Saturday, November 16, 2013

Nehru, Modi, Eelam: Aravindan Neelakandan's Canard

Aravindan Neelakandan's latest blog on Nehru is an admirable exercise in manipulation of facts. Neelakandan is a proponent of strident Hindutva with a website named, what else, ''. Nehru and Gandhi are probably the most hated individuals by Modi's prospective voters.

Neelakandan seeking to justify a Modi regime sought to 'expose' Nehru on the occasion of, of course, Nehru's birthday. He alleges that Nehru signed a pact with Sri Lankan Prime Minister John Kotelawala that made thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils 'stateless'. Neelakandan's new found love for Eelam has an agenda. He quotes Nehru's comrade V.K.Krishna Menon that Nehru signed the pact with little thought of what it would do Tamils and he did so to win international acclaim. Then Neelakandan conflates Nehru-Liaquat pact as a similar effort that 'paved the way for genocide of Hindus in Pakistan'. All those pacts led to, Neelakandan alleges, the genocide of Hindus in what was East Pakistan in 1971 and in Sri Lanka in 2009. In the passing he takes refuge in Rajaji's criticisms of Nehru.

When the sun set in the British empire they left behind countries that were mangled and mired in problems. The British had imported cheap labor, by the thousands for many years, into Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu. Its a thorny issue with grey areas. Sri Lankans felt that indentured laborers who came as immigrants should go back to India, irrespective of how long they had lived in Sri Lanka. Many were there for generations. Before Indians jump indignantly let us remember why Assam erupted into a violent revolution. If one looks, just cursorily, at the Assam agreement one could see how draconian it was. Sri Lanka acted likewise by asking India to take back all immigrants. Nehru had been in dialogue with Senanayaka first and then Kotelawala.

Nehru invited Kotelawala to Delhi for talks. After three days of talks Jan 16th-18th 1954 they signed a pact that was a tortured document about what kind of people Sri Lanka would accept as citizens and who, India, should take back. Fairly Sri Lankan Tamils were not happy. Thats a fair criticism. But Neelakantan goes further in alleging that Nehru was villainous.

Writing on the Nehru-Senanayake talks Valli Kanapathi Pillai writes in 'Citizenship and Statelessness in Sri Lanka' that Nehru "refused to compromise on the interests of the Indian Tamils for the sake of bilateral relationship. In all the negotiations that Nehru had with Sri Lanka over the Indian Tamils he resisted any suggestion of large scale repatriation of Indians".

Kanapathi Pillai does quote Vytilingam, as cited by Neelakandan, that the Tamils felt 'they have been tied hand and foot and delivered to John Kotelawala'. Pillai also extends his criticism that Nehru had initiated a change in stance with Kotelawala and for the first time accepted 'repatriation'. Pillai is categorical that this was done for 'bilateral relations'. The pact was a complete failure and Pillai lays the blame all around for that. The next big pact was the Sirima-Shastri pact which took the repatriation agreement to new levels.

In the course of history such deal making is common. It is distasteful but it is done. The crux of the issue is that Nehru did not 'sell out' Tamils to get a feather in his cap from the international community as Neelakantan alleges.

What Neelakantan does not place in context is the precarious nature of the Indian state in 1954. Barely 7 years after Independence and a steady stream of communal riots until 1950 posed serious threats to the very survival of the nation. By alleging that Nehru sold out Tamils Neelakantan moves to the real objective of painting Nehru as one who sold out Hindus in the Nehru-Liaquat pact.

On the Nehru-Liaquat pact Neelakandan is certainly on far slippery ground. His usual technique is to find a good factual nugget and then use the credibility thus gained to propagate an unrelated falsehood. Neelakandan, an open Hindutva proponent, sought to establish that Nehru was a habitual 'sellout' and used the messy Sri Lankan example to establish a pattern for his more important allegation that Nehru laid the groundwork for genocide of thousands of Hindus. I need to wash my hands for typing that sentence.

Nehru wrote to Clememt Attlee on 20th March 1950 and it bears some extensive quotes. Citing that Muslims hold high positions in Indian government Nehru contrasts it with Pakistan, "In Pakistan the Hindus did not and do not occupy any important place", "the party itself is communal and thus there is not even a chance for a non-Muslim to influence its work or decisions". Referring to India's efforts to bring back Muslims from areas that they fled from Nehru contrasts with Sind 'practically no Hindu population left, except for the their services were required...Sind was thus added to the West Punjab and the Frontier Province as an area where the minority problem had practically been solved by the elimination of the minority".

After signing the pact with Liaquat Nehru addressed the parliament at length. "As I sat hour after hour, discussing these matters of grave import with the Prime minister of Pakistan, I saw an unending stream of unhappy, fear-stricken refugees, uprooted from their home, facing a dark and unknown future. I experienced their sorrow and misery and I prayed for guidance as to how this could be stopped". It was "essentially a human problem in which human lives and human suffering were involved in a measure that was almost unthinkable".

The partitioning of India created a humanitarian disaster that was unprecedented in history and thankfully never seen again either. 10 million lives were uprooted in a mass exodus of Hindus and Muslims across the sub-continent. The wounds festered for long. And 3 years, when the Nehru-Liaquat pact happens, is nothing in the time scale of a nation's wounded history. Both countries were ready to erupt into war and civil wars. In 2013 we cannot even fathom those perilous days.

India had far more minorities than Pakistan did and any lesser secular leadership than Nehru could have easily seen the country descend into horrific bloodshed that could possibly have torn apart a nascent country.

Nehru-Liaquat pact centered around the right of refugees to return home, be provided safe conveyance for visits to dispose property, minorities to be assured, in both countries, of liberty. Nehru addresses the concern that Pakistan was a theocratic state and cites Liaquat's assurances of a modern liberal constitution. Liaquat did indeed write the 'objectives' for Pakistan. Then Nehru speaks of India's secularism. "This (secularism) does not mean that religion ceases to be an important factor in the private life of the individual. It means the state and religion are not tied up together".

Worried over the war mongering of Pakistan Nehru writes a really long 7 page letter to all chief ministers on August 1st 1951. Nehru recounts a vast public meeting, attended by 200,000 according to his estimate. It was raining heavily yet people stayed  to listen to their leader. Nehru writes that he spoke to this vast crowd about the recent war mongering by Pakistan and how India had nothing to be afraid of by detailing the steps taken by India. His "comparison of the 'clenched fist' of Pakistan with the Asoka Chakra, our symbol of peace and righteousness, evoked the loudest applause". Then Nehru goes on to give a summary of how UK and USA are molly coddling Pakistan. The letter gives a history lesson too. (I hope Neelakantan loves Nehru's fondness for Asoka Chakra)

Here is a leader who addresses a parliament at length laying out the rationale for a treaty while completely aware of how venal a theocratic state can treat its minorities. When a neighboring country rattles its saber Nehru addresses the common man, counseling caution, unlike Modi in Trichy. Then he proceeds to write a lengthy letter to state chief ministers like a CEO would write to his chief officials. Actually Nehru treats the CM's with respect and as equals. Sadly his daughter and grandson learned none of this. This is the man that Neelakandan says laid the foundations for genocide of Hindus.

It is instructive to compare Patel, Modiu's hero here. To Modi and his voters it is an article of faith that Gandhi out of partiality toward Nehru foisted him to Prime Ministership and that if Patel had been PM India would have, without a doubt, fared better.

The only decent biography of Patel is by Rajmohan Gandhi. Neelakantan might disagree with the book because the author is Gandhi's son. Patel is an honorable son of India who rendered a great service to the country at a time of great peril. However Patel was not Nehru. Rajmohan quotes a report from Hindustan Times where Patel says "every loyal muslim must be treated as a brother". Rajmohan quotes it approvingly to illustrate how well disposed Patel was towards Muslims. Little does Rajmohan, a hindu, realize how grating to a muslim's ears must the words be. What does Patel mean by 'loyal muslim should be treated as brethren". Till today one can hear those words. Why did not Patel tell Muslims "every loyal Hindu will be your brethren". A Hindu's loyalty is axiomatic and is assumed. A Muslim's loyalty is a  pre-requisite to be treated as brethren.

Angered by the exodus of Hindus from Pakistan Patel wrote to Nehru "we would have no alternative left except to send out Muslims in equal numbers". Thankfully Nehru, as PM, discredited that shameful advice. But Patel, the Sardar that he is, corrected himself and stood by Nehru to support the pact with Liaquat.

Patel and Nehru are a good tag team. Unfortunately Patel died too soon in 1950 barely when India's constitution was adopted and the country became a republic. During the constitutional debates Patel ridiculed that there 'should be no restrictions on the Press, the lathi or the bullet'. Patel wanted, Rajmohan writes, 'citizen's right of speech and action to be balanced by society's right of order'. Of course Nehru stood for greater individual freedom. Where Nehru, enamored by Soviet collectivization, was eager to grab farm land, Patel stood firmly against it.

It takes a really malicious mind to connect Liaquat-Nehru pact with Hindu's killed in East Pakistan in 1971. East Pakistan was engulfed in total civil war where not just Hindus were killed. The civil war condition created a refugee crises prompting Indira Gandhi to act decisively. Vajpayee then called Indira Gandhi as 'Durga devi'.

Yes Rajaji opposed Nehru particularly on the economic policy front. Rajaji correctly labeled Nehru's economic vision as 'license permit raj'. Rajaji and K.M.Munshi formed the libertarian Swatantra party. Their declarations read like the campaign rhetoric of USA's modern day GOP replete with references to 'small government'. Later the same Rajaji would join hands with DMK to defeat Congress. I'd love to know if Neelakantan liked that too.

Rajaji in fact paved the way for DMK with his ill conceived plan to close down schools to address budget deficit. He compounded a bad policy with an ill thought out statement that children need not idle at home due to shortened hours at school but could help out parents in their chores. Rajaji's bete noire EVR made political hay by alleging, incorrectly, that Rajaji, a brahmin, was telling non-Brahmins to go do their parents jobs. Kamaraj, a non-Brahmin illiterate, who succeeded Rajaji invested in education and revolutionized primary education in Tamil Nadu for generations to come. Rajaji's ideas of laissez faire government would not have suited a nation born after centuries of colonial rule and still wracked by casteism.

I cannot comprehend the depravity to which a mind can subscribe to when it ties the tragic 2009 Sri Lankan civil war to a failed bill of 1954. In a mind clouded with prejudice and hatred complexities of history, facts and truths are inconveniences. The tragic denouement of a people's struggle for rights should be rightfully blamed on both Sinhala leadership and most importantly on Prabakaran a Frankenstein's monster unleashed by India under Indira Gandhi.

Neelakandans diatribe is suffused with logical inconsistencies. By tarnishing Nehru as one who cared nothing for Tamils he only supports the Dravidian ideology of separatism which too alleged that Delhi does not care for Chennai. As a votary of Grand India I am sure Neelakandan would recoil with horror at that idea.

The mask falls off when Neelakandan tars British TV channel that exposed Sri Lankan war crimes as having an insidious agenda of some commercial gain. If Channel 4 wanted commercial gains they would rather not expose Rajapakse. A simple logic like that is inconvenient to his vitriolic narrative.

The worst part is where Neelakandan, with no basis, alleges that Prabakaran's outfit was funded by Western Christian organizations. Western Christian organizations are a perpetual bogey for a Hindutuva proponent. Prabhakaran's funding apparatus was based on extortions, drug trafficking, the elaborate web of fundraising by expatriate diaspora. But then why bother with truth when it would spoil a hypothesis.

Neelakandan cites obscure quotes to show that Modi and RSS were Eelam supporters. Just recently the BJP was in favor of Manmohan attending the Sri Lankan hosted Commonwealth summit going against the prevailing sentiment in Tamil Nadu, including the state unit of BJP. BJP was in favor because, they too, overlooked local interest in the name of bi-lateral relations and strategic needs.

Neelakandan is no fool. He is a very intelligent man who works with a laser like focus on promoting a militant Hindu regime. He, as RSS and BJP wants, has to tear down Nehru and Gandhi to erect the edifice of a Hindu theocratic state. The most indomitable force that stands in his way is the cosmopolitan secular outlook of Nehru and Gandhi. This is why Neelakantan and his ilk assiduously undermine the very idea of 'secularism' a vital glue that holds together a nation. Advani coined the term 'pseudo secularism' and reaped votes.

The faults and vote bank politics of Congress is being exploited to the hilt by Neelakantan to not just getting Modi elected but to a complete re-ordering of Indian society. India is a very unique country. Many accommodations and compromises that were done for the sake of minorities was to address a tortured birth and a situation that had no parallel in history. Let us not forget that Hindu's too were molly coddled by way of reservations, specious tax laws and the like.

People like Neelakandan should not be ignored as 'oh well thats him. Don't take him seriously'. People like him should be exposed, consistently and without fail, for what they truly are. Fascists.


1. Citizenship and Statelessness in Sri Lanka - Valli Kanapathipillai. Its actually available as google book.

2.Refer to page 244-253 in thius excellent collection of 'Documents of Sri Lanka Foreign Policy:1947-65. This contains exact docs of the Nehru-Kotelawala pact, Sirima-Shastry pact etc

3. Nehru's letter to Attlee, Speech to Parliament, letter to chief ministers were from "The essential writings of Jawaharlal Nehru" Volume 2 Edited by S.Gopal & Uma Iyengar. Refer pages 341-351 and 363-369

4. Patel's quotes were from "Patel: A Life" by Rajmohan Gandhi. Refer pages 497-500.

5. Assam student revolt

6. Another corroboration of Kanapathipillai's material is by a less regarded journalist at

7. A short intro on Nehru-Liaquat pact by a Pakistani web site

7. Aravindan Neelakantan's blog

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why Ayn Rand Still Matters and Still Irritates

What unites Allan Bloom, Alexander Cockburn, Gore Vidal, Jeyamohan and Ka.Na.Subramaniam? An unmitigated contempt of Ayn Rand, her philosophy and a puzzlement over why she enthralls millions across generations.

Angered by how the idea of 'relativism' was spreading across the academia Allan Bloom burst forth in 'Closing of the American mind'. Bloom is scandalized by the idea that students, out of political correctness, would ask "who am I to judge?" In the chapter 'Books' he narrates how he used to ask every new student about books that influenced them. Snidely he says 'every now and then a girl student would cite Ayn Rand'. Gore Vidal wrote "this odd little woman is attempting to give moral sanction to greed and selfishness". Jeyamohan wrote a series of blogs laced with slander, misunderstandings and indignation about Ayn Rand the writer and philosopher. He hated both the parts equally vehemently.

A poll quoted by two recent and acclaimed biographies said that Americans had cited her writings as most influential after the Bible. Ted Turner, founder of CNN, read Atlas Shrugged and erected 200 billboards throughout US asking "who is John Galt". She addressed throngs of students in overflowing auditoriums across universities where the professors taught their students to despise her. Her appearance, twice in a year, in the Johnny Carson show drew 50 million. Her last public address was in April 1981 at the Ford hall where, Anne Heller writes, she railed against 'creationism', 'family values' and other bogies of the Reagan revolution. She died less than a year in March 1982, sound of mind, unlike what Jeyamohan and rumor mongers have always insisted.

                                                          (From Wikipedia)

Ayn Rand and Arthur Koestler were both born in 1905 in worlds apart. Rand and Koestler were both born into wealth. Both of their parents lost their wealth in the aftermath of the First World War. Rand's father's business was confiscated and they were refugees in the country they were born into. Koestler's father lost his wealth but was not pauperized or exiled. Boris Pasternak would create a scene in his book where Dr Zhivago comes to his palatial home only to see it occupied by peasants who indignantly  ask "why do you need such a big home". That was reality to Rand.

Koestler wrote 'Darkness at noon', a book that laid bare the monstrosity of Soviet state, in 1940. Orwell followed with his classic 'Animal farm' in 1945. Later Arthur Koestler, Louis Fischer, Stephen Spender, Andre Gide and others wrote a collection of essays that was published as 'The God that failed' in 1949about their disillusionment with Soviet Russia, not necessarily communism itself or of Marxist ideals. Koestler would narrate how he got drawn into communism. Guilt. Guilty of his riches while many suffered around him. But it was Ayn Rand who published her first major novel 'We the living' in 1936. It was path breaking as a work of fiction in that it was stridently anti-communist, not just anti-Soviet.

To understand a writer one has to travel to the socio-political climate of the era in which the writer lived. Ayn Rand's first major novel 'We the living' was stridently anti-Communist. Published in 1936 it went against not just the grain but a wall of public opinion. Crawling out of the great depression US was a fertile breeding ground for communists and communist sympathizers. The intellectuals were in the van guard of the pink thirties. It was also the era of FDR when liberalism was triumphant. A conservative, let alone, an anti-Communist was a pariah in those days.

Ayn Rand went where not even Orwell could bring himself to go. Orwell remained a socialist. Many who were disillusioned by communism were more disillusioned by Soviet Russia than of communism itself. Till today only Ayn Rand connected the dots from Marxism to USSR. Only Rand insisted that totalitarianism is inherent to the Marxist philosophy and not an accidental aberration. Tina Rosenberg, a left sympathizer, in her 1995 Pulitzer and National Book Award winning book "The Haunted Land" underscores that, almost without fail, communist countries have been totalitarian and hesitatingly adds maybe there is more than a coincidence.

Koestler details in 'God that failed' how communists would target the mind first and thereafter always. Truth was malleable. Facts were discarded as 'mechanistic'. It is against this totalitarian vision that Ayn Rand rebelled and burst forth in a paean to individualism in 'Fountainhead'.

To understand Howard Roark we have to learn about how only in America 'construction' became a national avocation to shape a destiny. Transcontinental railroad, Empire State building, the skyscrapers of New York, the bridges of New York City, the New York subway were all engineering marvels unprecedented in human history. The Mayan temples, Angkor Wat, CN tower in Canada etc are all nothing compared to the Empire State Building of NYC. It is one thing to construct an observatory tower at hundreds of feet or a pile of rocks to a deity but it is another to construct a living space where thousands have to live and work. Just the disposal of trash from a skyscraper is a science. The Empire State Building was possible because of new techniques in building that newer materials made possible and thats why it could be built taller than the Woolworth building. The ESB is not a building of vanity to boast of just height, its not built to make man feel small. ESB has a function and the form follows the function.

Ayn Rand modeled Roark after the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. But Roark, as any fictional character should be, is more than Wright. Later both Wright and Rand denied Roark was modeled after Wright. The character of the second hander, Peter Keating, was inspired by a chance encounter of Ayn Rand. Rand asked a woman, by chance, what she desires in life. The woman answered in terms of everything people around her had. A second hander. A moocher. Ellsworth Toohey was modeled on the smooth talking leftist intellectual Harold Laski.

The 'individual' was a recent idea. Across civilizations man lived in 'relation' to others until recent times. Stephen Greeenblatt in his Pulitzer and Nationall Book AWard winning 'Swerve' writes compellingly on 15th century Europe "The household, the kinship network, the guild, the corporation-these were the building blocks of personhood. Independence and self reliance had no cultural purchase; indeed, they could be scarcely conceived, let alone prized. Identity came with a precise, well understood place in a chain of command and obedience".

To Ayn Rand and her readers like me there is only one form of government that is compatible with individualism, liberal democracy. There is only one economic system that makes democracy what it is: Capitalism. Choosing rulers, choosing how we live and choosing how we earn, what we earn are all an inseparable whole.

Krushchev taunted Eisenhower that for all the prosperity of the western economic system it is nothing but a system that caters to man's selfishness. Eisenhower told his aides that he was left speechless to counter that. Ayn Rand was livid. To her and me capitalism is a moral good that is to be pursued not just because it tames man's vices best but because it is the only proper expression of all that man is.

It took a nineteenth century American businessman, Henry Ford, to say "make money and be happy. Make more money and be happier". Liberal economist and thinker A.O.Hirschman in "The passions and the interests:Political argument for capitalism before its triumph" quotes sociologist Max Weber "now, how could an activity, which was at best ethically tolerated, turn into a calling in the sense of Benjamin Franklin?" The activity that Weber referred to was 'making money'. Naturally Ayn Rand wrote that only in America was the phrase 'to make money' was invented.

When American economy crumbled in 2008 Ayn Rand was unfairly tarnished. The greed of Wall Street CEO's is not what she wrote or epitomized. Rand's heroes and heroine 'created' and put their wealth at stake to prove their vision was correct. Her heroes did not have golden parachutes. Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart not only pledge their wealth in pursuit of their dream they also place their own lives at stake when they ride the first train over a bridge made of Rearden steel.

A factory in 'Atlas Shrugged' puts into practice Marx's maxim 'from each according to his ability to each according to his need'. The factory goes bust and a participant from that dream project narrates the story to Dagny Taggart. It was not parody. Robert Owen is credited with coining the word 'socialism' and he carried out a similar experiment, in reality, where else but America, in 1825. Four decades before Marx's tract 'communist manifesto' was published. It was utter disaster.

V.P.Singh exulted when a boy enrolled in the prestigious AIIMS under the Mandal scheme. Later when Singh was diagnosed with leukemia he promptly came to USA. It is this 'altruism' that Rand deplored and instead spoke of the 'virtue of selfishness'. In her definition selfishness is NOT grabbing what is not one's but being true to one's own self. One's own conviction and independence. In a way I can say every freedom fighter, including Gandhi, was fighting for their own independence first. It was not altruism. Refusal to cooperate with a colonizer, however materially rewarding it maybe, is a perfectly Randian thing to do. Being rewarded materially by cooperating with totalitarianism is the kind of money making that would not give one joy about being rich.

Rand was not against charity but she did not consider, rightly, charity a pre-requisite to be called 'good'. Corporate Social Responsibility is the greatest modern con. A corporation owes only one thing and that is profits to its investors. It is unto investors, as individuals, to be charitable if the choose to be charitable. Take away the charity related tax deduction in USA and lets see US philanthropy plummet. Charity is not free.

When Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren rail that an individual owes his or her success to the community then one is reminded of Ayn Rand. This is why she still matters to people like me and this is why, nearly 60 years since its publication, 'Atlas Shrugged' still irritates many others.

Exxon Mobil the oil giant was kicked out of Venezuela by communist firebrand Hugo Chavez, a brainless thug. Exxon then deftly maneuvered in court to have all the money, in an escrow account, that Chavez was eyeing, to be frozen. The story is narrated with racy details in Steve Coll's 'Private Empire'. One cannot but think of Ellis Wyatt in 'Atlas Shrugged', who, when his oil fields are nationalized, torches them all leaving behind a note "you asked for it". Yes Exxon had the Valdez oil spill disaster. But they learned. Later Exxon, Steve Coll writes, made a fetish out of safety and safety procedures with absolute zero tolerance for negligence. After Chavez's thugs took over the oil fields of Exxon all safety notices were ripped off. Accidents in Chavez's state owned refineries spiked and production tanked. Thank you Ayn Rand.

Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek became the apostles of capitalism and won Nobel prizes. In Friedman's lectures and books capitalism is presented as the most pragmatic choice that delivers effectively as an economic system. To Ayn Rand capitalism was a moral good because man, to be true to his self, has to be capitalist.

To E.O.Wilson man is biologically altruist because lower organisms show altruism. Richard Dawkins's 'Selfish gene' was promoted by the right wing to say that man was selfish because its in his genes. Ayn Rand would have violently disagreed with both and with biological determinism as an idea because man is not just a sum total of biology. Man has a mind. Man exercises volitional choice. Choice means living with consequences too. It is insulting  to reduce man to his biology.

Warren Buffet was Barack Obama's bogeyman in arguing for the rich to be taxed more. In a telling oped in NYT he wrote that it is sham propaganda that when the rich are taxed more they will reduce their investments in order to reduce their tax bill. He correctly argued that nobody refrains from doing what they do best, including choosing investments that will give high yields, just to reduce a tax bill. But therein lies the rub. He expects Atlas to carry the world with blood streaking on his face. Giving the intellectual clarity to spot Orren Boyle's of the world is why I am thankful to Ayn Rand and 'Atllas Shrugged'.

Ayn Rand asked Oppenheimer, whom she held in regard, if she can say that the Atom Bomb was invented in America because its a free country unlike USSR and Germany. Oppenheimer agreed. There is lot of truth to this profound observation. The USSR beat US on every space mission in the space race but eventually fell behind and finally became a technological dinosaur simply because there was no freedom in USSR. It is true of China today. China may overtake US on GDP but it will never overtake US on per capita income and more importantly on innovation. China can be called Ayn Rand's laboratory. In China one is free to make money but one is not free to speak or think freely. Can it produce Nobel Laureates? Can China produce a Steve Jobs even? China will only be Jobs's factory but never produce its own Jobs. David Hoffman in his Pulitzer winning 'Dead Hand: The cold war and the arms race" narrates an interesting incident. When Gorbachev visited Canada a Russian diplomat showed him an Apple computer and this is a wonder of the world. A French analyst wrote in Washington Post that France can never produce a Steve Jobs.

The Silicon Valley is a distinct American creation that is impossible in any other country on earth. Rockefeller, Carnegie, Zuckerman, Gates, Jobs, J.P.Morgan are all American creations. Only in America is their story possible. One cannot appreciate Steve Jobs without understanding Ayn Rand.

George Orwell wanted salary caps for CEO's. In East Germany a chemistry professor and a brick layer earned almost same. No wonder they could not produce a single chemical worth talking about. Elizabeth Warren who taught part time in Harvard had a take home pay of $300,000. Yes. I wish she thanked capitalism.

For all her love and preaching of capitalism Ayn Rand was hated and loathed by the nascent conservative movement led by William Buckley. Rand's atheism and strident individualism were the chief turn offs. Rand supported abortion because a fetus, a cellular organism with no brain, is not an 'individual'. Rand joined Barry Goldwater in opposing the civil rights bill, though both loathed segregation, because they saw it as a power grab by the federal government. Goldwater ran desegregated offices in his business even before the bill. Buckley had one time communist spy and now reformed republican Whittaker Chambers eviscerate 'Atlas Shrugged' in his magazine.

So what of her philosophy itself? What about 'objectivism'? Do readers hold on to 'Galt's speech', that runs into 60 pages which she wrote over 2 years, as gospel? Her books sell by the hundreds of thousands every year. A large majority take only vignettes from her book as lessons for life. Nobody lives according to every word in the bible much less according to Rand's book. The power of her fiction lies in the fact that it leaves behind images that people can relate to in everyday life. Obama, Warren, Chavez, Exxon, Jamie Dimon, Ted Turner, Steve Jobs bring to mind images of her characters and the situations etc. It is silly to think, as Jeyamohan does, that Ayn Rand readers are mentally sick like her. Neither are true. As much as reading Gita or Bible does not make every reader a saint so also reading Ayn Rand does not make every reader go about thinking they are John Galt.

Did Ayn Rand live like she preached? If she failed what does it say of her philosophy itself?  What is her place in the history of ideas? I'll weave those answers in my rebuttal to Jeyamohan.


1. Goddess of the market: Ayn Rand and the American right -- Jennifer Burns.
2. Ayn Rand and the world she made -- Anne C Heller
3. The God that failed - Edited by Richard Crossman. Essays by Arthur Koestler, Stephen Spender, Louis Fischer, Andre Gide.
4. Gore Vidal on Ayn Rand -

5. Alexander Cockburn on Ayn Rand "He banged away relentlessly against what he called “the criminal tendencies of the executive class,” writing in 2002: “The finest schools in America produced a criminal elite that stole the store in less than a decade. Was it all the fault of Ayn Rand, of Carter and Kennedy, of the Chicago School, of Hollywood, of God’s demise? You’d think there’s at least a Time cover in it.”  ---

6. Closing of the American mind -- Allan Bloom

7. Darkness at noon -- Arthur Koestler

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Jeyamohan and his opponents: A tale of mutual hatred and contempt

Love him or hate him but one cannot ignore Jeyamohan today. Not even Jeyakanthan was so divisive. Jeyamohan has supporters (not just readers) and opponents (not critics). The two camps are at their vociferous worst. The reader and critic are usually marginalized. When Jeyamohan delivers a speech his supporters will flood him with letters calling the speech the greatest political tract since Plato's Republic. His opponents will take to social media and ridicule the speech as if it is a Santhanam comedy. Invariably the latter will get a verbal lashing by Jeyamohan himself on his website. The democratization of information by way of blogging has liberated both Jeyamohan and his opponents. Both use the independence of a non-academic atmosphere liberally to further their own agenda. (Of course as a blogger I too use that independence).

Jeyamohan often laments lack of institutional structures to create intellectuals. To give him due credit he is doing what he can to address that lacuna. What I've to lament is the lack of an institutional structure, not just academic, for a critic to opine freely and be taken seriously. What Tamil Nadu lacks is the professional critic. The absence of an institution like New York Times Book Review or NYRB or TLS facilitates people like Jeyamohan and others to speak freely and unafraid of being held accountable. The freedom is laudable but it is not always used responsibly. I am not talking about censorship. I abhor it. When a blogger or FB commentator disagrees, however validly, Jeyamohan can dismiss it without as much as a second thought asking "what is your qualification". The implication is "I am a writer, you are not. You lack the credentials to criticize me". If Salman Rushdie asked Michiko Kakutani "how many books you wrote" it would be laughed out. To be fair to Jeyamohan who knows maybe he would welcome a Kakutani in Tamil Nadu. Or, maybe not.

Jeyamohan's recent column in 'Tamil The Hindu' proposing an idea, to write Tamil textbooks in English transliteration, to entice Tamil readers who love reading in English than any Tamil book, kicked up a fire storm. Until that column his last big fire storm was scolding the entire Tamil society just because an audience walked out, due to rain, during a speech by him. He literally hauled, an entire society, over coals just because his speech flopped in one venue. Miffed by that attitude I had meant to write a series of blogs holding him up to his own standards. Unfortunately then too, I had figured, inadvertently, in that blog of his. Jeyamohan, gentlemanly, published a regret. My thanks for that gesture.

Bernard Shaw, an Irishman, wanted to reform the English language and even left behind a large part of his fortune for that. The British did not react with indignation or heap scorn or have political leaders issue a shameless condemnation asking "how dare you, an Irishman, say this". Yet that is exactly what happened in Tamil Nadu. Jeyamohan is lucky in his enemies. He had deftly pre-empted his attackers with a prebuttal that anticipated such attacks and he had swatted the attacks with scornful prose.

Lost in the din was the question of what was Jeyamohan's qualification to pose such a question. The British ignored Shaw, thankfully. They know what parts of Shaw are to be ignored including his penchant for Stalin and socialism. Only in Tamil Nadu could Jeyamohan write an article like that and get away with it. One has to only read Steven Pinker to realize that how we learn languages, how we verbalize, how we learn grammar etc are the domain of a cognitive psychologist or a linguist. When I read Steven Pinker's 'Words and Rules' I told a cousin, ruefully, how I wish some native cognitive psychologist would rise in Tamil Nadu to write such a book.

The following criticisms are offered without any malice owing to recent squabbles. These criticisms were supposed to be woven into a cogent article and published, in Tamil, with help from a friend, as response to the tirade post-Thiruppur. Yet that did not happen but the necessity is here to voice them. Also, these mistakes have been pointed out to Jeyamohan in letters that were exchanged with respect and cordiality. I've not seen any retraction or correction. The intention is not to insult or shame into oblivion a noted writer and public intellectual. In fact many times I wonder if Jeyamohan's readers are aware of his limitations as he himself does.

While rubbishing my criticisms the worst part was when Jeyamohan flung the racist charge. In doing so he behaved exactly like his detractors of today who called him 'Nair'. Jeyamohan has used the racist charge about Western authors and intellectuals who happen to be white. Some reader sent him a youtube clip of a discussion between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Kraus. Kraus and Dawkins were discussing Kraus's theory of how the universe came from nothing. Kraus and Dawkins are atheists and revel in mocking religion. Jeyamohan's reader is peeved at that mocking of religion. Jeyamohan's reply exercises his individual liberty of disagreeing with Dawkins but descends into, what Americans call, using the race card (see Reference below). In a shocking line he further adds "The Durant couple who wrote 'story of civlization' thought that the importance of vedanta and Buddhist nihilism is less, by half, of western philosophy. Their nonchalance will infuriate any Easterner" (see exact Tamil quote in References).

I wrote to Jeyamohan asking, very politely, 'why did you say so'. Will Durant's 'Story of philosophy' was a runaway success and a critically acclaimed book even today. Durant was nevertheless realistic about the shortcomings of his book. He wrote in a preface "The worst sin of all-though the critics do not seem to have noticed it- was the omission of Chinese and Hindu philosophy. Even a 'story' of philosophy that begins with Socrates and has nothing to say about Lao-Tze and Confucius, Mencius and Chwang-tze, Buddha and Shankara, is provincially incomplete. ...The first volume of 'the story of civilzation' attempts to atone for this ommission"'. 

I wrote to Jeyamohan "And, atone, he did in in that volume titled "Our Oriental heritage". Durant pays glorious tribute to Indian philosophy, literature and heritage in general. His chapter on Buddha and Sankara, in typical Durant style, is glowing prose. Durant in fact traveled to India to do research first hand. He met Gandhi too. As far as I read those chapters I did not see any attitude of superciliousness. Durant is not Macaulay or Churchill or a neo-imperialist historian." Jeyamohan, to be fair, said he would check his notes when he gets back from travel. I had also asked him that this is only for a private exchange. (Attention to a disgruntled Boston blogger with whom I had dinner, 'I do not seek publicity'). I thought Jeyamohan at some stage will publish a correction. Today when I re-read the blog calling Dawkins a racist I felt I was in good company.

Two wrongs do not make it right. The following criticism is not to rationalize my mistake. But it is instructive to see if Jeyamohan measures up to the standards he asks of others. Chimamanda Adichie born and graduated from Nigeria emigrated to US and later graduated in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. She became a fellow at Princeton University and wrote the critically acclaimed "Half of a Yellow Sun", based on the Biafran War, which won the prestigious Orange Prize. Later she won the MacArthur genius award.

Jeyamohan is perfectly within his rights to call her fiction trashy. Its his liberty. Yet he shocked by writing "Adichie, with no roots in Nigeria, born and brought up in USA, wrote this novel that stereotyped Nigeria unlike my well researched novel on the same country. The book was unduly praised in the west". The worst part was where he alleges cooly "who knows whether she herself wrote the book.I think several hands were involved in the book". Not content with all that slander the icing was this:"who knows why the west does all this. They probably plant books like these like landmines to destabilize Nigeria. A river of blood will flow and Hollywood can make a Hotel Rwanda movie again". Pray, my dear readers, where does one begin to get agitated about this naked slander.

Instead of looking at any criticism as just criticism Jeyamohan often attributes racism and inferiority complex. He often alleges that one who criticizes does so out of a keen sense of failure by self. What are we to make of him when he alleges "in my opinion Chinua Achebe is not at all an African writer. He writes about Africa for general consumption. He writes according to our expectations". Again, Jeyamohan is perfectly within his rights to form such an opinion. To be sure he wrote this in 2009. The first time I heard of Achebe was when he died and every major newspaper wrote glowing obituaries of him. Every obituary noted specifically that Achebe wrote fiction about Africa that would not be typical of African fiction thus far published and that he consciously wanted to expose western biases. New York Times obituary notes "“Things Fall Apart” gave expression to Mr. Achebe’s first stirrings of anti-colonialism and a desire to use literature as a weapon against Western biases. As if to sharpen it with irony, he borrowed from the Western canon itself in using as its title a line from Yeats’s apocalyptic poem". I'll not debase myself by wondering that lack of international recognition in the scale of Achebe motivated Jeyamohan to write thus. 

Capitalizing on the lack of professional critics when untrained critics, including me, seek to criticize he often finds convenient grounds, sometimes justifiable too, to ridicule the criticisms. But, in doing so, he will gladly discard even the valid parts. He did the same on two occasions with my criticisms. Going back to the Ayn Rand affair I had pointed out several important corrections. That letter, I gladly concede, was poorly constructed. An indignant Jeyamohan rubbished it in entirety. He persisted in saying that Ayn Rand died a lunatic. She did not. Its one of the greatest myths about her. He had said that to show that her philosophy was so pernicious to the mind that even its proponent went mad. I'll reserve further analyses of the Ayn Rand affair for later blogs. The most recent one talked about 'creativity' versus 'inspiration' without so much as even deigning to address it he glided by that.

Sometimes his ideological hatred blinds him and leads him to serious misunderstandings. I do sincerely believe that he has an ideological axe to grind about the west and grind it, he does, without fail. His views on holocaust mirror that of a hateful anti-semite's. In an earlier blog, after my visit to Auschwitz, I had detailed them. I still dont think he is anti-semtic. When somebody says 'holocaust has not been subjected to strict historical analyses' and adds "I am currently reading David Irving" then one wonders if he would study the issue of slavery through a KKK handbook. 

Jeyamohan's understanding of world history is often patchy. In a sweeping line he attributes, what is incorrectly often referred to as Europe's 'Dark Ages', to almost a totalitarian control of a continent by Christian Church. The 'dark ages' are more appropriately called 'medieval era' (which he does say so). Concluding the chapter on Aristotle Durant writes "and then darkness descended over Europe". The next philosopher is Francis Bacon in the 16th century. Between the collapse of the Roman empire and the birth of Reformation, Renaissance and Enlightenment all of Europe was in a constant churn in which religion played a part but the Church was nowhere near the omnipotent totalitarian power that Jeyamohan makes it out to be. The medieval era had its own intellectual churning and much of it had its roots in theological debates about the relationship of man, society, god, faith and reason. Durant calling it 'darkness' was only to refer to the period of unrest when no dominant philosophy or philosopher riled the roost. But Jeyamohan's slip is in attributing an incorrect cause simply because of his entrenched hatred against the Church as an 'established religion'. He does love the Bible though. (I'd disagree with calling either Christianity or Islam as 'organized religion'. They have enough variety and push and pull within them creating enough divergences. There are local eddies. On the contrary Hinduism is not as 'disorganized' as we might think. The lack of a central pontiff is not the the only reason to call it 'unorganized'. Thats a different debate)

I've digressed a bit into areas that I should have reserved for a fuller criticism. The readers letters published on his site are the most puzzling. Only he and another writer do that. I am yet to see any critical email being published. Almost all the letters are sycophantic and fawning. I do not expect any man, let alone one who has achieved much through his intellect, to take joy in publishing critical opinion of oneself. Its too much to expect. But I wish he publishes some decently critical letters. If he says that he receives none like that I'd say thats because of how critics have been treated in the past. 

I'd like to conclude by saying that reading Jeyamohan is quite an education. I'll never say that his writings are empty. That's downright silly. Another blogger wrote today, while disagreeing with Jeyamohan's idea of reforming Tamil, "Jeyamohan told me 'when I say or write about something I'd have gathered enough material to write about it for 100 pages". That's hyperbole. I'd only say 'read him. but read him, as you would read anybody, with a pinch of salt'.  

 Publisher and entrepreneur Badri Seshadri wrote a blog about why India's Mar's mission has relevance to the layman's welfare and asked "why has no intellectual in Tamil Nadu spoken or written about this". Jeyamohan responded back with a blog titled 'Mangalyan' and wrote about Sam Pitroda though Pitroda had nothing to do with Mangalyan. In an attempt to write something about a topic he knows little about he felt compelled to drag in an angle of very tangential relevance. 

Jeyamohan tried to write about technological revolution and how, contrary to his own then thinking, it has yielded good. Its a classic style of speaking about a tangential topic when we cannot speak 'to' the topic. Also, Sam Pitroda had nothing to do with the telecom revolution anyway.  The disclaimer towards the end, with a link to Badri's blog, was a cop out and irrelevant. Why write a 2 page blog and then say "I know nothing about this. This is only from my personal experience in a very limited perspective". Everyone has such experiences. But when a person is read widely and trusted on an array of subjects one could be more careful about what one chooses to write about. I wish Jeyamohan had stuck to his own advice of non-subject-matter experts not speaking about a subject. Incidentally Jeyamohan wrote a brilliant piece on Gunter Grass asking Indians not to indulge in literature when there is so much poverty around.

I'd also add that I've far greater grouses against S.Ramakrishnan who gleefully dishes out his version of history. About that another day. 

PS: I am no blind worshipper of Ayn Rand either. Before reading Ayn Rand I read Nehru's 'Discovery of India'. Asked to write what is his philosophy of life Nehru wrote "life is too illogical to be contained within a single philosophy". I believe that till today.


1. Jeyamohan on Chimamanda Adichie ""
"ஸீமமெண்டா என்கோசீ அடிச்சி ஒரு அமெரிக்க தயாரிப்பு. அமெரிக்காவில் பிறந்து வளர்ந்த அவருக்கு நைஜீரிய வேர்களே இல்லை. கேள்விப்பட்டவற்றின் அடிப்படையில் மீண்டும் நைஜீரிய இனக்குழுசார்ந்த உபதேசிய கனவுகளை கிளறியும், இனக்குழு சார்ந்த அவநம்பிக்கைகளை சீண்டியும் இந்நாவலை எழுதியிருக்கிறார்.....நைஜீரியாவில் கண்ணிவெடிகளை புதைக்க முயல்கிறார்கள் ஏகாதிபத்தியவாதிகள். அவை வெடித்து அங்கே ரத்தஆறு ஓடினால் அவர்களே காமிராவுடன் போய் ‘ரவாண்டா ஓட்டல்’ போன்ற படங்களை எடுப்பார்கள். அவற்றைப்பற்றி நம் ஆங்கில இதழ்கள் கட்டுரைகள் எழுதும். நம் சிற்றிதழ் அறிவுஜீவிகள் பெரிய வியாசங்கள் சமைப்பார்கள்…" (See the blog link for full discussion)

"சினுவா ஆச்சிபி ஆப்ரிக்க நாவலாசிரியர் அல்ல என்றே நான் சொல்வேன், அவர் ஆப்ரிக்கர்களைப் பற்றி பொதுவான உலக வாசகர்களுக்கு எழுதுபவர். அவர் காட்டும் ஆப்ரிக்கா அல்ல ஆப்ரிக்கா. அது நாம் காணவிரும்புவது மட்டுமே. நம் எதிர்பார்ப்புகளுக்கு ஏற்ப எழுதப்பட்டது. நான் வோல் சொயிங்கா அல்லது பென் ஒக்ரியையே நாடிச்செல்வேன். எனக்கு தேவையானது அசலான பண்பாட்டு தன்மை கொண்ட எழுத்தே."

5. On Will Durant and Richard Dawkins
" டாக்கின்ஸுடையது ஓர் வெள்ளையர் மைய நோக்கு. அங்கே உள்ள, அவர்களைப் பாதிக்கிற விஷயங்களை மட்டுமே அவர் பொருட்டாகக் கருதுகிறார். இந்த நோக்கு பல சிந்தனையாளர்களுக்கு இருந்திருக்கிறது. மிகச்சிறந்த உதாரணம் உலக தத்துவ வரலாற்றை எழுதிய வில் துரந்த் தம்பதியினர். அவர்களின் நோக்கில் ஒரு சராசரி ஐரோப்பிய சிந்தனையாளரில் பாதிப்பங்கு முக்கியத்துவம்கூட வேதாந்தம் அல்லது சூனியவாத பௌத்தம் போன்ற ஒரு சிந்தனைமரபுக்குக் கிடையாது. அவர்கள் எழுத்தில் உள்ள அலட்சியம் எந்தக் கீழைநாட்டவனையும் கசப்படையச்செய்வது"

6. On Europe's 'Dark age'
மத்தியகாலகட்டம் என்பது சிந்தனையில் செமிட்டிக் மரபு மட்டுமே நீடித்த, அது மட்டுமே அனுமதிக்கப்பட்ட, ஒரு காலகட்டம். திரள்வாதம் என்று அயன் சொல்லும் அனைத்துமே மத்தியகாலகட்ட கிறித்தவ சிந்தனைக்கே சரிவரப்பொருந்துவதை சாதாரணமாகக் காணலாம். கிறித்தவத் திரள்வாதத்தால் தனிமனித சிந்தனையும் ஆன்மீகத்தேடலும் முழுக்க முழுக்க கட்டுப்படுத்தப்பட்டன, மீறல்கள் ஒடுக்கப்பட்டன. அதை ஐரோப்பிய  நாகரீகத்தின் இருண்டகாலக்ட்டம் என்று இன்று குறிப்பிடுகிறார்கள் (There are very valid analyses in the 4 part analyses of Ayn Rand and then there are the mistakes too).

9. Jeyamohan on Sam Pitroda and Mangalyan

10. "The story of India's telectom revolution' - Livemint and WSJ -

"Pitroda, in fact, torpedoed attempts to bring mobile telephony to India in 1987, as Panagariya records".

11. Badri Seshadri's blog on Mangalyan

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Do I hate Indian authors and blindly adore Western authors?

I've written many blogs refuting or rebutting views by others like Thamizhachi's slander about Gandhi or another blogger spewing venom about celebrating September 5th as teacher's day in memory of S.Radhakrishnan. Those blogs were written after extensive due diligence and cross referencing of sources. When I wrote the rebuttal to Thamizhachi I referred several biographies of Gandhi and Tagore. I painstakingly cross-checked the facts because if I had gotten a single fact wrong the entire blog could have been brushed aside as 'flawed'. When those I criticize have a bigger following I tend to be extremely careful. Above all I owe that to my intellectual integrity. My last blog was a shame in as much as I had rushed to judge a work of fiction. Though the blog was written circumspectly an unfortunate remark, saying the work was plagiarized, on social media, overtook the remarks in the blog which walked back those remarks. The remark made on twitter created a very unfortunate chain of events. I still regret the mistake and my apologies to the author. I thought I had had done my due diligence but apparently not so. Credibility is a precious commodity. Its a bitter lesson.

A blog has a personal flavor and I used that to narrate what set of my search of the source material. I had said that the author, despite being a recent immigrant to Boston, gave detailed descriptions of locales elsewhere including knowledgeable references to cancer treatment hospitals. I had said I wondered how at such knowledge by a recent immigrant which in turn made me want to find out about the source material. This was grossly misunderstood by some and intentionally misinterpreted by a person in whose website the story had appeared.

A few weeks after my blog on a biography of Lalgudi I received an email from Jeyamohan. Jeyamohan while commending my 'strict' review of the biography asked "would you show the same strictness to a western author", "you cite Walter Isaacson's 'authorized' biography of Steve Jobs, why do you think its not a 'commercialized' biography and not the biblical truth". I replied back to him that I am well aware of the short comings of Isaacson's biography and I am very well aware that the book was rushed to the market to capitalize on the death of Steve Jobs. My citation of the Jobs biography was in the limited context of how an 'educated' Jobs 'chose' Isaacson compared to 'uneducated' Lalgudi relying on a fawning author who happened to be the mother of his student. I had also explained to Jeyamohan that in the west an 'authorized' biography is done under strict contracts where biographers would insist on walling off the subject from influencing the book. If Isaacson had written a sugary fawning account he would lose his integrity and the book would be panned resulting in a commercial failure.

Jeyamohan who knows that I live in America and have a fondness for Pulitzers and western authors unfairly alleged that my wonderment about the short story's author's knowledge of America stemmed from being in thrall to Western, particularly, white authors. He had forgotten that I had, with his help, defended Gandhi at length with patient scholarship. He says he reads me every now and then. Maybe he missed my defense of S.Radhakrishnan.

In my first year at college I won Rs 300 as prize money from various competitions. After collecting the money from college at a function I took a bus straight to the only dingy book store in Tanjore and bought all 3 books by Nehru and an omni-bus edition of Kahlil Gibran. I remain a big admirer of Nehru. I've avidly collected and read books on Nehru, Gandhi, Indian history, Indian philosophy, India's freedom movement, post-Independence India, Indian literature. For a guy living in America I think I've a very decent collection of books on India. Many are by Indian authors and some by western authors. I've avidly bought and read every good biography that is there on Gandhi starting with Louis Fischer to D.G.Tendulkar's 8 volume to Lelyveld. I scrounged and saved to buy S.Gopal's masterful 3 volume biography of Nehru in 1993. I did not like Stanley Wolpert's biography of Nehru. In college I used to scavenge and look for books on Indian philosophy by S.Radhakrishnan. Only by S.Radhakrishnan. I was dismissive of Kannadasan's attempt at philosophy. Seeking to learn about ancient Indian history I've bought, with great effort, books by Romila Thapar, D.D.Kosambi and Neelakanda Sastry. An interesting book I recently had the chance to buy was Indian expatriate experience in America which contains impressions of America by Indian writers during their visits to US. On the partition alone I've read Yasmin Khan's well researched 'Great Partition', a rare illustrated copy of Khushwant Singh's 'Train to Pakistan' and in my recent trip, to attend to my sick dad, I acquired a 2 volumes of writings on Partition edited by noted historian Mushirul Hasan. Oh just on the way out at the airport I happened to buy a good edition of India's freedom movement by Bipin Chandra et al. At that store I also bought a collection of stories by Puthumai Pithan in addition to Jeyamohan's own book that I had bough earlier in the trip. I remain an admirer of Ramachandra Guha's books.

All that said am I blind to the follies of western authors? Thomas Friedman earned a Pulitzer as New York Times's foreign affairs correspondent in Beirut. Friedman is a keen journalist who wrote the best possible introduction to globalization in 'Lexus and the olive tree' at a time when such a book never existed. But then he started thinking of himself as an expert on globalization. I bought and read his 'The world is flat' and sold it back on with disgust. The book painted a very rosy picture of India's emergence. Its a book that every CEO, on a flight to India, loved to read and think they understood India. I started seeing Friedman losing his focus. The saving grace in America is the book was panned in some reviews. Particularly Friedman's flawed analogy of Columbus declaring the world is round. That was Magellan. The book was embroiled in a controversy too over a cover photo for which the publisher did not have the rights.

Alex Haley's biography of Malcolm X used to be considered a work of scholarship. Then came Manning Marable who exposed how Haley had exaggerated Malcolm X's days of hooliganism to play up the conversion to becoming a radical. Then Marable set to work on a magisterial biography of Malcolm X that was unflinching at some of Malcolm X's weaknesses like anti-semitism. Marable was awarded the Pulitzer, posthumously.

In the same year that Marable's book won a Pulitzer for biography another book that could not be ignored was John Lewis Gaddis's equally impressively written biography of American statesman George Kennan. Now, this was an authorized biography. Gaddis was given access to all of Kennan's papers, extensive interviews were done but Kennan never knew what Gaddis wrote. Further the agreement was that Gaddis will publish the book only after Kennan died. Kennan lived to be 102. The book was published to great acclaim. To accommodate another Pulitzer for a biography along side Marable's book one of them was moved to the general fiction category.

Talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey also runs a 'book club' and a book being selected by her can help sell the book in millions. Once she selected an auto-biography by author James Frey. The book, 'A million little pieces', skyrocketed in sales. I've never considered Oprah Winfrey to be the arbiter of literature. I've seen old classics being re-issued with a stamp "An Oprah Book Club Selection". I'd never buy that copy. James Frey was then exposed as a fraud. An enraged Winfrey called Frey to her studio and dressed him down in a live telecast watched by millions. Later columnists ripped Winfrey for not accepting any responsibility for her own shoddy research before hailing a book and for deflecting all blame to Frey alone. Welcome to America.

I maintain strict standards on books I buy. I often go by book reviews in Economist and New York Times. I follow where authors while speaking of their recent book will pick 5 books they consider good in the same topic. I follow the Pulitzer and National Book awards obsessively.

I was amused to note being characterised as a guy who hates Indian authored books. When Siddhartha Mukerhjee's classic 'Emperor of all maladies' was in the running for a Pulitzer I was checking at exactly 1:01 PM when Columbia university announces the prizes. None would have rejoiced more than me when Mukherjee won the Pulitzer and other awards for the same book. I've gifted that book to several doctor relatives. On the same genre I love Atul Gawande's 'checklist manifesto'. Atul Gawande is a rare doctor-literatteur combination, a pleasure to read. I attended Brooklyn Book festival simply because Indian author Pankaj Mishra was going to appear and present his latest book "From the ruins of the empire", a scholarly treatise on rebellious intellectuals who remade Asian thinking.

I used to like Jhumpa Lahiri a lot until she started hawking her latest book 'Lowlands' like cheap merchandise. By the way I am aware that many may not like her writing but this is about whether or not I ignore Indian authors.

I am careful to pick books by authors who are unassailable subject matter experts in the topic. When I see books by authors whose primary area of educational background is different from the subject matter I carefully weigh.Terry Eagleton an English professor wrote 'Why Marx is right' and Francis Spufford, another English professor, wrote "Red Plenty". Spufford's book traces the planned economy phenomenon in the Krushchev era and presents it within a fictional format. The book was so well written that Economist reviewer exulted "when the time comes for an award it will be difficult to judge if this book should be awarded for non-fiction or fiction". Eagleton's book on the other hand is polemical and therefore never garnered my attention beyond the customary browsing at a book store.

Paul Krugman is a case in point. Ever since the liberal economist won a Nobel prize he has been writing a regular column in New York Times where he opines on every issue beyond economics. Even within economics his specific expertise is limited to trade. Yet, Krugman, will weigh in on how Obama should promote healthcare bill. His columns have now become a joke and according to rumors NYT staff have a tough time editing his column for inaccuracies. In a well publicized debate republican commentator Joe Scarborough took Krugman to task on changing his stance to suit his politics.

Gore Vidal is a brilliant novelist who does scholarly researches for his fiction. Yet, when Vidal wrote a trashy polemical tract sympathizing with Timothy McVeigh, the guy who bombed a federal building killing many, he was roundly ignored.

The first time I heard of Jeyamohan was when he wrote a series of articles critical of Ayn Rand. I had no idea who Jeyamohan was. One day late into the night after reading pages and pages of his critique I shot off an ill written email. While it had valid points Jeyamohan used the ill structured language to ridicule it and brush it aside.

Ayn Rand was the subject two different biographies a few years back. One biography was authorized by Ayn Rand's literary heir Leonard Peikoff another biography was not authorized. That meant one author was given access to Ayn Rand's papers held in the institute run by Peikoff the other author lacked access. But both books were highly readable and appreciated by critics. As much as I love Ayn Rand I am well aware of her inconsistencies and foibles. The problem with India is that most often there is only one book on a topic. There are no multiple books by various authors giving a textured view of the subject. How many good books are there about Chola history or of the history of Kamba Ramayanam?

Why do my Facebook posts and twitter feeds mostly speak of Indian authors, especially Tamil authors, in a bad light? Its a phenomenon due to various factors. Much of what I read and get excited about is not the area of interest of many friends. I am not sure how many would even read a post about George Kennan or Arthur Schlesinger Jr's tract on why Kennedy, not Nixon, should be chosen? Most importantly America has institutions for criticism and debate. India lacks that. I've never seen a single critical letter about a single issue or story that has appeared in Jeyamohan's site or anybody else's as for that matter. S.Ramakrishnan, popularly called 'wikipedia writer', has a penchant for dishing out inaccuracies by the bushels. Yet he goes completely unchallenged in public forums other than a facebook post here and there by one or two. This institutional failure makes me an outlier when I continue to call out inaccuracies. Letters that criticize are scrutinized for the letter writers intellectual standards, fairness, veracity and more. Whereas letters that praise, even letters that are written by patently mediocre minds, are published gleefully. I, again, regret the mistake in my initial outburst that was not undone by the blog. My last blog is not what I am talking about. I am talking in general.

So was I racist in wondering how an Indian immigrant who recently came to US could have such detailed knowledge of US locales? This was a cop out by Jeyamohan who, despite knowing me personally and corresponding personally, used that ruse to rubbish the criticism. But to be fair to Jeyamohan another friend asked me "Aravindan you essentially said a H1B guy could not know about America". Point to be noted I had never alluded to visa status. I then explained to my friend about the controversy over 'slave narratives'.

Amongst my collection of books relating to slavery and civil rights is a wonderful book called "Slave narratives", a collection of writings by slaves, edited by pre-eminent Afro-American scholar of black studies in Harvard Henry Louis Gates Jr. The writings show great depth and high literary quality. As I was narrating this my friend interjected "Aravindan those could be written by the notes takers or transcribed into better language". I then stopped him right there and said "see you are assuming that a slave could not have written it". A similar controversy arose over 'The Bondwoman's narrative'. Only recently it was decisively concluded that it was indeed written by a slave woman.

When women write steamy novels it raises an eyebrow. This happens even in the west. Shobha De made a commercial killing on that premise. Women poets writing explicit verse has always kicked off a furore. Stereotypes do not happen in a vacuum. They do happen with some reason. When my American colleagues raise an appreciative eyebrow about my knowledge in American politics it means "well I am surprised that a recent immigrant knows about America's arcane primary election rules etc". Likewise when an American colleague, married to a Kashmiri, talks about Laloo and Tamil Nadu I am, indeed, surprised.

It was beyond malice to suggest that my wonderment had to do with slavishness to anything that a white skinned author may dispense. Many have used that argument against me because I live in America and mostly read English books, mostly written by authors who happen to be white. I've with great zeal sought out books on slavery, slave literature and civil war. I don't have to prove that I seek books by and about blacks just to burnish by racial credentials. It is disheartening to see that any criticism of India, Indian things from America by an Indian expatriate are rubbished by many as "disgruntled NRI", "seeks to be white", "coconut" etc.

East or west my standards are always the same. I am not blind to the west, I am not in thrall of everything western, I don't hate anything simply because an Indian might be involved. After, all, I am Indian too by birth. A cousin's wife, whenever she used to criticize anything in India, would add a disclaimer "I am not suggesting everything is great in America". I always disliked that. It was unnecessary and hypocritical even. If America was as bad as India we would not only not have emigrated here but we would also not continue to stay here. Here in America I can question Pankaj Mishra in an open forum.

By the way I am often told that my blogs are 'harsh', 'abrasive'. I am advised that I should pay attention to my 'tone'. When an author who confesses to not being a great speaker scolds an entire society, with choice words, just because an audience in one event walked out, due to rain, while he was speaking, then am I the one to be corrected? When a Sahitya Akademi winner narrates, in an award function, in colorful vernacular, how an award committee member would run 'butt naked' in Mount Road if Sundara Ramasamany got an award, then am I the one to 'tone' down? I guess having an award or two helps in earning the freedom to be abusive. That said reality does tell me that me being no decorated writer, no Sahitya Akademi or Pulitzer, when I have to get my point across to those above my station I need to tone down a bit. I hope I did that today.