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?