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.