Friday, December 31, 2010

My first effort at New Year Resolutions

Another new year round the corner, and as usual I asked my self what I resolved to do or not to do in 2011.

I still haven’t found the answer, cos presiding over my deliberations on this issue was my own face, looking on with a mocking smile as though to say why this farce? Have you ever kept your resolutions?

That sets me thinking. Have I ever given any thought to my New Year resolutions beyond the moment I make it? The train of thoughts takes me to the first New year resolution I ever made.

The earliest resolution I remember was made in the second standard after Sister S, the class teacher described to the class what New Year Resolutions were. I don’t now remember what she told us, but I do remember us children sharing the resolutions we made with each other.

During the noon interval, Chitra announced , ‘ Each time my mother gives me money to buy a toffee from Babychettan’s shop, I’ll buy it and give it to Sr S for charity’ (she stumbled over the word 'charity' for that’s the first time we'd heard that term). She then looked at me and said, “Eddo Molly, can you give me one toffee every day, because I wont have any when I give mine away?’

‘No’, I replied emphatically. ‘ I buy two toffees every day. I’ ll give one to charity daily. You give one from what you buy’

‘I buy only one everyday. If i give that to charity, i wont have one for myself; and if you give to Sister S for charity, you’ll become Sister’s pet’.

‘If you give, you’ll become her pet. Why should I spend money to make you Sister’s pet?’ I countered. (My father was a businessman and I guess that streak of business acumen about getting money’s worth, was in my blood).

‘You are mean’, Chitra screamed.

‘What about you?(appol thaano?). ‘You are cunning. You want to make me spend money and then take the credit for yourself’. My voice had risen and a crowd was beginning to gather around us, like it happens in lower primary when two kids fight.

‘You always buy two toffees. I buy only one. Why cant you give me one?’ Chitra was beginning to scream.

‘Yes. Why can’t you give her one if you buy two toffees everyday?’ butted in a third standard student who had just joined the crowd.

Angry that a senior had supported Chitra, I whirled around and screamed, gesticulating wildly. “She buys one toffee every day. Why should I give her too?’

‘She wants to give it to charity’, said Rema, one of my classmates who’d been a witness to our exchange right from the beginning.

‘Let her either eat her sweet or give it to charity. I’ll eat one and then give one to Charity’. I was livid with anger because of the support Chitra was getting.

‘But she thought of it first’, said the wise but partisan Rema, ‘and now you are stealing her idea’.

I lost it. ‘If it was her idea, let her give her sweet. I’ll also give my sweet to charity. That’s my New Year resolution too’, I all but yelled.

The crowd had been steadily growing. The little onlookers were asking each other what the bone of contention was. Groups were talking animatedly to each other. Sides were being taken. The crowd split itself – physically- into two parts. My supporters stood behind me, literally, and Chtra’s, behind her. I was happy to note that the size of the two sections was even. It soon became my friends against Chtra’s.

Rema, the leader of the Chitra camp shouted, ‘you are mean and cheap. You want to become Sister S’s pet. So you are stealing Chitra’s idea’.

Vidya, who took upon herself the leadership of my camp retorted sneeringly.’Chitra is cheaper. She wants to eat at Molly’s expense and still get popular with sister S. Is that a decent thing to do?’

A huge volley of protest rose from the Chitra camp. It soon became a shouting match between Rema and me, Chitra, and Vidya, Rejiv and Shirley, Lija and Betsy, Lulu and Shobana - - -. Little girls and boys jerking their heads, flaying their arms, yelling and screaming.

Then the bell rang to indicate that the noon interval was over.

I wanted to have the last word and so I shouted at the top of my voice, ‘ I have decided to give one sweet to charity everyday’.

Silence followed. Then someone asked. “Who’s charity?”

Chitra and I looked at each other, but said nothing. We had no idea if it was a person, place or thing.

Then Rejiv, the Mr. Know-all in our class who could lie without batting an eyelid, came to our rescue. Pointing to the orphanage run by the nuns, he said ‘She’s a cute little girl who lives in that orphanage'.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Great Love Story of Christmas

It’s three hours past midnight on December 25, 2010 and I decide to liberate Christmas from the habits and memories of childhood that surround this festival. Of course cakes and ale, crib and carols, appam and stew and the lunch spread I would not give up. But surely Christmas is more than all that, I tell myself.

What is it? Why is it what it is?

I pause and think – deeply.

And realize that Christmas is a celebration of love. Love born in a stable in Bethlehem some two thousand odd years ago, and culminated on the cross at Gogotha. Greater love this no man has than he who lays down his life for his friends.

It was a love that revolutionized human thinking. Guess I should qualify the term ‘human’ to European.

The love story from Bethlehem to Golgotha showcases a love that is







It’s a love that negates the ego.

The brutal civilizations of Europe did not understand this love fully then. It does not understand it today too. Nevertheless, it drove home some concepts superficially, and thus the violent games in the massive arenas of the “great ancient civilizations” eventually lost their legitimacy. The idea of human rights was sown in the European minds, though these rights continued to be violated.

This is what Christianization of Europe means. It’s a shift in the Weltanschauung of a people leading to a sea change in a brutal, depraved civilization. A worldview, which provided for human rights, saw its origins in that cradle in Bethlehem.

I sometimes wonder what would have been the fate of the colonized world if the European countries that colonized the Asian countries had not been touched by Christianity. Arenas that host the depraved gladiator games would have sprung up in every conquered nation, in addition to those brutal practices that were integral part of the barbaric civilizations of Europe.

It is this that we celebrate on the Christmas day, though we don’t pause over it long enough to realise it. We celebrate the love story began in Bethlehem that humanized the brutal civilizations of Europe which later undertook the brutal projects of colonization.

I shudder to think of the predicament of the colonies (which were bad enough) without the restraining hand of Christianity.

P S. It is a matter of immense pride to the Indian subcontinent that five hundred years before this great love story of Bethlehem began, it had produced a Buddha who fine-tuned the then existing Weltanschauung of the region with ahimsa, equity and compassion.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Initially, I wanted to give this post the title MALLUS AND BONGS. Then I settled for the present one ‘cos I felt it’d invite more hits:-)

What provoked this post is an oft-repeated claim (which I heard today again) that mallus and bongs are very similar in many aspects. A couple of years back, a junior research scholar brought in this idea in her presentation at a seminar. I was sorely tempted to give my take on it during the discussion time but refrained, knowing that it was her maiden presentation, and negative reaction could dampen her spirits.

The basis for this claim is ridiculous, and is this: both people have rice for staple food, and are incurable fish eaters. The women of both states wear light coloured sari. Both states were pioneers in Marxism.

They were a few more points of similarity, which I don’t now remember, but they too were equally superficial and silly as the above mentioned ones.

My take on this is this. Mallus and bongs are as different as two people can possibly be, and neither is the looser on account of it. The two have nothing in common. Marxism in both states is the result not of similarity of the people but on account of certain cultural, political and social factors which are totally different in both states.

But what irritates me is the sense of pride with which this claim is made by mallus. Why should mallus take pride in these so-called similarities? Cant we be happy just being ourselves? Do we need a point of reference to prove our worth?

Some time back, a rather prominent mallu media person in an English channel was asked about her mallu origins. The emphasis with which she stated that her connection with Kerala is minimal as she was born and brought up elsewhere made me want to throw a rotten tomato at her.

What is so shameful about Kerala that we should be so ashamed of our roots? I find this common among mallus who grew up or live outside the state. I wonder if this is on account of them being trapped in the stereotypical images of kerala and its people that have been doing the rounds in the country for a long time.

In this context, I am reminded of that national integration video that was made in 1986 (or ’87 – I’m not sure), and played in doordarshan over and over again. All the states were represented by people or milieu that reflected development or sophistication of those states. When Kerala’s turn came, it was a lungi (only) clad mahout sitting on an elephant singing entey swaravum, ningaludey swaravum - - - - -. It used to make me immensely angry that this was the official image of kerala that was being propagated. Bengal was represented by a coated and booted Arun lal and some other celebrities in starched or raw silk kurtha stepping elegantly out of electric train in slow motion. In contrast, the mallu is projected as evolutionary dropout, not having progressed beyond the half naked phase and the pachydermal mode of transportation.

I think, as a people, we Keralites have a lot to be proud of. Let no one convince us otherwise.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

On Being Secular

I visited a cousin whom I respect much. He’s a level headed, intelligent, generous, soft spoken and honest person - you know the type of person who never intrudes into your space but who’s always around when you are in need.

We were talking in the family room on the first floor when I noticed a beautiful rare picture of Christ. Seeing me looking at it, he gave me its history, and added without my asking. ‘I didn’t put it in the drawing room, though it is worth displaying there. I decided to be secular’.

Well, that was a strange statement to make, for implicit in it was the notion that secularism signified absence of affiliation to any religion.

My cousin – let’s call him Suresh, is a believer. At least he is not a non-believer. He was always wary of questioning the existence of God. He’d rather play it safe. He did all the right things like going to church on Sundays and putting his children through catechism classes and ensuring they received the sacraments at the proper time as prescribed by the Church and society.

Yet he was reluctant to declare to the world that he was a Christian.

I thought hard on that issue.

If he does not want to flaunt his religion, it’s good. But the reluctance to admit that he is a believer for fear it’d would invest him with a non-secular image is, I think, a misreading of the concept of secularism.

Secularism does not demand disaffiliation from religion. Nor does it demand affiliation to any religion. It imperatively demands respect for religions other than yours, and respect for religions even though you do not believe in any.

Elementary, my dear Watson, you might say, but believe me, I find a lot of people who share Suresh’s anxiety about jeopardising their secular image if the world comes to know that they are believers.

An ardent Buddhist/Christian/Jain/Hindu/Muslim is secular if she/he respects other religions and the right of others to follow religions of their choice.

A committed atheist is secular if he respects the right of others to believe in God and recognizes their right to follow the religion of their choice. I think it is more difficult for an atheist to be secular than it is for a believer.

In my foolish younger days, I had a heated discussion with a rationalist cousin who was ridiculing me ‘cos I was a believer.

‘To agree with you that there is a god is like agreeing that the earth is flat and not round’, he roared.

‘It’s proved that the earth is round’, I retorted, equally loud, ‘ but is it proved there is no God?”

“Is it proved there is one?’ he yelled thrusting his forefinger intimidatingly into my face.

‘Is it proved there isn’t one?’ I too yelled, thrusting my forefinger towards the ceiling. His mother who is my aunt was watching this exchange with considerable interest and disapproval.

Ideologically, she was on my side but blood is thicker, and so she wanted to see her college going son outsmart me who had just joined as a lecturer in the local college. Besides, I was a woman who shouldn’t be arguing loudly and gesticulating in an unladylike manner.

IT IS NOT PROVED THERE IS A GOD, he thundered. My aunt quickly stepped in.

‘Both of you have proved your points’, she said. Probably, she realized that I was in no mood to relent and she didn’t want to see her niece disgrace herself with rising decibel levels and body language that is not conventionally associated with a ‘woman’.

I do not know how valid my argument was, but I do know his argument did not convince me. Probably because even as a toddler I had taken that leap of faith which made me so dependent on the God concept for my existence.

But I am a secular person, cos I respect a person’s right to question the existence of God – as long as he doesn’t thrust his convictions on me (like my cousin did) aggressively.

I got very unpopular with close relatives and friends sometime back when I argued that the there could be truth in the story of Ganapathy statues drinking milk. I don’t normally believe such impossible stories unless I see these things happening. But my journalist niece – a hardcore rationalist – told me she saw it happen. She couldn’t offer any explanation for the way milk disappeared from the bowl when it was held to the trunk of the Ganapathy figure. She was an eyewitness to this.

Till someone offers a scientific explanation for that strange phenomenon, I’ll believe that was a supernatural phenomenon – a miracle just as I believe in the miracles claimed by the Christian religion.

I believe God manifests himself in many forms. I believe every religion is a search for God. I am content being a Christian. This religion that I was born into gives me answers to the existential questions. But I don’t claim that this is the only religion that shows the way in the human quest for God.

And I do not believe in judging other religions.

Believe (or don’t believe) and let believe (or let not believe). That’s my idea of being secular.

This live and let live policy is the basis – the only basis – for secularism.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

True story: Chaya - Part 1

This story was told by Rejini. Chaya is one of the four women whom Rejini tried to help out. There is much in common in the tales of all four women. The resilience and the sense of responsibility of the women are the most common factors. Rejini has come to the conclusion that Indian men from the economically backward class are usually worthless creatures. A sweeping generalisation? Or is it true?

She lives in Mumbai, the youngest daughter of a mill worker who owned a room in a chawl in downtown Mumbai. She had a younger brother who was a kid when their parents died. The house (the room) was bequeathed to her, ‘cos she looked after her parents. She and her brother lived in that house after the death of their parents.

Chaya was not literate. She worked in the nearby apartment complex, in two or three flats, and earned enough to eke out a rather decent living.

Then her troubles began. She met a young man who had a decent job in a central government concern and they got married – in a temple. He hailed from some remote area in Maharashtra, and moved into her house. Soon they had a son.

When the son was two years old, her husband went to his village to see his parents who had refused to accept Chaya as their daughter in law, as she brought no dowry. He returned after two weeks and informed Chaya that his family had forced him to get married. That marriage was properly registered. He was apologetic. He couldn’t resist the family pressure, he told her. With his public sector job, he was an eligible bachelor in his community, and when the proposal came from a girl who would bring a fat dowry, the family fell for it. Chaya’s husband buckled under the pressure from his community. It did not matter to the bride and her family that he had another wife – no wife as far as they were concerned.

Soon he started shuttling between the two wives. Chaya proved to be a convenient arrangement for him ‘cos she provided the accommodation. In Mumbai free accommodation is a bonanza.
In the meanwhile, Chaya found a new employer who was genuinely interested in her welfare. So she gave up her other jobs and was happy working for Rejini, her new employer. The main attraction was the fact that Rejini did not mind chaya bringing her little son when she came to make rotis in the evening. The other memsahib’s used to make a fuss. She came to work for Rejini in the morning after her son went to school. In the evenings the mother and son came together. The son sat watching the TV which Rejini’s children switched on for him.

Now, Rejini was a South Indian. She was a person genuinely interested in human beings and loved listening to their stories. It didn’t take her long to realise that Chaya’s life would soon run into rough weather. She tried to warn Chaya, to tell her the present arrangement did not portend well for her. Chaya was not receptive to the warning.

“You don’t know amma(she called her amma ‘cos she thought all south Indians are ammas). My husband is a very good man”, she asserted.

“Then why did he marry again?” Rejini asked.

“What could he do when the parents, relatives and other prominent members of his community insisted. He needs them too in his life, no?’

Rejini could not believe her ears. Chaya seemed to be so happy and content. It did not seem to matter to her that she was sharing her husband with another woman.

“He takes care of us”, Chaya continued. “He is putting our son through a private school and he goes by the school bus. He buys the expensive uniforms and books for him’.

“Then why do you have to work?”, Rejini asked.

“Some extra money is always welcome. After all i have to look after my brother. He does not have a job yet.”

At the beginning of the school year, Rejini asked her if she needed some help.

“No amma, my husband will take care of everything”.

Then one day, Chaya brought her son when she came to work in the morning.

“ It’s a holiday today”, she said by way of explanation.

“But i saw others from the same school going to school in the morning”, countered Rejini. Many children from the apartment went to the same private school and Rejini knew them from their uniforms.

“Only his class has a holiday today. The class teacher is not well”, explained Chaya, looking away.
Rejini said nothing though she knew that Chaya was not speaking the truth. The boy accompanied her the next day and the next and the next.

“Why isn’t he going to school?”, asked Rejini.

“I told you, his teacher is not well’, Chaya said.

“I know that’s not true”, said Rejini sternly. ‘don’t lie to me. Why isn’t Sanjay going to school”

Chaya was silent and continued chopping vegetables. Rejini snatched the knife from her hand threw it into the kitchen sink and snapped, ”Chaya, look at me. Why isn’t Sanjay going to school? I want an answer”

“My husband did not have money to pay the bus fees”, blurted out Chaya.

Rejini was distressed. “Listen Chaya, this is going to be the shape of things to come. Get his TC from the school and put him in this school”, said Rejini pointing to the government school adjacent to the apartment.

Chaya was indignant. “My husband won’t let me do that. He doesn’t want his son to go to government school. The company is bad. Teaching is not proper”

Rejini tried to persuade her.

“Don’t worry amma. He’ll get some arrears today and we’ll pay the bus fee.

The next day, Chaya came alone. She looked triumphantly at Rejini with that i –told- you- so look.

A month later, Sanjay came with his mother in the morning.

“Bus fees?”, Rejini asked.

“School fees too”, said Chaya. She kept her eyes hooded. “He is finding it difficult to run two households. How can i blame him?’ she asked, a little defiantly.

“Will you advance salary for bus fees?”. It was the first time that she asked for an advance.

“No”, said Rejini. “But I’ll take care of his needs if you transfer him to this school”.

“Ok”, she said meekly.

Sanjay, thus started going to the state run school.

Soon, Rejini noticed that a change had come over Chaya. She was subdued, preoccupied.

“What’s wrong?” Rejini asked her one day.

“Last week his other wife came home and started fighting with me. She said i was fleecing him.”

‘He doesn’t give her money? Doesn’t he support her?” He had a child by her too.

“No. He can’t handle the situation and so he has taken to gambling. He doesn’t give either of us anything.”

“Then don’t let him into your house”, Rejini suggested.

“It’s not easy for a woman like me to live in that locality without a husband”. She was still young and it was not the safest of places for a pretty young woman like her.

AS days passed, Rejini noticed that Chaya was growing quieter and quieter, and was also getting absent minded. One day, Chaya’s neighbour Sunenda ,who worked in the opposite flat, asked to meet Rejini.

“Chaya is having problems at home. Her brother wants the house to be transferred to his name. Madam, you please tell her not to do that.”

Rejini was horrified. She confronted Chaya with the issue.

‘What do you propose to do?’

“I don’t know”, she said. “My sisters are forcing me to give the house to my brother. They say that it is not a done thing for the woman to inherit family property,” she said.

“But your parents gifted it to you. There is no law against it”, Rejini told her.

“ My siblings come home every day and quarrel with me over this”.

Rejini told her she’ll get in touch with activists and sort it out.

“I know legally the house is mine. And if i involve activists, or go to the court, nobody can take it away from me, but madam, you will go away soon and who will be there for me if i antagonise all my relatives?”

Chaya transferred the house to her never -do -well brother and in two months time she was thrown out. Sunenda, the good soul who informed me about the problem persuaded her parents to give Chaya and her son a small space in one of the rooms they had in a chawl.

“A tiny room amma”, said Chaya, “ half the size of this kitchen. We cook and sleep and keep all our belongings in that room. I have to pay Rs 500/ as rent”

Next month Chaya told Rejini she was pregnant.

Two months later she had bleeding and went to a local “doctor’ who told her the child got aborted.

“Didn’t you go to the hospital?”, Rejini asked.

“i went to her clinic. She said the foetus is gone completely, and nothing more needs to be done,’

Two months later, Rejini’s college going daughter pointed out to the mother that Chaya is losing weight but has developed a paunch. Chaya noticed that her daughter was right and a terrible suspicion took root in her mind.

“Chaya, why don’t you see a gynaecologist?’ Rejini asked.

“i was planning to go to our doctor. I haven’t got my periods after the abortion”.

Rejini hauled her to a proper gynec who, after examining Chaya, confirmed that she was still pregnant. “Four months if i go by the dates she gave me.’

“What was that bleeding about”, Rejini asked.

‘i don’t know. Anyway, the child is still intact.”

“Will it be ok?. After all she had bleeding when she was 2 months pregnant”, asked Rejini anxiously.

“Let’s hope all’ll be fine”, the doctor said.

Meanwhile, Rejini’s husband’s transfer orders came and they had to leave on the 5th of July for Kerala. Rejini was upset about Chaya.

Chaya was shattered.

“There’s a hospital in Bandra run by nuns”, Rejini told her.” I met them last week and asked them if they will take you in. They have a convent in Telegaon where they have quarters for helpers. There is a school also in the compound. I have asked them to give you a job in that convent. If they take you, you can stay in the quarters and your son can go to the school. They want to see you before they take a decision. We’ll go there this Monday itself. We have to leave for Kerala on Thursday.”

Chaya was happy, and brightened up at the thought of the security this arrangement would give her.

On Monday morning Rejini got ready and waited for Chaya. She didn’t come at the appointed time. Those were the days when maids did not have cell phones; so there was no way of contacting Chaya.

An hour later, the door bell rang. Rejini opened the door. Sunenda stood there with a hesitant smile on her face.

“Madam, Chaya has delivered. A baby girl”

“But that’s premature”, exclaimed Rejini. “Is the baby ok?”

“It’s not premature”, explained Sunenda.”Chaya got her dates all wrong. The delivery was normal and the baby is fine”.

As Rejini closed the door, she found herself thinking of the ignorance and helpless of that class of women in Mumbai. In Kerala, her state, women – even the poorest of the poor - were much more enlightened and empowered.

(to be continued in Chaya 2)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Strange are the ways of the human mind!

I’ve always considered myself to be a level headed person and so I’ve been a little embarrassed to talk about my reaction to the totally unexpected news that my mother had passed away.

I rushed to kochin from kottayam early morning when my brother informed me that amma was hospitalized in the small hours if the morning with a chest pain. He assured me that the doc said it’s not really serious. Since she had had a heart attack ten years earlier (after which she’d been perfectly ok), I thought I wont wait for further development. She might need me to look after her.

She was in the IC unit when I saw her. She looked pale but was cheerful as usual.

‘Any pain, amma?’ I asked.

‘In the chest, but doc says it’s only muscular’

‘I’ll go home and get your lunch’, I told her when the sister told my brothers and me that our time’s up and we have to leave the IC unit.

“What do u want amma?’ I asked.

‘I’ve no appetite’, she said. ‘Anything’d do.’

“Shall get you your favourite stuff and kanji’, I told her.

‘OK’, she said smiling.

As we were about to go she asked, ‘Cant one of you stay with me? ’

‘What for ammachi?’ asked the chirpy sister. ‘So many of us are hear to look after you. They’ll be outside. We’ll call them whenever you want to see them. They’ve taken a by stander’s room”.

‘OK”, said amma shaking her head in agreement and smiling at all of us.

That’s the last I saw her alive. Looking back, I feel she knew her end was near – and the pain was bad. Just like her to take it all smiling.

I went home-prepared kanji, bitter gourd thoran and tomato chutney – all her favourite and, with my brother, came back to the hospital. The visiting time was 5 o clock.

“Amma’ll really enjoy this hot kanji and her favourite dishes.’

‘We’ll make her eat it straightaway”, said my brother.

“Yes’, I said as we entered the hospital compound.

My younger brother and our friend were standing outside the hospital entrance from where they could see the gate. They didn’t move as we walked towards them. They faces were unsmiling. Even these unusual signals sent no message to me for amma’s death simply did not figure in my scheme of things then.

We approached them and my brother looked at us and said ‘she’s gone’

‘Where?’ I asked perplexed.

‘Amma died 15 minutes ago.” (Those were not days of cell phone).

I heard him. I felt nothing but a great worry took hold of me. What am I to do with the kanji and curries I’d brought? Who’s going to eat it? Oh my God, that was a real problem, I thought.

I could think of nothing else. The kanji I carried for amma was really troubling me.

Nothing else seemed important at that moment.

I remember raising the kit with the tiffin carrier in it and asking, ‘What will I do with this kanji?’

Our friend quietly took it from my hand. My brother stretched out his hands and gripped me above my elbows. He told me later I was swaying but I don’t remember feeling giddy or sick.

I still feel foolish when I think of my concern with the kanji. Today I realize that it was the way my mind protected itself from the impact of the shock – by deflecting itself to matters trivial till it was ready to absorb the shock.

Monday, December 06, 2010

What's The New Indian Express's Agenda

I’ve become very suspicious of the media. I see agenda where, perhaps, none exists.

The New Indian Express’s editorial coverage of the recent Bihar elections appears suspect to me. After the initial accolades showered on Nitish Kumar for his victory in Bihar, this paper has been systematically trying to discredit him. A week back the editorial made a serious effort to dampen the public enthusiasm over the verdict of the people of Bihar in support of the better law and order situation, and the development that Nitish Kumar brought to the state. The newspaper made an editorial issue of the increase in the criminlisation of politics under him, the number of elected candidates with criminal background being the indicator. Today’s editorial points out how the total number of voted earned by the Nitish BJP coalition is terribly disproportionate to the seats they got. See this:

With less than 40 per cent of the vote, they took all but a fifth of the seats. Put another way , more than five in every 10 Biharis voted against, not for, the "massive mandate" winners. Nitish Kumar deserved another term, we believe; we feel even more strongly on the need to junk this grossly unfair system of voting for one guaranteeing proportional representation (PR).

Well, this is our electoral system. And the NIE wants to “junk” it now and revamp it!?! Strong demand, considering this has been our electoral system ever since independence. Why bring it up now? The discrepancy( if we can call it that) in the number of seats vis a vis the number of votes have always been mentioned by psephologists, media and the looser parties. But why is the NIE making an editorial song and dance of it NOW?

Does the paper have a pro-Congress agenda? Can anyone enlighten me on this?

I guess i have a wicked mind. Can't help wondering if the Congress and Lalu are shelling out to the paper. These days, one hears all sorts of things about the media and paid reporting.

The article:

We, like so many others in Bihar and else where, welcome the outcome of the assembly polls in that state. Yet, we'd like to apply a dampener to the torrent of words on the decisive mandate for development, change, et. al. For, this neat explanation owes itself not to the voters' choice but to the immense distortion of our firstpast-the-post (FPTP) system of voting. The landslide victory in Bihar for the incumbent coalition rests on no more than a three per cent improvement over what they polled in 2005.

With less than 40 per cent of the vote, they took all but a fifth of the seats. Put another way , more than five in every 10 Biharis voted against, not for, the "massive mandate" winners. Nitish Kumar deserved another term, we believe; we feel even more strongly on the need to junk this grossly unfair system of voting for one guaranteeing proportional representation (PR).

Take any election in India and you'll see this mangling of the voters' message. In the last assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, for instance, the AIADMK polled more than the DMK and got 35 seats less. The Congress and the DMDK both got 8.4 per cent of the total vote; the former got 34 seats and the latter, 1! In 2004, Rajasekhara Reddy became chief minister of Andhra when his party won a landslide majority over the ruling Telugu Desam; their respective percentage vote tallies were 38.6 and 37.6. This is nonsensical. It distorts our reading of history and our people. And, it leads to grotesque contortions in our polity , forcing political parties into artificial alliances to get into power or to keep it. On the other side, it breeds immense cynicism, for the individual vote does not count. In PR, by definition, every vote counts, equally. The criticism of PR is that it leads to instability: space at this point precludes us for refuting this.

Most of Europe has used it for close to a century, as have others for several decades, without any problem on stable governance. This apart, the aim of balloting is fair representation of voter views. All else is secondary .

FPTP can't do this even if there were only two parties contesting against each other. Nor can a system like the French one, where every seat has to be won by a majority; its distortions of voter mandate are as bad. Only a PR system does not.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

On Bharkha Dutt - When Idols Fall

Watching the discussion of the panel of editors on the Bharkha-Radia Controversy on NDTV yesterday added to my confusion rather than resolve it. I’d have liked it much better if it had helped to decide whether the media queen was guilty or not guilty.

In the past six months, a few of my idols crumbled. For me, the most painful fall was that Of Bharkha Dutt, Sashi Tharoor and Vir Sanghvi – in that order. This post is an introspective one. My concern is not whether, say, Bharkha is innocent or guilty, but with the way my mind grapples with disillusionment when an idol falls. The experience is very unsettling.

I’m trying to analyze what happens to the votary when deities prove to have feet of clay.

The mind tries to heal the wounds by fortifying itself to absorb it. It tries to adapt itself to the new reality of the painful wounds. When Sashi Tharoor’s personal agenda behind the Kochi IPL team was exposed by the sweat equity issue, I was upset. I had not only posted blogs in support of him during the elections, but also did my bit in my personal circles to promote him. Here was a man I thought who’d been above blame in his entire career. He appeared to be a genuine person anxious to contribute his mite to making his country a better place. When the scam broke, I told myself – this cant be true. It’s the north Indian lobby working against him and his state.

Then I looked for excuses to exonerate him. I told myself that he and only he could have put Kerala on the IPL map. I tried to invest his effort in this direction with epic proportions. But an uneasy feeling kept nagging at me. Is there no integrity left in this world? Is he too a part of the greedy herd?

Then I adopted the strategy of transforming the body (my mind) on which the wounds were inflicted. So what if he did it? At least, Kerala’d gain by it.

Then cynicism took over. Well, if one has to be effective, one has to play the game this way. I started telling people –so what if Karunakaran lined his pockets heavily building the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium? He did it, didn’t he? No one else could have done it. Isn’t he better than the honest but ineffectual angel like A K Antony?

The same with Bharkha – only in her case it was even more painful. A lot of people I know don’t like her, but I’ve always thought they were jealous. The clarity of her thinking, the felicity of expression and of course, and her guts - gosh she really did us proud.

When the Radia tapes were played by channels I thought – oh no! This cant be. Not she! She can’t be corrupt!

But the tapes were too damning.

So I eagerly listened to the NDTV show with Bharkha and the editors on the Tapes. I listened to it again online. I rejoiced when Bharkha said that she was only playing along with Radia in order to gather information. I believed her. But later I realized I believed her because I wanted to believe her. I didnt want to believe that she had greased her palm portfolio peddling. I admonished my mind when it took upon itself to wonder how much was her monetary share in this power-brokering business. I wanted to believe her when she said that it was an error of judgment on her part to have dealt with such people and made promises to be a go between when she had no intention of doing it. I wanted to believe her when she said she hadn’t perceived that the nexus between the corporates and the government was a big enough story to report.

But the last one was a little too difficult to swallow. No. So sharp a mind as Ms Dutt’s cannot miss the scandalous nature, and therefore the news value of that unholy intrigue which made a mockery of the democratic aspirations of the nation. Imagine, corporates calling the shots on whom to allot portfolios to. And it was painful to suspect that the Kargil heroine and the ruthless pursuer of truth was a key figure in brokering power that makes fools of the voter and the common man!

Soon I found that I couldn’t convince myself of her innocence. The seeds of doubt were sown and watered with ‘proofs’ that she claimed were doctored.

Then that strategy that smacks of cynicism came to my rescue. What if she is dishonest? Hasn’t she done stupendous work for more than two decades? Don’t I still look forward to We The People eagerly?

What if she does what everybody else in her field is doing? What if Shasi Tharoor did what all other IPL companies were doing>

This effort involves a change in the nature of the body (mind) on which the wounds were inflicted – you know a type of numbing with anesthetic and fortification with supplements. In plain speak, I try to compromise my principles, and the things I believe in. I tell myself values and principles are not absolute. They are time and circumstances bound.

Soon the wound shows signs of healing, and with them the pain begins to subside.

This is how idols and icons condition the thinking of their votaries. I realize this. I’m getting caught up in the discourses that they represent. New values are created.

I put a break on this thread of thinking. Integrity, I tell myself, is an eternal value. It cannot be compromised – not even for Barkha Dutt.

But I can’t help wishing that some miracle would happen and Bharkha would clear her name totally and regain her place on the pedestal.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Missing Artefacts

In my saner moments I think i must be mad.

Mind-boggling philosophies that'd dethrone Nietzche
Shed blood at the altar of paradigms.

No hoax, this sacrifice.

Clinging to roots that clutch
And to the steel bar with a toe on the footboard
While eyes dart frantically
Now the clock, now the milk about to spill over,
Now the name boards on superfasts.
Wincing at the ‘over’ signal
Of the BPL washing machine,
Jumping out of the skin
At the whistle of the pressure cooker.

Seismic rumblings erupt and flow
Into shapeless scorching lava.
No moulds to trap the molten flow
Into Artefacts.

Words fail.

In my saner moments I think I must be mad.

Written on July 11, 1994

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sister Jesme of AMEN Fame at the Hay Festival

I had not reacted to Sister Jesme’s Amen ‘cos it was not worth reacting to. The book has no literary value – at least that’s what I think. It’s a very pedestrian forgettable piece except for the sleaze and scandal about convents. To tell you the truth, the book bored me to death.

I’m glad that the Nuns and the Church did not ask for the book to be banned. I’m glad that the Catholics did not go on a book-burning spree. The truth is, the book is not worth the trouble.

So, why do I choose to write about it now?

Well, The Hay Festival is happening in Trivandrum. A few of my friends who attended it called to find out from me if it was true if all nuns were liars and lesbians or practicing heterosexuals.

They told me that Sr. Jesme, in her talk, said something to the effect that all nuns lie in both sense of the word. 1. They utter falsehoods and 2. they are lying with someone or other all the time. It is to this that I am reacting.

Strange that a person who was a nun for 30+ years should come out with something like this. Does it mean that she was doing this for three decades?

Regarding the book Amen- There may be some truth in it. There may not be any truth. I do not know. But common sense tells me that every organization has a bad apple or a few bad ones. But to say that the entire bunch is rotten is to miscarry truth.

Now, I have a reason for sticking up for the nuns. I am a beneficiary of the service they have been traditionally rendering to society.

All my education – from Baby class to Masters - was in convents. They were a great influence on me in my formative years. (I guess I owe my prudishness to this influence J.)

I learnt a lot from them, and I’ve had to unlearn some of what I learnt from them too. But the gains are greater – the loss, negligible.

The education they imparted to me gave not only knowledge and skill, but wisdom too.

They taught me the virtues of love and forgiveness.

They taught me to value human life, human rights and human dignity.

They taught me that honesty is a virtue that cannot be compromised, no matter what.

They taught me to stand firm in the right , and to ask God for light to see the right.

They tried to make a disciplined human being out of the total disorganized person that I was. They succeeded enough in this effort so as to enable me to get on with this business called life without much hassles.

I know that I’m not the most virtuous person on earth or the best specimen of our species. Those who know me will agree wholeheartedly to this admission. I do fall. Often. But each time, the values the nuns imparted to me and which I have internalized, set afoot a correction that, I hope, has stemmed me from stooping to irredeemable depths.

Isn’t all this reason enough for me to stand up for the nuns?

And I have always been most comfortable with most of them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not implying that those I am not comfortable with are liars and lesbians and highly libidinous people, as Sister Jesme claims. Just as I am comfortable with some human beings and not with some, so too with the nuns.

The point I’m trying to make is nuns are human beings. And you find all types.

They too fall like all human beings. They too try to correct themselves like all human being do, though their benchmark, which is unrealistically high, makes the task difficult for them. It makes the fall appear greater – and our criticism too.

But then who are we to judge?

Enough that they contribute substantially to the well being of human beings.

Enough that their level of commitment to the service of mankind is very high.

Enough that society has benefited hugely from them.

One rotten apple does not make the whole bunch rotten.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Deliriously Disgusted

The Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Apartments and the mind boggling G2 scam – too much.

Rot has entered the soul of the congress party. Time it reinvented itself or got ready for its own requiem.

Disgusting – absolutely.

How much are we citizens supposed to put up with?

How much do we have to get looted before we kick this party out ?

We look back at those days when a Shastri resigned as railway minister on account of a train accident, and a Krishna Menon, because of the unpreparedness of the India army when the Chinese invaded.

The party has lost its conscience – but it has discovered a new mechanism for survival – the spokesmen who can talk crap and make it sound like divine wisdom!

Wish Mainsh Tivwari’d put his eloquence to better use.

And the Gandhi family - suddenly one is getting sick of them.

Suddenly one remembers – Ms Sonia Gandhi had greatness thrust upon her and now her word is the law. Like many Indians, I too was willing to give her a chance – but her country cousin Quotrocci going scot free after looting India disillusioned me. Now when we see her soft pedaling on the scamsters, one begins to wonder - - -

so also her son - another case of greatness being thrust upon. I don’t think we want to see him as the Prime Minister.

The Congress Party of India is over. It should be rechristened as The Corrupt party of India. And believe me, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

If BJP is less corrupt, I wish they ‘d rule – on the imperative condition they bury their communal agenda. After all people and organizations can change - --- . but the recent drama in Karnataka makes us think they are no different when it comes to power mongering and corruption.

The left? They are a confused lot. Their ideology is in a state of flux – dangerous to entrust the country to a party struggling to find an ideological foothold - --- -

About the Janata Dals, the less said the better (except perhaps in Bihar).

The regional parties? The Raja of the telecom scandal gets the protective cover of the Congress for fear of a regional party.

Coalition might be the mantra of the 21st century – but it breeds corruption on a whopping scale.

The only redemption for the country lies in the voting out of the present decadent breed of politicians, the stalwarts and all.

A simplistic solution, I know.

A dream solution? An honest clean messiah launching a new party with transparency, cleanliness and accountability as its ideology, a training school for the voted representatives of the people .

But again, it's just a dream - -

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Obama's Indian Visit - The English Channels - and India's Children of Tomorrow

With the arrival of Obama in India, the English national channels blocked out everything else. It appeared as though the whole country ground to a halt with the arrival of the American President.

Then Obama made his first speech at the Taj – and BJP reacted. Obama didn’t utter the P word (Pakistan). When he spoke of 26/11, he didn’t put the blame at Pakistan’s door. Then the party felt it had overreacted – and retracted. Rudi began to make ahem – ahem sounds and said that he didn’t mean this but he meant that! Maybe the party leadership must have told him that to resist the euphoria might be a mistake. BJP might come to power in the next parliamentary election and Obama might still be around in the White House – so let’s keep him happy sort of a thing. Anyway, what is interesting is that BJP recanted.

But the Channels approach was really really interesting.

NDTV’s Barkha Dutt was as usual trying to project an image of total neutrality, but was actually egging on the expert commentators to come out with tangy statements. But none really obliged. The P word issue had actually begun to look silly.

TIMES NOW took the cake. Arnab in his usual style went hammer and tong after Obama. He pointed out how Clinton during his visit ‘gifted’ India with a condemnatory remark on Pakistan, and Obama should have taken at least a ‘baby step’ in that direction.

Arnab, you are incorrigible!

CNN IBN’s Sagarika Ghose concluded her efforts to sensationalise the absence of the P word with a sensible remark that one should understand that Obama is tight rope walking in south East Asia, and so we should tone down our rhetoric.

HEADLINES TODAY was thoroughly immature. Was totally displeased about Obama’s deafening silence about Pakistan.

Among the participants, i could agree with that outspoken bureaucrat turned politician Mani Shankar Iyer. Why should we expect Obama to say anything about Pakistan, he asked. We know Pak is behind the attack, and it is a bilateral problem. Why drag America into it? He was dismissive in his language and body language about this avoidable storm in the tea cup,and made the BJP and the media look silly.

While the inane politicians and stale media made fools of themselves, Young India did us proud. No slavishness, no applause at the slightest compliment about India that dropped from the lips of the US President (unlike the CEOs the day before). The young crowd at St. Xavier’s carried themselves with utmost confidence, and dealt with the President of the United States on equal terms.

When Obama declared that India has risen, there was no thunderous applause. It was as though we don’t need anyone to tell us that. We know. The response of the young girl who stood behind Obama epitomises the attitude of young India. Obama’s acknowledgement that India has risen elicited from her an approving nod accompanied by a poised smile.

About Obama's dialogue with the students at St. Xavier's - guess when Michelle Obama asked the young men and women to field tough questions to her husband, she didn’t think they’d take her so seriously.

For it was young India that forced him to utter the P word.

What’s your take on jihad, was the first question?

Why don’t you declare Pakistan a terror state? asked another.

Of course, Obama handled the questions well and the youth were impressed.

The young India, a sample of which Obama met at St. Xavier’s, is ushering in an India set free from the colonial hangover.

The schriszophrenic India has been cured.

I get a gut feeling India is safe in the hands of this healthy generation.

Friday, November 05, 2010

That Terrible Divali Day

The stray isolated crackers of Divali down here in Trivandrum takes me twelve years back to an evening in Mumbai when sheer terror seized me on the festival of lights.

It was evening and the condominium was celebrating divali with crackers. My husband Sunny got ready to go out into the Mumbai streets to see how the city was celebrating Divali. Normally, i don’t accompany him on these trips to “experience’ the real Mumbai which he said breathed in its vibrant streets flowing with humanity. It always fascinated him that the mighty city could accommodate the poor, the homeless, the middle class and the reeking rich, and he often went out on these expeditions to explore this city with ‘such a large heart’. I stopped accompanying him after a couple of trips ‘cos he’d send away the car and go about on foot, by BEST or the train. I found it too tiring - -

But on that day, i decided to accompany him. Cos, there was no vehicular traffic that day and the inhabitants of the foot path were bursting crackers right in the middle of the streets. I was afraid that in his fascination for the sights and sounds of Mumbai, he’d step on an exploding cracker.

I accompanied him and played my role as his guardian angel so perfectly that he decided to call off the adventure and return home.

We found our apartment empty, cos the children had gone out to where the condominium was bursting crackers. Ten minutes later my daughter Renu came home, cos her friends had gone to their home towns for divali and so she had no company. The three of us were talking over a cup of tea and snacks when the door opened and in walked Mathew with his eyes shut tight, led by two of his friends.

“Uncle, the crackers burst into his eyes”, his friend explained.


Something seemed to hit me real hard in the pit of my stomach and the impact was deadly. And then I felt my heart wrench itself out of the chest cavity and relocate to the skull to pound explosively there. I went numb all over and my thought process was suspended totally.

I became dead to the world.

“Open your eyes, Mathan, Mathan open you eyes’. I heard voices from some space i had taken leave of briefly, and they yanked me back to the sofa where i saw Mathew sitting, and Sunny and Renu bending over him and shouting down at him.
The numbness fled and a terrible sensation – fear, fire, terror? – coursed through my blood and i felt weak. My legs felt as though a ton of weight was tied to them and my mouth felt as parched as dry bones. Terror seized every inch of my being.
Next thing i remember was finding myself shouting along with Renu.

“Can you see, Mathew?’ i pleaded.

“I can, but i have double vision”.

“Oh, God”, i wailed, “What do we do”.

Sunny was already on the phone.

“Who are you calling?”, i shouted hysterically.

“Dr. Ratnaparkhi”, he threw over his shoulders.

“Wash his eyes with plenty of water but don’t rub. Do it till the car comes”, barked sunny, putting the phone down after talking to the doctor.

“No serious damage done”, said the doctor. Just superficial singeing. It’ll be ok in a couple of days”. Then turning to Mathew, she asked. “How did you manage get crackers into your eyes, my boy?”

“Yes”, i almost screamed. I was unwinding, and wanted to cry and laugh. “Yes, Mathew, that’s what i want to know. There were so many others and how come the crackers chose you eyes?” A bit too loud, i knew.

“Molly!” said Sunny sternly and i fell silent. I sat there and thanked God for taking care of my son. I vaguely heard him say that it did not burst, so he went examine the cracker to see what was wrong.

“And then it proved to you that there was nothing wrong with it, eh Mathew?” said the doctor smiling.

Sunny and i laughed, a little too loudly.

On the way back home, i lay back against the seat and felt drained. Thoughts, disconnected and irrelevant, drifted in and out of my mind.

“Instead of playing my guardian angel, you should have gone with Mathew”, i heard Sunny saying.

I said nothing. I was too exhausted to talk and as i drifted off to sleep, a voice seemed to whisper in my ear “Unless the Lord keepeth the city - - - - -

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Marginalised India - Can I Wish it Away?

When I got this forward, I opened it reluctantly. I thought it must have something to do with the BPL versus the rest of India - APL and above, reaching all the way up to the India of billionaires.

Bachchan’s two Indias were 1. the India on the leash, rearing to go charged by optimism and 2. the leash that is India, that skeptical India looking fearfully down at the bottom of the ravine, asking the leashed India to prove itself and only then it’ll be unleashed.

What struck me was the terrible truth that the class represented by Bachchan is totally oblivious to that India, which starves, hungers, thirsts for the basic amenities, to that India which lives in darkness where electricity is unheard of, to that India which is uprooted, and deprived of livelihood and a roof above its head, to that India for which roti kapada aur makhan is the ultimate and unachievable goal.

I hated this forward for I too belong to this callous India, rearing to go, about to make history and earn all those adjectives, which the world is showering on it!

I too belong to that India which snatches bread from the hungry India and demolishes the tiny hut which gave it shelter from wind and rain and scorching sun so that I can have live in air-conditioned comfort, or travel in hi tech cars.

I belong to that India which kicks another India out of its home all the way to giant metros to live on footpaths and be resented and insulted by the denizens of those big cities.

This forward reminded me of my sins.

And I don’t want to be reminded.

Or feel guilty.

I’d rather continue to bury my head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich, and continue to exist in my ivory tower- -

Till that day the deprived India rises

And guillotines me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ms. Arundathi Roy - Stop Meddling Please!

I love reading Arundathi Roy’s articles, even though she tends to ramble. I love her language – its surprise turns. She is a lover of human race, and an ardent advocate of equity. Her earnestness reflects in her style, in her imagery. She becomes extremely poetic at times. She is genuine, not a publicity monger, as many make her out to be. I can sense that when i read her works.

But her position regarding the Maoists and Kashmir, well, it’s a big question mark for me. I cannot subscribe to her views. That’s because i think like an Indian citizen. Roy’s concerns cut across political boundaries, while she enjoys the freedoms and benefits of Indian democracy. She sees herself as a citizen of the community of human beings where there are the privileged and the underprivileged, where there is miscarriage of justice against which she feels the need to raise her voice.

I think like an Indian and i feel that when my country is going through a crisis, i should not do anything or say things which can put the state in a difficult situation. That’s my idea of patriotism, of loyalty to my country. Maybe that’s how nonentities think.

My knowledge of the Kashmir in not that of an expert, but of the average Indian who is convinced that the government of India’s position on Kashmir has been the right one. No matter which government is in power, the Kashmir policy has always remained the same.

We know that right from the time of accession, there has been discontentment among several elements in Kashmir. But we also know that they did not constitute the majority. When Pakistan sponsored an invasion of Kashmir in 1947, the then NC under Sheik Abdulla appealed to New Delhi to send the Indian army which received not only a rousing welcome from the people of Kashmir but also all support to repel the marauders.

We also know that Pakistan too stood in the way of plebiscite on the pretext of demilitarisation as a precondition to it. The actual reason was the fear that a referendum would be in favour secular India.

We know that the separatists were supported and sponsored by Pakistan with the aim of altering the demography of Kashmir. This resulted in the exodus of the Kashmiri pundits and other minority groups.

A referendum would no longer be valid - not without the votes of those who were driven out of Kashmir and are settled elsewhere, or are in the refugee camps.

We also know that the Muslim community in Kashmir is divided. The Shias in Kashmir shudder at the thought of accession to Pakistan, or even azadi for fear of a theocratic dispensation in an independent Kashmir.

So when Arundati Roy talks of voicing the wishes of the people of Kashmir, whom does she have in mind? That section of the population who have found voice because of the support from across the border?

Ms Roy talks of the brutal military rule in Kashmir. Hasn’t she any problems with the ruthless, mindless carnage that the Pakistan sponsored terrorists inflict on the people of Kashmir? Is it their rule that she advocates? The Indian army in Kashmir has come in for a lot of flak, it is true. But when it deals with hard core hate filled inhuman terrorists who not only indulge in bloodshed but also instigate insurgency and terrorise people into indulging in violence in the valley, its predicament is unenviable. Excesses happen, and they cannot be justified. It is a crisis situation. People like Ms Roy who get a lot of media coverage should not be so impervious to the predicament of the government and indulge in such irresponsible clamour for azadi.

Same with her position regarding Maoists, whose appalling violence deserves no justification whatsoever. Let Ms Roy address the situation constructively by using her celebrity status to propagate and perhaps set afoot through an NGO an alternate mode of development which is inclusive. Let her throw her heart and soul into evolving development models which factor in those who are marginalised by the present developmental policies. The nation will be grateful to her.

But if she goes up the hill and down the dale justifying violence and trivialising the sovereignty and integrity of the country, she is doing a terrible disservice to the nation and is no different from the armchair critics of establishment who get carried away by their own voice.

And if her speeches cause disaffection to the state the way Madani’s fiery speeches created the likes of Nazeer Thadiantavide, then the sedition law should be evoked against her.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I wished mother earth would open up and swallow me when i read this story in THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS yesterday.

The burden of the story is this: Lakhs of rupees is being given to head load workers as ‘nookucooli’ by the KERALA MINERAL DEVELPMENT CORPORATION LIMITED (KMDCL) as per the agreement arrived at between the LDF government and the head load workers unions. Both the LDF and UDF were equally enthusiastic about doling out taxpayers money to the workers for sitting around and doing no work – ‘cos sand mining cannot be done manually. It is being done mechanically. But the head load worker cannot be denied his wages and so the net result is “175 workers were coming everyday to the three points of Kava, Aanakal and Myladipuzha to sign the register. According to the conciliation agreement, the workers will be paid wages for 25 working days in a month. The KMDCL had to pay wages amounting to `52,500 a day and `13.12 lakh a month. “ (THE FULL STORY IS PASTED AFTER THE POST). WHOSE MONEY ARE THE POLITICAL LEADERS – BE IT THE LEFT OR Oommen CHANDYS – gifting away? Why do we, the tax payers allow ourselves to be so criminally vandalised?

Speaking for myself, i have slogged it out for thirty years to earn my bread and to pay the government its taxes. Doesn’t the government owe me anything? Isn’t the government accountable to me? Shouldn’t it ask my permission before it gifts away my hard-earned money to a bunch of lazy bones to get their political support?

I am angry with myself for having been taken for a ride by politicians whom i put into power to take care of my interests. I am angry with myself for doing nothing about it except make some useless noise in the blogsphere.

Impotent rage is frustrating. Isn’t there anything i can do? Except throw up my hands in sheer helplessness? Why do i call myself ‘educated’ when i just sit back and allow myself to be looted by a bunch of good for nothing self seeking politicians and their goons? Nobody hears the gnashing of my teeth at being caught up helplessly in this callous political power game.

I feel cheated and feel worthless that i can do nothing about it.

I’m sure every honest citizen shareS my feelings.

Isn’t there ANYTHING we can do?

A Sathis Who will benefit from the sand mining mess?
A Sathis
Express News Service
First Published : 21 Oct 2010 04:21:54 AM IST
Last Updated : 21 Oct 2010 11:24:32 AM IST

Which Front will get the benefit of the sand mining and related works being done at the Malampuzha, Chulliyar and Walayar dams in Palakkad district during the elections to the local bodies?
In general, the answer will be the LDF or the UDF. Whoever wins, the real winners will be the hundreds of workers at the dam site. Lakhs of rupees is being doled out to 175 workers as wage at the rate of `300 a day for no work being done by them thanks to the ‘nokku coolie’ promoted by both the LDF and the UDF.
This is a perfect example of the lack of will on the part of the government to put its foot down by saying that wages will be paid only when sand is being mined from the dam.
“The decision to pay wages for no work being done is a political one and we are helpless,” officials of the Kerala Mineral Development Corporation Limited (KMDCL), which was engaged in mining sand from these dams, said.
In spite of knowing the fact that manual labour be of no use for the mining and sand loading, the LDF Government had decided to involve hundreds of labourers for the work. Opposition Leader Oommen Chandy had also a hand in the decision. The government had forced to work out a compromise agreement because of the protest from the local head load workers against loading of the mined sand mechanically. Finally, it was agreed that each of the registered 196 workers will be paid `300 a day and the workers would be engaged in sundry work like removal of bushes and setting up of bunds. The end result is huge losses for the KMDCL.
The KMDCL is now facing losses on two fronts in Malampuzha. Around 80,000 square metres of sand, which was mined and put on the banks, was submerged in water. Three heaps of sand kept at a height of 16 metres were completely submerged in water. A part of these heaps has already been washed away.
Moreover, 175 workers were coming everyday to the three points of Kava, Aanakal and Myladipuzha to sign the register. According to the conciliation agreement, the workers will be paid wages for 25 working days in a month. The KMDCL had to pay wages amounting to `52,500 a day and `13.12 lakh a month.
Already, public sector undertakings like the profitable Malabar Cements have provided a loan of `5 crore towards the working capital of the KMDCL for sand mining. Currently, the KMDCL is selling sand mined from the Chulliyar and Walayar dams to the public at `990 a square metre. In Malampuzha, the bad condition of the Aanakal-Malampuzha road is causing hindrance in removing the sand. A section of the locals protest against transporting sand through the road demanding that the government should repair the road first.
However, KMDCL sources say that some elements are preventing the removal of the sand to help the sand mining lobby at Bharathapuzha. The KMDCL officials said a basket of sand in Thiruvananthapuram cost `120 while in Malampuzha it was being sold for `30 after being filtered. They said that the road was repaired twice, once by the KMDCL and another time by a Kozhikode-based society.
In Chulliyar, apart from the sand removed by the KMDCL, the local block panchayat had provided 22,000 mandays of work last season under the Mahathma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS), a Central scheme. The LDF was ruling the local block panchayat.
It remains to be seen whether the LDF or the UDF will benefit from the whole mess.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Annual Fete and Cashew Nuts

‘Molly, i hear that you get the best cashew nuts in Kerala – and cheap too”, said Mother Peter, our HM, arching her eyebrows , enlarging her large blue eyes and shaking her wimpled head vigorously up and down in that typical European style. ‘Write to your father and ask him to send us some for the fete’.

It was to be my first fete about which my friends had raised such expectations. It was a two day event hosted by our school for which the little town of Pondicherry looked forward to the whole year. The school was St. Joseph de Cluny. It was the headquarters of the Cluny convent in India. In Pondicherry, besides the convent, it had two schools – English medium which was going from strength to strength and the French medium with it dwindling population. There was an orphanage too and we boarders were not allowed to mingle with them, though in the same campus.

I joined Cluny in the first year of high school – in the 9t standard. Ever since i joined in June, I’ve been listening to the boarders raving about the annual fete. They spoke about the happening in the previous fete. Most of the conversation was about some boy or the other who could on those two days gain entry into the tall walls of the convent which guarded the chastity of the wards entrusted to them with a fierceness which, at times, was almost comical. At every opportunity, the nuns warned us about the Romeos who waited at the corner of the street.

The streets in Pondicherry are absolutely straight and were cut at regular intervals at 90 degree by equally straight roads. The Cluny convent was spread over three campuses. From the boarding to refectory, we had to cross the street. From refectory to school, we had to cross another street. The Romeos knew our routine, and the fact that the nuns were paranoid about punctuality made it easier for them to wait punctually at the street corners to catch a glimpse of and exchange smiles with their crushes.

Among the senior boarders there were two groups – the ones who had boyfriends and the ones who did not. I belonged to the latter though i had sneaking admiration for those who had the guts to have boyfriends. Now let me get this clear. The ‘boyfriend’ in those days did not mean what it means now. The girls had not spoken even once to their Romeos. All they did was to look down the street and smile at the boy whose looks they liked. And then they would go ‘steady’ with them, i.e., faithfully smile at them whenever they crossed the road. Sometimes the boy would wear a kerchief tucked in the collar. When his girlfriend crossed the road the next time, she would tuck in a kerchief in her collar (our uniforms were collared), and then their eyes would lock and they would smile. And the day would be made for them.
During the recreation time, the girl would talk with high excitement about the kerchief. She would blush and smile and bask in the comments of how handsome the boy was. All of us would laugh and giggle and tease.

I remember the handkerchief episode cos it landed me into trouble. The nuns knew that i was new and uncorrupted and therefore could be used as an agent. The boarding mistress once called me and spoke to me about this and that and without my quite realising it, the conversation veered to the boyfriend topic. In all innocence, i let her into the handkerchief incident and who’s whose boyfriend. She then gave me a French chocolate which i rushed to share with my friends who immediately got out from me what had happened. They ridiculed me for walking into the nun’s trap and yelled at me and called me James Bond and Mata hari and ostracised me. When they got their dressing down from the nuns along with the punishments like cutting out bi weekly walks on the beach(where the Romeos tore down on their bikes with silencers off), they got downright nasty with me.

I was very very miserable cos i had no intention of getting anyone into trouble. My friends from the no boyfriend group consoled me, and taught me how to evade the interrogation of the nuns. I have never walked blindly into their trap after that, but it took a long time for to gain entry into the boyfriend group.

The fete was the time when all these roadside Romeos got entry into our fortress. They quickly found out in which stalls their girl friends were and used to hang around there.

The middle campus which housed the convent, refectory and the orphanage was the site for the fete. The Pandal as the huge semi open auditorium was called, and the playground which he orphanage girls used accommodated the stalls which sold items brought/bought/donated from France. Then handicraft items, embroidered kerchiefs, tea cosy, and delightfully beautiful things done mostly by the orphanage girls were sold at exorbitant price. Things sold like hotcakes. The stalls were manned by us, students of English medium school. Sometime the crowd was so heavy that me with my over protected Nazrani upbringing used to panic. Sometimes tempers rose, for the young crowd was not free from inebriation. Commotion would immediately bring the members of the discipline committee (made up of big shots in the local community), and they would put their foot down. That’s when commotion arose and people flared up. Once this happened right in front of my stall. My partner in the counter had a street corner boyfriend who had been hanging around the whole day, smiling at her and buying things from our counter. In the afternoon, after lunch, he had apparently helped himself to some French liquor. Then he became bolder. He asked my partner for a clandestine date and she was horrified.

‘”i didn’t know you were such a rotten person”, she snapped at him.

“What did you think you were doing when you smiled at me every day?” he asked.

‘I didn’t think you were the type who would get fresh”, she said, getting scared.

‘Fresh? all i asked you was to come with me for a cup of coffee”, he said

Then she said something which made even me want to laugh.

‘You are a very bad boy’, she said, almost sobbing.

By then someone had reported the exchange and the watch and ward arrived and threw him out.

After the fate, for the rest of the year, she stared at the tip of her shoes whenever she crossed the road.

Now to get back to the cashew nuts (i got carried away by memories, sorry), i wrote to my father who promptly send 5 kilos of roasted cashew nuts of the best quality. It arrived four days before the fete. I instantly became the pet of the nuns. Five of us high school students were picked to pack cashew nuts. We put 8 pieces of cashew nuts each into small plastic packets and stacked them on a tray from which the junior boarding mistress took each of them and sealed them with a contraption I’d never seen before. Because of her presence, we couldn’t pop even one piece into our mouths. However, when the work was over, she took some broken cashew nuts which she apparently had sorted out, and gave half a handful to each of us.

These packets would be put on a tray which would be carried around by the students who were members of the JVC Club. The trays were suspended from the necks on pretty satin ribbons. I so wanted to do that duty but as i was not a JVC club member, i was denied the chance. Each packet was sold for Rs. 5, which in the mid sixties was considered to be an atrocious price.

The big day arrived. Being my first year, i was not given stall duty, so i generally went around with my friends and bought things and delicacies and French chocolate drink.

On the second day, my parents sprang a surprise on me by landing up for the fete. They were on their way to Velankanni, and decided to see me and the fete about which i had been raving and for which had asked for more pocket money for the month. Besides, my father had sent cashew nuts (for which he had paid less than Rs. 100/including parcelling and shipping charge). All these had made him curious about the event. So they decided to reroute the trip through Pondicherry.

My mother was simply horrified at the crowd through which her 14 year old daughter was running around freely. She called me and asked me to remain with them. With a protective arm around me, we went around looking at stalls.

My mother always had a fascination for embroidered stuff and so i took her to that stall. She was so taken up by what she saw that she started buying up, despite the fancy price. Both of us were engrossed in selecting the items. After the purchase, we turned around, looking for my father. And lo and behold, there he stood taking out Rs.5 from his wallet. The JVC volunteer (known for her aggressive marketing ) with the cashew nut tray suspended from her neck with colourful ribbons beamed at him as she took the money from him, and handed over a tiny packet of cashew nuts .

Then holding up the packet for me and amma to see, he winked, smiling from ear to ear.