The Official Language: Lessons from Europe

Whose official language is it anyway?

European Union
Flag of the European Union

On 23 March 2006, when French businessman, Ernest-Antoine Seillière, started speaking at the annual business summit of the European Union (EU), Jacques Chirac, the French President, walked out. As he gathered his papers and reached for the exit, Philippe Douste-Blazy, his foreign minister, and Thierry Breton, the finance minister, joined him. What provoked these gendarmes of political correctness was that Seillière spoke in English, an official language. Chirac could be mollified and brought back only after Jean-Claude Trichet, the French President of the European Central Bank, started speaking in French. Continue reading “The Official Language: Lessons from Europe”

Sundays with Shankar

The life, work, and times of Shankar, father of Indian cartooning

cartoonist shankar
Shankar in a pensive mood

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The Benegal Brothers

Radhabai and Raghavendra Rao

The collective contribution of the four Benegal brothers, Sanjiva Rao, Narsing Rau, Rama Rau, and Shiva Rao, to the idea and making of India has few parallels. Sons of Radhabai and Dr. Raghavendra Rao, a medical doctor, they are a fine example of what being rooted in Indian tradition and values, but being open to modern and progressive ideas can achieve. Despite their conservative upbringing, two found their spouses from another country, and a third from another community. All could have achieved much more than what they did only if they had been ambitious, or compromised on their values or ideals. But, every one chose to serve the country in their own humble ways. In an era of credit grabbing and blame passing, the Benegal brothers remain relatively unknown and under appreciated. Continue reading “The Benegal Brothers”

Abdullah Yusuf Ali: Triumph and Tragedy

The year 2021-22 marks the sesquicentennial of Allama Abdullah Yusuf Ali. His remarkable life, caught between many worlds, was chaotic and turbulent, with its triumphs and tribulations, and a lasting legacy.

Abdullah Yusuf Ali (licensed from National Portrait Gallery, London)

In December 1953, six months after Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, London experienced another severe winter. The same time, previous year, the city had suffered the Great Smog. Wednesday, the 9th, was freezing cold. Movement was difficult. In the evening, in Trafalgar Square, Westminster, the police found an old man in tattered clothes, destitute and disoriented, on the steps of a house. He had a suitcase full of papers, but no money in his pockets. They admitted him to the Westminster Hospital, which discharged him the next day. A London City Council home for the elderly, in nearby Dovehouse Street, Chelsea, took him in. The same day he suffered a heart attack, and was rushed to the St Stephen’s Hospital. He died soon thereafter. Continue reading “Abdullah Yusuf Ali: Triumph and Tragedy”

Sidney Wadsworth: A Judge in Madras

Caroline Keen, A Judge in Madras: Sir Sidney Wadsworth and the Indian Civil Service, 1913-47, Harper Collins, 2021. Rs. 699.

Most British (and Indian) officers of the Indian Civil Service diligently maintained copious diaries filled with detailed accounts of their working life in India with the hope of turning them into one or more books after retirement. Only a few of them successfully sustained the habit throughout their service. Fewer still turned them into books. One of those who wrote a manuscript after retirement, but never published it, fearing lack of demand and publisher interest, was Sir Sidney Wadsworth. Born in 1888, Wadsworth joined the ICS in Madras in 1913. Also posted to Madras, from the same batch, was Benegal Rama Rau, later Governor, Reserve Bank of India. Sidney retired in 1947 to the Isle of Man, where his father in law, Sir Robert Clegg ICS, also of Madras, spent his last years. “A Judge in Madras” is based on the draft memoirs of Sir Sidney Wadsworth. Continue reading “Sidney Wadsworth: A Judge in Madras”

Everyone’s MKK, our MD uncle: A Centenary Remembrance

MKK Nayar

This is a centenary remembrance of Late MKK Nayar (1920-1987), my father’s boss, who belonged to the first batch of IAS. Though belonging to the Tamil Nadu cadre, his significant contributions include construction of the Bhilai Steel Plant, modernisation of FACT fertilizer plants, and to the world of sports, arts, and culture, in Kerala and beyond. Continue reading “Everyone’s MKK, our MD uncle: A Centenary Remembrance”

The Tharoor I Knew

A young Tharoor Parameshwar

When I was in school, in the early 1970s, one occasion that we four brothers looked forward to was an annual visit by Param Uncle, as we used to call him. His official name was Tharoor Parameshwar, editor of Reader’s Digest for over two decades from the mid-1950s. Param Uncle came every year, usually by December/January. Continue reading “The Tharoor I Knew”

A brief meeting with K.R. Gowri

K.R. Gowri

Speaking of politicians from Kerala, one of the most respected must be KR Gowri, now 101 years old. Also referred to affectionately as Gowri Amma, she could be the oldest living politician in India. There does not seem to be any book on her, as yet. Even if there is, I am yet to come across. There is, however, a Wikipedia page here.

Born in Alappuzha district of Kerala, she was the first female from her community to have studied law. Having joined the Communist Party early, under the influence of an elder brother, she was a member of the legislative assembly of Travancore-Cochin in 1952 and 1954. She went on to become the only lady in the first Communist Ministry in Kerala led by EMS Namboodiripad, from 1957 to 1959 Continue reading “A brief meeting with K.R. Gowri”

A train journey with PKV

PKV Election Poster

Today is the 74th Independence Day. As I write this, Malayalam news media is full of discussions on the gold smuggling scandal that has been the rage for the last six weeks. In stark contrast to the jet setting life style and outlook of present day leaders, I was reminded of two incidents from a few decades back. Continue reading “A train journey with PKV”

Dr KNS Nair – My doctor in Delhi

When I left for New Delhi to pursue my postgraduate studies, my father handed me a list of about 12 names with addresses of people who I should call on. It helped that all of them were in South Delhi, one of the factors in my deciding to join JNU, also in South Delhi, and not Delhi School of Economics. Continue reading “Dr KNS Nair – My doctor in Delhi”

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