Saturday, February 4, 2017

Beethoven's Vienna

                        Vienna's woods- Beethoven used to live in nearby Grinzing 

Of Beethoven's many homes in Vienna

Beethoven died at about 5.45 pm on the 26th of March, 1827, as a violent snow storm battered Vienna. A flourish that the genius would have loved. He had echoed it in several of his creations - with aggressive exultation in his Fifth Symphony, and with triumphant joy in the Ninth. Beethoven died in an apartment in Schwarspannierhaus (House of the Black Robed Spaniards) in the heart of Vienna behind the present day Votiv Church. The last of 65 homes he had lived in since he arrived in Vienna in November 1792 from Bonn to be closer to the patronage of the Court of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Vienna, according to Mozart, was "the best place in the world" for young musicians. After hearing seventeen-year-old Beethoven perform, Mozart had said, "Keep an eye on that one - some day he will give the world something to talk about!"

        Vienna is too large for the diminutive country it is the capital of now. Today, this capital of the once vast Austro-Hungarian Empire, retains some of its importance as headquarters of many international organizations. It remains an exceedingly attractive imperial city. It has wide roads, magnificent churches, baroque buildings with statutes bristling on top of them and their ornate and spacious entrances. Statues are every where in Vienna even in their vast parks. Many of its monuments were damaged seemingly hopelessly during the last minute spiteful and unnecessary saturation bombing by the Allies just before World War II ended. Most of them, including Stefi- the imposing, magnificent and spacious baroque 14th C cathedral in the heart of Vienna, have been carefully and lovingly restored and still reflect the glory of a grand and historic city. The Imperial Court encouraged artists, architects, musicians and scholars. For the exceptionally talented it was the most welcoming of all the cities of Europe. It is still the music centre of Europe. All kinds of music. Rock, jazz, and classical. Vienna, learning perhaps from its late recognition of Beethoven's immense genius, now encourages and tolerates all kinds of ideas- in art, architecture and music. Even in politics.

      One visit is not enough to appreciate Vienna's old pubs and coffee houses, its amazing variety of buildings, Gothic churches, its separate theatres for aristocrats and commoners from Imperial times and the Red period (1920s), its museums, including a butterfly, electricity and war museum, and its quaint alleys and sylvan walks. Vienna has changed immensely since Beethoven lived in most of its sections from time to time. At that time there was a wide fortress wall enclosing the Stephansdom (Dom means Cathedral) quarter- Vienna's ancient heart. It was replaced by a broad Ring Road (Ringstrasse) finished in the 1860s. Most of the fine and old looking buildings were not around during Beethoven's time. When he walked in Hofburg compound there were no museums across the road and the statue of Marie Theresa did not provide a perch for pigeons. The new and the most dominant wing of the Hofburg had not been built. The twin-pinnacled Votive Church, behind which he died in Schwarzpannierhaus, was not there. The Burggarten, Prater and the Schonbrun's gardens where he liked to walk have their green spaciousness still intact.

 Schonbrun Palace-  Beethoven once lived near here as he found its gardens inspiring

      A good way to understand Vienna's attractions could be to follow Beethoven's tracks. It was from Vienna that in October 1802, thinking his end was near, he wrote a letter to his brothers - the famous Heiligenstadt Testament. His house in Heiligenstadt in the 19th District can still be seen, but no longer stands alone. He blamed his approaching deafness on Vienna, especially its water, which now is amongst the purest that one can get in any large city any where in the world. He writes: "Ah, how could I possible admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection, a perfection such as few in my profession enjoy or ever have enjoyed." This was the Vienna of which cynics still say, "People look back to its past with hope."

Beethoven's conquest of the city has been more permanent than Napoleon's. There are four memorials or statues to him. One, of him sitting, is near the Concert House close to the Schwarznberg Platz and a bust is near Nussdorf where he liked to go for walks and is called Beethoven Ruhe (Peace). There is a street in this bustling village called Eroicgasse as he had stayed nearby in No. 26 Kahlenberger Strasse. Close by are the woods where he walked and the vast Danube that he loved to see in all its moods. The Vienna, which he could see from the hills of the Viennese woods has changed considerably.

During his stay in Vienna and its suburbs, Beethoven shifted house sixty-five times. He would leave because he did not like being stared at, he did not like people listening to him playing, for principles, or in one case because he wanted to be close to his friends. Yet while hopping from house to house he produced incomparable sonatas, concertos, marches, and symphonies.

            Some of his houses are marked with plaques saying that Beethoven had lived there. A short stroll away from Heligenstadt is a house, where he had stayed, in Grinzing (No.2 Pfarrplatz) in the 19th district. It is now a Heuriger cafĂ© where people drink fresh wine, eat heartily and sing raucously. Here, in 1817, he had begun working on his Ninth Symphony. The corner statue, embedded in its wall, of St. Florian is still there as it had been in his time. Next door is St. James's church rebuilt after it was destroyed by the Turks in the late seventeenth century, this being almost the last point that the invaders had got to before they were beaten back. Beethoven had come here to escape the rigours of Vienna, a city that he could not adjust to for long stretches. He had tried to leave it once, but didn't after three rich Viennese admirers in 1809 put together 4000 florins annually "to shelter Mr. Ludwig from need" for the rest of his life. Without being wealthy he would never be in want.

      His homes in Dobling, Modling, Heiligenstadt, Eisenstadt and Baden, which stood in rural isolation during his time, are now surrounded by rows of neat houses and shops. At Baden he composed sections of Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony. He lived in Hetzendorf about 10 minutes walk from the Schonbrun (1750) Palace of Maria Therese to be near its gardens. In them, sitting under a favourite oak tree, he finished the opera Leonore (Fidelio).

     A lot of his homes must be still standing but it is difficult to trace them. House numbers and names of streets have changed more than once. No. 45 Alsergasse, where Beethoven stayed in 1792, became No. 125, Haupstrasse and then No. 30 Alserstrasse. Some don't exist any longer, such as the Schwarzspannierstrasse, where Beethoven died, near the newly named Beethovengasse,. It had been torn down in 1905. Neverthless, a wide ornate entrance with a plaque and flags remind people in a typically Viennese way that Beethoven lived here.

Beethoven occasionally shifted house for interesting reasons. In October 1806, for instance, his host and patron Prince Lichnowsky wanted Beethoven to play for him and some of Napoleon's officers in his house in Troppau, whom he hid in an adjoining room. Beethoven, when he found them, stormed out into the rain. From Vienna, he wrote "Prince, what you are, you are by chance and by birth There will be thousands of princes, but there is only one Beethoven." Pro-Republican Beethoven had become very anti-Napoleon. By November 1803, he had finished writing the notes for his third symphony, the Eroica, which he completed by May 1804. It was originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, but by the time the symphony was completed, Napoleon had crowned himself emperor. A disgusted Beethoven, then living in Prince Esterhazy's house, 'das rothe Haus' (now gone) and opposite the Schwarzpanierhaus (also gone), tore the title page, raging, "Is he then, too, nothing more than an ordinary human being? Now he too will trample on all the rights of man and ...become a tyrant." Later, when Napoleon was defeated at Vittoria on 21 June 1813, Beethoven celebrated Duke of Wellington by writing the very formal Battle Symphony (Wellington's Victory), which he completed in 1814.

        From 1804 to 1808 Beethoven had shifted eleven houses, fought off adoration even from Napoleon, who had once sent troops to ensure that the composer was not troubled during his invasion of Vienna, changed patrons to be financially secure. Yet he was able to produce during this time the stirring Fifth, the Pastoral or the sixth symphony, the Violin Concerto, the G Major Piano Concerto, and many other lesser but brilliant works.

         From 1822, Beethoven began work on the moving choral movement (Ode to Joy by Schiller) of the Ninth Symphony and within that year, he changed four homes. He began the year in 61, Kothgasse, moved to 20 Pfarrgasse, then to a more spacious home at 62, Parkgasse across the Wien stream bridge. Beethoven used to shave by the window in the morning, and when this became known, knots of people would stand worshipfully to watch him work on his face. Naturally he moved. This time to 32 Hauptstrasse, a lively villa owned by Baron Pronay whose reverence irked him so much that he shifted yet again, this time to 94, Rathausgasse in Baden to share lodgings with a locksmith.  By the time he had finished his breathtaking Ninth Symphony in early 1824, he had lived in five houses.

       The Ninth symphony was moulded at a time when the by now stone deaf Beethoven was in torment. He was waiting for death again, and yet was struggling to hope. In this magnificent symphony he introduced voices for the first time, and the theme was deliverance through joy. His disability would have crippled a lesser man. He overcame it resoundingly in the Ninth Symphony even though his critics said he had defied all canons of composition. An admiring Berlioz defended him, saying, "So much the worse for Law." Yet Vienna accepted it hesitantly. Though immensely successful now, the best works of Beethoven were not understood in his time. After one performance in 1808 in Vienna where the thundering Fifth and pastoral Sixth symphonies, the Mass in C, the Choral Fantasy, and the Piano Concerto No.4 were performed with Beethoven himself playing, a music critic disdainfully described it as "unsatisfactory." Much later, after another performance the applause was so thunderous that his assistant conductor had to turn Beethoven to face the rapturous audience.

        Beethoven's earliest homes, especially in old Vienna or in the Stephansdon Quarter - whose narrow alleys and ordinary homes even today are crammed with beautiful historical surprises from about five centuries ago, is a passage of discovery. Pasqualati's house in Molkerbastei, the Esterhazy Palace, and the Prince Lobokowitz house are well-known, but as with the homes in other places, the rest are extremely difficult to track. Beethoven's longest stay, 1804-1808, 1810, and 1815, was at Pasqualati Haus, which is opposite the Rathaus. Here he commenced composing the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, the opera Fidelio, the string quartets and a piano concerto. His fourth floor apartment is a museum.

         Next to the mid 19th Century Greichische Kirche (Greek Church of Holy Trinity) in the old Fleischmarkt, close to Stephansdom (Dom means Cathedral), is Griechenbeisl a 500 year old restaurant. Beethoven was amongst the many famous musicians, scholars and artists who ate here. In Vienna, one of Beethoven's compulsory haunts was the Graben in the Stephansdom Quarter. This is the area close to St. Stephen's Cathedral Some of the shops from Beethoven's time still exist. Here is still the office of Artaria- one of his publishers with whom he had several legal fights.

      He loved to walk in the Hofburg Complex, which was a collection of palaces where the Hapsburgs lived, and since his time expanded with dramatic and more imposing extensions. It now houses the President of Austria, several museums, the famous Spanish Riding School, the National Library and a few interesting churches of course. Another of his favourite walks was the Prater, once an exclusive hunting forest for the Emperors but given to the public in 1766. It is now one of the world's largest amusement parks, and definitely the most varied.

        Just before Beethoven died he said "Applaud, friends, the comedy is over." Not quite. More than 30,000 mourning Viennese turned out for Beethoven's funeral. In a fitting meeting of Vienna's greatest musicians, Mozart's moving Requiem was sung in the Church of the Augustinians in the Stephansdom Quarter. On the 5th of April, 1827 a final tribute was given in the Karlskirche with a grand and exalted performance of Cherubini’s Requiem in C Minor. After death Beethoven's body moved from Wahring, a village near Vienna, to his final home in the musician's corner in the picturesque Central Cemetery on Vienna's outskirts. Many of the graves here are grandly embellished with expensive and ostentatious woe, but his is a simpler one. It is the largest cemetery in Austria with more than two and a half million graves. Viennese wickedly refer to it as being half the size of Berne but twice as amusing. Beethoven's grave is marked by a plain obelix with just one word- Beethoven. Next to his grave is a memorial to Mozart and Schubert’s grave. Reports of relic hunters were so worrying that about in 1888 his body was exhumed, examined and re-interred. Finally. 

        Perhaps, inspired by Beethoven's iconoclastic ideas, young artists in Vienna concerned with creating new styles at the end of the nineteenth century, made a strange windowless squat cube topped by a dome encased in gold filigree, which they called The Secession. Inside, Gustav Klimit's Beethoven Frieze - a thirty-four metre long decorative painting covering three walls - is the best-known exhibit. It is believed to be a tribute to the path breaking Ninth symphony. Beethoven's radically innovative talent lives on in much of Vienna's breathtaking bold architecture. Among the wildest are Otto Wagner's pavilions, and buildings like the opulent stained glass entrance of the Steinhoff Church (1905) with its brazen and flashy yet attractive interior, the Karl Marx Hof municipal council flats (1930), the glass fronted, but incredibly, blending Haas Haus opposite the venerable Century St. Stephen's Cathedral, the glittering mosaic that surrounds the golden globe shaped chimney of the municipal incinerator, and the crazy, colourful, liveable municipal apartments called Hundertwasser (1985).

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

On Doggies

This poem originally appeared in Tears & Laughter by Gene Hill. Copyright Gene Hill.:

Just My Dog by Gene Hill (

He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds;
my other ears that hear above the winds.
He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea.

He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason
for being by the way he rests against my leg;
by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile;
by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him.
(I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not
along to care for me.)

When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive.
When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile.
When I am happy, he is joy unbounded.

When I am a fool, he ignores it.
When I succeed, he brags.

Without him, I am only another man. With him, I am all-powerful.

He is loyalty itself. He has taught me the meaning of devotion.

With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace.
He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant.

His head on my knee can heal my human hurts.
His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and
unknown things.

He has promised to wait for me...whenever...wherever—
in case I need him.
And I expect I will—as I always have.

He is just my dog.
This piece originally appeared in Tears & Laughter by Gene Hill. Copyright Gene Hill.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Of Nanda Devi Sanctuary Peaks

The Nanda Devi Sanctuary is a rare Himalayan phenomenon. It is a ring of 21 peaks above 6000 mtrs. Nanda Devi (7816 m or 25,643 ft) is the highest in the Sanctuary. The only outlet is through the Rishi Ganga river. The map below was copied by me from Kenneth Mason's informative history book called Abode of Snow. I then added a peak here and there from my visits  in 1970s.
The Sanctuary has been closed to climbers and trekkers since 1982. 

Recently, trekkers have been allowed to go to the peripheral ridges from the outside. After a recent visit by a friend of mine to Bagini Gad (Glacier) from Dunagir, I was asked to identify some of the peaks. I could not do so satisfactorily. 

The Nanda Devi Sanctuary is in the Garhwal part of the North Indian State of Uttarakhand. The other part is Kumaon. Only in 1934 was this Sanctuary penetrated. It were the legendary mountain explorers Eric Shipton and HW Tilman's group who did it. 

I then asked my expert geographer friend Hermann Soeldner of Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany to help me out. He has the unique ability of describing the precise shape of peaks from maps. I had sent him some pictures from a 1975 visit to Ramni Glacier inside the Sanctuary. He has identified them- irreproachably correct:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Quo Vadis Alternative Development?

My answer is – downhill.

Can poverty have borders? Be divided into sectors? So that one sector gets preferred treatment just because it grows illicit crops, and the other that does not grow is ignored?

 Alternative Development’s champions think so. Alternative Development (AD) proposes that finding alternative sources of income for people cultivating illicit narcotic drugs will work. It differentiates between those who cultivate and those who do not- even if both are poor.  It has till now not recognized the reality that many traditional illicit cultivators grow, for instance, opium for their own consumption, and it is impossible to treat them (at least in a free country) for they don’t want to be treated. Income is not the only matter of concern that requires an alternative. Do the crusaders of AD think that usage will vanish once opium cultivation goes? They are wrong if they think so.

Then there are an another lot , who have got rich because of cultivating opium, and are not going to give it up by producing rice or fruit or handicrafts instead. I shall stick with the analogy of opium cultivation only for that is what I have experience with.

Despite employing renowned consultants, analysts, researcher and pots of money AD crusaders have not been able to stop illicit crop cultivation which has been leaping ahead of the hopes of AD dreamers. And the world of illicit crops is ina worst state than before. In Afghanistan 7.5 bln dollars have been spent on enforcement and several hundred millions on AD, which rides on the back of enforcement. Yet, opium poppy cultivation keeps surprising every one by its next year’s increase.

 AD, without any scientific analysis of its past performance, has been pushed, for close to three decades, as the only cure for illicit cultivation of narcotics crops the world over. Yet there is hardly any success that its staunchest supporters – UNODC, GTZ, TNI, US and UK chiefly- have to show. They go on trumpeting about Thailand’s Doi Tung success, which is such a minor project, but with tons of money, that an NGO runs it.

AD’s crusaders want time before they can show success! As if thirty years is not enough. And during this time illicit cultivation has grown everywhere, intruded into new areas and has become commercial.

Its assumptions are faulty. It has not accounted for change. It is assumed that illicit cultivators are poor and will remain poor, and that the regions they live in are backward. Thus the condescending promoters of AD feel that these unfortunate folk have to be shown some other way of life that is somewhat as lucrative, and not illegal according to the UN Conventions. A very big oversight is that they largely ignore the fact that there are many opiate users. And despite treatment for a few, over 70%  of them will relapse.What about these people? If in an ideal state, which can never ever be, there is no opium grown what will happen to these habitual dependents, ,who according to WDR 2014 are supposed to number 16. 37 million?

What about the poor folk next door who do not cultivate illicit crops? No development for them? Can poverty be parceled off into areas that require precedence and those that don’t?

And what about the rich cultivators? Will AD apply to them?

What AD’s campaigners never speak about is that AD depends a lot on eradication for thei imagined and hoped for success. After illicit crops are threatened with eradication they come along with their philosophy- the Shining Path of Alternative Development.

While promoting the virtues of AD its supporters ignore the users. Unless opium, cannabis or coca is provided for the millions of traditional users illicit crops will continue to be cultivated willy nilly. More than 3 million depend on opiates produced from the Afghanistan poppy fields. If by some miracle all these fields vanish, what will happen to these? The sternest of enforcement and the optimism of AD apologists has not worked yet. And never will.

Unless, opium etc is given to the traditional users cultivation will continue, and be used as a cover for commercial excess too. No power on earth, whether AD or Enforcement propelled, has been able to stop it yet.

In a self conscious one sided vindication for AD brought out by the UNODC in 2005 called Alternative Development: A Global Thematic Evaluation- Final Synthesis Report (2005) and financed by the German Government nothing but good things are said about AD. There has been no objective discussion on AD yet. In several countries, especially in India, people are questioning it, or frankly do not beleive in it at all.

AD’s advocates ignore the most important point that has been reiterated by one UN resolution after another. Alternative Development is only meant as a support to eradication. The latest UN Resolution 68/196 that was adopted by the General Assembly on 18th December, 2013 is very clear on this issue. On the very first page of this Resolution is this exhortation largely ignored by AD's votaries: “Bearing in mind the content of article 14 of the 1988 Convention, regarding measures to eradicate illicit cultivation of narcotic plants and cooperation to increase the effectiveness of those efforts.” Such oft repeated injunctions have also been excluded from the UNODC’s own extensive apologia about AD called Alternative Development: A global Thematic Evaluation- Final Synthesis Report- 2005

Consider Thailand, where AD started in 1988, and which has been held up as the example of success of Alternative Development. There never was much of a problem of vast tracts of opium being cultivated in Thailand. It was a minor cultivating country. Thailand was getting its opium from Burma and Laos. Still is. Yet, Thailand is Exhibit A to Z showing success in AD. But see these figures:

In 1986 before AD started in Thailand there were 2408 hectares under illicit cultivation of opium poppy. In 1988 there were 2811. In 1990, two years after the start of AD in Thailand, there were 1782 hectares of illicit opium poppy cultivation.  For the same years 1718, 1740 and 2395 were eradicated. This obviously was the stick that was responsible for the decrease in illicit cultivation. The AD carrot just made a big show. The numbers are highlighted in the UNODC tables below:

Now, please see the next two tables figures from the World Drug Report of 2014. The first one is about the extent of illicit cultivation. 
The second one is about eradication. . : 

From 2003 to 2014 the WDR states “Owing to continuing low cultivation, figures ...Thailand ‘was’ included in the category ‘Other Countries’.” 

This is not the case with eradication, which still continues to figure in the eradication table every year. In 2013 the WDR states that 264 hectares were eradicated. 

After 26 years of AD in Thailand, which did not have much cultivation to begin with, eradication is still a policy that is rigorously followed, and which is still not successful- for illicit cultivation continues! And opium also continues to be smuggled from Burma and Laos, AND addicts have moved to synthetics in alarming percentages, which continue to rise. 

Addiction in Thailand has worsened. Not for opium. Its use has undoubtedly declined, not because of the success of AD or eradication, but because they have switched to more lethal synthetics. Some die hard adherents continue to get opium from Burma or Laos. Why risk listening to speeches or enforcement when they can more easily get the substance from next door!

India, which is my country, has not made any distinction between illicit growing areas and contiguous or distant poor ones. 

Development was uniform albeit slow but it is getting to the remotest corners of the country. In what used to be an extremely remote place- Anjaw and Lohit Districts of Arunachal Pradesh, bordering Burma and China, development has made life better for many people. Education has covered all. Young men and women are in all kinds of jobs aviation, academics, bureaucratic, business, engineering, entreprenurial, armed forces, politics, scientists, trade and technical. That means in all walks of life. Yet, the families of some of the very people who have benefited from development, have become large scale commercial level illicit opium poppy cultivators. Bang goes the theory of alternative development as a panacea.

There are many poor cultivators still in India's many traditonal illicit opium cultivating regions. Infact most of them are poor. But they produce mainly for their own use and barter the surplus for cereals or clothes or utensils. And the area under cultivation is immense. More than 16000 hectares in just two of the 16 districts that are beleived to be producing illicit opium poppy. These two district- Lohit and Anjaw in Arunachal Pradesh exceed the total size of the 27 villages in the Doi Tung AD Project area, where less than 1500 hectares were claimed to have been cultivated before the start of improvement in that area in 1988.

Unless, the need of the users is taken into account illicit crops cultivation will continue. If it is stopped in one place it will emerge in another.

In November 2014 I challenged this idea of AD at a training meeting in Jodhpur India. The speaker before me was Ms. Ramrada Ninnad of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation- the NGO that was and is responsible for Doi Tung. After I had said that the Thai project was too minor to be a guiding light for other nations she came up with an improbable statistic saying that at the beginning of the project Thailand had 16000 hectares under illicit opium poppy cultivation! The UNODC had put it at precisely 240.8 hectares in 1986 as can be seen from the first table above.  And these figures are what the Thai Government had supplied to UNODC.

 If one has to cook figures to justify a project it only means that there is something drastically wrong with the project and its justification.   
And from the Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2014 a surprising detail is noticed. On pg. 11 the average dry opium yield for Thailand is shown to be 15.6 kgs per hectare. As against 6 kgs per hectare in 1988 when the Thai AD Project started in Doi Tung. (WDR 1999 pg. 21) !!  This only indicates that cultivating techniques have vastly improved. Such inconvenient statistics and information are deliberately ignored.

In UNODC’s apologia “Alternative Development: A Global Thematic Evaluation- Final Synthesis report- 2005” it is claimed that the average wage increased seven times. But, in the Doi Tung table, reproduced below from the 2005 report, it is seen that their professions remain almost the same, and they remained wherever they were. Incidentally, Doi Tung is the only AD linked project that the AD brigade talks about. It had one another advantage. The Royal Guest House is there. It must have been embarrassing to have visitors noticing poppy fields in the vicinity. Thus, to make virtue out of necessity, Patronage poured in money.

Quite different from India’s experience.  All round development  for many of the  people in the illicit cultivating areas meant that they left their homes for all kinds of non manual professions all over the country and their incomes increased just as much, and yet their families continued to produce opium- some of them on a commercial scale. In this evaluation no contrary opinion was asked for or given. It is a production of yes men and women, though in the end (pg. 16) they do acknowledge briefly that enforcement is necessary: “Interdiction should play a key support role in illicit crop reduction by: Extending the rule of law.  Creating an environment for economic and political development.  Lowering farm-gate prices for illicit crops to make alternatives more attractive.” The last one has been impossible till now despite billions having been spent in Afghanistan alone!

A frank discussion on all aspects of AD is overdue. I do not suppose it will be ever held, so deeply entrenched is the reluctance of the votaries of AD to join a debate. Maybe, just maybe, during UNGASS 2016 on Narcotics this could be possible. 

Transparency is lacking. Many questions about the couple of well known AD projects need to be answered before it can be universally accepted. Such as:

How much was the size of the opium cultivation in the Doi Tung project area before the start of the AD plan there in 1988? 

How many hectares of illict opium poppy were being cultivated in Thailand in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s? Are these figures different from those published by UNODC and its predecessor UNDP?

How many opium addicts were there in Doi Tung?

How many of them were subjected to their right month treatment? 

Was this treatment voluntary?

How many relapsed?

How many are addicted now, and to what substances?

How much money has been spent on the entire project by the government and the NGO looking after it? 

Every year the addiction figures increase, as the UNODC released World Drug Reports, based on statistics sent by member countries, show. 

Yet, no one seems to be worried to really question why every attempt to curtail drug use is going awry. 

I conclude with a quotation from Professor Julia Buxton’s resoundingly persuasive paper The Great Disconnect questioning the whole concept of AD. Accusing the UNODC and others on the same side as it of “profound institutional sclerosis” she asks how can alternative development be successful if the end goal is prohibition. She says that drug policy and the drug policy reform pay too much attention to raw opium poppy and coca leaf rather than synthetics such as MDMA and ATS that are manufactured in the Global North. This underlines the bias in the international drug control model and the risk of further problematic interventions that exacerbate rather that alleviate poverty, and insecurity traditional drug cultivating regions. Why not have AD for synthetic producers too?

Illegal opium poppy cultivation in Sainj Valley, Kullu District, Himachal Pradesh, India>

Friday, December 5, 2014

Illegal, yet expanding: Massive Cannabis Cultivation in Himachal Pradesh

India is a country where some laws still bite the dust. India's draconic Narcotics Drugs and Psychotorpic Substances Act (1985), influenced by the UN Conventions and drummed by USA jailed thousands- mostly users. Cultivators of illicit crops had some of their fields eradicated occasionally, but they were usually not arrested.  

Now, in many parts of India a few small cultivators have become rich cultivators by energetically pushing end products. Malana Cream was popular abroad (since the late 1970s) first and now it has captured the domestic imagination and taste buds. 

One such place is Malana in Parvati Valley of Himachal Pradesh (via Bhuntar). Another place is Tosh in the same valley. Yet another is Jasol also in Parvati. 

And so on till you wonder what Authority is doing to earn their salaries.

 The extent of cannabis cultivation is wide spread in much of India ( at least 400 of its 640 districts have cannabis growth), but the defiance by which it is cultivated in Himachal Pradesh is unbelievable. Here it grows in all but one of its twelve districts. I shall write of only one small village in HP- Malana.

   The heart of Malana village famous for its hashish.... A foreign guest is sleeping off his hashish high! 

Malana (3023 mtrs) is a village in a side valley of the Parvati River in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh.

         Map of Himachal Pradesh (HP) showing a few                 Cannabis growing spots. Opium is also grown here            but that is an another story. 

         Parvati Valley & Malana: every year Cannabis                fields increase.

 Since the ‘70s this village is notorious all over the world for its hashish- called Malana Cream. Cannabis fields are inside the village, outside, above and below it. 

    A cannabis field- one of many. 

It is supposed to be the best in the world, and available in Israel, Europe and parts of USA. Foreigners, especially Israelis, Dutch, Germans and Americans have been visiting Malana village and Parvati Valley for about three decades to get Malana Cream. Helpful Americans have believed to have introduced cannabis seeds from the US in the upper reaches of Parvati Valley.

Cannabis cultivation and processing of hashish is also common in Rasol, Kasol, Tosh, Pulga, Khirganga and the higher reaches of Parvati Valley. Buyers and suppliers contact each other over the excellent mobile network here.
There is so much international demand, and now domestic too, that the village cannot supply enough. Malana Cream is now reportedly adulterated with hashish from Nepal (many Nepalese are working in Parvati valley and Malana) and from Rohru and other parts of Himachal Pradesh. The rate for the adulterated hashish is Rs. 2000/- per tola and Rs. 4000/- per tola for genuine Malana Cream.

I have been visiting Parvati Valley for the past fifty years. There was not even a whiff of cannabis on my first visit. On my last two visits to Malana in 2008 and 2009, I was involved in a futile attempt to convince them to give up cannabis cultivation. We had some hope in Alternative Development then. There were many rare and expensive herbs like Cinchona and Artemisia growing around Malana and in other parts of Parbati Valley. Several scientists from the Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University, Palampur attended these meeting after surveying the herbs found there. They advised that these herbs could be propagated and packaged inexpensively and could get all in the village an income almost equal to that from cannabis. 

Five years later there are no herbs at all. Expanding cannabis cultivation has smothered them all! And I am firmly of the opinion that Alternative Development, much loved by the west, is a waste of time. If the people are making lakhs from cannabis, why should they go for a handful of Rupees, especially when the law is so tolerant. 

I was in Malana yet again on the 2nd of October, 2015. There were foreigners going up in the same numbers as earlier. The new development was the astonishing sight of an endless stream of Indian boys and girls from Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and even as far as Mumbai, Hyderabad etc. They were all going for a party that was to last for two nights in Malana and then carry on in Kasol for another night.

On the steep two hour climb up I got talking to two young undergrads from Hyderabad, who told me that they had come to buy hashish for themselves and to sell too.

 Thus, the circle of addicts grows wider.
On reaching the village I was not surprised to see cannabis cultivation inside, outside and above (on the way to Chanderkhani Pass), as it has always been there. What astonished me was that many more houses than in the past had high mounds of cut cannabis plants stacked on balconies and roof tops. Children, women and some men were openly busy making hashish by rubbing the buds between their palms. 

  I even saw some foreigners making it....

Hashish pellets, two each in cellophane, were being given away as samples by males, who had only two things to say: “Don’t step inside any house”, and “Do you want hashish?” 

This procession of clients of hashish starts from early September. 

  A sign in Hebrew in Kasol village. Similarly there are villages under American, Dutch and German influence, but Israelis predominate. 
 If one googles Malana , or searches youtube for it, there is abundant photographic proof and textual experiences available:

 A small portion of the lined up taxis that were bringing young Indians to Malana on the 2nd of October, 2014. 

 Why are so many Indian youth heading to Malana like moths to a flame? This question can be answered only after investigation. My guess is that these bright young folk (would be engineers, doctors, lawyers etc et al) are wilting under pressures of ambition and work to smoke hashish for non medical purposes only, and then to pay for their use, traffic a little amount.  A corollary of all this neglect is that addiction in Kullu to ganja, hashish and opium has increased, but everyone denies it. 
    Indian youth off to Malana to buy Malana Cream (cannabis resin)

Now that cannabis cultivation and hashish production has become big business, law has to step in. For, gangs and violence are creeping in, which was inevitable.

The Parbati, Malana and Nagar Valleys are idyllic beautiful haunts for tourists' and trekkers'too. So far cannabis and hashish have been attracting more adherents. And tourists who want to only see cannabis growing in such joyful abundance.

And then there is illegal opium cultivation in Himachal too. About that there will be an another blog! 

But there is some hope from HP's neighbour's experience. Uttarakhand. Here they have asked The Bombay Hemp Company ( to use its cannabis crop and turn it into textile yarn, T shirts, medicinal oil and even hempcrete- a cheap building material. Cannabis has been used in many of ancient India's forts, temples, mosques and monuments. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

World War II souvenirs from the Indo-Burma Border

In the hundreth year of the First World War, the next World War is also getting a lot of attention. 

Seventy years od D Day....... some thing about Iwo Jima.... and even about the Forgotten Army of the Allies that fought in Burma.

Twenty six years ago I was on the Indo-Burma border beyond Tusom Christian in Ukhrul district of Manipur. From a border settlement I had picked up some Japanese WW II currency that was being used even then by some villages on both sides of the border. Tusom Christian was along the attack route, from Homalin in Burma to Jessami in Manipur, of the Japanese 138th Regiment commanded by Col. Torikai  

Some of the paper currency is displayed below:

I had written about it in my book on the North East -Lands of Early Dawn- published twelve years ago. I could not get any more informatin than the scanty one that I had. 

Would any one be able to tell me more about this japanese currency minted especially for use in Burma during their occupation? 
Where was it printed? 
Was it printed before the Japanese invaded Burma? 
Did the Allies destroy it? 
Did it have any value at all after the Japanese left? Its entire history? 

If possible please let me know at too.