Sunday, July 17, 2016

Silence of the Cicadas

The novel "Silence of the Cicadas" by M Ramesh is a delightful romance thriller. The reader is treated to a delicious feast of romance and love between the adorable archaeologist Anand and the pretty and smart Priya, the main protagonists. It is a kind of Tamil love with its own rules of restraint, respect for traditions and avoidance of public display of affection. Lots of words and little action. 
But when the lovers meet in England, they discard all their Tamil scruples and constraints and dive direct and deep into uninhibited action-packed love. The artificial Adyar gates are thrown open to the free and natural flow of the canals of Yorkshire. The theoretical Tamil Kaadhal finds its carnal consummation in the free and open Dalby forests and lakes. No more words, no longer dialogues. It is pure action and full satisfaction. 



The most enjoyable parts of the book are the suggestive, sensual and teasing dialogues between the lovers during their encounters. But since Priya has a brilliant brain behind her beautiful face, the conversations are filled with vivacious wit, spirited repartees and creative ripostes. The lovers try to outwit each other playfully with words, ideas and descriptions. Here are some samples: 
-Kiran Mazumdar's biotech company makes 'Auntie-biotics' 
-Anand, knew only 'carbon dating' before meeting Priya
-He cannot hold anything from Priya because he is an ATM- Automatic Tell-her Machine
- He will write a novel "A tale of two titties"
The story is filled with plenty of suspense and surprise as well as unexpected twists and turns. The action jumps from the damp basement library of the Nawab's palace in Chennai to the picturesque and placid English countryside, from the historic Vellore fort  to Adyar estuary, from the British Deputy High Commission to the mysterious deep well with the skeleton of British officers dead in the Vellore mutiny and from ONGC's offshore drilling vessel to Amman temples.
The story ends in a dramatic way but I wish the denouement was different. Priya could have recognized the tree and her former lover and in that shocking and ecstatic moment Anand could have died. 
Author Ramesh has gone beyond romance and thrills. He has packed the novel with lot of interesting information on archaeology, history, philosophy, offshore-oil drilling, helicopters, monasteries, abattoirs, snakes, criminal underworld, cigars, diamonds, vegetarian cuisine, Nawabi traditions and English characters. He has given lots of fascinating details of archaeology through the main character Anand who describes himself humorously as 'India's own Indiana Jones'. 
Besides the unforgettable protagonists, there are some memorable characters in the novel:
-the pious and noble-spirited Nawab Zulfiqar who embodies the best of Islamic culture
-Tariq Imran, the debauched and criminal son of the Nawab, who enjoys drinking fresh-blood. He locks up his father in the true Mughal tradition to inherit the property.
- Anbu,the corrupt and crooked constable, who makes money on the side with off-duty dirty work for Imran
-'Paambu' Murugan, the contract killer who uses snakes to kill his targets
-Professor  Ganges Rao, addicted to Camacho Triple cigars, wine and women even in his eighties. 
-Miss Bunting, the classic English lady who speaks fluent Tamil, admires the old Indian child marriage system and thinks Thyagaraja is a better music composer than Mozart.
With foreign readers in mind, the author has gone into explanations of the history of Chennai, Tamil culture and especially the Tamil Brahmin version, Hindu religion, South Indian cuisine, 'permit rooms' in Tamilnadu hotels and Indian English. At the same same time, he has sprinkled lots of typical Tamil words of endearment and expressions of anger and frustration to give authentic local flavor.  He has made a clever connection between Samayapuram and Yorkshire. Miss 'Mary'lene in Yorkshire gets her name after the visit of her mother Susan Winch to the 'Mari'amman temple in Samayapuram. He has made the patriotic Indian archaeologist debate with the imperial British diplomat on the subject of kohinoor diamonds and contrasted the typical Tamil overstatement with the British understatement. 
This is the first novel of Ramesh, who has been working with the " Business Line" news paper published by " The Hindu" group of Chennai. When Ramesh told me that he had written a novel, I thought it might be based on his professional experience of reporting about the Chennai business groups. It has been a struggle for him to get any 'stories' or 'breaking news' from the conservative and pubilicty-shy family-controlled business groups of Chettiars and Srinivasans. Even if he got one, it would be another challenge for him to make it sensational given the orthodox and conventional tradition of The Hindu Group. Caught between the boring people on both the ends of his profession, Ramesh seemed to have found an outlet for his writing through the novel.
Hold on.. There is Latin America too in the novel, pleasing my nostalgic heart.  When Anand and Priya meet in a hotel room in England, they freak out with the Latin American spirit of " Celebra la Vida" (celebrate life), celebrating from second to second, giving out everything and holding back nothing. This is thanks to the author's visit to Brazil and listening to my Latin America lectures !!. I hope he takes his protagonists to Latin America in his next novel.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Elon Musk, the daring techpreneur

The book "Elon Musk: How the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is shaping our future" by Ashlee Vance gives  the story of  Musk, the audacious entrepreneur who has dared to disrupt the business of making rockets and cars. Vance has described the journey of Musk in a easily readable, lively and enjoyable way. He has been objective in his portrayal, having talked to his detractors as well as admirers. His narrative is authentic thanks to his personal access to Musk and his colleagues, friends and family. The book brings out vividly Musk's passion, vision, drive and undauntable spirit. Musk is a rare combination of a nerd, businessman, leader and visionary. 


Space shuttles and Cars were the exclusive domain of big governments and companies who could afford billions of dollars and take risks. But Musk had started the two businesses like a Silicon Valley start-up and scaled them up with his ingenious and innovative ways. He had gambled his own money (all of the 200 million dollars he had got from the sale of Paypal) in these risky ventures, playing for all or nothing. Several times, he went through dangerous phases of losing everything and failing. He was the butt of jokes and called as crazy by many. When his rockets went up in flames and when he did not know how he was going to pay the salary of his employees, he rose to the occasions and managed to come out on top with a cool head and pragmatic approach.  When the third launch of Falcon vehicle failed, Musk addressed his employees, saying, " I will never give up and I mean never.if you stick with me, we will win." This was one of those defining moments of Musk's unique leadership and indomitable spirit. 

The best line of the author, is " Musk is more hands on than Hugh Hefner". Ha..ha..ha.. Musk insisted that any expenditure above 10,000 dollars should have his approval, even when the company was spending millions of dollars a day. When an engineer wanted to buy a special equipment called as actuator for 120,000 dollars, Musk told him to find a way to make it himself for just 5000 dollars. The engineer had no alternative but to innovate. He made it for 3900 dollars after nine months of hard work. While the behemoth ULA (United Launch Alliance), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin charged the US government 380 million dollars per space flight, SpaceX could do it for just 90 million. 

Musk has demolished the myth that outsourcing is the best way to cut costs. While ULA depends on Russian engines, SpaceX equipments are all-American. SpaceX runs mostly with its own software, hardware, new materials, technologies and processes developed in-house by Musk's relentless drive for innovation and cutting costs. Musk has proven to the American manufacturers that it is possible to cut cost of production without going to China or Mexico. 

The way Musk has built and run the two companies is not like a CEO but like a General. Musk is a tough task master who drives his employees crazy with impossible deadlines and fires them fiercely when they don't deliver and meet his very high expectations. Musk's evolution as a tyrannical and dreaded boss stands in total contrast to his school days when he was the the victim of violent bullying by others. 

The success of Musk should be credited to a large extent to the pool of exceptionally talented and committed people who worked for him. He himself interviewed and selected the first thousand of the SpaceX employees. It was Dolly Singh, head of the talent search, who managed to find many of the experts to fit the exacting standards of Musk. On her experience of working with Musk, she says, " The challenge is that he is a machine and the rest of us are not. So if you work for Musk, you have to accept the discomfort. But in that discomfort is the kind of growth you cannot get anywhere else and worth every ounce of blood and sweat". She wrote a blurb in SpaceX job posting," SpaceX is like Special Forces, we take on missions that others have deemed impossible."

One of the distinguishing part of Musk's personality is his fondness for reading and learning. Even as a child he used to ' vacuuming books into his brain'. Except for his extensive reading and skills with video games, Musk did not show any promising signs of exceptional talents or leadership during his school and college days. As an entrepreneur, he learnt from the scientists and engineers by constantly questioning and interacting with them on their domain expertise. When he started the space venture, he read so many text books and research papers on the subject, becoming a formidable rocket expert himself. 

Consumed completely by his passions, Musk has given a poor second place to family life and has gone through three divorces. He also comes out somewhat heartless by his lack of loyalty and empathy for his employees and colleagues, similar to Steve Jobs. Musk has used others, hiring and firing them at will, without consideration for their personal circumstances, even when he shows larger empathy for the mankind. 

Musk is not sitting content with his wealth of billions of dollars and achievements. In any case, his quest is not just for money. He continues to be a techno utopian dreamer with lots of new ideas such as taking people to Mars and making human life multiplanetary. His Tesla electric cars and the Solar City help the world to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and make energy use and generation more sustainable. These will empower the mankind ( literally) by helping us to produce our own solar power from our rooftops and charge our electric cars and make the world cleaner and better.

Musk has become the latest poster boy for the techpreneurs who want to change the world. Even Larry Page, the co-founder of Google finds Musk to be an inspiring example and has invested in Musk's ventures. Musk has become the latest addition to the pantheon of my tech heroes: Bill Gates, Google Guys, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. My life has been revolutionized and enriched  by the Microsoft products, iPhone, iPad ( in which I read books bought from Kindle), Mac laptop, google search and social media. I am looking forward to more excitement in the future with Musk's electric cars and solar panels and other products he and other techpreneurs might come up with. I feel that the biographies of the techpreneur heroes should be made as text books in schools to ignite young minds. I have undergone tremendous transformation ever since I read the book of Bill Gates, "The Road Ahead " in 1995.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The TCS Story.. and beyond - Book by Ramadorai

This is part autobiography, part company history and part the story of India itself since Ramadorai and TCS had played a pioneering role in paving the way for India's reincarnation as an IT powerhouse.

Ramadorai narrates his personal life and growth candidly with his charateristic humility and down to earth self-effacing manner. Born in a  Tamil Brahmin bureaucrat family, he imbibes the traditional virtues such as simplicity, discipline, hard working habit, obedience of seniors and commitment to work and the institution. He goes to US for higher studies after which he gets a job there. But he comes back to India to join the newly formed computer company of Tata in 1972 as Assistant Systems Programmer and Analyst. He marries a girl chosen by his family from the same Brahmin community. He is posted as the first resident TCS manager with the challenging job of getting contracts from American companies who had no idea of TCS or Indian software capability in those days. Even the Tata president in US, Mr Naval Mody discouraged  him strongly saying that there was no way to set up a business in the US for an Indian company like TCS. Ramadorai learnt the skill of sales and marketing quickly moving beyond his technical competence. While modest in personal life, Ramadorai was audacious in taking business risks and trying new ventures. Every contract was an unprecedented learning experience and there was no previous models for him to follow. Most of the journey was in untrodden path. He and TCS paved the way, as the Spanish poem says

Caminante, no hay camino
se hace camino, al andar

oh traveller, there is no way here
you make the way as you walk

What was the origin of the Indian software industry? Ramadorai says that it was born, not by any grand design but by an accident of history. When the Indian government allowed TCS to import a mainframe computer, they put a condition that the company should export and earn twice the dollar cost of the machine in five years since India was short of foreign exchange those days. TCS went to US to earn dollars by offering software services. The rest is history.

Ramadorai started work under Kohli, a typical Indian boss known for his strictness and authoritarian style of dealing with subordinates. While describing Kohli as his mentor, Ramadorai chose a different model of leadership. He became a team leader listening and delegating to others, encouraging colleagues to express themselves and taking decisions by consensus. His successful work and leadership qualities took him to the corner office as CEO from 1996 to 2009. He made TCS as the number one IT company of India and a respected global player. He planned properly and transparently for his succession by identifying and mentoring Chandrasekaran to take over from him in an orderly manner. This is a practical illustration of what TCS says in its logo "Experience Certainty"

The story of TCS is equally exciting. It was started as a data processing unit and later became subcontractor and service provider to the American and British computer companes. TCS had tough time in India during the " Licence Raj" and had tougher time convincing their American clients that an Indian company could do IT work at that time when the country had only a few computers imported despite the stringent customs and foreign exchange restrictions. Whatever TCS did in its evolution was path-breaking and they had played a critical role in establishing the credentials of Indian talents and companies globally. Even more remarkable is the fact that they pulled off the IT success within the value system and tradition of Tatas. As Tata employees, they played by the book and did everything properly and correctly. TCS is an example of building a global company in an Indian way with young Indians hungry to learn and succeed with little resources but lot of ambition and creativity.

The story of TCS is also the story of the New India in a way. Today India is perceived and admired by the world as a formidable IT powerhouse. TCS can claim credit for laying the foundation for this new paradigm and image of India. The success of TCS opened the doors for other Indian IT companies   and inspired  thousands of young Indians to have a new dream, new life, new confidence and self esteem.

When Indian companies were shy about entering Latin America on the ground that distance and languages were barriers, TCS succeeded in the region by turning the two so-called barriers into advantages. TCS has created a new 12x12 business model in which their Latin American staff work for 12 hours in the same time zone of US and pass on the work to Indians for the remaining 12 hours. Besides in English, TCS gets work done in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German, making use of the European ancestry of most Latin Americans. Ramadorai says, " We saw Latin America as a testing ground for our strategy in the emerging markets". Today, TCS employs over 8000 Latin Americans in nine Latin American countries and is targetting ten percent of its global revenue from the region. The success of TCS has opened the doors two dozen other Indian IT companies to enter Latin America.

With his firm belief in " Technology as the enabler of development" Ramadorai advocates that technology  could be used smartly and cost-efficiently to solve many problems of India. He has a vision for India and has clear ideas to deal with issues such as health care and education. It is good that the Government of India has taken advantage of his expertise and has made him as Advisor to the Prime Minister on the National Skills Development Council, with the rank of a cabinet minister.

The story of Ramdorai is an inspiration to the new Indian IT Generation. It teaches them that they do not have to imitate or go overboard to change their accent while dealing with the western clients. While Ramadorai did astounding work for TCS taking risks and pulling off audacious feats, he has remained true to his personal nature as a simple person with firm attachment to family, friends and Indian traditional values. He admits, "I was extremely shy and that shyness has stayed with me. But I have become better at hiding it, over the years." He used to do brainstorming with his colleagues over coffee or lunch during weekends at his residence making his colleagues feel at home and bonding with them. He says,"Sharing information (with speed) with colleagues became an obsession with me". This makes him distinct among many other CEOS who keep information with themselves due to their personal insecurity and to make themselves indispensable.

Ramadorai has been an inspiration to me too. He says, " I like to answer every mail I get within twenty four hours". He acknowledges that he learnt this discipline of prompt response from Nani Palkhiwala. Ramadorai is in my mailing list of hundreds of people to whom I circulate copies of my articles and blog postings on Latin America regularly as BCC. Invariably, he is the first one to respond immediately or within 24 hours, saying, " Thanks and regards". Sometimes he will make comments on the contents or ask me for further information. He should be receiving thousands of mails every day. But still he has time to read and respond to my stories on Latin America which are of peripheral interest to him.  He is so well organised and disciplined and has time for everything and everyone.  His time for replies to emails is in the morning by 5 am.




Photo: Ramadorai speaking at the inaguration of the new TCS office in Buenos Aires on 15 September 2009


Photo: Meeting with Argentine President Christina Fernandez


The moral of the story of TCS and Ramadorai for the promising young IT generation of India:

- IT does not have to mean just individual success such as those of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.  The story of Ramadorai and TCS is an alternative example of institutional success. Ramadorai succeeded within the framework of TCS which evolved in the tradition and value system of the Tatas.

- Ramadorai changed and transformed TCS and Indian image but this success has not changed his life style, core values and essential Indianness. He has the best combination of what India offers in spirit and what the West offers in business professionalism.

And there is one for the CEOs too. Ramadorai ends the book with his own quote, " A CEO should be judged not just by what he built but more importantly by what he leaves behind for his successors to build upon".





Saturday, April 27, 2013

A cycle, a dream come true and a reconnection to the village..

Disappointment and disapproval marked the faces of my mother, my brother and the neighbours in the village when I announced my intention to buy a cycle.  They expected me to buy a fancy foreign car, after having retired from the Foreign Service. Against the resistance of everyone, I have bought the cycle and drive around the village, confirming their suspicion that after such long years of being out of India I have become out of touch and out of fashion...

I am the odd guy who goes around leisurely and purposelessly in a cycle while the others zoom around in TVS, Bajaj, and Hero Honda motor bikes giving me a curious look and exchanging jokes and comments.

They do not know the real secret behind my obsession for this acquisition. Buying a cycle is fulfilling a childhood dream for me. When I was a kid, I wanted a cycle to go to school and college. But I could not afford one, Not a big deal.. None of my friends had cycle in those days. We walked to the school three kms to the west for six years and three kms east to the college for four years. 

Now that I have my own cycle, I go around every day morning for 2-3 hours covering about 20 kms. I discover many nooks and corners of the villages around. I feel reconnected to the land which has provided livelihhood to my ancestors and even now to my brother who cultivates about ten acres. When I pass by the kids who walk to the school with dreams in their eyes, I turn nostalgic.  When I see the kids working in the fields or grazing the cattle, I feel lucky that I had escaped to a world of magical realism thanks to the accidental entry into the diplomatic service.  

I have found a few scenic cycle routes. There is the MOPAM circuit passing through Mangudi, Oovanoor, Pullambadi, Anandapuram ( I surprised my brother with the name of this tiny hamlet of a dozen adobe huts- He did not know) and Mullal. The other circuit is STAPS - Sembarai, Thinniyam, Anbil, Poondi and Sengraiyur. I am determined to discover more such routes during my next trip to the village.

The routes are picturesque with fields of rice, sugarcane, bananas, cotton, corn, sesame seeds and coconut farms. Palm and tamarind trees are on either side of the road in some places. There are streams and rivers and of course, Kollidam, the biggest river, although there is no water since it is summer now. Peacocks dart from one side to the other part of the road near Nandhiar river. 

Here are some pictures of the scenic routes:

Cotton field between Mangudi and Oovanoor..




Mud road from Oovanoor to Mullal..




Rest Stop- coconut, banana, mango and lemon trees..




Sugar cane fields with coconut trees around



The routes have several textures.. mud, gravel, stones, tar and just walking paths in some places. Here is one semi tar and gravel road..


Temples are there at many street corners and roadsides. Here is a roadside temple known as Ponninji Ariyanar Koil in Mullal



Tamarind trees forming a beautiful canopy and giving shade to the cyclist..




The lonely rider...


Thursday, November 01, 2012

The US elections - as seen from India


This article was published in " Open Democracy" on 1 November 2012.



The US elections - as seen from India

In India, people are amused and puzzled, depressed and disinterested and occasionally inspired by the long and loud, colorful and typical American show that goes by the name of the presidential election. 
Indians are used to Bollywood films with predictable storylines evoking the entire range of emotions with lots of laughs and tears. We see the US elections as longer versions of such movies, produced by money and media, spin doctors and vested interests.
Indians are amused by the two-years of non-stop talk shows, turns and twists, farce and entertainment. Two out of the four years of the presidential term is consumed by the primaries and the campaign, forgetting the important long term national interests - such a waste of energy, resources and time. Issues such as Obama's birthplace and religion, raised by some right wing elements, are simply laughable.
Indians are puzzled by the electoral system, which is so difficult to understand. The electoral college vote prevailing over the popular vote and the holding of elections on a working day instead of a weekend do not make sense.  Indians are perplexed by the American obsession for issues such as abortion and same-sex relationships. They are amazed by the strength of the gun lobby despite the hundreds of killings of innocent people in high schools and college campus and shopping centers caused by the free availability of guns. 
Indians are frustrated with their own political leaders and parties who sacrifice national interests for the sake of winning elections by pandering to narrow communitarian and group interests. They are depressed by the fact that even in a mature democracy like the US, the Democrats and the Republicans make similar style decisions. 
Obama's victory in the last election was an inspiration for India's large and diverse democracy. The fact that an inexperienced, young middle class African-American outsider could challenge the system and win the election to become the President renewed the confidence in the authenticity of the American democratic system. The bottom-up grassroots mobilization of support using the power of Internet by Obama was remarkable. 
One of the election issues which directly concerns India is outsourcing. Indians are surprised by the American noise against the outsourcing of services (mostly in IT and finance) to India, in contrast to a timid silence on the larger issue of outsourcing of manufacturing to China and Mexico. The large scale and irreversible shifting of American manufacturing has cost the country millions of jobs, in contrast to the loss of just a few thousand jobs through outsourcing to India. The wholesale shifting of American manufacturing to China has hollowed out the American industry in the long term and has led to a big loss of intellectual property, technology and the whole ecosystem of component makers, suppliers and service providers. Yet Americans seem to know what sectors of service are outsourced to India but they have no idea about what products are made in US even though everything from iPhone to toys are now assembled in China. The Fourth of July and Christmas are more celebrated by the Chinese manufacturers of fireworks and gift items than by the American consumers. 
Ultimately, Indians are somewhat indifferent to the US elections since they know that, no matter who wins, the policies will remain the same in most areas. Presidents come and go. But the lobbies are permanent. Indians are used to a predictable American policy towards India: Democratic presidents repeat the rhetorical solidarity between the biggest democracies but are insensitive to India's concerns on security, terrorism, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China. Republicans presidents, on the other hand, see the opportunities for business in India and are willing to accommodate India's interests, overlooking ideological differences. The most recent example of this was President Bush's initiative to sign the Nuclear Agreement with India and the dilution of the spirit of the Agreement by the Obama administration. 
In the past, the American election was the most watched show in the global theatre. Not anymore. Now the Chinese leadership transition is watched with equal interest here in India if not yet in the rest of the world. The US has lost its global supremacy in political, economic and technological fields while China is steadily and resolutely gaining strategic space. The pity is that the Democrats and Republicans focus more on hurting each other and polarizing the society rather than addressing the fundamental causes of the continuing decline of US leadership.
This article is part of the 'How it looks from here' openDemocracy feature on the 2012 US elections. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Snow Golf in the ¨End of the World¨

Snow Golf Tournament... when I saw the news, I said ...Oops.
I thought.. hmmm.. there are golfers crazier than me. When I reached the golf course today, there were 43 more crazy golfers.

It was the 4th time the Snow Golf tournament was organised in Cerro Castor ski resort. It is in Ushuaia, the southernmost city and also called as End of the World (Fin del Mundo).


The golf course had 9 holes at the base of the ski resort. There was one five par while the rest were par 3 and par4 for a total of 30. The Green was compact snow with a blue coloured circle around.
Here I am with Juan Carlos Begue, the owner of the ski resort

Twenty out of the 44 players were from Buenos Aires while the rest were from the End of the World. There was even a women´s foursome. In Ushuaia there is a 9 hole course which is open in summer.
The snowgolfers listening to the instructions and rules by the pro.


The Snow Golf advisory said
- dont put heavy jackets which will hinder the swing
-put on snowboard shoes
-coloured balls would be given by the organisers
-bring half a set with maximum of 7 clubs including putter.

We used tees on the fairway, which was compacted and was fairly narrow. Either side of the fairway was rough and there teeing up was not allowed. In the rough one has to blast it out like a sand shot. One can bring it to the fairway but with one stroke penalty. If one is unlucky the ball would fall into the snow and disappear under. In that case one can drop another ball and play with one stroke penalty.

It was a Lugunada tournament, which means best score of the four players in each hole. I started off with a par at the 220 yard first hole and birdied the 270 yard. I had two more pars and my partners also contributed. We had a total of 4 under. Hmm... we came fourth. The winners played 7 under...the second and third position went to those who did 5 under.

There was water hazard in two holes with a stream running to catch the sliced balls. Here it is...


The ball does not run on the snow, obviously. So one has to hit a high ball and play a longer club. Even while putting, one has to hit the ball hard. If not, it will get slowed down and get turned to right and left.


Golfers are known for craziness. I had played in a desert golf course in Libya where the fairway was all sand. The ball would fall on the sand and disappear. We used mats or tees to hit the ball on the sand. I had played at 42 degrees centigrade in Delhi Golf club. Someone commented that I was able to withstand the hot sun due to the thick skin developed in the course of thirty years of government service..
Prize distribution ceremony..

Today we were lucky with the weather. It was a sunny and beautiful day with a maximum of 9 degree centigrade. I was worried about the fierce Patagonian wind which could pierce through one´s skin, flesh and bones. Fortunately the wind started only towards the end of the game and it was mercifully mild.
After the game we had wines from the Fin del Mundo winery from Patagonia followed by a lunch in which they served the delicious Patagonian lamb.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Anna: The Life and Times of C.N. Annadurai by R. Kannan

This was the book ( published in February 2010 ) which accompanied me through the train journeys from Frankfurt - Prague – Krakow-Belgrade-Thessalonika- Athens last month.
It is the biography of Anna, who has transformed the politics and society of Tamilnadu as a politician, thinker, reformer and writer. Anna developed a brand new politics of brotherhood with his Thambis ( younger brother) and inspired a whole new crop of leaders, writers and the masses. He combined astutely politics with literature, films and newspapers and awakened the tamil society, reformed it and lead the movement to power peacefully and democratically. His leagcy continues in the form of rule of his Thambis and the irreversible changes in the Tamil society. Anna was inspired by Periyar´s call for reforms of the society and fight against injustice and superstitions. Anna went beyond Periyar, mobilised the masses, took to the path of elctoral politics and captured political power. After this, Anna realised the need for building bridges with New Delhi and saw a better future for Tamils within the framework of India, shedding his earlier calls for a separate Dravida Naadu and Tamilnadu. At the same time he resolutely fought against the imposition of Hindi and thereby saved the whole country from Hindi fanatics who had the potential to break up the country. If Tamilnadu is doing well as a state and Tamils are shining in IT and in the coalition governments at the centre, the credit for this goes to Anna who laid the foundation and set the course of progress and new mindset.

Author Kannan has put the evolution of Anna as a leader in the context of the politics and other leaders at that time. Periyar was, of course, the greatest influence on Anna as well as in Tamil society in that period. While Anna started as a loyal disciple of Periyar, it was ineveitable that Anna had to move away from his mentor and start DMK. Periyar never wanted to become chief minister or aspired to any such position of power and would not let others. He was always a kind of anarchist and activist fighting for his radical beliefs outside the government system. Periyar´s eccentricities and rigid unrealistic approach to many political issues limited Dravidar Kazhagam´s growth.

Kannan describes the situation of Congress party which was feudal and did not take Anna and his Thambis seriously. Rajaji who rose to national level politics and fame played his hands wrongly and left the field for DMK to capitalise on his mistakes.

Kannan has given an objective narration and comments on all the players and parties– brahmins, non-brahmins, actors, congresswalas, Periyar, Anna, Kamaraj and Rajaji. He has quoted the comments of all the parties and let the readers judge them. He has let the writings and quotes of Anna and his adversaries speak for themselves. This is remarkable for a Tamil author. Most of the views and comments about Anna or for that matter any of the Tamil leaders are partial, emotional and subjective. I was surprised by the caustic and rabid remarks of Jayakanthan on DMK leaders calling them as Porukkis ( loafers). I am an admirer of Jayakanthan as a innovative writer and thinker and I am surprised even he has succumbed to partiality blatantly. Kannan has successfully managed to overcome this Tamil weakness of extremes …hero worship and demonisation of opponents.

I wish more such objective and neutral books are written in English on Periyar, MGR, Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha, Kamaraj and Rajaji. This will help the world to have a proper understanding of the Tamil society. Foreigners get confused by the giant cut-outs in Mount Road, the filmi politics, the contents and hollowness of kumudam and anandavikatan and the culture of Amma, Anna and Thambis. The books need to be translated in Hindi to educate those northeners who condenscendingly call all those beyond vindhyas as Madrasis.