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A Life

By Gerald Martin

Illustrated. 642 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $37.50.



Unravelling the Labyrinthine Life of a Magical Realist


Published: May 27, 2009 , New York times



In a January 2006 interview with a Barcelona newspaper, Gabriel García Márquez, whose memory had begun to fail, deflected a question about his past. “You will have to ask my official biographer, Gerald Martin, about that sort of thing,” he said, “only I think he’s waiting for something to happen to me before he finishes.”


The author Gabriel García Márquez in the mid-1940s.

GM Family Archive

Mr. Garcia Márquez with Mercedes, his wife, and their sons in the late 1960s in Barcelona.

This otherwise doom-laden remark brought good news to the newly designated “official biographer.” Mr. Martin at that point had devoted 15 years of his own life to chronicling that of Mr. García Márquez, though he spent a total of only a month in that Nobel laureate’s company during his extended research. Until that point Mr. Martin had called this project only a “tolerated biography.” It has turned out to be much, much more.

This intensive, assured, penetratingly analytical book will be the authoritative English-language study of Mr. García Márquez until Mr. Martin can complete an already 2,000-page, 6,000-footnote version “in a few more years, if life is kind.” He compressed that sprawling magnum opus into 545 pages (plus notes and index), a “brief, relatively compact narrative,” so it could be published “while the subject of this work, now a man past 80, is still alive and in a position to read it.” Both author and subject have been treated for lymphoma, Mr. Martin says.

That kind of bluntness runs throughout “Gabriel García Márquez: A Life,” and it is essential to the book’s success. The last thing this literary lion needed was a fawning, accommodating Boswell. Nor did he need a biographer eager to show off his own flair. When writing about Mr. García Márquez, king of the magical realists, Mr. Martin understands that it is best to stick to the facts and skip the fancy footwork.

Could any biographer have been better suited to this gargantuan undertaking? Absolutely not: Mr. Martin is the ideal man for the job. He has already written studies of 20th-century Latin American fiction; translated the work of another Latin American Nobel laureate, Miguel Ángel Asturias; and written about Latin American history. These are essential prerequisites for unraveling the labyrinthine cultural and political aspects of Mr. García Márquez’s peripatetic life. So are Mr. Martin’s demonstrable patience, wide range of knowledge and keen understanding of his subject’s worldwide literary forebears, from Cervantes to Dostoyevsky to Mark Twain.

Mr. Martin confidently calls Mr. García Márquez, Colombia’s best-known storyteller and superstar (“Gabo”), the “Mark Twain of his own land: symbol of the country, definer of a national sense of humor and chronicler of the relation between the provincial realm and the center.” But he is just as comfortable linking Mr. García Márquez to less likely literary figures (Virginia Woolf), historical figures who loomed large in his imagination (Simón Bolívar) and dictators, of whom Mr. García Márquez has known more than his share.

This book has the sophistication to weigh its subject’s affection for Fidel Castro against the changing currents of left-wing governments over 50 years, sharply revealing the personal revisionism that has sustained this novelist’s huge popularity no matter what goes on around him. (Not for nothing has he earned “García Marketing” as one of his nicknames.) The biography can slip readily from the exploits of Bolívar to revolutions in Cuba and France. It can discuss “the most famous punch in the history of Latin America,” an occasion on which Mr. García Márquez addressed the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa as “Brother!” and Mr. Vargas Llosa slugged him in reply. Mr. Vargas Llosa’s wife seems to have played a role in this confrontation.

Mr. Martin’s book also has the heft to deliver penetrating thematic analyses of each García Márquez work, even if literary criticism is not its first concern. “No one writes,” “solitude,” “autumn,” “funeral,” “death foretold,” “labyrinth,” “kidnapping”: these are all words used in García Márquez book titles and, as Mr. Martin asserts, words that imply some challenge to power. In addition to parsing each book and its meaning, Mr. Martin must trace the family stories that figure in the fiction, so that childhood years spent with Mr. García Márquez’s maternal grandparents can be seen as seminal to the fictitious setting (Macondo) and family (Buendía) found in “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

The complexity of all this is staggering. So is the magnitude of Mr. Martin’s accomplishment in grappling with it. Consider: this is a book that includes four different family-tree illustrations, three devoted to Mr. García Márquez’s actual relatives (including those by marriage and by illegitimate birth) and one for the Buendías he invented. It travels with its subject from his European days as a hungry (literally) young journalist to his politically formative glimpses behind the Iron Curtain to his celebrity globe-trotting in later years.

From time to time the book hits a brick wall, as when Mr. Martin unearths the painful story of a thwarted love affair in Paris and Mr. García Márquez refuses to talk about it. Dogged biographer that he is, Mr. Martin perseveres, though never in a salacious fashion. He finds the old flame, connects her with events in the García Márquez canon and explores his subject’s ideas about sex and love, about private, public and secret lives. How long has this research been going on? Long enough for Mr. Martin to have a firsthand interview with the mother of a subject who is 82.

Given the global love affair with “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera,” which have been popular even in countries (like the United States) often reviled by Mr. García Márquez, this biography would be essential reading even if it delivered just the facts. But Mr. Martin is too dedicated for that, though not admiring enough to make excuses for his subject’s transgressions. And he zeroes in on the precise achievements that have meant so much in literary history.

How did the early blueprint for a novel about Mr. García Márquez’s childhood turn into a masterpiece about his memories of childhood? How did he bring the town of Macondo to the world by weaving the world into the town of Macondo? And how did his magical realism become this magical? Such questions are in Mr. García Márquez’s books. The answers are in this one.

The Author:  

Gerald Martin

Filed under: Book of the week, , , ,

Alchemist by Paulo Coelho to be turned into a film


The Alchemist, the best-­selling book by Paulo Coelho, is to be turned into a film.

By Anita Singh
Last Updated: 11:25PM BST 18 May 2009

Laurence Fishburne will direct, write and star in the £30 million production, which is being made by Harvey Weinstein.

The book has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and translated into 67 languages. Such is its enduring appeal, it is currently at number six on The New York Times bestseller list, 20 years after it was published.

It tells the story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who travels across the Egyptian desert in search of treasure, leading to an encounter with an alchemist who teaches him the meaning of life.

Weinstein unveiled details at the Cannes Film Festival and said it was a project dear to his heart.

He said: “It is a book I have been truly inspired by and I have agreed to personally produce it. The Alchemist is simple and spiritual, and the screenplay will reflect that.

“The book means so much to people on a spiritual level yet there is also a great love story in it. It is an incredibly moving, emotional story.

“I think this story will act as a bridge to the Middle East. In the Middle East, the book has been an overwhelming success.

“That is a world that we need to know more about and extend a bridge to. This movie could be a healer in that region, bringing the West and the East together, especially the Middle East.”

Fishburne will play the alchemist of the title and Weinstein said he was determined to cast Penelope Cruz after seeing her in Vicky Cristina Barcelona at the Cannes festival earlier this week.

“One way or another I’m finding a part for Penelope Cruz,” he said.

The project has been in gestation for over a decade and will mark the major directorial debut of Fishburne.


Filed under: Snippets, , ,

Alice Munro wins 2009 Man Booker International Prize

Canadian short story writer is third writer to win prize


Alice Munro  is the winner of the third Man Booker International Prize.

The Man Booker International Prize, worth £60,000 to the winner, is awarded once every two years to a living author for a body of work that has contributed to an achievement in fiction on the world stage. It was first awarded to Ismail Kadaré in 2005 and then to Chinua Achebe in 2007.

Best known for her short stories, Munro is one of Canada’s most celebrated writers. On receiving the news of her win, she said, ‘I am totally amazed and delighted.’

The judging panel for the Man Booker International Prize 2009 is: Jane Smiley, writer; Amit Chaudhuri, writer, academic and musician; and writer, film script writer and essayist, Andrey Kurkov. The panel made the following comment on the winner:

‘Alice Munro is mostly known as a short story writer and yet she brings as much depth, wisdom and precision to every story as most novelists bring to a lifetime of novels.  To read Alice Munro is to learn something every time that you never thought of before.’

Her latest collection of short stories, Too Much Happiness, will be published in October 2009. Alice Munro will receive the prize of £60,000 and a trophy at the Award Ceremony on Thursday 25 June at Trinity College, Dublin.

Read more about the judging process of the Man Booker Internatonal Prize in an exclusive piece by Fiammetta Rocco, administrator of the prize, in our Perspective section.

For more information on the 2009 Man Booker International Prize winner please see the press release.




Alice Ann Munro

(née Laidlaw; born 10 July 1931) is a Canadian short-story writer, winner of the Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work, and three-time winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Award for fiction. Generally regarded to be one of the world’s foremost writers of fiction,[citation needed] her stories focus on the human condition and relationships through the lens of daily life. While most of Munro’s fiction is set in Southwestern Ontario and the Canadian Pacific Northwest, her reputation as a short-story writer is international. Her "accessible, moving stories" explore human complexities in a seemingly effortless style.[1] Munro’s writing has established her as "one of our greatest contemporary writers of fiction," or, as Cynthia Ozick put it, "our Chekhov."[2]



Alice Munro was born in the town of Wingham, Ontario into a family of fox and poultry farmers. Her father was Robert Eric Laidlaw and her mother, a school teacher, was Anne Clarke Laidlaw (née Chamney). She began writing as a teenager and published her first story, "The Dimensions of a Shadow," while a student at the University of Western Ontario in 1950. During this period she worked as a waitress, tobacco picker and library clerk. In 1951, she left the university, in which she had been majoring in English since 1949, to marry James Munro and move to Vancouver, British Columbia. Her daughters Sheila, Catherine, and Jenny were born in 1953, 1955, and 1957 respectively; Catherine died 15 hours after birth. In 1963, the Munros moved to Victoria where they opened Munro’s Books. In 1966, their daughter Andrea was born.

Alice Munro’s first collection of stories, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), was highly acclaimed and won that year’s Governor General’s Award, Canada’s highest literary prize. This success was followed by Lives of Girls and Women (1971), a collection of interlinked stories that was published as a novel.

Alice and James Munro were divorced in 1972. She returned to Ontario to become Writer-in-Residence at the University of Western Ontario. In 1976 she married Gerald Fremlin, a geographer. The couple moved to a farm outside Clinton, Ontario. They have since moved from the farm to a house in the town of Clinton.

In 1978, Munro’s collection of interlinked stories, Who Do You Think You Are?, was published (titled The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose in the United States). This book earned Munro the Governor General’s Literary Award for a second time. From 1979 to 1982, she toured Australia, China and Scandinavia. In 1980 Munro held the position of Writer-in-Residence at both the University of British Columbia and the University of Queensland. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Munro published a short-story collection about once every four years to increasing acclaim, winning both national and international awards.

In 2002, her daughter Sheila Munro published a childhood memoir, Lives of Mothers and Daughters: Growing Up With Alice Munro.

Alice Munro’s stories frequently appear in publications such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Grand Street, Mademoiselle, and The Paris Review. In interviews to promote her 2006 collection The View from Castle Rock, Munro suggested that she would, perhaps, not publish any further collections. She has since recanted and published further work, and her newest collection, tentatively titled Too Much Happiness, is scheduled for publication in 2009.[3]

Her story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" has been adapted for the screen and directed by Sarah Polley as the film Away from Her, starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. It successfully debuted at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. Polley’s adaptation was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, but lost to No Country for Old Men.


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Text: Courtesy: Wikipedia


More about Alice Munro

Read an interesting article by  DAVID LASKIN

Alice Munro’s Vancouver

Photo: Dan Lamont for The New York Times

Kitsilano Beach, in the Vancouver neighborhood where Alice Munro lived in the early 1950’s, provided the setting for some of her fiction, including "Cortes Island."


Published: June 11, 2006

IN Alice Munro’s Vancouver nobody eats sushi. Nobody jogs along the seawall or browses Granville Street galleries or shops for organic herbs at the Granville Island market. Ms. Munro, the 74-year-old Canadian whom the novelist Jonathan Franzen dubbed "the best fiction writer now working in North America," set a handful of her marvelous short stories in the damp British Columbian metropolis, and the urban geography is so exact you can practically map the city off her fictions. But though the addresses match, the vibe is unrecognizable. Young but hopelessly uncool, lustful without being sexy, dowdy, white, blind to its own staggering beauty, Ms. Munro’s Vancouver is an outpost where new wives blink through the rain and wonder when their real lives are going to begin.

Read the full article…/travel/11footsteps.html

More…  (Interview with Radio National 25/12/2005)

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“Making the world’s knowledge computable”

Visit this website and feel the power of web search, if you are looking for really serious  material.

Before using it see some examples and move on.




Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.

Wolfram|Alpha is an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor that we intend will deliver increasing capabilities over the years and decades to come. With a world-class team and participation from top outside experts in countless fields, our goal is to create something that will stand as a major milestone of 21st century intellectual achievement.


That it should be possible to build Wolfram|Alpha as it exists today in the first decade of the 21st century was far from obvious. And yet there is much more to come.

As of now, Wolfram|Alpha contains 10+ trillion of pieces of data, 50,000+ types of algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for 1000+ domains. Built with Mathematica—which is itself the result of more than 20 years of development at Wolfram Research—Wolfram|Alpha’s core code base now exceeds 5 million lines of symbolic Mathematica code. Running on supercomputer-class compute clusters, Wolfram|Alpha makes extensive use of the latest generation of web and parallel computing technologies, including webMathematica and gridMathematica.

Wolfram|Alpha’s knowledge base and capabilities already span a great many domains, and its underlying framework has the power and flexibility to support ready extension to essentially any domain that is based on systematic knowledge. More »

The universe of potentially computable knowledge is, however, almost endless, and in creating Wolfram|Alpha as it is today, we needed to start somewhere. Our approach so far has been to emphasize domains where computation has traditionally had a more significant role. As we have developed Wolfram|Alpha, we have in effect been systematically covering the content areas of reference libraries and handbooks. In going forward, we plan broader and deeper coverage, both of traditionally scientific, technical, economic, and otherwise quantitative knowledge, and of more everyday, popular, and cultural knowledge.

Wolfram|Alpha’s ability to understand free-form input is based on algorithms that are informed by our analysis of linguistic usage in large volumes of material on the web and elsewhere. As the usage of Wolfram|Alpha grows, we will capture a whole new level of linguistic data, which will allow us to greatly enhance Wolfram|Alpha’s linguistic capabilities.

Today’s Wolfram|Alpha is just the beginning. We have ambitious plans, for data, for computation, for linguistics, for presentation, and more. As we go forward, we’ll be discussing what we’re doing on the Wolfram|Alpha Blog, and we encourage suggestions and participation, especially through the Wolfram|Alpha Community.

Less »


Wolfram|Alpha, as it exists today, is just the beginning. We have both short- and long-term plans to dramatically expand all aspects of Wolfram|Alpha, broadening and deepening our data, our computation, our linguistics, our presentation, and more.

Wolfram|Alpha is built on solid foundations. And as we go forward, we see more and more that can be made computable using the basic paradigms of Wolfram|Alpha—and a faster and faster path for development as we leverage the broad capabilities already in place.

Wolfram|Alpha was made possible in part by the achievements of Mathematica and A New Kind of Science (NKS). In their different ways, both of these point to far-reaching future opportunities for Wolfram|Alpha—whether a radically new kind of programming or the systematic automation of invention and discovery.

Wolfram|Alpha is being introduced first in the form of the website. But Wolfram|Alpha is really a technology and a platform that can be used and presented in many different ways. Among short-term plans are developer APIs, professional and corporate versions, custom versions for internal data, connections with other forms of content, and deployment on emerging mobile and other platforms.

History & Background

The quest to make knowledge computable has a long and distinguished history. Indeed, when computers were first imagined, it was almost taken for granted that they would eventually have the kinds of question-answering capabilities that we now begin to see in Wolfram|Alpha.

What has now made Wolfram|Alpha possible today is a somewhat unique set of circumstances—and the singular vision of Stephen Wolfram.

For the first time in history, we have computers that are powerful enough to support the capabilities of Wolfram|Alpha, and we have the web as a broad-based means of delivery. But this technology alone was not enough to make Wolfram|Alpha possible.

What was needed were also two developments that have been driven by Stephen Wolfram over the course of nearly 30 years. More »

Courtesy: Wolfram|Alpha

Filed under: Website of the week,

Quiz Time



1. She is the first American woman and the third woman in space. She celebrates her birthday today. Name her.

2. The UN Headquarters in New York was built with an interest-free loan from which country?

3. On which sea is Zimbabwe located?

4. Bibendum is the symbol/mascot of a famous tyre company.

5. In which Asian country, always in the news in recent times, are Pashto and Dari official languages?

6. In which popular comic book series would one meet Old Man Mozz, Rex and Guran?

7. Which part of the body is affected by Gingivitis?

8. On which river does Lisbon stand?

9. What was the first name of the famous artist Gauguin?

10. Who was the first Chairman of the Rajya Sabha?

11. For which wild cat is pardine the adjective?

12. Which was the first country to retain the football World Cup?

13. What is housed in a scabbard?

14. The direct-to-video sequel to the 1992 hit Disney film ‘Aladdin’ was called…?

15. Who is a ‘gaffer’ in movie production?


1. Sally Ride; 2. United States of America; 3. No sea! It’s a landlocked country; 4. Michelin; 5. Afghanistan; 6. The Phantom; 7. The gums or mouth; 8. Tagus; 9. Paul; 10. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan was the first Chairman of the Rajya Sabha; 11. Leopard; 12. Italy; 13. Sword; 14. The Return of Jafar; 15. The head of the electrical department or chief electrician

Courtesy: The Hindu

Filed under: Young World Quiz

Black and white and read all over


Holidays are the best time to catch up on your reading. Here are some Indian authors who have some interesting stories to tell…

Lovely, long vacation for you to do whatever your heart desires. And, of course, to read all those books. Someone asked me if I could think of great storybooks for children written by Indians, and that set me thinking. I asked friends, publishers, bookstore owners and other kids your age for a list of Indian books in English they felt were absolute ‘must reads’, and I got a curious mix of responses. Some said there were no Indian writers or books for children worth their weight (I am happy to say they are wrong). But some others came up with loads of suggestions. So, here goes…

Ranjit Lal. His wonderful, wonderful stories on birds are a ‘must read’. From his stories, absolutely delightful, you learn astonishing facts about birds. In his Birds From My Window each chapter begins with a hilarious limerick. When Banshee Kissed Bimbo and other stories, is about friendships, feuds and family intrigues among the birds of Goa. How cool is that!

Different takes

If you enjoy nature stories, then Ruskin Bond it is. He lives in Mussoorie, so naturally he has a lot to say about trees, mountains and animals and birds. I recollect a story, a particularly nice one, called An Island of Trees, where a father and son plant an island of trees and the man speaks of a time when trees roamed the earth freely, till a curse rooted them to a spot for ever. Speaking of trees, but this time in verse, Bond writes of a granny who decides at age 62 to live on a tree and never come down! Bond writes ghost stories too.

On the top of my best books’ list would be R.K Narayan’s

Swami and Friends. I must have read it, oh 328 times, and I plan to read it at least another thousand times more. Please do read it, oh please. It opens with Swami feigning a stomach ache, on a Monday morning before school. Need I say more?

If you like detectives, then Feluda is your sleuth. Film director Satyajit Ray made him up. He wrote 35 Feluda stories and turned two of them into fantastic films — Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) and Joi Baba Felunath (The mystery of the elephant God). Ray wrote the stories in Bengali and they have been translated into English. His son has made some more films on these stories.

Satyajit Ray’s dad, Sukumar Ray, also wrote rollicking Nonsense Verse. If you know Bengali then yippee! You are in for some ‘rolling-on-the-floor-with-laughter’ with his Abol Tabol. That also has been translated into English and is called Abol Tabol The Nonsense world of Sukumar Ray.

Apropos verse, read aloud Vikram Seth’s

Beastly Tales from Here and There. If you want to revisit the stories your tatha pati told you, then it’s all there in the Amar Chitra Katha series. Hundreds of stories from the epics, the Panchatantra, from history, etc. If you enjoy music, then sing along with the Karadi Tales audio visual series. Singing along with Dhondu the donkey, or Karadi the bear can be great fun. May be you could get together with friends and have a play reading session with music. Oh yes, I believe another ‘must read is a compilation of the best of Chandamama in the last 60 years.

Check out these books/websites

Ranjit Lal – The caterpillar who went on a diet, The Crow Chronicles

Samhita Arni – Mahabharata, A Child’s View

Anoushka Ravi Shankar – The Rumour

Rachna Gilmore – Gita Trilogy, A friend like Zilla

Timeri Murari – Children of the Enchanted Jungle

Narinder Dhami – Bend it like Beckham

Bhajju Shyam, Ram Singh Urveti – The Night Life of the Trees

A few websites where you may find your kind of books :

From the blogs…


I met him (Ranjit Lal) at his Civil Lines home a few months ago — it was a short, to-the-point visit and there wasn’t much scope for an in-depth conversation. He’s a small man, a little hesitant in his speech at first, but as we got talking he opened up. Soon he was sifting through the many books in his room, pulling out a tattered copy of one of his favourites, Usha Ganguli’s A Guide to the Birds of the Delhi Region, a comprehensive nature study that is sadly out of print today.


The charm of Ray’s Feluda stories lie, among other things, in their skilful mix of mystery and humour. Another reason for Feluda’s enduring popularity is that he looks like your next-door neighbour who travels to places like the hills, sea-sides, bucolic Bengal countryside, and even to London to solve mysteries. The settings are a great attraction.


Quite obviously, as Seth himself says, his decision to write this Jungle book fable was an impulsive one, prompted by a hot, sleepy day. He says, “I decided to write a summer story involving mangoes and a river. By the time I had finished writing The Crocodile And the Monkey, another story and other animals had begun stirring in my mind. And so it went on until all ten of these beastly tales were born.”

© Copyright 2000 – 2009 The Hindu

Filed under: Snippets, , ,

Electoral processes and democracy: a moving field

by Andrew Ellis



A vital task of democracy-building is understanding the links between national elections and the wider dynamics of democratic change, says Andrew Ellis.

Elections are a core part of the common understanding and practice of democracy. Yet experience – not least in countries emerging from violent conflict – increasingly suggests that electoral events conceived and held in isolation from their broader political context can become as much part of the prevailing political "problem" as their democratic "solution". This article reviews critical issues and challenges in the relationship between elections, popular validation and democratic consolidation.

In transition: the peace building element

Elections are considered as a defining and unavoidable element of any peace building process. They are clear, identifiable and newsworthy events. They are thus highly likely to be overemphasised by the international community, which has often regarded them as the benchmark point for its exit strategy from a peace building effort – getting out before international politics moves on to the next great cause and before domestic political and financial pressures grow to declare victory and go home. Local participants in negotiations – whether democrats or not – are fully aware of this. 

Andrew Ellis is director of the Asia & Pacific programme at International IDEA

Warlords believe that if they only wait long enough and make a few concessions, sooner or later there will be an election and the international presence will almost certainly be gone – as Charles Taylor, for example, made fully evident during and after his successful electoral campaign in Liberia in 1997. While electoral processes – elections and referendums – are integral to democracy, their context and conduct during transition requires much more careful thought than has sometimes been the case in the past.

Politics, negotiation, trust

Even when there is no rush to hold an election or a referendum, there never seems to be enough time for the organisation and implementation of the electoral process. This is no accident. It follows inevitably from the dynamics of negotiation, in which the value of political concessions is likely to be higher the later they are made, and the technical and logistic side of electoral planning is unlikely to be an important factor in the minds of those reaching political agreements. 

Neither is any peace building or democracy-building process as a whole likely to succeed without a commitment to dialogue, local ownership and broad stakeholder inclusion and participation. Even when an inclusive process of dialogue and negotiation takes place, there is almost inevitably a deep lack of trust in electoral processes held in the context of peace building – which means that the inevitable errors and rough edges that are accepted as just that in established democracies often lead to suspicion and to damage to the credibility of electoral processes in transitions. 

This can be just as true outside the direct peace building context. In the words of a former chief electoral officer of Guyana: "We have to deliver our elections to a higher standard than in Europe: people do not forgive small mistakes as inevitable, but automatically regard them as evidence of cheating or skulduggery".

Nonetheless, the challenge is to hold good enough elections rather than to set a one-off standard which cannot be sustainably repeated. There can be a "good enough" election in a politically flawed peace building process (as Iraq, for example in the local elections of January 2009, has shown): it is difficult to have a politically sound peacebuilding process without a "good enough" election sooner or later. In particular, the ability of armed groups excluded from a peace negotiation to disrupt the process tends to incline agreements towards the design of inclusive institutions which will involve all or most of these groups – although sometimes questions of transitional justice may temper who is allowed to participate. 

The frameworks which then emerge tend to require the continuing construction and maintenance of coalitions after elections have taken place. However, the new politicians may find they need to acquire different and new skills to do this, especially if they have previously embraced the very different disciplines required in armed or insurgent groups – as has been borne out by the experience of Nepal.

Both peacebuilding and democracy-building are intrinsically political: any outcome inevitably advantages some stakeholders and disadvantages others, while actions that promote peace are not necessarily actions that assist democratisation – and vice-versa. A "good enough" election is about the political environment and conditions, not just about the technical competence and independence of the electoral administration. 

Interventions which depend on importing external technical "experts" with ready-made "solutions" (often copies of the system used in the country of origin of the "expert") are particularly unlikely to be appropriate and may well be harmful. Electoral issues that are often thought of as technical but which always have political sensitivity include electoral-system design, franchise qualifications and evidence-requirements for registration, boundary-delimitation, absentee and external voting, and counting, tabulation and declaration of results. 

Disputes, conflict, violence

Moreover, "good enough" electoral processes do not end when results are declared. The little things that go wrong often violate the individual rights of voters. When bigger things go wrong – or when little things go wrong and the result is close – there are wider political impacts: the results change, or are uncertain. Serious thinking about mechanisms for effective electoral justice is now taking place, with the independent judicial electoral courts developed in Latin America providing particularly interesting models.

Where electoral competition is itself the cause of violence, early-warning systems (looking at the context of the electoral process in each community and pinpointing likely trouble-spots) are important new tools; India and Colombia are among the leaders here. But this approach may be insufficient where the electoral process is not in itself the cause of violence but rather the catalyst for existing conflicts within a divided community – when different sources of advance intelligence become even more important. 

It is especially easy for the electoral process to be a flashpoint when the community sees the police or the military themselves as a source of insecurity. Even where the popular view of the security forces is more positive, their world rarely intersects with that of the electoral community, and there is still a lot to do to familiarise police and military personnel with the behaviour that a democratic electoral process requires. 

The growth of electoral independence

In designing and establishing electoral administration, a structure that enables its fearless independence is essential. Such independence means that the electoral administration does not bend to government, political or other partisan interests; though it is worth emphasising that the threat can come not just from overt political restriction or pressure, but from financial mechanisms which prevent the administration from accessing money and other resources when needed. 

As democratic institutions have been established across the global south, many countries have followed India in establishing an independent electoral authority. While not all have matched the unchallenged respect with which the Election Commission of India is held or the success of other independent electoral commissions (such as that of South Africa), the model is now used by over half the world’s countries and territories. 

Even in much of the francophone world, where a substantial body of jurisprudential opinion finds the concept of an independent electoral body untenable, a move towards independent electoral administration is visible.

Towards sustainable capacity

The key objective – building fearlessly independent electoral administration that becomes over time administratively and financially sustainable throughout the entire electoral cycle – has consequences for electoral assistance. This should be viewed as a long-term process. It should not primarily aim to support highly visible events and international observation exercises immediately surrounding polling day, but engage to support capacity-building over a series of electoral cycles. 

However, electoral administration is only one of the claims on the limited financial and human resources that may be available within a country in transition. Organisational and staff development, and the building of institutional memory within electoral institutions, are essential. Generally accepted "best practice" has been developed since the mid-1980s in various knowledge resources (for example, handbooks and networks such as the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network and the world-standard electoral capacity-building curriculum, BRIDGE.

The use of new equipment and technology can sometimes be valuable, in particular for managing vast amounts of data such as the electoral register or the processing of the results, but the temptation to throw money at technology needs to be resisted (especially when this is done late in the day).

On the political side, the issue is whether voters, political parties and candidates will perceive the technology as a contribution to electoral integrity or as an unverifiable "black box" which increases the suspicion of fraud. 

On the technical side, the needs for maintenance and for trained operating personnel, and the issue of potential obsolescence, should be considered. Commercial vendors of equipment and technology (for example of identity and registration systems) have their own interests; these are not the same as those required to build sustainable electoral administration. 

The test of robustness

Sustainability takes time to build. Respect for electoral authorities develops only over a period of years, and their political robustness may only fully be proved in difficult circumstances. If election results are uncontroversial, then electoral-management weaknesses and failures will be less critical. 

Indonesia’s independent electoral authority was less well organised in 2009 for the third legislative elections of the reform era than for the previous two, and substantial problems were visible with electoral registration in particular: but the overall results of the elections were clear and accepted. If they had been as close as the result of Mexico’s presidential elections in July 2006, with less than one-half of a percentage point separating the two leading candidates, the credibility of the elections could have been in the balance. 

But in Mexico, while there were cries of fraud in the counting process, few such were made against the electoral register. The electoral management body was heavily challenged and emerged bruised, but its underlying strength was still intact.

Kenya’s elections in December 2007 offer a very clear example that political robustness is not the same as technical competence. The electoral authority had the technical knowledge and capacity for everything to work well – but it did not have the political robustness to cope with the political pressures of a disputed election (which may or may not even have been close). There have been few sadder recent electoral moments than the chair of Kenya’s electoral authority finally admitting that he had no idea who had really won.

Design, timing, sequencing

A challenge for peace-builders and democracy-builders alike is to facilitate choices in the design, timing and sequencing, implementation and assessment of electoral processes to a constituent assembly, legislative bodies and/or local government bodies – all of which are fundamentally political questions. The first universal elections in South Africa in 1994 took place after the process of transition had been under way for several years. 

By contrast, the early elections held in Bosnia & Herzegovina in 1996 under the Dayton agreement led to the freezing into place of zero-sum identity politics in which the participants in the conflict played the major roles. It may thus not always be advisable to hold early elections for bodies that are not transitional in nature. But if holding early elections is undesirable, who holds power until elections do take place? When does democracy delayed become democracy denied? 

Is it easier to encourage the beginnings of reconciliation by focusing initially on creating local-level institutions to engage in practical service delivery on the ground? This approach poses the question of who can legitimately hold national power, and be responsible for the design and resourcing of the local institutions, in the interim: in Kosovo, the United Nations mission did so, and elections were held at local level first. 

Not all such approaches are as welcome: in Timor Leste (East Timor), the World Bank took an initiative to set up village committees as soon as possible after the conflict – but this action was clearly not welcomed by the UN transitional authority.

Representation, accountability, and the system

Election laws may be changed with alarming frequency as the weaknesses of a given electoral framework are discovered – or as parties seek to gain advantage of it. But the opposite can also be true: once laws and structures have been put in place, it can be difficult to remedy mistakes because the incumbent politicians and officials have vested interests. The provisions for amending electoral rules are another area which looks technical but is highly political in its effect.

Electoral system design is a key political choice, both in assembling the electoral framework and more generally in the institution-building process. Discussions about electoral systems and the design of legislatures talk a great deal about representation and accountability, but both words have multiple meanings. The basis chosen for representation and accountability is an important factor in the incentives for accommodative or "winner take all" behaviour by those who hold or gain power. 

Do elected legislators respond primarily to the whole electorate, all voters, party supporters, party members, party activists, party leaders, or whoever is going to give them their next job? Term-limits are one factor: in addition, some constellations of electoral systems and institutional frameworks are intrinsically more likely than others to promote turnover of elected members. 

This relationship is not simple: well over 90% of incumbents are re-elected to the United States’s House of Representatives using a first-past-the-post electoral system; but the same system as used in Papua New Guinea (PNG) until recently produced a turnover rate closer to 50%. The incentives for the PNG members to take benefits from their position while they were in a position to do so were self-evident – as were the consequences for the coherence of the PNG parliament.

Electoral frameworks do not only create incentives for candidates: they create incentives for political parties, who measure using different criteria. When a voter is invited to express preferences between candidates, she or he may well prioritise according to how close their positions are to those of voters. A political party, however, gains strength by attracting new voters, who are likely to be supporters of parties which are relatively close: it has an interest in the failure of adjacent parties in the political spectrum. 

This is demonstrated in the recent history of Fiji: the unsatisfactory nature of the 1997 institutional framework in approaching this question has played a substantial role in the events that have led to the full military takeover.

Electoral-framework debates are also conditioned by a conventional ideal which aims to establish a stable political party system based on programmatic differences between parties. However, this framework is often an unattainable ideal in the age of mass political communication. 

Today’s new challenge – even more difficult than reaching the ideal – is how to entrench service-delivery and accountability in a volatile political party system, in which voter choice may well be based on leadership and/or identity rather than on programmatic difference. The real danger should perhaps not be seen as leadership or identity themselves, but as the entrenchment of zero-sum politics. 

Electoral processes: the big picture 

Many lessons have been learnt since the 1970s-1980s about approaches to electoral processes which are more likely to constitute comparative good practice; this article notes only some of the most important. But the more experience, expertise and analysis – from the global south as well as the north – that exists on electoral processes in democratisation, the more complex and context-driven they turn out to be. 

Democracies are more likely to be stable than authoritarian states: democratising societies may not be. Peacekeeping activities may provide space for peace, but do not necessarily assist democratisation processes in the longer term. Electoral processes are an essential element of democratic change, consolidation and stability: but in the early stages of transition in particular, they can be flashpoints with the potential to encourage the re-emergence of conflict, and if badly designed, can entrench forces that do not promote democratisation. 

Every element of a process of change – in the sphere of democracy-building, electoral processes, constitutions, political parties, legislatures, decentralisation/devolution, independent judiciaries, among others – is likely to be linked to every other. The democratic nature of the institutional framework as a whole cannot be separated from its ability to deliver development and services; nor from the space allowed for democracy as a whole (by, for example, security-sector issues).

Both democracy-builders and peacebuilders will always need to engage with electoral processes in depth – the devil is certainly in their detail. But it is critical that they never lose sight of the inextricable links, potentially both positive and negative, between electoral processes and the wider process of democratic change.

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“Pathummayude Aadu” turns Fifty


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¥çÄ çÖÞÍÈÞ ÉøçÎÖbøX ÈÞÏV ÄæK).Ì×àùßæa ©zÞÆJßW ÕßøßE ÉâÕÞÃí ÉÞJáNÞÏáæ¿ ¦¿í. ¥AÞÜæJ Äæa ÎÈØßæÈMxß Ì×àV ÄæK ÉßKà¿í çø~æM¿áJßÏßGáIí…

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Cyber Quiz



1. Name the aborted Microsoft product for China which was to be a set-top operating system designed to work with low-end televisions?

2. What famous text used in printing and typesetting industry is said to have its origins in Cicero’s ‘de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum’?

3. In 1991, three cyber giants formed the AIM alliance to create a new computing standard based on the PowerPC architecture. Name the three.

4. What is codenamed ‘Kumo’?

5. What was acquired by Google for $3.1 billion (in cash) from a San Francisco-based private equity firm Hellman & Friedman along with JMI Equity and management?

6. Which co-founder of Sun Microsystems wrote the utilities rsh, rcp, rlogin and the first BSD release of utilities?

7. Jim Safka recently left his job as the CEO of which search engine, only after 18 months in the job, because of personal reasons?

8. In 2002, Google increased the number of URL characters it was indexing just to accommodate the very long URLs of which online giant’s services and products?

9. Which service, which went live recently, calls itself ‘a computational knowledge engine’ rather than a search engine?

10. The precursor to Mozilla’s mobile version of the Firefox browser is called…?


1. Microsoft Venus

2. Lorem ipsum

3. Apple, IBM and Motorola

4. Microsoft’s in-the-works update to its Live Search product

5. DoubleClick Inc.

6. Bill Joy


8. Amazon

9. Wolfram Alpha

10. Fennec Alpha 1.

Courtesy: V V Ramanan,The Hindu Business Line

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Filed under: YW-Cyber Quiz


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