Friday, October 30, 2009

Mallu and the English Language

I got this forward today.

We Malayalees will never grow up; never shake off that colonial hangover.

This video juxtaposes Sreemathi Teacher, the Honourable Minister for Health for Kerala addressing the press in English, with a clipping from the film Achuvinte Amma, in which Urvashi is shown trying to learn English by practicing speaking the alien tongue at home when she talks to her daughter. The ‘subject’ for the forward was “You’ll surely laugh”. Well, I did laugh – at the clipping from the film. But I did not find Sreemathi teacher’s English outrageously funny.

For goodness sake, where is written that one should speak convent English to become a minister? Good enough if a minister can communicate well in the regional language. Definitely, competence in English is a bonus point – but not an imperative. Lack of competence in English is not a reason to make an Indian feel inadequate or feel that he is a lesser being.

I thought the minister communicated pretty well. So what if there were hiccups, or slips in grammar, syntax etc? Have we Indians entered into some contract with the erstwhile colonizer to protect the sanctity and correctness of his language?

Nothing gives me more pleasure than mutilating and distorting the English language and getting away with it. That’s my way of getting back for four centuries of oppression.

Come on, let’s slaughter the English languag but make sure that we get away with it. One way to do this is to care two hoots for the language, and treat it merely like a utility object.

If India becomes a super economic power which calls the shots in world affairs, our English will gain the respectability that Australian and American variety have. It’s only money and power that make different voices heard in this unfair world.

In the meanwhile, I hope Hon Minister Sreemathi Teacher will continue to use English the way she knows, the way it suits her, showing scant respect to the rules made by some stuffy grammarians in England in the eighteenth century, and to the rules of pronunciation that cannot always be accommodated by the genius of the our mother tongue.

My post on Mallu English:

The Bonsai Story

The bonsai metaphor is my favourite. Whenever I get an occasion to talk about the conditioning of human minds, I seize upon the bonsai image. I wouldn’t be surprised if my students call me ‘Bonsai Miss’, ‘cos I’m sure I have bored them to death drawing parallels between the stunting of the plants and the stunting of human minds by social structures. The first time, they listen to it with some interest, as tho I’ve hit upon an original metaphor. But as bonsai keeps popping up in my lectures, I suspect I see sidelong glances being exchanged. But I can’t resist the temptation to drag in the inhuman (or in-nonhuman?) practice of the bonsai techniques whenever I give vent to a fiery harangue on the extent to which Homo sapiens go to manipulate /condition everything including the human thought process in order to suit its schema.

If ever they institute a Nobel Prize for endurance, I’d recommend my poor students. How they have suffered me. Not that I didn’t know it, but once one gets a bee in the bonnet, it’s difficult to get it out.

I even wrote a pathetic (in the original and diluted sense of the word), poem on Bonsai, mourning the tragic predicament of a tree that might have grown full straight, into perhaps a tree that might have given shelter to a modern day Buddha who would have had a nirvanic experience that’d have saved the world from its headlong plunge into disaster; or into a gigantic pala tree, giving shelter to some spirit walking the earth for a chance to execute the revenge drama; or into a tree which would have had the rarest of rare privilege of becoming the husband of the manglik Aiswarya Rai; or into a magnificent tree which could have witnessed a Prithiviraj or a Navya Nair collapse with a hip dislocation while performing one of those gymnastic exercise that passes off for dance.

The poem looked downright stupid that I deleted it, even from the recycle bin, lest I post it on my blog in a weak moment of self love.

To come back to the Bonsai – two years back, when I visited my friend Sally after a long time, I found she had a fantastic collection of Bonsai. Despite myself, I couldn’t help being delighted by the sheer beauty of those stunted trees. Even the most commonplace tree that we wouldn’t take another look at looked lovely. I began to wonder if I could be wrong about my anti-bonsai stand. Seeing me lost in admiration of her plants, my good friend gifted me with a bonsai.

“It’s a phycus – a hardy type. Once you master the art of growing Bonsai, you can try with better plants.’

I didn’t have the heart to decline the offer as a matter of principle. In fact I was excited by the thought of having a collection of bonsai with her help that I forgot all about its potential to grow into nirvanic canopy or a manglik groom.

Now starts my story. I looked after it as though it were a precious baby. Gave it food, water in measured quantities as Sally had instructed. When the time came for pruning, I called Sally over who did it like an expert giving a lec-dem.

Three months after I got it, my bonsai died. The leaves just fell off as though fall had come to the tropical Kerala, and the small tree stood bare, mocking at me.

“Just water it. The leaves will come back. No reason why they shouldn’t”

I waited for a month, watering my Bonsai every day, looking carefully for signs of life.

But it had died for good.

Seeing my distress, Sally gave me another. History repeated itself.

Sally gave me another and another and another.

My fifth bonsai too died.

I’ve begun to think that these plants have extra sensory perception. Mebbe they got those negative vibes from me, and decided to return the compliment. Oh! They are vengeful.

No wonder their destiny to facilitate a Buddha or be a husband to the Miss World was sabotaged.

Serves them right.

No more bonsais for me. No more growing them, I mean. But the metaphor continues to lace my conversation with a dash of virulence.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Naxalism and Development - Changing Prespectives.

To me Naxalism was evil – out and out evil. As a school going kid, my head was filled with stories of the then Naxalite violence in North Kerala, culminating in the attack of police stations and the horrible images of the bloody palm imprints left behind as a warning and a statement on the walls by the violent outfit.

I think I am right when I say that these are the images most middle class Keralites of my generation have lived with for a long long time. Naxalism was a bad word for them. Like me, perhaps, they too half condoned Rajan’s murder in police custody during the Emergency. Conditionally, of course - if indeed he was a Naxalite, a terrorist who, if let loose, would challenge the right to existence of many a citizen in the name of ideology.

But, while I still condemn the modus operandi of the Naxalites, a qualitative change has been coming over my approach to the larger picture. And I think this is true of many Kerlaites like me, who, in the course of their lives, have been shaken out of their smug existence by some factor or the other.

Strangely enough, it happened rather late in the day for me. Misgivings began to adulterate my unqualified condemnation of Naxalism after I read Draupadi by Mahaswetha Devi in the late nineties. I remember being both ashamed and horrified that I and my likes were totally ignorant of a reality about India both tragic and scary, the two epithets suggesting themselves for different reasons – ‘tragic’ ‘cos most of us are basically socialists and humanitarians, and ‘scary’ ‘cos of our strong self preservation instinct.

I see netizens going hammer and tongs after Arundathi Roy on account of her views expressed on the Naxalites/Maoists issue on Karan Tharpar’s Devil’s Advocate programme. But is everything she said wholly untrue? I do not see her position as a justification of violence, if read in context. I don’t find anything objectionable in her observation that Maoism is something that should not have happened in the frst place, but since it did, it should be dealt with, without turning a blind eye to the soil that gave birth to this terrible movement. Social analysts cum activists like her are corrective agencies in an order that is struggling to come to terms with the ‘other India’, which had been neglected till now. She is raising her voice against the behaviour therapy approach of the government, which leaves the basic, imbedded problem untouched.

I cannot, however, agree with this particular observation of Ms Roy:

Roy, in a debate on CNN-IBN last week, had alleged that the government was a planning a war on Maoists to take away their resources on behalf of the multi-national companies.
“The real fact is--and I believe this--that it is the Government that wants a war to clear out the forest areas because there is a huge backlog of MoUs in Jharkhand as well as Chhattisgarh that are not being activated,” she had said.

I don't believe it. I do not want to believe it. I refuse to be so cynical. I believe that the government is thinking of a military solution, as it has no choice except to take up arms against those who have taken up arms against the citizens of India.

Having said that, I’d like to note down my anxiety that the root cause of unrest continues to go unaddressed. The New Indian Express carried this story on Oct 26.
The woes of evictees are usually dismissed as the birth pangs of development, except during election time. The people who were evicted for the Vallarpadam International container Trasnshipment Terminal project have been homeless for about 2 years now
It is in this dismissive attitude couched in the rhetoric of development in which the victims of progress are explained away as necessary evil (birthpangs), that the government takes refuge from its own conscience. The duplicity of the powers that be (as evidenced in referring to the issue during election time only) betrays a deliberate lack of political will to address the ramifications of development and the fate of those thrown out of their homes in its name.The very menclature ‘development’ then obviously becomes a misnomer.

The newspaper story continues to highlight how, though the govt had issued pattayams for the lands long back, no infrastructure development has been done so far.
The government has not so far given approval for roads, water supply and electricity connection to the proposed site.

The Vallarpadam acquisition is hailed as the model acquisition where the relocation of displaced population was not retarded! But the truth of the matter is, with the issuing of pattayams, the government very cleverly got the obstacle to progress called the ‘locals’ out of the way and then callously left them to fend for themselves - for two years now in unlivable conditions. These are people who were eking out a decent livelihood for themselves till they were thrown to the streets in the name of development.

The collateral damages of development! This is the soil where Naxalism strikes root.

This is one such case only. India Incorporated is snatching away the ‘other India’s’ food, shelter and livelihood. And the government appears to be generous with the MNCs but helpless in fending for these victims who pay the price for development and who, therefore, are getting angrier, hungrier and frustrated by the day.

The government must get its act together. It should shake itself out of the denial mode. A major policy change is required to deal with this frightening situation. The corporates for whom the people are evicted must compulsorily be made to resettle the dislocated people. It should be binding on them to build up infrastructure in the new sites chosen for relocating the dislocated; livelihood must be offered to at least one person in the uprooted family in the form of employment. All these conditions must be satisfied before they are allowed to lay the foundation stone for their project.

Also, when the government draws up the budget for a mega development project, it must factor in the cost of rehabilitation of those affected by the project (I do not know if it is done that way), and simultaneous with the execution of the project, the process of rehabilitation too must be carried out.

Why should one section of the Indian population pay for the comfort of another section?

Are not all Indians, be it the tribals or the BPL population, equal in terms of their inalienable rights?

A nation built on the backs of the poor cannot sustain itself. The tears of the deprived will prove to be a dangerous curse to India.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Rather Insignificant Episode

There are fifteen posters of XYZ, amma, said my 8 year son as we walked down the railway platform. He had been counting the posters of XYZ, the candidate for the legislative assembly, pasted on the pillars of the platform.

Who is he?

He is the candidate for the assembly election that’s coming soon.

Why are there so many posters?

People should know that he is standing for the election, and he is the candidate for that party.
Thus, on that railway platform, my son got his first lecture on the democratic process. He seemed to be quite fascinated by it. Questions followed and I answered to the best of my ability in a language and manner that a child could understand.

Will XYZ win, amma?

I don’t know, son .

Will you vote for him.

My vote is not here. I ‘ll vote from my hometown where the candidate is different.

If you had a vote from here, would you vote for XYZ?

I don’t know, math.

You must vote for him , amma, if you have a vote from here.

Why, math?

Because I like him. There are fifteen posters in this railway platform
. I decided not to challenge his illogical logic.

The passenger train came and we got in. The compartment was crowded, so we stood between the two doors, leaning against the back of the seat.

At the next stop, some people got down and so we could sit. Passengers started boarding. Suddenly, my son started shouting at the top of his voice. He was pointing to someone and shouting repeatedly Amma amma there’s XYZ Amma amma there’s XYZ. And to my surprise, he was right. There stood XYZ in the space we had vacated, looking at my son, mighty pleased and surprised.

Then he inched his way towards us and ruffled my son’s hair and asked me How does he know me?

I don’t know whether it was the sycophant in me or a sense of mischief that made me say Who doesn’t know you, Mr XYZ?

Oh the guy was simply delighted! He seemed to grow in height like Eddy Murphy in the Nutty Professor and his grin grew wider and wider that I found myself thinking that if not for his ears, his grin would go right round his head (not my original – read it somewhere).

Needless to say, my son’s day was made, but he was heartbroken when XYZ got a trouncing at the hustings. After that XYZ went out of his life.

As for Mr. XYZ, he subsequently left his parent party and joined the rival party after being denied ticket during the next election. Today he occupies an important position and right now is in the middle of a controversy.

I’m naming no names :-)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Alliyaambal Kadavil - Then and Now

It tugs at the heart strings.

But I guess one has to be a Malayalee and around five decades old to receive the full impact of Vijay Yesudas’s rendition of the classic of the sixties Alliyambal Kadavil in the just released Malayalam movie Loudspeaker.

I am curious to know how the generation which did not experience the enthralling entry of Yesudas into their young world reacts to this new version of this song. I am curious to know how the generation which was not the first to hear the original Alliyaambal by Yesudas responds to this song.

Alliyaambal 2009 cannot be the same for our youngsters as it is for those of my generation. It creates a wistful longing for those emotions evoked by the original song which the senior Yesudas, in the sixties, sang with such a mellifuous flow, as though 'he on honey dew was fed/ and drunk the milk of paradise’. The song swept us off our feet by its sheer melody the very first time we heard it. Then, the whole of Kerala was humming it, the young and the old, the middle aged and the very old.From the film Rosy, the song was an event which we can never forget. Composed by Job Master, it was as different as different can be from the other compositions, though all of them too seem to have been created exclusively for young Yesudas with his silken voice and incredibly melodious style of rendition.

The 2009 version of the song from Loudspeaker takes you back - back to a time some four decades back when we were the fortunate witnesses of a great and unique confluence in Kerala of a great rendition artist, great composers and great lyricists. It is this that adds a certain special dimension to the nostalgia that overcomes those of my generation when we listen to Alliyaambal of 2009.

In the movie Loudspeaker, the song itself is a very evocative picturisation of nostalgia - naalukettu, flooded nadumuttam, young adolescent love, paper boats, the swing, the kulam, the simple innocent joys of a life close to nature – all seen through the mind of an elderly man (Sashi Kumar).

The slow rendering of the classic of the sixties by the son, who for the first time sounds like the father, fills you with a longing for those days when the phenomenon called Yesudas burst into Kerala and held it spell bound; for those days in the sixties when the Malayalee suddenly discovered what ecstatic enjoyment film music can bring.

And its picturisation takes you back to a way of life that is not just of the past, but one that is vanishing forever.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gory Rumblings of Hungry India : Maoist/Naxal Threat.

I begin by stating in no uncertain terms that this post is not an attempt to justify violence. The ethicality of an ideology with violence integrated into its conceptual structure is suspect. Cause and means must be above blame. That’s the most dependable touchstone for the ethicality of any ideology, no matter how simplistic it might sound.

Ethics, I am aware, is an outdated concept in hardcore academic parlance, ‘cos it presupposes essentialism and absolutism. But, at a practical level, for a healthy and harmonious coexistence of human beings, for equity and justice in governance, we cannot merely indulge in scholastic niceties and sideline the issue – or adopt an ostrich attitude on the grounds of the relativity of ethics.

Having said that, I am going to set out on an expedition to find out if I can arrive at a position on the internal violence that is traumatizing heartland India.

One would like to believe that the Naxalites/Maoisits with their brutal operations have lost the sympathy of the common man. The veracity of this statement, however, depends on who fit into the definition of the ‘common man’. Without any ground support, is it possible for any organization to spread and gain control over the Red Corridor, a huge expanse cutting across five states of India?

Tackling the Naxal ‘menace’ by military operations is one option open to the government at this point, but this option has to be exercised in tandem with concrete steps to address the root cause. Otherwise, the solutions yielded can only bail out the government for the moment. Perhaps a well coordinated sustained operation might weaken this extremist group – like the Khalisthan movement in Punjab in the eighties was brought under control. But, unlike in Punjab, it is unlikely such suppression of the Maoists will be permanent. Khalisthan was a separatist movement. The issue here is different. It is a class war intersected by caste war. Traditionally and historically, the warring groups have been like the proverbial anvil and hammer. Suppression will lead to a hydra like resurfacing with greater fury.

Who are these Maoists? What do they want?

Often, the official position on these vital questions is evasive. Two years ago, the Prime Minister expressed his fear of the growing aggression of the Maoists. But other than these knee-jerk sounds made by the authorities, no concerted effort has been taken to address what Naxalism/Maoism represents in India. But their victory in Nandigram and spurts of violence from these groups in the past three years, have rudely jerked the government out of its self delusion, and the government is showing signs of shaking itself free from the grip of the ostrich syndrome.

The Maoists/Naxals call it the ‘People’s War’. They claim to be the voice of that underprivileged, deprived and marginalized citizenry of India who fell by the wayside, untouched by ‘development‘. No. Not just untouched, but marginalized BECAUSE of the model of development adopted by Independent India. This citizenry comprising the tribals from whom land and livelihood have been snatched away by deforestation and allotment of forest areas for ‘development’ undertakings; those displaced by ‘development’ projects such as dams and industry; those eternally at the mercy of privileged caste and class in the feudal society which is still strong in India; the farmers who have been rendered desolate by years of governments’ neglect of the agricultural sector; and more. Many more.

This group represents the failure of India and the Maoists/Naxals constitute the bloody manifestation of a terrible, chronic internal malady of our society. These terror merchants represent the fall out of free India’s skewed mode of development rooted in an unwritten exclusionist definition of progress. They claim to be the voice of the exploited, the downtrodden, the hungry, and the homeless and abused section of humanity in a country which is presently being spoken of as an emerging economic superpower of the 21st century. The Ambani brothers fight over their billions and the government intervenes surreptitiously, and keenly awaits the outcome of this family feud. On the other side of the coin, the downtrodden gets killed, their women get raped, their lands are snatched and they are rendered without shelter. But successive governments have kept a safe distance in order not to get their fingers burnt or on account of pressure from vested interests, or for fear of stirring up a hornet’s nest.

The Naxals/Maoists are the self styled Messiah who holds out to these distressed group hope of redemption from their miseries. That they have taken up arms instead of adopting peaceful methods is not to their advantage, ‘cos, as I mentioned earlier, violence cannot be an acceptable solution in a democracy. But with every passing financial year as the margins keep growing and encroaching into the core, these extremist groups gain greater acceptability with that deprived citizenry.

The Home Minister has now asked these militants to lay down arms and then come to the negotiating table.

Will they do it?

The answer is not within sight. These militant groups who have adopted terrorist’s methods are terrorizing not only the People’s Enemies, but the very people whose battle they claim to be fighting. The cause of the underprivileged has been hijacked by this extremist political outfit, and is being used as a pretext with the long term plan of gaining political power, modeled on a Mao style revolution. Hence, it would be a falsehood to state that they have the wholehearted support of those who exist in the margins of development.

Whatever the case, it will not be an easy task to bring them to the negotiating table. And how much can the government negotiate/compromise with an outfit which swears by violence and indulges in brutal mass murder and heinous and torturous methods of killing innocent hostages?

But what the government can and should do is to create a sustainable system to address the problems of those Indian citizens who are totally distressed and could till now partake of none of the benefits of ‘development’. If this issue is addressed aggressively and substantially with a well structured plan executed efficiently, these extremists group would lose their foothold in their base, the People.

A mammoth task for the government with the type of graft that has stricken our system like a disease, one must admit. But the government can no longer throw up its hands in helplessness. It simply can’t afford to. It should squarely face the hungry heartland of India, which bleeds with years of neglect and failure of governance.

Today, the newspapers ran a story which brings cheer. It is about a programme run by the government in rural India to tap human and land resources, and the laudable success it achieved in bringing light into the lives of the people there . For those who are not inclined to check out the link I have given, this excerpt of the news item will give a fairly good idea:
..The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), …is bringing a silent revolution to the country side in Andhra Pradesh by turning wage seekers into farmers and entrepreneurs.
The scheme which assures 100 days employment to each household every year, has not only checked the village to town migration and help address the problems of extremism in some areas but has also brought a degree of economic empowerment to the beneficiaries.

For yet another development that evidences the government’s resolve to tackle chronic underdevelopment , read the following excerpt from today’s EditPage of the New Indian Express (Wednesday, October 21, 2009) :
There was an interesting development recently in connection with the Union Home ministry’s effort to tackle the rising Naxal violence in Jharkhand. On the ministry’s urging, the state government (presently under central rule) has withdrawn something like a lakh of cases registered against tribals under the Forest Conservation Act. The charges were all slapped on people trying to keep body and soul together – entering reserved forest without permission. stealing fruit, cutting wood, grazing cattle etc. - - - it was decided …as part of the grand strategy for ‘winning confidence’ of those living in Naxal affected area, to withdraw these cases.

Both these developments are very encouraging. Half a century after the Mahatma’s death, the model of development he passionately advocated is beginning to make sense to the powers that be. Cornered, India is beginning to see the wisdom and foresight of the great man. While the first extract testifies to the government being proactive in taking care of India’s greatest asset – human resource and villages (Take care of the villages and the cities will take care of themselves – Gandhi), the second one shows that realization has dawned on the privileged India that the deprived citizenry too are citizens, and that the same uniform law cannot be applied to all. The nawab or a superstar who poach cannot be seen on the same scale as the starving Indian who hunts or helps himself to the forbidden fruit to keep his body and soul together. The latter requires compassion and understanding. Laws have to be nuanced to prevent the oppression of the oppressed.

It is very encouraging to see that the government is reordering its priorities, though it is sad that the militant’s gun has to prod them. Anyway, better later than never.

Perhaps, we can now be assured that the democracy that we are striving so hard to preserve will not, after all, be destabilized.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Seditious Politics over Mullaperiyar.

Mullaperiyar begins to bristle again. And this time, Jayalaitha has crossed all permissible limits offered by the freedom of expression. Equating Kerala building a dam across Mullaperiyar to China building one on Brahmaputra, amounts to a seditious speech.

Take a look at what she has to say:
Chennai, Oct 18 (IANS) Equating Kerala’s demand for a new dam at Mullaperiyar with China’s attempts to build one on the Brahmaputra within its territory, AIADMK general secretary J.Jayalalitha Sunday said if the Indian government could oppose the Chinese project, then Tamil Nadu too had the right to object to Kerala’s project. (Emphasis mine)
What are the implications of this statement?
Kerala and Tamil Nadu are like India and China. Are they two countries? Implied in this statement is a subversion of the federal nature of the Indian Republic. If this does not amount to sedition, what does?

She goes on:
Noting that India is objecting to China building a dam on the Brahmaputra on the plea that it would affect the ecology of several states here, she said: ‘When one nation can object to the actions of another in the matter of river water sharing, does not Tamil Nadu have valid grounds to push its case through vis-a-vis a neighbouring state?’
This elaboration strengthens my argument. Are two states in a federal republic equivalent to nations with independent political status?
And the danger in this metaphor lies in equating of Kerala to China, and thereby, Tamil Nadu to India. It does make matters a little dicey that Kerala has a Communist Government, which is constantly accused by all political parties of having ideological leaning towards China, as the latter is the only surviving large and powerful Communist country.

And then comes her trump card:
‘Are not both Kerala and Tamil Nadu states of the Indian Union? Do the Prime Minister and the Union Minister of State for Forests and Environment have different yardsticks while dealing with identical issues concerning the Indian nation and Tamil Nadu state?’ she asked, according to a statement released here.
She is clearly playing on the emotions of the people with, no doubt, the future of her party in mind. AIDMK, at the moment, is cooling its heels in the opposition benches of Tamil Nadu.

Without batting an eyelid she proclaims loudly that:
The construction of a new dam across the Mullaiperiyar in Kerala would practically result in cutting off the main source of water for five districts of Tamil Nadu.
Kerala leaders have been crying themselves hoarse that Tamil Nadu requirement for water will be met. Besides, the rivers of India are not the exclusive property of any state. They belong to the nation, and the sharing pattern of the waters is always done with intervention of the Centre’s machinery for the purpose. She continues:
She said Kerala is going ahead with surveying lands for construction of a new dam, which would be against the interests of the people of Tamil Nadu.
She knows this statement (which I have highlighted above) is a blatant lie. But politicians are so crafty that they look around for issues that appeal to the parochial sentiments of the public, and then politicize it till it becomes a huge emotional inferno which consumes sanity, logic, common sense and patriotism.

And then she lays the foundation for an unrest and “disaffection” between the States of a federal union:
‘90 per cent of this survey work is complete. The balance will be completed in hardly two months. The minister concerned in Kerala has also said on record that the construction of the new dam will be completed in less than a year after the sanction is given,’ Jayalalitha said.

The final salvo is sent in the direction of the opposition:
She demanded the DMK should pull out of the central government immediately on the issue of the new dam in Kerala.
The continued presence of the opposition in the Centre is interpreted as an anti Tamil Nadu position. This will provoke Karunanidhi to react, in order to ward off Jayalaitha’s blows with the Mullaperiyar stick.

The result is bound to be trouble between two states, created out of sheer selfishness of politicians. Fortunately, Kerala and Tamil nadu are two states which co exist as perfect neighbours. Let us not allow these unscrupulous politicians create bad blood between these two states.

The people of both Tamil Nadu and Kerala should be educated about the new dam that’s being planned. The Centre or some people’s organization should step in to convince the people of Tamil Nadu that 1. The building a new dam is to ensure the safety of millions of people whose lives will be lost in case of a mishap 2. The water availability for Tamil Nadu from Periyar will not be reduced by the new dam.

In the meanwhile, it is worthwhile to examine if Jayalaitha can have sedition charges slapped on her for the threat her rhetoric poses to the federal fabric of the country. Does freedom of speech give license to regional politicians to tear the country apart?
What a shame we have such selfish, self seeking, deceitful, crooked , ruthless and unconscientious politicians in the country.

May their tribe NOT increase!

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Tag with a difference,

Sujatha has tagged me again. This is a tag with a difference. To quote her
The above web video is an effort to raise public funding for Dr. Sudhir Paul's further research into a promising approach towards a true HIV vaccine. He is the husband of my friend and co-blogger Ruchira Paul ( Accidental Blogger).

I am not competent to say anything about this matter, but i did check out the Covenant Immunology Foundation on the net, and spoke to a couple of researchers in this field. They felt that this is 'definitely legitimate research' and thought that 'the video has some good educational points for the public'.

Please check out for yourself and if you find it convincing, please spread the word around in the blogsphere.

On a side note, Ruchira Paul, the wife of Dr. Sudhir Paul, is a blogger who, with a few friends, author Accidental Blogger . It is a fine and intelligent blog, and a favourite with me. Today they celebrate the fourth anniversary of the blog. You'll find Accidental Blogger worth visiting.

Mahatma Gandhiji ki jai, hollers Indian media

The fourth estate appears to have had an apocalyptic vision about Gandhiji. As a result, the Mahatma has been all over the print media in India for the past couple of weeks. Believe it or not, it did not dump him, as it usually does, after Gandhi Jayanthi. Thanks are due to Obama and Nobel Peace Prize Committee for this uncharacteristic behaviour of the media.

Obama’s choice of Gandhi as the one person he’d like to dine and talk with appears to have opened the eyes of our scribes to the worth of the Mahatma. The op-ed pages are discovering that there could be a remote possibility that Gandhi is after all not quite so antiquated. If he can inspire the person who occupies the most powerful seat in the world, surely Gandhi is not the most forgettable commodity.

So what if took a Prince Charming in the form of the President of the United States of America to wake our media to the relevance of Gandhiji? Gandhiji now stands a chance of getting reinstated in the consciousness of India, to whom he is nothing more than a mere name now. After all Obama is dropping his name every other day!

Every time someone gets a Nobel Prize for peace, our media shakes itself out of a stupor and makes some perfunctory noise about Gandhi not getting it. And then goes back to its indifferent silence. But this year, Obama’s remark about Gandhi, Gandhi Jayanthi and the Peace Prize for Obama – all coming in quick succession, have led to an effort to excavate the great man from the ruins of oblivion. Can we hope this interest will not prove to be another bout of enthusiasm and will not vanish without a trace till the next Gandhi Jayanthi or Nobel Peace Prize, whichever comes first?

Now, there has been another incident which will make the media shake its mane and roar the name of the Mahatma. See this bit of news: Gandhi's ideas influenced release of Lockerbie bomber. A terrorist set free by a western country on compassionate basis on Gandhi‘s diktat from the grave! Am waiting to see how the Indian media is going to respond to this.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sun did not set on the Diwali Lamp in 2009

The American President lights Diwali lamp in the Whitehouse.
The British Prime Ministwe too does the same thing in 10 Downing Street.
Both firsts.


Mere tokenism?


Is the hitherto fragmented human mind breaking free of narrow domestic walls? Are we moving towards ‘that heaven of freedom?’

Is this the globalization of the mind?

Or an indication of the decolonization of those whom we thought of as incurable imperialists?

Or, a sign of an emerging reverse dependency?

Could it be a recognition of shifting centres of economic power?

Or a wooing of the orient? Are the imperialists back to their old tricks? A sort of old wine in new packaging?

And parallelly, fundamentalism spreading like wildfire – is it the last convulsions of a dying order?


I too send Diwali cards to my near and dear ones this year.
That too an insignificant first.


We are too close in time to interpret these new features of culture.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Invasion of Bollywood into National News

There was a time when I used to watch with considerable interest when I see film stars on the small screen. They were a rare commodity then, and my curiosity level about them was pretty high.

Today I switch channels as soon as they appear on the screen. But that’s not much of a help. If one channel is discussing some actor’s body ordour, it’s suspected pregnancy of somebody else in another. Or if Sonam has fallen out with 'Ash' or why so and so broke up with so and so.

And those promotional stuff! When some actors come forward to promote their films, they chatter away endlessly – the younger Bachchan tops the chart in this aspect. So irritating! Yakety yak, yakety yak, he goes on and on and on - - - - - -

The past few days, papa Bachchan too was on the small screen all the time – am not sure for what.

And then there these reality shows with super stars asking really ‘potty’ questions or prancing around the stage and making complete fools of themselves, or choosing the grooms in an electronic swayamwara..

Stars, I feel, should limit their exposure to the public eye. They ought not to allow themselves to be so completely demystified. Distance and mystery lend charm but familiarity breeds contempt.

Guess there’s a lot of money for every body involved here. It’s human nature to make hay while the sun shines. Guess the film stars are no different. And it’s stupidly naive on my part to expect the stars not to seize chances to hog the limelight especially when there is huge amount of money at the end of the shows.

Whatever be the case, the English News channels in India are proving to be a huge bore with their obsession with the stars. Mebbe they should have a separate news hour for entertainment, film news and film gossip instead of allowing bollywood to encroach so heavily into the news hour, with speculations about whom Bips is seeing and whom some else is sleeping around with, or if pest control is being done in some superstar's house!

Not many will agree with me, I guess. Am expecting comments to the effect I should go back to the old world where I belong.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

No Small Step!

The decision to travel by train which leaves at 6.35 am was taken late in the evening. The car was at the garage for service. So my husband Sunny and I left for the railway station early morning by 5.30.

We walked slowly to the junction hoping to hail a passing auto. None came and we reached the junction. There was a bus shed and we waited there ‘cos it was a convenient spot for autos to stop to pick us up. Another ten minutes passed and I began to get nervous. True it’d take less than 10 minutes to the station at that time of the day. But still I was jittery.

“Let’s walk up to the museum", I ventured “We’re sure to get one there.”
“No”, said Sunny. “It is a gradient. You’ll find the climb difficult.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll manage.” I was really nervous. It was nearly six. “We’re getting late.”
“Relax Molly.” Cool as usual, was my husband.
So I tried to relax.
Just then a KSRTC city bus appeared and was drawing up to the bus shelter where we were waiting.

A strange excitement gripped me.
“Let’s take the bus”, said I, unable to keep the enthusiasm from my voice.
My cool as a cucumber husband turned towards me with unbelieving eyes and said “You can’t be serious?”
“I’ve never been more serious in my life. Let’s go.”
I grabbed his hand and started rushing towards the bus which had by then stopped for the passengers to board.

“This is the last landmark on my road to normalcy after my illness.” I explained. "You won’t let me go by bus alone. You won’t even let me go with anyone else. But surely I can go with you.”

Negotiating the high steps of the bus was not easy, I must admit. I could feel Sunny waiting behind, ready, I’m sure, to jump into action in case of a mishap. But I got in all right and he followed suit.

The bus was full. So I held on to the iron frame at the back a seat and stood in the aisle. I could see that Sunny had an eye on me, and was standing protectively close – without making it look obvious. The bus started. A couple of minutes later a lady, bless her, who’d been sitting in the centre of the last seat which had no aisle in between, got up and offered her seat.

I sat down facing the empty space of the aisle. Sunny looked at me with a beautifully pleasant and affectionate expression on his face and said something which I didn’t hear. I was sure he said something to the effect that I looked beautiful that day – such was the expression on his face.

"What did you say?" I asked eagerly.
He spoke louder but the expression remained the same. "Pidichurunno" (Hold on to something).

Why waste such a beatific expression for that boring instruction, I wondered glumly. Of course I knew the answer. He’s being protective without making it appear so, I thought as I held the headrest firmly.

I saw him look back a couple of times to see if I was safe and secure. Soon he got a seat a few rows ahead. Making sure I still had that firm grip on the headrest, he went forward.

The minute he sat down, I let go of the headrest and put my hand down on my lap, cos that posture was getting to be a little uncomfortable.

The bus hurtled towards the destination and I was looking out lost in thought when someone tapped me on the shoulder.

It was a lady, apparently a fish vendor. She looked at me seriously and said "Pidichurunno"!

A small incident, too insignificant to be blogworthy, you might think.

But for me, it was a giant leap. Getting into the KSRTC like I did today, once again being able to do something that I used to do with the greatest ease till a couple of years back, was indeed no small step.

It has been a long and arduous journey, but I’m finally back home.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Higher Education in Kerala - from Mediocrity to More Mediocrity

The best way to treat a disease is to arrive at a diagnosis and then treat the cause. The Kerala Higher Education scene generates a plethora of diagnoses, most of them right but not fully right. There is no convergence in the various diagnoses ‘cos the conclusions of all education pathologists are coloured by some agenda or the other.

Ministers, politicians, people from the industry and eminent people connected with education have come up with views on what ails the system of education in Kerala. But then, this has been going on for decades, and with each passing year, things have only changed for the worse. Knowing fully well that diagnosis alone cannot be a panacea, I too am adding my theory to the ever growing mountain of futile theories. After all, having been a beneficiary of the education provided by the state and a person who pursued a career in the Kerala Education Service, I can with some authority provide a few home truths which figure prominently in informal conversation in our circles, but rarely get a mention in official documents or media reports regarding state of education in the state.

A cliché but I’m repeating it. The greatest damage to education in the state was done by the infiltration of political concerns in decision making. The de-linking of the Pre Degree from Colleges was staggered for many years as it would have rendered supernumerary not just the teaching staff, but also administrative staff in the universities. In Kerala, progressive measures in education get invariably linked to non academic issues, and the casualty is always the quality of education. Successive Governments dragged their feet over the de-linking, and finally when it finally took place it was on account of pressure to comply with the requirements of University Grants Commission, the national funding body for education.

The quality of education is the quality of the teaching professionals. Has any one of the governments made any investigation into the reasons for the stagnation of college teachers in Kerala once they enter service? With brickbats, both the authorities and the other stakeholders in the education sector are generous. College teachers unions are very active but their concerns are not remotely connected with creating, maintaining and improving teaching/teacher quality, and they do not voice the discontentment of the majority of teachers who know they are not able to give their best to their profession. The reasons for this situation are many.

A college teacher in Kerala spends the best part of her career valuing papers. One cannot grumble about the internal papers of the periodic exams that the college conducts. It is a test of how the students she teaches learns. But the university papers – those huge gigantic bundles which double up in size the minute you cut the restraining cord – oh that’s the bane of every teacher. They come throughout the year. No season for it. Sometimes they come ten times in bundles of sixty (A small bundle, madam, says the university employee who manages to talk you into accepting). Sometimes they come in three hundreds, four hundreds and even upward. And during summer vacation, there is this centralized valuation.

What else is the government to do, you might ask. Well, before I give an answer to that let me tell you that these papers are not the papers of regular students alone. The universities of Kerala perhaps have the largest number of private candidates. Is it fair on the part of the authorities to bank on the teachers of regular colleges to deal with these astronomical numbers of answer books?

How does this take away from the efficiency of the teachers? Well, this evaluation duty more than takes away from the efficiency; it simply terminates the growth of the teacher. A teacher, first and foremost, has to be a scholar. Scholarship does not come from the guides available in the markets a dime a dozen. Acquiring scholarship is a continuous and slow process. The mind of the teacher must evolve by the minute, no, by the second. How is it possible for a teacher to read, research and learn when her mind, in the course of her career, is ever engaged in the effort to extricate herself from the avalanche of examination papers under which she permanently exists?

With the onslaught of the NAAC (authorized accreditation committee) visits, the teachers’ duties have tripled. The guidelines of the NAAC accreditation are laughable, imported wholesale from a totally different education scenario, and applied without factoring in the indigenous conditions. And colleges desperately scurry to meet the requirements, on account of the ratings, and the prestige and funding that go with the rating. Events are organised, practices are introduced to satisfy the NAAC demands - and documented religiously. And who does this documentation? The teachers. Colleges have begun to live from one NAAC visit to the next and the focus of the educational institution has shifted from its primary function of imparting learning and education to its wards to pandering to the NAAC, so that they get good scores.

And the internal assessment. I have in my earlier education
blogs exposed the gigantic farce called the internal assessment. Their relevance in the present context is the time a teacher has to spend doing this absolutely useless business of “continuous evaluation’, which involves running after reluctant students to submit their work, giving good marks despite knowing that the work is either plagiarized or substandard and then keeping the registers updated. All of which dig into the precious time a teacher should be spending updating her skills.

So a day in the life of an average teacher consists of 3 to 4 lectures (I e 3 to 4hours), preparing for those lectures, valuing university papers, valuing periodic exam papers and valuing internal assessment work, documenting activities. On and off, she is bound make that pilgrimage to the University to collect the exam papers to be valued, and transport them home at her own expense. The pittance the university gives for this purpose will not take these papers beyond one kilometer.

How much time does all this leave one with for research activities and or a quiet time in the library browsing through books or reading?

Now that the salaries of teachers have been hiked substantially, the authorities are all out to make this category of professionals sing for their supper. And how, is what matters. Ideally, the move should be to make it mandatory to improve qualification, to publish, and make promotions and even tenure based on academic performance. But with the unions flexing their muscles for a smug existence, this is not likely to happen. Instead, more university papers, meaningless assessments and clerical work will descend on them, denying any hope of improvement of the higher education picture in Kerala.

Solutions? Oh yes, they are a plenty. But the first mandatory step for all solutions is to delink higher education from politics. Think kerala will ever have the political guts and will to do that?

More to follow.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel Obama.

One more burden for Obama who already has a heavy burden of expectation to bear. As things stand, he has to show the world in four years time that ‘WE CAN’. And now this! Poor President. Wonder if it’s an arm twisting strategy by the Nobel committee to ensure that he’ll not be bomb happy like his predecessors. The recipient himself is scratching his close cropped head in perplexity, trying to make out how in less than a couple of weeks after his swearing in, he must have been nominated!

The implications are not small. He has swept the world off its feet with his rhetoric. Now it has to translate into tangible forms.

Now that he has won the highest award for peace in the world, the least he can do is to withdraw peacefully from Afghanistan and Iraq, get N. Korea to defuse its nuclear arsenal, win the Taliban and fundamentalists over with a ‘we can’,broker peace between India and Pakistan and and and and - - - - -

Let’s hope he won’t crumble under the burden of nobel expectations!

Our best wishes are with him!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Does History Lie?

The past is in the hands of the present – truly spoken by The Stoic.
My post on Gandhi threw up this debate between two very enlightened people in the Blogsphere – Charakan and The Stoic. The issue discussed has been a conundrum to me from childhood. I’ve listened to stories of Tippu, the brutal religious zealot who held up the members of the Hindu priestly class by their Kudumi, and put the question “Will you convert?”. If the answer was
Yes - the kudumi would be cut off
No - the head would be cut off.
Subsequently, as one grows up, and begins to confront history through books, conflicting reports greet you.
We live in times when decisions are taken, fanaticism thrives and policies are made based on History. These comments show what textual history tells and what oral history tells. I am not claiming greater credibility for the latter. Memory too can be conditioned and have an agenda.
My intention in posting these two responses is 1. to emphasise the need to dispel the notion that history never lies 2. to have a healthy debate on this issue 3. to get information about the background of communal picture of Malabar region. First hand reports are most welcome as are those recorded in ‘history’ .

Would be grateful if expletives are kept out.
Thanks. Do send your views.

The Stoic said.....
History is merely the story as written by the winners. We might read Chettur Sankaran Nair’s ‘Gandhi and Anarchy’, to know Gandhi in his own period. To quote a bit,
“His attitude towards the Mopla outrages shows the extent of his surrender. His alliance with the Khilafat movement has led to frightful results in Malabar. The result was, themselves armed and organised, they took the Hindus unawares and committed atrocities too well known, to need recapitulation here — butchered them and inflicted injuries on them far worse than death.
For sheer brutality on women, I do not remember anything in history to match the Malabar rebellion. It broke out about the 20th of August. Even by the 6th of September, the results were dreadful. The Viceroy's speech made on that date deserves careful attention.
....The atrocities committed more particularly on women are so horrible and unmentionable that I do not propose to refer to them in this book. This is what Malabar in particular owes to the Khilafat agitation, to Gandhi and his Hindu friends. The President of the Indian Moslem League, following the AH injunction, justified the Mahomedan atrocities as an act of war against the Hindus and the Government. Gandhi too pleaded for the Mahomedans.”
5:50 PM, October 02, 2009

kochuthresiamma p .j said...
@ stoic
viceroy's speech - there is truth in it - how much, is the question. look back at the first sentence of your comment :-)
history is always a pack of official lies-
have u read about the british reports of the atrocities by the Indians in the rising of 1857?
9:25 PM, October 02, 2009

Charakan said...

A Stoic, The communally minded polititcal leaders and writers along with the British always wanted to increase the divide between Hindus and Muslims.In case of Malabar rebellion also they did the same.But there are enough historical evidence to suggest that the rebellion was a mainly a peasant revolt by Muslim peasants against British rule and the pro British land lords who were mainly Hindus. All Hindu landlords who cooperated with the Moplahs in fighting the British were given protection. Yes, forced conversions and violence against women took place and in later stages it did degenerate into communal violence in some areas.But to dump the Malabar rebellion as a mere communal riot is distorting history
4:22 PM, October 03, 2009
A Stoic said...
Yes, the Past is in the hands of the Present. Your viewpoint is the current accepted version. Current history also says [watch the TV serials] that Tippu was the embodiment of religious tolerance.

Did the Khilafat have anything to do with the Moplah rebellion at all?

Chettur Sankaran Nair was not an RSS guy, I presume. And he lived in those times, unlike us.
8:46 PM, October 03, 2009
Charakan said...
Stoic, my family including my grand parents who were hindus also lived there in Malappuram during that time and I have also some idea of what happened from their stories.
Tipu was an invader King who tolerated anyone who agreed to his rule and was not a religious zealot.Many Forts of Tipu in Kerala have an idol of Hanuman guarding its entrance.The communally minded people on either side wanted to make Tipu an anti-Hindu or an Islamist.He was neither and his palace had many officials who were Hindus.Communalism started in the 20th century only.
11:17 PM, October 03, 2009

Charakan said...
The Tipu Fort in Palakkad has Hanuman idol at the entrance. It is believed to be present when the Fort was built by Hyder Ali. As you may be aware many of the high-ranking officials of Tipu's Palace were Hindus.Tipu did help financially and militarily many temples. At the same time he also have destroyed many temples. Being a Muslim invader he might have been afraid or reluctant to destroy mosques, but may not have any problem in destroying temples. In summary if you zoom out and look with a wide vision we can understand that he was just a brave Sultan, a ruler who fought the British with the help of the French and destroyed anything which he thought will question his authority. There was no Hindu versus Muslim question then. Only loyalty versus disloyalty to the ruler. The ruler will do anything to sustain his rule. Of such rulers Tipu was notable for his bravery and the will to fight till his last breath in contrast to most rulers of Kerala who saved their skin by aligning with the strongest powers of those times.
Read this review of Irfan Habib edited Indian History Congress volume on Hyder and Tipu's rule

12:52 AM, October 04, 2009

Friday, October 02, 2009

Gandhi Jayanthi

In my opinion it is a book which can be put into the hands of a child. It teaches the gospel of love in place of that of hate. It replaces violence with self-sacrifice. It pits soul-force against brute force.

These are Gandhi’s words about his manifesto – The Hind Swaraj. It is true. It’ll make sense even to a child. It’s
simple. And deceptively so.

The book was written in 1908 while Gandhi was traveling by sea from England to South Africa. A recent American publication chose to call the work the SERMON ON THE SEA.

An inspired book which he wrote in 9 days, like a man possessed. He wrote it in such a frenzy that he used both hands alternately to write it. More than 40 pages were written with his left hand!

It was written in Gujarathi, and then translated by Gandhi himself, and published in the same year (1908)

The book was banned in India by the British authorities.
Why was it banned? Find out for yourself. On this Gandhi Jayanthi day, take a resolution to read this small book. It won’t take you more than an hour.
Don’t we owe it to this great man to find out what he believed?

A warning: He might appear naive, or outdated, but he is neither. He is anti modern.
He is post modern.
So read with an open mind. Remember, five years after the publication of this book, World War I broke out.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Cleanliness, Thy Name is - -

My husband is a stickler for cleanliness. Sometimes he carries it to an extent that makes me want to tear my hair out!

His tidiness (you know that obsession with everything-in-its-place-a place-for everything – and- no-littering-and-scattering-and-and) sometimes upset me during my crazy multitasking younger days – like that day when I had an urgent submission to make. My guide had threatened to withhold my attendance certificate if I failed to honour the deadline. Without that certificate, my salary would be withheld at the parent institution which deputed me. If my salary was withheld, my substitute’s salary too would be stalled – and she’d go ballistic if that happened. It’d affect my credibility in my parent institute. Now I suppose you appreciate the chain reaction that’d be triggered off if I failed to make the submission that day. I simply had to complete the assignment before the whole family set out to our various destinations – before which I had to make and serve breakfast, and get four lunch packets ready.

The arrangement was, I take care of the kitchen - everybody else stays out, ‘cos them messing around would irritate me and delay me too. My husband would take care of tidying up (which he loved doing!! I guess?) and get my nursery going son ready; my slightly older daughter will take care of herself. Things usually worked out smoothly, except on the days I had to submit my monthly assignment. On those days, I’d be like a human possessed by a spirit whose specialty was an inhumanly elevated decibel limit. My family was sensible enough to keep a safe distance from me when that decibel demon took possession of me.

To get back to my story – I sat with my A4 sheets in which I had written out my assignment (those were days when computer hadn’t become the research scholar’s constant companion). The foot notes had to be done. I hated doing that. I ‘ve always hated and still hate documentation. I am bad at it. So always kept it for the last, made plenty of mistakes. Wonder what I’d have done without the white ink in those days!

I spent more than an hour hunting for the cited pages in the various books and in the several sets of Xeroxed papers, keeping them opened at the right pages, systematically arranging the bibliography cards with details to be documented and taking care to place makeshift paper weights on them. That done, I started entering the footnotes. Just then the pressure cooker whistled. Cursing, I got up. Looked at the table to make sure there were weights on all the cards and slips of paper, and rushed to the kitchen. In less than half an hour I was done and rushed back to the dining table where I’d been working – and found the table neatly tidied up! Biblio cards stacked with a polished stone on it, all the papers arranged according to size, and all the books closed and neatly arranged.

I sat down and wept.

After that, my husband has no dared to come anywhere near my work site.

But I had my sweet revenge.

The rubber chappal that he used – one with a weird parrot green strap which someone gifted him – was looked after by him as though it were a premature baby to be reared in a super sterilized condition. Three years after he got it, there was not any discolouration on it. Only slight wearing off at the outer edges of both. Every morning, after his bath, we saw him carry it and keep in standing up against the wall in the work area to drain the water! He’d have scrubbed it with an old toothbrush which was in a better condition than the tooth brush I used to brush my teeth with. He never trusted me with the task of taking his weird parrot green chappal to its usual daytime position against the wall of the work area. If it was not kept at a certain angle, the water would not drain well. And, my using it in an emergency was completely out of question. My children and I kept a sacrosanct distance from it. When my husband came in the evening, he’d slip his feet into the weird parrot green rubber chappal and comment on the small puddle of water still around the chappal, and look at me suspiciously.

One day, I returned home at noon as there was some meeting to be held in the room where the research scholars worked. Glad to get a day off, I slept the whole of the afternoon and was woken up by the sound of Savithri, my help, cleaning the compound. I thought I’d surprise her and went out. And there I found her cleaning the compound with that weird parrot green rubber chappal on her feet!! I stared at her feet with my jaws open.

“Nice of you chechi to keep this chappal for me in the work area. I use it every day”, she said. As I stood there watching her, she finished with the compound, held the chappal under the tap outside the work-area, scrubbed it with coconut fibre, took it inside the work area (she was given a key to the work area), kept it leaning against the wall at exactly the same angle she found it !