& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hindi-Chini buy, buy

A decade ago, China emerged as a role model for Indian politicians. All of them wanted to turn India into another China. Corporate honchos and political leaders even pledged to work together to turn Mumbai into another Shanghai. Fortunately, the project was abandoned quietly.

Dibakar Banrejee’s Shanghai (2012) captures the sleaze and shady dealings of the Indian political class as it continues to pillage the country in the name of economic liberalization, and emulating the Chinese model of economic development.

Middle class in India – as the middle class in the West – is enamoured by China’s rapid advances. And despite India’s stationary status on many fronts during the last decade under the UPA government, during which China has powered on, Indians are delighted to be put into the same bracket as China.

Indians who’ve been to China realize that the comparison between the two countries is silly because China is well and truly miles ahead of India on almost all economic and social parameters of comparison.

Some of these advances are truly amazing: China has succeeded in reducing absolute poverty substantially in the last decade. India’s performance on this front has been less than exemplary.

Economist Dr. Amitendu Palit is a former Indian bureaucrat and now researcher at Singapore’s National University. His book China-India economics: Challenges, Competition and Collaboration is an important contribution to the on-going debate on the growth trajectory of these two economies. Recently, he spoke at in Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs on the theme of his book.

The steady rise in the trade between China and India will have a deep impact globally. “Their economic relations will matter to everyone,” Palit said. He observed that both countries have had similar experiences despite different policies, and are facing an acute lack of solutions to the problems they face.

He delineated these similarities: Both are non-OECD countries; both are non G8 countries; 2nd and 10th largest economies; 2nd and 4th largest by the purchasing power parity; neither high income countries; large population below poverty line 41% in India and 15.9% in China; both countries have internal imbalances and both have rising inequalities.

The economic challenges that both countries face include the following:



China urbanisation is 50% and is largely migration driven because of the one child policy (28-2% slums)

India urbanisation is 32% and is driven by natural increase. 28.1% slums

Securing energy

Both countries consumer 1/3rd world energy by 2025
2nd and 5th largest crude oil importers
High cost of coal import
Illegal mining

Depleting water resources

China: Demand growth 61% (2030)
India: Demand growth 58% (2030)

High carbon emission

1st and 3rd carbon emitters
28% of global CO2 and additional 56% additional emission during 2005-30
Inefficient land market
Involuntarily land acquisition

High cost of business

China is 91 and India is 132
Volatile bilateral dynamics


Growing economies have pitchforked both countries to compete globally. Palit listed some of the key area of competition between China and India. These include:

Energy: As China and India have a phenomenal dependence on oil and coal, they are in a race for hydrocarbons in Africa, Central Asia, and Africa.

Water: India is a lower riparian state and there is growing competition (and concern in India) over the sharing of river waters. Of the five rivers that start in Tibet, four flow into India. The rivers are Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, Ghaghara and Torsa and except the Indus, the other four are important for India’s economy.

Market access: Both countries are competing for market access across the global South, and have emerged as major donors in the Asia, Africa and South America. India is in the forefront of anti-dumping actions on China

Both have long-standing and irresolvable political differences. This includes claims over each other’s lands and constant skirmishes over the border. India accuses China of pursuing a String of Pearls approach by building antagonistic relations with India’s neighbours. China accuses India of Encircling Democracies policy where it is building alliances across the globe with democracies that inimical of Chinese dominance of the region.


Both countries are increasingly aware of their significance to each other and are learning in the process, and both have started to collaborate in a small way to secure economic advantages by not competing for the same resources openly. Both have realized that when they move into the market, the spot prices escalate and the bid prices hit the roof. It makes better sense to collaborate for the same set of resources.

Palit other observations include:
  • 69% of what we use from the time we get up and the time to go to sleep is made in China
  • China’s neighbours are dynamic economies – Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore
  • Except China none of India’s neighbour is an economic achiever; India thinks that it can grow without despite neighbourhood. India needs to match China pragmatism
  • Trade deficit that India has with China is 25% of its overall trade deficit
  • There’s an enthusiasm surplus but that is balanced out by trust deficit
  • B2B = Good
  • G2G = improving
  • P2P = low
  • India hasn’t had a situation where economics defuses political tensions as in the case of China

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Dalit literature & Dalit writer: Sharankumar Limbale

Sharan Limbale (extreme left) with Sadhu Binning, Meena Chopra, Humaria Rahman and Arun Prabha Mukherjee; These writers along with Valerie Joan Tagwira (from Zimbabwe who is not in the photograph.) participated in a session on One World, One English, the Many Languages of the Imagination 
at the Toronto Festival of Literature and the Arts 

By Sharankumar Limbale

Limbale is a prominent Dalit author, poet and literary critic. The following is an edited version of the paper he read at the Festival of South Asian Literature and the Arts’ session on One World, One English, the Many Languages of Imagination.

 am an Indian Dalit writer. I have written 35 books in Marathi, three of which have been translated into English. I started writing in 1982 and for the last 30 years I have been writing on the problems of Dalits.

I am an activist writer. I am committed to my movement that was started by Dr. BR Ambedkar to emancipate India’s Dalits. This movement is an integral part of my being. Without the movement, I cannot write.  The movement is an ink for me. My literature is the literature of protest because of my commitment to the Dalit movement and the inspiration of Dr. Babasaheb  Ambedkar’s thoughts.

I never have and never will write for entertainment. I am a writer of people. How can I forget problems of my people? How can I neglect the cry of my people? The unrest of my people charges me – to think and to write. Dalit literature is not the literature of imaginations. It is a literature of atrocities inflicted on the Dalits by high caste Hindus.
Dalit writer’s objective is to explain to people his own pain, problems and questions. We are educated and we know the roots of exploitation of our community. If we stay quiet, it would be crime against humanity and crime against our movement. It is our birthright to protest against inhumanity.

For me and for other Dalit writers, writing is a form of rebellion. Our protest is both on the streets and on paper. My words are my weapons. For me, struggle is the paper and people are the contents. Literature is Parliament for me where I want to discuss my rights and demands, which have been neglected for thousands of years.  

When I wrote my first poem, I wasn’t aware of the form and content of literature. Like me, many Dalit writers didn’t know the features of literature. We didn’t know the meaning of writing. We wrote because we wanted to share our pains with others, share our sorrows, depict the atrocities we face, share and our problems with the people and ask them to recognize us as human beings.

Our readers were shocked by our words. For them our experience was new and bitter, and our tongue was very rude. This was a new, strange and shocking experience for the middle class readers. Dalit literature is the mirror of the caste society. The traditional reader of the literature is shocked by this literature. It is through Dalit literature that the reader became aware of the social reality and inequality.

Not surprisingly, the traditional reader didn’t enjoy literature, at least initially. After all, how anyone can enjoy atrocities? How anyone can enjoy the pains and pangs of others? The traditional reader wants to enjoy the arts and literature. However, Dalit literature is radically different. There is a conflict between the author and reader.

Dalit literature creates huge social tension. This is the tension between haves and have-nots. The haves asked to the Dalit writer not to write this type of literature, because it would lead to tension and division in the community. The have-nots ask the Dalit writer to write about their honest and noble struggle for equality, justice and freedom.

Not surprisingly, in the initial phase of Dalit literature, the mainstream literary critics questioned the very basis of Dalit literature. They asked in all seriousness: Can Dalits write literature? Can Dalit be subject of literature? They attacked Dalit literature saying that the dirty experiences of Dalit life would spoil the literary mainstream.

Their contention was that Dalit literature is not literature. According to them, “It was the drainage of dirty water;” it was slang literature. It had to be stopped otherwise it would harm the religious feelings of the higher castes.

We didn’t care for such allegations. We didn’t stop writing. For us, it was very simple to write in our own language and write about the tragedy of our life. And by writing the way we did, we changed the definition of writing and the writer.

Dalit literature’s distinct language, its revolutionary ideology, its aggressive character, its refusal to quietly accept inequality, and the human values ingrained in it has led to many proponents and opponents of Dalit literature.

Dalits haven’t been portrayed truthfully or with fairness right from the time of Hindu religious literature to contemporary Indian literature.  As a Dalit writer, I reject this alienating literary tradition.

 am often asked about the future of the Dalit literature. I find this ironic because we are worried about our future and our critics are worried about our literature. Dalit literature is a response to the exploitation and the humiliation of the Dalits, and as that is unlikely to end soon, Dalit literature will flourish.

Whenever there is inhumanity and discrimination in the world, then there will be Dalit literature. Dalit literature has expanded the horizon of Indian literature and criticism and transformed people’s preferences. Dalit literature has awakened many new social strata and made new literary contributions.

Equality, freedom and social justice are the basis of Dalit literature. Dalits have been deprived of these. These people were silent and mute in the history. The Hindu philosophy and ideology is based on inequality. The Hindu religion, Hindu Gods, Hindu culture and Hindu social fabric deny equality, justice and freedom to Dalits.

For thousands of years Dalits politely served the high caste society. It was the destiny of Dalit people. They never revolted against God, religion and social structure. They believe that this was the way of life for them.

Dalit has been humiliated and exploited for thousands of years. Dalit is rejected by high caste as human. The touch of Dalit, the shadow of Dalit and the voice of Dalit treated as impure. Dalit lived out of village, out of city and in separate sections. Dalit cannot enter in the temple of high caste. Dalit cannot drink water on the river bank of high caste. Dalit cannot cremate the dead body in the graveyard of high caste. Dalit cannot marry, cannot eat, and cannot live with the high caste. He was only slave. He had no rights.

After independence and thanks to the revolutionary movement of Dr. Ambedkar, Dalits became aware of their self-respect and equality. Now, the Indian caste system is changing but not fast enough. The speed of social change is very slow, but there is change.
Over the years, Dalit literature has been able to break down barriers, overcome opposition and gain acceptance and popularity. Why is Dalit literature so popular? Why it is well received by readers? What is the cause of Dalit literature?

The answers to these questions are straightforward: Dalit literature is the rebel against exploitation and humiliation. A common man is the hero of this literature. He revolts against the inhuman oppression. He wins in his struggle of self-respect. This is the real beauty of this literature.

Irrelevant of caste, class and colour, the reader loves the brave tongue and gets motivation from the struggle of common man. The common man becomes searchlight for him to find way of life. I believe, the common man is brave and faithful. Dalit literature gives this message to the readers.

If you want to understand the literature of movement, if you want to learn struggle of emancipation, if you want to listen the cry for humanity, I think, you have to read Dalit literature. It is the literature of life.

Here are some lines from a poem:

The church bell rang
Everyone entered in
The ajan heard from mosque
Everyone entered in
The bell of temple rang
Some entered in
And some stood out.

Photo: Basharat Mirza

By writing about the past, I renew history: Selina Hossain

Selina Hossain
Selina Hossain is an eminent Bangladeshi author. She was in Toronto to participate in the Toronto Festival of Literature and the Arts 2013.  I spoke to her during her visit. Excerpts from an interview:

Why do you write?

I love observing. I remember observing nature as a child, observing the relationship between a man and a woman, between a mother and her children, the way people live their lives. When I went to the university in the 1960s, I began to put into words all my gathered experiences. Initially, I wrote poems but within two to three years I realized that poems were not my form. I needed a larger canvas so switched to writing short stories and novels.

You have written over 30 novels.

Yes, 32 novels. Most of my novels explore human emotions, poverty, and the relationship between people and the State, different conditions of women, how women are treated by the society.  I write stories that explore our cultural roots. For instance, my novel Purno Chobir Mognota (2008) is about Rabindranath Tagore’s life, between 1899 and 1901 when he lived in what is now Bangladesh.

The characters in the novel are characters from Tagore’s stories. I believe that had Rabindranath not come to this part of Bengal, he wouldn’t have understood the connection to nature and poverty.

Rabindranath came to Patisar on an invitation in 1937. At the end of the novel I express my theme by making a contemporary parallel saying that he dedicated his song ‘Amar Sonar Bangla Ami Tomai Bhalobasi...’ to the people of the land. This song was accepted as the national anthem of Bangladesh in 1971.  

In my novel on Mirza Ghalib, Jomuna Nodir Mushayra (2011), I attempt to relate the past and connect it with the present. Ghalib was the poet of the subcontinent. My idea was to depict how a poet saw his times, to show how Galib passed his days during Sepoy Mutinity. I tried to depict the time for the young generation of the present. I sought their reaction. They told me that when they were going through the description of Sepoy Mutinity in my novel, they thought they were reliving the liberation war of Bangladesh.
Reading in Toronto

But my novels aren’t just about the past. I don’t believe in romanticising the past. I link the past with the present. By writing about the past, I renew history.

Your writing is pronouncedly political.

All writings are political. You show me any writing that is not political. Everyone has political thoughts in his/ her live consciously or unconsciously. I love that my story may turn into a political idea. I was in my early 20s when the 1971 war of liberation broke out. It made a lasting impression on me. 

It is the theme of my novel Hangor, Nodi, Grenade (The Shark, The River, The Grenade – 1976). Satyajit Ray was keen to make a movie based on the novel, but abandoned the idea when fundamentalists force took charge of the country after Sheikh Mujib was assassinated.

So this is an example how politics destroys art. We can think of Tolstoy who was not awarded Noble Prize for petty political reasons.

Would you agree that fundamentalist forces have shaped South Asian geographies?

On the contrary, I would say that it is secular forces that have shaped our societies. Bengali society on either side of the border even today is defined by what Chandidas said five hundred years ago Shobar upore manush shotto tahar upore nai (Humanity above all else). The common people have imbued with secular thoughts. Often it is the state that prevents common sense from prevailing. When I see Bengalis living in enclaves near the borders of India and Bangladesh, I often wonder why the leaders can’t solve this simple problem. It is because of the State. It is because of the Border Security Forces (BSF). It is because of the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB). My novel Vumi-o-kusum (2010) looks at this simple and yet complex situation.

Is the State is an important character in most of your works?

The State is an important character in everyone’s life. Whether you live in Toronto or in Dhaka, you can’t avoid or ignore the State. A peasant, a fisherman, or a professional may harbour notions that their thoughts are their own, but the undeniable reality of our life is that those thoughts are influenced and controlled by the State not always directly but indirectly by its policies, but its various apparatuses. My novels examine this relationship. But my approach is not polemical. I prefer the personal. I am a committed writer and my fiction combines the personal and the political.

What are your impressions about Bangladesh?

I am impatient with the slow pace of change. We achieved liberation 42 years ago but the lives of people haven’t changed. We have a tremendous social capital in Bangladesh. We must tear asunder the status quo that hampers progress. Many say this is left-wing thinking, I say this is thinking for the humanity.

Who are your favourite Bangladeshi authors?
Syed Waliullah, Hasan Azizul Huq, Shamsur Rahman, Shahid Qadree, Syed Shamsul Haque, Rizia Rahman, Akhteruzzaman Elias.

And Bengali?
Mahasweta Devi and Sunil Gangopadhyay.

Photo credit: Fathima Cadre

Sunday, May 05, 2013

One World, One English, The Many Languages of the Imagination

Guest Post by Meena Chopra

Meena Chopra is a Canadian artist and poet of Indian origin. 

She read the following paper at the Festival of South Asian Literature & the Arts 2013 held in Toronto May 3 to 5, 2013. Meena was a panelist on 'One World, One English, the Many Languages of the Imagination'

Blessed are the people who become the vehicle to the inspired moments of the creative impulse in the language of their soul.

World is transitioning into a global village where English language is taking the front seat but not in a traditional British, American or any other way. It is evolving with variety of different realistic cultural influences. The biggest influence on new English is of the technological culture and the dynamism of the young who are the creative compelling users of technology. The idiom and syntax are changing fast. 

Manifestation of the subtle thought imaging is taking over directly from the mental sound vibrations in a language where we have started expressing in symbols like smilyes, pictograms and info-graphics etc. This visual expression of subtle thought is the immediate outer expression of our mental imagery perhaps descended on us from that one ultimate sound vibration (Shabd Brahm).   The entire generation is on the thresh hold of being more and more visual in their expression of thought.  

Underneath this visual explosion, English, with its new tools of expression is threading the beads of different languages so to speak, where the images of mind in their visual expression have started taking the lead.

What language does imagination has?  It is a question that eludes many of us. Whatever way our creativity gets stimulated, according to the researchers, as humans our thinking is mostly in images and is visual. To add, from generations, powerful imagery has always been an intrinsic part of any creative writing which actually surpasses the barriers of language and language becomes a medium of creative expression.

Einstein said that he always thought in images, in his words, "I very rarely think in words. A thought comes, and I may try to express it in words afterwards," 
So what we have observed with any of our senses, we can imagine; what we imagine, we image.

Traditionally in a country like Canada with its English predominance and linguistic diversity definitely breaks down the barriers to intercultural dialogue and promotes multilingualism as a fundamental tool for the prosperity of literature. Linguistic diversity also contributes to enhancing creativity and innovation at all levels of education and learning. There is a clear link between multilingualism and creativity because knowledge of languages gives access to other ways of thinking and to other cultures as well, reinforcing our creative capacities. This in turn has a positive impact on innovation.

In the changing environment where English is the predominant world language, Hindi like many other languages of the world is also transforming. It is becoming richer because of cultural influences for both in its usage, vocabulary and expressiveness. English language definitely has a major influence on Hindi as well as it has on many other languages in many ways. 

There are many remarkable Hindi literary blogs on the net. It is adapting very well to the transition and the idiom. This change is inevitable with technological progression where English is predominant.

Some facts and observations about Hindi language:

·        After Chinese, Hindi is the maximum spoken language of the world.
·        Hindi has been one of the first languages which was picked up by Google when they started adding and introducing languages to the net for a wider usage of technology with languages. 
·        Instant Google translations are available at hand for all languages.

Hindi Writers' Guild, the organization I represent here, was formed in June 2008. It is the first of its kind multi-faceted organization in Canada. Its prime objective is to educate and increase public understanding of Hindi literature and the language, also to develop the writing skills in Hindi language. Organization promotes South Asian writers and literature through seminars, lectures and conferences etc. Computer literacy and promotion of book publication in Canada are the main intents of Hindi Writers’ Guild.

To elaborate the organization is involved in the following:



Trans-creating my poem from Hindi to English. Sometimes I do it from English to Hindi

जीवन गाथा
उठती हैं
          गिरती हैं
      दर्पण हैं साँसें
   प्रतिबिम्बों को
   जन्म देती हैं
         प्रतिबिम्ब, जो कई
            चिह्न बना देते हैं
                 दाग देते हैं प्रश्न -?
                 कई दायरों पर
              लिख देते हैं दायरे
              कई सीनों पर।
          छप जाती है
    समय के पन्नों पर
 जीवन गाथा।
It rises and falls.
Is it a mirror?
Breeding reflections
Stamping signatures
Carving the questions beyond-?
Limiting the limits.
Marking the boundary lines
inscribed in hearts. 
Binding and circulating
A printed lifeline.
An epic
on the blank sheets
of  time.
Is this my breath in action
my spirit in a straight line ?

Photo credit: Jim Wilkes/TORONTO STARhttp://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2010/08/09/setting_sun_inspires_mississauga_poet_and_artist.html.