Friday, December 28, 2007

An Yen for Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party has emerged victorious in the Gujarat state legislature elections. Their commanding majority proves that large sections of the voting population still repose trust in Modi and his party.

The print and visual media which loses no opportunity to highlight the Gujarat riots of 2002 holds Modi as the villain of the piece. The secular parties, Courts, Election Commission, intellectuals , artists, all of them, for various reasons, joined the Modi hunt in the last six years.
That their efforts have not yielded the desired fruits is evident from this result. If the people of Gujarat want Modi and the BJP and do not buy stories of the Modi baiters, it is time for them to introspect why they and their campaign did not impact on people’s minds.

It is not my case to prove that the Gujart riots were lesser in degree when compared with many other riots. The responsibility of the government to maintain law and order and protect the lives of its citizens is paramount. The Gujarat government of the day was found wanting in this respect. But haven’t many governments in India been so? To hound Modi using a specific incident is now a trend but doesn’t it turn out to be counter-productive over the long run?

The anti-Modi campaign has been shrill. The media helped its leaders bask in the limelight. They received support from a wide cross-section of the elite of Indian society. But they failed to build an organization, however clumsy it may be, to carry their message across to the millions of homes. The Gujarat results show that in a democracy, whatever may be the clout and prestige of the media, the elite and non-elected institutions, without an organizational network, doom awaits you. And building an organization demands much toil away from the glare of publicity.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Suhas Gopinath and the Missing Indian Entrepreneur

Suhas Gopinath from India earned fame as a young entrepreneur founding Globals Inc. in California in 2000 at the age of 14. Today, at 21, he continues to lead the forward growth of his company. Suhas is celebrated by the media as the youngest entrepreneur and for success of Globals. He deserves his laurels.

But to me Suhas represents something more and something different. Suhas was born in a middle-class or upper middle-class family that accorded pride of place to formal academic attainments. Son of a defense scientist, Suhas got the education and training considered appropriate to the social environment of his family and the times. What signifies this environment is the high-value accorded to university degrees and employment in government or corporate. Entrepreneurship is treated with ridicule as reserved for those who either fail to make the grades or find a plush corporate job.

To become an entrepreneur in a culture that is markedly anti-entrepreneurial demands defiance, drive and daring. Suhas Gopinath has them and .his ideas on entrepreneurship are revealed in a recent interview. He admits that even today our youth have little freedom in career decision making which is heavily influenced by parents and social trends. Our youth, he laments, turn in to job seekers and never job creators. The stigma of financial gambling attached to entrepreneurship by an older generation still prevails and what is more surprising, Indian youth, otherwise proud to flaunt western influence in their music or dress or food shy away when it comes to inculcating an entrepreneurial attitude. They are happy to remain job seekers and never job creators.

India, a country of a billion people, needs many more entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are the risk-takers, who innovate, who experiment with new processes, new products and new methods and make them work. In the modern capitalist world to which we belong, it is the entrepreneur who is the harbinger of change, much more than the wage-earner, the financier or the bureaucrat.

Suhas Gopinath – May his tribe incease!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Blood in Baghdad

The spectre of bomb explosions, shootings, terrorist attacks, deaths, killings, destruction continues to repeat itself in Iraq. Increase in either the numbers or spread of US military forces will not correct the situation. It’s sad the cradle of Mesopotamian civilization, also the land from where Caliphs reigned, has been brought to this pass. To blame George Bush or Saddam Hussein is to inflate the power of individuals over historical processes.

Madeline Albright, former US Secretary of State, while noting that the US invasion of Iraq was misplaced makes a sublime comment worth pondering over. She writes ‘while our troops face death every day, the least the President can do is to face the truth’.

Ms. Albright claims that if President Bush admits the pre-war criticism of military intervention in Iraq was right, countries in Europe, Arab world and elsewhere will come forward to assist in ensuring peace and stability in Iraq as continued anarchy in that country could lead to chaos elsewhere. This could reduce the pressure on US troops as also limit American casualties. She cites the example of the Balkans where the US, EU and UN aided by international opinion was able to convert a war-torn region in to a zone of peace.

Ms.Albright who understands the divisive nature of politics and society in Iraq suggests that the only workable option here as in similar situations elsewhere is to develop a political power sharing arrangement that recognizes majority rule while protecting minority rights. This is not simple; it requires a psychological transformation that prepares people to compete for power peacefully instead of plotting how to survive amidst anarchy.

Ms.Albright as Secretary of State justified the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq after the Kuwait war forgtting such sanctions cause hardship only to the innocent and the poor who were in no way responsible for Saddam Hussein's excesses. But being away from the centres of power and decision making for a few years, and spending time to reflect and ponder in the light of experience, she suggests a sensible exit for the United States while ensuring peace in Iraq.

Hoping her ideas will have many listeners!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Blogging Again!

My blogmate, Lynn DeSouza, the talented advertising professional, ex-tennis champion, animal lover, in short, a passionate human, is temporarily quitting the blogging world but not without giving us this meaningful message :

‘A dear friend once described himself to me as a comma. The strategic pause before the next important phase in the lives of all his key relationships. The mark that makes sense out of disconnected phrases, that glues together connected thoughts, that allows for that most important of all needs - time to stop and ponder.

It's comma time for me, folks. Time to leave a phrase behind while I go in search of the next one. Time to answer some internal questions, erase some full stops and add a few exclamation marks to my already oh-so-interesting life. But not before taking full advantage of the comma.
I will be back here someday soon. Till then, may the good Lord bless you with love, joy, peace, security, and success. Boa Sorte.’

Today, I, re-enter the blogging world after a gap of almost two months, an enforced absence, caused partly by repeated repairs to my laptop which also helps explain away my lack of ideas and topics to blog about. ( Doesn’t a bad workman always quarrel with his tools?)

But the comma in my life convinces me how indispensable writing is to create, explore, develop and publish my ideas and views. Not to write is a sin! So, with renewed vigour and added personal responsibility I reach out , to share with and and to learn from all my friends.

As dear Lynn so correctly points out, we need ‘comma time’. But if we are not alert, comma time may turn in to full stops!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Jesuit Alumni Congress - 2007

A side view of the Laurie Baker designed Loyola School auditorium where the Congress was held .

(Top) - A Panel discussion in progress.
(Below) - Mr.Alphonse Kannamthanam speaking at the inaugural function. Seen on the dais are Mr.T.P.Srinivasan, senior diplomat and Fr.Hector D'Souza S.J., Provincial of the Jesuit Order for South Asia.

'Chilanka', The Vth National Congress of the 'Jesuit Alumni Associations of India'- 2007, was held at my alma mater, Loyola School, Trivandrum, from 7-9th,September. The Jesuits are an order of Catholic priests founded by St.Ignatius Loyola in 1534. Their wordwide renown is for the high standards in the educational institutions they have established and which they manage successfully. In India, Jesuits manage 38 colleges, 5 business schools and 155 secondary Schools in places as far off as Kohima and Surat. Some of the Jesuit insiituions like XLRI jamshedpur, XIM Bhubaneswar have won international recognition. Jesuit colleges like the St.Xavier's colleges at Mumbai, Calcutta, Ahmedabad,Jaipur, and Trivandrum, the St.Joseph's colleges at Bangalore, Trichy and Tirunelveli, St Aloysius College at Mangalore and Loyola College in Chennai have a rich tradition behind them. Equally, if not more famous are the Jesuit run secondary schools of St.Xaviers at Calcutta, Mumbai and Delhi, St.Stanislaus at Bandra, Campion in Colaba, St.Vincent in Pune,North Point in Darjeeling and Loyola schools in Jamshedpur and Trivandrum.
The theme of the Vth Congress was 'The role of Jesuit alumni in resurgent India'. The concept paper, circulated in advance among alumni associations, referred to the current status of education,ecology,good governanace,economy,health care and culture in the country and the responsibility of jesuit alumni in enabling their progress and meeting its challenges. The resurgence in India, its commencement and the direction it is taking were also to be discussed.
Almost 500 delegates, representing various Jesuit alumni associations, were present on the evening of Sep 7th at the Loyola school auditorium, renamed the Fr.Joe Lawrence Hall, to witness the inaugural function. The auditorium, a simple red brick building, was designed in 1971, by the world renowned architect, Laurie Baker. The Congress was inaugurated by Fr.Hector D'Souza S.J. the provincial of the Jesuit order in South Asia. Mr.T.P.Srinivasan IFS, formerly India's permanent representative to the United Nations and a senior diplomat spoke on 'Can India make an impact in the global arena?' Referring to contemporary debates, he pointed out that India had been the victim of nuclear apartheid ever since it conducted atomic tests in 1974 and the 123 agreement with USA is the only opportunity for us to escape from this situation. He said that USA represented all nuclear states that had signed the NPT and were members of the Nuclear suppliers group. This agreement enables India to enter in to nuclear collaboration with all these countries.
Mr.Alphonse Kannamthanam, an IAS officer turned MLA, spoke on 'Clean Public Life, Can we dream of it in India'. He drew examples from his personal experiences as a bureaucrat. Politicans are produced by the society of which they are a part and the decadence affecting society has affected political processes too, was his contention. The seeds of change lie inside us and not elsewhere, he stated. Mr.Srinivasan and Mr.Alphonse referred to their early education in government run schools and childhood in villages were electricity hadn't yet reached.
The first session on Sep 8th was a talk on 'Women in Resurgent India' by Mrs. Lyda Jacob IAS. She pointed out that South India had achieved remarkable levels of social develoment which were not visible in other parts of the country. This, she said, was due to effective implementation of various programmes in health care, child care, nutrition and primary education. Mrs. Jacob referred to the high levels of female infancticide in many parts of India and warned of the effects of a decline in the sex ration. When questioned as to how she felt being in an audience consisting overwhelmingly of men, she replied that she was comfortable as four generations of men in her family, from her grandfather to her son, were jesuit alumni.
The next session on 'Science and technology in a resurgent India' had two different points of view,both eloquently stated by Fr.Vincent Braganza S.J., a P.hd in biotechnology from Loyola University, Chicago, now working at St.Xavier's, Ahmedabad and Prof.Joe Peter, ex- Director of Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and alumnus of XLRI, Jamshedpur. Fr.Vincent spoke of the two India's existing within one nation and drew attention to the problems of the villages. He also pointed out to the dangers of the haphazard urbanisation taking place. Fr.Vincent was of the view that science and technology was now capable of finding a solution to most problems of scarcity and want facing us but lamented that the political will was lacking. Prof.Joe Peter requested the audience to see the glass as half-full, not half-empty. He said that globalisation had been made inevitiable by the massive developments in communications, information technology and transport. The 9% growth in India, to him, was going to be a sustained one and only two other countries, China and Vietnam were growing at this rate. This could lead to India emerging as a world power in a few decades. Prof.Peter also wondered as to what was in the Jesuits that led them to command the ferocious loyalty of their alumni.
Mr.K.Jayakumar IAS, spoke on 'In a fast changing world, can moral values erode'. The speed of change, he said, was relative from one generation to the other. Erosion in moral values, to him, was the result of man's crazy and reckless drive to succed at any cost. In this mad race, we don't mind our success being at the cost of another's failure. All problems, he said, are ultimately moral problems and an education distanced from moral values fails the individual in his moment of reckoning.
'Role of Jesuit Institutions in a resurgent India' saw open dissent between two Jesuit priests, Fr.Casmir Raj S.J., Director, XLRI, Jamshedpur and Fr.P.C. Mathew S.J., Principal, St.Xavier's College, Kolkatta. Fr.Casmir Raj regretted the fact that Jesuits had refrained from entering the field of technical education. The Jesuits do not manage engineering or medical colleges in an age when utmost importance is being accorded to professional education. With their credentials and institution building experience it was easy for Jesuits to make a mark in this sector, said Fr.Raj. He blamed this on a refusal to think out of the box. Rebutting this Fr.P.C. Mathew emphasised that most of the Jesuit run arts and science colleges had introduced new graduate and post graduate programmes with an emphasis on technology.
The speeches were carefully listened to by the delegates who asked questions and actively participated in the discussions. It was never a one-way affair. The different alumni associations also made power point presentations on their activities.
Justice M.C.Chagla, jurist, diplomat, statesman and a jesuit alumnus once spoke of the 'aristocracy of the mind'. This was evident at the Congress. I felt proud to be a jesuit alumnus.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Independent India - Three Score Years

The pics taken within a span of a few minutes on the morning of August 15th.

August 15th marked the 60th year of India's Independence. The print and visual media, beginning with Time (which featured India on its cover page) considered this of monumental importance to be celebrated unlike an annual birthday. Completing 60 years in an individual's life has religious significance among Hindus. In Kerala, it is called 'shashtibdapoorthi'. When one reaches 60, the major portion of one's years on earth have passed and it is time to look back.
In a nation-state's life, 60 years is not a significant passage of time. For India, one of the world's two longest surviving civilisations with recorded history going back to 5000 years, it is only a miniscule amount of time for major transformations to appear. The Hindus are a civilisation with yugas and kalpas referring to millions of years around which human and divine destiny unfurls.
The articles, endless tele- discussions, speeches, all seen in plenty this season played on the same set of tunes which one has oft heard. India was portrayed as an emerging power, charting out its righful place on the world stage. Few mentioned that the secret of India's strength and resilence, which enabled it to survive for 5000 years when other civlisations which began along with it or after it were reduced to dust, lay in its diversity. In no other land can you find such magnificent diversity exisiting with so much harmony and with little of civilisational angst. A diversity which ranges from clothes to food to languages to rituals....the list is endless. Globalisation and Capitalism endanger our diversity and replaces it with homogenity, even when they claim to defend democracy and freedom of choice.
The civilisational crisis facing India is the destruction of its diversity. The forces unleashed by capitalism and globalisation can never co-exist with diversity and need homogenity and uniformity for their growth. In various ways, Indian's have begun to respond to this crisis. How we resolve it will be interesting.
To conclude in a personal note, on August 15th, I hoisted the national flag (see pic) in the gardens of the historic Saraswati Vilas Palace in Trivandrum where a play school, kindergarten and primary school function. The little children sang patriotic songs and we distributed sweets to mark the gaiety of the ocassion. Speeches were dispensed with.
But when I emerged out of the Palace on to the road, this sight of an haggard old man fast asleep on the pavement, all his wordly belongings filled in two sacks, touched me. What does 60 years of Independence and India's emergence as a global power mean for him? Dear reader, can you tell me, please!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Mirror(s) in Our Brain

The Italian scientist Giacamo Rizzolati was the first to observe a special set of neurons in macaque monkey brains, an observation neuroscientist Vilayannur Ramachandran hails as of revolutionary implication to humanity. When a monkey performs an action these neurons show activity . But when the same monkey watches another of his tribe do the same action, the neuronal activity mentioned above is repeated. This quality led to these neurons being termed 'mirror neurons'.
Further research revealed the fact that the human brain was well-endowed with mirror neurons. The mirror neuron system in the human brain seems to be more highly developed, sophisticated and specialised. They possess the capacity not merely to understand and respond to the motor actions of others but also to their intentions, sensations, behaviour and emotions.The current knowledge of mirror neuron system is skeletal but sufficient to prove that they play a pivotal role in organising our ersonal and social life.
Scientists studying the mirror neuron system point out a marked difference. In the monkeys, individual neurons fire as specific motor actions are performed or witnessed. In human beings, on the other hand, scientists have not been able to pinpoint single neurons but mark out an area in the brain which witnesses activity. Scientists now aim to go beyond mapping out motor neuron activity to understand how mirror neuron system acts when human beings have or percieve emotions or tactile or olfactory sensations etc. They are also researching into whether the system responds only to to perceived emotions or also to intentions of others. It as also to be found as to whether mirror neurons are restricted to a single specific area of the brain or whether their presence is diffused throught the entire cortex.
Vittorio Gallese who was Rizzollati's colleague at the University of Parma when this discovery was made says it is now 'clear that mirror neurons are one key to understanding how human beings survive and thrive in a complex social world. This neural mechanism is involuntary and automatic, with it we don't have to think about what other people are doing or feeling, we simply know. It seems we are wired to see other people as similar to us, rather than different. At the root, as humans we identify the person we are facing as someone like ourselves'.
That brain structure is innate and that we are born with these special cells that allow us to connect with other people is vehemently opposed by those who believe that everything about the brain including the tuning of individual neurons is shaped by experience. They regard mirror neurons as a 21st century scientific myth. The imaging studies, they say do not measure electrical activity in single neurons but only the oxygen suply to large areas of the brain. From this incomplete record we cannot even assumea the existence of mirror neurons, goes their argument. They deny that mirror neurons constitute the fundamental neural basis of human social cognition.
But Ramachandran asserts mirror neurons will dissolve the barrier between 'self vs others'. Will he be proved right or will mirror neurons become another mirage?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Age of Irreverence!

The 'New Indian Express' in its editorial comment of July 19,2007 refers to the Presidential poll campaign of July, 2007 as marked by unprecedented acrimony witnessed in no earlier election for that office. The nomination of UPA candidate Prathbha Patil led to media exposure of the illegal and criminal activities indulged in by her close relatives and in which her connivance is difficult to disprove. There may be exaggerations but most of the details revealed by Indian Express and other print and visual media will stand the test of scrutiny. The Congress and UPA constituents remain silent about the blemished record of their candidate and Indian Express cautions that Prathiba's elevation to the highest office of the country will not lead to allegations being discarded on that count alone . It's reason, the editorial says, is because what is being demonstrated as the temper of these times is 'that the relationship between the people and power, or the people and their institutions is changing in dramatic ways.... The change is not all due to coming of new technologies and wider access to them. The new ways of seeing have also to do with a waning of deference and the establishment of a more intimate -- and a more irreverent -- equation with our institutions'.
This is a radical, even revolutionary departure from time and tradition worn practices. Indians always genuflect before authority; political,hierarchichal, social, religious or cultural. They seldom dare to challenge individuals or institutions which demand their implicit obedience. .One reason for this, pointed out by Dr.B.R. Ambedkar in many of his writings, is that our society has evolved in ways which show scant regard for the individual, for his rights and his autonomy. The individual was destined to fit into a collective unit, be it of the village or joint family or caste or occupation. The transformation, placing the individual at the centre, has been slow in arriving but is now an inevitability from which there is no return. In India, social change doesn't come in the Western manner through revolutions that shake the earth but at snail's pace,unfolding so slowly, one never knows it is there. Could this be because our concept of Time is different, not the Western linear time, advancing irreversibly in a straight line and against which man races but a cyclical movement where everything repeats itself?
The signs of the current change could be discerned by any one who read V.S. Naipaul's 'India - A Million Mutinies Now'(1990), which graphically pointed out new trends being initialized by individuals in this land of continental proportions and now acquiring a momentum and strength of their own that cannot be supressed. The individual, transcending caste,religion,language,gender,position is beginning to assert his self. In this assertion the awe for persons in power will decline. His Excellency, The President of India will become Mr.President of the Americans. Mr. Prime Minister will have to rise from his Honourable seat and get ready to be questioned by the commoner.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Dance till the stars come down from the rafters!
Dance,dance,dance till you drop! - W.H.Auden.
India is a country with diverse physical traditions and dance forms. You can number them by the hundreds. But most of us feel threatened by movement. Trapped in rigid body attitudes we rarely use our bodies to create, express or communicate. The body has a language and a wisdom of its own and those who never discover or apply them are the poorer for it. This is the message, Tripura Kashyap, an accomplished dancer, choreographer and trainer, conveys in her book 'My Body,My Wisdom' published by Penguin Books, India. Reading the book brought realisation of my limited patterns of movement and deep inhibitions in moving the body beyond its functional requirements. It dawned on me that the doors had been closed tight to a whole universe of experience and drastic action should be taken to to kick it open. An email to Tripura wailing of my situation was promptly replied to and some time later she wrote suggesting I attend one of her movement training sessions in Hyderabad, where she lives. The sessions were organised by Rainbow Inc. and its Secretary, the indomitable Vaneeta Bhattacharya who was a significant presence through out the programme . The sessions were spread over two days and held in the pleasant surroundings of the Vidyaranya School, more of a garden than a school, in Saifabad, the heart of Hyderabad. Reaching there, I longed to go back to childhood, only to study in Vidyaranya.
The participants were a diverse lot and included quite a few educators for special needs children who had prior exposure to dance and movement. Nithin, a radiologist, Nirupam, a farmer from Haryana as he chose to describe himself, Sherin, a software engineer, Alina who works for the Nandi Foundation, Aparna, an architect and interior designer, Priti Anand, an editor for Penguin and myself were among those who were in it for the movement experience. But there was perfect rapport between these distinct groups. Nalini Praksh, an accomplished dancer in her own right had come down from Coonoor to understand Tripura's ideas.
It was pure dance that we practiced, creating and choreographing our own movements, individually and in groups, based on themes of our choice in place of traditional dance instruction where one is taught movements structured by others with performance as the goal. In the initial period of body preparation we were made to sit, stand, balance and lie down, to paint brush which is exploring space with hands and fingers and exercise legs by moving it in various positions in space. We expressed our names through a movement sequence. This was my first brief experience of choreography and dancing. Every participant had to go solo from one end of the hall to the other, moving the body in any sequence of movements of his choice. We had to imagine an animal or bird of our choice and then imitate its movements. We were divided into two groups and each group had to carry its members from one end of the hall to the other, one by one till only two remained, and one of them had to carry the other. So, the strongest and the tiniest amongst us had to be the last two to remain for the entire exercise to end in a success. The intensive sessions, spread over two days, helped us in sqarely facing our inhibitions on body movement and body expression and gave us the courage and confidence to explore and understand the world using our bodies and our senses.
In well-written and convincing passages of her book, Tripura destroys the myth that only dancers can dance. She states that the natural instinct for movement that all of us had as children became task-oriented and restricted as we grew up. Dance was a communal activity in ancient societies and denoted social interaction without distinction between the audience and performers.They knew no forms or styles of dancing and it was the natural movements of the body in its many daily activities like hunting, fishing, cooking, that were their source. Today, dancing is a formalized, technique bound and performance oriented activity requiring years of specialized training. Four elements combine in any dance - bodies, space, time and force.
Creative dance therapy on which Tripura devotes a few chapters removes our misapprehensions on the subject. Dance therapy is not meant for the physcially disabled or the mentally ill. It deals with the intimate connections between our bodies, our movements and the workings of our mind. The body can and does influence the mind and reflect the mind. An heightened awareness of the body, eye contact and spatial awareness are the qualities that this therapy can impart to us. Her collaboration with Santha Kumar, a psychotherapist in Bangalore and their successful efforts to conduct programmes that help normal functioning adults to explore the body and its potential and experience an unstructured, personalized form of movement expression make interesting reading.
Tripura writes of her collaboration with Aanand Chabukeshwar, a drama therapist and Zubin Balsara who uses music as therapy and how they combined dance, drama and music as therapeutic intervention in mentally challenged children at Sadhana Village in Pune.. What was of significance to me was Zubin's idea that music is not to be merely listened to but a process in which we should actively participate. Sounds being the vocabulary of music, Zubin helps us to discover and vocalize our personal vocabulary of sounds. To feel one's music physically pulsate through one's body is energizing, notes Tripura.
The days spend with Tripura and the other participants were wonderful. We shared a lot of ideas, overcame the inhibitions of our bodies and delighted ourselves in the joy of unrestrained movement. It is an experience I cherish and which I hope will recur many more times in this life.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A 'Crezendo' and After

The Puritans of his time, British poet John Milton wrote, prohibited bear fighting, not for causing pain to the bear but for giving pleasure to the viewer. The upholders of public morality in contemporary India seem to spring from the same gene pool. Their latest contribution in the crusade to contain public morals from contamination is the strident demand to ban sale of the Condom pack, Crezendo, manufactured by the state owned Hindustan Latex, for containing a vibrating ring, which they allege is a sex toy. What astounds me is that leaders of all political parties, spanning a wide ideological spectrum, from militant right to extreme left have come out publicly in support of the demand.
This camaderie crossing party lines was visible on earlier ocasions. The closure of dance bars in Mumbai, the response to actress Khusboo's comments approving pre-marital sex, the controversy over Richard Gere kissing Shilpa Shetty at a public venue, all drove home the point that Indian politicians speak in one voice, though with varying degrees of intensity. There is no point in blaming the political class for holding retrograde views. They only reflect the conservative values and mores prevailing in the society of which they are a part.
The challenge facing Indian liberals, men and women, is to transform the old and establish a new order wherein sexual freedom is an article of faith and sexual relations between consenting adults remain the sole concern of the people involved. A sexually open society can never be against Indian traditions. The civilisational heritage of India is of sexual openness and experimentation. Sexual repression was never its agenda. The erotic sculptures in Hindu temples, the serious study of Kama Shastra, the practice of Tantra which says union with the divine can achieved through sexual ecstasy, all prove that our civilsation was never prudish.
Somewhere along the line, attitudes changed and we began to associate sex with guilt and secrecy. Society imposed restrictions we meekly accepted. The regimentation of sexual behaviour gained legitimacy. The need of the time is to write the liberal testament on matters sexual. But we must ensure the freedom doesn't degenerate into licentiousness. To allow so, would be to play into the enemy's hands.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

June 26, 1975

Thirty two years ago, on this day, and to be precise, at mid-night on June 25-26, a murder took place in the darkness and foreboding silence of Raisina Hill in New Delhi. A spineless Rashtrapati (as India's President is known), Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, signed the proclamation declaring a State of Emergency in the country, blindly putting his signature on the piece of paper send by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Democracy and Individual freedom had been murdered and their corpse buried. The young Indian Republic was facing the first major challenge to its existence, not from external enemies but from inside.
Day break saw prominent leaders of India's Opposition like Jayapraksh Narayan , Morarji Desai and many others put behind bars. Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution were suspended and Censorship imposed on the press. The ruling Congress party and its leader Indira Gandhi trampled on the democratic traditions carefully nurutured by the stalwarts of the freedom struggle, many of whom were also the founding fathers of India's Republic. What the British once did to their Indian subjects, Congress was repeating on citizens of free india. 'Indira is India and India is Indira' was the Congress slogan.
Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka's 'The Man Died' is about a similar situation in Nigeria. It's opening line ' The man dies who remains silent in the face of tyranny' echoes in me as I write this. Thousands of Indians, civil servants, judges, professors, journalists, doctors, technocrats, writers, all remained silent, before the ruthless might of the Establishment. They had died to ther conscience.
This blog entry is a tribute to those Indians who dared to fight the Emergency regime and stood up to the powers that be. It is not proper to list names, for all cannot be included. 'Indian Express' was the only English newspaper to challenge the dictatorship of Indira Gandhi. A 'Journalism of Courage' marked its presence. Justice H.R.Khanna boldly wrote a dissenting judgement allowing Habeas Corpus which led the New York Times to comment editorially 'If ever freedom and democracy returns to India, a grateful nation will erect a monument to Justice H.R.Khanna of the Supreme Court'.
This entry also salutes the rustic,illiterate, and simple people of the Indo-Gangetic plain, who in their millions, hit back through the ballot box in 1977, defeating Indira Gandhi and the Congress Party. They alone helped restore the democratic freedoms of the Republic . If they had done the reverse, perhaps, I would not be writing this entry today.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ramachandra Gandhi - A Tribute

I confess that I never heard of Ramachandra Gandhi till reading newspaper reports announcing his death on June 13th at India International Centre, New Delhi. Of course, I had heard of his more famous brothers, Rajmohan Gandhi and Gopal Krishna Gandhi. The three are the grand children of two illustrious Indians, Mahatma Gandhi, on their paternal side and C.Rajagopalachari,India's last Governor-General, on their maternal side. Of course, it is not lineage that is on focus here but that Ramachandra Gandhi was a Professor of Philospohy with a Phd. from Oxford and an exponent of Advaita-Vedanta with a few erudite works to his credit.
Articles written about Ramachandra Gandhi in the Hindustan Times and New Indian Express, immediately after his demise, have convinced me to find and read his books and understand his ideas.
In the Hindustan Times, Sanjay Baru, now media advisor to the Prime Minister of India, has written of how he first met Ramu ( as Ramachandra is affectionately called),in 1979, immediately after joining the teaching faculty of the University of Hyderabad. Ramu was Prof. of Philosphy there. Ramu would jokingly say that his office was in the bathroom of Sarojin Naidu's Hyderabad home, 'Golden Threshold', (which the Nightingale of India had gifted to the University) while the Prof. of English sat in the bedroom. This, Ramu would say signified the status of Philosophy in modern University life in India. Sanjay is first introduced to Ramu at a seedy bar where he is enjoying his beer and listening to Hindi film tunes. Sanjay describes himself as being thrown off his feet when told that his fellow drinking companion was a Prof of Philospohy and the grandson of the Mahatma. Sanjay narrates how Ramu had launched a mini-chipko movement, with the support of students, against the cutting of a huge neem tree planted by Sarojini Naidu to build classrooms. And how the University authorities did chop it a few days later in the dead of night leading to Ramu resigning his job in protest. Sanjay shares more of his personal encounters which bring out the warm human being that the late Prof. was.
Chandan Gowda, writing in the New Indian Express devotes more attention to Ramu's philospohical inquiries, his deep understanding of Advaita and other Hindu scriptures and how he drew their connections with modern life from which they have been banished in the name of progress. Ramu was concerned that modern day politics had freed itself from trancendental concerns with the meaning of life and death to dwell in exlusive identities of caste,class,race,nation and religion. He warned that such identities wouuld only give false answers to the question of 'Who am I' or ' Who are We'. This reminds me of reading Raja Rao's book, 'The Meaning of India', where he quotes the French writer Andre Malraux telling Jawaharlal Nehru in Paris in 1936 'keep India from duality... let the great Sankaracharya, let him guide India. such my prayer'. Ten years later, Malraux confronts the Indian Socialist leader Jayapraksh Narayan in Paris with the question 'What influence has Sankara on the government of modern India? to which a startled JP could only smile . Ramu, Gowda points out, was very conscious of the fact that while economic domination of the West was widely criticised, there was little concern about the domination of the Western intellectual framework over the rest of the world. He considered the second as dangerous as the first and wanted to ensure that India's civilisational autonomy (svaraj) was preserved amidst the wild charge of globalisation.
Ramu's interest in Hindu names led him to discover that the word gandhi is a derivative of the word 'gandha' meaning perfume and that the gandhis are traditionally perfume sellers.
'Svaraj - A Journey with Tyeb Mehta's Shantiniketan Tryptych', 'Sita's Kitchen',
'I am Thou; Meditations on the Truth of India' and the novel 'Muniya's Light' are among his famous books.

Monday, June 18, 2007

How Reason's Work

We give reasons and receive them from others each day of our lives. But have we, for a moment, paused to inquire into the how of these reasons. Charles Tilly did!
Charle's Tilly is a social scientist, a Professor at Columbia University, who spends the major part of his professional life analysing large-scale political processes like revolutions and democratization. During this he discovered two patterns that forced him to think in different terms. One, that fellow-social scientists, mass media amd students explained complex social phenomena as the decision-making of a few influential actors, neglecting the unanticipated consequences, incremental effects and the subtle negotiation of social interaction. It is obvious that people rarely accomplish what they set out to achieve and events unroll differently than planned for. Yet in explaining social and political processes, conscious deliberation is emphasised to the exclusion of all else.
Second, that social processes resemble an intense conversation rather than soliloquies or a grandmaster's planning of chess moves. But few stood convinced of what he said.
Addressing this double challenge led him into the world of reasons, how people give reasons, how people receive reasons and how the relations between givers and receivers are negotiated, established, denied or repaired by the social process of reason giving. And the search resulted in his writing a very excellent book with one of the shortest titles a book could have 'Why?'
The author does not lay bare his theory of reason for he sees no need to have one for his purposes. Nor does he depend on anyone's theory. It is not his lot to worry as to whether the reasons people give are right or wrong or good or bad. Nor is he concerned about how individual nervous systems process new information as it comes in or in intellectual discussions of why things occur as they do. He does not question their significance; only, they are not the subject matter of this book, which concentrates on the social process of reason giving at the person - to - person scale.
Reasons, according to Tilly, fall in four broad but overlapping categories. They are:
1. Conventions
2. Stories
3. Codes
4. Technical Accounts
The four varieties of reasons differ significantly in form and content. Reasons match relationships. Reasons also justify practices that would not be compatible with other reasons and/or definitions of relationships. Reasons, Relationships and Practices are aligned.
The types of reasons are explained in detail by Tilly, devoting a chapter to each. They must be read carefully to get a proper grasp of what the author is aiming at. Stories are reasons which interpret events in terms of cause and effect. They are circumscribed in space and time and have a limited number of actors and actions. They re-work complex social processes and simplify them. They are grounded in commonly accessible every-day knowledge and throw hints of justification or condemnation. Conventions are bound by the logic of appropriateness and can be recognised by their simplicity and by the absence of further discussion. Conventions follow widely recognisable formulas. Codes, like Conventions, gain their credibility from the criteria of appropriateness rather than from cause-effect validity that prevails in stories and technical accounts. Of course, codes serve a variety of purposes in addition to justifying reasons and are made up of specialised sets of categories, procedures for ordering evidence and rules of interpretation. Technical accounts, like stories, combine cause-effect explanations but they are based on a systematic specialised discipline.
The author engages in vivid descriptions to make the reader understand the issues of the book. In the process, he also introduces the reader to new ideas and writers. Tilly refers to frames, first introduced by Erving Goffman. It shows how the very structure of organisations establish frames that focus attention on some kinds of information while screening out a great deal of other information that could, in principle, significantly affect their operation. He quotes Russell Hardin on street-level epistemology, Aristotle on Rhetoric, Anatole Broyard on Illness, Jessica Stern on terrorism and Thane Rosenbaum on legal theory, to name a few.
If it is believed that people give reasons based on their upbringing, fundamental beliefs, group membership or deep down character, then they must give the same reasons across a wide range of social circumstances. Do they? In contrast, some may claim that people give reasons at two levels - deep,authentic reasons for intimate acquaintances and quick, superficial, convenient reasons for the others. Reading this book would distance you from such beliefs, which to the author, are erroneous . The book's arguments and evidence prove that the reasons you give match your relations with those to whom they are given. Or in reverse, the reasons people give you reflect their relation with you.

Why? - Charles Tilly.
Princeton University Press.

Monday, June 04, 2007

In the Greens!

I play tennis. I am doing so for many years. It has been the only game in which I have been involved. Cricket has flown over my head like a sixer. Near the tennis courts, where I have been playing for the last few years, tucked away is a Golf Club. I have always been curious about Golf but never toyed with the idea of learning it. All of a sudden, I decided to give it a try and submitted an application to the Golf Club, ( ). The Executive Committee has accepted my application, made me a member-elect, and today I started training under an able coach. The first day on the practice greens was not without its difficulties and minor struggles, but under proper guidance I hope to catch on to all nuances of the game and become a seasoned golfer in the days ahead. I am bound to learn the game within six months and play with the Captain who will assess as to how far I have picked up the essentials.
Well, I look forward to happy golfing days and will share with you my experiences as a budding golfer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Time Out!

The smallest unit of Time in ancient India was Prana (time-span of one breath) which approximated to 4 seconds. Modern medical research confirms normal breathing frequency as 15 breaths/minute. How amazing! It was the coming of Railways that first made British think about unified time for all regions of India . The current Indian Standard Time, 5.30 hrs ahead of GMT, was fixed as the single time zone for the whole of India by the British in January,1906 with the meridian passing east of Allahabad at 82.5 E longitude as the central meridian . In recent times, it's been a pressing demand that the East and North East of India must have a separate time zone as the sun rises earlier than in the other areas of India. For a country of India's width, from Tripura to Gujarat, which distance is almost 2000kms, it is only fair that two time zones be put into operation so that daylight can be better used in the East. The sun rises and sets in the country's Eastern border two hours before it does in the Rann of Kutch in the deep West. Even Bangla Desh has set its time half an hour ahead of IST.
The official thinking, controlled by a bureaucracy and a political leadership that is North centric has still not responded favourably to this demand of the East. It has traditionally been a neglected area of India but is increasing in importance as it becomes India's gateway to the Pacific.

Post Script:
The Assamese film maker and Scientist Jahanu Barua, after 20 years of research in to time-zones in India, finds a strong case for a separate time zone for North-East India. As reported in the New Indian Express of Jan 24th, 2009 Jahanu Barua points out that the time difference between the eastern and western extremes of the country is more than 2 hrs. The Sun rises in the North-East at a longitude of 105 degrees east and hence north-east time is 7 hrs ahead of GMT. In the present situation the Eastern parts of India lose two to three hrs of daylight while the West gains time. This loss can easily be remedied by the country adopting two time zones, says Barua.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

India's Spring Thunder!

Exactly 40 years ago, on May 24th, 1967, landless labourers in the remote West Bengal village of Naxalbari rose in arms against feudal landlords oppressing them. They were guided by Charu Majumdar, then a CPI(M) leader and the father of Naxalism , the name given to India's extreme left wing movement, borrowed from the village where it began. 'Chairman Mao is our Chairman' was their slogan. The movement soon spread to other regions where the mainstream Communist parties were traditionally strong like Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. The Naxalites organised acts of violence against security forces and the feudal classes and their ultimate aim was to destroy the State.
Innocents being easy targets quickly fell prey to Naxalite weapons. This violence caused widespread revulsion and it was used by the Indian State to crush the movement with all its might. Means, not necessarily fair were taken recourse to by the State. This was aided by ideological splits within the Naxalite movement as to how the Indian Revolution should be conducted. The Naxalites were fragmented and by the mid-seventies their resistance crumbled under the force of counter-attack by the State . The movement did leave its mark on literature, art, polemics ,and political discourse. Many intelligent young men and women were attracted to it.
In recent years, Naxalites overcame their differences and various factions like the People's War Group, Maoist Co-ordination Centre and CPI(ML) Red Flag have united under one banner and one leadership. This, aided by the increasingly fragile internal and external situation have led to a resurgence of left extremism in India. The Government today considers it the biggest threat to India's internal security. The Government has admitted the existence of a 'Red Corridor' in India starting from Pashpuati in Nepal to Tirupati in India. The LTTE and Islamic terrorist groups are supposed to have contact with them. Their writ runs in many inaccessible parts of the Corridor.
Left extremist ideology of the Naxalites has a romantic touch associated with jungles and the chase, but it is one of the most reactionary and orthodox thought forms. Individual liberty is scarcely respected and dissent prohibited. Winds of change, influenced by human freedom, democracy and developments in technology is accepted by most Communist parties the world over who now strive to be part of the democratic mainstream. The collapse of the Soviet experiment, the economic and social reforms adopted by the Chinese Communist party and the changes in Eastern Europe have not convinced the Naxalites that an Indian Revolution is an impossibility. A civilisation, one of the oldest in the world, which has withstood the shocks and upheavals of thousands of years, has the strength and the resilence to bear and outlive Naxalism. India of the Buddha and the Chaitanya is not a land fertile for revolution. History will judge it a wise option if the Naxalites decide to end their self-imposed isolation and guerilla warfare and enter the democratic mainstream for Indian society will definitely accord a honourable place to them.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

V.S. Achuthanandan - 'Smart' Moves

This blog has an entry dated May 15, 2006 welcoming V.S. Achuthanandan as the new Chief Minister of Kerala. On May 18th, he completes one year in office and it is time to take a bird's eyeview of what's been happening. The Chief Ministerial post had been eluding VS, as he is affectionately called, right from 1991. In 2006 at 83, with the party apparatus controlled by leaders who have no love lost for him, few expected VS to become CM even though his health was perfect, walk brisk and intellect razor-sharp, thanks to yoga, naturopathy and spartan dietary habits. Yet, he overcame insurmountable odds with persistence, patience and the support of the masses.
Leaders who occupy political office amidst high expectations soon fall with a thud. M.Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu and Buddhadev Bhattachrjea of West Bengal who assumed office in the same week as VS are sliding down, thanks to the attack on the Dinakaran office in Madurai and the violence at Nandigram. But in Kerala, as he completes his first year in office, VS is riding the crest of a popularity wave, the common people swooning over him in admiration for his integrity and boldness while his enemies in the party and vested interests run for cover.
During the initial months VS was in an euphoria, settling down so to say, as it was the first time in his long political life that he was savouring the privileges of office. But he soon made it clear that it's business when he summoned the Director-General of Police and ordered him to immediately cancel the transfer orders issued to an upright, senior IPS officer while he was raidng the recording studios owned by the wife of a fellow IPS officer on receiving genuine complaints of copyright violations. This send a message to the people that the government stood by rule of law and would not bow before the high and the mighty. The entertainment industry which had been bearing the brunt of copyright piracy was thankful to him. Here was an intrepid leader, who would call a spade, a spade.
It was in Smart City that VS proved his long-term commitments to the development of the state. Smart City was a knowledge-based industry township, the icon of a new Kerala, that would be developed by Teecom Investments, promoters of the Dubai Internet City. The previous government which invited them finalised a deal which was a virtual throwaway of public assets that would have cost the exchequer dear. VS, as Opposition Leader checkmated the same and during the elections he was accused as anti-development on this count. VS stood his ground, renegotiated the agreement and on May 13th, Sunday, Teecom and the State government inked a pact which is widely appreciated as it is sober, balanced and on no account a sell-out of public interest. The investment will create 90,000 new jobs in the IT/ITES sector in the next 10 years. The State Government has 16% equity in the project which can be enhanced to 26%.
Munnar, often described as the Kashmir of the South with its misty peaks, rolling tea gardens, hill streams, grasslands and wooded forests was once an inaccessible part of Kerala, nestling in the Western ghats, its high culture and life style directed by English tea estate managers and a sublatern culture of near illiterate tamil plantation workers. The ambience, traditions and dress rules of the High Range Club in Munnar bear testimony to a bygone era. The departure of the English tea garden owners and managers led to the real estate and building mafia laying hands on this pristine land in the name of tourism promotion. Forests were encroached upon, bogus sale documents registered, revenue records forged, building permits sanctioned, all with the connivance of corrupt officals. Tata Tea which took over the British owned tea estates in Munnar was a willing collaborator and a habitual offender. They also appropriated thousands of acres of public lands. Their policy was to run with the hare and to hunt with the hound. Concrete monstrosities called resorts, totally out of sync with the natural setting began to mar the skyscape of Munnar. Tourists started descending in hordes and the accompnaying vehicular pollution, garbage and noise began to endanger the undisturbed habitats of precious wild life and choke natural resources . It was only a matter of time before Munnar would lose its charm to become an urban jungle. VS, as Leader of the Oposition visited Munnar to bring to light these illegal operations but the government turned a blind eye to it. The mafia was so powerful. When VS became Chief Minster, every one believed that his party would not allow him to touch these land-grabbers as all politicans and officials were dependent on them for funds and free vacations . VS, a seasoned political tactician bided his time for the final blow. Technology had developed beyond the imagination of land-grabbers. Remote Sensing by which lands could be digitally mapped and surveyed by satellites from space came to aid the government. With all its might and in full resolve, government moved ahead and started demolishing resorts and illegal construction on forest lands. No one has dared to come forward with title deeds and revenue records which are the only way of proving ownership, for they know these are fictitious and challenging the government in court with forged records would lead to perjury. The operation is continuing and the land mafia are on the run.

VS has distinguished himself in 365 days. His enemies are lying low, but it is early to write them off. Let us hope they don't have the last laugh.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Fete De La Tennis!

'Kerala Open - 2007', a $25,000/- WTA Professional Circuit Tournament conducted by the Trivandrum Tennis Club got off to a start today. As an active member of the Organising Committee I worked for the success of the tournament. Players from Australia,USA, Europe and Japan joined Indian girls in aiming for the laurels. Trivandrum Tennis Club with nine tennis courts, seven of them clay, and with spectator galleries on two sides of each court is one of the finest tennis facilities in India. This was vouchsafed for by many players and their coaches who came from abroad and expressed surprise at the existence of such excellent infrastructure,lying largely unused. It is unfortunate that these resources were never promoted by the country's tennis associations. Also because the club members preferred to keep it as a very exclusive place with only 200 playing members.
The club signed an agreement with StumpVision, a sports management company based in Bangalore to arrange sponsors for the tournament. It turned out to be a cropper,thanks to a series of tactical errors on the part of the company's executives. The day was saved for us at the eleventh hour by Life Insurance Corporation of India which gave a substantial sum for sponsorship, more because its present Chairman hails from Trivandrum.
The Chief Minister of Kerala, V.S. Achuthanandan inaugarated the tournament, amidst tight security, consequent to a death threat against him, made in the early hours of the morning. However the Club Office as usual botched up things by hiring a sub-standard group to instal and operate the microphones, leading to an electrical short circuit which disrupted the function for a few minutes. This does not behove of a club with illustrious traditions. The people in charge of ceremonies ought to have given more attention to these, though they are minor matters. This is bound to cause us a lot of embarassment, if ever the truth comes out.
Well, I am looking forward to a few days of excellent tennis.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Let the Others too Speak!

Some recent incidents are a matter of deep concern to men and women wedded to liberal modes of thought and action. These include the attack on the office of Dinakaran and Sun TV in Madurai, acts of vandalism against an exhibition of paintings in the Department of Fine Arts of MS University, Baroda, a campaign of calumny against Leela Samson in Kalakshetra, Chennai. I do not desire to go into the details of the same.
All these point to a growing tendency among many vocal sections of the population to deny to individuals and groups who hold views different from theirs, the right to express them in any manner they feel like, even when such expressions cross the limits of acceptability. In a free, democratic society, such limits should be set very high so that all forms of opinion can enjoy undisturbed existence within such limits.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Great Brahmin Takeover

The Great Brahmin Takeover is one of India's mysteries over the flow of centuries. Brahmins are at the top of India's caste hierarchy. Being assured of this position by virtue of birth Brahmins have always lorded it over.
This doesn't mean those below them in the hierarchy have taken it lying down. Time and again over the centuries they have made bold and daring attempts to break this stranglehold only to find the Brahmin back in the ascendant quickly recovering from any temporary reverses.
Buddhism is perhaps the first major assault on Brahmin supremacy and it was successful. It spread all over the country aided by a band of dedicated missionaries and the caste hierarchy seemed to have been smashed into bits. The wily Brahmin bided his time, patiently waited for centuries and hit back with ruthlessness, uprooting Buddhism from its home turf. Today Buddhism is practiced only in foreign lands.
In South India, especially in Tamil Nadu the challenge to Brahmin supremacy was led by Periyar E.V. Ramaswami Naicker and his Dravida Kazhagam. But now, one of the major Dravida Kazhagam parties accepts J.Jayalalitha, a Tamil Iyyengar as its supreme leader.
The Bahujan Samaj Party in North India was formed because Dalits could not expect justice from the Manuvadi parties. Today as the Uttar Pradesh election results indicate an absolute majority for Mayawati, the only explanation is that her winning over Brahmins by giving them senior positions in the party and almost 100 seats to contest has yelded rich dividends.
The Brahmin always seems to have the last laugh!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Two Kisses

When two kisses are the focus of attention there is a crisis in the air. One, of Richard Gere kissing Shilpa Shetty at an AIDS awareness event in Delhi. The other is Mohamoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran kissing the gloved hand of his old school teacher at the national teachers day ceremony . The kisses are vocally condemned by religous bigots in the two countries, one predominantly Hindu and the other Muslim. They are in a rage desribing them as an affront to religious sensitivity, custom and moral well being. In India things went to the ludicrous extent of a magistrate in Jaipur issuing warrants for the arrest of Shilpa and Gere. Being a committed liberal I cannot concede the argument that public kissing endangers morality . They should be viewed as displaying natural feelings of affection or liking between the people involved.
After stating the liberal position i should also point out that religious fundamentalists are emblodened to act in this manner due to the support they receive from unexpected quarters. Such support is not out of any sympathy for their religious extremism but only because they are the folks who howl and protest against certain unhealthy trends which are not acceptable to many sections of society who would otherwise fully back liberal causes. This is caused by the indiscriminate mingling of the sexual in all aspects of life, indeed even in matters which have no remote connection with sex. Modern means of communication are used to circulate intimate sexual information widely. Britney's exit from a limo with skirt upflowing to expose her pubic regions and Paris Hilton's videos of her having sex, both posted on the net and seen by millions are instances . Graphic accounts of sexual relations ordinarily not approved by society like that between teacher-student, adult male-teenage girl or which are near-incestous or encourage perversions like pederasty are vividly recounted to their minutest detail in the print media.
Openness and freedom in matters sexual form one of the sheet anchors of a liberal society. But breaking sexual customs or taboos on which there exists a wide consensus merely for the sake of exhibitionism and drama or to proclaim the freedom of artistic expression do not help liberal causes, especially when the freedom to declare and publish one's expression is available to millions and not just to a privileged few as in earlier times. When the borders separating liberal attitudes from licentiousness and excesses gets blurred , the orthodox and the fundamentalist gain a bonus opportunity to suppress the liberal in the garb of saving society from sexual perverts .
We who are left with protecting and enhancing the liberal foundations of society have to be on alert against two dangers. One, of the religious right or the orthodox who hanker to pull back society to purtian ways of thought and action. The second, of the licentious who in their frenzy attempt to destroy the foundations of liberalism to unleash anarchy. When the second acts in ways that elicit oppostion and reaction from the first, maximum damage falls on the true liberals who are unluckily caught in the cross-fire.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

1857 - Sepoy Mutiny or War of Independence

What began 150 years ago in the month of May in Meerut still exercises the Indian psyche. British historians dismiss it as a mere rebellion among soldiers which erupted from their being forced to bite cartridges laced with animal fat. Nationalist historians describe it as a War of Independence when large sections of people determinedly rose up to resist british oppression. Yes,an apparent cause could have been the cartridges but deeper reasons lay behind it. The changes in land revenue settlement, the displacement of many kings and nobles which led to local discontent and the subtle aim to maximise the economic returns of the East India Company at the cost of indigenous trade and commerce could be some of them.

Contemporary interpretations of those events are influenced by the need to rewrite them to suit the current context and the interests of the present ruling classes. I did come across some of them, one by the Director of the Nehru Museum and another by Mani Shanker Aiyer. In their fervour to interpret those events to suit today's political compulsions, they forget the fact that many powerful groups like the Sikhs had kept away for very valid reasons.

But even after 150 years one thing stand out: namely, these incidents led to the termination of the rule of East India Company and the take over of administration by the British government. It should also be noted that rapid change of events globally led to the departure of the British within 90 years of this event.

When all is said and done,it is only befitting that the country celebrate the heroes of 1857 and bow before their bold defiance of authority and the determination to militarily challenge a more organised and superior army.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Surface Battles!

The right royal tennis encounter between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at Palma de Mallorca in Spain on May 3rd stands out for its split court. This novel method was tested for the first time in the history of tennis. The court was split into two halves, partly clay and partly grass and the players changed sides at regular intervals. The mixed surface demanded the players get accustomed to a variety of movements as different muscles get exercised on different surfaces. The innovation of using mixed surfaces could become popular and give a new face to tennis. Presently different tournaments are identified by their surfaces, Wimbledon for grass courts, Roland Garros for clay and synthetic courts for US Open. A novelty has been introduced and we must wait and see how the players, tennis federations and spectators will take it. Perhaps the sponsors of major tournaments could lead the way.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Eternal Riddle

A highly thought provoking observation by Dr.Vilayannur Ramachandran, the famous neuroscientist has cleared the prevailing confusion in my mind. Western science denies the existence of our personal self. Our personal point of view doesnt have any privileged status . Western science says it is all trivial, a non-question. Eastern philospohy is perpetually obsessed with it. The personal self is the only reality we know directly. This is the atman-brahman, dvaitam-advaitam connundrum.
It has been an eternal riddle and we have to find ways to reconcile these approaches. But most scientists are not even aware of it.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

N.R.Narayana Murthy - Jaya he!

The needless controversy over Mr.N.R.Narayana Murthy's comments on the playing of the instrumental version of the National Anthem at a function in the Infosys campus at Mysore is more the creation of a media starved of sensationalism and the itch of the political class to settle scores with an entrepreneur who has grown without much need of state support or patronage. Even an FIR has been registered. The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act contains Section-3 which refers to intentional prevention of the singing of the national anthem. In Narayana Murthy's case there is no evidence to prove that he intentionally prevented the singing of the National Anthem. What has led this controversy to erupt is an explanation given by Murthy at a press conference. Howsoever feeble that explanation may be, it is no reason for charging Murthy under the Act. It is clear that Section-3 is being misused to unfairly crucify Murthy. Playing an instrumental version of the National Anthem is no insult to national honour.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Laurie Baker, Architect Extraordinaire!

Laurie Baker passed away in Trivandrum on Sunday, April 1st and today morning I attended his funeral. The funeral services were most appropriately held at the Christ Church which is one of the oldest churches in Trivandrum which has preserved its architectural tradition without being swallowed up by modernity. My first impressions of Mr.Baker were when he started constructing the chapel and auditorium in Loyola School when I was studying in 4th or 5th class. Every afternoon I used to walk up to the area where the new structure was coming up and would watch the very energetic Baker totally involved in the construction and giving directions to labourers. The auditorium and chapel were in one building but in two separate parts. The auditorium was well lighted and never gave any problems from an acoustic angle. All this was done at a minimal cost using local materials.

The instinctive understanding of Baker's concepts as to building did influence me and I can discern it even in the very distincitve style in which I renovated my ancestral home in Pattom, Trivandrum. It was from Baker that I got the firm belief that as far as renovation of my home is concerned there is no better person to decide it than me who had lived in it for decades. Baker once wrote that whenever he constructed a house he didnt want passers by to tell that the house was built by baker and insted wanted them to tell the name of the occupant of the house. He believed that the personality of the architect should be separated from his creations which should stand on their own. It was something similar to what Anand Coomarasamy used to say.

Baker's public buildings like the Centre for Development Studies, Indian Coffee House, Lenin Balavadi as also the private homes he built for Dr.K.N. Raj, Dr. I.S. Gulati, Abu Abraham as also his own haven, "The Hamlet" are standing testimony to his vision of architecture. Here was a Britisher who made this city his home and identified himself with the needs of the common man and tried his best to respond positively to them at least in the field in which he had specialised.

Gerard da Cunha, Eugene Pandala, Benny Kuriakose all famous as architects in their own right but who do acknowledge the influence of Baker in their work were in attendance at the funeral. Tilak, Baker's son was my classmate and good friend at school and his daughter Vidya and her husband Radhakrishnan too are well known to me.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

U.G.Krishnamurti, 1918-2007.

The Sunday morning newspapers announced the death of UG at Vallecrossia in Italy on March 22nd. Along with Rajneesh and J.Krishnamurti, UG occupied a special place in my heart and thoughts. I first heard about him in the beginning of 1990 when i read an article in 'The Week'. It was only in 2002 that I learnt more of UG reading his biography written by filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. Since then I have read much more and did hope to meet him once.

UG was very clear in his disagreement with J.Krishnamurti though both of them in a way shared the heritage of the Theospohical Society. Rajneesh too has made a bitter attack on him.
UG was very emphatic on the wisdom of the body as supreme and considered the mind a myth. He did not believe there is anything permanent which will surive our death.

In a letter written to a monk in the Ramakrishna Ashram in London UG wrote ' one has to haul oneself out of one's own swamps by one's own bootstraps'.

In another context UG remarks 'Insights mean nothing. In a living situation the man with insight behaves just like anybody else. Has the psychologist solved for himself the problem that he is trying to analyze?'

UG had a very sober view of death as marking the end of our physical existence. And since he did not believe in a soul or atman or a dot that outlives death to sail in a sea of eternity, He saw death a a final ending.

Adieu UG!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Of Gods and Nudity!

The reference by a Minister on the floor of the Kerala Assembly to nude Hindu Gods raised a furore leading to boycott of the House by the Opposition who allege that the Minister offended the sensibilities of believers in the Hindu faith. The Minister immeidately withdrew his remarks but the Opposition has decided to continue its boycott of the Minister till he apologises for the same. The Minister has since clarified that he was referring to the sculptures in many Hindu temples.
Debates have started in the language newspapers as to whether it is proper for Gods to be in the nude or as to what respectful attire they should be draped in. The Minister's comment and consequent debates reflect the offcial culture of India that has been influenced by the British administrators and missionaries who managed to impose on this country the prudishness and puritan morality of the Victorian era. This influence was so extreme that no less a person than Mohandas Gandhi wanted the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho to be defaced.
What the Minister, the Opposition and others have failed to acknowledge or understand is that these sculptures where created to enable 'drishti-shuddhi' whereby the worshipper who feasts his eyes on these and other scenes of social life enters the garbha-griha with his mind emptied of all wordly thoughts and prepared for communion with the divine. The position of these sculptures, their numbers and size would readily lend themselves to this interpretation.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Death and the exhaustion of Telomeres!

Cell biology has discovered cell division, the constant process of division and renewal of cells ceases when telomeres, which are the ends of chromosomes progressively shortened and finally exhausted making further cell division impossible. The cell's dividing limit is the natural end of life. Prolonging life depends on genetic engineering finding ways to extend this dividing limit by spending less and less of telomeres on each cell division.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Creative Life Cycles!

I was reading David Galenson and Joshua Kotkin's interesting article in LAT-WP on the two types into which creativity or innovation can be broadly divided into. One is 'Conceptual Innovation' and the second is 'Experimental Innovation'. They differ in their goals and methods.

Conceptual Innovators aim to express new ideas or particular emotions. Their confidence and certainty allow them to achieve this quickly, often by radically breaking rules of disciplines they have just entered.

Experimental Innovators try to describe what they see or hear. Their careers are quests for styles that capture the complexity and richness of the world they live in.

Our society prefers the simplicity and clarity of conceptual innovation in scholarship and business. Yet the conceptual Bill Gateses of the business world do not make the experimental Warren Buffets less important. Recognising important experimental work can be diffcult, these contributions don't always come all at once.