Shiv Visvanathan


Shiv Visvanathan

The poverty of innovation

One of the ironic things about the new year is that we actually think it is new. We expect new thoughts, new models and new rituals and all we get is the re-treading of old ideas. Last few days saw the celebration of a whole series of events around innovation. There was the venerable Indian Science Congress celebrating its 99th session. I want to look at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech as a part of the landscape of current thought.

Fading magic of news

I am a sucker for news and I think the newspaper is one of the most glorious things invented. As a child, I was fascinated by two things. One was a bioscope, a little machine that a ragged old man brought every week. One paid him four annas and watched fragments of old films where Nargis and Madhubala merged into a blur of fantasy.

Alchemy of silence

Years ago, my friend, philosopher Ramu Gandhi and I were walking through Kamla Nagar, an area at the outskirts of Delhi University.

The dark side of genius

The death of Steve Jobs from cancer perpetuated the legend of the man. The company he founded, Apple, was probably the best-known logo on earth. True to the man, they are at least three variants of the origin of the firm. But what is more interesting is that in using Apple, he transforms the old Judeo Christian myth. The Apple in Eden led to the fall from paradise. The Apple in Jobs was the beginning of a miniaturised paradise, creating a new idea of how obsessive knowledge could make impossible dreams come true.

Man in the mirror

When a week is a long time in poli-tics, a decade is a miracle of survival. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi celebrates his 10th year of rule this month. How does one look at a regime like Modi’s? How does one evaluate a man who has become both a mnemonic of despair and a Rorschach of desire and development? It is difficult to be simplistic on Modi because Modi himself has moved from the simple pracharak that he was in the years after the Emergency to a man who is seen to be a national alternative to the Congress. Critics can be accused of Modi envy. This article is an attempt at assessment.

Faultlines of reason

The Communal Violence Bill has been doing the rounds. This essay is a response to the spirit of the bill.
When the National Advisory Council proposes a bill I see it in one of three ways. It represents the best of what I call civic epistemology. It harvests years of the wisdom of social movements and turns their interpretation into legislation. Secondly, it is an act of social activism telling the government about a certain sense of lack and how to remedy it. Thirdly, I see it as a thought experiment, a legal game asking us to replay it so one understands the logic of rules and its politics better.

Being Salman

Bollywood is today ruled by a triumvirate of Khans. Each name summons an army of fans ready to debate the prowess of their particular hero. This essay is about Salman, the Khan who is different because he does not seek to be different.
Consider the other two first. Aamir Khan thinks he is decidedly intellectual, even political. His Rang De Basanti, Lagaan, 3 Idiots are all political statements. He is self-consciously intellectual and seeks a certain distance from Bollywood and its rituals, especially awards.

Filmflam of Aarakshan

In a week of high drama, from the theatre of the Anna Hazare movement to the temporary demise of Indian cricket in England, littler dramas got sidelined.

Modi & the magic of secular-speak

George Orwell, the British novelist, argued that politics often leaves its residue in language. In his book 1984, Orwell talked of double-speak as a dialect which tyrannies use to erase the past and distort the present. Double-speak was followed by nuclear-speak in the heyday of the Cold War. Here, a technical language which evoked science-made decisions, however genocidal, appear rational.

A plea for memory

One of the paradoxes of our time is that it is in the age of information that memory has become a casualty. Memory is not something stored in a diskette or digitalised in an archive. It is embedded, embodied, lived out. It needs to be told and retold. It is futile to store it because it is invented with every act of storytelling. Memory needs the storyteller more than the museum, more than the network on the archive.

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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.