Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hillary Clinton: A Role Model for Girls. Period

Hillary Rodham Clinton stands poised to make history and shatter, what she aptly called, the 'hardest glass ceiling' by becoming the first woman president of United States and yet women voters have not only been lukewarm to her candidacy but many even consider her in terms that are no less sexist than her male detractors, of whom there are legions. Sexism is a state of mind and has little to do with the gender of the detractor.

A group of women professionals shared a photograph of first ladies, current and former, and went gaga over Michelle Obama while omitting any mention of Hillary Clinton. These professionals, incidentally, also want to encourage, through mentorship, other women to aspire and achieve professional success which they feel needs training to surmount the odds of the working place where women are still seen as less than equals. Asked "what about Clinton" the response was "the jury is still out". This is stunning sexism and would be called out as such if a male had said it. Michelle Obama is a charismatic first lady and remains a traditional first lady espousing non-controversial feel good causes like combating obesity, a national epidemic, with feel good initiatives like growing a vegetable garden in the White House and by exhorting people to exercise more. On the other hand there's Hillary Rodham Clinton, former first lady, first woman senator from New York, first woman to win primaries in a major party, first woman nominee of a major party and former secretary of state. How could a group of strong willed independent minded women, especially those who run a group meant to promote women leadership, ignore Clinton and hold Obama higher? Sexism, albeit of a different kind from the readily recognizable one by males.

Whether it is 2008 or 2016 women in the democratic primaries did not flock to Clinton but they backed Obama and Sanders enthusiastically. In both cases Clinton was seen as not "progressive" enough compared to her rivals. This is not the place to litigate the merits or demerits of those arguments.

The Lady in the Pant Suit. Image courtesy

Lost in the din was the fact that while Clinton got no favors for being a candidate who could make history. She was rather held to a different standard, mostly because the candidate was Hillary Clinton and almost as frequently because it was a woman candidate.

Clinton has been in the national public eye for over 20 years since her husband got elected as president in 1992 and yet it was not until this year did the media unearth a little spoken of speech delivered by her in 1969. Clinton led a group of students and demanded from the dean of Wellesley that a student representative should be allowed to give a speech during Commencement. Clinton herself was the chosen speaker. Echoing FDR she said "Fear is always with us but we just don't have the time for it now. Not now". In her speech Clinton passionately spoke of poverty, student diversity and most importantly, rather shocking  to some, rebuked a sitting senator who was the Commencement speaker. Senator Edward Brooke, first African-American elected to the senate, cautioned against "coercive protests" in his speech. Clinton, ad libbed extemporaneous remarks to say "Part of the problem with just empathy with professed goals is that empathy doesn't do us anything" and she went on to say, in words that a Obama or a Sanders would later use, "for too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible". A young girl changed tradition at a hoary university and went beyond just rising up to the occasion and verbally dueled with a senator.

In 1995 Clinton gave a rousing classically feminist speech in Beijing that told the world "women's rights are human rights". It was, given the fragile state of US-China relations at that time, a gutsy speech and one that inspired many women.

"Women's Rights Are Human Rights" -- Hillary Clinton in UN Conference at Beijing in 1995
Today voters remember the Whitewater investigation, more appropriately it should be called witch hunt, as the start of the perpetual air of suspicion that would always hover above Hillary. What is less remember or completely unknown is Hillary redefined the role of a spouse of a politician in office. Not since Eleanor Roosevelt had a politician's spouse played a pivotal role in the administration. Whether as first lady of Arkansas or of the nation Hillary lived up to the promise of Bill, "two for the price of one". In Arkansas Hillary chaired the Education Standards Committee that literally reformed Arkansas schools to make them one of the nation's best from what used to be one of the worst.

Hillary Clinton and her campaign have not done a good job of introducing her to the voters. Bill Clinton's speech about his wife in the Democratic convention provided a sweeping view of the person Hillary was. As a Yale student Hillary involved herself in laws regarding child abuse, migrant labor and legal assistance for the poor.  She went on to write an oft cited article in Harvard Law Review titled "Children under the law".

When Bill Clinton lost the 1982 gubernatorial election he became, as he joked, 'the youngest ex-governor'. Hillary worked to get him rehabilitated and in response to suggestion that her retention of her maiden name does not help she changed her name to Hillary Rodham Clinton. That's the price a woman had to pay.

We forget that before Obamacare there was Hillarycare. Clinton fought a bruising battle for Universal Healthcare. The battle almost derailed her husband's nascent presidency. Her mastery of the subject remains unrivaled. In 2008 Obama airily promised universal healthcare without a provision called 'mandate' unlike that of Clinton's. Clinton's plan that included a 'mandate' was derided as a 'tax'. As president Obama's plan included a mandate and the US Supreme Court later called it a tax. While her efforts to overhaul the nation's healthcare burned to the ground Clinton gained a small but very significant victory by working with her Republican detractors to create a Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP). Today that plan helps millions of poor children get lifesaving health care. If this is not leadership what else is?

Hillary Clinton's run for the US Senate showed her at her best. Ridiculed a 'carper bagger' Clinton worked her heart out to earn the votes and her opponent's sexism helped. During a debate Clinton's opponent Rick Lazio walked up to her podium and glowered above her and hectored her into signing a declaration.

Asked about her high unfavorables recently Clinton opined that her favorability ratings are usually very high while she's in office as First Lady or Senator or Secretary of State but drop, precipitously, when she's running for office. It was an astute observation that says she shares an interesting relationship with the  electorate. Her brilliance and experience is never in question and, to be fair, she herself is in question when she is seeking office but, to be equally fair, some of those questions are often in the tone of "any woman, but this woman". This is despicable cop out by those, men and women, who hold Clinton to a harsher standard because she is a woman to pretend like they would vote for a better woman. No and No and not at all.

Clinton has sponsored more successful bipartisan legislation than Obama and Kerry. In the Senate Clinton earned the very grudging respect of her GOP colleagues who had declared earlier never to do anything that would even remotely help her look good when she decides to run for the presidency. Though she entered the senate as a former first lady she played by the rules in a chamber that has archaic rules of seniority. A landmark work of her in the senate was getting the healthcare help that firemen of New York City who worked at the World Trade Center needed. She took on the Bush administration and got billions for New York City. A representative of the Firemen Union, a traditional republican supporting group, expressed admiration recently for her work. How this work even rated as "jury is out" category by a group that purportedly exists to help women become leaders? Pray, what kind of leaders do these women want to create? Ah, the politically correct woman leader who'll plant vegetable garden and talk about healthy diet. If a man had drawn such a distinction he'd be called, correctly, a sexist and these women should not be spared that label either.

8 years later things were not much different when she ran for the presidential nomination. At New Hampshire two men stood in a Clinton rally holding up a T-shirt that read "go home and do laundry". Clinton, running for elected office, had to manage an adroit chuckle to brush it aside with a "the last vestiges of sexism are alive". Charged endlessly that she's icy and does not show 'human warmth' Clinton partly won the state when in a candid moment she almost choked answering how she picked herself up every day despite the drumbeat of defeat from all quarters. Nobody thought it was abominable when a debate moderator cheerfully asked why she is not liked by many, because, after all, a woman should be liked by all. Never mind that all politicians, male or female, are not universally loved. Obama and Bush remain hated by half the country and yet it is only Clinton who gets that question. Obama, in an unfortunate moment for him, interjected to answer, without even looking at her, "you're likable enough Hillary". Clinton won New Hampshire, narrowly. The world loves a woman when she acts, well, 'womanly', looking askance for support and craving public approval but hates her when she is strong and is a rampart of strength.

The millenials we're told don't think it's a big deal anymore to elect a woman to office. That is wrong. Dead wrong. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in her memoirs recalled how she was taunted by her male colleagues for her appearance. It took Obama 8 years to acknowledge that Clinton, as a woman candidate, was measured by different standards.

It is ok for male candidates to strut about in the same dark suit, white shirt and red tie combo every day but Clinton's wardrobe was closely scrutinized for including when she wore tops that, horror of horrors, seemed to show just a hint of a cleavage. The storied Washington Post screamed "Hillary Clinton's Tentative Dip into Neckline Territory". From exposing Nixon and Watergate The Post's journalism had dipped, not tentatively, into 'neckline territory'. Defending the article the columnist said that how a candidate delivers the message, "the tone of voice, the appearance, the context", matters. Really? How many articles are devoted to any male candidate's wardrobe choices in that context? The Post's then media critic Howard Kurtz wrote an explanatory column about the scurrilous post article and helpfully titled it "Cleavage & the Clinton Campaign Chest".

A popular cop out admonition about Hillary Clinton is her standing by Bill Clinton despite his peccadilloes. Women, who anyway hate Hillary, often say with righteous indignation "oh I'd have left my husband". Did not Tolstoy teach us that "each unhappy family is unhappy in it's own way"? It never strikes many that Hillary and Bill could possibly love each other too much and love in such a way that it triumphs the pain. These are two very politically active spouses with a deep strain of activism in their veins. They, as a couple, have done much to shape up the Democratic party after the humiliating landslide loss of Hubert Humphrey. Marriages are complicated and the Bill-Hill marriage is complicated too but it is none of the voter's business. Let's not forget that Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy, not to mention a long list of others including most recently the wife of David Petraeus, all have stood by their philandering husbands.

Google the words "Hillary Clinton screaming" and you'll be surprised by the number of articles on that. Obama, Sanders and, of course, Trump all scream at the top of their lungs but it is Clinton who is considered a shrew because she speaks at the top of her voice. If she speaks softly she's seen as weak, not just weak but 'woman like weak', and if she speaks loud she's screaming. Late night comedian Jimmy Fallon mansplained to her how as a woman candidate she can never catch a break on her decibel.

Ask any working woman today and she'd confide how a male boss would look disapprovingly at her taking a sick day off or god forbid a day off to take care of a sick child. Yes, Clinton has a penchant for secrecy that is fueled by how her privacy has often been violated by witch hunting opponents and a public that simply thinks she's a congenital liar. But, it was not just her penchant for secrecy that made her to be less than forthcoming about her pneumonia afflictions. She later confided that as a woman, especially as one who's stamina is being questioned by her misogynist opponent, she thought she could downplay the news and work through the sickness. No, it is not easy to run as a woman for the highest office of the land even today.

If Donald Trump delegitimizing Barack Obama's birth and thereby the presidency is correctly labeled as racism then why is delegitimizing Clinton winning the nomination not labeled sexism? If it was ok for Obama to win the nomination powered by unprecedented turnout of the black vote why is it any less when Clinton does the same? Who gave Sanders the right to run down Clinton's victories as something she won "in the south"? First they said she won the primaries in the South. Then she won the Mid West. Then she won the North and then she won the very liberal California. Two days before the New York Primary pundits were musing over a possible humiliating loss for Clinton in her home state after Sanders held rallies attended by raucous tens of thousands, twice. Clinton won by a wide margin and then pundits and others brushed it as "oh well it's her home state".

The Sanders candidacy has cast a shadow on how brilliantly Clinton won against heavy odds. Nothing illustrates this better than what happened in the Dakotas. North Dakota had a caucus, a format that heavily favored Sanders's motivated youth vote, and Sanders won by 40 points. South Dakota had a traditional primary, a format that is truly democratic and tends to favor Clinton whose voters are older, and Clinton won by 2 points. But the real story is within. The total votes cast in North Dakota were 400 and Sanders got 250, Clinton 101 and uncommitted 10. The total votes cast in South Dakota were 53,00 and Clinton got 27046 to Sanders's 25,958. Sanders carried the Alaska caucus by 63 points by taking 440 votes to Clinton's 90 votes. In the much anticipated California primary, Clinton got 2.7 million votes and bested Sanders by 9 points to his 2.3 million votes. In New York out of 1.8 million Clinton garnered 1.05 million and beat Sanders by 16 points for his 750,000 votes. When all was done Clinton led Sanders by millions of votes and hundreds in delegate count. Yet, on the night she officially crossed the threshold and made history by becoming the first woman nominee of a major party Sanders not only refused to even acknowledge that but he even went to the extent of disputing her win.

Clinton showed what leadership is in 2008 when after a very hard fought primary Obama barely edged her, unlike how she beat Sanders handily in 2016, she not only bowed to the inevitable she turned herself into the most committed soldier to getting Obama elected. A group of African-American women told NPR that Clinton's conduct earned their respect. How Clinton conducted herself vis-a-vis Obama earned the votes of a critical section of the Democratic party and it is precisely those voters that Sanders brushed aside.

The sexism of Sanders was very latent and couched within his perfectly democratic rights to fight for an electoral victory that he thought he should get but many of his followers did not bother with any fig leaves and flaunted their sexism against Clinton. A Washington Post analysis of sexist tweets showed that of all the sexist tweets against Clinton nearly 14% came from Sanders's supporters. When Sanders's combative campaign manager Jeffrey Weaver said Clinton's "ambition" could tear the Democratic party US News rightly called it out as sexist by saying that running for the presidency, indeed, takes ambition and Sanders himself was no less ambitious by calling for a revolution and therefore to single out Clinton, a woman, for ambition is sexist. Sanders acted so sexist during a debate that left wing economist and columnist Paul Krugman said Sanders was beginning to mirror the "Bernie Bros", a virulently sexist group of Sanders supporters.

Another popular trope to discredit Clinton is to accuse anyone or any organization supporting her as being "in the tank" or, oh the horror, "establishment". This came mostly from the Sanders supporters. Sure, not every criticism of Clinton should be tagged sexist and there is ample in Clinton's conduct and ideas that could be subject to fair criticism. But criticisms often descend into delegitimization of her candidacy and her wins. Editorial boards of newspapers sympathetic to Sanders's policies gave him latitude to explain details regarding his foreign policy and his central theme of taking the financial industry to the woodshed and Sanders, to their surprise, came out woefully uninformed or to be blunt, clueless. Naturally, they all endorsed Clinton and for that sin alone they were tarred with the "establishment" brush. Commenting on a Washington Post article that sought to explain to Clinton why she's not winning by a large margin against a horrible opponent like Trump a reader listed a whole litany of epithets, "lying, imperious, vindictive, harridan". Harridan? My foot. The comment was a top pick comment. Clinton, as per the fact checking site politifact, is no more lying than Sanders and way more truthful than Trump who has no notion of what truth is. Calling for a 'revolution' is not imperious but Clinton is. Let's not fool ourselves that Clinton's candidacy is something that's not historical and that her struggle in the polls is only because it is a Clinton.

Amongst the so called progressive it is an article of faith that Clinton is hawk compared to the peacenik Sanders. Sanders is a hypocrite when it comes to war. He often claims that he voted against the Iraq War resolution because he felt it did not meet his criteria owing to lack of specifics, plans etc.  By that standard he should've voted against the Afghanistan war too but he happily voted for it because he realized that voting against it would cost his senate seat and he did not, in his own words, want to lose an election for the sake of a war vote.

The Iraq vote has been used to literally pillory Clinton for nearly 8 years. What is little known is how Obama very adroitly cast only "present" votes, not even abstentions, as state legislator in Illinois and cast every vote for Iraq related resolutions later just as Clinton. Unlike Obama Clinton was not known to shy from action. Senator Tom Daschle advised freshman senator Obama to prepare a run for the presidency as early as possible and not be inhibited by lack of experience. Daschle reasoned that a freshman senator will have little or no votes to defend. Yes, Obama mounted a successful campaign because, unlike Clinton, he had nothing to defend.

From Madeleine Albright to Samantha Powers and Hillary Clinton it is interesting that strong willed women have persuaded American presidents to initiate a military action in the interest of preventing genocides. If this is hawkish then so be it. Rarely has a presidential candidate been so experienced and shown such deep engagement with issues as Clinton has. If there is one thing that Clinton will never be accused of it is inaction.

There is endless prattle about Clinton and Benghazi but little note of the fact that as Secretary of state Clinton worked with republicans to increase "survivor benefits for military families" from a paltry $12,000 to $100,00. Pray what is Sanders's legislative record, that too with bipartisan support? Nothing. Zilch. To say that he does not have a commendable legislative record because he's a puritan warrior only insults the process of democracy.

Clinton has a great record of working with republicans. As member of the Senate Armed Services committee she earned the respect of senators like John McCain. Today, faced with a Trump takeover of the White House, droves of republicans, diplomats and others, have endorsed Clinton. This is a stunning act that is often taken little notice. Newspapers in deep red states that have never endorsed a democrat in many decades have endorsed Clinton. If this person is not a role model for women who else is?

For those sexist doubters of whether a woman can be a commander-in-chief another woman from another era answered best when her island nation was threatened total annihilation by an armada.

"I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and thin foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonor shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field".

The words of Queen Elizabeth spoken to her troops at Tilbury will be vindicated by Hillary Rodham Clinton. Let us then elect Hillary Clinton, not only because she's a woman but because, today, she's the best choice. Anyone voting for Trump, directly or indirectly is a traitor to the American dream and such votes have the danger of making November 8th "a date that will live in infamy". Hillary Rodham Clinton is all that stands between a racist, misogynist, bigot and the Oval office. Let's get Hillary Clinton elected so that we can make the words of Longfellow, that FDR quoted in his handwritten letter to Churchill amidst another era of great peril, come true:

Sail on, Oh Ship of State!
Sail on, Oh Union strong and great.
Humanity with all its fears
With all the hope of future years
Is hanging breathless on thy fate


1. North Dakota Caucus
2. South Dakota Primary
3. Alaska Caucus
4. California Primary
5. New York Primary
6. Washington Post Analysis of sexist tweets
7. Sanders campaign and charges of sexism
8. Queen Elizabeth speech to troops
9. Jimmy Kimmel mansplains to Hillary Clinton
10. Hillary Clinton and Surviving families benefits
11. Obama's "present votes"
12. FDR's letter to Churchill
13. Hillary Clinton's Commencement speech at Wellesley
14. Why Hillary Clinton's Beijing speech matters
15. Washington Post article on Hillary Clinton's 'neckline'
16. NYT article about the Post article on Clinton's 'neckline'
17. Washington Post article by Howard Kurtz "Cleavage & Clinton Campaign Chest"

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Underground Railroad: Slavery in America and Colson Whitehead's Searing Fiction

Steven Spielberg's chose to depict the Allied Army landing on D-Day for a gut wrenching and blood soaked 30 minutes only so viewers cannot but escape the gore by looking away for a minute or two. Colson Whitehead's much acclaimed 'The Underground Railroad', a fictional narrative of a slave trying to escape to freedom, is riveting and from the get go assaults the reader in unremitting prose the horrors of slavery until the last page. Whitehead pulls no punches in his depictions of the physical and moral cruelty of Slavery as an institution.

The book opens with the story of Ajarry, grandmother of the protagonist Cora. The price Ajarry was sold for in an African town to slave buyers could not be determined because she was part of a 'bulk purchase, eighty-eight human souls for sixty crates of rum and gun powder'. 'Able bodied men and children bearing women fetched more than juveniles, making an individual accounting difficult'. Whitehead is relentless in depicting the horrific fact that slaves were looked at as commodities and sometimes less respectful than furniture and sometimes valued more, especially when they disobey or worse, runaway, only so that they can learn that had they behaved no wiser than a stool they may not have suffered the unspeakable tortures or grisly death. Seen as property the slaves were subject to the vicissitudes of commodities trading. When the ship carrying Ajarry reaches America she is sold for $226 because of the "season's glut in young girls". Being sold repetitively Ajarry is taught the lesson's life by life. "She learned to quickly adjust to the new plantations, sorting the nigger breakers from the merely cruel, the layabouts from the hardworking, the informers from secret keepers". 

Ajarrys granddaughter Cora was born in a Georgia plantation and abandoned by her mother Mabel, who went in search of freedom, when Cora was just 10. We raise our children today in a cloistered environment and cannot even begin to fathom how a mother could abandon a child and go in search of her own freedom and how a child would even survive in horrendous conditions, all alone. From holocaust to civil war torn areas of today we see this time and again. Whether it is a teenage Anne Frank in Bergen-Belsen or a blood soaked and shell shocked toddler in Syria the life of Cora echoes across the ages and different horrors. In bringing that horror home Whitehead succeeds. Whitehead's book is not just about the darkest chapter of American history but a retelling of how wicked human soul can be and how the story can be taken as metaphor for current events. Elie Wiesel, survivor of Auschwitz, recalled how young sons abandoned their parents to survive. Once torn asunder each member of the Frank family then focuses on just his or her survival alone with probably wistful thinking, like Ajarry thinks of her cousins, that their other family members would've somehow survived the tragedy better.

During a party a boy spills "a single drop of wine staining the cuff of" the brother of a slave owner at the Georgia plantation. Terrence, whose cuff was stained, rains blows at the boy's head with his cane. "One drop" think Cora and rushes to defend the boy. Cora is no stranger to slaves being brutalized. "She had seen men hung from trees and left for buzzards and crows. Women carved open to the bones with cat-o'-nine tails. Bodies alive and dead roasted on pyres". The boy and Cora are flogged by Terrence. Terrence's bother James is annoyed only that his brother infringed upon his own property rights by overstepping and punishing his slaves. The slave overseer is incensed at the carelessness of the boy and the impudence of Cora. Both are stripped and flogged to their bones and washed with pepper water. 

Colson Whitehead - From

Big Anthony, a runaway slave who gets caught, is barbarically brutalized and Whitehead spares no details. Big Anthony's punishment is arranged as a spectacle and guests, other slave owners, were invited to watch. "Big Anthony was whipped for the duration of their meal and they ate slow". "Visitors sipped spiced rum as Big Anthony was doused with oil and roasted. The witnesses were spared his screams, as his manhood had been cut off on the first day, stuffed in his mouth, and sewn in". The brutal murder and disfigurement of Emmett Till, a 14 year old boy, comes to mind. Till's murder in 1955 and the open casket funeral held by his mother set off the Civil Rights struggle just a few decades ago.

Emmett Till's brutalized face. Courtesy Wikipedia
Whitehead's novel is not just a gory retelling of a past but it connects, a tad subtly but explicitly, with current events. Black Americans are too frequently stopped while driving and checked by police in today's America. Slave catching patrolmen in Whitehead's novel "stopped any niggers they saw and demanded their passes. They stopped niggers they knew to be free, for their amusement but also to remind the Africans of the forces arrayed against them, whether they were owned by a white man or not".

The Underground Railroad that existed in the ante-bellum era was a metaphorical references to a loose network of abolitionists and slaves who had escaped who took it upon themselves to help others escape. Harriet Tubman, herself an escapee, was a 'conductor' on one such railroad. Whitehead takes the metaphor and makes it a Gabriel Garcia Marquess-like realism with a fictional but physical underground railroad that snakes from Georgia to the North Eastern states. Slaves are approached by station masters who then conduct them to a train that runs underground and accessed by a trap door. The trapdoor is a multi-layered symbolism. 

Slavery was not a monolithic uniform institution but varied across the states. While Georgia and the south were drenched in blood states like the Carolinas had their own hypocrisies and brutality, albeit more refined, like sterilization of blacks by stealth. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the most notorious experiment in American medical history where blacks afflicted by syphilis were given placebos and studied for the effects of progression of disease, finds a mention. Till today the experiment affects how blacks perceive medical professionals in America and a chastised medical fraternity is aware of the deep distrust of African-Americans towards them. 

Cora escapes from the Georgia plantation and reaches South Carolina where a doctor gently suggests to her that she should get sterilized. One night Cora hears a woman scream that her child was stolen. She at first thinks the woman is having nightmares remembering of perhaps a child stolen from her and sold off and only later learns that having been sterilized by stealth the woman had gone mad realizing what was stolen from her. 

Slavery was justified by one too many that it was Biblically sanctioned. While Cora convalesces at a safe house in South Carolina the white lady taking care of her recites Bible verses to her and gently tells her that if God had not intended for slavery to exist they'd be free. Cora bitterly remembers the overseer at the Georgia plantation reciting those verses punctuating them by lashing the slaves with a cat-o'-nine tails. 

Cora had even heard the 'Declaration of Independence'. A slave boy, Michael, used to recite the Declaration and it was an amusement to the Whites who marveled at a slave boy narrating it. "Michael's ability never amounted to more than a parlor trick, delighting visitors before the discussion turned as it always did to the diminished faculties of niggers".

Hearing Michael's recitation of the Declaration Cora "didn't understand the words, most of them at any rate, but created equal was not lost on her. The white men who wrote it didn't understand it either, if all men did not truly mean all men. Not if they snatched away what belonged to other people, whether it was something you could hold in your hand, like dirt, or something you could not, like freedom". The jab at slave owning Thomas Jefferson is all too explicit. George Washington freed his slaves in his will but while he lived he hunted anyone who escaped from his clutches. The US constitution included what is now shamefully called one-fifths compromise whereby slaves were counted as property.

Benjamin Franklin had famously cautioned that "people who give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety  deserve neither liberty nor safety". South Carolina, not wanting to be a safe haven for slaves fleeing southern states, instituted slave patrols that would barge into homes of whites and inspect for slaves who might be harbored by abolitionists. "Cora thought that the whites would be loath to give up their freedoms even in the name of security" but was shocked to learn that those desirous of being seen as patriots "boasted of how often they'd been searched and given a clean bill". It was common for neighbors, servants and even children  to inform on those who harbored slaves. The perils of nationalism could not be more tellingly illustrated. From the slave holding south to Stalinist Russia to today's 'see something, say something' America one can hear the echoes of that. In Stalin's Russia it was common of husbands to denounce wives and children informed on their parents.  

Cora is hidden in an attic by a family in South Carolina until the maid, tempted by reward, informs on the family. Cora is dragged away by a slave catcher engaged by the Randall family in Georgia while the family that sheltered her are hung from a tree. The story of Anne Frank comes to mind. Again and again the story that Whitehead tells is not just about slavery but of how people behave in circumstances not too different. This is a story of humanity at large told with slavery as central theme but one could see the stories of Holocaust, the horrors of Stalinism, the grotesqueness of India's caste system and more.

Nothing is black and white in the story. The pun is unintended. While there are whites who inflict such brutalities there are the white abolitionists who put their lives in harms way to liberate slaves and there were slaves who cooperate with the white man. Whether it is the Judenraat, the Jewish councils, in the concentration camps or the vast hundreds of thousands of Indians who served the British Raj or the groveling communists in the Stalin era or the members of the Vichy France the stain of collaborating with the oppressor is a human history not all too unique.

Having captured Cora the slave catcher Ridgeway lectures her on the 'American imperative': I prefer the American spirit, the one that called us from the Old world to the New, to conquer and build and civilize. And destroy that what needs to be destroyed. To lift up lesser races. If not lift up, subjugate. And if not subjugate, exterminate. Our destiny by divine prescription - the American imperative.

Having indicted the 'American imperative' through the slave catcher Whitehead then gives voice through Elijah Lander, a mulatto abolitionist, about what Freedom is: Work needn't be suffering, it could unite folks...Freedom was a community laboring for something lovely and rare.

Controlling access to education from those seen as unworthy of wisdom by those who think they've a god given right to wisdom is seen across cultures with sickening regularity. From an ancient Indian treatise that forbade knowledge to those called Shudras to white plantation owners who thought "the only thing more dangerous than a nigger with a gun was a nigger with a book" it is a common thread. A slave being seen reading a pamphlet, not even a book, could suffer an agonizing death.

Colson Whitehead's book is an urgent read in a year where a racist and xenophobic demagogue is within striking distance of the American presidency. After I visited the 'Topology of terror" museum in Berlin I wrote that America too needs such a museum to teach Americans of the nation's darkest chapter. It so happens that the Smithsonian museums just opened up a museum about African-Americans in Washington DC, thanks to the ceaseless efforts of Civil Rights icon and Congressman John Lewis. It is worth noting that Lewis had to prevail over a racist congressman, Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who time and again was resolutely against such a museum. The museum fulfills an urgent need. 

Whitehead wrote a column titled "Rules for Writing" in New York Times. Reading his book one could say that Whitehead has diligently followed the rules he had set forth. His very first rule was 'Show and Tell'. He disagrees with the "Show, don't tell" school of writing and calls for 'show and tell' because "when writers put their work out into the world they're like kids bringing their broken unicorns and chewed up teddy bears into class in the sad hope that someone else will love them as much as they do". Whitehead strikes the delicate balance in 'show and tell' where the telling could degenerate into total lack of nuances or subtleties. Referring to a dead dog of a slave owner he writes "the mutt was loved by man and nigger". The subtleties are packed into the sentences.

Rule 2 is "don't go searching for a subject, let the subject find you". 16 years in the making the subject had indeed found the author.

Saul Bellow, Whitehead quotes in Rule 3, said "fiction is higher autobiography". Whitehead lays down as dictum and adheres to "write what you know". 

Rule 4 is "never use three words when one will do" and rule 11 is "revise, revise, revise". Again, Whitehead practices what he preaches. The prose is sparse and completely shorn of unnecessary ornate phrases or metaphors. 

Having told writers to 'show and tell' he cautions in rule 6 that "what isn't said is as important as what is said. In many classic short stories the real action occurs in the silences". While he gives graphic details of the physical nature of the violence inflicted upon the slaves he  only implies the lurking moral corruption. No one, neither the slave owner or the slave, escapes the moral corruption of a society plagued by such violence. When Cora becomes a woman her fellow slaves gang rape her. Nudity is no sacred secret offered as token of intimacy because Cora is whipped naked in full view of her fellow slaves and others. Musing about sex with Ceasar, who had hatched the plan  to escape, Cora thinks to the day she was whipped naked and how Ceasar had looked at her unflinchingly even when other slaves, shuddering at the prospect that one day they certainly would be in her place, avert their eyes. After Cora's mother escapes scheming slaves make the 10 year old abandoned child's life miserable. The moral corruption of a violent system is hinted at. Again, the moral corruption of Stalinism and socialism in India came to my mind. 

'Underground Railroad' deserves to be read, re-read, re-read and reflected upon. The book is about the past but it shows how the past is never truly past and the present not only is an echo but is a progeny. This is not a story of one country's dark past but the story of humankind that even today murders and pillages in the name of race.

Whitehead's 'Underground Railroad' should become required reading in schools. I wish the book gets a Pulitzer next April.


1. 6 Questions for Colson Whitehead - Time Magazine interview
2. The Real Underground Railroad
3. Michiko Kakutani's review of the book in NYT
4. Colson Whitehead interview with NYT on writing the book
5. Colson Whitehead's rules for writing in NYT
6. Emmett Till
7. Civil Rights icon and Congressman John Lewis on the opening of Smithsonian museum about African Americans

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dad, A Life at Many Levels: Mundane to Sublime and Everything in Between

"நின்றான், இருந்தான், கிடந்தான் தன்கேள் அலறச் சென்றான்" என்ற சராசரி வாழ்க்கை வாழவில்லை அப்பா. A year ago today dad left, as Reagan put it, 'the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of god'. He lived a simple and honest life and managed to leave not just memories but changed lives. Eulogizing the death of JFK Jr. Roger Rosenblatt called the expression "untimely death" a "cant expression" and wrote that "when a man dies, a civilization dies with him. Whatever constituted his being-- his gait, manners, tone of voice, political opinions, appearance, his particular use of language, philosophy, sense of beauty, sense of style, his personal history, ambitions, his smile--all go". That eulogy was aptly titled "The Measure of Life".

My brother and I took a boat ride in the Lake District in UK and as talk turned about our father we both marveled that for a man who came from a very humble and unintellectual background his interests were encyclopedic. We marveled at how a man born to a humdrum life insurance agent and lived his life mostly in a parochial small town had a diverse spectrum of interests. From Bharathi to Shelley, including Tamil film lyricists; from an interest in Mozart to Rabindra Sangeet, including Carnatic music and film music; from Jeyakanthan to Bernard Shaw; from enjoying Rex Harrison to Sivaji Ganesan he was of his times and beyond at the same time. If his wide ranging intellect was impressive his steely sense of morals was unshakeable and his ethics were unimpeachable. Sure he was human too with his mercurial temper and more.

Dr. T.Kannaiyan (August 2nd 1941 - August 25th 2015)
As an impulsive school boy I had volunteered to compete in the annual competitions for elocution and essay writing, both Tamil and English. From my 6th grade to my college days I've won many a competition, particularly elocution contests and I owe it all to dad. Dad took a pocket tape recorder and a blank cassette for training me. While lengthy introductions filled with honorific epithets addressing the judges, the authorities and the audiences were popular as opening remarks dad dispensed with it and went with a simple 'Good evening everybody'. That saved time when a speech was restricted to just 5 minutes. It remains my signature opening even today. Then he tutored me in the art of public speaking. Voice moderation, appropriate gestures, how to rest the hands on the lectern, how to scan the audience from one end to another, how to give a gentle smile at appropriate junctures and more. Then he made me speak out what he written about Gandhi and recorded it. He'd then play it back pausing it every now and then to show what was wrong and how to correct it.

Many students recalled what a wonderful teacher he was in Tanjore Medical College. Dad loved to teach. He'd never be didactic. His lectures were filled with humor, good natured humor. He despised silly scatalogic humor that is still quite the staple in India. He hated obscene and silly jokes about women on TV. When a student was too ill to take classes dad recorded a course on cassettes and sent it to him. There was nobody that he would not teach to and there was no one he'd not learn from. When a student mentioned Saul Bellow dad just got up and grasped his hands saying "oh, who in this small town would even mention Bellow". Till the very last he read about what was new in his field, ENT.

Pride in his work was paramount for dad. He was uncompromising when it came to his professional knowledge, how he treated his patients and his ethics. In a profession that is plagued by unethical conduct dad was above reproach. He never earned a single dishonest penny in all his career. He never took commissions from medical representatives or laboratories or nursing homes. There was never a surgery performed that was not necessary. He took care to write honest prescriptions that only had what was necessary and when cheaper drug alternatives existed he insisted on only writing them. His prescriptions are models of clarity. For a doctor his handwriting was beautiful and legible and he wrote detailed instructions for the exact timings to take a medicine and even included details about acceptable food choices post-surgery. He never hesitated to refer a patient to a better surgeon when situations demanded. Though he had a testy relationship with his one time chief surgeon he'd refer patients requiring intricate microscopic surgeries, the kind that was not commonly done in Tanjore, to him. He never treated a patient who needed a different specialist.

One reason why his students adored him was that unlike many doctors he treated house-surgeons (resident doctors) as human beings. When it was common to dish out sexist insults he never did that. Seeing him call a resident doctor "sonny" they took to calling him "Dada".

"Learn from my mistakes" he would say to us boys. As a young doctor with a short temper he once came home to boast to his dad how he flung an instrument in an operation theater that his attending nurse had handed wrongly but got reprimanded by his dad that "had her dad had enough money to educate her to be a doctor would she have suffered today". In a profession that looked down upon nurses he treated them with great respect. After he passed away a nurse saw my mom at a nursing home and came up to her and said "madam, sorry for your loss, he treated us so well".

Going to Chennai from a small town for his MBBS and away from the thumb of a very stern father he squandered his undergrad days. Though he cracked a state prize in his MS (Master of Surgery) he regretted how he tormented his aging dad by not being a good student. Dad was quite forthcoming above what he was not proud about himself. He was quite a terror in his college days. Egged on by classmates he once took a junior girl and dunked her into a water fountain. I've never heard him speak of that incident without regret. Much later as an examiner frustrated at a student who was plainly a failure he took out his wallet and wagered that the student would flunk the next question too. Next day he regretted that it was conduct unbecoming a teacher.

Temper, he'd confess was his undoing."My only enemy is my tongue" he'd often say. Quick to be angered he could let loose a string of choice bilingual expletives in vernacular and English. He could, as Henry Higgins would say in 'Pygmalion', curse like a sailor.

A devout Christian he taught us to be courteous and not wipe out the sacred ash the mom of a Hindu friend would apply on our forehead when we headed to our exams. Living in a mixed neighborhood he commanded respect from all and was courteous to all. To the entire street he was the first doctor on call for anything they needed.

Faith in Christ was central to his life. He'd often quote from the 'Book of Esther' words to the effect that one is possibly in a special position only to do good to others in their moment of need. He'd also add that as Esther's uncle reminds her that if does not rise up to the occasion help will still come to needy from above. While he'd gladly go to any temple he'd not step into the sanctum sanctorum out of respect for true believers of the faith. He enjoyed reading all religious texts or religious classics or the epics of India.

Though devout he was nevertheless a man of science. On science he was uncompromising. When religion stood in opposition to science he would unhesitatingly side with science. He loved reading books on science. Mediocrity and pseudoscience would anger him. He loved succinct writing that is lucid and clear.

Science supplied reason and religion gave him a moral compass. Besides religion he also learned liberally from literature. Shaw's 'Caesar and Cleopatra' that portrays a very generous and magnanimous Caesar was a big inspiration for him. Shylock's monologue lamenting that a Jew is as human as others was almost a credo for my father. He discovered Ayn Rand much later in life and saw her as inspirational. A little known fact is dad loved Tamil literature too very much. While he was not a serious student of literature he was a discerning reader. And yes my name does come from N.Parthasarathy's 'Kurinji Malar'. Verses from Tamil literature were his favorite repartees. He could recite entire sections of Silappathikaram and Bharathi, of course, copiously. Rudyard Kipling's "If", Leigh Hunt's "Abou Ben Adham", Tennyson's "Brook", Wordsworth's "daffodils" were among his most loved poems.

Dad was no crusty intellectual. "Have fun but such fun that you would not be ashamed to tell your children" was his favorite aphorism and one that he lived by. He was an entertainer who could literally play act a Sivaji Ganesan movie or 'Pygmalion'. To all his nephews and nieces and our friends he was no forbidding elder but one they all could join in laughter with, unlike most of their own dads. He was no prude and could regale everyone with the specialness of "Roop Tera Mastana" or how a drenched Padmini in "Jish Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai" would make hearts flutter by exhaling and heaving her bosom. Though not a prude he disliked gratuitous vulgarity and titillation for the sake of titillation.

'I'm a perfectionist' he often would say and lived up to it. Whether it is the fabric of a pant material or the choice of a type of paper for his souvenir; whether it is a surgical suture or writing song lists on cassette sleeves nothing was too small to be prefect about. He always wanted only wholesome experiences. Seeing his kids losing themselves in Tamil film songs he sought out his good friends, descendants of Abraham Pandithar, to record choice Western Classical music. He gave them blank cassettes with the instruction "don't split a musical piece between two sides of a cassettes, leave blank spaces if required, its ok to waste tape space rather than having to switch cassette sides while listening to a piece of music".

Nothing disgusted dad more than mediocrity and especially pseudo-scholarship. He'd often narrate an incident about his professor who when treating V.K. Krishna Menon told him "your problem is you don't just call a spade a spade but you call it a bloody spade". Dad always called a spade a bloody spade. A friend recently said that I'm the 'uncrowned king of being caustic'. As we often joke in our home I'm, after all, a chip of the old bloke (we always said 'bloke' instead of 'block'). While he would be eager to call out a 'bloody spade' none can match him in encouraging talent, irrespective of age. Tasked with bringing out a souvenir for a prestigious conference held for the first time in Tanjore he sought out little known names, the oft ignored 'roadside pimpernels' he called them, to write articles. He has brought out publications to shine a light on students.

Family was everything to my dad. A doting son, he got himself transferred out of Madras to come and be with his father and provide medical care. It was a career altering decision and one that he took much against the advice of practically everyone. Then when he was promoted and transferred he resigned rather than see his boys grow up from a distance. He went to great lengths to ensure we boys never lost out on academic or extra curricular enrichment due to growing up in Tanjore. In high school we would get NCERT text books that my cousins in Madras used to reading from. "Go for the horizons", "I should be known in your schools as your father and not the other way", "don't choose soft options. Soft options like literature and politics are bromides, science is the ultimate" used to be his set of oft repeated aphorisms. He'd have been the first ENT surgeon in all of India to have majored as a plastic surgeon too but for an asinine dean who made him withdraw his application not wanting to set a precedence. Time and again dad swallowed disappointments in his profession out of pragmatic concern to keep the family running. Like any family there'd be squabbles with relatives but if there was any medical help needed nothing would stop him and he'd go all in to be of support. Caesar's magnanimity was not an idle belief but a creed to live by for him. He was deeply attached to the extended family and they to him.

As dad declined in health and became an invalid for nearly 10 months mom and his friends supported him like a rock of Gibraltar. Dad had submitted his resignation nearly 30 years ago and literally stopped practicing as a doctor nearly a decade ago and yet the reservoir of good will that he had cultivated was unbelievable. For a person who was uncompromising in how he lived and very discerning in his choices I was stunned to see so many rallying to his side and supporting him with only one aim "he should not suffer". It is testimony that in a world spiraling downward into a decline of morals there are still those who value a well lived life.

American pediatric neuro-surgeon Ben Carson's autobiography would end with the line "my two sons are my everything". Dad had underlined those words in the copy I gifted to him.

Dad lived a fulfilling life and blogs can never do justice to any life, much less one like that he led. I've only touched upon vignettes of his life. He will forever be missed for he was more than just dad to me and my brother, he was a soul-mate. A good movie, a place of history, a good book, fine poetry, a musical performance, a fine piece of clothing, a tasty food, a luxurious restaurant, a well appreciated blog of mine or a seminar my brother delivers and in so many innumerable moments his memory would forever linger in our minds.

இன்று கோகுலாஷ்டமி. அப்பா அடிக்கடி பாரதியின் கண்ணண் பாட்டிலிருந்து 'நண்பனாய், மந்திரியாய், நல்லாசிரியனாய், பண்பிலே தெய்வமாய்" என்ற வரியை மேற்கோள் சொல்வார்கள். எங்களுக்கு என்றும் அவர்கள் அப்படித்தான்.

Dad's most loved lines from Shakespeare was what Mark Antony would say of Brutus and they'd apply to dad too, "the elements were so mixed in him that one day all nature would say 'this was a man'".

Sunday, August 7, 2016

'Gandhi's dress, a 'costume': Mathimaran's Calumny. "காந்தியின் உடை ஒரு 'காஸ்டியூம்' - மதிமாறனின் அவதூறு"

திராவிட இயக்கத்தினருக்கே உரித்தான வரலாறைப் பற்றிய அறியாமையும் அதனாலேயே உண்டாகும் தடித்தனத்துடனும் மதிமாறன் என்பவர் காந்தி தரித்த உடையை ஒரு 'காஸ்டியூம்' என்றும் ஏழைகளின் ஏழ்மை குறித்துக் கவலைக்கொள்ளாதவர் என்றும் மாட மாளிகைகளிலேயே காந்தி தங்கினார் என்றும் அவதூறாக எழுதியுள்ளார். அதற்குத் திமுகவில் பொறுப்பில் இருக்கும் ஒரு இஸ்லாமியரும் 'லைக்' போட்டுள்ளார். மதிமாறனையெல்லாம் மதித்துப் பதில் சொல்ல வேண்டுமா என்று ஒதுங்குவது சரியல்ல. மறுக்கப் படாத அவதூறுகள் மீண்டும் மீண்டும் உரைக்கப்பட்டு உண்மைகளாக உலா வரும் கோயபல்ஸ் தந்திரத்திற்கு நாம் துணைப் போகலாகாது.

அந்த இஸ்லாமிய நண்பரை மனத்தில் நிறுத்தி என் மறுப்புரையைத் தொடங்குகிறேன். அகா கான் அரண்மனையில் சிறை வைக்கப் பட்டது, பிர்லாவின் மாளிகையில் தங்கியிருந்த போது கொலையுண்டது ஆகியன போன்ற தருணங்களை வைத்துக் காலம் காலமாகக் காந்தியின் மீது வீசப்பட்ட அவதூறுகளைத் தான் மதிமாறன் கையில் எடுத்துள்ளார். உண்மையென்ன?

நவ்காளி யாத்திரைப் பற்றி லாரி காலின்ஸும் டாமினிக் லேபியரும் எழுதிய "Freedom at Midnight" புத்தகத்தில் சொல்கிறார்கள், "ஒவ்வொரு கிராமத்திலும் காந்தியின் வழக்கம் ஒன்றே. உலகத்தின் மிகப் புகழ்பெற்ற ஆசிய மனிதன் ஒரு கிராமத்தை வந்தடைந்தவுடன் ஏதாவது ஒரு குடிசைக்குச் சென்று, இஸ்லாமியரின் குடிசையாக இருத்தல் கூடுதல் தகுதி, தங்குமிடத்திற்காக இறைஞ்சி நிற்பார். இடம் மறுக்கப்பட்டால் வேறு குடிசைக் கதவைத் தட்டுவார். 'எனக்கு இடம் கொடுப்பார் யாருமில்லையென்றால் மர நிழலில் சந்தோஷமாக ஒதுங்குவேன்'". மத நல்லிணக்கம் மட்டுமே காந்தியின் குறிக்கோளாக இருக்கவில்லை என்கிறார்கள் அந்த ஆசிரியர்கள். இந்தியர்களின் சுகாதாரமின்மை குறித்துச் சினம் கொண்ட காந்தி கிராமத்தில் கழிப்பறைகள் இருக்கின்றனவா என்று கண்டறிந்து அப்படியில்லையென்றால் எளிமையான கழிப்பிடங்கள் கட்டுவது பற்றி வகுப்பெடுத்தார். காந்தியின் வழியில் விஷமிகளால் இறைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் மலத்தினைக் காந்தியே அப்புறப்படுத்துவார். உலகப்பிரகாரமான அன்றாடக் கணக்குகளின் படி நவ்காளி யாத்திரை ஒரு தோல்வியே என்று சொல்லும் ஜோசப் லெலிவெல்ட் அந்த யாத்திரை நடந்து அரை நூற்றாண்டு கழித்து 2009-இல் நடந்த மத நல்லிணக்கக் கூட்டத்தில் அந்த யாத்திரையின் எதிரொலியினைப் பார்த்து வியந்து இது தான் காந்தியின் வெற்றி என்று அவர் புத்தகத்தில் கூறுகிறார்.காஸ்டியூமாம் காஸ்டியூம்.

நவ்காளியில் காந்தி. லெலிவெல்டின் புத்தகத்திலிருந்து.
இந்தியாப் பிரிவினை செய்யப்படும் என்றறிந்தப் போது காந்தி ஒருவர் தான் அது எத்தகைய கொடூரமாக இருக்கும் என்று ஆரூடம் சொன்னார். 'தாயின் கர்ப்பத்தைக் கிழித்து இந்தத் தேசங்கள் பிறக்கும்' என்றார். மதக் கலவரங்கள் வட இந்தியா முழுக்க விழுங்கிக் கொண்டிருக்க வங்காளம் சிதறுண்டால் உள் நாட்டுக் கலகத்திற்கினணையான சூழல் உருவாகி இந்தியாவே சிதறலாம் என்று நேரு, பட்டேல், மவுண்ட்பாட்டன் அஞ்சினர். ராணுவமோ பஞ்சாபில் குவிக்கப்பட்டு விட்டது. காஷ்மீர் எல்லையில் பதட்டம். 1946-இல் நேரடி நடவடிக்கை தினம் என்று அறிவித்து ரத்த வெறியாட்டத்திற்குப் பிள்ளையார் சுழிப் போட்ட முஸ்லிம் லீக்கின் தலைமை கல்கத்தாவில் இந்துக்கள் பழி வாங்கத் தொடங்கினால் குருதிப் பெருக்கெடுத்து ஓடும் என்று தெரிந்துச் செய்வதறியாது திகைத்தனர். எல்லோர் மனத்திலும் எழுந்த பெயர் 'காந்தி'.

காந்தி புனதராகப் போற்றப்படுவதை ரசிக்காத வேவல் மவுண்ட்பாட்டனிடம் "wily Gandhi" என்றார். மேற்கத்திய ஆசிரியர்கள் பலரும் காந்தியின் புனிதப் பிம்பத்திற்குப் பின் ஒரு பனியா இருப்பதைப் பல முறைச் சுட்டிக் காட்டியுள்ளனர். அவர் ஏமாற்றுக்காரர் என்றல்ல அவருடைய எதார்த்தவாதம், மக்களின் உணர்வை புரிந்து அவர்கள் அளவில் செயல் திட்டங்களை வகுத்து நடைமுறை படுத்தக் கூடியதும் அதே சமயம் ஓர் உயர்ந்த கொள்கையின் பால் அவர்களைத் தவறாமல் ஈர்க்கும் சாமர்த்தியமும் ஒரு தேர்ந்த அரசியல்வாதியின் நாடகத்தன்மை கொண்ட போராட்டத் தருணங்களை முன்னெடுக்கும் திறன் ஆகியவற்றை வியந்திருக்கின்றனர். கல்கத்தாவில் அந்தக் காந்தி மீண்டும் ஒரு முறை ஒளிர்ந்தார்.

1946 கலவரத்தைத் தூண்டி வழி நடத்தியதில் முக்கியஸ்தரான ஷகீத் சுராவர்தியினைக் காந்தி தன்னோடு வந்து தங்கும் படி அழைத்தார். காந்தி தங்குவதற்குத் தேர்ந்தெடுத்த இடம் பெலியாகட்டா என்னும் சேரி. பெலியாகட்டா முஸ்லிம்களும் இந்துக்களும் வாழ்ந்த இடம் மட்டுமல்ல கலவரங்கள், ஆயுதங்களோடும் வெடிகுண்டுகளோடும், நடைப்பெற்ற இடம். காந்தியின் திட்டம் கேள்விப்பட்ட சர்தார் பட்டேல் எள்ளலோடு "So you have got detained in Calcutta..[in] a notorious den of gangsters and hooligans. And in what company too!" என்று டெல்லியில் இருந்து உள்துறை அமைச்சராக எழுதினார்.

காந்தியும் சுராவர்தியும் தங்கிய 'ஹைதாரி மன்ஸில்' (Hydari Manzil) "ஒரு பாழடைந்த ஒற்றைத் தளம் கொண்ட வீடு. ஒரு கழிப்பறை, ஒரு சார்ப்பாய்" என்கிறார் லெலிவெல்ட். சத்தியாகிரகம் கோழைகளுக்கானது அல்ல என்று சொன்ன காந்தி கலவரத்தைத் தடுப்பதிலும் உயிர்களைக் காப்பதிலும் உயிர் தியாகம் செய்ய அழைப்பு விடுத்தார். தான் அப்படிப்பட்ட முயற்சிகளில் ஈடுபட்டால் தன்னைப் பாதுகாக்கும் நடவடிக்கையில் மற்றவர்கள் கவணிக்கப் படமாட்டார்கள் என்று சொல்லி உண்ணாவிரதம் மேற்கொண்டார் காந்தி.

உண்ணாவிரதத்தால் குண்டர்கள் மனம் மாறுமா என்று கேட்ட ராஜாஜியிடம் குண்டர்கள் உருவாக்கப் படுக்கிறார்கள், அவர்களை உருவாக்குபவர்களின் ஆன்மாவோடு தான் போரிடுவதாகவும் அப்போரில் தன் உயிர் போவது உயிரோடு இருந்து ஒன்றும் செய்ய முடியாமலிருப்பதை விட மேல் என்றார். மனங்கள் மாறியது. இந்துக்களும், முஸ்லிம்களும் காந்தியிடம் சரண் அடைந்தனர். மவுண்ட்பாட்டன் "பஞ்சாபில் 55000 எல்லைப் பாதுகாப்பு வீரர்கள் இருக்கிறார்கள் ஆனால் கலவரத்தை அடக்க முடியவில்லை. கல்கத்தாவில் ஒற்றை மனிதர் கலவரத்தை அடக்கி விட்டார்" என்று அதிசயித்தார். அவதூறுக்கு லைக் போட்ட இஸ்லாமிய நண்பருக்கு வரலாறுத் தெரியவில்லை என்று நினைக்கிறேன். காந்தி எங்கே தங்கினார் என்று ஆராய்பவர்கள் அவரால் பிழத்த உயிர்களின் எண்ணிக்கையைப் பட்டியலிடத் தயாரா?

Hydari Manzil as in 1947 (More info and pictures in

அடுத்து டெல்லிச் சென்ற காந்தி வழக்கமாகத் தங்கும் சேரியில் தங்கவில்லை. காந்தித் தங்குகிறார் என்பதாலேயே அடிப்பொடிகள் அங்கு வசிப்பவர்களுக்குத் தொல்லைக் கொடுத்ததாலும் கலவரத்தால் பாதிக்கப்பட்ட பலர் அங்கே குடியேறியதால் இட நெருக்கடி ஏற்பட்டதால் பிர்லாவின் மாளிகையில் காந்தி தங்கினார் என்கிறார் லெலிவெல்ட். அந்தச் சேரிகளில் காந்தித் தங்கிய முன் காலங்களில் அவரைக் காண்பதற்காக எல்லோரும் தீண்டத் தகாதவர்கள் என்று ஒதுக்கப்பட்டோர் வாழ்ந்த அந்தச் சேரிக்குச் சென்றதையும் லெலிவெல்ட் சுட்டிக் காட்டுகிறார்.

இர்வினுடன் ஒப்பந்தம் கையெழுத்தானப் பின் இரண்டாம் வட்ட மேஜை மாநாட்டுக்காக லண்டன் சென்ற காந்தி ஹோட்டல்களையும் அவர் தங்கள் வசதியான வீடுகளில் தங்க வேண்டுமென்றும் விரும்பிய பலரையும் ஒதுக்கிவிட்டு ஏழ்மையான பகுதியான ஈஸ்ட் எண்டில் சாதாரணக் குடியிருப்பில் தான் காந்தி தங்கினார். இறக்குமதித் துணிகளுக்கெதிரான காந்தியின் கொள்கையால் பாதிக்கப்பட்ட லண்டன் மில் தொழிலாளிகள் ஆயிரக்கணக்கில் கூடி காந்தியை அரவனைத்து இன்முகம் காட்டிக் கொண்டாடினர்.வரலாறில் அதற்கு முன்னும் பின்னும் தங்கள் பொருளாதார இழப்பையும் பொருட்படுத்தாது தங்கள் நாட்டிற்குச் சவால் விட்ட ஒரு தலவைனை அந்நாட்டின் குடிமக்கள் கொண்டாடிப் பார்த்தது கிடையாது.

காந்தி இங்கிலாந்தில் தங்கிய இடம் ( 
தொழிலாளிகளோடு காந்தி (

காந்தி அவரின் அரை நிர்வாணக் கோலத்தில் இர்வினைக் காணச் சென்றது சகிக்காமல் வின்ஸ்டன் சர்ச்சில் இங்கிலாந்தின் பாராளுமன்றத்தில், "கிழக்கில் வெகு பரிச்சயமான அரை நிர்வாண பக்கிரியைப் போல் உடை தரித்து வைஸ்ராயின் மாளிகையின் படியேறி நம் மகாராஜாவின் பிரதிநிதியான வைஸ்ராயோடு சரி சமமாகப் பேச்சுவார்த்தை நடத்தப் போகிறார் (காந்தி)" என்று முழங்கினார். காந்தியை வன்மத்தோடு இகழ்ந்தபோதும் சர்ச்சில் அதனூடாக முக்கியமான ஒரு தருணத்தைத் தனக்கேயுரிய வரலாற்றுத் திறனோடு அடையாளம் காண்பிக்கிறார். காந்தி வெறும் கலகக்காரராகவோ, ஓர் குழுவின் தலைவராகவோ இர்வினைக் காணச் செல்லவில்லை மாறாக ஒரு தேசத்தின் பிரதிநிதியாக வைஸ்ராயோடு சரி சமமாக உரையாடச் செல்கிறார் என்பது தான் அது.

இங்கிலாந்து ராஜாவைக் காணப் போகும் போதும் அரை நிர்வாணமாகவே சென்ற காந்தி மகாராஜா இருவருக்கும் போதுமான உடை அணிந்திருந்ததாக நகைத்தார்.

தண்டியாத்திரையின் போது காந்தி தங்கிய குடிசை வெறும் குச்சிகளாலும் சில ஓலைகளாலும் கட்டப் பட்டது. தன் பரிவாரத்திற்காகச் சூரத்திலிருந்து பால் வரவழைக்கப்பட்டதைக் கேள்விப்பட்ட காந்தி சினந்தார். தன்னோடு நடைப் பயணம் மேற்கொண்டவர்களுக்காகச் செலவழிக்கப்பட்ட ஒவ்வொரு பைசாவிற்கும் கணக்கு கேட்டார்.

தண்டி அருகே காரடி எனும் ஊரில் காந்தி பண்ணிரண்டு நாட்கள் இந்தக் குடிசையில் தங்கினார் (புகைப்படம்: Gandhi's hut at Karadi Dandi
தன்னுடைய உப்புச் சத்தியாகிரக யாத்திரையில் பெண்கள் கலந்து கொள்ள வேண்டாம் என்றார் காந்தி ஏனெனில் பெண்கள் இருந்தால் ஒரு வேளை ஏகாதிபத்தியத்தின் அதிகார இரும்புக் கரம் இளகி எங்கே தன் முழுமையான வன்மத்தைக் காண்பிக்காமல் போய்விடுமோ என்ற ஐயப்பாட்டினால். பின்னாளில் தான் எதிர்ப்பார்த்தக் கடுமையான ஷரத்தை விடச் சாதாரணமானச் சட்ட விதியைக் கான்பித்துக் கைது செய்யப்பட்ட போது காந்தி வருத்தப்பட்டார்.

இந்தியாவை முதலில் அறிந்துக் கொள் என்று கோகலே சொன்னதற்காக ரயிலில் மூன்றாம் வகுப்பிலேயே இந்தியாவைச் சுற்றிப் பார்த்து அப்பயணத்தில் தான் காண நேர்ந்த ஏழை இந்தியா பற்றி மிகக் கவலையோடு காந்தி எழுதியது முக்கியமான ஆவணம்.

மேற்சொன்னவற்றையெல்லாம் படிப்பவர்கள் "சரி, அப்படியென்றால் காந்தியை விமர்சிக்கவே கூடாதா?" என்பார்கள். அப்படியில்லை. அவர் காலத்திலேயே அவர் பிரதம சீடர் நேரு காந்தியின் பொருளாதாரக் கொள்கைகளை நிராகரித்துள்ளார் அவை ஏழ்மையைப் போக்க வல்லமையற்றதென்று சொல்லி. காந்தி ஏழ்மையைத் துதிபாடுவதை நேரு ரசித்ததேயில்லை. பாரதி கூடக் காந்தியின் செல்வத்தை நிராகரிக்கும் கொள்கையை மறுக்கிறார். காந்தியின் பொருளாதாரக் கொள்கையை நிராகரிப்பது என்பது வேறு அவருக்கு ஏழைகள் பால் இருந்த அக்கறையை மறைத்து ஏழைகளைப் பற்றிக் காந்திக்குக் கவலையில்லை என்று அவதூறுச் சொல்வது வேறு.

முன்பொருமுறை அரவிந்தன் நீலகண்டன் காந்தியின் பூர்வீக விட்டின் புகைப்படத்தை வெளியிட்டு காந்தி ஒன்றும் ஏழைப் பங்காளி இல்லை என்ற தொனியில் எழுதியதாக நினைவு. திராவிட இயக்கத்தினரும் இந்துத்துவர்களும் இணையும் புள்ளி காந்தியை வெறுப்பது. கல்கத்தா கலவரத்தை காந்தி அடக்கியப்பின்னர் ராஜாஜி "இன்று காந்தியின் உயிர் இந்துக்களை விட இஸ்லாமியர்களிடம் பத்திரமாக இருக்கிறது" என்றார். எவ்வளவு பயங்கரமான தீர்க்கத் தரிசனம்.

மதிமாறன் போன்ற உள்ளூர் பீரங்கிகள் முதல் அருந்ததி ராய் போன்ற அரைவேக்காடு உலகப் பிரசித்தமான பீரங்கிகள் வரை காந்தியைப் புழுதி வாரித் தூற்றிக் கொண்டேயிருக்கலாம் ஆனால் உண்மையைச் சிறிதேனும் அறிய முற்பெடும் எவெரும் மகத்துவத்தை எளிதில் அறியலாம். மீண்டும் ஒரு முறை அவதூறுகளை மறுப்பதற்காகக் காந்தியைப் பற்றிப் படித்த போது மீண்டும் ஒரு முறை காந்தியின் விஸ்வரூப தரிசனம் கிடைத்தது.

ஐன்ஸ்டீன் காந்தி பற்றிச் சொன்னது உலகப் பிரசித்தம். ஆயினும் இன்னுமொரு முறை அதை நினைவுக் கூர்தல் அவசியம். "இப்படியொருவர் சதையும் எலும்புமாக நம்மிடையே வாழ்ந்து மறைந்தார் என்பதை வருங்காலச் சந்ததியினர் நம்புவதற்கு மிகவும் பிரயத்தனப்படுவார்கள்".

வாழ்க நீ! எம்மான், இந்த வையத்து நாட்டி லெல்லாம்
தாழ்வுற்று வறுமை மிஞ்சி விடுதலை தவறிக் கெட்டுப்
பாழ்பட்டு நின்ற தாமோர் பாரத தேசந் தன்னை
வாழ்விக்க வந்த காந்தி மஹாத்மா நீ வாழ்க, வாழ்க!
அடிமை வாழ்வ கன்றிந் நாட்டார் விடுதலை யார்ந்து, செல்வம்
குடிமையி லுயர்வு, கல்வி ஞானமும் கூடி யோங்கிப்
படிமிசைத் தலைமை யெய்தும் படிக்கொரு சூழ்ச்சி செய்தாய்!
முடிவிலாக் கீர்த்தி பெற்றாய, புவிக்குள்ளே முதன்மை யுற்றாய்!


  1. கோவணம் கட்டிய காந்தியும் கோட் சூட் போட்ட அம்பேத்கரும் - மதிமாறன் (
  2. "Mahatma" - D.G. Tendulkar Vol 3 & 8
  3. Freedom at Midnight -- Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre
  4. Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle with India -- Joseph Lelyveld
  5. Gandhi - William Shirer
  6. On the Salt March: Historiography of Mahatma Gandhi's march to Dandi --- Thomas Weber.
  7. Gandhi's Visit to London (a short documentary ) 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

T.M.Krishna's Magsaysay Award: A Rebuttal to Jeyamohan and the Hindutva Brigade

T.M. Krishna, for the sin of speaking a simple truth about the crusty exclusiveness of a major art form and for accepting a prize that recognized his effort in that regard, is being pilloried by Jeyamohan and the howling brigade, as writer P.A.Krishnan colorfully calls the Hindutva group, has accused Krishna of being an anti-national. While sporadic defenses of Krishna have sprouted I feel a coherent rebuttal needs to be voiced against the calumny that's being unleashed unremittingly.

In 2013 after reading Stravinsky's lectures on poetics in Harvard I had written, as usual, a stinging rebuke of Krishna, Sanjay Subrahmanyan and others of the Carnatic establishment who do not make forays into intellectual discussions. I had also lamented the tunnel vision of Carnatic musicians who unlike their Western counterparts like a Leonard Bernstein or Gustave Dudamel are not erudite and rarely show signs of any worthwhile reading. I had particularly pointed out how Krishna glides over the persisting caste divide in the Carnatic music world. Even then I had explicitly said I'm ill qualified, in fact absolutely unqualified, to question their genius in the art they practice. That was a red line I'd not breach.

In the recent past Krishna is known more for what he speaks and writes than what he sings. I'm happy to say that Krishna has pledged his justifiably achieved fame in furthering the cause of egalitarianism and for saying that the emperor has no clothes. I've learned from a dear friend that Krishna also makes serious effort in knowing about issues and reads quite a bit these days. Krishna recently attended the Tamil Sangam fete in USA and gave a succinct speech and I felt that I owed a blog on him turning a new leaf. The occasion has been hastened by the ugly mudslinging that followed the Magsaysay award.

Much is being made of Krishna's columns in 'The Hindu', a newspaper that is notoriously leftist and therefore, according to the howling brigade and Jeyamohan, an anti-national rag sheet. If anyone had bothered to read interviews by Leonard Bernstein they'd know that the supposed leftism of Krishna actually pales in comparison. The arts and artists have habitually had a leftward tilt across cultures and the globe. The only column of Krishna that was overtly political about the left parties was the near total rout of them in the elections. Krishna, much like Jeyamohan himself, only regrets that the total absence of leftist parties in the political space is not a healthy augury and he asks them to introspect.

T.M. Krishna (Picture Courtesy TMK's website)
I, unlike the howling brigade, read several of Krishna's columns before I wrote this blog and to my surprise they were not only well written but were harmless pieces that could be called just jottings of a curious mind that is ill at ease with institutional lack of egalitarianism. Historically such attitudes have more often than not resulted from intellectual stirrings provided by 'progressive politics' and Krishna, like Jeyamohan himself, is no exception.

I've often wondered how did Gandhi's India start using Republic Day parades to showcase the country's military might unabashedly and Krishna too wonders so. A tweet complained that "(T.M.Krishna) would be my favorite singer if he wasn't a commie". In his column titled 'who am I?' Krishna takes head on this basic instinct of trying to categorize and label people, 'boxing', and asks, rather delightfully, "can a theist not also be a commie? Can the liberal not be conservative on gender issues". In a letter to Muslims he painfully pleads, "Raise your voice" against terrorism. It's a column that echoes the sentiments of many across the globe and should have warmed the cockles of the hearts of Jeyamohan and his ilk. I've not found anything objectionable in Krishna's columns. Sure once could pick an argument over some conclusions or contentions but to characterize his columns in a much hated newspaper as having anti-national bent shows the dangerous times Indians live in. The pestilence of militant jingoism that is seeking to silence critical voices is nothing short of fascism. And for a change Krishna is not pointing fingers he cheerfully accepts that he too, as part of the privileged community, bears responsibility and it is out of such self-awareness that he seeks to do whatever he can to address the iniquities in his field.

Jeyamohan (Left). I chose this picture from a google search simply because it seemed to be apt. No disrespect intended (from

In a column he criticizes the simplistic equating of Indian culture with Hindu culture in academic and cultural institutions in recent times. Anyone who is familiar with Padma Seshadri and SASTRA will not disagree. Jataayu, an author with a colorful pseudonym, wrote a book recently and Jeyamohan in his review could not help noting that the author completely ignores the contributions of non-Hindus to Indian traditions. Today, ironically, Jataayu and Jeyamohan have joined hands to pour scorn and vitriol on Krishna for writing such columns, which, in their opinion, helped him get an award.

In the wake of the Magsaysay award many of Krishna's critics have run around like headless chicken and cited a few non-Brahmin names as evidence of Carnatic music establishment being egalitarian. A very important interview of Krishna, given to a local Tamil TV (Thanthi TV), actually speaks to every criticism and evidence that is now thrown at him. Here are key excerpts.

On Sheik Chinna Maulana and Chowdiah being accepted and honored in the Carnatic fraternity Krishna disdainfully and justifiably dismisses it as 'exceptions' and asks, with anger tinged voice, "do we even speak of their struggles to get noticed and accepted?" About Mandolin Srinivas being accepted Krishna perceptively points out how Srinivas was lucky in choosing a western instrument other than, say, violin. Referring to a white man awarded a coveted prize Krishna is correct in pointing out that Carnatic musicians like to be aligned with a White man and his art. A sort of trading up. This is completely undeniable. Check out the so called fusion music where Indian musicians collaborate mostly only with Western Classical musicians and almost never with what is called folk music.

Jeyamohan ridiculed Krishna for saying that he felt flummoxed by folk art. The vast majority of Tamils know only crass film music as music and a tiny sliver indulge in Carnatic music but beyond that the rich and hoary traditions of folk music is little understood or appreciated. Krishna, with humility, accepted that he was a stranger to the fact that folk music has its own grammar. When I saw Fijian folk dances in Hawaii I had a similar epiphany. A reader wrote to Jeyamohan that he still could not understand and appreciate Bach or Beethoven. Jeyamohan called the letter 'important'. So, a reader who cannot understand Bach is acceptable but Krishna who professes ignorance is to be ridiculed. The reader, a practical illiterate one could say, then says that Krishna is no 'fundamental researcher' akin to James Clerk Maxwell. Oy Vey. Krishna, makes no such claim and in fact makes no claims of being a trail blazer of any sort.

                                       ABSOLUTE MUST WATCH INTERVIEW OF TMK

The reader even wonders why Krishna had done nothing to set Carnatic music down to notes akin to Western music. The reader apparently has not read Jeyakanthan's 'Parisukku Po', arguably the only Tamil novel that could be called as centered on music as art form.

The Tamil TV interviewer peppers Krishna with confrontational questions, questions that themselves provide an elaborate window into the privileged mindset that plagues Carnatic music. Krishna patiently demolishes each objection and assertion.

The finest part of the interview is where Krishna blows apart the contention that there is no active prohibition against non-Brahmins from practicing or coming to the fore in Carnatic music. This lack of active prohibition is a shameful shibboleth. Krishna replies "we all have servants in our homes but would they ever, though there is no active prohibition, sit on our sofas or our dining table. Lack of explicit prohibition is an excuse. A climate, sub-concosciously, operates and vitiates the atmosphere" (I'm paraphrasing here). Electricians and plumbers who've visited my home in US have felt comfortable enough to sit on sofas and talk as equals and I thought to myself "that's America" (and yes America has its own bag of issues). Krishna repeatedly asserts that as a community that dominates an art it is upon them and him, as part of that community, to change the status quo. He completely rejects the notion that it is up to the hitherto excluded to come forward and join the ranks. The American notion of promoting diversity is in complete consonance with this idea.

I can go to a Symphony performance and be one amongst a handful of Indians amongst a thousand but not feel out of place but I can never feel the same at Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival. I'm not alone in feeling thus. A commenter to another interview by Krishna expressed how, as non-Brahmin, she felt looked down upon in a Carnatic concert. A discussion held during the Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival is a classic example, watch it and find for yourself how a community not only dominates an art but completely acts as the decider of its paradigms. The discussion is of pathetic academic quality and is completely suffused with overt religiosity, one which Krishna, to the chagrin of many, is saying the music should unmoor itself from. Krishna is NOT preaching atheism, far from it, he's only asking to set music free of its religiosity in such a way that anyone can be a part of it.

When the Tamil interviewer smugly suggests that others should cultivate the ability to appreciate Carnatic music and such effort is all that stands between them and being part of the art Krishna repudiates and asks "how does appreciation engender". The interviewer then nonchalantly walks into the trap saying "it's inherited from traditions across generations". An Aha moment ensues and Krishna drives home the point that for those lacking that environment and heritage it behooves those who enjoy the privilege to create it.

Krishna nails it when he exposes the casteism behind how Somu Pillai, a popular non-Brahmin performer, was slighted for awards and how Somu, for reasons beyond craft, was never accorded the respect due to him akin to other performers. The interview is an absolute must watch.

A commenter to another interview by Krishna, assailing the casteism in Carnatic music, listed the usual exceptions and then with no sense that he's contradicting himself said that at a music school started by Chowdiah the students were 99% non-Brahmin. Check out the caste composition of students in Tamil Nadu government run music colleges and the music training programs run by Music Academy.

A couple of personal anecdotes. I was once watching a Christian music team perform Carnatic based songs. A Hindu lady mumbled "what do these guys know of Carnatic music?" The guys she referred to were descendants of Abraham Pandithar, a doyen of Carnatic music. The family is steeped in both Carnatic and Western Classical music. Yet, to the Hindu lady they will never be good as Brahmin performers. Jeyamohan himself has written how Brahmins are dismissive of Abraham Pandithar because of his religion. I've nothing against anyone dismissing Pandithar's research on music based on factual grounds but the near total eclipse of his name has more to do with his caste than anything to do with scholarship or the lack of it. Responding to Jeyamohan's blog on Pandithar a reader wrote, "non-Brahmins may learn and practice Carnatic music but they'll never be equal to a Brahmin practicing it". I assure you readers that this is indeed the 21st century and somebody wrote this happily.

I studied in SASTRA. During my first year in college a bunch of senior students came into our class intending to rag a few of the hapless juniors. One guy asked if there were good singers. In my class there were none. When none turned up the guy asked nonchalantly "are there no Brahmin students?" Half the class was Brahmin I think. Till today I smile remembering that student who thought a Brahmin student, by virtue of his/her birth, would know music. This is reality.

Jeyamohan himself has had a contentious and rocky relationship with Brahmins and quite recently his relationship with the Hindutva crowd also became rocky. When Jeyamohan reviewed T.J.S. George's mediocre book on M.S.Subbulakshmi he stepped on a minefield and received umpteen brickbats from Brahmins who were less than displeased with raking up the revered MS's past. I'd invite readers to read Jeyamohan's own blog to realize that he underscores how MS, thanks to Sadasivam, erased her heritage and ingratiated herself to the Brahminical power that ruled Carnatic music.

Uncomfortable histories should be told wrote Jeyamohan when writer Sujatha's fans were angered for his mentioning Sujatha donning a Iyengar mark on his forehead in his home. Jeyamohan revels in narrating uncomfortable histories except when they run counter to what he wants to present as his version of Hinduism and Indian traditions. Sujatha hated Jeyamohan's much acclaimed 'Vishnupuram' for what he considered its less than reverent portrayal of Hindu tradition. History concerning the breast cloth tax makes Jeyamohan angry as much as Jeyamohan's take on Gita and Sankara angers Brahmins. The root of both anger is simple and same "I'll not tolerate anyone speaking any less of what I hold dear, irrespective how intellectually honest or factual it may be".

Jeyamohan's first real break, at least to my knowledge, with the Hindutva brigade came during the release of his book 'Vellai Yaanai', based upon a 19th century famine that ravaged Tamil Nadu and thousands, especially lower caste, perished like flies. Every calumny that Jeyamohan is flinging at Krishna today was flung at Jeyamohan then. Thankfully the book did not garner any international prize else Jeyamohan's effigies would've been burnt by the howling brigade.

When I first watched Leonard Bernstein's "Young People's Concerts" I was blown away and then ruefully wondered if someone would do the same for Carnatic music. Seeing American kids not enjoying Western Classical music Bernstein conducted a series of concerts peppered with engaging narratives and explanations solely for school kids in New York City. T.M. Krishna has done a similar exercise with his 'Swanubhava'. He has taken Carnatic music to local schools were kids would've heard nothing but crappy Tamil film music. Not only that, famous performers happily engaged in a Q&A with school children. The man is not of empty words but he strives to make a difference. The institutional support that Bernstein had is not available to Krishna's efforts and now see glum naysayers ask "did he make a dent?" He's trying.

Sometimes awards embarrass their recipients like Obama's Nobel Peace Prize. Sure, anyone can question if T.M.Krishna's efforts in taking Carnatic music to slums is a flash in the pan and if the award is a tad too premature. Seeing the furious reactions against Krishna I'm now fully convinced that the award did not come a day sooner and the reactions show the insurmountable institutionalized obstacles that Krishna has to scale in order to make a dent.

If some local Rotary Club had honored Krishna this would be a non-episode. That Magsaysay, an international award of repute, had recognized Krishna and in its citation had said that the award was for his efforts to promote an inclusive approach in Carnatic music is what angered a wide section of his naysayers starting with Jeyamohan. This is purely politics and should be called out as such. They're irritated that in an international forum a hallowed Indian art has been labeled as 'hierarchy' based. If the award had been given to Sanjay Subramanian I'm very certain that Jeyamohan would've written the same article and suggested that Subramanian is not worthy of sitting in a chair that Krishna had farted on. The issue is NOT Krishna. The issue is Magsaysay and the citation. Let us not ignore that.

Jeyamohan's confidence in the immortality of his works is laudable and understandable but it is laughable to suggest that only through literature would somebody like Krishna be known a century from now. Whether it is the musical trinity or the hallowed names like MS, Semmangudi, Ariyakudi etc not a single one of them owes their longevity to any Tamil writer. Bach and Beethoven and Zubin Mehta do not live on in people's memories because any writer wrote about them. I'm sure Jeyamohan's masterpieces will live on despite the fact no musician would've sung about them.

Speaking of literature and music I'm surprised that Jeyamohan completely forgot Thi. Janakaraman's short story "இசைப் பயிற்சி". The story narrates in a telling manner how a Brahmin music teacher's attempt to teach Carnatic music, to a poor Christian boy of lower caste, invites the ridicule of everyone in his community living in the village including an aged crone. I guess when one is enraged all that matters is swinging for the fence and obliterating everything in the path.

Jeyamohan's diatribe against Krishna abandoned any semblance of balance and devolved into unabated mudslinging including a sweeping declaration that Krishna's abilities as a performer are less than mediocre. Coming from someone who time and again says he knows little in music that was rich with irony. Yes, as Jeyamohan says one can talk of music on a plane without technicalities and mathematics of ragas. That is the plane at which we can talk of music as an art form. But Jeyamohan is ridiculing Krishna's ability which needs subject matter expertise. Yes, more often than not the ability to talk technicalities alone is thought of as a qualification to talk about music but that does not mean that one with just a 'listening ear' can nonchalantly make statements like "oh, Beethoven is nowhere near Mozart", "MS was purely bhava but MLV was better on technique". These are empty statements that many toss to appear knowledgeable. I'm sure Jeyamohan would treat Krishna's opinion on literature with far more contempt than Krishna would treat Jeyamohan's judgment on music.

Jataayu's article in Swarajya ascribing conspiratorial angles to why Krishna got the award is unsurprising and this fetish for conspiracy involving transnational Abrahamic faiths is something that Jeyamohan himself has very regrettably fueled in the past. At the rate in which invective is heaped on Krishna, who has never uttered anything remotely anti-national, only makes me shudder to think that these same people would've decried even Gandhi if Gandhi had received a Nobel prize with a citation that said he promoted reforms in Hinduism and worked to rid itself of centuries old evils. Actually the Hindutva group does disavow Gandhi and accept him only in the limited context of him being a resolutely devout Hindu.

The case of Sheikh Mahboob Subhani and his wife illustrate the pious nonsense of how Carnatic music lovers and the establishment are caste or religion blind. The Tamil TV interviewer tells  Krishna about how the Subhani couple, Muslims, are enjoyed my the audience when they play during the Thyagaraja festival. Krishna stingingly rebuts that as Hindus being smugly appreciative of a Muslim couple who learn and play Hindu music, including songs that extol Hindu gods. Abdul Kalam is a similar example. When Kalam died many in the Hindutva crowd lamented the loss of a 'patriotic Indian-Muslim' and shared pictures of Kalam sitting at the feet of Hindu sages. Not one of them shared any picture of Kalam performing a Muslim prayer. This attitude of Hindus slyly appreciating Muslims has a long history since the days when Jinnah and the British jeered at Abul Kalam Azad as the "show boy of Congress". Krishna was spot on regarding the Subhani couple.

Seeing the Muslim couple perform at Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival a blogger interviewed them for the online magazine "Carnaticography" and it's a telling blog. "I was struck by the incongruity. Here was a Muslim couple playing Hindu religious music. I also noticed that the box that held the nadaswaram had pictures of Hindu Gods". Then the writer piles on, "Did they know the words of the songs they pay soulfully? Do Hindu rituals also enter their lives at home?" Would this arrogant and preening smug idiot have ever wondered whether a Tamil Brahmin "know the words of the songs"? No. Not at all. Yet this patently idiotic writer is happy to not only wonder if the Subhani couple understood what they sung but he cheerfully even writes it publicly. Then he takes it several notches further by wondering if they observe Hindu rituals at home. Not satisfied with wondering the insolent oaf even asks the couple 'what religious traditions they observe at home'. Of course to his stunted mind it never occurs that a Brahmin who soulfully sings a Thyagaraja Kriti could be a womanizer or a drunkard. Actually several famous names in Carnatic music had scandalous private lives. Egalitarianism in Carnatic music is a figment of imagination. Note, the interviewer probably lives in America and has learned nothing, absolutely nothing, from the reams of newsprint devoted to discussing diversity in walks of life in America.

Given the fertile opportunity to play mischief Kalavai Venkat, an esteemed member of the howling brigade, wrote a Facebook post that is a plethora of lies, bigotry and plain historical revisionism. Venkat charges that Devadasi system was undermined by "British-Christian prudes and their Dravidianist minions". Arrant nonsense. First, the Devadasi system had completely degenerated into rampant prostitution and many devadasis lived in abject poverty and were socially stigmatized for their profession. The reform movement in banning Devadasi system was a landmark achievement. He  asserts baselessly that Brahmins took over the upkeep of arts once the Devadasi system was dismantled. This is sheer historical revisionism. Rukmini Devi famously took the native "Sathir" and bowdlerized it of its native eroticism to create what is now accepted as Bharatanatyam. Balasaraswathi retorted to Rukmini Devi "these upper caste women have taken up our profession and they have left us only our art" Kalavai Venkat being who he is then rounds off his vitriol with the vulgar charge that T.M. Krishna has "prostituted himself to serve a Christian agenda". This kind of bigotry is what Jeyamohan has encouraged by opening the floodgates of innuendo. All this  invective for what? A simple act of a simple man stating that he and others like him should strive to break down barriers in an important art form.

The virulence and poisonous rhetoric against a simple man is illustrative of how dangerous it has become in India to even try to do good. Jeyamohan is slowly contextualizing his diatribe saying that the news of the award came close on the heels of little noticed Tamil poet Gnanakoothan passing away and that it upset him to see how true meritorious achievers go unsung and unlamented while charlatans, in his opinion, garner international attention. Maybe award recipients should request that awards be bestowed when no is dying. The award is merely for 'emergent leadership' so it is not for some one who has accomplished a body of work but is showing promise. That the topic is so raw and emotional underscores how important it is and I'd say the award has achieved a great purpose by serving as agent provocateur for this discussion.

It is exceedingly sad and unfortunate that Jeyamohan has done unto T.M. Krishna what many of his detractors do to him, viz: rejecting his admirable corpus of work for what they deem as unacceptable political views espoused by Jeyamohan. As for me I'll continue to read and enjoy Jeyamohan whenever there's opportunity to agree and enjoy and on occasions where I differ I'll continue to do so one does not diminish the other. I've carefully differentiated between Jeyamohan and the Hindutva brigade in the title and throughout this blog for I'd still like to see him as not one with that crowd.

The chief reason for the ire of the naysayers is that T.M.Krishna, in their eyes, has not paid enough obeisance to the flag and Hindu intellectual traditions before asking for reformation. In other words one can ask for reformation after meekly and abjectly prostrating  before jingoism. I'm sick of people complaining that the likes of Krishna are seeking to emphasize differences and are worsening the problem. This is nothing but an undisguised plea for whitewashing. Voices like that of Krishna's are important for nation building. Krishna is providing a yeoman service in making India, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, 'a more prefect union'.

Soldier on T.M.Krishna and may you be blessed with courage to take on these voices of bigotry and be rest assured that there are other good men who cheer your journey.

I'll close with yet again my most favorite quote of Rabindranath Tagore.

"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake."

PS: I like both TMK and Sanjay Subramanyam's performance. I'm partial to TMK though for, in my opinion and to my untrained ears, he does sound like the better performer. TMK's "Marghazhi Ragam", jointly produced with equally good performing and beautiful Bombay Jayashree, and 'Panchabhutham' remain my favorites.


9. Kalavai Venkat's Facebook Post
10. "Sangeetha Jathi Mullai: Interview with T.M. Krishna" -- A MUST WATCH EPISODE.
11. "A lot of dirt in the world of Carnatic Music" - T.M.Krishna
12. "Walk the Talk: Interview with Shekhar Gupta"
13. Gita Hariharan in conversation with T.M.Krishna
14. Carnaticography interview with Sheikh Mahboob Subhani
15. Cleveland Thyagraraja Festival 2016 "Appreciating Vintage music" --
16. Jeyamohan on T.M. Krishna's Magsaysay
17. Reader's letter to Jeyamohan on TMK
18. A good rebuttal to Jeyamohan by a reader but one that glides over "why" Jeyamohan got angry
19. Stravinsky At Harvard, T.M.Krishna At CII And 'Semmangudi Mama'.--- My blog written in 2013 --
20. Jataayu article in Swarajya
21. Jeyamohan's blog "Abraham Pandithar and Brahmins" (this contains the reader's letter that claimed only Brahmins can be good in Carnatic music)
22.  Jeymohan's blog on T.J.S. George's book that kicked a furor
23. Reactions to Jeyamohan's blog on MS's biography ; ;
24. Jeyamohan on speaking uncomfortable histories
25. Jeyamohan on Sujatha

Suggested Reading: Here are some books worth reading.
1. Musicophilia -- Oliver Sacks
2. This is your brain on music -- Daniel Levitin
3. Unanswered questions - Leonard Bernstein
4. Dinner with Lenny -- Jonathan Cott
5. An evening in the palace of reason:Bach meets Frederick the Great in the age of Enlightenment -- James R Gaines
6. Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession -- Ian Bostridge. Amazing book on Schubert's 'Winterreise'.
7. The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the search for a Baroque masterpiece -- Eric Silbin. Engaging narrative on the discovery of Bach's cello suites.
8. Who needs Classical music?:Cultural Choice and Musical Value -- Julian Johnson. A succinctly written book that is magnificent and captivating.