हड़प्पा के नाम

कौन थे तुम?
कहाँ से आए थे?

कौन सी अनजानी
भाषा बोलते थे?
कैसे आजीबोगरीब
अक्षर लिखते थे?
किसको पूजते थे?
किससे डरते थे?
मृतक शरीरों का
क्या करते थे?

कहाँ से सीखा,
ईंटें सिंकाना?
सड़कों सी चौड़ी
दीवारें उठाना?
पक्की नालियाँ
और किले बनाना?
खिलौने ढालना,
मनके सजाना?

कौन सी आँधी
थी वो समय की
जो लील गई तुम्हें
ये सब करके भी?
किसी को अपनी भाषा
सिखा भी न सके
क्या कहते थे ख़ुद को
इतना भी बता न सके।

और सदियों बाद
एक-एक कर के,
तुम्हारे टूटे मटके
जोड़ जोड़ के,
तुम्हें जानने की
हम कोशिश कर रहे।
डग-डग पर लेकिन
हैं हम अटक रहे।

दुख है हमें
तुम्हारा किया गँवाने का।
गुस्सा है
तुम्हें न समझ पाने का।
डर भी है
तुम्हारी तरह मिट जाने का,
किले टूट जाने का,
दीवारें गिर जाने का।

और इसलिए
हम पूछना बंद नहीं कर सकते-
कौन थे तुम?
कहाँ से आए थे?

Inspired by my recent trip to Dholavira and Lothal with Carnelian.

Book of the Month: The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

Have you checked out Worth a Read (http://wortharead.pub) yet?

Worth a Read

The Professor and the Madman“A tale of murder, insanity, and the making of the Oxford English Dictionary” goes the subtitle of the book I have selected for this month. It indeed is all of that. One might argue that the making of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is the primary tale here, but it wouldn’t have made as fascinating a read if it also didn’t include the stories of the eponymous professor and the madman, two people intimately connected with the dictionary’s development. They were Sir James Murray, the primary editor of the dictionary, and Dr. W. C. Minor, one of the most prolific and productive contributors to the dictionary for about twenty years.

Okay! Quiz time:

  1. Which dictionaries did Shakespeare refer to while writing his plays?
  2. When Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was first conceived, how much time was the first edition supposed to take?
  3. How much time did it actually take?
  4. How big was the…

View original post 932 more words

Dear Policy Makers, Please Ignore Paul Graham

Have you ever subjected yourself to clueless actors and actresses weighing in on issues like democracy, justice, legal systems, capital punishment and what not just because theirs is a face people like to see on screen[1]? No? You should watch at least one such interview to feel what reading Paul Graham on income inequality is like.


Paul graham is the ultimate startup thought leader and I have grown up on startup Kool-Aid. So, no disputing what he is and where he can make sensible arguments. But hearing him on a broad policy-making issue like income inequality with his startup tunnel vision – no, make that software-and-internet-driven-startup tunnel vision – is quite like hearing a pretty-faced actor lament that scorching heat is bad for skin, when asked about the lack of rainfall in an agriculture-dependent country where agriculture thrives or dies at the mercy of rains.

He (oops, his article, I mean. Don’t accuse me of ad hominem, okay?) creates a strange picture of the people concerned about increasing income inequality. Apparently these people want to make the rich miserable in their attempt to decrease income inequality. They are misled because they are looking at statistics. You know, those fancy numbers that say that top x% of population owns most of the wealth and bottom y% owns so little. Statistics is apparently vile; economists are idiots for taking them seriously. Why? Because it doesn’t deal with individuals. Which individuals is he concerned about? The startup founders who get rich and are in that top x% of people statistics talk about. Why should they be dealt with separately? Because unlike the real bad guys on that top x%, whose wealth is earned by taking it from others, because they play a zero-sum game like that of the wall street, these founders are not getting rich by taking money from someone else. They are creating (new) wealth and are getting rich with that. It would be a travesty if someone were to even hint that all might not be well with them being rich.

There might be something to be said about that, but very well. Let’s assume that startup-rich are different kind of rich. So, just how much of the wealth with the top x% of population is this startupy wealth, which has been created and not taken from the others? And how much of it stays in the same systems instead of being passed on to wealth managers who – gasp – take it to the wall street to earn more from the zero sum game?

Bah! You are asking for statistics? Hasn’t it already been clarified that statistics is vile and economists are… (And didn’t Zuckerberg just give away his entire wealth to…)

Oops! My bad! But unfortunately, statistics doesn’t become useless just because someone says so, not even if that someone is Paul Graham. If there is any validity in what he is writing, and if the genuinely created wealth is in an imminent danger of being robbed away by income-inequality alarmists, then the first thing one needs to look at is the number I asked for above. There is also the issue of defining what is “created” and what is “stolen” wealth. But I am assuming we will be supplied with a workable definition by Paul.

My guess is that the proportion of this kind of wealth will be minuscule. If not, I must leave the burden of proof with him.

Meanwhile, dear economists and policy makers. It is not a given that you guys have necessarily gotten the income inequality issue right.  Do go ahead and keep looking not only for answers, but also for the right questions. Is income inequality the evil or a symptom of something else that is evil (or not evil)? What needs to be attacked, if anything? Explore, but among all the things you have to do, you can safely ignore Paul Graham’s concern that you are hunters out to kill some precious animal.

[1] With due respect to the actors and actresses who are actually quite clued in to these issues and totally justified in talking about it. I am not talking about you, of course.

Desh and Mulk

Note 1: Since I didn’t have the privilege of mugging up Pakistani songs in my childhood with the help of देशभक्ति गीत booklets, I couldn’t catch some words in them. They are marked (???). If you know them, or could figure out from videos, please do let me know and I will update them.  Missing words, however, do not matter for the contents of this article.

Note 2: All the songs discussed here have been linked in the Scroll article.

Reading this article on Scroll about the Indian movie Jagriti and its copy Bedari in Pakistan was at once surreal, sad and funny.

You can head over to Scroll for more details, but in a nutshell Jagriti is a movie you might remember for the patriotic songs like दे दी हमें आज़ादी बिना खड्ग बिना ढाल, आओ बच्चों तुम्हें दिखाएँ and हम लाए हैं तूफ़ान से किश्ती निकाल के. The copy titled Bedari made in Pakistan seems to have lifted the story, scenes, characters, lyrics and music as it is from Jagriti with suitable modifications made for Pakistan.

It is surreal to listen to the songs with the same music and almost the same lyrics with one glorifying India, and the other Pakistan.

It is sad to think that the same story, same characters, same music work for both, yet there are two countries.

Sad and funny are the changes in the lyrics.

Some are just individual or regional quirks. Mohd Rafi in India pronounces it किश्ती (kishti), Saleem Raza in Pakistan pronounces it as कश्ती (kashti).

Many are language imperatives. In India we don’t shy away from Urdu, but still the Indian teacher asks his children to take care of this देश (desh), the Pakistani one is concerned with this मुल्क़ (mulk). इस मिट्टी से तिलक करो ये धरती है बलिदान की is too Sanskritized; so we have इसकी ख़ातिर हमने दी क़ुर्बानी लाखों जान की instead.

माँ is okay on both sides, so is दुख ना जहाँ कोई ग़म ना जहाँ. But निमंत्रण is too much Sanskrit again. So, आज है निमंत्रण सन सन हवाओं में has been changed to अपने भी बेगाने हुए (???) हवाओं में. Elsewhere the Pakistani lyricist doesn’t have a problem with the word अमृत (ये रावी और (???) का पानी अमृत को शरमाता है), so it is strange that he should have a problem with दिशा। घूमना है हमको दूर की दिशाओं में has been changed to a completely different मेरे सुख की दुनिया है तुम्हारे पाँव में. This song in Pakistani version, for some reason, seem to have a more morose tone as opposed to the Indian one which appears optimistic and cheerful. These two changes might, then, not have been about the language, but the tone, because the changed words go better with moroseness.  The Sherlock Holmes in me, of course, wonders if there are subtle changes in the story then. Or did one side just do an incongruous picturization?

Some changes seem to be just the creative impulses of Pakistani lyricist bubbling over. There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly Indian or Sanskritized in देखो कही बर्बाद ना होवे ये बगीचा. But it has been changed to देखो कहीं उजड़े ना हमारा ये बग़ीचा.

Another set has social, political and religious imperatives. बादल गुलाल के had too much Holi connotation (disregard the rather long Sufi and Muslim fascination with the festival in the interest of nationalism please). So, instead we are told of परचम हिलाल के.

One set of children is being shown झाँकी हिन्दुस्तान की, the other is being offered सैर पाकिस्तान की। The Pakistani teacher has conveniently forgotten East Pakistan (school budget constraints? Not that they have to bother with it now.). Indian train also stopped with Marathas. Deccan, Mysore, Madras were happily left out (school budget constraints!).

Gandhi had to be replaced with Jinnah, of course. Hence दे दी हमें आज़ादी बिना ख़ड्ग बिना ढाल / साबरमती के संत तूने कर दिया कमाल changes to यूँ दी हमें आजादी कि दुनिया हुई हैरान / ऐ क़ायद-ए-आज़म तेरा अहसान है अहसान. क़ायद-ए-आज़म didn’t have a convenient short nickname like बापू. So, at another place इसको हृदय के खून से बापू ने है सींचा had to be changed to इसको लहू से अपने शहीदों ने है सींचा.

The warning of एटम बमों के ज़ोर पे ऐंठी है ये दुनिया / बारूद के एक ढेर पर बैठी है ये दुनिया / तुम हर क़दम उठाना ज़रा देख-भाल के has been rendered mellow with a religious prescription दुनिया की सियासत के अजब रंग है न्यारे / चलना है मग़र तुमको तो कुराँ के सहारे.

It is interesting that the Indian version has the map of undivided India in a scene. Probably we still thought at that time that partition was temporary. Pakistani version has only Pakistan on the map as expected. I can’t comment of the status of PoK.

But here is the change that is the saddest of all. The song exhorting the children to take care of their country reaches its crescendo in the Indian version with

अब वक्त आ गया मेरे हँसते हुए फूलों
उठो छलाँग मार के आकाश को छू लो
तुम गाड़ दो गगन में तिरंगा उछाल के।

The Pakistani version is

लेना अभी कश्मीर है ये बात ना भूलो
कश्मीर पे लहराना है झंडा उछाल के।

The ambitions! I’m sorry my Pakistani counterparts. But you have been shortchanged there. Your ambition was stuck at Kashmir, while we were aiming for the sky. I agree that Kashmir is more tractable than the sky, and for all I know you might have fought harder for Kashmir than we did for the sky. But you were shortchanged nevertheless.

The real clincher in this story is elsewhere. The child artist who plays the role of the disabled, poor, fatherless, ideal boy in the Indian version, who eulogizes Gandhi with passion

जब जब तेरा बिगुल बजा जवान चल पड़े
मजदूर चल पड़े थे और किसान चल पड़े
हिन्दू व मुसलमान सिख पठान चल पड़े
कदमों पे तेरे कोटि कोटि प्राण चल पड़े

फूलों की सेज छोड़ के दौड़े जवाहरलाल
साबरमती के संत तूने कर दिया कमाल।

He was Rattan Kumar उर्फ़ Nazir Riqvi. After the release of Jagriti he migrated to Pakistan and played the same role in Bedari singing the panegyric to Jinnah

(???) पंजाब से जवान चल पड़े
सिंधी बलोची सरहदी पठान चल पड़े
साथ अपने मुहाज़िर लिए कुरान चल पड़े
घरबार छोड़ बे-सर-ओ-सामान चल पड़े

और (???) भी चले होने को कुर्बान
ऐ क़ायद-ए-आज़म तेरा अहसान है अहसान।

The Scroll article told us as much. But I got curious about what next, so ran a few searches. It turns out that Nazir Riqvi further migrated to Germany, made a career in the hospitality industry and finally settled in California. If you thought that I was cracking a joke only on Pakistan till now, you will be disappointed. The joke is back on all of us. After inspiring generations of Indian and Pakistani children to take care of their respective countries, the actor lived his American dream.

I would have liked to say something about how partition should never have happened, how Pakistanis should not have had to rummage around to discover a hero in Muhammad bin Qasim because our long line of heroes are theirs as well, and how nobody in India should have been able to use a phrase like “Go to Pakistan” to alienate somebody. I would also have liked to say something about how the national borders worldwide are arbitrary and anomalous and how, now that we are so connected and all, we should have been able to live together as one big, happy, dominant race.

But I guess I would rather write the Pessimist’s Manifesto.

In Defense of Pessimism


I did some reading on Buddhism recently. And if there is one idea that contemporary Buddhists are obsessed with it is that Buddhism is not pessimist. Many “allege” that because Buddha talked about the reality of suffering and focused on eliminating it by eliminating desire (as opposed to promising some eternal pleasure in a higher life), Buddhism has a pessimistic outlook. It is not so, retort the Buddhists vehemently, and there are books after books dedicated to proving this.

I am not getting into Buddhism here. But what strikes me with a rare force in this discourse is how pessimism is treated as a pariah. Contemporary Buddhism is not alone in its desire to distance itself from pessimism. Defenders of all sorts of religions and philosophies do so. They wouldn’t be caught standing on even the distant periphery of the circle of pessimism.

The motivation behind this bias for optimism in religions and philosophies is understandable. As a race, as a society, as individuals, we prefer to be optimistic. It seems to be wired in us – biologically, psychologically and sociologically.Popular religion has pandered to this optimism bias since the dawn of history, whether it was simplistic Vedic hymns to curry the favor of nature gods or the ultimate judgement, reward and punishment based on right and wrong promised by the organized religions of later times. We want to hope, we want to feel in control; that is what motivates us to act. But why? Why act?

Different answers will emerge depending on at what level you pose the question. An individual acts to earn his livelihood, to not starve, and to live comfortably. Organizations and  governments may have more sinister motives. They may want individuals to act because it helps them become more powerful.  Others might point to more noble motives. It is by acting that we, as a race, survive, develop and progress. But why survive, develop and progress? We’re all going to die and the promises of a good life after that are just products of our imagination.Why care?

Uh oh! What a pessimistic question!

Pessimistic? Okay! But inadmissible? No!

Nobody will buy a self-help book that concludes that there might not be much meaning in life after all. None will flock to a religion that is not anthropocentric, that doesn’t make people feel important and great. No entrepreneur will be taken seriously if he didn’t proclaim that the world can be a better place and he is going to make it so. No policy-maker could hold her job if she didn’t announce policy decisions with a bright, cheerful outlook of the future.

But this bias towards optimism is a reflection of our culture, our survival instincts. This cannot make optimism unquestionable for those in search of truth. “The pursuit of truth, when it is wholehearted, must ignore moral considerations; we cannot know in advance that the truth will turn out to be what is thought edifying in a given society,” says Bertrand Russell. Pessimism is not edifying to our society. But that doesn’t make it wrong.

In fact, when one starts scratching beneath the shining surface of the world bubbling with our optimism, the case of a pessimist being closer to the truth only becomes stronger. Which hope-giving God has not failed us? I am not only talking about religious ones here, not only the Vedic and the Brahmanical, the Greek and the Roman, the Zoroastrian and the Jewish, the Christian and the Muslim,  but also the secular ones we have bowed to from time to time –  the different political systems, the socio-economic systems, this theory and that, one leader then the another! The most widely accepted gods for optimism these days are democracy as a political system and capitalism as an economic one. These, together, are supposed to ensure development, equality, meritocracy, justice, peace and a bunch of other ideals. But what really happens?

Rapist of his own three-year old daughter avoids jail because he won’t fare well there. Nobody seems to be driving the car that kills someone on the footpath and the testimony of the eye-witness who lost his own life over it turns out to be not reliable! Convicted politicians walk out of jail, while undertrials spend their entire lives behind bars without even getting a hearing. Rich kid walks free after a murder spree because he suffers from “affluenza”.Millionaire “accidentally” rapes a teenager and walks scot-free. If the list is not longer, it is because pessimists also don’t like getting depressed.

Even after the experiments of thousands of years, the gods of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy; those of socialism, communism, capitalism, and Nehruvian middlism; those of nationalism, patriotism, internationalism, and individualism; those of heredity and meritocracy; and all kinds of systems and solutions we have built have failed us. And yet somehow optimism of setting things right in the next five years is considered valid and is embraced. But pessimism is avoided like the plague. Whereas our continued failure in creating the optimist’s just, peaceful, prosperous world should have long tilted the balance of truth-seeking in favor of the pessimist.

Is it time for writing the pessimist manifesto? Is it the time for the pessimists of the world to unite and claim their rightful, legitimate place in the world?

Bah! The world is unlikely to be better off for the effort!