Calvin and Hobbes Quotes

on Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I like maxims that don't encourage behavior modification.

Reality continues to ruin my life.

Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless.

A little rudeness and disrespect can elevate a meaningless interaction to a battle of wills and add drama to an otherwise dull day.

It's psychosomatic. You need a lobotomy. I'll get a saw.

I understand my tests are popular reading in the teachers' lounge.

Life's disappointments are harder to take when you don't know any swear words.

Where do we keep all our chainsaws, Mom?


That's the difference between me and the rest of the world! Happiness isn't good enough for me! I demand euphoria!

In my opinion, we don't devote nearly enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks.

You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocketship underpants don't help.

Its no use! Everybody gets good enemies except me.

What's the point of wearing your favorite rocketship underpants if nobody ever asks to see 'em?

As a math atheist, I should be excused from this.

This one's tricky. You have to use imaginary numbers, like eleventeen ...

I'm learning real skills that I can apply throughout the rest of my life ... Procrastinating and rationalizing.

I have a hammer! I can put things together! I can knock things apart! I can alter my environment at will and make an incredible din all the while! Ah, it's great to be male!

I'm not dumb. I just have a command of thoroughly useless information


"Do you believe in the devil? You know, a supreme evil being dedicated to the temptation, corruption, and destruction of man?"
"I'm not sure that man needs the help."


Calvin: I'm a genius, but I'm a misunderstood genius.
Hobbes: What's misunderstood about you?
Calvin: Nobody thinks I'm a genius.


Calvin : You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.
Hobbes : What mood is that?
Calvin : Last-minute panic.


"Why isn't my life like a situation comedy? Why don't I have a bunch of friends with nothing better to do but drop by and instigate wacky adventures? Why aren't my conversations peppered with spontaneous witticisms? Why don't my friends demonstrate heartfelt concern for my well being when I have problems? ...I gotta get my life some writers."


"I'm a simple man, Hobbes."
"You?? Yesterday you wanted a nuclear powered car that could turn into a jet with laser-guided heat-seeking missiles!"
"I'm a simple man with complex tastes."


"See Any UFOs?"
"Not yet."
"Well, keep your eyes open, they're bound to land here sometime."
"What will we do when they come?"
"See if we can sell mom and dad into slavery for a star cruiser"


"My powerful brain has come up with a topic for my paper"
"I'll write about the debate over Tyrannosaurs. Were they fearsome predators or disgusting scavengers?"
"Which side will you defend?"
"Oh, I believe they weer fearsome predators, definitely."
"How come?"
"They're *so* much cooler that way"


"I'm not going to so my maths homework. Look at these unsolved problems. Here's a number in mortal combat with another. One of them is going to get subtracted. But why? What will be left of him? If I answered these, it would kill the suspense. It would resolve the conflict and turn intriguing possibilities into boring old facts."
"I never really thought about the literary possibilities of maths."
"I prefer to savour the mystery."


Susie: You'd get a good grade without doing any work.
Calvin: So?
Susie: It's wrong to get rewards you haven't earned.
Calvin: I've never heard of anyone who couldn't live with that.


"Bad news Dad. Your polls are way down."
"My polls?"
"You rate especialy low among tigers and six year old white males."


"Mom's not feeling well. So I'm making her a get well card."
"That's thoughtful of you."
"See, on the front it says, 'Get Well Soon' ... and on the inside it says,'Because me bed isn't made, my clothes need to be put away and I'm hungry. Love Calvin.' Want to sign it?"
"Sure, I'm hungry too"


H : "What do you think is the secret to happiness? Is it money, power or fame?"
C : "I'd choose money. If you have enough money, you can buy fame and power. That way you'r have it all and be really happy. Happiness is being famous for your financial ability to indulge in every kind of excess."
H : "I suppose thats *one* way to define it."
C : "The part I think I'd like best is crushing people who get in my way."


Dear Santa. Why is your operation located at the North Pole? I'm guessing cheap elf labour, lower environmental standards, and tax breaks. Is this really the example you want to set for us impressionable kids? ...My plan is to put him on the defensive before he considers how good I've been.


"No, Calvin."
"No, Calvin."
"Then can I have a cookie?"
"No, Calvin."
"She's on to me."


"What state do you live in?"

- Miss Wormwood & Calvin "Dad, I'd like to have a little talk."
"As the wage earner here, its your responsibility to show some consumer confidence and start buying things that will get the economy going and create profits and employment. Here's a list of some big-ticket items I'd like for Christmas. I hope I can trust you to do whats right for our country."
"I've got to stop leaving the Wall Street Journal around."




I go to school, but I never learn what I want to know.

Hobbes : "Do you think there's a God?
Calvin : "Well somebody's out to get me!"

Calvin : "Do you really think Bogeymen exist?"
Hobbes : "I'm not sure, but if they do, I think this is where they live…"

"The world isn't fair, Calvin."
"I know Dad, but why isn't it ever unfair in my favour?"

"Too bad the world will be ending soon."
"Beg your pardon?"
"Halley's Comet. Comets are harbingers of doom."
"No they arent, thats just superstition."
"Really? Guess I'd better write that book report."

"Since September it's just gotten colder and colder. There's less daylight now, I've noticed too. This can only mean one thing - the sun is going out. In a few more months the Earth will be a dark and lifeless ball of ice. Dad says the sun isnt going out. He says its colder because the earth's orbit is taking us farther from the sun. He says winter will be here soon.
Isn't it sad how some people's grip on their lives is so precarious that they'll embrace any preposterous delusion rather than face an occasional bleak truth?"

    - Calvin, about to become aware of the concept of winter...
"This article says that many people find christmas the most stressful time of year."
"I believe it. This season sure fills *me* with stress."
"Really? How come?"
" I *hate* being good..."


"Any monsters under my bed tonight?"

"Nope." "No." "Uh-Uh."

"Well there *better* not be, I'd hate to have to torch one with my flamethrower!"

"You have a flamethrower?"

"They lie. I lie."

- Calvin, The Monsters Under His Bed & Hobbes "I wonder where we go when we die?"
"You mean if we're good or if we're bad?"




I think life should be more like tv. I think all of life's problems ought to be solved in 30 minutes with simple homilies, don't you? I think weight and oral hygiene ought to be our biggest concerns. I think we should all have powerful, high-paying jobs, and everyone should drive fancy sports cars. All our desires should be instantly gratified. Women should always wear tight clothes, and men should carry powerful handguns. Life overall should be more glamorous, thrill-packed, and filled with applause, don't you think?

So basically, this maverick is urging everyone to express his individuality through conformity in brand-name selection.

In my opinion, television validates existence.


"Here's a movie we should watch."
"Who's in it?"
"It says 'Japanese Cast'...two big rubbery monsters slug it out over major metropolitan centres in a battle for world supremacy...doesn't that sound great?"
"And people say that foreign film is inaccessible."


Hobbes : "It says here that by the age of 6, most children have seen a million muders on television."
Calvin : "I find that very means I've been watching all the wrong channels."


H : "What are you doing?"
C : "Being cool."
H : "You look more like you're bored."
C : "The world bores you when you're cool."


"I just read this great science-fiction story. It's about how machines take control of humans and turn them into zombie slaves."
"So instead of us controlling machines, they control us? Pretty scary idea."
"I''ll say...*HEY* What time is it? My TV show is on."




To make a bad day worse, spend it wishing for the impossible.

So the secret to good self-esteem is to lower your expectations to the point where they're already met?

It's only work if somebody makes you do it




My only regret is blowing the best day of my life while I'm so young

- Calvin prepares a water-balloon ambush for Susie Calvin: Our top-secret club, G.R.O.S.S.-- Get Rid Of Slimy girlS!
Susie: Slimy girls?!
Calvin: I know that's redundant, but otherwise it doesn't spell anything.

I'm looking for something that can deliver a 50-pound payload of snow on a small feminine target. Can you suggest something? Hello...?

Girls are like slugs - they probably serve some purpose, but it's hard to imagine what.


We are a fierce and dirty band of cut-throat pirates! Keep a sharp lookout matey, we dont want any sissy girls on our ship!"
"We *dont* like girls???"
"Of course not dummy, we're a murderous bunch of pirates, remember?"
"Who do we smooch then?"


"There's a new girl in our class."
"Well, whats her name?"
"Is she nice?"
"WHO CARES? Not me!"
"Do you LIKE her?"


"She *cute*, isnt she?"


"Hello Susie, this is Calvin. I lost our homework assignment. Can you tell me what we were supposed to read for tomorrow?"
"Are you sure you're not calling for some other reason?"
"Why else would I call you?"
"Maybe you missed the melodious sound of my voice?"
"WHAT? Are you crazy? All I want is the STUPID assignment!"
"First say you missed the melodious sound of my voice."


"This meeting of the Get Rid Of Slimy Girls club will now come to order. First Tiger Hobbes will read the minutes of our last meeting."

"Thank you. (9:30) Meeting called to order. Dictator For Life Calvin proposed resoultion condemning the existence of girls. (9:35) First Tiger Hobbes abstains from vote. Motion fails. (9:36) Patriotism of First Tiger called into question. (9:37) Philosophical discussion. (10:15) Bandages administered. Dictator For Life rebuked for biting."

"Is this a great club or what?"

"(10:16) Forgot what debate was about. Medals of bravery awarded to all parties."


"I'm never gonna get married. Are you?"
"Hmm...I suppose if the right person came along, I might. Someone with green eyes and a nice laugh, who I could call 'Pooty Pie'."
"Or bitsy pookums."
"I think that would affect my stomach a lot more than my heart."
"Bitsy pookums I'd say. Yes snoogy woogy, she'd reply..."


"Do you like being a girl?"
"Its gotta be better than the alternative."
"Whats it like? Is it like being a bug?"
"Like a WHAT?"
"I imagine bugs and girls have a dim perception that nature played a crual trick on them, but they lack the intelligence to really comprehend the magnitude of it."

CIO Insights

on Tuesday, April 29, 2008

If you were to draw a graph of innovation and Microsoft's wherewithal in terms of people, capacity, recruitment, training and salaries, you would find that the more Microsoft hired the best minds at the highest salaries, and so forth, the less innovation it got. For a user, there are no substantial changes whatsoever between the various versions of Microsoft Windows. For anybody who's used a 1990 version, a '96, '98, 2000 or XP version, it just seems like the color of the icons changes. Does it take 5,000 engineers with postgraduate degrees to change the color of icons?

Or another example I particularly like is Gillette. Does it take $600 million to stick another blade between the other two? Or consider the airline industry—I think that is the only industry so far that has managed to make all of the stakeholders lose. The shareholders don't make any money. The executives don't last. The planes don't get better. The air-traffic controllers have the worst job in the world. The crew is never happy. The pilots are on strike. The food is just awful. There's not a good thing you can say about the business of flying. So I think the answer to "So what?" is that if people look closely, they'll see that the traditional model isn't working. And there's incentive there to start looking for something else.

When I hear that a company's employees set their own hours, I imagine it being better suited to some tasks than others.

The first anxiety executives have about workers setting their own hours is that people are going to suggest that they come in as late as possible, leave as early as possible, make as much as possible—end of story. And in 25 years we've never heard that. I don't think [that sort of behavior] comes to people as naturally as the anxiety about it comes to the [manager] who's thinking about it. [At Semco,] we always assume that we're dealing with responsible adults, which we are. And when you start treating employees like adolescents by saying that you can't come late, you can't use this bathroom—that's when you start to bring out the adolescent in people.

Is it true Semco buys or leases whatever technology the employees want?

It's more like expense reports. We don't want someone going to another city to negotiate something for us, or trying to sell something for us, who doesn't have the good sense to choose a rental-car company, the hotel where they'll stay, or whether they're going to take a bus or a cab. Because if they don't know how to do that, chances are very slim that they'll know how to negotiate our contracts. So we don't want to control their technology either. They will fill it in themselves, ask for reimbursement, and there is no approval process there.

Now chances are that every one of the new notebooks our staff buys are probably the best available, because the decision to buy the new one is going to be an analysis based on talking to 15 people and finding out what is considered hottest and most coveted—that's the one you're going to buy because you're not under a restriction. Now we didn't talk to Dell and to Compaq and to IBM to decide what they want for us, and there's never a meeting to discuss an upgrade of anything because it's already upgraded.

But you do have someone in charge of IT?

No, we don't—and the issue goes away, doesn't it? You could say, well, someone just joined and they decided to buy a very, very fancy notebook that's terribly expensive. It's like deciding to stay in a five-star hotel when all your colleagues stay in a three-star. You're subject to peer pressure. People are going to say, okay, well, the guy plays golf three times a week all morning. If he sells 512 widgets a month, really, who cares, right? If he sells 400 widgets a month instead of 512, it won't do him any good to be the first one in and the last one out, because it's performance-based. So the notebook's the same thing. Say the guy decides to buy a really expensive one—and it's happened many times. What happens is the peer pressure increases. You better be as good as the laptop you choose, right?

Okay, but who deals, for example, with network security?

Firewalls to me are much less essential than the IT people think they are, but let's assume that they are critical. For example, we're online with some of our partners that are Fortune 500 companies. So if Johnson Controls or the Rockefeller Group are sensitive, we're sensitive—but only as a subproduct of our relationship with them. We'll put in all the servers they want, and somebody will be there protecting it with their lives. But we wouldn't do it on our own.

Is there industrial espionage or hackers? Sure. But I think there's a lot of mythology about this, and I think IT people get overexcited about making their system the most secure this and that and so forth. I'm not sure it's that essential for the business per se. It's just essential for them to feel that they're exercising their technical capacity to its limit, which is not my main concern as a business.

Flexibility= Loyalty

Ricardo Semler is far from the only executive to find that a little flexibility leads to longer-term loyalty. Take Intertech Plastics, a $12 million, Denver-based manufacturer of consumer, automotive and industrial plastics. Intertech offers its 110 employees somewhat fluid schedules, and trusts them with the company’s financial performance data.

Its annual rate of staff turnover:

One of the things I've noticed with this security issue is that IT people want to make sure that their systems are intact, private, confidential—blah, blah, blah—but they think nothing whatsoever of invading the e-mail privacy of their own employees. That's very interesting to me, because it's not only a double standard, but a violation of constitutional rights. Companies have taken the blind assumption that because the system is theirs, then anything that people do on it has to be available to them. I think it's a very hypocritical mode, and it deals with fundamental freedom issues that I don't think people have completely thought through.

I take it, then, employee e-mail at Semco is private?

Yes. And what's most interesting is that we searched far and wide for anybody who could tell us what kind of software or system could be installed on our [server] that would make it impossible for our own IT people to spy on people's e-mail. We did not find one. We had to customize one.

The people who show up put together a template of what are the characteristics that person needs to have, and what is the weight of each of these characteristics. They'll then go looking for that person by putting an ad in the paper, or through a headhunter. And when the resumes come in, basically, whoever started the whole thing will distribute packs of these resumes to people, because there's no HR department to do it. You'll take ten home, I'll take ten home and Andrew will take ten home, and whatever I wrote A-plus on, for example, I'll give to you, and the rest, we'll just send a thank you.

Now a lot of things happen in this process. Because 40 of us are looking at ten resumes each, or ten of us are looking at 40 resumes each, I'm going to locate people who are not ideal for this job but that could be ideal for another job, and that's something that disappears completely when an HR department does this, because they're basically screening between yes and no—it's a digital response. With our system, we're creating an analog response, meaning, maybe this person would be great for I don't know who, and then we send that curriculum vitae on to someone else.

Once we've found ten who had an A-plus out of the 400, we will do a collective interview of all the candidates, which most people don't like, and which I found very strange in the beginning.

Wait. All the candidates get interviewed together?


I'd hope my voice was strong that day.

In a system like this, let's say two out of the ten don't speak at all because it's not their nature to interrupt. Well, the other five, ten, 15 on our side will want to hear from those two. So at a certain point they'll say, "Brad, you haven't spoken at all, what do you have to say?" If what you say is thoughtful, you might be, with your one minute's worth, ahead of everybody else.

Under your set-your-own-hours policy, do employees work fewer hours, or longer and harder?

Last week CNN spent four days with a bunch of our guys probing in all directions, and they concluded that our people balance their lives much better, and that there's an unusually high number of people who take their kids to school, etc. But a recent statistic of ours shows that 27 percent of our people are online on Sunday at 8 p.m.—27 percent. So they probably do work hard.

In some ways it's an unforgiving system, because you have to figure out your own answer for how to best spend your time. When you don't come in on Monday morning, absolutely nothing happens. But when you're sitting on the beach Monday morning at 11 o'clock, and you're the only one on the beach—that's a different story. Maybe then it's worth it to work a little harder. No one really knows how to measure the value of that moment.

Love story of Narayan Murthy and Sudha Murthy

on Sunday, April 27, 2008

It was in Pune that I met Narayan Murty through my friend Prasanna who is now the Wipro chief, who was also training in Telco. Most of the books that
Prasanna lent me had Murty's name on them which meant that I had a preconceived image of the man. Contrary to expectation, Murty was shy,bespectacled and an introvert. When he invited us for dinner. I was a bit taken aback as I thought the young man was making a very fast move.
I refused since I was the only girl in the group. But Murty was relentless and we all decided to meet for dinner the next day at 7.30 p.m. at Green Fields hotel on the Main Road ,Pune.

The next day I went there at 7' o ! clock since I had to go to the tailor near the hotel. And what do I see? Mr. Murty waiting in front of the hotel and it was only seven. Till today, Murty maintains that I had mentioned (consciously! ) that I would be going to the tailor at 7 so that I could meet him...And I maintain that I did not say any such thing consciously
or unconsciously because I did not think of Murty as anything other than a friend at that stage. We have agreed to disagree on this matter.

Soon, we became friends. Our conversations were filled with Murty's experiences abroad and the books that he has read. My friends insisted that Murty as trying to impress me because he was interested in me. I kept denying it till one fine day, after dinner Murty said, I want to tell you something. I knew this as it. It was coming. He said, I am 5'4" tall.
I come from a lower middle class family. I can never become rich in my life an! d I can never give you any riches. You are beautiful, bright, and intelligent and you can get anyone you want. But will you marry me? I asked Murty to give me some time for an answer. My father didn't want me to marry a wannabe politician, (a communist at that) who didn't have a steady job and wanted to build an orphanage...

When I went to Hubli I told my parents about Murty and his proposal. My mother was positive since Murty was also from Karnataka, seemed intelligent and comes from a good family. But my father asked: What's his job, his salary, his qualifications etc? Murty was working as a research assistant and was earning less than me. He was willing to go dutch with me on our outings. My parents agreed to meet Murty in Pune on a particular day at10 a. m sharp. Murty did not turn up. How can I trust a man to take care
of my daughter if he cannot keep an appointment, asked my father.

At 12noon Murty turned up in a bright red shirt! He had gone on work to Bombay , was stuck in a traffic jam on the ghats, so he hired a taxi(though it was very expensive for him) to meet his would-be father-in-law. Father was unimpressed. My father asked him what he wanted to become in life. Murty said he wanted to become a politician in the communist party and wanted to open an orphanage. My father gave his verdict. NO. I don't want my daughter to marry somebody who wants to become a communist and then open an orphanage when he himself didn't have money to support his family.

Ironically, today, I have opened many orphanages something, which Murty wanted to do 25 years ago. By this time I realized I had developed a liking towards Murty which could only be termed as love. I wanted to marry Murty because he is an honest man. He proposed to me highlighting the negatives in his life. I promised my father that I will not marry Murty without his blessings though at the same time, I cannot marry anybody else. My father said he would agree if Murty promised to take up a steady job. But
Murty refused saying he will not do things in life because somebody wanted him to. So, I was caught between the two most important people in my life.

The stalemate continued for three years during which our courtship took us to every restaurant and cinema hall in Pune. In those days, Murty was always broke. Moreover, he didn't earn much to manage. Ironically
today, he manages Infosys Technologies Ltd., one of the world's most reputed companies. He always owed me money. We used to go for dinner and he
would say, I don't have money with me, you pay my share, I will return it to you later. For three years I maintained a book on Murty's debt to me.. No,
he nev ! er returned the money and I finally tore it up after my wedding. The amount was a little over Rs 4000. During this interim period Murty quit
his job as research assistant and started his own software business. Now, I had to pay his salary too! Towards the late 70s computers were entering
India in a big way.

During the fag end of 1977 Murty decided to take up a job as General Manager at Patni Computers in Bombay . But before he joined the company
he wanted to marry me since he was to go on training to the US after joining. My father gave in as he was happy Murty had a decent job, now.


I went to the US with Murty after marriage. Murty encourage! d me to see America on my own because I loved travelling. I toured America for three months on backpack and had interesting experiences which will remain freshin my mind forever. Like the time when the New York police took me into custody because they thought I was an Italian trafficking drugs in Harlem . Or the time when I spent the night at the bottom of the Grand Canyon with an old couple. Murty panicked because he couldn't get a
response from my hotel room even at midnight. He thought I was either killed or kidnapped.

IN 1981 MURTY WANTED TO START INFOSYS. HE HAD A VISION AND ZERO CAPITAL...initially I was very apprehensive about Murty getting into business. We did not have any business background .. Moreover we were living a comfortable life in Bombay with a regular pay check and I didn't want to rock the boat. But Murty was passionate about creating good quality software. I decided to support him. Typic! al of Murty, he just had a dream and no money. So I gave him Rs 10,000 which I had saved for a rainy day, without his knowledge and told him, This is all I have. Take it. I give you three years sabbatical leave. I will take care of the financial needs of our house. You go and chase your dreams without any worry. But you have only three years!

Murty and his six colleagues started Infosys in 1981,with enormous interest and hard work. In 1982 I left Telco and moved to Pune with Murty. We bought a small house on loan which also became the Infosys office. I was a clerk-cum-cook- cum-programmer. I also took up a job as Senior Systems Analyst with Walchand group of Industries to support the house. In 1983 Infosys got their first client, MICO, in Bangalore . Murty moved to Bangalore and stayed with his mother while I went to Hubli to deliver
my second child, Rohan. Ten days after my son was b! orn, Murty left for the US on project work. I saw him only after a year, as I was unable to join
Murty in the US because my son had infantile eczema, an allergy to vaccinations. So for more than a year I did not step outside our home for fear of my
son contracting an infection. It was only after Rohan got all his vaccinations that I came to Bangalore where we rented a small house in Jayanagar and
rented another house as Infosys headquarters. My father presented Murty a scooter to commute. I once again became a cook, programmer, clerk, secretary, office assistant et al. Nandan Nilekani (MD of Infosys) and his wife Rohini stayed with us. While Rohini babysat my son, I wrote programs for Infosys. There was no car, no phone, and just two kids and a bunch
of us working hard, juggling our lives and having fun while Infosys was taking shape. It was not only me but also the wives of other partners too who
gave their unstinted support. We all knew that our men were trying to build something good.

It was like a big joint family,taking care and looking out for one another. I still remember Sudha Gopalakrishna looking after my daughter Akshata
with all care and love while Kumari Shibulal cooked for all of us. Murty made it very clear that it would either be me or him working at Infosys. Never the two of us together... I was involved with Infosys initially.

Nandan Nilekani suggested I should be on the Board but Murty said he did not want a husband and wife team at Infosys. I was shocked since I had
the relevant experience and technical qualifications. He said, Sudha if you want to work with Infosys, I will withdraw, happily. I was pained to know that I will not be involved in the company my husband was building and that I would have to give up a job that I am qualifi! ed to do and love doing.

It took me a couple of days to grasp the reason behind Murty's request.. I realized that to make Infosys a success one had to give one's 100
percent. One had to be focussed on it alone with no other distractions. If the two of us had to give 100 percent to Infosys then what would happen to our
home and our children? One of us had to take care of our home while the other took care of Infosys.

I opted to be a homemaker, after all Infosys was Murty's dream. It was a big sacrificebut it was one that had to be made. Even today, Murty says, Sudha, I stepped on your career to make mine. You are responsible for my success.

‘For most biological parents, the wait is over in nine months’

on Saturday, April 26, 2008

IN LONDON’S CAMDEN Market there’s a stall for everything. From discarded cutlery twisted into modern works of art to thirdhand Levi’s to gothic tattoos. None of these caught my fancy that autumn afternoon in 1996. Instead, I gravitated towards a curious hand-written sign that read ‘Silver and nearly precious gems’. A sliver of a man with an enormous smile held out one of those triple interlocking rings and before I could protest, made me try it on. “There you go dearie: one ring for you, one for him and one for…” And then I heard myself say: “The baby… we’re expecting a baby.” Just like that; hope was born.My husband and I had been married for eight years and had lived in almost as many cities. It’s not like we didn’t want children. On the contrary, they loved us and we loved them. When our nephew was born, we clicked every expression that made its way across his tiny face. Then we’d blow up and laminate our efforts as constant reminders of his perfection. Along came the second nephew and we realised, much to our surprise, that we doted on him just as much. Children and us went together.We were going to have many little ones of our own someday. Someday. Call it bad planning or fate, but ‘someday’ didn’t arrive on schedule. Disappointment. Advice. Options. Decisions. Questions. Why was this taking so long? Should we wait? Or should we just get in the experts? The experts in this case were supremely confident: this was a fairly typical technical glitch: nothing that a relaxed lifestyle couldn’t cure. A couple of months and no results later: it was nothing that a few sessions of fertility treatment couldn’t cure.Fertility treatment. Two words that spell hope and despair in equal parts. We tried to focus on how it had transformed lives, worked like a miracle. But half a half -hearted attempt later, we just knew it wasn’t for us. I don’t exactly know when it happened but we’d gone from being a perfectly complete couple to a childless one. Suddenly, there was a gaping five pound hole in our lives and we were grappling to fill it.Adoption. The idea that had been crouching in our minds now stood up, stretched, and stared us in the face. Myriad what-if’s swirled in our heads. What if we didn’t feel anything when we met the baby? What if the baby never really took to us? What if the baby never looked or smelled anything like our nephews? What if, 18 years later, the child wanted to look for her ‘real’ parents? What if she finds them and finds we don’t match up? While the mental rhetoric played out incessantly in our minds, the paperwork wore us out physically. Living outside India didn’t help; everything took longer and was infinitely more complicated. For most biological parents the wait is over in nine months; after eighteen months, we were still hoping, praying, waiting and trying to answer the army of questions that marched percussively in our heads. We also tried to forget we were waiting. We rarely said it out loud. We were in London when we got the call. In a day and a half, we were waiting at the adoption agency-cum-orphanage well before the scheduled time of 10 am, sitting in a small office making even smaller talk. I recall most vividly — desperately wanting the baby to arrive and not arrive. I also recall wanting the relentless churning in my stomach to stop. Or was it my heart?Seconds later, everything stopped. An aide walked towards us (I can swear it was in slow motion), carrying a six-month-old in a diaper and the only dress she owned. The first thing I noticed were her eyebrows: perfect upside down ‘U’s giving her face the expression of perplexed innocence. The first thing she noticed was my husband. She stretched both arms towards him. He walked into them and has never returned. She fit so perfectly in the nook between his neck and shoulder, it seemed like somebody had invisibly measured them up for size. I remember holding her, inhaling her and the absolute clarity of that moment. She didn’t smell of Johnson’s baby powder or any baby product off the shelf. It was something more edible. Like honey or cinnamon or toast — just like the colour of her skin. I held her closer and looked down to make sure I wasn’t squeezing her too hard. She smiled. She had two perfect dimples! She never spoke and yet, had answered every question we had in less than ten seconds.Today she’s 11 years old. She loves the outdoors. She’s an animal magnet and can spend hours in the company of horses, sheep, dogs, lion cubs or even snails. Complete strangers stop to tell us they’ve never seen a smile like hers. Neither have we. We know now why they say that when you adopt, you give birth to true love.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 16, Dated April 26, 2008

Tenzin Tsundue-‘It’s time to break rules both inside and outside’

on Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tenzin Tsundue is a Tibetan leader of rare fire and eloquence. He speaks to SHOMA CHAUDHURY about how it is now time for the Tibetan movement to show its grit

Poet and writer Tenzin Tsundue, 33, is perhaps the most acetylene and mesmeric new voice of the Tibetan struggle. A slight man — spectacles held in place with cellotape — he first shot to limelight in 2002 when he declared his “personal war again st China” by scaling the Oberoi Hotel in Bombay while the Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji was visiting, and unfurling a Free Tibet banner down its fac ade. He won the court case that followed; the banner was returned with dignity. In 2005, Tsundue repeated this in Bangalore while the Chinese Premier was visiting.

Always dressed in jeans, black shirt and a red bandana he says he will not take off till Tibet wins back its freedom. Tsundue was born in a roadside tent on the Kullu-Manali highway to construction labourers. His father, a Tantric master from the Kham region of Tibet, was in his teens when the Chinese invaded. He joined the legendary cavalry resistance and was separated from the family for nine years, before he fled to India in 1959. His father died a few years later on a construction project. Tsundue grew up in a refugee camp in Karnataka, before attending the Tibetan Children’s Village School in Manali, and getting degrees later from Loyola College in Madras and Bombay University.

Tsundue does not hold any official post, but he is an irrepressible moving force, an undeclared leader moulding the future. Committed to a life of brutal frugality (Rs 35,000 can keep him going for two years), Tsundue says as kids, Tibetan are constantly remin ded they have ‘R’ — Refugee — written on their foreheads. Tsundue grew up and wrote a poem that changed that ‘R’ for ‘Rangzen’: freedom. Here, he talks of why he thinks that is his destiny.

You went back to Tibet as a student. How difficult was that? What made you do it?
It felt like a young man attempting a 'mission impossible’. I had always dreamt of getting involved with the struggle inside Tibet. I wasn’t prepared enough, but my dream overwhelmed me. This was March 1997. I was teaching at this school on the border, in an

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

area called Dhungse. I was sent with Indian army trucks that pick up children of nomads from across the border for schooling. I got talking with some traders and got names of traders on the other side. After dropping the kids off, I went back in secret on a hay truck. But when I got to the border, my contacts had left. I was alone in the mountains. My only fear then was of having to return to India without stepping into Tibet, so I kept going. I walked for five days without food. It was March, bitterly cold. When I was eventually arrested, I just collapsed. I was like any other Indian graduate — what would I know about Tibet? It was almost like walking into a dream, but I was determined. Once I was arrested, I was blindfolded and thrown into prison on March 10 — the National Uprising Day. I was confused. I had stepped into my own country for the first time but I was also in prison. I felt as if I was in a game. Could I tell the people outside, ‘mujhe bahar jaane do, bahut ho gaya’? I am used to the freedom in India. I missed my Indian friends, idli-sambar, and walks on Marina Beach. Slowly, I figured this was the reality. I had to make sure I didn’t die, no matter how much I suffered. There were things to do. I was being kept in a jail in Ngari town, a cold desert region, endless grassland, beautiful in the summer. There are nomads there who don’t know what a tree looks like. At first, I was badly beaten by the police. I used to cry quite often but it made me stronger from within. I learnt how to maintain my personal dignity against all odds. Later, I was taken to Lhasa and jailed for three months. Then I was handed back to India. I was desperate to come back. I needed to rethink many things. I was of no use in Tibet. In India, I went to the Indo-Tibetan Border Force office and handed myself in. I was in jail for a month. Tibetans in India have this paper, a Registration Certificate (RC) that permits us to stay for a year, and has to be rene– wed annually. It’s a constant reminder that we are outsiders. After my time in jail, I was very disturbed. My parents weren’t happy with me. Not receiving the consolation I sought from the community, I moved to Bombay for five years. The city had so much in store for me. Poets, writers, mentors, people I looked up to. I started writing myself. Today, I know it is only with my education that I can fight China. I have no political background, no money, nobody I can go to for support, but I feel strong. I think revolution begins with the experience of poverty. For me, it really began with that. I wrote to my parents in the fourth grade telling them not to send me money.

Are your parents supportive?

It is a difficult relationship. They came to meet me in jail recently and cried on my shoulder. I told them, ‘This is the time to be brave. I have a duty not only as a son but also as a young Tibetan.’ I am not of huge help to them. I have no salary, family, house or children to give them. The only thing I am giving is a dream that I will take them back to their country. I tell them it is my duty to take you back and you must maintain that hope; do not lose it. Then, you will not die here. You will not die in sadness. I have been away so much, in boarding school and also in the struggle, I have hardly met my parents. There is no detail in the relationship. There are a lotof things missing. But this is how the struggle has shaped our lives, for them as parents and for me as a son. It is part of the nature of our scattered life.

What explains the sudden upsurge in the Tibetan struggle? Is it a new moment?

Yes, what is really happening now is that the struggle has changed hands. What has traditionally been perceived as the Dalai Lama’s responsibility has now been taken up by the Tibetan people. The struggle inside Tibet has united the community and made us feel no sacrifice is too big. Now no one can douse the fire. There is another important development. Every year we commemorate the Tibetan National Uprising on March 10. This year the mood was very intense. With the Olympics coming up in Beijing, we wanted to focus international attention on the injustice in Tibet. China is trying to look like a developed country, where peace and harmony reigns. This is propaganda, and we are here to fight it. I don’t mean taking up guns. I think shooting and bombing people, carrying out suicide attacks are archaic ideas. We are totally committed to non-violence. That is the first principle of our lives. So what were we to do? Presently, in the world and in India, there isn’t much awareness, let alone support and political intervention for Tibet. We wanted to change this and achieve something concrete. His Holiness and the Tibetan government-in-exile don’t want confrontation, so some of us began to work on creating internal unity. We worked on bringing the five key Tibetan NGOS together. There has never been a common programme between them. The Youth Congress, which is the largest outfit, is committed to total freedom, while the Women’s Association, which is the second largest, is closer to His Holiness’ ‘middle way’ position and wants only autonomy. It took months of discussion before we presented an idea which brought people together. The idea was to march back to Tibet. We were going back to our own country. That is our basichuman right. The Indian police and the Chinese could do what they want. We were to remain resolute. Even if they cracked our skulls, we were not to retaliate. Tibet azad ho ya na ho, we must uphold our values of non-violence. On this we agree with the Dalai Lama. So on January 4 this year, we announced the Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement and the march to Tibet. Right upto February, the government said it was disassociating itself from the NGOs. But there was such a swell in public mood they were forced to say they are willing to work with us. This is a major turn of events.

Are the young restless with the Dalai Lama’s stand?

Yes. Even if I met him now, I would prostrate myself before him — that is an act of faith. But I think people are getting tired of being goody-goody. You might get patted for being nice, but it will not effect change in the struggle. If you want change, you have to look a little dirty, and it’s okay to look dirty. It’s time to break rules, both from inside and outside. It’s not enough just to go out and protest, we have to protest creatively. Because we’re not shocking the world with bombs, we can only build public opinion through this. Since it started, His Holiness has twice told the march’s leaders to stop because it is almost sure the Chinese will shoot at us at the border. But His Holiness’ sense of compassion is that of the Buddha. I’m a human being looking for freedom in this world. As a Buddhist, my attempt is to be a better person, not to renounce the world. I love the freedom, the romance, the contradictions, the politics, and the diversity of this world. I want to live in it. So His Holiness might want to avoid confrontation and reduce pain and suffering, but we are determined to push forward. I think it’s okay to die for this. Death would bring justice in the community. As children, we had this sense of urgency about growing up and getting involved with the struggle, that His Holiness was alone. There were few in the older generation who could do anything. They had no education. I remember our elders holding press conferences, and if even five journalists turned up, they would serve chai and momos with such gratitude. Now the equation has changed. We, who were born in the 70s and 80s and got educated in India or other foreign countries, are now taking up leadership. Thankfully, a culture of democracy has set in. There is no charismatic, all commanding leader other than His Holiness. Leadership has come from organisations. That is why it was so important to bring the five NGOs together.

Was there a build up to this mood, or is it quite sudden?
I think there was a major problem from 2002 for three years when it was very difficult to work with the goal of independence. There was a restart of the dialogue process with the Chinese and His Holiness came out very strongly saying, ‘Don’t protest’. The exiled government also requested the same. It was only a request, but when a request goes to the people, it becomes an order. We are still trying to create a culture of political activism in our people. There is this old-fashioned demonising. If you don’t listen to His Holiness, you are a Chinese spy or anti-Dalai Lama. In the 90s, leaders like Lhasang Tsering and writer Jamyang Norbu had very difficult lives in the community. They were the first batch of intellectual Tibetans who also had an English education. This allowed them an expression that was much less respectful and more open. They were a big inspiration for us. Right through 2002 to 2005, Tibetan delegations to China would make statements that China is making very good gestures and we should not antagonise them. But the Chinese government wasn’t even acknowledging that they were talking to Tibetans. After six rounds of this, people got tired.
We had no power in this dialogue. The process had no credibility because the Chinese didn’t make a single statement that they were talking to Tibetans. Also, our delegations were meeting the lowest rank of Chinese officials. Absolutely nothing was happening. People who were standing up for independence started to become stronger. The real activism, though, started from the Nangpa-La Pass incident in September 2006. A group of Tibetans escaping were shot at the border. This was caught by a Romanian channel that was shooting someone climbing Mount Everest, and shown all over the world. There was an international outcry. How could the Chinese shoot Tibetans who had been walking for 20 days without food? This incident brought all our people together. Even the exiled government issued a strong statement. This was followed by Hu Jintao’s visit to India in 2006. This time they did not stop our protest. They said Tibetans are in a free country, they can do what they want. During this time, under pressure from the Indian government, I was tailed by six security men and detained by our own government. This catalysed the NGOs to come together. They organised a huge rally. This was the beginning of the people’s movement.

Who are your political models?
Gandhi and Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh’s courage, Gandhi’s tactics. The difference between Gandhi and His Holiness is that His Holiness is non-confrontational. He says truth is important, the ultimate goal, but Gandhi said truth should prevail and there should be human effort toward this. He confronted unjust authority, risked others’ lives and called for sacrifice. This is how he created mass mobilisation. In Tibetan, when we say awakening, it is gyerlang, which means to individually rise up and volunteer. So it’s not just about awareness. You may be aware of something but may not sacrifice anything for it. That awakening is something Gandhi was able to do. When he said, ‘Swadeshi! Non-Cooperation!’ everyone took off their clothes and burnt it. Such direct confrontation, based on truth, puts the perpetrator in a very difficult position. That is where China is today. The Dalai Lama had not wanted us to make an issue of the Olympics, but I think we have really opened up Tibet in such a way that people will watch Tibet more than the Olympics itself. Understanding this, we said ‘Let us walk to Tibet’ and create even greater awareness and awakening. I believe in His Holiness, but when it comes to political activism, I follow Gandhi. When Tibet was up in flames recently, His Holiness sent messages that he would abdicate if there was any more violence, but I believe Tibetans inside Tibet were acting in self-defence. When you protest under a strong military power, you are vulnerable, you know the Chinese can shoot you. This is a kind of courage and sacrifice and non-violent action that you see very rarely today.

How did you get these burns on both your hands?
Cigarettes. I did it to myself in jail a few weeks ago. I had a very troubling time. We had started on our march from Dharamsala, we were arrested on the fourth day. The police charged us with ‘breach of public peace and tranquility’. A hundred Tibetans trained in non-violent activism, who have committed to themselves that even if the police crack their skull, they will not retaliate — and we are charged with breach of public peace. What was most frustrating was that while we were hearing that the whole of Tibet was rising up and the Chinese police was butchering them, I was supposed to be in a free country but I was in jail and couldn’t do anything. We were in jail for 14 days; all 14 days, people were being killed in Tibet. It was a most frustrating time. I urged our leaders to call a hunger strike so things would go out of hand and the police would have to release us. But they thought this would further aggravate the situation and create tension. I said, this is the time to create tension, but they said it would lead to more problems. So it was a very difficult time.

But why burn yourself? Was that to internalise the anger?
Yes, I think so (Long silence). It’s not just anger but also how to maintain peace (Laughs). We were 102 of us in jail, all on false charges. The Indian government just wanted to arrest us to be able to tell the Chinese government they were doing their duty. Only the Indian government was congratulated by China in the whole world. I think that ‘thank you’ was a humiliation for India. In the end, only three of us remained. I was not a leader actually, I was only a marcher, but somehow the Chinese government thinks I can be a potential problem. I’m under constant watch. They are afraid. I think it’s nice that a huge country is afraid of a man who has no money to eat. Tell me more about the march and its conception. We announced the idea on January 4 this year. The plan was to march for six months to draw media attention, gather support, and eventually try to march back into Tibet. I was the first to register. A lot of us were friends and had made a collective decision to join. We were not worried about what would happen to us. We started getting rid of our personal belongings, whatever little we had accumulated from our scattered lives in exile. I am 33, but I have no permanent address. I own two pairs of jeans, two shirts. This bag here is my office. I gave away everything else. One of my friends was a chowkidar with a construction company, another worked on screen-printing T-shirts. They gave these up to join the march. As word spread, more people were inspired. This is the sort of commitment I have been witness to. We started marching on March 10, and then the unexpected happened. The same day we heard Tibetans in Tibet had started to protest, then similar marches worldwide. Now we are at a stage where His Holiness is asking us to scrap the march. The Youth Congress has said they won’t.
The other four organisations have temporarily called off the march to participate in the campaign organised by the Tibetan government-led Solidarity Committee. The exiled government has never done this before, so it’s inspiring. But 200 core marchers remain committed to the original plan.

What is the Tibetan community’s relationship with India?
We thank India. It’s because of India that we’ve been able to stand on our own feet. In the 60s when my parents arrived, they couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw people on bicycles! Nehru, in fact, had offered His Holiness mainstream schools for Tibetan children. But His Holiness wanted separate Tibetan schools for the children so they would grow up as Tibetans, and the responsibility of the struggle could be passed on to them. Thanks to his vision, people like us came to the fore. The Indian government has played an important role in this resurgence. It provided land, schools, mon asteries. With this strong educational backing, 1,40,000 Tibetans are now challenging and shaking China.

When you talk of your Tibetanness, what is important?
It’s not just Buddhist cultural values, there is a distinct Tibetanness which looks very simple from outside. But it has a lot of courage, simplicity and strong honesty, which says I am willing to die for a value I believe in. It looks simplistic but there is honesty in it. We have the minds of mountain people. It isn’t about bank balance or insurance. These are interesting Tibetan characteristics. At least I have been to Tibet. But for many young Tibetans, including me, there is this sense of belonging to an ethos. We don’t belong to the land today because it’s all controlled by China. We go back to a rented room, not our own. There is a sadness in this, thinking of the temporary life we are living here. So every day of our lives we have a sense of belonging elsewhere. Sometimes it seems like I belong to a problem, not to a land. I belong to the Tibetan issue. A problem, a problem called Tibet. It is a very strange kind of belonging but that is the reality of life.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 16, Dated April 26, 2008

The Commissar In His Labyrinth

He’s not a mass politician. He’s never fought elections, he doesn’t intend to. Yet he’s charted a course to national centrestage. SANKARSHAN THAKUR reveals the enigmatic Prakash Karat

Early focus A rare photograph of Karat in his youth

He has a taste for murder. Should Manmohan Singh fall in the current jousting between the UPA and the Left over the nuclear deal with the United States, Prakash Karat will stand charged as the man with blood on his hands. But for all the Stalinist attributes that the 59- year-old CPMgeneral secretary is routinely, often flippantly, dart-boarded with, murder isn’t political doctrine for him; it’s literary preference. Patricia Cornwell’s compulsive Kay Scarpetta whodunits. But infinitely more than those, Ian Rankin’s dark Edinburgh crimes. Deep affections for place and persona might be at play here. Edinburgh is where Karat went to study politics as a young man in the late 1960s; and Rankin’s hero, Detective Inspector John Rebus, might bear a few critical, if also unlikely, likenesses to the man who has infused in a single declarative sentence the power to hold apart the world’s two largest democracies — “There will be serious consequences if the deal is operationalised.” The two men share more than a taste for a late evening sneak into Edinburgh’s Oxford Bar. Rebus, middle-aged, intense, irreverent, can be an obsessive man, dogged about fixations, frustratingly aloof, driven by inner wellsprings of conviction.

Often, in the ongoing brinkmanship with the government, Karat may have felt framed into a corner by the chorus of blame. This is a good deal, why is this man being so stubborn? The 123 Agreement has won formidable, media-amplified, attestation. Sonia Gandhi. Manmohan Singh. The bulk of the scientific establishment. Even, with tactical riders, LK Advani. Even, for a significant moment before he inserted due amendments post-haste, N. Ram, mate, comrade, editor of The Hindu, the prolix Mahadev of rightpolitic.

Or he may have sensed the dire burden of consequences piling at his door. Whoever wants an election now? Not even his own party, not his besieged fellows in West Bengal, not his embattled factions in Kerala. We’ll lose seats, has been the aggravated, though unendorsed, plea sounded from the party’s traditional strongholds — prevent precipitation.

But, for Karat, this isn’t about provincial gains or losses; this is a war about winning the world, or at least about keeping the enshrined enemy — the United States — from taking it unchallenged. Those who know Karat up close would tell you he really has no sense of isolation or guilt. If anything, those things mean impositions of a worldview he doesn’t much care
about. If they are calling him intransigent and destructive, so be it. That’s something Karat can begin to feed on and relish; he revels in battle, and if it’s against the expanding evil empire, it can’t get bigger or more righteous. America is fundamental to his understanding of what’s wrong with the universe.

When the Prime Minister warned history would be unforgiving if the deal with America wasn’t done, Karat was sharp and personal in retort. “History won’t forgive us if we collaborate in tying our destiny to the United Statesin perpetuity.” Those who dismiss his duel with Manmohan Singh as merely debating-room rhetoric probably misread him. There is no refuting that the Left’s quotient in parliamentary arithmetic is, and has been, limited. Equally, there is no refuting that it has enough to cripple or bring down the government. It may well be that the Left will earn diminished returns in a snap poll, but electoral arithmetic is not all the Left measures its weight by. There is the constituency of votes and the constituency of the idea; preserving the latter is critical to securing the former.

Prakash Karat with R. Umanath in New Delhi on August 22, 2007. Photo by Shailendra Pandey/Tehelka

Much more so to Prakash Karat than any other Communist frontrunner. Here’s a classical Marxist-Leninist, so viscerally committed to the purity and cohesion of ideology and organisation,he is often faulted for being unconcerned about the requirements of mass and electoral politics. He has contested only twice in life — a win and a loss in stakes for the presidentship of the JNU students’ union — and is unlikely ever to contest ever again. It can’t be he is disdainful of electoral politics, but there’s certainly a streak of indifference. The man who could bring down this Lok Sabha has never ever been to the houses of Parliament. Why? That’s merely one among many outposts of engagement. The headquarters is the Party. That’s where the command lies. That’s where the commander sits, dismissing extant concerns as minutiae, urging attention on the bigger picture: this isn’t about West Bengal or Kerala, this is about the world and about India’s place in it, act now or we shall be condemned to eternal subservience. America is neo-imperialism, it must be fought, whatever the cost. Karat is a past master at using Marxist theory to justify on-ground strategy. This is how he aligns his cadre, through high ideology, not realpolitik. “He’ll not blink on this one,” says a senior party colleague, “Prakash rarely does, because he has coldly thought most things through.”

Decades ago, when still a student in Edinburgh, Karat had caught the eye of Victor Kiernan. The distinguished Marxist historian was keen that Karat pursue the intellectual life. The strait-jacket of organisation will choke the intellect in you, Kiernan counselled, don’t join the party, work the cause from without. Years later, Karat would pay sentimental tribute to his early mentor, publishing a volume of his selected works (Across Time and Continents, Leftword Books, 2003), but he quietly rejected that piece of advice. Well before he landed in Edinburgh, Karat had found his purpose and begun to pursue it.

The formative influences on the man remain unclear — and Karat’s meditated reticence on his personal side have preserved the haze — but loneliness appears to have been among them. He is born into a family of matrilineal Palghat Nairs, well-heeled though not prosperous, past being feudal and seeking out the professions for sustenance. His father is a railway employee, posted far across the continent from native Elappulli, in Burma. Karat spends his early years unhinged in the antique land. His only sibling — a sister — dies of typhoid during the Burma days. Then, at age 12, his father passes away. Mother and son move to Madras. He schools there and begins to give off the first shine of promise — he bags an essay prize and a trip to Tokyo. On to the elite Madras Christian College where he meets N. Ram and P. Chidambaram. Spark merges with spark and makes a pool of light. It’s a journal called The Radical Review. It has things to sustain it — there’s the affluence of Ram and Chidambaram, there’s the ferment over America’s bull-headed misadventure in Vietnam. It’s a time heady with the air of resistance. Fidel Castro has repelled the Bay of Pigs; the CIA explosive in his cigar has turned a damp squib.

Che Guevara has lectured the World Bank in battle fatigues at New York and emerged a raging legend from dirty death in the Bolivian jungles. Joan Baez is ripping America under guitar strings in the streets of Washington. By the time he arrives in Edinburgh on a scholarship, Karat’s world has become more churned, eddying in additional seductions. There is South African apartheid to rail against. He plungesinto protest, even gets rusticated for a spell. But that only whets his appetite for soldiering.

He is never going to listen to sagely Kiernan. When he returned home in 1970, he was called in straight to the CPM, which by then had decided to move the Party Centre — the rganisation’s ideological engine — from Bengal to New Delhi. He began by assisting parliamentary party leader AK Gopalan, but he always remained in the field of vision of the then general secretary, P. Sundaraiyya, soon to become Karat’s favoured instructor. Sundaraiyya would have to quit the CPM over ideological differences in 1978, but, to date, the only portrait that adorns Karat’s office is his. Did N. Ram formally hook Karat with the CPM? Nobody’s telling. It’s true, though, that at the time, Ram had known Sundaraiyya better and longer than Karat. And he had a good sense of where Karat’s heart lay, what promise he held. Future general secretary of the party? Threeand- a-half decades is a long and risky period to lay bets over in politics, but there are those who never doubted where Karat would end up. Says a contemporary in the party, “We used to joke about it with him, sure, but everybody knew it was only half a joke.

Prakash announced his course early, without having to say it. He was streets ahead intellectually, but it was more than just that. He was careful as a good careerist would be, straight and narrow and deep.” Like it is with several key aspects to the man, his rise to the top of the hierarchy — anointed youngest party boss at 57 at the Delhi Congress in April 2005 — remains subject to contrary interpretation, even within the party. Some say it’s a path coldly plotted, from sustained reserve of persona to focused employment of intellect to consistent firmness on ideology and programme. Others argue, weightily, that Karat’s ascent is a consequence of what he is and means rather than the other way round. Ramesh Dikshit, Lucknow-based academic and NCP leader, who set up the first JNU students’ union alongside Karat, says, “Prakash has got where he has entirely by dint of talent and commitment. I have my differences with him, and I left the party because of those, but that can’t stop me from admiring the man’s honesty and adherence to what he believes to be right. He is not a transparent man — he is dogmatic and puritan and Stalinist in political approach — but to hold on to all of that and articulate it intellectually speaks of rare ability and integrity. The CPM is not a party where people rise merely because someone influential takes a liking to you.”

EVERY LIFE has a central stem around which it flowers or falters. For Karat, that’s always — and by unanimous agreement — been party ideology and programme. Talk around and you’ll get a sense of the near-astounding respect he evokes even in the bitterest adversary. And nobody doubts that for an ideology-driven party like the CPM, which refuses to repudiate Stalin and which remains theoretically committed to revolution, he makes the perfect choice as leader. Karat hasn’t come up idly promoted in the party backrooms; he’s zig-zagged his way, often aking choices that others at the time saw as futile deviations. If something made Sundariyya and Gopalan send Karat to build a students’ movement at the fledgling JNU when he had, to all intents, completed formal studies in Edinburgh, something also made Karat resolve to embrace the assignment.

When he became secretary of the Delhi party in 1980, many thought he had erred; Delhi was, and remains, barren turf for the CPM, he should have gone for the Party Centre. Both decisions were to become ballast for Karat’s growing reputation within and outside the party. Did he jump onto the visiting Shah of Iran’s motorcade at the head of a violent protest as JNU president? Was he the lead disruptionist when the World Bank’s Robert McNamara came visiting? Did he steal British Prime Minister Edward Heath’s thunder in Delhi? Truth? Semi-myth? Take your pick, but you can’t tear any of that away from that substantive body called the Prakash Karat myth. Was he wasting away as Delhi party secretary? He was only getting a sounder and sounder grip on the many intricate and enigmatic ways the CPM conducts itself. “This was rare training,” reflects a Politburo member. “Being in Delhi and being perceptive, he remained close to the ideological and theoretical heart of the party even while he gained practical experience in how it is run.”

There are those who credit — often in unkind ways, often in ways that give no due to Karat’s own qualities — the progress of his career to wife and partymate Brinda. She’s the pushy one, the ambitious one, she’s the key Karat. Even those who are unreserved in their admiration and respect for Prakash tend to wince when it comes to Brinda; he is, at least for them, the better half in that relationship. They would applaud Karat’s elevation to the top party job to the skies, but because the occasion was also attended by Brinda’s appointment to the Politburo, they labelled the Delhi party conference of 2005 “Coronation Congress”.

Brinda Karat comes from the affluence of Kolkata’s Alipore. They met early in their party careers, Brinda, a bit of a Miranda House rage, having dumped a future with Air India in favour of fashionable leftwing politics, Prakash having arrived from long and studied convictions. It must be said, though, there is little to suggest that Brinda’s convictions about her political choice have not become deeper over the years. Neither is it that she’s ever betrayed a chink in commitment. It was a love that was wholesomely blessed by the party; when they decided to get married in 1975, in the thick of Karat’s underground Emergency days, Harkishen Singh Surjeet took it upon himself to pick an appropriately auspicious date — November 7, the anniversary of the October Revolution in the New Calendar.

For critics of Brinda Karat, it’s not all down to subjectivities of personality. And it isn’t entirely personal either, for with her high-profile seats in the Politburo and in Parliament, Brinda is an important political mover as well; at a very human level, she does evoke jealousies and those often become part of internal faction play. But a lot of the reservations about her also have to do with her to-the-mannerborn background and her insistence on preserving it in her private space. It’s almost with a sense of deep hurt that a contemporary of Karat’s pulls out a wart at the end of extended showering of praise. “If there’s one blemish to him,” he says wistfully, “it is that he continues to live with the Roys.” Reference to Prannoy and Radhika Roy, the success-couple behind NDTV, brother-in-law and sister to Brinda. Karat retains his spartan party-given flat in the MPS’ hostel at Vitthalbhai Patel House, but home remains the Roys’ residence in South Delhi.

Many find the contradictions between Communism and class comfort disturbing but if there is a disjunct, it remains a finely-managed one. On a day that Karat fires ultimatums at the government, Prannoy comfortably slips into his studio seat to announce that 60 percent of those aware of the details of the nuclear deal disapprove of the CPM’s stand. Also, that his polls suggest Karat’s tactics will substantially reduce the party’s numbers in parliament. Karat, on his part, is able to display his disdain with equal ease. “So NDTV is still doing polls?” he remarked sardonically to a friend upon being told. “Haven’t they learnt any lessons from their embarrassments in UP?” Beyond a point, little that transpires in the Roy-Karat home cramps either side. Beyond a point, how relevant or consequential is it to dwell on the personal in a nation that never seems to mind the presence of family or dynasty in public life? Old friend amesh Dikshit will vouch that the lifestyle of the Roys hasn’t rubbed off on Prakash, personally or politically. “He came home for dinner a couple of years ago. He was already a very important man. I knew he declined all VIP treatment the Mulayam Singh government was eager to offer. He came in a friend’s car and returned late at night on the pillion of my nephew’s scooter.”

COMMUNISTS, BY dint of training, are wont to underplay the role of the individual in politics. This isn’t a crisis Prakash Karat has created single-handed; the party, irrespective of the noises being made in West Bengal and Kerala, is behind him, it unanimously backs the line. The Left as a whole is behind him, he isn’t stringing them along by force. And to a preponderant degree,
that’s true. The Left today lives out of its opposition to America and the American way of life; any Communist would be loath to be seen endorsing the US. Even so, questions linger about whether another leader in Karat’s place would have dealt with it differently. Predecessor Surjeet, for instance, or Comrade Sitaram Yechury. “Without compromising on line, they would probably have calibrated this more flexibly,” says a CPM leader, “I can see Surjeet playing this out in his mind beyond a mid-term poll, I can see him imagining another fractured Lok Sabha, I can see him grappling with the difficult dilemma of having to possibly support the UPA again in order to keep the BJP out of power. Karat is too much of a puritan to pay much heed to the practicalities of politics.”

But there is more that handicaps Karat in a fluid political setting than merely the fact of his being hidebound and clinical. He wants to play the public game as a recluse. In a democracy that thrives on the elasticities of what can be achieved over a conversation, his distaste for engagement can become a huge drawback. Sitaram Yechury must dirty his hands with the required wheeling-dealing; very often he also ends up earning a bad name for it. Karat himself will militate against the idea that his personality has come to bear upon the course of this crisis. In nuanced and key ways, he may be wrong.

Paying tribute to EMS Namboodiripad in the party’s ideological quarterly, The Marxist, in 1998, he wrote: “EMS is a striking example of how an individual’s life and work acquires a tremendous impact when harnessed to the theory and practice of Marxism. When the individual is a person of EMS’ exceptional intellectual ability and depth of vision, veritably, theory becomes a powerful force and in the hands of a creative practitioner like EMS, it produces the impulses for a powerful movement.” As he marches up the Coromandel Coast, blazing a firm red line of limits to how much of America he can bear with, Karat surely must have his sights peeled on whether his impulse carries the intimations of an upsurge. The crisis is yet unfolding, nobody seems in a desperate hurry. Meantime, Rankin’s at work in Edinburgh. Another dark murder is in the making.

-Sep 15 , 2007(Tehelka Magazine)