Saturday, April 26, 2008


I get my century the minute I post this blog, I feel happy that I achieved this feat, despite being under the weather for a year.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since I posted my first blog ”Criminally Enlightened”. I traveled extensively to discover my India. I took ill but fought my way back to good health, with the help of near and dear ones. I blogged and blogged reveling in the freedom afforded by my space in the virtual domain – the freedom to be myself, to say whatever I please regardless of how insignificant or irrelevant my words were to the real world I inhabited. I reached out to kindred souls in that virtual space, who took my extended hands and shared thoughts and feelings through their comments and posts. I discovered that this space was also inhabited by some who could not see eye to eye with me on many issues. Their responses introduced, not discordant notes, but a complex dimension to this harmony of souls in this virtual world.

My hundred blogs represent, among other things, a journey into myself to discover and resurrect dormant or forgotten spaces in that unexplored region of memory.

Through this new form of self expression, I confront myself.

May God bless whoever discovered this platform for creativity.

And Sreesanth Wept

What a fall was there my country cousins
When you and I and all mallus fell down
When shameful tears flourished over us
(Quoted with due apologies to Mark Antony for the distortions)

We have seen him dance in the middle; and yell and bicker and make faces and even pray - and we were indulgent even tho we thought he went overboard sometimes.

But when he wept like a ----?! Sreesanth should have contained his tears, like Kapil Dev should have during that famous interview with Karan Tarpar, I felt.

But then why shouldn't he weep? Why shouldn't men weep? Does weeping unman you?Which Scriptures say so? Which scientific treatise establishes this?

It's all part of that patriachal discursive notions which created an order and attitudes from time immemorial with the help of certain controlling images of what a woman and a man should be - images which conditioned societal thinking about the do's and donts for both sexes.

I remember a sentence in Leon Uris's EXODUS which had a terrific cathartic effect on me when i read it as an undergraduate student. It went like this: ARI BEN CANNAN WEPT. The tough guy who fought in his own way for the creation of the state of Israel wept - but not out of self pity. he shed tears for his people and instantly enhanced his stature in the mind of the reader. And then there is that great scene in King lear where Lear comes carrying Cordelia's body in his arms, with tears streaming down his face, and uttering "NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER". I didn't grudge those men their tears. But when Kapil Dev and Sreesahth shed tears, I felt let down.

Why? Cos we have been taught to think that when men cry, it should be for causes greater than personal. Crying out of self pity is unmanly behaviour. Sreesanth confessed that he got an sms from a friend in the US chiding him for his tears. "you are a man and should not have wept", it read. I have seen men fight back their tears during funeral services of their dear and near ones. My son, who was barely twelve, refused to weep when my mother passed away - and ended getting severe stomach ache during the funeral. The doctor to whom we rushed him after the service told us that he'll be ok after he cries his heart out!

When we think rationally - we never do it when it comes to the role of sexes- we will realise that men and women are not made of different clay. And both have tear glands and ducts for the use of which Nature has made no stipulations. The norms are purely cultural.

I think just as we women resent being controlled by stereo typed notions, men too resent it. But they haven't got their act together to start a liberation movement or Masculinist theory.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My Mother and My Son

It was great watching them together. Amma was 75 and my son, 6. They could carry on serious conversations for a long time in the most casual fashion. I used to love coming home to that sight of the two of them in the cane chairs in the veranda, so comfortable with each other, engaged in conversation.

One day, I came home from work and saw amma sitting in the veranda and laughing helplessly. The chair next to her was empty. I sat down in that chair and she told me this:

‘Mathan was telling me about his dangerous adventure in the school today. He and a group of students were throwing stones at a snake. It was a very big snake. When the snake turned and looked in their direction, his friends ran off but he remained there looking for more stones. Just then, the PT teacher came rushing and took him away, dragging him by the hand. I tried telling him that snakes are dangerous things and he shouldn’t ever provoke them. He insisted he was not afraid but I drilled it into his head that a snake bite can kill in a matter of seconds.

“Ok ammamma” he said, “I won’t do it again”. Hardly were the words out when two passers - by on the road called out to me, pointing to something creeping in from under the front gate. I saw a large snake easing itself from under the gate into the compound. It was a rat snake. So I relaxed and turned to mathan to see if he will keep his promise made just a second ago. His chair was empty! I was terrified. Thought he had gone to look for something to attack the snake with, as the cemented compound did not provide stones. I rushed into the house and----saw my brave grandson, the snake killer sitting on top of the dining table, crossed - legged, looking petrified! I tried to explain to him that rat snakes are harmless. But he refuses to budge. Says he’ll get down from the table only after his papa comes home!’ concluded amma, wiping the tears of laughter streaming down her face.

She laughed even more when I told that the snake he was talking about was a python, safely imprisoned in a strong concrete and steel mesh cage in the corner of the school playground.

Strange, how even at that tender age, little boys imaginatively re-enact the St. George feat!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bringing up a Nazrani Girl Child

I do not know if all young nazrani girls born in mid 1950s were brought up like me. I was the last but one in a family of more than half a dozen male children. As a very young girl, I enjoyed climbing trees, chasing dogs, throwing stones at squirrels and playing cricket(I made up for the shortage of players in both sides!-was a left hander) or Kili(our diluted version of kabadi). My hair, neatly tied up in a pony tail in the morning, would be a terrible mess in no time. Whenever amma caught me running around with my hair looking like a golliwog’s, she used to summon me immediately and tie it up again. This happened several times during the course of the day. On certain days, when it crossed the decade mark, I would get a sound spanking but I would always manage to wriggle out of her grip before she had her fill of spanking.

Of course, she often made remarks about my gender, reflecting her anxiety about my unladylike behaviour. But it was that eventful day, when I squeezed through the window bars of a room on the first floor to get on to the tiled roof of the verandah adjacent to the kitchen, that changed my fun filled vacation routine drastically, tragically. I still remember how I achieved that feat. I worked my way carefully down the sloping roof and reaching the edge, sat down dangerously, with my feet on the metal water drain. I remember feeling literally on top of the world seeing the kitchen backyard in a new perspective. Amma came out to the backyard for something, and I called out to her with all my love for her in my voice. She looked around, not knowing where my voice came from. Then suspicion dawned on her and she lifted her eyes slowly to the roof. I can never ever forget that look of horror? terror?, panic? or all rolled into one? that spread over her face. Then, a slow strange, weird smile spread on her face while she spoke sweet nothings to me. In the meanwhile, our odd job man arrived with the ladder and brought me down from my perch in the heights. Amma’s expression changed the minute she realized that I was out of danger and I saw red lights which warned that I had better bolt. I tried to but she was quicker. What a thrashing I got!! but as usual, I managed to get away when she was only half way through and ran for my life, but not before turning back to look at her and do a little jig to show her I had outsmarted her once again.

That jig did the trick. I was so unrepentant that she decided that it would not do for a girl to grow up like a tomboy. From the next day onwards, I was sent to a convent in the neighbourhood, where I learnt running stitch and hemming and chain stitch and French knots and satin stitch and lazy daisy and and and . I also listened to the lives of saints. The nuns taught me the prayers that would help me to become a saint. I refused to say those prayers because I didn’t want to become a saint. They threw the scare of the devil into me about the devil and hell; told me how beautiful it’d be to go to heaven and sing “holy holy’ day in and day out!

From nine to four, during every midsummer vacation till I reached the fourth class, I went to the convent. After that, we shifted to a different locality where there was no convent within walking distance. Anyway, by then, I had begun to think in a gendered fashion

The Evolution of a Nazrani

Wonder how many people in this world have heard of Syrian Christians aka nazranis. Well I guess not very more than the nazrani’s themselves and a few more who have had anything to do with them. But the way these nazranis swagger about with inflated chest, one would think they have a pair of horns(ooops! manglish?) and are among the seven wonders of the world!.

Actually they come in all shapes and forms – jacobites, orthodox, catholics, marthomites, malankara, chaldeans, knanayas( this last type swear they are a better breed but nazrani’s pooh pooh that claim).

I am a nazrani myself. I became conscious of my Syrian identity, probably during that blissful period spent in my mother’s womb. I too have gone around for more than a quarter of a century of my life strutting around like chanticleer – all because I was a nazrani!

I think even as a toddler, I knew I was a Syrian-whatever that might have meant to a child of that age. I really don’t remember when I acquired that proud knowledge that my ancestors were namboodiris(that Brahmin of brahmins –yes that very caste into which Adishankara was born!!), and they were converted by none other than St. Thomas, the apostle himself. And I grew up thinking, that in this God’s own country, nazranis were the almighty’s favourites, the aristocrats and the nobility. We were a superior race, the inheritors of a proud parambaryam .

Then something changed – or did it? I don’t know, ‘cos identity is not something that can be sloughed off like the skin of a snake. It’s more than skin deep. It’s in that shared thing somewhere deep in the mind, called collective unconscious? So there is no escape from it. nevertheless, at some other level(the rational level?), I realized the existence of a huge grey area in this body of ‘knowledge’ I had inherited.

And I realized that this nazrani pride is not about being converted by that revered Apostle, or about a long tradition of Christianity practiced by our ancestors or about the jewish/Syrian heritage. It is all about laying a claim to the upper caste. Caste is at the bottom of it all.

More about nazranis later

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

End this rowdyism, please!

Kerala cannot take a single step in the direction of progress until this Goonda Raj is overthrown. It appears to be the order of the day for party workers or party youth wing to take law into their hands. They disrupt entrance exams for which thousands of students prepare for more than two years, for the conduct of which huge amounts are spent. They get university exams postponed if they want to attend some party convention, putting into immense trouble thousands of students, and the universities which are grappling with the massive problem of conducting exams on time. Destruction of public property appears to be their birth right. What happened in MACFAST recently is but one of the many many incidents of free indulgence in violence and public/private property destruction. And a few days back, a team of party workers barge into Forest Inspection Bunglow and forcefully release nine accused of smuggling an endangered tree species (NIE April 5).

A party which either cannot control its workers or has let them lose to lynch, or destroy public property, has no right to rule. What kind of governance can be expected from a political party which has a trouble shooting department to cast protective cover over their supporters who indulge in the worst type of violent and unlawful activities?

The only solution is to ban the party altogether.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Building a New Kerala - can we dream?

The New Indian Express has launched a BUILDING NEW KERALA initiative as part of its cekebrations of 75 years of fearless journalism, to which i sent my views. Needless to say, my contribition was not published. So here it is. Why waste the effort?

Congratulations to The New Indian Express for this valiant effort to salvage whatever is left of Kerala from its own wreck.

But to be hopeful of your success, requires optimsm of Himalayan magnitude. Did your recent anti-hartal initiatives prevent the hartal?

Nevertheless, we are grateful that you are not giving up. If you can sustain this never-say-die attitude, we, the people of Kerala, are with you.

But how to go about building a new Kerala?

I am glad you are talking in terms of building a ‘new’ Kerala and not renovating the old. The old has to be razed to the ground and we have to start afresh, careful not to make the same mistakes.

Where do we start?

From the scratch. Start, perhaps, from the schools -from the very primary level. We need to revamp our education system. Create a new system where the young ones are taught
· to love the country above the leaders and political parties;
· to love the environment;
· to cherish secular values,
· the concept of excellence
· the dignity of labour

Kerala is weak in all these departments. Serious studies must be done to get to the root of the problem, to understand why and how this situation came about. Sociologists’ help must be sought to diagnose the malady that has this state in its grip. In the meanwhile, behaviour therapy can be initiated. Begin with the schools. Catch them young and in eighteen years we will have a clean generation with the right values, capable of putting in place the right political dispensation. Set the remedial programme afoot by teaching the young ones, our future citizens to think clean, think healthy, think positive. Kerala needs to be cured of the cynicism, the mediocrity, the arrogance, that pathologically compulsive obsession with rights and that incredibly shameful deficiency in duty consciousness.

Equally urgent is the need to improve the work culture in the state. Kerala cannot wait for the new generation to emerge from the schools. Is it naïve to suggest that this problem be therapeutically addressed.

The next essential step to be taken is to deal with the culprits who have bought the state to this mess – the ruthless, selfish politicians. How this can be done, we hapless citizens have no idea. These politicians are always outsmarting us. This, I guess, is where a concerted effort on the part of the media can help. If you can do something about keeping politics out of school and college campuses, Kerala will make the Gods turn green with envy. For that is where the wealth of the state lies.

Can you bell the cat?

Kochuthresiamma P J

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Waiting for the Mahatma

It's been a long time since i blogged about Gandhiji. Guess it's on account of someone who told me that i'm overdoing the 'gandhi bit'. But he has never been absent from my thoughts. He intrudes everytime i pick up a newspaper or watch news. When violence rocks tiruvalla and kannur and karnataka and tamilnadu and kashmir and Iraq and the world-- I think of that messanger of peace who showed that non violence is a more powerful weapon than violence. Non violence is control. Control is power. Strength. He taught us truth is God, that truth will set us free - free from fear. Truth therefore is the source of strength.

He made it all look so simple. He translated these ideals into mass action. He proved it could be done. But why is it that we, as a nation in the grip of violence, corruption and fear, have ceased to look up to Gandhi?

My theory is that this is because we have driven Gandhi out of schools. He should not have been sidelined by syllabus setters. He should figure in a major way right from KG to the University level. Someone might argue that this would amount to indoctrination. So what? If indoctrination can bring about peace on earth and goodwill among men, why not?

Commenting on the success of Lage Raho Munnabhai, my daughter wrote "Maybe in all our hearts ,there is much more of the Mahatma than we think there is!"

What a wonderful thought! The more i think of it, the more i feel she is right. But then, why is this Gandhigiri hiding itself? Why this dormant existence for so long? 'Cos it is struggling to find its way out of the darkness of ignorance. Introduce Gandhiji into the schools with a vengeance and Gandhigiri will see the light of day.

Let's hope someday it'll surface and become a collective force once again .

Friday, April 04, 2008

No Money. So Set the Prisoners Free

Was reading a novel the other day. There was this incident where the army decides to release a prisoner 'cos it was proving to be too expensive to keep him a prisoner - he had to be fed. So he is released, which the army authorities feel is a greater punishment, as he would have to beg for food. The place being a frontier territory in the middle of a desert (an oasis settlement), the prisoner cannot leave the place. So he would be sufficiently humiliated, begging for food, from people he once governed. Incidentally, the prisoner was the magistrate of that frontier territory at the time he was taken into custody.

I was quite taken up by the ingenuity of the authorities who killed two birds with one stone - released a man both to spare the state the expenses as well as to add insult to injury by forcing him to beg. But i thought such things happen only in novels - till i read this news item today:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Lawmakers from California to Kentucky are trying to save money with a drastic and potentially dangerous budget-cutting proposal: releasing tens of thousands of convicts from prison, including drug addicts, thieves and even violent criminals.
Officials acknowledge that the idea carries risks, but they say they have no choice because of huge budget gaps brought on by the slumping economy.

The officials are aware of the dangers of letting criminals out, but they are still contemplating it as the state cant afford to keep them. Unlike the situation in the episode i mentioned earlier, the community pays for this decision, not the prisoner.

This news item is disturbing. It shows a shift in priorities - money over community/human well being. The implicatons are dangerous. Imperceptibly, a change is creeping into the values that inform governance/policies. Fatten the excehquer at any cost - at the cost of the safety of the community("You're talking about victim safety. You're talking about community member safety," she said. "You can't balance the budget on the backs of victims of crimes."), at the cost of the farmers, who go under, under the impact of the mindboggling "economic growth", at the cost of the marginalised who get still more marginalised as a result of the structural adjustments which aim only at an "economic growth" - at any cost.

This is a global phenomenon which manifests in different forms in different parts of the globe.