Friday, May 29, 2009

The 'Unseen' Deserve Empathy, Too

Here is an interesting article that I read in the Wall Street Journal

The 'Unseen' Deserve Empathy, Too

While announcing Sonia Sotomayor as his nominee to the Supreme Court, President Barack Obama praised her as a judge who combined a mastery of the law with "a common touch, a sense of compassion, and an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live." This is in keeping with his earlier statement that he wanted to appoint a justice who possessed the "quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles."

Without casting aspersions on Judge Sotomayor, we may ask whether these are really the characteristics we want in a judge.

Clearly, a good judge must have "an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live." Judicial decision-making involves the application of abstract rules to concrete facts; it is impossible to render a proper judicial decision without understanding its practical effect on both the litigants and the wider community.

But what about compassion and empathy? Compassion is defined as a feeling of deep sympathy for those stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering; empathy is the ability to share in another's emotions, thoughts and feelings. Hence, a compassionate judge would tend to base his or her decisions on sympathy for the unfortunate; an empathetic judge on how the people directly affected by the decision would think and feel. What could be wrong with that?

Frederic Bastiat answered that question in his famous 1850 essay, "What is Seen and What is Not Seen." There the economist and member of the French parliament pointed out that law "produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them." Bastiat further noted that "[t]here is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: The bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen."

This observation is just as true for judges as it is for economists. As important as compassion and empathy are, one can have these feelings only for people that exist and that one knows about -- that is, for those who are "seen."

One can have compassion for workers who lose their jobs when a plant closes. They can be seen. One cannot have compassion for unknown persons in other industries who do not receive job offers when a compassionate government subsidizes an unprofitable plant. The potential employees not hired are unseen.

One can empathize with innocent children born with birth defects. Such children and the adversity they face can be seen. One cannot empathize with as-yet-unborn children in rural communities who may not have access to pediatricians if a judicial decision based on compassion raises the cost of medical malpractice insurance. These children are unseen.

One can feel for unfortunate homeowners about to lose their homes through foreclosure. One cannot feel for unknown individuals who may not be able to afford a home in the future if the compassionate and empathetic protection of current homeowners increases the cost of a mortgage.

In general, one can feel compassion for and empathize with individual plaintiffs in a lawsuit who are facing hardship. They are visible. One cannot feel compassion for or empathize with impersonal corporate defendants, who, should they incur liability, will pass the costs on to consumers, reduce their output, or cut employment. Those who must pay more for products, or are unable to obtain needed goods or services, or cannot find a job are invisible.

The law consists of abstract rules because we know that, as human beings, judges are unable to foresee all of the long-term consequences of their decisions and may be unduly influenced by the immediate, visible effects of these decisions. The rules of law are designed in part to strike the proper balance between the interests of those who are seen and those who are not seen. The purpose of the rules is to enable judges to resist the emotionally engaging temptation to relieve the plight of those they can see and empathize with, even when doing so would be unfair to those they cannot see.

Calling on judges to be compassionate or empathetic is in effect to ask them to undo this balance and favor the seen over the unseen. Paraphrasing Bastiat, if the difference between the bad judge and the good judge is that the bad judge focuses on the visible effects of his or her decisions while the good judge takes into account both the effects that can be seen and those that are unseen, then the compassionate, empathetic judge is very likely to be a bad judge. For this reason, let us hope that Judge Sotomayor proves to be a disappointment to her sponsor.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Nazm - Sahir Ludhianvi (from his novel Talkhiyan)

Kabhi Kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai
ke zindagi teri zulfon ki narm chaon mein guzarne pati
to shadaab ho bhi sakti thi
ye teergi jo meri zeest ka muqaddar hai
teri nazar ki shuaaon mein kho bhi sakti thi
ajab na tha ke main begaana-e-alam ho kar
tere jamaal ke ranaaiyon mein kho rehta
tera gudaaz badan teri neembaaz aankhen
inhee haseen fasaanon mein mah ho rehta
pukarti mujhe jab talkhiyaan zamaane ki
tere labon se halaavat ke ghoont pee leta
hayaat cheekhti phirti barhanaa sar aur main
ghaneri zulfon ke saaye mein chhup ke jee leta
magar ye ho na saka aur ab ye aalam hai
ke tu nahin, tera gham, teri justjoo bhi nahin
guzar rahi hai kuch is tarah zindagi jaise
ise kisi ke sahaare ki arzoo bhi nahin
zamane bhar ke dukhon ko laga chuka hun gale
guzar raha hun kuch anjaani rahguzaaron se
muheeb saaye meri samt badhte aate hain
hayaat-o-maut ki purhaul khaarzaaron se
na koi jadaa, na manzil, na roshni ka suraag
bhatak rahi hai khalaaon mein zindagi meri
inhi khalaaon mein rah jaoonga kabhi kho kar
main jaanta hoon meri hamnafas magar yun hi
kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayaal aata hai...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A legacy called Sahir Ludhianvi

Jihne naaz hai hind par woh kahan hai

One of the best things to happen to Hindi movie industry was the arrival of Urdu poets. Before that, songs were highly mediocre in nature, like Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon, Kiya Hai Wahan Se Telephoon, Tumhari Yaad Satati Hai, Jiya Mein Aag Lagati Hai (My husband has gone to Rangoon, Has telephoned from there, Your thought troubles me, And it sizzles my heart).
However, with the advent of Urdu poets, all that changed and Hindi movies saw some of the brightest poets and lyricists writing songs. Shakeel Badayuni, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shailendra, Hasrat Jaspuri, actually became so popular that they went on to become almost house-hold names. The greatest and most popular of them was Sahir Ludhianvi. His songs mesmerized people across the Indian sub-continent for decades and will probably continue to do so for many more years.
Sahir was born in Ludhiana, Punjab, on March 8, 1921 into a wealthy family of property owners, as Abdul Hayee. His childhood suffered a setback when his feudal-minded father married for a second time, forcing his first wife, i.e. Sahir’s mother to flee, along with the young child. Sahir was thirteen years young then.
Sahir studied at the Khalsa High School in Ludhiana and later at Government College, where Amrita Pritam, the famous author, became his most ardent fan. He was quite popular for his ghazals and nazms while in college. He was expelled from the college at the behest of Amrita Pritam’s father. The story goes like this- Amrita Pritam's father did not like Sahir as a suitable match for his daughter because she was a Punjabi and Sahir a Muslim and because he was poor.
Disillusioned with the expulsion, he left for Lahore, in 1943. He almost settled down there and started a career as editor of many Urdu publications. It is pertinent to mention that he was deeply influenced by communist world-view; he was a member of the Progressive Writers Association. In 1949, his writings in “Savera”, an Urdu magazine, were viewed as inflammatory and prompted the Pakistan government to issue arrest warrants against him. To escape arrest, he fled Lahore and came down to Delhi, and finally then to Mumbai. His friends recalled that Sahir was deeply upset with the partition and that in any case, he would have preferred secular India to an Islamic Pakistan.
Sahir made his debut in films writing lyrics for the film Aazadi Ki Raah Par (1949). The film had four songs written by him and his first song was Badal Rahi Hai Zindagi.... Both the film and its songs went unnoticed. But two years later, he gained recognition for his lyrics for the movie Naujawan (1951). The film's lilting song Thandi Hawayen Lehrake Aaye remains popular even today. However, his first major success came the same year with Guru Dutt's directorial debut, Baazi, again pairing him with composer S.D. Burman. The best of Sahir and S.D. Burman came in the movie Pyaasa (1957). His critics and admirers rate Pyaasa as his finest. He was very versatile and wrote a range of songs and worked with many music composers, like Ravi, Naushad, Roshan, O.P.Nayyar and Khayyam, Jaidev and Dutta.
In 1958, he wrote the lyrics for Ramesh Saigal's film Phir Subah Hogi, which was based on
Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment. The male lead was Raj Kapoor and it was presumed that Shankar-Jaikishan would be the music composers. Sahir was insistent that only someone who had read the novel could compose music for the songs. Thus, Khayyam ended up as the music composer for the film. The song Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi even today remains an all-time hit. Khayyam went on to work with Sahir in many films including Kabhie Kabhie and Trishul. One of the characteristics of Sahir was his ability to bring constrasting emotions in the same song. For example, in the song Mohabbat bade kaam ki cheez hai, he glorifies love in the first stanza (mohabbat ke dam se hai duniya ki raunak…) only to ridicule it in the very next (kitabon mein chchapte hai chahat ke kisse…). Similarly, in the movie, his concern for the poor comes out very well when he says har cheez hai daulat walon ki, muflis ka sahara dil hi to hai, meaning everything on this earth belongs to the rich, for the poor the heart is the sole consolation.

Sahir was the first lyricist to insist on royalty for his songs from music companies. At the height of his popularity, he demanded an excess payment of one rupee more over and above paid to Lata Mangeshkar, the most popular playback singer and a legend by then. He was instrumental in ensuring that All India Radio mentioned the names of lyricist for songs that were aired; the earlier practice was to mention the names of playback singer and music composer alone. Sahir won Filmfare Awards twice, once for his songs for the movie Taj Mahal (1963) and another for the movie Kabhie Kabhie (1976). Apart from this, government of India honored with the National Award in 1971 for his contribution to Hindi cinema.

Sahir died on October 25, 1980 at the age of 49 as a result of a severe heart attack. At the time of his death, he had some collections of songs when became part of the movied Lakshmi in 1982.

Sahir leaves behind a legacy that will be cherished for ever. He was not the poet who would praise God, liquor or beauty forever. Instead, he was quite vocal in bringing out the bitterness, declines values of society, the foolishness of conflicts and the dominance of materialism over love. Even his love songs were often filled with sufferings of the poor, umemployment, war-mongerings arrogance of the rich and exploitation of the poor, particulary women.