Friday, August 28, 2009

Jaswant Singh: Hero or Politician?

The truth is out. The beans are spilt by the dissidents.

While time owes it to the nation to set records straight, I wish it were done in a more honourable and statesmanlike manner.

Jaswant Singh waited to be thrown out of the party to open the can of worms. How much more dignified it would have been if he had walked out of the BJP after Godhra! Would he have let the cat out of the bag if he were not dumped by the party?

Jagjivan Ram did it once. On the eve of the election in which the nation passed its verdict on the Congress party, Mr. Ram walked out of the party, taking a high moral stance – after keeping quiet during the entire period of the Emergency and enjoying its fruits.

No heroes, these people.

Guess one cannot blame such “leaders”. Integrity and patriotism can only be expected when these “elected representatives” of the people are statesmen and not mere politicians.

Gone indeed are the days when a minister resigned owning responsibilities for his or his party's failures. This is the only way political parties can be forced to do that soul searching so necessary for self correction. In these times, when politics is a mere profession or a career, it’s only the naive who give up a ministerial berthe or positions of power on account of ideological differences with the party to which they belong, or in disagreement with actions/policies which violate fundamental human rights.

Incidentally, regarding all this noise about Advani having knowledge of the logistics of the exchange arrangements of a dangerous prisoner for passengers, what would the Congress have done had it been in power then? Conduct an Entebbe like rescue operation? Maybe the only course open to the government was to outsource the rescue operation to Israel. But then that would have pulled the rug from under the foreign policy of India.

The then BJP government could do nothing else. Terrorists were bargaining with the lives more than a hundred Indian citizens. What choice did the BJP government have? And I admire the courage shown by Jaswant Singh to go to Khandahar. What guarantee was there that the ruthless terrorists wouldn’t take him as a trump hostage?

I only wish that the physical courage that Mr. Singh showed going to Khandahar resurfaced again as moral courage post Godhra.

The moral of the story is the most clich├ęd of all truisms. The loyalty of elected representatives of the people should be to the country first, and only then to their party. And they should love their country above themselves.

We have become a cynical nation which no longer expects from our leaders statesmanship, honesty and dedication to the nation.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Can I Speak to Mr. Baxter?

I don’t know why we called him Pathan. His real name had nothing to do with it phonetically, orthographically or lexically. No did he have the tall sturdy built of that mountain breed. Our Pathan lived bang opposite our house in Ernakulam in the sixties, and he was a fat man, totally out of shape. I remember an episode when my friend came home to copy some notes she had missed. She waited in the verandah which was used as our study room. I went in to get the note book. Suddenly, I heard her shout AIYYOOO!! My mother and I ran to the verandah to find her with her little hand covering the eyes and her lips drawn back in disgust. “Aiyyeeh Aiyeeh” she kept saying.

“What happened Chithra”, asked my mother?

She pointed to Pathan’s house, and with the other hand still over the eyes, she said “A lady is standing there without her chatta (the upper garment the Kerala Christian women wear).

Amma & I looked across to see Pathan standing on his verandah, clothed only in a huge turkey towel around his waist, well oiled for a bath and swinging his arms.

I’ve never seen amma laugh so helplessly.

So, you can imagine what Pathan looked like. Perhaps, it was because of his awkward size and shape that we children were so uncharitable as to make him the butt of our jokes and object of pranks.

Pathan’s double storeyed house had identical long verandas on the ground and first floors and we could see them from all the rooms from that side of our house. Once, when my brothers were home for summer vacation, one of them came up with a bright idea. It was past 10 o clock at night and my parents were away in our native place, which meant that the telephone which was kept in their room was free for our use or misuse.

As per the plan, one of them picked up the receiver and gave Pathan’s number to the operator. We could hear his telephone ring. With the lights off in our room, all of us watched his house. His telephone was kept in the extreme end of the upper verandah. We watched excited and tense. The phone kept ringing and ringing. Then the lights came on in a room inside and the verandah. We saw the door to the verandah open and Pathan came out, looking comical as he tried to walk fast. He took up the phone and hollered into it.

“Hello hello araanathu? (Who is it?)

“Can I speak to Mr. Baxter?” said my brother in a highly sophisticated accent.

”Sarry. Wrong number”. With great delight, we watched him bang the phone and walk away muttering.

My brothers waited for him to close the door to the verandah, and then switch off the light in his room. They gave him enough time to get back into bed and called again. Again the phone rang for a long time, then lights were switched on, door was opened and Pathan walked again towards the phone.

“Can I speak to Baxter?” This was another brother who outdid the other in the accent he put on.
“I told you there is no Baxteru here. You have the wrong number”, he screamed into phone and, and hearing him from where we were, we siblings dissolved into silent laughter. I remember tears were streaming down my face in sheer ecstasy.

The poor guy went back to bed. And then, another brother took up the phone. He could hardly control giggling when he gave the number to the operator but was cool when he asked for Baxter.

This time, what Pathan said cannot be written here. Repeating what he said would be a violation of my undertaking as a blogger not to pollute the blogsphere with obscenities.

And we saw another figure appear at the door. It was Pathan’s son, his exact replica in size and shape but younger of course. Apparently he was disturbed by all the sounds and Pathan’s loud obscenities.

“Enna appa?” he shouted. Perhaps it was the silence of the night which exaggerated all the sounds. And those people had loud voices too.

“Some ****** is playing a prank on us. They are asking for some bloody (mildest version of the real word he used) Baxteru”.

“Keep the phone off the hook appa”.

“Yeah. That’s an idea” he said.

And thus came to an end a supremely entertaining session for us.

We repeated this a few more times. But once, after banging the phone down, he stood on the veranda for sometime, looking in our direction in the dark. My brothers then decided that it was time to call off this game.

Looking back, I wonder why he didn’t try tracing the call. Maybe he wasn’t aware it could be done – and I’m sure we too weren’t aware it could be done. Phones were a pretty new and rare thing in our part of the world in the early sixties. I shudder to think of the consequences if the calls were traced to our house, and the hiding that’d have followed!

Or maybe we wouldn’t have got that hiding. Maybe we’d have been let off with a warning only. My father too had a terrific sense of humour, and he too had had a couple of mild brushes with Pathan for the latter's habit of blasting the Suprabhatham from his radio early morning and waking up the entire neighbourhood.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Strange But True

It was in the early seventies that my cousin Joshi joined a college in Trichur for his Pre degree. My aunt and her second son Michael (Joshi’s elder brother) went to drop him at the college. All three were sad, ’cos that was the first time Joshi was leaving home. Also, there were fears and anxiety about ragging.

After putting his suitcases in his room and meeting the warden, aunt and Michael started to leave. Joshi walked them to the car, subdued.

“You’ll get over homesickness in two days time”, Michael told him.” After all Trichur is not far from Ernakulam”

Silently, Joshi nodded in agreement.

“I only hope they don’t rag him”, said my nervous aunt, as they reached the car. ”Joshi, if they do, just let us know. Papa will take care of it”

“Come on, Ma, stop worrying and making him nervous. This college is run by priests and ragging, if at all thre is, it will be very mild”

“But why should they rag at all?” asked my aunt, her voice slightly hysterical.

“Keep quiet ma and get into the car. Joshi, nobody is going to do anything to you. Just take ragging sportingly. OK?”

Joshi nodded sullenly, looking around at the senior students, some of whom were playing badminton while some watched, and some stood in groups talking. One group was looking at Joshi.

“Look at the guys on my left. They have been watching us for sometime. I’m sure they’ll pounce on me the minute you leave”

Aunty got really scared.

“Shall we speak to the warden” she asked. Her voice shaking.

“Stop it ma. Stop being so protective”, said Michael angrily. ”Joshi, be a man. I told you no one will harm you. All this is part of life”

“You can say that and go back to the safety of our home. I’m the one thrown to the wolves”. His eyes were moist.

Aunty was on the verge of tears.

Michael took her firmly by her elbow and put her in the front seat. He was about to close the door when he saw Joshi leaning forward to plant a kiss on his mother’s forehead. So Michael went around, got in behind the wheel. The goodbyes were over. Joshi shut the car door on his mother’s side and stood back.

Michael started the car abruptly to avoid any more emotional goodbyes and the car shot forward.

My aunt put her head out of the window to wave to Joshi, and then let out a terrible scream.

“Michel stop! Stop! They’ve already started ragging him. He’s running behind the car asking us to stop. They’ve pulled off his mundu and he is running with only his shirt on”.

Michael slammed the brakes and jumped out of the car and ran towards Joshi.”Aarada ninney shalyapeduthunnathu (Who the hell is troubling you?)

Joshi pushed him aside and rushed to the car.” Where are you going, Joshi?" shouted Michael running after him. "You cannot run away from trouble all the time. Go to them and get back your mundu”

“That’s what I’m going to do. Mundu, my mundu. It got caught in the car door and you drove away with it?”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Cutlery Crisis

A post by wannabe, one of me favourite bloggers, took my mind to a somewhat similar episode in which the protagonist was my friend and colleague. I’ll call her Keralina in this post.

Keralina was one of a group of teachers selected to attend an all India conference on higher education in Ooty. Now, she was a hardcore non-vegetarian. By hardcore, I mean really really hardcore. She can have a complete vegetarian sadhya (Spread) and still feel incomplete in the absence of meat or fish.

By evening 5 0’clock she and the group (all men) from her little town where she worked, reached the venue of the conference which was a college in Ooty. Dinner was at 7.30, they were told.

After relaxing and freshening up, Keralina came down to the mess hall for dinner. There were separate tables laid out for the veggies and the non vegetarians. She stood for a moment beside a non veg table laid out for six people, surveying it. With great satisfaction she looked at the large oval dish in which big pieces of roasted chicken, garnished with fried onions and nuts, were aesthetically arranged. The dish stood out among the other dishes like a crown prince among lesser mortals, she thought. She was about pull out a chair and take her seat when she suddenly noticed that cutlery was also arranged around each plate.

Now, born and brought up in the heartland of rural Kerala, she had never used them, and was known for her tirade during her lectures against Indians imbibing these colonial habits (like eating with mini weapons) at the cost of sensible and healthier practices in our own land. To make matters worse, on her way to Ooty, she had been reading in the train an article on etiquette and table manners which claimed that awkwardness with cutlery is a dead give away that your breeding and sophistication need serious honing.

She was distressed. She had absolutely no inking as to how to deal with chicken with fork and knife. After all, why should she have gained that skill when God has given her expert fingers which can find its way into the smallest crevice in the boniest piece of chicken?

With a heavy heart, Keralina, poor girl, moved away towards the vegetarian section. Whatever may be her ideological position on this issue, she didn’t want her image to take a bashing, negotiating a piece of roast chicken clumsily with fork and knife. As she took the last seat at a long table laid out to accommodate 16 veggies(there were several non-veg tables with seating arrangements for 6 people at each), her friend who was already there told her that she was at the wrong table.

“The non vegs should go there”, she said pointing to the tables next to this single veg table.
“I am observing noyambu (abstinence) for a week”, she bluffed, feeling miserable.

And she joined them and took her spoon and stated her meal. The conversation revolved around noyambu, and the veggies were lost in admiration of Keralina, her discipline, piety - -

Half way thru the meal, Keralina looked at the non-veg table to see how her friends from her home town were managing with the cutlery. To her utter dismay, she found that the cutlery was untouched! All of them were attacking the large chunks of roasted chicken with their fingers!

Keralina nearly wept.

And almost screamed in sheer frustration when the mess manager came around to confirm the number and list of the vegetarians and non vegetarians. She couldn’t backtrack on her noyambu claim and so got listed in the vegetarian section for the whole duration of the conference!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Burqa War

MANGALORE: The Sri Venkatarama Swamy (SVS) College in Bantwal has restricted a first year BCom student from attending the class till she conforms to the regulations of the college, which is not to display her religious identity, the headscarf. (Times of India)

This is a very sad development indeed. After all, this is not France or Australia or Canada but secular India where the citizens have come to take in their stride the differences in the attire of those belonging to various religious communities.

Don’t students belonging to all communities display symbols of religious identity? What about the Bindi? Or the scapular or the rosary? Why single out the head scarf or the Burqa alone?

There was a time in India when Christians (in Kerala) went to school/college in mundu and chatta, Hindus in their set mundu and Muslims with their headscarf. For these students who came to acquire learning, these differences in the dress were no issue. They represented the plurality that was our pride. How much India has moved away from this situation!

The saddest aspect of this event is that the protests originated from the students, the clearest of indications that the citizens of tomorrow have their minds poisoned by communalism.

The first on the list of priorities of an educational institution in a pluralistic society like India’s is to inculcate secular values – like respect for other religions which includes tolerance and acceptance of religious markers. An institution that tries to throw a wedge between communities is unfit to be in the field of education, where religious tolerance, harmonious existence, respect for other religions and respect for differences should be held up as the highest values of civilization.

It is significant that this is happening in Karnataka, a state ruled by the BJP. Funny, how the party has not learnt its lessons after the drubbing it got at the hustings. The party can start packing up its bags in Karnataka after its shameful sexist and communal track record. The assault on women by lumpen elements of the communal outfits that mushroom and flourish under the BJP umbrella and the unofficial fatwa issued against people from the majority community who interact with the minority, are events which are still green in the minds of the electorate.

It becomes exceedingly difficult to understand this regressive movement in India which facilitated the rise of a communal party, all the way to New Delhi. The anti Muslim posture of the party – is it a political necessity or a genuinely ideological position? Or is it a type of fascism that infects the narrow mind which draws its identity from a narrow cultural and religious context? Or a combination of all these? Academia is replete with attempts to locate the issue in the historical site but speculations have given rise to theories and theories without credible answers.


Is it a reaction to globalization inherent in which is the possibility of eventual loss of identities of religious groups? Like the last convulsions of a dying animal? Can the religious activism across the world- of all religions- be explained in these terms?

Can’t help thinking about John Lenon’s Imagine.

Back to the issue. the brainstorming of the BJP which just concluded in Simla is causing anxious tremors among the peace loving citizens of this country. Fascist voices are drowning those of the moderates in the party. Political strategies are being spelt out to regain power from where the party can position itself to launch assault on differences.


Below is given the rest of the news item from TOI.

The student Aysha Asmin, after objections from saffron-leaning students, was told by the college management not to wear the headscarf, which she started wearing after the college had prevented her from wearing the burqa.

Aysha has not been attending the classes from past 12 days. Trouble started after the college elections. She alleged that college president Bharath started heckling her for wearing a scarf saying that they too would come wearing a saffron scarf.

"He was taken aback when I said I don't mind. I don't even mind wearing a saffron scarf", Aysha told TOI. After this, harassment continued, but Aysha was stoic till it reached a flash point when the principal told her not to attend classes.

Aysha's father clarifies that he admitted his daughter to the college only after clarifying that there would be no issue for wearing a burqa in the college with a lecturer.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Jinnah Fiasco?

Of late, the BJP heavy weights have been flirting with the idea of Jinnah - Advani, a couple of years back and Jaswant Singh now.

Curious, when you consider that the man who systematically whipped up anti Muslim sentiments in India through the famous ( or infamous) Rath Yathra, and Singh, a senior minister and stalwart of the BJP Govt, should attempt to recast history (official Indian version) by foregrounding the ‘secular’ credentials of the architect of Pakistan.

The obvious strategy of these senior BJP leaders appears to be the adoption of the policy of my enemy’s enemy is my friend. And by befriending him (enemy’s enemy), his friends will become my friends.

Thus, the glorification/secularization of Jinnah is a double kill: the Nehru dynasty (read Congress party of India) is demonized and the Muslim voter in India, it is hoped, will be gratified.

Advani was let off lightly with a rap on the knuckles. Perhaps Jaswant Singh thought he too could get away lightly. But it was not to be. His punishment did not stop with the rap. He was rusticated.

Why was he thrown out so unceremoniously?

The obvious answer is the arm twisting of the party leaders by the RSS.

All this is just stating the obvious and, I fear, I am oversimplifying some complex undercurrents. I am sure there is more to it than meets the eye but I don’t have the insight of a political pundit.

But an issue which baffles me is how, across the parties, people are going hammer and tongs after Jaswant Singh. Some Kerala politician was telling the media that Jaswant Singh should be tried for sedition!!?? For tainting the hallowed names of Gandhiji, Nehru, and casting aspersions on the Freedom Movement.

And Narendra Modi has banned the book in Gujarat!

Oh, come on now. India is a democratic state.

And nobody has proprietorship over history. History is what historians write, and historians write how they have understood the past. They see the past sometimes as they wish to see it, or sometimes as they are conditioned to see it. Pakistan and India do not have the same views on the Freedom movement and the Partition. So where does the truth lie?

History is not sacrosanct. Balzac, I think, it was who said that history is a pack of official lies.

So why al this banning and sedition charges in a democracy, all in the name of an academic pursuit?

Truth is like a multifaceted diamond, said Gandhi. The search for it will never end.

Whether the secular Jinnah is Jaswant Singh’s discovery of truth or his strategy with a hidden agenda, he can spend the rest of his life comfortably, harvesting the yield from a book which is bound to go into several reprints both in India and Pakistan.

He’ll survive without the BJP.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Prince and the Pauper: The President of India on Mumbai Slums

The New Indian Express, Aug 19, 2009 carried a couple of news items which were disturbingly similar. In the NATION page 7 it says


President Prathibha Patil on Tuesday called upon Mumbai civic authorities to urgently tackle the problems of slums in the city. She said that the sprawling slums of Mumbai, which house nearly 13 million people (emphasis mine), presented a sad picture especially when they were surrounding posh multi storied buildings.

Now, I didn’t see the rest of the speech tho’ I tried locating it on the net. So this could be a case of quoted out of context. Having said that, I’d like to look at this statement of the first citizen of a nation of more than a billion people.

The implications of her statement are not very clear. Does a sad picture mean an eyesore that is aesthetically offensive, spoiling the appearance of the surrounding posh multi storied buildings?

I am not being cynical. What put this idea into my mind is another news item in the same paper in the back cover Sports page:


New Delhi is to hide the city’s poor during the 2010 Commonwealth games by erecting bamboo ‘curtains’ around their squalid shanty homes, the Daily Telegraph reports.

The games, the Telegraph says, was supposed to be India’s moment to show off its rapidly rising wealth and banish memories of a country once synonymous with chronic poverty.

New Delhi is littered with makeshift slums that house the millions of migrants who pour into the city in search of work from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Their inhabitants are seen naked at the roadsides washing at stand pipes or defecating astride open sewers.

Officials had planned to shift their settlements to the outskirts of the city so the city that the television viewers and visitors see is restricted to the capital’s gleaming new metro system and world class airport, and its smart new roads, pavements and streetlights. But now they fear they could not complete the resettling work and had opted to hide the problem instead.

One official said the govt was so desperate to clean up the city it is preparing to offer free rickshaws and retraining courses to those whose jobs clutter the pavements.

The most positive part of the second news item is that the government is thinking of only hiding the problem and not repeating a Turkman Gate of the emergency days here!

The two news items coming together on the same day reflect the thinking in the corridors of power. Once, the BJP Govt. at the centre carried out a frenzied campaign of India Shining but was thrown out of power by that part of India which did not shine.

The President’s remarks, I feel should not have been made in such a vague manner that it lends itself to ever so many interpretations.

This sight is not a matter of pride and the scenario should change, she went on to say. The report in the paper did not say anything about her concern for the 13million who live in the slums. Her words sounded like an embarrassed echo of the observations of officials of New Delhi from when she came.

The long and short of it is, the government of India, mesmerized by India Inc., finds the millions who have come from the villages to the cities in order to keep their body and soul together an embarrassment only – something to be swept under the carpet, while projecting to the world the image of a country with a quality of life enjoyed by a minuscule number of people in the country.

President Prathibha Patil on Tuesday called upon Mumbai civic authorities to urgently tackle the problems of slums in the city: She sounds so casual and callous. Did she come down from Delhi with a package for slum dwellers which will enable them to pack up and leave Mumbai and live comfortably else where for the rest of their lives? How she has trivialized the huge human problem that exists in the form of slums.

You might ask: What quality of life do these slum dwellers have in the cities.

I am ashamed to say that it was during my stay in Mumbai for six years that I realized that the slum dwellers are of the same material that I am made of. My maid’s children are intelligent and she wanted to send then to English medium schools so that they will have a better quality of life than she. She works hard to achieve that. She too chaperons her girls when they go for the Dandya. There was yet another help that I had who worked and continues to work herself to death to pay the rent of 1000/ per month for a tiny room, to feed her two children and to send them to school. And I discovered that they celebrated life much more than I did. They had that spring of optimism in their gait and stars in their eyes when they spoke of the next generation.

It is these dreams that the President of India and the officials in New Delhi do not see when they ‘other’ these human beings who litter the pavements of the metro. If the civic authorities pack them off without providing for a proper alternative income, they will be guilty of a heinous crime of a massive destruction of the livelihood, dreams and aspirations of a section of Indian population.

When Shabana Azmi took up the cause of the slum dwellers in Colaba whom the authorities were planning to relocate, I heard a lot of criticism from my peer group that she did it for publicity and for retaining the workforce from the slums on which South Mumbai depended heavily. Whatever the motives, I think we should appreciate her activism - for it prevented the annihilation of the dreams and hopes of a large number of underprivileged Indian citizens.

Am I saying that the slums must be allowed to exist as they are? No. But the city planners MUST factor in these millions when they do their job. It is not all about constructing a few buildings to relocate them. The authorities should not leave it to a few NGOs and social workers to make an effective relocation of the slum dwellers. In planning and budget allotment, the slums should figure as prominently as the flyovers and the sea bridges that pop up in big metros at an incredible speed.

The civic authorities need to reorder their priorities.

For no city or country can flourish on the ruins of the dreams and hopes of a large chunk if its citizens. No India Incorporated has a moral right to build its empire on these ruins.

Yes. These slum dwellers are citizens of India whom India could not take care of. So, instead of going under, they opted to survive. In the cities.

Once again, I am reminded of what the Gandhi so vehemently warned: India lives in her villages, he said. So take care of the villages and the cities will take care of themselves.

We did not take care of the villages. And if we cannot still do it, the cities must provide for these migrants from the villages. Even if it means we have to face and bear the embarrassment of the naked bottoms and littered street.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Air Travails

The above article by Shashi Tharoor on the ordeals of traveling took my mind to mine during my recent trip to the US, during which I did a lot of domestic traveling.

I have no business to grumble, I realize. If an international celebrity of Shashi Tharoor’s credentials can be subjected to these travails, who am I to crib, especiall since, at the end of the day, I felt happy and secure at the thought that the aircraft I was traveling in would not blow up mid air.

I was a victim of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inspection twice. I had picked up a couple of serving dishes which caught my fancy at the one dollar shop which I had insisted on visiting. And which Sunny, my husband insisted on not visiting. My son-turned- mediator took us to the shop and I picked up these two ceramic dishes, much to the disapproval of my husband who thought they were cheap, heavy and not worth even the one dollar each cost. Again the mediator son convinced him that ‘we’ (he and his father) should be indulgent with the old lady and her whims. Somehow, the old lady bit worked and I picked up the dishes, knowing fully well everything that Sunny said was true. But, I am the type who gets a lot of thrill acquiring these low cost stuff – fun stuff - exotic but not perhaps the type we’ll leave behind as a cherished legacy to our children.

I took extra care to pack these dishes, as they were breakable. I must say that I am pretty good at it, having had to deal with a lot of transfers across the country with all our worldly possessions. I can proudly say that the damages in terms of breakages were negligible. But then, there was no TSA intervention while transporting things by road from one destination to another in India. On reaching Chicago, on unpacking, I found that one of the dishes which raked up such a domestic controversy was broken. Sunny was around, helping with the unpacking. I refused to look at his face for fear of that triumphant i-told-u-so-good-riddacnce-to bad-rubbish look in his eyes!

In our box I saw that note from the TSA that our box was picked for random checking, and an apology for any damages, including damage, if any, to the lock.

During my return journey to India too, my box was singled out for TSA inspection. This time the damage was to the nail polish bottles which my daughter insisted I take, knowing fully well, on my own, I will not buy them to paint my nails. She bought me enough shades to last till she made her next visit. Fortunately, I had the good sense to pack them in a double zip lock. On unpacking, I found all the bottles stuck together. Apparently, they’d opened all of them to ensure they didn’t contain liquid explosives – but did not take enough care to close them tightly. The zip lock, however, proved its quality by containing the leak within itself.

I wish the TSA has a system which will ensure that the boxes that are randomly examined will be repacked the way they found them. After all, air travelers too have some rights!

But the worst ordeal was at the Boston airport. As I stepped past the security gate, the officer there kept my boarding pass and asked me to sit down. Soon a gigantic lady came with that beeping instrument and told me that I have to be checked from ZERO. I looked out to see my brother and family looking at me very anxiously. I gave them a plastic smile to indicate that I’m not rattled and than looked back at the lady.
“I’ve to check you from Zero”
I didn’t know what that meant.
”Want the screening to be private?”
“Naturally”, I smiled. I was shaking inside, with nervousness and embarrassment. Is it going to be a strip frisking? And why me? The other passengers were just walking past the beeping door and were heading for the lounge.
“Come”, she said. I followed her with no footwear, no shawl. It was terrible. I must confess that I am very sensitive about my feet and the shape of it and always choose my footwear to cover the oddest pair of feet that the creator has ever made. Another reason I’m never seen without my footwear is, I use them to add those missing inches that the almighty forgot to bestow on me. So with my feet flapping like a duck’s and my dress hanging disproportionately long without the well heeled footwear, I walked behind that huge lady, a long long way, feeling very self conscious, thoroughly humiliated, and very sure all eyes were directed towards me. “Well, if this is a terror merchant, I might as well have a good look at her”, the expressions of the Indian passengers seemed to say.

“Have to start from zero, sthat okaye?” she asked. They were two other female officials in the room where the “private screening’ was to take place.
“OK”, I shrugged nonchalantly, elaborately casual.
Then she just ran that beeping contraption superficially over me!! That's all she did!
What all that drama was about, I couldn’t make out.
“I did a lot of traveling during this visit”, I told those officials after they gave me the green signal to go. “This is the first time I’ve been screened like this. Why so?”
“You wanted private screening. That’s why I brought you here”
“I thought I’ll have to do a strip, since you kept saying zero”
I suppose my relief manifested in a form of irritation.
"Tell me, why did I have to be screened like this. Am curious”, I told them
“Where are you from?” (Oh oh, that’s the reason eh? I told myself triumphantly. The cat will be out of the bag in a minute.)
“What’s the weather like in India?”!!!!!!!!!?????.
I stared at them.
“Monsoons in my part of India”, I replied like an idiot.
“Ooooh, it must be beautiful!’, they cooed.
“Yes beautiful. Beautiful”, I agreed and walked back to collect my accessories and boarding pass.

Raja, my son-in-law told me later that just like the TSA does random inspection of the baggage, they also do random inspection of the passengers. The chosen passenger will have it noted on the boarding pass.

When I got back to Chicago, I looked hard at my face in the mirror. Why was I singled out? A random selection? Is there some system in this selection? Or is it because of me Asiatic origin?

Better still, is it because of my one mile long name of which they couldn’t make out if I was man, woman or extra terrestrial, which should explain why even my baggage was marked out for inspection?

Like I said earlier, getting into the aircraft, i forgot the unpleasant zero experience, and felt that I was flying safe.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Thank You and Good Bye, Sri Mons Joseph, Our Beloved Minister

Another head rolls in this Topsy-turvy world of Kerala politics. The law of nature says that the old order should give way to the new. But in this enlightened state, there is a reversal of this law - New order gives way to the old here. First it was Gnaesh who, some years back, vacated his position as the Transport Minister to accommodate Papa Pillai. Now it is Mons Joseph, the PWD Minister bowing out to make way for P J Joseph, the crooning manthri with a history of having greased his palms during the Plus 2 allotment days.

A few months back another well liked Transport Minister,
Mathew T. Thomas resigned in obedience to the fatwa from his party high command.

What these three ministers - Ganesh, Mathew T. Thomas and Mons Joseph - have in common are:

* They are all honest politicians. Difficult to believe such a thing exists, but these men showed that it does exist.

* They don’t believe that the ministerial berth is their birth right. They have a job to do. They believe in doing it to the best of their ability.

* They are performers and delivered during the brief time there were in office. Ganesh was beginning to make KSRTC turn around when his father claimed what he had temporarily vacated till he was cleared of corruption charges. Mathew T Thomas who had the making of a true statesman and a disciplined party man, was in the process of giving a makeover to KSRTC with his innovative ideas. Mons Joseph brought so much transparency into the Dept with so much corruption and scope for corruption, paid up govt’s debts and gave administrative sanction of work running into thousands of crores.

* They left their position of power like the true representatives of the people – without much ado or resistance, and went back to their constituencies in the most dignified manner.

While I feel sad that these men had to bow down to the wishes and self seeking interest of their “stalwart” leaders, I feel happy at the emergence of this new breed of politicians.

I have always felt that God cannot abandon his own country for too long. This new breed of public servants, with their clean hands, willingness to work hard for the people, commitment and efficiency, is the surest indication that the Almighty has planted saviours among us. We, the people, need to identify them and evolve a system by which they are given an opportunity to serve us.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

He is King Khan not God Khan: SRK Grilled

Shah Rukh Khan frisked! Interrogated. Earlier, in a case of protocol breach, our former President Abdul Kalam was frisked by an American Airlines officials IN INDIA! Still earlier, Mammooty, like SRK, ran into trouble with the immigration officials in the USA on account of his name.

But the worst was the strip frisking of George Fernades TWICE when HE WAS THE DEFENCE MINISTER of India

And the strategy is the same each time. The immigration frisks, or grills the passangers for hours. The Indian embassy is able to get through to the immigration only after the Indian citizen is frisked to the satisfaction of the airlines or interrogated to their hearts content and certified as safe to enter the USA, and is allowed to leave the airport. India lodges complaints and the US mouths platitudes.

And we Indians become hopping mad. And rightly so.

Hey? Why rightly so?

Given that outcome of all this frisking and stripping and grilling is that there have been no terror attacks on the US soil after 9/11, don’t you think it is worth it, this tacit understanding between the US Internal Security and the immigration officials at the airport to frisk God Almighty himself if He should descend at the US airports?

So, instead of cribbing, India should do what Ambika Soni suggested – return the comnpliment. Be it Bush or Mr. & Mrs. Clinton or Brangelinas or America’s King Khans – go ahead and frisk away to glory. Strip frisk those with names we don’t like. Surely the US cant complain. WE can always say, “How do we know they are not running errands for the CIA, or not carrying hash worth crores in their suit linings?”

Instead of raising such a hue and cry, India should take a leaf out of the American Internal Security practices and be ruthless in implementing them.

No. Not tit for tat. But emulating an uncompromising attitude when it comes to the internal security of the nation.

For that we owe no explanation to anyone.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Lure of the Spooky World

Just watched The Orphanage , the Spanish thriller / horror film. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

This set me thinking. I have always enjoyed films with themes of the supernatural. In fact, I like them better than the futuristic ones with robots and virtual world and high-tech stuff. Is it because I can relate better to the spooky world which appeals to the imagination than high tech stuff which taxes the brain? Or is it because robotics belong to the realm of possibilities (ugh!) whereas the other lies outside the domain of human control?

And I know for sure I am not the only one. A well taken movie thematizing the supernatural is always a runaway hit. On the small screen, they don’t even have to be well executed. Judging from the number of yekshi serials in Malayalam which have even IT youngsters glued to the TV, one can vouch for the huge fascination the supernatural holds for the highly literate Keralites.

Why so? Do the stories of ghosts, reincarnation or after death existence captivate us ‘cos they cross the rational frontiers into regions unknown, unfamiliar and inaccessible to the much celebrated rational faculty of human mind?

A time was when man believed in the extra terrestrial and their influence on/intervention in human life. But with the onslaught of enlightenment and the invasion of scientific knowledge with rationalism in tow, the supernatural became regions to which the human mind went on luxury expeditions only. But why do we need to do it? Can’t we be satisfied with the unlimited world certified as true by science, and waiting out there to be explored? Why do we have this craving to take these flights of fantasy to a world where no traveler has ventured into or from whose shores no traveler has ever returned?

Why do I love watching Manichitrathazhu ? Why did Boris Kurloff Tales of Mystery comics lure me as a child with their chilling stories? I could never leave The Dracula alone. The book and the various Dracula movies - if executed convincingly – oh, they hold me spell bound. The End of time films are my favourite too.

That I am the rule rather than the exception sometimes puzzles me. This yearning for narratives which lie beyond the reach of science and scientific testing must be a basic human instinct. Why else was The Sixth Sense an unforgettable experience for all film goers. It just missed the Oscars.

Basic human instinct – isn’t that something we can trust, or rather, we'd be foolish to get dismissive about? Hasn’t someone said that the instinctual man, who constantly honed his instincts, was closer to Truth that the rational man?

This basic human tendency to reach out to that which lies outside the purview of the rational mind – is it the outcome of a gut feeling that truth is beyond our reasoning – or rather, there are truths that lie outside the grasp of the rational mind?

Wordsdworth’s words about what happens when we put our corporeal frame( the physical human body to which belongs the cerebral faculties) to temporary rest, comes to my mind:

the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul;
And…….We see into the life of things.

We see into the life of things – the ultimate truth! The ultimate truth is what humans reach out to – and his instincts tell him that in order to get it within his grasp, he must break free of the shackles of reason, intellect and cognition.

I think our fascination for the supernatural is a small part of this liberation project and a manifestation of that felt need to believe that there is more to life than what is defined by the limited range of the cereberal human.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Kerala: Do College Teachers Need A Dress Code?

In many areas, Kerala is a step ahead of the rest of India – but when it comes to dress sense and dress code, she lags way behind. It took a government order in 2008 to permit the use of salwar suit for teachers in school. This order does not cover colleges. So many colleges, particularly private colleges, insist on sari and only sari for teachers.

The reasons cited are many.
o It is the traditional dress
o It lends dignity to teachers & it is modest.
o It helps distinguish young teachers from students

Is sari the traditional dress of Kerala? NO! Mundu and neryathu – or the set mundu as it is now called – comes close to being the traditional dress for the women of Kerala. Among Christians, it is Chatta & mundu. I know of an occasion when a few young teachers in a private institution planned to dress in the truly traditional manner, and came to college in set mundu. They were pulled up by the Principal who sent them back with the instruction never to come to college in fancy dress!

One can imagine what would have been their fate if they’d decided to come in chatta and mundu!

I have a question. Why doesn’t this argument apply to male teachers. Why is it that they can come in trousers or mundu & jubba or whatever they please and take their positions behind the desk without inviting the ire of the management?

Does this mean that it is the woman on whom is invested responsibility of being the custodian of tradition?

About dignity and modesty – well. These are very subjective issues. A well made salwar suit can be as modest and dignified as a sari. And a sari too can be worn in the most undignified and immodest manner. With the ample scope it provides for exposure of the midriff, of the back with deep cut cholis etc etc. I know many people who can convincingly argue that the sari is the most seductive of all dresses!

About distinguishing young teachers from students – doesn’t the same problem apply to male teachers too? Why should only the lady teacher be shouting out her credentials all the time? As for that matter, why should any teacher do it? A good committed teacher does not need the aid of accessories to earn respect from the students.

Am I anti sari? Well, not really. But many a time the sari has landed me in trouble. It once got in the way while I was jumping into a jam packed KSRTC bus, and I fell forward hitting my shin against the step. Ever had your shin collide with the metal beading of the step? That’s the day when I understood the meaning of the idiom ‘blinding pain”. I can quote any number of sari related mishaps, but this is not the time and place for it.

Those who constitue the managements which still cling tenaciously to the sari- for- teachers rule should just once be made to travel by bus in a sari on a rainy day. I’d like to see how they’ll manage the umbrella, the handbag which a teacher must necessarily have and the sari, all wet at the bottom and getting in the way of feet movement and has to be hitched up while clambering on the slippery, wet and dirty steps of the transport and private buses. The latter, more often than not, will have a kili blocking half the width of the narrow steps.

I suggest this extreme step ‘cos no amount of explaining seems to convince these decision makers that sari is the most inconvenient dress for the fast lifestyle of the day, and that there are equally respectable outfits available.

Strange, how people whose concern should be to get the best out of those in teaching profession should be so mulish about dress code for teachers, and spend so much time and energy enforcing inconsequential rules which cause maximum inconvenience to employees.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

When man Meets Nature - Munnar III



HUMAN INTERVENTION - AT CHIYYAPARA where the water crashes down in a never ending roar to meet the river

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I wish i could post the stench of urine at this spot, that came everytime the breeze blew from some direction .

Lets hang our heads in shame!
Shouldn't we do something about this, and not be just armchair cynics?

When Man Meets Nature - Munnar II (to be contd)

Do follow the tale told by these pictures. The last picture is at Chiyapara, enroute to Munnar.

Posted by PicasaThe story of this waterfall will be concluded in the next post.

God's Indulgence: Munnar . Post - 1

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No, these are not paintings. They are real! God's work not man's.

I was not aware that wild majestic beauty untouched by man existed so close to us.

Now i know what the poet meant when he exclaimed 'Wilderness is paradise enow'.

These pictures of Munnar were taken yesterday and the day before.

Mists and clouds blurring the distance between earth an heaven even as you watch them, occasional drizzle, green mountains and rocky mountains, the crystal purity of the sparkling water as it hops, skips, jumps down the rocks laughing with wild abandon, the river flowing by your side all the way, dense forests and large parrot green patches of grass, man's footprints in the form of rows of eucalyptus trees and tea plantations appearing like green velvet from a distance- - - This is what Munnar is made up of.

This and much more - - - -

I have not seen many places of great scenic beauty- but i cannot think how any place can be more beautiful that these mountains.

Nature at her most beautiful best - that's what you see in this paradise situated some 4000 plus feet above the sea.