Stars can wait – Jay Basu

I was idly wandering about the aisles of our splendid new library wondering which book to pick up. I was checking off the list that I had planned in my mind. The new Grisham book ‘Appeal’ was still to hit the shelves; the Follet ‘World without end’ that I had been waiting for was still not available & there were hardly any works by the great Nevil Shute. I noticed that there was a Hindi section with a few titles and that the rain was still doing a pitter patter outside. My wife was walking around looking for Amulya Malladi books and I was speed-skimming through the hundreds of authors names on the shelves, people who wrote many million words beseeching wordlessly to those who walked by, ‘here I am, waiting for you to pick me up. Please’…The library was not unusually quiet, plenty of kids making slight noises, mothers shush shush-ing them, the tap-tap of many keyboards. The high ceiling was effective, the sounds got quickly muted and the ambience was, well, like it should be in a library. The air felt very dry in there and I was feeling thirsty.

Some weeks ago, I found Gautam Malkani’s ‘Londonstani’ beckoning from amongst those very aisles, and this week, here was where I discovered Jay Basu, the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist for ‘The Art Seidenbaum Award - First Fiction category’.

Like they say, every now and then you land up with a book in your hands that will pleasantly surprise you. Or maybe it is so that such a book will find you or find its way into your hands. I truly enjoyed reading this short but pleasing read in one sitting. If one asks me why I picked up the book in the first place, I would say that it was because of the familiar surname Basu and the kinship with my countrymen. But if somebody asks me why I read it and why I am writing about it, it is simply because I liked it. The book has nothing to do with India; in fact it is about distant WW II Poland of the 40’s and is about something that the author heard from his Polish grandpa.

If Khaled Hosseini’s ‘Kite runner’ covered the relationship between father and son and his ‘A Thousand splendid suns’ did the same for two women, this book covers the relationship between siblings, an elder and an younger brother.

The story of the two bothers Gracian Sofka and Pawel Sofka, separated in age by all of 12 years, takes you to a small fictional village called Malenkowice in the Upper Sielsia region of Poland. The Germans are coming, there is poverty around and the town is rife with rumors, the Polish uprising and the German supporters. Basu portrays the effect of all this on the Sofka family, with touching words in this fine bitter sweet story.

In the middle of it all, the young boy of 15, Gracian is hard at work in the dangerous Polish mines, to support the family, a kilometer below the earth, shoveling coal all day into the waiting wagons. Gerard Dylong, his friend, soul mate and work partner is the much older coal blaster who is hoping to find that rich vein of Sulfur in the mines (something that he hopes would make him a millionaire).

Gracian has a hobby, he loves watching the stars, creeping up the forest at night, lying on his back in the clearing and watching the galaxy with its mysteries till dawn, but that is also very dangerous with the German arms depot nearby and the prowling patrols that could kill him instantly.

Pawel on the other hand is the mysterious one, the man with no job, one who has a haunted past and is in and out of the house al the time. He loves his younger brother immensely and is very protective of Garcian, trying always to keep him out of harms way. One fateful day, Pawel presents Garcian with a telescope.

It is this shiny brass instrument that then exposes the young Garcian to the world he never knew, both in the skies up above him and the woods in the darkness. The telescope exposes him to the grim danger of a country at war, to the beauty of his brothers fiancée Ana Malewska, to tragedy and finally teaches him to take the first steps into the world of the grown up.

So who is Basu? Jay Basu was born to an Indian father and a half-Polish, half-Russian mother. He graduated from Cambridge University in 1999. The Stars Can Wait is his first novel. He lives in London. But he says, "My father is Indian and I can't speak Bengali. My grandfather is Polish and I can't speak Polish, and my grandmother is Jewish and I can't speak Yiddish, and I'm actually quite pissed off that I can't speak any of these languages."

Basu has no formal writing training (source – above Bookslut article), but he stresses that craft is important, that you have to learn it, and that comes through practice. When somebody commented on how he especially admired the research Basu did to set his novel in World War II Poland, Basu quipped, "That's funny that you admire my research since I didn't do any." Basu's research was talking to his Polish grandfather.

These days Basu is writing screenplays (Last Fare) by himself or with Josh Appignanesi. (Within). Song of Songs, a movie, with script by Jay Basu was released in 2005.

Silesian History - Throughout its history Upper Silesia has been under the control of Poland, Bohemia, Austria, Prussia, and Germany. A turning point in Silesian history came in 1922, when it was divided between Germany and Poland. Thomas Kamusella explains - for Berlin, the Silesians became "in-between people" and, for Warsaw, a "nationally labile population." During World War II, the entire region was reincorporated in Germany, which nullified the achievements of Polonization. After 1945, the process was reversed, with all of Upper Silesia being granted to postwar Poland along with other formerly German territories.

The book is available on Amazon or rediff. Check out also the Barnes & Noble review or the Wiki article

P.S – Jay Basu the writer is not Joy Basu the guitarist or the Bangla writer. Further attempts in obtaining information on Basu at Google kept providing me hits with our Bollywood siren Bipasha Basu. While that specific serach route may have proved pretty interesting, I desisted.

Awaz De – Anmol Ghadi

There are some songs that will live with you during your life. This one created by Naushad and sung by Noor Jehan and Surendra in 1946 is like so for me. I enjoy it each time I hear it and always marvel at Noorjehan’s thick and husky Punjaban voice. Of recent, only one singer created such a tonal quality – it is Richa Sharma (try listening to her Zindagi mein koi kabhi aye na rabba – Musafir)..

The year was 1946, the film Industry was hard at work creating excellent B&W movies and a number of new heroes and heroines were coming to the forefront. Hema Malini was just born, Yusuf Khan (Dilip Kumar) was making his entrance into Bollywood, Suraiyah was making her mark, Lata Mangeshkar was just entering the scene, Naushad Ali was creating waves with his music and Madam Noor Jehan – Mallika e Tarannun (Queen of melodies) had not even started contemplating whether to remain in India or move to Pakistan…She was at that time an established singing - acting star, all of 20 years old, graced with stunning looks and a deep voice. Lata had just finished her first Hindi recording Paa Lagoon Kar Jori for Vasant Joglekar's Hindi movie, Aap Ki Seva Mein.

The World war had come to an end. Mehboob Khan’s movie Anmol Ghadi (Precious Watch) had been released with a star studded line up of singers Noor Jehan, Surraiya and Surendra with melodious music crafted by the maestro Naushad. In the movie Noor Jehan played the love triangle acting out the role of “Lata”. Anmol Ghadi had just rejuvenated the languishing career of actor-singer Surendranath B.A. LL.B. On another desk, Sir Cyril Radcliffe of the British government was hard at work, drawing the lines that would split the film industry and the country itself…He did not know about Noor Jehan , Lata Manageshkar or Yusuf Khan… they were deep in discussions with Gandhiji, Nehru and Krishna Menon about the various aspects of India’s independence.

The most memorable song in Anmol Ghadi was Awaz De kahan hai sung by Noor jehan and accompanied by Surendra with his soothing voice singing out the part Kismet Pe Chha Rahi Hai Kyon, Raat Ki Siyahi (siyahi BTW means darkness)…It also became a personal favorite of Noor Jehan over the years. The lines were written by Tanvir Naqvi who migrated to Pakistan as well.

Picture the recording - While recording Aawaz De Kahan Hai, they had only one microphone. So Noor would stand on one side, and Surendra Nath on the other. Surendra Nath her co star in the movie happened to be a very timid man. What Noor would do is sing her lines and instead of turning away, she would stare right into Surendra Nath's face, making him nervous. A thorough gentleman he was, but he could not take Noor Jehan's mischief in his stride! He could stand it no longer, so he went to Naushad and requested him to ask her to turn away once she finished singing her lines. She laughed and then did what Naushad asked her to do. Thus went the recording of this memorable song.

Noor Jehan moved to Pakistan with her husband Shaukat Rizvi in 1949 and after an active musical career, passed away in Dec 2000. Lata Mangeshkar stated, "Maine unke suron ki ungli pakad kar gana seekha hai," (I learned to sing by holding the fingers of her notes). Lata in a way even owed her entry into Mumbai filmdom to the two Noor Jehan numbers that she sung for her first audition. She always admired and respected Noor Jehan and Noor Jehan duly reciprocated
. It was late in 1951 that Lata Mangeshkar, on a visit to Amritsar, approached the local authorities to arrange her meeting with Noor Jehan at the Wagah border. There they met on the fence, and talked of times gone by.

Anmol Ghadi (1946) – Aawaz De Kahan Hai
aawaz de kahaan hai, duniya meri jawan hai
aabaad mere dil mein ummeed ka jahaan hai
duniya meri jawan hai ...

aa raat jaa rahi hai, yu jaise chandani ki
baaraat ja rahi hai , chalne ko ab falak se
taaron ka kaarvaan hai , aaise mein tu kahaan hai
duniya meri jawaan hai ...

kismat pe chha rahi hai, kyon raat ki siyaahi
viran hai meri neenden , taaron se le gavaahi
barbaad main yahaan hoon , aabaad tu kahaan hai
bedard aasmaan hai ... duniya meri jawan hai
aawaz de kahaan hai ...

Sour and oily food is death to a good throat - who doesn't know that? And yet Noor Jehan used to eat a lot of pickles. The interesting thing was that whenever she had a film song to record, she would eat a lot of pickles quite ritualistically, wash it down with ice-cool water, then reach over to the microphone. She said her voice was enlivened this way. Despite being deaf in one ear, Noor Jehan's voice and her music are immortal. Noorhehans name was actually Allah Wasai. Noorjehan never sang without receiving advance payment for her songs. Sonia who acted in Taj mahal and Khoya Khoya Chand is her granddaughter.Naushad Saheb told Lata to imitate Noorjehan for the song 'Uthaye Ja Unke Sitam' Andaaz (1949), he said "Achha Latabai Ab Apni Pakistani Behen Ko Yaad Kar Ke Yeh Gaana Gayiega." Naushad’s foray into Malayalam cinema produced one movie in 1988 Dhwani - A popular number is Janaki Jaane rama (Solos sung by KJY and P Susheela).

Awaz de’s tune ‘inspired’ P Bhaskaran in the song Palazyiyaam Nilavil for the movie ‘Thiramaala’ sung by Kozhikode Abdul Khader & Shanta P Nair

The Lynching of Krishna Menon

Oct 10th - Subedar Ram Singh of 9 Punjab regiment was tired, though relatively young, his lungs were killing him and fear was gnawing deep in his bones & mind. At 14,000 feet, a height his tired body was not accustomed to, pulmonary edema was setting in. He hacked and coughed most of the time, his headaches were severe and his stomach churned. Sometimes his head reeled and he almost collapsed from dizziness, sometimes he had eye bleeds. The cotton clothes and boots he wore were inadequate for the mighty cold of the black Karkoram Mountains and the Namka Chu area. The Lee Enfield 0.303 with its razor sharp bayonet was his only weapon against the well armed Chinese. He had exactly 40 bullets left. He cursed Nehru, Krishna Menon and Gen Kaul, the people he held responsible for sending him and his troops to these miserable heights, to fight an enemy (he had himself shouted Hindi Chini bhai bhai a few months back) unprepared & under equipped, mentally & physically. The Chinese came in hundreds with their AK47’s. His men dropped like flies. The rest of the war at Namka Chu is recorded here.

V.K.Krishna Menon became Defence Minister in 1957 bringing with him a fresh breath of air into a ministry that had been ignored for eight years. Menon fought for his men, improved their pay scales, introduced welfare programs and so on. When Krishna Menon saw the ill equipped condition of the 3.5 million strong army, especially their use of Lee Enfield 0.303 bolt action rifles, World War 1 vintage, he was appaled. He pressed for automatic SLR’s and other defense expenditures to modernize the armed forces. But his detractors would not allow it. Menon again proposed doubling of the officer strength in the army & manufacture of automatic weapons but the proposal was shot down by Gen Thimayya. In 1957, Acharya Kriplani speaking on the Defense Budget in the Lok Sabha said “The mounting expenses on the Army must be cut down. The followers of Gandhi and adherents of universal peace should not increase military expenditure”. It was also a time when the Sterling reserves were down and a monsoon failure plus lack of other resources conspired to ensure that quick arms imports were out of the picture. Menon was forced to start a longer gestating program of indigenous manufacture with Ordnance factories. The grave situation was made even worse by a personal feud between the then Finance Minister Morarji Desai and the Defense Minister Krishna Menon which resulted in an obstructive finance ministry that did not allow the release of essential foreign exchange to buy what little equipment that had been sanctioned.

When Dalai Lama sought asylum in India, after a revolt with the Chinese in 1959, Krishna Menon sensed a deepening gloom. It was only a few years earlier that Menon had worked hard to convince the world that the Chinese should be admitted as a UN member, despite strenuous objections from the Americans ( He had remarked then – China is the elephant in the room, can we avoid it?) and the West. When the Chinese, upset over the Lama’s stay in India & India’s support for Tibetan rebels, started to vacillate on the border issues, Menon was still quietly confident that diplomacy would win the game. Internal politics and rabid sessions in parliament ensured that Nehru had to show decisive action. It had already started with the Bombay elections in 1962 when Kripalani who changed colors conveniently changed his Gandhian non violent tone to - Chini hamla hote hain/Menon Saab sote hain/Sona hai tho sone do/Kripalani ji to aane do. (As China advances, Menon sleeps/Let him sleep if he must/But call Kripalani to be with us).

The Forward policy was being executed in the meantime, and on the other side, the Chinese had completed the road into Tibet through the Aksai Chen plains. Bajpai, Lohia, Kriplani and others were continuously after Nehru to get the Chinese out. On April 11, 1961, Kripalani launched a blistering attack on V.K. Krishna Menon. Under Menon's stewardship, said Kripalani, the same Kriplani who had previously screamed at the increasing defense outlay, "we have lost 12,000 square miles of our territory without striking a single blow”.

The under prepared military was at that point of time undergoing many changes in structure. Following a fight with the opinionated Menon, army chief Thimayya got sidelined. Gen Kariappa resigned, Manekshaw made it clear that he took Thimmayya’s side. Gen Thapar was appointed to replace Thimayya. Nehru was in support of a kinsman GM Kaul. Gen KM Kaul, duly appointed to take over a key position to head IV corps convinced Nehru that the military brass had to act to drive the Chinese away from the NFEA Aksai plains. Menon stated in parliament on Aug 1st that this was going to be a fruitless exercise and that the army would be routed. He tried hard to get his political bosses back to the negotiating table, even starting side discussion with the Chinese negotiators to compromise. Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul “told Ambassador Galbraith on 16 July that the Indian army viewed the Chinese as set in a ‘mood’ of weakness and that Indian policy was to take maximum advantage of this mood by establishing even more new posts. In contrast to the policy ‘ambiguities’ of a year or two ago, Kaul continued, the Indian army ‘is not now in a mood to be pushed around’.”

Nehru believed that historian Dr Gopal’s opinions on the borders and legality lent more support to India’s claims than China’s, after the Tibetan accession. When China found that Russia were also being supportive of India, they were alarmed and decided to act at an opportune moment, which presented itself in mid 1962 – a period when Russia had taken on USA over the Cuban missile crisis at the Bay of Pigs. To make mattes worse, China infuriated the hardliners in India by discussing the borders with Pakistan. Nehru & the parliament were incensed. Menon who had been wary of the Forward policy tried to reason saying that the army was not trained, resourced or capable of fighting at those high altitudes. Menon explained that India "had not conditioned her reserves for war purposes." The Indian soldiers were fighting at high altitudes without due acclimatization, and had to be air supplied, whereas the Chinese could be easily supplied from the Tibetan table land. Kriplani and others used every opportunity and continued to accuse Menon of not driving the Chinese out and wasting time.

Kaul and his boss Thaper argued that it was possible to unseat the Chinese. Menon vainly suggested that the air force be used, Nehru refused outright stating that this would escalate the conflict to a full war fearing the might of the Chinese air force (which were of Russian origin but were actually grounded due to lack of spares – The Russians were delaying spare part supplies, this was only known much later). The IB & Ambassador Panickkar stated that the Chinese may not retaliate by land, but could with their air force. Nehru chose to satiate public opinion. With that Menon’s diplomacy ideas collapsed. On Oct 11th, it was actually decided that the soldiers would stay put and hold their lines. However on Oct 13th, much to everybody’s surprise, Nehru announced to the press in Colombo that India would act to drive out the Chinese from the Aksai plains.

Nehru informed the journalists that the advantage lay with India in NEFA, and by that time, this belief had become an accepted truth in India. Menon then suggested that India take on the Chinese in the plains but he was ridiculed again in parliament as supporting the Chinese. Menon explained that it would be strategically better to "let (the Chinese) come into Indian Territory in depth before giving them a fight." Eventually, he and Nehru consciously went against the strategic advantage to mollify an uninformed and shallow "public opinion."

Contrary to public opinion, Menon was not cozy with Gen Kaul. Kaul was Nehru’s man. In fact Kaul even went on leave during Sept 1962 (Debacle to revival – RD Pradhan) to protest differences of opinion with Menon. But Kaul, who was heading Operation Leghorn was by certain accounts not the right person, in the sense that he had no combat experience. He also had the reputation as being cozy with the press at a time when Menon had given orders not to document or discuss any secret meetings. Kaul who visited NEFA to oversee action, fell ill on Oct 18th and came away to Delhi!! Much through those days, Kaul communicated directly with Nehru (Greater game by David van Praag).

The Chinese attacked on Oct 20th, and the Indian army fought valiantly on some fronts, but retreated in others. The defeat was demoralizing. The parliament was in uproar, the press and the public were baying for Nehru’s and Menon’s blood. Krishna Menon, Nehru’s right hand and confidante, was the favorite whipping boy of the media, even as the poison arrows were directed against the prime minister himself. On October 23, the Congress charged Menon for having misled Nehru, Parliament and the country. On October 31, Nehru took over the Defense portfolio as Menon continued in a new post in the Cabinet as a Minister for Defense Production. Days later, on Nov 9th, Menon resigned and left active politics. The Chinese war lasted 30 days. As critics commented later, India spent 18 days trying to drive out Menon, the scapegoat, from the defense ministry (Sankar Ghose – Nehru Autobiography)

As defense minister, Menon was responsible for many of the failures. Amongst the guilty, next to Nehru, Menon and the military leaders, was the Opposition. They were largely responsible for pushing Nehru into a corner and forcing him to fight the Chinese at the wrong time and place. Nor can they escape responsibility for ignoring the defense needs after 1959. Another issue was that Menon blindly followed the thesis as propounded by Nehru that there was no threat to India's external security. Menon was unfortunately a pacifist, not cut out for the role of a war leader.

Lakshmi Menon, Nehru’s roving Ambassador, Deputy Minister (external affairs) & parliamentary secretary (also a Krishna Menon critic) sums this up perfectly – quoting a rare outburst from Menon against his friend Nehru, in Sept 1962. He told Lakshmi “Now my enemies will attack me, but I cannot reply because Nehru was personally responsible for all decisions regarding the NEFA and had refused to concentrate as much force there as in Ladakh”. (Source - CIA files)

Krishan Menon said after resigning his post– “I do not feel that I have the right nor will my sense of propriety allow me to go into details of that period because, as a minister, when I resigned, I had the opportunity to make a statement, but I did not, and it was not a lapse. I refused to do that deliberately. I abstained for reasons that I set out in the resignation letter of Nov 9th when I said I should not say anything that would help the Chinese, anything that might reflect on my colleagues in the government, anything that might affect the position of the government as a whole. I regret neither my resignation nor my silence. I hope I shall maintain this position even under provocation” - and he maintained that silence until his death. (Source- VKKM Bio by Madhavan Kutty)

I will stop with this poignant note - On Oct 25th, Ambassador Galbraith wrote to President Kennedy stressing that India will soon ask for military aid – “Does important American assistance require his (Menon’s) effective elimination from the defense & UN scene?” Galbraith was advised as follows from Washington – “We again urge the importance of avoiding the slightest appearance of US initiative and responsibility in removing Menon” (S Mahmud Ali – Cold war in the Himalayas).

Nehru was a broken man after the affair; he died soon after, in 1963. Menon left the big arena; Morarji continued on, restored relations with China, later got embroiled in a case involving the CIA & S Hersh. Kaul & Thimmaya wrote books for posterity, Manekshaw continued with the Army & rose to the position of Field Marshall. The organizations started by Menon flourished and produced a fine backbone of support to the Indian Armed forces. The Air force always featured in future wars. As for the 0.303 rifles, unfortunately, they are still being used by state police departments in India and will someday be replaced with automatic rifles.

Menon was at times an abrasive and caustic person, who irritated and annoyed many. But he always supported his good friend Nehru, blindly. Narrating his own experience of cabinet meetings, Krishna Menon states that Nehru would sometimes say, "Here it is, let's agree on this", that usually at the end of the meeting he would mumble that everyone was agreed and that he was not a person who sought consultation." (The making of India’s foreign policy – J Bandhyopadhyaya). Nehru & Menon were above all, friends in need and friends indeed, they were always fellow travelers.

But despite his many weaknesses, Menon held his country’s interest utmost and worked ceaselessly for it. As R Murali Kumar wrote to the editor of Time - Those were the days when true patriots took part in the development of the nation and there were no linguistic, cultural or other factors, which decided one's victory in the elections. In 1967, Bombay’s Shiv Sena (SK Patil) targeted Krishna Menon (during Menon’s electoral bids to get back into parliament), from Mumbai for his "rhinoceros"-colored skin. Film actor Dilip Kumar was branded a Pakistani spy for supporting Menon.

Subedar Ram Singh survived the war, I saw him last week and ate an excellent Garlic Nan and Chicken Makhani served by him. Thin and gaunt, he still blames the Indian political masters. I wish I could sit and explain all this to him, someday. But geopolitics is always best understood, by mere mortals like us, only in hindsight. Perhaps Menon could foresee the calamity – it was he who once said - 'It is the habit of mediocrity to complicate a simple issue. It is the mark of genius to simplify a complex one'.

Today – I saw on TV & read this article – People prefer Chinese made Idols to Indian versions, they were cheaper & better made. Last year, when I visited Calicut, a place where Menon lived his younger days, I saw a Chinese bazaar doing roaring business, with deals like 10 batteries or bulbs for Rs10 and things like that. The Indian eye for a bargain meant that they were quickly purchased. NAM & Panchsheel were worn out usages, long forgotten. The 62 debacle was forgotten & globalization was fast taking root.

Authors note – I have read many a book on Menon, many a newspaper article of that time, MI5 files on Menon, CIA reports of the Sino China war and only some of what I read finds its way here. It is in no way an authoritative or complete account of events leading to or during the 62 war. This article is only a feeble attempt at explaining the general outlook at that time and a small defense for Menon, for there are far too many people who blindly repeat falsehoods against Menon without even knowing him.

Previous blogs on Krishna menon

An undiplomatic diplomat
The reluctant politician

Krishna The movie

On Tibet…

Some months ago, Newsweek reported this article, one that made me smile (Reincarnation regulations) – It related to Tibet and China and starts thus - In one of history's more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. I could not believe it, but well, it is what the Chinese government said..

And this reminded me of a fantastic Mohanlal movie called Yodha (based on The Golden Child), a family favorite with music by AR Rahman. In the movie, Mohanlal gets a vision to save the reincarnated Rimpoche monk from people out to abduct him, and goes on to do just that.

But then, living in California does remind you of the Dalai Lama now and then, he is to be seen around here in the news channels & Hollywood watch, much in the company of certain people who understand his quest for support for his mater land’s struggle –Hollywood persona like Richard Gere and many others like Harrison Ford, Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn & Brad Pitt.
I was also reminded of Tibet by my fellow blogger
Harimohan, who wrote about the movie 7 years in Tibet, one that I had enjoyed years back. I was actually forced into writing this by a stern comment by commenter Sreedevi on Hari’s blog. She said ‘But I, for one, hope that the rest of the Tibetan-themed films coming our way will show some evidence that Hollywood is capable of treating such a serious subject in an equally serious manner’. Actually Sreedevi – It was mainly Hollywood and Hollywood only that supported the Dalai Lama’s plight and they helped raise attention to the cause, more than anybody else. Hollywood stars repeatedly used their high profile. Whether they succeeded or not is a question to ask.

Tibet today - LA times however provides a very interesting and contrasting picture of the transformed Tibet. What standards would one apply to judge transformation? Old replaced by new, shiny buildings, roads…but no soul?? I don’t know.

The holy city of Lhasa is remote no more; a multibillion-dollar drive to develop tourism has made getting to Tibet easier than ever. The world's highest railway between Beijing and Lhasa was inaugurated last year. Highways crisscross the Tibetan Plateau, and even the rough road to Everest base camp is being smoothed so the bearers of the Olympic torch can announce next summer's Beijing Games from the roof of the world. About 2.6 million people visited Tibet last year, most of them newly flush Chinese, their love of travel recently unleashed by boom times in their homeland. But to others, especially from the West, many of whom recall all too clearly that Tibet was free and independent before a 1950 invasion, development is simply a calculated maneuver on Beijing's part to open the region's doors to ethnic Han Chinese, diluting its unique indigenous culture and drawing it ever more tightly into the People's Republic.

The other reason why I took this up was due to the comment made by Rajeev Sreenivasan a chap (A Malayali himself) who writes in & India currents – he said in an old article
Nepal, the next Tibet.I was flabbergasted to realize that India's disastrous Tibet policy under Jawaharlal Nehru was the handiwork of two Keralites: K N Panikkar and V K Krishna Menon, while another Keralite, M O Mathai, was Nehru's private secretary.Later on I read his other article – a collection of all kinds of quotes to prove his point. I was wondering if he had a point. What one has to remember is that politics is also about self preservation, the individual and his own country’s interest, something that Nehru alluded to later.And I wanted to tell him – my friend –politics, especially geopolitics has always been strange. Notwithstanding all that, don’t be naïve, look at what happened when India meddled in Sri Lankan affairs…Would it have been right to take on China head on?? In the UN vote on the subject of Tibet, 25 major nations abstained, including India. What should India have done Rajiv? You never gave the answer, I believe.

I had previously read some reports on the story of Tibet. But in all frankness, so much biased reporting on Tibet made me wonder who was right in this geopolitical game, was India right, was China wrong, was US right, was UK wrong…So I decided to pen a few words on what happened behind the scenes (after reading multiple sources), when the Lama was forced to flee to Dharmasala and how India accorded him & his forlorn group, asylum status…

In a few words, I will cover Tibet’s relation to just three of the many players in that geopolitical game, namely China, India & USA…To cover more than this would make this a very long essay indeed. For 9 years between 50-59 the two countries India & China were best of friends (India having helped China get into the UN & the world scene)with only one thorn between them, namely Tibet. India expressed public displeasure when the Chinese government started armed intervention in Tibet in the mid 50’s. During these years, due to the tricky & sometimes strained relationship, Mao Tse Tung himself oversaw Chinese relations with India. The situation
in India at that time is best explained in this Time article.
Until 1954, India was more in support of Tibet, but when The Dalai Lama signed the 17 point agreement where it was agreed that Tibet will remain an autonomous portion of China, the posture in India changed. Lama’s representatives who signed the agreement later recounted that they were coerced into doing it. In 1956, Dalai Lama informed both Nehru & Zhou En Lai while visiting India that he was contemplating asylum in India, but the Chinese reassured him and got him back to Tibet. By then open fighting broke out in the Eastern Tibetan provinces of Kham and Amdo. Three years later the uprising took on national proportions, leading to the massive demonstrations in Lhasa.

In India – Nehru, careful of the relations with and the might of Chinese then, did make a silly remark when questioned about Tibet and the warmer relations with PRC. In defense he said, "...not a blade of grass grows there" referring dismissively to the Aksai Chin area of Ladakh. Yes, it was clear then that India had no plans to pick up a fight over an internal dispute in China, though I am sure Indian leaders had different thoughts on a personal level, Krishna Menon included. It did make sense, not poking India’s nose in China’s internal matters - if you look at the first point in the 17 point agreement which was signed by representatives (some say
‘were forcefully made to sign’) of Dalai Lama on 23rd May 1951 - The Tibetan people shall return to the big family of the Motherland – the People’s Republic of China. The Dalai Lama upon arrival in India repudiated the agreement.
Tibetan relations with America are best explained by these excerpts from a Dalai Lama interview in the book ‘The story of Tibet’ byThomas Laird.
The Dalai Lama said. "And then after the war, as we began to worry about how the Chinese Communists were defeating Chiang Kai-shek, Lowell Thomas came (to Tibet), in 1949. The Tibetan Government considered Lowell Thomas to be a very important person in the American government. But actually he was just a broadcast journalist. So all during this time, the Tibetan Government put a lot of hope on America." "Yes," he continued, "we obviously had the clear expectation or impression that since America supported Chiang Kai-shek, (as he fought Mao in the Chinese Civil War) that America would help prevent a Communist invasion of Tibet. At that time, we thought that communism was a real enemy of Dharma. And since America fought against communism and opposed Russia, it was very clear, to us, that they would help." These assumptions proved to be false.

In 1959, The Dalai Lama fled to India -
According to the Dalai Lama's recollections, three mortar shells were heard from the palace on March 17, 1959, and his aides believed he must leave at once. "It was I who had to find the answer and make the decision; but with my inexperience in the affairs of the world it was not easy," the Dalai Lamawrote in his autobiography, "My Land and My People." "If I did escape from Lhasa, where was I to go, and how could I reach asylum? Everything was uncertain. Our minds were overwhelmed by such unanswerable questions. We could not tell where the journey would lead or how it would end," the Dalai Lama wrote. At 10:00 that night, the Dalai Lama traded his maroon monastic robes for the clothes of a common soldier, put on a fur cap, slung on a rifle, and sneaked incognito out of his winter palace, Norbulingka. The Dalai Lama and a 37-strong entourage crossed into exile in India on March 30, 1959, after a 13-day trek that crossed the Himalayas and a 500-meter wide stretch of the Brahmaputra River.
After this the Tibetans with the Dalai Lama settled down in Dharmasala, the Dalai Lama & his troupe were granted official asylum by India. Their fight and arguments for a homeland continue. The Dalai Lama, was awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for advocating what the Norwegian Nobel Committee called “peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people’. For much of the 1960s, the CIA provided the Tibetan exile movement with $1.7 million a year stipend for operations against China, including an annual subsidy of $180,000 for the Dalai Lama,
according to US intelligence documents

In all his statements, the Dalai Lama always first put the faults of Tibetans & Buddhists and then talked about external forces like the Chinese as the cause of the problem. This was Dalai Lama’s Ideal - "The tendency to look at external forces first is deeply rooted in the human mind and difficult to eliminate." That was what I learnt in the whole bargain – I can say that I knew it, but it was taught again by the teacher in Dalai Lama – Look for faults in your own self before finding faults with others.

Geography plays a basic but silent role in the affairs of a people. It was many years ago - sometime in 1956 or so that the late Krishna Menon was addressing a Cambridge undergraduate audience. The United States Navy was patrolling the waters around Taiwan and it was a period of some international tension. A youthful questioner stood up and asked: "Mr.Menon, Sir, what are your views on the position of Taiwan?" Krishna Menon's response came in a flash: "The position of Taiwan is that it is a few hundred miles from China and several thousand miles away from the United States of America." The audience dissolved in laughter. The visit of President Richard Nixon to China twenty years later underlined the significance of that which Krishna Menon had said. Explanation - Taiwan's influence on the outside world and in turn the influence of the outside world on the affairs of the people of Taiwan is a function, not of Taiwan's size, but of its location near the large land mass of the China.

Those who are interested in history and Nehru’s mind at that time
may read this article by Noorani. A very interesting Time article blames Nehru and Menon.An interesting article in ‘The age’ on the issue.

Meanwhile the Tibetan story goes on…
Today I read that violence had broken out in Lhasa. Choephel of Tibetan Human rights told CNN that the Games were seen by campaigners as an opportunity to highlight "repression" and "human rights violations" inside Tibet.
Photos: From the web, thanks to the providers...

Bamboo trousers and crinkle shirts

Cover up’s for our skin has come a long way from the stone ages. From leather skins, it graduated to natural material like wool in 9000BC, Linen in 5000BC, Cotton to 3000BC and Silk in 1000BC. Then came a variety of blends and synthetics to help adapt clothing to the human’s ever changing life style…There was Denim, There was Gore-Tex, a breathing water & wind proof material, Kevlar that is stronger than steel, coal tar coated waterproof Macintosh, Terylene or Polyester, Rayon, Nylon, Spandex, Velcro, Vinyl, Ultrasuede. …the list goes on. But well, this is not about the history of textiles..

When I saw this at the store, for a reduced price, I decided to give it a try. As you see from the label, this pair of trousers is made of natural Bamboo fiber…Now I know that some of you will start picturing dancing girls in Hawaii wearing grass Hula skirts, in your mind. Don’t worry; these look just like any other trousers. Feels a bit like a polyester cotton blend, no different otherwise.

So I now have a bacteria free, air conditioned and dry lower half that is 2-3 degrees cooler plus I am fashionably green. What d’ya say to that!!!

Interesting facts about Bamboo fiber

- 2-3 degrees cooler than cotton or polyester
- more absorbent than cotton or polyester
- antibacterial and hypoallergenic
- dries faster than cotton
- natural UV protection
- odor free
- silky soft
- 100% biodegradable, renewable resource

But when I saw this washing instruction on an ‘Imported Indian’ plus ‘finest cotton’ shirt that we picked up, I was taken aback. Today’s human is attuned to either the washing machine or the cleaners, at least in the USA. So if they have to do a manual wash followed by thirumbi and olumbi-fication, in typical Desi style, clear instructions have to be given. Yes, I find it funny, but OK, agreed..

The picture is self explanatory. The last part was a little strange; I believe that the label was originally made for a crinkle Dupatta or Kurti, not for a shirt. Just imagine how the shirt will look like after the last step!!!

Or, Maybe that is the ‘cool’ part..

Ormakkayi – Kozhikode Abdul Khader

Actually I was humming the Yesudas song ‘Pachapanam thatte’ and my mother in law who is visiting us said, can you add that to the CD you are making for me? At that time, I did not know this was originally a drama song done by Abdul Khader for Baburaj many decades ago nor did I know of the debate in Kerala over whether M Jayachandran should be taken to task for copying it in Nottam, a new movie!! M Jaychandran’s statement that it had nothing to do with Khader or Baburaj and their offspring’s furious involvement in the debate led to a furore in Kozhikode, a year back.

But, yes, I had heard his fabulous ‘Engine nee marakkum kuyile’ from Neelakuyil many a time, I had also heard many other Khader memorable’s in a cassette of his songs, sung by his late son Satyajit. My brother has been trying to locate the originals for ages and recently when I heard ‘Engine nee’ again, I was intrigued. I knew that Khader was around with Baburaj, when Baburaj was also doing music with Mehamood, but it was always mentioned in Calicut circles that music programs by Babukka and Abdul Khader were the most eagerly awaited ones…Khader was known in Calicut as the Malabar Saigal and Calicut was a place where people understood Hindustani classical, Ghazals and followed Hindi music always. Almost all the Hindi greats of yesteryears have sung in Calicut e.g. Mannadey, Kishore, Rafi…

Having said all that, I found this picture (Wikipedia) of Khader with Baburaj & Mukesh - pretty interesting. Mukesh if you recall was also a great fan of Saigal and sung in the Saigal style initially.

And I remembered a fellow blogger who once mentioned that he was not too happy about foreign singers in the Indian music scene(Abhijeet & Jagjit singh also commented so)…probably talking about Adnan Sami and other Paki singers like Faakhir, Atif Aslam, Rahet Fateh Ali Khan etc…Probably he should start looking at this situation in the 50’s. Baburaj was actually a Bengali, Abdul Khader was had returned from Burma and Mehaboob sometimes spoke Urdu at home. They all worked in Malayalam movies and provided memorable hits, which we enjoy even today – So music really has no language or barriers (AR Rahman by the way, son of RK Shekar who directed music in Malayalam, disagrees, he finds Malayalam unwieldy for music compositions!)…

Kozhikode Abdul Khader (the hyperlink gives all the available bio) was an enigma – Born Leslie Andrews, a Christian, he converted while at Burma and renamed himself Abdul Khader. His first marriage with Achuma produced five children and he was later was in a relationship with - Shanta Devi and they had a son, Satyajit (Najmal Babu also a singer in his own right was his son from his first wife). We all still see Shanta Devi as a mother in many movies, a fine artiste and a national award winner. She says “It was my husband Abdul Khader who encouraged me to take up a career in films; he was the inspiration for me in theatre too. He gave me the courage to act at a time when women hesitated to appear on stage.”

Abdul Khader used to work at the Kozhikode AIR and here is where he worked with Shanta P Nair another great singer of yesteryears in bringing ‘Lalitha sangeetham’ programs on AIR.

Sreekumaran Thampi the famous Malayalam lyricist says that it was ‘Engine nee marakkum’ by Abdul Khader that triggered his interest in writing songs!!!

Stayajit tried to follow his father’s footsteps in the film world, but was unsuccessful and depressed, finally taking his life in a hotel room in Perambavoor. I listened to his cassette today and agree; without doubt the boy had talent and could have been a good singer, if only he had persisted. But well, life is life….

My favorites – Padaan orthoru madhuritha gaanam & Padoo pullankuzale
Most popular – Engine nee marakkum kuyile..

Some Khader songs
Padaan Orthoru
Padu Pullankuzale
Engine nee marakkum
Thanga kinakkal
Sree narayana guru
Nee enthariyunnu
Tharakam irulil
Mayaruthe vanaradhe
Pacha panam thatte
Parithamamithe haa jeevithame

Readers - An updated blog on KAK can be seen here

Tick Tock Doc, Santos and Cartier

You can locate him on Google, but I saw him by chance. My watch needed a new battery, and like usual, I popped open the back and changed the battery myself, realizing only then that it was a snap open back that required much force to click it back in. It required what they call a watch press, I did not have one and I had no plans to buy one either.

So I walked over sheepishly to the jewelry shop where I had previously changed a couple of batteries. The lady there said, well, I am not sure I can do this, but my thumbs are usually strong enough. Now I had virtually ruined my thumbs trying to press it in the last evening and I could see the sweat coming off this old lady’s brows as she tried gamely. She gave up eventually & said, I can’t do it, I do not have the press, but go around and you can get it done at Tick Tock Doc.

He was not in that day, and so I ventured out to meet him, the next day.

The door was open that hot afternoon, to the basement cubicle of the building in Carlsbad and there was a fan outside the door blowing air inwards, it was a hot day well into the high 90’s. A doctor was talking to a wizened old man behind the counter of a room that had many many watches and clocks and timepieces…Most of them were antique pieces, not modern time machines. The man had a towel around his head and the doctor was talking of Chemotherapy and medicines. The man was listening to the doctor cheerfully, like I myself ended doing. As I looked around and took in the many clocks, the tick tock sounds & the general ambience, I idly thought about scenes from Alistair Maclean’s ‘Puppets on a chain’.

I waited patiently, the doctor ran out of words eventually and the old man Ivkovich addressed me, asking me what he could do. I asked him how he was and he explained cheerfully that he had just got back after his final Chemo, so the chances of his ‘croaking’ or becoming manure to in the park are not too big or too close anymore. I was astounded at the casualness with which he reeled off these words!

Then we talked about watches, a subject that is a favorite of mine and about the Cartier Santos. He showed me a solid gold Omega antique wristwatch and asked me if I was interested, the price was very attractive, but I did not want one…

People who know me know that three things that interest me quite a bit, they are flight, pens and watches. Other than Santos & Cartier, few aviators are connected to watches (Lindberg the aviator is connected to Longines)

So, my friends, let me tell you about Alberto Santos Dumont - an amazing personality after whom Cartier made the famous Santos line of watches.

Alberto Santos Dumont was born July 20, 1873, in the village of Cabangu, in Brazil. Jules Verne's fictional accounts of flying machines inspired young Alberto Santos-Dumont, son of a wealthy Brazilian coffee plantation owner, to fantasies about flight. At age 18, when his father's death made him a millionaire, Santos-Dumont sailed for France, where he became engrossed in internal-combustion engines and automobiles.

Santos-Dumont designed, built, and flew the first practical dirigible balloons. In doing so he became the first person to demonstrate that routine, controlled flight was possible. This "conquest of the air", in particular winning the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize on 19 October 1901 on a flight that rounded the Eiffel Tower, made him one of the most famous people in the world during the early 20th century. In addition to his pioneering work in airships, Santos-Dumont made the first public European flight of an airplane in Paris in October 1906. That aircraft, designated 14-bis or Oiseau de proie (French for "bird of prey"), is considered to be the first to take off, fly, and land without the use of catapults, high winds, launch rails, or other external assistance. For all his contributions to the area, in Brazil he is honored as the "Father of Aviation"

In Brazil, Santos-Dumont is considered to be the inventor of the airplane, because of the official and public character of the 14-bis flight as well as some technical points. The Wrights' early aircraft could sustain controlled flight, but always used some sort of assistance to become airborne, requiring a stiff headwind, or the use of launch rails. As such, none of the Wrights' early craft took off under their own power in calm wind from an ordinary ground surface as was achieved by the flights of the Santos 14-bis.

Brazilians are passionate about Santos and refuse to accept that the Wright brothers were the first to make powered flight; they insist that Santos used to do it all the time. It is a compulsive argument and the Wright brother’s site presents their case in explanation.

Now what has he got to do with the Cartier watch? Wikipedia explains - The wristwatch had already been invented by Patek Philippe, decades earlier, but Santos-Dumont played an important role in popularizing its use by men in the early 20th century. Before him they were generally worn only by women, as men favored pocket watches.

In 1904, while celebrating his winning of the Deutsch Prize at Maxim's Restaurant, Santos-Dumont complained to his friend Louis Cartier about the difficulty of checking his pocket watch to time his performance during flight. Santos-Dumont then asked Cartier to come up with an alternative that would allow him to keep both hands on the controls. Cartier went to work on the problem and the result was a watch with a leather band and a small buckle, to be worn on the wrist.

The Santos story had an unfortunate end –

Clearly Santos-Dumont had a different vision for the future of aviation (Santos-Dumont also believed they would serve as "chariots of peace, bringing estranged cultures in contact with one another so that they could get to know one another as people, thereby reducing the potential for hostilities) than did the Wright brothers, who were still intent on selling their airplanes to the militaries of the world. The Wrights met with little commercial success, however, since they were still reluctant to demonstrate their airplanes publicly. When World War I erupted in Europe in 1914, Santos-Dumont grew increasingly despondent over the carnage wrought by aircraft. In the space of just a few years, the utopian vision he had promoted in his first balloon and airplane flights now seemed hopelessly naive.

Santos-Dumont fell seriously ill a few months later. He experienced double vision and vertigo that made it impossible for him to drive, much less fly. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He abruptly dismissed his staff and closed his workshop. His illness soon led to a deepening depression. In 1911, Santos-Dumont moved from Paris to the French seaside village of Bénerville where he took up astronomy as a hobby. Some of the local folk, who knew little of his great fame and exploits in Paris just a few years earlier, mistook his German-made telescope and unusual accent as signs that he was a German spy who was tracking French naval activity. These suspicions eventually led to Santos-Dumont having his rooms searched by the French military police. Upset by the charge, as well as depressed from his illness, he burned all of his papers, plans, and notes. In 1928 (some sources report 1916); he left France to go back to Brazil, his country of birth, never to return to Europe. He died in 1932.

Santos thought that flight could be a pathway to world peace, enabling people to reflect on the all-too-human world below and inspiring them to lead more just and moral lives. Read here his feelings after his first flight.

Most text on Santos’s biography & pics comes from Wikipedia – Acknowledged with thanks

I can vouch for the Cartier Santos line of watches – It is probably one of the best looking watches I have seen, some day I will own one!!!

Santos showed the world how to fly, before anytime, anyplace, anywhere….. The French government, in spite of its later patent award to the Wright brothers, officially recognized Santos’s 1906 event as the first witnessed powered flight. Unlike the case with the other claimants, no aeronautics experts dispute the fact that Santos-Dumont's flight met all the necessary definitions and criteria. That would make him the father of the airplane.

Watch this video, read this bio (the story of my life – Santos), Wings of Madness and read this msn article for those further interested in the topic.

A final twister that I will cover in an upcoming blog – Who is Shivkar Bapuji Talpade? Well, he flew an airplane in 1895, much before Santos and Wright. But why is it not talked about? I will explain another day.