Ashok Malik


Ashok Malik can be contacted at

The banned critics of faltering India

Alexander Campbell was a Scotsman who served in the 1950s as Time magazine’s correspondent in New Delhi. In 1958, he wrote a book called The Heart of India, which was seen as so repulsive and diabolical that the government banned it in March 1959.
Campbell also wrote travelogues called The Heart of Africa and The Heart of Japan. He is now a forgotten man. Yet the ban, immutable and constant, stays exactly where it is. Has anybody read the book in the past 53 years to understand why it was banned and whether it is still worthy of being denied to Indian readers?

The China syndrome

In October this year, India commemorates the 50th anniversary of the war with China. That defining conflict of 1962 — with its military humiliation and crippling of Jawaharlal Nehru — still haunts this country. Its memory triggers a whole range of often conflicting emotions about China — from fear to wariness, obstinacy to hostility.

Wishes & horses

When one makes a wish list on January 1, at the start of a new year and a clean page, one also mentally draws a road map to achieve goals on that list. As India begins its journey into 2012, after a twisted and tortured 2011, its wish list for the coming 12 months must comprise just one, compelling word: governance. It needs governance, desperately. It needs leadership, political acumen, policy clarity, an administration that takes charge, a Prime Minister who does not look like he’s sleepwalking and a Cabinet that is not forever pointing fingers.

Bharat Ratna, Katju paradox, et cetera

In mid-November, I wrote a newspaper column disagreeing with Justice Markandey Katju’s assessment of the Indian media. The chairman of the Press Council of India responded immediately by sending me a copy of a speech he had delivered. The matter would have ended there but the good Mr Katju had other ideas.

A rare alignment of stars in the 1950s

Dev Anand’s death at the age of 88 is more than an individual’s passing. It represents the final gasps of the first great era of Hindi cinema — the 1950s. Of the iconic names of that period, only two remain: Dilip Kumar, a year Dev Anand’s senior, and Pran, now approaching a venerable 92 but to millions of cine-buffs still and forever a compelling on-screen conspirator half that age.

Pacific partners

As an institution the Indian Foreign Office is remarkably risk-averse and conservative. With honourable exceptions, it spends much of its time thinking up reasons and excuses to not take a particular step, not change direction, not go down a path that seems obvious to everybody else but the ministry of external affairs (MEA).
Given this context, the announcement by Prime Minister Julia Gillard that she backs the idea of selling uranium to India — a policy change she will attempt to push through at the Australian Labour Party conference a few weeks from now — represents a potential moment of truth for the MEA.

BJP stuck with Advani’s tour bill

As L.K. Advani’s anti-corruption yatra enters its final leg, the murmurings in the BJP are growing louder and louder. Put mildly, the yatra has been less than successful. Other than in states where the state government or the chief

US plays truth and consequences in Pak

In the late 1970s, the Jimmy Carter administration in the United States was split down the middle between Cyrus Vance, then secretary of state, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, then national security adviser. Vance was a foreign policy conservative and preferred negotiation with the Soviet Union, arguing for greater engagement.
Brzezinski, on the other hand, was a hawk. He advocated using a variety of mechanisms — human rights, a propaganda offensive, a military build-up, encouraging domestic dissidents such as the Solidarity movement in Poland — to weaken the Soviet bloc.

How slush money is killing the valley

In Srinagar, National Conference activist Syed Muhammad Yusuf Shah died recently after being taken into police custody. The government says he had a heart attack; his family and the Opposition parties have alleged torture. Sooner or later the truth will emerge. However, there is a larger issue at stake here.
Yusuf was handed over to the police by Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah after complaints that he (Yusuf) had taken bribes from individuals promising them ministerial positions. This leads to a telling question: what makes ministerial office so sought-after?

O Captain! My Captain!

As an importunate young boy, I once asked Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi for an autograph at a social gathering. It was not the right occasion and I was intruding. Pataudi didn’t say, “No.” He only moved his eyebrows and gently shook his head, almost as if he were doing me a favour. I slunk away. He generously gave me his autograph at another and more appropriate time, but that’s a different story.
There was an authority and a dignity to the rebuff. It was typical of “Tiger” Pataudi — as India’s finest cricket captain was known — and his sense of private space. Pataudi was Indian cricket’s first modern icon. He was famous and he was popular, and yet he refused to succumb to the celebrity cult.

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I want to begin with a little story that was told to me by a leading executive at Aptech. He was exercising in a gym with a lot of younger people.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards.