14-20 May, 2013
small world
Multilingual
All Tongues (Except Tamil) Welcome

BANGALORE ~ For the just-concluded Assembly elections in Karnataka, the state saw a steady inflow of ‘outsiders’ in the form of central ministers, chief ministers, former ministers, former chief ministers, regional satraps, opposition leaders and so on. But how did these politicians campaign in a southern state without knowing the local language? They just spoke in whatever language they were comfortable in—Hindi, Telugu, Marathi and English—and curiously it made little difference.

“People in Karnataka are generally multilingual. In any case, as all they talk is politics, usually abusing other parties, their outbursts and pleas are easy to follow,’’ says Sridhar Achar, an organiser for a major party. National politicians also use a clever trick. They start off with one or two words in Kannada and then apologise for not knowing ‘Kannad’. They then switch to either English or Hindi, which “you all understand very well!”

For many elections now, large crowds have been congregating at Basavanagudi National College grounds in Bangalore to listen to the shudh Hindi of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Murli Manohar Joshi, Rajnath Singh, Uma Bharati and others of the saffron group. Actor Chiranjeevi, currently a Union minister who has been touring districts bordering Andhra Pradesh for the Congress, likes to rouse audiences with Telugu dialogues delivered in filmy style. BJP member Venkaiah Naidu also speaks in Telugu. Narendra Modi’s not-so-shudh Hindi was also well received. The mother-son duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi spoke in Hindi in rural areas and English in urban.

The only language deemed unacceptable is Tamil, which is seen as a lingua non grata due to the dispute between the two states over sharing water of the Cauvery river. Marathi is the language most people living in the region bordering Maharashtra speak. It sometimes leads to a law-and-order problem as Marathi speakers often wind up suggesting the region would have seen more development had Belgaum been a part of Maharashtra.

Take Two
The Emperor’s New Values
On the absurdity of the nude dance of an NSUI president becoming such a big deal

It is said of the American people that they will tolerate anything of their leaders so long as they don’t lie. The man can be caught with his pants down and be forgiven. But if he lies that his pants were not down, then he is condemned forever. That was why Bill Clinton confessed that he got a blowjob from Monica Lewinsky even while making the incredible claim that it did not fit in with the definition of a sexual act. To Americans, there is a moral delineation between adultery, a betrayal of faith, and lying, a flaw of character. The former is a sin, the latter a trait that is expected to run through all actions.

In India, we are not particular about such gradations, or Suraj Singh Thakur would not find himself in trouble. There is a video that does not exist on YouTube anymore, and this is a good thing because it would not have been a pleasant sight. It is said to show Thakur dancing in the nude. He is the Mumbai president of the National Students Union of India, the students’ wing of the Congress party, who has just been suspended for his act. There are a number of ironies in Thakur’s sad tale. For example, he embarked on this enterprise during an NSUI leaders’ workshop which, among other things, included training in personality development and political management skills. And his fate shows that he really needed that workshop because both skills were found wanting.

There are numerous versions of Thakur’s indecent behaviour. Initial television reports said that he was nude. A Mumbai Mirror report says that he was ‘dirty dancing’ in his undergarments. An Indian Express report says that he was shirtless. All of them agree that there was a party in progress and he was drunk. The Express report says that he was asking everyone to remove their shirts and when someone objected, Thakur showed him how to do it by taking off his own shirt, and, as per one eye witness, “swinging it in the air”. The rambunctiousness reached the ears of Rahul Gandhi, who ordered the suspension. The NSUI says it is for indiscipline.

Let’s for a moment put this in context. Remember, this is a party which, at the time of going to print, is yet to suspend one minister who tweaked a CBI report in the coal scam and another who is getting embroiled in allegations of his relatives selling a top post in the Railways. This is also a party that saw its spokesperson, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, quit his job after an MMS clip of his adultery went public, but only to be reinstated later without any explanation of why he had to go in the first place and what had changed to allow his comeback. Between shirtless/nude and adulterous sex, there is a gulf, even if neither is really a crime. If Singhvi was exiled for eight months, it would only be fair that Thakur be suspended for a fraction of that period.

The nice thing about the episode has been some good jokes on Twitter, many of them aimed for some odd reason at Digvijaya Singh. For example: ‘Its Transparency in politics—Digvijay Singh on Suraj Thakur’. Some tweets had images of Thakur at a photo-op with Manmohan Singh; others linked him with his supposed mentor Kripashankar Singh, who used to head the Mumbai Congress once upon a time and is now facing charges of owning assets disproportionate to his income.

Given all of the above, there is still this question that applies to both the Congress, which suspended Thakur, and the BJP’s gleeful supporters on Twitter: what exactly is wrong in getting drunk and taking off your shirt? What is the ethical line being crossed? The answer is there seems to be none. It happened one night at a party, well after workshop hours. It was on the terrace of a hotel. When Sourav Ganguly did the same thing after winning the Natwest Trophy in 2002, it was just the man thing to do. What it shows is the bizarre nature of Indian politics in which everything attains equivalence in the momentary outrage or sneering that an act evokes—murder, riots, underworld links, corruption... or a man going shirtless.

Vision
Google Glass Is On Its Way

Technology hasn’t been exciting for a while, but Google Glass—eyewear equipped with a micro computer—has bought the zing back into the geek world, and how. The augmented reality glasses, eagerly awaited since 2012, are finally in the hands of developers who have coughed up $1,500 to get themselves a pair. The glasses are essentially based on a principle that has existed for decades in science fiction movies. According to Tech Radar, the glasses are equipped with a camera, display, touchpad, battery and microphone, all built into spectacle frames so that users can perch a display in their fields of vision, film, take pictures, search and translate on the go. The glasses will hit the market in a year. Google Glass will also produce sound using bone-induction technology. This technology vibrates your skull to create sound, which is both more grisly- sounding and much less cumbersome than traditional headphones. They have already caused a stir by being banned in certain parts of the United States where such eye wear is seen as an encroachment of privacy.