Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Philosophy of Poverty vs The Poverty of Philosophy: Travails of West Bengal

Neither Karl Marx, who authoured The Poverty of Philosophy, nor M. Proudhon, who wrote The Philosophy of Poverty in 1847 could perceive how relevant the titles of their works would be for the state of West Bengal’s Assembly elections 164 years later. It is not as though the subject matter of the controversy between them has any bearing at all for the election at hand in 2011. Sometimes though, the shell assumes greater significance than the nut itself, or else why should they have coined a word such as ‘nutshell’? And what, in a nutshell, is the situation of West Bengal?

Let us address the issue though from a somewhat simplistic point of view, one that any run of the mill economist would subscribe to. If economists are to be trusted, then a price has to be paid for acquiring anything one desires. A producer, for example, must incur a cost to produce his output. And he is satisfied if the sales revenue adequately exceeds the costs. The same logic applies to consumers. Consumption of commodities and services involves payment. Further, in a free society at least, the consumer derives a satisfaction that normally exceeds the cost of purchase.

Like production and consumption, which are instances of change from one state to another, all changes are costly and more often than not, the cost cannot be viewed as a simple monetary loss. Perhaps the closest example at hand in this context is the story of Singur. The Nano factory would have industrialized a primarily agricultural region, changing thereby an agrarian society into an industrial community. The cost involved not merely the farmers’ loss of the land they tilled for an income. As events have demonstrated, there were other costs too surrounding an adjustment to a new way of life. The fact that the Tatas were driven away probably demonstrates the simple economic truth that the benefits of industrialization they promised appeared too small in the eyes of the potential beneficiaries compared to the multifarious costs they would be called upon to incur to accept the change. Neither the benefits nor the costs were all too clearly defined, but there is little doubt that the people living in the region, or at least a large number of them who thought rationally, did engage in a cost-benefit calculation and concluded that the costs exceeded the benefits. Consequently, when state power attempted to force the ‘benefits’ down their throats, they revolted.

Assuming that a section of politicians, the opposition if you will, was responsible for the uprising, amounts probably to putting the cart before the horse.  The opposition had surely used the brewing resentment to attract people’s support towards itself, but in its incipient stage at least, the public antipathy was not the opposition’s creation. And, in a democratic society of course, it is only too natural for a given set of rulers to be usurped from power by its competitors. Judged by the current attitudes and statements of the people who ruled West Bengal for the last 34 years, however, this simple truth does not seem to have dawned upon them. Needless to say, one cannot rule out corrupt practices surrounding the drive to halt the Left juggernaut in its tracks, but classics in history, such as the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, teach us that corruption has never been a one sided game.

Nonetheless, a suggestion of being dislodged from the seat of power seems to sound as foolish to the occupants of Writers’ Building as the Napoleonic ‘impossible’, or, probably, as absurd as the dinosaurs considered any thought of their extinction a million years ago. Yet, however impossible the emerging scenario might appear to the powers that be, the approaching wheels of democracy seem to be sending precisely the message the rulers wish to turn a blind eye towards.  And what is making their publicly displayed sense of incredulity vis-à-vis a possible defeat in the elections look totally unconvincing is the state of the exchequer. Even if they are returned back to the Writers’ Building, there are reasons to suspect that they will have little to offer to the people of the state other than a mendicant order. They are perilously close to preaching a ‘philosophy of poverty’ in other words, one that Gautama Buddha might have approved, but certainly not the Marxists who flew into power in 1977, flapping their dialectical wings. The fortunate amongst them are no longer around. The unfortunate few are hopping across television channels, explaining to gullible members of the populace that accumulating enormous debts is a way of life for the entire country, and not Bengal alone, without bothering to locate the creditors who will assure that the debtors will live in perpetual bliss. 

If all this appears to be unpalatable, the tragedy alas does not end here. The reverse side of the coin, the supporters of the opposition in other words, should probably hold their euphoria in leash as well. A comparison of costs and benefits applies to the opposition as forcefully as it does to the ageing class of Left rulers. Removing the latter from power is quite obviously a costly affair, involving, if politicians, social commentators and the media are to be trusted, entities as precious as human lives. What, however, constitutes the benefits? The primary benefit, as most people seem to believe, lies in exorcising the supposed fiend. So far so good, but life does not stop after retrenchment, neither for the retrenched nor for those who hand out the pink slips.

What will society look like once the evil is banished? The manifesto of the principal member of the opposition offers a quick view of the fairyland that West Bengal is about to transform into. During the first 200 days of assumption of power, it will present West Bengal with a ‘… basic industrial strategy …’ of creating ‘… massive employment through development of the manufacturing sector’. There will be ‘… a chain of industrial towns … across the state …’ along with ‘inter-linkages’. A ‘(t)arget creation of 300 ITIs [from the present 51] for basic skills with focus on SME’s worker requirement’ has found a place in the first 200 days’ agenda too. Moreover, ‘17 clusters will be selected to be converted into world class centres of excellence with focus on cooperation between enterprises and promoting economies of scale.’ The Government will ‘…benchmark Kolkata with the best cities in the world’. (May God save the pavement-hawkers!) The list is literally endless and, given the 200 days’ deadline, it raises visions of an Aladdin in the making, or at least of the wonderful lamp that won him the princess!

One does not know yet if the coalition partners of the presumed government-to-be will be anything more than strange bed fellows. However, it is not hard to form an opinion about the assortment comprising the big brother or sister of the coalition. It is a collection of individuals sharing one and only one cause between themselves, viz. a total demolition of the left. Apart from this, it is a motley crowd, totally shorn of a macro or a social character. As in the case of society, which is not merely a gathering of people, a group of highly competent professionals cannot constitute a political identity if the solitary adhesive that holds it in place is a common hatred of the enemy. Such diverse assemblages work perhaps when a country goes to war, but once the war is over, they are normally not expected to deliver peace time governance. A government in power must necessarily be characterized by a macro personality, a common vision of the future, a jointly held belief. It should not be confused with a joint stock company, each department of which is being supervised by an able ‘professional’.  Once we view the matter from this point of view, one suspects that this political formation is characterized by a ‘poverty of philosophy’ as opposed to the ‘philosophy of poverty’ of the Left.

It was the poverty of a common philosophy that dislodged three consecutive governments between 1967 and 1972. The Left came to power in 1977 and continued to rule for 34 years because it succeeded in forging a common world view, rightly or wrongly. Unfortunately, however, it is now entrenched in internal contradictions itself and has little more than its ‘philosophy of poverty’ to offer.

West Bengal is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea and the election results will hardly symbolize the end of its tragedy.  

[A slightly revised version of the article appeared in The Telegraph, Calcutta on April 21, 2001]

Divine Routes to Sexual Harrassmet

I felt hopelessly lonely as soon as I opened my eyes this morning and noticed the first rays of sunshine illuminating me at my bovine best. They had lit me up I felt with the sole purpose of helping the world ignore me with unadulterated indifference. I moaned as usual and was close to humming a doleful melody set to Raga Bhimpalasi, when I suddenly recalled that there were creatures in this world that could well have given me tough competition.

I wiped the tears off immediately and treated myself to a cup of the finest Darjeeling. I always do such things when excitement takes hold of my senses. I mean wipe tears and drink tea. (That reminds me of this phony chap assuming a holy guise in Dostoyevsky’s “Devils” who used to do something similar. When excited, he would drink samovars full of tea and snatch away at the same time the tea cups from folks he didn’t like. There are lots of people I dislike of course, but they were not around today for me to snatch tea cups away from. Come to think of it, this could also have made me feel more lonely than usual.)

Coming back to this creature who could well have been my competitor, it appears that he was known as IL. And let me assure you that I felt as lonely as IL and absolutely no one else but IL. Unfortunately though, I don’t even know how to pronounce this name. It could be ILL or Eel for all I know. I can’t be sure. In the first case, the guy would have ended up in a hospital and in the second he must have been far too slippery to be held in harness anywhere in this universe, leave alone a hospital.

As I said, we were never introduced and for whatever my guesses are worth, he was known either as इल or இல் depending on which side of the Vindhyas you were born in the first place. Now you have to decide how you wish to address him. Whatever you do, I have to tell you first what I have found out about his antecedents. He was the son of a King called Kardamaprajapati (What a horrifying name!) and originated in a geographical territory called Vahlik. Don’t ask me where that is, I never told you that I was a David Livingstone. In fact, I could be far closer to a David Deadstone than a Living one.

In any case, IL was a Prince according to the Padma Purana and on a fateful day he had felt lonelier than the loneliest of beings (not excluding Wordsworth, who according his own admission, had once wandered as lonely as a mass of vaporized H2O of all things). This led him (I mean IL, not W) to launch a hunting expedition. Mrigaya, as they used to call such ventures in the past. It puzzles me you know. Why should you wish to kill things if living company was what you desired?

Well, there are more things in heaven and earth guys/gals than are in your philosophy.

To proceed with this lonely chap’s curious adventure, he landed in an area where the Lord Kartikeya was born. It was a dense jungle it seems. Why on earth, I wouldn’t know. I mean Devi Durga surely deserved a well-equipped maternity home. On the other hand, if you want to view the situation somewhat optimistically, with the miracle master Shiva in charge, it is improbable that Durga suffered more labour pains than Angelina Jolie (say) in a maternity home reserved for the ultra rich (in Nice, France I am told).

Once again, not to confuse you unnecessarily, it is about the lonely IL that we are talking, not Kartikeya. Indeed the latter has absolutely no role to play in this bizarre tale. Shiva himself was around though when IL arrived. Not only was he around, he was actually entertaining Parvati by playing a game with her. What the nature of the game was, I couldn’t find out, but there’s one thing about which I am more than sure. All the authorities agree that to please Parvati, Shiva had assumed a female form. Not only so, he ensured that the entire forest had turned female! The animals, the trees, the flowers, the rivers, … literally all living and non-living objects. How terrifying indeed! Female stones holding kitty parties over cookies, coke and social gossip! Now don’t ask me why Parvati wished her husband to assume a female form. I don’t know the answer to this difficult question, but Shiva, undoubtedly, was capable of satisfying her desire.

And when all this was going on, the unwary LIL arrived. I know that these acronyms I have a habit of inflicting on people are most irritating. So let me explain, even if you are not asking for an explanation, that the first of the L’s in LIL stands for “lonely”. This post is all about loneliness.

Recall now that Shiva had ordained everything in the neighbourhood to turn female. (Laloo and Mulayam would be furious to hear about this.) Consequently, LIL too metamorphosed into an LW, (“W = woman” should you be wondering) for no fault of his.

He appears not to have been too happy to have undergone the transformation and rushed to Shiva and pleaded for mercy. But Shiva was mighty displeased to have been discovered in a Kanjivaram saree (wearing a gold necklace, complete with nose and earrings, though the story doesn’t tell us who was wearing the Mangalsutra – the Lord or the Lady?). I think the cause of his irritation lay in the fact that he preferred to parade in a semi-naked state in the company of anti-socials like Nandi and Vringi in grass smoking joints located near cremation grounds.

Well this saree clad Shiva ranted and raved for a while, but was finally pacified. Yet, mercilessly enough, and even after much imploring, he agreed to grant any boon that IL (or LW, in case you’ve forgotten) prayed for, except the one he really wished to be granted. No, he couldn’t change back to a man! Shiva you see was feeling unusually mean at this point of time.

Alas! LIL sat in an LC shedding gallons of tears till he was visited by a brain wave. (LC = lonely corner, should you be interested. LC mind you, not WC. Oh no! WC does not stand for a Water Closet. Don’t be so unromantic friend. It’s Wordsworth’s Cloud that I was talking about.) Yes, the brain wave of course. He remembered that Madam Durga too could possibly grant a boon or two. May be not as powerful as Shiva’s, but a semi-powerful b is better than no b at all, right?

No sooner did this idea strike him than he swam ashore from the OoT where he lay submerged (Ha, ha! I am not going to explain to you what Oot is. Sweat it out friend. It’s explained further down somewhere!). He rushed to P Devi and fell at her feet pleading that she save him from perishing in womanhood for the rest of his life. Look, don’t object to the word “perishing”. It was an expression that IL employed, remember? Not I. I am no woman hater, even when woman hated.

Now Durga, being a member of the fair sex, had a heart not incapable of compassion. So, she agreed to fulfil a part of IL’s wishes. “My husband has granted you half a boon, I will grant you the other half. Tell me what it is that you wish for.”

I never understood exactly what the 1/2 b was. I thought S had offered LIL an fb (fb = full boon, not feedback silly). No? Well may be the caveat the boon contained, I mean the “Man – no, no” part, made the b less than f. But why 1/2 and not some other fraction, such as 13/17? Why not an irrational number for that matter? Deep philosophical question I guess. Sorry friend, I can’t satisfy your curiosity. Ask the scholars.

IL took little time to figure out the 1/2 b he wanted most. “Merciful Goddess, grant me then my manhood every other month.”

“Tathastu!” said the G-Lady.

And thus began IL’s yet another lonesome journey through life. He had to be careful and keep an anxious watch over the calendar. As events transpired, you see, in IL’s womanly state she turned into a rather desirable object in the eyes of Budha, the son of no less a God than Chandra himself. And Budha wouldn’t let go of her till she conceived and gave birth to a son called Pururava. (This Pururava chap too was quite clown as we found out during our <a href=”;sd=Articles&amp;ArticleID=9622″>pursuit of love</a>.) As a man he fathered three other sons, one known as Shashavindu. No family planning yaar.

You realize of course, don’t you, that the chap (or “chapey”, pronounce the “ch” as in champagne and you’ll know what I mean) was literally shivering in fear. What happens if she turns into a man just when the child is about to be born? Or, for that matter, the same could happen when she was engaged in the act of you know what, right? The partner, being a man, would not be too happy to discover that he had gone to sleep with a woman in his arms and ended up embracing a hairy beast when he woke up next morning!

IL was obviously much too adamant and absolutely insisted on turning back into a man. Had he taken the Vangasvana attitude, life could have been easier for him. (Just wait a while, I will begin rambling about Vangasvana soon enough.) Fortunately though, his story too has a happy ending. The mighty sages, Vashishth and Chyavan, came to aid apparently and prevailed upon Shiva to do the needful.

But now that I have brought in Vangasvana, it would be unfair to leave you scratching your heads. So, at the risk of making this story too long, let me tell you what I found out. It is picked up from the Anushasana Parva in the Mahabharata. It was Grandpa Vishma apparently who related the story to Yudhishthira. (I can’t prove this of course, but sometimes you can save time and energy by exercising a wilful suspension of disbelief.)

Vangasvana it seems was a pious King. He was childless and performed the Agnishtuta Yajna to please God Agni and the latter, having been amply appeased, granted not one, not two, not even three, but a hundred sons (mind you, no daughters) to the Rajarshi.

Now, it so happened that the Yajna in question was directed towards satisfying Lord Agni alone. And this fact pissed off no less a God than Indra himself. He was mad as hell. See how mean and envious the Gods were? Always counting curses! To take it out on poor Vangasvana, he created a magic spell and made the chap lose his way. He was tired as hell and landed near a lake. He made his thirsty horse drink the water and took a plunge into the lake to cool himself off.

Wonder of wonders, he emerged from the lake changed into a female!! A result of Indra‘s trick of course. According to the Mahabharata, her (his?) shame knew no bound, as would obviously be the case for any woman who finds herself in a state of total undress in the middle of nowhere in full view of no less a witness than a horse! Nonetheless, she returned back to the Palace. (Now don’t you get ideas. She found clothes to wear before she undertook her journey to the Palace. Women’s clothes I mean. Where did she find the stated clothes? I don’t know. Why can’t you stop asking silly questions man? They make me lose my concentration.) No one recognized him there of course, given that it was her they saw and not him, but they believed the story. Especially so since “he” (i.e. the once upon a time “he”) abdicated the throne, which the transformed “she” probably had no right to. But then, there were no lawyers around to point out the legal complications. She asked all his one hundred sons to rule in tandem. (I wonder how simple the latter act would be though. The UPA Government at Delhi has fewer than ten parties to share the throne amongst themselves and look what they are doing to one another with each passing day!!)

The sexually transformed Vangasvana disappeared thereafter inside the depth of a forest where a willing hermit was waiting in horny anticipation. They started to live together. (Nowadays, the forests are inhabited by the Maoists alone and I don’t know what could have happened if she turned into a Maoist. She could cause a worry or two for Chidambaram at the Centre and Bhattacharya closer to my home. Incidentally, do you think Mr. Bhattacharya‘s nemesis is descended from VT (Vangasvana Transformed)?)

The hermit and VT began to live together. But living together usually involves a corollary. Sleeping together. The corollary it seems worked with a vengeance, for soon enough the voluptuous VT conceived. And, as was V‘s wont, VT too produced exactly one hundred sons. (Sons again, no daughters. What an MCP world! Makes me sick.)

Well VT goes back now to her first litter of a hundred sons (Confusion again, her or his litter?) and tells them that the empire needs to be shared between all the two hundred kids!! (The lawyers are yelling and screaming now, I am sure.) More fragmentation. Which would probably have meant that each son ruled there onwards over a square inch of land. (But then this is India. Population over a billion. And they were a mere two hundred, though the signal was clear.) I think the children were somewhat dim-witted and failed to see the absurdity of the situation.

Trouble started needless to say. Not on account of the sons, for, as I said, they were not particularly well-endowed with grey cells. Actually, the same old Indra threw up a tantrum, lamenting to himself that in trying to get V into trouble, he had ended up making him happier. Quite clearly, the sons were living in peace and harmony, despite the number of kings in the kingdom exceeding the number of subjects.

Indra the vicious, now posed as a Brahmin (I know not why a Brahmin was called for by the way) and approached the sons. He poisoned the minds of the first hundred with the following piece of undeniable logic: “You are the sons of the erstwhile King. The newcomers are the fruits of a hermit’s loins. How can they have any claim on the throne?” (Or thrones may be. I am highly confused now, as you can guess.) How nasty indeed. Especially so since Indra in the shape of a B refrained from pointing out that half of them had sprung out of V’s sperms and the second out of VT’s ova!! Unless of course, he was himself an MC and thought sperms, like Brahmins, had a higher position in the social ladder than ova! (Idea, idea! What is a Brahmin? A Brahmin is just an MCS, a male chauvinist sperm!!)

No sooner was this said than the first batch took up arms against the second and destroyed one another. I mean all of them ceased to exist.

The news reached VT, who wept an ocean of tears (yes, yes, OoT, you got it right). Indra to save himself from being drowned, decided instead to soften his heart. Or, may be, drenched in saline water, his heart turned mushy.

Whatever the cause may have been, he rushed back to VT and told her (him? — so confusing man!) the reason underlying the miseries she was undergoing. VT immediately prostrated herself (?) at Indra‘s feet asking for forgiveness. (He was clearly in trouble. If she went on crying, he would need to board Noah’s ark!) Her crime of course was that in her male incarnation she had ignored the jealous God without meaning to. Indra, it seems, was not hard to please. No wonder. He was on the point of being drowned. He grinned happily, splitting his face neatly into two halves, equal to one another in all respects (as Euclid might have observed).

And now of course, he had to offer a boon or two. “I will grant you a wish?” he said, or the two halves of his face said, inspiring more fear one suspects than relief in the heart of the damsel in distress. At the cost of repetition, it was the damsel who was in distress (not to speak of Indra too of course), not the king on horseback who had lost his way. There was a condition though. “I will bring your sons back to life, but not all of them. Which ones do you wish to live, the sperm-wallas or the ovum-wallas?”

And you know what she replied? She said she wanted the ovum-wallas. Indra was puzzled as well as curious. “But why so,” he asked. VT replied, “Dear Lord, women know how to love more than men. So, the love I showered on my ova generated sons was greater than the love I was able to spare the sperm chaps, especially when I was busy producing the sperms that fathered them.”

It seems Indra was delighted by the answer. (What was so delightful about it, I don’t know. This chap seems to me to be pretty close to being mindless. But, may be, in the old days people enjoyed laughing a lot more than we do. As civilization progresses, frowns are overtaking smiles at an ever increasing rate. Curse counting is one of the most popular of pastimes in modern societies. Even Durbasa had probably giggled every now and then. I mean, I suspect so. I know this, because I cry most of the time, unless someone begins to tickle me. And then I can’t stop laughing. Lack of balance I guess.) Coming back to the story, Indra brought all the two hundred alive. In instilling life into all the two hundred, the God was offering a discount no doubt to ensure that people visited his temple more often. (We don’t know, by the way, if the sons immediately started killing each other again.)

Fret not my friend, I am almost near the end of my story. Indra now asked VT, “Pray, tell me what your heart craves for. Your former sperm generating self or the current ovum filled existence?”

VT replied without the slightest hesitation that she wished to continue as VT and had no desire at all to be re-transformed into V. Once again, Indra, full of inquisitiveness (too nosey don’t you think), wished her to explain her choice.

The answer was: “As far as conjugal satisfaction goes, it’s the woman who enjoys the act more than the man. So, I want to continue to be a woman.”

“Tathastu,” said the God incredulously, falling back on the most widely used word in divine vocabulary, and vanished. (Whether he changed his sex to test things out, no one has found out so far.)

That’s the end of the story. But I have a question for Vyas though. And surely no one knows the answer to it. I wouldn’t have known even the question had I not been an economist. You see, economists make a lot of fuss over whether satisfactions are comparable. I mean, if you and I were to eat a mango each and declare that we both liked our mangoes, who on earth can decide which one amongst us liked it more? Did you like your mango twice as much as I? Utility is not cardinal these theorists argue. You can’t compare two persons’ utilities. So, how seriously should VT’s preference for “sleeping” in the shape of a female rather than a male be taken?

On the other hand, come to think of it, may be she did have a point. After all it was the same person who had enjoyed both ways of love making. And while Indra had changed her sex, he may have kept the part of the mind that registers sexual enjoyment unaltered!

Desperate Dreaming — A Haiku


On the mighty sea

Desperately cling to waves

Empty, futile dreams