Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Death Penalty

Capital punishment. An issue I wouldn’t normally touch with a barge pole. But all on a sudden, it is constantly in the news. At home it’s Afsal and Santosh Kumar Singh. In the international scene, it is Saddam. Then there is that bungled up case of capital punishment by lethal injection in the US.

Death penalty, I guess, has been there ever since man evolved the concept of civilized coexistence! Guess it’ll be there till the crack of doom – in some country or other. Its raison d’etre is, allegedly, its utility as exemplary punishment, therefore as a deterrent. To what extent that objective is achieved, I do not know. But I guess I am not wrong in stating that there are many who keep themselves on the right side of the law for fear of having their heads chopped off.

Through history, capital punishment has caught the imagination of man. It has created Gods, saints, martyrs and heroes, religions, cults and revolutions. Pages of history and literature abound with anecdotes of how convicted men and women kept their rendezvous with death. One such anecdote that has never ceased to fascinate me is that one about Sir Thomas Moore who kept his beard away from the block, away from the executioner’s axe saying that the beard grew after his conviction, and therefore was innocent of any crime! Conquering the bitterness of death in such a manner defeats death but Thomas Moores are the rarest of phenomena. A story which has given me sleepless nights is that one about Bhutto’s resistance when officials came to the cell to take him for his execution.

My concern here is not whether capital punishment should be done away with or not. It’s too complex an issue for me to debate about. But there are certain issues related to it that have bothered me.

One such issue is the modus operandi of the procedure of state execution. I think the best way to administer the capital punishment is to shoot the person behind his back, without his knowledge, thereby sparing him the torture of the elaborate preparations like medical check up, soul protecting rituals and all that dead man walking type of elaborate practice. That cold blooded, efficient, business like observance of every laid down rule, the meticulous adherence to routine execution procedures where every official does his part to perfection in order to keep himself above blame, while the poor condemned man waits for the dreaded hour – I think that’s callous, cruel, heartless. If all these are signs of civilization, I would rather we remain uncivilized enough to place more value on sparing the victim the unbearable, brutal trauma than on the propriety of the details of the execution of the death sentence.

But what beats me even more is the revolting provision in the US system which permits the victim’s relatives to witness the execution of the death penalty! Absolutely barbaric, I would think. But we read about the cathartic effect this experience has on the victim’s close relatives! Does the sight of a human being vibrating in the electric chair, or that of a terrified man having his faced hooded before the lever is pulled to transport him to the nether world, or of terror stricken eyes of a person awaiting the lethal injection afford a sense of beatific satisfaction that justice is done? Or is it a sense of obligation to the deceased victim of the crime that makes them willing witnesses of these gruesome sights, as though they are participants in a ritual of divine retribution?

Does the term “JUSTICE’, then, mean facilitating gratification of that thirst for revenge? Would the memory of the security men killed by terrorists be better honoured if Afsal is hanged? Is baying for Saddam’s blood an indication of a high level of civilization achieved by human community? Does the belief that justice is done because Santosh Kumar Singh is sentenced to death reflect a proper understanding of the concept of justice? Don’t all these equate justice with vengeance? Does Justice mean an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? I thought civilization had advanced far beyond that primitive concept of justice.

Isn’t it written ‘Vengeance is mine, I (God) will repay?’ In no uncertain terms, don’t these words state that no man made system has the right to appropriate the right to take away life in order to wreak vengeance?

It is all about officialising and legitimizing vengeance; let us not glorify it by resorting to the euphemism ‘Justice’.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Mallu English

I dislike the word mallu – especially when Malayalees concede to that diminutive nickname. But pardesi Malayalee youth tell me I am being oversensitive. So be it and mallu shall it be, at least in this piece, ‘cos it’s all about another term that I dislike even more – Mallu English.

Browse through mallu blogs and you’ll find end number of them on mallu English. We don’t find Tamilians or Kannadigas or Bongs ridiculing their own use of English. Why is the mallu different? Why is he so apologetic about his accent, intonation, vocabulary?

Here’s my take on this issue.

The first issue here is why mallu English has become such a national joke that it should figure in Hindi movies and serials, and also become a source of embarrassment to pardesi mallus? It is not as though people from the other states speak Queens English. All non- native speakers of English (or any language) carry over the linguistic habits from their mother tongue. Then why is mallu English alone targeted? The obvious reason is Kerala has greater literacy than other states and exports more personnel to other parts of India than other states. Only a negligible percentage of this number has received education in elite schools and colleges. The bulk comes from government schools and vernacular medium. Unlike other states where English medium public and convent schools have a large presence in the metros, Kerala has less than a handful of such institutions. It is to our credit that this underexposure to spoken English has not deterred the Malayalee from seeking his fortune outside the state. Their ubiquitous presence in areas usually dominated by the products of elite schools from other states, makes mallu English constantly heard. It’s the snobbery of the products of such institutions like Doon school and Hill Station schools that makes them ridicule the mallu English, but let us Malayalees not echo that stupidity.

The next issue is: Why are the mallus tongue-tied when it comes to speaking in English?

The answer is, he suffers from a terrible Anglophobia rooted in an attitudinal problem. Unfortunately, the mallu labours and groans under the misconception that being able to speak English like a ‘sayip’ is the ultimate achievement in life. This ridiculous notion is the undoing of the otherwise well accomplished mallu. While in Kerala some time back, I overheard several discussions on the Inzamam – Hare confrontation. There was not a single conversation on that topic where undue weightage was not given to Inzamam’s poor English, and believe it or not, there was this repeated comment that competence in English is an essential requirement to play international cricket!!!!! Well well well! I thought one played cricket with the bat and the ball and not with the tongue! On and off, you hear this wishful thinking that P.T. Usha spoke better English - almost as though, better English would have made it possible for her to run faster so as to enable her to make up that th of a second which cost her a medal in the Olympics! Surely one doesn’t run in English, Malayalam or, for that matter, in any language. Then again there is this equation (in Kerala)of smartness with ‘adipoli English’. A good-for-nothing wastrel is pardoned if his English is good.

As a teacher of English language in the state of Kerala, I have been unsettled by the attitudinal problem of students who come from Malayalam medium schools. They look up at the teacher in terror when she begins the lecture in English and nearly faint when the question session arrives requiring individuals to answer in English . Of course there are several reasons for the fall in the standard of English in Kerala but that’s not the issue here. My concern is the unholy reverence with which this foreign language is treated in the state. Had I not been an English teacher paid to teach the language, I’d have spoken thus to my students:

“Dear students, it is our birth right to make mistakes in English. We have no business to speak impeccable English. English is just another language like our own. Let us not forget that long before this Anglo-Saxon language took shape (post 6th century) we had highly evolved languages in India, and literature and sophisticated aesthetics in Tamil and Sanskrit. So why are drooling over this language which is but a reminder of our shameful history of subjugation? Agreed. English has its uses. Bur let us give it only the respect it deserves – that of a utility object, instead of allowing ourselves to be overawed by it. Even in UK, the concept of Standard English and RP is pooh poohed. Then why on earth are we striving to sustain those outmoded concepts? Do you think Tony Blair would be able to speak Malayalam like you and me even if he had learnt it as his second language?”

Only such a devil-may-care attitude can loosen the tongue of the Mallu.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Save Kerala From Her Own Frankenstein!

God so loved this little strip of land which lies between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea that he endowed it with perennial water supply, equable climate and a stunning landscape.

He loved it so much that he gave her good kings to rule over it – rulers who cared so much for the subjects that they invited all types of educationists to the state to start educational institutions all over the state.

God, then, realized that much leveling had to be done on the socially uneven terrain of his own country. So he saw to it that literacy spread, and with it Communism. The first ever elected communist government carried out his wishes and the land reforms ensured that every citizen had land to call his own. So far so good.

And then the almighty decided to call it a day. And decided to take rest. A mistake – a serious one. While he took his nap, the ad hoc idea he had permitted to enter Kerala, transformed itself into the proverbial Frankenstein. And the monster grew out of control.

And God woke up to find the monster on the rampage. With horror he watched it run amok through Kuttanaad and, in a jiffy, turn the granary of Kerala into a graveyard, burying forever the dreams of the agricultural community. The monster then stormed into the industrial sector, terrorizing entrepreneurs who fled in terror.

And Kerala economy lay in shambles.

But God did not forsake his country. Without wasting time, He initiated a brilliant plan to yank his country out of the economic crisis. He turned to the obedient and loyal children in the state and told them ‘Go, go to the ends of the earth. Get rich and fill the coffers of your state that I love.’ And so the exodus, the Malayalee Diaspora began. Government employees were given incentives to take five, ten, fifteen and even twenty years leave to go to the four corners of the world on a Save Kerala mission. And Oh! they went, leaving behind their beautiful land and loved ones. They went up the hill and down the dale, over the mountains to the desert lands, across the seven seas - and worked their hearts and lives out and sent money to sustain their land over which the prodigal monster continued to let loose a reign of terror.

Thus it is that Kerala survived all this while. But her children overseas are beginning to get tired of wasting their hard earned money to keep alive a parasitical monster that is fattening itself shamelessly on their blood, sweat and tears.

And then IT happened.

This seemed to be the answer to Kerala’s woes. The IT sector welcomed with open arms the victims of the monster’s devastation - the unemployed youth. Hope flickered, flickers.

Things are beginning to look up for Kerala.

But beware! It’s too soon to celebrate, for the monster has begun to rumble again.

The depletion of the number of unemployed will sap the monster’s strength. It is in the interest of the monster’s survival that the high rate of unemployment be maintained at any cost. The jobless youth is its muscle, bread and butter, its life blood, its raison d’etre.

And so, it has turned its malevolent eyes on the IT sector now. The moves for unionizing IT employees are on the anvil.

The time has come for the righteous to act, to resist the monster before it goes berserk.

IT is the ideal industry for Kerala. No environmental destruction. Can provide employment to huge numbers. For once, Kerala stands a chance of providing a suitable and rewarding livelihood on its own soil for her own educated daughters and sons. The prospects of generating wealth on her own soil appears realistic and bright.

And, IT sector employees have no grouse. They want no unions. But the monster wants them.

So let us put our weight behind them and resist the monster.

Or the monster will destroy us, once and for all.

The Almighty is unlikely to have any more tricks up his sleeves. He has given us a long rope. Now it is our turn to decide whether to save or hang ourselves with it.

The ball is in our court.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


My idle browsing this time took me to S. Gurumurthy’s articles. I used to read his columns in the IE and had always found his venom quite shocking. But my just completed exercise of reading article after article at one sitting as is possible on the net, compels me to react. Even though, I am fully aware, that it could possibly be a knee jerk reaction. If I put it off for another day, this blog might not happen. My diffidence, which has temporarily taken a backseat in the after math of what I read just now, might assert itself. So big a name is Sri Gurumurthy’s. So, braving the risk of being ridiculed for my presumptuous effort to react to so established and versatile a person, I am going to use this space to deconstruct (as the term is loosely used) Sri S. Gurumurthy or Gurumurthyism (my coinage).

What do I mean by Gurumurthyism? From what I understand, it comprises

  • an intense resentment towards non Hindu communities in India for their locus standi as Indian citizens.
  • equating patriotism with hatred for non majority communities.
  • denouncing secularism as unpatriotic.
  • intolerance of any remark against India, Indian culture, Hinduism
  • a violent urge to justify anything Indian, be it good, bad or ugly

The long and short of it is: Gurumurthyism is an ideology of national exclusivism informed by a philosophy of hate.

But Gurumurthyism is a far cry from the celebrated, traditional Indian Weltanschauung. The Indian world view is an expansive, genial, generous, inclusive, tolerant, humanistic and spiritual one. Is it this worldview that Sri Gurumurthy is trying to resurrect and reinstate? No way! Gurumurthyism is the indigenous version of divide and rule. No. Exclude and rule.

I am a proud inheritor of what was the greatest of known civilizations – a civilization that produced a Buddha more than five hundred years before Christ, a Shankara who brought about a massive religious reform without shedding a drop of blood, for which more than half the credit goes to the practitioners of Hindu religion, and a Gandhi who , for a brief moment, could make Indians become intensely conscious of their identity as human beings by enabling them to go beyond their cultural identities. Ours is a civilization which made space for every persecuted race who turned to the subcontinent for refuge.

These are but some highlights of the great Indian civilization. I will not use past tense to refer to this civilization, for it still lives on in the hearts and minds of the ordinary Indian - in spite of Gurumurthyism, which I would describe as an aberration, a hiccup in the process of the evolution of a great people – an aberration the great people must confront, deal with and then overcome.

To the Gurumurthys of India, I would like to say this. While it is true there is no future without past, there is no future for a people trapped in the past too. One cannot put the clock back. If one must do it, who is to decide how far back it must be set? No one can appropriate proprietorship over history.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Calcutta, Take Care of your Rickshaw Pullers!

Mumbai Mirror of Dec 11 reported the Calcutta hackney carriage amendment bill which has ushered in the end of the hand – pulled rickshaw. The news set me thinking. As a school going child in cochin, I had used this mode of transport before it gave way to the cycle rickshaw. The rickshaw wallah’s name was Augustine, and he took my brother and me to the primary school, and brought us back home. Sometimes he used to run with us in the rickshaw to see us laugh and clap our hands in delight. As I write this piece, I am trying hard to rewind in order to capture our feelings for Augustine chetan, as we called him. I don’t remember feeling guilty about being handpulled by him( he was not young) or feeling sorry for him. We took that occupation for granted, just as he did, and I don’t think I am mistaken in saying that he enjoyed it.

A couple of months back, my husband and I went to the Red Fort, Delhi. The minute we entered the old city, we were literally chased by a battery of cycle rickshaw wallahs vying with each other to take us around Chandini Chowk. I shuddered at the thought of using this inhuman mode of transport but my husband pointed out that our refusal to avail ourselves of that service on grounds of inhumanity was not an act of kindness. It was their livelihood. I saw the logic in what he said and climbed into the rickshaw. I did not enjoy the ride one bit – guilt was gnawing at me and I hardly saw where he was taking us.

A couple of weeks back, we went to the Ajanta caves. Seeing me struggle at the first steep climb, the men who carried the dolly'(palanquin) appeared. The dolly is a chair carried on poles on the shoulders of four men and is used to transport people uphill. I was horrified at the thought of making use of that cruel innovation and vehemently refused it. The men noticed that I was puffing and panting and saw a potential client in me. They followed me some distance. After the first steep climb, it was easier. Seeing my determination not to engage the dolly, they gave an ultimatum and the last discounted rate. My husband told them that our issue was with making them do this inhuman task. Pat came the reply – if all tourist felt that way, how would we live?

Now to get back to West Bengal, the CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is quoted as saying that ‘When I go to Delhi, Mumbai or abroad, I am asked how long Calcutta will have hand-pulled rickshaws. This is an inhuman practice…it is a shame on our city and the state as well’. Strange that it took the Marxist CM several trips to Delhi and elsewhere to get his eyes opened to the inhumanity of the practice. And his concern appears to be the image of the state he governs rather than the welfare of the pullers; all the more reason why one should be skeptical about the promises of rehabilitation made to these pullers. It is easy to impose a ban on or abolish a practice that provides a means of livelihood to people. It just takes a stroke of the pen. Ideally, with another stroke of the same pen, an alternative source of living must be provided. No time should be lost. Whether our government machinery, mired in inefficiency and red tapism, will implement a rehabilitation scheme waits to be seen. Depriving people of an occupation that afforded them a dignified existence in order to save the image of the state is many times more inhuman than the practice itself.

It is time India stopped trying to blindly accept the standards of developed countries with less than half our population. While the occupation of a rickshaw puller or a domestic help or a bar dancer is not the most envied of occupations, can the government arbitrarily abolish these without having in place a system to rehabilitate them immediately? Does the government have the right to deprive the citizens of a livelihood? Disturb these people who live their lives as best as they can only if the government is capable of taking care of every person thrown out of employment when it gets these occasional seizures of conscience. With our huge population, the country has found its own way of survival, however precarious it may be. Precisely on account of its precarious nature, the government should take care not to mindlessly tip the balance.

Tourists who come to Calcutta may now heave a sigh of relief to see the hand pulled rickshaws off the road. Dominic Lapierre, who authored the City of Joy can triumphantly give himself a pat the back for triggering off a debate which after many years culminated in the abolition of Calcutta's hackney carriage. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya may now hold up his head in pride at having abolished a practice that brought shame to Calcutta. But, pray, tell me, who is the state answerable to other than its own people?

Do I sound like a champion of inhuman occupations? While it is true that I’d rather be a hammer than a nail, believe me, it’s no fun being a hammer. Honest.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Confessions of an Alienated Malayalee

yes. that’s me. I call myself that ’cos of my indifferent competence in my mother tongue. I think in Malayalam, but have no confidence to write in that language. I sometimes think if I could write in the language I think and feel in, I’d become the Shakespeare of Malayalam literature. Don’t laugh. this is how I console myself when I fall into one of those fits of depression at my inability express myself comprehensively – thoughts, feeling s and their nuances. The English language does not have corresponding terms to express malayalee feeling. Or, I am not competent enough in this angrezi tongue. So there is a huge gap between my sensibilities and the only language I can write in. Frustrating, isn’t it?

How did this happen? it’s a long story. I was born less than ten years after Independence. So guess I can call myself post independence generation. Those were days when people believed that future belonged to people who received education in English. I was a victim of that false notion. But, I did have Malayalam as a subject till 4th standard. But the Malayalam teacher took a dislike to me for a reason I don’t want to go into here(I have written a poem on that – so intense was my resentment towards that teacher who alienated me from myself). Unfortunately, along with me, that teacher was also promoted to the middle school. As soon as this news was confirmed, I went home and wept and wept till my mother agreed to switch my second language to French! With that, my connections with Malayalam text books, therefore literary Malayalam, were severed forever and ever.

Thus it is that my imagination was shaped completely by the angrezi language. They say if you learn a language, you tend to identify yourself wiith the culture of native speakers of that language. So my childhood imagination was filled with Jack and Jill, Polly putting the kettle on (I used to go around our kitchen looking for the kettle I saw in illustrated nursery rhyme books- found none), sixpence and pocket full of rye (thought that rye was the higher denomination of sixpence). Must say I used to be fascinated that the English could bake blackbirds in a pie and still keep them alive. Fortunately for me, I had a lot of neighbours, cousins from whom I picked up kakey, kaket, koodevidey?, Omana kuttan, govindan, ayyappandey amma, neyyappam chuttu. I sang these with full throated ease and felt I belonged. But when I sang the English rhymes, my imagination got activated and made me yearn for things I knew nothing of. Like they say, unheard melodies are sweeter. As I reached primary school, Enid Blyton was my staple food. and also all those comics – Three Stooges, Totem, Tin Tin, Classics, Richie Rich, Little Lotta - - - - . my horizons widened and without my quite knowing it, I moved away from my roots into a world I had never experienced. Along with it, an attitudinal change crept into me – a feeling of superiority over those who didn’t know the Famous Five and Captain Haddock!!

Soon, I started reading romances. Mills and Boons told me how the westerners fell in love, how hostility was an imperative prelude to love! How men had to be dark and tall ( I didn’t know then that, that dark was not our dark), that when men fell in love, they snapped at their lady loves for no reason. But i didn't know how people in love behaved in my culture! I soon got tired of Mills and Boons but Georgette Heyer remained my favourite for a long time. How she fired my imagination! her novels transported to a still more remote world - the Regency period, Victorian age - - -and I moved with wide eyed wonder among powder and patch, frills and gloves, lords and ladies and fops - --- Humour so pervaded her narration that I fell in love with the English language! My alienation from my own language was complete.

My estrangement from the imaginative world represented by Malayalam literature is the saddest thing that has happened to me. As I grew older, I moved into the world of English classics and poems. The breathtakingly beautiful paddy fields of Kerala skirted by beckoning coconut trees made me search for Wordsworthian terms to describe them. No muse works that way and the poet in me died. So did whatever creativity I had. Now I realize that one can create only in the language one thinks in, feels in - in the language that shapes one’s day to day life. I was trapped between two worlds – and was not resourceful enough to find a way out of this trap.

Today, I feel like a half baked creature. I fully realized what I lost when I got my first employment in a college in mid Travancore. my colleagues seemed to be at home with such a rich literature and culture. Jokes had to be explained to me and I didn’t find them funny. The humour was lost in the translation. Philosophical ruminations in Malayalam seemed part of the daily diet of my English department. And my colleagues felt guilty when they saw me trying to pretend I understood. Fortunately for me, my spoken Malayalam was extremely good. so I belonged as long as the conversation did not move into higher planes. But it did. too often. That is when I wrote that vitriolic poem about my Malayalam teacher who was instrumental in uprooting me even as I remained physically rooted.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Wth Sanjay Dutt’s judgement in the offing, the film industry is organizing a massive show of support. The RMM party is planning a rally in protest against the life sentence awarded to Shibu Soren. But what is most alarming is the Sidhu issue. He bashed a man to death in an incident of road rage eighteen years back but continued to play cricket; then became a commentator, an anchor, a very visible face on TV and therefore, finally a politician. Yesterday, on the fourth of December, he was convicted and sentenced to three years RI but given time till Jan 13 to appeal. Sidhu will appeal and keep himself out of prison for sometime.

True, it was not a premeditated, prepalanned murder but culpable homicide not amounting to murder. That said, let’s take another look at the whole issue, and a few worrisome facts will emerge.

· Had it been someone else in sidhu’s shoes, would he have been able to go on as he did with his high profile, highly visible existence, as if nothing had happened?

· Agreed. Sidhu was a national asset when the road rage happened. Does that mean that the democratic system that is ours should sideline the right to life of the Indian citizen Gurnam singh simply because he fell victim to celebrity rage?

· The most disgusting aspect of this issue is the callousness and smug confidence of Sidhu himself. For once, Sidhuism was terribly out of place – no. not just out of place. It was indecent, brash, insensitive and disgusting. ‘I have lit a lamp in many a storm’ said Navjot Sidhu after he was sentenced. With the top lawyer – cum - BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley by his side and the huge fan gathering expressing solidarity with lit candles, he knew he would get away with it. Never a word of apology, or any hint of regret at having taken a life. He behaves like a man who is fighting for the right to kill in a fit of anger, and get away with it! A man fighting for his right to be more equal than others!

· Equally disturbing is the resolve of the BJP to make him its ‘star campaigner’ in Punjab’!!!!!!. What’s the message the party wishes to convey? Violate every law of the land. Commit any serious crime you wish. We have a berthe for you if you can get us votes. How safe are our fundamental rights in the hands of such a party if it comes to power?

· Finally, the massive public support for a man who battered a human being to death. The reports say that it mattered nothing to the youngsters who were interviewed, that Siddhu was guilty of a extremely serious crime of assaulting a man to death FOR NO REASON. It was not in sef defence. It was not a drunken bout. It was a sheer display of arrogance from a person whose celebrity status had gone to his head to the extend of making him ruthless. Do we need such leaders? Does Punjab need such a chief minister, as he might well become? Is there such a poverty of law abiding citizens in that state?

There is something seriously wrong with our country. The rich, the powerful and the famous are gaining more and more confidence to commit grievous crimes, and the citizens are showing more and more willingness, not only to condone their criminal acts and forget their criminal past but also warmly embrace them into their fold. A dangerous trend reflective of erosion of a sense of right and wrong.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


This is my response to a blog by Mr. Joshi, the journalist. Quite sometime since I wrote it. Thought I’ll post it, being Babri Masjid demolition day

As you mentioned in passing, terror lurks not across the border alone. Dealing with indigenous terror network ought to be given top priority. I feel this area is not addressed in a committed, well organised and systematic manner.I am not thinking of draconian measures but of addressing the whole issue of the discontentment of the minority group in question, which, without doubt, is the Achilles heel that Pakistan is targeting. It is time the government put in place acts to tone down the anti-minority rhetoric, and expedited the judicial procedure to bring to book people guilty of acts of violence against the minorities.The government should enlist the help of revered and progressive personalities among the minority group to dialogue with the community which is being increasingly isolated in India. Also, secularism (which has become a dirty term!! in Indian politics) should be made reoccupy the central position it once did in Indian thinking. There is no denying that the extreme right wing elements are responsible for the minority youth's alienation from the motherland.The government has to work very hard to bring the post Babri Masjid generation back into mainstream national life. As a first step, we should correct out double vision when it comes to the definition of the term 'anti national'. The serial bombings are anti national, but Barbri Masjid is not; Bombay riots is not; Godhra train blast is anti-national, but the carnage that followed is not. Fear and force cannot contain terrorism. Even- handed justice alone can win the confidence of the confused Muslim youth.The confidence building measures should to start at home.


Today’s Bombay Times has an article by Pritish Nandy titled LUCKY SANJAY! BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OTHERS? It begins like this: Let me first start with a confession. Sanjay Dutt is a friend. Like the TADA court judge, I too believe he is no terrorist and that is why I repeatedly argued in his defence both in the media and before Bala saheb whose government released him from jail even as the congress wallahs were celebrating Sunil Dutt’s acute embarrassment. Like everyone else, I too am relieved that the TADA court has acquitted him of all charges under TADA. He will only be prosecuted now under the Arms Act for being in possession of illegal arms.
But let us now look at the judgements meted out to his friends and associates by the same court . . . . . .
. Nandy then goes on to list the people who supplied arms to Sanjay Dutt, subsequently removed them from his house . and the person in whose house they were stored till they were destroyed at his behest. Two of these were found guilty on the same score as Sanjay Dutt; others, under TADA, and so may get lifers.

And then, Nandy writes:
Frankly, I am no legal expert but I believe justice overrides all legal issues . . . . . . , (and) most people – particularly muslims who are currently feeling targeted, and with good reason – may see this as a grave injustice, that a man who ordered weapons, paid for them, kept them, and ordered them to be destroyed – got away free under TADA while those who only followed his instructions . . . . . . . .should be punished for aiding and abetting terrorism.

I find this a very muddle headed piece. Nandy starts by saying that he is so positive about Sanjay Dutt not being a terrorist that he turned no stone unturned to get him out of the can. Then, where is the miscarriage of justice if the TADA judge too found him innocent of terrorism charges? had he been found guilty by the TADA court for aiding and abetting terrorism, THAT would have been a miscarriage of justice.

As Nandy himself points out, like Sanjay Dutt , two others were also absolved of TADA charges where as four were found guilty under TADA. So Dutt was not the only one who was absolved of TADA charges. So it is not a case of soft-peddling of justice in Sanjay Dutt’s case alone, as insinuated by Nandy.

The situation appears very clear to me. Among the people who helped Dutt to acquire arms, some were part of the terrorist network while others were those who indulged in the illegal act of transporting weapons to make a quick buck. Both are crimes, but of varying gravity.

Don’t anyone mistake me for an ardent fan of Sanjay Dutt. I am not. But, it made me and many like me happy at seeing the judge exercising his discretion when he absolved Dutt and two others of TADA charges on being convinced, like nandy, that Sanjay Dutt was no terrorist. Most certainly, it is better than a judge throwing up his hands helplessly and saying that ‘I know this man is guilty, but the case was not presented well enough for me to convict him!’

If justice is , to quote nandy, about fairplay and even handedness, I think this is one case where the judiciary braved being labeled partisan and went ahead to pass a rational judgement.

The ides of March have come – but not yet gone. The sentences have not been passed yet. Is Nandy hoping to have some impact on that? Then what was all that song and dance about being Sanjay’s friend and being dead sure that he is not a terrorist?

Very disappointing to see a person like Mr. Nandy playing safe – trying to appease everybody – Sanjay, Balasaheb, and the muslim community! True, he took a pot shot at the congress – perhaps he was sure it wont boomerang –at least not hard enough to hurt.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Kerala - The Site for Modern Day Armageddon

What makes a place God’s own country? If it’s the resources and natural beauty that the Almighty has generously bestowed on it, then I guess, Kerala qualifies to be called that. But how long it’ll remain God’s own country is anybody’s guess. The Almighty’s arch rival has taken the battle right into the enemy camp. It appears as if in this oldest of all battles, Lucifer is gaining substantial victories in this coastal state and the Almighty will , before long, have to surrender his country to the prince of evil – unless of course He has some new rabbit in the hat like the lethal one he pulled out millenniums ago to devastate the army of fallen angels.

A laboured metaphor, I know. But it has its uses. the strain of laboriously yoking together the various images of the figure of speech, checks the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions. and when the emotion is helpless rage, the language might cross the line of decency - - -. rather a bad metaphor than allowing words to run away with you!

Just got back from kerala after a brief stay. The dominant emotion during the four day stay was anger with frustration as the constant companion.

Day 1. I was going down a one way pocket road in an auto. Half way thru, we got stuck in a traffic jam. Craning my neck, I looked out to see what caused the trouble. A hand cart, coming against the traffic flowing in the one way direction, blocked the narrow space between a parked lorry minus the driver and the open drainage gutter. A blue shirted worker stood there leaning against the cart, smoking a beedi nonchalantly. There were no vehicles behind him. The road was clear. Just a few steps back with his cart and the traffic would have passed smoothly. But, of course, he wouldn’t take those steps which distiguish a human from a beast!. The driver of the car whose path was blocked by this cart knew better than to plead or fight with the blue shirt wallah. He knew fully well the political and muscle clout of that shirt. Instead he came out, pleaded with the last of the long row of motorists behind his car. The other motorists cooperated. They had no choice. They knew it. And the long line of cars and autos reversed, adjusted and made way for the blue shirt to royally push the empty cart up the road. The whole exercise took more than twenty minutes!!

That road, I believe, is the domain of the likes of that blue shirt. They can get away with murder there. They are outside the jurisdiction of the law of the land, by virtue of their membership in a recognized union. Kerala has many such islands of organized groups who lie outside the law of the land. And this realtiy intrudes brutally into routine existence with an unfailing regularity,

Day 2. I had to - - - - - -- oh. forget it. am always cribbing. what good does it do?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Politicising Mullaperiyar

Chief Minister Karunanidhi's effort to politicise mullaperiyar issue is a classic example of how callous politicians can get for their political survival. If he is dead certain that the dam is safe, can he be made to give a personal guartantee that no catastrophe will follow if kerala complies with his request for increasing the water level? can he, and all those who certify the safety of the dam, give similar guarantees, holding themselves accountable for the catastrophe(god forbid!) that is feared by the kerala government - accountability involves provisions for criminal case being slapped on them, followed by possible nonbailable retention? If people are so sure that the dam will hold, this should be no problem.

of couse, all these guarantees cannot make the govt. of kerala agree to the demand.What is involved is human lives. The other day, one worthy from Tamilnadu was ridiculing CM Achuthanandan's claim about five districts being washed away into the Arabian sea. He feels that at the most only two districts are exposed to the feared danger!

The population of two kerala districts being washed away is a calculated risk that can be taken to provide water to tamilnadu?!!!!!????? how can people talk like this and get away with it? Guess that is the 'beauty' of Indian democracy - an aesthetic gratification that we can afford to do without!

Kerala CM's suggestion seems to be the best- a new dam be built jointly by the two states.

Politicising resouce sharing issues should be made a puinishable crime in India as it can have a divisive impact.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Almost sixty years since we got independence and we are still reluctant to let go of the memories and influence of that anglo-saxon presence, which, though best forgotten, continues to haunt us like stolen, happy moments of a shameful past.

What a lot of tears are being shed about Bangalore becoming Bangalooru. The other day, a jet set youngster was passionately mourning the passing away of Bangalore – said Bangalore will always remain Bangalore to him. I asked him what the word Bangalore meant that its replacement should cause such dejection. He thought for a moment – obviously at a loss for words – and then came out with ‘well, it’s a smart name where as Bangalooru sounds stupid.’.

‘What?’, I ventured gingerly (these youngsters are so assertive, particularly if the are technosavvy), ‘Bangalooru has a meaning and you find that stupid whereas the meaningless Banglaore is smart. So to utter meaningless words is smart – and meaningful ones is stupid?’

‘There you go again’ he said. ‘Playing with words’.

‘But not meaningless words’. I dared.

The guy turned red in the face and went off in a huff, but not before throwing over his shoulders the only sensible statement from him in the course of the whole conversation.

‘Bangalore is global where as the other is dicey,

Dicey. A favourite term with the tech savvy generation who operate with broad spectrum terms when they find themselves in domains outside their tech field. Nevertheless, he has a point there. Guess Banglored is easier to manage than Bangaloorued – but then why are we so bothered about how someone sitting in some other part of the world will manage to get his tongue around our names, words? For four odd centuries , our culture suffered distortion at the hands of people who had no business to be here - a fact reflected most arrestingly in the anglicisation of place and person names - something we accepted with slavish and sycophantic indulgence and pleasure. Now that we are in a position to call the shots, let’s do it, dammit! why are we still so concerned about making life easier for the west? I suggest that all chatterjees go back to Chattopadhayas and mukherjees to Mukhopadhyaya. It would be nice, for a change, to see the white man stumbling and stuttering over our external affairs minister’s name!

Let us take this reversion to the original place names in the spirit in which it is done. I don’t think it is an instance of playing to the galleries. It is an effort to redeem the national pride which took one hell of a beating at the hands of the angrezi rulers. It is an effort to go back to a past of which we can be proud. What a lot of history is compressed in the name Ttiruvananthapurum? I was so happy when the capital city was liberated from the meaningless nomenclature TRIVANDRUM . Even as children, we used to think it was a ridiculous name and used to break it up into Tree, van and drum and then literally translate each of these component parts into Malayalam as MARA(=TREE) VANDI(=VAN) CHENDA(=DRUM) – Maravandichenda is how we used to ridicule the then official name Trivandrum. Place names loaded with meaning and history become gibberish when anglicized to suit the outsiders’ vocal organs.

And am sure the deity himself was pleased to have been restored to his rightful position as the patron of the city.

Child labour, India, ILO and Ms. Renuka Chowdhury, Union Minister for Women & Child Development

The Indian Express (November 20, 2006) had a story about the Union Minister of State for Women & Child Development Renuka Chowdhury calling for a relaxation on international laws on Child labour. (The highlights of her statement given at the end of this piece).

The minister should be congratulated for boldly calling for a qualification of the international laws on child labour. The courageous lady has the guts to call a spade a spade. Her questioning of the ILO’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy should be taken seriously by the government. It is time India challenged the western standards as the last word on every issue. Time we asserted that certain human rights norms evolved in a particular region do not always have universal applicability. East is east and west is west and there are areas where the twain cannot meet. The ILO’s laws regarding child labour is one of them. A child learning a traditional craft in her home is no more deprived, as the Ms. Chowdhury rightly pointed out, of her childhood as a child subjected to rigorous training to make tennis or swimming star out of her. In the former case the child learns the trade at its own pace, either in the most comfortable environment – the home -, or with a master craftsman who factors in the tender age of the child while imparting the skill. A practice that was followed so successfully for centuries cannot be declared a violation of human rights by the self styled arbiters of human welfare. The Christian west which has appropriated the prerogative of laying down rules for children’s rights, should not forget that Jesus Christ learnt carpentry the most natural way - as an apprentice to his father. I doubt he waited till he became a major before he started his training in the workshop!

Needless to say, the concept of a child picking up the traditional craft from the parent or a master craftsman does not necessarily imply denial of education to him. Training in the craft can/should happen in tandem with school going. Perhaps an alternative school system can be evolved to bring education to such children, where the curriculum is more spaced out and the burden of homework is reduced or done away with till the child reaches the age when he can handle both.

A research into the traditional system of training the child in crafts would show that the child very often enjoys working alongside the parent/master craftsman, particularly since the training does not happen in a structured, regimented way, demanding rigorous time management. The craft is picked up along the way, at a very easy pace. The learning takes place in a relaxed, pleasurable manner, on the child’s own terms. Without any violation of rights or deprival of childhood, the craft is picked up in the most natural fashion, in a manner that creates in the child love for the craft and that expertise leading to its mastery. This expertise is superior to any training acquired in a modern classroom or workshop, as, in the traditional set up, the air the child breathes is permeated with the love and reverence for the craft, its culture and history, its idiom and the way of life it entails.

Ms Chowdhury’s ‘earning while learning’ policy is a call for the revival of a particular system, a particular way of life which is on the brink of extinction, being unable to withstand the pressure from the draconian laws of the Government of India and to survive in the absence of a support system in the competitive market. However, Ms. Chowduhry’s call for its reinstatement gains legitimacy only if the change in policy regarding child labour imperatively incorporates steps to put in place support systems that would ensure that practice of these crafts is life sustaining. The order in which the traditional crafts flourished is today replaced by ‘modern’ economic and vastly different political systems. And with large scale industrialization, liberalization, privatization, and a market driven economy where marketing is a billion dollar business, traditional crafts will require comprehensive government protection for survival, at least till they are rehabilitated; and if the government deals with the issue with a missionary spirit, traditional crafts can become burgeoning business, improving village economy and making rural youth generators of wealth. Government subsidy for the acquisition of raw materials, financial support for infrastructural requirements, aggressively ensuring market for the homespun products, protection from exploitation by big players and retailers, and whatever else that has to be done must accompany the amendment that the minister wishes to bring about.

Finally, monitoring systems should exist whereby any aberration leading to child exploitation is effectively detected and corrected.

If such an environment is created, this move might be a partial answer to the massive problem that has been beleaguering the country for a long time –namely, the huge exodus to the cities coupled with the death of villages. Besides, it will prevent the dying of the crafts while generating employment in an effortless and most natural manner.

Remember what Gandhiji said – take care of the villages and the country will take care of itself.

Highlights of the Union Minister of State for Women & Child Development Renuka Chowdhury’s ’s statement

The ban on child labour should be eased to allow children to pick up traditional crafts such as carpet-weaving within the family structure. “ Traditionally, our arts and crafts have been passed down from parent to child at work place, whether at home or outside. But today, a parent is fined Rs20,000/ if the child is found working at the loom or weaving a carpet. Why can’t the children learn a skill within the family structure that can equip him for the future to earn a livelihood? . . . .The immediate benefit would be that there will not be so many cases of runaway children who get exploited in cities and towns as cheap and quick labour.”

She says that “international laws on child labour have been highly insensitive to local and regional issues. ILO has made sweeping ban on buying products made by children. WE too are signatories to anti-child labour laws without putting our minds to it. It cannot be a one-size-fits-all policy”. She will be forwarding a proposal on this – a ‘learning while earning policy’ – to the Union Labour minister, and hopes that the ‘Labour Ministry will be able to make a case for India’s unique situation and highlight our policy in international fora without being afraid of saying what is right for us”.

· She feels that the blanket ban in India based on the ILO laws, actually denies children the right to a profession or livelihood, preventing them from picking up vital skills passed on by master craftsmen. “Why can’t we have laws where the rights of children are protected in an environment where a child is safe and secure?”

The primary goal of the government which is to ensure that all children have access to education, nutrition and healthcare, should be seen in the context of Indian reality of employment generation, especially in traditional industries”. In 2020, India will be the country with the largest, youngest productive force in the world. Today, there are no rural universities in rural areas; primary education is a mirage outside urban areas. Are we equipping our children to face the future with no proper education or training?”

And finally her clinching query. “We applaud China when it recruits six-year old and turns them into world class gymnasts or the west turns young children into tennis stars through rigorous, grueling training. Why is there a hue and cry only when we want to impart our traditional skills to our children?”

Friday, November 10, 2006


Written way back in 1916, Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, which is a is a critique of the then much hailed “ modernism”, has a chapter on Education. Very unambiguously, he explains his strong views on the system of education introduced into India by the British. He himself was a beneficiary of this system but he claims that he had to unlearn what he learned from this western education in order to fulfill his dharma.

In order to appreciate his views – which will appear outlandish to us, as it did to his readers then – we too, will have to, like Gandhi, liberate our mind from the conditioning that it has been subjected to by the legacy of four centuries of colonization.

This is what he had this to say about the western concept of education (Gandhi’s quotes in bold italics followed by my limited efforts to understand/interpret his views.)

Gandhiji: What is the meaning of education? It simply means a knowledge of letters. It is merely an instrument, and an instrument may be well used and abused. The same instrument that may be used to cure a patient may be used to take away his life, and so may a knowledge of letters.-----------
me: The concept of education that we inherited from the British aimed at increasing knowledge but not wisdom, and intelligence but not the intellect. The failure of modern civilization is the de-linking of the former from the latter, in both the cases, for which the modern education is largely responsible. To this divorce of knowledge and intelligence(literacy?) from wisdom and intellect( education in the true sense?) can be attributed the headlong plunge of modern civilization into disaster on a global scale. It is in this unfortunate severance of literacy from education that we should seek explanation for, say for instance, nuclear research prioritizing the destructive potential over the constructive. Just imagine, what a different place this world would have been if the resources spent on developing nuclear bombs were directed towards energy and medical research! This is an example of how education becomes an abused instrument.

Gandhiji: The ordinary meaning of education is a knowledge of letters. To teach boys reading, writing and arithmetic is called primary education. ………………………..Our ancient school system is enough. Character-building has the first place in it and that is primary education. A building ( by this he means modern education based on western model) erected on that foundation will last.
me. Gandhi strongly believed that education should imperatively impart morality and values that would create in the individual self- respect and respect for others, make him conscious of the spiritual being in him, train him to tap the strengths and potential that lie therein and sensitise him to his role and duty as the member of a superior species. In short, basic or primary education should focus on enabling the student to internalize the concept of dharma. Once this is achieved, modern education can be imparted – ‘a building erected on that foundation will last”, for then, there will be no misuse of that instrument called education. Science without conscience, development without humane considerations, a worldview without factoring in the variety in human circumstances – all these are the products of the narrow definition of education on which the western model is constructed. He goes on to say . . . .

A peasant earns his bread honestly. He has ordinary knowledge of the world. He knows fairly well how he should behave towards his parents, wife, his children and his fellow villagers. He understands and observes the rules of morality. But he cannot write his own name. What do you propose to do by giving him a knowledge of letters? Will you add an inch to his happiness? Do you wish to make him discontented with his cottage or his lot?------- - - -
me: the last sentence. that is exactly what colonization did - alienated communities from their traditional culture, from traditional way of life. The new order, mistakenly believed by the colonizer, to have universal applicability, was imposed. The biggest loser was the African continent. India was affected, but not irretrievably, for she had a highly evolved value based culture to fall back on – a fact that is recorded to have confused the colonizer. They often mention that even the most anglicized Indian, even with his western education continues to remain an Indian at heart.

Gandhiji: Now, let us take higher education. I have learned Geography, Astronomy, geometry etc. What of that? In what ways have I benefited myself or those around me? Why have I learned these things? Professor Huxley has thus defined education: “ That man I think has had a liberal education who has been so trained in youth that his body is the ready servant of his will…..whose mind is stored with a knowledge of the fundamental truths of nature…whose passions are trained to come to heel by a vigorous will, the servant of tender conscience ….who has learnt to hate all vileness and to respect others as himself..”
If this is true education, I must emphatically say that the sciences I have enumerated above I have never been able to use for controlling my senses. Therefore, whether you take elementary education or higher education, it is not required for the main thing. It does not make men of us. it does not enable us to do our duty.
: It is important to note that Gandhi believed that the primary duty of education is to make “make men of us”. Gandhi repeatedly reminds man that he is a higher being than the beast. What distinguishes man from the beast is his dharma consciousness. Any system of education that fails to instill this dharma consciousness, or ‘fails to make men of us” is worthless.

Gandhiji: In its (education’s) place it can be of use and it has its place when we have brought our senses under subjection and put our ethics on a firm foundation…..
me: Modern education is constructive or rather becomes not destructive only when its recipient has evolved spiritually enough to be in total command of his bestial self; ie when the material man is managed by the spiritual man.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Today’s View & Counter View columns in TOI dicuss the issue of Delhi University conferring honorary doctorate degree on Amitabh Bachan. I have never been a Bachan fan, and so read through the piece hoping to be enlightened on the qualities of the actor that I have failed to recognize and therefore appreciate. Times View says that the university’s decision was a strategy to bolster its sagging popularity ratings among the students & the general public. Well, well! not a flattering statement about a premier university! But we have seen the Bachan magic working. Remember, when the cadbury’s sales plummeted following an adulteration scandal, Bachan was signed up by the company to be its new brand ambassador ?– and Cadbury’s bounced back!! So cant blame the university for hitting upon this bright idea – Only, a university is meant to produce scholars, not chocolate heroes!

The Counter View justified the practice of universities awarding honorary doctorates on luminaries, and in this context, had only this to say about Bachan. "A filmfare award for AmitabhBbachan is an entirely different form of tribute than a doctorate. The former honours his talent as a performer and his contribution to the film industry; the latter recognizes him as one who has added to learning, culture, society and civilization as awhole” !!!!!!(the exclamations, mine).

Will someone explain how Bachan has contributed to learning, culture, society and civilization? The article didn’t help much. It stopped talking about Bachan after this tall claim and went on to talk about the contributions of maestros of traditional music, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan etc. But not another word by way of explanation about how Bachan altered the course of civilization.

Talking about his talent as a performer, I must admit I am in no way competent to talk about Bachan as an actor. I don’t think I have sat through more than five films in which he has acted. Have seen a lot more in snatches. I liked him in “Anand “. I remember thinking, here is a very promising new face. Over decades, the new face became familiar, then too familiar, then oppresivley omnipresent – but the promise remained unfulfilled. With the onset of age, the stereotyped angry young man became an angry old man.

The trouble with him as an actor, I think, is Amitabh Bachan is Amitabh Bachan whatever role he plays. He is trapped in his own personality and his image. His negative capability is zero. The public, the film makers and agents of power that decide on awards have been hoodwinked by his popularity; but popularity, we know, is no proof of talent. MGR was more popular than Bachan - he could sway the electorate, something which Bachan could not do. But MGR was no great actor.

Guess Bachan owes his success to media. Given his limited histrionic talent, he would have faded gracefully into oblivion, had not the media prevented it.

This is my take on the Big B as a thespian. I could be wrong. It is possible that my inability to relate to Hindi films on account of the language barrier could be the reason for my inability to become a hard core Bachan fan.

But I am curious about Amitabh Bachan as a cultural factor. This is something worth making a study on. What is his appeal to the masses? The angry young man image going down with the audience is easy to understand. But after that? An inquiry into this might, perhaps, throw up some interesting truths about a post colonial, developing nation and a pluralistic society.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Kerala - a media constructed image?

Come the electronic revolution and some of our age old charmers begin to disappear. Distance is one of them. It no longer lends charm. No more nostalgia when I think of my state down south skirting the Arabian Sea. For a Keralite like me, living away from home, distance is one of the most tragic casualties of technological advancement. All that 1000 odd km distance between Mumbai and Kerala is neutralised by the relentless intrusion of the print and visual media into my Mumbai home. Advantage distance is removed from the rules of the game.

The keralite in Mumbai gets the Malayalam newspaper along with the TOI. Old habits die hard and mornings see me settling down in the most comfortable chair with black coffee and the Mayalayala Manorama. Sadly, the news that greets me is far from nostalgia inducing. Reading the Malayalam daily is like staring at the sickly underside of Kerala. It's replete with stories of lightning strikes, hartals, assaults on public figures, destruction of public property, sexual harassment, corruption, sexapades of men in high positions, political leaders spewing vitriol and sabotaging development activities, srikers transforming the secretariat premises into public latrine, opposition trying every trick in the book to stall the government functioning and to subvert progressive measures- - - - . And then the two news pages packed with obituaries and gory details of accident, freak deaths !!! I don’t think there is any other people in the world so obsessed with death – and there is any other state whose newspapers look forward to death more eagerly than the undertaker and the coffin maker, or compete with each other to bag death news! I don’t know if the egg or the chicken came first – whether it is the Malayalam newspapers pandering to keralites’ morbid cravings or this craving is created and fed by the papers. Whatever it is, we really are a strange and unique people!

At the end of the day, I stretch myself before the TV , surf through Malayalam channels - and see what the eye should not behold. Gnashing teeth, youngsters who should be in classrooms pelting stones and smashing buildings , wrecked buses, glass splinters, helpless policemen, netas gleefully taking political mileage out of violence which , perhaps, they themselves set afoot, that endangered species called honest politicians throwing up their helpless hands - - - - -,reminding me of that poet's ominous prophesies about the end of days:

The ceremony of innocence is drowned
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Sometimes, I tend to think, things are not as bad as they are made to appear by the media. Doesn’t anything good happen in kerala? Are there no healthy practices in this state? I begin to suspect that irresponsible media practices have a hand in bringing the state to this condition. Surely there is a good, healthy and inspiring side to the state that deserves to be brought out - and sensationalised. This is not to say that media should not cover social evils. It should- but it can surely strike a balance. Let the media, for a change, look for what is right with the state – and sensationalise that. Let it give wide coverage to the honest, the hard working, the principled, the ethical, the humane, the constructive, the positive elements in kerala life, and, sideline the cantankerous elements who hog the limelight and thrive and survive on the state wide attention handed out on a platter by media. This is an experiment worth trying. It might have a very positive impact on and transform the mindset of the people.

But this demands a high level of commitment on the part of media, especially print media. It implies a possible reduction of circulation of papers, for the voracious appetite for gore and filth created in the reader by media would not take well to being deprived of it usual meal. Media must make amends for conditioning its readers thus. It must make a serious effort to de-condition the reader.

High circulation newspapers with a long history should begin this trend. It should break this vicious circle of pandering to a conditioned taste. There is nothing more revolting than a grandmother pandering to the salacious cravings of her little children. She is morally bound to inspire them to mend their ways – even at the cost of losing favour with them. Or she would be remembered as the dirty old lady who stooped to conquer her dissolute children by pimping for them.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Post Kerala Piravi Delirium

Kerala piravi is over.

now we can shed the mask and ask ourselves – what’s is wrong with us?
why didn’t we have the graciousness to set aside the strike at least on that special day which is or should be an emotional one?

the answer is simple. our hearts are so hardened that we FEEL no more.

we have become a barbaric people. no. worse.

we are sub human.

strong words, I know. but well deserved. well earned.

a private bus owner association official goes public with such profundities as, “getting killed by a speeding vehicle is just another disaster - like the tsunami. it is nature’s way of checking population growth.” !!!!! that’s the Malthusian theory for you. customized, kerala style!!

and why not? we are, after all, a highly literate populace.

literate, yes. and we have that rare honour of reversing that taken-for-granted theory that literacy is the key to development.

kerala has proved that literacy brings out the worst in human beings.

Let’s take a quick look at what literacy does to the keralite:

it deprives him of all civic sense. look at the waste skirting the prestigious MG Road in Kochi or streets in posh residential areas. each man keeps his house in order and dumps waste on public roads. affluent denizens of cities creep out of their luxury bunglows with food waste in their imported cars and stealthily dump them on roads!!!!!!!

literacy teaches him not clean up his mess but leave it behind for the world to see. wash rooms in bus and railway stations and airports will testify to this.

it makes him self centred . nay. self obsessed. obsessed with his rights. indifferent to his duties. angry at being called to account. it’s each man for himself. my rights at the cost of my neighbour’s.

it creates a cockeyed understanding of the dignity of labour. a maniacal, touchy obsession with the dignity of the LABOURER – but a supreme contempt for the labour he is paid for. thus we have attimari, umpteen breaks( extended chai and lunch breaks, beedi breaks, back –stretch breaks, nature’s call breaks, warming up breaks, winding up breaks – you name it) in between the 9am to 5pm working hours, additional grease for the palm which receives payment from the taxpayers money - - -

it causes aggression to be imported into his language and body language. and cynicism too.

and the casualty is refinement, self respect and respect for others – and productivity.

our education is all skewed. our educational system has given us literacy divorced from education.

sheer coincidence. I was brooding over this issue when I stumbled upon the chapter on education in Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj. he challenges our educational system which was created for a different culture and imported into India during the colonial days. he does have a way of hitting the nail on the head!

but then, that’s a subject for another blog. should be treated with the respect it deserves.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


On the fiftieth anniversary of Kerala, the Malayalee will wake up to find the state held to ransom for the second day by heavy vehicle owners. This state will probably starve if the strike is not called off within a week. So productive is God’s own country!!!!!

But no. I want to think positive - at least on this 50th year of the day Kerala acquired an identity.

For a change, I want to talk about what is right with Kerala.

To keep the blog sufficiently long, I shall include some pleasant experiences of being in Kerala.

The day after the 9/11 twin tower disaster, I took an auto early in the morning to the railway station. The middle - aged auto driver talked all the way to the station about US foreign policy, WTC, Osama, and his take on this issue. He spoke so much sense that I felt he should be doing something other than driving an auto. Perhaps he too realized this, which explained his behaviour at other times! Is this a matter to celebrate? Why not? That is the level of awareness of the average Malayalee.

One can sit in a restaurant, travel in a train, and wait in the bus station without being a victim of passive smoking. In the other Sates , often times, eating out or waiting in public places become a torture with the smell of cigarette smoke intruding into your breathing space. On these occasions, I wish I were back home.

When I fall sick, I always wish to be back in Kerala. There is no place like Kerala for medical care. The easy availability of competent doctors, efficiently run and affordable hospitals and clinics in every nook and corner of the state – it is something we can truly be proud of and be grateful for.

Move out of the towns and cities in Kerala, and the landscape is breathtaking. Truly designed by the Almighty, and executed under His personal supervision!!!!!

And to top it all , we have a Chief Minister who is occasionally a super duper entertainer, three ministers at the Centre, Sreesant in the cricket team, and Smart City and speed governors threatening to be born.

My muse fails me. Can you add to this, dear reader?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Looking back at Indira Gandhi days - briefly

A little before noon on 31st October, 1984, I entered the staff room after a lecture to find my colleagues silent and looking dazed. The news of Indira Gandhi’s assassination had just reached the college. Idefinite closure of college was immediately announced. Being an assassination, no one was sure of the turn events might take.

I returned home, noticing that the shops in the busy shopping area had their shutters down, except a vegetable shop which kept one panel open to clear the shop of vegetables at five star rates, to the milling crowd of women who were anxiously buying whatever they could. What if caesar is dead? life has to go on - - .

It is twenty two years now. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. Recalling that stunned feeling at the news of the assassination,(the stunned effect stretched out for a couple of days!!), I now wonder why I reacted thus to a person of whom I was highly critical for various ideological reasons.

I think like many others, I too felt a sense of security with the country in the hands of a Nehru progeny. Things have changed now ( or have they? ). Bear with me while I take a backward glance to sort out my position on Indira Gandhi’s role in the making of India.

As the daughter of Nehru, Indira Gandhi was always on the periphery national consciousness. But when Kamaraj put her in the PM’s seat, she moved from the margins to the centre of discussions. A lot of anger and resentment always accompanied the mention of her name. Though I was too young at that time to understand the ramifications of the Syndicate and the Bangalore meeting etc, I was, however, old enough to sense that a lot of this anger had to do with her being a woman as also with the dynastic nature of her rise to the highest post in the country.

Older and wiser(?!) now, I think Indira Gandhi was what the country needed at that juncture of India’s development. While the Nehruvian era with its mixed economy and license raj helped stabilize a recuperating nation, Indira Gandhi tried to break the country free from the shackles of a constitution not fully suited for a country whose economic imbalance was dangerously precarious. Riding high on her popularity , she boldly struck down the privy purse & privileges which, we must admit, was an obscene burden on a nation whose BPl number was enormous. I think I am quite right in believing that if this bill had not been passed then overriding the supreme court decision, India would still be saddled with this huge liability.

The Indo-Pak war and the liberation of Bangla Desh, and the Pokharan blast sent the message to the world that India was not to be messed around with. Indira Gandhi’s bold leadership caused India to become a superpower in the subcontinent.

The emergency was definitely something the country could have done without. Ms Gandhi had shown strong indications of the autocratic streak in her earlier when she appointed Ray as the CJI superseding three senior judges. But the opposition was no match for her at that time to bring in built-in defences against misuse of power.

Needless to say a lot of gray areas remain with regards to her - like 60 lakh State Bank of India scandal and the mysterious death of the culprit Rustom Sorab Nagarwala, her role in the emergency atrocities, her giving her son a free hand to deal with the country as though it were his grandfather’s property.

But I would like to give her the benefit of the doubt. It is possible that like many Indians, she too believed the myth that India is Indira and vice versa . She too believed that she was indispensable. She too believed that only she could provide a secular, national, democratic leadrship that could take the country forward in its ordeal of recovering from centuries of colonial exploitation and deep rooted social injustice. Emergency may not have been an effort to merely hang on to power for its own sake. She might have foolishly believed, or been made to believe by sycophants, that the country would dissolve into anarchy if she steps down.

I am surprised to find myself taking such a lenient view of Ms Gandhi. But time , I guess, changes perspectives.

Friday, October 27, 2006


you could have knocked me down with a feather when I heard that A. K. Antony made it to the centre as, of all the things, the defense minister!!! wonder what made the PM or the super PM pick him for this high profile, high tension, high pressure portfolio. maybe it has somthing to do with his initials AK?

jokes aside, it could be a well meaning decision. with the defense ministry coming under a cloud. Mr.Clean can have a detergent effect, on the other hand, it could be a very smart decision. it’s common knowledge that Antony has this habit of dropping ministerial positions like hot potato the moment he begins to suspect the stink of a rotten deal. perhaps he’s seen as a stop gap arrangement who will make his own exit when the seat gets hot.

I used to be a huge fan of Antony. but during his last stint as the chief minister of kerala, he made too many mistakes in the name of party unity. and see where he landed his party in the state! he did not put his foot down on a few occasions when he should have.

but am sure that the erstwhile Antony fans are happy that he is given another chance to prove himself. an honest man in Indian politics is so rare a phenomenon that he should be given every possible chance and space to leave behind an impact. one never knows –Antony may surprise everyone with the sterner side he briefly exhibited immediatley after he took over as the CM of kerala in 2001.

honestly, I can’t help wishing him success. it reflects poorly on a polity that has no use for integrity.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


what’s in a name. asked shakespeare. if u call a rose a lily, it still remains a rose (misquote – but that’s the sum and substance of what this elizabethan ambani said – did u know shakespeare was a hugely successful entrepreneur?)

what’s in a name? why, everything. how else do u explain the fact that shobha de continues to write for TOI? a time was when she was highly readable – that’s a thing of the past. creative senility has definitely set in. if not for her name , would a high circulation daily publish the type of inane stuff she churns out now, which is not even fit for the page 3 where she has an occasional column which she fills with random droppings!

if there is nothing in a name, why do people in kerala pay to have their names included in family histories which, incidentally, is a fad that has sustained itself for more than twenty years now. initially historians were very particular about confirming lineage before including the names of families which claim some remote connection. today, georgekutty can do the trick. georgekutty, by the way, is a Malayalam slang for money, a term derived from the bust of king george which once appeared on currency coins.

why do a certain community in the konkan coast go on an expedition into their past to excavate their ancestors identities in order to add their caste name to the existing ones? in these parts, combinations like hazel huddlestone kamath, clement d’souza prabhu etc are very common.

if a name is of no consequence, why do jayalaithaas and a host pf other celebrities add or subtract letters to/from their names, in consultation with numerologists?

why did it take me more than a year to name my daughter, braving the dire consequences of each person in the house calling her his/her favourite name during the interim period? – the good news is that she is a tough one now, having been used to being called names early in life!!

aren’t we righteously ignited when someone tries to tarnish our name? isn’t there a good chance of us having a few of our teeth knocked off if we indulge in name-calling? dont we shed blood, sweat and tears to live up to our name? or our family’s? or our organisation’s? don’t we switch on to a deferential mode at the mention of a big name in the locality ? don’t police interrogators treat human suspects like punching bags to make them name names? if you are involved in some activity, good or bad, isn’t it exceedingly important that you know the name of the game? when we indulge in deliberately casual name dropping, don’t heads turn to take another look at us?

and don’t the nameless dead sink unceremoniously into oblivion? and isn’t the nameless benefactor deprived of the gratitude due to him?

hey, shakespeareji, want to eat your words? you’ll most certainly want to do that if you come to know of the kind of freudian interpretations your name is being subjected to?

Monday, October 23, 2006


just came back from a walk – the last two laps were to the tune of woh lamhe – fast and slow versions. (had my ipod with me)

what an astounding number – cannot describe it well enough – so shall borrow my son’s words when he first told me about this song

a haunting song, he said, with no beginning or end. the voice which renders it belongs to someone who is hollow inside – and listening to it that hollowness is transferred to you!

I was totally perplexed – hollowness – last thing u expect from music – isn’t it a scary idea? to feel hollow (the term evokes eliot’s scary hollow men!)

and then I heard woh lamhe- yes. math was right. it has no beginning or end – it goes in circles – leads to no destination – and sure it’s hollow – like melody liberated from matter – emanating from a mind or soul purged of gross matter – that is the hollow I think math meant – not the eliotian hollow.

initially, I felt very sad I couldn’t follow hindi – coudnt understand the lyrics.

that doesn’t matter anymore – I think it is better this way – what is left to the imagination, they say, is infinitely superior – the unheard melody – no demystification., not for this number.

started taking interest in sufi after wo lamhe - - -

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Discovering the Mahatma

For the life of me, I cant understand what took me so long to undertake this mission of discovering Gandhi. It is a shame, for I belong to the post independence generation where Gandhi was still very much part of t living memory, and often a topic of discussion at the dining tables. yet Gandhi, to me,remained just a little more than the bits and pieces of information that sank into my mind from the text books as also from the air I breathed. As I grew older,i heard less and less of Gandhi - there was a progressive depletion of the mahatma's presence in the atmosphere.

I read the Experiments With Truth in my early teens. Parts of it made me blush – such a prude I was! Parts of it sounded like extracts from a catechism text book. A lot of it I didn’t understand..

My next rendez-vouz with Gandhi was when I taught nehru’s prose in the college classrooms. I could comfortably sail thru Nehru, but come a quote from Gandhi and I’d get stuck. Strangely enough, somewhere deep down in me, I understood the Mahatma’s words fully well – but to put his views across to my students, I struggled. Found my language inadequate. Hey, I thought, this dude is a tough nut.

And then there was attenborough’s Gandhi – haven’t kept count of how many times I have seen it. Whatever anyone may say of the movie, Gandhi comes across as I have always understood him, tho my contact with his thought and personality was minimal

Of late the great man has become an obsession with me ( no thanks to munnabhai – have not yet seen the movie – shall do so soon). I visited Mani Bhavan a couple of times and moved thru the room with an honoured feeling that I am literally following the hallowed footsteps of a - well, what was he?


a down to earth commonsensical philosopher?

a doctor of humankind with the sharpest of diagnostic acumen?

A man with a concentration of soul power that rendered futile the most sophisticated arsenal?

Or just another human being who fully comprehended his potential as a member of the human species and set out to tap it to the full?

What on earth was this man? the ninth incarnation?

And why did we Indians abandon him?

He showed us the way. Why didn’t we take that route?


Do I see signs of his resurrection?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Superstition or lost wisdom?

Was responding to a blog on a pet cat. One thing led to another and finally I ended up talking of superstitions.

There is a belief in kerala (elsewhere also? I don’t know) that a domestic cat disappearing from a house portends death. The cat, it seems, can smell death. Of course, the present generation educated rational keralites just shrug off such beliefs as superstitions, and therefore nonsense.

Sometimes I wonder. All those beliefs handed down for generations Рare they all nonsense? After all they represent the accumulated wisdom of a people who handed down the zero and yoga and natyasastra and ayurveda. Surely, to repeat the clich̩, our ancestors were no fools.

Take this cat business. Can cats smell death? I don’t know. But I also don’t know that cats cannot smell death. How much do we know about the dumb creatures? Not much. guess they are not rational but their instincts are very sharp, not toned down like man’s by the intellect . maybe an oncoming death creates a certain ambience or sends out signals which man cannot sense but an animal like a cat can. How do we know? How can we say that whatever we don’t know for sure – what cant be tested in the lab – does not exist? Surely there are things which lie beyond human comprehension, beyond the rational and intellectual faculties of man. It’s arrogant and foolish to deny this. And that’s what we do when we label everything that is not ‘scientific’ or ‘rational’ as superstition.

It was with great amusement that I watched zachs (of headlines today) interviewing an astrologer after the disqualification of Pluto. He kept on asking “now that the universe has changed, what happens to astrology?” . zach doesn’t seem to understand that universe has not changed with the disqualification of Pluto. What has changed is man’s perception or rather the perception of modern astronomy, of the universe. Secondly, and more importantly, astrology is based on a particular mode of knowing the universe which is different from the mode of knowing it in modern astronomy. The mode of knowing of these two disciplines is determined by the disciplinary agenda of each. The major concern of Indian astrology is the position of heavenly bodies coupled with them coming in conjunction with each other. The size of Pluto is immaterial to astrological calculations.(unfortunately, the astrologer that zach was bulldozing was not articulate enough to get this point across). the fact that the Indian astrologer’s approach to the cosmos does not figure significantly in the modern astronomical science does not mean astrology is mere superstition. I would call this attitude downright stupidity, proceeding from the arrogance of modern scientific confidence (false?) based on the faith (superstitious. Ha! ) that it has in its possession the world ordering knowledge.

I have an earlier blog titled extra sensory perception. How would a scientist explain my experience? He would either say that I am bluffing( I am not), or that I am schizophrenic (I am not). my experience was real. Since no science can explain it, it would be dismissed as, to quote russel, ‘intellectual rubbish’!

How dull life would be if it is made up of only those things that can stand the test of the dissection table!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Nobel Prize for Gandhi? Spare him, please!!

Wonder how Gandhiji would have reacted had he been chosen for the Nobel Prize. Am sure it would have meant nothing to him but he would have come out with one of his typical humorous one liners.

Asked once about his views on the western civilization, he replied with a twinkle in his eyes,"it's a good idea!". would have been interesting to see what he would have had to say about the "idea's" idea of peace!

the nobel committe has come out with confessions about its embarrssment about not having conferred the Peace prize on Gandhi. But it is very much in order that Gandhi was not given the prize. he is not of the stature that can be contained by a prize.

P'haps, the Nobel peace committee realised that. or could it be they couldnt figure him out? his lack of consistency, it appears, is one reason he lost it to someone else on one occasion? or maybe, they had not evolved enough to guage his greatness.

whatever the reason, thank God he was spared. let them not confer on him posthumously, ever. just imagine gGndhiji being bracketed with some of the recent recipients!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

If they don't have water, give them coke!

(my comment to a blog on a the issue of kerala shutting down coke plant)

the pesticide issue was only a pretext to give the marching orders to coke unit. the present kerala CM had been fighting to have this unit shut .
dont get me wrong- am not an ardent leftist in my views- but i do have me reservations about the development model adopted by india. i know for sure that a lot of small players have gone under with the ruthless liberalisation which does not factor in their predicament. go ahead and liberalise, privatise, open up - our economy needs that no doubt. but the government must take care of the fall out of its policies. there should be systems and alternative measures in place which will protect the small players, ensure them the same dignified life that they enjoyed with the occupation that sustained them. it's as simple as that. the country cannot fill its coffers driving the small players up the wall in search of the noose to end their misery! what sort of development is that? let us not talk so dismissively of the depletion of ground water at plachimada. it is a huge human issue which cannot be wished or willed away , just as we canot brush aside the fall out of our present mode of development which is rationalised as collateral damage!!
plachimada ground water problem is not something that can wait forever while arm chair critics debate over the veracity of the media reports about it. for goodness sake it is drinking water against coke. the government should not behave like the coporate idealogues with a if-they-do-not-have-water-give-them-coke type of attitude.
we should not forget history. remember, how ceaucescu of rumania filled the coffers with foreign exchange by exporting even the staple food - bread. he was executed by a hungry nation on xmas day.
how can we forget that hunger and thirst and taking away the livelihood of people can destabilise a country?


(Sent this to the NIE, kerala edition yesterday. Didnt turn up in today's paper. so i thought i'll put it up on my blog, particularly since it fits in with the silent majority theme of the previous one.)

The bubble has burst at last. The myth is debunked!

Chikungunya has exposed the underbelly of God’s own country.

A highly literate people! A state whose health care ranks with the best in the world! A standard of living on par with that of the developed world! The proverbial Kerala model exposed by a mosquito!

The time has come for all the political parties that have ruled the state to do some soul searching. What have the unions they foster done to the state? Protected the municipality officials and workers from doing the work for which the tax payers pay them through their nose and left the state to the mercy of mosquitoes!! What a Shame!?

Why don’t the political parties now join hands and declare a hartal in protest against the chikungunya mosquitoes?

The time has come for the people to act – to break the criminal silence and ask the Achuthanandans and Karunakarans and Chandys and Antonys what the hell they and their parties were doing with the tax payers money paid to keep us from these mosquitoes? Time we challenged them to pin responsibility on the cantankerous forces and unions they nurture that have made day to day life miserable for the average peace loving Keralites with no political muscles to flex . Time we took these politicians to task for messing around with our youth in the campuses to perpetuate their disgusting political agendas instead if inculcating in them civic sense and a sense of social responsibility.

Cocooned in myth of Kerala model of development( a parasitical model – scrounging off NRIs!! ugh!!), the people of Kerala suffered these power crazed politicians in silence. To this silent majority, I say, it is time for our Inquilab Zindabad. All myths talk of the gods sending down plagues to chastise an errant people. We the people also have erred by remaining silent and allowing these politicians with no sense of statesmanship whatsoever, to take us for a ride.

The time has come for us, the people of Kerala, to be warned by and draw inspiration from that Miltonic clarion call:_awake, arise or be forever fallen.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Kerala's Curse - The Silent Majority

I belong to a section of people in Kerala who matter, but who are not heard. So I shall call this group the Silent Majority - for that is what they are. Silent, because something in their breeding prevents them from going public with what they feel - also, even if they do wish to voice their views, outlets are simply not available. And they form the majority too.

This breed of people form the backbone of sanity in this state. More often than not, they make their presence felt only at the ballot box, often upsetting the calculations of those vociferous, belligerent elements in state politics, but sure as ever sending a strong message when they have the opportunity to do so silently and peacefully. Perhaps the most telling reaction of the silent majority was seen in the election following the Emergency . The outcome of the poll showed that the people of Kerala, harassed by political parties disrupting life in the name of ideology, placed much value on the rule of law and a reasonable degree of predictability in day to day existence, both of which the Emergency ensured.

What is this Silent majority?
· It comprises citizens whom politics fail to interest for its own sake. They look upon politics as a mechanism to ensure proper governance leading to public weal.
· They are parents who resent all those forces responsible for depriving their children of job opportunities within the state. They are discerning enough to know that blame lies with ideologies, party politics and irresponsible trade unionism, all of which together created a work culture in Kerala that frightens away potential investors and entrepreneurs.
· They are people who know that Kerala is heading for a disaster which will blow to smithereens all the hype about internationally competitive standards in various aspects of development in Kerala. Development without income generation cannot go on for ever, and whatever freakish conjunction of factors that contributed to this mode of development cannot provide sustainable progress.
· They know that redemption for the state lies only in political leadership which is not self seeking. Governments after governments formed with various permutations and combinations failed to provide governance that addressed the fundamental problems plaguing the state. The reason for this failure, they know, is the near total absence of leaders of integrity and commitment to public welfare
· They are people with an extra sensitive antennae to detect a genuine public servant from among the breed the self-seeking, power and pelf crazed men who don the garb of politicians.

The silent majority kept a vigil for that proverbial leader of men.

And, for a brief moment, the wait appeared not to have been a futile one. In 2001, the Godot appeared in the new avatar of Mr. A.K. Antony. They had given him a chance or two earlier but he did not have the political chicanery then to survive in the megalomaniacal, anti people, undignified, shameless scramble for power that the state politics had been reduced to.

But the Antony of 2001 appeared a changed man. Soon after he took over as the CM of the previous government, he began assert himself and the silent majority began to stir itself out of the stupor of disillusionment, helplessness and cynicism. He announced reforms to pull the state out of the economic doldrums. This was greeted by a massive general strike which buckled under his determination. The silent majority rejoiced. But alas, it was too good to be true. Everything went wrong for Antony after that. There were too many Brutuses in his party, and an opposition with bared fangs to tear apart anyone/anything that would bring sanity , stability and integrity into the state polity.

Now we are back to square one. The left government is in the driver’s seat. What can we expect from a party which puts the party above the state and the people?

Once again, it is disillusionment, cynicism and helplessness for the silent majority. With hartals at the drop of the hat, with the derailing of every developmental plan, with our obsession with rights and total disregard for the responsibilities and duties, with the politicisation by the vociferous, raucus minority of even the very act of breathing, Kerala . I think, will bomb itself back to stone age.

While the silent majority looks on.

Isn’t the sin of omission as serious a crime as the sin of commission?