Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Vajpayee had that indescribable aura around him throughout his active political life—a vibrant fire glowed softly that warmed everybody who knew him, whether from close quarters like his colleagues and contemporaries or across great distances like the lakhs of citizens who had never set eyes on him or heard the poetic crescendo of his oratory.

His outstanding quality was his ability to avoid the fatal flaw that has been the downfall of many a tall figure in history—the arrogance of power. In a sense his strongest weak-points were compassion and tolerance. This often infuriated his own comrades who viewed it as a readiness to compromise when firmness was called for, a tendency to waffle when the need was for clarity and a preference for forbearance rather than go for the kill.

This is probably why Vajpayee won less acclaim from his own political family than from his adversaries. Wise men throughout history have been known to invite the wrath of their own flock while in the process of disarming their foes with charm, humour and kindness.

During his years at the helm, as Prime Minister for a total of six years in three consecutive episodes, it was the RSS ideologue Govindacharya who labeled him as a 'mukhauta' and it was his own cabinet colleagues led by his own trusted lieutenant L K Advani who plotted to dethrone him and whose coup attempt failed when he told them with delicious and devastating wit that he was "neither tired not retired".

There lay his singular brilliance—he could say in a rapier-sharp epigram what others would need a whole speech to convey. He could also speak for a full hour and hold the audience spellbound without actually revealing what was in his mind regarding a policy issue or political position.

This was often mistaken for waffling—but the truth is that the quality to see both sides and the willingness to embrace any eventuality is the hallmark of a genuine leader, which is a trait sadly lacking in some who preside over the destiny of a diverse country of over a billion human beings belonging to a wide spectrum of faiths, beliefs, customs and socio-economic needs and aspirations.

He was also accused within the Sangh parivar of soft-pedaling the Hindutva doctrine and being too lenient of the views of secular parties. When asked by a reporter about the damage this could cause to the image of his party, Vajpayee's reply was typical of him—"Secularists like you", he told the questioner, "need not spend sleepless nights over this; I will carry the secular baggage on my broad shoulders".

When he wanted to, he had a knack of diluting the gravity of even the most profound issues. Once, when asked whether he feared death, he asked: 'Maut Ki Umra Kay hia, Do Pal Bhi Nahi!'.

This level of thinking was what raised him above the crowd. But although he was aware of his special gifts and tasted great success in his life, humility remained his primary trait.

He also once said, only half-jokingly, "Some day I will become an ex-prime minister, but I will never become an ex-poet!"

He certainly was aware that not all who come alter him will have his vision and compassion, particularly future leaders trained in the same RSS sakhas that he was. Which is why he said with deathly seriousness and uncanny foresight—"The question is not of 'Right' and 'Left'; the core issue really is Democracy versus Totalitarianism".
Raman Swamy

Open Letter to Sheikh Hasina
Ms Sheikh Hasina
Honourable Prime Minister
Government of the
People's Republic of Bangladesh
Prime Minister's Office, Old Sangsad Bhaban
Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215, Bangladesh

My name is Raghu Rai. I have been honoured by you in 2012 as friends of Bangladesh Liberation War who photographed the Bangladesh war for freedom by Mukti Bahini supported by your neighbours and friends to transform east Pakistan into an independent nation today known as Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a country of poets, writers, musicians and some of them migrated to India during the partition. Our bond is deep not only culturally but spiritually as well.

Madam Prime minister, you are the daughter of great revolutionary Sheikh Mujibur Rehman who rose against the repressive and torturous regime of Pakistani generals-and in return the generals decided to teach Bangladeshis a lesson. Thus, the nation rose against Pakistan under the leadership of Sheikh Sahib and this is how Bangladesh came into being. So, let's not teach our boys a lesson.

Hon'ble Madam, Shahidul Alam founder of DRIK and Pathshala has been a great admirer of Sheikh Sahib, and I have had the privilege of knowing him as a close friend for the last 3 decades. I have no doubt in my mind that Shahidul is one of those rare breeds committed to truth and honesty, and can die for his country. It seems last night Shahidul was picked up by 20-30 men from detective branch of police, and was tortured and couldn't walk on his feet. My heart bleeds for that.

We have been told that the young minds of Bangladesh demand a sense of security against the malpractices in the transport department and negligence of police to respond that has resulted into several deaths. It seems what students are demanding that any citizen with a conscience would ask for and Shahidul has just state that to Al Jazeera channel.

If any opposition and political party is using or manipulating these young minds, they are the ones to be dealt with. But faithful honest patriots like my dear and close friend Shahidul who I would call the eyes and ears of the common masses that can provide an insight into the ground reality of how the spirit of majority of the youth is feeling now, being punished far this. It reminds me of Pakistani general trying to teach a lesson to the faithfuls. It's not only me in India but many others—journalists and photo journalists, artists, writers from all around the world who vouch for him and stand by him. We are deeply hurt by the news of Shahidul being detained and tortured. All he has done is to use his photographic skill and voice to capture the truth of ongoing reality in a most committed and compassionate way.

May I humbly request and plead not to punish the honest, the truthful representative of the youth. As the spirit of democracy—the truth must survive for itself that kindles the light in heart of millions of your countrymen and many of us.

Honourable Prime Minister, I hope you shall honour the humbling of the hearts, for a Shahidul Alam.
Raghu Rai, Friend of Bangladesh

'Harry Potter' vs 'Thakurmar Jhuli'
Thakurmar Jhuli (Grandmother's Bag of Stories), 'a collection of Bengali folk tales and fairy tales' which was first collected and published by Dakshina-ranjan Mitra Majumder in 1907. Once, every child knew the name of this book and its stories. It usually delighted at least the bookshelf of educated and cultured Bengali families. Bengalis used to glorify and dignify with collection of this book.

But it is no more. 'Harry Potter' of Joanne Rowling has taken the place of 'Thakurmar Jhuli'. Now a child of a Bengali family knows 'Harry Potter'. To them, 'Thakurmar Jhuli' is rubbish and old as well as back-dated. People almost deny the contribution of children's literature in a life of Bengali (from infancy to adulthood). Is it the impact of modernisation? Modernisation always teaches to modify old one. It never teaches to leave old. Will it bring happiness in life? Without moral value, life is like animal. All this is due to change of parental taste and expectation. They like to buy happiness in any terms and at any cost and that's why, they radically adopt themselves for this happiness. But happiness always brings unhappiness.
Harashankar Adhikari, Kolkata

Vol. 51, No.8, Aug 26 - Sep 1, 2018