Friday, July 31, 2009

Mahatma Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach.

He lived in this house while passive resistance, rechristened as SATYAGRAHA, was tested against a worthy opponent (General Smuts). The house in Johannesburg, where Gandhi lived for three years from 1908, is now put up for sale with no takers, even from the Indian community in South Africa. The government of India too is showing little interest. Not surprising, given that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma, is a chapter in the history of India which the political culture of twenty first century India finds it inconvenient to accommodate. The man and his ideals are fading from the mind of the modern India surging ahead to become a world economic power. So why make a song and dance of a house in South Africa, in which, once upon a time, lived the man who had his uses during India’s Independence struggle, but has become an anachronism in the polity informed by Manmohanomics and Machiavellism.

This story which was reported a few days back in all leading newspapers of the English speaking world, mentions a German friend of the Mahatma who was a stout and loyal supporter of Gandhiji during his experiments in passive resistance in South Africa. I dedicate this post to that little known man whom Gandhiji, in his writings, referred to as his ‘soul mate’.

Hidden away on a quiet street in Orchards, north of Central Johannesburg, the house was designed by Gandhi's confidant and architect Hermann Kallenbach, reported the story in the dailies.

Who was this Hermann Kallenbach?

Kallenbach was a German Jew who became a South African citizen in 1896, and then established himself as a leading architect in Johannesburg. Gandhi has this to say about how he became acquainted with him.

We met quite by accident. He was a friend of Mr. Khan's, and as the latter had discovered deep down in him a vein of other-worldliness, he introduced him to me.

Many a time Gandhiji acknowledges in his writings that his successful application of Satyagraha as a means of political resistance in South Africa wouldn’t have been the success it was without him.

When I came to know him, I was startled at his love of luxury and extravagance. But at our very first meeting, he asked searching questions concerning matters of religion. We incidentally talked of Gautama Buddha's renunciation. Our acquaintance soon ripened into very close friendship, so much so that we thought alike, and he was convinced that he must carry out in his life the changes I was making in mine.
At that time he was single, and was expending Rs. 1,200 monthly on himself, over and above house rent. Now he reduced himself to such simplicity that his expenses came to Rs. 120 per month.

It was against the Asiatic Act which made it mandatory that ‘every Indian, man, woman or child of eight years or upwards, entitled to reside in the Transvaal, must register his or her name with the Registrar of Asiatics and take out a certificate of registration’ that Gandhiji launched his SATYAGRAHA for the first time. In 1908, Gandhi abandoned his legal practice to take care of the struggle for the rights of Indians on South Africa. In this context Gandhi mentions how this was made easier ‘cos Hermann Kallenbach undertook to look after his simple needs.

The greatest support extended to Gandhi by Hermann Kallenbach is in providing near Johannesburg, the infrastructure for the Tolstoy Farm, which provided a place for the Satyagrahis who were moving in and out of prisons, and for their families. I t is amazing how a man of Gandhi’s ilk could have his eyes wide open to human weaknesses and be brutally practical. He writes:

Till now, the families of the jail going Satyagrahis were maintained by a system of monthly allowance in cash according to the need. It would not have done to grant an equal sum to all. A Satyagrahi who had a family of five persons …..could not be placed on par with a bramachari…….The principle observed was each family was asked to name the minimum amount adequate to their needs. There was considerable room here for fraud of which some rogues might not fail to take advantage. Others, who were honest but were accustomed to live in a particular style, naturally expected such help as would enable them to keep it up…...The only solution to this difficulty, namely, was that the families should be kept at one place and should become members of a sort of co-operative commonwealth----. Families of Satygrahis would be trained to live a new and simple life in harmony with one another…… Indians belonging to various provinces and professing diverse faiths would have an opportunity of living together.

And the result was the Tolstoy farm, which is a classic example of how this great man turned a problem into an opportunity to experiment with simple living as an aid to high thinking. This project became possible only when Hermann Kallenbach purchased a 1100 acre farm for the purpose at Lawley, twenty-one miles outside Johannesburg

Hermann Kallenbach took an active part in the Epic March of 1912- that climax of the Indian Campaign of Civil Disobedience - and was arrested.

Let’s take a look at this man through Gandhi’s own words:

In making these experiments I had several companions, the chief of whom was Hermann Kallenbach…. Mr.Kallenbach was always with me, whether in fasting or in dietetic changes. I lived with him at his own place when the Satyagraha struggle was at its height.
He is man of strong feelings, wide sympathies and childlike simplicity. He is an architect by profession but there is no work, however lowly, which he would consider to be beneath dignity. When I broke up my Johannesburg establishment, I lived with him but he would be hurt if I offered to pay him any share of the household expenses, and would plead that I was responsible for considerable savings in his domestic economy.

On another occasion, the Mahatma writes: It was really a wonder how he (Kallenbach) lived on Tolstoy farm among our people as if he were one of us. Gohkale was not the man to be attracted by ordinary things. But even he felt strongly drawn to the revolutionary change in Kallenbach’s life. Kallenbach was brought up in the lap of luxury and had never known what privation was. In fact, indulgence was his religion. He had had his fill of all the pleasures of life, and he had never hesitated to secure for his comfort everything that money could buy……Some Europeans called him a fool or a lunatic while others honoured him for his spirit of renunciation. Kellanbach never felt his renunciation to be painful. In fact he enjoyed it even more than he had enjoyed the pleasures of life before. He would be transported by rapture while describing the bliss of simple life……..he mixed so lovingly with the young as well as the old ….he would make them(young and the old)work hard(tending the fruit trees), but had such a cheerful temper and smiling face that everyone loved to work with him.

Gandhiji goes on and on and on about him.

And it is this man - Hermann Kallenbach - the subject of the Mahatma’s impassioned eulogy, who was the architect of the house that is now put up for sale, with no takers.

This house in which Gandhiji held discussions with his soul-mate on religion, Satyagraha, diet, and ahimsa - - - - .

A house where the best of east existed in a peaceful intellectual and spiritual companionship with the best of west, mutually influencing each other - - - -

That house has become worthless for us today.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

You Are Late, Mr. Minister!

The New Indian Express, July 30, had a picture of little children in new uniforms sitting down "wearily under the shade of their mothers after standing for too long" with a flower plate in their hands to welcome for Forest Minister Binoy Viswam who was more than two hours late!

If this is not child abuse, what is?

And what do these ministers think they are. They are there to serve the people, and should not behave like rajas condescending to give audience to the prajas, who are to be kept waiting till it suits the monarch to make his appearance!

And pray, why are the ministers always late for any function? Are they constitutionally privileged to keep the people waiting for any number of hours for their convenience? Are they exempt from the law of punctuality?

It's a shame!

This total disregard for punctuality is an insult to the citizens who have put them in their seats.

And how dare they? The tax payers time is as valuable as the ministers'.

And the people should make it a practice to go ahead with the function at the scheduled time if the minister is late.Every law abiding citizen is as much a celebrity as the minister, and is as worthy of inaugrating or gracing an occasion as a minister. What the heck! This is a democracy!

I think it is high time the ministers sat in the chambers and engaged themselves seriously in the business of governance rather than run around cutting ribbons and lighting lamps,and in the process hold up traffic and waste precious working hours of the state.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Snake

Snakes are hogging the limelight these days. Snake thieves are hitting the headlines. A village near Belgaum has been successfully holding dialogues with these carnivorous reptiles to improve bi lateral relations between human and this variety of nonhuman creatures of God, and all this media glare on these crawling creatures had the impact of creating in me an urge to examine how I relate to this creature.

I am not sure how I feel about snakes. Without doubt, I’m terrified of them. But the feeling does not stop at terror. The creepy thing fascinates me too. Terror coupled with fascination is a very complex emotion.

Of course, fascination happens only when I see them in a zoo, or in the guindy snake park where every snake is supposed to be devenomised, or watch them in a movie or TV programme, or when I read about them or watch a snake dancing to the tune of that endangered species called snake charmers.

Guess the Biblical story of the arch enemy who seduced Eve in the form of a snake had something to do with my total dislike and hatred for the reptile in my childhood days. I used to think, as a little child, how much more better off the world would have been had it not been for this hateful creepy creature. I thought about the snake with resentment whenever someone I loved fell sick or died, or when my brothers, who were set after me by amma, chased me around the house to capture me and take me to amma who waited there to pull out my loose tooth. Sigh! Life was so painless before Eve ate the apple. And the concept of paradise caught my childish imagination too. Trees and flowers and hills and mountains and the lion and the lamb lying side by side while all other animals took me for a ride on their backs around parudeesa! I must, however, admit that, as I grew a little older, I began to think, rather guiltily, that life in the paradise would, after all, have been a big bore.

As a child, the only thing that I was grateful to the snake was for being instrumental in the introduction of the practice of wearing clothes. I could never understand why God thought the naked form of man and woman was beautiful and decent enough to allow them to roam about in the paradise with nothing on. After all indecent exposure is indecent exposure, and what sort of God was it that created man so shameless as to be so unselfconscious of and comfortable with his state of nakedness?

As I grew up in the secular India, the intensity of my dislike for snakes diminished. Many of my classmates worshipped the snake. The sanctity of the sarpakaavu went a long way to neutralize the strong negative feelings the creature generated in me. This is not to say that I got over my intense fear of the creature at any point of time. But so long as I didn’t run into it, I conceded that the right to existence was the inalienable right of the snake too.

While in college, I was careful not to talk too much about the snake ‘cos in those days Freud was a craze among students and, a couple of times that I brought up the subject of the snake, my friends warned me they’d be forced to apply Freudian interpretations if I spoke too often about the reptile!

But it was in the world of art that the creature absolutely captivated me. As a high school girl. I used to watch with fascinated envy as Rajeswari did the snake dance. I never tire of watching the actress Sridevi’s snake dances. The short story V mark of Vishnu still grips me. Anaconda was terrible. But DH Lawrence’s The Snake – oh how I loved/love it. How the man has humanized the reptile. The undoing of the Christian identity of the poet in that piece is so convincingly achieved.

I taught that poem to a pre-degree class years back. The piece fascinated me so much that I read up as much as I can on that small poem, and read the poem itself again and again to find that it grew on me. Often times, I used to pick up that dog eared text book which opened automatically on the page which had Lawrence’s Snake, and read it to relish the aesthetic pleasure it afforded me. On one such occasion, on a Sunday morning, when i was all alone in the house and was lazing around in my duster coat, I suddenly remembered that I had to leave the outhouse door open for the workers who would come in at moment to take their tools from that room. Still under the euphoric influence of the poem, I unlocked the door of the outhouse and pushed it wide open. Oh my God, there it lay!! A gigantic snake, coiled into a concentric circle of god knows how many layers. I remember looking at the thing in utter terror. The next thing I remembered was standing on the public road, a few people whom I recognized as my neighbours, blocking my way to prevent me from running further into the road. Their voices seemed to come from a far away land when they asked me “What’s wrong, “and “What happened?”. Seeing all those people brought me to my senses, tho for the life of me I couldn’t remember how I reached the public road. Of course, I must have run faster that PT Usha who had missed the Olympic medal a few days before. Did I yell and scream like a madwoman when I ran? Did I hitch up my duster coat to enable me run faster?

Well, I remember nothing. But one thing I know, the neighbours saw another side of this pardeshi daughter in law who always walked the streets of the neighbourhood with carefully studied dignity.

A snake, I blurted out.
In the verakupura (outhouse)

I walked back slowly behind them who were running with sticks towards the outhouse. As I reached the scene, I saw all of them standing at the door of the outhouse, relaxed and laughing.

“Molly teacher, it’s only a chera (rat snake). Even if you bite it, it wont bite you. And it’s not venomous”.

They threw away their sticks and walked away, throwing amused glances in my directions, no doubt impatient to tell the ladies of the house which included my students too, the story of the city bred daughter in law and the paavam rat snake.

Another Snake blog:

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Sari & Me

My relationship with the sari is a strange one. It began as a lovey dovey one but has ended up on the brink of divorce.

AS a high school kid, my idea of being well-dressed was being draped in a sari. I then felt that no dress pays greater compliment to the female figure than the sari. It hides all the sins - like the paunch, tyres, and all other oversized or undersized assets. The sari would take care of all of them. Just drape it around the woman, and all disproportionate assets will find enough fabric space to conceal/enhance themselves in.

I first wore the sari for the farewell party given to us, the final year metric students. How well in advance I planned the event, for here was the first grand opportunity for the frog to become a princess. My mother saw to it that she got me a four inch stiletto heels after I convinced her that the sari would hide it, and that I could handle it. The D day came. I draped myself in my grey handloom sari with silver border, climbed on the high heels, loaded my hands with glass bangles, head with jasmine, adorned my face with bindi, kohli, lipstick – the works. The ugly duckling transformed instantly into a reasonably tall, elegant and slim person (the sari and the additional 4 inches made me look slimmer!). My friends and teachers blinked and stared at me, their mouths hanging loose.

And my self esteem skyrocketed!

After that, for a long time, I never let go of an opportunity to wear a sari. I loved the dress and it loved me, till - - -

I got married to the sari.

Guess this is like the before/ after marriage situation. Courtship and married life are worlds apart.

I grew up in times when a day comes in the life of a girl when she is expected to wear only the sari. At graduate level, the decently brought up nazrane girl usually wore only the sari to college. That did it. The honey moon was over and I soon began to pick faults with the apparel as one would with a necessary evil.

It was inconvenient.
It took time to drape.
It was difficult to wash, starch – the maintenance.

It was not hep.

Nilu wore trousers to college. Jyothi, Sridevi and Geetha wore salwars. But I had to walk a good one and a half kilometer to college and amma thought I might draw unwanted attention in these outfits. So sari became the burden I had to bear in the name of respectability, and the innocuous existence ideal for a Syrian Catholic young girl of marriageable age!

Come the monsoon and I’d begin to curse the sari. Gradually, my take on this apparel developed complexities and nuances. This dress that once enhanced me self esteem – this friend of the woman - became her foe, the tool devised by the male species to keep the female an eternal slave. It became a hated symbol of patriarchy!

When Siddharth my colleague, looking at the students appreciatively on their ‘sari day’ said “How the sari changes these girls. It makes them so feminine, elegant and beautiful. Their very bearing seems to change - - “, I glared at him but held my peace, ‘cos he was a good friend and a well meaning soul. By then I had been won over by the salwar revolution, and had become a hard core advocate of this apparel. With the existence of an alternative, I began to get seriously estranged from the sari. But it took a real battle at the domestic front for me to jump on to the salwar bandwagon.

My children and husband thought I looked more dignified in the sari, and that I should wear only the sari when I go out on social visits. malls and outings. Of course, the salwar was OK for the market but not to work. Suddenly all of them did a volte-face when I got a job which necessitated my going up and down by the local train in Mumbai – and then the atmosphere in the house became charged with paeans sung to the Salwar Kameez and its convenience and safety while boarding the busy local trains.

What about my dignity?

‘You’ll carry off any dress, amma!!!’.

Well, one would have understood this right about turn if my teapot figure had transformed into the figure of eight on the acquisition of the new job. But nothing like that happened to warrant this sudden shift in position, but my eyes were opened to the true depth of the saying that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder! If safe travel required that your wife/mother wear salwar suit, then you’d better try to see her look good in it.

Also, I made another important discovery. Just as I had fallen out of love with the sari, the sari also had fallen out of love with me. It ceased to be that magic wand that transformed the Cinderella into a ravishing beauty. It could not release the frog prince from the curse.

And it no longer provided a cover for my sins. On the other hand, it seemed to expose them with a vengeance, and that made me squirm self-consciously whenever I had to wear it.

It no longer did service to my self esteem.

So why live with it?

Therefore, my middle end saris are now finding new owners who do justice to them. The saris too return the compliment and seem happy to have left my wardrobe.

I have retained a few of my high end ones –for I am forced to respect the remnants of the convention which looks askance at a lady who has successfully completed half a century, appearing for a wedding or wedding related functions in a salwar kameez.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Nilgiris.

I have always loved the Nilgiris. As a child, it was the wooded mountains, the smell of eucalyptus as we climbed and then the chilly weather that fascinated me. It used to trigger off my childhood imagination which identified this place, so different from my Kerala, with places that I read about in the fairy tales. It was like an imaginary world come true.

I have never lost that fascination for Ooty and Coonoor. And in the last week that I spent in Coonoor, I had the same stirrings in my heart that thrilled me in my childhood days.

What is it that fascinates me about this place, I asked myself.

The incredible scenic beauty, I guess. As my brother and I drove through the Coonoor Kotagiri route, I looked out of the window of the car, thrilled by the sheer beauty of blue tinged mountains upon mountains, playing hide and seek behind the clouds and mist. The slopes were either heavily wooded or covered with tea plantation. Oh! It was simply beautiful and the feelings it evoked transported me to times and places I have visited only in the books. Was Camelot like this, I wondered. As a child so full of the stories of the Knights of the Round Table, I was convinced that King Arthur’s magnificent capital was somewhere in those distant blue hills which kept popping up thru the clouds. This time too, I couldn’t get Camelot out of my head. Silly and stupidly romantic, you might say. But the fact remains that Nilgiris makes me both silly and romantic.

I love the remoteness of the place. It seems to be so far from the busy world I live in – and so different. Wrapped up in warm clothes, the people too look so different. Move away from the crowded little town of Coonoor, and you are among the most incredibly beautiful hills. And the lovely chilly weather adds to the ambiance.

I visited Rev. Father Patrick who was the parish priest in a tiny area where the church going people consisted of factory workers. Wearing a sweater, muffler and a cap, he came out of his little house to welcome us. WE had some tea and biscuits with him while he spoke of his God and his parishioners. The gentle soul reminded me of Chaucer’s Poor Parson. He then took us to the church which stood in the adjacent compound in the midst of a garden full of flowers. My God! Everything straight out of the fairy tales!

The growth of the little town made me feel sad. As I stood outside the cottage on Quail Hill where I stayed and looked at the medley of buildings and the shanty shacks on the hills across mine, I wondered where the town planners were when this virgin landscape was disfigured by structures which were ugly as they did not fit into the profile of the Nilgiris.

God has made this world so beautiful, I thought as I visited two old people who lived in a cottage in a 10 acre land through which bisons walked around as though they owned the place. Real estate agents are overactive here making transactions for city dwellers who are pouncing on this paradise to gobble up the land to build hotels and guest houses to attract tourists – or small houses into which they can steal away from the hustle and bustle of life.

How long will it be before this lovely place is transformed into a crowded city, its trees cut down, its slopes covered with ugly buildings, and the tea estates vanish to give way to small holdings that house monstrous pieces of architecture that distort the very character of the hilly Nilgiris?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kerala Not Ready for Semesters

Kerala University has deferred semesterisation of degree courses while MG University has gone ahead with it this academic year. In North Kerala, public property is being destroyed in protest against semesterisation! In this context I’d like to share my take on this issue in the blogsphere.

I beg to disagree with the claim of the government and AKPTC that the new academic structure of degree courses will improve the quality of higher education in Kerala. Two semesters per academic year will replace the annual system at the degree level. Much as i hate to be a prophet of doom, i have to say that this change will only add to the existing chaos which will ultimately be sorted out by compromises and dilution which are bound to affect quality negatively.

Conducting seminars of stake holders on the issue of restructuring the degree level into semesters was, most certainly, a laudable move. But that was hardly enough. Before the government plunged into this important reform, it should have imperatively conducted an honest enquiry into how the existing semsterised degree courses were functioning in the various colleges. There are several vocationised courses sponsored by the UGC which follow the semester system. If someone is bold and honest enough to look beyond the statistics and supposed performance of these courses, many distressing truths will surface.

The truth is that semester system can be successful only if the colleges become autonomous. In the existing affiliation system, it will not get the desired results. The requisite learning culture does not exist in the latter.

1. The conduct of Examinations

There is an inherent weakness in the Examination system in our universities and this will prove to be the biggest obstacle in the way of success of this move to semesterise at degree level. The Examination section – the administrative - needs to be revamped drastically to avert the chaos that the higher education is likely to witness in the coming years i.e. after the semesterisation at degree level becomes effective.

The Office of the Controller of Examination is the most overworked and overloaded section in all the universities of Kerala. The Examination Section is already struggling to handle the work of the existing undergraduate courses which have the annual system. Semesterisation would double the work, but not the efficiency. The Universities are unable to publish on time the results of the few semester courses that already exist in the affiliated colleges. Timely publishing of the results is always bogged down by administrative hiccups. If degree course is semesterised, utter pandemonium will prevail. Unless, of course, the administrative system is streamlined in a manner the universities of Kerala are incapable of doing, given their union ridden work force.

2. Internal assessment.

UGC believes, and rightly so, that the semester system, with its constant monitoring of students would enable skill development. But it is unrealistic to hope to achieve this “constant monitoring” in Kerala colleges which have anything between 60 to eighty students in English and Language classes, and 40 in core subjects.

The continuous monitoring system through internal assessment already exists in the colleges in Kerala. Unfortunately, this is a huge farce. It is bound to be so in an affiliation system. 20-25 percent marks are allotted to internal assessment. Since ranks and performance of colleges are linked to marks and pass percentage, first class percentage etc, no college will take the decision to give the students only the marks they deserve to get. Colleges which have made an honest effort to do so have suffered with their pass percentages coming down, or missing the university ranks their students should otherwise have secured. In the affiliation system, with many colleges coming under the same university, the competition, far from improving the quality of teaching and education, leads to doctoring of results of the internal assessments.

The students are smart. They know the college will not risk failing them as it will affect the results. No matter how badly they do, they will be awarded a certain minimum marks. I have seen ridiculous situations where the students grow so indifferent to the internal tests and assignments that the teacher is forced to go after them and pursue them till they submit something to be marked!

Autonomy should precede the Semester system. The rating of autonomous colleges is not relative as in the affiliation system. Autonomy gives Independence in designing syllabus and evaluating the students. If semester is introduced in the present affiliation system, the only effect it will have is to increase the work load of the teachers, add to the chaos in the examination system - all with no advantage whatsoever to the students and the learning process.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Michael Jackson Conquers Silence

How does one explain the feelings listening to and watching Michael Jackson’s Gone Too Soon , after he is truly gone?

Guess, like me, the world is watching the video over and over again.

And I made a discovery. He makes silence speak and sing as powerfully as sound.

Like the sunset
Dying with the rising of the moon

Then the pause, the long pause during which MJ seems to physically usher in Silence, slowly and gently with his delicate hand - - - A Silence that is trying, as it were, to reach out towards eternity - - Silence charged with choking pain - - -

And then, he concludes with the final

Gone Too soon.

He bows slowly, elegantly, resignedly with infinite sadness unable to conceal itself behind the pale smile, and acknowledges the thunderous applause.


Now those clichés “Silence Speaks” or the ‘Sound of Silence” cease to be clichés for me.

Michael Jackson now speaks louder than before, more passionately than ever through his silence!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Merly or Daisy?

When she saw me hanging around after getting ready for school, amma knew what it was for. She would then give me 10 paisa - for toffee which I bought from the tiny pan shop like makeshift affair just outside the gate of the school. The shop owner Babychettan knew all of us. As soon as he saw me, he’d put his fair hairy hand (it used to be a yucky sight for us kids then) into the bottle and take out 5 toffees which I shared with my friends.

On certain days my friends used to bring the 10 paisa. On those days, I put my 10paise in the piggy bank, and asked amma for my regular quota the next day.

Once, Daisy (name changed) who was not part of my sweet sharing inner circle but nevertheless was a good friend of mine, came up to me and asked me for 25 paisa. It was for the boat fare to Vypeen. I told her I didn’t have that much money.

“But you buy sweets for your friends everyday”.

“I have only 10 paisa”, I told her, my heart sinking at the thought I’d have sacrifice my sweets for the day. That was something I really used to look forward to. None of my friends had brought money that day.

“10 paisa will do. I’ll borrow the rest from someone else”, she said.

So, reluctantly, I parted with my 10 paisa, and in the entire afternoon session, I kept thinking of the the toffee I was forced to deny myself.

On reaching home, I complained to amma. I thought I saw her face change in a way I didn’t quit understand. The next day, she gave me 35 paisa and asked me to give 25 paisa to Daisy. She sternly warned me not to buy toffee for the whole amount.

When I gave the 25 paisa to Daisy, she looked incredulously at me.

“Did you steal the money from home?” she asked in a conspiratorial, scared voice.
“No, amma gave it. She said she will give it everyday”. She put both her hands on her cheeks, her eyes grew large and wet, and she was crying and laughing.

I didn’t quite comprehend her ecstatic reaction. I was too young to realize that money was hard to get for certain people.

For the rest of the year, I gave her 25 paisa everyday. I did it discreetly ‘cos both amma and Daisy had insisted that no one else should know.

This practice went on for the rest of that year in the Fourth standard. I do not remember now whether I continued it in the fifth standard.

Years later, while I was doing my Masters, I was sitting in the bus at Shivaji Nagar, Bangalore (we had relocated by then). Ten more minutes for the bus to begin its 40 minute journey to Whitefield. As I sat there looking out, I saw Daisy. She looked the same, except that she had grown tall and beautiful, and was wearing a sari instead of the blue and white uniform. I got so excited I shouted out to her from the bus. She looked up. Her eyes rested on my smiling face for a minute. Did I see recognition there? Or was it puzzlement that I saw?

I jumped out from the bus and ran after her, ‘cos. by then she had started walking away. I ran up to her and put my hand on her shoulder. She stopped, turned around and looked at me blankly.

“Don’t you remember me, Daisy? I’m Molly. We were together in school?” I said eagerly.

There was no recognition in her eyes.

“You’ve made a mistake”, she said in an expressionless voice.
“Aren’t you Daisy?” I asked.
“No. My name is Merly”.

But she spoke Malayalam in that same accent of the people who live in Vypeen.

AS I was sat in the bus on its way to the suburbs, I caught myself trying to swallow down that lump in the throat.

Maybe, it was Merly and not, Daisy I consoled myself.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Net for Gender Politics

I get this type of forwards very often:

Just a joke, please…….no hard feelings…
Smart man + smart woman = romance
Smart man + dumb woman = affair
Dumb man + smart woman = marriage
Dumb man + dumb woman = pregnancy
Smart boss + smart employee = profit
Smart boss + dumb employee = production
Dumb boss + smart employee = promotion
Dumb boss + dumb employee = overtime
A man will pay $2 for a $1 item he needs.
A woman will pay $1 for a $2 item that she doesn’t need.
A woman worries about the future until she gets a husband.
A man never worries about the future until he gets a wife.
A successful man is one who makes more money than his wife can spend.
A successful woman is one who can find such a man.
To be happy with a man, you must understand him a lot and love him a little.
To be happy with a woman, you must love her a lot and not try to understand her at all.
Married men live longer than single men do, but married men are a lot more willing to die..
A woman marries a man expecting he will change, but he doesn’t.
A man marries a woman expecting that she won’t change, and she does.
A woman has the last word in any argument.
Anything a man says after that is the beginning of a new argument.


To be honest, this forward made me smile. Then I caught myself. What the heck! Haven’t you been cured of these stereoptying tendencies, I admonished myself.

The truth of the matter is it requires a huge amount of conscious, deliberate cerebral activity to erase notions which have come down as a legacy from time immemorial.

This forward reminded me of a song that I was taught in the music class (those days we had a period a week for music) in my high school in the late sixties. This song was taught along with classics like Auld Lang Syne, Black Sprirtuals. patriotic songs like Ye Pyari Bharath Ma. The song which went like this: “A woman , a Woman, Oh, What can she be?” was a favourite with all the girls. Some (that includes me too) even said “How true, how very true!” and we laughed like idiots at this song objectifying the female sex. Here is the song (downloaded the lyrics – was suprised to find it!)

Peter Frampton A Woman (Uh-Huh) Lyrics:
(Dick Gleason)

Johnny Desmond - 1954
José Ferrer & Rosemary Clooney - 1954

Oh woman, oh woman, oh what can she be
Whatever she is, she's necessary

A woman is something both evil and good
But too complicated to be understood
An angel when lovin', a devil when mad
A woman can make you both happy and sad

Oh woman, oh woman, oh what can she be
Whatever she is, she's necessary

Afraid of a cricket, she'll scream at a mouse
But she'll tackle a husband as big as a house
She'll take him for better, she'll take him for worse
She'll bust his head open and then be his nurse

Oh woman, oh woman, oh what can she be
Whatever she is, she's necessary

She's bashful, deceitful, keen sighted and blind
Simple and crafty, and cruel and kind
In the morning she does, in the evening she don't
You're always a thinkin' she will, but she won't

Oh woman, oh woman, oh what can she be
Whatever she is, she's necessary

[CLOONEY (Spoken):]
Girls, turn this record over
and listen to the Wife's side!

You will have noted that at the end of the song there is a note about the wife’s version. I did not bother to hunt for it ‘cos I think that it’s time this gender war came to an end.

The song I was taught as a high school going kid (2nd song) and the forward I got today perform the same function – create certain stereotypical images of the sexes. It does not matter in whose favour it is tipped.

The burden of my theory is the world doesn’t seem to have changed much from the sixties!

Now, for some of these stupid notions contained in the two songs:
The woman is manipulative.
She is unpredictable.
She is silly - screaming at mouse!
She is indispensable.
Poor man, he is usually dumb.
He is happier without a wife
He is a helpless victim of her fancies
He suffers her
And so on.

Almost four decades ago, I was the victim of certain built-in discourses in the system for keeping alive the myths about gender by conditioning the mind in its formative stage about gender roles. I am still struggling to purge the dregs of that particular outdated discourse – or is it outdated?.

And that discourse has never really been dismantled despite all the noise made from all quarters. It has spilt over into the 21st century.

Now, in this cyber world frequented more by the youngsters, the forwards serve as an additional tool to very effectively perpetuate gender politics.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Tackling the Tag

Thank you Mathew for the tag. Like you said, it’s a tag with a difference. So here I go - - -

Four places you have lived

My Ernakulam where I grew up – So different from what it is now. The first high rise was SeaLords hotel (early sixties), on the Shanmukam Road – now the Marine Drive Road. The road had a parapet overlooking the backwaters. The entire male youth of Ernakulam used to gather there in the evenings on the pretext of getting some “fresh air” (kaatu kollaan). I’d call it a hub of male gossip. For a long time, Laxman, Padma, and Menaka were the only theatres. Then, in the late sixties, the air conditioned Sridhar came up. The Big Fisherman was the first film screened. Soon Kavitha, Shenoys and Little Shenoys appeared. Oh, I could go on and on. Wish I could turn the clock back.

Today it is in Bangalore. When I lived there, it was half hour drive to Whitefield from Bangalore. Do check out my blog on Whitefield.

Did my masters there. Loved it then. Love it now, despite the fact that I was detected with a deadly disease while I was there three years back. Thought I’d never want to go back there. But I did go back and found that I have no quarrel with that metro.

Thought it was a cruel blow that life dealt, catapulting me from Chennai to this small town in Mid Travancore, known for its extreme orthodoxy. But I survived it, and this place taught me the valuable lesson that, if you scratch the surface, all human beings are the same.

Four TV shows you love (d) to watch

Remington Steele – saw Pierce Brosnan first in this serial. Liked him better there.

Water Rats – How I used to love this Australian serial. You must have guessed by now that I love watching the dishyuum dishyuum type.

Bodyline: that marvelous serialized story on the Bodyline technique used by the English cricket team under Douglas Jardine, in order to win the ashes. I was thrilled to learn that senior Pataudi, then playing for the English team, was the only one who objected to the unethicality and unsportsmanlike nature of the technique. Pataudi was confronted by Jardine with the snide remark: “I understand that His Majesty is a conscientious objector?” Remember “conscientious objector” was the derisive term popular in England during WW II to refer to the anti war group led by Bertrand Russell. I was fascinated that Pataudi stood out in that spineless team. The serial was telecast by Doordarshan in ’86.

We the People & The Big Fight. These two NDTV shows are my all time favourites.

Four places you have been on vacation

Nilgiris - I love the hills. In addition to the beauty of the place, it brings back memories of a vacation with my family at the invitation of my dear brother who passed away since. He was a priest and the Principal of a school there.

Delhi – Visited the capital when my children were small. It was soon after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. My 4 year old son stunned and embarrassed and scared us by pointing out his finger at a turbaned person and shouting at the top of his voice TERRORIST! My husband and I looked apologetically at the man who smiled understandingly – God bless him! We stopped in our tracks and explained patiently who the turbaned people are, and that just because Indira Gandhi’s assassin wore a turban, it doesn’t mean all those who wear turbans are terrorists. He listened seriously, nodded and as we straightened up and resumed our walk, out shot his forefinger again and he started his terrorist siren again. He didn’t go beyond TERR - - – I clapped my palm over his mouth. I think he thought it was good fun, ‘cos he repeated the performance. This time my daughter sealed his mouth. I then had to deal sternly with him after that.

Aurangabad - Ajantha Caves. Incredible sight. What could be the motivation for the unbelievable human effort in those days when no proper tools were available?

Mysore – Tippu’s palace, St Philomena’s Church, Brindavan gardens, Museum, Das Prakash hotel and memories of my father taking us children around - -

Four of your favourite food

Tapioca and fish curry (Kappa vevichathu and meen curry)

Chinese fried Rice/Noodles – real Chinese

Sharkara payasam

Prawn fry – Kerala style.

Four places you would rather be

Guess would rather be means I’d like to visit.

Darjeeling: Don’t know why I am so fascinated by the place. Maybe, something to do with my previous incarnation?

Stratford on Avon – Wish Shakespeare haunted the place!

China – I’ve never been more curious about a country.

The land of the Eskimos – I hear there are cruises from Canada.

Four things you hope to do before you die

Start a language lab to demystify the angrezi language for the benefit of mallu youth from moffusil areas.

Contribute my bit towards creating an ideal work culture in Kerala

See the shooting of a stunt scene.

Read all the books I foolishly bought to read after retirement.

Four novels you wish you were reading for the first time

Wuthering Heights – Gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.

Calcutta Chromosome – Get through the first chapter and you’ll find this an unputdownable(love that manglish term) book.

We, the Living – prefer it to The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged

Scarlet Pimpernel Books- Though I suspect I won’t enjoy those as I once did. Wish I were that age when I could enjoy them - - -

Four movies you can see over and over

Vadakkunooki Yanthram – For that matter all Srinivas movies. A genius, that man!

Lal Salaam or Sanmansullavarkku Samaadanam –most Mohanlal movies. He’s an institution in acting!

A Few Good Men – Must have watched it a dozen times – ready for another dozen –Don’t ask me why I like it so much.

Benhur – Been seeing it from the time I was a kid. Guess I can relate to it. It’s about what I believe.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

For the Blogsphere, Thank you, God

I am grateful to whoever discovered the blog sphere. How much poorer I would have been without it!

I entered this sphere 4 years back, a little after I crossed that half a century mark on the linear plane of physical existence. My experience in this sphere has been like an antioxidant of the mind which stalled the aging process from setting in.

The blogs I enjoy and read most are those of youngsters . I discovered or rediscovered the present generation in the blog sphere. I must confess I had the same stereotyped notions about the “I T Generation”. They were selfish and insensitive to social issues. All they knew and cared about was the computer and its peripheral world. They knew nothing unrelated to their jobs, and they didn’t care about it. They are job jumpers who cared for nothing else in life other than material comfort.

“Oh, this IT generation” seemed to be the attitude that informed my very approach to them.

The blogsphere gave me new eyes to see them. Of course, it is the Indian bloggers I have in mind 'cos I visit them mostly. I have discovered these youngsters to be more socially informed and sensitive than my generation. Their concern for social and political issues is touching. There is that will to do something for the society which nurtured them and made them what they are. There is that frustration at their helplessness in this regard. There is anger and cynicism. There is raving and ranting.

But what is absent is indifference. Being one who always believed that indifference to fellow human beings is the greatest sin, I was ecstatic to realize that this generation is not guilty of that sin. A huge myth was debunked. I think the world is in safe hands.

The blogsphere has reaffirmed my faith in mankind.

There is yet another category of bogs that I read- of the teenagers. I visit the sites of Indian and international bloggers. The teenage angst which has always been an enigma to us has suddenly become somewhat comprehensible. Some of these bloggers pour out their hearts into the posts. Others record their routine which gives you an excellent insight into life of adolescents in different cultures. I realize that blogsphere is a very authentic document of the life and days of the youth journeying through that precariously balanced bridge that links childhood to adulthood. Novels and studies do not have that vibrant beating of the adolescent pulse that causes the blogsphere to tick.

I read hate blogs too. I hate reading them but do it, nevertheless – just to tell myself that there is a dark dark world out there, and the ostrich approach isn’t going to make it disappear. Some of the blogs justifying Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Holocaust and post Godhra violence have left me stunned. I tried responding but was quick to realize how naive I’d been to think I can make a difference to such hardcore philosophy of hatred.

And I love poetry blogs. Every rule in the book regarding the architectonics of versification is usually broken in these posts – except one. The basic rule that you ‘feel’. My efforts at writing poetry which I would not have dared to show to a another living person have been posted in the blogsphere. Strange that the blog visitors never ridicule! There is some unwritten law of charity among the inhabitants of this sphere which restrains them from throwing cold water on that poet in every human being struggling to come out.

Blogsphere is a free world where there are no moral or social compulsions. This freedom, more often than not, is used in a very responsible manner, if you leave out the hate blogs. It has exploded the myth that absence of restrictive order will cause anarchy. I have seen social commitment of the highest order here. I have seen that most bloggers show a reluctance to spread cantankerous ideas.

And finally, for me as for others, blogsphere is the site where each blogger confronts herself. It is the space where we share our dreams and nightmares, our frustrations and helplessness, our bitterness and teeth gritting anger, our sense of the ridiculous and sense of humour, the works. Yet, it is not a site where we dump our dark secrets and private problems – if at all we do it, it is done with a delicacy and camouflage which raise it from the level of a mere act of washing dirty linen in public. There is a self imposed discipline in most bloggers which stop at that point where dignity is compromised.

These are the qualities of the sites I visit – and believe me I surf through a lot of blogs. For me, it is like moving through life, keeping my eyes, nose and ears open to this business called life. It is a real and true learning in that great virtual university of human nature. We bloggers form the students and the faculty of this university. It is a university with a very large heart, throbbing under the skies of an unlimited horizon, with no restrictions whatsoever in the disciplines offered, and defies the unities of time and space.

May the blogsphere prosper!