US independence

Recently, I read about the process and the war for independence of US. It is an amazing story. This war was fought in a time when the French king lost his head to a revolution and Napoleon ended up occupying the throne. US ending up as a democracy is not the most likely outcome of the war.

In India, my education taught me that there were bunch of revolutions happening in the lands of whites, those resolutions brought renaissance, and renaissance launched them way ahead with respect to rest of the world. Before India could have such revolution, Brits were occupying India. I had to re-read the history again and again to demolish such simplistic narration of history. US independence was one of those events which I had to re-narrate to myself.

US independence was a result of tussle between the traditional authority and the new industrial power structures. One of the reasons that lead to creation of the US democracy is the mistrust among the original 13 states. They wanted to be together as long as it benefits them. They always had doubts over centralized power. The result–a hodgepodge democracy. So many aspect of US government structure were not democratic. For example, sanction to slavery, no votes for women, and annihilation of native Indians. But, it had a flavor and possibility of becoming a strong and vibrant democracy. Sometimes achieving this  possibility is a big deal.


Wikileaks makes me uncomfortable!!

Exposing corruption is good! But, what wikileaks has done is something beyond exposing corruption.

For example, most statements in the recently exposed US embassy cables were already known but now we know them in writing. This exposure may have exposed some amount of corruption but it has exposed lots of details that has nothing to do with corruption. For example, opinions of US diplomats about foreign leaders. Exposure of such opinion can only cause difficulty in international relations and a great distraction form real corruption.

There are many aspects why this kind of exposure may cause more harm than good. I can think of following objections:

1) Potential backlash: US govt now has a genuine claim of attack on it. Now they can move in the direction of clamping down on internet, passing tougher espionage laws, and having no sympathy for whistleblowers. And, Govt. may gather lots of support from people for taking such steps. We may end up loosing the freedoms, we already have.

2) Lost focus on real corruption: Information of personal opinions of diplomats amuse people a lot. There were headlines about opinion of American ambassador about french president Sarkozy. While, news ignored involvement of Americans in many serious criminal actions. Now! Julian Assange’s safety is international concern. He is only a messenger and anyone can take his place.

3) Invasion of privacy People say things in private that has no factual substance. Just opening up all the US embassy cables is a huge invasion of privacy. It will harm many people’s reputation and future conduct of international relations. This is a harm caused by this leak. The question is how much value one should assign to this harmful effect of leak.

4) May be improvement in some cases but no change in process of corruption: Corruption is most often not just a particular act but a process. Officials get used to it. They do it as matter of daily business. Exposing corruption here and there is always good but it can not change this mindset of corruption. If one wants to root out corruption in some aspect of government then one needs to fight a long sustained political battle that may last generations. Many times there is no other option for politics.

I hope I am wrong! May wikileaks bring sea of change! Amen!

Indian Culture

What do you think….

It was summer of 2005, I was working in Delhi and going home on weekend. I was catching an overnight train to Kanpur. I couldn’t manage to get reservation for the sleeper berth. So, I choose to go using general class. It wasn’t that crowded day. I easily found place to sit. I found a compartment with 3 more people sitting. 2 of them were facing me and 3rd one was sitting next to the window besides me. The 2 facing me were traveling together. One of them sitting just next to the window and, by his appearance, he seems to be some pundit(hindu priest). His fellow passenger was very lean middle aged man. He seems to be unhappy just by design. He would tell me his name but all I remember that his name ends with ‘ram’ so lets call him Sitaram. Sitaram kept asking Panditji time to time if he needs something. Sometimes, he whispers in the ears of Panditji and then Panditji mumble something, with noding his head, to give him some kind of assurance. The guy next to me was dosing all the time. He seems to be annoyed by every single utterance of a word in the compartment.
I was reading a book on quantum physics. After half an hour on the train, Panditji interrupts me and asks, “What are you reading?”
First, I was puzzled by the sudden question. If you have a habit of traveling in higher class then you would never experience such questions from strangers. I had no idea how to explain quantum physics to a layman and specially in hindi.
I started, “I am reading a book about physics. It is a field of science which tries to explain behavior of physical objects. Quantum physics is one of the theory which explains some activities of our surroundings. This is very special kind of theory which revolutionize the way people look at the world. Can you follow me?”. I stopped and asked if he wanted me to blather more about it.
He kept nodding and said , “Go on!!”
“This is a special kind of theory. Very hard to comprehend. It is not because of its mathematics but the view of universe it tries to propose. …….” Then I kept speaking for next 4-5 minutes and he kept nodding harder and harder.
At the end he asked, “Why are you reading this book? Which exam are you preparing for?”
“No, I am just reading because I want to know. It is exciting.”
Then Sitaram jumps into conversation, “Educated people behave weird ways!” ( padhe likhe loogoon ki alag hi baat hai!!)
Sitaram asked me, “What do you do?”
“I am an engineer working for a company which makes microchip for you mobile phone.”
Then I asked, “What do you do?”
Sitaram responded or lamented, “I work for railways at Kanpur railway station. These days it has become harder and harder to work at the station. Time is getting harder.” Pointing at Panditji, he says, “He is known priest. He is full of knowledge. I am taking him to my place to do some prayer for my kids. They are extremely naughty. I have 2 son’s and a daughter. 2 sons ran away from home about an year ago. I used be bit tough on them but it doesn’t mean they should run away. I looked for them all over the city but I couldn’t find them. I complained in police and they wouldn’t do any thing until I pay them. You know I am just a poor railway worker. I just unload and upload on goods carriage. How can I pay to those police officers.”

I was in little shock to hear the story. He continued, “Then, I went to known Guru in Unnao. He told me that I should go to south-west of kanpur then I will find my kids working at some road side food stall. I went on my bicycle for 200km on jhansi-road but I didn’t find my kids. I had to come back. I was dis-hearted. I couldn’t believe how can that Guru make a mistake”

“Did you find your kids?” I asked with excitement.
“I came to Delhi to meet this priest. He told me to go back on bicycle and look for kids on the way. To my surprise, I found my kids working in a tea shop around 50km north of kanpur.”
I thought what an odd that the first priest just missed it by direction but he got rest of it right.
“I knew that my elder son made all the plan. Younger one just followed. I will see if he doesn’t try to run away again.”

I hardly believed his story. Various thoughts were floating in my head. He might not have found his kid when was coming back from delhi. They might have returned just by themselves. He might have found them somewhere else. He might be deluding himself that he found his kids because of miraculous capacities of the Panditji. He might be saying things just to flatter the Panditji. He might be saying thing because you make up stories when you gossip with strangers. The thought, that he was a deliberate liar, never came to my mind. He might be just trying to grab some stranger’s attention.

Then Panditji started, “Look this man is so unhappy. I had to help him. I don’t take much money for helping people. Look I agreed to travel on general class because he can’t afford sleeper class ticket.”
Then he turns to sitaram, “Sitaram! God will help! and I will make sure he will! You have to just follow the right procedure of prayer.”
“Only you are the available help to me! God knows how else I will cope!”, Sitaram said after touching his feet. I saw bits of tears in his eyes.
This was a scene for me. Sitaram then sit back and PanditJi says, “This guy regards me very much, like many others. I don’t know how to help all of them.”
I said with sympathy, “It must be tough.”

Then this conversation ended. I think it was a longer conversation but I guess that I have forgotten most of the details. May be we had spoken about corruption in Indian Railways. May be about cultural degradation in the youth. After an hour of silence Sitaram speaks again,

“What do you think? Is America’s time over? Their pot of sin must be over flowing by now!”

( Kya kahete ho aap, Lagta hai amrika ke din pure ho gaye hain.. paap ka ghada bharne waala hoga!! )

I stopped myself in bursting into laughter. I didn’t know how to answer that so I just nodded and closed my eyes as if I was trying to sleep. I am almost sure he hardly knew any facts about the sins of America. All he must be knowing that America is rich so Americans must be living a fanciful life. India is miserable and He is poor. So, all the blame of his problem goes to the rich America. He must be hearing all the time America bashing blathers. So, He concludes America is doing sins at very fast rate therefore their pot of sins should be about to be full. It was not filled yet otherwise God must have started taking its vengeance on the America. Apparently, God is giving all the things that Americans want.