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Doubts Punctuate The 1950 Milan Kundera Spy Case

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“Mirek rewrote history just like the Communist Party, like all political parties, like all peoples, like mankind. They shout that they want to shape a better future, but it’s not true. The future is only an indifferent void no one cares about, but the past is filled with life, and its countenance is irritating, repellent, wounding, to the point that we want to destroy or repaint it. We want to be masters of the future only for the power to change the past.” The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

As if taking a cue from one of his characters a dark secret from the past threatens to crash on the opening chapter of Milan Kundera’s life. In October 2008, the Czech weekly Respekt published a story that claimed Kundera informed on one of his countrymen in 1950, leading to the man’s imprisonment for 14 years in a hard labour camp.

The basis of the assertion was an old police report that fell into the hands of Adam Hradilek, a historian researching the bleak days of Czechoslovakia’s Communist past. The police document reopened the story of Miroslav Dvoracek and that of his childhood friend Iva Militka. The report also brought the past of arguably the most brilliant literary surgeon of communism in Eastern Europe to the forefront. It is a widely reported and misreported story in which the jury is still out on the truth and doubt remains the only certainty.

The 1950 Police Report
The police report dated March 14, 1950 says: “Today at around 1600 hours a student, Milan Kundera, born 1.4.1929 in Brno, resident at the student hall of residence on George VI Avenue in Prague VII, presented himself at this department and reported that a student, Iva Militka, resident at that residence, had told a student by the name of Dlask, also of that residence, that she had met a certain acquaintance of hers, Miroslav Dvoracek, at Klarov in Prague the same day. The said Dvoracek apparently left one case in her care, saying he would come to fetch it in the afternoon… Dvoracek had apparently deserted from military service and since the spring of the previous year had possibly been in Germany, where he had gone illegally.”

The most important thing is the veracity of the police report and from what has come out the document is being considered as genuine (though there is speculation on whether its contents are genuine). Jerome Depuis of the French magazine L’Express travelled to Prague and cited the historian Rudolf Vedova from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (USTR), the same institute Hradilek works for: “We had the document analysed by the Czech Secret Forces archive. The paper, the names listed, the identity and the signature of the officer were all examined—and the document was found to be authentic.”

Around the same time Jiri Grusa, a Czech poet and in 2008 the president of the international writers association PEN, told a German radio station that he went to Prague to see the police document for himself. Grusa said that he now has no doubts that “the document is real. There’s no denying it. Only it is not Milan Kundera’s document, it is no denunciation, it’s a police annunciation. And if Kundera says, I didn’t do it, then I have to believe him.”

The Background
In 1948 a putsch in Czechoslovakia led to a communist takeover. This resulted in the armed forces being purged and veteran airmen who had flown with the RAF in the war (about 40 per cent of Czech Air Force) were demoted, kicked out or sent to labour camps due to their exposure to the West. Even students were not spared. Two boyhood friends, Miroslav Dvoracek and Miroslav Juppa, who had attended the same school in a small town in Eastern Bohemia were included on a list of expulsions in a memorandum from January 1949. When they were ordered a month later to join an infantry unit, Dvoracek and Juppa, aided by Juppa’s girlfriend Iva Militka and her relatives fled to West Germany.

Click on the headline to read the full story.


The Content Is What Counts

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I read a few posts in the last week or so and some of them have been like sparks that ignite something and some others have been so razor sharp that they have cut through the morass of any lateral drift and made a point that has simply rendered a lot of debates pointless.

The most-provocative and brilliant one has been the speech of Les Hinton, CEO Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones, on November 30 at Hyderabad. Hinton remarked to world newspapers that ‘Free Costs Too Much.’ His long speech qualifies the criteria that it talks about; it is the kind of content that a reader would be willing to pay for. A small portion of the speech is used here to build the argument of this post.

“It is true that Google is at the heart of the crisis confronting journalism today. That their almost incalculable—and and growing—power warrants great vigilance. But the main, and most uncomfortable, truth is that this industry is the principal architect of its greatest difficulty today.

We are all allowing our journalism—billions of dollars worth of it every year—to leak onto the free internet. We are surrendering our hard-earned rights to the search engines, and aggregators, and the out-and-out thieves of the digital age. It is time to pause and recognize this—Free Costs Too Much. News is a business, and we should not be ashamed to say so. It’s also a tougher business today than ever before. We have survived other perceived threats—radio, television, cable TV. But this time it is different.

Eric Schmidt, Google chief executive, said recently about the debate on free versus paid: ‘As long as you’re on the side of the consumer, you’re pretty much on the right side of all these debates.’ No doubt he is right. The consumer will determine the business. Consumers will seek the valuable over the vapid because they always do.

Only a few hours ago in Washington DC, Rupert Murdoch, the chief executive of News Corporation told the US Federal Trade Commission: ‘In the future good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for.’”

The speech of Les Hinton was delivered in Bangalore but I could not find any meaningful coverage in our papers but that could just be due to my inadequate search and may be some great write-ups were done that I missed—I did get a couple of results but they lacked the passion and the vigour of the speech.

Eric Schmidt wrote an opinion piece that was carried by the Wall Street Journal the very next day. “It’s understandable to look to find someone else to blame. But as Rupert Murdoch has said, it is complacency caused by past monopolies, not technology, that has been the real threat to the news industry. I certainly don’t believe that the Internet will mean the death of news. Through innovation and technology, it can endure with newfound profitability and vitality. Video didn’t kill the radio star. It created a whole new additional industry,” Schmidt said.

The Google chief has a point here as complacency by past monopolies has hit the newspaper industry pretty hard and revenues have moved substantially towards the Internet in the US. In India, though, the flagships of big media houses have been sustaining their loss-making ventures. A few years ago, Vinod Mehta, the editor of Outlook magazine said in a television programme that the journalists are not the ones who are worried by the foreign media coming to India and it is in fact the proprietors who are more concerned.

Just as Hinton rounded off his tour to India; the Hindustan Times on December 5 became India’s first newspaper to be available on Amazon’s Kindle. In an announcement on their website, they said that they would be offering their daily newspaper on Kindle for a monthly subscription of $9.99.

Keith Desouza wrote on techie-buzz.com regarding this development: “Personally I think that it is ridiculous price to start out with, considering that a hardcopy newspaper costs Rs 5 in India, which would take the total cost to Rs 150 or ~$3.5 per month. In fact, HT has several offers which offer their hardcopy subscriptions for the entire year at half the price they are selling the Kindle version.”

Despite Keith’s pessimism I think it is a good move in the long-run and if HT is able to provide relevant and high-quality content as a differentiator in the future then this presence would serve them. Even now it could bring some subscriptions as a start from the sizeable Indian population in UK and the US.

The decision-makers for foreign private equity investments as well as foreign institutional investments in India, along with the policy-makers at world level, would be more willing to pay Dow Jones Newswires, Bloomberg, ThomsonReuters, the Wall Street Journal and the likes because of the quality of their content and their reporting of financial markets. India should throw open its media in this time of global competition; some local bullies may get kicked around but the industry as a whole would benefit—which in turn would reflect in the gains we would make in other industries as well.

An insulated industry will languish with petty competition as the only yardstick; opening up would show that there is no dearth of talent in India. Sachin Tendulkar would not have been a great player with only the inter-state Ranji Trophy as his hunting ground; his greatness is that he competes with the best in the business and comes out as a winner.

“Every clique is a refuge for incompetence. It fosters corruption and disloyalty; it begets cowardice, and consequently is a burden upon and a drawback to the progress of the country. Its instincts and actions are those of the pack,” these are the words of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek; please Google if interested in her life.

Les Hinton also spoke of a former WSJ editor: “Barney Kilgore, the inestimable former editor of the Wall Street Journal and the CEO of Dow Jones, said something we ought to remember in this time of transition. The man who would create the first national newspaper in the US and redefine journalism in the process, said a long time ago: ‘The fish market wraps fish in paper. We wrap news in paper. The content is what counts, not the wrapper.’

Free costs too much. Good content is valuable. That hasn’t changed. It never will. The question is who will provide the content and who will be compensated fairly for the value delivered.”

Is It Just The Front Page That Has Died!

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I read a dirge by famous columnist Vir Sanghvi—in a blog he maintains for hindustantimes.com—on the death of the front page over the last year or so. As a consumer of more than half a dozen newspapers I can also vouch for receiving some dead bodies on a daily basis. And here I mean not just the front page but that part of the bundle that goes to the heap in the storeroom with every crease in tact.

I buy different newspapers for different reasons and despite the recession some of them are part of an old habit while some of them are just for my neighbours to know that a journalist lives here and, therefore, buys more newspapers and magazines; never mind the fact that the world and he himself is recession hit.

This post is also an elegy, though the scope here is vast and encompasses much more than just the front page and tries to sniff if behind the death of the front page is the debris of the strongest pillar of the fourth estate; the institution of the editor. I don’t have extensive factual basis for such a nauseating inkling but then it has been that kind of a year where I am finding it difficult to believe that the six-letter title of ‘editor’ automatically means some simple ‘virtues’ like transparency, ethics, a basic minimum honesty, the competence to gauge the merit of a story and the most important quality to know what to do when confronted with an ethical dilemma.

“The newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation, must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free but facts are sacred.”—C.P. Scott, Editor, Manchester Guardian, May 6, 1926.

This is a time when the newspapers are competing with quality material that readers have access to much before the broadsheet comes out and that number is going to go up with the broadband coming, the economy growing, and the literacy rate climbing up. Quality is going to live and no matter where it is the interested reader will get to it.

That does not in any way mean that the bullshit is going to go away because a lot of people don’t know the difference and a lot of journalists cater to that market because they don’t know what else to do themselves; so all of it lives side by side. I have had some classic interactions over the years with the relatively-new as well as the senior old hands to have a decent first-hand experience of journalistic ‘copelessness’. The details are both horrifying and hilarious and some of them have even been on official channels; it is at best a subject for a book and not a long post.

The average marketing professional has his logic: “We’ve come up with a study that the market loves bullshit and we don’t understand why you can’t give more of it.” A story I read in livemint.com by Aakar Patel explores whether India’s high-growth can continue and says, “Nine half-literates are produced by our colleges, by Nasscom’s numbers, for every graduate of passable quality.” Mathematically then there has to be a probability for these semi-literates finding a way to the newsrooms. And also some probability of heading the newsroom. Also if there is just one literate for every nine semi-literates; it would be quite unsuccessful to cater to just 10 per cent of the population that is of passable quality.

So I come to my morning bundle and the Hindustan Times is the first paper I see on Sundays for the columnists I follow; on other days I look at its design and then go elsewhere to find something to read. I take The Indian Express for news as their reportage is excellent. The Times of India to see the pace and the direction that the market-leader is setting. The Economic Times for clean good copy that one can learn from and for some of their international business coverage that is unlikely to be found in any other paper. Last Saturday I took my first Crest and it was a pleasure; the edition was miles ahead of what any paper had on Tendulkar completing 20 years of international cricket. Three more daily papers that do not deserve mentioning serve some purpose or the other in my house.

When columnist Patricia Smith of the Boston Globe was forced out in June 1998 after having been found to have made up quotes, Andrew Marshall of the British newspaper The Independent had a go at his American peers in an article on June 23, 1998.

“British journalists have been smirking at two high-profile scandals involving two of their American peers who made up quotes and events in articles for two highly-respected publications. No, that sentence will not do. Since we are writing on the subject of journalistic accuracy, let’s be spot on. British journalists have been laughing hysterically, slapping their thighs and fighting desperately to retain bladder control. ‘We have long suspected that all this fact checking stuff was a charade,’ said a source close to me yesterday. ‘And now we know.’”

It is quite natural to think that lapses in journalistic accuracy would cause some major concern to our editors as well. And to point them out would not be considered as tantamount to being ‘the enemy of the fourth estate’ in India. As a journalist it is very heartening to know via the Medium Term that the heart of the Chairperson of a large newspaper house of the country is tilted positively towards the editorial aspect of the business. What is disheartening is that the hearts and minds of ‘some of the people’ responsible for editorial quality and journalistic ethics in the same newspaper house are not in their jobs. I’ll spare you the details but don’t be disappointed they will come up in the static pages once I have learnt how to organise the sub-folders.

On Saturday, though, the Hindustan Times did an exceptional bit of investigative journalism on a front page top box with a wonderful picture of Tendulkar under a good headline ‘The everlasting run machine’. I should not have been reading it as it was not a Sunday but I did; and so I found out.

“30,065 Runs scored in international cricket in both forms of the game (Tests and ODIs), the highest by any batsman. Ricky Ponting, again at second place has 24,057.” The numbers are wrong in both the cases; by 10 runs for Tendulkar and by 401 runs for Ponting. The sum total actually is in all three forms of international cricket where Tendulkar has played just one T20 international and scored 10 runs while Ponting has played 17 matches and 16 innings for his 401 runs. Although it is a very complicated error to achieve; it is understandable that this could have happened due to lack of communication.

Lets gear up for the investigative part now. “43 Centuries scored in Tests, the most by any batsman. Ricky Ponting of Australia comes second with 39.” This is an open insult in a country where cricket is a national obsession and the gap between the Little Master and the Tasmanian called Punter a subject of everyday discussions. Ponting scored his 38th Test hundred in the first Ashes Test of 2009 played in Cardiff beginning 8th July and did not manage a three figure score in the rest of the series. Who knows where he was caught scoring his 39th Test century after the series was won 2-1 by England and I signed off writing a post titled ‘A Sad Ashen Pundit’ after HT signed off with ‘A Sad Ashen Look’?

Ode To A Simple Man

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I keep coming back to the saying of the Guardian’s legendary editor C.P. Scott and his words as I love the simple manner in which it defines the job of a journalist: Comment is free, but facts are sacred. The fact is not a matter of interpretation. It makes no difference to the fact whether you face it or you avoid it; the fact is just the fact. This post is dedicated to a simple man who lives with the fact.

My 88-year-old uncle, K.C. Tewari, has limitless attention, not a single problem and a face that conveys without a word immense love, understanding and concern. He is the husband of my mother’s eldest and only sister. His life has been quite eventful; six children, 3 boys, 3 girls, all of them married and all having growing up children. The eldest son is about 58. My uncle had a pretty senior government job, and all his children were married after he retired. He is not one of those old men who get together in the park and discuss a lot of things, he is quite happy on his own. He neither seeks company nor does he avoid it. Everyone faces the fact, one has to; but to live with it is quite another matter.

I have seen only one in my life. To quote a 20th century philosopher, “Is there a basic duality at the very core or, does duality arise only when the mind moves away from ‘what is’?” You have pain in your stomach, that is the fact, and the process of thought that there was no pain yesterday or will not be tomorrow is duality. My uncle is always with ‘what is’. I admire him, and on very cold and stormy days I just go and sit by his side for a while, his warmth is enough to heal. I don’t have what he has and I don’t even try because any comparison is an even bigger movement away from the fact.

Perhaps that is the reason that he has never carried any problem in his life despite having a multitude of them over the years. When death and tragedy and the inevitable suffering that most people get caught in came to his doorstep and in the lives of his children then that was the fact. When all that passed and the Sun came out on a bright new day then that became the reality. You can’t fight with him because he is beyond conflict and it’s not possible to drag him into one. It is tough to be with the only thing that exists, which is this moment in which you might be rich or poor, happy or miserable, lonely or ‘absolutely whole and alone’ like my uncle.

I am told that he did his work with a lot of care and he was a man of few words. He now speaks a little more than when he was young. Sometimes you can see him looking at the dictionary because he might have seen a new word in the newspaper. He loves to watch football. His handwriting is so beautiful and so clear, that each and every alphabet is worth looking at. And there is a lot of his written work available as after he retired and even before it there was always someone or the other that he was teaching.

He made all the college notes of his youngest daughter and then must be for five or six grandchildren after that. Before he had retired he would teach Hemraj; a servant in the house who was very interested in getting educated. Hemraj cleared his 12th standard, and I don’t know how many man hours my uncle devoted everyday after work for more than six years. Hemraj now runs a successful motor repair shop in my hometown of Mandi; he always comes to meet whenever my uncle is visiting. My uncle must be sitting in his house right now with ‘what is’. You can talk about the past with him; he has a great memory it’s just that he is not stuck there.

He was close to dying twice, but when he survived there was no thinking of that time because he was all attentive to the now. According to him there is no problem with the fact; while there are all sorts of problems in escaping it. He is a man of action and needs no activity. My uncle is very frugal with money but is blessed with the generosity of the heart. And at 88 he takes care of quite a lot.

As such things cannot be inherited the children have the DNA but not even one of the qualities that he has in abundance. He is full of life; and has a dignity that is so easily visible yet difficult to describe as it is not linked to a position, title or any tangible material accumulations. He must have seen me as an infant but my memory of him goes back to when I must have been six or seven years old. The pleasure of his regular company started when I began my first job in Delhi and lived in my uncle’s home initially. It was home not just to me but for many of my journalist friends in the initial years.

The cover of security had to be broken and the temptations of the world at 22 had a gravitational pull that I never thought was worth resisting. So first with friends and then alone slowly I settled in the city and would meet my uncle with irregular regularity. One day and I don’t remember when; just like the last scene of the movie The Sixth Sense my memory of him went all the way back after a thought crossed my mind.

My uncle was never caught in the process of becoming and all the strife that goes with it; he always had the joy of simple being. Some things cannot be planned, they just happen. Becoming can never know being; becoming is psychological effort and being is effortless. A man is either simple or not and there is no way of becoming simple. The only possibility here is to realise one’s complexity and the mind may stumble upon the simplicity that takes all the worries of life away.

He is a wise man and, therefore, many a times just says a word or two to change the course of a life he cares for if it is going sideways. More than that my uncle lets everyone go his or her way and never interferes as he probably understands what the Hermann Hesse novel Siddhartha talks about: Knowledge can be transferred but wisdom is incommunicable. He doesn’t read fiction or non-fiction so the sentence for him is a statement I wrote as it seems to be true in his case.

If anyone has the desire to see a man who is completely unscarred by 88-years of life, I can arrange for that. My only request is just observe simply without making him feel strange, he is rare but otherwise normal; I am pretty sure you will have a good time if you are one of those who love the facts of life.

Thank You, Prabhash Ji

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This piece is a tribute to Prabhash Joshi, who died of cardiac arrest late on November 5, just after watching his favourite cricketer Sachin Tendulkar play the innings of his life in a losing cause. This is also a lament that the space occupied by journalists like Prabhashji, who have the printer’s ink in their veins and the ability to confront ethical dilemmas head on, has contracted further by his passing away.

The extraordinary thing about Prabhashji was that he remained ordinary; rooted to the grassroots and committed to the everyday concerns of the common man. The common man is a much-abused word in today’s media, Aam Aadmi, is the Hindi equivalent used quite often. I could switch on the TV right now and one of the English channels would be saying ‘but amidst all this there is no relief for the common man,’ or ‘the common man continues to suffer.’

A legendary journalism teacher asked our class as to why we thought that a particular newspaper was the best in the region. The answer given was that it satisfies the common man. The next question kept hanging in the air for a while longer: How do you know that an ABC newspaper satisfies the common man? The answer came from within me and 17 years later I still cherish the teacher’s accolade. ABC is the best newspaper in the region and I know that it satisfies the common man because it satisfies me. For Prabhashji it was not a statement; it was the way of life throughout. I don’t know from when the journalist became different from the common man? The headline that I just read in the Chandigarh Tribune says, ‘The man who felt the pulse of the people.’ Who are these people?

Prabhashji could have done all that by feeling his own pulse. He instinctively knew the concerns of the common man because he was one himself; and that perhaps was one of the reasons for his mass appeal. I am borrowing from a story in Sify that has quoted Pankaj Pachauri of NDTV news channel saying: “Prabhashji was someone who never came under any pressure, either political or market pressure. He was one of his kind. He single-handedly ran a campaign against communal forces at the time of the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign.” Hats off to you, Prabhashji!

Prabhashji loved cricket and Sachin Tendulkar was his favourite player; but it wasn’t just that and his reading of the game was tremendous. When I first heard Prabhashji on an NDTV cricket programme, it left me mesmerized. He was brilliant; and it is my bad luck that I could not hear his views on the game more often.

Renowned sports journalist Pradeep Magazine started his career when Prabhash Joshi was the editor of The Indian Express in Chandigarh. “There was a child in him; and I think Prabhashji understood that in journalism everyone is a victim of the system. He felt that sport was still innocent and his passion for cricket helped him remain sane and kept that child inside alive. I owe my career to him. The work he did after his retirement was phenomenal; as he had unshackled himself, and was no longer tied to any master,” Pradeep paused and carefully chose each and every word while describing Prabhashji.

That Pradeep Magazine had worked for about three years directly under the editorship of Prabhash Joshi was something I learnt only a day ago while reading another tribute. This is when I thought that a first job with Prabhash Joshi must have had a big impact on Magazine as a person and also as a professional entering the field. In my association with Pradeep Magazine, I have found him to be a simple man with a lot of warmth. The big thing is that he takes criticism even better than praise and will not let that affect his friendship. Most importantly; just like Prabhashji, he is upright and fearless.

Sometime in mid-1997, when I was about to move on from the Down To Earth, Prabhashji’s son Sopan had just joined the environment and science fortnightly. It was only for a few months that we worked together as colleagues. He was cheerful and spontaneous; and quiet about his father until the information leaked out through the HR forms he had filled.

Sopan took a media roundtrip before coming back to Down To Earth as the managing editor of the fortnightly. The few months in 1997 were enough to seal a friendship that has lasted more than a decade; though most often it is just a phone call. On that day I just messaged him; as I knew the cremation was at the banks of the Narmada. Yesterday, I got to speak to Sopan for the first time since the day the Hyderabad match was turned off after Sachin’s wicket in his home. Prabhashji had a bypass surgery done many years ago and also had a pacemaker since the last few years. He complained of chest pain that night and could not make it to a private hospital.

The travel schedule of Prabhashji was very hectic and he wasn’t resting as much as the doctors and the family would have wanted him to. I knew what an unreasonable question it was to ask Sopan as to why they did not stop him, or advise him against travelling. He said they used to try. It was easy to understand that the man who never got cornered or gave up under pressure by either the political or the market forces; would not have had it any other way.

It has been a big personal loss for my friend but he was composed when he returned my call yesterday; he spoke with ease and concealed grief. Sopan was straight as an arrow when we worked together in 1997, and I don’t think he would have changed much as the down to earth quality that he had came originally from living with an extraordinary ordinary man; who was father to him and an inspiration to millions.

Sopan also knows that it is a personal loss for me in a different way; the loss of one of the editors who placed ethics and transparency above all else—and both of us were quite sure that such people existed in the mainstream media. The dilemma for the editor is always ethical and never intellectual; and the person who has it in him/her faces it in a direct manner.

Mark Twain must have met a few editors of the kind that even I have had the pleasure of working with in my journalistic career of about 16 years when he said: “I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one.” The salaries have gone up many-fold and that in itself is a very good thing, though, it also has a flip-side; as the editors who can’t earn respect can at least resort to buying it.

Prabhashji was different. He earned it all his life.

Dr Peter’s Classic Elucidates Incompetence

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“Late at night, a drunk staggers across Red Square in front of the Kremlin, singing at the top of his voice, ‘Brezhnev is an idiot! Brezhnev is an idiot!’ Immediately, several KGB agents close in on him and haul him off to jail. The following morning he appears before the judge, who declares his sentence, ‘Twenty years and two days of hard labour in Siberia.’ The man cries out in disbelief, ‘Twenty years and two days! But why? I was only drunk in public.’ And the judge responds, ‘Two days are for being drunk in public. Twenty years for betraying a state secret.’”

The DNA newspaper in July and August carried a couple of columns with The Peter Principle as the overarching theme. The one in July was about an antidote to the principle and the piece in August applied the principle to explore if PM Manmohan Singh had found his level of incompetence at Sharm el-Sheikh—both done by R. Jagannathan.

The 1969 book The Peter Principle and the phrase it defined are considered comedic-yet-classic cornerstones of organisational thought. The Peter Principle states that ‘in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.’ Dr Laurence J. Peter compiled his data for the founding and development of the salutary science of ‘Hierarchiology’. Dr Peter concluded that for every job that existed in the world there was someone, somewhere, who could not do it. Given sufficient time and enough promotions he would get that job! So there is a good enough chance that the drunk staggering around was probably telling the truth.

The other DNA piece refers to First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, which the DNA calls a path-breaking book that helps bypass The Peter Principle. The 1999-book is a good resource for managers and HR professionals; but not path-breaking. Dr Peter gave original, ‘twisted’ and valid ways to counter The Peter Principle, so the path had already been laid. Dr Peter’s original terminology for occupational issues like ‘copelessness’ or ‘lateral arabesque’ are part of the book’s immense appeal.

Robert I. Sutton, the author of The No Asshole Rule, narrates a small story in the foreword for the 1969 classic that would sound familiar to a lot of people. Robert’s father Lewis Sutton ran a company in San Francisco that sold furniture and related equipment that was installed on United States Navy Ships. His livelihood depended on US government bureaucrats and shipyard managers. Robert grew up listening to his father’s tirades on how these ‘overpaid idiots’ wanted that he produce and procure poorly-designed furnishings, how they could barely do their jobs, and how pathetically lazy they were. To make matters worse, senior government officials produced an onslaught of absurd procedures that required him to jump through an ever-expanding maze of administrative hoops—which wasted his time, drove up his costs, and made him crazy. He concluded: The morons at the top must be paid to waste as much taxpayer money as possible.

Consider journalist Raymond Hull’s experience: “I receive mail from a large university. Fifteen months ago I changed my address. I sent the usual notice to the university: my mail kept going to the old address. After two-more notices and a phone call, I made a personal visit. I pointed with my finger to the wrong address in their records, dictated the new address and watched a secretary take it down. The mail still went to the old address. Two days ago there was a new development. I received a phone call from the woman who had succeeded me in my old apartment and who, of course, had been receiving my mail from the university. She herself had just moved again, and my mail from the university has now started going to her new address!”

Raymond was grumbling one evening, during the second break of a dull play, about incompetent actors and directors, when he got into a conversation with Dr Laurence J. Peter, a scientist who had devoted many years to the study of incompetence. The break was too short and Hull went to Dr Peter’s house and sat till 3:00 am listening to the lucid and original exposition of a theory that at last answered his question, “Why incompetence?”

As Dr Peter had a busy schedule he agreed to a collaboration: Dr Peter would place his extensive research and huge manuscript with Hull, who would condense it into a book. The result is a required reading for those who don’t mind laughing at themselves.

The decision to read on is irrevocable and Hull says it must not be taken lightly. “If you read, you can never regain your present state of blissful ignorance; you will never again unthinkingly venerate your superiors or dominate your subordinates. Never! The Peter Principle, once heard, cannot be forgotten.”

The key to bypassing and unlocking The Peter Principle is inside you and me; and every lock is different so no one can help anyone but oneself. The Peter Principle offers life-quality-improvement over mindless promotion to oblivion.

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