Thursday, July 30, 2009

thought for today

SAS Newsletter: "When one works and wants to do one's best, one needs much time. But generally we don't have much time, we are in a hurry. How to do one's best when one is in a hurry?
. . .Generally when men are in a hurry, they do not do completely what they have to do or they do badly what they do. Well, there is a third way, it is to intensify one's concentration. If you do that you can gain half the time, even from a very short time. Take a very ordinary example: to have your bath and to dress; the time needed varies with people, doesn't it? But let us say, half an hour is required for doing everything without losing time and without hurrying. Then, if you are in a hurry, one of two things happens: you don't wash so well or you dress badly! But there is another way - to concentrate one's attention and one's energy, think only of what one is doing and not of anything else, not to make a movement too much, to make the exact movement in the most exact way, and (it is an experience lived, I can speak of it with certitude) you can do in fifteen minutes what you were formerly doing in half an hour, and do it as well, at times even better, without forgetting anything, without leaving out anything, simply by the intensity of the concentration.

- The Mother [CWMCE, 4:137-38]"

Mira Malhotra- Dolls

from Masala Chai

Lisa Conti

Images are from an Indian Summer Blog.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The strongest woman in Nepal Hisila Yami

‘We Still Fight, But With Words, No Longer With Guns’

50-year-old Hisila Yami alias Comrade Parvati, Nepal’s most powerful woman Maoist leader, dispells the myth that Maoist guerillas are bellicose and unkempt. She is suave, soft-spoken and smiles often. Educated in India and England, this architect taught in a college for 13 years before going underground during the Maoists’ 11-year-long armed struggle. From guerilla camps to becoming Minister for Tourism to being elected to Nepal’s Constituent Assembly, Hisila has had a long and eventful journey. Despite being a political heavyweight — a Member of the Politburo of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPNM), a former Minister and wife of Baburam Bhattarai, the ideological fount of the CPN-M — Hisila wears her identity lightly.

In a smart business suit, a salt-andpepper- haired Hisila spoke to AMRITA NANDY-JOSHI of the Nepali Maoists’ transition from revolution to realpolitik, from military offensives to political offensives and the roadblocks faced in between.

Despite years of a violent war, what brought the Maoists victory in Nepal’s Constituent Assembly elections?
Our armed struggle was a people’s war. The people of Nepal had grown intolerant of a corrupt and inefficient government. The monarch and other non-left parties have promoted and taken advantage of the dominant Hindu belief systems. With the Army supporting and protecting monarchy and imperialism, people eventually saw who stood for what. The CPN-M declared total war against these forces. We had even thought of taking over Kathmandu but we realized that this would not be appropriate. Besides, we knew how India and China would have responded.

Meanwhile, the Maoists gained popularity and our strategy gained momentum because we delivered what the government could not. For example, justice was Kathmandu-centric and archaic. So we appointed two legal officers, a man and a woman, to every district. We started a crude banking system and cottage industries as well. We almost ran a parallel government. People knew and appreciated our values of egalitarianism.

How difficult is it for Maoists to deal with realpolitik?
Entering a multi-party parliamentary democracy system is certainly a departure from certain models of communist revolution. Yet, in another way, war and democracy have a dialectical relationship.

Nepal has a rich leftist tradition and movement, with many shades of red. We have fully used this to our advantage to enter the peace process. We are following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), a timetable for the Maoists to enter Parliament, lay down arms, join the Government and participate in the electoral process.

At the Constituent Assembly (CA) meetings, I watch our cadre members and am amazed at how quickly they have learnt the ropes. Yet, the struggle is on. We fight now with words and not with guns – we argue over the expressions to be used in drafting the Constitution (smiles).

What roadblocks are causing the current stalemate?
Our strongest opposition is from the military because their supremacy is challenged in a parliamentary democracy. They enjoyed impunity under the monarchy and do not like us for our egalitarian ideals and the idea of civilian supremacy. Other non-Marxist parties such as the Nepali Congress, too, see the military as their last saviour, and so cling to each other and to imperialist agents.

The Comprehensive Peace Process clearly states that the cadres of the People’s Liberation Army will be integrated into the Nepal Army. The Army Chief has overruled this. Since the army’s loyalties to the monarchy are well known, we suggested that the terms of generals not be extended. In fact, new officers were recruited to the top echelons of the police and paramilitary forces. We faced no opposition. Yet, when it came to the Army, the same idea became untenable. We are keen to end the impasse and want to be flexible but our flexibility is not absolute.

Is there democracy within the party?
Internal democracy in the CPN-M is very strong. Prachanda encourages diversity of ideas but has the knack of keeping the team together. There are some who do not agree with our struggle within the parliamentary framework. There are contradictions, old and new. Yet, we are all firm that we will not let realpolitik overcome our people-oriented agenda.

Have you left the path of armed struggle for good?
We have given up violence for the time being. In fact, we want to integrate our People’s Liberation Army into the Nepal Army so that our boys receive good training. To us, this was part of a restructuring exercise. The Army is rather feudal and is resisting this.

If the peace process is long, some cadres may leave us. Some of them have joined the Terai movement. Even within our party, some want to go back to the path of revolution. A philosophical churning is on, not just within our party but within other parties as well.

In other South Asian countries, federal decentralisation has defeated the collective spirit. How will you ensure you don’t repeat the mistake?
Federalism helps reach out to every person in a parliamentary democracy. We are discussing this at the CA and are proposing 15 states to accommodate all communities. Religious and ethnic conflicts happen in Nepal as well. In the Terai, there have been clashes between Hindus and Muslims but things do not flare up like they do in India.

As Maoists, however, we believe that as economic development takes over, religious and ethnic sentiments will wither away. All three regions of Nepal have to be economically viable and integrated in order to keep conflict at bay. There will have to be an inch-by-inch adjustment.

In the name of culture, religious and ethnic issues can take the stage. By ensuring that that workers and peasants have representation within ethnic groups, we hope to resolve ethnic and class conflicts.

When we went to war in 1996, our agenda was a new, democratic revolution. This stage — the peace process — is penultimate. The goal is still the total restructuring of the state.

It is momentous to be part of a country’s constitution-making exercise. How are you ensuring that it is progressive, particularly with regard to women?
We have been preparing for this moment for a long time. Women are part of all CA sub-committees on planning and development. There are several young women from the dailt, sherpa, madhesi and Muslim communities representing different political parties. They are planning land reforms while keeping the interests of women, dalits and other marginalised groups in mind. Inheritance rights will be re-looked at. The sub-committee will recommend that inheritance take place in the name of the mother, daughter and so on.

As per a Supreme Court ruling, the ‘third sex’ will be a recognised category of sexual identity. Our forms and other papers should soon have a box with ‘third sex’, besides the usual ‘man’ and ‘woman’ options. Nepal’s society is quite liberal about sexual identities and orientation. The left, in particular, is tolerant towards these issues. In fact, Sunil Pant is Nepal’s first openly gay Member of Parliament.

Yet, women’s struggle against patriarchy will be long and hard. When my name was to be registered for elections to the CA, the officials assumed that I use my husband’s name and registered me as Hisila Yami Bhattarai!

At this juncture, what role do you expect India to play in Nepal?
India’s role should be mature. During the debate over Army Chief Katawal’s unconstitutional response, India supported him and pressurised us to give in to an Army that has always supported the monarchy and been status quoist.

The Indian government has declared the CPI (Maoist) as terrorists and has banned them. What is your reaction? Do you have any links to them?
Banning the outfit will not help. Economic issues should be dealt with through economic measures. The Indian Maoist parties concentrate on their own work. We focus on ours. We do sympathise with them.

How is China reacting to the developments in Nepal?
China is busy doing business (smiles).

From Tehelka

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Indian Male

Tehelka has a wonderful piece of why Indian men never grow up.

Why Indian Men Are Still Boys

A decade after the New Indian Male was heralded, why are violence, boorishness and emotional clumsiness still the hallmarks of the average Indian man? NISHA SUSAN examines the tangle

A FEW YEARS AGO, a group of young men, all Bengaluru- based lawyers, were asked who bought their underwear. Their answer bears out the seemingly arbitrary nature of this intrusion. Of the five men, all in their late twenties, all wellgroomed and intelligent, all given to the unconventional in their personal and political lives, only one bought his own underwear. For the rest, this was the first time they were thinking about why their mothers were the ones still picking out their boxers and briefs.

In the popular imagination the Indian male has always been the stuff of nightmare, able to rape, beat and oppress with his hands tied behind his back. Certainly the newspapers and the grapevine are full of such tales. Here is the one who beats his wife everyday. Here is he who rapes his daughters for years as in the Mira Road case earlier this year. Here is the man who pays to have his daughter’s Muslim husband bumped off as was alleged in the Rizwanur case. Here is the one secretly buying acid to burn into blindness the schoolgirl who rejected him.

But one could bat that away as just an exaggerated version of the brute Indian male. A decade ago, the same media had triumphantly heralded the arrival of the ‘New Indian Male’ – gentler, kinder, more in touch with his feminine side. And true to image, in the sliver of Indian society that is upper-middle class, educated and reaping the benefits of globalisation, Indian men seemed to be undergoing big changes in social roles. More and more men cooked, more and more men participated in childrearing and more and more men were cleaning themselves up. Or so it seemed. Was this mere wishful thinking? Was it a media-manufactured trend cranked up by the handy feature-writing phrase ‘more and more’?

Evidence is, the urban Indian male hasn’t really changed. He is cocooned as he has always been in a sort of prolonged infantilism – a hatchery protected by doting mothers, fathers, sisters, girlfriends, and society itself. As Mukul Kesavan, author of the The Ugliness Of The Indian Male And Other Propositions says, “The Indian male’s bullet-proof unselfconsciousness comes from a sense of entitlement that’s hard-wired into every male child in an Indian household.”

Turn to the men in the lives of People Like Us — fathers, husbands, brothers, lovers, colleagues and friends — and Kesavan’s prognosis looms everywhere. They seem innocuous, but beneath the surface, the twitchy, occasionally grubby person with a collegiate sense of humour milling everywhere around you is perhaps only a milder version of the raving beast in the news clips.

This innocuous man never makes the news because what he does is not news. He leverages power so casually it seems to be his by natural right. To him and to others around him — us — it is legitimate for him to exert measured but highly effective violence to protect his way of life. He is the man who is impeccably well-behaved everywhere but at home, where he throws plates if meals are late. The man who finds it difficult to deal with his girlfriend’s higher income. Who assumes all young women are interns or secretaries or have slept their way up the professional ladder. Who assumes his teenage sister-in-law does not mind his copping a feel as long as she stays under his roof. Who discusses the difference between analytic and synthetic philosophy with his students while forgetting to introduce the wife who brings in tray after tray of coffee. He is the one who tells his much loved and high-powered daughter that if she comes home later than 7pm after work, she is without morals. The one who wearing designer shirts, drinks in designer bars but does not flinch from casually slapping his designer wife in spaghetti straps. He is the one who brings the attitude of the thwarted child to any zone of conflict: an accident on the road, a difference of opinion with a spouse or child, an employee not subservient enough. The hushed whisper families maintain around the tyrant of the house is uncannily similar to the ones that surround a colicky baby.

Krishna is suffering from the cruelest of India’s free markets: the singles scene. Nothing he has learnt so far has taught him how to engage the attentions of a woman
So, truth is, the New Indian Male announced a decade ago was a mirage. The man who lays out the plates for dinner and perhaps washes them — fifteen minutes of haloed domesticity — the man in the giddy magazine features is actually a bewildered robot caught in a crisis. He is expected to be new; the new emancipated Indian woman certainly expects him to be new. But he has not been brought up to be new. He has never been taught how to live in an egalitarian society.

Palash Krishna Mehrotra, author of the forthcoming The Butterfly Generation, a book about urban young men and women between 25 to 35 years old, epitomises contemporary confusions. Changed rules, changed expectations and zero preparedness. He paints a picture of utter pathos. “If I am supposed to cook, why can’t I cry? We men are constantly guessing. Am I supposed to pay for dinner or not? We have nothing to go on — you just patch something your girlfriend told you with something you saw on Star World and hope to get by!”

Who, and what, is responsible for hard-wiring Indian men into this mess of emotional clumsiness and latent brutality? The answers sprawl across an untidy canvas.

Kesavan says, “Indian men are ugly on account of the three Hs: hygiene, hair and horrible habits. Despite the way they look, they’re always paired off with goodlooking women.” He’s right. The unequal logic of arranged marriages does spin out perversely. Nalini, a 22- year-old student in Pune says, “I have a cousin in New York, a 35-year-old professor. He sent word home that he wanted a beautiful 19-yearold village girl. She had to be musical, highly religious and from a strict Brahmin family. But since he fancied himself as very modern, his wife would have to cook meat for him. Whether or not this would violate her beliefs did not matter. And, of course, his parents found him one.”

KRISHNA, A 24-year-old software engineer who moved from Kerala to Bengaluru for work, seems to have the opposite problem. Allowed by his parents to find a girl for himself, he is out hunting. But as he says, giggling, “Things are very difficult. I am not getting any.” Krishna is suffering from the cruelest and newest of India’s free markets: the singles scene. Nothing he has learnt so far in his young life has taught him how to engage the attentions of a woman. He has never needed to please. That’s the single thread that connects him with the New York professor: an unexamined sense of selfentitlement.

So who’s programming this bug in the circuitry of the Indian male? Rahul Verma, 56, trade unionist and Delhi-based writer, is the anti-thesis of smug traditional male or even the bewildered one wandering about in a newly egalitarian world. Verma, who calls himself a ‘house-husband’, was the epitome of the New Indian Man long before such a phrase was coined. He has kept house, cooked for the family and cared for his parents and his in-laws for decades. Ask him how he came to these life choices and he shrugs. “I never thought I was doing anything unusual. My parents were radicals. My father lived underground for years.”

Given the wild largesse accorded to boys, it is absurd for us to be surprised at the startling excesses of public and private behaviour in Indian men
PARENTS — THERE seems to be a simple equation between parents and the drought of responsible, responsive Indian men. In the homes of People Like Us, young boys do not automatically learn to cook or even to be grateful to those who cook for them. They are rarely taught to anticipate other people’s needs. They are not automatically involved in the care of siblings, the elderly or the ill, while their sisters are encouraged to keep vrats (or fasts) as spiritual general insurance for the whole family. They are not taught to settle conflicts peacefully or, to use the unfortunate phrase, to occasionally shut up and put up. Indian boys are not just perpetrators: they are victims of the plague of the stereotype.

From the nineties, Stanford University psychologists have conducted long-term experiments that prove that if you can convince children that stereotypes don’t limit their potential, they can perform wonderfully and variantly. But Indian schools are utterly unmindful of this. Girls are widely expected to do better in board exams, and usually they do (albeit for some embarrassingly sexist explanations that suggest girls have a greater and innate desire to sit quietly in front of their NCERT textbooks). Boys, it is assumed, are naturally restless in classrooms or, in an increasingly pathologising world, suffering from Attention Deficiency Disorder. Both reasons — nature and illness — excuse them from having to take responsibility for their actions. Outside of school too, presumably, behaviour modifies itself to match expectations. Given the wild largesse accorded to boys then, it is absurd for us to be surprised at the startling excesses of public and private behaviour in Indian men.

The odd parent determined to set things right must resort, then, to constant vigil. Take Delhi-based blogger Mad Momma, for instance. Well-known for her views on parenting (she has had both stalkers and hostile parody bloggers) and brought up by relaxed hippy parents, 30-year-old Mad Momma runs a tight ship. Her young son and daughter are schooled into absolute politeness and her house is intimidatingly pretty. MM and her husband have worked out a relaxed and equitable distribution of household chores and child-rearing. “Women cripple their sons and husbands by doing everything for them,” says she. “I am rabidly feminist about treating my children equally. But my mother-in-law and even my cook are not. They sometimes give my two-year-old daughter a piece of dough to play with, but never my son. My husband too instinctively asks my son not to cry if he falls down but will hug and kiss my daughter if she does. But we are constantly talking about these things in our house.”

Therapists across the country tell stories of men who face tremendous crises at work but who enact elaborate ruses to hide them from their friends and family
Like Mad Momma, Veena Naidu, a Pune-based academic with two grown sons sees herself as part of a disturbingly small minority. Her biggest anxiety in raising her sons, she says, is ensuring that they do not become a burden on other women. “When they were growing up, I never pampered them emotionally. I never tried to protect their or their father’s feelings, never tried to get around them or manipulate them as I have seen other women do.” Yet today she continues to worry that her sons may be too terrified of the uncontrollable or uncomfortable nature of emotions to ever fall in love or sustain other meaningful relationships. “I never hear boys — mine or others — talking about their feelings in the way I know girls do.”

This male inability to express feelings is a common affliction. Therapists across the country tell stories of men who face tremendous crises at work but who enact elaborate ruses to hide them from their friends and family. A Delhi-based therapist describes the shock of a wife who found out her middleaged husband had been leaving home everyday, dressed for work, for six months only to spend lonely days in public parks. “Why didn’t he tell me he couldn’t face going to work anymore? I would not have blamed him,” cried the wife.

Mothers, wives and trendseeking journalists are not the only ones to fall unwillingly into discussions about the seemingly innate differences between boys and girls. Global pop culture (such as television shows and self-help books with alliterative titles) rampantly emphasise and reinforce the inscrutability of men to women and viceversa. For decades, in development jargon, gender had come to stand in for women. And for decades all initiatives, political and intellectual, were directed at the transformation of women’s lives or the yeast-like raising of women’s consciousness. The queer movement opened up rich possibilities of happiness. But all this left the straight man out of conversations about emotions and self-expression until the mid- 1990s when funding patterns shifted. Suddenly, the focus shifted from women to the inner worlds of straight men, creating a domain called masculinity studies.

Ratheesh Radhakrishnan, now at IIT Mumbai, a researcher in this relatively unknown area of study, suggests usefully that one way of resolving the naturenurture contradiction (‘If I brought up my son in gender- sensitive ways, why is he still using a doll as a gun?’) is to look away from individual sets of parents to the culture that fosters notions of self-indulgent masculinity.

Today, we are learning to appreciate and enjoy our daughters. It is not uncommon to hear parents now saying they are grateful they have daughters because they are assured of care in their old age. Nor is it uncommon to see around us confident young women encouraged at every step to excel. We react with awkward but sincere pleasure about stories of a woman firefighter, a woman Foreign Secretary, a woman who has sent her children to engineering college on a labourer’s income. In the manner that the modern, independent woman has the option of playing out any number of sexual types and social roles (butch, femme, friend, superboss, languid mother, gaming junkie, film festival nerd) men, too, should have the option of embracing a spectrum of roles and selves. As yet, they do not.

The New Indian Male in giddy magazine features is actually a bewildered robot caught in a crisis. He has not been brought up to live in an egalitarian society
Nowhere is this entrapment more vividly evident than in male responses to that most reviled college experience: ragging. Young Indian men routinely brutalise incoming juniors in colleges and justify it as tradition or socialising. Stripping, beatings, ritual humiliation, the eating of shit and licking of toilets, sodomy – everyone has a story. Worryingly, these stories are told with a grin. Naveen, a gentle, young Chennai-based doctor, for instance, says he thoroughly enjoyed a ragging ceremony that lasted hours and ended in his standing in neck-deep mud. Vinay, a 28-year-old security analyst, shifts between saying, “I know it was all bad” and “It was the best years of my life” when talking about the elaborate ragging rituals in Madras Christian College. His room was once ‘egged’ — covered in eggshells filled with urine — for weeks. But Naveen justifies it by saying it was all about being accepted and liked. His father and grandfather had gone to the same college and he is quite sure he wants his unborn son to go there someday.

NEITHER VINAY nor Naveen will concede that their experiences are merely a variant of the violence that killed 19-year-old medical student Aman Kachroo in March this year in Kangra. Mary John, Director of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, says that the tendency of young urban college boys to talk of Kachroo’s death ‘as the kind of thing that happens out there’ — far away from their own realities — fits well with modern forms of masculinity which are inclined to deem overt violence as infra-dig. “The successful man today is one who can get what he wants — power, service and his woman — through consent. Overt violence would be a sign of failure,” says John.

There are reasons why ragging remains a perversely beloved ritual among young men. Unlike Indian women who are trained emotionally and socially by parents and society to gear up for a time when they must leave their parental home and occupy their space in the adult world, and unlike their selfsufficient counterparts in western countries, there are no major markers to end childhood for Indian men.

When an Indian man goes away from home (if at all he does) he is almost entirely unprepared to look after himself. Indian university towns such as Pune, for instance, are full of well-heeled young teenage boys housed with cook-cum-major-domos to clean up after them. Young women in Indian metros often refuse to visit their male contemporaries’ homes, sure that there will be no towels, no furniture and no food. Maya, a 26-year-old Delhibased professional, recounts how various male acquaintances would land up at her home at odd hours of the morning without notice, casually demanding specific items for breakfast (‘I’ll just have some juice’) with every expectation of these demands being satisfied. Even marriage does not necessarily mark adulthood for Indian men in the same way as it does for women.

SO, IN a sense, ragging in college is the only real initiation rite privileged young Indian men get to pass through. It is the only time they feel they have ‘faced something’ – suffered, and so walked through a doorway into a wider, adult world. For the first time, they feel the thrill of no protective shield around them. Certainly there are few other things in their lives that was not for their taking.

Ragging in college is the only time Indian men get to feel they have ‘faced something’ – suffered, so walked through a doorway into a wider, adult world
Ironically then, Indian men are unable to break the stereotypes that entrap them and embrace the pleasure of multiple selves precisely because neither parents nor society allows them to experience any markers that end their childhood. The beautifully christened Yuvraj Singh lounging in an up-market Delhi coffee shop is a perfect example of this. 24-years old, good-looking, well-travelled, he is just out of a fouryear relationship that ended recently and is dating again. He is polite and likes clever, feminine women. He has never been in any scuffles. The one time a girl’s boyfriend arrived outside his school to beat him up, he called his father’s security company and his problem was taken care of.

Now, as his student life in London draws to an end he is on the verge of returning permanently to Delhi. Returning involves a big decision. Does he want to join his father’s multi-crore business immediately or in a while? It is a decision that is clearly weighing on his mind. He admires his father tremendously but wonders whether it is the same life he wants for himself. “I want to be able to stop thinking about work at 6 o’clock, go home and spend time with my family.” Family is a word that comes up dozens of times in his conversation. His mother, his father, other people’s mothers and fathers. Family, family, family. His parents know everything about his life, he says. “I don’t smoke or drink in front of my father. I can’t,” he smiles sweetly. You are irresistibly reminded of Kesavan saying that Indian men are only required to be sons.

Globalisation itself has brought new complications for the Indian man. At one level, it has encouraged many Indian men to morph into the pleasant-smelling, colour-coordinated, high-spending creatures called the metrosexual. At another, it has hardened some of the traditionally fluid lines of Indian masculinity. For instance, the once easy, even lavish, physical affection between Indian men – holding hands, slapping butts, slinging easy arms over friendly shoulders -- is now being schooled into selfconscious homophobia. And the quintessential south Indian nerd or the overweight and wonderfully romantic movie heroes of our past are no longer kosher: it is the big muscular body that is now more universally coveted.

George Jose, gleeful father of a three-year-old daughter, and Programme Director of the Asia Society, Mumbai, sums it up wonderfully. “Indian men are no longer going to be able to take their place in the world for granted. They will suffer the anxieties that women have been dealing with forever, wondering what is appropriate or inappropriate all the time. The pity is that in their case there is no women’s movement to light the path ahead and men are too scared to admit the need for such groups.”

‘Men are suffering huge anxieties. The pity is they have no women’s movement to light the path ahead and are too scared to admit the need for such groups,’ says Jose
But until that fear is routed, the search for the genuine New Indian Male will resemble a quest for a unicorn. And what is the unicorn we are looking for? Is it 29-year-old, Bengalurubased Kamal, all spikes and metal piercings, a porcupine in a Jesus t-shirt at first glance? Kamal, who belies his looks and is quiet and retiring and enjoys the discipline of domesticity, who keeps house without turning house-keeping into a cult, and admires his wife’s ability to bring home an income because his band does not make any money yet? Kamal, who is looking forward to having his own children one day and being a gentle father, and who is happy for now making music and maintaining his fragile peace? Or is it Jinu Joseph, hulking new villain of Malayalam cinema, macho man of the world, comfortable in his skin and comfortable with women?

The point is, there should be no one unicorn: no new stereotype to replace the first. If there was to be a masculine movement to equal the feminist movement that has set large sections of the Indian woman free, the goal for Indian men would be to throw off some of their own deprivations. From the moment they can walk, Indian men are taught to provide but not feel. Taught to command, not empathise. Taught to expect subservience not companionship. Taught, most damagingly, to repudiate their emotions. Their inner life. Their capacity for variety.

As Jose says, “Part of the problem has always been language and how men and women speak to each other. You know how the old feminist guard gets all worked up when they hear young women today saying, ‘I am not a feminist’? It is as if these young women are ungrateful for all the hard work that was done before they were born, work that paved the way for their individualistic freedom. But actually it could offer an interesting and intuitive new space. It is as if these women are signaling to the men they meet and saying, ‘Let’s set aside the history of stereotypes that set us apart. You and I, let’s start on a fresh page.”
From Here

Happy Birthday Leela, Divya and Annika

Picture by Pradip Dalal

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Jon Stewart The most trusted name in News!

Jon Stewart: The Most Trust Newscaster in America... Be Afraid, Be Somewhat Afraid
Time Magazine conducted an online poll, asking "Now that Walter Cronkite has passed on, who is America's most trusted newscaster?" Jon Stewart received 44% of the vote, 15 percentage points more than the second most trusted newscaster, Brian Williams. Stewart came in first or second in every state, except Vermont. And he won more than 50% of the vite in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, but also surprisingly in Idaho, Utah, Arkansas (where he won 63% of the vote). Jason Linkins in the Huffington Post:

Well, in a result that he will probably accept as downright apocalyptic for America, The Daily Show's Jon Stewart has been selected, in an online poll conducted by Time Magazine, as America's Most Trusted Newscaster, post-Cronkite. Matched up against Brian Williams, Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson, Stewart prevailed with 44 percent of the vote. Now, if we're being honest, he probably managed to prevail as the winner precisely because he was the odd man out in a field of network news anchors. Nevertheless, I think Jim Cramer should feel free to SNACK ON THAT.

Brian Williams drew the second largest percentage of votes, with 29 percent. Gibson and Couric finished third and fourth, respectively, with 19 and 7 percent of the vote

From 3qd

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thought for today

SAS Newsletter: "I suggest that every one of you should try - oh! not for long, just for one hour a day - to say nothing but the absolutely indispensable words. Not one more, not one less.
Take one hour of your life, the one which is most convenient for you, and during that time observe yourself closely and say only the absolutely indispensable words.
At the outset, the first difficulty will be to know what is absolutely indispensable and what is not. It is already a study in itself and every day you will do better.
Next, you will see that so long as one says nothing, it is not difficult to remain absolutely silent, but as soon as you begin to speak, always or almost always you say two or three or ten or twenty useless words which it was not at all necessary to say.

- The Mother [CWMCE, 3:259]"

Friday, July 24, 2009

101 Salads for Summer

SUMMER may not be the best time to cook, but it’s certainly among the best times to eat. Toss watermelon and peaches with some ingredients you have lying around already, and you can produce a salad that’s delicious, unusual, fast and perfectly seasonal.

That’s the idea behind the 101 ideas found in this section. In theory, each salad takes 20 minutes or less. Honestly, some may take you a little longer. But most minimize work at the stove and capitalize on the season, when tomatoes, eggplant, herbs, fruit, greens and more are plentiful and excellent.

This last point is important. Not everything needs to be farmers’ market quality, but it’s not too much to expect ripe fruit, fragrant herbs and juicy greens.

Salt, to taste, is a given in all of these recipes. Pepper, too (if I want you to use a lot of pepper, I say so).

Herein, then, are enough salad ideas to tide you over until the weather cools down.


1. Cube watermelon and combine with tomato chunks, basil and basic vinaigrette. You can substitute peach for the watermelon or the tomato (but not both, O.K.?). You can also add bacon or feta, but there goes the vegan-ness.

2. Mix wedges of tomatoes and peaches, add slivers of red onion, a few red-pepper flakes and cilantro. Dress with olive oil and lime or lemon juice. Astonishing.

3. A nice cucumber salad: Slice cucumbers thin (if they’re fat and old, peel and seed them first), toss with red onions and salt, then let sit for 20 to 60 minutes. Rinse, dry, dress with cider vinegar mixed with Dijon mustard; no oil necessary.

4. Shave raw asparagus stalks with a vegetable peeler. Discard the tough first pass of the peeler — i.e., the peel — but do use the tips, whole. Dress with lemon vinaigrette and coarse salt. (Chopped hard-boiled eggs optional but good.)

5. Grate or very thinly slice Jerusalem artichokes; mix with pitted and chopped oil-cured olives, olive oil, lemon juice and a sprinkling of coarsely ground cumin. Unusual and wonderful.

6. Sichuan slaw: Toss bean sprouts, shredded carrots and celery, minced fresh chili, soy sauce, sesame oil and a bit of sugar. Top with chopped peanuts and chopped basil, mint and/or cilantro. (The full trio is best.)

7. Grate carrots, toast some sunflower seeds, and toss with blueberries, olive oil, lemon juice and plenty of black pepper. Sweet, sour, crunchy, soft.

8. Chop or slice radishes (or jicama, or the ever-surprising kohlrabi) and combine with chopped or sliced unripe (i.e., still crunchy) mango, lime juice and mint or cilantro.

9. Chop or slice jicama (or radishes or kohlrabi) and mango and mix with coconut milk, lime juice, curry powder and cilantro or mint.

10. Cook whole grape tomatoes in olive oil over high heat until they brown lightly, sprinkling with curry powder. Cool a bit, then toss with chopped arugula, loads of chopped mint and lime juice.

11. Chop and steam baby or grown-up bok choy until crisp-tender, then shock it in ice water. Drain, then toss with halved cherry tomatoes, capers, olive oil and lemon juice.

12. Combine sliced fennel and prune plums; serve with vinaigrette spiked with minced ginger. Nice pairing.

13. A red salad: Combine tomato wedges with halved strawberries, basil leaves, shaved Parmesan and balsamic vinegar.

14. A classic Moroccan thing: Thinly slice carrots, or grate or shred them (the food processor makes quick work of this). Toss with toasted cumin seeds, olive oil, lemon juice and cilantro. Raisins are good in here, too. There is no better use of raw carrots.

15. Cut cherry or grape tomatoes in half; toss with soy sauce, a bit of dark sesame oil and basil or cilantro. I love this — the tomato juice-soy thing is incredible.

16. Slice fennel and crisp apple about the same thickness (your choice). Combine, then dress with mustardy vinaigrette and chopped parsley. Come fall, this will be even better.

17. With thanks to Szechuan Gourmet restaurant: Finely chop celery and mix with a roughly equal amount of pressed or smoked tofu, chopped. Dress with peanut oil warmed with chili flakes and Sichuan peppercorns, then mixed with soy sauce.

18. Roughly chop cooked or canned chickpeas (you can pulse them, carefully, in a food processor) and toss with olive oil, lemon juice, lots of chopped fresh parsley and mint, and a few chopped tomatoes. Call this chickpea tabbouleh.

19. Mix cooked cannellini or other white beans, chopped cherry or grape tomatoes and arugula or baby spinach. Lightly toast sliced garlic in olive oil with rosemary and red pepper flakes; cool slightly, add lemon zest or juice or both, then pour over beans.

20. Shred Napa cabbage and radishes. The dressing is roasted peanuts, lime juice, peanut or other oil, cilantro and fresh or dried chili, all whizzed in a blender. Deliciousness belies ease.

From Here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pico Iyer on the Dalai Lama.

Dream — nothing!” is one of the many things I’ve heard the 14th Dalai Lama say to large audiences that seem to startle the unprepared. Just before I began an onstage conversation with him at New York Town’s Hall this spring, he told me, “If I had magical powers, I’d never need an operation!” and broke into guffaws as he thought of the three-hour gallbladder operation he’d been through last October, weeks after being in hospital for another ailment. For a Buddhist, after all, our power lies nowhere but ourselves.

We can’t change the world except insofar as we change the way we look at the world — and, in fact, any one of us can make that change, in any direction, at any moment. The point of life, in the view of the Dalai Lama, is happiness, and that lies within our grasp, our untapped potential, with every breath.

Easy for him to say, you might scoff. He’s a monk, he meditates for four hours as soon as he wakes up and he’s believed by his flock to be an incarnation of a god. Yet when you think back on his circumstances, you recall that he was made ruler of a large and fractious nation when he was only 4 years old. He was facing a civil war of sorts in Lhasa when he was just 11, and when he was 15, he was made full political leader and had to start protecting his country against Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, leaders of the world’s largest (and sometimes least tractable) nation.

Related Posts
“The Joy of Less,” by Pico Iyer
“Happy Like God,” by Simon Critchley
Lowered Expectations” by Eric Weiner
“Sitting Quietly, Doing Something,” by Daniel Goleman
This spring marked the completion of half a century for him in exile, trying to guide and serve 6 million Tibetans he hasn’t seen in 50 years, and to rally 150,000 or so exiled Tibetans who have in most cases never seen Tibet. This isn’t an obvious recipe for producing a vividly contagious optimism.

Yet in 35 years of talking to the Dalai Lama, and covering him everywhere from Zurich to Hiroshima, as a non-Buddhist, skeptical journalist, I’ve found him to be as deeply confident, and therefore sunny, as anyone I’ve met. And I’ve begun to think that his almost visible glow does not come from any mysterious or unique source. Indeed, mysteries and rumors of his own uniqueness are two of the things that cause him most instantly to erupt into warm laughter. The Dalai Lama I’ve seen is a realist (which is what makes his optimism the more impressive and persuasive). And he’s as practical as the man he calls his “boss.”

The Buddha generally presented himself as more physician than metaphysician: if an arrow is sticking out of your side, he famously said, don’t argue about where it came from or who made it; just pull it out. You make your way to happiness not by fretting about it or trafficking in New Age affirmations, but simply by finding the cause of your suffering, and then attending to it, as any doctor (of mind or body) might do.

The first words the Dalai Lama said when he came into exile, I learned not long ago, were “Now we are free.” He had just lost his homeland, his seeming destiny, contact with the people he had been chosen to rule; he had been forced to undergo a harrowing flight for 14 days across the highest mountains in the world. But his first instinct — the result of training and teaching, no doubt, as much as of temperament — was to look at what he could do better. Now.

He could bring democratic and modern reforms to the Tibetan people that he might not so easily have done in old Tibet. He and his compatriots could learn from Western science and other religions, and give something back to them. He could create a new, improved Tibet — global and contemporary — outside Tibet. The very condition that most of us would see as loss, severance and confinement, he saw as possibility.

Not all Tibetans can be quite so sanguine and far-sighted, of course, and in terms of a resolution of Tibet’s political predicament with China, the Dalai Lama has made no visible progress in 50 years. Beijing is only coming down harder and harder on Tibet, as he frankly admits. But when I watch him around the world, I see that he’s visiting other countries and traditions in part to offer concrete, practical tips for happiness, or inner health, the way any physician might when making a house call. Think in terms of enemies, he suggests, and the only loser is yourself.

Concentrate on external wealth, he said at Town Hall, and at some point you realize it has limits — and you’re still feeling discontented. Take his word as law, he constantly implies, and you’re doing him — as well as yourself — a disservice, as you do when assuming that any physician is infallible, or can protect his patients from death in the end.

None of these are Buddhist laws as such — though in his case they arise from Buddhist teaching — any more than the law of universal gravitation is Christian, just because it happened to be formulated by Isaac Newton (who said, “God created everything by number, weight and measure”). I’ve been spending time for 18 years in a Benedictine monastery, and the monks I know there have likewise found out how to be delighted by the smallest birthday cake. Happiness is not pleasure, they know, and unhappiness, as the Buddhists say, is not the same as suffering. Suffering — in the sense of old age, sickness and death — is the law of life; unhappiness is just the position we choose — or can not choose — to bring to it.

Not long ago, I was traveling with the Dalai Lama across Japan and another journalist came into our bullet-train compartment for an interview. “Your Holiness,” he said, “you have seen so much sorrow and loss in your life. Your people have been killed and your country has been occupied. You have had to worry about the welfare of Tibet every day since you were four years old. How can you always remain so happy and smiling?”

”My profession,” said the Dalai Lama instantly, as if he hardly had to think about it. His answer could mean many things, but one of the better things it meant to me was that that kind of happiness is within the reach of almost anyone. We can work on it as we work on our backhands, our soufflés or our muscles in the gym. True happiness, in that sense, doesn’t mean trying to acquire things, so much as letting go of things (our illusions and attachments). It’s only the clouds of short-sightedness or ignorance, the teachers from the Dalai Lama’s tradition suggest, that prevent us from seeing that our essential nature, whether we’re Buddhist or not, is blue sky.
From here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

image of solar eclipse from New Delhi

image of Solar Eclipse in Varanasi

thought from the mother

You can at every minute make the gift of your will in an aspiration - and an aspiration which formulates itself very simply, not just "Lord, Thy will be done", but "Grant that I may do as well as I can the best thing to do."
You may not know at every moment what is the best thing to do or how to do it, but you can place your will at the disposal of the Divine to do the best possible, the best thing possible. You will see it will have marvellous results. Do this with consciousness, sincerity and perseverance, and you will find yourself getting along with gigantic strides. It is like that, isn't it? One must do things with all the ardour of one's soul, with all the strength of one's will; do at every moment the best possible, the best thing possible. What others do is not your concern - this is something I shall never be able to repeat to you often enough.
Never say, "So-and-so does not do this", "So-and-so does something else", "That one does what he should not do" - all this is not your concern. You have been put upon earth, in a physical body, with a definite aim, which is to make this body as conscious as possible, make it the most perfect and most conscious instrument of the Divine. He has given you a certain amount of substance and of matter in all the domains - mental, vital and physical - in proportion to what He expects from you, and all the circumstances around you are also in proportion to what He expects of you, and those who tell you, "My life is terrible, I lead the most miserable life in the world", are donkeys! Everyone has a life appropriate to his total development, everyone has experiences which help him in his total development, and everyone has difficulties which help him in his total realisation.
If you look at yourself carefully, you will see that one always carries in oneself the opposite of the virtue one has to realise (I use "virtue" in its widest and highest sense). You have a special aim, a special mission, a special realisation which is your very own, each one individually, and you carry in yourself all the obstacles necessary to make your realisation perfect. Always you will see that within you the shadow and the light are equal: you have an ability, you have also the negation of this ability. But if you discover a very black hole, a thick shadow, be sure there is somewhere in you a great light. It is up to you to know how to use the one to realise the other.
This is a fact very little spoken about, but one of capital importance. And if you observe carefully you will see that it is always thus with everyone. This leads us to statements which are paradoxical but absolutely true; for instance, that the greatest thief can be the most honest man (this is not to encourage you to steal, of course!) and the greatest liar can be the most truthful person. So, do not despair if you find in yourself the greatest weakness, for perhaps it is the sign of the greatest divine strength. Do not say, "I am like that, I can't be otherwise." It is not true. You are "like that" because, precisely, you ought to be the opposite. And all your difficulties are there just so that you may learn to transform them into the truth they are hiding.
Once you have understood this, many worries come to an end and you are very happy, very happy. If one finds one has very black holes, one says, "This shows I can rise very high", if the abyss is very deep, "I can climb very high."

- The Mother [CWMCE, 4:117-19]

Monday, July 20, 2009

these things are old by Nikhil Pal Singh

As Barack Obama stood on the stage at Grant Park in Chicago on election night, my euphoria yielded to a strange unease in the pit of my stomach and all good feeling drained away. I soon realized what caused this sensation as I consciously registered the reflected image in the bulletproof glass that imperceptibly framed Obama’s face. Even as his mouth formed words that announced a new founding and the vindication of old foundations, the ghostly image conjured a recurrent, traumatic history of unfulfilled promises, unredeemed struggles and unaccounted losses, the many thousands gone.

Perhaps any victor that night would have been so protected. Nevertheless, that black existence and aspirations toward inclusion and equality in the U.S. readily associate with a history of legal and extra-legal violence deployed to produce and preserve racial distance and disparity is hardly surprising. However unseemly, the strongest prospective parallels between Obama and King drawn during the Democratic primary and Presidential campaign implicated the threat of premature death. In turn, Obama’s ostensible fulfillment of King’s dream arguably has less to do with substantive political connections between the two men than with the racial form and symbolism of one life and its associated promise repairing the violently truncated closure of another before its time.

Tenzin Palmo

What Is Liberation for Women Today?

An interview with Tenzin Palmo
by Jessica Roemischer

What Is Enlightenment: What is liberation for women today?

Tenzin Palmo: It’s actually a fantastic time to be a woman. In much of the world today, women are freer than we have ever been in the history of the human race. We are becoming educated. We are as free as men to study, to think about and practice whatever we wish, and to travel around the world. We are able to think for ourselves outside the usual paradigms. And from a spiritual point of view, this means we can choose our own path, and we have the freedom to follow it. So we’re living in a very interesting age when women are beginning to have their own autonomy. But what we do with that is up to us. We can imprison ourselves to as great an extent as we were imprisoned in previous times, except in different roles. We can become more bound up in samsara. Or we can use this autonomy to become free in an ultimate sense. So we should use this human lifetime to the best of our abilities, because we now have everything.

WIE: How can we make the most of this unprecedented moment in history?

Play audio clip Tenzin Palmo: If women are going to truly make use of our female birth, we have to recognize that as human beings—male or female—we all have the same innate potential to realize our true nature and become liberated. But we have to see that ego is there, and it is always going to get in the way. And the ego likes nothing more than to think of itself as being a spiritual ego—a bigger, more realized, wonderful me. We have to rid ourselves of our poisons, our self-cherishing, our greed, anger, aversion, jealousies, and envies.

Through developing and cultivating ourselves in this way, women can grow up and become mature and stop being childlike. We have to become strong instead of always exerting this needy sense of wanting. And in order to do that we need to develop the side of ourselves that we normally consider to be male. Not the aggressive side, but the confident side, the side that conceives that if we wish to do something, it is possible for us to do it.

WIE: Are there other challenges that women particularly face in fulfilling the potential we now have?

Tenzin Palmo: One of the most significant problems is that women don’t support other women. This is a very ironical situation, and it has kept women weak throughout time. We support each other in little ways, but when it comes down to it, we will always hand it over to the guys.

WIE: One of the great early feminists in America, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, observed that women will often undermine other women, particularly those who take the lead and stand out.

Tenzin Palmo: Exactly! And if we are really going to be a power and a voice in this world, we have to stand solidly behind each other and not get caught up in factionalism and jealousy. Until we’re aware of that, it won’t change. There was an eighth-century Buddhist philosopher called Shanti Deva who put forth a universal prayer in which he said, “May the order of nuns live in harmony.” He doesn’t mention the monks living in harmony. So he obviously thought the nuns weren’t living in harmony, which indicates that this has always been a problem. I mean, we don’t respect each other. We don’t trust each other. We don’t love each other. We don’t value each other. And until we value each other, why should anyone else value us? If women really held hands together, we would be a terrific power.

WIE: You’re implying that we could create a very different kind of society and world.

Tenzin Palmo: Society has to change, doesn’t it? By rights, we should be a tremendous power for good, because look at where we’re headed. But whether or not we will be that force of goodness depends solely on us. Unless we have a radical change in our consciousness, in our understanding of what is genuinely important, and in our way of relating to each other and to ourselves, the whole world is heading for disaster. Women, after all, are half the human race, but when we put each other down snidely, which we so often do, it keeps us weak and disempowered. And we have to deal with it because, unless we all stand together, our fragmentation denies us a real platform to stand on. We aren’t half the human race then. We’re just little groups scattered here and there. For the first time in millennia, women could have a very strong voice. And presumably, it would be a different voice.

WIE: What do you think that voice should say?

Tenzin Palmo: I think it should say that this lifetime is very, very precious and we shouldn’t waste it. Women have this great opportunity, and if we are conscious of it, then we will fulfill that potential. And if we’re not, then we will mess things up, just as men have done throughout history. We have to stand up and take a deep breath and look in our own hearts and ask ourselves what we really think is important and what we really want to do with this lifetime and then do it. The thing is that we can go astray if we’re not very careful, because you never know with women. We have to realize our strengths and our weaknesses and this lack of mutual support.

So we will see what happens in the next fifty or one hundred years as women begin to wake up and start to flex their muscles. And hopefully, we’ll begin to see that, just as our imprisonment in samsara is caused by our own self-delusion, the problems for women are caused by women. Therefore the solution is in our hands. We don’t have to wait for men to change their attitudes. It’s up to us to change our attitudes, and that’s hopeful because, as with everything, the problem is never out there. It’s always in here.

Words of wisdom

on the World Wide Web
chosen by Lama Surya Das

* * * * * * * * *
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
- Steve Jobs, from a college commencement address"

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Why are we so fat

Elizabeth Colbert at the New Yorker, reviews two books that deal with why we have grown fatter over the years.

Fat; Obesity; “The Evolution of Obesity” (Johns Hopkins; $40); Michael L. Power; Jay Schulkin; “The Fattening of America” (Wiley; $26.95); Eric Finkelstein One of the most comprehensive data sets available about Americans—how tall they are, when they last visited a dentist, what sort of cereal they eat for breakfast, whether they have to pee during the night, and, if so, how often—comes from a series of studies conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Participants are chosen at random, interviewed at length, and subjected to a battery of tests in special trailers that the C.D.C. hauls around the country. The studies, known as the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, began during the Eisenhower Administration and have been carried out periodically ever since.

In the early nineteen-nineties, a researcher at the C.D.C. named Katherine Flegal was reviewing the results of the survey then under way when she came across figures that seemed incredible. According to the first National Health study, which was done in the early nineteen-sixties, 24.3 per cent of American adults were overweight—roughly defined as having a body-mass index greater than twenty-seven. (The metrics are slightly different for men and women; by the study’s definition, a woman who is five feet tall would count as overweight if she was more than a hundred and forty pounds, and a man who is six feet tall if he weighed more than two hundred and four pounds.) By the time of the second survey, conducted in the early nineteen-seventies, the proportion of overweight adults had increased by three-quarters of a per cent, to twenty-five per cent, and, by the third survey, in the late seventies, it had edged up to 25.4 per cent. The results that Flegal found so surprising came from the fourth survey. During the nineteen-eighties, the American gut, instead of expanding very gradually, had ballooned: 33.3 per cent of adults now qualified as overweight. Flegal began asking around at professional meetings. Had other researchers noticed a change in Americans’ waistlines? They had not. This left her feeling even more perplexed. She knew that errors could have sneaked into the data in a variety of ways, so she and her colleagues checked and rechecked the figures. There was no problem that they could identify. Finally, in 1994, they published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In just ten years, they showed, Americans had collectively gained more than a billion pounds. “If this was about tuberculosis, it would be called an epidemic,” another researcher wrote in an editorial accompanying the report.

During the next decade, Americans kept right on gaining. Men are now on average seventeen pounds heavier than they were in the late seventies, and for women that figure is even higher: nineteen pounds. The proportion of overweight children, age six to eleven, has more than doubled, while the proportion of overweight adolescents, age twelve to nineteen, has more than tripled. (According to the standards of the United States military, forty per cent of young women and twenty-five per cent of young men weigh too much to enlist.) As the average person became heavier, the very heavy became heavier still; more than twelve million Americans now have a body-mass index greater than forty, which, for someone who is five feet nine, entails weighing more than two hundred and seventy pounds. Hospitals have had to buy special wheelchairs and operating tables to accommodate the obese, and revolving doors have had to be widened—the typical door went from about ten feet to about twelve feet across. An Indiana company called Goliath Casket has begun offering triple-wide coffins with reinforced hinges that can hold up to eleven hundred pounds. It has been estimated that Americans’ extra bulk costs the airlines a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of jet fuel annually.

from the issuecartoon banke-mail thisSuch a broad social development seems to require an explanation on the same scale. Something big must have changed in America to cause so many people to gain so much weight so quickly. But what, exactly, is unclear—a mystery batter-dipped in an enigma.

Though weight-loss books will doubtless always be more popular, what might be called weight-gain books, which attempt to account for our corpulence, are an expanding genre. In “The Evolution of Obesity” (Johns Hopkins; $40), Michael L. Power and Jay Schulkin take a frankly Darwinian approach. They argue that we are fat for the same reason that we are capable of studying our backsides in the mirror. “In many ways we can blame the obesity epidemic on our brains,” they write.

Brains are calorically demanding organs. Our distant ancestors had small ones. Australopithecus afarensis, for example, who lived some three million years ago, had a cranial capacity of about four hundred cubic centimetres, which is roughly the same as a chimpanzee’s. Modern humans have a cranial capacity of about thirteen hundred cubic centimetres. How, as their brains got bigger, did our forebears keep them running? According to what’s known as the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis, early humans compensated for the energy used in their heads by cutting back on the energy used in their guts; as man’s cranium grew, his digestive tract shrank. This forced him to obtain more energy-dense foods than his fellow-primates were subsisting on, which put a premium on adding further brain power. The result of this self-reinforcing process was a strong taste for foods that are high in calories and easy to digest; just as it is natural for gorillas to love leaves, it is natural for people to love funnel cakes.

Although no one really knows what life was like in the Pleistocene, it seems reasonable to assume that early humans lived, as it were, hand to mouth. In good times, they needed to stockpile food for use in hard times, but the only place they had to store it was on themselves. Body fat is energy-rich and at the same time lightweight: when the water is taken out, a gram of fat contains 9.4 kilocalories, compared with 4.3 kilocalories for a gram of protein, and when the water is left in, as it is on the human belly, a gram of fat still contains 9.1 kilocalories, while a gram of protein has just 1.2. As a consequence, a person with a genetic knack for storing fat would have had a competitive advantage. Power and Schulkin are both researchers at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and they argue that this advantage would have been especially strong for women. Human infants are unusually portly; among mammals, only hooded seals have a higher percentage of body fat at birth. (Presumably, babies need the extra reserves to fuel their oversized brains.) Tellingly, humans, unlike most other animals, have no set season of fertility. Instead, ovulation is tied to a woman’s fat stores: those who are very thin simply fail to menstruate.
THe New Yorker Analyzes why we are so fat today.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

SAS Newsletter

You can at every minute make the gift of your will in an aspiration - and an aspiration which formulates itself very simply, not just "Lord, Thy will be done", but "Grant that I may do as well as I can the best thing to do."
You may not know at every moment what is the best thing to do or how to do it, but you can place your will at the disposal of the Divine to do the best possible, the best thing possible. You will see it will have marvellous results. Do this with consciousness, sincerity and perseverance, and you will find yourself getting along with gigantic strides. It is like that, isn't it? One must do things with all the ardour of one's soul, with all the strength of one's will; do at every moment the best possible, the best thing possible. What others do is not your concern - this is something I shall never be able to repeat to you often enough.
Never say, "So-and-so does not do this", "So-and-so does something else", "That one does what he should not do" - all this is not your concern. You have been put upon earth, in a physical body, with a definite aim, which is to make this body as conscious as possible, make it the most perfect and most conscious instrument of the Divine. He has given you a certain amount of substance and of matter in all the domains - mental, vital and physical - in proportion to what He expects from you, and all the circumstances around you are also in proportion to what He expects of you, and those who tell you, "My life is terrible, I lead the most miserable life in the world", are donkeys! Everyone has a life appropriate to his total development, everyone has experiences which help him in his total development, and everyone has difficulties which help him in his total realisation.
If you look at yourself carefully, you will see that one always carries in oneself the opposite of the virtue one has to realise (I use "virtue" in its widest and highest sense). You have a special aim, a special mission, a special realisation which is your very own, each one individually, and you carry in yourself all the obstacles necessary to make your realisation perfect. Always you will see that within you the shadow and the light are equal: you have an ability, you have also the negation of this ability. But if you discover a very black hole, a thick shadow, be sure there is somewhere in you a great light. It is up to you to know how to use the one to realise the other.
This is a fact very little spoken about, but one of capital importance. And if you observe carefully you will see that it is always thus with everyone. This leads us to statements which are paradoxical but absolutely true; for instance, that the greatest thief can be the most honest man (this is not to encourage you to steal, of course!) and the greatest liar can be the most truthful person. So, do not despair if you find in yourself the greatest weakness, for perhaps it is the sign of the greatest divine strength. Do not say, "I am like that, I can't be otherwise." It is not true. You are "like that" because, precisely, you ought to be the opposite. And all your difficulties are there just so that you may learn to transform them into the truth they are hiding.
Once you have understood this, many worries come to an end and you are very happy, very happy. If one finds one has very black holes, one says, "This shows I can rise very high", if the abyss is very deep, "I can climb very high."

- The Mother [CWMCE, 4:117-19]

Quote of today J Krishnamurthi

If you are aware of outward things

Please do listen to this. Most of us think that awareness is a mysterious something to be practised, and that we should get together day after day to talk about awareness. Now, you don't come to awareness that way at all. But if you are aware of outward things - the curve of a road, the shape of a tree, the colour of another's dress, the outline of the mountains against a blue sky, the delicacy of a flower, the pain on the face of a passer-by, the ignorance, the envy, the jealousy of others, the beauty of the earth - then, seeing all these outward things without condemnation, without choice, you can ride on the tide of inner awareness. Then you will become aware of your own reactions, of your own pettiness, of your own jealousies. From the outward awareness you come to the inward, but if you are not aware of the outer, you cannot possibly come to the inner.

The Collected Works, Vol. XV - 242

Sunday, July 12, 2009

thought for today

Go deep, very deep down in the silence of your heart, and you will find the Lord there radiant and merciful.
It is not an impression or an imagination - it is a concrete experience that fills you with a lasting and powerful joy.

- The Mother [p-159, White Roses, Sixth Edition, 1999]

Poem of the day

As Much As You Can

And if you cannot make your life as you want it,
at least try this
as much as you can: do not disgrace it
in the crowding contact with the world,
in the many movements and all the talk.

Do not disgrace it by taking it,
dragging it around often and exposing it
to the daily folly
of relationships and associations,
till it becomes like an alien burdensome life.

by C.P. Cavafy
translation: Rae Dalven
from: The Complete Poems of Cavafy; Harvest Books, 1961

From 3QD

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Evil that Men Do

Tehelka reports the rapes that have gone unpunished in the tribal areas of Chhattisgarh by Salwa Judum men.

In the Indian setting, refusal to act on the testimony of the victim of sexual assault in the absence of corroboration as a rule is adding insult to injury. A girl or a woman in the tradition- bound non-permissive society of India would be extremely reluctant even to admit that any incident that is likely to reflect on her chastity had ever occurred… [A rape victim’s testimony] does not require corroboration from any other evidence, including the evidence of a doctor. — Supreme Court justices Arijit Pasayat and P Sathasivam, July 2008

FOR DECADES, the Supreme Court of India has cleaved to a rigorous legal standard in cases of rape: the testimony of the victim is enough evidence to launch the prosecution of the accused. Successive judgments over the years have reinforced this position. Thousands of convictions of alleged rapists have been effectively obtained on the basis of victims’ testimonies, with no corroborative evidence sought or offered. Often, the courts have overlooked minor discrepancies in the victims’ accounts, if the main narrative holds up.

Jurists and social commentators in India have long argued that, apart from being a most heinous crime against a woman’s person, her rape doubly curses her in the Indian society by imparting her a stigma that no other crime matches. That is why criminal investigation processes that the police must follow, as well as the judicial procedures prescribed when charges of rape arise, are unambiguous. This is best illustrated in the case of Hindi film actor Shiney Ahuja, who was arrested last month in Mumbai when his maidservant accused him of raping her. Ahuja has been denied bail, and rightly so, for his right to seek justice shall arise at the trial and not before or outside it.

What happens when the victims are destitute tribal women with no access to police, judiciary, media?
But what happens when rape becomes a brutal tool of class oppression in a wider social, political and economic war that men wage against one another, the raped women merely the pawns on their chessboard, the act of rape itself a side story, a cold-blooded strategy to terrorise an entire population into submission? What happens when the victims of rape are some of India’s most destitute tribal women, who live in virtually unreachable forests in subhuman conditions; who have absolutely zero access to the police, the judiciary, the media; whose verdant lands the mighty industrialists covet because they hold in their womb some of India’s richest mineral resources?

What happens when those accused of rape are the hired guns of a dubious state-backed militia that is the frontline in one of the world’s most brutal civil wars? What happens when the Indian State pivots this war against deeply entrenched Maoist insurgents on a take-no-prisoners approach, because unless the Maoists are killed off and millions of tribal people removed from their forests, hills and fields, corporate India won’t be able to claim the bounties of their lands? What happens when it is abundantly clear that accepting the charges of rape from such women would be very dangerous indeed because that step just might begin to unravel this barbaric anti-people militia, bringing an end to its unchecked reign of terror?

THIS IS the heartrending story of Chhattisgarh, and all the above questions have only one answer: the Indian State cannot afford to honestly investigate these women’s charges of rape and secure them justice. Therefore, it must be forced to do so. In the following pages, readers of TEHELKAwill find graphic gut-wrenching testimonies of some tribal women of Chhattisgarh describing how they were brutalised by the men of the Salwa Judum, the tribal militia that the state government sponsored four years ago and has since terrorised tens of thousands of innocent tribal people, burning their houses down, forcing them to abandon their villages where they had lived for generations, to move into squalid government- controlled “camps”.

We traveled deep in the state’s highly forested southern region known as Bastar, and located six women who were raped by the men of the Salwa Judum [literally, peace movement]. We also spoke to one man who saw his sister raped and then found her killed; their father, too, was killed then. The women and the man we met voluntarily gave their testimonies to us, which we have recorded on tape. Most rapes pertain to the period following the setting up of the Salwa Judum in 2005.

But the most disturbing part of this story came last year when the Supreme Court asked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to go to Chhattisgarh and investigate the charges of murder, rape, pillage and arson brought against those men of the Salwa Judum who have been hired and armed by the state police as Special Police Officers (SPOs). The report that an NHRC ‘fact-finding’ team wrote is deeply troubling in that it blindly toes the police and government line.

The NHRC report is deeply troubling as it blindly toes the police version. It absolves the accused, too
Created by Parliament in 1993 as an autonomous statutory human rights watchdog, the NHRC has long pretended to be the champion of the underdog. Log on to its website today, and you will be justified to feel a gush of relief at the rather selfcongratulatory headlines about jobs well done – “NHRC takes suo moto cognisance of the alleged fake encounter in Uttarakhand and recommends CBI inquiry”; “NHRC takes the railways police IG to task as cops throw pregnant woman from moving train”; “NHRC orders the payment of three lakh rupees monetary relief in a case of death in police custody”.

And yet, the NHRC refused to accept the testimonies of these tribal women of Chhattisgarh that unequivocally detail how SPOs brutally raped them. Instead of making the legally and morally sound recommendation that the state government launch the prosecution of the accused, the NHRC wrote: “During the enquiry of some specific allegations, the enquiry team also did not come across any case of rape which could be substantiated.” Shockingly, the NHRC happily absolved the accused too: “The allegations of rapes levelled against the SPOs and security forces were not substantiated during the enquiry.”

The most stunning fact, of course, is the NHRC’s rejection of the testimonies of five women from a single village – Pottenar in Bijapur district – who deposed before it. Says the report: “The matter was personally enquired from each of the five girls by a lady IPS officer of the team. During the enquiry, it was observed that there were many inconsistencies in the versions of alleged victims, in the petitions given by them, as well as in the statements of the alleged victims. These inconsistencies were with regard to the number of rape victims, number of SPOs who took them away from the camp, number of SPOs who actually committed the act and their identity and the accompanying circumstances.”

Shockingly, the report goes on to say: “All the victims stated that none of them reported this matter to their parents or relatives or anyone else in the camp or to the police.” Because the women raped by policemen did not report the rape to the police, their testimonies are suspect?

So just when did the NHRC convert itself into a trial court? Just when did it become the job of the NHRC to summarily dismiss, without proper investigation, the charges of rape directly brought forward by the alleged victims of that crime?

The chicanery at the NHRC began as it formed the investigative team. Acting on a lawsuit from activist-lawyer Nandini Sundar against the Salwa Judum, the Supreme Court said: “…We feel that in view of the serious allegations relating to violation of human rights by Naxalites and Salwa Judum and the living conditions in the refugee settlement colonies, it will be appropriate if the NHRC examines/verifies these allegations... We leave it to the NHRC to appoint an appropriate fact-finding Committee with such members as it deems fit...”

The NHRC was asked to probe charges also against Salwa Judum. But it spoke mostly to Judum supporters
So what did the NHRC do? To investigate charges of rape against Special Police Officers who are fully backed by the state police and the government, the NHRC decided to send a 16- member team — made up of exclusively policemen and women! This included three IPS officers, four Deputy Superintendents of Police, seven inspectors and one constable. Just why would the country’s premier human rights watchdog not include even one well-respected independent social activist in its fact-finding team? (The team head, former DIG Sudhir Chowdhary, refused to talk about this. “I have nothing to add to what is already in the report,” he told TEHELKA.)

IRONICALLY, THE NHRC investigation in Chhattisgarh was launched at the behest of complainants Nandini Sundar and others, because they claimed that the Salwa Judum was brutalising innocent tribal people of Chhattisgarh. Yet, an overwhelming part of the NHRC report is based on the testimonies of people inside the Salwa Judum camps – all, therefore, predictably speaking in support of the Salwa Judum. An overwhelming number of documents and conversations relied upon are with the state police – whose very conduct the team had gone to investigate. The police and/or other security agencies accompanied the NHRC team’s “independent” visits to the villages to investigate allegations of police excesses. The petitioners complained that, once, after the NHRC enquiry team had visited a village, “the Salwa Judum leaders subsequently went there and issued death threats…” So how did the NHRC investigate this complaint? It sought a report from the state’s Director-General of Police!

In fact, the entire NHRC report reads like a primary school textbook that pares down everything to a simple black-andwhite narrative, the Salwa Judum overwhelmingly white – and hardly guilty of any excesses, absolved of all charges of rape and murder – and the Naxals the blackest of the blacks, the grossest violators of human rights. The 16-member NHRC team toured the region a total of only two weeks. But its report reads like a sociological treatise waxing eloquent on the history of the Naxal movement, offering innumerable sweeping statements without any piece of evidence that they may have collected during their two-week investigations.

Shockingly, the NHRC report says: “From the interaction with the villagers it also appears that many of the tribal girls were sexually exploited by the Naxalites.” And yet, the NHRC did not move to document the testimonies of such girls.

At least one of the petitioners, former CPIMLA Manish Kunjum, says the NHRC report quotes him wrongly that he “admitted during interaction with the enquiry team that the policies followed by the Naxalites were responsible for the spontaneous outburst of the tribals”. “I never said anything of this sort,” Kunjam told TEHELKA. “They are exaggerating my view.”

All is not lost, though. On June 16, 2009, some of these victims saw a glimmer of hope as Amrit Kerkatta, a local judicial magistrate in a Dantewada sub-district, began recording the testimonies of six rape victims after receiving their petitions. On July 3, he heard six witnesses, one for each of the victims. The judge has now fixed the next hearing for July 17.

Sudha Bharadwaj, a lawyer at the Bilaspur High Court in Chhattisgarh who is representing these women, told TEHELKA: “The magistrate has taken the longest possible route to make doubly sure that the testimonies of the women are on record. It is now up to him to prepare the charge-sheet — which the police should have done in the normal course — and commit the case to trial.”

If indeed the accused are finally tried on the basis of the testimonies of the raped women, then the lawyers representing the victims will certainly press these words of Supreme Court justices Pasayat and Sathasivam:

“It is an irony that while we are celebrating woman’s rights in all spheres, we show little or no concern for her honour. It is a sad reflection on the attitude of indifference of society towards the violation of human dignity of the victims of sex crimes. The socio-economic status, religion, race, caste or creed of the accused or the victim are irrelevant considerations in the sentencing policy. Protection of society and deterring the criminal are the avowed objects of law and that is required to be achieved by imposing appropriate sentence.

“We must remember that a rapist not only violates the victim’s privacy and personal integrity but inevitably causes serious psychological as well as physical harm. Rape is not merely a physical assault — it is often destructive of the whole personality of the victim. A murderer destroys the body of his victim, a rapist degrades the very soul of the helpless female.

“A prosecutrix of a sex offence cannot be put on par with an accomplice. She is in fact a victim of the crime... What is necessary is that the court must be conscious of the fact that it is dealing with the evidence of a person who is interested in the outcome of the charge levelled by her.”

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sri Aurobindo

The way to get faith and all things else is to insist on having them and refuse to flag or despair or give up until one has them - it is the way by which everything has been got since this difficult earth began to have thinking and aspiring creatures upon it. It is to open always, always to the Light and turn one's back on the Darkness. It is to refuse the voices that say persistently, "You cannot, you shall not, you are incapable, you are the puppet of a dream," - for these are the enemy voices, they cut one off from the result that was coming, by their strident clamour and then triumphantly point to the barrenness of the result as a proof of their thesis. The difficulty of the endeavour is a known thing, but the difficult is not the impossible - it is the difficult that has always been accomplished and the conquest of difficulties makes up all that is valuable in the earth's history. In the spiritual endeavour also it shall be so.

- Sri Aurobindo [SABCL, 23:577-78]

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Abbas Millani gives an intellectual history of the Green Wave.

What we are witnessing right now in the streets of Tehran is, first and foremost, a political battle for the future of the Iranian state. But closely linked to this political fight is also an old theological dispute about the nature of Shiism--a dispute that has been roiling Iran for more than a century.

Shiism, like most religions, is no stranger to heated schisms. Shia and Sunnis split over the question of whether Muhammad had designated his son-in-law, Ali, as his successor (Shia believed he had). Some Shia, called Alawites, believe the only divinely designated successor was Ali, while another group, Zaydis, believe there were four imams. A large, intellectually vibrant third group is known as the Ismailis because it believes the line of imams ended with the seventh, Ismail. And the largest Shia sect is called the Ithna Ashari--or the Twelvers. Dominant in Iran, they believe in twelve imams and posit that the last imam went into hiding some 1,100 years ago. His return, bloody and vengeful, will mark the redemptive dawn of the age of justice.

It is within this branch that a further split took place beginning in the late nineteenth century--the moment when the Iranian elite began to confront the challenge of modernity. Ideas like rationalism, individualism, constitutionalism, rule of law, equality, democracy, secularism, privacy, and separation of powers began to find currency in Iran's political discourse. By 1905, these ideas, prevalent primarily among the intelligentsia, led to the Constitutional Revolution--the first of its kind in the Muslim world. The Shia clergy were faced with a historic challenge not unlike what the Catholic Church experienced with the advent of the Renaissance. How two rival ayatollahs reacted to that challenge would divide Iranian Shiism--and lay the groundwork for what is taking place today.

Over the years, many scholars, both in Iran and the West, have argued over the years that Shiism shares less with Islam than with pre-Islamic Persian ideas. They point to the fact that, while Iran became Muslim in the seventh century, it refused to accept Arabic as its language. Islam won the battle, these historians argue, but pre-Islamic ways and values won the war by surviving in a Shia veneer. As an example, they cite the Zoroastrian belief in messianic eschatology. The messianic role of the twelfth imam, they say, is essentially a Muslim version of the same Zoroastrian idea. Shiism, according to this view, is really a thinly disguised form of Iranian nationalism. And this helps explain why so much of Iran's political debate has over the years played out in the realm of theology.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Fashioning Felt

Cooper Hewitt Museum has a wonderful exhibit on felt, on of the first fabrics used by man. It's basically wool that is processed so that it's fibers stick together. At the exhibit their was a lovely yurt composed of different textures of felt joined together, all without any sewing. Simply Beautiful.

There was also an exhibit on using natural materials in countries like Costa Rica, Alaska, Bolivia and Micronesia. The Nature Conservancy sent ten leading designers have been commissioned to develop new uses for sustainably grown and harvested materials in order to tell a unique story about the life-cycle of materials and the power of conservation and design. The featured designers and places include Yves Behar/Costa Rica; Stephen Burks/Australia; Hella Jongerius/Mexico; Maya Lin/Maine; Christien Meindertsma/Idaho; Isaac Mizrahi/Alaska; Abbott Miller/Bolivia; Ted Muehling/Micronesia; Kate Spade/Bolivia; and Ezri Tarazi/China.

the corruption of priviledge

David Cameron