Monday, February 27, 2012

Mario Puzo's Cosa Nostra, "The Godfather"

A lesser known novelist named Mario Gianluigi Puzo hit the instant road to fame with his third novel "The Godfather."

Sonna Cosa Nostra,” Don Vito Corleone, the ruthless, intelligent, “reasonable” and loyal protagonist of Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather would say at the peace conference convened to bring peace to New York, where his family was waging a war with five other families of the city. “These are our own affairs.” But, fortunately for Puzo, millions of people who read the book over four decades and still read it did not think so. Many readers are transformed into that era of organized crime by the vivid descriptions of this unique book on the Italian-American mafia.

The Uniqueness of The Godfather

The fact that The Godfather had something unique was obvious given the sales record it achieved in the United States, where stories about organized crime was commonplace. Americans had seen a number of crime bosses and industrious criminals, both of Italian and other origins. They had seen Al Capone and Chicago. But Mario Puzo was showing them a different picture. Chicago was the black sheep of the mafia and the other families had given up trying to civilize the mad dogs from Chicago. So, what many Americans saw as the so called mafia was not the real thing.

Mario Puzo’s mafia was about family, as some critics point out. It was a family operation and loyalty to the family was most important, more than anything else. At one stage, Don Corleone was even ready to risk some of his business interests to protect his family and at times he had to humble himself in front of others. The Don’s visit to Bonasera in the dead of the night is the most important event in that aspect. The loyalty to the family was epitomized by the omerta, the code of silence. Disloyalty was to be punished severely. In reality, many outsiders did not know much about the mafia till late 20th century due to the omerta and therefore it was a mysterious group to say the least.

Family was not so important to many Americans in those turbulent days of 1960s. But it was perhaps second only to God for the Italians living in America. This opened up a new world, the world of the Italians to the American public and must have been very interesting to many of the readers. They saw such crime bosses were also fathers who protected their children and “friends” who valued friendship and loyalty more than money. Puzo may have enraged many law-abiding Italian-Americans, but he amazed a larger number of others in the world and still does.

Mario Puzo introduced many terms to the English speaking world through his book The Godfather. The terms such as Cosa Nostra, consigliere, caporegime and omerta were introduced to the English readers in this book. Apart from being a work of fiction, this novel described the history of the so called mafia. Also, by describing the events of Corleone’s youth the writer gives another view of emigrant Italian communities in the early part of the 20th century.

Business Management of Don Vito Corleone

The novel gives an idea of the management skills of the ‘businessmen’ involved, especially the Godfather himself. The allocation of funds and personnel, devolution of power to subordinates, clearly defining their roles in the organization, SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) are all important factors to the success of the Corleone Empire. Leadership was extremely important. Without the Godfather, the family business was bound to fall and it would have happened if Vito Corleone had died before Mike was ready to take the leadership.

Description of Events in the Novel

Some of the events in the novel are described so vividly that the reader can not help seeing them acted out in front of his own eyes. The assassination attempt on the Godfather, Michael’s visit to the hospital, Michael killing Sollozzo and the police Captain, Sonny’s death, early days of Vito Cprleone and the death of Fanucci are just a few.

Opening up the whole new territories of the mafia and the Italian family, and the vivid, captivating descriptions of events have ensured the enduring popularity of The Godfather.


1. Mario Puzo, The Godfather (1969)

2. Barra, Allen, What Puzo Godfathered 40 Years Ago, Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition), Aug. 13, 2009. (Retrieved on 27 July 2010)

3. Bing, Stanley, The Godfather, Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition), Vol 247, Issue 106. Retrieved 27 July 2010.

4. O'Conner, John J., By Way of Mario Puzo, All in the Family, Again. NY Times, 9 May 1997, Retrieved 28 July 2010

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Veiled People Take up Arms Once Again: The New Tuareg Rebellion in Mali

The Kel Tamasheq or Kel Tamajaq people of the Sahara, better known as the Tuareg, have been rising against various outsiders who sought to rule them during the past century, with nearly half a dozen notable uprisings over the years. These have mainly centered in the Azawad region encompassing parts of Mali, Niger and Algeria.

Tuaregs, a nomadic people numbering about 1.5 million, famous for the ‘veiled’ men, live in an area in the Sahara which encompasses the territories of five countries. Mali has the highest number of Tuaregs followed by Niger. Therefore, these two countries have witnessed the majority of Tuareg rebel activity respectively. Algeria also has a sizable population of Tuaregs followed by much lower numbers in Burkina Faso and Libya.

In the colonial era, these people resented the French and later the Italian encroachment of their freedom, against whom they rebelled. Later, after the countries they live became independent, their anger was directed at the new regimes. This was especially the case with Mali and also in Niger. First such rebellion against the newly independent Mali was crushed ruthlessly during 1962-64. However, the cycle of the central governments attempting to control the Tuaregs and the Tuaregs attempting to free themselves has been continuing. Rebellions broke up especially during the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. These rebels were by no means a uniform entity. They belong to dozens of groups and their objectives were numerous, ranging from wider autonomy to a Pan-Tuareg nation encompassing all Tuareg inhabited regions.

The latest development in this cycle has been seen after the civil war in Libya. Some Tuareg were incorporated the Libyan Army of Gaddafi, and at the end of the war they returned to their homelands. Also, the increasing militarization of Libya meant that modern weapons reached the Azawad region. Also, it is said that the modern leaders met with the leaders of the earlier rebellions while they were in Libya and this has helped them to form a strong organization.

However, considering the latest rebellion by this organization, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, as a result of the aftermath of the Libyan Civil War is an oversimplification. Although the influx of weapons and fighters is a crucial factor, which is said to have surprised the Malian government, the underlying reason for the upsurge of violence is the continuing grievances of the Tuareg people. Without the people supporting them the rebels will not be able to fight on for so long. The recurring rebellions and the accompanying military crackdown have generated a sympathetic popular base in the Azawad for the rebels.

The government of Mali has been trying to defeat the latest rebellion at the outset with little success so far. The rebels launched attacks on several towns including Aguelhoc, Tessalit, Menaka and Kidal from mid-January to early February 2012. The families of soldiers in the Malian Army are criticizing the government for its conduct of the military campaign against the rebels. A new approach is required from the government than pure brute force if the rebellion is to be defeated. Whether the Bamako government can launch an effective counterinsurgency has to be seen.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Republican Primary 2012: Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri

Rick Santorum may count on a much improved performance in the Missouri primary, despite it being non-binding, for him to be a serious contender in the Republican primaries. The fact that he is the only conservative in the fight, since Newt Gingrich is not in the ballot, is an advantage to the former Senator from Pennsylvania. However, better will be a victory in either Colorado or Minnesota. Mitt Romney will be hoping to repeat his performance in these states four years ago. In 2008 primary, Romney won Minnesota with 41 percent and Colorado with a thumping 60 percent. However, according to the recent opinion polls, the fight in Minnesota will be tough as Santorum is leading Romney slightly. Even in Colorado, Romney is set to do worse than in 2008.

Newt Gingrich is once more trailing Romney seriously. Given the current predictions, he is set to do much worse than Santorum, his rival conservative. This shows a trend that was seen in Florida where Santorum managed to turn some conservative votes from Gingrich.

Gingrich's only substantial plus point so far has been the victory in South Carolina. Indeed, religion might have played a considerable role in Romney’s defeat in South Carolina where a considerable number of Republican voters were evangelicals. South Carolina is known to be one of the ‘most religious’ states and evangelicals view Mormons such as Romney as ‘non-Christian’. Romney’s attacks on the integrity of Gingrich’s character won him the day in Florida a few days later. He carried Nevada, with a considerable Mormon population, with much ease although his vote percentage dropped slightly from his performance in 2008 primary.

Although only Romney has shown some consistency in the contest, not falling below second place in any of the five states contested so far, none of the candidates intend to give up the battle at this moment, and they do not have to. Gingrich hopes that his strong message will carry the distance in the event of a longer fight. Even in 2008, Romney was defeated by McCain after some initial success by the former. The only question is whether Gingrich will be able to overcome the challenges from all three contenders and at least remain in second place. With the other conservative, Santorum, likely to do better in the future, it will be a tough ask. If Gingrich would hold the second place until the other candidates are forced to drop out, he will most probably have Santorum’s endorsement. He will need all the backing possible if he is to defeat Romney. With Romney cruising along ahead of him and Santorum catching up from behind, it is the best option open for the former House Speaker.

Charles Dickens: A Man of his Times

Admirers of English literature mark Charles Dickens bicentenary on February 7, 2012.

There cannot be any comprehensive discussion on English literature without mentioning the name of Charles Dickens. He was a living legend from the very beginning of his career. He managed his popularity with great skill, which never fell during his life time. By the age of thirty, he made a sensation when he went to the United States.

Dickens was a pioneer of serializing his novels, with accompanying cliffhangers, which easily captured the attention of his readers. But he could not have made a huge impact if he was not writing on topics close to the people. It was this that made him perhaps the most popular living writer from late 1830s to 1870.

The famous poet T. S. Eliot once stated that “Charles Dickens excelled in character, in the creation of characters with greater intensity than human beings.” His characters had appropriate, sometimes funny names, such as Oliver Twist, ‘The Artful Dodger’, Fagin, Ebenezer Scrooge etc. These names were so skillfully used that the character was described by the name itself.

These characters had the advantage of being intimately known to their creator, Mr. Charles Dickens. Some of his stories are autobiographical in nature as they were a portrait of either himself or someone he knew very well. Even when they were not exactly based on actual people, they generally portrayed the numerous groups of people in the Early and mid-Victorian era. They revealed the plight of the poor workers, the children, the women and all oppressed classes during the heyday of industrial revolution and imperial might of Great Britain.

Dickens wrote to the people. His novels first appeared not as big expensive books but as serials in magazines and newspapers, which were more readily available to the man on the street. They felt the writer’s feeling for them, a feeling which was reciprocated instantaneously. Dickens was their hero in the literary world.

Charles Dickens left a lasting mark in English literary scene. He was praised by a multitude of writers during and after his lifetime, including Tolstoy and Orwell, themselves literary giants. Dickens is still widely read, including in many foreign languages. He has never gone out of print and never will be for the foreseeable future. Dickens, as Simon Callow wrote, is Britain’s “first and favourite literary superstar.”

Image: George Herbert Watkins, Dickens at his Desk, Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sri Lanka on the 64th Independence Anniversary

Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, was granted Dominion status on the 4th of February 1948 by her British rulers. Therefore, Ceylon became one of the first Asian countries to receive independence from colonial powers. At the time, the island nation was a oasis of calmness among a plethora of armed conflicts surrounding her. To the North of the island, the newly emerged India and Pakistan had gone to war over Kashmir. Burma was at the beginning of an internal armed conflict and Indonesia was fighting with the Dutch for her independence. Malaya was at the beginning of a communist rebellion.

Beneath this calmness however, there was seething resentment over the perceived inequalities inherited from the ‘divide and rule’ system of the British. Indeed, the Tamil people, concentrated in the North and part of the East of the island, had enjoyed better access to education than the majority Sinhalese people. The state language was English. Although free education was introduced in the 1940s, a majority of the Sinhala people were still a long way from equal opportunities. These aspirations for more opportunities led made them elect a new government in 1956, in the place of the pro-Western United National Party (UNP) governments which had ruled the island from independence.

The Bandaranaike government made Sinhalese the official state language. Their disregard for Tamil made the Tamil people resent the move and their disregard of English also hampered development as even today, the vast majority of the people are illiterate in English. Meanwhile, attempts at reconciliation between the communities were botched by the extremists from both sides. In 1959, Bandaranaike was assassinated by a Sinhalese monk. In a short while, demands for a separate Tamil state were being heard from here and there. With the passage of time, these voices became more numerous and louder.

However, the first major armed uprising was to be launched by disgruntled Sinhalese youth and the major grievances of these were related to the socio-economic situation where many rural people were still marginalized from the more affluent society. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which rose against the then popular Unity Front government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike was crushed within weeks. Its leader Rohana Wijeweera and many other leaders were imprisoned. Many detained JVP members and sympathizers, including Wijeweera himself, had not reached the age of 30 years old at that time.

The Sinhalese-Tamil tensions exploded in 1983 with the ‘Black July’ episode when Tamil people were systematically attacked after the killing of 13 soldiers in Jaffna. This drove many Tamil youth towards militancy and they were supported by India, which was worried about the pro-Western policies of President J. R. Jayawardena. However, one militant group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) proved to be a threat to both India and Sri Lanka in a few years. They assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the President of Sri Lanka, R. Premadasa, in 1993.

The LTTE, once generally believed to be an unbeatable rebel group, was ultimately crushed by May 2009, under the presidency of Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. The relief felt by the people who were tired of war cannot be described in words. The challenge of the government of Sri Lanka will be to introduce a lasting solution to the problems arising from years of lack of communication and understanding between the two communities, Sinhalese and Tamil.

Economy of Sri Lanka

At independence, Ceylon’s economy was based on cash crops, mainly tea, rubber and coconut. Agriculture was being developed with the establishment of settlements in the North Eastern and South Eastern regions of the country. Meanwhile, diversification of the economy and increase of industrial output were also goals of the new nation.

The involvement of the state increased from 1956 onwards, reaching its climax during the 1970-77 Sirimavo Bandaranaike government. The Jayawardena regime made a 180 degree turn by introducing free market economy. This ruined some local industries such as the handloom industry. Also, extensive privatization of state assets was carried out. The greatest achievement of the Jayawardena government of 1977-1988 is the Accelerated Mahaweli Project, which increased the production of hydroelectricity and supplied water to agricultural lands.

The UNP regime of 1977-94 was defeated by an alliance of opposition parties led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the People’s Alliance leader and daughter of former Prime Ministers SWRD and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became the President. She also followed a roughly similar economic policy as her UNP predecessors. However, under the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency from 2005 onwards, an increase in the government participation is seen in the economy.

Sri Lanka: A Bright Future

The greatest achievement of President Rajapaksa’s government is, undoubtedly, the ending of the LTTE terrorism. It has created a more favorable environment for economic development. However, infrastructure development was being carried out even while the government was waging an all out war against terrorism. Road network was improved and so were the harbours. The first highay in Sri Lanka, the Southern Highway, was opened. A new international habour, a new international airport, the first coal power plant in the country and many more large development works were started with foreign assistance. Also, the country hopes to find an answer to her energy shortage by exploring for oil in the Mannar basin. This was possible only after the end of the war as the Northern coast was largely off-limits for economic development during the war. Also, the end of the war has opened up much better prospects for tourism with more tourist arrivals than ever before.

Many foreign powers have realized the important geographical location of the island in the trade routes from Arabian Sea to South East Asia. Therefore, Western powers, India, China and others have always tried to increase their influence in the island, either by supporting a friendly regime or undermining a hostile regime. Increasing participation of China and India and generally hostile attitudes of the Western countries has been the norm during the last few years.

Meanwhile, the present government of Sri Lanka aims to use the man power and the unique position of the island for its advantage and transform the island into a technical hub. The island nation will require all the support from its own people and others to reach this goal.

Image: Chamara Sumanapala, Independence Memorial Hall, Colombo, Sri Lanka (August 2010)