Tuesday, 21 December 2010

WikiLeaks and the Radia Tapes – My Take

I have mixed feelings about Julian Assange and his leaks. On one hand, it's a David versus Goliath story and one instinctively tends to be sympathetic to the former. However, most of the information leaked by WikiLeaks is of the kind that was already suspected to be true. For example, are there any surprises when a State Department cable posted by WikiLeaks shows that Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states distrust Iran so much that they would be happy to see the US attack Iranian nuclear facilities? Didn't we all know that India's desire to have a seat on the Security Council does not have much Western support? What of the report which says that the Fatah movement cooperated with Israel in its fight against Hamas? Did you know that Richard Branson believes that the British education system does not serve budding businessmen and women well?

I did not have a clue about Branson's views on the British education system and the chances are that you didn't either. Equally, the chances are that Branson did not want to air his views in public. However, I doubt if they will do him much damage.

On the other hand WikiLeaks' claim to the effect that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah Movement get along well with Israel will do a lot of damage to President Abbas and the relatively secular Fatah movement. The Fatah movement is now bound to lose a number of Arab supporters who cannot stomach the idea that Palestinians need to have a dialogue with Israel. Hamas will gain as a result of this exposure. Similarly, how does it help the fight against Islamic terrorism to show that airstikes carried out in Yemen against Islamic militants were actually the work of the US rather than Yemen?

Let's face it – there are so many countries in the world where it is not possible to call a spade a spade (especially when the spade happens to be Islamic fundamentalism). Politicians in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and various other countries need to make various untruthful statements in order to strike a balance between getting on with the fight against Islamic fundamentalism and keep their populace quiet. Diplomats are expected to push their national interests by all means available at their disposal and if anything, WikiLeaks seem to show most diplomats doing just that. There have been very few exposures which show laws being broken. Yes, Hilary Clinton did get egg on her face when it was shown that the US tried to spy on the United Nations. However, with the UN headquarters located in New York, I would be amazed if the Americans did not spy on the UN's staff.

In my opinion, Assange is an anarchist, the sort that wants to breakdown our imperfect systems and hypocritical societies without offering a half-decent substitute. If I let my head rule over my heart, I find that I have very little sympathy for him and his actions. I do think that the US and other governments have gone overboard in forcing Amazon, Mastercard etc to not offer WikiLeaks the services they offer to the public at large, but then, what other option did the governments have? As for the rape charges against Assange, you can read the full details here. All I have to say is that if this report is exhaustive and accurate, then there is very little possibility of Assange going to jail. Oh and by the way, Assange is shocked and disgusted that Swedish police files pertaining to the charges against him have been leaked to the Guardian. I mean, how could anyone leak such sensitive information?

The Radia tapes are a totally different ball game. Unlike the WikiLeaks materials which were obtained illegally, the Radia tapes arose from the Income Tax department's phone tapping (all legal and above board) though it is unclear why they have been leaked. The leaks have been selective, and of course, we do not know what has not been leaked. The transcripts of the conversations have shown a very unholy nexus between the fourth estate and our politicians. The corruption exposed has been of a scale hitherto unimagined by most Indians.

I had great respect for men like Vir Sanghvi, though I didn't always agree with him. We all believed that the Tatas never took or gave bribes, didn't we? Well, most of us anyway.

In short, I like the Radia tapes. I am glad they were created by the IT department and may the Good Lord bless the brave soul who leaked them to the media.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Writing a Spy Novel - When the Snow Melts

I have something exciting to announce:

Amaryllis, an imprint of Manjul Publishing, has agreed to publish my novel ‘When the Snow Melts ’.

When the Snow Melts is a spy novel. A thriller. At least, that’s the expectation – that it’ll thrill.

I have always wanted to write a spy novel, though it took me a long time to screw up the courage to even start thinking about writing one. My first novel Hitchhiker was largely based on what I had observed around me and to be honest, did not require much research. It took me a year to write Hitchhiker. When the Snow Melts took me a year as well. However, the research that preceded the writing took me a couple of years. With a spook as its lead protagonist, I had to find out a lot of things before I could even get a fix on the plot. You see, spies are human beings, but they do things very differently, don’t they? As for the organisations which send them out with a licence to kill, they are secretive organisations and do not really like to divulge much information about themselves.

In the next few months, I expect to be working with Amaryllis and its Head of Publishing Sanjana Roy Choudhury in editing my manuscript and getting it ready for publication. For this reason and because I am changing jobs and moving back to India (after over 8 years in the UK), I expect to be able to blog a lot less than I do currently. Please bear with me.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Book Review: A Tika for Jung Bahadur – Selected Short Stories by Jug Suraiya


There’s a world accessible only to a very small number of Indians, a privileged few whose parents have the money, foresight and ambition to send their children to public schools. No, I am not talking of your convent-across-the-road where lower middle-class and middle class children learn to speak in Pidgin English, but of top of the mill public schools that offer an education unchanged since the days of the Raj. This world is brought to us by Jug Suraiya, leading Indian journalist and cartoonist (Dubyaman) whom Khushwant Singh once referred to as India’s Art Buchwald, in the form of his short stories, a compilation of which has been published by the Times Group.

There are twelve stories in all and each of them is either set in a public school or involves characters who behave like products from a public school. The net effect of this atmosphere is to transport the reader to a world located within India, but is not really Indian. For example, one of the stories, The Word, is set in a small unknown Indian town and its main protagonist is a night watchman. There are unusual events taking place in this town and readers are kept in a state of anticipation till the end. However, Suraiya’s manner of narration (The Mayor said, ‘Good Man,’) makes you feel that either the town is located in the West or the story has been narrated by a Westerner.

The best story in the entire collection is undoubtedly the Badger. I remember reading this many, many (ten or even fifteen) years ago and enjoying it as much as I enjoyed re-reading it now. The story of a teacher at a public school in the mountains, the Badger is narrated by a master craftsman who has spent a considerable amount of time in a public school and does not know of a world outside it. There is drama, there is suspense and there is a happy ending which is realistic without succumbing to the pitfalls of melodrama.

A Premature Ghost is a ghost story with a difference, though the crux of the plot is given away on the back cover (they shouldn’t have done that). I’ll leave it to you to read it and find out for yourself.

The lead story, A Tika for Jung Bahadur, is representative of most of the other stories in this collection. It is well-written in a literary style that is flowery and poetic though at times the narration appears to be contrived. However, the ending is rather tame despite the considerable amount of initial suspense. In a few of the stories, the plots creak and don’t hold water. On balance, this collection is a worthwhile read if only for the Badger and the general ‘public school’ atmosphere.