REMEMBERING THE BEIJING SPRING

Today marks 30 years since the death of Hu Yaobang, general secretary of the Communist Party of China between 1982 and 1987. Reputed to have been of rather liberal leaning as regards human rights and democratisation, he was ousted by supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, whose choice as successor, Zhao Ziyang, only continued to espouse Hu’s line. And paid for it. But I’m running ahead of my yarn.

Hu’s death sparked an upsurge of clamour (N.B.: no social media then) for human rights, democracy and action on official corruption. Zhao no doubt stoked it, relying on ferment among intellectuals and students at leading universities. Workers were initially out of the picture. But their resentment over the pro-capitalist reforms introduced by Deng in the late 1970s simmered beneath. The populace had already suffered greatly under more than two decades of collectivisation (of land, factories etc) including a horrific decade of “cultural revolution” drama aimed at buttressing Mao Zedong’s hold on power laced with ultra-nationalist drivel. Tens of millions of lives lost, by several estimates.

Public demands to properly honour Hu, the marches and so forth were exhilarating. Zhao obliged, bizarrely praising Hu as a “great proletarian revolutionist”. This didn’t go down well: No, not with the proletariat (most of whom had little use for nor inkling of such speechifying) but among Deng and his cronies. Official publications initially under Zhao’s command praised the pro-democracy student demonstrators.

But Zhao had played his cards badly. The Deng line prevailed within the CPC. About a month after Hu’s death – and even as hundreds and often thousands of students thronged central Beijing’s Tiananmen Square – the CPC leadership ditched Zhao.

Martial Law was proclaimed in parts of Beijing on May 21. (Incidentally, ML had been imposed in Chinese-occupied Tibet earlier that year but that’s another story.)

This had no effect on the students camping out in Tiananmen. Behind their zeal lay months and years of groundwork by intellectuals such as the astrophysicist Fang Lizhi and journalist Liu Binyan and others, not to mention the “Democracy Wall” movement of the late 1970s and not to forget that an earlier similar protest following a top leader’s death – that in 1976 of Zhou Enlai – had Deng’s hand all over it.

By late May, the military was in place. Battle tanks showed up in central Beijing. On the night of June 3 to June 4, the rebellion was quashed. Meanwhile, Zhao had been stripped of all but his CPC membership. Replaced by Shanghai colleague Jiang Zemin who did zilch other than obeying Deng, who in 1992 called for the unleashing of robber baron capitalism – “socialist market economy” was the euphemism used.

Result: China has grown and how! Decades of runaway GDP growth – widening inequality sparking thousands of workers’ strikes annually and the despoiling of the environment, with global consequences.

The animals outside look on as a regime that persists in invoking Marx – now under arguably the most authoritarian dispensation led by Xi Jinping since the1970s – cavorts with mostly homegrown business behemoths and assorted foreign specimens.

P.S.: Why should a resident of a city in southern Asia bother about what transpired in a city in the continent’s northeast?

  1. I was a journalist based in Beijing 1988-1994 and Hong Kong mostly 1995-2012.
  2. The four hyphenated words in my text.

See also: UPTURNED BOTTLE, DEAD DEER AND MAY 35th
https://walkerjay.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/upturned-bottle-dead-deer-and-may-35th-that%E2%80%99s-right-may-thirty-fifth/

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AMBULANCE AND HOSPITAL CHATS REDUX

After a gap of fourteen and a half months, my now 91-year-old father spent three nights in a private hospital in November, whose rates for various services and supplies have been jacked up by many multiples of 10% on a long list.

“Don’t you provide a bottle of water in the patient’s ward?” I asked a nurse the first evening. She said she’d ask for one to be supplied (by the sub-contractor in charge of the pantry).
“It’ll be charged,” she muttered under her breath.
“So I could just get one from across the road?”
“Yes.”
Cheap (in both senses of the term).

Quick however/moreover.

A bit earlier, while having brief conversations with one of the hospital representatives re major problems with Internet access in the ward and twiddling thumbs as she checked her screen which was taking its time, I asked (mindful of the #MeToo movement):
“Out of sheer idle curiosity, Ma’am, do you have an Internal Complaints Committee?”
“Yes, we do,” she said in what sounded to me a confident tone. “We brief staff every month.”
(Disclosure: She’d asked me about my profession.)

But I fidgeted. Having noticed aspects of the hospital’s labour relations that are far from what may be deemed best practice, I wonder how much of staff briefing actually takes place.

For one, most of the staff seem harassed all the time. Short-staffed in almost all departments, be it reception, accounts/billing, nursing or cleaning.

As for the last named, i.e. cleaning, their distinctly different-coloured uniforms and lapel logos mark them out as contracted from another company. Meaning they’re not hospital staff.

Room cleaning and cleaning of patients as well as assisting patients to go to the washroom when able to do so or to take a walk in the – rather too narrow – corridors when so advised by the doctors is the responsibility of the cleaning staff, not the over-stretched nursing department.

So, I got talking with a few of the cleaning staff.

Had to.

As I and/or my brother were expected to tip them for services rendered such as ensuring my father had his … er … ablutions, had his diaper changed, got himself cleaned up through a ‘sponge bath’ and so forth.
They had subtle and not so subtle ways of letting us know that tips were expected.

“Saar, I gave your father a sponge bath…
“Saar, I cleaned the toilet even though it was not my duty but only because – here come a couple of almost untranslatable words from Kannada – ‘neevu vicharskotheeri’ (broadly meaning you pay attention or rather pay attention to the need to tip).

Only one – or so I was told by one of my interlocutors among the cleaning personnel – and I can personally endorse this, based on my experience as of November 2018 – of the actual hospital staff in charge of cleaning can be recognized by way of a different-coloured uniform: Grey.

Now, there is a broadly predictable caste-wise break-up of the hospital personnel: 1. Doctors/specialists, managers, 2. Receptionists/accountants/front-managers 3. Nurses 4. Cleaning and security personnel with salary scales and employment conditions too being on a declining scale. At any rate none of them is unionized and some categories being contract workers ensures they won’t even begin to consider unionizing.

A while after this hospital experience, at a meeting at SCM House to release a small booklet, Right to Love (about the implications of the Supreme Court’s Navtej Singh Johar verdict), Prof Babu Mathew who has a long labour rights background, brilliantly linked the issue to assaults on other disadvantaged sections. To wit the absent/denied (with backing of the full force of the state) right to association of informal sector workers. “Structurally adjusted”, as Prof Mathew quipped balefully. Hoary International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions a century in the making are being trampled on blithely.

There is a term for workers lacking stable employment conditions, insurance, paid holidays and so forth: ‘Precariat’ described elsewhere.[1]

After the 2017 hospitalisation episode when the final bill was presented, my elder brother took a careful look, argued with one of the surgeons who – so my brother repeatedly tells me – said, “the hospital is looting you and you are keeping quiet”, and got a small discount.

In late November this year, we learned a lesson for questioning the hospital’s billing practices: I’d noticed that in the final bill before my father’s discharge could be effected, the discharge order having been pronounced pre-noon, there was a mention of a medication costing Rs 200+ – a MERE Rs 200 in hindsight – that had not been administered.

Punishment: my 91-year-old father, and elder brother had to wait until nearly 3 pm before we were let go. Incidentally my brother and I also had to watch while my corpulent father devoured a standard meal while we’d both wished the hospital had provided for a wee bit of variation. The hospital having contracted out the catering, perhaps there was little the physicians and surgeons could do by way of suggesting appropriate diets.

On the way to and from the hospital, we’d been provided ‘complimentary’ ambulance pick-up. I noticed that the driver was not the same one I’d met in 2017 and described in the following:

https://walkerjay.wordpress.com/2017/09/16/an-ambulance-chat-gauri-lankesh-and-hindutva-abroad/

The current one sounded tense and preoccupied. In the few minutes it took to get home, I asked him about his work.

“Neighbours just watch, they don’t offer any help (with getting the patients into and out of the ambulances),” he muttered.

[1] https://www.opendemocracy.net/n-jayaram/universal-declaration-of-human-rights-at-70

 

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HOW A TINY KITTEN MIGHT HAVE HELPED RID ME OF BACKACHE BLUES

A less than six weeks old kitten came into my life early in August and by the time I found a permanent home for him he had inadvertently paid me back many, many times over for spending a few sleepless nights worrying over his welfare.

I was forced to bend and pick him up so often every few hours from late afternoon on August 3 and until the evening of the 7th that a backache which had sapped my physical and mental energies for nearly two months had – lo and behold! – begun easing rather than aggravating as I’d feared it might while fussing over the precious little being.P1030967.JPG

That backache started in early June, perhaps after I lifted one bucket too many filled with wet clothes to feed the washing machine and collecting the drained water to carry to the parched plants in the garden.

Although a painkiller ointment seemed to take care of immediate symptoms, the full force of the punishment came on a Sunday afternoon. So excruciating was the pain that I found myself unable to stand. It was panic-inducing.

The American humourist and filmmaker Woody Allen is credited with quipping:  “Not only is God dead, but you can’t get a dentist at the weekend.”[1]

Nor orthopaedists, he might have added.

A neighbourhood private hospital in the part of Bangalore I live in was open. The duty doctor ordered a painkiller injection and prescribed a couple of pills. We’ll see five days later if an X-ray is needed, he said. A fat lot of good the injection and pills did.

After a couple of days, well-intentioned relatives began suggesting myriad remedies, therapies and doctors (as well-intentioned relatives do) and my mother commandeered my brother and his car to drive me to the clinic of a reputed orthopaedist near our home.

His quick-fire diagnosis was followed by a prescription for super-strong pain-killers. I tried asking the reputed ortho about possible side-effects but he had no more time for me.

“We’ll see about the side-effects,” was all he said. Duh! Thanks, Doc.

However, given how much faith people around me had in his wisdom, I did take half of what he had prescribed for about half the duration. That rid me of the unbearable pain and I could get up from a reclining or sitting position. An underlying feeling that something had gone wrong remained. Fear of bending and lifting things or exerting myself in other ways gripped me. A cousin lent me his Lumbo Sacral Belt. I began walking slowly, avoided sitting before my laptop for long stretches and tried lying flat on my back listening to music and spoken word programmes via the Internet.

What next? ‘Alternative medicine’ was suggested. Ayurveda, obviously! An Ayurvedic doc prescribed pills, potions and an oil to be applied to the back, plus hot fomentation. We’ll see whether an X-ray is needed, he too said.

He told me to avoid climbing stairs. Er… there’s no way I can avoid using the stairs to my room at least 15-20 times a day. Thanks, but no thanks, Doc.

Next visit, he did prescribe two X-rays at a newly opened outfit which charged a bomb: The radiologist’s observation: “Early lumbar spondylosis”.

The Ayurvedic doc prescribed more pills, but this time he threw in – following my own query – massages costing a few thousand rupees for a week.

Now, there seems to be a link between backache and depression. My own situation was not helped by my staying away from meetings – private and public – with many brilliant and hard-working human rights lawyers and other activists. And the media rife with the exploits of the likes of Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and their followers is not exactly mood uplifting. I began to wonder whether I’d ever feel better and get back to my routine.

Fast forward to early August: I’d been avoiding climbing the steep stairs to the 2nd floor roof of our house for a few weeks but was forced to as some masonry work was going on.

A dry coconut branch had fallen on the roof. I tried to ease it down but it landed partially on a neighbour’s roof. I resolved to retrieve it the next day. But the neighbour had thrown it into our back alley. (We use dry coconut branches, shells and husks to heat our bath water.) On August 3 evening, I opened the locked doors to the alley to retrieve the branch.

It was then that I saw and heard the kitten.

The alley was bereft of any other activity. No feline or human guardian of the kitten seemed to be about.

I bent down and picked up the tiny creature and took him – yes, a male as a vet later pronounced him to be – to my mother. We both fell head over heels in love with the precious being.P1030954.JPG

Pulling out a saucer that had previously been used to offer milk and cat food to an exalted Daily Visitor[2] who had been gracing our compound for several years until January 2015 was but the work of a moment.

The tiny one lapped up a few tongues-full. I posted a notice on the wall of a nearby veterinarian clinic inviting adopters and bought a bag of kitten food from a pet shop.

From that evening on, I was at the kitten’s beck and call almost 24/7. I felt duty-bound to get up at unearthly hours to check on his welfare, offer food and drink, play with him, lead him back to his saucer…This routine could have gone and on and on.

But my mother and I knew we could not keep him as we share a house with others who exercise a veto.

Discreet messages were sent to a few friends alerting them that I shall go public requesting human would-be serviteurs to this feline being to raise their hands.

One of my respected friends, Cynthia Stephen, independent researcher and journalist, got cracking and supplied me with a number to call before I was even half prepared. But after showing great enthusiasm in the beginning, the gentleman went off the hook. Cynthia then posted my request on the facebook page of Pet Adoption in Bangalore.[3]

An almost immediate response led to a couple from a locality in the vicinity of Bangalore’s International Airport coming all the way to my area, just south of the Indian Institute of Science, and picking up the teeny-weeny.P1030959.JPG

Although I had taken the kitten to the neighbourhood veteran veterinarian on August 5 and he had declared that the kitten was sound of health, I was worried about some excretions from his beady eyes. His assistant, who was on duty the following Monday, gave the eyes a wash, prescribed some eye-drops and the kitten was on his way to his furever home.

While going to pick up the eye-drops from a chemist’s a few steps away, I was telling the couple about the incidents that led up to our – three humans and an uncomplaining little creature – finding ourselves where we were.

“He was meant to be for us”, they said, and I paraphrase from my rather delirious memory of that exchange as I was over the moon at having found good caretakers for a tiny being who had nearly eclipsed my thought processes such that he and his welfare were mostly all that I was ruminating about for several dozen hours.IMG-20170810-WA0008.jpg

[The last photo shows the kitten in his new home. Photo courtesy Sudhir Kumar.]

All that I’d say is that a series of coincidences led up to the denouement.

After I was already on the mend – and again thanks to relatives’ advice – I consulted one of the most reputed of orthopaedists practising in my area.

He let me off saying there was nothing to worry 1.Without prescribing any pills and potions. 2. Suggesting just two exercises to strengthen my ancient back.

What he did not suggest was what I credit with having done the trick: Kitten Therapy!

Meow!

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/453DvFvVsBGn9xRfkKT1D4n/defining-death

[2] https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=521064894614085&set=a.102775279776384.4449.100001317365949&type=3&theater

[3] https://www.facebook.com/groups/1398121880480335/

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AN AMBULANCE CHAT, GAURI LANKESH AND HINDUTVA ABROAD

Late Tuesday night (Sept 12), I had to rush my father to the hospital in an ambulance. The nurse and the ambulance driver had made ingenious efforts at getting my corpulent father on to the stretcher. In the ambulance, the nurse sitting beside me got loquacious.

“This whole neighbourhood is full of aged people whose children live abroad,” he began in an arresting tone.
“They address us via video-conferencing…
“So many elderly people with two or three children all living abroad. When you told me (on the phone) that your father was 90 years old, I assumed he must be yet another one of those…
“They abandon their parents and live abroad. Why do they need to earn so much money and neglect their parents? What is the use of all that money if this is the way you treat your own parents? …
“Hotte uriyatthe, saar (Kannada for ‘the stomach burns, sir’, or ‘the blood boils, sir’.)

“A lot of the buildings here have no lifts.” (It’s an old locality.)

“How long have you been working, sir?” I ventured to ask while he paused.
“Two and a half years. Earlier I was working ward-side. I want to give up this ambulance job.” (If I’d had an itch to give him unsolicited advice to request him to… but we’d neared the hospital.)

It so happened that on Wednesday night too I was in the ambulance with him and reminded him of his last remark regarding his job the previous night: “Too much tension in this line of work. People call rather too late and some of them need to be transported from second or third floors. Things can go wrong and we get blamed.”

Needless to say the area I live in is typical of several such in other parts of Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and many others – a large number of elderly people coping and moping, awaiting visits once in a blue moon by their children and grandchildren settled abroad.

***
The above exchange took place a few hours after I’d returned from Bangalore’s Central College grounds where vast numbers of people including representatives of Adivasis (indigenous peoples), Dalits, Muslims and other groups were present in massive strength, protesting the assassination of Gauri Lankesh.[1]

Anger over the murder of the widely respected journalist – how widely and in how many parts of the globe has been evident in recent days – had already been expressed through spontaneous and peaceful demonstrations in scores of cities and towns in Karnataka and beyond.

Tuesday’s protest rally was one of the largest yet and more are planned including in the Indian capital to keep focus on the issue of Gauri Lankesh’s assassination and what it means for the future of dissent in India.

Speakers on the dais said what has reverberated through social media: “we do not know who killed Gauri Lankesh, but we do know who are celebrating the criminal act.”

The reference was clearly to the obscene and ugly comments on Facebook, Twitter and myriad other social forums by Hindu fanatics and jingoists hailing the killing of Gauri Lankesh: Hers was a doughty voice against obscurantism and for values enshrined in the Constitution of India, a document that is gradually being called into question by forces that want to shred the secular fabric of the nation and the egalitarian aspirations it invoked. Gauri Lankesh, a votary of the ideology of one of the principal authors of the constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as well as a staunch opponent of communalism, was a thorn in the side of the Hindutva forces

***

These forces are not only active in India but among the Indian diaspora especially in North America and Britain. They agitate against accurate portrayals of Indian society in universities, fund Hindutva outfits back home and – as in the case of Britain – mount a campaign against proposed legislation outlawing caste discrimination. This ties together the slogans and speeches heard at the rally for Gauri Lankesh and the ambulance nurse’s rant about people settled abroad and being unavailable to care for their elders.

Many of the Indian expatriates are Hindu fanatics who have contributed to the rise of Hindutva. Of course, there are sizeable sections opposed to the Hindutva crowd but it is the latter that seem to be the more vocal, affluent and influential. They have forged links with White racists and the Trump camp. And they rail against anyone writing about Hinduism and the Hindus as the celebrated Professor Wendy Doniger of Chicago University[2] and others too many to name have found. And yet these Hindu fanatics neglect one of Hinduism’s precepts: “Maathru devo bhava, pithru devo bhava, acharya devo bhava, atithi devo bhava.” (Mother as god, father as god, teacher as god, guest as god”: From the Taittiriya Upanishad.) Of course, the words need not be taken literally nor were they likely meant to be, given the richness of ancient Indian philosophical discourse that celebrates argumentation.
Rather these expats and their fellow Hindu fanatics back home practice a ritualistic form of Hinduism limited to building and gathering at temples and hating Muslims and Blacks and other minorities while ignoring some of the finer precepts of their faith. Caring or not for parents is one thing and another is pushing guests such as Rohingya Muslims back into the jaws of death and rape is another – something that had been the subject of a column in Gauri Lankesh’s eponymous journal’s last issue which she had been putting to bed when she was assassinated.[3]

[1] https://www.thequint.com/news/i-am-gauri-bengaluru-rally

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/12/wendy-doniger-book-hinduism-penguin-hindus

[3] http://gaurilankesh.com

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THE SECOND MOTHER (2015), ENGAGING BRAZILIAN FILM ABOUT DOMESTIC WORKERS

Hong Kongers ought to savour this award-winning work showing as part of HKIFF

A movie currently doing the rounds of festivals in Asia – it was lately in Indian ones and will enjoy three screenings at the Hong Kong International Film Festival starting today, 21st March, 2016 – is one that simply ought not to be missed by those not only seeking rollicking laughs and entertainment but also, more crucially, by employers of Foreign Domestic Workers (FDWs) and – hopefully, as many of the latter as possible.[1]

It is a well-paced, never-a-dull-moment film full of humour, most of it infused by the protagonist, Val, a brown-skinned woman from the impoverished northeast (Nordeste) of Brazil working for a middle-class white-skinned family in affluent Sao Paulo. Her young, rarely met, fair-skinned daughter turns up in the city, pursuing a course in architecture and Val requests her female employer to let her stay with her until the young person finds her own accommodation.

Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan and accommodation eludes. The young woman having been educated to think in terms of equality ends up spending a few more days than bargained for at her mother’s employer’s abode. And the employer’s elderly husband develops a crush on her to the bewilderment of not only his wife but her employees, namely Val and a white-skinned colleague of hers, who agonise over the liberties the young person – the daughter of a mere domestic helper – seems to be taking in accepting invitations to dine at the employers’ table or swim with the employer’s son of the same age in their pool.

The film might make the audience cringe over the various “faux pas” committed by the domestic helper’s daughter, such as helping herself to a special tub of ice cream from the fridge and noticed by the female employer, leading, along with other “transgressions”, eventually to an ultimatum.

Val and her daughter in the film are from Pernambuco in the northeast of Brazil. Translation: that’s like southern Philippines or many parts of Indonesia or vis-à-vis Indian cities, parts of the states of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Assam and so on. In Brazil, class and race and massive inequality are living issues: In fact they are headline news these days.

In Hong Kong, race and the race-based policies that the Hong Kong government follows towards FDWs – its ignominious two-week rule (requiring anyone losing a job, never mind whether she deserved to be fired or not to leave) among others – have attracted some attention but not nearly enough, such that most employers get away with ill-treating a few hundred thousand of them.

MV5BOTQ1NjIwMzcyNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDY0NzI1NjE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_

In India, in addition to geography, there are other elements such as caste that are seized on by employers to deny women the rights, not to mention the dignity, that are inalienable according to the constitution of the land and the international human treaties the country is party to and gets criticised but given the much of India’s media is dominated by oppressor-caste males, rarely gets reported.

Incidentally, Hong Kong too gets periodically criticised by treaty bodies – committees overseeing its commitments to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms or Racial Discrimination – as well as other entities. Until some years ago when Hong Kong boasted of a vibrant free press, now greatly tattered, rebukes by these treaty bodies got prominently reported.

But now Hong Kong is beginning to resemble India where the words “human rights” have become the subject of abuse thanks to Hindu supremacist and quasi-fascist tendencies having grown powerful.

And so it is particularly important to point out the strong egalitarian message that is infused in the film which ends with a delicious denouement!

Among domestic workers are some extraordinary achievers such as Baby Haldar in India,[2] now a noted author and Liza Avelino, a Filipino domestic worker in Hong Kong who has made a mark as a trekker and mountain-climber.[3] Many others are accomplished artists and/or boast tertiary education. But regardless of their qualifications and achievements or lack thereof, by the very fact of being workers, women, human beings, they have an inalienable right to dignity. It is to be hoped that employers watching The Second Mother will leave the cinemas not only with a smile but with some fresh thinking.

[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3742378/

[2] http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/article/1441806/baby-halder-domestic-helper-turned-author

[3] http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health/article/1758569/high-flying-filipino-domestic-helper-climbs-6100m-everest-peak?page=all

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WHAT’S IN A CITY’S NAME, OR RATHER THE SPELLING THEREOF?

The Independent, a British newspaper (ceasing print publication), is reverting to the spelling Bombay rather than Mumbai, its India-born editor Amol Rajan widely quoted as having said that the move was to resist toeing the Hindu nationalists’ line. It’s not so much the spelling change to Bombay now but rather the publication’s previous decision to acquiesce in the Hindu supremacist Shiv Sena’s change to Mumbai that ought to be under the scanner. That is for the paper’s internal ombudsman, if it has one, to attend to.

But what need concern us in India is the bewildering amount of online and print media attention as well as other Internet chatter devoted to this minor decision in just one publication in a faraway city. As is many Indians’ wont, some of the attention has gotten deflected towards the origins of the words Bombay and Mumbai. Bombay is not an Anglicized form Mumbai of The Portuguese words ‘Bom Bahiya’. That much seems to be agreed on. But then some of the chatterati began saying the Portuguese could not possibly have spelt it as Bom but as Bao. What some, though not all, of these commentators fail to reckon with is the crucial squiggle on top of the ‘a’ – missing in English publications – such that the whole syllable is pronounced nasally as in the name of the most populous Brazilian city, Sao Paolo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A3o_Paulo, which, depending on how you wish to hear the two words, sound like Sam/Som/Sum Paulu. Someone transliterated Bao wrongly, perhaps. Big deal. Far too many names in too many climes have been mangled massively. So please: Here’s hoping the Bom/Bao controversy shall be laid to rest at the very least.

But hey, if you are a Marathi speaker, Hindi speaker or, in fact, speaker of any number of languages in this subcontinent and beyond and wish to use the spelling and the pronunciation, Mumbai, please do go ahead. International human rights laws and the laws of almost all constitutions allow you to do so.

Equally, those of us who wish to spell, pronounce, or even alter the names of your, our and other cities the way they wish to, why, I rejoice in that diversity. Thus when I hear a migrant worker from West Bengal in Bangalore (please note the spelling of my city, more anon) referring to a ‘rupee’ as a ‘taka’, I’m genuinely thrilled.

Have the Shiv Sena types protested against the use of “Bollywood”? Have they ever demanded that the Indian media at least – if not the international – use Mullywood? Incidentally, why bother with this –wood stuff? Why look up to Hollywood whereas far more serious cinema is emerging from many other corners of the globe? This is quite an honest question but are the Shiv Sena and other Sangh Parivar outfits listening?

Has the Shiv Sena or BJP sought to change the name of Bombay High Court? Most likely not. Ditto the ruling dispensations in Chennai and Kolkata, whose highest judiciaries bear the names, respectively, Madras High Court and Calcutta High Court. Incidentally, Suketu Mehta’s critically acclaimed book Maximum City: Bombay Lost And Found was thus named in 2004, nine years after the official spelling change. But Mr Mehta’s is an upper caste Hindu sounding name, isn’t it? Any murmur from the Shiv Sainiks?

It is not only rightwingers and Hindutva types who have this name and spelling change obsession. The late Professor UR Ananthamurthy, one of the foremost intellectuals from the southwestern part of southern Asia and a doughty left-liberal intellectual to his last days, unfortunately got off on an ego trip to change Bangalore’s spelling. Now in Kannada, Bangalore has always written as ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು and it is impossible to accurately transliterate the third syllable: ‘lu’ does not equate to ಳೂ which, moreover, comes with a long vowel. Five years ago, the centenarian lexicographer G. Venkatasubbaiah had spoken against the unnecessary spelling change. But Ananthamurthy misused his proximity to the powers that be to push his hobby horse, thereby causing unnecessary expenditures such as printing of new texts with the altered spelling and repainting of signboards. (More on this: https://walkerjay.wordpress.com/2014/08/23/speaking-well-and-ill-of-u-r-ananthamurthy/)

If the Austrians have no objection to their capital Wien spelled Vienna in English, the Romanians to Bucuresti written Bucharest or the Italians to Roma as Rome, why do Indians make much ado about minor spelling differences? If Peking University can continue to call itself so (http://english.pku.edu.cn/), why do Indian nationalists go breast-beating over changes of couple of letters of the alphabet? And when will Indians focus more on the issues that matter such as farmers’ suicides, the scandalous write-offs of loans owed by big businesses or the Hindutva groups continuing attacks on Dalits, Muslims and Christians?

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MEHDI HASAN, ALBEIT A BRILLIANT DEBATOR, WAS RATHER SOFT ON RAM MADHAV

As a Youtube video which has gone viral testifies, Mehdi Hasan is a brilliant intellectual and while several versions of his scintillating delivery in the Oxford Debate are extant on Youtube, that the following has a mere 1.75 million hits (as of late December 2015) is rather surprising: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=mehdi+hasan+oxford+union+full+debate.

That said, I believe Mehdi Hasan, who obviously did much homework and gathered a massive amount of facts regarding his latest interlocutor and the latter’s poisonous ideology, perhaps prepared too many questions and was over-anxious to run through them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1W-oXZ_31U

For instance, Ram Madhav claimed “36,000 intellectuals” said the return of awards was “wrong”. Making generous allowance for the obvious exaggeration, it ought to have been challenged. Incidentally, hundreds of prominent intellectuals and thousands of those not so prominent, have protested and been protesting against the anti-Muslim, anti-Christian, anti-Dalit statements from members of what is known as the “Sangh Parivar”.

Madhav refers to “(awards) given by the people of India”. No way. The awards were given by entities such as the Sahitya (Literature) Academy, the Government of India (ex-Congress-led now BJP-led, which are but Tweedledum and Tweedledee) and other entities functioning entirely oblivious to the real concerns of the blessed – or should I say – accursed people of the subcontinent.

When Madhav is asked about government data showing a 25% rise in the incidents of communal violence, he counters that over the past 18 months, the incidents have come down. Hasan notes that the NCRB disputes that but does not press the point.

Hasan agrees with Madhav re the bizarre rationale behind beef ban in India. Err… Might Hasan explain what compelled him to do so?

“Many Muslims in Kashmir don’t eat beef” OK. Quite possibly many people of all faiths and no faith in Kashmir eat or do not eat paneer/tofu/tempe/whatever. So?

Credit where due: Good that Hasan brought up the issue of BJP ministers and MPs and the Haryana CM making bizarre anti-minority statements but, alas left Madhav largely unchallenged.

And he let Madhav off lightly over the official figures of the UPA government regarding the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat of 2002. In actuality the number of 2,000 Muslims killed that is widely quoted is possibly an understatement.

After a brilliant intervention by Dr Nitasha Kaul, Hasan instead of calling on Madhav, calls on someone who – as anyone with a modicum of brain cells can see – is a sold out Modi-toady to respond.

Madhav, who had clearly been expecting to have Golwalkar’s hateful writings quoted back to him, had come prepared with one of those anodyne paragraphs where the Hitler-admiring second Sarsanghchalak had said something contradictory to most of his anti-Muslim and anti-minority writings. Hasan did challenge that with a very short quote but wish he had quoted back to Madhav this from Golwalkar:

“The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizens’ rights.”

These are widely quoted sentences and a mouth-piece of the Hindu chauvinist groups, Organiser, has defended the formulation.[1]

Hasan asks, “If David Cameron were to say let British Hindus understand that their real safety lies in the goodwill of the majority…” But alas, being too Brit and too subtle, Hasan fails to let the bigot Madhav understand what he was getting at and respond.

Madhav says (regarding the state’s responsibility), “you say, protecting me is your responsibility. That’s not the way we look at it…” Good grief. Madhav needs to read the UDHR, ICCPR, ICESCR, ICERD, CAT, CEDAW…

Again when Dr Nitasha Kaul is called on to comment and she makes valuable points, she is not allowed to persist with them and given short shrift.

And where are the people of Kashmir in the following several minutes re Kashmir?

Brilliant catch by Hasan re “your ISIS”, which has gone viral! Bravo! But wish he had pressed the point.

Again brilliant questions by Hasan re the human rights groups’ allegations! Bravo!

But alas, after Dr Kaul’s all too brief expose on the human rights violations in her native Kashmir, wish Hasan had not cut her short and more importantly, instead of asking Ram Madhav to respond, not turned to that silly Modi-toady on her left.

Some excellent questions from the floor and Hasan moderated well but could have persisted rather than letting Madhav off by saying “you didn’t answer…”

Mehdi Hasan has since noted that Hindutva trolls have reacted more virulently (my term, not his) than any others regarding his Head to Head programmes.

Next time he interviews any Indians, he might be better advised to not be too anxious to run through his laundry list of questions and issues, can his subtlety and humour and go hammer and tongs.

[1] http://organiser.org/Encyc/2013/8/31/So-called-secularists–Worst-enemies-of-Bharat.aspx?B=%E3%80%88=4&lang=4&m1=m8&m2=m8.24&p1=&p2=&p3=&p4=&PageType=N

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