Friday, November 30, 2012

Not Cricket - 2

Please circulate and repost the following item wherever you can.


In 2011, when the Indian cricket team on a tour of Britain a few weeks after winning the World Cup lost every single match, I expressed the fear that the hosts were not playing fair.

Events since then, and research into what dark arts might have been used, have strengthened that belief.

I think the Brits are cheating in sports in a big way, using infrasound to disable opponents.

Infrasound has a wavelength too low to be heard by the human ear. It occurs naturally (sea surf, thunder and earthquakes all generate it), and many species of animals, elephants and whales most spectacularly, use it for long range communications.

Whales also use it to stun prey, including giant squid: at lower amplitudes infrasound can vibrate and even explode matter.

Human beings subjected to even mild exposure to those frequencies suffer a range of negative effects, including elevated heart rate and blood pressure, the release of endorphins and the adrenaline surge that triggers the "flight or fight" response.

Initial exposure can make a person feel energized and happy but within a few minutes there is loss of physical coordination that can last for hours or even days. For a champion athlete that means complete loss of form. Remember how the 2011 Indian World Cup team in Britain seemed suddenly unable to bowl, field or bat? By the fourth test Gautam Gambhir was so bereft of basic skills he sustained a concussion trying to take a catch.

The most dangerous effects are caused by infrasound between 1 and 10 Hz (a Hertz is a one-second wave cycle). People exposed to those levels suffer "complete neurological interference" and have difficulty breathing, start coughing, suffer muscle cramps, and feel nauseated. They are disoriented, lose their sense of balance, have blurred vision and slur speech; they experience fear and panic, and have difficulty making decisions.

At 7 Hz, said to be the natural resonant frequency of human organs, infrasound can have life-threatening effects.

Scientists in several developed countries have reportedly weaponized infrasound. A rifle that fires "sonic bullets" is said to exist.

Experimenters at Cambridge University in 2003 successfully generated fear and panic in crowds by broadcasting infrasound; there is said to be technology to disorient and disable enemy soldiers.

Whether infrasound can cause cancer is not known. Yuvraj Singh did develop a very rare form of it after the 2011 World Cup. He might actually have become a target several years earlier, after smashing an unprecedented six sizers in one over against Britain in the 2007 T-20 World Cup.

There is reason to suspect that infrasound has been used in other sports as well.

Andy Murray's path to the Men's Singles gold medal at the London Olympics and to victory at the US Open championship was probably smoothed by weakening key opponents.

The Guardian said in reporting Murray's straight sets Olympic victory over Roger Federer that the Swiss champion, who had easily won their face-off a month earlier at Wimbledon, seemed "strangely anxious" and committed an unusual number of unforced errors, including a very rare double fault.

At the United States Open a few weeks later Murray defeated number one seed Novak Djokovic, who suffered wholly uncharacteristic leg cramps during the match. (The authors of his misfortune might have taken oblique credit by arranging to have Sean Connery, the original James Bond, in Murray's box during the match. The two had never met before but the Press were told they had a natural affinity as Scots.)

Why on earth would MI6 be interested in match fixing?

The flag-waving talk of a "new Britain" after the country ranked third in the Olympic gold medal tally points to the answer. There is a desperate need to rally a nation depressed not only by austerities brought on by the greed and mismanagement of the political elite but by the slime trails of their notorious corruptions.

The use of sports to divert people from elite corruption goes back famously to Caligula, and there is no denying that the British need diversion now.

They have been skunked by an almost unimaginable string of outrageous scandals. A short list includes:

  • Parliamentarians stealing from the public till; 
  • Politically well connected media big wigs in league with the London Police to hack private phone conversations, even those of bereaved families; 
  • The country's most trusted bankers exploiting widows, orphans and old people by manipulating interest rates (charities were the prime victims of the LIBOR scandal); 
  • Massive laundering of drug-money by HSBC, the country's largest bank; and 
  • A long reign of pederasts at the BBC.
MI6 skulduggery to cheat at sports is, of course, more evidence of moral rot, but the ends are probably seen as justifying the means. Fallen media mogul Conrad Black in a published piece summed up the political end, hailing the record haul of Olympic gold as proof that Britain was still a "serious country."

The obverse of that belief is that a country failed by its top athletes is not serious. As I have noted a good many times in this blog, that has been the long-standing theme of British propaganda about India. It began in colonial times and has continued unbroken for over six decades after Indian independence.

The Indian failure in the test series in Britain was followed immediately by a reversal of roles in the subsequent British tour of India and we have gone on to perform well elsewhere. But Sachin Tendulkar has continued to struggle.

As the most outstanding cricketer of his generation Tendulkar is an icon the British have envied and targeted for a long time. British sportswriters coined the "Little Master" title when he was a 16-year old but its continued use now is an obvious racist reference to his height (which is exactly the same as that of Don Bradman). British proxies in the Indian media have participated in the anti-Tendulkar campaign and are now making unseemly calls for his retirement.

Tendulkar might not be alone in James Bond's sonic gunsights.

Judging from their sudden loss of form at the London Olympics several outstanding Indian sports stars were also targets of infrasound attack:

  • Beijing Olympic gold medal sharpshooter Abhinav Bindra crashed out in the qualifying round with a miserable 594 total and finished 16 of 47.
  • The world's top ranking woman archer, Deepika Kumari, lost in the first knockout round to her unknown British opponent. "I don't know what happened" she told journalists in a state of shock over a score that did not include a single ten pointer.
  • Asian Games gold medalist Sushil Kumar made it to the finals but was "hit by a stomach bug" that had him running to the bathroom six times before his bout. He had ranked top in the qualifying process.
  • Ronjan Sodhi, who holds the World Cup in trap shooting did well in the first round at the Olympics but his scores tumbled inexplicably in the second and third rounds.
Is there is any defense against infrasound attack?

There seems to be none, at least on the basis of what I could unearth. The sound waves are unaffected by material barriers.

But at least it should be possible to detect and monitor their existence. The web site at http://www.infiltec.com/Infrasound@home/ tells how that can be done.

The BCCI should also urgently establish hormonal base levels for all members of the Indian team and monitor them before and after games.

The International Olympic Committee should be approached to do the same for all athletes competing in its events. Obviously, chemical doping is no longer the only means to cheat at sports.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

China: Impending Disaster or Hope of the World?

China has the world’s oldest written record of national governance.

Unfortunately, its leaders also have the longest record of inability to learn from the past.

Consider the abuse of intellectuals.

It began with Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor who united the warring kingdoms at the north-eastern edge of what is now China. He had 800 Confucian scholars buried alive. Those he did not kill he drove into exile. Their books he burned.

Fast forward more than two millennia to the last of the monarchic dynasties, the Manchu: it too burned books, jailed intellectuals, tortured and executed them.

The dynasty Mao Zedong established in 1949 has burned more books and tortured/oppressed/murdered more intellectuals than all others over two millennia.

Three decades of Westernizing post-Mao “reforms” have not ended that record of oppression. Intellectuals who dare to oppose the regime are still being buried alive (in prisons instead of graves), tortured, killed on the sly and driven out of the country.

The rulers of China have been unable to see in all their long history that dissent has a valuable role in society, that those who combine intellect, integrity and courage are the treasures of their race.

Another issue on which experience has made no dent on the attitudes of Chinese rulers is national security.

From early days the Han people, who constitute about 90 percent of the Chinese population, have spent enormous treasure and labor to build walls to keep out marauding Mongol nomads. The walls never stopped the invasions but successive generations continued to build them until there was a single enormous structure stretching some 1500 kilometers. That did not stop the Mongols either; in the 17th Century they not only conquered the whole Han heartland but continued far beyond it to Taiwan in the south and Tibet in the west. (Tibet was made to pay tribute, which it did for less than 50 years; on that flimsy ground Mao claimed sovereignty over a land Beijing had never ruled directly.)

Despite the overwhelming evidence that walls do not ensure security China’s rulers still continue to build them: today they have the Great Chinese Firewall to keep out the Internet and the Worldwide Web.

Another critically important lesson repeatedly borne in by experience is that Chinese society needs a procedure for orderly political change; but it has not made a dent in the thinking of the country’s ruling elites. Fearful of the alien, idolizing the imagined gold standard of Confucian stability, every Chinese dynasty has ruled until unseated with brutal violence.

The country’s response to Western dominance and oppression was typically unreflective. Unlike India, where there has been a continuing effort to understand the nature of the Western challenge and meet it through imitation, adaptation, reform and peaceful opposition, China has never understood that it must mobilize its own genius. The mandarins of the Manchu dynasty hoped to transplant Europe's superior technology into an unchanged Chinese society; they considered social reform both unnecessary and dangerous. When that failed, Mao Zedong went to the opposite extreme and tried to rebuild Chinese society according to the ideology of a long dead German ideologue.

That long record of boneheaded elite attitudes to change played out again last week as China’s Communist Party transferred power to a new set of leaders. After a year of murky horse-trading, paranoia and intrigue, amidst the lurid fall from grace of Bo Xilai, the top “Leftist” contender for a share of power, Xi Jinping, replaced Hu Jintao as the head of the Party’s apex Standing Committee.

Despite strident calls for political reform from the departing Hu the new composition of the Standing Committee was solidly stick-in-the-mud. Four of its members, including Xi, are privileged “Princelings,” sons of Mao’s close cohort. One is a propagandist who helped shape the Great Chinese Firewall. Another brings to governance an economics degree from North Korea. A third is best known for not acknowledging an outbreak of SARS that killed thousands. Another worthy, considered a reformer, led the campaign to hide the spread of HIV infection to a million people by official blood banks.

This sorry team is now in charge of a country increasingly incensed by the corruption and arrogant anti-people policies of a Party that has little popular support. Land grabs by government functionaries, imposition of poisonous industries on populous areas, the impunity of corrupt officials and rampant abuse of power have provoked even the stoic steel of China’s people to mounting protest. The number of “mass incidents” (as the regime terms public protests) has increased rapidly in recent years; in 2010 there were 180,000. China Daily, an official paper, has reported that environmental protests are increasing 29 percent yearly.

To prevent any of this outrage from becoming visible during the carefully stage-managed political transition the Beijing regime went to great lengths. Stores were ordered to put away kitchen knives. Ping pong balls that could be imprinted with anti-Party slogans also became hard to buy. Cab drivers were told to remove the roll-down handles of rear windows to prevent passengers from throwing out protest pamphlets. Access to the Internet slowed glacially in Beijing. Hundreds of foreign reporters who congregated in Beijing for the event found themselves in a strange limbo, prevented from asking questions at many Press conferences and often left with no official guidance about events. A thousand of them who gathered to witness the formal introduction of the new Standing Committee were kept waiting in a long corridor until the whole function was over. Multiple security cordons stalled access to the official celebrations in Tiananmen Square; ordinary Chinese were told to go back home and watch on television.

President Hu Jintao in his farewell speeches identified corruption as the primary danger to the State and Party but did not say how exactly they should be addressed. There is little chance of effective action for things are too far gone, and the entire system now facilitates corruption. The Banking sector is an example. Interest rates are kept much lower than the real cost of credit, ostensibly to promote domestic consumption; but all it has done is allow those with privileged access, including bank staff, to take out cheap loans and either lend out the money themselves at market rates or speculate in real estate. The result is an entirely unregulated alternative banking system that undermines the formal sector; it has inflated apartment prices far beyond the reach of most ordinary Chinese and millions of units now lie unoccupied.

Undetermined billions of Yuan embezzled from public institutions are also being used by corrupt officials for real estate speculation, so any sharp fall in prices will throw many local governments into crisis and wreck pension funds and insurance companies. The rapidly slowing economy is making the mess increasingly difficult to hide.

The new Standing Committee has few options to revive the economy. The banks have gone through two rounds of massive recapitalization to optically reduce their holdings of non-performing loans, and no one knows what their real situation is. China’s massive foreign reserves could be used to further shore up its banks but that would ignite an unwelcome level of inflation. Chinese manufacturers are suffering from a deadly combination of recession in their main foreign markets and growing labour militancy. Millions of migrant workers without residential permits in major cities are facing unemployment and have no social security. Educated unemployed youth are now again a major problem after years of booming economic growth, and there is intense competition among over-qualified candidates for low level but secure government jobs.

Foreign investment continues to be high (over $100 billion in 2012), but is down from last year. The continued high level of investment, both foreign and domestic, is not a positive factor when it is too high a proportion of GDP and at a time of falling manufacturing and exports; the result is inescapably inflationary. A broad effort to increase domestic consumption by increasing the minimum wage has also been inflationary and any large-scale government spending now, no matter what the aim, could send the cost of living into an irretrievable danger zone.

China has faced hard economic crises before. Mao initiated the Great Leap in an effort to cope with one. It caused a famine that killed between 30 and 46 million Chinese. There was no breakdown in political order then because the People’s Liberation Army, which serves the CPC not the nation, was firmly under Mao’s control. That control is long gone. Hu reportedly faced overt discontent at some meetings of the Military Commission, and the Party leadership now cannot take the PLA for granted. Reports say there is talk within the officer cadre of the need to “nationalize” the PLA – i.e. remove it from the authority of the Party and put it under the umbrella of the State. A move in that direction would be a political coup and signify the end of the current regime in all but name.

Complicating the picture within China is the grossly warped economic relationship the country has developed with the world since the 1997 “two systems one country” deal for the return of Hong Kong after its 99 year development under the British. With that deal China’s leaders bought into the empire of corruption Britain has built as its formal imperial structures were dismantled. Having Hong Kong as a sluice for the proceeds of corruption has gutted the Chinese regime in a weird replay of what happened in the 19th Century as Britain foisted the opium trade on the country. According to Washington-based Global Financial Integrity the country has lost an estimated $3.7 trillion in outflows to the global black market since 2001. That staggering figure indicates more than economic loss; it means key players in the Chinese power structure are in league with the most unscrupulous and manipulative of foreign interests.

The level of their cooperation can perhaps be seen in the murky downfall of Bo Xilai, a “Princeling” whose vocal campaign against corruption had made him a popular candidate for inclusion in the Standing Committee. The timing of his fall and its cause – the murder of a “British businessman” who was both an MI6 operative and a money-launderer – suggest a set up. Was the murder provoked by a blatant effort to cheat Bo and his wife of their foreign holdings? What led the local Police Chief (now given amnesty) to advertise the murder internationally by fleeing for asylum to the American consulate in Chengdu?

Such questions will surely be exercising the minds of the 25 members of political Bureau to which Xi’s 7-member Standing Committee reports. Unlike its apex body the Bureau is not dominated by conservatives and it could rehabilitate Bo Xilai much as it did Deng Xiaoping, who Mao tried to discredit and destroy. We can read that possibility into the unexplained decision to select only seven of the nine members of the Standing Committee. If Bo’s supposed show-trial exonerates him the cat would be among the pigeons, especially if he is inducted into the Standing Committee along with another reform candidate who was excluded. Xi himself could easily swing into the reform camp, for he has shown himself to be pragmatist. (It is possible his mysterious two-week disappearance from public view in September was spent reassuring last-minute doubters in the conservative camp and ensuring that he could take over chairmanship of the Military Commission at the same time as the top Party job.)

No matter how these circumstances play out, the anti-reform cast of the Standing Committee might be short-lived, for five members will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in the next few years; it is unlikely that 86-year old former president Jiang Zemin, who marshaled the conservatives this time around, will be able to decide on replacements. However, such prognostications could be immaterial, for the Chinese economy faces a disastrous prospect. If it suffers a crash the effects will be global and could easily tip the region, and indeed, the world, into war.

If ever there was a time for Chinese leaders to internalize the lessons of their national history it is now. Those lessons are clear. Security lies not in walls but in promoting the creativity and genius of their own valiant people. Dissent is not a weakness but an invaluable good in any society. The strength of a nation is not in the oppression of the weak but in their happiness and wellbeing. The corruption and criminality of the outside world are indeed dangerous but they are counterbalanced by a great fund of goodwill that China can mobilize if it changes policies founded in arrogance and dishonesty.

The normal run of State policies will not allow such a change in mindset; it will require a fundamental reassessment of the country’s existential situation and a decision to change it. Fortunately, the rich spiritual tradition of Chinese Buddhism offers the basis for such a change. To suggest that the regime allow the revival of that tradition might seem unrealistic but it is no more than a reversal of the ugly change that Mao Zedong engineered. It would transform the scene within the country and recast all problems in a hopeful light. It could save not just China but the world from disaster.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Laugh Out Loud Television News

Indian television provides many laugh out loud moments.  

Headlines Today could easily be repackaged as a News version of Woody Allen's "What's Up Tiger Lily!" (In case readers don't remember, that dates back to the time when Chinese films were a novelty and Allen, then still funny, provided his own riotous subtitles to one.)

Any interview by Prannoy Roy, especially on foreign affairs or economics, is usually rich in laughs. His most recent outing, on the US election, did not disappoint for its premise was that the world's most disciplined under control democracy is on the verge of becoming "ungovernable." He seems to have fallen for the "deeply divided electorate" line that US television anchors resort to when voting patterns get too mind-numbingly predictable.
 
Arvind Kejriwal's Press Conference on HSBC bank accounts was comic in a refreshingly new way. It showed broadcasters in the role of Wily Coyote who in his heyday was always running off cliffs and remaining airborne until he looked down and saw there was no ground under his feet.

Anticipation was high before the show, with excited reporters speculating on what was about to be revealed. Once it began, there was an almost visible deflation. Moments after Mukesh Ambani's name was mentioned as one of the account holders Headlines Today began noting it as a "faux pas" by Kejriwal: a crawler said HSBC had apologized to the Mumbai billionaire. Another noted that his account had "zero balance."

Kejriwal evidently realized he was not on a good wicket right away and a look of gloom settled in under the high cap. He was quite clearly completely at sea about the information he was divulging, and seemed to think the HSBC accounts are all hawala arrangements. Most are probably the proceeds of trade mispricing.

Luckily for him, there were few questions. The journalists present exhibited no curiosity at all about any aspect of the revelations.

In contrast to Indian television, the BBC provides few occasions for laughter.

Only a grammarian would crack a smile at the shop-girlish exchanges of "Thank you very much indeeds!" by anchors who seem not to know the uses of an adverb. (I live in dread of the day one of them will sing out "Hello Indeed!")

So, while we are on the subject of HSBC, it is probably appropriate to mention that the BBC's coverage of the bank's black accounts story -- back when it broke this summer -- had one laugh out loud moment.

The story this summer was that investigators in New York had found HSBC routinely laundering drug/terrorist money and were threatening to take away its license. (They seem to have settled for a billion dollar fine.)

The humor came from one of BBC's inimitably fustian financial analysts who waved away the concerns about British ethics expressed by Business News editor Sally Bundock. HSBC's long-running criminality he said, was an "amazing lapse of concentration."

Anyone who thinks he was being droll should read the testimony of HSBC officials before a United States Senate subcommittee last July. Every single one of them took the line that the money laundering was the result of managerial oversight. Now that the Americans had brought it to their attention, things would change, by God!



Saturday, November 10, 2012

Which Congressman?

A couple of days ago I voiced the suspicion that someone in the Intelligence Establishment was leaking copiously to Arvind Kejriwal.

He told the Press on Friday that the source was a "senior Congressman."

Not a single reporter present asked who. More interesting, no one (at least none that I watched) tried later to guess who it might be.

The opportunities to do so were ample, for the Congress top brass convened as if on cue for a day-long retreat.
 
It was as if Someone Up There had arranged a game of Clue. Was it the Finance Minister in the Library with an Axe? The Minister for Human Resources with a Rope? 
It could be the former Home Minister. After all, he was a former lawyer for Enron. And he did try to sneak in a central police force that could have gutted constitutional structures and Indian democracy. Also, if the challenge to his last election in Chennai goes wrong, he could be headed for the exit anyway.

But I doubt it. My bet, purely on a hunch and a bizarre exchange on Headlines Today, is the Human Resources Minister, bushy-browed verse-monger Kapil Sibal.

Which of the numerous bizarre exchanges on Headlines Today?

The one in which Rahul Kanwar, talking to Sibal in the immediate aftermath of Kejriwal's allegations about Robert Vadra, said to him in high glee words to the effect: "So what now for you? Prime Minister?"

Sibal, also in high spirits, stayed silent but cackled like a hen.

Now, it could be I was tripping on too much soda water and imagined the whole thing, but I swear that's what came down the pike.

It set me wondering. Does HRD cover Intelligence? If it does, could my speculation be right after all?

The Point of Malala Day

The point of "Malala Day" is not Girl's Education. It is not to get Malala a Nobel Prize. It is nothing that makes you feel warm and gushy.

The point of Malala Day is to focus like a laser on what happened to her and why.

She was shot because she wanted an education.

The Taliban wanted her dead because she threatened them.

She questioned their version of "Islam."

She challenged their right to deny her an education.

She was the most dangerous person to their world: a thinking, feeling, lively, super cute Muslim.

Why are the Taliban hung up on their dank murderous version of religion?

It helps hide what they do for a living: run drugs.

They run $60 billion worth of opium and heroin out of Afghanistan.

The freak-show part of the Taliban doesn't see that money of course.

Their bosses, a handful of Haqqanis, a couple of Mullahs, and the big shots of the ISI and the Pakistani government get about two percent of the total take.

The rest seeps away into HSBC accounts, "tax havens" like the Cayman Islands and Mauritius, and millions of "shell companies."

After fast-as-light laundering the black money emerges free of the blood of many Malalas.

It flows into hedge funds that keep the price of oil above $100 a barrel amidst what economists are calling The Great Recession.

It flows into the secret kitties of the lords and ladies of Britain.

In countries around the world it keeps politicians cooperative, bankers purring at their bonuses and journalists silent (alive and dead).

On this Malala Day and on every day that follows remember what the occasion is meant to commemorate: a brave girl and the great corruption that tried to shut her up.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Mao's Ghosts Walk Again in China

Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution in Washington has interpreted the decision of the Beijing regime to put fallen “Princeling” BoXilai on public trial as an “outstanding result” of political reform. He sees it as a gain for the rule of law in China that the top political leadership of the country did not settle the matter internally.

Bo was the influential Communist Party Chief of Chongqing, widely seen as one of the country’s top future leaders. Then his wife murdered a British money launderer and his police chief fled to an American consulate asking for asylum. Earlier this year his wife pleaded guilty to murder and was given a long prison sentence; now Bo is on public trial.

I think it is a mistake to see this as an advance for the rule of law. I doubt if those of us looking in from outside, or indeed, most Chinese, will take any comfort from the fact that “200,000 registered lawyers now have a voice and many of them are calling for improved rule of law and constitutionalism.”.

The public trial is necessary because international publicity made it impossible to hush up the matter and Bo has a “Leftist” following unlikely to accept his quiet disappearance.

So what to do with a demagogue whose popularity – not his criminal use of power – made the corrupt billionaires leading the Party uncomfortable?

Have a show trial.

Instead of Red Guards screaming invective and assaulting the victim, have “lawyers” go through the motions of prosecution, defense and conviction. Only the form has changed; the whole thing is a scripted drama for public edification.

Other ghosts of Mao’s time might also come alive.

China-born Cheng Li says there is “a heated discussion” going on among Chinese top brass “about the current risk of revolution in the country.” In that context, “conservative hardliners within the Communist Party leadership may ultimately decide to resist political reform at all costs.” That could make policy differences and personnel appointments “contentious” and even cause “factional infighting to spiral out of control.” Far from signaling a new political maturity of the Chinese leadership, the Bo trial may “polarize Chinese society and enhance the risk of socio-political unrest rather than build momentum for legitimacy enhancing reforms.”

For China's neighbors none of this is good news. It is very likely that a major political crisis in China could lead the endangered leaders to create a diversionary foreign crisis; that could easily spill into regional war.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Implications of Scandalmania

Indian "elite media" have been so engrossed in the obsessive coverage of corruption allegations that no one has had the time to reflect on what exactly is happening. Here are a few of the implications that people should think about:

  1. Someone in the Intelligence Establishment is leaking like a sieve. Kejriwal is a jhoolahwalla ditz who couldn't walk and chew pan at the same time, much less unearth the stuff he is revealing. Subramaniam Swamy is smart but he too is being fed the information he publicizes. Where the information is coming from should be a matter of urgent speculation in view of the second implication:   
  2. Somebody wants to delegitimize and destabilize the Indian political system. It goes beyond wanting the UPA out in mid-term polls. Whoever is spreading the muck wants the country leaderless.
  3. Our "elite" media seem to be following a destroy-India script almost with glee. Headlines Today is way out front in that regard. It led the clumsy charge against Salman Khurshid, and after he rebutted the charges, went into a five hour paroxysm during which it did little more than urge his dismissal from the cabinet. HT was clearly trying to prevent Khurshid's elevation to the Foreign Minister's job.      
What does all this point to? We have to look at the world situation to understand.

With China on the skids (the recent "good news" from Beijing is unbelievable), the big guns of the multi-trillion dollar global black market want a place to invest their money free of bothersome things like environmental standards and social impact. They want India in the charge of a man dishonest enough to boast of "good governance" in the face of riot and death under his watch and a minister in prison for contributing to it. Hence London's sudden "normalization of relations" with Narendra Modi, followed by an India Today cover story pumping him up.

Why would our "elite media" cooperate in preparing the country for the rapists?

Consider who controls them.  

Headlines Today/India Today is under Aroon Purie, a bean counter trained in Britain who got into journalism to provide business for the large printing press set up in Delhi by his secretive "financier" father in partnership with "Lord Thompson of Fleet," the British newspaper magnate.

The patriarch of the Jain family that owns the  Times of India group also got rich wheeling and dealing under the British. He got into journalism after his father-in-law was sent to prison by India's first independent government for embezzling the funds used to buy the flagship newspaper.

The NDTV organization is owned by Prannoy Roy, also a British-trained accountant, whose father worked for a UK multinational corporation and married an Englishwoman. NDTV got its start as a news program for Doordarshan which sued Roy after it went commercial. (It is interesting that Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy is Prannoy's cousin.)

If the owners of our "elite" media are loyal to any country it is the one that controls the global black market.

 What of the Intelligence Establishment leak?

My guess is that some high-level suit has been suborned from abroad or has political ambitions and is trying to manipulate his own political ascent by destroying those who stand in the way. Whatever the cause, the current situation has highlighted the need for our Intelligence agencies to have a constitutional framework and systems for external oversight and internal accountability. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Real "Bond Girls"

Malala Yousafzai struggling to recover from a Taliban assassin’s bullets is the latest real life “Bond Girl.”

She is one of the many millions of women and children who have been victims of those “licensed to kill” for Britain.

The linkage is direct. The Taliban was created by Pakistan’s ISI, which was established by British Military Intelligence in 1948 and has been its proxy ever since.

Ian Fleming, who invented the fictional serial killer James Bond, was a psychological warfare expert of British Military Intelligence.

Fleming tarted up murder with sex and fancy gadgetry and conjured up a series of bizarre villains, but underpinning the fiction was the grim reality of officially sanctioned murder of anyone who stood in the way of British “interests.”

The Taliban proxies of MI6 protect the $60 billion British interest in the drug trade out of Pakistan and Afghanistan. To keep that trade going it is necessary to keep the region as the badlands of Empire; Malala had to go. Similarly, protecting the diamond monopoly of DeBeers from post Cold War Russian and Arab mafias required a reign of terror in African producing countries; in Sierra Leone the job was taken in hand by former British special ops soldier Foday Sankoh, who persuaded locals not to deal with outsiders by cutting off hands, legs, ears and noses of thousands of people, including six month old babies.

During the heyday of the British Empire, London’s “interests” required the elimination of entire peoples. In such situations imperial agents killed without a qualm. In Tasmania, British settlers hunted the local people like animals until they were extinct. Winston Churchill even justified such policy to a parliamentary committee on Palestine, saying he did not “feel sorry” for the American Indian or the Australian aborigine because they were replaced by a “superior” race.

In colonial India, the killing was also on genocidal scale. At a conservative estimate, the British killed about 100 million Indians from the time they took control of Bengal (1757) to the imperial sunset turned ruddy by the deaths of over a million people in the assiduously engineered Partition "riots" of 1947.

There was also much targeted killing, the kind 007 is “licensed” to execute. The string of prominent Indians who died sudden and often premature deaths stretches from Raja Rammohun Roy, who was almost certainly poisoned, to Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.

Gideon Polyna, an Australian academic who has made a specialty of counting up the cost in human lives of the British Empire, estimates that from 1950 to 2005 the "excess deaths" in the British Commonwealth numbered a staggering 700 million. Included in that number were the 100,000 or so Mau Mau rebels killed in Kenya, many by the most gruesome torture. (In July three survivors of that period learned that their effort to sue the British government would be allowed to go forward.)

It is amazing that the editors of Indian “elite” media do not see the dark reality behind the meretricious glamour of James Bond. It is one thing for Judi Dench, the porky British actress who has the role of “M,” the head of MI6, to burble about how “endearing” she finds the character of Bond; for Indian reporters to evince similar sentiments is like a Jew being starry-eyed over Adolf Eichmann or Josef Mengele.

Friday, October 19, 2012

To Change the World

The piece below is the Introduction to the book I have just finished writing. It is long and complex, as is the book. Anyone interested in knowing more or commenting on what I have to say should contact me at  bhaskarpmenonATgmail.com or papamenon04ATyahoo.com. DO NOT use the Blogger interface; it seems to convert most messages to gibberish  (The 15 August piece on Sri Aurobindo elicited, in addition to the few published comments, over 50 identical pieces of spam!)  If you send me a message and do not get a polite and considered response it means I have not got it. Please feel free to circulate or post this note and the piece below wherever you want.


1001 Things You Should Know

The world is now trapped in deep interlocked crises that could precipitate an extended economic depression, global environmental disasters and war; but we have the capacity to deal with them by effecting a global spiritual transformation. This book is a guide to what ordinary people can do to direct the course of events. Its recommendations emerge from a tradition and history that are uniquely of India, a legacy that Mahatma Gandhi brought into politics and Martin Luther King made global.
 
As our national legacy is not well understood even in India -- perhaps especially in India because of deliberate colonial era distortions that have endured into the 21st Century -- much of the book is history, with a particular focus on the confrontation of India and Britain as that of two fundamentally different approaches to reality, the spiritual and the material. In addressing that issue the book examines several venerable clich├ęs about India -- its spirituality, its "unity in diversity" and the unparalleled tolerance of its society -- that no one has felt the need to explain. Why is India so famously spiritual, united in its diversity and tolerant?

The answers, necessarily hypothetical, point to the time when efforts began to to tone down the endemic hostilities of the fiercely territorial hunter gatherers inhabiting India. Probably taken in hand by the legendary Saptarishis, the seven sages at the beginnings of Indian tradition, the effort most likely began with the collection of the sacred lore of all the tribes into a compendium -- the Vedas -- that everyone could venerate. (The colonial era theory that blond White protoEuropean "Aryans" composed them while herding cattle and riding their chariots up and down the high Himalayan passes is laughably absurd.)

The word Veda is from the same root as video; it is what is seen or known. To seek the significance of that body of collected tribal knowledge India's best and brightest gathered in forest retreats and produced the Upanishads (a composite word that means to talk sitting together). Those ancient conference reports conceptualized familiar realities: a universe governed by law extending from the starry sky to the endless cycling of nature's seasonal transformations in which death was but a step to rebirth and human actions propelled fate.

The Upanishads postulated an eternal and immanent power governing by immutable Dharma (Law), the endless flux of the universe. In human affairs that law operated as Karma, the unbreakable chain of cause and effect binding an individual’s actions to personal destiny. As death is but a door to rebirth, the karmic chain was seen as extending over many lives, determining the soul's evolution or regression in awareness and understanding. In the happiest of circumstances the individual soul could achieve enlightenment, escape from the cycle of life, and merge with the Paramatma, the Universal Soul. The guiding lights on that positive track were defined as Sat Chit Ananda — Truth Knowledge Bliss — three separate elements that can be read as a statement: the bliss of knowing the truth.

The Indian world view shaped by the Upanishads is profoundly hopeful; individuals face no Judgment Day but have endless opportunities for trial and error in their progress towards God. Existence is a constant teacher of the need for spiritual understanding and evolution. Although human society suffers a long decline in virtue through great cycles of time, the immanent power of the Universe never allows the defeat of the Good. The darkest age, the Kali Yuga (now current), ends with the return of virtue in full flood.

The philosophy of the Upanishads flowed into the life of ordinary people through two masterly epics written some seven millennia apart and marking key points in the evolution of Indian society. Endlessly retold as sacred legend, folk tale and life’s eternal drama, celebrated in music, song and dance, the Ramayana and Mahabharata carried the philosophy of the Upanishads down to the lowliest village. By popularizing the view that all Creation is Vasudev kutumbakham, God's family, they made it impossible to define a tribal "Other" and enforce a group identity on the basis of fear. Thus defanged, tribes became castes, autonomous in certain customs and traditions but parts of a larger society; the law-giving Manu of the current Yuga compared them to the functionally different but interdependent parts of a human body.

 The Ramayana marked the evolution of caste federations into unitary kingdoms; it set the ideal of Ramrajya, the rule of a virtuous monarch dedicated to the welfare of his people and beloved by all castes. When that ideal lay trampled in the struggle for imperial power the Mahabharata carried instructions for corrupt and confusing times: people were not of high or low caste by birth but by personal merit and action; the individual must maintain his moral equilibrium and do his duty regardless of immediate success or failure.

The attributes of personal freedom and tolerance, combined with the acceptance of law and specialization of labor, made India a cultural and economic powerhouse that influenced all of Eurasia. The Universal Soul of the Upanishads migrated West to ancient Greece, and its Platonic version entered the Semitic world when, some 300 years before Jesus, a learned council convened by Ptolemy II in Alexandria produced the first Greek translation of the Torah. The council rendered the tribal war god Yahweh into the almighty God of the Pentateuch, beginning the monotheistic tradition that flowed into the Bible and the Koran. Meanwhile, the Buddha's spare non-deistic retelling of universal reality centered on the creative core of Sunnyata (emptiness) fathered the Zero and revolutionized mathematics globally; his philosophy found a receptive home in East Asia and endured there as India itself returned to the richly personified deism of the old religion.

As trade with all parts of Eurasia and parts of Africa added to India's great wealth the country became a magnet for migrants, many filtering in peacefully and others invading to conquer and rule. With one exception, all of them settled into the unifying amalgam of Indian society.

The British were the exception. Arriving initially as traders, they rose to power at a time of great disorder in the country by using to advantage an acute capacity for political manipulation and treachery. Their rise coincided with two significant changes in the world view of the British elite. One reflected the demolition of the Biblical God-centered universe by Newton's mechanistic concept of it. The other was the fond fantasy that Europeans were the descendants of a superior "Aryan race." Atheism, racial arrogance and consistent perfidy put the British fundamentally at odds with Indian society and precluded their settling into it. Their nonviolent expulsion after two massively murderous world wars fought in the ruthless pursuit of imperial interests highlighted the stark contrasts between Britain and India.

The "Soul Force" that Mahatma Gandhi mobilized to end British rule has been missing in most of what has been reported as happening in India since independence. In addition, the massive corruptions afflicting the country now seem to signal the death of our traditional values. However, such conclusions are premature, for our history lies largely unexamined and misunderstood, as indeed, does the force that Gandhi mobilized. It is urgent to remedy those deficits now because the world is in deepening peril from the industrial “progress” that Gandhi correctly described as malignant and unsustainable in his seminal 1910 book, Hind Swaraj.

Corrective action will not come from governments: for some four decades they have done little in the face of disastrous environmental trends that are driving species to extinction at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. They have taken only the most desultory action in the face of the threat that global warming could force radical changes in the cropping patterns of major food crops, precipitating possibly genocidal wars. The elite groups in control of the world's governments are loath to change economic arrangements that bring them vast wealth. If their suicidal inertia is to be overcome without ruinous disruption of the world economy ordinary people must mobilize the transformational power of Gandhian "Soul Force." 

Gandhi himself refused to explain how other people could use that force, saying to one interlocutor, “I have it all in my head. When the occasion comes I take out what is applicable to the situation.” When pressed to write a “treatise” on the matter he replied “I cannot do what you want me to do. It is beyond my power. ... I am not the man who can write a treatise. I speak under inspiration. I cannot decide as to how I shall tackle a particular situation until I am faced with it.” But even in the absence of written instructions, we can make out that he acted on the fundamental tenets of Hindu faith. If all Creation is part of the divine, all must share in and resonate to the force of the Soul, the spiritual truth. Satyagraha sought to mobilize the spiritual force of those he led and engage adversaries at the level of their highest common denominator. The essence of the Gandhian approach is the belief that once spiritually engaged, people can resolve any problem.

Gandhi based himself in the mainstream of a spiritual tradition Indians have sustained for some 15 millennia in an effort to comprehend the nature of reality. As noted earlier, that effort began in the Vedas, intensified in the Upanishads, and entered the lives of ordinary people with the Ramayana and Mahabharata. It has coursed unbroken down the centuries into the contemporary world, albeit with major blockages and periods of great difficulty. When the Vedic tradition became crusted over with ritual and superstition the Buddha emerged to cleanse and reform it. When Buddhism lost energy, Adi Sankara revived the old religion and set off the Bhakti tradition that strengthened resistance to invading Islam and eventually softened the foreign faith into the indigenous Sufi movement.

 Emerging from that milieu, Kabir and Guru Nanak, healers of caste and religious division, set off the streams of poetry and faith that became modern Indian nationalism. It is that extended background that explains why, when Raja Rammohun Roy took up the British challenge in Bengal in the 18th Century, the response came not just from there but from the whole country, reaching fruition in Gandhi. Britain’s empty boast that it created Indian unity flies in the face of the world’s most ancient nationalism, emerging not from conquest and oppression as in Europe but by consensus and culture shaped by sages, poets and philosophers.

The spiritual has always been a structural element of Indian history. With Satyagraha in South Africa Gandhi rendered it overtly political, opening the door to its globalization by Martin Luther King. The trajectory of Gandhian ideas from Africa and India to America is what allows their use to change the world in the 21st Century. That does not mean that we do not need to innovate. Gandhi's experience in leading a spiritually attuned people to confront oppressive authority is not directly relevant to a situation in which activists must deal with a hugely diffuse system with its decision-making centres dispersed among corporate elites obedient to no single institutional centre.

Satyagraha remains useful in situations like Koodankulam, where elite groups promote poisonous patterns of “development;” and it can be used to protest an entire range of policies as Spain’s Indignado and American “Occupy” movements have done. But it cannot transform the existing world situation without bringing local efforts into global synergy. The Information and Communications Revolutions have made that possible. The next decade will see most of the world's seven billion people connected by mobile telephone networks; the number of those on the Internet will be nearly five billion by 2020. The number of online machines that process and store most of human knowledge ─ the "Internet of things" as Yuri Milner the Russian IT strategist calls it ─ will grow much faster in the same period, increasing from five billion to 20 billion. Meanwhile, vastly improved Internet search functions and geospatial presentations integrating complex data streams will change the content and quality of the Web. Widespread use of smart phones will enable billions of people to access that information and contribute to online data banks. In sum, we will have the beginnings of what Milner calls a "global brain."

The impact of such a new planetary consciousness will depend on how it is used. If it is committed to help the poor and weak, to deal with social and environmental problems and promote peace and nonviolence, it could develop into a composite Mahatma, a collective "Great Soul" to guide the world out of its current state of generalized crisis and along a path beneficial to all. Its immoral use to control and manipulate people, to generate corporate profits without regard to social and environmental impact would produce a violent dementia. Much of the book is devoted to examining the negative factors that must be neutralized to prevent such a perversion. It also suggests how activists working at the level of their own communities can engage in a global matrix to build the synergies necessary to transform the world.

The first step towards mobilizing global action must be to spread a balanced understanding of what happened during the era of Europe's global dominance. At present such an understanding is not possible because imperial Europe has buried its record in fabricated histories. The motivation has not been national pride but elite profit; the truth cannot be told because it would reveal that exploitative violence and bloody treachery have continued unabated long past the supposed end of the colonial era. This is especially true of Britain, where a cohesive elite has engaged in a campaign of active and widespread propaganda. This is not because of the long afterlife of imperial arrogance; the propaganda hides the fact that the British Empire has been resurrected as a global underground economy that fosters every form of organized crime and corruption.

"Islamic terrorists," drug lords and criminal mafias in every country are the foot soldiers of that new imperium, as are wealthy tax cheats around the world. Their alliance is rooted in the use of "tax havens," of which there are now about 70, most of them established as the British Empire declined in the second half of the 20th Century. Tax havens help major multinational banks launder the proceeds of crime; they constitute a system with its hub in The City (financial district) of London. There is hard evidence of the system at work. Just in the last year Britain's largest bank, HSBC, incurred a fine of about a billion dollars in New York for laundering drug money. (The bank was only being true to its roots: HSBC stands for Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Corporation, which rose to international prominence by financing the opium trade in the 19th Century.)

 In effect, the tax haven system has created within the world's existing financial architecture a shadow criminal enterprise hidden in plain sight: mass media regularly report the obscenely large "bonuses" major banks pay to their staff but they never explain why. Journalists avoided explanations even when such payments continued in the aftermath of the 2009 financial meltdown, as banks wallowed in public funds to stave off bankruptcy. If the thought has ever crossed their minds that bank bonuses are payoffs to people managing trillion dollar flows of black money, reporters and editors have kept it a very close secret.

The New British Empire is far more powerful than the old one ever was. It manipulates a wide range of proxies around the world to generate a massive flow of illicit earnings. Revenues come from the theft of natural resources, drug trafficking and the arms trade. Africa, the Middle East and South Asia have been the primary victims. Since the 1997 return of Hong Kong to China, Britain has also tied into the lucrative corruptions of that largest of tyrannies. The lurid downfall in 2012 of Bo Xi-lai, the rising political "Princeling" whose wife murdered a British money launderer, brought that fetid reality to world attention; or rather, it would have done so if the mainstream Press had not presented the murder victim as a respectable "British businessman."

The media have given scant attention to expert estimates valuing the global black market at over $30 trillion and annual money laundering at $2 trillion. To put those figures in perspective: the entire American economy is valued at about $15 trillion. The cooperation of Western mass media in disguising Britain's multifaceted post-colonial criminality points to the corrupting power of real-life Mordor. Unfortunately, there is no single magic ring that can be tossed into hellfire to destroy its dark empire; that will require a concerted global effort to promote understanding of its violent nature and corrupting role. Whoever accepts the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the European Union will have a golden opportunity to kick-start that process.

Will the people of Middle Earth mobilize against the great evil threatening them? I believe they will for two reasons. One is that the old order is spent. Corporations, the central institution of the colonial and industrial eras, are no longer the most efficient means to organize economic activity; increasingly, the giant transnational entities that dominate the world economy are like lumbering dinosaurs in a networked world. Although they have accumulated enormous political, economic and social power, the corporate elite have come up against a new reality they cannot master, the lightning fast connectivity of the Information Age.

To understand how that has changed economic fundamentals we have to look at the historical context, specifically, the evolution of the European concept of “capital.” It appeared first when elite groups enclosed common lands, claimed property rights, and imposed rent on weaker sections of society, thus monetizing their labour. Those without property could not get land without laying their lives on the line with a mortgage – a word that in the original French means “engaged to the death.”

Land ceased being the primary form of capital when the development of ocean-going ships and new navigation capabilities made long distance trade hugely profitable. The “capital” of the mercantile era was the money necessary to fund risky and expensive ventures. It was raised and spent by a new institution, the joint-stock corporation: the East India Company founded in 1600 was the first one. With industrialization the concept of “capital” changed again: it became the capacity to bundle money, technology, raw materials, labour and marketing skills.

At every step in its radical evolution "capital" remained under the control of elite groups; but the Information Age has changed that. The social connectivity now necessary to generate the most lucrative profits is a form of "capital" that cannot be easily controlled from the top. In fact, corporate advertisers using the Internet and Worldwide Web are the tenant farmers of the Information Age, monetizing the social connective. Without fascist measures similar to those in China they cannot control the vast potential of that connectivity or block its potential to mobilize transformational change.

As an illustration of that altogether new power, consider that the current "housing crisis" in the United States could be resolved in a week by organizing a Web-based state-regulated lottery of overpriced real estate. The overpriced properties now stalling the market could be transferred to new owners who would need no mortgage. Properly institutionalized, the entire housing market could be driven by lottery, generating a steady flow of funds for builders and erasing banks from the picture. The power of connected collectives can be similarly exerted in every area of economic and social activity. It can clean up politics, initiate and sustain action to protect the environment, eradicate poverty and illiteracy, and dramatically bring down the incidence of preventable and communicable diseases.  

The second reason for my optimism is that the world seems primed for a spiritual revolution. To see why that is so, we have to bring into focus the net result of four grim centuries of Europe's global hegemony. All things negative in that era have had unexpected positive outcomes:

  • The racist genocides, slave trades and exploitation of indentured and migrant labour have mixed the human gene-pool into an unprecedented unity.
  • War has ploughed under many national parochialisms and cross fertilized traditions.
  • Opposition to Europe's racist and colonial oppressions brought to life the moral revolution that for the first time in history demanded the equality of men and women of all races.
  • Mass-market consumerism with its color blind pursuit of profit undermined racism everywhere.
  • The ecological ravages of the industrial era underlined humanity’s close and custodial relationship with Nature; the deepening environmental crises they triggered have made urgent and fundamental change imperative.
  • The current world economic crisis has made clear to many millions of people that the existing economic and political systems are deeply corrupt and must be changed.

To read an epochal transformation into this negative-to-positive progression is admittedly an intuitive leap but it can be defended scientifically by considering the nature of thought. Scientists have demonstrated that thoughts are patterns of electrons that can not only be mapped and projected visually in the laboratory, but used to control equipment, most innocuously to help grievously disabled people. They have done this without venturing an opinion on the provenance of more complex thoughts. Is "thinking" individually generated? Or does the "thinker" merely perceive existing patterns? If thought is individually generated, it would support the view of our universe as an accidental evolutionary development with no set direction or purpose. If it is the perception of existing structures of electrons -- as in the intuitive leap above -- it would imply that a purposeful universe is transmitting a message.

The mainstream of Indian spiritual tradition has affirmed that human beings are part of a purposeful Universe. That belief is the basis for yogic meditation which seeks to tune the individual to the Universal essence. This is not to say that the Universe is deterministic in human terms: it can be perceived in many different ways, and that can change its course: “You attain what you worship” says the Bhagavad Gita. The world we now have is the result of Europe’s worship of wealth and unscrupulous power; to transform it we must perceive and want a different reality.

There is little doubt that since Gandhi’s advent turned the tide against the colonial era there has been a continuous improvement in the moral quality of human actions. We have seen a widening altruism, a growing sensitivity to the need to protect all life on the planet, and a strengthening effort to promote human rights and democracy. Even neo-colonial Europe amidst its continuing depredations has bowed to the trend and instead of glorying in domination and rapacity, provides “official development aid” to its victims. It is within our power to push that positive trend into an evolutionary quantum jump. Out of the titanic gloom of the current global crisis we can bring another world into being; this book is a basic guide to how we can do so.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Hatchet Job on Sri Aurobindo

Peter Heehs, the American author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo (Columbia University Press 2008), has been an archivist at the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry for over 40 years. However, long familiarity with his subject and with India has not translated into insight or even understanding. His 496-page tome seems to have been written by some racist koi-hai from the colonial era.

The "genre of hagiography ... is very much alive in India" Heehs writes. "Any saint with a following is the subject of one or more books that tell the inspiring story of his or her birth, growth, mission, and passage to the eternal. Biographers of literary and political figures do not differ much from the model. People take to the received version of their heroes’ lives very seriously. A statement about a politician or poet that rubs people the wrong way will be turned into a political or legal issue or probably cause a riot. The problem is not whether the disputed statement is true, but whether anyone has the right to question an account that flatters a group identity.”

Obviously written for foreigners who know little of India (the people at Columbia University Press?), those lines are absurd. How many “riots” can we Indians remember that were sparked by a comment in a book about some poet or politician? How many law suits? The overkill continues in a comparison Heehs offers between two photographs of Aurobindo, one retouched to erase wrinkles and make him fairer. Such retouching is a common free service provided unasked by Indian darkroom assistants and their modern computerized counterparts; but Heehs sees it as devious hagiography, intended to make Aurobindo look more saintly. Upon that overblown conclusion he hangs the following startling declaration:

“Hagiographers deal with documents the way that retouchers deal with photographs. Biographers must take their documents as they find them. They have to examine all sorts of materials, paying as much attention to the subject’s enemies as by his friends (sic), not giving special treatment even to the subject’s own version of events.” There is no mention of the biographer’s responsibility to try and arrive at the truth, an omission we could consider an oversight if the book were not such a study in dishonesty.

Another astonishing element of the book is Heehs’ assessment of Aurobindo’s mystical experiences. “In trying to trace the lines of Aurobindo’s sadhna, a biographer can use the subject’s diaries, letters and retrospective accounts," says the Preface. "There is also for comparison, accounts by others of similar mystical experiences. But in the end, such experiments remain subjective. Perhaps they are only hallucinations or signs of psychotic breakdown.” Even if that is not so, he asks, “do they have any value to anyone but the subject?”

Heehs gives short shrift to the claim that mystics access “a kind of knowledge that is more fundamental, and thus more valuable, than the relative knowledge of words and things.” A mystic absorbed “in inner experience … is freed from the problems that afflict men and women who are caught in the dualities of knowledge and ignorance, pleasure and pain, life and death,” he writes. “A mystic thus absorbed often is lost to the human effort to achieve a more perfect life.” Rather lamely he then adds that the value of Aurobindo’s life lies in his 40-year effort to “bring the knowledge and power of the spirit into the world.”

The Preface makes it abundantly clear that Heehs does not write of spiritual experience from personal knowledge. That conclusion is hammered in by the rest of the book, structured to reflect his view that Aurobindo had five discontinuous “lives:” as Son, Scholar, Revolutionary, Yogi/Philosopher, and Guide. Despite the admission that the “five lives were not sealed off from one another,” and that “in the end, [there was] only one,” it is obvious that Heehs suffers from a fundamental incapacity as Aurobindo's biographer: he cannot validate anything beyond the physical. In fact, even his understanding of the physical appears shaky. For instance, he thinks (page 203) the electron microscope rendered invalid Aurobindo's statement that a seed holds the "idea" of the plant it will become.

All that the electron microscope has done, all that modern physics as a whole has done, is to examine more closely the logistics and mechanics of natural processes; the Scientific Method cannot assess purpose and significance, the vital components of the "idea" driving them. That is why Science has been silent on such issues as the meaning of the Universe and human destiny. The discontinuities that Heehs perceives in Aurobindo's life are meaningless in the face of the "idea" incarnate in the foremost of India's modern mystics. However, they do help the reviewer filet the author’s misunderstandings.

Life 1: “Son”
Aurobindo Ackroyd Ghose was born in Calcutta on 15 August 1872, the third son of a young anglophile doctor in the employ of the colonial regime. Dr. Ghose was posted in the nearby provincial town of Rangpur, a name that Heehs says means "City of Delight." It actually means Colourful Place. Errors like that cast doubt on almost everything he reports. When Heehs asserts that Aurobindo's middle name was an afterthought, honouring Annette Ackroyd, an Englishwoman who came to India six months after his birth, the reader is inclined to ask for a verifiable source. And what is one to make of the completely gratuitous comment that Keshub Chunder Sen in 1870 was “the first Indian with flowing robes and an agile tongue to captivate a credulous West"? Raja Rammohun Roy and Dwaraknath Tagore made grand public tours of Britain several decades before Sen, and it was not just in the "credulous West" that crowds gathered to hear them.

When Aurobindo was five Dr. Ghose sent his sons to a mission school in Darjeeling, and two years later took them to Britain (along with his pregnant wife and infant daughter). The boys were left in the charge of an Anglican clergyman, William Drewett, who was asked not to teach them anything about India; Dr. Ghose hoped if they were raised British it would ease their path into the Indian Civil Service. The minister and his wife initially tutored the boys at home. Aurobindo was the brightest of the three and excelled at English, French and Latin. He won a scholarship to London’s prestigious St Paul’s School and did well enough in the first of a succession of ICS examinations to win an additional stipend. That allowed the brothers to scrape by, ill clad and ill fed through years in which they received little from home. Heehs makes no attempt to explain why their father stopped sending money, or why he began sending snippets from newspapers to show how "heartless" the British were.

Penury did not prevent Aurobindo from thriving at school. He excelled at Latin and Greek, wrote poetry, avoided games, kept pretty much to himself, and passed out with another merit scholarship, to King’s College at Cambridge. There he acquired his first knowledge of Sanskrit and went through the motions of studying Bengali from a British "pundit" who, when given a novel by Bankimchandra Chatterjee, asked in what language it was written. He took the "Tripos," the most difficult examination at the BA honours level, in two years instead of the usual three. (The exam got its name from the three-legged stool scholars sat on as they wrangled with complex questions posed by a panel of examiners.) Aurobindo got a first in the test but not a degree: that would have required another year at Cambridge.

Not to disappoint his father, Aurobindo sat for the final ICS entry exam; but he had no interest in becoming a member of that supposedly elite service. “He just did not like the English” writes Heehs. “Though he kept up cordial relations with individuals” he developed what he described later as “a ‘strong hatred’ of Englishmen in general.” The carefully tweaked image of the ICS was that it drew from the cream of British youth; Aurobindo found the reality of the exam hall different. The candidates were “shallow schoolboys” from “cramming” establishments, the “sons of small tradesmen … promoted from the counter … Bad in training, void of culture, in instruction poor … unmannerly, uncultivated, unintelligent.”

Aurobindo placed near the top in all the written exams but avoided recruitment by not appearing for the mandatory riding test. The ICS Commissioners wrote asking him to reschedule the test. He set a date but did not turn up; an official then told him to see the riding instructor, which he did not do. “Called to the office to explain, Aurobindo told a series of lies,” Heehs writes; he neither explains that serious charge nor says on what source it is based. After yet another missed appointment the Commissioners dropped him. It is legitimate to wonder if Heehs would have considered it less discontinuous if Aurobindo had joined the ICS.

Life 2: “Scholar”
From 1893 to 1906 Aurobindo worked for the Gaekwad of Baroda, initially as a bureaucrat, then as a teacher of English literature at the college established by that most liberal of Indian rulers. He also wrote the Gaekwad’s letters and speeches, continued his self-education in Sanskrit and Bengali, took up the practice of yoga, and immersed himself in the study of the Upanishads, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Gita and Kalidasa. On visits to Bengal he reclaimed other aspects of his Indian self. His father had died suddenly just before his return to India, but he re-established contact with his supposedly “mad” mother, his younger sister and brother, and an extended family. Aurobindo married, read voraciously on all manner of topics, wrote poetry, plays and political commentary; and under the guidance of a yogi from Maharashtra, Vishnu Bhaskar Lele, experienced for the first time “the silent, spaceless, timeless Brahman.”

His purely British upbringing and subsequent immersion in Indian life and lore gave Aurobindo the capacity, unmatched by any other Indian leader of the time, to see through the bluff of British power. He pilloried the pallid state of Indian resistance, declaring the country’s worst enemies to be "our own crying weakness, our cowardice, our selfishness, our hypocrisy, our purblind sentimentalism.” He was capable of seeing the true worth of Indian literature and religion in a way impossible for those accustomed to them from childhood. The Indian tendency to accept European “Orientalist” assessments of the country’s traditions irritated him. The Mahabharata was a far greater work than the Iliad, to which European scholars often compared it, in the process telling Indians their national epic was “a mass of old wives’ stories without a spark of poetry or imagination.”

He asserted the importance of Hinduism to the Indian future: if “we are not to plunge into the vortex of scientific athieism and the breakdown of moral ideals which is engulfing Europe, it must survive as the religion for which the Vedanta, Sankhya and Yoga combined to lay the foundations, which Sri Krishna announced and which Vyasa formulated.” If Providence had set out to design a leader to energize Indian nationalism there could have been no better plan than to have an exceptionally gifted boy sent off at a tender age to be raised British. Far from being discontinuous, the first two of Aurobindo’s “lives” shaped him for the seminal role he would play in the rapidly changing politics of the country.

Heehs is badly misinformed about the political background of the time. "With one exception," he writes, "any stirrings of revolt in the country at the time were momentary ripples on the tranquil sea of the Pax Britannica. The exception came from an unexpected quarter. Toward the end of 1903, the government of Bengal announced its intention to transfer the eastern districts of the province to Assam for reasons of administrative efficiency. Bengal was almost as large as France and much more populous, and there had long been calls to divide the province into more manageable units." In accepting the entirety of the regime’s rationalization of the 1905 division of Bengal Heehs turns a blind eye to malignant intent: the creation of a Muslim majority East Bengal was meant to divide Hindus and Muslims and weaken the mainstream Indian National Congress.

The "tranquil sea of Pax Britannica” Heehs perceives was actually the aftermath of the worst series of famines inflicted on India by British rapacity. In the last quarter of the 19th Century, as millions of people were starving to death around the country, the British exported rice at record rates, held a barbarously gluttonous "Durbar" in Delhi, made ruinously expensive efforts to control Afghanistan, and raised the regressive Salt Tax to pay for it all. Ill feelings against the regime were high everywhere. It was to channel them into a loyalist forum that a retired "Agriculture member" of the Viceroy's Council took the initiative to found the Indian National Congress in 1885. However, the Congress did not long remain as loyal as the British wanted and soon they had an additional cause of worry: the Muslim membership of the party rose in its first six years from two of 72 delegates (2.7 per cent) to 156 of 702 (22 per cent). As Muslim luminaries like Mohammad Ali Jinnah rose to the front ranks of the Congress leadership, the British took fright. The one indelible lesson they had drawn from the great uprising of 1857 was that Hindu-Muslim unity posed the most extreme threat to their rule.

The British motive in dividing Bengal was underlined by another initiative of the Viceroy in 1905: he got the Agha Khan (the third of his line to be a willing foreign tool), to assemble a collection of feudal landowners and establish the All India Muslim League. With rather less ostentatious prompting the Hindu Mahasabha also came into being a few years later. Like the League it was a British proxy, and over the next few decdes they drove the great communal bloodletting that climaxed in the Partition "riots" that killed over a million people and made 14 million homeless in their ancestral lands.

To begin with, however, the division of Bengal and creation of the Muslim League did not siphon off support and weaken the Congress. The League remained a paper organization for decades, with an affluent feudal membership so small that into the 1930s the quorum at its annual meetings was 10. The Congress, on the other hand found itself suddenly more popular than it had ever been. As its staid leaders took to addressing mass meeting to promote swadeshi and the boycott of British goods, legions of new young activists joined the national cause. The most radical of the young, including Aurobindo’s brother Biren, found inspiration in Italian and Irish revolutionaries and began plotting opposition to British rule with bomb and gun. From Baroda Aurobindo supported those conspiratorial initiatives, but there was a limit to what he could do without getting his employer into trouble. As a passionate new nationalism grew in Bengal he quit the Gaekwad’s service and moved to Calcutta in 1906.

Life 3: Revolutionary
Seemingly ignorant of the nationalist advances that precipitated the course of events described above, Heehs asserts that “between 1885 and 1905 the Congress achieved virtually nothing.” He turns a blind eye on the active British role in fomenting Hindu-Muslim antagonisms; in fact, he comes across as their apologist. “Faced with growing opposition from upper class Hindus, the British were in need of ‘native’ allies,” he writes. “One third of India’s population was Muslim. Lagging behind the Hindus in education and employment, the Muslims had come to believe that it was in their interest to establish a bloc to offset Hindu influence.” In that quote, note how it is “upper class Hindus” who opposed the British, while “the Muslims” had come to believe in the need for a bloc. That essentially British bias makes Heehs an unreliable reporter not only of Aurobindo as a leading opponent of colonial rule, but of Indian history overall. This is how he reports the Jallianwallah Massacre: “In Amritsar the British Army was called in to suppress a meeting. Hundreds were killed or injured.”

Some examples of bias are vicious. Heehs writes that Aurobindo, short of funds for two would-be assassins “suggested that they look for someone to rob.” The source of that monstrous charge is hearsay in a 1928 book in Bengali. Heehs does not examine the strong possibility that it was police propaganda; as with the earlier allegation that Aurobindo told a "series of lies," he is content to hit and run. At another point he describes the repressive “Seditious Meetings Act” of 1907, used to brutalize thousands of peaceful protesters, as “the bureaucracy’s way of dealing with violence and unrest.” Other examples of bias merely show his preference of perspective. The account of Aurobindo at the crucial Surat meeting of the Congress, an event widely covered by Indian media because it marked the parting of ways between the party's Moderates and Radicals, is based almost entirely on British newspaper reports. Inherent bias is the only explanation for Heehs' use of "Extremist" rather than "Radical" (the usual Indian usage), to label the Tilak-Aurobindo faction.

In recounting that “Hindu-Muslim rioting broke out in East Bengal” in 1906, Heehs notes (page 115) that “Aurobindo blamed the British. The Muslims had not planned the attacks but had been goaded by the government. The Hindus retaliated only after ‘serious and even unbearable provocation’.” Heehs himself ignores the ample evidence that the British pushed the country into a religious civil war to stem the rise of the nationalists. Instead, he blames Aurobindo and the "Extremists" for "giving a Hindu slant to the [independence] movement” (page 116). Evidently forgetful of the quote on page 115, Heehs says on page 211 that "Aurobindo regarded religious conflict as a purely social matter, refusing to see it as a vital political issue." On page 212 there is a more direct indictment: "Partition and the bloodletting that accompanied it were the [nationalist] movement's principal failings, and Aurobindo and his colleagues have to take their share of the blame." While holding Aurobindo responsible for events that occurred four decades after his retirement from active politics, Heehs makes not a single mention of the cold blooded British manipulations over that period to precipitate what is arguably the most murderous civil conflict in history!

After he moved to Calcutta from Baroda Aurobindo quickly became the leading spokesman of radical opinion. As the editor of Bande Mataram and working with Tilak within the Congress he helped shape the expectations and attitudes of a pan-Indian generation that Gandhi would mobilize in the final push to drive the British out. Although never an active member of his younger brother’s various plots, Aurobindo remained an important supporter and guide. There is no doubt that in marked contrast to Gandhi, he considered it entirely legitimate to avoid self-incrimination under repressive laws and to resort to violence when necessary. He made that explicit in responding to Rabindranath Tagore’s criticism of the hatred that drove the boycott of British goods. A “certain class of minds shrinks from aggressiveness as if it were a sin … The Gita is the best answer to those who shrink from battle as a sin and aggression as a lowering of morality. … Another question is the use of violence in the furtherance of boycott. This is, in our view, purely a matter of policy and expediency. An act of violence brings us into conflict with the law and may be inexpedient for a race circumstanced like ours. But the moral question does not arise.”

He discovered all too soon that it did arise: in the wake of an assassination attempt on a British judge that miscarried and killed two Englishwomen, the police raided Aurobindo’s house on 2 May 1908 and took him away in handcuffs with a rope around his waist. He was charged with being part of a conspiracy to overthrow the government. During the year he spent in jail waiting for judgment in the “Alipore conspiracy case,” Aurobindo experienced a spiritual transformation. As a schoolboy in Britain he had felt it his duty to work for the freedom of India; as he matured, that developed into a sense that he had divine protection in carrying forward the fight against the British. His faith was shaken during the first few days in prison.

“I faltered for a moment and cried out in my heart to Him: ‘What is this that has happened to me? I believed that I had a mission to work for the people of my country and until that work was done, I should have thy protection. Why then am I here and on such a charge?” There was no answer. Days of inner turmoil followed in his solitary cell in Alipore Jail until, in desperation, he asked for divine help and felt an instant calmness. Then came the voice of his inner guide: “The bonds you had not strength to break I have broken for you … I have another thing for you to do, and it is for that I have brought you here, to teach you what you could not learn for yourself and to train you for my work.”

Life 4: Yogi/Philosopher
Aurobindo has described the transformation that followed. "On one side was the jail workshop, on the other side the cowshed; these were the two limits of my free domain. Strolling back and forth ... I would recite the profound, inspiring and inexhaustibly strength-giving words of the Upanishads. Or else, watching the movements and activities of the prisoners, I would try to realize the fundamental truth that the Lord dwells in all. Repeating silently in my mind the words sarvam khalvidam brahma, 'All is verily the Eternal', I would project that realization on everything in existence -- trees and houses and walls, man and beast and bird, metal and earth. As I did this I would get into a state in which the prison no longer appeared to be a prison at all. It was as if this high rampart, this iron grating, these high walls, this sunlit tree with its bluish leaves and these ordinary material things were no longer inert objects."

Eventually he reached a point when he saw only God in everything around him. "I looked at the jail that secluded me from men and it was no longer by its high walls that I was imprisoned; no, it was Vasudeva who surrounded me. I walked under the branches of the tree in front of my cell, but it was not a tree. It was Vasudeva, it was Sri Krishna whom I saw standing there and holding over me his shade. I looked at the bars of my cell, the very grating that did duty for a door, and again I saw Vasudeva. … I looked at the prisoners in the jail, the thieves, the murderers, the swindlers, and … it was Narayana whom I found in these darkened souls and misused bodies.” His inner Guide continued to steady him, holding out the prospect of a new mission in life.

On several occasions he believed that the spirit of Swami Vivekananda spoke to him "about the processes of the higher truth consciousness" that later turned out in his own experience to be "precise even in the minutest detail." There were other voices too, but Aurobindo was careful to heed only those he recognized as meaningful and worthy. Looking back on this experience in later life he allowed that the voices could have been emerging from parts of his own subconscious, but that did not reduce their significance. Midway through his imprisonment he got what he considered an “adesha” that the case would end in acquittal and that he should thereafter undertake a spiritual mission so that a free India could be of “service to the world.” As it turned out, Aurobindo alone was acqutted of all charges: the judge, a former schoolmate, found the prosecution case against him too circumstantial.

After the year in Alipore prison Aurobindo returned to his life as a journalist by founding a new magazine, Karmayogin. It aimed at uniting India's spiritual and material worlds. The task, he wrote in its second issue, is "moral and spiritual. We aim not at the alteration of a form of government but at the building of a nation. Of that task politics is a part, but only a part." Karmayogin would seek to unite all aspects of life in articulating "the dharma, the national religion which we also believe to be universal." That universal religion was the Sanatana Dharma (the eternal law) that lay at the core not only of Hinduism but of all religions, and in bringing that message to the world India had a special role and destiny.

Heehs misunderstands the whole thrust of Aurobindo's thinking. "Although by no means a chauvinist" he writes, "Aurobindo was convinced of the essential superiority of Indian culture. A century later, when all forms of essentialism are suspect and national exceptionalism -- whether American, Russian, Chinese, Japanese or other -- is subject to well-deserved condemnation, one might wonder whether Indian essentialism and exceptionalism have much to recommend themselves."

It is difficult to understand how Heehs can have studied one of the most articulate spokesmen of the Indian renaissance for so long and yet be oblivious to the fact that one does not have to be a "chauvinist" to see that India is unique among nations. It is not only that unlike all other national claims to exceptionalism, Aurobindo's conception of India's special mission was "moral and spiritual;" its "essentialism" lay in the recognition of the universal in all humanity.

There is also the incontrovertible fact that India is the only nation that has a multimillennial history defined primarily by a sustained effort to comprehend the nature of Universal reality. The Indian national tradition flows from the Vedas to the Upanishads, to the Puranas, enters popular culture through the Ramayana and Mahabharatha, and courses unbroken down the centuries into the contemporary world. This is not to say it did not encounter blockages and periods of great difficulty. When the original tradition became crusted over with ritual and superstition the Buddha emerged with the spare re-telling of its great truths. When Buddhism lost energy, Sankara revived the old religion and set off the Bhakti tradition that strengthened Indians against invading Islam and eventually softened the foreign faith into the indigenous Sufi movement. Emerging from that milieu, Kabir and Guru Nanak, healers of caste and religious division, set off the streams of poetry and faith that became modern Indian nationalism. It is this extended background that explains why, when Raja Rammohun Roy took up the British challenge in Bengal in the 18th Century, the response came not just from there but from the whole country, reaching fruition in Gandhi.

That long continuum of some 15 to 20 millennia transformed tribes into castes, caste federations into unitary kingdoms, kingdoms into empires, and unified the whole with a common culture and philosophy. No other nation has a comparable history. In Europe nations resulted from conquest and oppression. Those who shaped Indian unity were sages, poets and philosophers inspired by a profound mystical perception of universal realities; they emerged from all parts of the country and from high and low castes. Heehs is blind to a history in which spirituality has been a primary structural element; he cannot see that Aurobindo’s significance lies in the fact that his thought and practice brought into the modern world the great insight of the Upanishads that under the material diversity of the world there is an indestructible Universal Spirit.

It was during Aurobindo’s lifetime that Western Science arrived at an understanding of that basic duality, first discovering that light existed as both particle (matter) and wave (energy), and then, in Einstein’s famous equation E=MC2, postulating the indestructible duality of the universe. Heehs seems to be ignorant of that aspect of science. “If Aurobindo is right that matter and spirit are different forms of a single unity” he writes, “it follows that there is a ‘scale of substance’ that links the two” (page272). In the long section of the book that deals with Aurobindo’s work in Pondicherry, the archivist in Heehs provides a useful overview while the author in him provides confused and misleading commentary.

For nine months after his acquittal Aurobindo stayed on in Calcutta, editing Karmayogin and practicing yoga. He was widely in demand as a public speaker. Amidst rumors that the British were preparing to arrest and deport him without the niceties of prosecution and trial he fled to French-controlled Chandernagore near Calcutta, and after a few weeks there, left for Pondicherry, traveling under an alias on a French vessel, the Dupleix. He arrived in Pondicherry on 4 April, 1910. Arrangements for his stay were made by the publisher of the Madras-based nationalist magazine India, Srinivasacharya Iyengar, who had also fled for refuge to Pondicherry. The editor of India, the poet Subramania Bharati, was also a refugee there. Like Aurobindo, he was a man of wide intellectual interests, and their talks were considered "variety entertainment" by the others in their group.

The refugees from Bengal led a Spartan existence in Pondicherry, eating just one meal a day, sleeping on the floor, sharing a single bar of soap and even forced to use a common towel. It was years before money ceased to be a problem. Beyond mentioning "supporters" in Bengal and a Madras businessman whose own dying guru 30 years earlier had predicted the coming of a guide from the north, Heehs makes no effort to explore the issue of who financed Aurobindo. He does, however, conduct yet another hit and run attack, citing speculation in a police report that violent secret societies in Bengal "probably helped him financially." If true, he comments, "this would mean that some of the funds ... were collected at gunpoint in Bengal, as armed robbery was the [Dacca Anushilan] samiti's principal means of fundraising."

Money only ceased to be a problem after a French devotee, Mirra Alfassa Richard, later known as "Mother," took matters in hand. She had arrived in Pondicherry with her husband Paul Richard before the outbreak of World War I. Both were spiritually inclined, and Paul was a prime mover in the founding of Arya, a monthly magazine of literature, philosophy and commentary; however, the war called him away almost immediately after its launch and it was left to Aurobindo's prolific pen to fill the pages of the magazine. The postwar influenza pandemic killed Aurobindo's wife, who had remained in Bengal, and it almost killed Mirra Alfassa, who had gone to Japan while her husband was a combatant. The Ashramites offended by Heehs' book have focused on his innuendo filled account of how she and Paul returned to Pondicherry, their estrangement, and her attachment to Aurobindo.

Life 5: Guide
In the final phase of his life Aurobindo's sadhna, spiritual effort, was directed at realizing and thus bringing into the world the potent supra-consciousness he perceived as part of the directive force of the universe. He kept a diary of his efforts for long periods, at other times he did not. The subject is highly esoteric and only those who have some personal sense of that superior energy can really appreciate what he was trying to do; there is little doubt that the long and lonely road of his experience was and remains important, pointing to a more spiritually evolved human future. Heehs' account of this period is without insight, and he has no real idea of Aurobindo's historical significance. (That incapacity seems to be widely shared among Indians: Aurobindo did not even make it into the top 50 listing in The Greatest Indian poll conducted by CNBC-18 to find the most revered personality after Gandhi.)

There are several levels at which we can assess Aurobindo's importance. His veering trajectory from boyhood in Britain to revolutionary nationalism and then yogic meditation in Pondicherry highlighted the value and worth of Indian tradition and flagged down violence in Indian politics. That prepared the way for Gandhi. For the inchoate generations that have struggled in free India to escape the deadening influence of our brainwashed historians and Golliwog media, Aurobindo has bannered the potential and scope of individual spiritual effort. Perhaps what history will hold his most important achievement is that in an age of insanely violent material ideologies his long fierce pursuit of a singular spiritual reality held out the alternative.

How real is Aurobindo's expectation that humanity is on the brink of broad-based spiritual progress? The answer is not all airy hope. Something of what he foresaw as the descent of the Supermind into human affairs is happening in the emergence of what Yuri Milner, the Russian Information Technology guru, calls the "global brain." The unprecedented global connectivity resulting from the spread of mobile telephone and broadband networks, engaging not only people but the machines that now process and store most of human knowledge, is creating a new level of consciousness. The "Internet of things" as Milner calls it, is expanding much faster than its human counterpart. There are some two billion people and five billion machines connected to the Internet today; in the next decade the number of individuals will more than double while that of machines is projected to reach 20 billion. In the same period almost everyone on the planet will be connected by mobile phone networks.

If the flashing synapses of this global brain are to develop positive patterns of thought and creativity, if we are to ensure that the planetary consciousness now descending on humanity will not take malignant and schizophrenic forms, we must look for guidance from India's spiritual masters, especially Mahatma Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo.