Data Privacyயும் சுமேரியா கண்டமும்

‘Data Privacy’ என்கிறார்கள். சிரிப்பு வருகிறது. அப்படி ஒன்று என்றுமே இருந்ததில்லை.

நான் என்றைக்கு வீடு மாற்றினேன், எந்தக் குடியிருப்பில் எவ்வளவு நாள் இருந்தேன், எம்-1 சிம் கார்டைப் பயன்படுத்தி எந்த ஊருக்கெல்லாம், எவ்வளவு, என்ன பேசினேன், எம்-1ல் இருந்து சிங்டெல் ஏன் மாறினேன், பிறகு யாருக்கு, எதற்கெல்லாம் பேசுகிறேன், ஸ்கைய்ப் வீடியோவில் என்ன பேசியிருக்கிறேன், எந்த ரயில் நிலையத்தில் எவ்வளவு நேரம் இருந்தேன், அலுவலகத்தில் எவ்வளவு நேரம் இருந்தேன், என்னென்ன செய்தேன், கணினி மூலம் என்னென்ன தளங்களைத் துழாவினேன், ரயிலில் எந்த இருக்கையில் அமர்ந்தேன், எந்த இடத்தில் நின்றுகொண்டிருந்தேன், கோவிலுக்குள் எந்தெந்த இடங்களில் நின்றேன், சனியன்று காலை முடி திருத்தும் கடையில் எவ்வளவு நேரம் இருந்தேன், என்ன உடை அணிந்திருந்தேன், எவ்வளவு பணம் கொடுத்தேன், சில்லறை எவ்வளவு பெற்றேன், நூலகத்தில் கணியில் என்ன தளங்களைக் கண்டேன், என்னென்ன நூல்கள் எடுத்தேன், என்னென்ன நூல்களுக்கு முன்பதிவு செய்தேன், அதற்கு எவ்வளவு பணம் கொடுத்தேன், எந்தக் கடன் அட்டை வழியாகப் பணம் செலுத்தினேன், காப்பிக் கடைக்குள் சென்ற நேரம், அமர்ந்திருந்த இருக்கை, கடன் அட்டை பயன்படுத்தியிருந்தால் என்னென்ன கடைகளில் எந்த வகையான கடன் அட்டைகளைப் பயன்படுத்துகிறேன், என்ன வாங்குகிறேன், ஊபர் பயன்பாடு எவ்வளவு, எந்தெந்த இடங்களுக்குச் செல்கிறேன், செல்லும் நேரங்கள், கடன் மிதி-வண்டி பயன்படுத்தினால் எங்கிருந்து எங்கு செல்கிறேன்….

சாம்பலாகும் வரை என் நடவடிக்கைகள் நிறுவனங்களிடம் (அ) அரசிடம் உள்ளன அல்லது அரசால் பெற்றுக்கொள்ள முடியும்.

இதில் தவறில்லை. நாட்டின் பாதுகாப்பு முக்கியம். என் தனி மனித நடவடிக்கைகளில் அரசுக்கு அக்கறையில்லை ( நான் நல்லவனாக இருக்கும் வரையில்). அரசுக்குத் தேவை: ஒரு தேச விரோதியின் நடவடிக்கைகள். அதை இனம்காண எப்போதும் விழிப்புடன் இருக்க வேண்டும். இதை சிங்கப்பூர் / ஜப்பான் செய்கிறது. ஒவ்வொரு நாடும் செய்ய வேண்டும். பெரும் பொருட்செலவு தான். ஆனால் வேறு வழி இல்லை.

என்ன ஒரு விஷயம் என்றால் – அரசு நல்லதாக இருக்க வேண்டும். அவ்வளவு தான். நல்லவர்களைத் தேர்ந்தெடுக்க வேண்டும். அதை மக்கள் செய்ய வேண்டும். அதற்கு மக்களுக்குக் கல்வி, விழிப்புணர்வு வேண்டும். ‘மாடு மேய்ப்பதை அரசு வேலையாக்குவேன்’, ‘சுமேரியா கண்டத்தை அகழ்ந்தெடுப்பேன்’, ‘தனி நாடு காண்பேன்’ என்று சவால் விடும் அரை வேக்காடுகளை அரசில் அமர வைத்தால் நிலைமை கவலைக்கிடம் தான்.

என்ன இருந்தாலும் Data Privacy இருந்தே ஆக வேண்டும் என்றால், அது சுமேரியா கண்டத்தில் தான் சாத்தியம். எந்தவித அடிப்படைக் கட்டமைப்பு வசதிகளும் இல்லாத இடத்தில் மட்டுமே இதனைச் செயல்படுத்த முடியும்.

பேஸ்புக் நமது தகவல்களைக் கேட்டால் கொடுக்கலாம், கூகிள் கேட்டால் தரலாம், ஆப்பிள் ஒரு கணக்கு துவங்கக் கூட கடன் அட்டை விபரங்களைக் கேட்கிறது ஆகவே தரலாம். ஆனால்,  அரசு நமது விபரங்களைக் கேட்டால் தரவியலாது என்பது என்ன ஒரு எண்ணம்?

கிராமங்களில் ரேஷன் அட்டையைக் கூட அடகு வைக்கும் வழக்கம் உள்ளது. கழிப்பறை வசதிகள் இல்லாத நிலையில் வெளியிலேயே இயற்கை உபாதைகளைச் செய்ய வேண்டியுள்ளது. இதில் டேட்டா பிரைவசி என்று கூச்சலிடுவது மேட்டுக்குடி நகர்ப்புறம் சார்ந்த நக்ஸல் அரசியல் தவிர வேறென்ன? டெல்லியிலும் சென்னையிலும் குளிர் ஊட்டப்பட்ட ஸ்டூடியோக்களில் அமர்ந்துகொண்டு டேட்டா பிரைவசி பற்றிப் பேசுபவர்கள், அமெரிக்கன் கான்சுலேட்டில் விரல் ரேகையையும், அமெரிக்க விமான நிலையக் குடி நுழைவுகளில் பத்து விரல் ரேகையையும் பதியச் சொல்லும் போது வாய் திறப்பதில்லை என்பது என்ன வகையிலான மேட்டுக்குடி நபும்ஸகத்தனம்?

தேச நலன் என்னும் வேள்வியில் ‘Data Privacy’யை ஆகுதி ஆக்குவது என்ன தவறு?

‘Countering Fundamentalism – Hindu Perspective’ Prof.Lipner’s talk – my take

  1. What is fundamentalism?
  2. Is Hinduism a fundamentalist religion?
  3. Diff between Hinduism and Abrahamic religions
  4. Why is Hinduism unique?

Prof.Julius Lipner, former Professor of Hinduism and Comparative Religions at Cambridge University dwelt on the above topics and kept the audience spell bound with his knowledge of the Mahabharatha, Sri Bashyam and Vedanta.

Quoting from the Mahabharatha, Prof.Lipner narrated the story of a brahmin named Kaushika who had taken a vow to speak truth at all times. Kaushika, in line with his principle, had, inadvertently, led to the massacre of some innocent folks who were fleeing from a killer. Lord Krishna recites this story to Arjuna and advises him that merely following a dharma was not sufficient, but dharma should be seen and
interpreted with reference to context. Any egoistic, steadfast and bland adherence to dharma would spell disaster.

As Hinduism was a dharmic religion, any interpretation of the dharmic principles, without reference to the context and times, would not be useful and would, in fact, cause harm.

He quoted the famous German philosopher Imanuel Kant’s ‘Lying to the murderer at door’ thus : “..if you have by a lie prevented someone just now bent on murder from committing the deed, then you are legally accountable for all the consequences
that might arise from it. But, if you have kept strictly to the truth, then public justice can hold nothing against you,whatever the unforeseen consequences might be. It is still possible that, after you have honestly answered “yes” to the murderer’s question as to whether his enemy is at home, the latter has nevertheless gone out unnoticed, so that he would not meet the murderer and the deed would not be done..” and further explained that such a dogmatic adherence to truth would spell doom if truth was not exercised in context.

27657641_1817543521872320_5062552932244975013_nProf.Lipner then went ahead and expounded the different ‘dharmas’ – stree dharma, aapath dharma, jaati dharma etc. Drawing on Sita’s following Rama to the forest, the prof said that the practice of Sita following Rama to the forest, though could be construed a strict adherence to the stree-dharma, would not be practical to implement in the current times. Convention and Dharma should not be confused, the Professor said.

While Christianity, Judaism and Islam could be compared to a single-trunk tree, Hinduism could only be compared to a multi-trunked banyan tree ( such as the 1000 year tree in Kolkatta). The inference here was that Hinduism was not built on any one singular belief or book, but on poly-morphic structures built on the common thread of dharma.

Describing how the word ‘fundamentalism’ came into being, Prof.Lipner narrated the movement of 1910-15 when the Bible Institute of Los Angeles published 12 small books that contained what was then known as ‘The Fundamentals’ – belief in virgin birth, belief in the mirales of Jesus et al and how the Bible had to be interpretted literally and not subjectively and certainly not with reference to any context. What was contained in the Bible was supposed to be sacrosanct and hence beyond question and inquiry. Thus originated the therm ‘fundamentalism’, we came to know.

However, with Hinduism, this has never been the case, as there is no one particular way to read the Vedas or to interpret the sacred texts. As there is no one book that serves as the epicenter of Hinduism, there is nothing ‘fundamental’ to adhere to and not deviate from, and, therefore, by design, the religion lacks fundamentalist tendencies.

Prof.Lipner later narrated a funny story of a meeting between a palaeontologist and a christian theologian. When the former had cornered the latter with ‘How could you claim that the world was created in 4000 BC when the dinosaurs, whose fossils I study, are at least a million years old?’ the theologian had supposedly replied that God had created earth with the fossils intact. This, the professor said, was fundamentalism in Christianity and that was not a trait of Hinduism.

Later the professor narrated a writing by Prof.Linda Woodhead on a commune of evangelical women and their life in a ‘time wrap’. That served as an apt reminder for the audience that nothing is etched in stone in scriptures and that even if there are elements that are central to a religion, those should be seen in the current context and not in the context when the sacred works were compiled.

Prof.Lipner concluded his speech with the reminder that the dharmic practice in Hinduism should not lead to majoritarian tyranny and that minorities should feel secure in a hindu majority rule. This, he attributed, to the central theme of dharma that has been the connecting thread of Hinduism all these thousands of years.

This was followed by a Q & A session. I had asked about ‘Akasath patitam Thoyam’ – rain from the heavens fall all over the place, but eventually reach the one ocean. This is the central nature of hinduism that believes that there are many paths to salvation and one should not be dogmatic about one’s own method. My question was : How to make other religions accept this view so that head-on collisions could be avoided, between religions?’.

Surprisingly, Prof.Lipner said that Hinduism had began to accept all religions as paths to salvation only recently. Probably, the Vedas were a recent phenomenon in Hinduism, it seemed to me.

My other question was – when Hinduism, in its varied practices and in varied languages across India, espoused equality and respect for all ( I had the Alwars, Nayanmars, Purandara Dasa in mind), why were these sacred verses not part of the school curriculum? The Professor asked me to ask this question to the respective governments and that Singapore didn’t fall into that category. ( An ex-teacher who met me later explained as to what had happened in the early years when religious teaching was prevalent in Singapore and how the Govt had to step in to censure some over-zealous preachers and thereby the practice was subsequently stopped).

There were a flurry of other questions. One compared a massacre in the golden period of Islam to the massacre mentioned in the Mahabharatha ( the Kaushika episode). Another was on how ‘ekam sat. vibraha bahuta vatanti’ could be interpretted, why Ramkrishna
Mission had to apply for minority status, appeasement of the minorities etc.

A straightforward question by a student of RSIS – ‘how could Hindu fundamentalism exist at all, that even when Hindus all over the world were being ill-treated and their human rights abused, the practitioners remained a largely peaceful lot’, set the tone for a straightforward answer. The prof said that all citizens should feel equal and one group should not feel threatened by others. The answer, though not convincing, was along expected lines.

On a question whether political rhetoric in India was shaping the perception of fundamentalism in Hinduism, the Professor replied with ‘it is a yes and a no’, not willing to take sides. To another question on the downside of poly-centricity of Hinduism, the Professor rightly pointed out that that could lead to lack of cohesiveness, lack of unity and a loss of Hindu identity.

To yet another question on the need for more dialogue among faiths, the professor correctly pointed to the great debating culture that Hinduism espoused by its ‘Poorva Paksha’ based Tarka Shaastra methods.

Later, I met the professor and raised the issue of ‘Akasath patitam thoyam’ and some references to Sri Bashyam. The learned professor agreed to meet again in Singapore and discuss some aspects of Advaita and Visistaadvaita, with reference to Sri Bashyam of St.Ramanujacharya.

The event was organized by the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies and Hindu Endowment Board, Singapore. That an event about fundamentalism and hinduism was conducted in Srinivasa Perumal Temple spoke volumes about the lack of fundamentalism in the religion.

Singapore government’s outreach programmes such as this, to promote a deeper understanding of religions and inter-faith dialogue, have been on for quite some time. The government hopes to clear misconceptions and misunderstandings between religions, inculcate a sense of mutual respect and tolerance among the followers and ensure religious harmony and cohesion in the country. In that sense, the meeting did provide food for thought to the multi-racial audience that comprised of Malays and Chinese scholars, not to mention the scores of Indians.

These were my feelings after the seminar :

Hinduism is not just English and Sanskrit. More Tamil content should be included, for without the works of Azhwars, Nayanmars and Gurus and the Shaiva / Vaishnava Mutts, the multi-faceted religion’s dimensions cannot be conveyed in their full splendour and bloom. Nammaazhwar’s notes on the universe, other Azhwar’s references to God being called by any name and worshipped in any form and similar such pointers could have added to the lustre of the seminar, if Tamil content would have been added. Devoid of  Pura Naanooru that espoused universal brotherhood and Thirukkural that had ample references to Hindu practices and Gods, any seminar on the religion can’t be considered complete. Can’t blame the professor though, for this. Hope RSIS and HEB keep this in mind for their subsequent sessions and involve scholars from these streams too.

#Mersal Economics for the stupid stars

#Mersal (whatever language that is), is a Tamil movie in which ‘sound’ economic principles have been mouthed. A newbie revolutionary – read an ageing actor – has found it fit to compare the GST rates in India and Singapore. He has also found, in his profound wisdom, that the hospitals provide free service in Singapore (Father, forgive them, for they know not what they say).

A nation’s income is through taxes. Salaried classes in India can’t cheat on their taxes as the tax component is deducted from their salaries. However, the entrepreneurs, consultants and independent workers, who are in the tax bracket, don’t have a standard tax deduction mechanism. This class tends to cheat, the main culprits being the real estate operators, rich farmers, independent professionals such as Lawyers , Chartered Accountants, Doctors, movie producers, movie actors and financiers. It is normal practice for this group to demand payment by cash for services delivered.

Now that we are in comparison mode, let us do it in full.

Comparison with OECD Countries:(ref: thehansindia.com)

  1. India’s tax to GDP increased from 10.4% in 1965 to 16.6% in 2015-16, the corresponding tax-to-GDP ratio of OECD countries increased from 21% in 1965 to 33% in 2015.
  2. Even compared to OECD nations with lower GDP (Korea, Turkey, Mexico, Chile, Portugal, Greece, Slovenia and Poland) India’s is still lower at 16.6% versus average of 24% of these nations.
  3. Among the G-20 Countries, India had the third lowest tax-base, just above Mexico and Indonesia.
  4. A high tax-to-GDP ratio is also a common feature of countries with high level of social security measures such as Belgium, Denmark etc.
  5. The level of tax compliance in most advanced countries is very high, as high as 90%.

The advanced countries ( in this case Singapore, Denmark) have severe penalties for tax avoidance and evasion. It is not possible to evade tax, especially personal income tax, in Singapore. But, if personal income tax increases, then there would be lesser incentive to earn more. This could cause productivity loss and income generation by individuals and corporates. Hence the Singapore government reduced the personal income tax from 40% to 15%. However, to make good the loss, the govt introduced the GST – Goods and Service Tax. This was a tax at the point of consumption and not at the point of earning.

Taxes

India’s income tax contribution to GDP is very less. This, coupled with an increased fiscal deficit (the difference between country’s revenues and expenditure) makes the government spend less on, say,  health care or education.

On 25-July-2017, Deccan Chronicle published  a report that the number of India’s tax payers has increased – from 4 crore to 6.26 crore. Total population is 120 crores. Just 5.2% pay income tax.

So, people either pay taxes and enjoy benefits in, say, Singapore, or don’t pay taxes yet complain about lack of services – like movie actor Vijay – in India.

Now that this ‘intellectual’ has sought to compare, let us start with other parameters based on which comparison can be made. I have compiled most of these from from world bank data. Hence the data would not be fudged – like the income tax returns of movie actors.

Tax revenue as % of GDP

Tax Revenue as GDP Pct.jpg

Source: Here

Income Tax in Singapore

 

Property Tax in Singapore

SG Property Tax 2016.jpg

 

GST in Singapore

SG GST 2016.jpg

For a population of around 5 million and a GDP of USD 221 Bn, GST alone constitutes S$ 11.1 Bn. The revenue, not realized as income tax, is realized as a consumption tax. As there cannot be any evasion at the point of consumption, the GST in Singapore is serving its purpose and contributing towards nation building.

Source: Here

Health Expenditure ( % of GDP)

Heal Exp GDP %.jpg

Source: Here

Percapita Health Expenditure (USD)

Percapita Health Expenditure.jpg

Source: Here

Let us take this case. GST collection is S$ 11.1 Bn which is approximately US$ 8.2 Bn. Let us extrapolate Singapore’s per capita health care spending as US$ 3000. For her 3.5 million citizens, Singapore would have spent US$ 10.5 Bn only. Thus GST alone would have helped offset the health expenditure for her citizens ( assuming health care is free, while it is not). The remaining 1.5 million people in Singapore are either Permanent Residents or foreigners. There is a differential medical cost for these two categories.

So, when a country introduces a tax regime, it is for a purpose – to serve its citizens.

Military Expenditure as % of GDP

Mil Exp.jpg

Source: Here

A casual look at the percentage spend on military would reveal many facts. Considering the land areas of the two countries, doesn’t this spend disparity strike the eye? Why does India need to spend less or Singapore spend more? Yes, it is true that both the democracies are surrounded by not-so-friendly neighbours. But does that justify Singapore’s spend?

Well, it does. Military spend, however high it might be, is one of technology acquisition. And that translates directly into military superiority. And Singapore needs this military superiority. Not that there is going to be an invasion in the near future, but that a nation should be confident of its military prowess. With a minuscule population, as a nation, Singapore needs to maintain its technical superiority. And that is financed by her taxes, GST being one.

When that is applied to India, ‘intellectuals’ begin their boil. Why?

Armed forces personnel

Armed Forces Personnel.jpg

Source: Here

Armed forces need to be paid. From where does a nation get to pay them, if not for the taxes that she imposes on her citizens? India’s border with Pakistan alone is 2900 KM. To stop infiltration by terrorists, India has built 150,000 flood lights mounted on 50,000 poles. What could be the cost incurred for just the maintenance of these lights? How about the border with China, Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh? Any guesses ?

Banks NPA to Total Gross Loans (%)

NPA Banks.jpg

Source: Here

Banks, predominantly state owned in India, have a higher NPA. Various factors such as mismanagement, interference by political forces, subsidy culture, frequent directions to waive loans off for political gains and the like have contributed to this NPA. Not that Singapore banks don’t have NPA. They do. But the banks are professionally managed, and with little political interference, they run as corporate companies that work for a profit while at the same time acting as an extended arm of the state in financing national growth. (Before I forget – How many movie producers and actors are yet to service their loans from state owned banks in India?)

Labour Participation Rate

The proportion of the population ages 15 and older that is economically active: all people who supply labor for the production of goods and services.

Labour Participation Rate.jpg

Source: Here

44% of Singapore residents are economically active while, with such a huge population, less than 25% in India is so.

GDP per Person Employed

GDP per person employed.jpg

Source: Here

The contribution to GDP of each employed person in both Singapore and India paints a clear picture on the disparity of the situation.  On the one hand the non-tax paying groups, hoarders, anti-nationals, foreign funded NGOs that seek to create disturbance combine together to pull the nation down, while on the other, the tax paying salaried class has to bear the burden of thefts, freebies and dole-outs in India.  In this situation, how would the government get the resources necessary to ‘build hospitals instead of temples’ as the actor says?

Share of women employed in non-agricultural sector

Women in non-agri sector.jpg

Source: Here

Who stopped the Indian governments of the past from utilizing the women work force from contributing to nation building? Who was in power for around 60 years after independence? ‘Intellectuals’ should ask this question before questioning GST and advising on Hospitals.

Proportion of seats held by women in Parliament

Women proportion in parliament.jpg

Source: Here

For all tall talk for the last 70 years, dynastic rule, prejudices and discrimination have ensured that women don’t have adequate representation in parliament. Only when women take to politics in large numbers would some balance prevail in the skewed Indian political scheme. And no additional marks for guessing who didn’t promote more women in politics (Clue: Who ruled the country for 60 years?)

Coming to wealth generation for the country: Singapore has two Sovereign Wealth Funds (Temasek Holdings and GIC). These companies invest Singapore citizen’s surplus CPF contribution and other surplus in overseas markets. Eg: Temasek has holdings in SingTel while the latter has a major stake in India’s Air Tel. When Air Tel needs money to expand in, say Africa, DBS Bank, another Singapore bank with connections to Temasek, could lend money. When Air Tel makes money, SingTel smiles its way to the bank while DBS Bank also smiles, which in turn benefits Temasek and in turn, Singapore. And she spends the money on her citizens -health care, road, rail, airport modernization et al. (Recently Temasek has sold its stake in Air Tel to SingTel).

Temasek to contribute to Singapore’s kitty.

Temasek GLobal Spread

It is the combination of state capitalism, better tax realization, professional management of government companies and a corruption free government that has resulted in better facilities for Singapore citizens. Anything else would have resulted in disaster.

India cannot have a sovereign wealth fund, for there is no surplus and there is always a deficit in her budget. And the reasons are as above. Leave alone overseas investments. A mere mention of LIC money getting invested in the domestic stock market leads to so much hue and cry in the Indian media. So forget sovereign wealth funds and overseas investments.

Note to Actor Vijay & his dialogue writer(s):

Before I close, a point to ponder. I hear you have mentioned about building temples instead of hospitals. Well, in Tamil Nadu, the government doesn’t build temples. It destroys them under a new name – HR & CE. Again, you can’t compare with what happens in Singapore. The Hindu Endowments Board, constituted by the Singapore government, owns properties, takes rent and administers temples in Singapore from the funds accrued. And it maintains the temples. Underline the word ‘maintains’. Here is a pointer from a government gazette notification.

Singapore is a country run like a company for the genuine betterment of her citizens. India has been run as  a charity for 70 years, for the betterment of the different dynasties and their sycophants. Now, when a person tries to correct this anomaly, it would definitely be a pain for the history-sheeters, rent seekers, vagabonds, money launderers and communists. Teething pain, you see.

So, Actor Vijay – Before you sign up for the next Coca-Cola ad (after fighting for ‘water conservation’) or begin to mouth dialogues against taxation, read. Or am I asking for the moon?

References:

  1. http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/temasek-investments-in-india-at-10-billion-117071500043_1.html
  2. https://heb.org.sg/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/HEB-Gazette-2016.pdf
  3. https://www.iras.gov.sg/IRASHome/Publications/Statistics-and-Papers/Tax-Statistics/#NewBookmark
  4. http://www.worldbank.org/
  5. http://www.oecd.org/
  6. http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/government-economy/temasek-to-contribute-more-to-govt-coffers

For more on Singapore, its founding and development, visit these:

  1. Sage of Singapore 1
  2. Sage of Singapore 2
  3. Sage of Singapore 3

 

 

PM’s Israel Visit – some thoughts

Thought 1

When Singapore sought help from India to help set an army, India didn’t respond, for fear of antagonizing the Arabs and Malaysia.

Pragmatic Singapore then recognized Israel, gave embassy space for the nation and took her help in designing its successful National Service. Singapore benefited from Israel’s technical prowess and more specifically in its water treatment technologies. It was a mutually beneficial relationship.

It has taken 70 years for an Indian PM to visit Israel and establish the historical ties that the two people had. When the Jews were persecuted everywhere else, India gave refuge to the beleaguered people and took care of them. This was recognized by the Israeli parliament later.

With the PM’s visit, a long standing stupidity of alienating Israel has been broken. The monstrous idiocy of supporting Yasser Arafat’ PLO and similar destructive organizations, the completely baffling stupidity of supporting the OIC backed resolutions against Israel, the long dead and gone NAM driven policy blunders are, thankfully, things of the past.

Let the people of the world unite on the basis of shared values, rather than be divided on the basis of language, religion or ideology. That is the essence of vasudaiva kudumbakam and the long standing Indian value system ‘யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர்’.

Thought 2

Finally the days of pusillanimity are over. Gone are the days when Prime Minister Nehru wanted Israeli arms but imposed a condition that they not be shipped under Israeli flag. So much for not angering the Arabs.

Prime Minister Modi did not make the ‘customary’ visit to Palestine to ‘underscore’ the historically stupid position of supporting terrorist states in the name of fighting for justice. Nothing against Palestine but every thing against such ‘balancing-acts’.

The ‘customary’ meeting with China in G-20 has also been called off. Say it as a show of force or a sign of bravado. Nevertheless, this is a change in stance from historically bending over backwards to appease and prostrate.

Let there not be a war, but let a message be sent that India of the past, India of appeasement, India with a circular backbone is a thing of the past.

First thing to do, after the PM returns, is to appoint a full time Defense Minister, one with a military background preferably. This will not only reinvigorate the Armed forces, but also send a message that India means business.

When Abdul Kalam was made President, the Indian communists, whose fatherhood is often a matter of question, asked what message would it send to China if we appoint a missile technologist to the highest office.

Now, we need to have an equivalent in the Defense Ministry.

Walking in the night

Had to take my son to a clinic at 2:30 AM, for he had a cough that didn’t seem to subside despite medication. The weather was pleasant and I thought a walk would do him good.

We crossed Blocks 508 and 507. Two women, carrying laptops, were returning from work. On the road over-bridge on AYE, two couples were returning home after a night out.

The walk was pleasant and helped the child. We reached the clinic at 3 AM, registered with the lone lady receptionist at O&M, and, when walking back home after consulting with the doctor, we passed a food-court where 5 people were having a late supper ( or was it early breakfast?).

Again, on the over-bridge, we met a lone lady walking past us. Just to make sure, I checked if her feet touched the ground.

A ten minute walk and we met one more couple getting home probably after a party. In the void deck under Block 508, a lady was typing vigorously on her smartphone, alone.

Lee Kuan Yew once said that it would require 300 of his clones to work in tandem to make India a Singapore, for India was not a county but a 5000 year old civilization. Any idea is utopian, unless it is achieved.

I pray to god to shower  Modi with 300 LKY Power  to realize Gandhiji’s dream of getting  sisters in India return home safe, even if they walked alone, adorned with ornaments, at the dead of night.

Like they do in Singapore.

India Rising – a book review

This book is a compendium of various facets of India, from a Singaporean perspective, by an author-journalist who was part of all the facets. The book is not only interesting but also riveting as the author, Ravi Velloor, has dealt in detail, each one of the above facets.Even though the book is detailed, it doesn’t test our patience, as the lucid presentation lures us into the book and the details that it contains.

The book covers the happenings in India between 1998 to 2015. More focus has been on the UPA-I and II periods and the roller-coaster ride that the country went through under the regime.

Ravi Velloor talks about the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement between India and Singapore, the behind the scenes negotiations that took place to enable that, the role played by former PM Goh Chok Tong, and the necessity of cooperation between the two democracies.

The India-US relations, how the US began to lure India into its fold, how the partnership cemented, the background on Indo-US Nuclear Deal, the stupid role played by the communists in trying to stall the deal, how Manmohan Singh ensured that the deal was made – all these are captured the sequential manner  in which these occurred. Lots of insights here on how Singh ensured the deal got through.

The book talks in detail about the state or the lack of it in Pakistan and how the nation was behind the Nov 26, 2008 attack on Mumbai. The detail on the young Singaporean lawyer Lo Hwei Yen who was killed while on her one day work visit to Mumbai would bring tears to your eyes not only because of the dastardly nature of the attack but also because of the journalistic ethic that the author displayed when he didn’t want to look at the naked body of the victim, as he thought that would have amounted to violation of privacy of a lady. Such journalists are a rare breed in this era of Twitter journalism.

5188ewqcnyl-_ac_us160_fmwebp_ql70_The author is highly critical of Shashi Tharoor for his flamboyant methods to woo international opinion to favour his elevation as UN Secretary General. Tharoor comes out as selfish, attention seeking and always-after-power type in spite of his ebullience and erudition. Tharoor, in order to win over the confidence of Sonia Gandhi and get her support to get India’s backing for his position, goes to meet her in person, carrying a biography of Nehru that he had written. Despite the Indian external affairs ministry’s misgivings in fielding Tharoor, just because Sonia Gandhi approved his nomination, India backed him, and in the process got disgraced when the US sided with the Korean nomination, Ban Ki Moon. Condolezza Rice’s comment on Tharoor is all the more damaging. Tharoor becomes the case of a person who put himself ahead of the nation.

Sri Lankan equation makes an interesting reading. That the LTTE dug it own grave is all the more evident. But some genuinely sympathetic exchanges from Rajiv Gandhi to Prabhakaran – the former gave the latter his bullet proof vest – were discarded by the LTTE and today the terrorist organization doesn’t exist. This section explains in detail how the LTTE didn’t get the post 2001 international situation at all and this, coupled with Indian animosity, ended in the downfall of the Tigers.

While dwelling on Tigers and the final phase of assault, the author explains in detail as to what happened prior to Karunanidhi’s bizarre half a day ‘fast-unto-death’ when he had prior input from P.Chidambaram that there would be a temporary cessation of hostilities.I would only recommend that at least this section be translated into Tamil and circulated in Tamil Nadu. The sequence of event is as below ;

  1. Elections are underway in India. Polling in TN was to have happened on 13-May.
  2. Congress govt worries that any news of Prabhakaran’s death would jeopardize the polling in TN against Congress-DMK combine.
  3. Shivshankar Menon and Narayanan travel to Sri Lanka to ask them to stop hostilities for a couple of weeks.
  4. Sri Lanka agrees.
  5. P.Chidambaram conveys this to Karunanidhi.
  6. Next morning, on 28 April 2009, Karunanidhi announces a ‘fast-unto-death’.
  7. Sri Lanka announces ceasefire the same day.
  8. Karunanidhi declares ‘Victory’and calls off ‘fast-unto-death’.
  9. Polling gets over on 13-May.
  10. DMK & Congress get elected.
  11. Prabhakaran is killed on 19-May.

Conspiracy, self-centric policies, avarice, intrigue – the characteristics that Karunanidhi symbolizes, are shown in the above approach. The author captures it all.

Ravi talks about the ‘Mallu Mafia’ – the bureaucratic stranglehold that the Malayalee bureaucrats – TKA Nair, M.K.Narayanan, Shiv Shankar Menon – had on the govt, the politics that unfolded, the power struggle in the bureaucracy and after-effects thereafter.

Anthony, India’s worst defense minister ever, is dealt with in a separate chapter. As a result of the Right to Information Act, bureaucrats become averse to taking any decision and begin to pass on the buck. This strangulates decision making and puts purchases for armed forces under scanner. Meanwhile several mishaps take place in the naval force. The defense minister blames the then Naval chief D.K.Joshi and accepts the latter’s resignation in the most ungraceful manner. The UPA government under Singh had not only institutionalized corruption but also defamed the armed forces. The then Army Chief V.K.Singh’s retirement age episode took place in this period. The author has captured all these in minute detail.

What is shocking is the reason attributed to Anthony’s actions. Under fire from all directions on different scams related to 2G auction, Coal, Commonwealth Games and Aadarsh Building, Anthony was expecting Manmohan Singh to resign so that he could take over the reins.

There is an imbalance in the author’s treatment of a scam pertaining to a Singapore company in an Indian arms deal. Anthony had black-listed the company. The author loses his balance here and starts his mud-slinging on Anthony. It is a different matter that Anthony deserves not handfuls of mud but mountains of it. He makes a startling revelation that Manmohan Singh had early stage Parkinson’s disease and hence was not as active when he was Prime Minister and often looked wooden even in public appearances.

Ravi also talks about the ‘prince-charming’ who has been in eternal wait – Rahul Gandhi. He some how claims that Rahul is an exceptional listener, a voracious reader and an eager learner. None of what Ravi says has been visible sofar. He even says a Singapore minister had spent a day with Rahul and was enchanted at the latter’s curiosity. Ravi could have said more on this episode. The claim that Sonia Gandhi is also a voracious reader is news.

There is an interesting bit on Sonia Gandhi’s refusal to accept the Prime Ministership listening to her ‘inner-voice’. It turns out that it was Rahul Gandhi who argued with Sonia not to accept the position as he felt the position was too risky. Natwar Singh who was party to the conversation confirms this to the author.

Another interesting tidbit that we gather is that Rahul had come twice to Singapore and to spend some time listening to the legendary Lee Kuan Yew who had asked him not to hurry for position, to surround himself with smart and reliable folks and be ready when the time comes. Looking at the kind of folks that Congress has, it seems Lee Kuan Yew’s advice would remain an advice.

The author also covers the wholly unconstitutional National Advisory Council with Sonia as the Chairperson that had enormous powers even on the Prime Minister and the complete compromise that Singh had to resort to in order to please Sonia and her coterie and similar such items in this book that send shock waves over one’s spine.

The author concludes with Modi, talking about his performance in Gujarat, his gradual ascendancy in national politics and then becoming PM at last. An essential book on India through the eyes of an outsider who knows more people inside than the rest of the insiders.

An evening with Jeyamohan

“Meet the writer’  programme with Tamil writer Jeyamohan was as fabulous as it always used to be. This time it was classic Jeyamohan stuff. The writer was at his best and it was like Tenduklar playing in his home ground in Mumbai. The topic was ‘Literature, Great Literature and Classical Literature’, and Jeyamohan kept the audience in awe with his deep knowledge of the differences between the literary forms.

Moderator Chitra Ramesh announced the topic out of the blue. That did not deter Jeyamohan’s verbal velocity.

He started with Kamba Ramayana and described why it was the only classical literature in Tamil. He spoke reverentially about Prof.Jesudasan who kept reading Kamba Ramayana till his end. I have read Jeyamohan’s earlier articles on Prof.Jesudasan and knew what was to come. And Kamban played the same magic on me as he did on the late professor. I was in tears when Jeyamohan explained the manner in which Kamban describes the scene when Ram leaves Ayodhya. Having been exposed to Kamba Ramayana at an early age, I was able to relate to every adjective that Jeymohan mentioned during the course of his speech on Kamban.

Delving more on Kamba Ramayana, Jeyamohan said that between the post-sangam era and the Kamban era ( close to 1000 years ), many philosophies had come and gone – Jainism, Buddhism, Advaitam, Bakthi Literature etc. Thus when Kamban came on the scene, he had the rich cultural background to start his story from and demarcated the Tamil Culture on a firm footing.

Jeyamohan explained the architecture and form of a great literature – it should have form and direction, should be of a compound nature and should reflect the times in which the story took place. Additionally there has to be a balance in the story, with the different characters being depicted in their highs and lows and with no one character overshadowing the other. In this, he referenced Janakiraman’s ‘Moha Mull’, a Tamil novel and explained why it was not a classic – being a Tanjavur / Kumbakonam based novel, it didn’t even have a mention of the different temples that the two places are known for.

A writer is a chronicler of time and history and therefore his novel needs to have historicity in it. Only then it can be termed a a Great Novel. For this, the writer needs to be a research student. He should have done so much research that he should have the history of each character with all its ups and downs.

A seed contains the entire forest within itself thereby having the ability to recreate the forest if the need arises. A classical novel is one such. It should represent the microcosm of the society that it is based on. A classical novel, while depicting the hunger of the cat, should also, in equal intensity, describe the pain of the rat that becomes the food for the former. It should have the depth, detail and concern for all its characters.

Why was Seevaka Chinthamani not as widely read as Silappathikaaram ? one asked. Jeyamohan attributed this to the time at which Seevaka Chinthamani was written. As it was written after the end of the Jain era, the book did not get the wide readership that Silampu got.

He went on to say that Sanskrit was the most widely prevalent language in India and the most common one as well. However, it was not the tongue of any particular group of people, while Tamil continues to be the tongue of many and therefore the classics in Tamil are alive.

What happens to the classics in Tamil ? How do our classics , epics like Kamba Ramayan reach the younger generation? asked another. Jeyamohan said that this transition and handing-over of classics has been happening  and would continue and said that if two people are found together always, they are referred to ‘Ram and Lakshman’, while a powerful person is still referred to as ‘Hanuman like’. Society’s genetic connection with the epics ensures the longevity of these literature types and this connection is likely to continue.

‘Puyalile oru thoni’,  a novel by Pa.Singaaram has Malay, Singapore and Indian scenes. However the novel doesn’t have the singularity of thought and hovers all over the place and hence cannot be called a ‘classic’.  The most voluminous novel written about Singapore was by M.K.Menon. It ran into 6 volumes.

‘Neelakanda paravaiyai thedi’ and ‘Aarogya Niketanam’ were the other classics that defined the standards for a classical novel.

While talking about the different forms of literature, there was a question about Thirukkural – the amazing Tamil couplet series. He said that Thirukkural should be classified as a ‘sutra’ like the Patanjali Yoga Sutra. At a superficial level, Thirukkural could be covered in less than 30 minutes. But by juxtaposing the words and letters, the couplet delivers far greater thought and deeper insights into the way the world functions than what is generally believed. In this context he quoted the famous couplet :

“விசும்பிற் றுளிவீழி னல்லான்மற் றாங்கே

ஆங்கே பசும்புற் றலைகாண் பரிது.”

This, if looked at from a superficial level, tells us that only when it rained, even grass grew on earth.This vanilla meaning doesn’t convey anything other than stating an obvious fact. But Thiruvalluvar, the poet, is a far greater intellectual to just state this plain fact. So, if one looks at this couplet as a ‘sutra’, the meanings that it provides are awe inspiring.

Eg: ‘விசும்பு’ refers not to the sky but to the outer space. There is life on earth just because of an extra-terrestrial droplet that had fallen on earth from space. This is not fiction but popular science that life forms began on earth from an extra-terrestrial impact. There is yet another dimension to this couplet. The poet has used’grass’ not in an absent minded manner, but with a deep insight that ‘grass’ is the first ever evolved version of food. Men either eat grass as grass or other animals that ear grass. The first element of the food chain on earth starts with grass.

This deep insight has to evolve inside of oneself. And that evolved enlightenment can be called vision or ‘darshan’.

Due to the ‘sutra’ nature of Thirukkural in that it contained much more than what it seemed to contain, in the times of yore,  people should have read only one couplet for a day or for even a month and meditated on the meanings of the words and on the placement of the words. With the demise of traditional methods of learning, we should have lost the deep insights as well.

When there was a question on the destruction or amalgamation of smaller gods / demi-gods into the holistic Iindu pantheon, Jeyamohan provided a grand insight that is not mentioned in literary circles for fear of being branded ‘backward’. He said that the European pagan religions were completely destroyed by Christianity so much so that the gods of those religions were depicted as demons in Christianity, while in India, all the demi-gods were absorbed into the greater Hindu pantheon and were made Hindu gods. The demi-gods and village deities still had a position in the wider Indian school of religious thought and were not destroyed as in Europe. In this regard he even quoted a recent event where a ‘Chairman’ of a municipality in south Tamil Nadu has been made a god and absorbed into the Shaiva school as the ‘Chairman’, when he was alive, had been benevolent to the people of the region.

Jeyamohan concluded by saying that a writer of novels could be defined thus : ‘He should, by the repertoire of his linguistic skills, provide a magnificent vision and a sense of visual splendor resulting in an intellectual download to the reader, however providing a singular vision that does not hover all over.’

One of the most enjoyable evenings when I got drenched in the flurry of literary knowledge and linguistic extravaganza.

(Meeting was on 21-Aug-2016 at Ang Mo Kio Library, Singapore. This is written in English for the sake of non-Tamil readers)

SMRT, Citi and Singapore – way to go

Two unbelievable things happened today and both are of great importance and highlight the need for data integrity and personal professionalism.

As has been my practice when I board the East West MRT train, I took out my Kindle from my trouser pocket and began to read. Today it was Biswanath Gosh’s ‘Tamarind City’. The book was so interesting that I didn’t notice that my wallet had fallen down from my pocket. The wallet contained a Citibank Credit Card, Ez-Link Transport Card and, most importantly, the National ID card.

I changed trains at Tanah Mera MRT and got down at Expo. When I had to exit, I found the wallet missing. Sensing a chill down my spine, I approached the counter and explained my situation. The clerk took down my details and promised to get back, if anything was found.

All plans of going to Bintan, Indonesia this week-end collapsed in front of my eyes. I visualized the sad face of the wife and children when they would hear the news, for without the National ID, I would not be able to enter Singapore.

I tried calling the police to lodge a complaint regarding my National ID card when I got another call. The speaker said,’ Sir, I am calling from Citibank Tampines Branch. SMRT has found your wallet with your credit card and ID. Could you come over to the Tampines Branch MRT Control Room?’

I retraced my journey to Tanah Mera station, boarded the East West Line to Pasir Ris and got down at Tampines.

I approached the SMRT control room when the friendly staff, soon after seeing me, checked my credentials and handed over the wallet with all its contents intact.

What had happened was this: A passenger had handed over the wallet to SMRT. The staff Ms.Tamilarasi had tried to get my number from the wallet but couldn’t find my calling card. She found the Citibank Credit card, approached the bank’s branch in the MRT station and asked the bank staff to call me and inform about my wallet. The bank staff had located my mobile number from the integrated customer system based on my card number, called me and then I had my wallet..

Four things that worked together and hence stand out in this episode :

1. The unknown passenger who handed over to the wallet to the SMRT staff. But for his integrity, I couldn’t have got me items.

2. The professionalism of the SMRT staff Ms.Tamilarasi. She had gone outside of her call of duty and tried to reach me through the bank while, as per procedure, she would have just waited for the normal complaint redress mechanism to click in. But she didn’t wait.The extreme to which she went to reach out to an unknown customer speaks volumes about the professionalism of the lady and the training provided by SMRT. Kudos to both.

3. The integrity of data in Citibank. When Ms.Tamilarasi approached the bank with her official insignia on, the bank staff was able to locate my mobile number and call me to inform. This has been made possible just because of the integrated nature of the bank’s data. Most importantly, the data was upto date.

4. Singapore – The integrated nature of the country and the sense of integrity that she has built into her people, and the efficient systems that work. This doesn’t stop with SMRT. It is all across the nation – bus service, immigration, power supply, water, internal security et al. The nation is actually a well managed company whose business is welfare and wealth creation for its citizens. Kudos.

Another thing that stands out :

Even if a book is damn interesting, one needs to be mindful of the surroundings.

What next :

I am planning to gift a copy of my book ‘Pazhaiya Kanakku’ to Ms.Tamilarasi and request her to receive the first copy of my next English book ‘The Diary of a foreigner’ in which this story would be made available.

P.S.: Citi is my employer. This is not a promotional, but a genuine incident that happened to me..

Autograph – book review

Autograph_Chitra RameshChitra Ramesh has woven a continuous narrative of life in Neyveli during the 70s and 80s when childhood was not a burden to be carried on one’s back but a bouquet of flowers to be held, to periodically inhale the fragrance as well as spread it for the others to enjoy.

The author has splashed, all through the book, her childhood pranks at home, at school and all over Neyveli Township. The innocent and cheerful pranks at home and school evoke mirth, and remind the reader of the carefree times at an idyllic location during a relatively peaceful era.

Neyveli has been my hometown too and I was able to very well travel with the author in her journeys into the myriad yet well laid-out lanes of the town. A sense of nostalgia grips when she mentions about the only movie theatre which screened those films which would have become outdated at least by two years.

The peer-pressure that never existed, the jack-fruit trees that were ubiquitous, the monkeys that lived on those, are all well documented in this travel down memory lane, aptly titled ‘Autograph’.

The then only means of transport was the omnipresent bicycle and she has touched upon that as well. One cannot imagine the town without its bicycles.

As times change, Neyveli has also shed its old world look and has begun to sport a trendy look with the arrival of mopeds and cars, thus spoiling the very USP of the town. And with these, the very character of the township has been lost to the commercial capitalistic pulls.

The once socialist paradise has now become a semi-capitalist tyranny and is slowly inching towards a complete commercial anarchy in the immediate future.

The book, though a pleasure to read and reminisce due to the immensely enjoyable narrative on those good times, also brings tears when it makes one remember the placid and laid back society that it used to be.

For sure, those days are not going to be back.