Archive for November, 2011

Indira Goswami

November 30, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (2)




I was deeply saddened to learn of Indira Goswami’s death on November 29.

I first met Indiraji in Delhi in the 1980s. She was one of the kindest and most nurturing people I have ever known. I had the deepest respect for her, as a writer and as a human being.

Some years ago I had occasion to write the following lines about her:

“Indira Goswami is one of the pre-eminent literary figures in India today. She is also a woman of remarkable courage and conviction. Born in 1942, in Guwahati, Assam (in North Eastern India), Indira Goswami writes in Assamese and has played a significant role in bringing the tribulations of her troubled region to national and international attention. Her books include the short story collection, Shadow of Kamakhya; and the novels: Man from Chinnamasta; Pages Stained with Blood; The Moth Eaten Howdah of a Tusker. Her books, which are widely available in English translation, have won universal acclaim in India and have won all the most important awards in the country, including the Sahitya Akademi Award, and the Gyanpith Prize, which is India’s single most prestigious literary award.

“But apart from being one of India’s most important literary figures, Indira Goswami is also a courageous social and political activist. Assam is one of the most troubled states in India, with a long-running insurgency, and Indira Goswami has for many years been one of its most powerful voices of peace and reconciliation. Indeed she has become one of the most eloquent interlocutors of the Indian government on this subject. Her efforts in this regard are well-documented and can be easily looked up on the Net. She has also been an important voice in championing women’s causes, and has done much to highlight the plight of widows. In short, Indira Goswami is one of those rare figures whose achievements as a writer are closely paralleled by their accomplishments as a social and political activist.”

As an activist Indiraji had the rare gift of being able to heal and reconcile. Aruni Kashyap, the young Assamese writer who informed me of Indiraji’s passing, said in his email: ‘Already, thousands of people have started flocking her funeral. Very few authors are so loved by people from all sections : from ULFA rebels to Chief Minister.’

Reading this I was reminded of the day of Satyajit Ray’s death – April 23, 1992 – when all of Calcutta was plunged in mourning. I am sure that November 29, 2011 will be remembered in the same way in Guwahati.

Orissa Mining Activist Arrested

November 29, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)


Felix Padel, co-author of Out of This Earth (see my post of July 19) has circulated the following statement with this accompanying note:

State repression against villagers refusing to move to make way for the Posco steel plant on coastal Orissa has reached a critical point with the arrest of a key leader yesterday. A key investor in Posco (Pohang Steel Company of S.Korea) is Warren Buffet. Villagers have been fighting forced displacement for 6 years

please sign endorsement & send this to others for signing

Subject: [orissamining] Statement on the Repression on PPSS and arrest of Abhay Sahu for Endorsement – URGENT


Dear Friends,


As you are aware, the leader of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti(PPSS) was arrested yesterday in Orissa while returning from a meeting. This illegal act of the state comes at a time when PPSS has put up a strong and democratic resistance against POSCO and the state is applying all possible measures to implement the project in Jagatsinghpur. This act of the state must be condemned in no uncertain terms and an immediate and unconditional release of Abhay Sahu must be demanded. Some of us have drafted a statement (given below) and request you to consider signing it. We aim to issue it as soon as possible.


Please send in your endorsements to <> OR <>


In solidarity,


Mamata Dash






The undersigned condemn the growing brutality of the state repression
being unleashed against the peaceful, democratic protesters of the
POSCO project area, who are only fighting for their legal and
fundamental rights.  This repression has reached a peak with the arrest
yesterday (Friday) of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti leader Abhay
Sahoo.  The government’s constant announcements of its intention to
start construction in the area lead us to apprehend that there will be
more violence and brutality against the movement.

This comes after the people of Dhinkia and  Gobindpur heroically
resisted police attacks for more than two months  in the heat of

summer, drawing the attention of the entire country to the threat to
their thriving economy and fragile ecosystem.  It also comes in the

wake of a grossly illegal clearance to the project  from the

Environment Ministry, in direct violation of the Forest Rights Act and
the EIA notification, despite two of the Ministry’s own enquiry
committees finding that grant of clearance would be a crime.  Moreover,

the Centre itself now claims that projects of this kind will be
subject, under its proposed new law, to the consent of 80% of the local

community – which has been ignored in this case.  Meanwhile, dozens of
false cases have been filed against the protesters, and it is worth
noting that Abhay Sahoo has received bail from the courts in more than
40 cases so far; but every time he is released, new cases are foisted
on him. Finally, court cases are pending against the illegal clearance
to the project in the High Court and in the National Green Tribunal.
Despite all this, the Orissa government is continuing its criminal

offensive, and the Centre as usual is doing nothing to stop it or to
uphold the law.

We condemn this repression, and call for the immediate release of Abhay
Sahoo, the dropping of the false cases registered against him and other
members of the movement, and the immediate withdrawal of this illegal,
unjust and economically destructive project.







Light under a bushel?

November 28, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (3)


Murali Ranganathan is among the most interesting of the many people who have come into my life through book releases and readings. I met him at the Mumbai release of River of Smoke, on June 21 this year. Our conversation was necessarily very brief but he told me that he knew of some 19th century travel accounts of China, written in Gujarati by Parsi merchants. I had no inkling of the existence of such accounts and did not quite know what to make of this. I must admit I was a little sceptical, but sure enough a few days later Murali sent me a list of the books he had mentioned (see my post of July 19) .

I was both disappointed and hugely impressed. The first because it was terribly frustrating to know of the existence of these books without being able to read them; the second because I knew from experience that to dig out sources like these takes real persistence and archival skill. The people who have these abilities are almost always attached to universities. But Murali has no such affiliation – indeed one of the striking things about him is that despite his great learning he does not seem in the least bit professorial. I soon learnt that Murali is a scholar in a much older mould, of a breed that is increasingly rare in today’s highly compartmentalized world: he is largely self-taught, an autodidact who has developed his formidable linguistic and archival skills on his own. He works on texts in Gujarati, Marathi, Urdu, Hindi and, no doubt, many other, languages. He possesses a truly encyclopaedic knowledge of 19th century India and what is more, his scholarly work is driven not by a desire for advancement but by a genuine passion for history. If the world were a more discerning place Murali would be a celebrated scholar, notable not only for his work but also for the fact that he has chosen to be free of institutions. But Murali prefers to hide his light under a bowl (or ‘bushel’ as they used to be called in early translations of the Bible).

The extent of Murali’s erudtion will be evident from an email he recently sent me: ‘I first read about the destruction of Port Canning in the 1860s in one of your blog posts; the second instance has materialized rather quickly; I guess a mere coincidence (the subject of that very post) … but perhaps this might interest you. ‘Afflicted, as I am, by the deadly malaise of consuming 19th century autobiographies in Indian languages, I happened to reach for the autobiography of Abd-al Ghafur <<Nassakh>> (1834-1889). He was a middling judicial official in the British machinery and a native Bengali from Calcutta. The narrative itself is not very gripping except for his early life and his fascination and deep involvement in geomancy, numerology, alchemy, legerdemain and such like. His job took him all over Bengal and the text is peppered with mention of Barisal, Rajshahi, Mymensingh, Dhaka and Calcutta, all exotic locales to a West Indian like me. Well connected and highly educated, one can glimpse into a life well-lived in 19th century Bengal. ‘During that fateful storm, he was literally caught in the middle of the Padma river and escaped by the skin of his teeth. There is a three page account of the ordeal and he ends by saying that the English term for such toofans is “cyclone”. ‘Incidentally, he was a major literary figure during his lifetime. An Urdu poet of the first order and seems to have published close to ten books during his lifetime. The autobiography was published finally in 1986 by the Asiatic Society, Calcutta, edited by Abdus Subhan.’


I recently ordered Murali’s 2009 book, Govind Narayan’s Mumbai: An Urban Biography from 1863 (Anthem Press, London). It is a translation (with an excellent biographical sketch and bibliography) of Mumbaiche Varnan, a Marathi account of 19th century Bombay written by Govind Narayan, a major literary figure of the time. From the evidence of this book (and it is a tribute to Murali’s skill as a translator that a very distinctive voice emerges from it) Govind Narayan was a man of keen intelligence and unusual ability. A sense of humour was not, unfortunately, among his many gifts: something about his voice reminds me of the frowning, finger-wagging schoolteachers of my childhood – one of those master-moshais who would rap your knuckles with the thin edge of a ruler if ever your handwriting strayed off the lines of your exercise book. But such men are often very good observers of the world around them and that was certainly true of Govind Narayan.


[Bombay Green, 1862]



Govind Narayan’s portrait of 19th century Bombay is richly detailed and, in parts, wonderfully vivid. Here are some snippets: “If one turns towards the East at Mumbadevi square one comes across the counting-houses of the big moneylenders. They sit on pristine white cushions and recline on huge bolsters, while their servants bustle about in the front of the shop. There are over fifty such shops. Just a little ahead are the opium traders, mainly Marwadi and other kinds of Gujars, who conduct their noisy and boisterous trade on the streets. Just behind the Mumbadevi temple is a line of shops selling shawls. There are shawls hanging everywhere. If a bundle is opened, one can see priceless Amritsari and Kashmiri shawls various colours and silken borders. One is amazed at their beauty! A little ahead are bright shops selling pearls, diamonds, and rubies. A few more steps and one comes across shops selling copperware. Numerous varieties of newly forged utensils are arranged from top to bottom in these shops. Here and there are also shops selling broadcloth, goldsmiths, and gold assayers. Leaving them behind, a few steps will bring you to the sweetmeat vendors! Rows and rows of benches with red, yellow, and green-coloured sweets neatly arranged in baskets – one gets satisfaction by just looking at them. Adjacent to them are the Gandhis, with extracts from flowers and other medicinal plants, and many of them making small packets of these extracts. At various points, one will come across Gujarati Brahmins dressed in a dhoti and rags selling plates and cups made of leaves. In this small area, you will find a number of these Gujarati Brahmins packed in all corners. Further are the shops of the grain-dealers. Various types of grains are filled in baskets and tins and the Marwadi proprietors eagerly await their customers in the fashion of Bakasura” (p. 122-3).


[Churchgate station]


“[A] statue of General Wellesley has been installed at Churchgate. This famous warrior had convincingly defeated the Marathas in 1803. This battle was fought at Assaye where the English suffered major losses; however this Sardar courageously led them to victory…. This famed fighter occupied the post of Governor General in 1798 and was known for his foresight. He was very sympathetic to the needs of the natives, and trade multiplied during his tenure; consequently the businessmen of Mumbai contributed towards the installation of a statue in 1814 which was ordered from England. The statue has been sculpted very artistically – Wellesley Sahib is sitting on a throne with a purse in his hands; a Maratha pahelwan stands in frcrnt of him  and Wellesley Sahib’s hands are poised to gift him the purse. Next to him is the statue of a lady. On her left hand is a plaque on which are inscribed the words – ‘Wisdorn. Energy, Integrity.’ … The people of Mumbai refer to it as the pahelwan’s statue… When this statue was installed, many of the Maratha simpletons of Mumbai were very delighted as they felt that the Company Sarkar had very kindly imported an English god for their worship. And what ensued? There was no limit to their happiness and they started worshipping this starue. For many years thereafter, they would offer coconuts to the idol, conduct pooja, and take vows. When the sarkar realized that this was inappropriate, they put an end to this practice. An iron fence has been constructed and entry has been prohibited. If somebody tries to worship the statue, the watchman appointed by government restricts him.” (p. 129-30).

Everyone who is interested in the history of Indian cities should order this book at once!

letter from a teenager

November 25, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (2)

Dear Amitav Ghosh,

I am a 14 year old teenager from Mysore, India and a HUGE fan of your writing and I seriously think you are India’s finest English author of all time, along with Salman Rushdie and R.K.narayan. My favourite books of yours are ‘The Calcutta Chromosome’, which haunted me for many days with questions over life and death, and ‘Sea of Poppies’, which not only deserved the Man Booker prize but also the Noble Prize for literature. Never have I read such a fine and picturesque novel. Your writing evokes a sense of pleasure that cannot be described in words. Though all of my friends prefer ‘Trash-tales’ of IIT’s and call centres, I proudly call you my FAVOURITE AUTHOR. Please keep writing these awesome books.

PS- When is the third book in the Ibis trilogy going to be released?

Nikhil Ravishankar

Roman Modern

November 24, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)



Rome’s MAXXI – the National Museum of 21st Century Art – is one the Via Guido Reni, in the Flaminia neighbourhood.










The brilliant Baghdad-born architect Zaha Hadid won the commission through an international competition. The building was completed in 2009.












The interior incorporates revolutionary structural (sculptural?) features.












The gallery spaces are awash in colour.






















An India-themed show was on display when I visited. It included videos by Amar Kanwar and











and an installation by Mysore-born N.S. Harsha, who won the 2008 Artes Mundi Prize.










On the pavement below was a site-specific installation by N.S.Harsha, featuring hundreds of faces. It is unfortunately rather faded now.














The MAXXI is certainly spectacular but I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed. The building is a performance (or an installation) in its own right – I do not envy the artists who have to show their work there.


There was nothing disappointing though about the nearby Auditorium Parco della Musica. Designed by Renzo Piano











it features three futuristic domes









linked by performance spaces.











The floors and ceilings are moveable and the acoustics are said to be amazing.












I was taken to the sites by Anna Nadotti, my Italian translator (see my post of  Nov 6). She recently sent me this link to a blog by Silvia Pareschi: it is about my posts on the  ‘Occupy Teatro Valle’  movement –


A Roman Secret

November 22, 2011 in Favourite Places | Comments (0)



The Locarno



is a small hotel on the Via della Penna,








just around the corner from the Piazza del Popolo, right in the centre of Rome.







It has a modest entrance












and ancient birdcage lifts.














The Art Deco details are a little faded









as is the cozy old salon.











But the Locarno has long been the favoured haunt of writers, film-makers and artists. Moravia frequented it as did Pasolini. The writer Alain Elkann



has even written a book about the hotel.






Flipping through a few pages of the guest book I saw,  in quick succession, the names of the physicist Carlo Rubbia (Nobel, 1984), the directors Abel Ferrara and Wes Anderson; actors Colin Firth, John Turturro and Adrian Brody; and winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, Shireen Ebadi.

The Locarno is one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever been in: unpretentious, friendly and very lively in the evenings.


Clea: Lawrence Durrell

November 21, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (2)


May 29, 1980

[‘Lataifa’, Egypt]



water wheel, egypt, 1980


Finished reading ‘Clea’ yesterday. Was more or less in tears at the end of it. The books get better and better. I think the blurb is on the whole right: the Alexandria Quartet is probably as close to a masterpiece as anything written in the ‘50s. Particularly liked Durrell’s translation of the Cavafy poem at the end (must look for a Cavafy collection when I am in Alexandria next: wonder if I’ll find one?).



alexandria, 1980

A Roman Feast

November 17, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)



Marco d’Eramo is a prominent Italian writer and journalist.



He writes for Il Manifesto, which is a left-wing journal, but Marco is a born contrarian and cannot abide predictable opinions of any sort. He has written several books but only one has been translated into English: it is called The Pig and the Skyscraper: Chicago and the History of our Future. It is a fascinating account of the city of today and what it tells us about the future.

Marco’s partner, Marina Forti, (who is seated beside him in this picture) also works for Il Manifesto and reports often on India and Pakistan. Very few European journalists are as knowledgeable as she is; even fewer have so wide a range of acquaintance in the Indian subcontinent.

I met Marco and Marina many years ago, and we have been good friends ever since. Marco and I have many things in common: we love good conversation and good food, and we both enjoy cooking. But Marco’s culinary philosophy is quite different from mine. Mine is a lazy, thrifty approach: maximal taste with minimal effort is my motto. Marco takes the opposite view: he produces meals of fantastic elaboration, spending hours shopping as well as cooking. This makes a meal at his home a kind of odyssey in which his guests follow him around Rome, going from market to market and stall to stall, learning about the lives of his favoured butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers. When I dine at Marco and Marina’s I don’t know which I enjoy more, the conversation or the food. The fact that their rooftop flat commands a view of the Colosseum adds a dimension of continuity with the past. To sit at their table is to know that the tradition of Roman feasting is alive and well.

This was the meal that Marco served when I was at their house earlier this month. At my request he sent me some of the recipes and I’ve included them although I would not myself attempt to follow them – I’ve found (as with real Indian food) that it requires enormous effort and expense to recreate Italian dishes outside their context. My culinary philosophy does not allow such indulgences – but when food is as good as this of course one wants to know what makes it so very delicious.


PUNTARELLE con acciughe (‘fresh chicory sprouts with anchovies, garlic, oil, vinegar, salt – You must leave it to rest for a couple of hours‘). ‘Puntarelle’ are a variety of chicory and are greatly loved in Rome.









ACCIUGHE GRATINATE (gratinated fillets of anchovies with breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, oil&salt of course):



The anchovies: a good serve is of 6-8 anchovies for every person. You open them as an open wallet, taking out the fish bones and the head; you lay them in a baking-pan with the skin on the bottom and the open part on the top with abundant origan, then a thin layer of breadcrumbs, pepper and (not much) salt, and you put few drops of olive oil on each fish. You put it in a very hot oven for 3-4 minutes and you serve.’

















insalatine di varia specie, cetriolo (2) pomodori (2) avocadi (2) cipolla rossa (1) cozze (1 kg) vongole (1kg) gamberi (1kg), calamari (1,5 kg), coriandolo tritato, olio sale e il sugo di cottura dei calamari fatto evaporare (FRESH SEA SALAD: leaves of different green salads, 1 cucumber, 2 tomatoes, 2 avocados, 1 red onion, mussels, clams, shrimps, squids, coriander, oil&salt and the evaporated squids juice)












CARCIOFI ALLA ROMANA (Artichokes the Roman way):



Marco warns: ‘In the States it is impossible to make artichokes in the roman way, because the artichokes are not the same (in the US they are of the same variety as in France).’






CONIGLIO ALL’ASTIGIANA (braised rabbit marinated with several herbs, onion, oil & salt): ‘The recipe for the rabbit can be used with ducks, guinea-hen as well.


1 big onion cut very thin
Rosmarin (a small branch), bay leaves (4) sauge (6 leaves), thym, parsley, garlic, an abondant glass of red win, 3 pounds of meat in chunks.
You brown the onions; meanwhile you chop very finely rosmarin, bay leaves, sauge and thym;
when the onions are browned, you add the meat (but not the liver of the rabbit, duck or guinea-hen), you brown the meat on a very high fire; you add the herbs, the pepper (but not the salt) and the glass of wine and you cook about one hour with low fire (if it dries you add small water). After an hour you add the salt and finely chopped garlic, parseley and liver (all together), you cook just five minutes and you serve.’




The feast ended with the best gelati in Rome:


‘The name of the ice-maker is Fassi (from the name of the founder Giovanni Fassi). The name of the establishment is Palazzo del Freddo (Palace of Cold). The business is more tha a century old, since 1928 the location is at Via Principe Eugenio 65 and the web address is there is an English version where you find the history, the products etc)







The accompaniments:

Champagne Veuve Cliquot;

Red Wines:
Vernatch (pronounced Fernach) from Alto Adige Sud Tirol
Inferno (Hell) from Valtellina (Norther Lombardia)



A True Roman

November 16, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (2)



On November 5 I received this message:

Dear mr. Ghosh,

My name is Anadi Mishra, I’m a Phd Researcher at the University “La Sapienza” of Rome. As you can guess from my name, I am of Indian origin, as my father, Laxman Prasad Mishra, came to Italy in the 60’s, where he married my mother, who is Italian. He was in Charge at the University of Venice (Ca’ Foscari) as Appointed professor of Hindi Literature, till his death, occurred in 1986, when I was only 14.

In spite of my brahmin father, I’ve been brought up as a western boy, speaking only  Italian at home, and came in touch with the Indian side of my family only two years ago, a long time after my father’s loss. I’ve studied Hindi and Indian history only at University, and I made out my Indian side only in my adulthood. Thus, my peculiar life path made me realize the deep complexity of owning a double nature.

I’ve written you this long prologue not only to introduce myself, but rather to explain and define the matter of my research: I’m involved in Identity issues, and the starting point of my PhD research is closely linked to your Ibis Trilogy.

The Idea took shape after a conversation with Francesca Marino, who suggested me the reading of Sea of Poppies. I was touched by the sensitive use of language, that you were able to articulate in several registers, painting a choral world, balancing dialects and English within your narrative texture.

Your ability to manage the language in order to reach the core identity of your characters, gave me the inspiration for my work, the University agreed to my proposal, and granted me a scholarship.

The temporary title of my research could be: The second Diaspora tells the first: The issue of Indian creolization through the lens of the Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh.

So, I started to breakdown several parts of your novel analyzing it from a stylistic standpoint, in particular those periods which in my opinion seemed to involve the narrator’s eye (for instance, by the use of the different registers of the third person, or the modulation of the spectre of language, from the Bhojpuri to the most novelistic English, across all its shadings).

I’m at the beginning of my research, which would be a two-sided work between a historical and social point of view on one hand, and a literary analisys one on the other.

I’m writing you this letter because I would like to take advantage of your next visit to Rome for the presentation of the Italian translation of “A River of Smoke” in order to bounce ideas off you about the purpose of my research, that is trying to define a crossing point between ancient and modern Indian Diasporas in a narrative “Meta-reality”.

I don’t intend to merely write an essay about your novels; I’d rather aim at using parts of your work in order to find a key for shaping a literary way to better define and circumscribe the issue of modern Indian identity.

I’ve tried to convey my thought as best as I could; I hope we’ll be able to keep in touch. However, I’ll certainly attend at the forthcoming presentation of your book here in Rome.


Best Regards


Anadi Mishra


I wrote back to say that I would be in Rome soon and we exchanged a few more messages.

And thus it happened that on the night of my arrival, I met up with Anadi and his partner Serena. They took me to a Roman trattoria and we spent a very interesting evening together.


Anadi’s story is an unusual one. His father was from a village near Jabalpur. He was a professor of Hindi, and in 1959 he took a teaching position in Venice. After a few years he moved to Rome where he remained for the rest of his life.
Anadi’s mother is Italian, and his was very much an Italian childhood. I asked if it had been difficult to grow up in Rome as a half-Indian child. No, he said, he had not been aware of any particular difficulties. He attributes this to the fact that he has a thick Roman accent.
Anadi never learnt to speak Hindi and never visited India as a child. He first went a few years ago and came away with many powerful impressions. I hope he will write about them some day.
Anadi is also a musician and plays percussion in a band. He recently sent me links to two videos:
He also sent me a touching letter about his father (below) accompanied by this picture.


Dear Amitav,

Today it’s the 15th of november, the definitive date of my father: he was born on november 15th 1931, and died  on the same day in 1986.I would like to take advantage of this date (with all thoughts derived by that) while I’m sending you this e-mail, enclosing some information about him.

My father Laxman Prasad Mishra was born in Narsinhpur, the son of Manulaal Mishra and Sita Bai Phathak. He had three male brothers (Ramji – the eldest one, who died at 20  –  Bharat Laal and Sharad Chandra, both younger than my father) and an elder sister, Mira, to whom my dad was very close, as she brought up the family after the early death of their parents.

All this line of the Mishra family doesn’t exist anymore. In the second generation the male Mishra are just two: my cousin Prateek (Chintu) and I. My cousin has a son, Amlan, so the future of the “clan” is safe. It seems I am the new Bade Dada, although I live in Italy, and I am a bit far from those customs.

I Enclose a scanned sheet of my Genealogical Tree, that Mini (Chintu younger sister) provided me in my last trip to India, and a Photo of myself and father at age 42.

Of course you can publish both the photo and letter on your blog, if you like. Regarding the Genealogical tree, I have to ask the permission to my relatives, as there are also their names, and I don’t know if they agree.

My father came to Italy in 1959. He learned italian across his stay, studying grammar, reading books and listening to Italian songs.

Dad was a great big man, with a warm, almost hypnotic voice; he was a terrific storyteller too: apart from the wonderful traditional tales about Gods and heroes of the Indian Mythology, I still remember the stories he used to tell me about his early youth. He painted himself as an inveterate gambler and smoker, and his funny stories invariably ended with my aunt Meerabai discovering his subterfuges and beating him up with her slippers…

But the end of his stories was always the same: the leaving of Auntie Mira from Jabalpur to Seonee,  made my father responsible: he first got his MA with honours, then got the chair of Hindi at the University of Marathavada. Only after a month, thanks to the descriptions of Italy of his beloved cousin Vajpaiyee-ji, who was settled there before him, he was inspired to come to Italy; after only a couple of  months, thanks to the invitation of Giuseppe Tucci, finally came to live here.

He knew my mother at IsMEO, (Istituto Medio Estremo Oriente), where he gave hindi lessons, meanwhile the University teaching. He married her, who was his student, in 1964. I don’t know the details of their love story, as my mother is very reserved about her private life, but it was no doubt a happy marriage . My sister Mira (!) was born in 1966 and myself in 1972. Dad took Italian citizenship in 1970. In 1975 he was appointed to the chair of Hindi language and Literature at the University of Venice “Ca’ Foscari” however he decided  to live in Rome, because it was the city he loved most: you know, Italy was a different country in the 60’s and 70’s….

My father published 12 books (written in three languages; he talked fluently Hindi, Italian, English and French, in addition to several  Indian dialects and languages), 10 essays, 23 articles and one recension. In 1982 Indira Gandhi invested him with the Vishva Hindi Sammelan, an international prize dedicated to those Indians who distinguished abroad. He was an effective member of the Nagari Pracharini Sabha of Benares, of the Societé Asiatique of Paris, of the Italian association of Sanskrit Studies, of the Ateneo Veneto, of the Centro Veneto Studi e ricerche Civiltà Orientali and was the first President of the Association Italia-India, settled in Venice, founded by him.

My father died suddenly at the peak of his career, in 1986 at only 55. He left an enormous emptiness in my life, but, at the meantime, the proud of an important name, and the responsability to carry it on.

This mail was  a middle-way between the family chronicles, Academic memories, personal remembering. Maybe I should thank you, because I didn’t keep my father’s memory so close for years.

Anyway, this is a short part of his history.

The other part is still living in me.


Hope to see you soon


Anadi Mishra



Debt and Democracy in Italy

November 15, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)




I met Andrea Baranes at the Teatro Valle in Rome:



he is closely associated with the group that has occupied the theatre for the last five months (see my post of Nov 14). Andrea is an economist by training and his speciality is ‘ethical finance’.

We spoke on November 10, three days before Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation. Earlier in the week the government had been forced to accept record interest rates in order to borrow money from the financial markets; Italy’s financial crisis was deepening day by day.

‘Do you think it’s true,’ I said to Andrea (who speaks fluent English), ‘that Italy has been living wildly beyond its means?’

Andrea shook his head. ‘It is true,’ he said, ‘that there are great imbalances within Europe. But I wouldn’t say that Italy went beyond its means. Twenty years ago Italy’s debt was evern larger than it is now. Why did no one talk of bankruptcy then? Why is it being talked of now? It is only because the chances of speculating against individual states are much greater now than they were then. Look at Goldman, Sachs. They were selling debt to Greece and at the same time they were betting against Greek debt. Of course there are structural problems in Italy, but twenty years ago we were in the same situation, except that the speculative climate did not exist.’

‘Do you think Italy should do what Malaysia did and impose strict controls on the flow of capital?’

‘That isn’t possible for Italy,’ said Andrea, ‘because of the Euro. The better option is something that was suggested recently: that Italians should use their savings to buy Italian bonds. If Italian debt was held in Italy the interest rates could be brought down to 3%. Italian families have huge savings and Italy has a huge debt – if the two could be matched that would be an easy way out. This is what happens in Japan. The Japanese also have a huge debt but they are safe because their debt is held internally. But the problem is that in Italy people don’t have the sense of being part of the state – they miss the feeling that the state is theirs and so is the debt. And this will not happen until there is an audit of the public debt. People must know what all this borrowed money was spent on.’

‘I was just told,’ I said to Andrea. ‘That one of your ministers recently referred to young Italians as bamboccioni – spoilt children. Do you think there may be some truth to this? Certainly if you look at Italy from an Indian or even American perspective, it does seem that the level of welfare is very high. So many things are free in Italy – schools, health-care, universities. Is it possible that Italians want to eat their ice-cream and have it too?’


Andrea shook his ice-cream cone. ‘It is true that all Europeans are very privileged,’ he said, ‘but it’s not true that the public debt is a result of welfare spending. The reason public debt is so high, and growing so fast, is because of the interest payments. The money is all going into debt servicing now – not welfare. That is why we need an audit of the public debt. We need to know what that money was being used for. Corruption? Or welfare?’







‘Do you think the European Union will survive this crisis?’ I asked finally. ‘Could the Eurozone split into two halves – a northern Europe and a southern Europe?’

‘The European Union and the single currency are different projects,’ said Andrea. ‘The two should not be conflated. There is no European system of taxation or welfare. A company can escape taxes in Italy by going to Ireland or Holland. This is the original sin. Europe was built to create free capital, free markets and a single currency. There was no provision for social and political projects. It is like trying to walk on one leg.’



Later that day it was confirmed that Silvio Berlusconi would resign in favour of Mario Monti, an economist who has never held political office. The news was greeted with cheers by financial analysts around the world – but in Italy some informed people were sceptical. The well-known journalist Marco d’Eramo for example:



although unreservedly glad to see Berlusconi gone, Marco has reservations about his replacement. Monti, like the new Prime Minister of Greece, Lucas Papademos, is a financial technocrat with a history of enforcing budget-cutting measures: he can even be seen as an advocate of right-wing economic orthodoxy.

Where will these two technocrats lead Greece and Italy? No one knows.

I was struck by a curious paradox. For years pundits have been predicting that free markets will force the technocrats who govern China to adapt to Western models of democracy. But it could be said that the opposite has actually happened. Free markets have forced two major European countries – Greece and Italy – to move towards a technocratic form of governance.

What is to be made of this?

Giorgio Forti, an eighty-year-old scientist, had something interesting to say. Giorgio was in the Resistance as a teenager and he was for decades the dean of the Biology department in the University of Milan. He is a member of the Italian Academy of Sciences (Accademia dei Lincei, which was founded in 1603; Galileo Galilei was one of its first members).

‘It has become clear now,’ said Giorgio, ‘that free-market capitalism is incompatible with democracy.’






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