Wednesday, December 27, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 27: Great greetings

(Cross-posted on my Jacob's Blog.)

Annikki and I got some outstandingly beautiful, some really deeply emotional, and many other types of greetings this year. Each one was viewed and appreciated.

As a tradition as of today, every year we intend to pick out the most unusual one for the blog.

Here, in our legally non-binding, uniquely humble and completely personal opinion, is our choice of the possible winner for this year, which choice may be modified if anything seemingly more unusual is received during the following days of the year, or even during any subsequent period, if it can been shown that it was dispatched during this current year, 2006 and relates to the current year:

Holiday Greetings to everyone !

I wanted to send some sort of holiday greetings, but it is so difficult in today's world to know what exactly to say without offending someone. So I met with my lawyer yesterday and on his advice I wish to say the following:

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter/summer solstice holiday, practised with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or other traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great (not to imply that it is necessarily greater than any other country) and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms...

This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawals. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

Yours in spirit.

____________ _________ _________ _________ _____
Cosma Papouis

Thank you Catherdralite 54er Zarin Aga for sending us this!

Monday, December 25, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 26: Merry Christmas to all our friends

(Cross-posted on all our major blogs.)

It is Christmas morn. Annikki and my email Inboxes are filled with greetings from all corners of the globe.

63er Stephanian Ajay called me on a Skype video link from his farmhouse in Lund, Sweden. (I was able to see him, but as I am still having a problem finding an economic web camera for my Apple Mac, he could not see me!)

Chaff participant Kannan, who is taking his mother on a pilgrimage called us from Kashi, Varnasi, India.

Chaff participant Tingting checked in from her home town in Northeast China where she reported all the shops were open and brimming with customers.

63er Stephanian Aftab Seth (the twin brother of Roshan Seth who acted as Nehru in the movie "Gandhi") from Japan, 66er NCRTer Christie Robert from Malaysia, 60er Cathedralite Mehfooz Ahmed from Saudi Arabia, 62er Ranko Ivancevic from Cerbia, 95er Oulu University Ramesh Devu from Silicone Valley, California, USA; from India - 57er Cathedralite and 61er Stephanian Ashok (Tony) Jaitly (retired Chief Commissioner in Kashmir) from New Delhi, Cathedralite 59ers Viney Sethi and Vijay Shivdasani from Mumbai, cousin Satish Abraham from Kerala, Catheralites 43er Naval and 54er Armaity Patel from Mysore, etc...., from Finland Rotarian Ville Suomi, Women's Empowerist Ildiko Hamos, Chaff participant Pekka Keranen and family, on and on.... were among those who shared their greetings with both Annikki and me.

This made us feel profoundly humble that so many hundreds of you, of every age group, took the time to share your thoughts of the season with us.

On our part, we have made it a tradition to ask a couple of young foreigners who have no family here in Oulu, to join us for our very simple Christmas meal.

Year-before-last it was a young Tanzanian lady, Christine. Last year it was Kannan. This year we called two youngsters, Benjamen Hayes and Kanchan Gupta.

Benjamin is from Australia. He has been here for a few months. He is all what I call Australian, friendly, outgoing, understanding and a lovely human being.

We have a rule in our home that no gifts are exchanged at Christmas. For us, the time for giving is not one day, but the whole year.

Despite this, Benjamin brought me a CD which he cut of some of really best jazz tunes he has collected. Even as I write this I am listening to the CD "Jazz for Jacob". Forever-lasting melodiies, oldies rendered by many great artistes, as George Benson (Eternally) and Diana Krall's "Cry Me A River".

There is beautiful message on the back cover:

"And promise will come
To those whose kindness,
Leaves you without debt,
And bends the shape
Of things to come,
That haven't happened yet."

These are words of the New Zealand pop star Neil Finn, whose career from 1976 till today has been an inspiration to many, including me.

We had also asked Indian newcomer to Oulu, Bihari Kanchan Gupta, to join us. Unfortunately, he went for a walk on the previous day, fell and hurt his hand. He obviously consumed an overdose of pain-killers, which put him to sleep.

When I rang his doorbell to pick him up, and also rang his mobile several times during the course of the evening, he was in deep sleep and dead to the world.

He woke up after our meal was over, just about midnight, telephoned us, apologetic, but sadly, he missed a feast!

Annikki's mother, now 86, was also in a festive mood wearing the elf's hat, as she enjoyed what delicacies that were on offer.

I prepared the turkey. As I was thinking what filling to make, Annikki, as usual, came up with a most humourous and unusal suggestion. We had a box of chicken wings on the shelf. She suggested I stuff the turkey with that.

We laughed our guts out.

I had fun making a new Christmas dish, roast turkey stuffed with chicken wings beautifully flavoured with herbs and light spices carried in plenty of onions!

The meal was fully traditional Finnish in other ways.

The menu: Apple juice and orange juice to accompany Christmas brown bread made with a trace of molasses syrup, pickled herring, salted salmon slices, freshly tossed salad, potato salad, mushroom salad, turnip casserole, carrot casserole, roast potatoes, and, of course, the roast turkey stuffed with chicken wings! Afters were whipped cream with chocolate swiss roll and Annikki's own Christmas cake, full of all the rich dry fruits. Coffee to end the evening.

Mika, had his fill as well. Annikki's brother, who lives as a hermit in the forest, also landed up on the doorstep. Annikki put him to sleep in the cellar. He slept through the meal but enjoyed it later!

It was a true Christmas spirit as Benjamin had a tour around Annikki's garden and enjoyed the humour and simplistic creativity and beauty of what makes us so happy, day-in and day-out!

We finally thanked our Creator and Maker for all the simple things in life which make us so happy.

But, this year we dearly missed our grandchildren, Daniel, Asha and Samuel, who are holidaying in Florida with their parents!

Monday, November 27, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 25: Thank you 56ers!

(Cross-posted on all my major personal and alma mater blogs. This is a tribute I received for concerned blogging.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

(Click images to see enlarged version.)

Dear Class of 56,

Editorial page from Class of 1956 Directory, 2006.

To quote from the editorial page of your Class Directory:

To Jacob Matthan go immense thanks for the support of his blogsite and his indefatigable research.

Thank you, Meena, for writing these words which will be remembered by my children and grandchildren for another 50 years at least, even though none of them had the opportunity to be Cathedralites.

I do hope that I have instilled some of the “education” that I received from my glorious alma mater to these two generations of my immediate family.

You 56ers have made today of my most wonderful days of my life.

Courier Post this evening brought me the Class Directory and two absolutely precious Tee-Shirts.

Cover of 1956 Class Directory, 2006.

I offered one to my better half, but she said that they were for me.

Annikki & me, Rauma, 2006 October.

Of course, she told me not to wear it as I usually do, as I am, at this tender age of 63, in the habit of spilling my tea all over the front onto my large paunchy area.

When Ubi forwarded me the Reunion Report, my eyes were moist with the tears of joy and sorrow that welled in me. I was especially moved by the news of how Muku, another one of my heroes, came to the reunion get-together. His CV in the Directory explained to me the character of a man I admired in school.

I especially remember when young Aditya Malkani read about his father on my Seventh Heaven website (April 2001), well before it was made into a blog.
From: "Aditya Malkani"

Subject: Re: Picture Champion House 1953

Mr Mathan,

It was great to recieve your email.

I went to your very impressive web site and saw the picture from 53.

I almost had tears coming out of my eyes looking at pictures of my dad and reading about names that i had heard him mention so often.

I am currently a third year in Oberlin college and i will be graduating in may of 2002.

I have several school pictures from around 1956 that my father kept in good condition, if you like i can scan them and send them to you when i return to Bombay in July.

I wish in thirty years from now our graduating class of '98..manages to keep in touch, the way yours has.

Thank you ever so much for allowing me to learn more about my father's younger days.

aditya malkani

When Doreen discovered me and entered into a beautiful relationship, I have enjoyed every moment learning about her life and her family.

And when Ubi entered into my life via the blog, I was so thrilled to be in touch again with someone so immensely dedicated to the school, that it was my greatest pleasure to fulfil his every desire towards making your reunion a success.

And from all the accounts that I have received, it was.

When I received the Directory and turned open the cover and found the mention of ME in the editorial, Annikki and i were so overjoyed that we have still not stopped talking about it.

I explained to her about so many of the personages contained therein, many of you whom i remember so vividly.

Ubi was my hero, but that does not detract from the enormous respect I hold for so many of you who used to be willing to give time to us kids to help us.

What I learnt from many of you is what i practice on my blog.

I do hope that as many of you will send me photographs and details to share with over 3000 Cathedralites from 1945 to 2006 who tune in to this blog faithfully to see what YOU have to say.

I hope that you will allow me to be part of your 60th Reunion!

Thank you 56ers.

Jacob Matthan
Kampitie 6 B
90150 Oulu
Tel: 041 - 7067788

KTWV 07 Issue 24: Is this Oath worth a dime?

I was a little surprised when i read this article After brawl, Stephanians off booze.

....,Stephanians have taken an oath in the college cabinet that henceforth they will abstain from imbibing liquor at parties. The students ' union members have decided that they will proactively abstain from such "drinking" parties.

Anything in moderation cannot be faulted. Anything is excess is obviously to be frowned on. Anything that is related to anti-social behaviour cannot be accpted.

Hence, the Oath itself is a violation of the above principles.

But Stephanians cannot and should not act in any anti-social manner.

I hope a report of this incident is prominently placed in the front verandah at college so as to be a beacon to others of what could ensue should they ever be anti-social in public, even when not identified as being Stephanians!

Monday, October 30, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 23: Important Talk by a Stephanian

October 28, 2006

Enver Masud, an engineering management consultant, founded The Wisdom Fund in 1995. He is the recipient of the 2002 Human Rights Foundation Gold Award, the author of over 100 articles on U.S. foreign policy, and contributing author of 9/11 and American Empire. He managed the U.S. National Power Grid Study at the U.S. Dept. of Energy, and established the Operations Review Division in Iowa. Consulting for USAID, and the World Bank, he has worked in Albania, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Latvia, Pakistan, Russia, and Tanzania.

But above all Enver is Delhi Stephanian of the 1957-1960 era.

May I suggest that all Stephanians take their friends to listen to this very important lecture.

The Wisdom Fund

Fatally Flawed: The 9/11 Commission Report

Evidence of the use of pre-positioned explosives to accomplish the collapse of 1, 2, and 7 World Trade Center

by Enver Masud

"Fatally Flawed: The 9/11 Commission Report" -- a talk scheduled for November 1 at the NRECA Conference Center in Arlington, Virginia, including the 90 min film by independent researchers on the destruction of the World Trade Center

If approached with an open mind, this presentation will lead you to the conclusion that we were not told the truth about September 11, 2001 -- the stated casus belli for the war on Afghanistan, and repeatedly linked
to the war on Iraq by President Bush, and Vice President Cheney.

Indeed there is prima facie evidence of the use of pre-positioned explosives to accomplish the collapse of 1, 2, and 7 World Trade Center. The prime example is 7 World Trade Center. Its collapse exhibits all of the characteristics of a controlled demolition.

The Iraq war alone is expected to cost the U.S. between one and two trillion dollars according to Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz. A study directed by Johns Hopkins estimates over 650,000 Iraqis have died as a result, and 1.6 million have fled the country. Add to this the cost in American lives, the destruction of Iraq's society, institutions and infrastructure, and millions more maimed and wounded. In the words of veteran journalist Robert Fisk, "We have turned Iraq into the most hellish place on Earth."

It is now incumbent upon all Americans of conscience, specially leaders of faith-based organizations, to speak out and demand the truth -- begin with 7 World Trade Center which collapsed in about 7 seconds. The 9/11 Commission Report does not even mention this, and the National Institutes of Science and Techonology has yet to produce its report.

Muslim leaders, in particular, have a special duty because most of this death and destruction has been inflicted upon the Muslim world, and Muslims everywhere are the target of a new cold war with Islam -- of which my former colleague at Eastern Times, Mowahid H. Shah, wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, July 30, 1990.

And now that it is clear that the Bush administration manipulated the intelligence on Iraq there is the matter of compensation for the victims of U.S. aggression -- the "Supreme International Crime" in the words of former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor at the first Nuremberg trial. The United Nations Compensation Commission approved $52.5 billion in claims against Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The Wisdom Fund

Get there if you can.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 22: My 80 year old Physics teacher sent me this

(Cross-posted on my Jacob's Blog, on the Cathedral School Seventh Heaven Blog and the Oulu CHAFF Blog.)

Willie Shiri lives with his wife Pushpa in Canada. He taught me Physics in the late 50s in Mumbai, for which I am ever grateful. We discovered each other on the internet a few years ago, and besides Physics, he continues to inspire me on many fronts.

This is a story he sent me. It cheered me up as I set out to launch our Chaff Help Fund. This story is not true but the message it conveys is very valuable and helps me to focus on little things that make differences in the lives of people around me.

Subject: MIRACLE

A little girl went to her bedroom and pulled a glass jelly jar from its hiding place in the closet..

She poured the change out on the floor and counted it carefully. Three times, even. The total had to be exactly perfect. No chance here for mistakes.

Carefully placing the coins back in the jar and twisting on the cap, she slipped out the back door and made her way 6 blocks to Rexall's Drug Store with the big red Indian Chief sign above the door.

She waited patiently for the pharmacist to give her some attention but he was too busy at this moment. Tess twisted her feet to make a scuffing noise. Nothing. She cleared her throat with the most disgusting sound she could muster. No good.. Finally she took a quarter from her jar and banged it on the glass counter. That did it!

"And what do you want?" the pharmacist asked in an annoyed tone of voice. I'm talking to my brother from Chicago whom I haven't seen in ages," he said without waiting for a reply to his question.

"Well, I want to talk to you about my brother," Tess answered back in the same annoyed tone. "He's really, really sick... and I want to buy a miracle."

" I beg your pardon?" said the pharmacist.

" His name is Andrew and he has something bad growing inside his head and my Daddy says only a miracle can save him now. So how much does a miracle cost?"

"We don't sell miracles here, little girl. I'm sorry but I can't help you," the pharmacist said, softening a little.

"Listen, I have the money to pay for it. If it isn't enough, I will get the rest. Just tell me how much it costs."

The pharmacist's brother was a well dressed man. He stooped down and asked the little girl, "What kind of a miracle does your brother need?"

" I don't know," Tess replied with her eyes welling up. I just know he's really sick and Mommy says he needs an operation. But my Daddy can't pay for it, so I want to use my money."

" How much do you have?" asked the man from Chicago.

"One dollar and eleven cents," Tess answered barely audibly.

"And it's all the money I have, but I can get some more if I need to.."

"Well, what a coincidence," smiled the man. "A dollar and eleven cents---the exact price of a miracle for little brothers. "

He took her money in one hand and with the other hand he grasped her mitten and said "Take me to where you live. I want to see your brother and meet your parents. Let's see if I have the miracle you need."

That well dressed man was Dr. Carlton Armstrong, a surgeon, specializing in neuro-surgery. The operation was completed free of charge and it wasn't long until Andrew was home again and doing well.

Mom and Dad were happily talking about the chain of events that had led them to this place.

That surgery," her Mom whispered. "was a real miracle. I wonder how much it would have cost?"

Tess smiled. She knew exactly how much a miracle dollar and eleven cents .... plus the faith of a little child.

In our lives, we never know how many miracles we will need..

A miracle is not the suspension of natural law, but the operation of a higher law.. I know you'll keep the ball moving!

Here it goes. Throw it back to someone who means something to you!

A ball is a circle, no beginning, no end. It keeps us together like our Circle of Friends. But the treasure inside for you to see is the treasure of friendship you've granted to me.

Today I pass the friendship ball to you.

Pass it on to someone who is a friend to you.


When you are sad.....I will dry your tears.
When you are scared.....I will comfort your fears.
When you are worried.....I will give you hope.
When you are confused....I will help you cope.
And when you are lost...And can't see the light, I shall be your
beacon.....Shining ever so bright.
This is my oath.....I pledge till the end.
Why you may ask?.....Because you're my friend.

Signed: GOD

Yes, many of us at CHAFF know how much miracles cost, so your small contribution to the CHAFF Help Fund, however small, could certainly do miracles for many many people.

Last week at the meeting one retired CHAFF participant gave me 100 Swedish Kroner (Euro 11) as his contribution. It was a wonderful feeling when I accepted this contribution to CHAFF to help someone, somewhere and at sometime.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 21: What does it feel like...

...when you get a phone call, and on the line is your very very best friend with whom you have not spoken or heard of for the last 24 years?

(Cross-posted on my Jacob's Blog.)

Today, just before 10 am Finnish time, I got a call, from China. Even before the person identified himself, I knew it was Ajay!

Ajay Verma was in St. Stephen's College the same time I was. He was doing Mathematics Honours and I was doing General Science.

We were virtually inseperable. We spent hours together, drinking coffee, smoking, talking, joking, playing tricks on others, playing table tennis together, playing basketball (in which Ajay was superb).

When I went for my holidays to Bombay, I waited to get back to Delhi and college to meet my very dear friends - Ajay and Niranjan (who was a couple of years senior to us and was doing English Honours).

Niranjan was an East African from Tanazia but of Indian origin.

The three of us got the group nickname Heap - Little Heap, Middle Heap and Big Heap, the last being me.

After college I went to London to study.

Ajay joined the Indian Army and Niranjan joined the Indian Foreign Service.

(Niranjan became an Indian Citizen and served as Indian Ambassador in many places including te Vatican and Switzerland. He appears to be is still doing what we three specialised in doing - exposing scandals (May 2006): "How Rajiv’s India was banned".

When I returned, after my studies, to India, I met up with Ajay who related why he finally left the Indian Army.

At the time of one of the stupid Indian - Pakistani wars, he was serving on the frontline. One evening, when he was in a bunker, he decided to go out to smoke a cigarette. No sooner had he taken a couple of puffs, a shell landed on the bunker. He was the sole survivor.

That experience made him leave the army. He got a job in the Bata Shoe Company and he served in Mathura and Calcutta, but he got fed up of shoes (who wouldn't) and decided he would try his luck abroad.

He landed in Copenhagen without a dime in his pocket. But being the survivor that he is, he soon established himself and worked in the hotel industry, working long hours, earning the language and becoming a master of this trade.

Ajay and Else with Sita and Robin.
Youngest girl, Maya was not born then.

Then he met a beautiful Danish girl, Else, and they got married. They moved to a small town in Sweden, Lund, near to Malmo, which is just across the narrow straits that separates Denmark from Sweden.

Ajay set up a small import company and started to market Indian garments and handicrafts. It was tough going. That is when I visited him and met Else and two of their children, Sita and Robin.

Little Sita, was at one time a replica
of our younger daughter, Joanna.

When I was setting up a business in India, Ajay and some of his friends invested a small amount in the company.

But then we lost contact after his visit to see me in 1982.

When I moved with Annikki to Oulu in 1984 I tried on several occasions to try to contact Ajay, but to no avail. On one journey to England by bus from Oulu, I tried to get in touch with him when we passed through Malmo.

But there was no sign of Ajay and his SITA boutique in Malmo.

Annikki and I often thought of my good friend. I used to search the internet regularly, using Google, to see if I could spot him anywhere.

Then a few weeks ago he surfaced on my Kooler Talk Blog with a message. As messages posted on my blog are usually labelled Anonymous, there was no link to get back to him.

So I posted a pleading entry, asking him to contact me.

Ajay tried, using the email address in my profile - which unfortunately I had not changed. It was still showing my dead domain name and the old email address.

So, all his correspondence bounced.

Today, he found his old diary where the Finnish telephone number of my in-laws of the 70s was listed.

Ajay thought of trying it.

I had just come home as I had a busy schedule planned for the day.

I knew it was Ajay after I heard him say a couple of words, a much matured with Ajay, but with the same inflexions and the same humour that endeared him to me over 45 years ago.

We talked till he had to get back to work - and during the time we exchanged emails and got our contacts all correct.

Then he rang again and we talked and talked till Annikki also appeared and she too was thrilled to get news of Ajay.

Annikki knows that there is no one more in my mind than Ajay. The happiness of our telephonic reunion was infectious to her.

Ajay is the Manager of the Radisson SAS Hotel in Beijing, China. It is his second stint at the hotel as he was there when it was started in 1992. He has served in various locations of Radisson including Istanbul.

Now, in December, he will retire and return to Lund where he has bought a small piece of land where he may do some farming.

He gave me news of his mother who lives in the Pondicherry Ashram with his sister. She is now 90 years old. Ajay also updated me about their children and one grandchild! (Ajay, your kids have some catching up to do! We have three.)

Today has been one of the happiest days of my life to be reunited with someone I thought was lost forever. Such joy is unsurpassable.

I want all of you to know that it is such an emotional issue that I am glad that I started these web pages and blogs over 10 years ago - just to feel this emotion that I felt today.

It is all of you that have helped me keep these web pages alive through all these years - and now I feel I can redouble my efforts so that others can find their loved ones and share in that depth of feeling that I experienced today.

We will be having our personal reunion before Christmas 2006 - of that I am sure!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 20: Finally it is done...

Many hundreds of you have been asking me to email you whenever I make a new entry on my blogs.

Now I have taken steps to ensure that every time I update my blogs, you will get an email.

However, you have to do something IF you want this to happen.

You will find on each blog page a small box just below the link to view my profile.

You have to enter your email address where you want to be informed into that box and send it so that Change Monitor can do the necessary entries.

Only enter this information for the pages that you really want to monitor.

I do not want your email Inbox filled with these update messages!

Monday, September 04, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 19: A Book Review...

(Cross-posted on the Seventh Heaven Blog.)

Many thanks to Cathedralite 49er Naval Patel in Mysore for sending me a scan from Bookwatch - which is a short review of Cathedralite 57er / Stephanian 61er Ashok (Tony) Jaitly's book about our alma mater which I have covered in an earlier blog entry.

Naval identified Tony because he had read about him on this blog. This would be natural as Naval was 8 years senior to Tony. However, it is likely Naval knew of Tony's elder brother, Ravi, who was also a great sportsman, like Tony.

But more in tune with Naval's interest - CRICKET, I did tell him that Tony's sister, School Captain of 1960, Jotysna, married my classmate Siddarth Singh, who was from Doon School and an outstanding fast bowler.

However, Siddarth, although greatly admired by both Prem Bhatia and Inderjeet Singhji (both Stephanian and Indian cricketers), chose to join the Indian Foreign Service and ended his career as the Indian Ambassador in Japan (I think - as it was from there that I had a very interesting phone call from Tony's son when he came across my Cathedral and Stephanian websites which preceded these blogs!).

Sunday, August 27, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 18: I am being bombarded!

(Cross-posted on the Seventh Heaven Blog.)

Sorry, sorry, sorry. I am not missing. I am quite well. I am not very busy. I have just been lazing away my summer which is unusally hot. You can read more about this on my main blog.

Ashok (Tony) Jaitly.

I got an interesting email from my Stephanian/Cathedralite friend - Cathedralite 57er / Stephanian 61er Ashok Jaitly, more commonly known to all of us as Tony.

From: ashok jaitly
Date: Aug 23, 2006 4:07 PM
Subject: Touching Base
To: Jacob Matthan
Cc: HS Uberoi

Dear Jacob,

Hope all is well with you and the family.

Apologies for not being in touch for a long time.

However,some news that you would be glad to hear - my book 'St.Stephen's College - A History' was launched on 2nd August at the Maurya Sheraton here in Delhi. There was a gathering of about 300, mostly Stephanians, and a good time was had by all ! The atmosphere was very special with the kind of warmth and fraternity that you would expect from such a crowd of old College types particularly with the wine flowing-you can trust Stephs!

Rahul Bajaj released the book with Amin Saheb, Mani Shanker Aiyar and Bunker Roy reminiscing about their memories.Roshan Seth and my wife, Sabina, read a few extracts from the book which, I was relieved to hear,were well received.Incidentally,the book seems to be doing quite well at the bookstands although, for the life of me, I cannot imagine who would want to read about SSC other than our lot.

It would also please you to know that the book talks about Kooler Talk including your blogsite. !

I would love to get a copy across to you but how I know not !

One question from your recent blog -who was the Savage House captain of 1956 who came to St.Stephen's. As far as I recall I was the only one from the '56 batch in School to come to College that year - AND I would have you know I was Wilson House Captain - Savage? Can you even imagine ?!

Do get back. Warmest best wishes,

Details of the book written by Tony:
Author : Ashok Jaitly
Now : Rs.395 [For Delivery in India]
Publisher: Roli Books
ISBN: 8174364439


St. Stephens College, which celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 2006, has a special niche amongst educational institutions of excellence, not only in Delhi but also all over India. Apart from its revered internal traditions, the College has also been an integral part of the social and structural changes that have taken place in the nation. And it has been the school for a long and impressive alumni list which includes sportspersons, writers, poets, actors, journalists, entrepreneurs, politicians, bureaucrats, ambassadors, techno-crats and corporate executives.

This volume, written by Ashok Jaitly, a former student, traces the history of the College from its original conception by the Cambridge Mission as an institution for higher education in 1881, through the travails of the freedom struggle, Partition, Independence and into the present world of relentless academic pressures, sporting compulsions and ever expanding opportunities.

During all these turbulent and exciting years, St. Stephens College has stood firm for certain fundamental values which celebrate cosmopolitanism, pluralism, a degree of iconoclasm along with an immense enjoyment of learning in the widest sense."Mahatma Gandhi or plain Mr Gandhi as he was then, first came to St. Stephens early in 1915... On the persuasion of... C.F. Andrews who was then the Vice Principal, he stayed in the house of Principal Rudra which continued to be his Delhi abode for several years. The Burra Sahibs house thus became the rendezvous for important national leaders like Rabindranath Tagore, Madan Mohan Malviya, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Surendra Nath Banerjee... It was here that Gandhiji, perhaps for the first time, enunciated his doctrine of non-violent non-cooperation or Satyagraha... It was here that Tagore completed his English translation of Gitanjali. And it was here that the pact between the Congress and the Khilafat Movement was sealed.

Most would agree that it could only have been idle minds busy in some devilish workshop which gave birth to Kooler Talk, the first purely student run rag aimed at providing an avenue for budding and froost - College slang for frustrated - Stephanian writers who could not find solace in the sedate pages of The Stephanian magazine. Sarwar Lateef, Roshan Seth and Peter Tubby Philip were the intrepid perpetrators of this plot way back in 1960... To add respectability luminaries such as Kamalesh Sharma, Shankar Menon, Swaminathan Aiyar, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Inderjit Badhwar were co-opted onto the editorial board while poor, unknowing Rev R.I. Shankland was persuaded to act as the figurehead editor.

About the Author:

Ashok Tony Jaitly was at St. Stephens College from 1958-61 where he studied Economics (classmates say, in exception), played football and badminton (teammates say, on occasion), was active in the Shakespeare Society (theatre-mates say, with trepi-dation), indulged in sundry other activities (conspirators assert, without hesitation) and made many lifelong friends. After completing his Economics tripos from Cambridge University in 1964, he was selected for the Indian Administrative Service and served in Jammu and Kashmir and with the Government of India on several interesting and important assignments, including a few which evoked some controversy. He retired as Chief Secretary, Jammu and Kashmir after a record tenure of more than five years, from 1996-2002. Currently working as a Distinguished Fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi on rural development issues, his primary concerns are water, rural energy and decentralized governance.
Some important points to note:

Tony has done me a great honour by including the reference to this blogsite and my Kooler Talk (Web Version) in his book. Thanks Tony.

Rahul, now a Rajya Sabha member, like Tony and me, is also a Cathedralite / Stephanian - 54er from Cathedral and 57er from Stephania!

Tony was not a 56er but a 57er. The 56er Savage House Captain who was also a Stephanian was my elder brother. The 58er Savage House Captain to join Stephen's was Peter Philip (also known as Tubby). I was the 59er Savage House Captain that joined Stephen's.

In the personal addendum Tony added that he is almost clear healthwise - for which I am greatly relieved.

I hope a Stephanian / Cathedralite passing through Delhi en route to Oulu will pick up a few copies (at my cost, please) and bring them to me. Do not want to deprive the author of his royalties!! :-)

Now the next thing Tony has to do is write a similar book about us Cathedralites - then the Seventh Heaven Blog may get some publicity. :-)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 17: Ajay, Where are you?

An anonymous comment on this Kooler Talk Blog was signed by my dearest Stephanian friend, Ajay Verma, Maths Honours, 1963.

Ajay, yours was an "Anonymous Comment" so I cannot reply you in person.

Where are you?

Please contact me at my email address which is:

Annikki and I have been searching for you for 22 years!

All my internet effort for the last 10 years would have been fulfilled if Ajay gets in touch with me.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 16: Indian Government starts blocking blogs!

(Cross-posted on all my major blogs.)

Freedom, democracy and freedom of speech have been thrown to the winds by the irrational action of the Government of India when they told Indian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to various blogs. This can only be done by blocking access to the entire blog service provider and my blogs are, therefore, not accessible by my readers in India.

I also learnt that most, if not all, Indian ISPs have followed the directive.

Economic Times, India Tuesday July 19th 2006:

DoT casts a cloud on bloggers' paradise

Cathedralite 56er HS Uberoi, one of my faithful readers of my "Seventh Heaven" blog alerted me to this when he emailed me with this:'

Dear Jacob,

I don't know whether you are aware that effective today the Government of India has blocked access to ALL blogsites.

I cannot believe that even your nostalgic Cathedral School and St.Stephen's College sites cannot be accessed by us in India!!

I am at a total loss for words!!

Yours in shock.


If you have friends in India who want to continue to access my blogs, even occasionally, please email them and ask them to contact me by email and I will give then the surefire way to continue access.

No Government can stop the internet - as there are many many ways round any censorship, many not known to the stupid politicians who think they are being clever by imposing such foolish bans!!

I will not publish all the methods here for reasons which are obvious.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 15: Coincidence?

(Cross-posted on the Seventh Heaven Blog.)

Is it just a coincidence or was it some fate.

I was informed by the 1954 Green House Captain of the Bombay Cathedral and John Connoon Girl's High School, Zarrin Aga (née Lam), that Rahul Bajaj, who has just been elected to the Rajya Sabha, who was a Cathedralite and a Stephanian, was also the School Savage House Captain in the year 1954.

The 1956 Savage House Captain was also a Cathedralite and Stephanian.

The 1958 Savage House Captain, Dr. Peter Philip (known to most Stephanians as Tubby) was also a Cathedralite and Stephanian.

The 1959 Savage House Captain, myself, also studied in both these instiitutions.

Maybe someone from the school can refresh my memory as to who was Savage House Captain in 1955 and 1957.

Although I am sure they were not Stephanians, this coincidence of the 50's was to me quite astonishing!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 14: Rahul Bajaj in Rajya Sabha

(Cross-posted on theSeventh Heaven Blog.

Two Cathedralites alerted me to the fact that 54er Cathedralite / 57er Stephanian Rahul Bajaj has been nominated to the Rajya Sabha. They were 54er Sadhana Madhusadan (née Shah) and 57er Dr. Behram Badhniwalla (more commonly kown as Budni).

<Rahul Bajaj


Sadhana also drew attention to the fact that Rahul had been interviewed by Stephanian Karan Thapar.

Karan Thapar

So I wrote this to Budni:

Date: 24-Jun-2006 14:56
Subject: Re: 'HAMARA BAJAJ'

Hi Budni,

Thanks for this input. Sadhana Madhusadan (née Shah) (another Puneite) beat you to it, however, when she gave me the news and about the TV interview by Karan Thapar.

Karan is much junior to me (about 12 years) from St. Stephen's, Delhi. He is a fearful interviewer. He is the one who drove Kapil to tears!

Rahul is both a Cathedralite and Stephanian, like me and a few others - my elder brother 56er Ranjit, 57er Tony Jaitly, 58er Peter Philip, my classmate 59er Sujit Bhattacharaya (son of former Reserve Bank Governor) and a few later ones including Prof. Ajeet Mathur (who with me make up the alumni from both institutions in FINLAND) - details in a couple of entries can be found on ">the Seventh Heaven Blog.

I do not think Rahul will have any problem being a "industrialist" cum politician. (Sadly, I did not wish him this year for his 68th birthday two weeks ago.)

Rahul appears to be the first Rajya Sabha Member who is a Cathedralite.

We have had some leading politicians - Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto being the most noteworthy ones. Somewhere, long ago, I wrote in "Seventh Heaven" about our dear late Pop Pharoah's story about Bhutto and the Bacon Slicer!

If I am not wrong, Swatantra Party Leader Minoo Masani was also a Cathedralite of some great standing.

We also have a young politician presently in the Lok Sabha, Milind Deora.

I may do a new story about Cathedralites and politics on my blog one of these days!

India certainly needs more politicians from our school.

Best regards


There have been more than a fair share of Stephanian politicians - some good and some awful. I won't comment about who was what! Mani Shankar Aiyar and Arun Shourie are two from my era that made it into the world of politics and into the Ministry!

Maybe there are others and I will surely be taken to task for not mentioning them.

Hope Rahul does something positive in the Rajya Sabha - I know he can!

Friday, June 23, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 13: Shashi Tharoor for top UN Job?

Recently, when someone asked me what I thought of the possibility of Shashi Tharoor being nominated and elected to the post of UN Secretary General, I sort of pooh-pooed the idea, as I personally think Shashi is far more valuable as a person with his own views as a person hamstrung by the position of the UN Secretary General.

I was, however, heartened to read between the lines in an interview that he gave to TIMES NOW’s editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami on ‘Frankly Speaking’.

Shashi is not only a polished diplomat and a sound one at that, he is also the most careful thinking individual thatI have had the pleasure of having an acquaintance with over the last 7 years.

That he is also a Stephanian, much my junior, also lends some substance to the character we know.

Naturally, I would like to take comfort in the fact that he may occasionally read this blog and that he has commented many years ago that he thought my version of Kooler Talk (Web version) was good writing.

Let us hope that this outstanding individual reaches wherever he aims for as he will accomplish his goals, just as most Stephanians do!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 12: 100% attendance yet again

The Finnish Stephanian Alumni Reunion had a 100% attendance as we had a three day binge.

We discussed every topic under the sun with all the candor that only us Stephanians can muster.

Both of us are looking forward to the next reunion.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 11: How to survive a Heart Attack when ALONE

(Cross-posted on Jacob's Blog, the CHAFF Blog and the Cathedral School, Mumbai, Seventh Heaven Blog.)

I must thank Naval patel, a 49er from my old school, me being a 59er, having passed out in 1959, for this important post.


Let's say it's 6.15 pm and you're going home (alone of course), after an unusually hard day on the job. You are really tired, upset and frustrated.

Suddenly you start experiencing severe pain in your chest that starts to radiate out into your arm and up into your jaw.

You are about five miles from the hospital nearest your home. Unfortunately, you don't know if you will be able to make it that far.

You have been trained in CPR, but the guy that taught the course did not tell you how to perform it on yourself.


Since many people are alone when they suffer a heart attack, without help, the person whose heart is beating improperly and who begins to feel faint, has only about 10 seconds left before losing consciousness.

However, these victims can help themselves by coughing repeatedly and very vigorously. A deep breath should be taken before each cough, and the cough must be deep and prolonged, as when producing sputum from deep inside the chest. A breath and a cough must be repeated about every two seconds without let-up until help arrives, or until the heart is felt to be beating normally again.

Deep breaths get oxygen into the lungs and coughing movements squeeze the heart and keep the blood circulating. The squeezing pressure on the heart also helps it regain normal rhythm.

In this way, heart attack victims can get to a hospital.

Tell as many other people as possible about this. It could save their lives!!

A cardiologist says If everyone who gets this information and then sends it to 10 people, you can bet that we will save at least one life.

Please pass on this information to all your contacts.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 10: Dare to think the unthought known?

(Cross-posted on Jacob's Blog, the CHAFF Blog and the Cathedral School, Mumbai, Seventh Heaven Blog.)

Prof Ajeet Mathur has been a friend for over the 10 years he has been in Finland. Ajeet is like a younger brother to Annikki and me, and we love him dearly. Like me, although considerably younger to me, he is a Cathedralite from Cathedral and John Connon School, Mumbai, and also a graduate from St. Stephen's College, Delhi. Like me, he married a Finn, and ended up in Finland. We are the Alumni in Finland for both those institutions, so we have 100% attendance at our reunions.

However, the similarity ends there.

Ajeet is a brilliant professor with immense industrial hands-on experience. He is a prolific writer and his philosophical mind can analyse any situation down to, not just the ground, but deep into the roots. His education skills are seen to be believed as he holds his students in rapt attention. We jointly authored a paper on e-Governance a couple of years ago where he took my mundane and boring facts and turned it into a paper that even had the Indian President, Abdul Kalam, look at "us" in awe!

Many years ago Annikki and friends started a small venture called Aivoairut Oy. Annikki was one of the Board Members. Because of the involvement of members of the Board in many other creative pursuits, the company has been doing just enough to stay alive during the intervening period.

Arne Nystedt, Managing Director of Aivoairut Oy,
Annikki and Ajeet in Kampitie

Arriving in last Friday's post was the first major publishing effort of this company, a book edited by Ajeet called "Dare to think the unthought unknown?"

Dare to think the unthought known?

International Perspectives on Group Relations
Edited by Ajeet N. Mathur
Price: EUR 38 + postage
Publisher: Airoairut Oy, PL 836, FIN-33101 TAMPERE, FINLAND,

This volume, a collective international endeavour, brings together twelve influential scholars and practitioners in group relations. New ways are presented of managing oneself in groups and for the design of management processes. Developments in group dynamics and social innovations are explored at the cutting edge of practices in a variety of settings: families, schools, local governance councils, factories, hospitals, trade unions, prisons, business enterprises, research institutions, religious organisations, higher education institutions, voluntary work and international organisations. Issues are raised for consideration and interpretation about the hidden life of organisations and institutional processes. Novel ideas include suggestions for educators and consultants on group relations training and experiential learning methods. Problems that arise in teams relevant for persons in expert roles or management, administrative or governance responsibilities in private and public systems are discussed. New approaches for working with groups address unique challenges and opportunities that individuals face in stressful roles during turbulent times. This is an important book for anyone trying to understand small and large group behaviour to engage effectively with the politics of relatedness.

Whether you be an individual living in isolation or a person in constant contact with a huge cross-section of people, this book is one for you. Once I picked it up I could not put it down. It is 250+ pages of sheer ecstasy, as Ajeet, along with 11 other brilliant minds take apart the words of the scholar Gouranga P. Chattopadhyay (M.Sc., D.Phil, (Calcutta University), FRAI (London), FASC & T (West Bengal), FAISA (Melbourne), Professor Emeritus of Academy of HRD & CEO, Chattopadhyay Associates: Organisation Consultants &Personal Counsellors.) who proposed a few years ago that spirituality may be used to overcome hate and to understand our lives better. The other contributors are Alaistair Bain, Allan Shafer, Anil K. Sen Gupta, Bruce Irvine, Colin Quine, Jane Chapman, John Bazalgette, Sally Eastoe, Sari Joustimäki, Susan Long and Shelley Ostroff.

Approaching group relations from a series of different angles with a series of conversations, never before published, this book is historic in that every sentence is deep in meaning. It is impossible to review this book without virtually quoting every printed line.

The authors differ from each other on various dimensions. Seven men, five women, six nationalities, from five continents, twelve professions. But two things are in common - all have been students of group relations and they have all known and worked with Gouranga Chattopdhyay.

In the first chapter written by Ajeet, he says

"Groups are created, sustained and accepted not because they are necessary evil residues of the group mentality. Without groups, complex transactions of society that require open systems, porous boundaries and the bridging of frictions of space, time, technology, task and sentinece to enable flows of goods, services, capital, people and ideas would not be possible."

Ajeet is explaining what life and after-life could be all about. Whether it be a pack of wolves or a flock of sheep, these principles hold good, although this book is limited to homo sapiens!

May I suggest you get hold of this book as it will not only change your life but it will open up an entirely new world to you that you never knew existed.

Ajeet will be chairing a group discusssion in Oulu next week geared for foreign business owners and investors to share their experiences. His skill in group discussions will become obvious to all attending. (Contact me if you want to take part in this event.)

Thank you, Ajeet, for giving birth to this book, which Annikki and I will treasure.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 09: Mainline: Geostrategy Feeds America's Oil Addiction

Cross-posted on all my main blogs -

Jacob's Blog
Jacob's Politics;
Seventh Heaven for Mumbai Cathedralites;
Oulu Chaff
Move The UN.

My topical article "Geostrategy Feeds America's Oil Addiction", which relates to the visit of Bush to India, has appeared in a major North American online journal Raise the Hammer in their fortnightly issue dated 1st March 2006.

Editor Ryan McGreal has really tidied up the article. Thanks.

What is original in this submission?

It is my long term speculations about:
1. The rationale for the attack on and occupation of Afghanistan relating to the Enron history.
2. Who most likely perpetrated the fraud of the Iranian election.
3. Why the Indian Industrial Community desperately want Bush and his malAdministration to stay in office for another 3 years!
4. Why the nuclear attack on Iran is imminent.

Many may wrinkle their foreheads in disbelief. But that is what political analysis is all about. I theorise and later people fit the facts to my theories.

Hope you enjoy it and would love to have your feedback - even if it is abusive!!

I love getting abusive email. I thrive on it as it drives me on harder to more fantasy! :-)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 08: Besides sharing an alma mater...

I recently had an email from 75er David C. King who resides in Toronto, Canada.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that besides sharing a common alma mater, we had another thing in common, our love for the Apple Mac computer. David has been a Mac lover since 1990 - me from 1984.

Here is the "mess" I work in. The headphones allows me to wander around the house and garden listening to the various US Liberal Talk Show programs for which I run a ratings blog and also the great collection of Oldies I have in my iTunes. The cheap Lexmark scanner cum printer helps me get things done quickly. Not visible is the second headphone assembly, a scanner for scanning slides and negatives and another printer for higher print resolution.

Cellar arrangement for working Macs

In my cellar I also have the first computer I ever used, when I joined the University as a Researcher, the Apple IIc which I later bought at a disposal auction for about Euro 80 along with the original Philips Monitor. I have my first computer purchase for myself, my Mac PowerBook 170, which still works and is great. I bought a second one and used it to repair the original. Then I acquired a couple of MacPlus computers (for about Euro 5 each) followed by an iMac and an eMac (which I got for Euro 120 under insurance when a Power surge burnt out my iMac). I was given a Performa 6400 for doing some work for a friend and I acquired another Performa 6400 as it is such an excellent computer of the past.

But I found David had outdone me. He reported that he has a Mac SE, a Mac Plus, a Mac SE 30 (perhaps 2, he says), an original Mac LC, a Mac IIvx, and assorted others of the same vintage. He also has a Performa 6400, a 9500 (2 of them) running the Mac OSX operating system, an original iMac Bondi, a G3 B&W (one of his daughters uses one at home and another uses her's in the University), and a G4 Sawtooth, and his son at University also has one of these. David thinks that he probably has a 185c as well. Besides, he has lots of hard drives and even a HP mainframe server that he got to work with his Macs.

What David is describing is almost the state of the Microelecronics Laboratory, University of Oulu, in 1992 when I left, where all the really good research work was being done on about 30 Macs of different flavours, in the laboratory. The oldest Mac was still managing the Xray Analsis equipment.

We did not have to ever employ a service engineer as the Macs never gave any trouble. I did a round on a Saturday morning to ensure that there were no problems - and it took me no more than about 2 hours to ensure the next week was smooth sailing for everyone.

I wonder how many of you also preserve your Macs with the due diligence that David and I do?

I know that Arundhati Roy wrote her first bestseller "God of Small Things" on a Mac (she s not a Stephanian but her husband and two kids were).

Thursday, February 09, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 07: Great site of Stephanian Photographs

Just discovered a great site with lots and lots of pictures from Stephania.

I wish someone would explain the purpose of the site to an old timer, as it is obviously meant to be a site for Stephanians. Do I, as a 63er qualify?

The great pictures are located at a site called but I wish someone would take the time to caption the photographs.

After all these years, much has changed. Although I can recall many of the places, such as scenes from the dining room, there are many places that are unrecognisable.

This is not meant as a criticism, but only to help us old foggies like me who have not visited the college for probably the last 30 years to get our bearings. For instance, in our time,there were two places where we could play table tennis - in the JCR and in a shed at the gate of Rudra Block. From the shot on the site, where the present table is is quite a mystery!

I copied one picture and have been trying to work out exactly where everything is.

SSC Site Plan

I then realised that this is an old drawing. I would be very glad to know which year this Site Plan was made. It was obviously prepared a few years after I left in 1963 but it is before the second half of the Mukerji Block was built. The plan shows that it was under consideration.

Thanks for all the great photographs.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 06: Problem solved

In my last post I posed a problem about the photograph about our oldest online Stephanian, B. G. Verghese, and his charming and beautiful wife, Jamila.

As I sat here in the cellar, with the -20 C outside, racking my brains, the beauty of the Apple Mac Grab application suddenly flashed through my mind.

Presto, I was able to get the complete picture, in all its beauty, just from the Preview, and I am able to present to our great audience the wonderful Stephanian couple, George and Jamila.

B. G. Verghese and Jamila Verghese

Photo is copyright BGV & Jamila,
till I am advised otherwise, and it is duly acknowledged

Here are the real toast of our college - BGV and Jamila Verghese!

KTWV 07 Issue 05: Our Oldest Stephanian online?

I had a pleasant email exchange with B. G. Verghese, known to most as BGV, probably the oldest Stephanian online.

He was in the college in the late 40s and early 50s, and his wonderful wife, Jamila, was also one of the earliest lady Stephanians of the early 50s.

BGV's writings, which graced the pages of many Indian newspapers, and his service to the nation as Press Secretary to an Indian Prime Minister, have been a beacon in my life.

An intriguing fact about this photograph is that in the preview in my picture folder, I can also see the absolutely beautiful Jamila standing beside BGV with a lovely red rose tucked behind her ear. But the picture, as I see it in all the image display programmes and as uploaded, is only of BGV.

Can any computer savvy Stephanian solve this problem so that I can upload the entire picture as seen in the Preview?

BGV told me in our correspondence that the 125th Anniversary Celebrations of our college concluded on February 1st, and a volume of 24 essays by alumini that he edited, entitled "Tomorrow's India: Another Trust with Destiny" was released on the occasion. He mentioned that many of my contemporaries were probably the authors included in the book.

Could I humbly request someone in Delhi to send me a copy for my archives - all costs will be met by me!

Friday, January 27, 2006

KTWV 07 Issue 04: 75er Shashi Tharoor Speaks

With special permission from Shashi (via our common friend 75er Prof. Ajeet Mathur) I give below the 8700 word speech delivered by him at the beginning of the 125th year of St. Stephen's College.

Please visit Shashi's website to know more about this Stephanian who has done us all proud by his achievements in the international sphere.

I have taken the liberty to intersperse some photographs in the text. When doing so I found that my photographs from Stephania is not very briad. I am missing many important ones, such as photographs of Sukiya, David Baker, Amin-saheb, Ranjit Bhatia, Vinod Choudhary, amongst others.

Anyone who can fill my archives with photographs would receive eternal gratitude from the many hundreds of Stephanians who read this blog, plus me.

India: from Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond
The 125th Anniversary Jubilee Lecture
St. Stephen's College, Delhi
12 November 2005

Shashi Tharoor

Principal Anil Wilson, ladies and gentlemen, fellow Stephanians and friends:

Principal Anil Wilson, St. Stephen's College
Principal Anil Wilson, St. Stephen's College

It is, of course, customary for a speaker at such an occasion to say what an honour it is for him to be here, but on this occasion it really is an honour for me to be asked to deliver the Jubilee Lecture on the 125th Anniversary of St Stephen's College. When Principal Wilson wrote to me nearly a year ago to invite me to make this appearance, he was generous enough to say that of the various suggestions made by the Alumni Committee for possible Jubilee Lecturers, the one name that featured on everyone's list was mine. One of the last times I spoke from a Stephanian stage was to deliver a campaign speech for the Presidency of the College students' union, and I dare say that I am not used to my name attracting anything remotely like this kind of unanimity. So I am indeed truly honoured to be asked, and I can only hope that a comparable degree of unanimity will prevail after I have finished this lecture!

My topic today, as agreed with the organizers, is "India: from Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond".

India: from Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond

The title refers to one of my books, written on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Indian independence, in which I laid out my vision of the evolution of our country's politics, economics and society. Today, nine years after I finished writing that book, and five after the millennium which it anticipated, some of its themes strike me as appearing in even sharper relief today. At the same time, the occasion we are here to celebrate is a special one for us Stephanians, and it seems to me fitting that I explore my view of our country from the perspective that a Stephanian education has given me.

One caveat, however. It is a privilege for me to address you all today, both as a Stephanian and -- since you have mentioned it -- as a UN official. I should say, however, that I am speaking today entirely in the former capacity, that is as an Indian writer who graduated from this College, and not as a UN official. First of all, I am here on holiday. So I am not here to carry out any UN commissions while in Delhi, though alas the media here have done their best to make me forget that. I am often asked how I can reconcile my passionate faith in India with my internationalist work for the UN. I see no contradiction. Indeed I think both emerge from the same pluralist convictions. The Indian adventure is that of human beings of different ethnicities and religions, customs and costumes, languages and accents, working together under the same roof, sharing the same hopes, dreaming the same dreams. That is also exactly what the UN at its best seeks to achieve. But as an international civil servant speaking to you during a vacation, let me stress once again, especially for the benefit of any members of the Press who may be present here today, that I am doing so purely in a personal capacity.

So I stand before you today to interrogate, and celebrate, two ideas: the idea of India, to use Rabindranath Tagore's famous phrase, and the idea of Stephania. The two may have more in common than is easily recognized, especially across the road. Let's face it: to non-Stephanians, the very name "St Stephen's" conjures up three overlapping concepts, none of which is meant to be flattering -- elitism, Anglophilia and deracination. We may as well confront this stereotype head on before elaborating our theme.

St. Stephen's Church, Delhi
St. Stephen's Church, Delhi

Few in this audience would contest that there is a spirit that can be called Stephanian: after all, most of us spent three or five years living in and celebrating it. Stephania was both an ethos and a condition to which we aspired. Elitism was part of it, but by no means the whole. In any case Mission College's elitism was still elitism in an Indian context, albeit one shaped, like so many Indian insitutions, by a colonial legacy. There is no denying that the aim of the Cambridge Brotherhood in founding St Stephen's in 1881 was to produce more obedient subjects to serve Her Britannic Majesty; their idea of constructive missionary activity was to bring the intellectual and social atmosphere of Camside to the dry dustplains of Delhi. Improbably enough, they succeeded, and the resultant hybrid outlasted the Raj.

The St Stephen's I knew in the early 1970s was an institution whose students sustained a Shakespeare Society and a Criterion Club, and organized Union Debates on such subjects as "In the opinion of this House the opinion of this House does not matter". We staged plays and wrote poetry, ran India's only faculty-sanctioned Practical Joke Competition (in memory of P.G. Wodehouse's irrepressible Lord Ickenham), and invented the "Winter Festival" of collegiate cultural competition which was imitated at universities across the country. If that sounds deplorably effete, we invariably reached the annual inter-college cricket final, and turned up in large numbers to cheer the Stephanian cricketers on to their accustomed victory. (One of my few worthwhile innovations as President of the Union, aside from improving the mess food, was to supply throat lozenges free of charge to the more raucous of our cheerleaders at the cricket final. I am told this is one more Stephanian tradition that, along with our cricket team, has bitten the dust.) We maintained a careful distinction between the Junior Common Room and the Senior Combination Room, and allowed the world's only non-Cantabridgian "gyps" to serve our meals and make our beds. And if the punts never came to the Jamuna, the puns flowed on the pages of Kooler Talk and the cyclostyled Spice (whose typing mistakes were deliberate, and deliberately hilarious.)

Masthead of Kooler Talk, march 1961
Masthead of Kooler Talk, March 1961

This was the St Stephen's I knew, and none of us who lived and breathed the Stephanian air saw any alien affectation in it. For one thing, St Stephen's also embraced the Hindi movies at Kamla Nagar, the trips to Sukhiya's dhaba and the chowchow at TibMon (as the Tibetan Monastery was called); the nocturnal Informal Discussion Group saw articulate discussion of political issues, and the Social Service League actually went out and performed social service; and even for the "pseuds", the height of career aspiration was the IAS, not some firang multinational. The Stephanian could hardly be deracinated and still manage to bloom. It was against Indian targets that the Stephanian set his goals, and by Indian assumptions that he sought to attain them. (Feminists, please do not object to my pronouns: I only knew St Stephen's before its co- edification.)

At the same time St Stephen's was, astonishingly for a college in Delhi, insulated to a remarkable extent from the prejudices of middle-class Indian life. It mattered little where you were from, which Indian language you spoke at home, what version of religious faith you espoused. When I joined College in 1972 from Calcutta, the son of a Keralite newspaper executive, I did not have to worry about fitting in: we were all minorities at St Stephen's, and all part of one eclectic polychrome culture. Five of the preceding ten Union Presidents had been non-Delhiite non-Hindus (four Muslims and a Christian), and they had all been fairly elected against candidates from the "majority" community. But at St Stephen's religion and region were not the distinctions that mattered: what counted was whether you were "in residence" or a "dayski" (day-scholar), a "science type" or a "DramSoc type", a sportsman or a univ topper (or best of all, both). Caste and creed were no bar, but these other categories determined your share of the Stephanian experience.

This blurring of conventional distinctions was a crucial element of Stephania. "Sparing" with the more congenial of your comrades in residence -- though it could leave you with a near-fatal faith in coffee, conversation and crosswords as ends in themselves -- was manifestly more important than attending classes. And in any case, you learned as much from approachable faculty members like David Baker, Mohammed Amin, Ranjit Bhatia, Vinod Choudhury and others too numerous to mention who have done me the great honour of being present here today -- outside the classroom as inside it. It was at one of Amin-Sahib's Mediaeval History lectures that he memorably translated the words inscribed above the stage in the College Hall “Jesus said, ‘I am the Light of the World,’ as ‘Jesus ne kahan, main Noor Jehan hoon.’ “ Being ragged outside the back gate of Miranda House, having a late coffee in your block tutor's room, hearing outrageous (and largely apocryphal) tales about recent Stephanians who were no longer around to contradict them, seeing your name punned with in KT, were all integral parts of the Stephanian culture, and of the ways in which this culture was transmitted to each successive batch of Stephanians.

Three years is, of course, a small -- and decreasing -- proportion of my life, but my three years at St Stephen's marked me for all the years to follow. Partly this was because I joined College a few months after my sixteenth birthday and left it a few months after my nineteenth, so that I was at St Stephen's at an age when any experience would have had a lasting effect. But equally vital was the institution itself, its atmosphere and history, its student body and teaching staff, its sense of itself and how that sense was communicated to each individual character in the Stephanian story. Too many Indian colleges are places for lectures, rote- learning, memorizing, regurgitation; St Stephen's encouraged random reading, individual note-taking, personal tutorials, extra-curricular development. Elsewhere you learned to answer the questions, at College to question the answers. Some of us went further, and questioned the questions.

Nehru and Gandhi
Nehru and Gandhi

So this is an ethos whose 125th anniversary is well worth celebrating. But it is in India that Stephania has flourished, and it is fair to examine the ethos of India as well. A little over 58 years ago, when Stephania itself was 66 years old, at midnight on August 15th 1947, Independent India was born as our first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, proclaimed that phrase that we have all learned and heard at school, “a tryst with destiny”. "A moment, which comes but rarely in history, when we pass from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation long suppressed, finds utterance." With those famous words he launched India on a remarkable experiment with governance. Remarkable in some ways because it was happening at all. “ India”, Winston Churchill had once barked, “is merely a geographical expression.”"It is no more a single country”, he said, “than the equator.”

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

Well, Churchill was rarely right about India, but it is true that no other country in the world embraces the extraordinary mixture of ethnic groups, the profusion of mutually incomprehensible languages, the varieties of topography and climate, the diversity of religion and practices, and the range of levels of economic development that India does.

And yet India is more than the sum of its contradictions. It is a country, if I can quote Nehru again, “held together by strong but invisible threads.” “She is a myth and an idea” Nehru wrote -- he always feminized India -- “she is a dream and a vision, and yet very real and present and pervasive.”

Well, how can one approach this pluralist land of snow peaks and tropical jungles, with 18 major languages on our rupee notes and 22 thousand distinct dialects (and some of these dialects are spoken by more people than speak intenrationally-recognized languages like Danish or Norwegian), inhabited now, in the sixth year of the 21st century, by over a billion individuals of every ethnic extraction known to humanity? How does one come to terms with a country, in whose population 40% are still illiterate, but which has educated the world's second largest pool of trained scientists and engineers? A country whose teeming cities overflow while two out of three Indians scratch a living from the soil? What is the clue to understanding a country rife with despair and disrepair, which nonetheless moved a Moghal emperor to proclaim “If on earth there be paradise of bliss, it is this, it is this, it is this.” How does one gauge a nation which elevated non-violence to a moral principle, but whose freedom was born in blood and whose independence still soaks in it? How does one explain a land where peasant organizations and officials have attempted to close down Kentucky Fried Chicken as a threat to the nation; where a former Prime Minister bitterly criticizes the sale of Pepsi Cola in a country where villagers don’t have access to clean drinking water, and which yet invents a greater quantity of sophisticated software for US computer manufacturers than any other country in the world? How can one determine the identity of an ageless civilization that was the birthplace of 4 major religions, a dozen different traditions of classical dance, 85 major political parties and 300 ways of cooking the potato?

The short answer is that it can't be done. At least not to everyone’s satisfaction. Any truism about India can be immediately contradicted by another truism about India. It is often jokingly said, anything you can say about India, the opposite is also true. Our country's national motto emblazoned on the governmental crest is “satyameva jayate” -- truth alone triumphs. The question remains however, whose truth? It is a question to which there are at least a billion answers, if the last census hasn’t undercounted us again.

But that sort of answer is no answer at all. And so I think we will have to look at another answer, and this may lie in a simple insight. As I have written in "India: From Midnight to the Millenium", “the singular thing about India is that you can only speak of it in the plural.” There are many Indias. Everything exists in countless variants. There is no single standard, no fixed stereotype, no one way of doing things. This pluralism is acknowledged in the way India arranges its own affairs. All groups, faiths, ideologies, survive and contend for their place in the sun. At a time when most developing counties opted for authoritarian modes of government to promote nation building and direct development, India chose to be a multi-party democracy. And despite many stresses and strains, including 22 months of authoritarian rule during the state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975, a multi- party democracy -- freewheeling, corrupt, and ineffective perhaps, but nonetheless flourishing, India has remained.

Now one result of this is, India strikes many as maddening, chaotic and inefficient as it muddles its way through the first decade of the 21st century. Another though, is that India not just a country, it is an adventure, one where all avenues are open and everything is possible.

E. P. Thompson, British historian
E. P. Thompson,
British historian

The British historian E.P Thompson wrote that “India is perhaps the most important country for the future of the world. All the convergent influences of the world” Thompson wrote, “run through this society.” “There is not a thought in the world in the East or the West, that is not active in some Indian mind.” (I am glad a Brit wrote that and not an Indian).

This Indian mind has been shaped by remarkably diverse sources. Ancient Hindu myth, scripture, tradition, the impact of Islam and Christianity, and 2 centuries of British colonial rule...the result is unique. Many observers have been astonished by India’s survival as a pluralistic state. But India could hardly have survived as anything else. Pluralism is a reality that emerges from the very nature of the country. It is a choice made inevitable by India=s geography and reaffirmed by its history.

Now one of the few generalizations that can be safely made about this pluralistic land is indeed that you cannot generalize about India. Nothing can be taken for granted about this country. Not even its name...for the word India comes from the river Indus, which flows in Pakistan. Now that anomaly is easily explained, as we all know how the name came before partition. But each explanation breeds another anomaly. Pakistan was created as a homeland for India’s Muslims, but there are more Muslims in India than there are in Pakistan.

Now in “India: From Midnight to the Millenium”, to which the title of this lecture refers, I tried to see India as a country standing on the cusp of four of the more important debates facing the world at the beginning of the 21st century:

The Bread vs. Freedom debate -- whether democracy can deliver the goods in a country like ours.
The Centralization vs. Federalism debate -- does every question asked in Dharwar have to be answered in Delhi?
The Coca Colonization debate -- globalization vs. the mantra of self- reliance that has been chanted since independence.

And then the Pluralism vs. Fundamentalism debate. A debate I never thought I would see raising its ugly head in our country, but which did arise in the mid 80’s in a way that those of us who grew up in India in the mid 60’s and attended St Stephen's in the 1970s would not have thought possible. It arose asking the question -- should India, like so many other developing countries, and indeed like all our neighbors, disown the secularism it inherited from the national movement and instead find refuge in the assertion of a homegrown religious identity?

Now these are not merely academic debates. They are now being enacted upon the national and world stage, and the choices that we make will determine the kind of India our children will inherit in the 21st century. And since the century has begun with Indians accounting for a 6th of the world=s population, our choices will resonate throughout the globe.

On that midnight 58 years ago, the British Empire in India came to an end admidst the trauma of partition of India with Pakistan, and the sectarian violence that accompanied it. In these last five and a half decades of independence many thoughtful observers have seen the country more conscious than ever of what divides it -- politics, religion, caste, language, ethnicity. What makes India, then, a nation?

Massimo Taparelli D'Azeglio
Italian nationalist,
Massimo Taparelli D'Azeglio

To answer that question I am going to take an Italian example. No, not “that” Italian example! It is an example from the 19th century, because when the Italian nation was created in the second half of the 19th century out of a mosaic of principalities and statelets, one Italian nationalist [Massimo Taparelli d'Azeglio] wrote “We have created Italy. Now all we need to do is to create Italians.”

What is striking about that example is that no Indian nationalist succumbed to the temptation to express a similar thought. Nehru never said “we have created India, now we have to create Indians.” Because our nationalist leaders, Nehru above all, believed in the existence of India and Indians for millennia before they gave words to their longings, before they articulated the political aspirations of Indians in the 20th century.

Nonetheless the India that was born in 1947 was in a very real sense a new creation. A state that made fellow citizens of the Ladakhi and the Laccadivian for the first time. A state that divided Punjabi from Punjabi for the first time. A state that asked a Keralite peasant to feel allegiance to a Kashmiri Pundit ruling in Delhi also for the first time. Nehru would not have written about the challenge of creating Indians, but creating Indians was in fact what the national movement did.

HD Deva Gowda
Former Prime Minister,
HD Deva Gowda

Let me give you a local example of what this actually means. When we celebrated the 49th anniversary of our independence, nine years ago, our then Prime Minister, H. D. Deve Gowda, stood on the ramparts of the Red Fort and delivered the traditional Independence Day address to the nation in Hindi, India=s national language. Eight other Prime Ministers had done exactly the same thing 48 times before him. What was unusual was that this time Deve Gowda, a son of Karnataka, spoke to the country in a language of which he did not know a word. Tradition and politics required a speech in Hindi, and so he gave one. But the words had been written out for him in his Kannada script, in which of course they made no sense.

K. J. Yesudas
K. J. Yesudas,
Carnatic music singer

Now I mention this simply because such an episode is inconceivable anywhere else in the world. But it represents the best of the oddities that make India, India. Only in India could we have a country ruled by a man who does not understand the national language. Only in India for that matter is there a national language which half the population does not speak. And only in India could this particular solution have been found to enable the Prime Minister to address his people. One of India’s finest playback singers, the Keralite K. J. Yesudas, sang his way to the top of the Hindi film music charts with lyrics in that language written for him in the Malayalam script for him to sing. But to see the same practice elevated to the Prime Ministerial address on Independence Day was a startling affirmation of Indian pluralism.

For you see, as Stephanians instinctively understand, we are all minorities in India. A typical Indian stepping off the train, let us say a Hindi-speaking Hindu male from Uttar Pradesh, may cherish the illusion he represents the majority community, an expression much favored by the less industrious of our journalists. But he does not. As a Hindu, sure enough, he belongs to the faith adhered to by 82% of the population. But a majority of the country does not speak Hindi. A majority does not hail from Uttar Pradesh, though you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise when you go there. And, if he were visiting, say, my home state of Kerala, he would be surprised to realize a majority there is not even male.

Worse, this archetypal Hindu male has only to mingle with the polyglot, multi coloured crowds -- I am not referring to the colours of their clothes but to the colours of their skins -- thronging any of India=s major railway stations to realize how much of a minority he really is. Even his Hinduism is no guarantee of his majorityhood, because his caste automatically puts him in a minority. If he is a Brahmin, 90% of his fellow Indians are not. If he is a Yadav, or another “backward class”, 85% of his fellow Indians are not. And so on.

Or take language. The constitution of India recognizes 18 today. But, in fact there are 35 Indian languages spoken by more that one million people each. And these are languages, with their own scripts, grammatical structures, and cultural assumptions, not just dialects. And as I mentioned, if you count dialects you get to 22 thousand. Now each of the native speakers of these languages is in a linguistic minority, because no language enjoys true majority status in India. Thanks in part to the popularity of Bollywood cinema, Hindi is understood, though not very well spoken, pretty much across the country. But, it is in no sense the language of the majority, because its gender rules, grammatical conventions and even its script are unfamiliar to most Indians in the South or in the North East.

Or take ethnicity. Ethnicity further complicates the notion of a majority community. Most of the time, as we all know, an Indian’s name immediately reveals where he is from or what her mother tongue is. When we introduce ourselves, we are advertising our origins. Despite some intermarriages at the elite levels in our cities, Indians are still largely endogamous, and a Bengali is easily distinguished from a Punjabi. Now the difference this reflects is often more apparent than the elements of commonality. A Karnataka Brahmin shares his Hindu faith with a Bihari Kurmi, but they share little identity with each other in respect of their dress, customs, appearance, taste, language or even, these days, their political objectives. Now at the same time, a Tamil Hindu would feel he has much more in common with a Tamil Christian or a Tamil Muslim than with, say, a Haryanvi Jat than with whom he formally shares the Hindu religion.

Now, why do I harp on these differences? Not to stress division, but only to make the point that Indian nationalism is a rare animal indeed. Seeing so many distinguished scholars here reminds me of a story of two professors of law, probably at the Law Faculty of this university, arguing about a problem. One professor says “you know how we can solve this? We can do this and this and this and we can solve it.” And the other professor says “yes, yes, yes, that will work in practice -- but will it work in theory?”

And you know this is precisely the issue of Indian nationalism. It has worked very well in practice, but it doesn’t work too well in theory. It is not based on any of the classical political science theories of nationalism that apply elsewhere, for example to the nation-states of Europe. It is not based on language, for the reasons I have already given you. It is not based on geography, for the natural geography of the subcontinent (framed by the mountains and the seas) was hacked in the partition of 1947. It is not based on ethnicity, because we all accommodate a variety of racial types, and ethnically some Indians have more in common with foreigners than with other Indians (Punjabis and Bengalis, for example, have more in common ethnically with Pakistanis and Bangladeshis respectively, than with Poonawallahs or Bangaloreans). And it is not based on religion, because we are home to every faith known to mankind, with the possible exception of Shintoism. Hinduism, which is after all a faith with no national organization -- no established church or ecclesiastical hierarchy, no Hindu Pope -- exemplifies as much our diversity as it does our common cultural heritage.

So what does that leave us with? It leaves us with the rather Stephanian notion of Indian nationalism as the nationalism of an idea -- the idea of what one might call an ever-ever land. Emerging from an ancient civilization, united by a shared history and sustained by a pluralistic diversity. In our democracy, this land imposes no narrow conformities on its citizens. The whole point of Indian pluralism is you can be many things and one thing. You can be a good Muslim, a good Keralite and a good Indian all at once -- and a good Stephanian too, while you are about it. It is the opposite of what Freudians call “the narcissism of minor differences.” For example, in Yugoslavia, we saw during the horrendous civil war there, people with so much in common -- in fact all descended from the same Slavic tribes that populated the Balkans during the 7th and 8th centuries -- often bearing the same surnames and similar appearance, harping on the minor differences between them in order to justify their hatred and killing of each other. So, while in Yugoslavia we had this narcissism of minor differences, in India we celebrate the commonality of major differences. To stand Michael Ignatieff's phrase on its head, we are a land of belonging rather than of blood.

Two of India's Nobel Prize Winners, Rabindranath Tagore and Amartya Sen
Two of India's Nobel Prize Winners,
Rabindranath Tagore and Amartya Sen

So the idea of India, as Tagore and more recently Amartya Sen have insisted, is of one land embracing many. It is the idea that a nation may endure differences of caste, creed, colour, conviction, culture, cuisine, costume and custom, and still rally around a consensus. And that consensus is really around the simple idea that in a democracy you don=t really need to agree -- except on the ground rules of how you will disagree.

The reason why India has survived all the stresses and strains that have beset it for 58 years -- and that led so many journalists and political scientists of the west in the 1950=s to predict the imminent disintegration of the country -- the reason why it didn=t happen, the reason why we survived, is because India maintained a consensus on how to manage without consensus.

Now, I realize some of you will see this as an excessively rosy picture, and I will deal with their cynicism in a moment. But first I must acknowledge that India offers plenty of scope for misunderstanding. Having traveled here from America, I have to share with you -- I think the afternoon is sufficiently advanced to do this -- my favorite story of international misunderstanding.

It’s a story of this American agricultural expert, sent here before the Green Revolution to advise on Indian farming. He goes and visits an Indian farm in Punjab, and is welcomed by the very gregarious and hospitable Sikh farmer. The farm, thanks to all our land reforms and population pressures, is about the size of these Allnutt Lawns. And the farmer says very proudly “welcome to my farm.” And he says “you see this national highway?” and the American looks and sees a dirt road, “my land goes all the way upto there.” And he says “you see that irrigation canal?” And the American looks and sees a trickle of water, and the Indian says “my land goes upto there.” He is very proud of the farm he has. And then he asks the American “And what about you?” The American is actually a farmer from Kansas or some place where the wheatfields stretch on for miles on end, and so he sort of clears his throat and says “Well, early in the morning I get into my tractor and drive 4 hours south to the southern boundary of my land. And I drive another 3 hours to the western boundary of my land. And then I have a sandwich and drive 2- and-a-half hours north in my tractor to the northern boundary of my land. And at sundown I travel another 2 hours south to the ranch house.” So the Sikh farmer nods very sympathetically, and says “I know, I know, I too used to have a tractor like that.”

The point is: what you understand depends on what your assumptions are.

But having been frivolous for a minute, let me turn again to the confession that not all Indians agree with the vision of India I have presented this afternoon. There are many who would like to see this land become a Hindu rashtra, a land for and of the Hindus. They have made recent gains in elections in the politics of the street. Secularism is established in India’s constitution, but they ask why shouldn’t India, like so many of its neighbors, assert its own religious identity? Why shouldn't this be a country of the Hindu majority? And we have all seen many manifestations of this view, including most notably, the horrors that have cost more than two thousand lives in Gujarat three years ago.

If I may turn a bit personal here. I have twin sons. And though they first entered the world in Singapore and though the circumstances of my life have seen them grow up in Switzerland and then the US, it is India they have always identified with. Ask them what they are and that’s what they will tell you: they are Indians. Not Hindus, not Malayalis, not Calcuttans, though they could claim all these labels too. In fact their mother is half Kashmiri, half Bengali, which gives them further permutative possibilities. They desire none. They are just Indians. A rather Stephanian answer perhaps!

And yet in recent years they have come to see an India in which that answer no longer seems enough. Political contention has so often erupted in violence. We know of the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 by howling, chanting mobs of Hindu fanatics. We have seen headlines speaking of riots and killings between Hindus and Muslims, of men being slaughtered because of a mark on the forehead, or the absence of a foreskin. Nuns have been assaulted, a missionary family burned alive. This is not the India I had hoped my sons would identify with.

My generation grew up in an India where our sense of nationhood lay in that cliched slogan “unity in diversity.” We were brought up to take pluralism for granted, and to reject the communalism that had partitioned the nation when the British left. In rejecting the case for Partition, Indian nationalism also rejected the idea that religion should be a determinant of nationhood. To accept the idea of India you had to spurn the very logic that had divided the country.

And that is what that much abused and perhaps inaccurate term secularism meant for us. In the west, secularism is defined as the absence of, or the prohibiton of, religion. But Indian secularism has really meant a profusion of religions, none of which was privileged by the state. Secularism in India cannot mean irreligiousness, because religion is far too deeply rooted in all the communities of this country. Even avowedly atheist parties like the DMK, and the communist parties, have found their atheism is unpopular. In fact I came to St Stephen's from high school in Calcutta, and during the Pujas there the youth wings of the communist parties compete with each other to put up the most lavish pandals for the goddess Durga. This is communist atheism today.

So rather than speak of secularism, let us instead speak of pluralism. Let us speak of multi-religiousness, which to me means again going back to the Calcutta neighborhood where I lived in my high school years just before I came to St Stephen's. The wail of the muezzin calling the Muslim faithful to prayer would blend with the chants of the mantras and the tinkle of bells at the Hindu Shiva temple, and the crackling loudspeakers outside the Sikh Gurudwara reciting verses from the Guru Granth Sahib. And St Paul's Cathedral was just around the corner.

Air Chief Marshal I H Latif, General (Field Marshal) Sam Manekshaw, Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, Maj. General Jack Frederick Ralph Jacob

Throughout the decades after independence, the political culture of the country has always reflected the so called secular assumptions and attitudes. Though partition had occurred, though what was left was a country which was 82% Hindu, 3 of India’s President’s have been Muslims. So were innumerable governors, cabinet ministers, chief ministers, ambassadors, generals, supreme court justices and chief justices. In fact it is interesting that during the war with Pakistan the Indian airforce in the northern sector was commanded by a Muslim [Air Marshal Lateef], the army commander was a Parsi [General Manekshaw], the general commanding the forces that marched into Bangladesh was a Sikh [General Aurora], and the general who was helicoptered in to Dhaka to negotiate the terms of surrender was a Jewish [Major-General Jacob]. That is India.

That is the Indian pluralism that makes sense to Stephanians. And the irony of all this is that India’s secular coexistence was made possible paradoxically because the overwhelming majority of Indians are Hindus.

It is odd to hear people speak of Hindu fundamentalism, because in my view, Hinduism is a religion without fundamentals. We have no organized church, there is no pope, no compulsory beliefs or rites of worship. Even the name “Hindu” suggests something more and something less than a set of theological beliefs. Because in many languages, in French and Persian today, the name for Indian is Hindu. It simply means the people beyond the river Sindhu. And the word Hindu did not exist in any of the Indian languages until its use by foreigners gave Indians a term for self-definition.

So “Hindu” is merely a name others applied for the indigenous religious practices of India. But none of these practices is obligatory for a Hindu. We have no compulsory dogmas. In our faith we are free from the dogmas of holy writ. Hinduism is a faith that has refused to be shackled by the limitations of any single holy book -- that has so many holy books, and so many ways of reaching out to the divine.

And as a Hindu I belong to one of the very few religions that does not claim to be the only true religion. I find it immensely congenial to face my fellow beings of other faiths without being burdened by the conviction I am embarked on the only true path they have somehow missed.

Hinduism asserts all ways of worship are equally valid. And Hindus readily venerate the saints of other faiths. Hinduism is a civilization, not a dogma. There is no such thing as a Hindu heresy.

How then can such a religion be captured by the fanatics? How then can anyone presume to reduce the soaring majesty of this faith into some narrow bigoted definition of what Hindutva is all about? That devotees of this essentially tolerant and pluralistic faith assaulted Muslims in its name -- and worse, that people claiming to be acting for Hindus have perpetrated the horrors of Gujarat -- that is a source of sorrow and shame to most believing Hindus.

India has survived the Aryans, the Moghals, the British. It has taken from each -- language, art, music, learning -- and grown with all of them. To be Indian is to be part of an elusive dream that we all share. A dream that fills our minds with sounds, flavors, words, from many sources that we cannot easily identify. The Hinduism I know understands faith is a matter of heart and minds, not of bricks and stone. >Build Ram in your heart= the Hindu is told, and if Ram is in your heart it little matters where else he is or is not.

It is our post-independence politics of deprivation that has eroded the culture's confidence. Hindu chauvinism has emerged from the competition for resources in a contentious democracy. Politicians all over India are trying to mobilize voters by appealing to narrow identities. By seeking votes on the basis of caste, region, religion, they have urged voters to define themselves on these lines. And as this has happened it has become more important for some to assert their identities as a Brahmin, as a Bodo, as a Yadav rather than as an Indian.

That is why the development of Hindu fundamentalism is so dangerous. The suggestion that only a Hindu, and that too a certain kind of Hindu, can be an authentic Indian is an affront to Indian nationalism. An India that denies itself to some, can end up being denied to all of us.

The Gujarat riots of 2002 remain a searing blot on the country’s conscience. The Hindu zealots who torched Muslim homes and businesses, and killed and raped innocents, are not yet behind bars, and some talk defiantly of reviving their cause. As the courts deliberate on a solution to the Ayodhya dispute, the cycle of violence goes on, spawning new hostages to history, ensuring that future generations will be taught new wrongs to set right. We live, Octavio Paz once wrote, between oblivion and memory. Memory and oblivion: how one leads to the other, and back again, has been the concern of much of my fiction. As I pointed out in the last words of my novel Riot, history is not a web woven with innocent hands.

And the reduction of non-Hindus into second class status in their own homeland is unthinkable. It would be a second partition -- this time of the soul, which will be far worse than the partition which has already occurred on the soil.

I spoke of my sons and their sense of Indianness. For them, the only possible idea of India is that of a nation greater than the sum of its parts. That is the only India that will allow them to call themselves Indians.

I have come to Delhi from a country which calls itself a melting pot. I like to tell Americans “If you are a melting pot, to me India is a thali.” It’s a selection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls. Each bowl tastes different. It does not necessarily mix with the next bowl. But, they all belong on the same steel plate, and they combine on your palate to make the meal a satisfying repast.

That to me is the pluralist India of which St Stephen’s is such a satisfying embodiment. India’s founding fathers wrote a constitution for their dreams. We have given passports to their ideals. Any narrower definition of Indianness will be an insult to Indian nationhood. An India that denies itself to some will not be the India that Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru fought to free.

I have already transgressed on the time available to me this evening. We are all like Egyptian mummies, pressed for time! But I do want to say I have great hope for the survival and success of Indian pluralism. I believe no one identity can triumph in India. Both our country’s diversity and the logic of the electoral marketplace make this impossible. And the sight last year, after the awe-inspiring experience of the world's largest exercise in democratic elections, of a Roman Catholic political leader, Sonia Gandhi, making way for a Sikh, Manmohan Singh, to be sworn in by a Muslim, President Abdul Kalam, as Prime Minister of India, has affirmed, as nothing else could have, the shining example of Indian pluralism.

In leading coalitions, all our political parties have learned that any party wishing to rule India will have to reach out to other groups, interests, minorities. There are too many diversities in our land for any one version of reality to be imposed on all of us.

Democracy is vital for India's future. There is no better way to cope with our pluralism than democracy. What is encouraging is that in India democracy is not an elite preoccupation. In the US, in the last presidential elections, the turnout of voters in a poor district like Harlem was 23%; politics in America is the preserve of the middle and upper- middle classes, as well as the very rich. Whereas in India it is not the privileged who spend 3 to 4 hours queuing up in the hot sun to vote. Their political participation is lower than the poor, who make the effort to exercise their suffrage, because they know their votes make a difference.

Biography of Nehru
Biography of Nehru by Shashi Tharoor

The faith of the poor is a merited reward for the democratic convictions of India’s founding fathers, especially Jawaharlal Nehru. When I wrote my biography of Nehru, I was struck by how deep his faith in democracy ran. At the peak of his political rise, just after leading the Congress to triumph in the 1937 elections, Nehru wrote an anonymous article attacking himself. He warned that Jawaharlal Nehru enjoyed the adulation of the masses rather too much and must be checked: “India wants no Caesars”. It was a telling piece, because Nehru was reminding himself, as much as the nation, that institutions were more important than individuals. When he came to power in 1947 Nehru had every excuse available to him to justify dispensing with democracy: the horrors of Partition and the communal violence that accompanied it, mass displacement of refugees, the chronic poverty of the people. With the deaths of Gandhi and Patel there was no credible challenger to his political authority; by the early 1950s he was being referred to as the “uncrowned king” of India, and the adjective “uncrowned” was remedied by a middle-aged lady who stepped up from the throng at a Congress session in 1955 and placed a golden crown on Nehru's balding pate. Nehru's reaction was typical: he promptly took the crown off and had it auctioned off for party funds. For all his power, he went out of his way to show deference to the Presidency, to subject himself to inquisition by Parliament, and to respect the independence of the judiciary (on one occasion when he made a disparaging remark about a judge, he wrote instantly to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, apologizing abjectly). His habit when crossed was not to impose himself, but to offer to resign: he usually got his way, but it was hardly the hallmark of a dictator. It is striking that our country's one experiment with autocracy, the Emergency, ended not in bloodshed but with the Prime Minister calling free and fair elections and losing them comprehensively.

In my view the experiment that began 58 years ago has worked. Though there have been caste conflicts, linguistic clashes, communal riots and threats to the nation from separatist groups, political democracy has helped to defuse each of these. Separatist movements in places as far-flung as Tamil Nadu and Mizoram have been defused in an unsung achievement of Indian democracy. The formula is simple: Yesterday’s secessionists become today’s chief ministers, and (thanks to the vagaries of politics) tomorrow's leaders of the opposition.

Even the explosive potential of caste division has been channelled through the ballot box. The power of electoral numbers has given real power to people who used to be the lowest of the low. Who could have imagined, for 3000 years, that a dalit woman would become chief minister of India=s most populous state? Yet Mayawati has done so, not once but twice. This week we are mourning the passing of a man who, for five years recently, held the highest office in the land. K.R Narayanan was not only a Dalit but a man born in a thatched hut with no running water, whose university refused to award him his degree at the same ceremony as his upper caste class mates. As President he led an India whose injustices he had keenly felt, but an India which offered, through its brave but flawed experiment in political democracy and affirmative action, the real prospect of change through the ballot box. His successor is as worthy a symbol of the aspirations of the Indian state: a Muslim who sold newspapers as a boy to make ends meet, and went on to become the father of the country's missile programme.

These are the aspects of India that I believe have taken our country to the millennium and beyond. I have spoken of the fear that people are focussing on narrower identities, and taking pride in being a Bodo or Yadav rather than being Indian. What they forget is they can only feel secure in these smaller identities because they also have the larger identity of being Indian. Perhaps it is time for us all to say, as Stephanians might -- “Garv se kahon ki hum Indian hain.”

In my annual visits home I find India is anything but that unchanging land of cliché. There is an extraordinary amount of change, and I don’t just mean the visible prosperity I have seen in Delhi, a glittering new city of flyovers and fast-food counters, shopping malls and suburban arcades. There are dramatic changes taking place beneath the billboards that amount to little short of a revolution -- in politics, economics, society and culture. In politics, we have gone from single party governance to a coalition era. In economics we have gone from protectionism to liberalization, even if is with the hesitancy of governments looking over their electoral shoulders. In caste and social relations, we have witnessed the convulsive changes I have just mentioned. And in a sense in cultural affairs, with the notion of Hindutva being proclaimed, and argued and debated from the rooftops and in the streets in recent years, we have had a profound re- examination of our national identity. Now, any of these transformations could have been enough to throw another country into a turbulent revolution. But we have had all four in India and yet we have absorbed them, and made all the changes work, because the Indian revolution is a democratic one, sustained by a larger idea of India, an India which safeguards the common space available to each identity, an India that remains safe for diversity.

Standing here on the 125th birthday of St Stephen's, I remember the values this college taught me, in the classroom and outside it. I ask you to join me in celebrating the secularism, the pan-Indian outlook, the well-rounded education, the eclectic social interests, the questioning spirit and the meritocratic culture that are the vital ingredients of the Stephanian ethos. These are what Stephania contributes to the idea of India I have described.

For many foreign observers, weary of the clamour of ethnic division and religious self-assertion, there is something to think about in this idea of India I have shared with you. It is a deceptively simple idea, of a land where it doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is, the sounds you make when you speak, the kind of food you eat, the God you choose to worship (or not), so long as you want to play by the same rules as everybody else. If the majority of a population share the will for unity, if they wear the dust of a shared history on their foreheads and the mud of an uncertain future on their feet, and if they realize they are better off in Kozhikode or Kanpur dreaming the same dreams as those in Kohlapur or Kohima, a nation exists, celebrating diversity, pluralism -- and freedom. That is our India, and it is well worth defending.

So that is why India can face the new millennium with confidence. I have been accused of being an optimist. But I define optimism as regarding the future with uncertainty. Pessimists always say things will go wrong. An optimist believes things just may go right. I believe I have given you a few reasons today why things may indeed go right for India.

Riot by Shashi Tharoor
Riot by Shashi Tharoor

Let me end with an old story which In have used in my novel “Riot”. When we speak of pluralism, we are not speaking of something that came to us from the west. We are speaking of a reality entrenched in our traditions. So let me tell you a story from our Puranas.

It is an old Indian story about Truth. It seems that in ancient times a brash young warrior sought the hand of a beautiful princess. The king, her father, thought the warrior was a bit too cocksure and callow; he told him he could only marry the princess once he had found Truth. So the young warrior set out on a quest for Truth. He went to temples and to monasteries, to mountaintops where sages meditated and to forests where ascetics scourged themselves, but nowhere could he find Truth. Despairing one day and seeking refuge from a thunderstorm, he found himself in a dank, musty cave. There, in the darkness, was an old hag, with warts on her face and matted hair, her skin hanging in folds from her bony limbs, her teeth broken, her breath malodorous. She greeted him; she seemed to know what he was looking for. They talked all night, and with each word she spoke, the warrior realized he had come to the end of his quest. She was Truth. In the morning, when the storm broke, the warrior prepared to return to claim his bride. “Now that I have found Truth,” he said, “what shall I tell them at the palace about you?” The wizened old crone smiled. “Tell them,” she said, “tell them that I am young and beautiful.”

So Truth is not always true. Stephanians have always understood they have no monopoly on wisdom, no copyright on the truth. That might be the best Stephanian note on which to end a talk reflecting my truths about India. Satyameva Jayate....