Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Venky Ramakrishnan on high-impact vanity journals

January 15, 2017

On the other end is the pressure to publish in Science, Nature and Cell, what I call ‘high-impact vanity journals’. People are taking shortcuts to publish papers in these journals. So that’s also creating very bad pressures.

If you publish in a good, solid journal, if it is a nice piece of work it shouldn’t matter that it is not in some high-impact journals. It’s the failure of the system to evaluate the work rather than where it is published.

From the Hindu.

Economics and astrology

January 20, 2015

David J Griffiths in his Millikan lecture 1997: Is there a text in this class? makes the following statement:

People who believe in UFOs and astrology are, on the whole, merely pathetic, but those who think you can run a modern society without taxes are downright dangerous.

The piece of Ashok Desai in Telegraph reminded me of this statement of Griffiths; Desai has some recommendations to the prime minister:

Growth of manufacturing output has been close to zero in recent months; industrial investment is also negligible. Till six months ago, this could be blamed on the UPA government. Industrialists did so, and funded the Bharatiya Janata Party generously. But the economic environment has hardly improved; if it continues to be bad for another six months, the industry-BJP honeymoon will also turn sour. The Prime Minister’s solution – asking foreign businesses to come to India – will not solve the problem.

If he wants a serious answer, Raghuram Rajan gave one in his Bharat Ram memorial lecture. It is well thought-out. Rajan is in the wrong job. He should be finance minister; Jaitley might do a better job in external affairs. And for commerce and industry, the Prime Minister simply does not have a minister in his party; it calls for abolition or a radical reconstruction – what we used to call reforms two decades ago.

Economists do have ideologies, but are generally not party creatures. No respectable economist has Hindu nationalist inclinations: the ideology is mistaken according to economics. So it was no wonder that Jaitley made the first budget in India’s history without a chief economic advisor. Now he has one – a very good one – who organized a conference of economists in the first week of December. It was a good idea, but for the fact that the distinguished economists who had been flown in from abroad had little idea of the problems facing India.

But the planning commission has been emptied, and remains a shell. The Prime Minister has got one big office building close to his office, with no people in it. In my column of September 3, I suggested that he should create a think tank that would connect India’s 139 best economists with policymakers through an equal number of research assistants. It did not strike me then, but it would not work, because Modi’s ministers are largely incapable of using economists or research assistants. Meanwhile, we have the most desperate economic situation in 60 years, and the present government has to live through it. It is important in these difficult times that it should have the best judgment and counsel available to it. The Prime Minister should revive his predecessor’s Economic Advisory Council, appoint any economists he likes to it, and consult it frequently; he cannot do without economics.

A good piece!

Three ways to be alien of Sanjay Subrahmanyam

December 15, 2012

This is the first time I have read Subrahmanyam though I have heard about him sometime back. I enjoyed the book — though the reading is a bit slow due to the foot notes, quotes and unfamiliar ideas. Recommended. And, I have already ordered his Mughal history book and connected history volumes.

Kannadiga-ness of R K Narayan

October 6, 2012

Ram Guha on xenophobia in Karnataka:

I was reminded of Gandhi’s polemical words when reading about a protest by some well-known Kannada writers against the proposal to make R.K. Narayan’s home in Mysore a memorial to his life and work. Fifteen writers — among them the lexicographer G. Venkatasubbaiah, the poet G.S. Shivarudrappa, the novelist S. L. Bhyrappa, and the critic L. S. Sheshagiri Rao — argued that since Narayan was born in Chennai and spent his early years there, and since even while he lived in Mysore he wrote in English, he was not really a Kannadiga, and thus the government of Karnataka need not spend money honouring his memory. Narayan, complained these writers, “never introduced any Kannada work to the outside world through an English translation.” Narayan’s betrayal apparently ran further; he was guilty, it was said, of selling the scripts of his novels to an American university rather than gifting them gratis to a university in Karnataka.

Of course, the saving grace is there too!

the angry chauvinists of Karnataka have been put in place by two men who are the best-known, and perhaps also the most greatly admired, Kannada writers now living. The playwright, Girish Karnad, asked to comment on the statement signed by Bhyrappa, Sheshagiri Rao, et al, pointed out that “Narayan lived in Mysore, wrote about Malgudi, a place he created [out of towns and locations in Karnataka].” Therefore, to say that he was not a Kannadiga was “absurd”. Karnad’s words were weighty enough; and here they were endorsed by his great contemporary U.R. Anantha Murthy. “Anyone who lives here and writes on the state is a citizen of Kannada,” remarked Anantha Murthy. He thought it “very mean on the part of those who have said Narayan is not a Kannadiga.”

Take a look!

A different opinion: edition 2

September 25, 2012

Of course, this time it is Sitaram Yechury:

For this, the current high fiscal deficit must be contained and, hence, the hike in the prices of diesel and cap on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders became essential. The subsidy on petroleum products, we are told, was “ Rs. 1,40,000 crore last year”. If the prices were not increased, then this would “have been over Rs. 2 lakh crore. Where would the money for this have come from? Money does not grow on trees”.

How has this subsidy figure been arrived at? This is much higher than the budget estimates. This seems to be calculated on the basis of the ‘under recovery’ of the oil companies. What is this? It is the difference between the retail price of petroleum products and its import price. It is, hence, notional in nature because import prices include duties, insurance, freight and other levies. These are not paid by the Indian companies since what we import is crude oil, which is processed in India to produce petrol, diesel, kerosene, etc. Instead of linking the price to the cost of imported crude plus domestic refining cost, the international price is taken as the benchmark. This is the gigantic fraud.

This fraud is reflected in the fact that all the oil companies are reporting handsome profits, not losses. Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Limited declared a net profit of Rs. 25,123 crore for the year 2011-12. For the following quarter ending June 30, 2012, it has reported a further growth of 48.4%. Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) has reported a net profit of Rs. 4,265.27 crore. Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) reported a net profit of Rs. 911 crore. For the last quarter, January-March 2012, this further increased by 312%.  Bharat Petroleum has reported a net profit of Rs. 1,546.68 crore.

Further, parliamentary answers and proceedings show that from 2010 onwards, the central exchequer has been earning anything above Rs. 1,30,000 crore annually through taxes and duties on petroleum products. After accounting for all subsidies, the Centre was still left with a surplus of over Rs. 90,000 crore in 2010-11. Who is subsidising whom, Mr prime minister?

Interesting throughout. Take a look!

The metallurgist and the white revolution

September 10, 2012

From the obituary of Verghese Kurien in Hindu:

“What do you know about pasteurisation,” an interviewer asked the young man who had applied for a Government of India fellowship for a Masters in Engineering abroad. “Something to do with milk?” was the uncertain reply. The year was 1946. In his biography From Anand: The story of Verghese Kurien, M.V. Kamath recounts the story of how the youngster was selected to do a Masters in dairy engineering by a government committee that was impervious to his pleas that he be allowed to specialise in metallurgy instead.

As it turned out, Michigan State University did not have dairy engineering, and Verghese Kurien was able to do metallurgy and Physics. But when he came back to India in 1948, it was to a small and unknown village in Gujarat called Anand that he was sent, to work out his two-year bond at the Government creamery on a salary of Rs.600 per month. Hating his job, he waited impatiently for his fetters to loosen. That did not happen. What it did was that V. Kurien, by the conjunction of politics, nationalism and professional challenge, decided to stay on. He would transform rural India.

Take a look!

Some relevant thoughts

August 25, 2012

Ram Guha in his latest piece in The Telegraph:

As André Béteille writes in his new book, Democracy and its Institutions, in India today: “…the chronic mistrust between government and opposition impairs the foundation of democracy. Mistrust and suspicion on one side is met with concealment and evasion on the other. The very purpose of shaping the opposition into a responsible and legitimate political institution is frustrated.”

As evidenced with depressing regularity in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha — as well as in television studios — India’s two major political parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, detest one another. Accusations of corruption and lack of patriotism are thrown around all the time. Laws proposed by the government are rarely discussed with any depth in Parliament, the Opposition seeking rather to shout down the proposal or render it infructuous by a walk-out.

In this manner, the national interest is regularly subordinated to partisan point-scoring. This partisanship adversely affects the making of sensible economic and foreign policies, and, perhaps even more, attempts at restoring peace between regions and communities.

Take a look!

Essays on literature, politics and violence

July 4, 2012

For the past couple of weeks I have been reading a collection of essays of D R Nagaraj called Listening to the loom, edited by Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi (the substitle of which is the title of this post). I have enjoyed the book immensely.

The pieces by Nagaraj on U R Ananthamoorthy, Chandrashekhara Kambhar and Ashis Nandy are a must read as also his analysis of the Kannada literary culture.  Nagaraj gives an entirely different dimension to the two vachanas of Basaveshvara that I like — Ullavaru Shivayala Maduvaru (The rich will build temples for Shiva) and Nudidra Muddina haaradhanthirabeku (The speech should be like a necklace of pearls).

I have always been under the impression that it was the Buddhist influence through Shankara (who–as Bharathiyar in his Bhagavad GIta introduction notes–was called a “hidden Buddhist”) which lead to non-vegetarianism in many communities. However, I did not know that the Jains had a very strong influence too; specifically, the procedure of replacing sacrifical animals with dolls made of dough apparently was a Jain practice (and, Madhvacharya recommended flour made dolls as repclamcents for animals in Vedic rituals–knowing that Madhvacharya came from South Canara which was an important Jain centre it is not difficult to see the connections).

Nagaraj has something interesting to say at least once in every two pages and many a times twice in one page. Here are some sample quotes:

… if Nandy is Naduram Godse, modernity is Gandhi–the assassin’s relationship with his victim is both complex and multidimensional.

He [Vivekananda] is the first Cristian in the context of Hinduism in modern India.

Gandhi did not talk like a Vedantin. He never had any shastric dialogues with the sadhus after the famous encounter with the priests in the Kali temple. He said goodbye to Vedanta, and for precisely this reasong Ambedkar claimed Gandhi  was ‘no true Hindu’.

The purpose of this quote is not to draw the reader’s attention to any yogic element in Gandhi but to treat the Tibetan dog as a guide who will take us on a journey to understand the sources of violence and Gandhian responses to them.

To be specific, we should be able to analyse violence and social suffering in South Asis using categories from Shramana or Sufi transtions. … If the methods and philosophical positions of present times are fit and useful to analyse the formations of several kinds of pre-modern eras, the reverse should also be true.

And there are many, many more such passages in the book.

A wonderful read and strongly recommended!

Foreigners in their own country

April 22, 2012

It is said that the past is a different country. Mukul Kesavan makes a point about how in this country, there exist different countries in the present, and not just in the past:

Walking my children to their school in Brooklyn some years ago, I met panhandlers asking for money at the corner of every block. My technique was to either ignore them or to hurriedly give them change and move on. The natives did things differently; they stopped, exchanged greetings, and only then did money change hands. A fraternal acknowledgement of a poor man’s humanity doesn’t come naturally to desis. This has everything to do with the exclusions of caste. The caste system is distinguished from other forms of social differentiation not merely or even principally by its endorsement of inequality; what makes it unique is its ideological hostility to fraternity.

In India, the poor and the privileged, even those who are modestly middle class, aren’t divided by class; they’re divided by a line of control. The poor, to adapt L.P. Hartley’s famous first line, are another country. It’s a country that we write about or help make policy for — if we’re feeling curious, generous or charitable. Our concern is frictionless because their country and ours might be adjacent but they’re sealed off from each other. It’s only when this line of control is legislatively breached, when people not-like-us have to be admitted into our country, that we find reasons with which to repair the breach. Thus every episode of affirmative action in our history has been met with arguments from merit, arguments against a pernicious ‘creamy layer’ and now an invocation of the ‘real’ problem in Indian education, the reform of the state schools.

Take a look!

When Krittika was heaven …

March 11, 2012

Can the references in the ancient Indian texts say anything about the Aryan Invasion Theory? One of my colleagues and friend in the Department, Prof. TRS Prasanna believes that one can. Here is a quote from his homepage:

The Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) was proposed by 19th century European Sanskrit scholars based on the similarities between Sanskrit and European languages, now called Indo-European languages. According to AIT/AMT, Aryan tribes invaded/migrated to India about 1500 BC. The Rig Veda that is the oldest text is dated near this date. Later Vedic texts, Samhitas and Brahmanas, are dated to 800. AIT has always been controversial and many scholars have opposed it from the very beginning. Today, most archaeologists, geologists and scientists oppose AIT as the hard evidences point against it. Despite this, AIT remains a dominant theory and its legitimacy rests mostly on philological (comparative linguistics) scholarship.

The main reason most scientists don’t support AIT is that the astronomical references in the Samhita and Brahmana texts have been dated (from 1890s onwards) to 3000 BC. Western Sanskrit scholars have denied the interpretation and the dates of 3000 BC. We present comprehensive analyses of key astronomical references in the Samhita and Brahmana texts and show that they consistently lead to 3000 BC. They clearly show that AIT is an incorrect theory. Another finding is that Sanskrit scholars are unaware that they have correctly interpreted verses on ekastaka to 3000 BC for the last 80 years. That is, for the first time, we have shown that western Sanskrit scholars who proposed AIT have contradicted it themselves.

We have considered the evidences from physical sciences and established the criteria for scientists to form a professional opinion on AIT. We have proposed four questions that must be addressed satisfactorily in order for scientists to support AIT. On these grounds, we establish that there is no scientific basis for AIT.

Prof. Prasanna has published an article in the latest issue of Indian Journal of History of Science titled “Ancient Indian Astronomy and Aryan Invasion Theory”; you can download a the preprint version of the paper here (pdf). Here are some of the highlights of the paper:

  • A simple method to date the Brahmana period to about 3000 BC
  • The origin of Mahashivratri and its dating to about 3000 BC
  • Interpretation of Ekastaka verses and their relevance to dating the Vedic texts.
  • The position of Krittika during the Samhita period (which, sort of explains my title to this post!)

If you are interested in Aryan Invasion Theory or in the history of Indian science, here is a paper that is worth your while! Have fun!