Short Reads: Ops – It’s Someone Else’s

Taken from Pixabay

Have you ever worn a stranger’s trouser? I have – and have even attended an interview wearing it roughly seven years ago.

I had two formal trousers and a pair of jeans back then to take me through a week.

For my vacation in Calcutta my home town, I had carried all three of them with me. The three trousers together with the few trousers I had at home would be enough to take me through the two-week long vacation. It proved to be a little more than sufficient.

I went through the vacation, with one day to go, without even having to touch the brown corduroy trouser I had carried with me from Bangalore.  It was my costliest one which I wore only if I felt the occasion warranted it.  On my last day in Calcutta, an occasion rose which made the cut.

At that time, I was searching for a job in Calcutta so that I could finally return home ending my stay away from home for several years.  I am still trying. On my third day in Calcutta I got a job interview. It was a test I had to go through to qualify for further rounds of selection.

I fared alright and felt I would get a call for an interview but when even after a week or so I didn’t hear from them I dropped the hope and then forgot about it. The call arrived on my last day in Calcutta, later that day I was to fly back to Bangalore.

I asked for a telephonic interview later but the caller insisted it wouldn’t take very long and that they would arrange for my drop at the airport, the office being not very far from there. I was flattered. It was not the convenience but the honor. It must be the test, I felt.

As I was putting on the brown corduroy trouser, my legs zipped through it to the other side with an unusual pace and ease. After putting on the waist button I realized it didn’t quite fit me – it was a little too loose. I tied my belt tighter – and the trouser looked like a tent. It was originally a comfort fit – and I was at a loss how it had metamorphosed into a lungi.  Was it magic?

When the interview was over, quite happy with my performance, I swaggered to the reception having been asked to wait there. My performance in the interview had put me in such a buoyant mood that when I spotted the receptionist seeing the strange thing I was wearing, it didn’t make me uneasy.

After sometime when no one approached me about the promised drop to the airport, I felt reluctant to check with the receptionist and decided to leave – later I could call up and check the status. The company contacted me later but it didn’t materialize.

The next morning, in Bangalore, when I went to the laundry to give my clothes for wash, the laundry man said what I had remotely suspected: that when I had collected my clothes from him before I went to Calcutta, he had mistakenly given me someone else’s trouser. “The colour and texture of the other trouser were exactly the same as yours, sir.”

TOI Lit Fest and the Rally

I have been visiting the TOI literature festival in Bangalore every year since it started but this time the experience was a little different. Frankly speaking, there is another lit fest that happens in Bangalore end of every year – Bangalore Literature Festival – and I have always found that to be a little better than the TOI one in terms of quality of discussions, but this time a coincidence made the TOI lit fest special.

The TOI fest happened at Jayamahal Palace on 3rd and 4th Jan the last day coinciding with a BJP rally to be addressed by none other than the PM himself at Palace Grounds. And how can the two mutually opposed worlds come close to each other without producing some fireworks?

Chidanand Rajghatta, a US correspondent of Times of India, was discussing his upcoming book – Illiberal India – on Gauri Lankesh, his former wife – on his times with Gauri and erosion of liberal values in India.

When the floor was opened for questions someone from the audience asked Rajghatta if by Illiberal India he meant India has become illiberal already or it is on the way of becoming so, eliciting a long response from Rajghatta saying the society may still be liberal but the attacks on liberalism are too obvious to be overlooked.

On day two, Kiran Nagarkar the Cuckold, Eddie writer, while wrapping up his session, found himself at the receiving end of ire from someone in the audience apparently upset with nothing in particular but Nagarkar’s general potshots at the government several times.

The drones and planes flying overhead were constantly disrupting the ongoing discussions bringing them to a halt each time they flew over our head.

Towards the end of the festival, William Dalrymple and Vidya Shah’s brilliant histro-musical performance on Deccan poets based on his White Mughals theme was disrupted by rolling of drums. After sometime, Dalrymple raised his hand and shouted: Let’s shut out the noise.

On Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing has an indescribable quality. By now I have read a few of her books – Low Lands and Unaccustomed Earth – and have started developing an understanding of her style. Until I read her I used to see her as a high brow author, but Low Land changed my opinion about her.

The sentences are utterly simple – they are not necessarily short and mechanical but fluid and what some would say casual. There is very little formality about how she describes things and even when it comes to the technical aspects of her language. She doesn’t use the semi colon (in fact, nowadays many authors have done away with it); two complete clauses are separated by a comma instead. (I still use it.) I have even found the first letter of a proper noun not capitalized on an occasion. (Was it she or her proof reader?)

It is how one would write a diary, personal recordings not meant to be shared with the larger world. But I think this languid and casual style endears her to her readers – and she has a huge fan following particularly among women readers.

But it’s not just the sentences which read fluid; her narrative also moves in a free-flowing manner. It takes her narrative lot of time, events (some creating a coherent form, some random) to shape up. You will not find any narrative trick employed to make her stories unique. She has an old fashioned and simple storytelling style.

Another thing with Lahiri is her books are promoted as Indo American affairs dealing with the lives of second generation Bengali migrants to the US, but they are more American and less Indian.  Her characters’ lives in India is mostly the backstory and their lives in America form the frontal narrative.

A recurring subtheme of her stories is how the first generation migrants hold on to their native values and try to bring up their children based on them but as the families move into the second generation, particularly after the children grow up a little, the native values slowly make way for American values.

Lahiri has talked at length on this in her Clothing of Books about how when she was a child growing up in the US her mother used to force Indian clothes and ways on her but when she grew up she just shoke off the cloak to fully embrace the culture of the land her parents had adopted a generation back, America.

A Chance Encounter with a Kashmiri Pandit

I was at a Reliance departmental store picking vegetables and tossing them into my trolley when the elderly person standing next to me suddenly started a conversation. “How do these guys manage to sell things so cheap?” “I think because they sell well – economies of scale,” I responded. “But there are other chains that are not doing poorly, yet they sell their stuff much costlier,” the old man rebutted. I had not expected a rebuttal. “Omm…maybe because they source their vegies directly from the farmer, uncle.” “But I think others are doing it too, beta.”

The elderly person was apparently from north India. He was speaking smooth English but throwing in a word or two of Hindi in his sentences. He was soft spoken, wore a Sherlock Homes cap, thick black frame and was too fair complexioned.

His patient probing had exhausted my stock of glib answers. I had no more answer. I kept quiet and concentrated on choosing the vegies. A brief silence followed. Then came the obvious from the old man. “Where are you from? “I am from Calcutta but I have been in Bangalore for last 12 years.”

“And you, sir?”

“Where do you think I am from, beta?”

The mischief in his question and the twinkle in his eye revealed something fleeting and deeper than the sum of physical attributes and words. “You are a Kashmiri Pandit, uncle.”

Surprised, he immediately extended his hand for a handshake: “How did you figure out?”

“Gut feeling,” I replied smiling.

Then a desultory conversation followed until our discussion settled into a specific trajectory.

“The Left finished Bengal and even the current person is not doing well,” he said.

I hesitantly brought up the contentious issue.

“Uncle, is the situation in Kashmir normal now?”

“No, it’s not. And it won’t ever unless…”

“Where do you stay now? In Jammu?”

“Yes, we have been there for roughly 30 years now.”

“Have you been to Kashmir since you left?”

“Yes, I have a few times.”

I steered the conversation into the forbidden territory. “In what circumstances you had to leave Kashmir? Was there genuine threat to you and your family?”

“Yes, there was. On 20th January 1990 almost one lakh Hindus left, beta, after terrorism broke out,” he said with a sense of loss he has learnt to live with. “We had to leave with whatever we could carry with us. We left everything else behind.”

To cheer him up, I said: “But things are changing. Your cause is very dear to the current government in center.”

To gather his thoughts, he looked away for a second and then looked at me. “I don’t think my generation will be able to return to Kashmir for good, but if they succeed to do something my grandson will be able to see what once belonged to his forebears.”

Gene – Part Autobiography Part History Part Scientific Enquiry

Siddhartha Mukherjee’s two uncles were afflicted with schizophrenia which manifested itself, within a few years of each other, when they were in their late teens wreaking havoc in their lives. One left home and never returned; the other ended up in a mental asylum.

Siddhartha Mukherjee’s mother and his aunt were identical twins. Mukherjee’s aunt got married to a lawyer in Calcutta coming from a wealthy background and his mother to an average job doer in Delhi.

It was the 60s, and within a few years of the marriage, Calcutta, a city beset by social and political disturbances and creaking under a migrant population from Bangladesh, sank into chaos and lawlessness, becoming a city where people cared very less for hiring a lawyer.

On the other hand, Delhi, the capital of a newly independent India, saw wide spread prosperity providing even an average job doer enough opportunities for professional growth, raising the living standards of Siddhartha’s family while the financial condition of his maternal aunt, in Calcutta, steadily plummeted.

These two incidents reveal several characteristics of genealogy, one suggesting the impact of gene on lives and the other, impact of fate superseding that of gene. They form one pillar of The Gene: An Intimate History’s narrative which Siddhartha keeps returning to, to illustrate and enrich the other pillar of the narrative, which deals with how human knowledge about gene has evolved and people who have contributed to it.

There are many early exponents of genetics but those who laid out the basic understanding of purpose and functions of gene are Gregory Mendel a monk, of all people, and Charles Darwin. Darwin said genes carry information from one generation to another, Mendel said the posterity carrying this genetic information are not always uniform in their physical features but varied.

Advance in knowledge of genes has been accompanied by a yearning to manipulate genes to create perfect humans. This quest for perfection started in the US in the 1920s, where, with the collusion of the judiciary, social misfits (which could be anything from an insane person to a social dissenter) were identified and then sequestered to prevent any interaction with the society at large.

This method of perfection through segregation of undesired elements earned its enthusiasts in subsequent years. Among its greatest and most pernicious enthusiasts was Hitler whose elimination of Jews and other types of ‘social misfits’ was nothing but genetic cleansing or eugenics to create a pure German race.

Post WW2 when the world woke up to the horrors of the Nazi Germany practice, eugenics was banned in several countries including the US marking an end of the first if a little crude attempts to control the future.

Eugenics resumed in the 60s again and this time attempts were made to control the future through gene editing which survives to this day and progresses parallel-ly with improvement in knowledge of genes.

However, following the discovery of Nazi horrors in WW2 and subsequent government interventions, two things about eugenics changed. One is – removed from its former purported purpose of racial purity, it is now practiced to remove possibilities of genetically inherited diseases; and the second is – it is practiced only via gene manipulation and not any other form of experiments performed on or with humans.

And the third if you may is the ‘eugenics’ word has acquired a sinister connotation and is used only in reference to abominable racial practices performed at different times in history; ‘gene editing’ has become a widely accepted, secular variant of eugenics.

Siddhartha Mukherjee’s ‘part autobiography part history part scientific enquiry’ narrative is very powerful. He peppers his narrative with literary references, mostly taken from children’s literature (Alice in Wonderland being his favorite), to make a point providing a pleasant relief from the claustrophobia of scientific details and also making a point bigger than the sum of its parts.

Murder on the Orient Express – A Decent Watch

What recieves no credit for a movie’s success is the fact that the commercial success of a movie depends on which other releases it has to compete with. I don’t agree that there is audience for all kinds of movies, so the success of one movie doesn’t come at the expense of another. Movies catering to similar taste buds always snatch audience from each other to succeed commercially. How many viewers a movie is able to snatch may vary from movie to movie.

The only exception to this rule is detective movies, especially those with famous detectives and authors behind them. My belief was confirmed when I watched Murder on the Orient Express based on an Agatha Christie novel by the same name – on a night show and found the hall packed to capacity.

A murder has happened on a train and Hercule Poirot is looking for the killer only to find that all the passengers on the Orient Express have collectively murdered the person, a man who kidnaped and then killed a child some years ago which in various ways affected and altered the lives of all the passengers who have boarded the Orient Express to avenge the murder.

The problem with a literary detective character which has spawned numerous movie adoptions is that you have to convey your interpretation of the character to the audience very clearly without any shread of doubt, so that when the pecularities recur the audiences can immediatly spot them and react collectively unlike with slightly more literary characters which allow wider or open-ended interpretation.

The movie A Murder on the Orient Express does that right away starting with an investigation by Hercule Poirot where he detects the miscreant behind a theft from an ancient synagogue in Jerusalem by spotting on a fresco an imperfection, a cleft made by a pointed shoe. The style of investigation and a few scenes preceding it convey to the audience the personality traits and idiosyncrasies of the sleuth: a maniacal quest for perfection.

Orient has many more gems. The story has a large canvas – with multiple characters – all present together on Orient Express – each one with a backstory. The period – the 1920s – has been created well with the help of political and cultural references, setting and costumes. Kenneth Branagh is convincing as Poirot particularly his accent. Johnny Depp has done an awesome cameo. And all the other characters have contributed to the movie. But what I liked particularly are the references to the prejudices and ethos of the times the story is set in…which lift the movie above an average detective story.

Salman Rushdie, Now Padmavati – Free Speech Being Trammeled upon Nothing New

In India freedom of expression coming under attack is neither new nor rare. Each time a book or a movie offends someone, hurts someone’s (or a group’s) religious/community sentiments, things go up in flames. Processions hit the streets, effigies are burnt, threats given, normal life disrupted. The government (regardless of which party is in power or whether it’s a state or central government) observes the situation for a while expecting it to abate…Sometimes the government also asks the two parties to talk and arrive at a settlement.

When after sometime the situation doesn’t show any signs of abetment, the government does what is politically safe to do: bans the movie or insists on its release after putting it through so many cuts as to emasculate it completely, so that it neither insults nor informs.

However, there is an interesting angle to the crisis this time. Padmavati is not a serious film; it’s a commercial film with no serious intent except entertaining people. It’s on a character which never existed. Padmavati is a fictional character created by a poet (Jayasi) in a poem which fictionalized the invasion of Chittor by Alauddin Khilji, who ruled Delhi in the 12th century. The poem says Khilji, who was besotted with Padmavati after hearing about her magical beauty from a Brahamin who had a score to settle with Padmavati’s husband – attacked Chittor to capture Padmavati and take her with him.

However, once Padmavati’s husband died fighting Khilji’s invasion, Padmavati together with all other women in the fort set herself on fire to protect their honor against Khilji. However, historians who accompanied Khilji on his invasion of Chittor don’t mention any such incident in their account. In fact, Padmavati’s name is not available in any record or account contemporaneous to the invasion. Her name is only found in this poem by Jayasi which was written more than two centuries after the invasion.

However, I had written the blog below Shrinking Artistic Tolerance in India written in 2012 when a similar frenzy had gripped the country albeit for a shorter period: Salman Rushdie was invited to visit Jaipur Literature Festival – and some Muslim groups felt the author’s visit would hurt their religious sentiments – and the government (it was a Congress government both at the center and state – Rajasthan) armtwisted the Jaipur Literature Festival organizers to drop from their invitee list.

The situation was similar in many more ways. Several state assembly elections are going to take place shortly (Gujrat being the most important one), as the Padmavati row unfolds. At that time, in 2012, UP elections were nearing. UP has a sizable Muslim population. Now, in 2017, in view of the forthcoming assembly elections, hurting majoritarian sentiments (although Padmavati is specific to Rajasthani and Rajut pride, it can easily be drummed up into something bigger and polarizing in election times) may not be a good idea now.

And yet we know it’s nothing new. Freedom of expression has been a casualty of electoral interests in the past and it will continue to happen no matter which party is in power as my blog below will make clear. So what do the public intellectuals, in India, really mean when they blame the current regime for attacks on free speech?

 

Shrinking Artistic Tolerance in India

Recently the Indian government armtwisted Jaipur Literature Festival organizers to have Salman Rushdie dropped from their invitee list. The government has justified its decision by saying that Rushdie’s visit will hurt Muslim sentiments thanks to his book Satanic Verses which insulted Islam by caricaturing the Prophet Mohamed.

Rushdie has been coming to the festival since it started, but it’s the first time the government wants us to believe his visit will wound religious sentiments. UP elections are near and UP has a sizeable Muslim population. UP is a place the Cong, the leading party of the ruling coalition, can ill afford to lose because being among the largest states in India, UP has a big impact on general elections.

The Rushdie controversy is not an isolated incident. It’s the recent installment of a series of incidents in India where outfits of all political hues or their affiliates have attacked people or work (books, movies , paintings, etc) opposed to their strain of beliefs.

The reasons for the outbursts are varied. Sometimes it’s a political party desperate to retain its political space, sometimes a political newbie trying to make a mark for himself, sometimes a political party making a desperate bid to woo a community (Hindu or Muslim).

Three incidents related to books will help you understand the pattern. 

Around seven years ago, Taslima Nasreen (the writer of Lajja) had been forced out of Bengal by the Left government and then out of the country by the central government which refused to renew her visa. Why? Because Taslima had expressed blasphemous views in her book Lajja and mobs had taken to the streets demanding her ouster from Bengal when her visa was due for renewal. The Left government justified its decision saying her stay would have led to communal riots.

About a year ago, a political aspirant from the Thackeray clan (a family that founded and heads a regional political right wing outfit which models itself on Hindu nationalism and chauvinism) got together a mob which burnt the copies of Such A Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry alleging the book to have provocative material (not sure to provoke whom) demanding the removal of the book from English honors syllabus. The authorities obliged (apparently to quell the mob).

And then came this Rushdie controversy.

As the instances above demonstrate, it’s not just parties coming from one strain of political or social belief who demand book bans and persecute writers (or creative people guilty of challenging popular beliefs through their work) for their ends, but parties of all political colour (from left to right) partake in them and frame their demand and actions according to their constituency.

If you read the books as against the claims that the ban-seekers make, you will know that they don’t read the books they seek ban on. Lajja has nothing against Islam in it; it’s a story about a Hindu Bengali family in Bangladesh; and Such A Long Journey was published in the 70s (and demanded a withdrawal of in 2011) and is loosely about Congress politics in Bombay, in the 70s, a party which the Thackerays are anyway hysterically opposed to. (I have read Lajja, but not Such a Long Journey.)

This hostility on books or any creative output works on a certain belief. 

Banning of a book or movie doesn’t hit people’s interest in the way, say, closing of a factory does. So whether you are part of the establishment imposing a ban or forcing out an author or you are part of sloganeering mob demanding a ban or an ouster, the belief on either side is since the common man won’t be hurt beyond, say, the denial of a book or a movie, they will move on and the intelligentsia will stop shouting on TV once the media get another story. Elections are won and lost on more immediate and tangible issues, not on books, after all.

And, of course, there is the additional gain for the political party of ingratiating itself with a group/community (whatever) through the emotive route, which has a long-lasting electoral value, where reason is always a casualty.

What the establishment overlooks is each time you yield to a bullying mob, you concede a space that is hard to retrieve. What they also forget is when application of force becomes an accepted means to silence a contrary voice, you lose the ability to tolerate because you don’t need to stress your endurance to tolerate; an easier option is available – force.

It’s one thing to brag about having great values (in this case, freedom of speech and free thought) as a nation; it’s another to be ready to defend them at whatever cost they demand. Great Britain gave knighthood to Rushdie in the teeth of opposition from the Islamic world. France gave political asylum to Taslima Nasreen after she was hounded out from India.

Why Snap Soft Skill Courses Are Useless

Soft skills are always difficult to learn, especially in a snap attempt.  Each one of us have our own way of practicing these skills based on our natural (and sometimes acquired) style and personality types. You can’t talk like anyone else unless you consciously copy someone’s style and practice it but it may lead to  loss of your own style or a slow merging of your native and acquired style creating a new style altogether. It’s the same with thinking. Thoughts form in different ways in each one of us depending on how we perceive things – which involves both structure (how you place one slab of comprehension upon another to arrive at a whole) and depth. These are the building blocks of soft skills.  This is what makes all soft skill courses useless.

And the funny thing is people who conduct them know it. That’s why, if you notice, all soft skill courses are mostly fluff. It’s only stuff flicked from Google peppered with stories and anecdotes.  Some of them even use these courses as platforms to crib about their former colleagues and hear favorable reaction from an obliging audience. And they call it interaction.  I had attended a workshop on presentation skills and the trainer, a lady, was mostly talking about her former colleagues she didn’t like. I attended a workshop on creative troubleshooting and it was mostly generic talk on how to be out of box together with standard industry models of problem solving. Doesn’t discussing standard models defeat the purpose of a workshop which insists you to be anything but?

Then, why do companies spend money on arranging for these two-hour or one-day soft skill workshops and why we attend them? Because we cherish our technical skills and believe learning smattering of soft skills will help us further our career – be creative, good communicators and so on. The problem is soft skills are more intricate than technical skills. Technical skills are easy to acquire because they involve clearly defined instructions but soft skills don’t.

Sustained exposure to soft skill professionals where they are embedded in an environment (a close-ended one like a team) or a broader one like an organization and they closely observe people in action and discuss their findings with them later and then again observe as the latter apply them, will help. But the resource and logistics it will need may make it difficult to implement. That’s where you need creative problem solving.

Communism – 100 Years of the Revolution

A few days ago Russia celebrated 100 years of the 1917 revolution. In these 100 years communism has gone from being a leading political ideology to a failed one. In whichever country the ideology has been applied, there has been dictatorship, corruption, economic stagnation, bloodshed and so on.

Yet universal brotherhood, a world free of religion and other discriminatory ideas, selflessness, sacrifice for a higher cause, economic equality – are some of the loftiest ideals a man can ever live for.

Therefore it is little wonder that communism had looked like a panacea in a 20th century world torn by wars, bigotry, narrow nationalism and economic inequality. Soviet Russia’s impressive GDP year upon year had convinced world leaders of the merit of communist economic model. The global intelligentsia had appreciated its educational and social reforms. Their space projects had earned lot of global admiration (remember Sputnik?). But there were flaws in the system and the cracks began to show up soon.

Today it is surprising to see how the lofty ideals, when applied as state policies, degenerated into completely different things not just in Soviet Russia but also other pockets of communism in the world: a constant thirst for power expressed through annexing regions or bringing  them into communist sphere of influence, state censorship (and other forms of freedom-denying activities), ruthless directorship (Stalin, Mao and so many  other communist leaders), personality cults (Fidel Castro, Mao etc), state-level corruption, people in positions of power growing loathsomely wealthy (in China but there are numerous other examples), a dead economy (Cuba’s highest source of revenue is the remittances sent by Cubans staying in the US), the list is endless.

Frankly, if we compare them with the sins of capitalism, capitalism will hardly fare any better: two world wars, imperialism, Hitler, economic inequality, absence of financial support for the elderly (in purely capitalist societies like the US) and so on. But capitalism has bounced back each time. There wasn’t a third world war. The world didn’t see another Hitler (at least none who wreaked havoc on a similar scale). There is no 20th century scale imperialism any more.

Yes, capitalism is responsible for economic inequalities, but it has also created pockets of economic excellence, like Microsoft, Google, Apple and so many more, which provide economic opportunities to so many across various countries. (One can even argue the more capitalism the better: after all, less capitalist societies like Sweden and the Netherlands have not created these gems.)

On balance capitalism has done better than communism. But why? I think it’s because at the core capitalism is a simpler ideology which is mainly about economics (private enterprise and free market) and is silent on other aspects of life whereas communism seeks to control every sphere of life, the personal, professional and even the spiritual. (We know what happens of powerful religious ideas that lay out rules for every aspect of a man’s life and insist on complete compliance.)

This regimental nature of communism not only denies basic freedom but also stores too much discretionary power in the hands of those in power. And because communism doesn’t accommodate democratic practices like participatory politics, the power stays with a few who, to continue being in power, plug in all ventilations within the system blocking free passage of air – and slowly rot sets in.

In newspapers, we keep reading about corrupt and nepotistic high officials in China – and the Chinese administration trying to cleanse the system. Gorbachev had attempted Perestroika and Glasnost to cleanse the Soviet system of similar rot leading to an end of Soviet Union in December 26, 1991. The end of communism, however, had started a year earlier, on 9th November 1989, when the Berlin wall had collapsed uniting West and East Germany.

Is Bangalore Going the Bombay Way

On 1st Nov, on Karnataka Rajya Utsava, while I was entering a shopping mall, a person with a wad of thin books in his hand whisked one into my hand. I waved him away without any consideration. Few steps later, I stopped turned around, walked to him and asked for a copy of the book he was distributing free. It was a postcard size book on how to learn Kannada.

A day later I read the Karnataka CM’s (a Congress CM) Rajya Utsava speech in paper. He said everyone staying in Karnataka should learn Kannada and consider themselves Kannadigas. Karnataka is also going to become the first state in India to have its flag.

I am from Calcutta and have been staying in Bangalore for last 12 years now – and from time to time have seen manifestation of provincial sentiments through violence sometimes owing to something as innocuous as death of Kannada movie icons and sometimes slightly more tangible issues like water sharing with neighboring states.  The targets are generally ethnic groups to establishments like malls, restaurants representing a culture perceived to have overshadowed the local culture or representing  those who are insolent towards it.

But the best part about these conflagrations is they fizzle out in a day or two thanks to the fact that they are mostly carried out by small chauvinistic groups with little or no impact on mainstream politics.

Only twice, in my so many years in Bangalore, have I seen chauvinistic disturbances targeted towards a particular group or community go beyond their one-day routine.

One of them involved the Kaveri water sharing issue. The Kaveri water sharing  issue has been a source of disturbances for sometime recurring almost once every year but none has taken so long  to calm down. The trigger was a Supreme Court order asking Karnataka to share more cusecs of Kaveri water with Tamil Nadu than the state was ready to do.

My wife and I were touring Chikmagalur, a nice hill station in Karnataka with lot of coffee plantations but little known outside south India. We left for Chikmagalur a day after a state-wide bandh over the Kaveri issue.

Roughly two to three days later, sitting in a restaurant in Chikmagalur overlooking the road in front, we saw a flock of people shouting slogans, a column of black smoke rising up from amidst them. Curious, I asked the restaurant manager what it was.

He said they were protesting the Supreme Court order which had gone against Karnatka assuring us that they would not cause any harm, that it was just a protest.

Later we realized it wasn’t ‘just’ a protest. It took a week or so for normalcy to return. Some IT offices were forced shut by vandals, people killed, vehicles particularly those with Tamil Nadu number plates, set on fire.

The other one was over passing away of a famous Kannada movie star, Rajkumar. Within an hour of the death news becoming public, in anticipation of trouble, our office was called off and we were asked to return home. A few hours later, city life completely collapsed. Malls were attacked; foreign brand outlets were vandalized. It took sometime for normalcy to return.  (Some years earlier the same superstar had been kidnapped sparking similar reaction from his fans across the city.)

For the last 20 years or so, Bangalore has seen an excessive influx of migrants from different parts of the country mainly due to IT but also other industries and work streams. This influx of people from other places has meant the local culture now has to jostle for space with other cultures. This marginalization expresses itself through outbursts of regional sentiments whenever there is a provocation.

Another city where provincial chauvinism expresses itself through violence towards ‘outsiders’ is Bombay, another place which offers economic possibilities. Beating up poor migrants and attempts to force the local language on everyone are common.

The difference between Bangalore and Bombay, though, is in Bangalore the troublemakers don’t continue for too long. Also, the level of cynicism and organization that characterizes the chauvinistic flareups in Bombay is not to be found in Bangalore.

Perhaps a little bit of regional chauvinism is inevitable in a city which goes through economic prosperity on the scale Bangalore has over last 20 years or so. What is important is to avoid touching the raw nerve.

That’s why the chief minister’s brazen exhortation to everyone staying in Karnataka to learn and feel Kannada – doesn’t help unless he wants to convert Bangalore into Bombay. He should stop doing it.

In the meantime, I will try learning a little bit of Kannada using the book I got.