Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bernie Sanders is Bad for Indian-Americans and America

The 2016 US presidential election could easily be called the 'rage election'. Both parties are witnessing full blown revolts by their respective voter bases and voters are literally hoisting certifiably lunatic candidates and showering electoral success on them. Electorates of the past have gone to the polls and vented their ire against status quo but the candidates they chose to be the vessels of their hopes were candidates of hope like Reagan or Clinton or Obama but this election cycle see the voters running behind a socialist peddling hare brained schemes that promise utopia and a hate mongering billionaire clown.

The danger that Donald Trump poses is apparent and needs no sophistication to unravel but the danger posed by Bernie Sanders, self styled 'Democratic Socialist, is more subtle but no less poisonous because it comes wrapped in good intentions and therefore very attractive to the gullible. Policy makers sympathetic to Democrats have come out openly and issued a signed statement debunking Sanders's proposals as fantasies that if enacted would wreck the American economy. Sanders's socialism has found wide acceptance within the Democratic party which is intellectually predisposed to such an ideology. Indian-Americans are mostly democrats and have surprisingly become supporters of Sanders overlooking Hillary Clinton. How did an ethnic group that ran away from a socialist country become cheerleaders for a socialist? Why does an ethnic group that has enjoyed the fruits of capitalism become supporters of socialism? How did an immigrant group end up supporting a anti-immigration advocate?

Bernie Sanders (Image courtesy Wikipedia)
The most attractive proposal of Sanders that has literally caught fire is his 'medicare-for-all'. Sanders's proposal is to institute a single payer system akin to what countries like UK, Canada and other European countries have. The woes of America's healthcare system are well known. Essentially America spends more capita on healthcare and results like mortality rates are no better than that of any industrialized country. Until Obama passed his legacy making healthcare overhaul legislation insurance companies refused coverage for pre-existing coverage amongst many other issues. Sanders makes the argument that for a modest tax increase on all, an average $500, everyone can get coverage that would save $5000. Those cost and savings projected are based on estimates arrived at by his campaign and have become the fiercest contested detail by especially left leaning economists.

Sanders often cites the example of Denmark as a model of a country that takes care of its poor. What Sanders conveniently forgets to mention is that Denmark has a top income tax rate of 60% and that rate starts at annual gross income of $60,000. If Sanders even offers a tax rate close to that from a debate stage his supporters will get a jolt of electrifying reality. Sanders presents a rosy picture of the single payer system without even hinting at why such a system is plagued by troubles in every country it currently exists. Sanders's own home state Vermont tried instituting a single payer system but eventually abandoned it because the projected costs exceeded the total revenue of the state despite stiff increases of taxes on businesses. Sanders argues that in a single-payer system there will be cost efficiencies because the government, the single-payer entity, can bargain better prices from drug manufacturers and hospitals. What is unsaid is that such cost-efficiencies entail deep cuts in how doctors and hospitals are reimbursed. It is a problem that the current medicare system faces with doctors and hospitals exiting the system due to paltry reimbursement.

A critique of Sanders's health plan by left leaning economists, a New York Times report noted, none of whom are aligned with Clinton and are not republican friendly, said that Sanders's plan "will increase the size of Federal government by more than 50%" and add "two trillion to $3 trillion to the deficit each year". Yes, that's each year.

An AP-GFK poll on support for Sanders's medicare for all illustrated the limits of what Americans are ready to support. 39% expressed support while 33% opposed the plan. When the supporters where asked if they'd still support the plan if the plan meant tax increases the support flipped with 39% now opposing. Essentially everyone loves socialism only when somebody else is paying the bill.

UK's much vaunted NHS is practically facing a revolt by junior doctors and an exodus of doctors to countries like Australia and New Zealand is happening. In Canada some private insurance is required to supplement the single payer insurance provided by the government and of course taxes on income and sales taxes are considerably higher than the US.

To make his health plan work Sanders needs to completely overhaul one-sixth of American economy ranging from how much doctors are paid, hospital reimbursements, drug pricing, ability to see specialists, even ability to sue doctors or hospitals for malpractices (nearly 75% of US malpractice lawsuits are frivolous lawsuits. But Democrats who are controlled by the multi-billion dollar Tort lawyers lobby will not touch Tort reform with a ten foot pole). Indian-Americans boast of having large number of doctors and many hope their children will become one, therefore it's ironical to see this group support Sanders's fantasy plan.

Skyrocketing college fees is a nightmare for every American parent and Sanders the Santa Claus comes to the rescue with 'free-college for all'. Just as his single payer system was a failed idea in practice this too is a failed idea. A Washington Post article lays bare the stupidity of such an idea with a stinging title, "the false hope of free college". This is utter nonsense. Like anything given free the program when implemented by Georgia it was a disaster. When Obama offered a similar plan even left leaning think tank Brookings institution ripped into it saying that it is "bad for poor Americans". Again, Sanders will have to institute price controls for teachers salaries and college administrators. Elizabeth Warren, beloved lioness of the fringe far left and former professor at Harvard, was paid $300,000 for being a part-time professor.

Sanders airily dismisses talk of how to pay for his programs with a proposal to tax Wall Street transactions. He calls it a "tax on speculators" and rants that the business model of Wall Street is 'fraud'. His campaign cites very optimistic estimates of such revenue. The position paper on his own site states plainly that the revenue estimates from such a tax has little theoretical background since it has never been tried. A "financial transaction tax" will not hit just "millionaires and billionaires" but every American who holds retirement accounts and college savings accounts, both of which are heavily used by the high earning Indian-American community. When Obama floated a proposal to tax the wildly popular college savings plan even liberal democrats revolted, including a Sanders supporting colleague of mine. Again and again everyone loves socialism provided somebody else pays the bill.

While Sanders was filling stadiums with thousands of fawning supporters a friendly fire came from economists who had served in Obama's administration. When Sanders rails against a 'rigged economy' and calls for a 'political revolution' it discredits democrats who have fought in the trenches to advance liberal policies against stiff opposition. Sanders makes them look like weasels for compromises that they agreed to in order to advances a larger goal. The open letter bluntly stated that Sanders's economic proposals are not supported by evidence.

Sanders also hits Indian-Americans where it hurts most, immigration. He has always been anti-immigration arguing that influx of labor is inimical to native workers. Again, economic theory is not on his side. Running for the presidency in the Democratic party Sanders is spinning that his vote against a Ted Kennedy sponsored legislation for immigration that included a guest worker program was because that program was "akin to slavery". Hillary Clinton hit back that Ted Kennedy, a liberal lion of the senate, would not have proposed any legislation that treats workers as slaves. Sanders has muted his anti-immigration stance bending to political pandering for office. So much for truth telling.

Indians while being instinctively capitalist when it comes to their personal wallet and earning they are yet to become intellectually comfortable with capitalism as a philosophy. Many Indian-Americans who support Sanders are comfortable with higher taxes because they think he's only targeting 'millionaires and billionaires' and even if their taxes go up it'd only do so marginally in which case the benefits will outweigh the cost. Both are fallacious naivete. To finance Sanders's extravagant proposals taxes will have to rise steeply, on all. Sanders cannot have Denmark with American tax structure. There are some who'd argue "well so what if my taxes go up, after all someone has to pay".

During a debate Sanders pointedly accused Hillary of being unworthy of the label "progressive" because she's a "moderate". He could not have stated more clearly that in his mind being a progressive means a militant far left liberal and nothing to do with being a moderate. Moderation, for Sanders, is a vice. Sanders has a blind faith in the goodness of the government to the extent that when evidence piled  up against Veterans Affairs hospitals of corruption and venality he, according to a New York Times report, refused to believe it at first. On the contrary Sanders think an entire private industry is made up of criminals with fraud as business model. Sanders is a hypocrite who rails against Wall Street but is silent on how the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the darling of the liberals, created a man made disaster by flooding a river with highly toxic materials and indulged in a year long cover up of lead contamination in the drinking water supplied by the city of Flint. If any private company had done either of that Sanders would be baying for their blood.

A Sanders presidency will hurt Indian-Americans where it hurts most, college admissions for their children. Indian-American applicants to colleges face a steep challenge, especially for Ivy League universities, thanks to affirmative action and admission practices that practically border on discrimination. The passing away of dependably conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia has put the very ideological balance of the court at play. Sanders has already vowed to nominate a liberal judge. Asian-Americans have filed lawsuits against Harvard alleging discriminatory practices. A case against affirmative action is already pending in the Supreme Court. With a justice like Sonia Sotomayor, a self confessed affirmative action baby, is inimical to Indian-American interests and the absence of a Scalia poses grave danger to prospects of Indian-American kids.

Sanders, as Hillary points out, is a single-issue candidate who knows nothing beyond ranting about income-inequality. To a question of Afghanistan he turned the answer to Syria and parroted his vote against the Iraq war in 2003 leaving the viewers scratching their heads. Indian-Americans still mostly view their adopted country as a foreign country and through the prism of foreign policy. Also, they are instinctively sympathetic to the ideas of America as an imperialist country without having taken any efforts to learn how an isolationist country underwent a metamorphosis post-Munich and Pearl Harbor. Sanders tries to present himself as reasonable by saying he's not totally against war but his record is anything but. The 1991 Persian Gulf war, sanctioned by UN Security council, funded by Saudis and had a clear definition of what constitutes victory, did not get his vote of approval in the Congress nevertheless. Sanders is a hopeless far left liberal pacifist who's intellectually incapable of understanding geo-politics.

Why should any of the above matter? Hillary adroitly recently pointed out that the dishonesty behind telling voters, especially the poor voters, that they can save $5000 by paying just $500 in taxes is cruel. Sanders's intellectual dishonesty is breathtaking. He shares, uncomfortably, several traits with Trump. Trump often beats back those who say his policies are unrealistic he retorts with a truism that anything he says is true because he says it and anyone refusing to accept it is tarred with a brush. Sanders labels his naysayers as "the establishment" and "reactionaries".

How does Sanders attract so many fawning voters? People love free stuff. That's an undeniable attraction for anyone. Who'd not like it if their kid can get free education, especially when somebody else is picking up the tab. Sanders's voters, in another parallel with the Trump campaign, have simply willed themselves into believing anything he peddles. Washington Post editorial board acidly wrote, "Mr Sanders's success so far does not show that the country is ready for a political revolution. It merely shows that many progressives like being told what they want to hear". The editorial was duly titled "Bernie Sanders's fiction filled campaign".

Why did Paul Krugman and Fareed Zakaria decry Sanders for promoting unserious ideas and for peddling intellectually dishonest economics? Both Krugman and Zakaria have repeatedly condemned Republicans for peddling intellectually dishonest theories about how tax cuts, however irresponsible and not paid for, would spur growth and compensate the loss of revenue. Krugman and Zakaria lamented how Sanders is bringing back an era of democratic politics when unrealistic economic proposals where freely dished out to entice voters about how paradise was waiting. Zakaria wrote:

"But this is nitpicking. He is painting with a broader brush, being an authentic man who speaks his mind, willing to present bold ideas geared to capture the imagination. Never mind that establishment elites criticize them as unworkable or divisive or radical.Am I speaking about Bernie Sanders — or Donald Trump?"

Bernie Sanders is bad for Indian-Americans and America.


  1. Fareed Zakaria's column "Bernie Sanders's outlandish plans make Republicans look serious"
  2. New York Times article "Why left of center policy wonks are skeptical of Bernie Sanders"
  3. NYT article "Left leaning economists question cost of Bernie Sanders's plans"
  4. AP-GFK poll on support for healthcare
  5. Obama administration economists's open letter to Sanders
  6. Paul Krugman's column on Sanders's economic policy "Varieties of Voodoo"
  7. Washington Post editorial "Bernie Sanders's fiction filled campaign"
  8. Washington Post oped "The false hope of free college"
  9. Brookings Institution paper on Obama's free college plan
  10. Washington Post editorial rebuttal to Bernie Sanders who claimed that they oppose his plan because it's bold. "Bernie Sanders's idea are not too bold. They are facile"

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Bharathi: From Being Copyrighted to Belonging to the People. Chalapathi's, Artful Summary. Merits and Flaws. ('கவிஞனும் காப்புரிமையும்')

பாரதியின் 'பக்திப் பாடல்கள்' யாவிலும் சில பொதுக் கூறூகளைக் காண முடியும். விநாயகரிடமும், முருகனிடமும், பராசக்தியினடமும் பாரதி வேண்டுவன: கவிப் பாடும் திறன், தெளிவானச் சிந்தை, உடல் நலம், பொருள். அவன் வேண்டிக் கேட்டவற்றுள் அவனுக்கு வாய்த்தது கவித் திறன் மட்டுமே.

"எள்ளத் தனைப்பொழுதும் பயனின்றி
      இரா தென்றன் நாவினிலே
வெள்ள மெனப்பொழி வாய்சக்தி வேல் சக்தி
       வேல், சக்தி வேல், சக்தி வேல்!"
                                             --- ஓம் சக்தி

"நினைக்கும் பொழுது நின்மவுன
     நிலைவந் திடநீ செயல்வேண்டும்,
கனக்குஞ் செல்வம், நூறுவயது;
இவையும் தரநீ கடவாயே"
                                              ---- விநாயகர் நான்மனி மாலை

"காளி வலியசா முண்டி-ஓங்
    கரத் தலயியென் நிராணி-பல
நாளிங் கெனையலைக்க லாமோ?-- உள்ளம்
    நாடும் பொருளடைதற் கன்றோ?
என்னைப் புதியவுயி ராக்கி-எனக்
    கேதுங் கவலையுறச் செய்து-மதி
தன்னை மிகத்தெளிவு செய்து-என்றும்
     சந்தோஷங் கொண்டிருக்கச் செய்வாய்"
                                              ---- யோக சித்தி

[With apologies to readers I'll continue in English]

Subramania Bharathi (11th December 1882 - 11th September 1921) who donned many roles in his short but eventful life is credited with being a major contributor to modern Tamil literature and in modernizing an ancient language that boasts of a hoary heritage stretching back to two millennia. Yet, like Shelley, his idol, the recognition of his poetic genius evolved over the years only after his death. Though Bharathi wrote copiously his poems were scarcely published as anthologies in his own lifetime and even when in the few occasions they were published they sold few. 

A.R. Venkatachalapathy, also known as Chalapathy, professor (discipline unnamed) in Madras Institute of Development studies, has written a clear chronological summary of events leading to placing Bharati's works in the public domain, an event that he considers as pivotal in the making Bharathi a household name.

Bharati's widow Chellammaa started a publication named Bharathi Ashramam (பாரதி ஆச்சிரமம்) and published a few of his works between 1922-24 but the venture was a commercial failure. A fallout happened between Chellamma and her brother Appadurai following which she teamed up with Bharathi's step-brother Viswanatha Iyer to publish Bharati's works. Viswanatha Iyer joined with Harihara Sarma and K. Natarajan to establish 'Bharathi Prasuralayam' (பாரதி பிரசுராலயம்) in 1931. Chellamma who faced monetary pressures sold the rights to Bharati's works to Viswanatha Iyer in 1931 for Rs 4000. Viswanatha Iyer, in a bitter pamphlet he wrote amidst the nationalization shenanigans, admits that while the money paid appeared meager it was still a good sum in those days and given the then commercial interest in Bharathi's works it was quite appropriate. Seeing the advent of gramophones unleash a music industry an astute Viswanatha Iyer transferred the audio rights of the poems to one Jaisinghlal Mehta in 1934 for Rs 450 plus royalty on the records sold. Mehta later sold the rights to the enterpreneurial movie mogul A.V. Meiyyappa Chettiar in 1946 for Rs 9500.

Bharathi's poems were quite popular in Tamil Nadu during the freedom struggle and as a result he was venerated amongst the leadership of Congress which spear headed that struggle and even the Communist Party. Notably, P. Jeevanandam, a communist party leader and avowed student of Tamil literature venerated Bharathi. Jeeva's protege Tamil writer Jeyakanthan recorded that Jeeva told him that no one can be good communist in Tamil Nadu without knowledge of Tamil literature. In Tamil Nadu, as elsewhere, the art scene that included plays, music and films were filled with nationalist themes. The TKS brothers, as they were popularly called, were known for nationalist themed plays. In their plays they often used poems from Bharathi. They decided to make a movie out of their popular play 'Pilhanan' (பில்ஹணன்)  which featured a poem from Bharati's anthology of poems about Krishna (கண்ணன் பாட்டுகள்). They were promptly served a legal notice by AVM on 29th January 1948.

Jeeva, in the meantime, had been collecting support to 'nationalize' Bharathi's poems. It was unprecedented and flew in the face of established law concerning copyrights. In what is possibly the only place that can be called 'insightful' Chalapathy hints that Jeeva, a communist, would've been influenced by the philosophy that he espoused against private property in addition to his desire to see Bharathi popularized amongst the masses by unshackling him from the restraints of the law. 

A group that called itself "organization to liberate Bharathi" (பாரதி விடுதலைக் கழகம்) comprising of Trilok Sitaram, Vallikannan and Narana. Thuraikkannan gathered on 11th March 1948 to press for the nationalization of Bharati's works.

Events moved on multiple fronts. The regard with which Bharathi was held in a newly independent nation, ability of a group of literary persona to influence the rulers of the day, a ruling administration that was keenly responsive to public and literary sentiments all came together in a fortuitous combination to culminate in a landmark legislation that saw a government acquire the copyrights of an author. 

The speed with which the then government, headed by Omandurar, proceeded on this issue is breathtaking. T.K. Shanmugham wrote to Omandurar on 5th April 1948, Omandurar makes a file note to education secretary on 7th April 1948 to figure out how to proceed. On 20th April education secretary Avinashilingam Chettiar wrote back asking for powers to negotiate an acquisition of the copyrights.

After ascertaining that Bharati's family is willing to relinquish their rights, though legally they really had no rights to relinquish as the rights were held by Viswanatha Iyer and AVM, and the facts relating to the case in the Coimbatore court Omandurar invited AVM to convey his decision to acquire the rights. AVM consented to give up his rights after being compensated in full. Viswanatha Iyer too gave  up his rights for a sum of Rs 15,000. On 12th March 1949 Avinashilingam Chettiar announced to the legislature that the government had acquired the rights to all of Bharathiar's works.

The government owning the rights created it's own usual problems. The government machinery now moved in an agonizingly slow manner in bringing out a definitive edition of the poems. When Rajaji asks for a 'brief' note explaining the reasons for the delay he gets, Chalapathy records without realizing the irony of the words he chose, a 'detailed' reply. The definitive edition is published in 1954 when Kamaraj had become the chief minister. Seeing how the government has instead become a stumbling block now there was a clamor for the government to relinquish rights to 'the people'. Again, bending to public sentiment, the government released the rights 'to the people' on 14th March 1955. Now, Bharathi belonged to the  people.

Chalapathy's narrative is simple and straight forward. Adding the correspondences, affidavits and government orders as appendices adds to the documentary value of the book. The odyssey to acquire and then release the rights of Bharati's works shows in fleeting glimpses the ebb and flow of the poet's popularity in public imagination. Chalapathy also points out how this clamor to 'nationalize' works of note degenerated, in later years, into government high handedness when works were said to be nationalized without consulting legal heirs and when works of not just dubious quality but no quality were given the honor.

A few simple errors that need correction should be pointed out. 

On page 14 Chalapathy writes that Rani Annadurai was paid Rs 10 lakhs for the rights to the works of Annadurai whereas Chalapathy's own oped in that regard, produced in full on page 142, says the amount was Rs 75 lakhs.

On page 15 Chalapathy refers to an article he wrote for Kalachuvadu in the Jan 2006 issue. The appendix 12 that he refers to shows the article appearing on issue dated Jan 2007. It's kind of silly for an author to get the dates and information from his own article wrong and contradictory. And, to pile on this the article in Kalachuvadu stated that Bharati's works were released to public domain in 1963 contrary to the book stating that it happened on 14th March 1955. Unless I'm wrong this is a mistake wrapped inside a mistake.

On page 59 Chalapathy says that Chellamma gave an affidavit to Tirunelveli collector on 5th Feb 1949 detailing books published by Bharathi between 1910-1918. The corresponding document on page 116 states that the books listed were for the period 1910-1916. 

A questionable indignation is offered for the attempt to nationalize the works of Rajam Krishnan even while she was alive. Works are nationalized to override the period of copyright accorded by law so it does not matter if the author was alive or dead. This is facetious indignation.

A.R. Venkatachalapathy - Image Courtesy Hindu.
How does Chalapathy rate as a historian based on this book? 

Chalapathy repeatedly asserts that not even Gandhi, Nehru and Premchand's works received the 'honor of nationalization'. This is silly and a patently wrong assertion. An ill-informed reviewer in Tamil edition of The Hindu, also popularly known to be an ideological fellow traveler of Chalapathy, repeats this canard. First, there is no national process or honor to nationalize works of merit. It was something that happened for Bharathi due to the unique nature of people involved, especially, as Chalapathy himself points out, like communist Jeeva. The cases of Gandhi and Nehru are different also because their works were held by well established organizations that took upon themselves to maintain their works. Moreover, successive governments undertook massive and legendary exercises to collect and publish the writings of Gandhi and Nehru. While Chalapathy gleefully asserts that Gandhi and Nehru did not get the 'honor' he fails to mention his idol E.V. Ramasamy in that vein. Come on Chalapathy, a historian should not be wearing his politics on his sleeve. But, more about Chalapathy's politics shortly.

Recounting facts, however well researched they may be, in a chronological order, sprinkled with passing observations does not a historian make. A historian weaves a tapestry of facts to produce an overarching theme that glues the events. Chalapathy dubiously asserts that releasing Bharati's works in public domain made his works enduringly popular. While the claim has it's merits it does short work of other possible factors. By that account everyone whose work reached public domain must have seen at least a fraction of Bharati's popularity. 

Chalapathy's oped in 'The Economic Times' on Annathurai's works being nationalized brings to the fore his muddled politics and more importantly his inability to work out a theme.

Not even Annathurai's starry eyed followers with a modicum of intellect would agree to Chalapathy's claim that Annathurai 'single handedly, through his writings and speeches, led the Dravidian movement'. Chalapathy, sadly, forgot his education and training in history to write like a lumpen columnist for DMK's rag sheet 'Murasoli'. He laments that a 'whole generation has grown up without reading much of Anna's works, a process compounded by the anti-intellectual turn the Dravidian movement took in the 1960s'.

I fully support popularizing Annathurai's works, especially 'ஆரிய மாயை' and 'கம்ப ரஸம்', because those two works would help establish that the 'anti-intellectual turn' was not a latter day phenomenon but that Annathurai was indeed it's fountainhead. Jeyakanthan, with good reason, characterized the DMK as a 'cultural menace'. 'அவர் எழுதிய குப்பைப் புத்தகங்கள் எல்லாம் அவர் மரணத்தை எருவாகக் கொண்டு குருக்கத்திப் பூக்களாக மலர்ந்து விடப் போவதில்லை' என்று சந்நதம் செய்த ஜெயகாந்தனின் ஆவி சலபதியை மன்னிக்காது. See reference below for sections of Jeyakanthan's famed speech.

Chalapathy's oped contains dubious assertions and claims with no factual basis. Pray, I'd like to know who defined a classic as "a work often quoted but rarely read"? Then he asserts that "nationalization further reinforces the status of a classic and makes it more easily available". Are we to now assume that 'availability' equals 'readership'? Even more dubiously he claims that nationalization, beyond 'democratizing literature', 'has aided research and pursuit of knowledge'. This is shallow and without merit. Copyrighted works probably aid research better because the probability of the work not having lost integrity is higher. In fact in Bharathi's own case this is amply well illustrated.

Though the government released the rights to the public domain it issued guidelines as to how Bharati's works could be published. An artificial categorization of the poems, imposed by a government committee, has practically taken root and only now, with the publication of Seeni. Viswanathan's magnum opus, do we see the differences.

Chalapathy who sits on the board of literary awards is happy that the government renamed one of Bharati's famous poems, 'பிஜித் தீவிலே கரும்புத் தோட்டங்களில் ஹிந்து ஸ்த்ரீகள்', as 'கரும்புத் தோட்டத்திலே'. Seeni-Viswanathan in his definitive chronologically arranged edition of Bharathi's poems lists the many titles that were changed by Viwanatha Iyer's publication house and later by the Government. The government instituted changes reflected the then anti-Sanskrit sentiment that was sweeping across the state, thanks, in no small measure to Annathurai and his cohorts. 'ஸரஸ்வதி ஸ்தோத்திரம்' became 'கலைமகளை வேண்டுதல்'. 'போகின்ற பாரதமும், வருகின்ற பாரதமும்' was originally titled 'நிகழ்கின்ற ஹிந்துஸ்தானமும், வருகின்ற ஹிந்துஸ்தானமும்'. Any historian, much less one who adjudicates literary awards, is expected to at least record such a fact with disapproval of governmental high handedness and not support such a perfidy with cheer.

The political affiliation of Chalapathy is common knowledge and Chalapathy makes little effort to either conceal it or yield to scholarship when facts and beliefs collide. The student of history happily yields to the partisan in him. Writing about the change of guard from Rajaji to Kamaraj he says "by then the opposition to hereditary education policy by DK, DMK and even within Congress" resulted in the unseating of Rajaji. The sentence is worded in such a way as to perpetuate a falsehood that the education policy advocated by Rajaji was indeed titled 'hereditary based education'. No. Not at all. It was the opposition parties that labeled the education policy as being casteist and promoting hereditary based occupational education. Whether that criticism is fair or not is beside the point but it is a blatant unforgivable error in a book of history to repeat propaganda without sticking to facts.

The use of Grantha letters is another issue over which Chalapathy ties himself in knots. Rajaji's name stays as it is while Kamaraj's name is mangled by substituting the grantha letters with Tamil letters. (ராஜாஜி ராஜாஜியாகவே இருக்கிறார் ஆனால் காமராஜர் காமராசர் ஆகி விடுகிறார்). ஒரே பத்தியில் டி.கே. சன்முகம் (அவர் உண்மையில் 'ஷன்முகம்') தி.க. சன்முகம் ஆகிறார். புத்தகம் முழுவதும் ஐயராக இருக்கும் விசுவநாத ஐயர் புத்தகத்தின் கடைசியில் இணைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் படத்தில் 'விசுவநாத அய்யர்' ஆகிறார். விஷயமா அல்லது விடயமா என்பது ஆசிரியருக்கு தீராத குழப்பமாகவே இருக்கிறது. திராவிட இயக்கத்தவர் அல்லவா அப்படிப்பட்ட தெளிவின்மைகள் இருக்கத்தான் செய்யும் வாசகர்கள் பொறுத்தருள வேண்டும்.

Tamil writer Karichaan Kunju reminiscing about his days in school during 1940s, in an article about his friend T. Janakiraman, writes how Bharati's works were proscribed and how reciting his poems would invite stringent punishments. The dramatis personae in the quest to liberate Bharati's works are, interestingly, mostly non-Brahmins, including many in the portals of power. I wondered about the DMK propaganda of how Brahmins had a hegemony over power and cultural avocations. Ascribing the freedom to publish and freely available cheap editions (I've a copy of Poompuhar published Bharathi anthology dated 1978 from my father, priced at Rs 7) as being a prime reason for the popularity of the poet does injustice to a complex history of societal movements and socio-cultural reasons. That story remains to be told by a social historian. From Brahmins proscribing Bharati's poems to Brahmins, who maintain a stranglehold on Carnatic music, adopting his songs exclusively, ignoring even Bharathidasan's poems in totality, is an interesting tale that awaits a historian for it's narration.

The most unedifying part of the book that I hope subsequent editions will do without is the foreword. Apparently Chalapathy and the publisher, Kalachuvadu, have had some friction with a descendant of Bharathi. Chalapathy uses the foreword to ridicule the great-granddaughter of the poet for staking a moral claim to the poet's works and for ascribing greed as a motive for those who published her illustrious ancestor's works. It is specious to deny the descendant her 'moral claim' while acceding such a claim to Chellamma that the author and the then government give her despite the fact that she had no legal standing since she had sold the rights to Viswanatha Iyer. One cannot choose the moral pedestal when convenient and then turn to legal settings when inconvenient. For a person who diligently presented all documentary evidence it is unbecoming not to have included the oped written by the descendant that Chalapathy takes exception to. Moreover given that the publisher was Kalachuvadu, who also happens to be a publisher of the book, it is an ugly spectacle of an author carrying water for his publisher that too in the foreword of a book. This section crosses all limits of ethical conduct.

Two suggestions to the publisher and author. Please add a chronology of events. I actually typed out one just to get my timeline of events correct in order to write this review. Also, a good non-fiction book needs an Index, at least of names. Even a rudimentary one would be a good idea.

Kalachuvadu has a well earned reputation for producing books by authors of quality and well produced books at that. This booklet is a fine addition to their list of publications. Chalapathy, the faults not withstanding, has produced an important addition to the literature about Bharathi. For the lay Tamil reader this booklet gives a window into an important slice of history. Chalapathy shows promise to be a good historian one day. 


  1. A. R. Venkatachalapathy's article in Kalachuvadu issue dated June 2015 on the copyright issue. This article pretty much sums up the book. The book, rather booklet, only adds to this article by way of including evidentiary support as pointed in this review.
  2. A review in 'The Hindu' (note, I am not the author of that adulatory review. It's a different person)பாரதி-படைப்புகள்-பொதுவுடைமையான-கதை/article7980196.ece
  3. A.R. Venkatachalapathy
  4. Karichaan Kunju on T. Janakiraman and being punished for reciting Bharati's poems
  5. Jeyakanthan's legendary (or notorious) speech about Annathurai
  6. Excerpt from Jeyakanthan's speech:
"அண்ணாதுரையின் மறைவினால் அவர் இந்திய அரசியலில் பிரிட்டிஷ்காரர்களின் கையாளாக நமக்கு அறிமுகம் ஆனவர் என்ற உண்மை மறைந்துவிடுவதில்லை. நாத்திகம், சமூக சீர்திருத்தம் என்ற அசட்டுத்தனங்களில் சிக்கி நமது இலக்கியங்களையும், புராணங்களையும், ஹிந்து சமயத்தையும் பாமரத்தனமாக விமர்சனம் செய்து பாமரர் மத்தியில் புகழடைந்தார் என்கிற உண்மையும் மறைந்து விடாது. அவர் எழுதிய குப்பைப் புத்தகங்களெல்லாம் அவரது மரணத்தை எருவாகக் கொண்டு குருக்கத்திப் பூக்களாய் மலர்ந்துவிடப் போவதில்லை. அவர் சம்பந்தப்பட்ட எல்லாமே இரவல். இரவலே ஆயினும் அதை அவர் ஒப்புக் கொள்ளாததால் அது இலக்கியத் திருட்டு. அதற்கும்மேல் அவரது இரவல் சரக்குகள் எத்தகையது என்பதை அறிகிற பொழுது, அவரது தரம் மிகவும் தாழ்ந்தது என்கிற உண்மையையும் இந்த மரணம் வந்து மறைத்துவிடப் போவதில்லை.
அவரை அறிஞர் என்று மூடர்களே அழைக்கலாயினர். அவரைப் பேரறிஞர் என்றூ பெருமூடர்களே அழைக்கலாயினர். நகைச்சுவை எழுத்தாளர் என்று பெயரெடுத்திருந்த கல்கி அவர்கள் பத்திரிகையில் எழுதிய ஒரு நாடக விமர்சனத்தில் அண்ணாதுரையை பெர்னாட்ஷா என்று வஞ்சகப் புகழ்ச்சி செய்திருக்கிறார். தமிழர்களே! உங்களுடைய தற்காலத் தகுதிக்கு இவர்தான் பெர்னாட்ஷா என்பதாகவே அதை நான் புரிந்து கொண்டேன்."

Monday, February 1, 2016

No, I Did Not Donate to Jeyamohan. From Taking Pot Shots to Appreciating Jeyamohan.

I'd like to categorically state that I've not donated a penny to Jeyamohan or anything allied with him. Also, I visit Princeton University as a neighbor and frequent it's fantastic book store but beyond that I don't know anybody in any American university, not even the janitorial staff and therefore the idea that I could get Jeyamohan any visiting fellowship is laughable at best. Not only do I not have disposable wealth in the crores even if I had it I don't think I'm generous enough to dole it out. Also let me reiterate that I do not have any membership in any religious organization whatsoever. It may be news to some rabid hate mongers that not every Christian is a sleeper cell proselytizing evangelist with undisclosed funds at his/her disposal.

The only gift I gave Jeyamohan during his two day stay with me was David Gordon White's "Patanjali's Yoga Sutra: A biography". I gave the book only after asking if he'd like to read it and if he'd take it.

I was made aware of a canard, that I had donated money to Jeyamohan and facilitated visiting professorship at a university, a while back thanks to a social media post that actually meant to debunk it. I'm aware that I'm just an itinerant blogger and I never take myself as seriously as to be subject of a malicious slandering campaign against the likes of Jeyamohan. Given that the slander was carried out surreptitiously in internet groups I was blissfully unaware of its extent and poisonous sting. If the slander had been in any open forum I'd have disabused the accusers of such calumny, not because my name is besmirched or anything, I don't suffer from any such grand notions of myself but for the sake of Jeyamohan who had kindly accepted a simple hospitality. 

A Boston blogger acquaintence had surprisingly included me in an email sent to readers of Jeyamohan to figure out who can host him during his stay in the tri-state area. On a lark I thought why not host him at my home. The motivation was simple, to show some spots around New Jersey that are not commonly frequented by visitors and during the period he was with me I wanted to give him a flavor of a country that I deeply love and for which I'm often misunderstood. I wrote to him that he would be treated courteously and honorably without unnecessary contentious squabbling. He replied warmly that contrary to the sharp persona that emerges from his online writings he enjoys frivolous humor. With that note of mutual regard our program was afoot. For two days he mostly spoke of Gandhi, Nehru and his experience in the Tamil film world. I've written extensively on those two days. 

Responding to a reader asking him, recently, what he actually thinks of me Jeyamohan used the opportunity to address the swirling rumor and frankly state that we both reached a state of warm regard despite me starting off on the wrong foot with him. As he stated candidly that though we share a regard for each we live in different worlds. Yes, there are areas where I admire his writings and then there are areas where I'd demur. 

Many have snidely referred to my changed equation in relating to Jeyamohan and wonder why? I'm to be blamed in large part for this. The first blog I read by Jeyamohan was about Ayn Rand. I wrote an intemperate and amateurish email to him in a huff about what I considered as mistakes. His response was equally harsh. I don't blame him. Though I still think he has not understood Ayn Rand in the correct perspective I've come to see a lot of Ayn Rand in himself. I'm a man of few friends, then and still, and I love to react instantaneously to what I read, especially if I can take a pot shot at it. Jeyamohan, with his propensity to opine on a lot of topics on a daily basis, provided ample fodder. My twitter feeds and Facebook posts used to unfailingly nitpick on many posts. Somewhere unbeknownst to me I had gained a notoriety for my barbs against Jeyamohan. Unfortunately while I gave free airing to the pot shots I seldom wrote on what I liked and agreed. As I read him regularly I understood and admired his writings on Gandhi and his many posts on literary criticisms. 

 When Tamizachi Thangapandiyan, a perpetually bedecked partisan speaker, slandered Gandhi and Tamil savant U.Ve.Swaminathan I wrote rebuttals with detailed factual evidences that debunked her slanders. Thamizachi had the luxury of addressing a few hundred at FeTNA. I wrote to Jeyamohan, providing a link to my blog of course, about the slanders. Thanks to him many more people than I could've reached and many more than those who heard Thamizachi read the blogs. Even then I did write that he need not publish my email at all and all that I wanted was someone of his stature to debunk her. Unfortunately that I could recognize and appreciate something about a common topic went unnoticed and even questioned by Tamizachi's admirers who are quite a few in FeTNA. 

Jeyamohan, unfortunately, harbors many suspicions about western authors, especially those who write on India. When he wrote about Will Durant I corresponded with him to present Durant truthfully. During that exchange after a mess up about Nanjil Nadan's visit he published a disclaimer about me. However, following that, thanks to an eager reader of his he had been told of my many tweets. He asked "if you dislike so much why bother reading me". I told him that on the contrary I do enjoy reading him and that the pot shots were an unfortunate habit of mine. With that I reduced them largely and tried to tone it down too. In this backdrop the visit happened and we maintain a friendly mutual regard despite our obvious disagreements. Just last year, prior to the visit, I had written a very lengthy rebuttal to his charge that the anti-Gandhi sentiments in India were being fanned by Marxists and minorities. Having been chastened and having come to have a true regard for his willingness to be engaged in a debate as long as the opponent was respectful and had something worthwhile to say my rebuttal was a polar opposite to the Ayn Rand email. He disagreed with the rebuttal but responded warmly.

Human beings, of all political and ideological persuasions, believe, in varying degrees, conspiracy theories of some inimical forces operating against their interests and what they hold dear. Once the fund raising issue was laid out in the open quite a number of Jeyamohan's detractors gleefully said "the chickens have come home to roost". Jeyamohan engaged in a very public spat with S.V. Rajadurai on being funded by foreign organizations. While his detractors have a point Jeyamohan is not without defense either. Even American educational institutions are now raising alarm about Chinese funding of research and funding by corporations of studies in areas like climate change have always been fertile sources of conspiracy theories. Jeyamohan's opponents have their own pet conspiracy theories and are throwing stones from glass houses. 

During his tour of USA & Canada Jeyamohan stayed in a number of houses and I guess I was the only one who was Christian. It should be borne in mind that ever since he wrote 'Vellaiyaanai' in 2013 Jeyamohan has had a near total break up with the Hindutva brigade. The Hindutva hate monger Aravindan Neelakandan (in Jeyamohan's words "இந்துத்துவ வெறுப்பை கக்கும் அரவிந்தன் நீலகண்டன்  ") went hammer and tongs at the book and cast aspersions on the book being, albeit, unintentionally perhaps, a propaganda material in the hands of evangelists and fundamentalists against Hinduism. In this backdrop Jeyamohan is now accused of furthering Dalit activism, an activism that is often tied to Christian evangelism, aided by Christian funding. Oy vey. In the midst of all this a set of very friendly emails back and forth between me and Jemo added fuel when in reply to one of the emails Jeyamohan laced into a Hindu organization where he had delivered a speech for hosting an undesirable character. Rumor mills went into overdrive that Jeyamohan is now having his strings pulled by Christian funds. 

Jeyamohan has always had very tenuous relationship with the Hindutva brigade and it is common knowledge that things soured between him and some in that camp. The silence from that camp to Jeyamohan's recent lectures on Gita was quite noticeable. Amidst all of this heady mix came the bombshell from Jeyamohan that he had turned down the Padma Shri award. He wrote that he turned down the award because his opponents would besmirch not just his reputation but what he considers his magnum opus, 'Venmurasu', a 10 year epic narration of Mahabharatha. He said his opponents, of whom he is never in shortage, would say that his Hindutva colors are now exposed and that his supposed magnum opus was only a lobbying effort to garner the award. 

India's most famous actor was awarded the second highest civilian award, Padma Vibhushan but it appeared that Jeyamohan's turning down of Padma Sri was the one that set the blogsopshere and internet commentariat literally afire in the Tamil circles. Friends and well wishers of Jeyamohan, including me, felt that he should've accepted the award. His enemies of course went to town with unrestrained conspiracy theories, doubted his motive, ridiculed his explanation and found this to be another occasion to dump crap on him.

Jeyamohan himself has written about his past associations with RSS. While he is not, in his words, a devout Hindu he is an ardent upholder of the Advaita school of philosophy and an unapologetic nationalist. Both of those are looked at derisively in Tamil Nadu thanks to nearly half century of ideological domination of the intellectual milieu by Dravidian ideology, which, in reality, is an insult to the word 'ideology' since it has nothing that merits the label 'idea' or 'intellectual'. The intellectual climate of Tamil Nadu is a sewer of half baked ideas of rationalism and loads of patent stupidity, all originating with a rabble rousing chief priest E.V. Ramasamy Naicker. Mr Naicker is occasionally referred to as 'Periyar'.

"நட்டக் கல்லும் பேசுமோ நாதன் உள்ளிருக்கையிலே" என்றும் "சுத்த அறிவே சிவமென்று கூறுஞ் சுருதிகள் கேளீரோ" என்றும் கேட்ட ஞான மரபின் நீட்சியாகத் தன்னைக் காண்பவரும் ஆல் அமர்ந்த ஆசிரியனின் விழுதாகத் தன்னை பாவிப்பவரும் ஈரோட்டுக்காரரின் அரை வேக்காட்டு நாத்திகத்தை நமுட்டு சிரிப்போடு நிர்தாட்சண்யமாக தோலுரித்ததில் என்ன ஆச்சர்யம்.

A popular folk lore in Tamil Nadu is that the advent of Mr. Naicker ushered in civilization to a bonded people who lacked freedom and education and were held in thrall to superstitions given birth by the cosmic conspiracy of Brahmins. Amongst the mythical tales that abound about Mr. Naicker is one that lends a special halo to him, the so called Vaikom Struggle. Mr. Naicker's devotees fondly believe that he spearheaded the struggle and demolished centuries old customs of Hinduism in the city of Vaikom. Jeyamohan, in a much discussed blog, exploded that myth and laid the facts bare. Joseph Lelyveld, also using the same resources, arrived at the same conclusion in his book on Gandhi. This act of Jeyamohan coupled with his fervent espousal of India's philosophical traditions, which Mr. Naicker lacked the intellectual training to understand, and upholding of nationalism earned him the undying spiteful ire of Mr. Naicker's addle headed worshippers.

For those who incessantly question why I like to read Jeyamohan despite disagreements and criticisms my answer is simple, if I applied the yardstick used to measure Jeyamohan with most of critiques they completely disappear into intellectual oblivion. Suguna Diwakar and Rajan Kurai Krishnan, two people of very different intellectual pedigrees, both come out looking ingloriously pedestrian if I applied the same critical standards. Diwakar became famous for trying to rebut Jeyamohan on the Vaikom issue. Diwakar's blog shows he has little intellectual heft to understand sources and to evaluate a complex picture. Joseph Lelyveld has devoted a chapter to the Vaikom struggle and the one name that is conspicuously absent in that narration is that of Mr.Naicker's. Another blog of Suguna Diwakar on how EVR conducted himself in the aftermath of the tragic massacre at Keezhvenmani shows, unintentionally, how muddled and contradictory EVR's thinking was on any topic. EVR, from Diwakar's blog, can be safely concluded to not have even elementary understanding of the workings of democracy and was a habitual dictatorial person evincing clearly fascist tendencies. 

In a state where India's hoary intellectual tradition and rich philosophical heritage were besmirched by charlatans and entire generations have grown up devoid of an intellectual framework to understand them Jeyamohan appears as the devil they thought they had slain. Jeyamohan's writings on Indian philosophy and principal texts can easily be placed along side the likes of David Gordon White. I used to hold Radhakrishnan's exposition of Indian philosophy dearly until I listened to the rich tapestry of Jeyamohan's lecture on Adi Shankara. 

The Hindutva brigade does arrogate to itself some of Jeyamohan's writings since it chimes with their notion of a glorious Hindu past. The author should not be held responsible for what misuses his views are subjected to. Allan Bloom and Gordon Wood have watched in dismay as the American right wing appropriated their books to further the right wing agenda. 

That said there are times when Jeyamohan does hold views that are patently Hindutva. I'd cite his two blogs ('நான் இந்துவா?' and 'எனது இந்தியா') as examples of those. But there's a crucial difference between Jeyamohan and the likes of Aravindan Neelakandan. With Jeyamohan one could have a dialogue and there is even the possibility that he may moderate an idea. Now, unlike Jeyamohan, both Rajan Kurai and Neelakandan will show extreme doctrinal inflexibility built on nothing but rabid hatred. Increasingly Jeyamohan takes pains to distinguish his discussions on Hindu philosophies from the puritanical and jingoistic versions that the Hindutva crowd loves to peddle. Anyone who listens to his recent lectures will recognize, as I pointed out in my recent blogs, that there are parts that'll anger not just the politically motivated but the uninformed orthodox devotee. It's not that he has had any epiphany on staking out the middle ground. He's been advocating at least a quasi-academic approach towards the holy texts of Hinduism and he held it as a matter of pride that Hinduism has the unique intellectual elasticity to accommodate new interpretations. As an ADvaitist it matters little to him if Krishna was a god-head. In fact Jeyamohan, along with other anthropologists and historians, has argued that the Krishna cult is an evolution. His ire, though, is with those Marxists and secularists who unquestioningly accommodate for Christ and Muhammad being philosophers but react with apoplectic horror at the notion of Krishna being a philosopher-prince. For advancing such views he is tarred with the Hindutva brush. Many who tar Jeyamohan as nothing beyond a peddler of Hindutva ideology have read neither him nor anything of note in theological debates.

Even in the occasions when Jeyamohan's views hew close to Hindutva one needs to bear in mind many of those occasions are due to lack of better scholarship in India. Good friend P.A. Krishnan, for example, writes columns on Tipu Sultan, what is science, difference between science and technology, Nehru, Kamban and more. Most of those topics need to be written by academicians but the real tragedy is there are very, very few academicians in Tamil Nadu who can even match the quality of Krishnan's writing. It is this intellectual climate that Jeyamohan, Nanjil Nadan and Krishnan operate in. Unlike his Dravidian counterparts like A.Marx or Rajan Kurai Jeyamohan would at least engage with a critic who lays out in a logical manner why some conclusion raised by him could be questionable. Rajan Kurai famously challenged P.A. Krishnan to a debate on Mr. Naicker only to chicken out by feigning some righteous indignation.

Dravidian ideologues have a tunneled view of history and reject anything that does not conform to their worldview or propagandist agenda. Their attitude towards V.V.S. Iyer, Bharathi and Rajaji compared to Jeyamohan's narrative of their complex personalities and contributions to society, their weaknesses notwithstanding, shows a sharp contrast. While Dravidian ideologues lampoon V.V.S. Iyer and Rajaji for supposedly upholding casteist agenda Jeyamohan not only questions the premises of such conclusions, based on evidence or the lack of it, he also sets in context their contributions that the ideologues would uncharitably dismiss. V.V.S. Iyer made yeoman contributions to Tamil prose. Rajan Kurai expresses anger at Jeyamohan for questioning Bharathi's poetic genius. Rajan Kurai is unaware, perhaps, of literary critics like Mark Van Doren who've derided even Shakespeare or of Shaw who plainly wrote that Shakespeare is incompetent in portraying human strengths.

Beyond his literary contributions across many genres Jeyamohan's other greatest contribution is his literary criticism. So many chafe and gnash their teeth at the sharp edged criticisms that Jeyamohan unveils of Tamil literature, past and contemporary. No contemporary writer has spent more hours on the keyboard educating a society on what is criticism, what are the rules for a critic, why unsympathetic criticism is needed, how to differentiate art from popular art, why popular art is even needed and should private lives matter in a critique. While Jeyamohan is not the first critic or even one to write on those topics but he's certainly the first to write on all those topics, answer to reader's letters; answer to those questioning the answers and to do all that over years. To my knowledge no contemporary writer consistently critiques the writings of many, including those who heap scorn on him. Irrespective of his personal view of anyone Jeyamohan has been scrupulously intellectually honest when he critiques their works. There's too much brouhaha about Jeyamohan referring to Kamala Das's appearance in an obituary for her and to Manushya Puthiran's physical handicap in a review of his poetry. Jeyamohan has repeatedly pointed out that he was only being an honest critic and that too he was only pointing out to those factors since the authors themselves referred to it. Its dishonest not to give Jeyamohan the intellectual space for those viewpoints but then this Tamil Nadu where sudden defenders of women sprout from every corner if it can be used to throw dirt on Jeyamohan. Even in my days of taking potshots I've always supported Jeyamohan's literary liberties in the above occasions. Nobody in America would throw out Saul Bellow's contributions just because he asked "who is the Tolstoy of Zulus?". Poor Jeyamohan lives in India and not in America.

Jeyamohan not only tears down he also more often offers constructive criticism to wannabe writers on how to be better writers. Just a day back he patiently pointed out to a very young writer why his short story is clichéd and how he could turn it into a good narrative. Whether it is honoring forgotten or little noticed writers or youngsters Jeyamohan is in a league by himself. The 'Vishnupuram' award instituted by Jeyamohan has become an annual literary event solely due to his efforts and of course his readers circle. To all those who wail and rant about Jeyamohan's criticisms the question is simple, "who amongst has done more to identify talent? Who amongst you has done more to praise and explain talent?" None. Long before Sahitya Akademi discovered A.Madhavan Jeyamohan honored him, not just with an award but more importantly by writing a booklet explaining Madhavan's contribution to literature. This is the work that universities should be doing.

Considerable anger is directed at Jeyamohan for characterizing E.V. Ramasamy as one who brought a crowbar when a surgical scalpel was needed. In one of the finest pieces he wrote Jeyamohan sets EVR against a landscape, traces the precursors of EVR, their ideological differences, why EVR's crowbar attitude succeeded, what was the social cost of that success, what were the historical possibilities that might've unfolded if others had succeeded, the myth making of EVR and the airbrushing out of history of other seminal thinkers and activists. In a state that has been blanketed half century of propaganda and myth making about the messianic nature of EVR Jeyamohan's criticisms were explosive to say the least. By the time he articulated the views Jeyamohan had cemented himself as a literary person of note. Also, the internet provided a freedom and a platform for Jeyamohan that the Dravidian ideologue dominated academic and power structure would've never provided. In this regard Jeyamohan eagerly took the torch from Jeyakanthan and he took it to a distance that no one thought was possible. No wonder the Rajan Kurai's of Tamil Nadu are baying for Jeyamohan's blood like a pack of hungry wolves.

The extent to which the very mention of Gandhi has become fraught with danger in Tamil Nadu is evident from a blog of Roza Vasanth. Roza, not his real name, in a blog about Medha Patkar makes a brief comparison of Gandhi's and EVR's attitudes towards non-violence. After summing that Gandhi was uncompromising on non-violence Roza adds a disclaimer that Gandhi's attitudes towards Ambedkar and the Poona Pact shenanigans are a different matter and need to be discussed separately. EVR, Roza conceded, supported non-violence only if it could secure success. What is the need to add a disclaimer for Gandhi that too about an unrelated issue to what was being discussed? Roza, like Rajan Kurai, is a Brahmin and any unqualified praise of Gandhi, that too placing him on par with EVR on an issue, will invite stinging rebuke from EVR's blind worshippers to whom Gandhi is the incarnate of Hinduism, which, in turn, is anathema in totality. If Roza had not added that disclaimer his 'image' as reformist minded upper caste would be trashed within nano-seconds. It is in such a vituperative climate that Jeyamohan has practically rehabilitated Gandhi. Rajan Kurai in his diatribe against Jeyamohan pays obeisance to the deity of EVR and hurls defamatory abuses at Jeyamohan that he insults Ambedkar and Dalits. That, to a man who has written very sensitively article after article on Ambedkar and is now vilified by Hindutva crowd for Dalit activism. Poor Jeyamohan; damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

Turning down the Padma Shri and explaining his reasons, cited earlier, for doing so unleashed a barrage of finger wagging by the self-righteously indignant. A whole phalanx of his enemies, the likes of Kutti Revathy and Rajan Kurai, charged forward with screeds. The most surprising support for Jeyamohan came from the unlikeliest of persons, Yuva Krishna, editor of a salacious Tamil weekly. 

Last year when Jeyamohan accepted the Canada based 'Iyal award' there was a round of titters from those who eagerly reminded the world that Jeyamohan had once castigated the award as being dead for having dished out the prizes to those he considered mediocre. His naysayers demanded to know how come he's accepting that award now. Whether stung by Jeyamohan's criticism or on their own the organization that awarded the 'Iyal' prize earned back their reputation by choosing S.Ramakrishnan and Nanjil Nadan as recipients and finally came to Jeyamohan. I see no contradiction here. Jeyamohan castigated an award committee when they, in his opinion, lowered the standards and when they awarded prizes to appropriate people he was glad to oblige them when they chose him.

Rudran a psychologist said that the public rejection is posturing and having decided to reject Jeyamohan should've done so quietly. Since Sartre lived in France his rejection of the Nobel prize was met with more dignity and Sartre gladly penned a statement laying out his reasons for his rejection of the Nobel. Sartre, too, felt that the prize will cast a shadow on his political and literary positions (see references for the statement published in

Perundevi, a graduate from George Washington University and professor of Religious studies, cheekily remarked that one feels suffocated while trying to say something sympathetic about Jeyamohan's plight. It could very well be green envy since Jeyamohan's book on Hindu philosophy is of a standard she is still aspiring to compete despite an American education. I'm yet to hear of a book by Perundevi in the mould of Karen Armstrong or Jack Miles or Elaine Pagels. If she voids her hatred and focuses on her work maybe she'll achieve it. Good luck Perundevi.

Kutti Revathi joins the crowd to have her share of pummeling. She sarcastically recommends that Jeyamohan should accept the award because he serves of the cause of nationalism and Hindutva. Only in India would one cheerfully ridicule a writer for loving the country he was born in and for cherishing its ancient intellectual tradition. Maybe I'm insulting Jeyamohan by even recounting barbs by the likes of Ms. Revathi. 

While Rajan Kurai accuses Jeyamohan of being anti-Dalit Kalavai Venkat, Rajan's counterpart on the Hindutva side, equally blind with rage and hatred, accuses Jeyamohan of indulging in activities centered around "Dalit activism and  Christian posturing". Maybe in a completely unintended manner Jeyamohan may've truly moved to the center since he's being attacked from opposite ends of the spectrum or maybe he has become, what we call, an equal opportunity offender.

I've always held that DK and RSS are two sides of the same coin. EVR and Golwalkar are counterparts. Kalavai Venkat and Veeramani are indistinguishable when it comes to dishing out hatred, half baked truths and in perverting knowledge to serve partisan ends. Both Venkat and Veeramani practice what I call the 'grammar of hatred'. Their techniques are very identical the only difference is that both target different sections to satisfy and vilify.Kalavai Venkat is livid that Jeyamohan once said that if as Hindu he has to choose between Jesus and Hinduism he'd choose Jesus. True to his colors Kalavai refuses to understand that Jeyamohan was making that statement as a Gandhian and as one who takes pride in the Catholicism of Hinduism. He meant it as protest statement to underscore that being open to admire and worship other faiths is what he takes pride in being a Hindu. There cannot be a better accolade than that to Hinduism.

Ideologies of both Hindutva and Dravidian party demand unquestioning and absolute loyalty with no room for any grey area let alone outright dissent. They are both inherently fascist. In a recent book review by a Hindutva author Jeyamohan asked readers to engage with Hindutva intellectually and give it credence as an idea before dumping it wholesale. He then concluded the review by pointing out that the author refuses to consider non-Hindu faiths as anything but alien irrespective of their centuries old presence in India and their contributions to Indian culture. Incidentally, William Dalrymple points out that Patanjali's Yoga Sutras got a new lease of life under the Mughal rule. 

I agree that one should engage with Hindutva intellectually. I've said in an earlier blog debunking Neelakandan's canards about Nehru that we should not give such canards a pass saying "oh well what do you expect". Whether it is Nazism or fascism or Hindutva or EVR one should address the propaganda head on with impeccable scholarship but what one can never do is place them on a respectable footing as an idea. 

I'd not mind if Jeyamohan did not call me a scholar but what I do find disappointing is calling Neelakandan a scholar. Kalavai Venkat is a dear friend of P.A. Krishnan and Krishnan keeps referring to him as scholar. I've disagreed with PAK on that score saying Kalavai is no scholar because he often presents as evidence factoids intentionally decontextualized only so that they'll serve his vitriolic propaganda. Unfortunately Jeyamohan is learning at great personal cost that engaging Hindutva brigade and expecting gentlemanly discourse is naive. 

Kalavai Venkat, a resident of America, suggests that Jeyamohan 'traded' Padma Shri for some possible award by a western body in the future. This is laughably ridiculous if it were not insulting to both Jeyamohan and the probity of Western institutions. If Jeyamohan had indeed accepted the award this same guy would twist the other way and say Jeyamohan accepted the award as a ticket for some cushy well funded project. When slanderous intention and a take-no-prisoners rage combine rationalism and logic stand no chance of survival. No level is too low to stoop in order to malign.

I took Jeyamohan's explanatory note at face value. 'Venmurasu' is not my cup of tea today, maybe someday I might read it and like it even but I'll never question how Jeyamohan thinks of writing it as a herculean effort and how it is an all consuming passion for him. Whatever one may think of it one has to tip his/her hat to the fact that Jeyamohan is churning out Venmurasu like a Karma Yogi. He has many dreams for the project. From Kazantzakis to Jose Saramagos to Philip Pullman one could easily write Biblical themed fiction and not be looked down upon as an evangelist or enemy of the church but Jeyamohan has encountered a sea of whisper campaign about his epic effort being driven by a larger agenda. When Jeyamohan avers that he rejected the prize lest his epic effort have a shadow cast upon it I truly trust him because I know how much the epic means to him. 

On New Year eve I was returning from my favorite bookstore mulling about Nehru since I had written about him last December and a thought struck me. Nehru, like Gandhi, despite legions of followers, so many colleagues and friends was in essence a loner. Then strangely I thought "in a way Jeyamohan too is a loner". As much as it may be hard to believe for many I was filled with a sense of "I wish Jeyamohan was better appreciated in ways that befit him, not in the empty sense that he mostly gets". I was at that time disappointed by what I felt was lack of 'appropriate intellectual' appreciation for his Gita and Shankara lectures. On Dec 31st Jeyamohan published a sad blog with a friend wishing him "well you've been called every name in the books maybe this year, having run out of names to call you, you'll be spared". Jeyamohan's reply was tinged with sadness and foreboding. I wrote him an email wishing him well and wanting to see him in his familiar role as happy warrior. 

I'd strongly recommend all these stone throwers to relax and read Paul Johnson's "Intellectuals". Johnson eviscerates intellectual giants like Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Brecht and Russell for a wide range of frailties and perversions. Johnson ends the book questioning the right of intellectuals to pontificate to society given their horrible track record. I disagree. Intellectuals are not role models, nor are they saints (saints don't produce art anyway), they are all too human but they leave the world enriched with their lives and art. Ibsen, Johnson says, hankered after awards and medals in an ugly way. At least Jeyamohan has shown he's cut from a different cloth.

I hope in the years to come more awards come his way and he does not turn down any. A Jnanpith is long overdue. Oh, I still do have some of his blogs to rebut and refute. Maybe I'll soon write how Nehru did not destroy Indian intellectual tradition in his education policy. "நேருவின் கல்விக் கொள்கை: மறுதலிக்கப் பட்டதா இந்திய ஞான மரபு", இல்லை தோள்சீலைப் பற்றி எழுதலாம். பார்ப்போம். 


  1. Jeyamohan on turning down Padma Shri
  2. One more on turning down the award
  3. Kalavai Venkat on Jeyamohan and the award
  4. Rajan Kurai Krishnan on Jeyamohan and the awardமீண்டும்-ஜெயமோகனின்-வாக்குமூலம்-விருது-வாங்காமை-விளக்கம்/1129204400425389
  5. Rajan Kurai alleging Jemo insulted Ambedkar (amongst other things) "அபான வாயுவை வெளியிடுபவன் மிகையாக தன் மூக்கை பொத்திக்கொண்டு சுற்று முற்றும் பார்த்து தான் அதற்கு பொறுப்பல்ல என்று நடிப்பது போல, தமிழ் இலக்கிய வரலாற்றில் எந்த எழுத்தாளரும் நினைத்துக்கூட பார்க்காத அளவு பிழையான அரசியல் கருத்துக்களை தொடர்ந்து பரப்புவதும், ஜெயகாந்தன் உட்பட தேசிய மனோபாவக்காரர்கள் உருவகித்த இலட்சியவாத தேசத்திற்கு பதிலாக "நவீன" தேசமே தனது இலட்சியமென சொல்லி வல்லரசு சார்ந்த நடவடிக்கைகளுக்கு வக்காலத்து வாங்குவதும், இந்துத்துவ பாசிசத்தை கண்டிக்காமல் பூச்சாண்டி அரசியல் செய்து அதற்கு துணை நிற்பதும், தனிப்பட்ட முறையில் இடதுசாரி, திராவிட இயக்க சிந்தனையாளர்களை அவதூறு செய்வதும், பெண் எழுத்தாளர்களை உருவம் சார்ந்து கொச்சைப்படுத்துவதும் ஆகிய பல்வேறு அருவருக்கத்தக்க செயல்முறைகளுக்கு சொந்தக்காரரான ஜெயமோகன் தமிழ்ச் சூழல் ஏதோ விஷமாக இருக்கிறது என்கிறாராம் - உடனே சில சொரணைகெட்ட இலக்கிய தீவிரங்கள் அவருக்கு ஜால்ரா அடிக்கின்றன. தமிழ் சூழலின் வெட்கக்கேடே ஜெயமோகன் என்பவர்தான். எந்த இலக்கியவாதியும் அவர் அளவுக்கு வலதுசாரி, அரசுமையவாத அரசியலை அதன் அனைத்து தளங்களிலும் பேசியதில்லை. பார்ப்பன ஜாதீய அரசியலை முடக்கி மக்களாட்சி அரசியலை மலரச்செய்த பாபாசாகேப் அம்பேத்கரையும், பெரியாரையும் கொச்சைப்படுத்தியதில்லை. இத்தனையும் செய்து விட்டு தமிழகத்தில் இலக்கிய சூழலை அரசியல் கெடுக்கிறது என்று மாய்மாலம் செய்தால் அதையும் நம்புவதற்கு நாலுபேர் இருக்கத்தான் செய்கிறார்கள். அதுதான் சூழல்!" -- Posted on FB Jan 26th
  6.  Kutti Revathi on Jeyamohan and the award ""அந்த பத்மஶ்ரீ விருதை நீங்கள் வாங்கியே ஆகவேண்டும். பெண் எழுத்தாளர்களை இகழ்ந்து பேசுதல், இந்துத்துவச் சிந்தனைகளை இந்தியாவின் அடிப்படைச் சிந்தனையாக வலியுறுத்துதல் என்று இந்த இந்தியத் திருநாட்டின் குடிமகனாய்த் தங்களை நிறுவிக்கொள்ள நீங்கள் தான் அதிகமாய் உழைத்திருக்கிறீர்கள். அந்த விருதிற்கு முற்றிலும் தகுதியானவர் நீங்கள் தான். தயவுசெய்து மறுக்காதீர்கள்!"-- Posted on FB on Jan25th.
  7. Perundevi -- "ஒன்றரையணா வெகுசனப் பத்திரிகையில் விருது கொடுத்தாலே பீற்றிக்கொள்ளும் நம் சூழலில் பத்மஸ்ரீ விருதை மறுத்திருப்பது பெரிய விஷயம்தானே என்றால் ஆ(...மாம்) என்று சொல்ல வாய் திறக்க (முடியாமல்) ஆ...வின் சுழியில் நம் கழுத்தை இறுக்கிவிட்டார் இனிய ஜெயம் " -- Posted on Jan 24th.
  8. My blog on Jeyamohan's NJ visit
  9. My blog on Jeyamohan's discourses on Gita and Shankara
  10. What's unique about Jeyamohan's discourses on Gita
  11. Jeyamohan on EVR
  12. Suguna Diwakar on EVR and Keezhvenmani
  13. Roza Vasanth on Gandhi and EVR
  14. Aravindan Neelakandan and Jeyamohan email exchange on Vellaiyaanai