Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Arizona's Intolerance, GOP's Bigotry and Liberals' Hypocrisies

I am often asked why is it that I don't write about issues and problems relating to USA. I usually don't feel like writing about them because US is very good at a vibrant discussion. Also, say on Ukraine, can I add to what Anne Applebaum writes? Today, having witnessed a good deal of debate on a shameful bill in Arizona I do feel that I need to write because I think some issues have been swept under the carpet or glossed over.

Arizona state legislature has passed bill SB1062, called in short as 'Freedom of religion' bill. The bill awaits Governor Jan Brewer's, Republican, signature. The bill was spearheaded by state GOP. Republican presidential nominees John McCain, senior senator from Arizona and Mitt Romney have called on the governor to veto the bill. Megacorp Apple has issued a warning that the governor should veto the bill. NFL has threatened to cancel next year's Super Bowl in Arizona costing the state many millions.

The bill gives the freedom to business owners to refuse service to customers if they thought such service, depending on who the customer is, would violate the owners' religious beliefs. If a gay or lesbian couple entered a store the store owner could refuse service to them on grounds of his/her religious belief. This, the bill's sponsors say, protects the religious freedom of business owners. And, forcing the owners to serve everyone would violate the personal religious freedom of a business owner.

A lot of ire, deservedly, is directed at GOP and Republicans in general for this bigotry. This is a shameful bill. Afro-American TV anchor Van Jones said on CNN that not too long ago considered blacks to be inferior based on their own interpretation of the Bible. Jones asked, a supporter of the bill, if such discrimination too should be protected as freedom of religion. The guest nonchalantly pointed to the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to US constitution to say that it cannot be done because discriminating on the basis of race was illegal but there is no such amendment to protect against sexual discrimination.

Liberals are chortling over GOP's moment of harakiri. That's sheer hypocrisy. As part of Obamacare all employers were mandated to provide free birth control to women employees. Catholics who run a lot of hospitals and schools rose up in uproar saying that they, as Catholic employers, cannot go against their religious tenets and pay for employees birth control. Catholic hospitals also don't perform abortion. In Catholic Ireland abortions were such a strict no-no that an Indian Hindu woman was allowed to die by the hospital during childbirth rather than perform abortion. In an election year Obama buckled and declared, pompously, that Catholic employers need not provide birth control options to their employees. The erstwhile constitutional law professor finagled a loophole. Obama said the insurance companies, not the employers, will provide birth control options at no cost to the employees or the employers. This is utter nonsense. And of course insurance companies passed on the cost into the premiums. I'd have supported Obama if he had stood his ground and said "your religious beliefs are yours to keep but you cannot impose it on an employee who works for you". Surprisingly this has never been brought out by anybody.

I am a capitalist and even a libertarian to a great extent but I cannot support legislation like this saying "oh well employers and business owners who discriminate will lose customers and that, automatically, will weed them out in the market place". Thats idyllic laissez faire libertarianism. Many times employees and customers will not have a choice. Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights legislation on the grounds that the government should not interfere and that free market will weed out racist businesses. That will work in theory not in practice.

Few years back Somali Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis refused to take passengers from airport if the passengers were found carrying alcohol. Not many Christians were too happy with that. Cabbies refusing a passenger have had their licenses suspend and fines imposed. The cabbies went to court against the fines but lost the case. Interestingly its only Somali Muslim cabbies who acted thus. An Iranian Muslim told Washington Post that he would service anyone. Somalia is home to very radicalized Islam. I am sure Arizonans who cheer religious freedom would be quick to condemn the Somali Muslim cabbies because they are Muslims. The Christian right loves to talk of religious freedom when it is theirs.

America's founding fathers revolutionized the world with the doctrine of separation of church and state. However, America remains a very religious country that still tears itself apart on the question of abortion and sex. Oftentimes public policy is driven by religious feelings. Its a shame that American Presidents preside over 'National prayer day'. I don't have anything against Presidents being believers but that belongs in his personal life. As constitutional head a President has no business presiding over any prayer. I am ok with something like George Bush holding a multi-faith prayer service after 9/11. Thats a President using a cultural binding force during a time of great national calamity and its not institutionalized unlike the Prayer day.

This bill again puts the GOP in a harsh light. If the GOP has any dreams of winning the White House any time soon they need to put bigotries behind them. Many republicans are decent egalitarians but this fringe element, the vocal minority, is bringing disrepute. Unless the lunatic fringe is curbed the GOP will send itself into oblivion.

The only real champion in this ugly mess is Capitalism. The threat of withdrawing big business from Arizona is what is really giving the governor a pause to think. Businesses are in the fore front today to foster diversity, racially, ethnically and sexually. Companies realize that diversity, of all types, is key to a vibrant and therefore successful organization. A less talked about angle is the role of capitalism in bringing down walls of bigotry. Slavery and racism were never about capitalism or labor rather it was about a people's bigotry. Slave holding agrarian south was defeated by relatively more capitalist industrialized prosperous North. Apple which is on the verge of opening a new Sapphire glass factory creating 2000 jobs. Apple CEO is gay and he has warned Arizona that passing the bill will make it difficult for Apple, an inclusive company, to operate in Arizona. I'd love to hear liberals cheer the power of a big corporation.

National Book Award winning author Andrew Solomon wrote critically acclaimed book "Far from the tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity". The book deals with how parents come to terms with mentally disabled children and accept them for what they are. Solomon said his experiences as being a gay son, the different one, gave him perspectives that he would not have had if he had been heterosexual.


1. 'Some Muslim cabbies refuse fares carrying alcohol' -- Washington Post
2. 'If you drink some cabbies won't drive' - CNN -
3. Apple warns Arizona Governor
4. Arizona Bill SB1062

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Rajiv's Assassins : Justice Delayed, Justice Served and Justice Forgotten.

It is unconscionable that a death row convict has to wait for a decade, with his life hanging by a thread, to learn whether or not he would die or live. That is barbarism. The convict may be guilty of a barbarous crime but it does not behoove any nation that seeks to think of itself as a land with laws and humanitarianism. Even the most despicable death row convict is deserves to have a 'clean' death. Not a tortured death. Nothing is greater torture than to keep in suspense a convict's fate. India's Supreme Court, the one remaining institution of some semblance of competence in India, has delivered a landmark judgment in telling India's government that they owe it to death row convicts to ensure a speedy response for mercy petitions. Kudos to Justice Sathasivam and team.

Bringing Rajiv's assassins to justice is less important than justice being done for all and for all time to come. The Indian state is very cavalier in its attitudes towards human lives and the Supreme court has now ensured that this pernicious and barbarian attitude of sleeping over mercy petitions will come to an end.

Indian laws do not envisage life imprisonment as 'true life imprisonment' unlike, say, US laws where convicts can be sent to jail with no hope of parole or getting out alive. Some deserve that punishment. I do not subscribe to characterizing judicial punishments exclusively as 'opportunities for reform'. Sure such an opportunity should exist but there are crimes where judgments can only be punishments.   It is not my wish to see Rajiv's killers, especially Murugan, who was intrinsic to the heinous plot, to be freed but the paramountcy of law and legal precedence is far more important. The three killers along with the other four should be released post-haste. This humiliating episode should make the Indian state realize thus far and no further.

However, I do not subscribe to cheering the convicts as 'innocents'. They've been pronounced guilty, repeatedly, by all courts including the now much loved Supreme Court. The officer who recorded Perarivalan's confession statement gave a bombshell interview saying that he left out a key sentence in recording the confession. The officer said he omitted recording that Perarivalan did not know that Rajiv was the intended target of the bomb attack for which he had procured the batteries for. Yes, his ignorance of intended target may have indeed spared him the gallows. That said it is sheer propaganda to claim that the officer exonerated Perarivalan.

Photo Courtesy: The Hindu. From L to R - Perarivalan, Murugan and Santhan.
Alongwith Rajiv several others died. Several were policemen of very low ranks. Son of one such policemen had posted a comment, in a vernacular magazine, recounting how his family ran from one hospital to another looking for his father only to find him later as a mangled corpse riddled with projectiles and torn apart. In the melee that ensued everyone was only worried about Rajiv and the aftermath of his assassination. Congressmen who today lament about the other victims did not bother about them until today when such victims are convenient bogies for sympathy.

Mrs Arputham, now many call her venerably Arputhammal, as mother waged an unrelenting struggle against the mammoth and inhuman state. That Perarivalan is today spared from the gallows is greatly due to her herculean efforts. In her own interview while claiming that her son was innocent she does concede that their family, like many other Tamil families she says, helped LTTE. Thats a partial truth with dangerous self-blindness. Out of the millions of families maybe a few hundred families actively involved themselves with the LTTE. Their family, thanks to its association with DK, was actively involved with helping LTTE. Nalini's brother, Mrs Arputham says, accosted her son. Even if one were to agree that Perarivalan did not know about Rajiv as target the 19 year old adult should've realized that he is being accomplice to a possible murder. As such, it is shameful to make a mother's grief as witness to a son's ignorance.

Another pornography of grief is propagandizing a pleading letter by the daughter of Nalini and Murugan. I feel sorry for her. I do. But sorry does not put Humpty Dumpty back. Her parents were part of an assassination plot that, incidentally, murdered 14 others. Many of the other victims were sole breadwinners for their families and their families were plunged into penury where as a sympathetic Sri Lankan diaspora sheltered Nalini's daughter and brought her up in London. I've written before that India should not have bothered about the dilemma of the state creating an orphan by executing Nalini and Murugan. The state would not have orphaned their child. Nalini and Murugan orphaned their daughter by indulging in a crime as a couple. The case of US executing Julius and Ethel Rosenberg is pertinent to recall here.

A very perverted argument in this discussion of Rajiv's killing is the angle of IPKF. Mrs Arputham talking to Hindu said "How can we justify Rajiv's approach to Eelam. How many Tamils were killed by IPKF? How many women were raped by IPKF?". I've heard many say "well Rajiv deserved it". Nothing is more vulgar and unjust. Such people make it appear as if Rajiv Gandhi sent the Indian army with an express mission to kill and rape Tamils. Rajiv, with all his faults, was no Pol Pot. Jeyawardane ensnared, amateur politician and overnight PM, Rajiv, in a civil war. Prabhakaran, as he would time and again, broke the truce launching a war against the Indian army.

Yes, there were incidents of IPKF raping women. Even today Indian army has that stigma in peace keeping forces in Africa. However Mrs Arputham and millions of Tamils conveniently forget that IPKF too suffered heavily due to guerrilla tactics of LTTE. When a military officer visited my school in 1988 several of us asked about this rape incident. He, by what appears in hindsight now as nonchalantly, said "there are biological reasons". But he added a less spoken truth too. He said IPKF would avoid frisking young girls, many children actually, but the same girls would cross a checkpoint and pull out a grenade from within their skirts and toss it. IPKF was also not given a free hand in crushing the enemy. They had to fight with one hand tied behind their back. Indian army suffered large casualties due to muddled policy making in Delhi.

In media we do not often hear from two sides. Tamil media in a jingoistic overdrive is giving a megaphone only to Mrs Arputham. We seldom hear from the then investigating officers or army leaders of IPKF.

North Indians are aghast that Tamils might be celebrating the release of three assassins. Thats unfair and short on memory. Gandhi's assassins are worshipped by quite a number of people. Indira's assassins were mourned and celebrated in Gurdwara's across Punjab. It is despicable but thats the reality. And lets not forget that murderers of thousands of Sikhs sat in ministries. One man's terrorist is, sadly, another man's freedom fighter.

Tamils who accuse the rest of India of not caring for their concerns are being unfair. How many Tamils cared for Simranjit Singh Mann who was held in prison for 4 years in connection with Indira's assassination and later acquitted. How many Tamils even know about the case of the 'Jodhpur Detenus'. After Operation Bluestar nearly 365 Punjabis were arrested and were collectively referred to as 'Jodhpur detenus'. Many, without any justification, were incarcerated for nearly 4 years. How many Tamils even know that K.P.S. Gill became the fabled Super Cop thanks to the mass graves that he helped populate? Interestingly S.S.Mann told Rediff in a 1999 interview that Rajiv's assassins should be pardoned. India is a land of 'million mutinies' with communities rarely being emotionally unified on an pan-Indian level.

As always the ever irrepressible Jeyamohan waded into the this issue with a lengthy blog at the end of which he facetiously professed ignorance about state craft and political science. He need not have added that disclaimer the blog was evidence of his near total lack of knowledge in the topic.

Jeyamohan glorifies the LTTE assassination as if it was some ideological political reaction to the prevailing ideology, albeit, a violent one. Then he attribute to Nehru what was originally a Jeffersonian thought, that a truly democratic form of government should allow subversive protests even if it meant overthrow of an existing governing system. This is wrong on two levels.

First, Nehru, shaped by Gandhian freedom movement with pan-Indian nationalism as its bedrock, was dismissive of separatist movements. Nehru was extremely intolerant of any separatism, including non-violent ones. He would ridicule the Dravidian party clamor for separatism, with some justification but not wholly, as 'nonsense'. He would not hesitate to not just arrest his friend Sheikh Abdullah but exile him to far away Tamil Nadu too. Nehru, incidentally, was an admirer of Stalin and Lenin. The Indian state has always crushed with an iron hand any and every separatist movements. From Naxalbari to Punjab to Kashmir India has time and again showed that it is not a soft state.

Second, Prabhakaran was not espousing any alternate ideology or form of government. Rajiv's killing was a politically motivated targeted assassination with no qualms of conscience about collateral damage. The suicide bomber was clothed in deadly bombs enough to kill more than one. Prabhakaran wanted to ensure that Rajiv was killed no matter how many others were killed along with him. Prabhakaran would repeat the Rajiv style assassination two years later to kill Ranasinghe Premadasa. To honor acts of cold blooded murder as quest for alternate ideology only shows that Jeyamohan needs to stick with what he knows best and refrain from topics he knows nothing of.

I support the death penalty because some crimes are so heinous that the perpetrators, by committing those, forfeit their right to live. The Delhi rapists, Timothy McVeigh, Ajmal Kasab, all deserved to die. It is silly, as Jeyamohan does, to tie necessity of death sentence to lack of adequate police. In fact if the police-population ratio is very low it is all the more reason to scrap death sentence because the crime may not have been investigated properly.

Amidst the Modi wave thats sweeping the country a word thats often tossed is 'pseudo-sceularism'. Coined by Advani it refers to what Hindus call as preferential treatment of Muslims in the name of secularism. Muslims like Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru have been executed without much delay unlike Hindu killers like the Rajiv assassins or Naxal leaders (as listed by Jeyamohan himself).

Jeyamohan bares his Hindutva self when he argues that Islamic terrorism, which has international support, should not be spared. He even calls for expedited justice so that no fantastic attempts, like a flight hijacking, take place to trade hostages. By citing an exceptional one time fact Jeyamohan calls for tribal justice against Muslims. India executed Afzal Guru without even intimating his family despite an entire state being on the edge of violence. How many flight hijackings took place to release him. The Muslim terrorists at least only hijacked a flight Khalistan terrorists blew up an entire aircraft killing hundreds of Indians and today we have a Sikh Prime Minister. Some pseudo secularism this. Lets not forest brigand and murderer Veerappan taking an erstwhile matinee idol as hostage and demanding the release of his acolytes in prison who were accused of murdering a police official. In fact many Muslims have been arrested without any shred of evidence and held in prisons. What can Jeyamohan tell them? By the way Punjab separatism too had its supporters from outside. What about LTTE that had a robust international network to lobby and raise funds? Save your outrage Jeyamohan.

I've an overriding concern with the Supreme Court judgment though. Now I don't want subsequent mercy petitions to be disposed of hastily and petitioners executed hurriedly to avoid being seen as lethargic. The Supreme Court should lay down rules for transparency in the mercy petition process and hold subsequent governments to account.

The one part of Mrs Arputham's crusade to free to her son that is really honorable and a signal service for families of other convicts is the attention she has brought to how inhuman the Indian prison system is. Mrs Arputham was subject to cruel humiliation, including, once, being asked to use a toilet without closing the door, for her attempts to see her son in prison. The Supreme Court should duo motto take up that issue and put an end to such travails. The mark of a civilized society is one in which even a murder convict can claim human rights.

A bitter mother who is few steps away from complete victory Mrs Arputham minced no words about Karunanidhi and Veeramani, two of Tamil Nadu's most duplicitous self styled custodians of Tamil interests. She labeled them aptly as turncoats. Poor Mrs Arputham had to undergo such himalayan personal travails to know their true colors.

The seven convicts may see justice served, though delayed. But, with a heavy heart, we need to remember that Rajiv and the remaining victims will not get their justice.

My earlier blogs on this issue:

1. The Rajiv Killers and the Death Penalty Debate

2. Jethmalani's Travesty and Hypocrisies Galore in Tamil Nadu

Other References.

1. Mrs Arputham's interview to Tamil Hindu -ராஜீவ்-கொலை-பெரிய-தப்பு-அற்புதம்-அம்மாள்-நேர்காணல்/article5723757.ece
2. 40 of Jodhpur Detenus release - Article from India Today -
3. Jodhpur Detenus and withdrawal of draconian laws - Article in India Today -
4. S.S. Mann's interview in Rediff - Mentions clemency for Rajiv's assassins -
4. Jeyamohan's article on 7 assassins

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Balu Mahendra: Artist, Plagiarist and Philanderer

Roger Rosenblatt eulogized JFK Jr  in Time magazine saying "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 best captures the passing away of director and cinematographer Balu Mahendra.

David Lean's filmed his classic 'Bridge on the river Kwai' in Sri Lanka. An impressionable young boy watching the filming was inspired to become a filmmaker. The boy, Balu Mahendra, later graduated from Poona Film Institute with a gold medal in cinematography. Indian cinematography would never be the same again. Balu got his first of many awards for his cinematography in the very first film, Nellu, by Ramu Kariat. Within 3 years Balu had struck out as director too. Balu, whose language was art, frequently crossed linguistic barriers. His first movie as director was 'Kokila' in Kannada. The debutante director garnered an award and his style of subtle movie making was noticed. 

Mahendran redefined Tamil cinema with 'Mullum Malarum'. He dragged Tamil cinema out of the histrionic excesses of Sivaji Ganesan, Karunanidhi, K.Balachander, K.S.Gopalakrishnan, MGR and others. Mahendran's movie introduced subtlety to the Tamil viewer. In an era when color films had debuted not too long ago it was not uncommon to splash the screen and the viewers eyes with garish costumes and in your face colors. Into that era came Balu Mahendra who helmed the camera for Mahendran's cinema and for his part introduced the Tamil viewer to silhouettes. 

Balu's first movie in Tamil cemented Mahendran's style. Titled 'Azhiyatha Kolangal' it was a coming of age movie about adolescent boys, their escapade, their sexual awakenings and their obsession for a comely teacher. The movie was rumored to have shades of 'Summer of '42' but it was also autobiographical. Recounting his school days in Vikatan he would say "fed up seeing the village fatsos we were enamored of slim and fair Indhu teacher" ('மொத்துமொத்தென்று முறுகித் திரண்ட எங்கள் கிராமத்துத் தடிச்சிகளைப் பார்த்துப் பழகிப்போன கண்களுக்கு, இந்து டீச்சர் சற்று ஒல்லியாக, உயரமாக, சிவப்பாக, ரொம்ப அழகாக இருந்தார்கள்). A dusky Shobha would play the role of Indhu teacher. The songs were filmed with montages of Shobha and Pratap Pothen walking, hand in hand, gently romancing against a silhouette, sharing a laugh, a tease here and a tease there but never once, unlike the tradition of movies, would they lip sync the songs. Salil Chaudhary, Salilda, had scored the music. I recently watched a clip of "Summer of '42" and Salilda's music, dare I say, is inferior. The movie shocked many viewers in conservative Tamil Nadu. While Balu went mostly for subtlety he too, like Mahendran in 'Nenjathai Killathe', gave ample space for the plain ribaldry of the ever redoubtable Vennira Aadai Moorthy. 

Shobha would become the first scandal in Balu's life. A torrid affair ensued. Even as Shobha went on to earn the National Award her personal life was on a slide. It is said that she would act like a truant child around 'uncle' Balu Mahendra. One day Shobha committed suicide and Balu was suspected as having played a role. 

Balu would later tell in an interview "I was crucified'. That was unfair. Shobha was the victim not he. He added that stung by the controversy he vowed silence until after a year when he "threw down Moondram Pirai" as answer. Balu Mahendra brought to screen, with fantastic acting by Sri Devi, a platonic relationship between a nubile woman who, due to an accident loses her mind and is also amnesiac, acts childlike (not childish) and a young man who happens to meet her in a brothel but ends up rescuing her. Kamal Hasan earned a National Award for his heart rending performance in the famous climax. A third factor in the success of the movie was then sex goddess Silk Smitha. That even a sensitive filmmaker like Balu had to rely on the uninhibited oomph factor of Smitha made people chuckle at the commercial compromise. He later did accept the compromise but he added that Smitha's presence served a purpose. Kamal rebuffs Smitha's seduction and thus lends credence to the fact that he could have an asexual, sort of platonic, love with a nubile girl. Balu, sanitized his relationship with Shobha thanks to an artistic movie made with commercial compromises. Their relationship, to be sure, was anything but platonic or even the implied paternalism of 'Moondram Pirai'. 

Of the many movies that Balu directed only two standout for not just being uncompromising but even artistic integrity. 'Veedu' touched a chord in the hearts of many a middle class member because it spoke to their yearnings. shunning the standard Indian formula of songs the movie was made on sparse budget with dusky Archana as spinster who tries to build a small home. The puckish old man played by Chockalinga Bhagavathar was a hit. Yet, compared to Satyajit Ray's 'Mahanagar' it will remain a valiant effort not an achievement. Balu's talents as director are way overrated. Just because he sought to make movies that had a leisurely pace, lingering shots, sparse dialogues and of course lovely cinematography all of which contrasted with a sea of utter mediocrity in Tamil cinema the movies are exaggerated as artistic excellence. Fear of old age haunts any man let alone an artist. Balu made his one other uncompromising movie 'Sandhyaragam'. Literally meaning 'song of the twilight hour'. 

If Scorsese has a fetish for gangster movies Balu's fetish was making movies themed about extra marital affairs. He would plagiarize 'Mickey and Maud' to deliver a laugh riot in 'Rettaivaal Kuruvi' where a photographer will have two wives. Then he would turn to the subject again in a a Tamil remake of Mahesh Bhatt's 'Arth' as 'Marupadiyum'. When the heroine walks out on her husband, a movie director, learning of his affair with an actress a song wails in the background "a woman wishes to be garlanded but once, can she live with a man who garlands a woman a day, would such a marriage be civilized". By now Balu Mahendra had another affair, with Archana from Veedu, after Shobha. 

After 'Marupadiyum' he made forgettable movies most of which bombed in the box office. Mounika, who starred in a movie as a nymphet, would go on to become his second wife. She would support Balu in his lean years when he was reduced to making short films, based on short stories, for the drab national television. As a person who loved literature he chose excellent stories but crippled by lack of money he could get only Mounika and few low budget actors to star in the shoddily produced episodes. Kamala Hassan, another habitual plagiarizer, roped in Balu to do 'Sathi Leelavathi' that was rip off of Meryl Streep starring 'She Devil'. 

Balu Mahendra made movies that were either 'inspired', albeit uncredited, or totally plagiarized. 'Moodu pani' was inspired by Psycho. 'Julie Ganapathy' was plagiarized from 'Misery'. Lets remember that Balu sat on the jury for National Awards. For a man who took pride in his work and had a healthy ego to end his movies with a sign off 'A film by Balu Mahendra', this plagiarism, par for the course in Indian movies, will remain a blot.

Even after many directors, including childhood friend Bharathiraja, deserted Ilayaraja, who had grown titular and stale, Balu stuck by his friend. Ilayaraja had run out of steam by the early 90's and his scoring for Balu's movies made after that had mediocre music and thanks to Raja's antics about lyric writers there were not much decent lyrics either. When an artist sacrifices perfection for the sake of relationship art suffers. Mediocrity creeps in and finally destroys.

Balu Mahendra's penchant for literature did not translate into bringing any Tamil classic to movies other than the short film series. Bhim Singh brought Jayakanthan's classic tale 'Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal' to screen. We cannot speak of a Balu Mahendra 'oeuvre'. Anyone who sets Balu's directorial abilities on a pedestal has not probably had even a modicum of introduction to Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aravindan, Shahji, Ray, Benegal, Girish Karnad and others. His last movie 'Thalamuraigal' bombed at the box office. Few quoted the last words of the movie: "don't forget Tamil or this grandfather". I was surprised to see that chauvinism in Balu, a man who made movies in Hindi, Malayalam and Kannada besides Tamil. The man had lost his creative juices a decade back and the last movie only confirmed that the creator had died before the body died.

In an interview he would claim, insanely, that Gandhi said "I'll not hit your body but I'll hit your brain". Cooly he would ask the demure air headed interviewer Anu Hasan "which is bigger violence? hitting body or mind?" Anu Hasan would be grinning incapable of comprehending the nonsense that Balu just spilled just to support a violent movie made by his disciple Seeman (who was sitting next to him). He was no intellectual. Like many of his compatriots he had not much to say beyond films, specifically the technical knowledge of movie making, and a smattering of literary taste. In the later years he would have another paramour after Archana. His third. In another interview he would extol that his legal wife Akila epitomized the ideal Indian woman and needs to be worshipped. She could've done well with a little less worshipping.

Balu's extra-marital affairs were front and center to not just his life but to his movies too. As such they are of topical interest beyond just salaciousness. Tamils while being conservative when it comes to the morals of their fellow citizens they will tolerate, in fact applaud, their politicians and movie fraternity to flout all morals. Bigamous politicians are feted. Archana and Easwari Rao stood at the near the head of Balu's lifeless body caressing the casket. Balu's wife Akila sat in a chair nearby. Life is stranger than fiction indeed. In what caused a minor sensation Archana and director Bala prevented Mounika from seeing her beloved. This was a gross disrespect to Balu who had openly and categorically stated that he was indeed married to Mounika. 

Balu Mahendra, Balachander, Kamal, Rajini, Ilayaraja and many others were part of anyone who lived in Tamil Nadu in the 80's and 90's. They shaped our ideas of entertainment and art (which I had to unlearn with effort). Musing on mortality is something that hangs over my thoughts always. Just last week as I was listening to an 80's song I was thinking ruefully that they are all aging and many cannot even walk. The grim reaper awaits several of them. When Rajini had a serious health scare I felt sad. Seeing Kamal, the ever youthful and nattily dressed man, have jowls for cheeks and sagging eyelids I cannot help notice that an era had passed.

The outpouring of love for Balu Mahendra, not just from his contemporaries, but amongst a younger brood of directors and cinema technologists was astounding indeed. It does speak volumes of the man. Kannadasan once ignited a rumor that he was dead just to see how many really loved him. Balu's soul can take comfort from how his cherished proteges flocked to his funeral. Balachander and Bharathiraja openly sobbed. Balachander whenever he suffered losses from his artsy movies he would produce a commercial movie, usually starring Rajini, but directed by somebody else. In his hey days Balu would scold Balachander saying "if I decide to do prostitution I'd do it myself not pay somebody else to do it". 

Two things irked me about the funeral though. First, for a man whose art was all about subtle aestheticism his funeral had no semblance of it. It was rambunctious, disorganized and shorn of any beauty. His body was tossed about hither and thither while being loaded onto the caravan and while being brought down. People were just milling around and jostling each other both when his body lay in state and all through the funeral. I wish there were a few sensible eulogies. Only Kamal Hasan wrote a half-decent obituary. I was disappointed to read the eulogies of Bala, Bava Chelladurai and Suka. They were moving testimonies of their relationship with their mentor but every one made it a point to record how they screamed in agony and how their families too copiously cried. This is pornography of grief.

We are all mortals and we hope the reaper would not take us before we had our fill of this life. When film musician Mahesh died young of cancer Kamal wrote a beautiful obituary for his friend titled "Mahesh: Celebratory worshipper of life" (Mahesh: வாழ்க்கையின் ஆராதகன்). Even now only Kamal spoke of man being mortal and that he came to the funeral as an expression of thanks to the life that Balu had led and for the impact he made on many lives in that period. I can sympathize that for Bava, Suka and Bala it is a deep personal loss. But Balu, aged 74, had been ill for a few years. For those who claim to produce works of art it is surprising a lack of appreciation of mortality as a fact. Death is not even understood as an ever present shadow. 

Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman shockingly died young due to heroin overdose. He was a drug addict. Friend and Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin shocked many with a touching but blunt eulogy in Time magazine. Sorkin said "So it’s in that spirit that I’d like to say this: Phil Hoffman, this kind, decent, magnificent, thunderous actor, who was never outwardly “right” for any role but who completely dominated the real estate upon which every one of his characters walked, did not die from an overdose of heroin — he died from heroin. We should stop implying that if he’d just taken the proper amount then everything would have been fine."

We are yet to learn how to mourn and how to measure a life. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Wendy Doniger, Jeyamohan and Arundhati Roy : A Primer on Free Speech

Jeyamohan, when he is not falling at the feet of his guru Ilayaraja and Arundhati Roy, when she is not cavorting with Maoists and raining vitriol over America, will do a segue way into defending, half heartedly, free speech.

Ideas on free speech, secularism, human rights and individual liberty are all very recent ideas. The US constitution, written toward the end of the 18th century, was probably the first to prohibit its own legislature from ever writing a law that will 'abridge' freedom of speech. The first amendment remains America's most cherished right in the bill of rights. Even today Britain has censors. Denying holocaust is a punishable crime in Germany.

Wendy Doniger (Source Wikipedia).
Indian constitution framers, unlike Americans at Philadelphia, retained a lot of archaic British laws especially those that gave untrammeled powers to the state because now the pigs were ruling (its a metaphor from 'Animal Farm'. Please.). Even today in India the local police station has to certify that a stage drama can be performed. A colonial era rule. The rules against free speech or loopholes to harass free speech practically mirrors colonial rule.

Free speech is not about allowing decent or agreeable or intelligent speech. Free speech is about allowing 'speech' without riders or caveats. If at all any caveat is to be used it is hate-speech and for that the threshold has to be a high bar. Britain had allowed Mullah's who preached with inflammatory rhetoric to continue preaching. Otherwise speech need not be intelligent or even decent.

A land mark case for free speech in India was the case of vernacular magazine Nakkeeran vs Tamil Nadu state. Nakkeeran had started publishing the auto-biography of a very sensational murder convict, Auto Shankar. Shankar had run brothels patronized by high officials. The officials sought to muzzle the magazine. Nakkeeran editor Rajagopal went to India Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in a landmark judgment upheld Rajagopal's right to publish the names. The judgment cites, surprisingly, landmark US cases on privacy. The series, lets remember, was just salacious, no public good came of it. Indians assume that high officials have salacious affairs. It was not news.

Larry Flynt, publisher of porn magazine 'Hustler', caused another landmark judgment in US. Flynt published a fictional story about evangelist Jerry Falwell portraying him as having sex with his mother in a barn. Falwell went to court. Larry Flynt went to US supreme court and won acquittal on free speech grounds. Free speech is not about defending what everyone will love. The reason that Flynt and Rajagopal need to be defended is because any abridgment of free speech in the name of morality or decency is a slippery slope and such excuses are more often than not abused to muzzle what somebody does not like.

Jeyamohan voiced a thinly veiled conspiracy theory that Christian West, that Wendy Doniger was born into, uses the tool of free speech to ridicule Hinduism and India. He forgot that American director Martin Scorsese made Nikos Kazantzakis's 'Last Temptation' into a movie with scenes of Christ having sex.

A New York City museum had an exhibit of a crucifix in a jar of urine. Art, said the artist. NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani threatened to cut off city taxpayer dollars to the museum unless the exhibit was removed. Then he had to backdown in the face of a loud criticism. Oh there was also the case of a portrait of Madonna (Mary) with cow dung on her breast. A movie referred to crucifix as a sexual object. In 'Jesus Christ Superstar' Christ sings and lusts. British author Philip Pullman wrote a searing parody and a laugh riot in 'Good man Jesus and scoundrel Christ' to ridicule the 'established' church. The back cover succinctly said 'this is a novel'.

James Joyce's 'Ulysses' was banned in US but publisher Random House, in what could happen only in USA, arranged for a shipment and invited a lawsuit. Random House went to court and overturned the ban. Later D.H. Lawrence's 'Lady Chatterley's lover', 'Tropic of Cancer' and 'Fanny Hill' would have to face the court and be freed.

India has a long history of banning books or inconveniencing authors deemed bad. Nirad C. Chaudhuri invited ire over his 'Authobiography of an unknown Indian". Stanley Wolpert's 'Nine hours to Rama' remains banned in India along with Scorsese's 'Last temptations of Christ'.

In India free speech will find defenders depending on who is offended. Arun Shourie, who later joined BJP, was strident in his defense of Rushdie's freedom to write 'Satanic Verses'. Self styled secularists like N.Ram and A.G.Noorani defended, gladly, M.F.Husain's freedom to depict Hindu goddesses in the nude. Then the same duo stridently criticized Dutch newspaper Jyllands Posten for publishing cartoons of Prophet Muhamed which they said would hurt the sentiments of Muslims. Arundhati Roy was conspicuously absent during the cartoon controversy when half the world boiled.

Both Arundhati Roy and Jeyamohan offer half-hearted ham handed defense of Wendy Doniger. Neither defend free speech in totality. Roy, conveniently forgetting draconian Indian laws, scolds Penguin for buckling so quickly instead of going to Supreme court with their 'resources'. Poor Roy misses the irony of capitalism's comforts.

Jeyamohan's first blog on Doniger was a shameful exercise in logic. Saying the West has two approaches to India, one, respectful and two, supercilious ridicule of a civilization they don't understand. So saying he rips Western authors who, in his opinion, ridicule Hinduism  due to misunderstanding often with ulterior motive to destabilize India. He scolds them for 5 paragraphs conveniently forgetting the many, many Western authors and even colonial officials who respected India highly. In fact I'd say that Westerners have a healthy curiosity and great deal respect for India unlike what Indians have of, say, America. S.Ra, Nanjil and Jeyamohan displayed ignorance and prejudices about America during their visits here.

Finally on a grudging note Jeyamohan concedes that bans are ineffective and may actually serve to publicize the book. This by a man who was practically lynched in the internet for ridiculing two most loved cinema heroes of Tamils. Novelist Sujatha could read Jeyamohan's Vishnupuram because Sujatha felt that Jeyamohan was being uncharitably obscene about Hinduism. Though Jeyamohan had  the words against banning books in 'bold' it was buried too late into the article and did not sound sincere given the tone of the rest of the article.

Many have quoted Wendy Doniger's, less than flattering, passage about Bhagvad Gita. Little do many Indians outside Tamil Nadu know of K.Veeramani's "The other side of Gita". Veeramani and his mentor E.V.Ramasamy reveled in ridiculing Hinduism in the name of half baked ideas they called 'rationalism' but other than a few feeble attempts they always shied away from ridiculing Islam or Christianity. This hypocrisy does exist in India. But I am pained to see Hindu friends cite these and argue for an intolerant attitude. That does not behoove a great and open religion like Hinduism. I'd have to congratulate the people of Tamil Nadu for ignoring with maturity the antics of EVR.

'Economist' asked Germany to repeal its ban on holocaust denial which is a punishable crime there. 'Economist' reasoned that bigotry should be met with scholarship not censorship. Limping out of one of humanity's greatest racist massacre the ban had a meaning in the initial days of de-nazification and has no place today.

A more critical issue of free speech is the privileges of legislators and the judiciary. Indian constitution has strict limits on what can be reported about the happenings in legislatures. I remember a full page article by Arun Shourie, who often butted heads with MP's, titled 'Their privileges and our rights'. Famously Tamil Nadu Assembly speaker P.H.Pandian claimed he had sky-high powers and sent to jail a cartoonist for depicting MLA's as pickpockets and thieves.

Indian judiciary is very thin skinned when it comes to criticism. When US Supreme Court awarded the Presidency to Bush a newspaper column called the justices 'robed pirates'. It is common to see strident and harsh criticism of not just judgment but of justices too in US.

Dreaming of a free India Tagore wrote "Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, into that heaven of freedom, let my country awake". I'd conclude with that oft attributed quoted which best defines defense of free speech: "I disagree with everything you say but I shall defend, to my death, your right to say so".


1. Arundhati Roy's letter to Penguin India
2. Jeyamohan's first blog on Wendy Doniger
3. Hustler Magazine Vs Jerry Falwell
4. James Joyce's Ulysses
5. Nakkeeran Rajagopal Vs State of Tamil Nadu  - This is a compelling read. The entire judgment is here -

Monday, February 17, 2014

Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Ike and Lessons in Leadership

The word 'revolution' would bring to most the memories of either the French revolution or the Bolshevik revolution. To a few others there would be nostalgia of the Cuban revolution or the many eddies of revolutions in South America led by Che Guevara or Simon Bolivar. To a very few the word revolution would include the 'Bolivarian revolution' of Hugo Chavez. Lenin, Mao, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Simon Bolivar are considered revolutionaries in popular opinion. Yet none of their revolutions, including the French one, yielded a liberal democracy with individual rights and none yielded a democracy much less a prosperous one. The Indian independence, besides the American revolution, stands a glorious exception to that hall of shame.

Why do we look at Lenin as revolutionary and not George Washington? Why is Napoleon etched in romantic ideas of revolution and not Washington or Jefferson? Speak of Jefferson's 'Declaration of independence' and I'd hear, in a moment, the words 'hypocrisy' and 'slavery' yet we glorify Lenin, Napoloeon and Che Guevara whose hypocrisies cost lives in the millions and continue to do so.

Jawaharlal Nehru writing to his daughter, from prison, brushes aside the American revolution without much thought and he even ridicules the hallowed words of the Declaration, "all men are created equal" for naivety since not all created equal and that there are differences in intelligence, bodily strength etc. Then Nehru spends chapter after chapter extolling the French Revolution and later the Bolshevik Revolution. That trend persists in India till today. Indians when they look beyond native leaders look to Moscow for inspiration.

Cincinnatus, it is said, was called to lead Rome against an invading army, while he was farming. He was made dictator of Rome. He is remembered today for relinquishing his powers after winning the war. Unheard of in that era. America later commemorated him by naming a city, Cincinnati.

George Washington won the revolutionary war, laid down his arms, relinquished control and went to his home atop Mt.Vernon. Called back to preside over the constitutional convention he presides over it with saintly detachment as the framers wrangle endlessly over a simple question: "how do we ensure, constitutionally, that the President will never have so much power as to become a monarch". The framers, simple men, then devised a genius solution of 'checks and balances'. Any man in Washington's place would've tried to influence the powers allocated to the office they know that might, eventually, come to them. Having become President Washington tried to be a one term president and then remained in office, just one more term, to nurture a nascent republic. Washington's 'farewell address', remains 200 years later, a document to study by anyone who not only leaves office but is going to take one. To see another man unsullied by power or willing to relinquish it I'd have to travel 150 years to see Gandhi.

Mount Rushmore: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln (from L to R. Source Wikipedia)
Washington begins his 'farewell address' with the words 'friends and  fellow citizens'. Leaders and rulers in 1792, even today, don't speak like that. Less than a decade later Napoleon, the son of revolution, declared himself Emperor. The transition of power to John Adams and then Thomas Jefferson proceeded peacefully, a miracle in the early 19th century.

Lincoln at Gettysburg coined the immortal words, "a government of the people, for the people, by the people". Fully aware that the Republic could still be torn apart and well aware that he could still lose the war Lincoln reaches out in deep and sincere humility. "The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here but it can never forget what they did here". Lincoln with his land grants lay the seed for one aspect of American supremacy that'll remain unchallenged for another two centuries: American Universities. China may surpass US GDP but never its per-capita or have a Harvard in Beijing. There will never be an MIT or Stanford in Shanghai or Delhi.

Thomas Jefferson was 32 when he wrote the words that would define America for centuries to come. 'Pursuit of happiness'. He would agonize over religious freedom, individual liberty and education. His  constitution for Virginia would later inspire the US constitution's bill of rights. Writing what his epitaph would say Jefferson would refer to himself as 'author of declaration of independence','statute of Virginia for religious freedom' and finally 'father of the University of Virginia'. No mention of the fact that he was President of US or Ambassador or Vice President or Secretary of state.

I came to US in 1998 and as much as I loved this country I looked their admiration of some US Presidents as just jingoism. When Time Magazine in a centennial issue included Teddy Roosevelt I chuckled "what did he do beside lending his name to a toy bear". By ending the Russo-Japanese war Teddy Roosevelt earned a Nobel peace prize thus becoming the first US President to do so. He created the Panama Canal, laid the groundwork for America's famous national parks amongst many others. There is a reason America honored him by including him along side Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln by carving his visage on Mount Rushmore.

The made-for-TV movie 'Ike:Countdown to D-Day' has a pivotal opening scene with Eisenhower pressing Churchill to declare him 'Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary force". Churchill demurs and says "you are asking for power that not even Caesar and Alexander had". Exactly. And Ike wields that power carefully later relinquishing it voluntarily. No general in history ever commanded such a vast and successful army only to relinquish his power answering to Harry Truman, born to a farmer and livestock trader. Ike had earlier benched legendary general Patton for the offense of slapping a soldier. The Red Army would've rewarded Patton. Patton was asked to apologize to not just the soldier but to the entire platoon. Ike would again rap Patton for claiming that when the war was over the Anglo-Saxons would rule. When a top ranking General rats out, intemperately, about the upcoming D-Day landing at Normandy Ike demotes and sends him back home. The general pleads "am I not in the inner circle". Ike expresses disgust and reminds him of the thousands that are about to die. Ike would agonize over the expected casualties.

On this day when America celebrates "Presidents Day" in memory of Washington and Lincoln I invite all to learn about these leaders who created the freest country and most prosperous. Thank you Sirs. And so may we add a 'Thank you Madam'. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Does Satya Nadella Owe Thanks, if Any, to India (or US)?

'Let the brains drain out of India lest they go down the drain'. So said I in a debate on brain drain in 1993 at a college in Coimbatore. I proceeded to point out how scientists fleeing Nazi Germany provided a turning point in US scientific supremacy. The torch of scientific supremacy decisively passed over from Europe to US only after 1945.

Indian-Americans now head two iconic American corporations, Pepsi and Microsoft, amongst a few others. Do these expatriates owe thanks to the motherland they emigrated from? Do they owe thanks to the alma maters of their homeland? And, finally, do they have any debt of gratitude to America, the land where their dreams took flight and ambitions were realized despite being immigrants from a third world country?

In a nutshell no individual owes it to any country, India or US, for where he/she is today. If anything they may owe to it to their families after themselves. They can, if they wish to, tip a hat to a country that, unlike India, gave wings to their dreams and provided an atmosphere where they flourished and in returned enriched the country that allowed them in.

Indira Nooyi studied in Madras Christian College and, I hear, has donated to the institution. An ex-professor asserted that Nooyi owes it to MCC and based his assumption on the courteous statements that Nooyi has made of MCC. I don't confuse politeness for factual evidence. Fact is Nooyi will never  go back to India, not even in her dreams would she consider sending her children or grand children to MCC to study. The number of CEO's from the portals of MCC can be counted on one hand. The only other illustrious alumnus from MCC was Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Established in 1837 MCC is famous for having the trees in its luscious gardens labeled with botanical names. Beyond that the few illustrious alumni, listed in wikipedia, mostly belong to a bygone era and not many in the recent past when MCC shared an intellectual decline along with most other such institutions that date from the Colonial era. MCC is not Harvard or Yale where identifying, nourishing and producing leaders is a tradition.

Satya Nadella (from Wikipedia)
When CBS 60 minutes ran a program on IITs calling them more selective than Harvard every Indian-American, barring a few like me, irrespective of whether they went to IIT or not, patted themselves and proudly proclaimed that they are from the country of IITs. Till today IIT graduates, expatriate and those who remain in India, don't count a single Nobel laureate amongst them in any discipline. We can count on one hand, possibly two, the number of revolutionary ideas in technology that have come from IIT graduates. Incidentally graduates from Osmania University hold more patents in US than expatriate graduates of all IITs (refer article in The Hindu ). The fabled selectivity of IIT is just a function of demand vs supply and has no bearing on the quality of the graduates produced. Most IIT'ians are nothing more than diligent rote learners in 12th grade and they turn out as mediocre graduates.

Being a nation of a hoary and very rich civilization, including treatises in grammar and mathematics, that predates recorded history Indians have an unfathomable inferiority complex given the near total lack of international achievement in present day. Hence at any semblance of achievement Indians rush to envelop that in the tricolor flag forgetful of the fact that Nooyi, a woman from middle class, and Nadella born to middle class parents would not have achieved what they did in US. A more pertinent question to ask would be if a middle class Afro-American choosing to study and work in India would ever become the head of any Indian company like Microsoft? I said 'like Microsoft' only as hyperbole. There is no Indian company like Microsoft or Apple. Not yet. I chose 'Afro-American' to rub in the racial barriers.

Yes, some Indian universities and colleges are more than decent compared to some community colleges in America or universities in other third world countries. That said let's not forget that at best Indian institutions can only be pipelines for the most brilliant to reach world class higher education centers mostly in US. Nadella may very well compliment his college or school but nobody need be fooled for when it comes time to recruit managers he will head to Chicago Booth or Harvard or Yale or that unpolished gem that lies buried in the crusty corridors of some Indian university.

One thing that America, more than any other country, does well is to ferret out talent, worry about identifying talent, then nourishing it, then seeing it achieve the best that that human being can be. Indian universities have no idea of what it is to identify talent. Indian universities sit back, wait for applications to pour in, select the top most scorers and rest on their palms watching the top scorers go out and ace examinations or get ahead in life. Today, more than ever, American university admissions officers worry about racial, gender and economic diversity. Ivy league universities reach out to schools in poor neighborhoods to impress upon their students that lack of money should not inhibit them from applying. The top US universities can very well, like their Indian counterparts, sit on their hands and wait for applications. But they don't. And thats the cultural difference.

The MacArthur grants, popularly called 'genius awards', showcases America's culture of excellence like nothing else can. Many of the MacArthur fellows go on to win other prestigious prizes like the Pulitzer or accomplish something of note. See my earlier blog titled "America's Geniuses:John Dabiri and a culture of nourishing excellence". Raj Chetty, economist, L. Mahadevan, mathematician, Vijay Iyer, musician have all been awarded the Mac Arthur genius awards in the recent past.

Before anyone can say "if only Indian universities had money like Harvard and Princeton" I'd add "fat chance. even with all the money in the world IIT and IISc will not produce two Nobel laureates". It is never about money. Money is secondary or even tertiary. Its the Indian culture that has a problem.

After Macaulay the only person who worried about educating Indians was Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was the last Indian politician who wanted his citizens to have an education like he did. Homi Bhabha was tasked with forming world class educational institutes, autonomy was enshrined by a parliamentary bill, when foreign investment was an anathema IITs were a joint venture, when foreign exchange was doled out miserly international science journals were imported tax free and yet nothing great came out.

Nobel laureate S.Chandrasekhar was groomed in Cambridge and later achieved greatness in America as an American citizen but he would show a typical Indian hypocrisy by prescribing to others, without batting an eyelid, what he had no intention of ever doing in his life. Chandra would narrate how faction ridden the scientific and educational community in India was in the 1930's when giants like Homi Bhabha, Meghnad Saha and S.N.Bose lived. Chandra, while sympathetic of Bhabha, would narrate with disgust how Bhabha enjoyed showing power. Homi Bhabha would derive joy in making people wait, including a person like S.N. Bose. Einstein impressed by Bose's paper translated it into German and had it published. And Bosons came into being.

Quoting Nehru Chandra would say that though Indians chased away the British they retained the sense of hierarchy and entitlement attitude that colonial era officers showed. His comments to his biographer, Kameshwar C Wali, show nothing but contempt for the then Indian scientific environment. He even jeers at the notion of being expected to remain in India taking a lowly position as head of an observatory after a stint at Cambridge. Yet, the same Chandra asserts, rather shamelessly, that there is nothing "wrong if a developing country like India attempts to stop this 'brain drain'. China, for instance, has been able to develop its internal resources to a point. Human beings are also internal resources". His hagiographer Wali thankfully adds, referring to US, "it is silly to talk about free right to emigrate when this (USA) country is so selective about who it wants to take. There are no open borders. The poor starving Haitian refugees, it is so inhuman to send them off". Fascist nonsense. No wonder Chandra and his wife campaigned for Adlai Stevenson, twice.

Arrant nonsense. Hypocrisy with a blindness that's appalling in a man who swore by science and could not even look at how illogical he was. Chandra justifies preventing emigration because many emigrate just for money and take even lowly positions. So what? His mother seeded him with an ambition and a dictum to keep away from C.V.Raman's 'orbit'. Each man to his own needs. Who a country chooses to allow is its own prerogative that does not mean that other countries should ban emigration. Both USSR and China banned any emigration yet they lag technologically and economically far behind US. Until 2001 China was far behind US. USSR had talent but chose to prevent free travel and emigration only to send its brilliant scientists to Gulags. When USSR collapsed its scientists were reduced to surviving on a bag of potatoes. Thanks to a closed system their scientists often re-invented the wheel not knowing somebody else had done it already.

Ever since India opened up its economy many of those who emigrated have invested back in India as entrepreneurs. The traffic of emigrants is a cash cow for India. Foreign remittances are a key source of revenue for India. The US, of course, wins hands down with its open door policy for talent. Actually the policy is less than open door and needs to become one.

It is a measure of US' openness that first generation immigrants have risen the fabled American corporate ladder to the very top. This is unique to USA. No other country does it as well as America. No other country attracts talent and the mediocre alike as much as the US does. More than 50% of Phd's in US are foreign born. The annual Nobel laureate list features many immigrants. A culture of openness, respect for talent, lack of rigid hierarchies, a culture of innovation, risk taking, rewarding risk and other key ingredients make US the place to be for immigrants, skilled and unskilled, legal and illegal, alike.

Bill Gates, the world's richest man, the founder of the iconic company that changed the world, has stepped down as Chairman and will continue to be an 'advisor' to Nadella. I cannot imagine this happening in any other part of the world. Scion of Henry Ford, another quintessential American icon, stepped aside and brought in external talent, Alan Mulally, to turn around Ford. Can we imagine any Indian business founder doing that? These are not exceptions but rather routine in US and thats the key defining feature.

All that said would I say Nadella owes a debt of gratitude to USA? No. That's cheap. If Nadella turns around Microsoft from a lumbering behemoth to a nimble competitor and in the process unleashes great revolutionary technology or products it is America that will have to thank the immigrant. The proper function of any society that desires progress, economically and otherwise, is to be an enabler for any individual to realize his/her potential to the fullest extent. When an individual succeeds if society thinks it is 'entitled' to his scalp then in the long run the society will decay. Exhibit A: USSR. Did Einstein owe his life to US? No. US owes Einstein a big thanks. If US had said no to Einstein he may have perished somewhere but the loss would have been more to US than to Einstein.

Andy Grove came to US as a penniless refugee fleeing Nazism and then communism. America and the world need to thank Andy Grove for Intel. While Americans can justifiably feel proud about being, as Reagan said, a 'city on the hill' we cannot lose sight that it was Andy Grove the individual who made himself what he became out of the millions who emigrate to US. Its always the individual that counts. The day a society becomes greedy and titular thinking that the individual is at its service that day the death knell will sound for that society.

Liberals Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren made it fashionable to speak of the duty of an individual to society. 'Giving back', they call it. I say, 'bollocks'. The only duty of an individual is to be a law abiding citizen and work towards one's own dream. The rest is corollary and incidental. So many thousands of students attended the same school before and after Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Alan Mulally or Indra Nooyi or Satya Nadella yet only they became what they did. So many attend Harvard and Yale yet not everyone becomes Mark Zuckerberg or, as for that matter, Obama.

American universities recognize that while they are incubators or catalysts of talent they do not fancy themselves as entitled to the achievements of their alumni. Thats why universities, recognizing the value of alumni, go to great lengths to nourish that relationship as symbiotic equals. Pushing oneself to deliver the best within himself is the greatest tribute any individual can pay a society.Without Bill Gates the capitalist Bill Gates the philanthropist would not exist. The latter is a bonus. The former is his tribute to himself and then to America.

Let me be to Indians what John Galt was to Hank Rearden. Chandra won accolades of high order in UK and USA before India gave him a paltry Padma Vibhushan. NASA has named an observatory after Chandra. Kalpana Chawla was richly remembered by a grateful America when her space mission ended in tragedy. A Congressional space medal of honor was bestowed on her, Texas university named a hall after her and an asteroid was named for her. All that for an immigrant who perished in the skies. C.K.Prahlad won an American award before India even recognized him. Indian-Americans head two of America's most prestigious schools of business, Harvard Business School and Chicago Booth School of Business. I hope Indians now don't think that they run America.

A Delhi girl was spurned admission at Delhi colleges thanks to ludicrous cutoffs at 100%.  The middle class girl, New York Times article said, was accepted at Dartmouth with scholarships (New York Times Article 'Squeezed out in India, students turn to United States' ). The key sentence of that article was that US universities are making efforts to reach out to Indian students. Its the 'reaching out' that differentiates Dartmouth from Delhi colleges. Brown University intended to open an office in Delhi to recruit Indian students. Brown had 86 Indian students in 2008. In 2011 it was 300. Indian higher education is in shambles.

Atul Gawande, born to Maharashtrian immigrants, straddles the worlds of politics, public policy making, surgery, journalism and administration. A total impossibility in the suffocating strait jacketed Indian system. Then there is Siddhartha Mukherjee who won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award for his debut book 'Emperor of Maladies'. I can bet most Indian doctors cannot read more than 10 pages of that book let alone be capable of writing one sentence in that. Another impossibility in creativity stifling Indian system. Mukherjee won a Rhodes Scholarship, a Cancer leadership award (shared with a US governor and senator), Pulitzer, Time magazine notice and then finally in 2014 a Padma Shri.

At a retreat for Governors Thomas Friedman told them to lobby for reforming the immigration mess in America. Friedman and a University President pleaded for green cards to be stapled to the graduate degrees awarded to foreign students. A Republican governor cheerfully agreed. Thats how much America recognizes and yearns to retain talent.

I'd tell every Indian to emigrate to US if opportunity presents itself. Come to America and prosper. As you prosper you will enrich this country, not just economically. I invite every Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Math, Engineering and Medical student to set his sights on MIT or Harvard Medical school or Princeton and settle down in this great country. India does not deserve you. At least not yet.