Strangers to Maharashtra politics and the peculiar influences wielded upon it by minutiae of Maratha history would have been bewildered to read the headline of this piece of news from two weeks ago: "Konddeo’s statue in Pune sparks statewide protests"
The proponents of this bit of redecoration swear in the name of Sambhaji, son of Shivaji - the seventeenth century founder of Maratha sovereignty. Their opponents, on the other hand, are inspired by Sambhaji's father's ideals. In a comic twist, the redecorators demanded that the Konddeo stadium in Thane (near Bom... I mean, Mumbai) be renamed after Prabodhankar Thackeray - father of the leader of their political opponents.
Confused by these filial rivalries? But this is not all.
In retaliation, the Konddeo supporters who enjoy a majority in the municipal board of distant Aurangabad resolved that their fair city (I use the term loosely) be renamed Sambhajinagar - after the ruling idol of their opponents.
It sounds like the Lucknow nawabs going "Pehle aap, pehle aap" (i.e. your father's name , no *your* father's name) but underneath this idiocy lie deadly serious caste issues that would put the Lilliput-Blefuscu feuds to shame.
Did I forget to mention that the statue removal so incensed the Konddeo partisans that only the torching of several trucks and state transport buses in broad daylight brought them some relief ?
The police have recordings of the Shiv Sena heir-apparent's personal assistant giving detailed instructions to their elected member of the state legislative council (upper house of the state legislature) on the precise number of buses to set fire to and how to time "the protest" for maximum effect. But have no fear. There is no real danger to the lady and gentleman in question. As our esteemed state level minister in charge of law enforcement remarked after the Nov 26 terrorist attacks in Bombay remarked "Aisay haadsay to hotay hi rehtay hai".
It isn't as if Maharashtra state has solved all the problems of its constituents. There are serious issues of pollution, energy, lack of clean water, corruption, environmental degradation, farmers committing suicides in large numbers and of course development. It is nice, therefore, to see that our brave politicians have their priorities right.
Jai Bhawani! Jai Maharashtra!
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It is interesting to compare the James Laine business and the manufactured outrage over it with the controversy over Prophet Muhammed's cartoons in, say, Pakistan.
Our own senas are analogs of the jihadi protesters. The Maharashtra state government finds itself between a rock and a hard place not unlike the government in Pakistan. The intellectuals who sued were vindicated by the courts in India as they were in Pakistan - except in the two cases they were championing more or less diametrically opposite causes - freedom of scholarly expression in one case and the right to be offended in the other.
And in keeping with that antisymmetry - the cartoon incident was provoked by elements of the European political right while the Shivaji controversy was set in motion by what may be characterised as the American academic left.
It is this last 'broken symmetry' that gives some food for thought. Is James Laine the mirror reflection of Jyllands-Posten ?
There is one aspect of the Laine controversy that has no perfect analog in the cartoons case. It is the faultline it exposes within the Marathi thought-universe - the caste conflict between the 'bahujansamaj' as represented by the Maratha Shivaji and his Brahmin detractors who refused to coronate him and who, some believe, continue to nurse that rivalry more than three hundred years later.
Caste - the oldest divide in indian society, remains her final frontier.
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We are members of an internet mailing list concerned mainly with South Asian literature.
In light of the recent letter campaigns, online petitions, opinion columns and blogs variously urging you to reject the Dan David prize and/or condemning you for refusing to take such a position, we thought of writing to you expressing our admiration for your writings, especially for your responding to these with grace and firmness while sticking to a principled position.
We have no common position on the Palestinian question. We do have a common position on the need to expand the common ground that writers such as yourself seek to establish - a ground on which all human beings can celebrate their commonalities and negotiate their differences.
K. V. Bapa Rao
This article in the New York Times has stirred up some conversation on the internet. Stereotypes of
life and work in India and in the US abound in the article and are even stoked by supposedly objective findings such as this:
"... a study by Mr. Wadhwa and other academics found that 34 percent of repats found it difficult to return to India compared to just 13 percent of Indian immigrants who found it difficult to settle in the United States. The repats complained about traffic, lack of infrastructure, bureaucracy and pollution. "
Over the last few years I have known many people who have returned to India after working several years in the US. For some the move worked and for others - admittedly a minority in my experience, which may or may not be representative - it hasn't. I know at least one couple that returned to the US after trying to make things work in India.
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What are some reasons people choose to return ? There are several. One is the prospect of moving up the corporate ladder. As more and more high tech companies open up operations in India, there is an incentive for their Indian personnel in helping things along by making the move. If done at the right time, it can boost career prospects.
Over the last decade another job related reason has been the movement of jobs from the US to India - the resulting layoffs and new recruitment in US and India respectively.
People also move for family reasons - the need to take care of aging parents, desire to raise children in India etc.
In the coming years I suspect there will be another impetus for returning. Since the cost of living is lower in India, retiring there will be an attractive option. Especially now that parts of India have begun to resemble the US. Last year's economic downturn and the resultant depletion of many retirement funds will only accelerate this process.
So what is one to make of the above survey finding ? Is it objectively easier to move to the US than the other way around ?
I would question the survey's methodology - which is apparently to ask people their opinion based on real life experience. Unless the surveyors somehow controlled all extraneous factors, the result could be revealing biases in the sample. For instance, the average age of moving to India is likely to be higher than the average age of moving in the other direction. This alone could skew how people perceive the difficulty. In general the older you are, the harder it is to adjust to significant change.
Another factor that affects reactions to the move is one's motivation for making it. When, as is mostly the case, you make a move for material reasons you are more likely to take the rough with the smooth. On the other hand, if one's reasons are supposedly philanthropic (giving back to the mother country) people may be quicker to give up. I would hazard the guess that people who move for practical reasons (parents, children, retirement) will be more likely to try and make the change work.
We are living in interesting times. In the past when people moved to another country - whether it was Chinese labour for American railroads, Indian plantation labour in the Caribbean islands or Europeans immigration to the US - the move was usually final. But today, more and more immigrants, whether they be Indians or Chinese or Europeans, show agreater interest in returning. Within a few decades it is possible that the ocean currents of global immigration may be flowing in quite different directions.
It is difficult to believe Shivaji would have rejoiced at the bravery of his twentyfirst century followers as they began to beat unarmed women and men with rods while screaming they wanted to teach the editor Nikhil Wagle a lesson - for reasons not as yet clear.
However these modern day Maratha warriors were in for a surprise. The staff, taken by surprise, rallied and lodged an impressive counter attack. Baji Prabhu Deshpande himself could not have done better. According to eyewitnesses the brave Marathas - not expecting their victims to hit back - were routed and before long were in full flight - rather like, can I say, Shaista Khan's army ?
The IBN staff took some of them captive and detained them until the police arrived - a good 40 minutes later and were reluctantly forced to arrest the captives.
The Shivsena Rajya Sabha MP - a certain Mr. Raut - admitted these hoodlums were their members and in fact justified the criminal behaviour. Needless to say the Shivsena has refused to apologize. After all, attacking their fellow citizens is what they are best at. No one recalls these brave soldiers being anywhere in sight when the city they terrorise was under attack by real enemies last November. Obviously they know the limits of their abilities.
The chief minister has announced the guilty will be brought to book. No one believes this nonsense of course. Mumbaikars are used to having the various Thakres abuse and attack them with impunity and without fear of any action by our secular government. Why these people enjoy such immunity is a mystery. After all the Congress is a sworn enemy of the communal and the chauvinist, right ? These things are beyond the ken of the common man (and woman).
What is not beyond the ken of the common man is that when it comes to protecting himself - whether from the fury of torrential rains, Pakistan based terrorists or our own homegrown holy warrior senas, he can expect no help from our governments - whether they be of the saffron variety or the secular variety.
If the city sinks beneath the waves, the citizens must help one another. If Islamic terrorists come shooting, it is the staff of the Taj and everyday cops on the beat who are your best hope. And when the Senas compete in naked displays of goondagardi you had better have your guards and security at hand. Or better still, put up your own two fists.
I have heard our scholarly PM's daughter works for the American Civil Liberties Union to help protect the democratic rights of Americans. Could she take some time out and protect the rights of poor Indians every once in a while ? True, the Americans will suffer terribly but I am sure they will not begrudge their new allies a little help.
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On Friday Nov.20th, approximately 25 Shivsainiks armed with "iron rods, baseball bats and cricket wickets" charged into the studios of IBN at Vikhroli, Mumbai at about 4 PM. They slapped what must have been a terrified female receptionist, smashed property and began beating the staff without regard for whether they were men or women.