Thursday, March 26, 2009

Seeking Justice without Hatred: John Hope Franklin & MLK Jr Vs Jeremiah Wright and EVR.

A recent obituary caught my eye. John Hope Franklin, passed away on March 25th. Every major newspaper noted that he is the most pre-eminent historian and an Afro-American. His book "From Slavery to Freedom" published 60 years ago is even now considered as the best history of Blacks in USA. Franklin played a significant role in assisting then lawyer, later Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall in the landmark Brown Vs Board of Topeka case. That was the case which ended racial segregation in US schools, the movie "Seperate but Equal" starring Sidney Poitier is a wonderful one to watch. The NYT obituary had some very interesting notes.

"He often regarded his country like an exasperated relative, frustrated by racism's stubborn power, yet refusing to give up. ''I want to be out there on the firing line, helping, directing or doing something to try to make this a better world, a better place to live,'' Franklin told The Associated Press in 2005."

"The book ('From Slavery to Freedom') sold more than 3.5 million copies and remains required reading in college classrooms. It was based on research Franklin conducted in libraries and archives that didn't allow him to eat lunch or use the bathroom because he was black."

"Some of his greatest moments of triumph were marred by bigotry.
His joy at being offered the chair of the Brooklyn College history department in 1956 was tempered by his difficulty getting a loan to buy a house in a ''white'' neighborhood."

Franklin was awarded USA's highest civilian honor, the President's medal of Freedom, "When he was to receive the freedom medal, Franklin hosted a party for some friends at Washington's Cosmos Club, of which he had long been a member. A white woman walked up to him, handed him a slip of paper and demanded that he get her coat. He politely told the woman that any of the uniformed attendants, ''and they were all in uniform,'' would be happy to assist her."

Great strides have been made in US in the area of racial equality. Much remains to be done too. That said what I admire in both John Hope Franklin and MLK is the love they had for US, a country which had heaped unspeakable horrors on their race. They realised that injustice can be corrected within the parameters of law and did not believe in harboring "hatred unto eternity". MLK's historic speech "I Have a dream" is remarkable for "wanting" to make US a better place to live, wanting to make the country live up to its promise, all the while unflinchingly criticising the racial bigotry of the country.

On the other hand we have Jeremiah Wright and EVR who revelled in promoting hatred, ignoring any social progress as insufficient and cause for further hatred. What is worse, out of hatred they lunged to the hysterical side accusing erstwhile oppressors of imaginary heinous crimes. They abrogate any responsiblities within their own communities. Bill Cosby, famously called 'TV's favorite dad, was berated as race traitor when he pointed out that blaming White's alone would not help Afro-Americans who need to address teen pregnancies, single parenthood, crime etc, all that are disproportionately high in their community.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lessons for Madras Music Academy from Metropolitan Opera

A wonderful article in WSJ, that appeared recently, was on how NY Metropolitan Opera hunts the globe for talent and finds it in places like China. The latest rising star is Shenyang, a rare find according to superstar soprano Renée Fleming . Shenyang is what they call a bass-baritone, a very rare blend of vocal qualities.

The article quotes Edith Bers, chairwoman of the vocal department at Juilliard, the reputed school in NY, as saying "Chinese singers need to learn to form their vowels and consonants differently. Mandarin is formed at the back of the mouth, unlike Romance languages which are produced closer to the front".

His training is rigorous, the article said, "he rehearsed pieces by Carl Loewe and Hugo Wolf, a German diction coach reminded him to hit his H's. Another coach, Vlad Iftinca, suggested changes in mood".

If one looks at the whole picture one is impressed by the professionalism that forms the bedrock of Met Opera. One wonders if that professionalism is a by-product or the root of a western mind. Just look at the thirst to hunt for talent across the globe, to sift through multitudes to find one rare voice and having found it then go on to encourage it, sharpen it, refine it etc. Nothing is too trivial, not even the diction. No excuses for a Chinese immigrant to mispronounce a German accent, that too performed in NY for Americans.

My thoughts hearken back to Music Academy, that self styled custodian of carnatic music. While it makes feeble attempts to modernise to stay relevant the parochialism is striking. More so the crass absolute lack of professionalism. The worst insult is to hear ANY carnatic singer sing Tamil songs, the crumbs they tend to throw to keep the lumpen Tamil chauvinists at bay. Usually its a Bharathiar song and without fail it would be sung with a Sanksrit accent with the worst note reserved for pronouncing "sa" as "sha", so "senthamizh naadu" becomes "shenthamizh naadu". Again one wonders if the cavalier attitude is a by product or the root.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Financial Armegeddon awaits Europe (and the rest too)

The latest BMW ad says it all "0.9% APR for 60 months, BMW will make the first two payments". 6 months back BMW salesmen would have snickered at any customer asking for those terms and politely pointed the customer to some Hyundai showroom. After that they would have giggled over how America is in the throes of a crisis all due to "greed", reminisced about the most notorious movie quote "Greed is good" (Michael Douglas playing Gordon Gekko) and patted themselves on how conservative Europe was riding it out.

So far US has grabbed the headlines on the financial crisis. However emerging information portrays that Europe, paryicularly the Euro zone, is in far serious trouble. European banks were of course restrained in lending to individual unlike US banks. Unlike US banks they lent freely to companies. BusinessWeek (BW) wryly summed it up "how about subprime companies? European corporations are deeply in hock, with $801 billion in corporate debt maturing this year—nearly one-third more than in the U.S "

The real icing, as per BW, is this, "The Continent's banks may not have written subprime mortgages, but it turns out they financed something worse: subprime countries. The former communist East is sinking into recession as Western banks choke off the easy credit that fueled Asian-style growth. Now, some pundits say, the former Soviet bloc countries are headed for a crisis on the scale of Asia's in 1997 and 1998."

Apparently greed is not an exclusive American vice.

The implications are sending shock waves through the continent. There are fear that the Euro zone itself might breakdown. Note that already there is lot of resentment by smaller countries against France and Germany, which act very arrogantly. Again, unilateralism, self-deluded grandstanding are all not exclusive to US as pompous Europeans want us to believe. "Before the introduction of the euro a decade ago, a country such as Spain could have let its currency fall to make its cars, wine, olive oil, and other goods more attractive to foreigners. That's not an option anymore. Instead, as Europe's highfliers are laid low, companies must cut wages to regain competitiveness. "People aren't aware that monetary union requires new ways to adjust to a recession," says Fernando Ballabriga, an economics professor at the ESADE business school in Barcelona"

A more severe implication is for the eastern bloc of post-Soviet countries which might become more susceptible to Kremlin's muscle flexing. Putin would freely use the crisis to further push Russia back to the old ways, snuffing out whatever little democracy there might be.

Already Hillary Clinton declared that in dealing with China, US desires more co-operation to fight the economic crises and that human rights is secondary. If Condoleeza Rice had said it the left would be crying "murder most foul". Its now the beloved Obama administration that says so.

Already the crises is taking its toll on charitable donations, human rights is now by the way side, nations are becoming bankrupt, one wonders:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
----- The second coming ,W.B. Yeats

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire -Self congratulation and some truth too

I had last written on "Slumdog Millionaire" on Feb 9th ( ). Today, March 1st, I was reading Vinod Mehta's editorial in Outlook and was struck by the parallels and examples we both had picked. To amplify my self-congratulation I'd like to quote Khushwant Singh who said Vinod Mehta is one of the most erudite editors in India.

The most striking parallel was both of us picking Katherine Mayo's book "Mother India". Here is my blog "Katherine Mayo's book "Mother India" published in the early 30's evoked an angry response from none less than the Mahatma who decried it as "a drain inspector's report". Here is what Vinod wrote, "As far as exploitation of poverty goes, Danny Boyle is up there with Katherine Mayo’s Mother India, which Gandhiji dismissed as a "drain inspector’s report". To put it in context, Vinod cited that in the same vein as I did and goes on to say how Indians hate the portrayal of truth than truth itself.

More strikingly he then cites how,from Satyajit Ray to Aravind Adiga are seen as "showcasing poverty". I had picked on the same names too.

Now over to Vinod Mehta's remaining editorial:

We are told Dharavi is a slum of vibrancy, enterprise, the triumph of the human spirit and a model of inter-communal living. Another collateral boon: superpower India has at last come to terms with its penury. It is comfortable with its poverty. If you will pardon my French, that’s bullshit!

Slums, whatever artistic gloss you put on them, are ugly, dark, squalid, crime-infested locations—a sign of a failed state rather than a shining one. However many Oscars India might collect, we should never lend legitimacy and romance to scars which should make us hang our heads in shame. There is nothing nice about a slum, even a five-star one like Dharavi, and the Indian state must avoid flirting with the myth that a slum is a beautiful place, inhabited by beautiful people doing beautiful things—an example to the rest of the country of how hard work and honest toil can make the rags-to-riches story possible.

In fact, Slumdog Millionaire should remind us of what we try to obscure and sanitise with pretty words. Already, our rulers with votebanks in mind, have, to an extent succeeded in making us accept the existence of slums as an inevitable consequence of urbanisation and globalisation. Slumdog Millionaire could further tranquilise our sensibilities to the distress and despair right under our nose.

I too celebrate the success of Slumdog Millionaire. Pity about the slums.