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Politics, patriarchy and parochialism-charting the course of a political destiny

Beginning at the peak of Nehruvian era and ending in the early seventies, Devesh Verma’s sharply witty saga The Politician gives an enthralling, evocative view of provincial northern India-once the political heartland of the country-and the ebb and flow of the fortunes of its protagonists.
Ram Mohan is an intrepid and ambitious young man in newly independent India, who refuses to be held down by his humble origins. Spurred on by his diehard optimism, he aims for things usually inaccessible to people of his extraction. However, he soon realizes that without political or bureaucratic power, the idea of a respectable life in India is nothing but pretense, and after a Gulab Singh rescues him from being insulted by a thug, Ram Mohan becomes persuaded of the efficacy of violence in certain situations.
Read on for a glimpse into Ram Mohan’s early days, and his initial faux pas balancing political ambition and political correctness!

The flame of political ambition kindled by Kishan Lal Tiwari was still burning bright in Ram Mohan. It was one of the reasons Ram Mohan did not want to defer his research work any further.


Parliamentary and Assembly elections might still be a few years away; he wanted to employ this time to achieve his scholarly objective, a feather in his cap; after which he could think of a way to assert his presence in the political arena as well. It could be either through contesting an election as suggested by Tiwari ji or through associating with the campaign of some important candidate of the Congress. But he was sure if he decided to be in the fray, it would not only be to prove his following. He would fight with a view to securing victory by convincing castes other than Kurmis of his merit. The mere thought of surprising them by his ability to quote from Sanskrit classics and Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas was uplifting.


He was never apolitical, but his interest in politics after meeting Tiwari ji had jumped to another level; he would make it a point now to keep abreast of all important political happenings. Just the previous year, he had taken part in a public meeting in Kanpur organized to condemn the allegations of corruption against Nehru government. It was district Congress committee’s answer to the protest rallies of the Communist Party and the People’s Union, the right-wing Hindu party; the former had a strong support base among the workers in state-owned mills of Kanpur, the latter drew its strength from the city’s Hindu shopkeepers. Given his poor grasp of the details, Ram Mohan simply lambasted the opposition, declaring that it was a sin to even insinuate that the allegations could be true; to back up his contention, he invoked the figures of Gandhi, Patel, Nehru and the like whose values were the cornerstone of the Congress. Biting at each word, Ram Mohan wondered how a respectable member of the Union cabinet chosen by Nehru ji could be accused of any financial misconduct. His speech had brought tears to the eyes of some old Congressmen.


Later however, the controversy had transformed into a monstrous scandal, brought to light by none other than Nehru’s estranged son-in-law, a Congress MP. He had raised the issue in Parliament. What had seemed to have transpired was that the Life Insurance Corporation of India had ploughed a huge amount of money into a private company of tenuous reputation; the shares were bought the day the stock markets were closed and at a price much above their market-value. The resulting uproar forced the government to order a judicial enquiry, which found the finance minister guilty of making the fraudulent investment. He had no option but to resign. It was the first big instance of government corruption coming to surface in independent India, which shocked Ram Mohan into making a fetish of financial honesty and pouring scorn on people suspected of bribery. Before Ram Mohan could plunge into research on the poetsaint, there had been a couple of more Congress-related events to engage him.


Soon after the scandal, Nehru dropped the bomb of his reluctance to continue as PM, arguing the position demanded ceaseless work, leaving him with no time ‘for quiet thinking’. The Congress was thrown into turmoil. Congressmen across the country were falling over themselves to issue appeals to the party to pay no heed to the hideous idea. When local congress leaders in Kanpur met to pass a resolution against Pandit ji’s ‘request’, Ram Mohan committed a political faux pas by suggesting— to the extreme embarrassment of all the office bearers in the committee—that the resolution should also urge Nehru ji to identify and nurture an alternative leadership before he could think of quitting. Ram Mohan had to be shouted down by all those present. ‘We’re shocked and disgusted at this temerity,’ bellowed a committee member. Anyway, the crisis blew over shortly as Nehru quit the idea of quitting by bowing down to the party’s wish.

The Politician Front Cover
The Politician || Devesh Verma


The story of a tea-laborer and his path-breaking journey

If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.- Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

Bike Ambulance Dada, the authorised biography of Padma Shri awardee Karimul Hak, is the most inspiring and heart-warming biography you will read this year. It documents the extraordinary journey of a tea-garden worker who saved thousands of lives by starting a free bike-ambulance service from his village to the nearest hospital.

Here is an excerpt from Bike Ambulance Dada by Biswajit Jha titled A Bike Ambulance Takes Shape.

Front Cover Bike Ambulance Dada
Bike Ambulance Dada || Biswajit Jha

Now that Karimul had a bike, he was no longer dependent on his cycle to ferry a patient. The bike gave the patients a greater chance of survival by ensuring they got to the hospital quickly. Karimul, too, was under less pressure, physically and mentally; he could be more certain of patients getting timely medical attention, be they sick or injured, and riding a motorbike was far less physically taxing than cycling all the way with a passenger.

One day, in 2008, when Karimul was enjoying a cup of tea with some acquaintances at a tea shop in Kranti Bazaar, one of them, Babu Mohanta, suddenly cried out. The engrossing discussion on political affairs was halted abruptly. The small group sprang into action to find out the reason behind Mohanta’s shriek. Investigations revealed that a snake had bitten him just above the ankle. Karimul immediately made up his mind to identify the snake, as this would help the doctor decide on the course of treatment; it was imperative in such cases. He saw the snake but could not identify it. Thinking fast, he somehow caught the snake and put it in a small box so that he could carry it to the hospital. He applied a pressure bandage on the wound as well. With the help of those around them, Karimul got Mohanta tied to his back and asked a villager to ride pillion with him. Before starting out for Jalpaiguri Sadar Hospital, Karimul instructed the man to make sure that Mohanta did not fall sleep. The snake, carefully locked in the box, accompanied them to the hospital.

On the way, they met with a huge traffic jam on the bridge over the Teesta, just 5 kilometres from the hospital. The road was chock-a-block with vehicles stranded on the bridge, all trying to find a way out and, in the process, aggravating the situation. As Karimul zipped past the four- wheeled vehicles, he saw an ambulance stuck in the traffic. When he asked the ambulance driver for the patient’s details, he was told that the man had also been bitten by a snake, and they were heading for the same hospital as Karimul. Manoeuvring his much-smaller vehicle between the cars and moving towards the hospital with Mohanta, the soft-hearted Karimul felt sorry for the patient in the ‘proper’ ambulance, unable to get out.

Karimul soon reached the hospital. Once there, he showed the snake to the doctor, who was at first startled but then observed it intently for a few seconds before springing into action with the treatment.

After getting Mohanta admitted, Karimul went back to the bridge where they had seen the ambulance. He saw that the ambulance, along with other vehicles, was still there; the patient had, unfortunately, passed away.

After a couple of days, Babu Mohanta was released from the hospital. He was the first person bitten by a poisonous snake in the village to be saved—all because of Karimul’s timely intervention and bike ambulance service.

Before this incident, though Karimul had ignored the taunts of some of the villagers and had gone about ferrying patients to hospital, he had sometimes harboured misgivings that his bike ambulance was a poor substitute for the conventional ambulance. But that day, he realized that his bike ambulance was sometimes far more convenient than a standard ambulance. From then on, there was no looking back for him. His new-found confidence enthused him to serve people with increased passion.

After he was awarded the Padma Shri, the Navayuvak Brindal Club, Siliguri, donated to him an ambulance that he used for some months. But the traditional ambulance not only consumed more fuel, it was also rather difficult to drive it to remote and far-flung areas. After some weeks, he stopped using that ambulance; though it is still with him, he doesn’t use it. Instead, he now has three bike ambulances at home; one is used by his elder son, Raju, another by his younger son, Rajesh, while Karimul himself mostly uses the bike ambulance donated by Bajaj Auto, which has an attached carrier for patients.

Thanks to Karimul Hak’s unique initiative, the bike ambulance has become popular in rural areas of India. Inspired by him, some social workers, as well as some NGOs, have started this service too, thereby saving thousands of lives in far-off areas of the country.

While Karimul has saved many lives, he deeply regrets not being able to save some. Still, he derives immense satisfaction from the fact that a person like him, with a paltry income and limited capacity, has made a difference in the lives of so many people. Relatives and family members of those who died en route to the hospital, or even after reaching the hospital, at least know that they, through Karimul, tried their best to save their loved one. This is a noteworthy achievement for Karimul, who dreams of a day when lack of medical treatment will not be the reason for someone’s death.

Bike Ambulance Dada is a must-read today as it will inspire us to do and be better in our lives.

Invaluable dissenters in troubled democracies

What is the value of freedom of speech and dissent in a democracy today, and how does it affect the very pillars of this system of governance? These are difficult questions, often leaving us with no answers. T.T. Ram Mohan navigates these tensions in his book:


We don’t like dissenting voices and we don’t like to express dissent. Authority, in particular, doesn’t like to be questioned or challenged. And people don’t like to challenge or question authority because they know there’s a price to be paid for doing so. We are exhorted by wise men and women to ‘stand up for what is right’ and ‘speak truth to fear’. We are careful not to heed these exhortations. Our survival instincts tell us otherwise. It’s far more rewarding to stay quiet, nod assent or, better still, practise unabashed sycophancy.


In recent years, we have heard a great deal in India about intolerance and the supposed muffling of dissent on the part of the present government. Governments everywhere do try to stifle or manage dissent in varying degrees and in different ways. But the situation is not very different in other spheres of life, such as the corporate world, the bureaucracy, non-government organizations or even academia.


This is truly a sad state of affairs. Dissent is invaluable. We need dissent, whether in government or in the other institutions of society, in order to ensure accountability of those in authority. Dissent is also vital for generating ideas and solving problems. It is only through the clash of ideas that the best solutions emerge. Herd mentality or ‘group think’, as it is now called, is the surest recipe for mediocrity and underperformance. Institutions must be designed to protect and foster dissent.


Since dissent is all too rare, it’s worth celebrating dissenters. In this book, I profile seven of them from different walks of life. The personalities I have chosen are not necessarily the most famous or the most effective dissenters. The American linguist and intellectual, Noam Chomsky, would have easily qualified. So would the economist and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz. But these are celebrities whose ideas are quite well known. I have chosen to write about individuals whose dissenting ideas may not be known to many. Ideally, I would have liked to meet the individuals in person or at least interview them over the Net. Alas, I had no luck, except with Kancha Ilaiah.


I have not attempted to be comprehensive in my treatment of these personalities and, indeed, lay no claim to being familiar with all of their works. They are all so prolific that whole books could be written about them. Rather, I have focused on some of their works or themes just to capture the flavor of their dissent.


In what ways are these dissenters questioning the mainstream view? What challenges have they mounted to the establishment? How have they managed to shape public perceptions on important issues? These are the questions I have attempted to answer. The impact the dissenters in this book have had is quite modest. Roy has been able to influence policy on large dams and the rehabilitation of displaced individuals. Stone has contributed to the anti-war sentiment in the US and to the conspiracy theories about the assassination of President Kennedy. Ilaiah has raised awareness of the inequities in the Hindu order but hasn’t had much luck in stopping the Hindutva juggernaut. U.G. Krishnamurti has got people thinking seriously about spirituality and the pursuit of enlightenment. Varoufakis languishes on the margins of European politics. Irving is a virtual pariah amongst historians and in the mainstream media. Pilger’s journalism thrives mostly on the Net.


The value of these dissenters is to be judged by positing the counterfactual: If it were not for the likes of them, how would the establishment have behaved? These individuals may not have been able to change the dominant narrative. But they have, at times, been able to apply the brakes on it. That is a valuable contribution.


With the possible exception of Irving, the dissenters in this book have been professionally and financially successful. This suggests that despite the hostility of the establishment, there is room in the market economy for dissent of high quality. Indeed, as I note later, it is the celebrity status of these dissenters that acts as a protective charm and keeps them from being trampled on. The moral in today’s world seems to be that if you want to express serious dissent, make sure that you are rich and famous enough to be able to afford it.


Rebels With a Cause does the difficult work of explaining the real value of dissent, and therefore, a democracy. Read it here.

A timeless love saga – Meghadutam by Kalidasa

Indian literature is an ocean replete with brilliant pearls. All it takes is a swim in its depths to explore the gifts that Indian writers have left for us. One such gift is Kalidasa’s Meghadutam – The Cloud Message.
Kalidasa explored new boundaries of literary stylistics – and his poem, Meghadutam stands true to his legacy.
It is perhaps the most translated text in all of Indian literature and can be found all over the world in different languages, formats and styles. A beautifully scripted poem, it chronicles the story of a banished yaksha who petitions a cloud to send a message to his distant lover. It’s a captivating story that transcends through ages and enthrals its readers.
Here we have picked some verses from Meghadutam’s latest translation by Srinivas Reddy.


Fascinating, isn’t it?
You can get your copy of Meghadutam here.


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