‘Serious Men’ By Manu Joseph – Book review by Farah Shroff

W. W. Norton & Company, New York 2010

If you are like me and root for the underdog then you may find this book appealing. The main character of this book is Ayyan Mani, a Dalit father, spouse and clerk at a physics institute in Mumbai. Despite the ‘serious’ in the title the book is actually quite comedic. One of the ways in which Mani wanted to “strike back” at India’s ruling Brahmins was to donate sperm— hoping that Brahmins would purchase his seed and sprout little Dalit babies! Much of the book revolves around his desire to make his one and only son famous for being a genius. His little Adi has been born into a very modest home and has few prospects for ever climbing higher than his father, despite the fact that Mani is a member of MENSA and has a very high IQ.

The physics’ institute’s characters and their professional and personal lives take up another chunk of the story. We meet arrogant, brilliant men who think about extra terrestrials and fight about sending balloons into space to see if life drops down from outer space. When the first woman joins the research team, this hitherto all-male bastion changes in unpredictable ways.

All in all this is a great read albeit slow and rather dull in a few places. Joseph is generally a talented story teller. While his male characters are well developed the women in his book lack believability in some ways and in other ways they are stereotyped as not very interesting people.

The front cover, with a friendly and colourful image of Lord Shiva and his son Ganesha, caught my eye. I’m glad I picked it up and took it home. For part of the time, our 12 year old Zubin and me read the book aloud and enjoyed the fun together. Joseph takes on the heavy theme of caste discrimination and weaves a tale that is light yet provocative.


Farah Shroff


‘Yaka and the Agenda of the Greenwashing Hoods’ by Yak Handa

Hijacking the ‘Environmental Movement’

Elaine Dewar’s book Cloak of Green digs into a star-studded Toronto fundraiser to ‘Save the Rainforest’, soon untangling roots linking the world’s worst polluters (oilman Rockefeller, carman Ford) to major environmental groups (World Wildlife Fund, IUCN, Friends of the Earth, etc.).

Dewar details how capitalists hijacked the ‘Environmental Movement’, how iNGOs germinated, how corporate priorities were fast-tracked within various struggles to ‘save the world.’ Undercutting increased unity among most countries in the 1960s-70s – sabotaging such anti-colonial initiatives as the New International Economic and Information Orders, which only feebly challenged the hegemony of multinational corporations and their Big-Four News-Agencies: Reuters, AP, DPA, AFP – iNGOs are linked to restoring white power at the UN.

To dismiss industrialization in our countries, long-industrialized-rich iNGOs, using high-tech media, hypocritically proclaim: industrialization is bad for the Earth. They merrily ignore that mercantile capitalism forces disemployed people to survive by falling back on exploiting forests, land and sea.

But then Dewar inadvertently stumbles on ‘The Agenda’ – that’s not about hugging trees, and guaranteeing icebergs stay pure-white and whole! “The Agenda” seeks to institute not just ‘regime change’ around the world, but lever power up to corporate-controlled regional bodies, by using NGOs and ‘ethnic conflict’ to undermine nation-states.

She encounters this Agenda when interviewing a director with Cultural Survival, a ‘Human Rights Group’ working with “tribal and ethnic minorities in the Third World,” “Indigenous-led” yet based in Harvard University’s Peabody Museum. Set up in 1972 (year of that Stockholm environmental conference), CS’s proportion of USAID-funds expanded rapidly under Reaganomics. CS soon claimed a network of 1000s of ‘native informants’ – experts and activists around the world.

‘Ethnic’ Cardiology

After WW11, imperialist governments and corporations strengthened specific interests in former colonies to control trade; Cultural Survival tells Dewar: ‘Two-thirds of the world’s almost 200 states were thus created, caging over 5,000 ‘real nations’, each with a base, culture and history of self-government. Nigeria alone caged 450 ‘nations’, Brazil 190, USSR (minus Siberia) 130,’ etc.

Advocates of ‘decentralization’ elsewhere, avoid explaining why Europe and the US (usual funders of iNGOs and government-bonds) meanwhile expand and strengthen their borders and armies, bolstering their multinationals. Nonetheless, they insist our countries must not strengthen unity, within and without, to oppose the might of their behemoths. No! The Agenda believes we must be split further to bolster multinational corporate penetration.

Multinational corporations favor the rise of ‘ethnic nationalism’ as opposed to developing the nation-state. To subsume these nation-states under institutions of local and global governance, NGOs would promote binaries of local “ethnic” legitimacy versus “corrupt” multicultural national illegitimacy.

Yet in imperialist countries, there’s really only one party: The Capitalist Party, with brightly differentiated wings. And when it comes to attacking us, they’re always one! This North Atlantic (NATO) gang unleashes horror on Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chagos, Korea, yet the CS-staffer can insist: ‘National state elites, right or left, represent at most one or two ethnic groups, who appropriate resources, igniting wars. One-party power structures are sustained by weaponry. 75% of shooting wars occur within nation-states, whose armies only shoot their own citizens. The Himalayan debt-loads of these countries are largely weapons purchases.’

CS (headquartered on stolen Whampanoag land) even claims, “There was more genocide in the 20th than any other century.” This is the quintessential white-gaze blurring world history. Like the International Court of the Hague, ‘war crimes’ are not committed by their hosts, the Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, or their lost Yankee cousins: What they did, and still do in our world through their economic, military and cultural panzer-divisions is not up for jurisprudence or reparations.

Corporate Teflon

The Agenda views the nation-state as ‘an artificial construct to serve colonial masters and local elites’ – “corrupt thieves of the common good!” But not corporations! ‘Central government powers must be reduced, and decision-making reconfigured on diverse regional lines. It’s illegitimate for sovereign nations to make rules to protect local elites, etc.’ Such ideas soon permeated numerous multinational-friendly Free Trade Agreements.

In Lanka, English amnesia abounds about 1818 and 1948, let alone hundreds of wars fought over 500 years in different parts of the country; let alone 1971, 1989, and the two decades hence of so-called ethnic conflict. Silence abounds of the ‘regional’ mercenaries, merchants, usurers, who with collaborating landowners, remora of our stolen patrimony, underdevelop the country.

When the English first invaded Lanka, the East India Company sought to rule the country from Madras. The first Lankika rebellion against the English in 1797 quashed that plan. Yet now, Anglo-Dutch Unilever, like their ancestor, the East India Company, controls Sri Lanka through India, while its present CEO, in Colombo this week, was also a top executive at Unilevers’ supposed rivals, Procter&Gamble and Nestles! Such diversity! Such incest!

Yaka insists: The state should discuss devolving the major multinationals that underdevelop our economy!


From The Nation, Sri Lanka

Autobiography of the Great Dada Amir Haider Khan (1904-1986)

A new edition of the out-of-print autobiography of Dada Amir Haider published in 1988 titled “Chains to lose: Life and Struggles of a Revolutionary – Memoirs of Dada Amir Haider Khan, Vol 1” edited by Hasan N. Gardezi (462 Pages, Rs. 350, Patriot Publishers, Delhi 1988) is now available. Here is the cover page of the new edition.

Life and Struggles of a Revolutionary, Memoirs of Dada Amir Haider Khan

Chains to Lose – Life and Struggle of a Revolutionary
– Memoirs of Dada Amir Haider Khan

Hasan N. Gardezi, Ed., (Karachi 2007)

The following book review on the 1988 Edition by Shafqat Tanvir Mirza was published almost 20 years back in Weekly Viewpoint, Lahore. Today, i am honoured to post it at Uddari as it brings together at least five individuals who have and are contributing to the enrichment of our cultural and political life in the most magnificent ways.

Dada Amir Haider induces tears of love and respect from anyone in the Punjab with a mention of his name; Shafqat Tanvir Mirza’s life in journalism shows us how to live and work with integrity under oppressive regimes; Hasan N. Gardezi has shaped our ways of thinking with his political and literary writings; Amarjit Chandan reminds us of the best traditions of our poets who fight for revolutionary change; and, Mazhar Ali Khan who brought out Viewpoint and kept it going in Lahore in the toughest of situations.

Because of this, today is a beautiful day at Uddari even when clouds are bearing down on Vancouver.

Dada Amir Haider

Dada Amir Haider Khan
By Shafqat Tanvir Mirza

CHAINS TO LOSE is the life story, in his own words, of a great revolutionary, a father figure, a living legend. Every inch of a rebel from his very childhood, this colossus of a man stands before us dominating a whole era. In these pages, for the first time in print, revolutionary and trade union leader Dada Amir Haider chronicles in graphic detail the class struggle in colonial India. The readers of these memoirs will see the events of an important era in our history from the perspective of a highly refined proletarian consciousness.

Dada Amir Haider Khan 1904-1986



Dada Amir Haider (1904-1986)

This is how the publisher has introduced Dada and the first part of his autobiography, which was written in English in 1939 when the leader was denied personal appearance in a Bombay court. He was arrested in Bombay under the Defence of India Rules and lodged in the Central Prison, Nasik Road, on a two-year sentence. Dada filed an application in the High Court demanding that he be allowed to plead his own ease against his conviction. His application was rejected. Dada then decided to put down in writing what he wanted to say, and gradually resolved to preserve in writing the entire story of what his life and labour had taught him as a revolutionary activist. The narrative covered the period from Dada’s childhood to 1926 when he, for the last time, bade goodbye to the United States and sailed out for Moscow to get training in revolutionary work.

Dada has narrated the story in the minutest detail in the last chapter of the book. According to him, the C.l. (Communist International) was attempting to help all colonial countries which had industrial workers to develop Communist parties. With this in view the Cl was attempting to help train some revolutionary workers who would become party organisers and political workers m their respective countries. The Indian Communist Party was also asked to select some students. The job was assigned to M. N. Roy, who could not find any in India. Therefore, he asked the American Communist Party for help which in turn contacted the Ghadar Party. The Ghadar Party selected five students of whom Dada was one.

VD Chopra, an old political colleague of Dada in Rawalpindi, writes in the preface: “These memoirs in reality are recollections of the history of this Sub-continent and bring into sharp focus how the revolutionary urge of a peasant youth in the most economically and politically backward region of the Punjab before partition, the Pothohar region in north western Punjab – in Kahuta in particular gripped his mind. This was not an isolated development because from this very region a large number of young men had joined the INA. This fact is being recapitulated to make out that the national movement of united India did leave a deep impact on the common people of the entire country. Dada Amir Haider Khan was a product of this new national awakening who through a zigzag process became one of the founders of the Indian Communist Movement.”

Dada Amir Haider’s memoirs, therefore, are not only a narration of events and how these events moulded his life. They form a rich source material for historians and research scholars. However, the most important aspect of the memoirs is that they reveal how determined efforts were made by him, step by step and against heavy odds, to liberate our country from foreign domination and build a new social order.

The first volume of memoirs covers the first 22 years of the 20th century. Dada had a very, very hard life right from the beginning. He was born to a Chib Rajput family of village Sabbian of Kahuta. This family had its social roots in the Kashmir area. Dada’s first bitter experience was at a very tender age. At the time of the death of his grand father his father and his younger brother were minors. Therefore their brother-in-law was made their custodian. This gentleman cleverly deprived both the brothers of agricultural land left by their father. They were no match to their brother-in-law and therefore avoided confrontation and legal battles. Dada’s father selected a barren, rather stony piece of land and with his hard labour turned it into a small farm.

Dada was still a lad of hardly five or six years when his father died. Difficult days were ahead for him and his elder brother. The circumstances led their mother to marry the younger brother of her late husband. The stepfather’s attitude was almost hostile towards the young Dada who was very fond of education.

Unfortunately there was no school in the village, and the nearest one was four or five miles away. Anyhow his stepfather unwillingly agreed that Dada should go to a maulvi of the village who would teach him the Quran.

That was the beginning of Dada’s hardships. Dada went to many maulvis and then to schools but ultimately had to desert his home. Once he ran away and went to his elder brother, who was in the army at Peshawar. He was brought back but again forced to leave the house. This time he went to Calcutta where his elder brother after release from the army, had joined a gang of drug traffickers. The gang was headed by some Europeans. Dada was recruited in the gang. When this group was smashed he left Calcutta and went to Bombay where he got a job as a labourer on a ship. This assignment took Dada to Europe and America and it was there that his contacts with the American Communist Party and the Ghadar Party were established.

SS Leviathan is one of many ships Dada Amir Haider worked on

SS Leviathan is one of many ships Dada worked on.

What did Dada do after leaving America for Moscow in 1922? For that we have to wait for the next volume of his autobiography.

Ayub Mirza has written a biography of Dada in Urdu in the form of a novel. Both these books make extremely interesting reading. — SHAFQAT TANVIR MIRZA
[November 30, 1989. VlEWPOINT, Lahore]

The New Edition is available from Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi, Karachi-752702007. Price Rs 800 (Vol I-II), Pages 793. Contact the Publisher Syed Jaffar Ahmed at pscuok@yahoo.com, and Editor Dr Hassan Gardezi at gardezihassan@hotmail.com.

More information on Dada, and a review of the 2007 Edition by literary and art critic Sarwat Ali, is posted here: nasir-khan.blogspot.com

Materials provided by Amarjit Chandan