Lu Xun, Zhong Kui and Lin Zexu

“When you talk with famous scholars, the best thing is to pretend that occasionally you do not quite understand them. If you understand too little, you will be despised; if you understand too much, you will be disliked; if you just fail occasionally to understand them, you will suit each other very well.”

-Lu Xun

In ancient and medieval China, bureaucrats were selected through Imperial Civil Services. Scholars all over China used to appear for this exam in hope of getting coveted government job (situation not very different from what happens in India today- thousands appear for Civil Services exam for few hundred jobs).

Manual labour was considered beneath dignity for scholars in China, so they preferred desk jobs.

One such scholar was Zhong Kui, he was brilliant but ugly looking. He topped the exam, but officials refused to offer him job because of his looks. In anger and frustration, he committed suicide in palace. After his death he went kingdom of Yama (yes, domain of our god of death is beyond India and Hindu religion), Yama saw lot of potential in him and made him incharge of ghosts. Usually after death, the dead is given a tea of forgetfulness, so that soul does not remember his past life or his tenure in hell after rebirth. This job is given to Yama’s assistant, a lady called Meng Po. In case of Zhong Kui, no such tea was given, he came back to living world and got his sister married to his friend.

Another interesting story on scholar is by Chinese author Lu Xun. Lu Xun was critical of society prior to communist rule. In his story he tells about scholar who keeps failing in exam but does not think of doing any manual work. The story is narrated by a 14 years old waiter in an inn. Scholar Kong Yiji comes to inn to drink warm wine. Kong keeps failing in civil services exam.

After drinking half a howl of wine, Kung would regain his composure. But then someone would ask:     “Kung I-chi, do you really know how to read?”

 When Kung looked as if such a question were beneath contempt, they would continue: “How is it you never passed even the lowest official examination?”

-Lu Xun, Kong Yiji

For earning living he does job of calligrapher. He has habit of stealing pens, ink, brushes etc. of his clients. When caught he gets beaten up by his clients. He never admits that he stole anything, he just borrowed it.

And someone would call out:    “Kung I-chi! There are some fresh scars on your face!”

Ignoring this remark, Kung would come to the counter to order two bowls of heated wine and a dish of peas flavoured with aniseed. For this he produced nine coppers. Someone else would call out, in deliberately loud tones:   “You must have been stealing again!”

“Why ruin a man’s good name groundlessly?” he would ask, opening his eyes wide.

-Lu Xun, Kong Yiji

 Kong Yiji is subject of ridicule at the inn. One day he gets badly beaten up and drags himself to inn for a drink. After that he is not seen for a long time, people assume that he is dead.

One brilliant student who cleared civil services exam was Lin Zexu. Lin was known for his honesty. During the reign of Qing dynasty, the British tried to export opium in China in exchange for silk, tea, porcelain and spices. Opium addiction was ruining health of Chinese. Lin Zexu was sent to stop opium trade, he first wrote a letter to Queen Victoria for stopping the trade. Next, he got rid of British traders and destroyed opium. This lead to Opium War and huge losses to China.

“We find that your country is sixty or seventy thousand li from China. Yet there are barbarian ships that strive to come here for trade for the purpose of making a great profit. The wealth of China is used to profit the barbarians. That is to say, the great profit made by barbarians is all taken from the rightful share of China. By what right do they then in return use the poisonous drug to injure the Chinese people? Even though the barbarians may not necessarily intend to do us harm, yet in coveting profit to an extreme, they have no regard for injuring others. Let us ask, where is your conscience?”

    — Lin Zexu, Open letter addressed to the sovereign of England


Sadegh Hedayat, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi and Marjane Satrapi

From 1794 to 1925 Iran was ruled by Qajar Dynasty. The last ruler of this dynasty was Ahmad Shah Qajar. He was overthrown by commander of one of his own brigade called Reza Khan. Reza Khan declared himself as monarch and took title of Reza Khan Pahlavi. Pahlavi dynasty replaced Qajar Dynasty.  Reza’s son Mohammad became next ruler of Iran (Shah of Iran).  He was overthrown during Islamic revolution by Muslim leader Ruhollah Khomeini.

Two events i.e. rule of Mohammad Pahlavi and Islamic revolution made huge impact on Iranian society. It also influenced the field of literature.

Sadegh Hedayat was Iranian writer and intellectual. He saw transition of power from Qajar to Pahlavi dynasty.  He was critical of Pahlavi ruler. He wrote novels like The Blind Owl, Stray Dog and Older Sister. He was influenced by Franz Kafka. Influence of Kafka can be seen in his novel The Stray Dog.

“I thought to myself: if it’s true that every person has a star in the sky, mine must be distant, dim, and absurd. Perhaps I never had a star.”

-Sadegh Hedayat, The Blind Owl

The Stray Dog is an interesting novel about a dog who has a very nice owner, but one day while accompanying his master during shopping, he gets distracted by smell of a bitch, though he never finds the bitch, he finds his master has left without him. Now life becomes difficult for dog. He now becomes a stray dog and people in that area start torturing him. The dog has beautiful brown eyes. One day he is shown kindness by a person sitting in car. He starts running after car, but months of hunger and torture has already made him weak and he collapses, crows gather around him, waiting for dog to die, so that they can eat his eyes.

His novel Older sister is story of two sisters, older one is ordinary looking while younger one is beautiful. Younger one gets married, while older one remains unmarried. The older one starts losing her importance in family, as her parents are more interested in their younger daughter and son in law. To show her significance the older sister turns to religion. She is now critical of her parents for not observing religion. But older sister cannot get over her lower status in family and commits suicide.

Hedayat committed suicide in Paris in 1951.

Novelist Mahmoud Dowlatabadi saw transition from Pahlavi dynasty to Islamic revolution. He also witnessed Iran – Iraq war.

“I have always been thinking that I am a writer with the scent and smell of my own country and the Persian language,”

-Mahmoud Dowlatabadi

Mahmoud’s famous novel is The Colonel. It is story of Colonel  in Shah’s army kills his wife for her infidelity. He had five children. Two daughters Farzahneh and Parvaneh and three sons. He loses fourteen years old Parvaneh during Islamic revolution and is forced to bury her himself. His eldest son Amir is tortured by Shah for his leftist views, but the new Islamic regime too is equally repressive. His youngest son Mohammad Taqi dies in Iran- Iraq war and one more son Masoud gets killed in revolution, his other daughter Farzana is married to an unscrupulous man Mr. Qorbani.

“Farzaneh was aflame and her wailing melted everyone’s hearts. Parvaneh had lost control of herself and was flapping madly around her brother, while Masoud got up off his knees beside his brother, clenched his fists, like two balls of fire, to his head and screamed: “I’ll kill them, I’ll kill the bastards who killed my brothers…”. His rallying cry was taken up by the crowd, and from that point on Mohammad-Taqi’s corpse was no longer ours – it has become public property.”

― Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, The Colonel

Another author to witness similar transition is Marjane Satrapi. A descendent of royal Qajar family and daughter of Marxist parents, she was against Pahlavi dynasty.

“My great-grandfather was a Qajar, that is the dynasty before the Shah. The reason I wrote that is that at the beginning of the century, the only people that had enough money to send their kids abroad … was Qajar princes. They went at the beginning of the last century to Europe, and the dominant idea was the Communist idea, was the socialist, Marxist idea. … That is the paradox of the whole thing. … My grandfather came from this family and he ended up being a communist.”

-Marjane Satrapi

She joined her parents in their protests against Shah of Iran. But after Islamic revolution, the things got worse. She was forced to wear veil and there was no freedom for women. She has written about that era in her graphic novel Persepolis. She lives in Paris.




Nazis, Herta Muller and Imre Kertesz

“Ceausescu was mad and he made half of Romania mad…I’m mad because of him.”

-Herta Muller

Herta Muller is Romania born German writer. Her father was member of Waffen SS, armed unit of Nazi party. Amongst other members of this unit there was a young boy called Gunter Grass. While Mullers were of Germans from Romania, Grass was German from Poland. Nazis under Hitler initially won many battles, but ultimately lost to combined army of British and Russians.

“My father was on the side of the murderers, and my mother had to pay for that. It was a really big dilemma for me that I came from the side of the murderers, and that everyone was still singing these Nazi songs in the village. It really tore me to pieces.”

-Herta Muller

Herta’s father was kept prisoner of war in England and her mother was deported to USSR to a forced labour camp.  This was punishment to Germans in Romania for supporting Nazis. Herta was ashamed for her father’s past and felt that her mother was punished because of him.

Gunter Grass too was taken as prisoner, in prison camp he learned sculptor. Gunter Grass hid his Nazi past and soon became novelist. He wrote books like The Tin Drum which was critical of Nazi invasion of Poland. He won Noble Prize for literature in 1999.

After World War, Nazism was replaced by Communism. Communists under Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu were as bad as Nazis. Herta was critical of communist rule. She wrote novel called The Land of Green Plums, which was critical of treatment given to Germans in Communist Romania. Some characters in novel get killed, but their death is shown as suicide.

Herta never forgot about the treatment her mother got in Russian forced labour camps. Based on what her mother told and memories of Oskar Pastior, a Romanian German poet , she wrote novel on deportation of Germans to Russia. The novel The Hunger Angel describes life of Germans in forced labour camp.

Herta believes in freedom of speech. She criticised Gunter Grass for hiding his Nazi past. She also revealed that Oskar was informer of infamous Romanian secret police, but she still considers him to be her friend.

Herta got Noble Prize for literature in 2009.

As an opponent of totalitarian regime (either Nazis or Communists), she was against giving Noble Prize to Chinese author Mo Yan. Mo Yan is active member of Chinese Communist Party and believes in censorship.

Mo Yan won Noble Prize for literature in 2012. His most famous novel is Red Sorghum. The novel starts with story of Dai Fenglia who is married to leper Shan Bianlang who owns a distillery. But before reaching village she is raped by Yu Zhan’ao, who kills Bianlang and his father Shan Tingxiu and makes Fenglia owner of distillery. Zhan’ao helps her in running distillery and also fights against Japanese. The story cover period from 1923 to 1976. It covers critical periods of Chinese history like Sino- Japanese War, Communist rule and Cultural Revolution.

While Herta’s father and uncle were fighting for Nazis in Romania, in neighbouring Hungary, the Nazis wanted to get rid of Jews. So when they captured Hungary, they deported all the Jews to concentration camps. One of the deportee was a fourteen-year-old boy Imre Kertész.

“I already know there will be happiness. For even there, next to the chimneys, in the intervals between the torments, there was something that resembled happiness. Everyone asks only about the hardships and the “atrocities,” whereas for me perhaps it is that experience which will remain the most memorable. Yes, the next time I am asked, I ought to speak about that, the happiness of the concentration camps.”

― Imre Kertész, Fatelessness

Imre managed to survive in concentration camps and became journalist. He wrote book on his experience of concentration camp called The Fateless (also Fatelessness). It is story of young boy of fourteen years called György Köves who is resident of Budapest, who ends up in Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz and is later shifted to camps at Buchenwald and Zeitz.

Imre won Noble Prize for Literature in 2002.







David Ogilvy, Matsuri Takahasi and Karoshi

“Hard work never killed a man. Men die of boredom, psychological conflict, and disease. They do not die of hard work.”

― David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy was a British tycoon who founded advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, he is known as the father of advertising. David started his life as chef, moved on to become salesman, was part of British Army, became farmer before starting his own advertising agency. David believed in hard work.

In faraway Japan, the management of Japanese advertising agency Dentsu also believed in hard work. They made employees work for hours, well beyond statutory requirement.

“It’s 4 o’clock. My body is trembling … I just can’t do this. I’m gonna die. I’m so tired,”

-Twitter message by Matsuri

Matsuri Takahasi, a 24 years old graduate joined Dentsu. She was working overtime, as working overtime was seen as sign of dedication and productivity. In month of October 2015 she clocked 105 extra hours of work. Overworking made her depressed and in December 2015 she committed suicide.

“Why do things have to be so hard?”

-Matsuri in her suicide note

Japanese even have word for death due to overwork- Karoshi.

Death of Matsuri did have some impact on work culture. Dentsu’s president Tadashi Ishii was forced to resign. The Japanese government decided to keep tight control over overworking.

“It was extremely regrettable the company had failed to prevent overwork by a new recruit, in order to take full responsibility, I would like to resign as president at a board meeting”

-Tadashi Ishii

Three Pashas, Armenian Genocide and Operation Nemesis

Nemesis is Greek goddess of retribution. She brings about downfall of those who are arrogant and succumb to hubris.

The three pashas of Ottoman Empire were de facto ruler of Empire during World War I. First Pasha, Mehmed Talaat Pasha was Prime Minister (Vazir) and Minister of the Interior; second Pasha, Ismail Enver Pasha the Minister of War; and third Pasha, Ahmed Djemal Pasha was Minister of the Navy.

Three Pashas took pride in Turkish nationalism, but their nationalism excluded the Christian minorities. Their hubris resulted in they taking wrong decision of getting rid of Christian minorities within empire like Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians. In 1915 they rounded up all the Christians and made them march through desert, thousands died due to hunger, their property was confiscated, children were killed and women raped before they were killed. After World War I Turkey was defeated and war tribunal gave death sentence to three Pashas.

It was not that everyone hated three Pashas. There were intellectuals who supported Pashas. One such supporter was novelist Halide Edib Adıvar. She was a strong supporter of women rights, but she supported Djemal Pasha who forced Armenian orphans to learn Turkish and converted them to Islam. Like three Pasha she took false pride in pan Turkism, the made her blind to atrocities committed on Armenians.

Post World War Turkey denied any genocide took place. Anyone talking about genocide was labelled as antinational. When Turkish novelist Orhan Pumak talked about massacre of Armenians, he was labelled as anti-national and sued. Orhan Pumak won Noble Prize for Literature in 2006.

“Thirty thousand Kurds have been killed here, and a million Armenians. And almost nobody dares to mention that. So I do.”

-Orhan Pumak

But Armenians never forgot the genocide. Armenian leader Shahan Natalie and his colleagues decided to take revenge. They launched Operation Nemesis ( named after Greek goddess I talked about) to kill Turkish and Azeri officials who massacred Armenians. Their biggest enemy was Talat Pasha. Task of killing Talat Pasha was given to Soghomon Tehlirian. Soghomon came to know that Talat Pasha was in Berlin. He shadowed Talat Pasha and shot him dead. The other two Pashas too were killed. Another prominent person assassinated during operation Nemesis was Fatali Khan Khoyski, prime minister of Azerbaijan.

Story of Soghomon Tehlirian has been published in form of a graphic novel called Operation Nemesis. Soghomon was acquitted by German court and is considered national hero in Armenia.

Many Armenians came and settled in India. One such Armenian was William Robert Yeoward who married lady called Victoria Hemmings. She gave birth to a child called Angelina. Victoria loved music and dance. Later the couple divorced and Victoria converted to Islam and got new name Malka Jaan while Angelina was named Gauhar Jaan. Gauhar Jaan was trained in music and became famous singer. She was first Indian whose music was recorded on Gramophone record. She was star and earned lot of money through recordings. But her lavish lifestyle and reduced earning at end of her career resulted in poverty.


Lodz, Novels and Holocaust

Lodz (pronounced – Wootch) is one of largest cities of Poland. In 19th century it was transformed from a small town to a large industrial city. The industrialisation took place due to large scale migration of Germans. The three communities Germans, Poles and Jews made it textile capital of Eastern Europe.

This unique demography of city and industrialization inspired many authors to write novels on this city.

“For that ‘promised land’ – for that tumor – villages were deserted, forests died out, the land was depleted of its treasures, the rivers dried up, people were born. And it sucked everything into itself. And in its powerful jaws it crushed and chewed up people and things, sky and earth, in return giving useless millions to a handful of people, and hunger and hardship to the whole throng”.

-Waldyslaw Reymont

Władysław Reymont was a Polish novelist who wrote novel “The Promised Land” (Ziemia Obiecana in Polish) on city of Lodz. The novel is about three friends who are ruthless industrialists. The three friends- Karol Borowiecki (Polish), Max Baum (German) and Moritz Welt (Jew) gather funds to start a textile mill. They ruthlessly exploit the workers to earn profit. Reymont saw industrialisation of Lodz from exploitation (of both human and nature) point of view.

Waldyslaw got Noble Prize for Literature in 1924.

Reymont died before rise of Nazism and conquest of Poland by Nazis.

Another Polish Novelist Israel Joshua Singer’s novel “The Brothers Ashkenazi” covers period till rise of communism in Russia. It is written in Yiddish language. The novel is about Jewish twins in city of Lodz- Simcha Meyer Ashkenazi and Jacob Bunim Ashkenazi. Simcha is shrewd and unscrupulous, while Jacob is popular and extrovert. The novel is about rivalry between the brothers. Finally, they reconcile when Simcha is arrested in communist Russia and Jacob gets him released, but when they return to Poland, Jacob is killed by a racist Polish guard.

The novel also explores relationship between the Ashkenazi family(Jews) and Huntze family (Germans). Huntze are owner of a large textile mill and Ashkenazi are their agents, but Simcha manages to get control over the textile mill.

Before World War 2, the Jews were an influential community in Lodz. But all that changed after invasion of Poland by Germany. Lot of restrictions were placed on Jews. They were confined to a ghetto in Lodz. Nazis were keen to get rid of Jews.

During this time a Jewish leader emerged who came up with novel scheme of saving Jews. Chaim Rumkowski became leader of Lodz ghetto. He struck deal with Nazi chief of Lodz ghetto Hans Biebow. The Jews would use their skills to produce goods for Germans. The Jews were made to work for long hours, with payment in form of food. But food given was insufficient to survive, they were slowly starved to death. Rumkowski became dictator of Lodz ghetto, he raised a Jewish police force, which was ruthless with Jews and forced them to work harder.

“A grievous blow has struck the ghetto. They [the Germans] are asking us to give up the best we possess – the children and the elderly. I was unworthy of having a child of my own, so I gave the best years of my life to children. I’ve lived and breathed with children. I never imagined I would be forced to deliver this sacrifice to the altar with my own hands. In my old age, I must stretch out my hands and beg: Brothers and sisters! Hand them over to me! Fathers and mothers: Give me your children!”

— Chaim Rumkowski, September 4, 1942

 These tactics delayed deportation of Jews to concentration camp. But finally, all including Rumkowski were sent to concentration camp. First to go were old and children, next was turn of working men and women and last to go was Rumkowski. It is said that Rumkowski was killed by Jews of concentration camp, while Biebow was executed after war trials.

Henryk Ross was a daring Jewish photographer who managed to document Nazi atrocities in Lodz. His evidences were useful during trials of Nazis.

Post-World War 2, some Polish Jews migrated to US. The novel “Enemies: A Love Story” is about a Polish Jew Herman Border who goes to US with his Polish wife Yadwiga (Yadwiga was his maid, who saved his life from Nazis by hiding him). His wife and children killed by Nazis. Later in US, Border has affair with another Jewish refugee Masha, later his earlier wife Tamara also lands up in US (she is not killed, but has survived holocaust). The novel was written by Isaac Bashevis Singer, brother of Israel Singer, like his brother he wrote in Yiddish. Their sister Esther Kreitman too was a novelist.

Issac got Noble Prize for literature in 1978.



NS Hardikar, K B Hedgewar and Indian Politics

In year 1889 in Nagpur a son was born to Baliram and Revati Hedgewar called Keshav. Almost a month later, few hundred kilometers from Nagpur at Dharwad a son was born to Subbaro and Yamuna Hardikar called Narayan. Parents of both Keshav Hedgewar and Narayan Hardiwar were unaware of impact their children would have on Indian politics.

Both became doctors and decided to take part in politics. Hardikar was influenced by Congress, while Hedgewar was anti- Congress.

In 1923, Hardikar decided to from a cadre of disciplined Congress workers which wore Khadi shirt, half pant and white Gandhi cap. They actively took part in Congress’s agitation against British. The unit was called as Congress Seva Dal. Gradually Congress Seva Dal became influential partner within Congress. Nehru actively participated in Congress Seva Dal meetings.

In 1925, Hedgewar formed Rashtirya Swayamsevak Sangh, cadre of social workers who were subject to military discipline. They wore white shirts, khaki half pant and black cap. RSS was anti Congress and pro Hindu organization. Unlike Haridkar’s Seva Dal, RSS had a modest beginning.

Post-independence, Seva Dal helped Congress to win elections, popularity of both Seva Dal and Congress was at its peak. RSS meanwhile was suppressed by Congress, but it was growing steadily.

Seva Dal did well till Indira Gandhi ruled India, post Indira Gandhi, Seva Dal was on decline.

Congress came under influence of professors from University named after Nehru. Unlike Dal they were not interested in working at grassroots level and doing hard work. They came up with new pattern of politics-writing books, newspaper articles and songs on secularism. They even made songs and dance on secularism.

Seva Dal lacked agility, they were unable to learn this new secular song and dance. Congress too started losing power, because earlier it was Seva Dal whose contacts at grassroots level that enabled Congress to win elections. The new influencers were more into song, dance, debates and laughter. One Congress laughed loudly in Parliament and predicted that her laughter will result in defeat of BJP. These innovations were beyond comprehension of Seva Dal.

RSS formed a political wing called BJP. Like RSS, BJP too had a modest beginning. But over period of time both grew. Decline of Congress and Seva Dal resulted in rapid rise of BJP and RSS. Currently BJP is India’s largest political party and RSS is many times bigger than Seva Dal.