Friday, September 24, 2010

A letter to Raj Thackeray from his poor and illiterate supporter

(The writer of this blog wrote it down in Marathi as the supporter told him. Then he edited it and finally translated it into English.)

Dear Raj,
You fight for us. You fight for our language: Marathi. And we fight for you. Can we fight to invent a Marathi word that can not be translated into any other language? You may say that there are many such words in Marathi. But most of them may be religious and traditional. I want a modern untranslatable Marathi word.

Your party’s website has given a list of Marathi substitutes for the English words that we are used to. I have not read the list. But someone has told me about it. In the list the Marathi word “Namskar” has been given as a substitute for ‘Hallo’. But “Namskar” can’t be the substitute for ‘Hallo’. There is no substitute for “Hallo” in Marathi. Thus, “Hallo” becomes an untranslatable English word. Similarly, “Hi” is also an untranslatable English word that we are used to. But there is no untranslatable Marathi word that the entire world has been used to.

Can we invent at least one Marathi word which the entire world will have to get used to?

Though I am illiterate, I can speak a little English. I work with an international hotel as a janitor in Mumbai. Ever since a Canadian tourist asked me an untranslatable modern Marathi word, I have become restless to find it.

You insist on using Marathi, but you are not against English. You have never questioned the rapidly increasing English medium schools in Maharashtra. You have never said that the medium of instruction in all schools in Maharashtra should be only Marathi. Marathi medium schools are declining rapidly. The present government is punishing the owners of private Marathi schools. But it is not punishing the owners of private English medium schools.  The fetish of our people for English medium schools is dangerous to the existence of Marathi medium schools. But you have never taken this issue of dying Marathi schools very strongly. In fact your own son studies in an English medium school. The website of your party is in not simply in Marathi, it is also in English.

Thus you know the importance of English. English is the vehicle of knowledge. It is not just an international language but also the language that connects Indians. It is through this language I am reaching you.  English is the vehicle of prestige too. However, only rich Marathi people afford to educate their children in English medium schools. You are rich too. Everything is possible for the rich people in India.

But is it possible for them to find an untranslatable Marathi word? Is it possible for you to find an untranslatable Marathi word? Is it possible for your uncle to find it?

For an untranslatable word, what needs is a great idea. An idea that can be understood only in Marathi! An idea that can really change our lives! It should be so great that everyone in the world will have to need it. Everyone in the world will have to learn Marathi to understand it. Then a new era will emerge – an era in which Marathi will rule the world. The people of Maharashtra will rule the world.

However, I do not know how to invent a great idea. One needs time and money to invent. The most important requirement, perhaps, is a genius mind. Like any other common Maharashtrian, I have plenty of time but I have little money. The fact that my children study in a Marathi medium school is more than enough to prove my poverty. But I am very confident of your philanthropy. You are rich and generous too, right?

But what about the genius mind?

I can’t think of a genius idea because I am poor and on top of that I am illiterate. I am so poor that I can’t send my children to an English medium school.  I want my children to study in an English medium school. I have no money and there are millions of Marathi parents who have no money. Our children are deprived of the English language, so they are deprived of knowledge. Thus our children will remain poor as poor as we are.

While knowledge of English is essential for our survival in the present, an untranslatable idea is essential for our super-long term growth. Sounds ironical, but true.

You insist that you are not against the migrants but you want every migrant to learn Marathi and to respect our culture. Is our culture rich? The richness of any culture depends on great ideas. Is our Marathi rich? Is there an untranslatable Marathi word that the entire word has to learn?

Thousands of migrants have to come to Mumbai. They have to leave their places out of compulsion and out of poverty. They are so poor that I doubt whether they can afford to even educate their children, forget the medium of instruction. Most of them are illiterate. You want them to learn Marathi, if they have to live in Maharashtra. But what is the use of learning Marathi? I know Marathi, but I want to learn English. Marathi has no value. I serve international tourists who easily give me hundreds of rupees if I speak with them in English. They can do so, as they earn in dollars. A dollar is always greater than a rupee. So the more I know English, the more rupees I will earn. What is the using of learning Marathi?

But let me tell you that the Canadian tourist was ready to give me thousands of rupees for just one untranslatable modern Marathi word.

Either let me know an untranslatable Marathi word or teach me English. The one who knows English very well can easily get a good job. I do not know English. My wife does not know English. So we are poor. My children will not know English. So they will remain poor. Poverty grows because of Marathi. And ironically Marathi survives because of poverty.

In the last International Conference on Marathi, Ramadas Futane said, ‘as long as there are poor Marathi people in Maharashtra, the Marathi language will exist.’ But I have no concern for Marathi. Marathi should not be persevered at the cost of poor Maharashtrains like us. I have concern for my survival. I have concern for my poor family. I do not want my children to remain poor like me.
It is true that your fight to help us regain our jobs that we lose to the north Indian migrants. But I suggest that you should concentrate on overall poverty eradication in stead of simply trying to save our jobs. Create jobs, do not simply save them. For that a shift in the focus is needed. The focus should be on ‘ingenuity’.

We should understand that we, society as a whole, can’t achieve a long term inclusive growth unless we find at least one genius idea. At the same time we should understand that one can’t invent an idea when one’s survival is at stake. So the first priority should be poverty eradication. And for poverty eradication, knowledge of English (spoken and written both) is essential in today’s world. You can set a mission of making us proficient in English in the next five years. Even a free English coaching can be made available to every poor Maharashtrian on the behalf of your party. I guarantee that such efforts will eradicate poverty and you will deserve all the credit.

Once you have removed poverty, you can bring the question of a genius idea to the fore. This is a vision which focuses ‘ingenuity’. But the vision will become an illusion if you promise us a genius idea. A vision based on ingenuity can not be promised. But a vision based on ingenuity can be shared.

Will you share such vision with all the people of Maharashtra?

-         Your poor and illiterate supporter

P.S. - Though the question of finding a great idea will keep all of us dangling until we really find it, you are smart enough to use the thin line between a vision and an illusion for your long and successful career in politics.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A celebrity’s clumsy sentence….

I read a clumsy sentence on the blog of a celebrity yesterday:

‘They were angry and said things like I’m teaching women wrong things by saying they have the choice to walk out of their husband’s home if they are cheated upon.‘

You can find the above sentence on this link:

The sentence is a case of spoken English. If this sounds euphemistic, I should directly say that it is a case of clumsy writing.

Following are the errors:

1.   Use of “like” as a conjunction.

The sentence has used “like’” as a conjunction. Using “like” as a conjunction is common in conversation.

“They were angry and said things.”  This is one sentence.

“I am teaching women wrong things by saying they have the choice to walk out of their husband’s home if they are cheated upon.” This is the other sentence.

“Like” has joined these two sentences.

Is this correct?

No. The sophisticated reader may not like the use of “like” as a conjunction.

2.   Use of “things”

The ‘wild’ use of “things” in the sentence is a casual approach towards writing. In stead of “I am teaching women wrong things’, one can say “I am promoting a wrong practice”, which may sound formal but not clumsy.

3.   Use of “they” too many times.

The sentence has used the word “they” three times. The first “they” is referred to the word “men” used in the previous sentence. The second “they” is referred to “women.”  The last “they” is also referred to “women”.  This can confuse the reader. The reader might feel that the second ‘they’ is referred again to the word ‘men’ used in the previous sentence.

An attempt to ‘massage’ the sentence….

They were angry and said that I was promoting a wrong practice by encouraging women to leave their husbands after being cheated on.


They were angry as they felt I was promoting a wrong practice by encouraging women to leave their disloyal husbands.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Can we say no to ‘the caste system’ itself…? Can we go beyond caste?

This is in response to Laltabh’s post ‘say no to the caste based census’ ( and also to the article ‘Go beyond caste’ published in The Times of India on Sep. 14.

The fear that 'cast based census' would lead to polarisation is uncalled for, because even without this census we Indians are divided and polarised. The fear that it will help Mandal politicians to further their decisive interests is unnecessary, as they have already done enough damage to our social integrity.

Also the ‘caste base census’ is not at all new in India.  It was first done by the British. The Indian government has been officially recording our castes in various forms for years. The only difference is that the government has no authority to disclose them publicly. The government is trying to seek this authority now.

What difference would this public declaration make to our deeply rooted caste system which is openly followed otherwise?

What difference would the public declaration of the number of Brahmin or Maratha people make, if a Brahmin and Maratha ‘arraigned’ marriage is still a remote or rare possibility?

I am married to my wife of my same caste. I have described my failure to do an inter-caste arranged marriage on my post:‘Dangerously Modern’.

It is a good suggestion of Lalitabh that we should stop using surnames. But it creates problems. When you decide to disown your surname, you stand out and people look at you askance. My wife uses no surname (either mine or her maiden). She is a doctor. Most of her patients doubt her credibility as a doctor, just because they can’t find a surname mentioned after her name. People find it very awkward to call her without her surname. They keep asking her surname.  

At the institute where I teach, I introduce myself only with my name. Once a student came to me and persistently asked my surname saying that he felt very awkward to take my name. I asked him why, he said that calling a teacher only with his name sounds disrespectful. Thus, in India surnames are given more respect than simply names. I bluntly said to him that I do not want respect at all.

I have a daughter of around two years.  I have decided not to give her my surname. However, when my daughter was born, her birth certificate had to have the mention of my caste. Otherwise, I could not have got a birth certificate for my daughter.  A few months ago when a census-taker (a female teacher by profession) came home to take my family details, she said that it was mandatory to register my daughter’s caste though her name could be registered without a surname. So what is the use of not giving my daughter my surname? I am simply avoiding the open manifestation of her caste, but her caste still exits.  So in India you must record your caste. No matter, whether you believe in the caste system or not, you can't disown it practically.  Avoiding the open manifestation of what you actually possess or of what you can’t disown at all is hypocrisy.

Following the caste system and taking its benefits on the one hand while avoiding its open manifestation on the other is one of the pretences that our lives are fraught with.  How this pretence makes you helpless is nicely exposed in a Marathi play called ‘Anandbhog Mall’ written by Ashutosh Potdar. In the play there is a couple where the husband and the wife are from different castes. The husband belongs to the caste of Maratha and the wife is a Brahmin. Though they have done an inter-caste love marriage, they are unable to shed their caste identities. On one hand they criticise the caste system, on the other hand they can’t avoid taking the benefits of their caste identities. Without openly taking the names of ‘castes’, they keep on criticising each other’s castes. When they realise this pretence, they find themselves very helpless. 

Those who have benefited the reservation system based on castes do not have self-dignity, as they know that their achievements will always be looked at doubtfully.  The selection of the chief justice of India does not have any quota system. Still, when Balakrishnan became the chief justice in India, it became a news item that he is the first ‘Dalit’ Chief Justice of India. ‘Dalit’ itself has become a caste now, a caste that ‘castes’ aspersions on the genuine capability of a person who is Dalit.

Most of your relatives are of your own caste and community. You can't disown them though you can't believe in the caste-system. One of my uncles is part of a trust whose members exclusively belong to my caste and community. If I decide to oppose him on the grounds of ‘division and polarisation’, I have to put my relationship with him in jeopardy. You have caste based unions and organisations. You can’t disown them for this or that reason.

Then what is the point in saying no to 'the caste based census'? Why this pretension? Why this shying away?

 Saying no to castes altogether is more important than saying no to 'caste based census'.

In order to uproot the caste system in India, it is not useful simply to say no to ‘caste based census’, we have to say no to the system of reservations based on castes and also to the system of surnames

We should say no to reservations based on castes, and make them only on the basis of ‘economic status’

We should not only say no to the system of surnames but also run a mass movement to force the government pass the bill to abolish the system of surnames once and all. How should I convince my billions of countrymen this? (Most of them are illiterate, and I am expressing my views in English. Only 0.6% of our total population knows English. And out of those who can know English, only 0.002% read serous articles.)

We can even burn all the caste-records. (According to Bhalchandra Nemade, a veteran Marathi writer, the first line of census was written in India by the British and they did it on the basis of castes. The first Maratha conference was organised by a British man. The system of castes became firmly established since then. The caste system was never so firm and severe before the British as it is now even after sixty years of independence, thanks to the British and also to ‘us Indians’ in a way).

Nandan Nilekani, the so-called intellectual is working on a project called ‘Unique Identification Number.’ Is his number given to you going to record your surname and in turn your caste? If yes, he is not doing any great work. Is he leaving out your surname and your caste while recording your personal details for the number? If no, then he is wasting a great opportunity to uproot the caste system in India. Is there no difference between Nandan Nilekani and our politicians?

Certainly, there is no difference between Nanadan Nilekani and me. Both of us can’t get rid of surnames. A surname is a caste.

I can certainly say no to the caste base census. But the question is, can I say no to the caste based system itself? If not, then why this pretence?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Either Escapisim or terrorism....

     I was in Australia for a master course in creative writing in the year 2007. Once in the class we entered into a discussion on fundamentalist terrorism. My classmates, all of whom were Australian, indiscriminately associated terrorism with the terror attack of 9/11. And when I said that even in India fundamentalist terrorism exists and is caused by religious groups, one of them asked me, ‘Is that because you have many Muslims there?’ I remained flabbergasted even after the discussion.

     Now there is little surprise that for most people in the world, fundamentalist terrorism is always Islamic. Even in India it is considered just Islamic. It is Hindu as well. However, the point that fundamentalist terrorism can be Hindu is covertly sidetracked. Events like 26/11 or 9/11 are highlighted to such an extent that it appears that there is no form of fundamentalist terrorism other than that of Muslim. In this sense, 26/11 has become India’s 9/11. Indians have started associating terrorism and fundamentalism with the Mumbai attack of 26/11. Though this attack was undoubtedly perpetrated by Muslim fundamentalists from Pakistan, it is sad that for any Indian fundamentalist terrorism is only ‘Pakistani Islamic’.

     Here, I do not want to say that fundamentalist terrorism is not Islamic. Rather I want to say that it is also Hindu or it cam be Christian or even Jewish. Just as it is believed that terrorism is only Islamic, it is believed that it has no religion. Though all religious people are not terrorists, it is escapism to say that terrorism has no religion. All Islamic people are not terrorists, but the 9/11 terrorists were Islamic. All Hindus are not terrorists, but a Hindu terrorist group is responsible for multiple bomb blasts in Malegoan in India.

     It is correct that Islam should not be generalised for ‘terrorism’ and a mosque should be allowed to be built near the 9/11 site. Similarly, all Hindu fringe groups should not be looked as potential threats. Hindu or Islam, no religion or group should be generalised for ‘terrorism’. However, it is wrong to avoid saying ‘terrorism has no religion’.

     To avoid saying ‘terrorism is no religion’ is ‘Escapist Secularism’. An immature secularism. To avoid saying ‘terrorism has no religion’ is similar to ignore the cause of terrorism. Secularism should not be an escape from ‘Fundamentalism’. It has become escapism because it has never given a place for man’s fundamental questions whose answers most religions have tried to seek.

     Secularism or modernism has failed in the matter of fundamental questions of life. On the one hand religious secularists (half traditional half modern) say that every fundamental question of life has been answered in their religious doctrines; on the other hand they have adapted themselves to a modern way of life despite its contradiction from their purely religious doctrines.

     The religious secular people have no explanations for this contradictory behaviour of theirs. Fundamentalists hate such adjustments. They consider such adjustments are a threat to their religion. This makes terrorists be able to justify the killings of the people of their own religion in their terrorist attacks.

     Irreligious secularism either puts humanism more important than any religious or spiritual quest of life or sees every fundamental question of life in the preview of science (western science?). Nietzsche claimed the death of God. This humanist cultural experiment, as John Carroll says, goes to the extent of the belief that there is nothing. Thus, nihilism is the inevitable end point of humanism. The concern is whether we can believe that this is all there is. Can such belief (or unbelief?) become universally accepted? Though such acceptance seems less likely, it enters into the life of ours as it slowly and stealthily spreads through the one-way market globalisation. First, it insinuates itself into our life through technology, consumer goods and newfangled gadgets and it continues to grab us until we realise the effects like restlessness, loneliness, hatred and anxiety. If this is all there is, why do we suffer these problems? Humanism has no answer to this question.

     We belong to either of the above cases. Our response to such conflicts is generally to escape. We become escapists, because we afford to escape. We can indulge ourselves into the endless forms of different non-destructive orgies. And those who can not escape or cannot afford to have such endless orgies are motivated for destruction. They enjoy an orgy of annihilation.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Summary of 'No Longer the victim'

      This is an attempt to summarise an article: ‘No longer the victim’ by Ayaz Memon. It was published in The Times of India on 23 August 2010.

      The article has a long introduction spanning over three paragraphs. The introduction illustrates that Indians’ age old fetish for personal milestones is still visible in the excessive importance given to the recent Sehwag controversy.

       The writer then criticises the brouhaha over the deliberate no-ball. He elaborates how India is accustomed to taking resort to outrage at each insult. But the Indian cricket should no longer play the role of a victim, Ayaz Memon insists, as a rising power in the world cricket it should play a leadership role in cricket by raising the genuine concerns about the sport. He suggests that the BCCI should compel MCC to address the issue of ‘sprit of cricket’.

       The article is informative with full of examples:

1) Kishenchand’s strange demand: recognise him as the bowler who bowled when Bradman scored the single to reach his hundredth hundred. (example of servility and Indian’s fetish for personal achievement.)

2) Match referee Mike Denness’ allegation against Sachin Tendular in 2001 and ‘Monkeygate’ in Australia in 2008( example of India’s taking umbrage at just every insult)

3) Bishen Singh Bedi’s complain about John Lever’s use of vaseline to tamper the ball in 1976 and John Snow’s might heave to Sunil Gavaskar in 1971 (example of how Indian players were always at the receiving end of offences.)

4) W.G. Grace’s open rebuke and Trevor Chappell’s underarm delivery (to show hazy term –sprit of cricket)

        Ayaz Memon’s article abounds with phrases, idioms and good vocabulary.

 To pinch something from: to steal something from

Kishenchand saw no irony in trying to pinch some glory from Bradman's achievement, not his own team's win, because that seemed the better opportunity for recognition.

 A barometer of: a measurement of

The transformation from servility to aggressive self-assertion is a remarkable aspect of the journey of independent India in which cricket has always been a strong metaphor, often a barometer of the country's mood but sometimes also a measure of the nation's frailties.

 To take recourse to: to take shelter or refuge to…

Gamesmanship is not new to sport, but what is new in Indian cricket, say critics, is the easy recourse to bristling outrage at each insult, perceived or real.

 To take umbrage at: to take offence at
…….the Indian cricket establishment seems to take umbrage at just about everything

 Grouse and whine: complain

Yet, in a trail of such events Indian cricket often seems to blur the line between genuine grouse and misplaced whine.

 To tick off : to annoy

It is part of the game's established humour how W G Grace ticked off an umpire for giving him out leg before wicket

 Cowering : cringing (shrinking or hiding back) in fear

… the doctor admonished the cowering umpire.

 Diabolical : cruel , pertaining to devil, satanic

Chappell's underarm delivery was a diabolical ploy to deny New Zealand a win in 1981
 Too clever by half: trying to be over-smart, actually turns into foolishness.

……his mistake was actually of being too clever by half because Sri Lanka were going to lose the game in any case.

 Asinine: stupid, relating to an ass

Cricket is a funny game, but its laws don't have to be asinine

A well written and informative article!