In which I send you off to read an article in The Caravan. Mine.

And Anjali Vaidya’s. It was her idea. She was very nice and included me in it.

The article’s called Shelved AwayIt’s about Select Book Shop in Bangalore. It’s only one page or so and features in The Lede. Do read. I’ll start you off with the first paragraph:

JUST OFF BRIGADE ROAD in central Bangalore is a quiet store, remarkably removed from the nearby bustle. This is Select Book Shop, a name familiar to many book lovers in the city. The store overflows with books old, new and rare, and the two men who will direct you to the treasures within are the owner KKS Murthy, and his son Sanjay.

Questions, comments, bouquets, brickbats and so forth are welcome.

P. Sainath is such a dolt. Or something.

Bitch, please. You don’t live in an “undistorted market”.

Swati pointed me to this blogpost about P. Sainath. The author takes Sainath to task for what are apparently grave errors of basic economics, basic maths, basic common sense. Or so the author of the blogpost would have you think. The blogpost goes on at length about how dumb Sainath is and condescends to point out several “Basic Econ101 lessonsthat Sainath has obviously failed to learn.

I know very little economics. I haven’t been formally educated in economics, or studied economics on my own. Nevertheless, there are some very obvious things that are wrong with the blogpost. First, Atanu Dey, the author, is an idiot. Now that the ad hominem is out of the way, you won’t see me mention the author again.

1)

“We shifted millions. . .” Who are the we? Are farmers stupid and passive? Do they have any choice in what they do? This automatic categorization of them as victims is what I call the manufacturing discontent industry. I will come back to this matter later on.

Incentives don’t count? If the government sets support prices for cash crops but none for food crops, will farmers grow cash crops or food crops? Is this not “we” shifting millions of farmers from one form of agriculture to another?

2)

But in the same breath that he talks about food prices, he also talks about the poor farmers. I don’t suppose he understands that buying and selling are two sides of the same coin. If food prices are kept low by decree, it is the same as decreeing that farmers starve. By putting an artificial lid on food prices, it discourages food producers from producing food. That restricts supply, and that increases the price of food.

Unless — radical thought! — you ensure that everybody has the right to enough food.

3)

His pet hobby horse is farmer suicides. He rattles off numbers–so many farmers killed in so many years. Again the context is missing. Yes, we understand that 250,000 farmers killing themselves is serious business. But why are they killing themselves? Because food prices are too high or too low?

“Pet hobby horse”? Insensitive much, dude? Here’s a Sainath article from 2009. I quote a bit of the article; a bit called, you know, the first paragraph:

The number of farmers who have committed suicide in India between 1997 and 2007 now stands at a staggering 182,936. Close to two-thirds of these suicides have occurred in five states (India has 28 states and seven union territories). The Big 5 – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh– account for just about a third of the country’s population but two-thirds of farmers’ suicides. The rate at which farmers are killing themselves in these states is far higher than suicide rates among non-farmers. Farm suicides have also been rising in some other states of the country.

4)

Basic Econ101 lesson: Prices in undistorted markets reflect the supply and demand of goods. They convey essential information to producers and consumers. If prices rise, it could be due to demand increases or supply shocks, or both. Producers increase production when prices rise; consumers reduce consumption. Suppressing price information leads to foreseeable but unintended adverse outcomes.

Bitch, please. You don’t live in an “undistorted market”.

Anybody remember this, from House M.D.? —

Foreman: First year of med-school; if you hear hooves, think horses not zebras.
House: Are you in first year med-school? No.

Me and my peabrain

“I sometimes think”, writes Stephen Fry, “that when I die there should be two graves dug: the first would be the usual kind of size, say 2 feet by 7, but the other would be much, much larger. The gravestone should read: ME AND MY BIG MOUTH.” Fry wrote this in apologising for remarks he made about an antisemitic and homophobic political party in Poland. His remarks themself are irrelevant here.

Fry writes further that, over the course of a week and a half, he declined every opportunity to apologise. Surely they must be “mischeviously misconstruing” his remarks. After all, nobody could possibly think he had meant what he said that way. I know exactly what Stephen Fry must have gone through. My brain is nowhere near as well exercised or popular as Fry’s mouth. If you asked me right now, not even I am a fan of my brain.

Before you read on, I ask that you take a look at this print from this t-shirt:

 

In the morning today, friends of mine gave me this t-shirt as a going-away present. I posted a picture on Facebook. We all had a hearty laugh.

There was a ‘Women in Science’ seminar held at NCBS in the evening. Rama, my professor, and Shobhana Narasimhan, a professor at JNC — scientists and women, both — would be speaking at the seminar. NCBS is about a 20-minute cycle ride away from JNCASR. I had to rush from JNC just after another talk I had to attend.

Here’s where my peabrain comes in. “Wouldn’t it be funny if I wore the t-shirt to the ‘Women in Science’ seminar? Think of all the laughs!” I would like to think that given enough time to think, I would’ve come to the conclusion that I can sometimes be a blithering insensitive idiot. Whether or not I give myself more credit than I am worth is moot. The fact is that I didn’t think about it. I changed into the t-shirt, got a cycle and left for NCBS.

Was I right? Would it be funny and nothing else? Friends of mine — people I know to be reasonable — had found the idea of a ‘stalker t-shirt’ funny. Does the context matter at all? Was this only a bad idea because I wore it to the ‘women in science’ seminar? Or is there something wrong with this humour to begin with?

After making a fool of myself in the eyes of people I like and admire, I’ve come to realise that context does matter. The late great Molly Ivins, a humourist and a political commentator of spectacular wit and more humanity than I can claim for myself at this moment, put it best:

Satire is a weapon, and it can be quite cruel. It has historically been the weapon of powerless people aimed at the powerful. When you use satire against powerless people, […] it is not only cruel, it’s profoundly vulgar. It is like kicking a cripple.

The reason rape-jokes aren’t funny, the reason this t-shirt isn’t funny (outside of my group of friends where the butt of the joke wasn’t the stalking so much as, well, me) is because the humour is directed not at somebody powerful who can defend themselves or laugh it off, but at somebody who is already a victim.

As is usually the case when somebody points out one is wrong, I dug my heels in when first Anjali, and then Shobhana, pointed out that the t-shirt was a bad idea. They’re just being overly sensitive, surely. “Would the t-shirt be okay if the man and the woman reversed roles?” I asked Shobhana. I am aware, now, of how stupid that sounds. Shobhana, of course, pointed out that stalking isn’t funny whoever does it.

Somebody else present added that it is also never going to happen that the woman is shown stalking the man. “Molestation shouldn’t be called eve-teasing,” she said as she walked away.

Of course it shouldn’t. Why is she telling me that? You know what popped into my head next: “I’m one of the good guys.”

Even somebody in my state of mind then should realise that appealing to the argument from one’s own personal integrity is a sure sign that one has fucked up somewhere along the way. And I did. This is me admitting to fucking up. I am sorry. Thank you for reading.