Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Media Menace

For the past few days, the media was full of what would happen when /if the Ayodhya verdict is announced. TV channels flashing news, breaking news, newspapers carrying banner headlines – both indulging in speculation of a future that might never happen – rather that would not happen if the media did not provoke, subtly coerce and tease the aggrieved (allegedly aggrieved) parties into violence.

The media is behaving with absolutely no responsibility. The build up for Ayodhya began a month back. What is it trying to do? Reminding the warring sects to get their weapons honed for the unleashing of violence? Is this the media’s way of ensuring them that it has whipped up feelings and has created expectations and the ideal climate for bloodshed, and so it now the turn of the two communities to meet the expectation built up by it?

In 2006 January when Arjun Singh tried to raise the reservation quota in the IITs and other premier educational institutions, the coverage of the issue by Rajdeep Sardesai and his channel was dangerous and objectionable. The visual of the burning Goswami (the self immolation in protest against Mandal) was played over and over again as though to invite some misguided youth to take cue from him. Sardesai was literally jumping around with excitement – like a predator which had a taste of blood and was waiting with excitement for some prey to take the bait.

Looking back, i feel that if the media was totally banned from the precincts of Taj –nay, if there was a total ban on reporting the updates on the terror attacks in Mumbai, the NSG would have done a much more efficient job without the media taking away the surprise element from the rescue operation. Remember, Arnab Goswami got vicious and nasty at the government’s move to block the media from reporting? and te government buckled in to the ire of Times Now!!

The Indian media needs to be reined in. it should not, as it does now, put business above the country. Responsible journalism is what India needs at this juncture. The country is going through difficult times. Media should not make it worse by giving Kashmiri separatists, terrorists groups and Maoists the free publicity they seek. Cutting off publicity for these terror groups is akin to choking off their life breath. Sensationalising their terror activities is just what they want.
I believe in the freedom of speech but if this freedom is used to help seditious groups and terror elements hell bent of breaking up India, it is time something was done about it.

Incidentally, after that entire hullabaloo created up by the media, i get a pleasant feeling that the commonwealth games are going to take place without any serious hiccups.

Related blog: Kerala – a Media Constructed Image?

Monday, September 27, 2010

A letter to the Editor - ignored by The New Indian Express.

The following post is my letter to the editor of The New Indian Express in response to an extremely offensive article by one Ms. Alexandra Delaney, an English lady, who confesses that, while in Kerala, she pretended to be a French national in order to be spared the torture of having to listen to “Kerala English”. Needless to say, my letter was not published. I admit i overreacted – but then, insults always provoke strong, emotional reaction.

Forgive me, my blogger friends, for imposing this trashed letter on you. You see, i spent half an hour writing this. Why waste the effort, i thought - - -

Unfortunately i couldn’t locate the Ms Delaney's letter on the net.
PS A blog visitor located the link.

Dear Sir

I found Ms. Alexandra Delaney’s article titled English in Kerala or Kerala English? (TNIE, Sept 23) not only offensive, but factually incorrect and totally lacking in knowledge of the situation in which English is taught in the schools in the state.

Let me begin by reminding Ms.Delaney that English is not our mother tongue. Our mother tongue is Malayalam. We have the necessary communicative skills in our mother tongue, and look upon English as a utility object. Yes, call it mercenary attitude if you like, but I feel no need to be apologetic about it. We do not feel obliged to speak the language the way it is spoken by the native speaker of English or to keep pace with the changing idiom of English as it is spoken in England. Why should we? The Keralites with their “Kerala English” which makes Ms. Delaney’s flesh crawl have made their presence felt indispensably in the English speaking world. We have been able to extract the benefits of the language to the hilt. That’s enough for us. We have our mother tongue to fall back on, and Kerala English to communicate with other non-Keralite friends. Let Ms. Melaney suffer no heartburn on account of our deficiency in handling spoken English.

Now to come to some points she has raised: the stress pattern. Contrary to what she has said, in no state in India do the speakers of English use the stress pattern of British English. All Indians distribute stress evenly over all the syllables in the word. Perhaps a handful of those who do use the British stress pattern have had their education in the premier schools in the country or outside India. In this context I would like to ask Ms. Delaney if the American English follows the British stress pattern.

I do not agree with her that the “rigid implementation of teaching material and the purely text book teaching” is responsible for the “poor speech” of those she has this grouse about. There are a lot of issues regarding the teaching of English at school level in Kerala about which she knows absolutely nothing. I don’t intend to go into the issue here. It’s too unwieldy. But the lady’s pronouncement on what is wrong with the teaching of English in Kerala afforded me a lot of merriment (hope this usage doesn’t make her want to "scream"). I do hope she will refrain from behaving as though she is the last word on the system of education in Kerala which is complex with both social and political implications.

I found the following statement totally unwarranted: what is surprising, however, is the confidence with which Keralites speak English, despite being considered as confused and incorrect to outsiders. Well, that was a really nasty statement to make. It amazes her that with grammatically incorrect English and entirely unsuitable vocabulary, we Malayalees are able to communicate with each other in English. What on earth is her problem? That her mother tongue is being distorted? Well, let me assure her that we have not signed contract with the British to maintain the purity of the English language and keep it free from the influence of our language. We do not think being able to speak English like the native speaker of English is the ultimate achievement in life. The language has its uses as the medium of communication for official purposes and career advancement, and for communication with the outside world. That’s it. We have enough knowledge of English to do well in our life and careers anywhere in the world.

If the lady doesn’t like being asked her "good name", and from "which place" she comes from and “how she likes Kerala food”, I think she had better think of packing up her bags. We don’t intend to change our way of speaking English to please Ms. Alexandra Delaney.

Kochuthresiamma P J
Here's the original article.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

National award for Bachchan - for what?

Amitabh Bachchan’s performance in Paa wins him national award for acting! :-)

It would have made plenty of sense if the award was for fancy dress.

Am sure the poor Big B himself is embarrassed to be caught up as the protagonist in this national joke.

I don’t know if i can i call it the national blunder of the decade? We have to wait for the completion of Commonwealth Games to know which is the greater /worse blunder.

But it beats me - what on earth were the jury thinking when they zeroed in on Bachchan’s performance in Paa for best actor award? Did they redefine the concept of ‘acting’ and exclude emoting with facial expression from the definition?

I think they owe an explanation to the nation about the criteria for this ridiculous ,howler of a choice.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Tragic Dismissal of Professor T J Joseph - a teacher's point of view

The sacking of Prof T J Joseph disturbed me just as it had all right thinking people of the state. I was itching to write about it but my usual hesitation to criticise the church held me back till now. Now i can no longer rein in my feelings of extreme distress.

I am a college lecturer myself, and so i understand how things happen in a college, how the question papers are set.

Paper setting is not an easy job. Even without all the political correctness we have to worry about, it is a difficult job. A lot of time, thought and planning goes into it. The questions have to cover the entire portions allotted, it has to focus on those portion that were not covered in earlier exams, the portion covered in the earlier exams cannot be ignored though. Besides all this the paper has to be impeccable, factually and language wise. A teacher spends a very long time taking care of all these, and is very careful. But despite all the efforts, errors creep in. After all, it is human to err and teachers are human. A teacher is not a perfect human being, a veritable storehouse of knowledge, who never ever makes a mistake in life or in the class room. She is one who strives to be that, gets half way through in that direction and is always aware that there is a long way to go still.

But a teacher is imperatively a person who knows how to deal with the knowledge at her disposal in order to impart it as education to the students. Hours of preparation goes behind every lecture.

Now coming to Prof TJ Joseph, we must admit it was foolish on his part to use the word Mohammed in that particular context. But i am absolutely sure that he did not mean the Prophet. Why on earth should he take the trouble to offend the sensibilities of a community? He should know fully well what the consequences would be. The mistake he made was that when he chose the passage, he did not factor in the truth that there are certain elements in the community who are fanatical and who suffer from an intense sense of persecution mania. These people feel that all the world is out to insult Islam which is simply not true.

The professor was being naive. He thought , and rightfully so, that Mohammed is just a name, and that simple explanation was enough for him to use that name in that unfortunate passage he picked up from the books prescribed for reading in the syllabus. If he had used the name Joseph or Matthew or Paul or Alphonse(all Christian saints), or even Emmanuel(which is Christ’s name), this problem would not have snowballed into such a huge issue. In fact it would not have been an issue at all. No one would have noticed it, cos after all what’s in a name? That must have been his logic.

Believe me, sometimes a teacher’s logic, clouded by academic considerations alone, falls short of politically correctness. It does happen. I know it. Even if someone points this out, we tend to stick mulishly to our view. At that point of time, the mind thinks that it is ridiculous that a perfectly innocent statement should be so wrongly interpreted. In our foolishness, we think such ridiculous interpretations should not happen. This must have been how the professor’s mind worked. “If i’m asked, i can always say i didn’t mean the The Prophet”.

Needless to say, the easiest thing would have been to change the name. But the poor man did not think it important enough.

It is true that the question papers are submitted to the office and the Principal is the official approver of it. But it is simply not possible for the Principal to go through them. Nevertheless, when something like this happened, he should have owned up the responsibility and apolgised to the community for an unintentional offence, instead of washing his hands of the poor teacher and sacking him. What loyalty can the institution expect hereafter from its teachers again?

It is very obvious that the enquiry by the management was not a fair one. The simple logic is why should a teacher with an impeccable record of 20 odd years, who led a totally innocuous and noncontroversial life to date, to whom his job was all important indulge in the dangerous act of antagonising a community and thereby jeopardise his job, his safety and that of his family? He would NEVER do it. And the management knows it.

The management has come up with some atrocious statements:
The DTP operator had pointed it out to the teacher about the use of the forbidden name. Well, since when is a DTP operator to decide what a teacher should do? Of course, in this case the DTP operator was more worldly wise, but education is a degree different from worldly wisdom, and teachers, the dispensers of education sometimes tend to be idealistic and short on worldly wisdom. Society should be a little indulgent towards teachers. It would have been nice if it departed from its usual practice of treating this category of people as punching bags.

Secondly, the management has stated that it is willing to take back the professor if the Muslim community forgives him!!!! What does it mean by Muslim community? Isn’t the group of muslims who were among the first to donate blood to the victim of this terrorist act part of that Muslim community whose pardon the management is seeking? Let the management define term ‘muslim community’.

The Muslims do not need forgiven the Professor. Why should they, when they have not taken offence or have any grudge towards him? The management is doing a disservice to the community by identifying these lumpen, fanatic group as the representative face of the Muslim community which is as sane and secular as any other community in the state.

This appeasing attitude is most shameful. I would have expected the management to live and act by the principles they swear by – Christ’s principles. I wish the management of Newman college would go back to the Bible and find out how Jesus Christ the founder of Christianity and the Lord of love and forgiveness and compassion would have reacted in this situation.

The management has no mind of its own? It does not have its own sense of right and wrong? No discerning power? Does it need to take lessons on love and forgiveness and compassion from an external agency? Is this management which runs an educational institution so starved of values and a sense of fair play – and courage?

What a shame! What a terrible shame!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

I dreamt of Brutus and Mark Anthony in Kerala

I had a dream some years back. A strange dream it was. Why I should have dreamt of Brutus and Mark Anthony, I haven’t the vaguest idea. I had’nt thought of them/spoken of them around that time. Yet I dreamt about them.

I do not remember what Brutus had said. But I do remember seeing Brutus standing tall a erect, in the fatigues of a Roman soldier, earnestness and sincerity writ large on his face, speaking in a rather stiff, baritone voice with no dramatic intonation whatsoever. The blue shirt, green shirt, red shirt head load workers of Kerala who were listening to him were moved to tears, and quite unembarrassed about it.

The only words of Brutus that i recall is the oath he administered to the assembly, which the huge crowd of head load workers, with their right arms stretched out, repeated after him with a thunderous resonance. Here’s the oath:


Wiping their eyes with the red thorthu on their shoulder they sat down and waited for the next speaker. In walked Mark Anthony. There was something wrong with the way he looked. I remember thinking in my dream, “hey, this guy is a fraud’. His face was exactly like Richard Burton’s – light eyed, light complexioned and receding forehead. That was OK. But he wore a shirt the front portion of which had two colours. On the left of the placket was red and on the right, blue. The sleeves were green and they were rolled up half way up the biceps. The red thorthu was on his head in the form of a cocky turban. He wore an atrocious lungi folded over well above the knee and tied over his ribs. Some striped inner wear almost reaching his knees was peeping out cheekily.

He walked in with a slovenly gait, a beedi smoking from his fingers. The crowd greeted him with boos, but quite unfazed, he walked up to the mike, put his right elbow on the lectern, took a deep drag on the beedi and blew the smoke in circles and watched them as the circles dispersed and disappeared into the air. The boos died down and the crowd too watched the circles forming and then becoming ill defined and disappearing.

Soon silence fell. Mark Anthony threw away the beedi and looked at the crowd with one end of his lips lifted in a crooked, scornful smirk.

‘So’, he said, ‘comrades, you are giving up your rights, eh?’

Silence greeted him.

‘Eh, eh eh?’ We went on without raising his voice too much.

‘You fickle minded fools’, he roared abruptly, making the audience sit up with a start. ‘You traitors’, he continued roaring.’ You have betrayed the blood, sweat and tears of generations of thinkers and leaders who laid down their lives, suffered torture at the hands of brutal police toeing the line of the bourgeoisie, to win you the rights to earn a living without working. And now you stupid proletariat, you want to work?’

‘You want to work? You want to live by the sweat of your brows? You want to earn you salary? Then GET OUT OF KERALA. YES’ he roared ‘GET OUT OF KERALA’

'Your leaders first struggled and fought, then pressurised all governments to wrest the sacred right to earn a fat sum without moving your little finger, and now you want to throw that right away? Ugh, ugh, ugh?’ He snorted into the mike.

‘No comrade, no’, shouted the audience.’ No’.

‘And what is this new agenda? New goal that Brutus put into your silly heads? Increase production? Whatever for? Why should you care about the size of the cake so long as you are assured by your unions that you get your share of the cake, EVEN IF THERE IS NO CAKE. Where in the world are there workers who get every month without fail their share of a nonexistent wealth ?’

‘Nowhere, nowhere., yelled the crowd.

‘Yes, nowhere in this world. Remember, nowhere. Only in Kerala. That's why it is called God’s own country. We earn without sweating. Don’t you know “thou shall live by the sweat of your brows" is God’s curse on Adam when the latter was driven out of Paradise where they did not have to work? Work is a curse. A punishment. Your leaders redeemed that lost paradise where man could eat, drink and be merry without working. That’s the paradise which God made for Adam and Eve. Your leaders have outsmarted governments, why even God himself to create a paradise for you here in Kerala, and now you want to throw it away? You want to throw it away, ugh?’

‘No, No’, they yelled.

‘Down with the traitor Brutus’, someone yelled.

‘And’, thundered Mark Anthony, ‘if Brutus has put the idea in your minds that the absence of generation of wealth in this paradise will throw cockroach in your Kanji (literal translation of Malayalam idiom meaning ‘deprive you of your livelihood’), let me tell you this. With more than 2 million malayali NRI’s slogging it out outside India, we the labour class will never starve.’

Thunderous applause.

‘Long live money order economy’, yelled Mark Anthony waving the read thorthu which he had ripped off his head with flourish.


I woke up with a start at the sound of the alarm clock. It was early morning. I had to board Madras Mail at 6.15 am after cooking breakfast for the family and packing lunch for my husband and two children. I dragged myself out of the bed thinking ruefully “Why wasn’t I born a head load worker?”

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

It was just another day and then - - - - - -

I felt an icy hand clutch at my heart, squeezing my life breath out, as Sunny, my husband said “Molly, I can’t read. Everything looks blurred” .We were in the car, on our way to work, he to his bank and me to my college. I’d noticed that he had been alternating between fiddling with his glasses and adjusting the distance of the Economic Times ever since he got into the car.

“But you were reading the newspapers very comfortably in the morning”, I managed to choke out, desperately trying to keep panic out of my voice.

“Yes, I had no problem then, but I did have a problem when I was trimming my mush”
I remembered that he had told me that he couldn’t see properly as he was levelling his moustache.

“Don’t let it turn out like the case of pandan and manian”, I had joked then. Cos I didn’t take it seriously. Thought it was just one of those things.

Sunny stopped trying to read Eco Times and looked ahead. “I can’t read the hoardings too. They are also blurred”.

I wanted to cry, but I kept calm. A couple of months earlier, my mother-in-law’s vision had deteriorated alarmingly overnight. “Macular degeneration”, the doc had said, “part of ageing process”.

But surely there’s an age for it, i thought. Sunny was too young for it.

This thought hung between us but we didn’t say it out loud. I knew the same thought was going on in his mind just as he knew what was on mine.

“Let’s go back and see a doctor”, I suggested.

“Maybe it’ll improve once I’m in the office”.

Both of us were silent till we reached my college.

Half an hour later, Sunny called to say he is returning home and will pick me up on the way. I called up my son Mathew who was at his college in Mumbai itself and told him to ask his local friends about a good eye specialist.

When we reached our apartment in Pareltank Road, Mathew was waiting for us in the garage, looking scared. The poor chap was never good at camouflaging his feelings.

I’ve fixed up appointment with a doctor at Dadar. 7oclock”, Mathew said.

During lunch, we avoided the topic that was uppermost in our minds. The conversation was strained, but we managed to maintain a semblance of normalcy.

By 6 o’clock when we started for Dadar, I was a nervous wreck, though I put up a brave front. I went around taking care of trivial things like checking if the iron was switched off, windows were closed – all just to keep panic from rising and consuming me.

At the eye specialist’s, both Mathew and I barged in to the consultation room. The doc didn’t like it, it was obvious but, I guess, our collective tension was so tangible that he sensed it. He decided not to make an issue of it.

After a brief consultation he checked Sunny’s glasses. Then he asked Sunny to sit in the patients chair and tried lenses of varying power. The first lens which were close to the one Sunny was using made not much of a difference. He tried two more sets and then picked lens which were apparently of much higher power. He placed them in that eye gear.

“I can see much better', Sunny said, a slow grin spreading over his face. I looked at Mathew and he was also grinning like a zany. I didn’t realise I too was doing the same. The doc soon decided on the lens, and gave the prescription.

“When did you last change your glasses”, asked the doc.

“Some four years back”

The power has jumped dramatically”, said the doc.

“But he read the newspapers without any problem this morning”, I blurted out.

“Guess it’s the case of over strained eyes suddenly giving way – like an over strained body is capable of pushing itself by sheer will power, but breaks down completely when the body resources reach their nadir point”, speculated the doc.

‘Have you come across any case like this before?’ I asked.

“No. I must admit it is strange that the power should increase so much in so short a period. It needs to be investigated”, said the doc.

I told him about his mother's eye. The doctor said nothing and kept a poker face."Anyway, get a new pair of specs. He can work with it. Let's wait and watch for a week".

WE placed order for the glasses and retu
rned home. We were silent on the way home. Though we were relieved at the temporary solution, an uneasy feeling of a vague fear hovered in the atmosphere.The term "investigation" kept nagging my thoughts.

After dinner, Sunny as usual sat up leaning against the headboard of the bed and switched on the TV. In a minute he switched it off, took off his glasses, gave them to me and lay down.

“Might as well sleep. I can’t see anything. Everything is blurred”

I felt that fear landing on me once again. I decided to check my mail on the computer which was placed on the computer table near the bed. The computer table had three shelves and the telephone was on the top shelf. As I was about to place the glasses next to the phone, I saw another pair of glasses identical to the one he'd just handed to me.

Heavens!! That was Sunny’s glasses!! The one near the phone!

I looked at the one i held in my hand and suddenly things fell into place.

Both of us once had spectacles with identical frames. But I had discarded my pair a year earlier when I bought a pair with progressive lens. Actually, i hadn’t exactly thrown the glasses away but had kept them in the kitchen to be used there.

I could feel a huge weight lifting from my chest. But I wanted to be sure.

“Sunny”, I called him.


“Can you sit up for a sec”

He sat up. I switched on the TV and then handed him his pair of glasses, which had been sitting quietly near the phone since morning, totally oblivious of the whole dark comedy that was unfolding in our home.

He looked puzzled but obliged me by putting it on.

And then he let out a big shout followed by

Mathew came running from his room to find me laughing and crying and Sunny suddenly transformed to his old light-hearted self.

“I can see, Mathew, i can see”, he said, a little too loud still.

I have no words to describe the expression on Mathew’s face.

By then I had figured out what had happened. In the morning, after checking the mail, Sunny was about to go into the shower when the telephone rang. It was a long conversation during which he had absentmindedly removed his glasses and kept them near the phone.

Meanwhile, I was in the kitchen with my kitchen glasses on, packing lunch when the door bell rang. It was Sunny’s colleague Mr. D from across our flat who wanted to have a word with my husband. As I was going in to call Sunny, I had taken off my kitchen glasses and had put them on the dining table. Sunny was still on the phone. I told him Mr. D was waiting and then hurried to get ready.

Meanwhile, Sunny saw MR. D out and as he walked past the dining table, he saw my glasses which he mistook for his. That’s how trimming the mush became an ordeal.

Listening to my explanation, Mathew’s ecstatic expression began to metamorphose into one of indulgent disgust. “You guys are quite a pair”, he muttered as he walked back to his room, shaking his head in disbelief.

Mistaken identity can give rise to a comedy of errors, but, believe me, mistaking one spectacle for another can take you through the most complex and traumatic of tragic emotions.