Ananya Vajpeyi on the real issues behind the attack on the BORI Institute in Pune: “…[Are] we prepared to defend acts of violence perpetrated in the name of our identity, our beliefs and finally, our sentiments? The work on Shivaji by the American professor James Laine must be judged on the cogency of its arguments and the propriety of its methodology. Instead we are asked to judge it on the basis of the nationality of its author.” She points out, incidentally, that tolerance and freedom of speech are under threat not just from the Hindu right but in Congress-ruled states and Communist-ruled states as well.
“For some months now, the elite in this country has been raising hell over the government’s decision to route all contributions of the NRI alumni of IITs, through the Bharat Siksha Kosh. What is wrong with that?” .J S Rajput, the man who enshrined illiteracy as the operating principle in a thousand NCERT textbooks, on another key question. A bit of background: the Bharat Shiksha Kosh is a fund operated by the Central government, where would-be donors to the IITs and other institutions are told to hand over their cash and let the government decide where it’s going to be used and how.
I’d love to take off on this issue, but Sandipan Deb has already done it for me in his book, The IITians:
“In a meeting between a senior Education Ministry bureaucrat and eminent IITians, the government official said that when IITians made donations to their alma maters, there should be no strings attached to the money. That is, they should just write out a cheque without specifying a particular project, and it was upto the Indian government and the IIT to decide how the funds would be used. This was of course as stupid a suggestion as any a non-bureaucrat in that room had ever heard, and showed a complete disconnect with the real world. As soon as the bureaucrat finished, Rekhi took the floor. ‘If you are telling me that I give money and I don’t have a say on how that money will be used, I say: Screw you,’ he said. ‘Do you want my money or not? Do you think you are doing me a favour by taking my money? As a donor I have the right to specify where my money will go, and to check that that money is being used properly and is going there. You have the right not to want to use the money for the purpose I am specifying, and I have the right to refuse to give money for any purpose other than what I have in mind. Get real.’ Following Rekhi’s straight talk, all the other IITians too spoke up and, as the man who told me of this incident put it, ‘the bureaucrat didn’t know where to run’.
“Perhaps more than dams or technology, if libraries had been designated as the temples of new India, made to proliferate across towns and cities, who knows how different the cultural and political history of modern India might look.” Pratap Bhanu Mehta touches a nerve out here. Delhi has several decent academic libraries, but their vast stores of knowledge are available only to a few scholars. Public libraries exist in name only; of the two the Babu attempted to visit recently, one has a vast collection of third-rate books of poetry and mediocre prose written by government officials, and the other is used as an unofficial meeting point for junkies.
Dale Peck is hanging up his hatchet in disgust. “Since 1996, I’d registered my dissatisfaction with contemporary fiction in reviews panning everyone from Stanley Crouch to Julian Barnes, with little more than the occasional email from a friend to register my efforts. But my pleasure faded as I realised that people were less interested in what I had to say than in the possibility of a brawl. Like schoolboys chanting “Fight, fight”, they let loose their own ripostes: I was “a troubled queen”; my reviews “degrade the profession”; I was “foolish”, “bitchy” and, finally, “snarky”.”
“I think there’s something very dark in the South African psyche, I think we live a lot of the time in a state of a very low-grade civil war; the levels of violence in South Africa are extremely high. In a way the civil war that never happened is being played out in a covert way, so we live with a lot of very ugly things. Yes I am disturbed and it feels a lot of the times like the fabric of society is unravelling.” Damon Galgut, author of The Good Doctor, in an interview with The Hindu.
Padmini Mongia has had enough: “I am now making a list I call “Novels I’ve forgotten to finish.” Iyer’s [Abandon] is one of them. As is Pankaj Mishra’s The Romantics and Raj Kamal Jha’s The Blue Bedspread… I’ve longed for these novels, I’ve peeked into but withheld reading them so I could yield to their power for a clear stretch of several hours. But when I have finally opened their crisp covers, I’ve been numbed. The books have deadened me instead of gripping me in a page-turning momentum. Then I’ve wanted to force the plane to stop, to turn around, to go back to that bookstore, back to that book review, back to that hype, to that book launch, that tremendously large advance from publishers in London and New York, all that machinery that fed the attention the novel received and I’ve wanted ? at least, at the very least ? to demand my money back.”
“There isn’t a country on God’s earth that is not caught in the cross hairs of the American cruise missile and the IMF chequebook. Argentina’s the model if you want to be the poster-boy of neoliberal capitalism, Iraq if you’re the black sheep.” That would be Arundhati Roy. Read the piece, if you haven’t already: her arguments are as impassioned as we’ve come to expect, and backed by some serious numbers.