than try to save some relics in the odd Railway Museum or through the munificence of tourism (such as in the Delhi-Jaipur run), should we not try to concentrate on keeping one legitimate line (preferably choti line) running entirely on steam. There are still such lines available running parallel to the Indo-Nepal border, for one. I think the lines should be subsidised so that the public agrees to the idea.
Okay, reluctant coupmaker Generalissmo-Sahab, we will concede that you were trying to save the nation rather than your own skin when you decided to deplane and take charge of Pakistan (although I still cannot fathom how it is that your plane had only seven minutes of fuel left before touching down, will have to check up on what PIA’s flight safety manual has to say on that, give me some time). But General Ji, heavens, why rush to visit the Saudis as the first thing you do? I am sure it was the need for money to keep the country going, but what of the impression you create? The Saudis cannot even stomach your posing with your Pekinese, as that is presumably ‘un-Islamic’, so how can Pakistan progress by hitching its wagon to political Neanderthals that so many of the Gulf regimes indeed are. To that extent, much better for Pakistan to stay within the South Asian fold and retain its South Asianness. We are messy, but we are real.
Despite some feeble hopes to the contrary, dark, ominous signals are emanating out of Hindustan as far as secular academia is concerned, with the BJP well ensconced it seems for years to come. Just look at two recent news items: it is proposed that the CBSE plustwo syllabus will have the study of Marxism removed from it. It is foolish to think that studying Marxism makes one a Marxist. Let someone mark that. Meanwhile, a pracharak (propagator) of the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh, K.G. Rastogi, has been appointed as the president of India’s nominee in a committee the task of which is to select 60 (sixty!) professors and readers to the prestigious and totally important National Council for Educational Research and Training. And note that in his autobiographical work, Aap Beeti (according to The Asian Age of 25 October), Mr. Rastogi discloses how he took out his gun and shot a Muslim woman when she was about to be raped by Hindu attackers, presumably to protect her dignity. The Asian Age writes, “At no point, it appears, [did] the thought of turning his gun on the attackers cross Mr. Rastogi’s head.”
S. Raghumath, columnist in The Assam Tribune, reports on a high-level British trade delegation that recently visited Assam to study the investment prospects, and hailed Guwahati as a “technopolis”, citing numerous hi-tech industries coming up on the state capital’s outskirts. Mr. Raghunath then goes on to suggest certain other prefixes to ‘polis’ as far as his beloved city is concerned: Garbopolis, for which credit in full measure goes to the City Corporation; Smokopolis, so much so that the average Guwahatian will instantly choke if he is given a dose of air with oxygen in it; Potopolis, in a city whose roads urban experts have declared to be “potholes interspersed by occasional patches of bitumen tar”; Mosquopolis, for a city where at last count there were a zillion young mosquitoes residing, and the figure must have hit the zillion mark by now; Slumopolis, for the 213 “declared slums” in the city and double that undeclared; and Hoardopolis, because the mighty Brahmaputra cannot even be seen through the maze of hoardings advertising everything from vests and briefs to anti-perspirant cologne. If it is any consolation, to the good citizens of Guwahati, there are a couple of hundred other cities in the Subcontinent which could also lay claim to each of these titles. So don’t be too pleased with yourself, Mr. Raghunath.
Here is another news item which would also apply to all our metropolises: “School children fail to study amid noise of pressure horns,” reports The News from Rawalpindi. Apparently the bus and truck traffic on the Rawalpindi-Islamabad route has been diverted so that now the howling conductors and uncaring drivers make their racket right outside the windows of the 2500 students at the FG Public Secondary School. The use of pressure horns, meant for highway use, within congested urban neighbourhoods is a malady that is prevalent South Asia-wide and a problem that none of our planners, urban or otherwise, seem to be in a position to do anything about.
Turning once more to what cities may be called, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced on 7 October that Tangail would be made a “cultural city” in line with her government’s vision to develop each city of Bangladesh as a specialised centre. So, said the prime minister, “We are already working to develop Chittagong as an economic city, Khulna as an industrial city, and Mymensing as an educational city.” If only it were that easy, but I am sure that the prime minister understands it is not.
Oh yes, in that same report in The Bangladesh Observer, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina listed a number of programmes which were part of her government’s endeavours for eradicating poverty and enhancing standard of living of the poor. As the Observer reported, “The Prime Minister… listed a number of programmes including Ashrayan Prokalpa, Ideal Village, Housing Fund, Go Back Home, Old Age Allowance, Special Grant for Husband Abandoned and Distressed Women, Employment, and a large number of projects in the social sector.” Wow, things are happening in Bangladesh.
Chief executive General Pervez Musharraf, in a visit to Lahore, reports the official APP news agency, stopped at every traffic light and received ovations whenever he did so. I like that. I will like it even better when he is still doing this a year from now, for indications are that [the Delhi-born] General Sahab expects to remain at the helm of affairs in Islamabad for some time to come.
As long as all of us seem to have no objection to regress to pre-feudal, sexist, child-baiting times, and as long as open-eyed papers like The Deccan Herald have no objection in carrying such advertisements, let me then toot the horn of Swastik Associates (may they slip on a banana peel on train platform while the engine approaches, meanwhile), which wants to hold a Mr. Miss Xtravaganza ’99 and wants “male/female kids (2 to 12 years only) for a fashion show cum modelling contest”. Send them a fax at (+91-80-5369261) and give the associates at Swastik a piece of your mind!
Till now, no one worth his banyan had paid attention to the need to collect buffalo semen, as if this product of quintessentially South Asian livestock was somehow not as important as similarly flavoured products of assorted bulls, yaks, camels and, yes, sheep. Now, this lacuna is on the way to being removed with the organisation in Karnal of a national seminar on “Sustainable development of buffaloes for milk, meat and draft”. The shortage of quality bulls was one of the major constraints in genetic improvement of buffaloes, observed the seminarians, and noted that the preservation of buffalo semen should be standardised for its effective application in artificial insemination programmes under field conditions. May I request now the holding of a seminar on sustainable development of goats so that this other neglected South Asian creature may be addressed, not forgetting the importance of preservation of goat semen for effective application in artificial insemination programmes under field conditions.
There is a letter in The News, from Waseef Roheel of Islamabad, that the Pakistan postal department consider issuing a stamp to mark the bicentennial of the martyrdom of Tipu Sultan at the Third Battle of Seringapatanam. I think this is a good idea, for it would have Pakistan also laying claim to what is unfortunately considered only a historical legacy of post-1947 India. The resistance to this idea, of course, will come from the blinkered in both Pakistan and India.
Without even bothering to inform the public, the Ananda Bazar Patrika group of Calcutta has summarily shut down the Sunday weekly. Way to go.