Sunanda K. Datta-Ray

Sunanda Datta.jpg

Greater than the sum of its parts

An attempt is being made to project the Dinesh Trivedi controversy as a crisis in Centre-states relations. It’s nothing of the kind. It’s a clash of egos on Trinamul Congress’ single-track line with the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre virtually an innocent bystander. But after being grilled for more than an hour last week on a TV channel’s live webchat, I can understand public anxiety to clothe the conflict in constitutional respectability. Some questioners were perturbed about declining parliamentary standards; others feared India might be splitting at the seams.

Mister or Miss?

The five-column headline, “Tibetan poetess under house arrest”, in a leading Indian newspaper surprised me. Not because I doubted the existence of poetry in Tibet. Nor because I felt that the only people empowered to arrest Tibetans — the Chinese – would have any compunction about doing so. But the word “poetess” jarred on me as being in the same forbidden category as tigress, Negress and Jewess.

Secular-bashing in multi-faith Britain

The secular-bashing sounds Indian — and saffron Indian at that — rather than British. But everyone is at it, from Queen Elizabeth II to Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, the bright young Muslim co-chairman of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, with approving nods from Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican.
The message I read is that British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to put religion back on the political agenda. The official mood has changed since Tony Blair’s spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, famously declared “We don’t do God.”

The Malta metaphor

Mario Mifsud, a Maltese travel agent in Valletta, is a devout Roman Catholic who spent a couple of months in Kolkata working voluntarily for Mother Teresa. He prays to Allah, not because Mifsud is an Arabic name but because Allah is the only word for god in Maltese. Maltese is the only Semitic language in the European Union, and is uniquely written in the Roman script.

India: The (in)human condition

If seeing homeless men crouched in doorways through the long nights of London’s bitter cold fills one with horror, reading of 5.5 million people on the dole fills me with envy. No, I have no desire to join the 258,000 migrants from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean out of the 371,000 foreigners who batten on the British taxpayer. But I cannot but wish that my country was as sensitive to the human condition as Britain in forging economic policies that shape such a compassionate society that people flock from far and near to bask in its benevolence.

Brains down the drain

Just after joining the Statesman in London in 1960, I wrote an article on the many young Indians who were forced to stay on in Britain after completing their studies because, they complained, their job applications to Indian employers all bounced back. Though it was more than half a century ago, I well remember the paper’s apposite headline for my article: “The unreturning are becoming the unwanted”.

It’s a miracle we are still alive

India will collapse one day under the weight of greed, inefficiency and neglect. Oh yes, we will still develop nuclear bombs and missiles to carry them, and continue to demand the UN Security Council seat that alone can do justice to superpower aspirations. But the fire in Kolkata’s AMRI Hospital with 93 casualties up to the time of writing reminds us that behind the international bravado, the fabric of life for ordinary Indians is rotting away. Accidents can happen anywhere. But this tragedy is part of a pattern that can be traced to the get-rich-quick frenzy that grips this country.

Arab Spring in Tibet?

Above the deep chanting and the resonance of drums, I fancied hearing the shrieks of monks and nuns dying in a blaze. “Since March this year 11 brave Tibetans have set themselves on fire while calling for freedom in Tibet and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to his homeland,” the 17th Karmapa Lama had announced. “These desperate acts, carried out by people with pure motivation are a cry against the injustice and repression under which they live.”

The linchpin that’s Britain

Though Prince Charles thought the Commonw-ealth “could survive without Britain”, the two are inextricably linked in Indian thinking.

Virtue of necessity

The furore over North Korea exporting manpower brings home to me again how glibly Indians make a virtue of necessity. We publish erudite books exalting the role of migrants through history and write engaging newspaper articles about personal globalisation. Nowhere is there a whisper that when you come down to brass tacks, in one respect at least, the Indian professor at a hallowed Western university is no different from the Filipino maid who is exploited and abused in the Gulf. Both are economic refugees.

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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.