Monday, December 31, 2007

Polarisation of Indian Politics & The Search for a New Rhetoric

The real attack on Indian democracy was not on December 13th, the day of the terrorist attack on the parliament. It began the day Sabarmathy Express was torched at Godhra and a carnage was let loose on Indian citizens by the state machinery. Shri. Narenda Modi, whose complicity in the post Godhra carnage is proved beyong doubt by the recent tehelka expose,, was re elected twice after the holocaust, with a resounding majority. All this leaves the people of India with few reasons for optimism and cheer. How, one wonders, could such things come to pass in a nation constitutionally bound to secularism?

One could, perhaps, begin by exploring how, in a nation, which holds up “secularism” as an absolute value, it has suddenly become a problemetised term, prompting even hardcore advocates who swear by it, to speak of it in a defensive manner!

“Language”, Ronald Barthes states “is the origin of man—it is the language which teaches the definition of man, not the reverse”. Barthes’ observation draws attention to the power of words to create reality. The story of man is one of struggle for domination between groups of people. In this power struggle, the warring groups construct modes of discourse, which soon gain the status of empirical truth and undisputed knowledge. In this power game, language is appropriated, and utilized to promote agendas. In this technologically advanced age, where television has invaded the homes, language has acquired another dimension – of images on the television screen. The reach of language is frightening. Today, its capacity to shape consciousness is instant, a fact to which can be attributed the phenomenal speed with which a communal ideology could translate itself into a political power capable of forming government at the Centre.

The last two decades of the previous century saw this happening in India. Of course, there had always existed certain ideological binaries in the subcontinent that had not matured into full-fledged rhetoric at the time of Independence; nevertheless the tensions between them prevailed and erupted occasionally into violent acts, culminating in the assassination of the Mahatma. In the nineteen nineties, Hindutva emerged (for political reasons which are not our immediate concern here) as a force to reckon with and today the nation is polorised between two ideologies – Hindutva and Secularism. Tragically, the casualty is peace, harmony and that minimum level of predictability in day-to-day life so essential for development.

The role of language or discourse in effecting this Volte-face from secular to communal ideals on a national scale ought be of more than mere academic interest. The past two decades saw linguistic or verbal formations being imperceptibly but systematically constructed to disseminate a certain communal discourse throughout the country, enabling the emergence of Hindutva as an alternative ideology to Secularism. History is replete with evidences of how the discursive formations of an era determine or construct ‘knowledge’ or ‘truth’, that is, construct a reality that tacitly buttresses the interests of the dominant group. What happened in India towards the close of last century is not dissimilar to the way, centuries go, white nations/cultures used language to appropriate Christianity to validate the imperial agenda of the European powers.

Christianity was born in the semetic soil. A particular semetic tribe was groomed through centuries for the nonviolent religion that Christ founded. On account of the political situation that prevailed in the Middle East at that time, Christianity spread to Europe. However the christianisation of Europe was, in effect, a superimposition of a religion of peace on a brutal race, ill prepared for it. The result was Christianity underwent a drastic transformation in Europe, bearing little resemblance to the fundamental concepts laid down by its founder. With Rome becoming the capital of Christianity, Europe asserted its proprietorship over this Semetic religion which soon became institutionalized, politicized, and a motif of the axiomatic concept of divinely ordained rights for the European people. In short, the religion, thus hijacked by Europe, developed a new face, and to take the analogy further, developed Stockholm syndrome. It sanctioned conquest, murder, genocide and brutality, which had always been integral to European civilization.

Language/rhetoric/ discourse was a principal facilitator in this process of ‘managing’ religion to legitimize and perpetuate the interests of European powers. Primitive Christianity (not an accepted term but I use it in analogy with primitive Buddhism ie, pristine Buddhism as taught by Gautama) was all about creating a casteless, egalitarian society bound by love and characterized by nonviolence. Christ’s message was as simple as that. This is the Kingdom of God he spoke about. But this kingdom would pose a challenge to the imperial intent of the European countries. So a new definition of Christianity- a new rhetoric or discourse was constructed to counter this challenge. The Imperial rhetoric projected all non- Europeans as pagans, hence uncivilized. The same rhetoric represented Christian Europe as the ‘divinely ordained’ saviour, destined to bring salvation to the rest of the world.
Terms such as pagans, infidel, Saracens, heretic, White Man’s Burden were part of this rhetoric. They enabled European practitioners of Christianity to violate every code of behaviour laid down by its founder, by providing spiritual rationale for plunder and murder, territorial violation and genocide. European literature subtly equated non- Europeans to sub-humans or evolutionary dropouts- a convenient turn of the rhetoric, for Christian love did not include nonhumans! Thus over centuries, the imperial rhetoric developed subtleties and nuances to ratify every unchristian deed that the imperial powers resorted to. This discourse had an internal consistency, and a durability, which made it a formidable fort of rationalism. The rhetoric continues to date, in new forms, though at long last chinks are beginning to appear in its walls-----.
This is, no doubt, a vast oversimplification of a very complex issue; nevertheless, it serves to illustrate how language defines and shapes reality; in other words, in human perception there is no reality other than what language creates.
Coming back to India, the first major victory of the Hindutva agenda is the construction of a discourse within whose framework was effected a gradual, subtle (initially), but a systematic destruction of the sacrosanct status of the term ‘secularism’. This was achieved again with language. Secularism was reborn in the Hindutva rhetoric as ‘pseuedo – secularism’. Questioning secularism would once have made any leader a political leper. It is no longer so. Dismissing it as an anachronism or as unpatriotic has not only become possible and legal but also a highly respectable position to take, so long as the term occurs as pseudo secularism, within the structured rhetoric of Hindutva. Hence, with great ease and elan, a politician can, at any public meeting or even in the parliament, ridicule this cornerstone of democracy called secularism and get away with it! The situation is similar to the systematic Calibanisation of nonwhite people in the imperial discourse in order to validate the imperial designs. Also, that great mother of religions, Hinduism, is also being appropriated by vested parochial agencies to legitimize the Hindutva programme.

Those political groups who do not subscribe to the Hindutva agenda have today rallied under the banner of secularism, but their discourse is suspect; for people, at long last, have learnt to distinguish between statesmen and politicians. Secularism is bandied about in a manner that lacks conviction; an effective counter rhetoric seems unable to be born. It therefore becomes imperative that, we, the people, who desire nothing more than a peaceful atmosphere for our children to grow up in, be on our guard when politicians and the media float catchy slogans like ‘secularism’ and ‘pseudo secularism’, ‘majority feelings’ and ‘minority rights’, for every rhetoric has an agenda.. When the government gives to minority groups sops that override court rulings, we need to realize that it is part of the rhetoric of vote bank politics. When carnage is officially glorified and is used as vote winning propaganda, we definitely need to cry for our beloved country. When a politician holding a responsible position, writing for the ‘middle’ of a reputed daily, cites the precedence of the post Indra Gandhi assassination violence to legitimise the post Godhra holocaust, we need to inquire into the agenda of the daily. When the same daily employs a journalist to regularly take up the cause of a certain community and indulge in secularism bashing, the time has come to beware. Remember, the media was responsible for Hitler's phenomenal growth into power. Forget the lessons of history and be prepared for the talibanisation of India!
Political and religious leaders, and those who wield their pens should get their priorities straight. Let them not shed tears for the Church of Nativity. Instead weep for the Palestinian and Israeli lives lost. Let them not weep for Babri Masjid, or Ram Temple destroyed by Baber. Instead, let us all hang our heads in grief and shame at the lives lost in the name of these structures.
“Is there no redemption?” is the question teasing the hapless citizen out of thought. Yes. There is. The need of the hour is a new rhetoric with public weal alone as its agenda. We, the people, look to the media for it. The freedom of speech it enjoys and the power of word that it holds obligates it to safeguard democracy and secularism. We are deeply concerned that the media, with its power and reach does not evolve that new rhetoric that will neutralize the rhetoric of polarization. We are concerned that the media does not take upon itself the role of the agent of resistance that can intervene to transform the dangerous political arrangements taking this country to a theocratic system. We expect it to dissociates itself from the various cantankerous groups and interests that are eating into the polity of the nation and carry out an all out war against this communalization of Indian politics.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto's Assasination - An Assasination of the Hallowed Concept of Secularism

Benazir dead is a greater threat to Gen. Mushraff than Benazir alive.
One does not know what the outcome of the elections would have been had this assasination not taken place - what with the recent hasty marathon constitution amendments , an ineffective election commission ad a controlled judiciary. But then Pakistan was never ready for democracy. Democratically elected governments never lasted long enough for anyone to vouch that Pakinstan is of the material that democracy is made of. There are many wno make loud and appropriate noises about democracy but who secretly believe that Pakistan without a strongman dictatorship would destabilise the subcontinent.
One wonders - how is this region, which was once very much part of the subcontinent known as the Indian subcontinent, so different from India?
Guess this is too complex a question for a simple answer. But one thing is clear - fundamentalism and democracy cannot survive under the same roof.
The bashers of Indian democracy and secularism had better learn a lesson from the predicament of our neighbouring country.
We cannot allow democracy to be sacrificed at the altar of extreme nationalism. Yes. The choice before us Indians is between democracy and nationalism ; and only democracy built on the rock foundation of secularism has any chance of survival.
Secularism does not become a pseudo value simply because it is so branded in a certain rhetoric. It's a fundamental human value for the survival of the race called homo sapiens. Let's make no mistakes about it.
Benazir's assasination was the assasination of the secular aspirations of a large section ofthe people of Pakistan.
Secular aspirations of India survived for over 6 decades in india on account of the fact that secularism is an integral part of the Hindu system of thought.
Let not the self-styled custodians of Hinduism make the mistake of driving out democracy from India in the name of some mistaken notions of patriotism.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Narendra Modi's victory

Narendra Modi's victory in Gujarat reminds me of Dryden's observation:
Nor is the people's judgment always true:
The most may err as grossly as the few.

Modi's victory is more than the victory of one party over the other.

it is the victory of Fundamentalism in Indian politics.

it is an emphatic vindication of the 2002 carnage.

it asserts that good roads, electricity and industrial growth are infinitely more important than human beings' right to life.

it exposes the tragic flaw in democracy.

the ceremony of innocence is dead!

Friday, December 14, 2007

It's a larger issue than Modi versus Congress

i find that my blogs on modi have generated a lot of interest and response. what comes below is my response to one of the comments:

@ -----don't get me wrong. am no great congress fan. all i am saying is when human lives and dignity are sacrificed at the altar of ideology and politics, all thinking citizens should pause and do some soul searching - and speak thru the ballots. only then democracy becomes a salutory, effective mode of governance and of ensuring have suggested the lesser of the two evils(modi and congress). no. that's not the answer. we should be thinking of options. like a fractured majority which will put brakes on such decisions that caused the post genocide killings. no government can justify that. godra is the mesdeed of miscreants. what followed is state engineered.
for a lesson from history, kerala was spared the atrocities of the emergency 'cos a coalition govt. was in place during that period. so much so, to a large extent, the state enjoyed only the benefits of the emergency. no wonder congress govt. was re-elected, and stray incidents (like the rajan case) were seriously taken up.we citizens should rise above political affiliations and ideologies (be it those of congress,left or extreme right) so that our ancient indian value of respecting life will be perpetuated in this nation.
hard core pragmatism sometimes blinds us to fundamental, indispesable human values.
by the way, i still havent got that definition for the term 'integrity' when used with reference to modi.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gujarat Election - A Referendum on Moditva?

I watched the Big Fight on NDTV on the coming Gujarat elections – moditva or hindutva, I think was the issue. What appalled and distressed me absolutely was the open support given to Modi by a section of Gujaratis, apparently well educated and affluent.

They seemed to be enamoured of the man, his personality. But - - the values that a person represents – isn’t that a part of his personaliy? is this admiration for Modi extended to the pogrom he engineered? or is it precisely on account of it?

They seemed content that there is a congenial atmosphere for industrial investment and activity. But wasn’t that always there in Gujarat? Is it something new brought in by Modi?

They seemed blissfully happy about the Peace Modi has brought into Gujarat. Peace for whom? all sections of the population? peace at what cost? – at the cost of blatant violation and supression of human rights of a certain community? peace violently brought into the state by politics of exclusion?

They are either hoodwinked or pretend to be hoodwinked by the development card played so cleverly by their CM to hang on to power to complete the job begun during post Godra riots. Surely no one can be so blind that they cannot to see that Modi only uses development as a cover for communal politics?

Barkha Dutts said aloud what we fear - that the coming elections in Gujarat is a referendum on Moditva and that a favourable outcome could signal Modi’s yatra to Delhi. Are we Indians going to hand over the charge of this nation to a person who pooh poohs democratic values? who has loudly dedcalred that India belongs to one community alone? and has shown himself to be a ruthless ethnic cleanser? Will this nation dociley succumb to the slaughter of civilized politics?

Narendra Modi's Integrity

i was watching a discussion on Narendra Modi on NDTV. The participants were Kapil Sibal and Arun Jaitly.

Jaitly kept harping on Narendra Modi's integrity!! His concluding statement also was an emphatic assertion of his admiration for the greatest quality that Modi has - Integrity.

Will some one explain this claim? Has the term 'integrity' undergone a sea change?

Or does admission of the belief that you have the right to murder if you belong to a certain commuity earn you the label "man of integrity"?

Looks like we are headed back to the barbaric age!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Burden of my Name

Till recently, I couldn’t forgive my father for naming me ‘Kochuthresiamma’(kochu=little/small; thresiamma=tresa; ‘little tresa’ to distinguish from the great philosopher saint tresa of avila). It was ok so long I was in kerala where it was a common name. But in tamilnadu where I did my high school and part of college education, it was too much of a tongue twister for the teachers . The most embarrassing episode related to my name was on the first day of my pre university education in a college in coimbatore. The roll call was common for all PUC students. There were more than five hundred students from all streams. Since I didn’t do my previous years of study in coimbatore, I had no friends on that first day, and being by nature a shy person, desired a very innocuous existence, at least on that day.

But it was not to be.

Not with such a huge baggage of a name. In fact, I was dreading the moment when a non keralite would confront my name on the rolls. Well, the event proved to be, to my horror, much more dramatic than I expected.

The teacher’s name was Dharmambal. She was a gigantic person. Those were days when people described me as a puny little person , and I did feel quite intimidated by Miss Dharmambal who seemed quite visibly hassled by the task of taking the attendance of a new PUC batch. She started calling out the names in the alphabetical order, snapping now and then at students calling out attendance softly and snarling at the whole class when it got noisy.

I sat there terrified at the prospect of her irritated eyes falling on my name. The “K” names began. My heart started pounding in my ears and then the moment came. She stared at the page, blinked her eyes several times and then started her valiant attempts to get her tongue around my name. KO—pause—KOKU—pause—kokut –he –ra, she said ---and couldn’t proceed. She lifted her tortured face from the attendance register with waat is that eh?? By now there was pin drop silence in the class. The girls too got curious about the name she was struggling with and were gleefully looking around for the owner of the name that had stumped Miss Dharmaambal.

‘Get up whoever it is’, she said. How I wished mother earth would open up and swallow me or a violent earthquake would bring the building crashing down on me and the girls and Dhrmaambal !!!! But no such disaster came to my rescue and I stood up sheepishly.

Waat ees your name? she barked. Kochuthresiama, I said slowly , sofly. ‘loud’, screamed Dharmaambal. I repeated as loud as I could. But that was not loud enough for Dharmaambal. ‘You come here’, she snapped and I walked up awkwardly, intensely conscious of the giggling excitement that was going on in the classroom . I went up to her and stood at the foot of the platform on which he gigantic Dharmaambal stood. She bent almost double, thrusting her diamond studded ear close to my trembling lips. Must have been a very comical sight, judging fro the strange sounds emanating from the class room. I repeated my name. She repeated after me but it did not sound anything like my name. By now the class was in fits but Dharmaambal soldiered on. She would learn that name to perfection, the determined expression on her face seemed to say. I coached her part by part and finally, she managed kochuthresiamma fairly decently.

The next day, I sat in the common attendance class, very tense. I called upon all the saints to come to Dharmambal’s assistance when she reached my name. Roll call started and my tension rose. I could feel dharmaamal’s rising tension too. The class was in high excitement and waiting expectantly for her to call out my name. And finally she came to my name. KO she said. KO she said again. Then paused for minute and with infinite determination burst out KOCHUTHRESIAMBAAL !!!!!!!!!! The class dissolved into laughter at her making an ‘ambal’ out of the ‘amma’ in my name – to rhyme with her name, some of the girls said.

The same scene repeated itself, day after day. Soon the students lost interest in this name fiasco but to the last day, both Dharmaambal and I continued to stiffen when the roll call reached “K”; I would continue to hold my breath and Dharmaambal would go ahead with a determined look on her face till she exploded into a KOCHUTHRESIAMBAAL. Then we would both relax and Dharmaambal would go ahead with her task while I experienced the bliss of released tension and the students talked and yelled, capitalizing on the bonding of electric tension between Dharmaambal and me which kept us temporarily oblivious to the immediate surroundings.

Tehelka Apocalypse

was reading tehelka, the issue on the sting operation on Gujarat riots. Feel numb with horror. Am horrified that humans can be so blood thirsty. Am horrified that human beings can gloat over their active role in genocide, and smack heir lips in glee at the memories of the gruesome details of mutilating and burning alive men, women and children.

On our part, othering the perpetrators of the horror in Gujarat reflects a misconceived complacency about ourselves having progresed from that predatory stage. have we, as humans, really left such primordial instincts behind us? are all of us potential predators? Surely the Gujarat rioters are not made of different clay. can all human beings be moulded into bloodthirsty human hunters?

are there dark regions in me lying dormant under the cover of civilization, regions that can be resurrected by a combination congenial factors?

The answer, I guess, is yes.

Scary thought!

How Amma made Appams

It never ceased to astonish my mother that I could make appam and stew twice or even thrice a week. I told her that mixies and shortcut methods have made this once considered delicacy a routine and common item on the normal menu of even a busy working housewife.

But, I asked her, are my appams anything like what u used to make, amma? Yours were incredibly delicious! Amma was not one for gloating over her culinary competence, and so replied that they were all the same.

But they were not the same. Starting from the process to the method to the final product, it was a very very different ball game.

In her days, making appams was an event. It was usually a breakfast item, though once in a way, it was served for lunch too. The event would start the day before with her announcement that the next day’s breakfast would be appam. Her helpers’ faces would fall and they would look at each other meaningfully. She would then take raw rice, measure the required quantity, put it in a muram (large bamboo tray) and give it to the youngest help in the kitchen – ‘cos her eyesight was the best - for cleaning. Amma would hover around her to see if she is doing a neat(literally!) job of it. Once the cleaning is done, amma would take the muram from her for inspection, and with her inferior eye sight would pick out small stones and black rice and put them one by one into the girl’s extended palm. Then it would be handed back to her to be washed thoroughly and soaked for 30 minutes and then drained. ‘Wash it well’ she would say several times while the maid would nod with a long suffering look.

Then the preparation would start for pounding the rice. The oral (stone with a hollow, used for pounding) cleaning would be ordered and amma would be around to see it was done properly. After the maid was done with cleaning, she would look at amma who would nod in approval but nevertheless take a clean towel and run it into the hollow of the oral – just for her satisfaction. The maid dared not snigger or make any remarks.

And then the pounding would start. Amma refused to leave the work area where this activity took lace. She’d hang around with a hawk’s eye to make sure the maid did not scratch her head or put her finger into her ear. The maids knew her well enough to grin and bear any itching or discomfort in those parts of their anatomy while she was around. When the first round(trip, as the maids call it) of pounding was over, amma sat on her low stool and would herelf sift the rice flour through a fine sieve. She didn’t like entrusting that to anyone else, cos none had her immaculate hands. I remember, as a small child, I once ran up to her asking if I cold sift the flower. She told me my hands were not clean enough. Promised to allow me the next time after she’d cleaned my hands to her satisfaction!!!!! I didn’t ask her the next time. Didn’t quite fancy the idea of getting my skin scrubbed off.

Once the pounding and sifting were over, amma would take over completely. She would make a porridge out of the rough rice flour left over after sifting, make a soft dough with it and the fine rice flour after heating the latter mildly, mix yeast and keep the dough overnight.

Next day, early morning, she would extract coconut milk from grated coconut, add it to the dough to make a thin lose appam mix, add sugar and salt to taste and keep it aside for an hour or so.

Then the preparation would start for the actual appam making. She had a quiet corner which she always used for the purpose. The kerosene stove was placed on the flor in that corner and she would sit besides it on her low stool, after she had taken care of details like the big steel tray to keep the hot appams, the lidded vessel to keep the appams after they cooled etc. The area was cordoned off with make shift objects to prevent people(particularly childrem) from coming too close to the stove. The appam manufacture would start – one ladleful of the mix poured into the paalappachatti(wok meant for making appam) giving out a hissing sound, the wok taken up, twisted round so as to spread the mix into complete circle and then replaced over the fire and closed with a lid to trap the steam inside the pan. After a minute, the lid is removed and, lo and behold! There lay the appam ready to be eaten with crisp lacy edges and spongy centre. The production was fast and soon appams would start piling up inside the lidded vessel ,on being transferred from the steel tray. And we children would help ourselves generously to them. How yummy they were! They simply crumble and melt in your mouth leaving behind a delicious aftertaste of coconut milk. I've never ever eaten such delicious appams after she stopped making them. I think, the best appams I ever ate were made by amma.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

mallu hindi

I am a keralite who came to mumbai in my mid forties. i knew no hindi 'cos i did most of my schooling in tamilnadu at a time when anti hindi sentiments ran very high there- so landed up in mumbai with fifteen words. believe it or not I managed beautifully with them. with fifteen words and kathakali mudras, I could even gossip with my domestic help! but my first attempt at communication with my first domestic help was disastrous. wanted to tell her she isnt doing her job(cleaning the floor) well- so found out the word for’ dirty’ - gandhagi, my neighbour told me it was. i memorised it and waited for the help to come. she came late and i forgot the word but remembered the first sound. as she started mopping the floor, suddenly the word came to me and i blurted out - bahoot garibi, I said. should have seen the expression on her face!!!!!
u must b wondering how i got hold of 'garibi'? well, i grew up in the heydays of mrs indiria gandhi and her populist vote catching slogan - GARIBI HATAO! the term surfaced from somewhere deep in my sunconscious mind.i instantly realised my mistake but how was i to explain to her with my fifteen words?
she didnt come aftet that day.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Doctor or Engineer - by hook or by crook

Kerala is a strange place. rather, it’s truer to say that keralites are strange people. they carry certain mulish ideas thru their lives, and to whichever part of the universe they relocate themselves to. one such notion is : if you offspring is not a doctor or an engineer, you are a failure in life. thus it is that we have this hilarious scramble for medical and engineering seats. the other day, a friend told me her relative paid 25lakhs as donation to secure a medical seat somewhere in tamilnadu for his son who did not want to become a doctor!

I am a humanities person and an acqaintance of mine once had the temerity to ask me of what use my education is of to humankind? needless to say he is an engineer whose monthly salary is more than all the money I have ever earned, or will ever earn, even if I live for another hundred years.

with infinite patience, I used, initially to explain to those who posed similar queries that it takes more than docs and engineers to run this world. tried telling them life is not about science and technology alone – it also about philosophy and history and economics and commerce and logic and art, all of which which bring you closer to life and makes you understand this business of living. I couldn’t then quite guage the expressions on their faces when I uttered such sentiments. older and wiser, I have now learned the art of decoding human facial expressions. In retrospect, those faces which suffered me when I lectured on the relevance of a holistic approach to life mirrored their pitying attitude to a sour grape blabbering of a ‘woman’.

coming back to my acquaintance who questioned the utility of my existence, I now realize the crux of his attitude. be a doc or engineer and you can mint money. not that I don’t like money. I love it. but I am not prepared to bulldoze my children, or anyone for that matter, to become docs and engineers just because there is a mountain of currency waiting at the end of the road. nor am I willing to sacrifice everything I care for - like job satisfaction for one thing - for a huge bank balance. My take is this: if a person wants to become a medical practioioner, it is a great thing – if he has the competence, compassion and the dedication for this noble profession. if a person wants to be an engineer, it is a great thing, with the gigantic technological leap that the is happening now. but if a person doesn’t want to be either, please please leave her or him alone to explore and experience other areas. this big world is a land of opportunities, also for people other than docs and engineers.

I would like to tell all the fathers and mothers of kerala not o be heartbroken if your son/daughter does not manage to get a seat in a ‘professional’ college, or does not want to go to one. there are a huge number of people in this world eking out very decent living without an engineering or medical degree.

When Do You Wish

When do you wish
that life was not so beautiful
that your loved ones didn’t love you so much
or you, them
that music didnt transport you to regions of ecstacy
that the view from a high rise didn’t suspend you breath
that you weren’t intensely conscious of man made wonders waiting out there to be explored
that the world didn’t lie before you like a land of dreams?

When you suspect
that the moment you inhabit
might perhaps be your last.

What's the LDF up to in Kerala?

A few weeks back, in reply to a submission raised in the Assembly, the Law Minister replied on behalf of The Health Minister that “the Government would think of constituting a high-level team for conducting studies into the epidemic outbreak in the state”.

Hilarious? scandalous? outrageous? the appropriate epithet escapes me. With more than half the population of mid- travancore literally limping its way thru life, thanks to chuikingunya/strange viral fever, the govt is only thinking of setting up committees to look into the matter. What on earth were they doing all this time? Never has there been such a wide spread epidemic in Kerala, and when the govt should be talking in the past tense about the action taken to fight the disease, we get such perfunctory, inane statements in the indefinite future tense.

But then what else can we expect from this totally disoriented govt? The marxsist party which leads the coalition government, is a house divided against itself, and is led by a comrade driven by an obsolete ideology. The demolishing man fascinated children in Kerala who clamoured for JCB in toy form. But the thinking adult is still waiting for the man to rescue himself from the rubbles of his demolition feats, and get his act together..

Yes. Kerala is very patiently waiting for the government to address the problems weighing down on its day to day life - but the govt. appears to care two hoots about validating the trust placed in them by the electorate. While mosquitoes went on the rampage and the waste accumulated and diseases spread like wildfire, the CM went on a demolishing spree. While the people lived in fear of the epidemic and tourists fled or kept away from the state, the top man continued smacking his lips after the tearing down expedition,- like a predator replete after making a meal out of prey.

Then there is this education Minister hell bent on jerking the carpet away from under the educational infrastructure in the state – again all in the name of ideology.

These people seem to think governance is all about destruction. At all cost.

Hearing Keralites groan with pain from either the epidemic, or injured backs riding thru potholes filled roads, the Finance Minister came out with tall promises of repairing roads in a month.

The deadline is over. and the repair work? light years away from completion.

Nobody believes this bunch of jokers anymore . Why, the CM himself called his team of ministers a good for nothing lot!.


The hot topic discussed by the public through the Letters to the editor in the Indian Express is the imposition of President’s rule in the state/making it a Union Terrirtory. Can Kerala do without a govt? Yes. Definitely, I think. I agree with all those who strongly feel that the state is better off without a govt. What have successive govts done for the state? have they improved the infrastructure? have they created a good work culture? have they streamlined and cleaned up the administrative functioning? have they banished bandhs and hartals? have they been able to develop cities to cope with booming population? have they lifted the education in the state from mediocre to excellence? have they made day to day life, leave alone comfortable, bearable for the people?

the answer to all these queries is NO NO, NO and NO.

No governance is happening. But the people have survived and progressed - inspite of the nonperforming liability that have successively appeared in the shape of state government. Such is the lust for life and never say die attitude of the average keralite.

Then why have a govt. at all? WE can surely manage without these self seeking, double faced politicians who are clandestinely corrupting the youth, spreading rot in the system, infecting campuses with politics and and and - - - - -

unfortunately, there is no provision to bring the state under President’s rule for a longer period than 6 months. Would be ideal to have a referendum on the issue to see what the people want.

Guess it can be argued that the very suggestion of doing away with an elected govt. is an insult to democracy. But when democracy is misused, it ceases to become rule of the people - it becomes DEMONcracy. and that is what we have in Kerala.

DEMONcracy. Rule by demons called politicians who have been shattering the hopes and lives of hundreds and thousands of parents by using their children as pawns to achieve their demonic political ends. These demons have a system in place for trapping the youth. Catch them young, while at school and train them to be goondas to be used to kill, rape, loot, stone buses, destroy property and create artificial communal tension while the politicians backstage fish in the troubled waters of their own making with a demonic glee!

The state desperately needs to be exorcised politically.

Desperate and helpless people have begun clamouring for a radical change in the political dispensation that would deliver than from these irresponsible, ruthless, megalomaniacs who have completely ruined this state which had a head start over the others at the time of independence.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What ails thee, Malayalam Cinema?

Malayalam cinema was always substantial.It either had a strong story line or thematised sensibly and realistically on social issues. Or liike Srinivasan's films, faced the quirks of human peronality squarely and presented them with a strong comic/tragic flavour - something only a genius can do succesfully.
The appeal of malayalam cinema was the boldness with which it faced and tackled reality. For instance,when unemployment was a major problem in Kerala, it found its way repeatedly in the movies of the eighties. Corruption at all levels figured repeatedly on and off till the issue reached a saturation point.
Today, the film makers seem unable to identify the issues that trouble the kerala society - therin lies the failure of our cinema. And so they beat about the bush, coming up with inane stuff.
Art is more than commerce and box office. It is serious business. It should provide aesthetic experience which comes only from a genuine and honest effort at interpreting life.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Idea Star Singer contest - the bungling SMS

What does it matter if Isaac Williams got eliminated from the Idea Star Singer contest?

He is the true Idea Star Singer - though destined to be uncrowned as that.

The contestant who beat him to it dissolved into tears.
so did all the other contestants.
and the anchor person .
and – hold your breath- the judge too!! Usha Uthup was heart broken to see him out!
The male judges were struggling to maintain a grip over their emotions.

What greater recognition than the tears of the people on the show, and that of the viewers on the other side? What greater recognition than the disbelief of the judges and who followed the contest closely?

The loser is the winner in this case.

The final winner will win a flat worth 40 lakh, but Isaac’s victory is over the hearts of all.

But something went wrong.

This is the price paid for high tech intrusion into such contests.

The truly deserving candidates should not be left to the mercy of sms

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Understanding Kamala Das/Kamala Suraiya/Madhavikutty

She is honest. honest to the core. only the dishonest will label her honesty as sleaze!

she is brave. one has to be brave to be a Madhavikutty or Kamala Das or Kamala Suraiya in a cynical, hypocritical and censorious state like Kerala.

And she is not consistent. Inconsistency is the privilege of an utterly honest, brave person. perception of truth changes with experience of life. it's mulish to stick to a once made statement, a once taken position , simply to APPEAR consistent. Consistency is meant for the average - not for the genius.

She was honest when she said My Story is not her autobiography. every one has a story to tell. if you and I tell our stories, we will not allow ourselves to be chained down to pedestrian facts - if we are true artists. Our perceptions/creativity will modify/reinvent our true experiences. We will move freely between fact and fiction, between the ground reality and the imagined - if we are true artists, if we possess an elevated level of negative capability.

As an artist, we would owe nothing to anyone. We owe it to us, only to us, to be honest to ourselves, and our creation. The creation takes on a life of its own, dictating rules that necessitate the creator to forget her identity as a person (Madhavikutty, in this case) and respect the identity of her creation - her WORK OF ART. A true artist listens to the demands of her creation. A lesser one will be dictated by such extraneous matters as the societal sensibilities, sense of propriety - - -.

Kamala Das is an artist par excellence – a nonpareil in English literature.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Reading Frankenstein after a Quarter of a Century

I do not remember how the novel Frankenstein affected me when I read it in my late teens. If I remember right, I found the book rather boring tho’ the concept fascinated me. I finished reading it two hours. I remember this ‘cos I started and finished it during the course of a short train journey. My reading speed is pathetically slow, so I must have hopped, skipped and jumped thru’ it.

My second encounter with that novel was last week. How time can change people, perspectives! Found it terribly depressing but, to use vernacularised English, a thoroughly 'unputdownable' book.

What fascinated me about the novel is the contemporaneous yet antediluvian nature of the theme. It’s about knowledge – man’s hunger for it. Not normal, natural, healthy hunger; but about gluttony.

Man is a glutton for knowledge. He has always been that. No cure for this disorder.

It caused Adam to be driven out of Paradise; Icarus to plunge headlong into disaster; Faust to a four and twenty years of utter misery before he was dragged to hell.

But it is when I read this novel last week that I saw the torture of a mind weighed down by the guilt of misusing knowledge, and letting loose on mankind a destructive superhuman monster. How beautifully Mary Shelley describes the agony of Victor Frankenstein! It’s so real. So very real. As tho’ the thoughts, feelings, fears, anxieties, depression, apprehensions, terror, the infinite sadness, the withdrawal from life and the inability to celebrate life, parade before our mind’s eye. They are all there, visible, for us to see and feel and touch!

The story of the monster’s predicament also is an infinitely touching tale. He never asked to be created. Poor creature!

Will human clones become a reality? Sends shivers down the spine!

Einstein must have felt terrible when his formula translated into bombs.

Future seems inhabited by nightmarish dehumanized monsters. Monsters or men? Confused identities.

No more millennium dreams. Goodness, truth, beauty. Lion and the lamb enjoying each others company.

Foolish to have dreamed.

Communism in Kerala - childhood images

One of the earliest quiz questions that I learnt is this:
Q. Where was the first democratically elected communist government in the world?
A. In Kerala - in 1957- with EMS as Chief Minister.

I must have been 4 or 5 when I learnt this by rote. It didn’t make any sense to me then. But it made me feel proud to be a Keralite. Even my brother who first put this question to me looked and sounded proud tho’ democracy made no sense to him too then.

But Communism did. We didn’t know who the communists were. But we knew they were bad people. They didn’t believe in God. So they had no sense of right or wrong. They were brutal people. They would kill without hesitation. They stuck terror in the hearts of people I moved and lived with.

I learnt to loathe and fear the sickle and the hammer.

I vaguely remember the VIMOCHANA SAMARAM ie the freedom struggle. To a Keralite, Vimochana Samaram meant the efforts to overthrow the democratically elected communist government of Kerala. My house was a coordinating centre for the activities in that part of the town. Priests and nuns were frequent visitors. So it felt like a sacred activity. It was like a crusade.

It was in those days that I first heard the term 'lathi charge'. I still remember the day when my peace loving sibling got caught in one of those lathi charges and came running into the house breathless. There was a lot of commotion in the house. Mother was anxious. We children were afraid. I was angry too and told the old helper lady who used to sleep in my room how exactly I would chop the communist policemen into pieces. Yes, you should do that. she said. I’ll help you to pickle them. Later we will serve them to their wives, she concluded. Much later, when I was much older, I learnt that she always cast her vote in favour of the communists!

I vaguely remember a large demonstration during the Vimochana Samaram. I was four or so. We children –siblings, cousins – were packed into a car which moved with the demonstration. All of us had small congress flags with us which we waved and waved. That is when I picked up the slogan-angamaliyil kalleriyil etc

It took me many many years to get out of those early notions about communism. I have my own independent views of it now. I now understand the undercurrents and politics of Vimochana samaram.

And I also understand the significance of that quiz I mentioned at the outset. For I have seen that Communism and Democracy make strange bedfellows.
No wonder it took more than a century after the birth of Marxism for this marriage to take place.
And when it did, it happened in that the state of Kerala, a state which has always remained an enigma to social scientists.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Mediawatch: Cutthroat Competition driving Channels to Harikiri

Arun Nayar who? Liz hurley Who? Who cares, anyway? So what if no one cares? The media wants us to care. And so it thrusts Arun Nayar-Liz Hurley on the poor helpless reader/viewer day after day, hour after hour!

But the viewer and reader will not choose to remain helpless and hapless forever.

Take me, for example. I used to be a regular with the English Channels. Of late I've begun to find them irritating; and progressively more irritating. Now I find them thoroughly disgusting.

CNN IBN, TIMES NOW, NDTV and HEADLINES TODAY – in the order of disgust.

I have always felt ashamed of my taste for trivialities, my weakness for sensational reporting. Guess that’s why I jumped with joy when HEADLINES TOAY was launched, and then CNN IBN and then TIMES NOW.

But I didn’t bargain for the levels to which these channels were prepared to stoop to conquer. I can never forgive Rajdeep Sardesiai for his inability to conceal his glee when Promod Mahajan was shot by his brother, or his provocative statements on the reservation issue, inviting/(coercing ?) students take the matter violently to the streets, brashly reminding them of the Goswami immolation attempt.
I cannot forgive any of the channels for drooling over the Bachchans and Khans, for wasting time space on them when more burning issues needed to be presented to the anxious viewers.
Yesterday, amidst all the hullabaloo about the Arun Nayar-Liz Hurly business, HEADLINES TODAY flashed the news of high intensity earthquake that had hit Indonesia. No More news was forthcoming. I switched channels but found none of the other channels had anything on it. And then, hold your breath!! HEADLINES TODAY withdrew the flash news!!! Possibly because it realisd that other channels were not sufficiently interested in it, or ‘cos it didn’t want to cast a cloud of gloom over the Arun-Liz wedding!!!

But today, the TOI Hyderabad took the cake. The Indonesian earthquake claiming an official number of 82 deaths and trapping many under the rubble, and a possible Tsunami, were shunted to International page(page 19).

The channels need to realize that viewers are not idiots.
The channels need to get their priorities right.
They need to realize that there are a large number of viewers for whom socialites and actors are only of passing interest. The average viewer’s concers are different.

I have rearranged the channels on my TV. For a long time it was 1. NDTV 2. HEADLINES TODAY. 3. CNN IBM 4. TIMES NOW. My new order is 1. Regional News Channels 2. DOORDARSHAN(!!!!!) 3.BBC and then the other English News Channels. The order does not matter. Not any more. It’s a case of one worse than the other.

And I’m not the only one who has rearranged the channels.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Clatification on my take on Shilpa Shetty /Big Brother reality show

Got a couple of mails from friends who read my blog on the Shilpa Shetty-Big brother issue. Those mails made me realise i should clarify my position.

I am NOT anti-white. But i hate ethnocentrism; and if i am anti-white, then i'd be guilty of what i hate- ethnocentrism.

My blog was an effort to interpret the unfortunate episode in the context of the colonial hangover as exprienced both by the former coloniser and the colonised. Hence it was inevitable that i use the terms from the colonial rhetoric. The concept of white superiority is axiomatic to the imperial discourse about White destiniy to civilise the colonised world. Remember Kiplings words about the White Man's Burden?

Like my friend pointed out, India too has its own style of racism. I agree, in a different context - in a social context which does inform the political. But in that particular Blog, i was dealing only with the realities of the Imperial hangover. And the White refers most certainly to The British who are still trying to sort out the whole colonial experience.

All whites were not racial- not even at the height of Imperial glory. There was always a questioning in England of the ethicality of the whole imperial enterprise.

History is not something we can wish or will away.A dispassionate effort to come to terms with it is part of human experience.

My blog was only one such effort.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Thank you, Mr. President

After a break of almost two years, I was in my college on a three week assignment which involved constant interaction with all the Departments – the Student body, Teaching Staff, Non teaching staff and the Management. Right from the word go, I noticed a change - a positive change. Couldn’t put my finger on it. Then one day, a student came to me with a strange question, “Ma’am, what is the greatest thing a person like me can aspire to be?”. Was caught off guard. Never in my quarter of a century of teaching experience has a student raised a question like that. Any way, I blurted out the stupidest thing that came to my mind. “Aim for the impossible". The girl seemed pleased with the answer!!!

I reported this conversation to the warden of the hostel she belonged to. She too seemed satisfied with with my answer. Yes, she said. A brilliant question. A brilliant answer. Hasn’t Kalaam said it is a sin to dream small??

Yes. Suddenly, things fell into place. The words of my friend from the maths Dept to the effect that we must translate dreams into thoughts & thoughts into actions, fell into place. That’s the change. The whole college - every dept.- was quoting President Abdul Kalaam. They appear to have taken him seriously.

He has ignited their minds!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Shilpa Shetty Show - Strength from History

I was away for almost a month. Away from the Newspaper, TV, internet. Away from the reach of media. No. I was not on top of the Himalayas or in the deep forests of Papua New Guinea. I was in Kerala, in the midst of print, electronic and virtual media. But the assignment which took me there left me with less than 4 hours of sleep each day, and Newspapers, TV and internet were luxuries I could ill afford in that type of a time schedule.
Did I miss these? At that time, no. I do, now. Retrospectively. At the mention of Big Brother and Shilpa Shetty. Strangely enough that’s the only significant story I seem to have missed real time. Looking around now, after the storm has settled somewhat, I find that reactions to the Reality show are many. Some feel proud of and vindicated at being Indians. Some are amused that a Shilpa Shetty and not one of those ‘in’ high profile actors should have stolen the march over the whites. Many are gleeful that it takes very little for the whites to show their true colours, to lose their cool. There are many who feel jubilant, particularly when Indian newspapers play up the reception Shilpa Shetty was accorded by the British public and parliament.
But the happiest are those(like me) who feel that British racism can, at long last, be openly discussed in decent circles.
Amidst all this confusion of reactions, I try to sort out my take on the episode. Well, am I surprised at the Indian actor’s cool way of handling the insults? Well, no. Not really. Indian collective psyche/unconscious is informed by the history and experience of centuries of racial subordination. Survival techniques against racism and colonial rhetoric also form part of this knowledge. The result is a certain stoicism which come from the knowledge of having occupied a morally superior position in the historical context of the Empire.
Also, there is no match for a refined and groomed Indian anywhere else in the world.
I can see many an eyebrow shoot up at my last statement. With my limited exposure to the world, how can I say that? Well, I’ve had the opportunity of attending several international seminars and conferences(in India), attended by the best in the respective fields from all over the world. On all these occasions I’ve seen that the Whites are incurable imperialists, now smarting under the loss of the empire. I remember ,on one occasion, when an Indian participant in the conference questioned a so- called healthy practice presented by a White participant, the latter looked annoyed, and his reply was ‘Mr. so & so, I don’t think I can give a satisfactory answer to your query, ‘cos there is nothing my country can learn from yours, and yours from mine”. Very politely, Mr. so &so replied that he thought that the whole purpose of the conference had been to see what could be shared. At which the White turned blue in the face. Seeing the danger signals, the chairperson of the session intervened.
Now to get back to my take on the issue(actually who is interested? just that I need to think aloud – it’s my pet topic), we Indians, as part of the ex-colonies, are rewriting history. While England is grappling with how to deal with her past, India is showcasing hers. We are writing bout how we resisted a cultural erosion - how we withstood four centuries of white domination; how we came out of it but superficialy scathed. We make proud movies about Gandhi, Bhagat Singh , Mangal Pandey (and a Lagaan) while the British think tanks are debating on how best to put across the shameful history of imperialism to the new generation British learners without tarnishing Britain’s image as champions of human rights.
Shilpa Shetty is of the stock proud of their past and Ms. Jade Goody belongs to a people trying to whitewash the sins of the empire while sulking in private over the loss of the empire, and cursing(in private ) the turn of events which equated colonization with violation of territorial and human rights.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mohanlal versus Amitab Bachchan - TOI Dared!!

The teaser above the main headlines of Sunday Times (January 14, 2007) caught my attention. There was a picture of Malayalam actor Mohanlal with a comment about how he made Amitabh Bachchan sweat. Surprised that the TOI had mustered enough courage to even hint that there is someone more talented than the Big B, I went to the inside page which carried the full story. The subheading also hinted something to the same effect- watching the two of them together during the shooting of Sholay, one of them was at a disadvantage, it read. That was as far as TOI would go.No further! Though it was obvious, the story did not state in so many words that it is Bachchan who paled in comparison. The article was about Mohanlal, who, I think is the most talented, versatile natural actor in India, and stands head and shoulders above not just Amitabh Bachchan, but better actors too.

The article attempted no comparison of the two. It was all about how good an actor Mohanlal was. What beats me is why this comparison was made at all, why the subheading of article chose to hint at the superiority of one over the other without pursuing the issue in the story.

I then realized that some heavy editing was done after the writer submitted the article. Anything that would explode the myth that Bachchan is the greatest and the best thing that ever happened to Indian cinema, was nipped- but not in the bud. A poor bit of editing which reveals that the mighty paper gets weak kneed when dealing with the Big B.

Now why would that be?

What is TOI’s agenda in deifying this very average actor?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Kerala's obsession with Mohanlal and Mammootty

Am in Kerala at the moment. The place is full of huge posters of Mohanlal and Mamootty. True, Mohanlal is the finest actor in the country at the moment. and Mamootty, really really talented. But why are we holding on to them? Isn't it time we let go? And the other he- man Suresh Gopi also appears to be making a comeback.

And where are all those talented female power actors? Why isn't the enlightened Kerala with its proud track record of empowering women providing a space for them in cinema?

The answer could be one of these.

Either the film makers have no feel of the mood of the audience


they have their fingers on the pulse on the audience, and know that the Keralites are incurable traditionalists who foolishly believe that the new order can be eternally postponed if the old is propped up by clumsy scaffolding.

What do you think?