Bait and switch

Am I the only one growing progressively tired of this Kashmir-Afghanistan bait and switch? [From Foreign Policy, the latest in a long line of examples].

Boiled down, the argument goes thus: Islamabad is unable to bring the full might of its armed forces to bear on the war on terrorism in the SWAT region and on its western border with Afghanistan.

Why? Because it is ‘forced’ to concentrate a sizable chunk of its army on its eastern border, to counter the ‘threat’ it faces from India.

Ergo, runs the argument, if India and Pakistan resolve the Kashmir ‘dispute’ [with the US helping], Pakistan will be in a position to shift the bulk of its army into the terrorist hot zone on its western side. Ergo, too, India needs to go the extra mile to urgently resolve the ‘dispute’.

Very useful, for Pakistan to throw its hands up and excuse its less than 100 per cent participation in the ‘war on terror’ even as it seeks ever more funding to prosecute that ‘war’.

Also, very flawed.

Here’s the question that is not being asked and answered: What exactly is the ‘threat’ Pakistan faces on its eastern border, that requires it to station a large section of its army on that front?

No one responds, because the question is never asked. If it were, the answer would be, none.

There is no conceivable prospect, there never has been, that India will unilaterally invade Pakistan; with a notional mushroom cloud looming over the region in the event of conflict, that prospect is even less foreseeable now.

So, again, what ‘threat’ does Islamabad face to its east? None.

Why then does Islamabad feel the need to concentrate its army on our shared border? The honest answer is, to protect it from the consequences of the actions of its own principals.

The only time there has been talk of war was when terrorists based, trained, and equipped in Pakistan attacked India’s Parliament and more recently Mumbai, to name just two incendiary actions.

Equally, consider two recent news stories: (1) Intelligence sources speak of a build up of terrorists on the Pakistan side of the LoC and (2) Pakistan troops have been shelling Indian border positions. Taken together, the two clearly spell infiltration.

Clearly, the Pakistan army is concentrated on the eastern border to (a) make mischief and (b) protect Islamabad from the consequences of that mischief, and of the doings of its ‘non-state actors’. ‘Solving’ Kashmir [assuming the weak Asif Ali Zardari can sell any kind of solution to the people] has nothing to do with it — unless you buy the Musharraf argument that those who blast a bloody trail across India are actually ‘indigenous freedom fighters’ looking to overthrow the ‘Indian yoke’.

Stop using the ‘strategy’ of terrorism to bleed India and you have no reason to fear it, and to post your troops to ‘counter’ the ‘threat’. Simple, no?

From the Foreign Policy article:

It is quite striking that framers of the metrics have avoided the merest mention of Pakistan-India relations as a factor in understanding which way the wind is blowing in Pakistan’s security environment. While the Obama administration has every right to wish that Pakistan delink its rivalry with India in the Kashmir region from its policy towards Afghanistan (and consequently in Federally Administered Tribal Areas), one cannot ignore the prevailing ground realities. Rather than continuing to evade the relevance of the India factor to AfPak theater, the Obama administration must energetically facilitate and monitor the India-Pakistan peace process (which is lately showing some signs of life courtesy resumption of back channel diplomacy).

Actually, the reason the framers of the metrics avoided mentioning Pakistan-India relations is that they are not taken in by Islamabad’s bait-and-switch; they recognize that a ‘resolution’ of Kashmir has nothing to do with operations in the Af-Pak theater; they understand that Islamabad is merely using this as a fig leaf to cover its inaction or, at best, limited action taken under duress. [As Dubya would say, fool me once…]

In passing, there is one way to ensure the total breakdown of any India-Pakistan dialog — and that is for the Obama administration to be seen to ‘energetically facilitate and monitor’ the process. There is not much the various sections of Indian polity agree on, but they are unanimous on this: that they will vigorously reject any attempt by any third party, no matter how friendly, to inject itself into this issue.

While on the ‘war in terror’ and Pakistan’s role therein, here’s the NYT.

American officials say they believe that the Taliban leadership in Pakistan still gets support from parts of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spy service. The ISI has been the Taliban’s off-again-on-again benefactor for more than a decade, and some of its senior officials see Mullah Omar as a valuable asset should the United States leave Afghanistan and the Taliban regain power.

Eye Browse

1. Did you know of the Indian restaurant called Vagina Tandoori? Would you fancy a meal at the Bung Hole? [Link courtesy Mental Floss]. [In comments, Siddharth points out that it is actually a photoshopped joke]

2. Journalist/author Ron Rosenbaum [a byline that will resonate with readers of Esquire, Village Voice, Vanity Fair

The 138 index cards that contain 'Laura'

The 138 index cards that contain 'Laura'

and the magazine section of the New York Times] was largely instrumental in the upcoming publication of The Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov’s posthumous publication. In an article for Slate, Rosenbaum writes of the secrecy surrounding the book in the run up to publication, and on the fascinating insights Nabakov’s revisions/excisions offer into the author’s creative process.

No, the indecipherable scrawls moved me for a different reason. I’d known about them from the photos in Die Zeit, of course, but this time they struck me more deeply. They were evidence of the drama inherent in the creative process, a process whose heart is revision. I devoted a substantial portion of The Shakespeare Wars to the scholarly controversy over whether Shakespeare revised his play scripts. Ben Jonson famously said that Shakespeare never “blotted out a line,” but a substantial case has been made in recent years that he did rewrite on occasion, sometimes altering single words or phrases, sometimes making more substantial edits.

Shakespeare’s revisions (and Nabokov’s) matter for two reasons. Revision indicated that even these writers shouldn’t be considered godlike figures from whom the muse poured forth perfection on the first try, but writers who are—in some ways—like other writers, in at least this respect: They were subject to second thoughts. And distinguishing what those second thoughts might have been and why they focused on rethinking this or that word or phrase or scene offers a window into the meaning of the work.

But—and this is the second but not secondary meaning of the blottings out—revisions also offer a window into the humanity of the author. That even the greatest of geniuses (and yes, I believe the term is valid for these two) were not superhuman; they live in the same world of error and doubt that the rest of us inhabit. The fact that they think they’ve made “mistakes” makes their work even more perfect than it would be if they never blotted a line or scratched out a word.

From the archives, a Times Online article of a year ago about the book and the burning debate on whether or not it should be destroyed per the author’s own wishes; Dmitri Nabokov on NPR [and on BBC] about why he decided to go ahead and publish;  and the original Rosenbaum piece in Slate that first made the case for the publication of the book. Also read, my friend Salil Tripathi’s superb essay in Mint on the book, and on the dilemma Nabakov placed on his son. Clip:

Burning a book is different from burning minutiae of our quotidian lives. Books are often burnt in anger, and when they are, they presage evil. On my first visit to Berlin, I walked away from the Brandenburg Gate, along the avenue of imperial grandeur, Unter den Linden. To my right, I came across an open quadrangle. There, a part of the floor was made of glass. Inside, you could see stacks of bookshelves, all white, glowing in a yellow light. The bookshelves were empty. There was a palpable stillness around that quaint monument which was eerie. It was meant to be: It was the monument to the ritual book-burning the Nazis performed once they seized power in Germany in the 1930s. They targeted troublesome authors: Jews, homosexuals, anti-fascists, or those otherwise sympathetic to communism or leftist ideas.

The link of creativity between the written word on a printed page, the thought that goes behind it, the imagination of a mind that gives it shape, is what makes us human, and it is what expression and humanity are all about. Destroy the work, and you destroy the thought behind it—and the thinker.

3. The ‘parents’ of Web2.0 have moved on — to Web Squared. [Ever since Bobilli Vijay Kumar, in his Times of India obituary, called Raj Singh Dungarpur the ‘uncrowned grandfather of Indian cricket’, I haven’t been able to mention such notional parentage without an involuntary grin].

In this sense, the Web Squared era is an era of augmented reality, arriving (like the sensor revolution) stealthily, in more pedestrian clothes than we expected. Our devices can tell us what we’re seeing (like the Wikitude travel guide application for Android which uses the camera, location data, compass and image recognition to tell you what monument you’re looking at), what we’re not seeing (like Darkslide, which shows you photos of what’s near you), what we’re hearing (CDDB, the database that recognizes music tracks by the sequence of track lengths on a CD), and what we’re not hearing (looking up recent Tweets near you is like incredibly powerful eavesdropping). Our devices can also tell us what our friends think of what we’re seeing: the folks at GraffitiGeo, which combines restaurant reviews with social gameplay, are working on an iphone app that will allow users to point the phone’s camera at a venue and see an overlay of relevant comments about it from other users. That means our world will have “information shadows.” Augmented reality amounts to information shadows made visible.

There are implications far beyond uber-convenient restaurant reviews. As sensors become ubiquitous, they will create new business opportunities and transform existing businesses. We are already seeing new classes of applications for health and fitness, from NikePlus, Phillips DirectLife and Fitbit on the consumer end of the spectrum to real-time outpatient monitoring.

And while on the Internet, an interesting addition to the ongoing debate about whether the Web is increasingly making us a tribe of illiterate, fact-challenged misanthropes: Rubbish, says Dennis Baron, whose new book A Better Pencil makes this case:

Every communication advancement throughout human history, from the pencil to the typewriter to writing itself, has been met with fear, skepticism and a longing for the medium that’s been displaced. Far from heralding in a “2001: Space Odyssey” dystopia, Baron believes that social networking sites, blogs and the Internet are actually making us better writers and improving our ability to reach out to our fellow man.

4. Shashi Tharoor is not the only minister in this Cabinet capable of making impolitic statements. Here’s Jairam Ramesh, on the subject of climate change:

You have also mentioned that India has not been able to educate other countries about what it is doing. In a general way, is it just the lack of education and knowledge, or is there more to countries like US and other Western nations blaming India?

The media always needs a punching bag. The world needs a villain, and India and China have emerged villains of the piece — India more than China. But I think a part of the problem is of our own making.

We have not gone out to the world, have not engaged the world and explained in a proactive manner what we are doing, what our compulsions are, what we can do, what we cannot do.

I think we should lecture less to the world; we should be less sanctimonious. We should try to engage the world in a spirit of dialogue. And that becomes very difficult for Indians because we have a sense of superiority to the rest of world.

I think a little less superiority, a little more humility on the part of India will serve us very well in the future.

5. Random Reads, the blog the publishing house launched in July, is worth a weekly stop on your surfing calendar. The latest entry is from Ashok Banker, who ‘interviews’ Ravan. [Acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed said… oh darn, this is becoming a reflex now; every time I read a news story I go ‘What would Zed have said?’ 😦 ]

6. Is India still uncomfortable with erotic art and literature, was the subject of an NDTV debate featuring Ruchir Joshi and Shobha De [whose overwrought descriptions of sex give erotic literature a bad name].

In the land of Kamasutra and Kajuraho and newer discoveries each year, ‘still’?

In passing, I continue to marvel at the odd places I stumble on erotic art in this country — in the brilliant frescoes that adorn the sanctum sanctorum of Guruvayur, most recently.

My best find [aide memoire to self: find and toss in the pictures and notes from that trip] was during a random bike ride along the outskirts of Chingelput district, in Tamil Nadu. I chanced on this village, stopped at a local tea shop for a cutting and a chat, and one thing led to another that in turn led to a local sitting pillion on my bike and navigating me through uncharted footpaths to a forested region, in the midst of which I found this massive tank.

Its walls and steps were colored the green of mildew; its water was a deeper, more forbidding shade of jade — but once you got past the neglect, I focused on intricate series of steps leading into it, and discovered breathtaking erotic art covering every inch, all the way down to the water line.

My guide was a bit short on details about the time period of the tank, and the identity of the bloke who caused it to be constructed; subsequent inquiries at the village produced the story of some king of long ago, name long since forgotten, who caused a half dozen such tanks to be built in his territory. The king deemed it essential, a village elder told me, that everyone from the youngest of children be totally exposed to, and conversant with, all manifestations of human sexuality. And his preferred mode of sex education was the sculptures he caused to be carved on the sides of the tanks, which back in the day was the social node where everyone gathered, mornings and evenings, for bath and gossip. [Acclaimed Hindu statesman… et cetera]

‘Is India still uncomfortable with erotic art and literature’, indeed!

7. Historical fiction was the subject of two previous posts [here, and here]. One more — this time, from one of my favorite book blogs, Jai Arjun’s Jabberwock. Jai’s subject is Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, a book I’ve been looking forward to and am yet to acquire and read. The money quote, that addresses the genre’s perennial fascination:

When we learn about history primarily through cold details set out “objectively” in textbooks, it’s possible to lose sight of the fact that the distant events we take for granted – events that now appear set in stone, almost as if they could have unfolded in no other way – were the accumulated products of the personalities, life experiences and whimsies of human beings who happened to be in a certain place at a certain time: real people with ambitions, weaknesses, dilemmas, biases and prejudices of their own. One of the things Mantel does wonderfully well in this book is to show how Cromwell’s life and character – in conjunction with those of the others around him – came to have a bearing on the vital events of his time.

8. Tim Kreider, in NYT’s Happy Days blog, suggests that life has become one long search for self-validation. The money quote:

A colleague of mine once hosted a visiting cartoonist from Scandinavia who was on a promotional tour. My colleague, who has a university job, a wife and children, was clearly a little wistful about the tour, imagining Brussels, Paris, and London, meeting new fans and colleagues and being taken out for beers every night. The cartoonist, meanwhile, looked forlornly around at his host’s pleasant row house and sighed, almost to himself: “I would like to have such a house.”

One of the hardest things to look at in this life is the lives we didn’t lead, the path not taken, potential left unfulfilled. In stories, those who look back — Lot’s wife, Orpheus and Eurydice — are lost. Looking to the side instead, to gauge how our companions are faring, is a way of glancing at a safer reflection of what we cannot directly bear, like Perseus seeing the Gorgon safely mirrored in his shield.

10. Good music, Rahman — pity about the movie.

11. Great read: The Most Violent City on Earth, from Spiegel Online.

12: Great read, to round out the dozen: Amitava Kumar’s entry for NPR’s Three Minute Fiction: Post-Mortem. If that floats your boat, here’s more. [Link courtesy Amit Varma on Twitter]

13. What the hell, let’s make it 13. Remember Asif Zardari getting on the receiving end of a fatwa for his, what’s the word, warm greeting of Sarah Palin on the sidelines of the UNGA this time last year? Now check out Silvio Berlusconi’s best imitation of Joey from Friends, vis a vis Michelle Obama.

Lovely, long weekend coming up. Might return for a brief post Sunday on the India-Pak game tomorrow if it proves to be worth writing about; else, see you all Tuesday.

Happy Dussera, all; play safe.

Cricket clips

I like quiet Fridays. Production of India Abroad is a time-consuming process, and major events cricketing or otherwise tend to be a distraction — to edit copy or blog? No such problems today, with all quiet on the cricket front. Early morning browsing threw up only two commentary pieces worth your while.

In a column that revisits his earlier argument that the verdict on the Champions’ Trophy and by extension on the future of one-day internationals can be delivered only after this edition of the tournament is over, the part that caught my attention was the afterthought:

I hope though that when the men in blue take the field, attention will be focussed on their performance rather on the content of a privately circulated note which is actually far more thought provoking in the segments that are unlikely to have made it past news editors. So now our young sports reporters have to grapple with conjuring stories on whether having sex on tour is good or bad. Their canvas seems to get broader every day! Time to redo the syllabus in media schools!

What made it into print is clearly the ‘highlights’ package with the question of sex dominating for obvious reasons, but somewhere out there is the full text and judging by Harsha’s throwaway line, it promises to make interesting reading. Hopefully, some time soon.

Elsewhere, Mike Atherton has a couple of interesting points in his piece on the one day game. First, his definition of the problem:

The 50-over game, though, is suffering from more than administrative myopia; it is suffering an existential crisis that was probably inevitable in the wake of Twenty20. Sandwiched between the longest and shortest forms of the game, it neither appeases the traditionalists nor does what it was originally designed to do — to entertain and titillate — now that Twenty20 can do those things much better. Its sole purpose is financial.

And then, his solution — not more regulation, but less:

The answer, surely, is to deregulate, so that the game becomes more like it was intended to be and therefore less predictable and less formulaic. If captains could place their fielders where they wanted to, rather than where regulations dictate, there is a chance they might start to think again and a chance that one side’s tactics might differ significantly from another’s. If a captain could bowl his best bowler for more than the stipulated ten overs, there is a chance that he would and that attacking cricket played by the best players would become more a feature of a one-day match. Powerplays dictate the pace of the game to batsmen; do without them and watch batsmen take the initiative again.

In other late breaking news, Gary Kirsten says he had no idea of the sex dossier, and dumps the onus on Paddy Upton. Revised demand from Rajan Zed expected momentarily.