The Revised Kama Sutra

The Revised Kama Sutra
The Viking Penguin hardcover first edition

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"America's Forgotten History" and the Concept of "Forgotten History" and a Progressive Empire

Seymour Hersh’s controversial findings in his London Review of Books piece, “The Killing of Osama Bin Laden,” are astounding (even if you question his lack of credited sources, his sterling reputation cannot be easily dismissed); or, as this piece in the Toronto Star puts it, "In chiseling ugly truth from the Norman Rockwell version of American history, he is peerless."

But Hersh's findings were no more astounding, at least to this reader/writer/editor, than another recent book.  
Recently, it was my privilege to edit and compile an index for America’s Forgotten History: Part III, A Progressive Empire, an exuberant, panoramic and important survey of American history (Parts I and II are also available on, and have received high praise).  The book includes remarkable passages such as these:

The American Revolution was fought by and for smugglers, tax-evaders, and land speculators. Those libertarian-minded Americans, though, didn't see themselves as criminals. For them, smuggling and tax evasion were only technical crimes. Trading freely and keeping the proceeds of honest labor – and it was honest, even if illegal – were sacred rights no matter what any king or parliament said. From the greatest smuggler of them all, John Hancock, down to the common seaman who brought home his sea chest full of illegal contraband for resale, smuggling was a way of life. A libertarian history will find no fault.
... Whatever else humans are, we are extraordinarily adept justifiers. Pretty much anything can be made right in a person's mind if it serves their interests.

Much of what America is today—which often confounds those who are not American, and sometimes even those who are American, but who have lived abroad—is the result of its history, and especially of the second half of the Nineteenth Century, which is the period covered in America’s Forgotten History: Part III.

As I gathered from this book, this is probably the most defining period in the shaping of present-day America (my non-expert opinion).
Mark David Ledbetter, the author, describes himself as a libertarian writing a libertarian history that is compassionate towards both sides (and I don't claim to be a libertarian, though I do find some libertarian positions compelling: I am against government interference in private life, and FOR the free marketplace of ideas). But there are four major revelations (revelations at least to me) in this book that made a tremendous impression on me:

1.       Widespread corruption in American government, and government-business collusion. So, possibly, what we have today--"the military-industrial-Congressional complex", as Eisenhower is supposed to have termed it, originally--is a direct outgrowth of that corrupt political culture.
2.       The extermination of Indians as a result of government policy, theories of racial superiority, or simple greed for land and gold. Here the libertarian argument is very persuasive, especially in the example the author gives of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, in which Indian children were kidnapped from their families and forced to live in residential schools with a "civilizing" (Christianizing, Anglo-izing) mission..
3.       How the Thirteenth Amendment's legal emancipation of blacks, making slavery unconstitutional, was almost immediately undercut by the re-enslavement of black people in all but name through such institutions as the Black Codes, penal slavery, Jim Crow laws, and Sundown Towns. At the same time, Ledbetter does not deny that there was slow progress, that some black farmers and tradesmen fared better under the new system than under the old.
4.       How economic expansion and confidence led to American exceptionalism and imperialism, in thought and deed, culminating in a cabal, led by Teddy Roosevelt, and including Alfred Mahan, and perhaps the silent assent of William McKinley, who (much like George W. Bush explaining his justification for invading Iraq) claimed that God had told him to conquer the Philippines for the good of the natives—even though that “good” deed eventually claimed something like two million Filipino lives.

The book is full of gems and extraordinary information, and there is not space enough (nor would it be fair) to include all of them. All I can do is provide a few totally random quotes from the book:

In 1857 five million acres and millions of dollars were given to the Minnesota and Pacific [Railroad]. Five million acres is almost as big as Massachusetts. For its state-sized gift, the M and P managed to lay ten miles of track before descending into insolvency.
Among other things, it would build "white roads through black bedrooms." That was the phrase used at the time, but it also built white roads through black businesses.
The pattern had become a westward rolling cycle. White incursion led to war, which led to a treaty, which led to a wilderness further west guaranteed for all time, or until the next white incursion which caused a resumption of the cycle.

For example, Sherman wrote Sheridan that,
"I want you to go ahead, kill and punish the hostiles, capture and destroy the ponies... of the Cheyennes, Arapahoes, and Kiowas. The more we kill this year, the less we would have to kill next year."

It also fit and still fits the puritan thinking that if something is good to do, it is good for government to do. It fit and still fits the related impulse to organize a good society by authoritarian means. It fit the popular idea that only the minds of children are amenable to change. And it fit the puritan imperative to proselytize.

After the official end of northern control of the South in 1877, all southern states except Virginia passed laws and local ordinances which allowed convicted criminals to actually be sold or leased by the state to industry and agriculture.

Incredibly, there was even a market in speculation on the new slave labor, complete with full-time professional speculators.

The Philippine-American War was fought not only against an army but against a nation – in truth, a number of nations. It quickly became "total war," a war that could be won only by demoralizing the population to such an extent that they would finally give up.

Any condemnation of another country's sex slavery without giving equal time to your own is a self-serving and, therefore, an unconvincing condemnation. There are no good guys in this story, just a moral quagmire with a bunch of countries trying to shift the onus of moral depravity to someone else.
[end of quoted passages]

So what has all this to do with Seymour Hersh's Osama bin Laden story? It is just this: that "forgotten history" is an important concept, and it is writers like Mark David Ledbetter and Seymour Hersh who do the public tremendous service by working and writing to remind us that the history that we are taught, or the official narrative we have been told, is probably false or incomplete, possibly from one-quarter to one-half of the time, the false or incomplete part "forgotten," often, because it serves that Powers that Be.

Here's where you can buy the book:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Three-legged Dog Walks Into Three Dutchmen

Yesterday, I walked into a bar-restaurant, and decided to share this joke with three Dutchmen, all English speakers with either fair or better than average proficiency.

It was the best of around ten jokes I had just read (something I do when the spirit is low, the flesh weak, or both), and I was aching to share it with someone.

A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West. He slides up to the bar and announces: ''I'm looking for the man who shot my paw.''

Not a single one of my Dutch friends laughed. Because they didn't get the play one of the classic lines in Western movies in which a son is hunting for his father’s killer:
“I’m looking for the man who shot my Paw.” In the Western accent, “Pa” (Father) is pronounced as “Paw”

They explained that they couldn’t be expected to know American English. However, even though I have now lived in the United States or been “of” it for nearly three decades, I would have gotten it even in my Indian teen years, by which time I had read a few “Westerns” (novels featuring cowboys, “badmen,” and sheriffs, and set in the Western badlands) and seen quite a few Western movies (the Clint Eastwood ones were my favorites).

So, to rewrite the joke:
A three-legged dog joke walks into a bar and says, "I'm looking for the man who shot my paw."
The Dutchmen, literally interpreting "Paw," respond: "Well, we haven't seen this man, and we can't give you your paw back, so how about we put an end to your misery by shooting all three of your remaining paws, leaving you no leg to stand on. And then, to make sure you don't spend the rest of your life dreaming about your four lost paws, we shoot the rest of you."

Which brings up one of the problems faced by my books: the humor is often lost in translation. You’d have to append a long explanation to each one of these references, and by the time the reader gets it, the joke is no longer funny. 

I wonder if my Dutch friends would get this dogless joke: 
Dyslexic man walks into a bra.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Strange World of an Indian Bestselling Author

From The Killing of an Author, published in paper and on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Nook, etc. Selected passages from one of the book's most important chapters. The trouble with any excerpt in a blog is that, I have to restrict the language here, and also that no excerpt can really convey the power of the book as the book itself (particularly later chapters such as "The Taboos" and "The System and the Killing of Subversive Authors").

An Author Is Born

The Strange World of A Bestselling Indian Author

Finally the book ["The Revised Kama Sutra: A Novel"] was finished, and it included a strong, in-your-face Prologue, a political manifesto on behalf of invisible Third World writers, a manifesto demanding equal freedom and incorporating The Invisible Man Press:

“It is true that I, the author, have registered a publishing company in the United States called the Invisible Man Press because I felt that it was time for us Indians (including those of Indian origin — one-sixth of humankind) in this postcolonial age to feel free to say absolutely whatever we wanted to say, without censorship of any kind, real or imagined.”

The Prologue went on to suggest that censorship of Third World voices occurred discreetly in a democracy like the U.S., and that Western publishing was a very effective tool of this censorship and control. Briefly, the Prologue’s message was: We are equal citizens of Republic Earth, so please, no double standards, no paternalistic rules or prohibitions.

What chutzpah, I think now, looking back on what I did, for a brown writer living a marginal literary existence in the West to start his first novel with an attack on Western publishing, literary colonialism, and apartheid, and his first chapter with a blast at British colonialism! Rather than waiting, as Arundhati Roy later did, to first make her millions and establish her power base in the West, and then to choose causes that would make her the darling of liberals. (How this passage must have reddened the face of Peter Mayer, Penguin’s worldwide head, who received a copy of the novel from David Davidar shortly thereafter, and did nothing about it.) But I was young, green, hopeful, and proud, and didn’t know that there were no prizes set aside and waiting, in the West-dominated literary world, for Indian writers with balls, for unsuitable brown boys. (If there was to be a prize, I would have to institute it myself ... and I actually started planning for it  — “The Invisible Man Press Award for a Courageous Indian Writer” — but could not follow through because of too many commitments and too few resources.)

But my Penguin India editor David Davidar’s enthusiasm, the feeling that fame — or some sort of explosion (David’s prediction of the novel “taking India by storm”) — was around the corner made me decide, with finality, to ask that my on-again, off-again resignation from the Indian Administrative Service, until now my ticket to security and comfort and status for life in India, be made permanent and irrevocable.

.. (Please read the rest in The Killing of an Author, available on most e-book platforms and in paperback.)

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Discovering My Father's Story: Eaten by the Japanese, the Memoir of an Unknown Indian Prisoner of War

What I present to you is two stories. One is of a simple Indian soldier from a village near Mangalore, one who, according to his brother Louis, "never got into a fight with anybody"--finding himself in the most brutal war in history, World War II, and being taken prisoner by a fellow Asian army--the Japanese Army, which treats thousands of Indian prisoners with a  brutality that results in higher mortality rates for them than for POWs of the Nazis. And then, after a miraculous survival, comes home to write his story, which is forgotten, perhaps scorned by his feudal superiors.

The second story is of a son discovering his father's story even as his father is 86 years old, and feeble enough as to leave the world at anytime--and being so moved by it as to be compelled to publish it and to give it to the world.  It is a story about fathers and sons, part of the universal story that will never end, and will never cease to have fascination (incidentally, there is a strong father-son theme in my novel, "The Revised Kama Sutra"--the final scene of the novel, before the Epilogue, combines reconciliation with acceptance).

I presented the book to my surprised father at his 50th wedding anniversary--the emotional story is told in the book. He died 2 years later, and though the Indian Army Chief, General Malik, in 2000, received the book with honor at a personal presentation (he had read it), it was forgotten or not properly distributed after a couple of months.

So, in about the 2nd week of March 2011, as his 101st birth anniversary approached, it became imperative for me to present the book in a more accessible form (it has no distribution),  as an ebook, on what would have been his 101st birthday.

The book (3rd edition), is now in e-book form on Amazon (and all other platforms, and also in paperback from & amazon). But here, below, are a few excerpts from the book, which are possibly inadequate. The book is up at:

by John Baptist Crasta, edited with an introduction and 3 essays by Richard Crasta

From the Acknowledgments:
The author, and his son and publisher, wish to acknowledge the help of the Japanese and others who helped the author during the War, including those who restrained themselves from eating the author, thus making this narrative possible.

From the Biographical Introduction by Richard Crasta (regarding his father’s humiliating poverty as a child):
It is harder for a rich man to enter Heaven than for a camel to enter the eye of a needle, or so the Bible says; but it was always pretty easy for a rich man to enter St. Aloysius College and its high school, and to escape the whipping the padres gave to the fiscally and morally unlucky. After all, the college towered over property donated by the local squire, its chapel being a magnet, every Sunday, for the town's cream of Catholic society. My father, though not one of India’s wretched poor, was consigned by his family income to its struggling lower middle class. And often, because he had not paid his two-rupee monthly school fees on time, he was kicked out of his St. Aloysius High School classes by the Italian Jesuits who were then in charge.

From “The Torture Ship” (chapter of main book):
Slowly and more slowly it sailed on, heading for the south, and our ordeal worsened as hours passed. Heat, suffocation, stench, thirst. We were allowed a handful (hardly two ounces) of cooked rice and a little dry fish and a cup of water twice daily. The Japanese said if we ate more in the ship, we would fall ill as we were not doing any fatigue. We did not worry much about the quantity of food. We would not have minded even if we were not given any; but with the two cups of water supplied per day, one might die of thirst. We tried to go on the deck to have a breath of fresh air for which we longed so much; but the moment we climbed up the staircase, we would be kicked down by the Japanese sentries.

From “The Second Voyage of the Torture Ship”:
Could humanity be degraded to such an extent? Could Providence be as cruel? The steamer had only one kitchen from which water was being rationed, and the two thousand men had to come one after the other, in a line, for that cup of life-preserving liquid. The rush began at 6 am. My turn came at about 10 am, after four hours of waiting, only to be met with the curt words, “Water finished!” Heavens, what was I to do until next day? Who knows? Before I could reach the front of the line, water might be exhausted again next day? Death was certain. I went round with a cup to my Indian friends, to Malays, even to Japanese, and was met with the reply “Sorry, I have very little.”

From “The Second Voyage of the Torture Ship”:
Dysentery broke out on the ship. The few latrines were being used by both unfit and fit men. In our own party of one hundred and fifty, three or four deaths occurred daily. The corpses were wrapped in a worn-out blanket and lowered into the deep ocean, unwept for and unsung. I could see hardy men prostrate with dysentery, unable to move, without any clothes. The Japanese did not pay any heed to what was going on. Dysentery spread to other holds of the ship, killing seven to eight daily. But the ship was not stopped, nor was an attempt made to evacuate the victims.
Insanitation and squalor increased. There had been cases of men dying from dysentery within a day of getting sick. Except for separate accommodation being allowed, no treatment was given to the men, and the disease spread anyway. The scene was pitiful and heart-rending. Brave, virile soldiers who would have defied anybody in battle were now helpless like babies and were groaning and rolling naked on the floor presenting a weird spectacle. I could not bear it and tears started trickling from my eyes as nothing in my life had moved me to that extent. Was this the penalty we were paying for being honest and principled?

From “Koga the Devil”:
The next day, another Japanese soldier, Koga Hugcho, was put in charge of us. I call him Koga the Devil. I still cannot forget his Satanic face nor forget his atrocities. If anyone deserves to be hanged first for the ill-treatment of prisoners, it is he. A man of about 30 years, quite well-built, with slant eyes and an ape’s mouth with a gold tooth, he looked like a mixture of Japanese and Chinese, a most unprincipled and inhumane brute. Although he said he belonged to Tokyo, I am inclined to think he was either a Taiwanese or a Manchurian.

The next three months that we passed with him were the bitterest of our lives. Our daily routine was: rise at 4 am, go to the surrounding jungle and fetch two or three loads of firewood; breakfast (two spoonfuls of rice) at 5.30, off to the tapioca garden at 6 am, cut grass till 11 with half an hour’s break, return for lunch; half an hour’s break, again off to the garden, back by 4 PM; fill a fifty-five gallon drum with water and boil it ready for our master’s bath; again collect two or three loads of firewood. Thus were we kept busy from before daybreak to sunset. In addition, each of us was called upon by him to help the Japanese cook in preparing the morning food—in which case, we were required to get up at 2 am. Fire had to be lit to boil rice, curry and water. The firewood was invariably damp and gave out clouds of smoke, completely blinding our eyes. If the fire was not lighted, the Japanese cook would curse us and even beat us. Food had to be ready before daybreak so that the raiders might not notice the smoke. By now, the planes had no targets left. They would watch for any signs of smoke and let go their deadly bombs.

During fatigue, if Koga thought our speed was not up to his expectations, he would beat us with sticks, fists, and kicks. He said that Indians, like the British, were lazy and were not fit to live. They knew only to enjoy. That is why they were being defeated. He told us the Allied Navy had been completely annihilated near Formosa and in the Philippines. Land fighting was going on in the latter place, and the Japanese were winning. There was no chance of our returning to India. We would remain there in New Britain and cultivate tapioca.

In the evenings, even in heavy rain, the Japanese made us boil water for their bath. This was almost an impossibility as the fireplace and firewood became wet. But there was no argument with our masters.

Our hut was more like a pandal[16]. Even in a light rain, water trickled inside. It was infested with rats, mosquitoes, ants, lizards and snakes. Had the Japanese given us half a day’s rest, we could have improved it, but even on our so called holidays, they made us collect coconuts and extract oil for them!

I had a relapse of malaria. Koga allowed me rest as long as my temperature was on; but as soon as he felt my forehead cool, he would ask me to work. To make matters worse, an ulcer appeared on my right foot. The wound broadened, giving out pus and a horrible smell. The leg swelled, and I could not walk. No arrangement was made for dressing the wound. Not even a piece of linen was given. I tore my langoti[17], dressed the ulcer in filthy water from the nullah, and bandaged it in a dirty rag. Flies swarmed around the wound. Blood trickled down sometimes. The Japanese saw this, but were not moved with compassion. Koga said it was a trifling thing and asked me to go on fatigue. I could only walk with the help of crutches. Other Japanese who saw me on the way thought I deserved rest.
Owing to agonizing pain, my temperature did not subside. I and the four others requested Koga to shoot us as it was better to die than to remain as their prisoners. He jokingly gave us shovels and spades, asking us to prepare our own graves so that we might be shot the next morning.

Basanta was the one most cruelly mistreated. For some trifling offence, he was tied with live battery wires; and when the unfortunate man cried for mercy, all the Japanese laughed. He fell down. They kicked him and made him get up, again tying him up with the torturing wires. Besides Basanta, there was another Sikh, Kartar Singh, with us. Koga ordered them to shave off their beards as, according to them, the beards made them ill. For disobeying him, they were beaten.

One day, Basanta was standing by. Koga, like a dog, came upon him and passed urine on him. On another occasion, Basanta was spat upon.

We again pleaded with Koga to shoot us all. He warned us not to repeat this request. We were their prisoners and must obey them. Even the British General Percival was being ordered about by a Japanese soldier. We had been defeated in the war and must not speak anything out of the way.

From “Fathers and Sons—A Tale of Literature, Reinvention, and Redemption.”—essay by Richard Crasta
But there was another, non-literary duty to be performed before I could feel some degree of liberation from that powerful sense of incompleteness in my relationship with my father. Dr. Arunachalam's gesture of touching my father's feet, repeated later by another Mangalorean I greatly respect, Konkani musician, composer, and impresario Eric Ozario, had haunted me. Because, having been an individualistic, city-raised Christian too cut off from my culture and even from my Indian Christian village roots, I had never touched my father's feet. Back in America, I feared that I would never forgive myself if my father passed away from this world without my ever having touched his feet, while others—no doubt my brothers, kindred souls, and cosmic, Brahmanic extensions of myself—had done so.
In October 1998, ten months later, I arrived in a monsoon-lashed Mangalore and dashed home from the airport, heading directly for my father's bedroom. He didn't come out to greet me as he usually did, for he was weaker than before, slowly losing his once-solid grip on the world. I walked right in and hugged his frail frame, paused a few seconds, and then bent my once-proud body and touched his feet.

From “Killing to Eat: or Calling Upon the Japanese to Face their Dark Side” by Richard Crasta
And though I believe all of us have within us a dark side, and that in a profound sense we are also the Other, it is also important, in the illusory everyday world that we call Reality, that we append the stories of the weak and the voiceless to the histories written by the mighty and the once-mighty, and that each us of register our horror, our personal footnote, to the Official and often Sanitized Communal History. Any lingering doubts I may have had about the title disappeared after I met Roger Mansell, an American war historian who had been examining the Japanese record in World War II. Mansell was horrified by the lack of remorse in a recent Japanese compendium of World War II recollections called Senso.  He explained that American G.I.s had been cannibalized simply as an act of demoralization; these acts had nothing to do with the nutritional needs of the Japanese. So I decided to retain the title for this second, public edition, even allowing in a moment of optimism that the book might receive attention in Japan and persuade the Japanese to confront and admit to their widely observed racism and start a national campaign to tackle it, making it less possible for a future Pico Iyer to say, “In Japan, an Indian is the lowest of the low.”

Besides, why should it be so hard for the Japanese to issue an apology to all the Indians who were so abused and manipulated, and to their children and descendants? Will not that hasten the process of healing and forgiveness?

Paperback is here:
E-book is on all platforms.