Thursday, December 19, 2013

Who is Scared of the AAP? - The Pelican Brief in India

Recently Arvind Kejriwal was reported to have said "Do not pay electricity bills". That is, this is what the headlines said. What Kejriwal actually said was, "We would do an audit of the power companies. It will take a few months. In that time, people who want to pay their bills can pay. But others have the right not to pay until this audit is done".
What is this audit he is talking about? To find out the details, follow me below:
Delhi has privatized electrical distribution companies (discoms). These have been given licenses, by the Delhi Electric Power Regulatory Commission (DERC) based on the Delhi Electricity Reform Act 2000. Currently BSES, which is a Reliance subsidiary and NDPL, which is a Tata subsidiary hold these licenses. So, they supply electricity in Delhi, not the government.
Now, Sheila Dikshit claimed in August that Delhi residents pay the lowest among metros. She "fudged" the truth here - Delhi power tariff IS actually high - but the government has tried to "subsidise" this cost for low unit users. But note where this "subsidy" goes - the government still has to pay the raised cost from taxpayer money to the private discoms. In other words, Delhi power situation is a corporate windfall for Reliance and Tata.
Per se this may be fine - but AAP (and the BJP) believe that the power companies are gouging the customers. There have been steep hikes in the past two years, with the companies wanting more January 2014. 
Now here comes the crux - AAP wants a public audit of these companies, and has suggested that with this audit's results they can cut down the cost of power.
The corporations do not want that audit. Please read BSES FAQ on this issue (item 8 below).
So the power companies are claiming that they CANNOT be audited. 
And they are wrong. They are hoping you won't notice, but the license agreement they signed AUTHORISES the government to audit them using an independent auditor any time the government wants. Here is the license agreement for BSES (clause 7, page 20):

What is amazing to me is the audaciousness with which a company that handles public resources, can claim that they cannot be audited! As an example, this is similar to telcos that handle 2G, 3G spectrum claiming they cannot be audited!
In other words, the AAP is actually asking for something that the government has the right to ask. And the companies (Reliance, Tata subsidiaries) do not want that. They have millions to lose if the AAP implements the audit.
So, suddenly you have scary screaming headlines and PR campaigns on social media smearing the AAP.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Commercial and Literary writing - Jeyamohan's Q&A

Very happy news - attended Jayamohan's Q&A at Panuval book shop. I like his writing very much. Unfortunately, asked a question and got him angry. It seems to be my "raasi". I still think his answer was not correct, but I learnt not to argue with a guy holding a mike. Whole exchange is below. I should write it in Tamil, but computer problem:

In Jeyamohan's website he has a link - here:
You can read the link and see that he is saying how he selects stories by others for his website. He says there are different kinds of stories - one is commercial model. Then he proceeds to clearly diss this model - he says they are "taken from other stories". He compares them with Kodambakkam (Tamil film) stories. He proceeds to say a lot of different things. Then he compares it with literary stories, which he says, have structural flaws but are, clearly "better".
A month back he wrote an article in Tamil Hindu, where he said we need more commercial writers in Tamil, because only then overall reading will increase- and that this space has been taken by English commercial writing (very true). If overall reading goes up, literary reading will also goes up.
Now, I had a vague question, but I already knew he was not very correct in his comments. I mentioned these two articles, and I said, "The split between commercial and literary exists in every language's lit. Therefore much work has already been done on this space. Why do you have to redefine it in the above form?"
What I should have asked is, "if you have such a low opinion of commercial writing, then why would any one write it? Why should someone do it just so literary writers eventually get readers?"
But clearly I phrased it wrong, and got caught.
He started telling me about Harold Bloom and mentioned a lot of different Western authors who have said the "same thing". I made a comment about Harold Bloom which irritated him. He said, "Only after reading all this I am coming and sitting here". He said, "Therefore, the distinction between commercial and literary fiction exists"
I tried to say something and he said, "Accept what you said is wrong and then we can proceed".
I said, "I can accept, but that was not my question at all".
He immediately softened and said, "I am sorry I am being harsh".
I said, "That is fine. After all, I have been reading you for some time".
People laughed and he seemed to relax. But I persisted.
I said, "I did not state that the split between commercial and literary fiction does not exist. My question was why would you say writers of one of those forms is not very sound?"
He said, "That is not what I said. I said commercial stories may have better structure." (He is correct there, but anyone can read the above link and decide if he is positive or negative about such writers. He actually talks about good form as if it is something writers "use").
Then he proceeded in making a series of claims. He was entertaining, but I thought all of those were pretty wrong statements. You can decide for yourself.
First,he said we may read something in New Yorker etc (somehow he got that I had been "abroad"), but real literature is in small literary magazines in English too. In other words, he was conflating writing in counter culture style magazines with literature. While they may be, saying New Yorker etc are not the place for literary stories is shocking. It means his definition of literature and commercial is already completely at conflict with what most people accept. 
Second, he said writers of commercial stories decide what their audience wants and then write. Pretty major claim and not true. He mentioned how Hollywood market research works - which is true, but we were not talking about movies. Even in movies, he was talking about James Bond.
Third, he said for many commercial English fiction, the editors decide a major part of the story. Again, not true. Editors do not have the time anywhere to sit and baby sit an author through his book. 
Then he started talking about Kodambakkam again. At this point, I realized I had to shut up when another person has a mike.
I think what happened was he decided to choose extremes of commercialism and literature.
To me, it still seems odd that he would claim this. What he means when he says "commercial" seems not to be an accepted form of writing at all. If all that he says were true, popular writing cannot be a valid form of creative expression or art at all. He keeps comparing it with the situation in movies, which is doing a disservice to popular-fiction writers.
But, he still wants commercial fiction to be written, so that more readers come in!
But I still liked him in the meeting, since he has a very deep intellect, very sharp, excellent debater. He is still great, but I may not communicate with him much.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Fantasy writing in Indian English

Indian English commercial fiction has been tapping somewhat into Fantasy territory for the past few years. The Immortals of Meluha, for example, belongs to the fantasy genre. Along with it have come novels such as "Govinda" which offer different varieties, that border on fantasy.
Many of these books currently seem to use the mythological sources of Mahabharatha and Ramayana.
But I believe the real sources of myth writing in Indian English should go farther back - to the myths of Ashwini Kumaras or Vritra. These are parts of more ancient memory, and can be more effective than working with the Mahabharatha.
J.R.R. Tolkien, who is considered the early father of Fantasy writing, did not use Biblical myths for his Lord of the Ring series. Instead he went to the Scandinavian and Icelandic myths. This is because they are more ancient and serve an excellent setting.
Try to recall your earliest childhood memory. For me, it was a memory of a boat, going across a small lake. Into the lake a small stream was feeding as a tiny fall.Whenever I recall it, I have a sense of loss, as well as the feeling that I am looking at it through a curtain. It has a vague, hard to catch sense.
Now, look back at our history and myths. The Ramayana and the Mahabharatha are great stories, but they are similar to our memories from, say, teenage. They are clear and easy to recall.
Go further back; in the case of our culture, the Rig Veda period, early Vedic myths appear more ancient - as if we were in our infancy then. These myths have the same vague, hard-to-catch sense, because our culture was at its infancy then. Rig Vedic hymns seem magical. The Gods of those times, Mitra, Soma, Varuna, Indra - these gods are very old. They say these gods appeared even before Indo-Iranian culture. The earliest references to them are in the Mitanni kings of West Asia, in an invocation.
I think our mythical writing and fantasy material should go back to this period - and not rest with the Mahabharatha or Shiva Purana.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tamil short story - உப்புக் காங்கிரஸ் – தோற்றமும் முடிவும்

My Tamil short story - உப்புக் காங்கிரஸ் – தோற்றமும் முடிவும் was published in today. Please read and comment. Excerpt below:

தண்டியில் உப்பு எடுக்க மகாத்மா யாத்திரை செய்த சமயம், 1930-ம் வருடம், கல்லிடைக்குறிச்சி ஜூனியர் கிரிக்கெட் கிளப்பைச் சேர்ந்த நாங்கள், கல்லிடைக்குறிச்சி உப்புக் காங்கிரஸை உருவாக்கினோம். நாடெங்கும் சுதந்திரக் காற்று வீசுகையில், எங்கள் பங்குக்கு வெள்ளைக்காரனை உயிரை வாங்க முடிவு செய்தோம். காங்கிரஸின் முதல் கூட்டத்தில், எங்கள் முதல் நடவடிக்கையாக குண்டு போட வேண்டும் என்று ஆறுமுகம் விருப்பம் தெரிவித்தான். எங்கே, எப்படி என்ற கேள்விகள் ஆறுமுகத்தின் கோபத்தைக் கிளறி விட்டது. எங்களை மிதவாதிகள் என்று குற்றம் சாட்டினான். “வைஸ்ராய் மேல குண்டு போடலாம்,” என்றான். வைஸ்ராய் கல்லிடைக்குறிச்சி வரும் வரை பொறுக்க வைத்திக்கு இஷ்டமில்லை. “போலீஸ் ஸ்டேஷன் மேல குண்டு போடுவோம்,” என்றான். 

More at

Friday, June 21, 2013

Six Rules on Public Protests for Facebook Commentariat

1. DO judge a popular protest by the merits of its demands - not by political alignment. The attempt to impose a political "party alignment" on a popular protest (such as anti-corruption, sri lankan issue or rape protests) makes no sense because the protesters are public, and they may have different affiliations. What matters is their public demands.
2. Do NOT insult any substantial protest by saying "media created it". Media has no capability in manufacturing news with such a massive conspiracy in which thousands of people participate. You are stupid if you think NDTV is filling buses with protesters to get TRP ratings. That is not how media works.
3. Do NOT ask protesters why they are not protesting something else. For example, asking the Delhi rape protesters why they are not protesting rapes in Kashmir is absurd for many reasons. a) That they did not protest something does not mean they agree with it. b) Protests about one issue may actually help other issues and c) Protesters are individuals who feel excited about something. It is not some collective conspiracy.
4. Do NOT ask, after the protests die down why they died down. They died down because all public protests die down at some point. This should be common sense, public has jobs and cannot be out in the streets fighting 24 hours.
5. Do NOT ask, AFTER the protests what they accomplished. That they came out and fought means something. That is the case for anti-corruption or Delhi rape protests.
6. Do NOT look at one individual who shows up in some stage and try to make the entire protest about that person. This is what Arundhathi Roy and Gail Omvedt tried to do for the Anti-corruption struggle; and the Manmohan Singh government did for the Koodankulam protesters. As writer Jeyamohan said, popular protests are usually big tents - they cannot turn away people we don't like, sitting in our couch at home. Do not fall into smear tactics.

If a movement has demands, and the demands are reasonable, then support it. If not, do not support it. All else are distractions.

IPL scandal benefits Indian politicians

Whenever a scandal happens - coalgate, 2G, IPL - a section of media and commenters talk about how this is horrible because people may lose their trust in government or BCCI etc.
It occurs to me that the Indian politician BENEFITS a lot from the public's loss of trust, whatever be the institution. The Indian politician survives on two popular myths:
1) That corruption is "inherent" in India - for cultural, religious or social reasons, and
2) That the situation is impossible to change
It is these myths that the anti-corruption protests challenged. It was not Jan Lokpal that scared these guys; it was the blowing of these two myths. 
A scandal such an IPL, even though it does not have anything directly to do with politics, still BENEFITS the Indian politician, because the public's lack of trust in ANY elite institution makes it easy to force them to give up and sink into apathy. A population that mistrusts any institution also mistrusts each other.
Social mistrust is the single best investment that the Indian political class has. They will try everything to perpetuate it, and have no interest in solving it.
In fact, I predict that they will BUILD entire institutions, and then show that they are corrupt, JUST to reinforce mistrust and perpetuate the myths above. The IPL may just be one such.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sameer Kamat and Booksoarus

Posting after a long time.
I tried writing in English last year; and found it fun. Have been on longer writing projects for the past two years, with the screenplay, a Tamil novella, an English novel and a second one that I am writing now. The intensive writing is enjoyable and I learnt a lot.
For commercial English fiction, for the first time, you can at least make "submissions" and have your work read. That is a great relief compared to Tamil publishing where you have no idea where to go. Many English publishers have websites where they specify submission rules.
It is easy to learn the after-writing submission process online. I learnt some details from Sameer Kamat's website here.
Sameer has published a non-fiction book called Beyond the MBA Hype (Harper Collins); but he also offers useful information on the publishing industry, self-publishing, literary agents and so on.
He has recently founded a new website named It offers advice on creative writing. I am hoping it would become a forum for Indian writers.
I will be back to regular posting soon, if anyone is reading at all.

Monday, January 14, 2013

My Tamil story - ஒற்றாடல் - in

My Tamil novella ஒற்றாடல் has been published in the online magazine
Links and short intro are below:
ஒற்றாடல் - காட்டூர் கோட்டை  - Part I
ஒற்றாடல் நரசிம்மாஸ்திரம் - Part II

காட்டூர்க் கோட்டை தரை மட்டமாகி இருந்தது..
பேச்சி மலையின் மேலிருந்து பார்க்கும் போது பெரும் புழுதிப் புகை கிளம்புவது தெரிந்தது..
என் உள்ளம் கொதித்தது. கைகள் நடுங்கின.
“போகலாமா? இப்பொழுது கிளம்பினால் பள்ளியூர் போகச் சரியாக இருக்கும்”, என்றான் வழுதி.
நான் அவனைத் திரும்பிப் பார்த்தேன். சற்றுத் தள்ளி, ஒரு பாறையின் மேல் சாய்ந்து அமர்ந்திருந்தான். வாயில் வெற்றிலை. நான் பார்க்கும்போது சத்தத்துடன் அதைத் துப்பினான்.
என் மனதில் எழுந்த கோபத்தை அடக்க முயன்று தோற்றேன்.
“என்னுடைய முதல் போர் இது”, என்றேன்.
அவன் என்னைத் திரும்பிப் பார்த்தான்.
“வாழ்த்துக்கள்” என்றான்.
“புறமுதுகிட்டு ஓடுகிறோம்”
அவன் எழுந்து குதிரையைத் தட்டிக் கொடுத்தான்.
“நல்ல வேளை குதிரை கிடைத்தது. இந்த மலைகளில் குதிரையில்லாமல் தப்பி ஓடுவது கஷ்டம்”, என்றான்.
“பல முறை ஓடிப்  பழக்கம் போலிருக்கிறது?” என்றேன் நான்.
அவன் ஏறிக் கொண்டான். என்னைப் பார்த்துக் கை நீட்டினான்.
நான் தயங்குவதைப் பார்த்துச் சிரித்தான்.
“ஒற்றர்கள் புறமுதுகிட்டு ஓடலாம். சாத்திரத்திலே சொல்லியிருக்கிறார்கள்”, என்றான்.
குதிரை தட்டுத் தடுமாறி காட்டுக்குள் நுழைந்தது.