Sunday, January 29, 2006

The other India ...

... how the other half lives.

Do visit and let us know what you think!

Update (Jan 31): Check out the various posts @ The Other India.

And Vikrum will start posting as soon as he's back from the border!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Anger management

I was reminded of this little nugget of experience that I had a couple of years ago while reading this short post today morning.

One afternoon, there was an hour long demo and talk about the "Art of Living" and the "Sudarshan Kriya" at the institute with which I was associated then. By then, I had heard a lot about this stuff. I had seen people going gaga over a particular way of breathing or some such thing. I think my temperament is not one that looks for quick fixes or may be I'm usually happy the way I am, I don't spend time on godmen or godwomen. To avoid getting into a discussion that I don't want to get into at this point, let me stress that I'm not talking about the merits and demerits of various spiritual therapies available these days. I'm not inclined to undergo such therapies, that's all.

In any case, that particular afternoon, curiosity got the better of me and I thought I would go and see firsthand what exactly these therapists talk about. And so I went to the lecture theatre where the demo was going to be held. The room was kind of full, almost a hundred people were already seated. I found a chair in one of the last rows.

A woman who looked thirty five plus was the instructor. She was introduced as a leading exponent of the art. I guess she was a successful professional in the industry before she quit her job to don the role of a messiah. I vaguely remember some such introduction.

She was a good speaker, I think. At least it wasn't boring. She had a style of her own and her language was, well, interesting. First twenty minutes or so had some nice story telling. I didn't mind it at all.

Then she said it was time for all of us to practise what she was describing in words till then. I thought I would just sit and watch others. First she asked everyone to close the eyes. Most of us did so. She noticed that a few of us did not and she repeated what she said. Everyone except me in my row closed the eyes. I thought she would proceed to the next step. She wasn't going to.

The instructor might have had the impression that I did not follow what she said. She looked straight at me and said the same thing in Hindi. I lazily eyed towards the ceiling to avoid making an eye contact with her. She was insistent and I felt a bit uncomfortable. Everyone was waiting for her next order, but Shrimathi Shrimathi was after me!

I did not want the situation to worsen. So I thought if I was unwilling to listen to her -- and I was, perhaps due to her peremptory tone -- it's better for me to walk out. After all, they had the right to conduct their program the way they like.

And I walked out. No eyes, other than the instructor's, followed me! I could hear her going to the next step. She was asking the audience to sit straight and to keep their hands on the abdomen. A few seconds more and I was back in my own world, where I wouldn't be asked to do anything that I would not want to do. I met a few friends in the canteen, and I told them how the instructor who talked about anger management lost her cool so fast.

P.S: Two, perhaps related, links:

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dead man speaks in Rediff Special

Reader and frequent commenter Pradeep brings this to my notice:

This appeared in a Rediff special yesterday, titled "Saudi King's gift to a Kerala family" by George Iype. The only problem is that Mukundan C Menon, noted human rights activist and journalist, had passed away last December.

"This poses serious credibility issues to Rediff reports", says Pradeep. Pradeep has also written to Rediff about this.

Update (Jan 29): Pradeep points out that Rediff has responded to his mail and has deleted the reference to Mukundan C Menon from the above article. Thanks Pradeep!

Monday, January 23, 2006

A brilliant blogger

About six months back there was a blog post that moved me so much that the moment I finished reading it I had to link to it. I do not read too many blogs, especially these days, and chances of my reading a blog that I hadn't already noticed aren't great. But once in a while you do come across blogs, that were not on your radar, via friends' e-mails, comments or site meter. And I noticed a blog today and I would like to share with you the great reading experience.

The blogger in question, Ashish Thakare, is not a new blogger at all. It's just that I never noticed his blog before. Some of you could be Ashish's readers as well. After all, he's there in the blogrolls of a few prominent blogs.

There are a lot of bloggers in India today who try to listen to those who do a stupendous job in articulating the concerns of the underprivileged. These bloggers are keen to project the findings of these offbeat journalists and academics. Names like Uma, Vikrum, Shivam, Abi, Pablo and Krish immediately come to mind. Then there are journalists and writers who do admirable work themselves and blog about it. Dilip, Annie and Sonia and several others, for instance. And Ashish is a great addition to this latter category.

I was randomly reading posts from Ashish's blog -- Seeking Equipoise, it's titled -- and the impression that I get is that the blogger is candid, concerned and gutsy. I'll end with a few quotes from the blog and will request you to check it out.

    Koteshwar Rao cannot stop laughing at the irony of his name. His name means ‘lord of crores’. In reality he is struggling everyday for a meal. His only source of income is the two acres he owns. Last two years have been hard for Koteshwar Rao -- his cotton crop failed to get him profits.

    ... ...

    There are many such ‘Koteshwar Raos’ in the Palnadu region who are inching towards their doom due a severe agrarian crisis.

    ... ...

    As Koteshwar Rao starts spraying pesticide on his farm, he hopes the approaching harvest season will fetch enough money for the ‘survival’ of his family. The farmers in Palnadu today are caught in this vicious circle of ruthless moneylenders, failed crops and government apathy.

[ Agrarian crises in Palnadu region of Guntur district.]
    The popular perception that while travelling in areas with naxal presence, one faces a threat from them. But the fact is that the Naxals will never cause harm to civilians, villagers; they will strike only the symbols of the state-predominantly the police. I would rather say that one feels threatened by the police. (I was sort of interrogated by an inspector as I was waiting for my team to pick me from Veldhurti mandal. He was told that some ‘outsider’ was talking to people and officials in the Mandal office; and that was reason enough to ask me questions indirectly through a panwallah. It was a bit ridiculous to have the inspector first asking the panwallah the question, who in turn asked me. It was a weird three way conversation which ended with me walking up to the inspector and asking him to speak to me directly.)

    The night passed by and I wondered whether every night in Durgi was just like this one.

[The long cold night.]
    ... the media now seems to have lost its direction. (I say this in spite of being a media person and put myself under the scanner). Take the Gurgaon episode, where the employees of the Honda factory went for a strike and then were mercilessly beaten up by the Haryana Police (rather the goons of the Corporate giants). As the state terror was being unleashed, the news channels were debating the impact that the strike will have on the investor confidence. The remote foreign investor was more important than the Indian laborer who was struggling for his legitimate rights. It was easy to condemn the laborers for the strike, but then we all forget the fact that when a laborer goes on strike he/she never has it easy. At stake are the daily wages, the basic question of feeding the stomach and whether the next morning will dawn or not.
[Disconnected from reality?]
    An interesting aspect of globalization is that the nation state is pressurized ‘from above’ and also ‘from below’. Pressure ‘from above’ means pressure from global institutions like (UN, WTO, IMF etc), MNCs, NGOs (e.g. Greenpeace) etc. Pressure ‘from below’ means that citizens of a state now are able to connect and identify with their counterparts in other states more easily and intensely. Technology has rendered geographical borders redundant.

    ... ...

    There cannot be a denial of globalization. It is a true phenomenon which affects every society and state. The main question lies in how the states use globalization to deliver good governance and achieve the goal of welfare state.

[Globalization -- how has it affected Nation-States.]
    All the debates regarding the Gurgaon episode speculated about its effect on the Foreign Investment Scenario in India. The entire galaxy of experts did show concern but for the big corporate giants.

    The question that arises is -- for whom does the state exist and function?

    I do agree that labor reforms and concerned issues need to be resolved. And I also feel that labor reforms should keep in mind the inevitable forces of globalization. But what is happening now in India is disgusting. The Gurgaon episode epitomizes the predicament that India faces. What will emerge out of it will play an crucial role in defining India’s development.

[Whose 'India' is it?]

    In my personal opinion Arundhati Roy is a ‘one-book wonder’ who has been hyped up a lot. I tried reading her novel The God of Small Things but found it too boring and then just left it. Some may find that I am being too judgmental about her but I regard her as a socialite and a rebel (word used in a negative connotation) who rebels for the sake of it and raises questions without really seeking to answer them.
[The Socialite of Small Things ...]

Ashish is just 21 and I understand from his blog that he's currently a student at the Asian School of Journalism. His posts and his style show a level of maturity that's very striking. I wish he's going to be consistent and comes up with many more posts of the same quality.

In one of his posts he wrote about his joining the ACJ.

    With dreams in my eyes, hope in my heart and a promise to work hard I make a move to a new destination; and I quote the lines by Robert Frost which always guide me: miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep!
My best wishes!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Not me!

Not me!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Hindu

    Among the Indian owned English newspapers, The Hindu of Madras is probably the best, so far as get-up and news service are concerned. It always reminds me of an old maiden lady, very prim and proper, who is shocked if a naughty word is used in her presence. It is eminently the paper of the bourgeois, comfortably settled in life. Not for it is the shady side of existence, the rough and tumble and conflict of life. Several other newspapers of moderate views have also this 'old maiden lady' standard. They achieve it, but without the distinction of The Hindu and, as a result, they become astonishingly dull in every respect.
Who said this?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Democratic Decentralisation in Kerala

Professor Thomas Isaac, economist, political activist and co-author of Local Democracy and Development, will deliver this year's Balwantrai Mehta Memorial Lecture at the University of Mumbai. It's on the 24th of January, and the venue is ICSSR Conference Hall, Vidyanagari Campus, University of Mumbai. The lecture is titled 'Democratic Decentralisation in Kerala: Lessons learnt and way ahead'.

Eminent journalist P. Sainath will preside over the function.

[Via e-mail from Jose George.]

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Other worlds are possible: Sainath @ St. Xaviers

Attended a powerful talk by veteran journalist P. Sainath at the St. Xavier's college yesterday. The talk tried to scan the large body of literature surrounding the acute rural crisis in today's India albeit in a fast forward mode. Sainath indeed pioneered and developed a school of journalism that has as its chief concern the well-being of our poorest and the most deprived. There's perhaps nothing in the talk that he hasn't written about. Still listening to Sainath was a remarkable experience. Such was his passion, his clarity of thought and his sense of humour.

Vikrum has a nice post covering a lot of yesterday's talk. Let me also direct you to Sainath's webpage @ India Together, where a lot of his articles are listed. In particular, you may want to check out excerpts from a talk that Sainath had given at an AID meeting in 2001.

The best part of Sainath's talk (and this applies to his writings too), to my mind, is the degree of optimism that it reflects though the subject matter is one that's very distressing and disheartening. Sainath gets the pulse of the 'real' India and he does report the "incredible churning [that] is under-way in India". As he writes in a 1999 Seminar essay:

    We live in an age far more radical than many imagine. Hundreds of millions in this country are asserting their rights as never before. The last 15 years have seen tribal and Dalit assertion on a scale yet to be gauged, let alone understood. The Dalit upsurge has altered the politics of Uttar Pradesh irreversibly. And perhaps that of Tamil Nadu also. It is making dents elsewhere as well. In Andhra, the state assembly had its first debate on untouchability in decades. That, after a powerful movement against casteism forced the government on the defensive.

    Tremendous new social energies are on the loose. They are chaotic but they are there. Fierce power battles are emerging at the panchayat level. Even this mere form of democracy has set off a backlash from the entrenched privilege of centuries. Still, millions seek human dignity against awesome odds. Struggles over common property resources are rocking the countryside. Battles over land are on in over three-quarters of the country. That these are poorly reported does not mean they are not on. But it does mean that forums which could once have discussed their implications are not doing so. They are busy making themselves irrelevant to mass aspirations.

    Millions are not merely refusing to play the game by the old rules. They are simply not playing the old game at all. There is no institution that is not under challenge. Many are actually in the process of meltdown. This panics those who see no ‘solutions’. (Which means that the Beautiful People are finding their solutions tossed aside with contempt). Consequently, large chunks of the country are getting harder to govern. With all the negatives these processes entail, they also mean that rights and freedoms are being not only asserted but debated and redefined.

Sainath believes, and this he stressed yesterday too, that most of our problems can be solved only via direct political action. You can't classify your problems into different compartments and try to seek solutions strictly within these compartments. And Sainath observes that the political battles are on. As he concludes another Seminar essay:
    There are huge energies now unleashed in the global arena. From anti-war to social justice movements. The protestors at Seattle and Cancun can in fact be seen as real globalisers. Only, they seek to globalise not greed but social justice movements. To globalise people’s cooperation against the exploitation of people. From political reform movements and minority rights platforms to basic struggles for democracy and human rights, it’s happening. All those concerns you have heard addressed earlier. Major battles are on for a radical redistribution of resources in several societies. All these are in the global arena. The challenge is how to marry these energies. Another world is possible. Other worlds are possible.
Update (Jan 20): Dilip's write-up here:
    ... for me, Sainath's most telling point that evening was not so much the figures and anecdotes that flowed like a breached dam. Instead, it was a point he has made before: about Nero's guests.
Update (Jan 21): Uma's post here:
    What I do find remarkable is Sainath's enduring optimism - in spite of the statistics, in spite of the reality, he believes that things can change. That they must change.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Ahindus and Hindu temples

This post is prompted by the discussion taking place at Uma's indianwriting. Uma, rightly if you ask me, advocates temple entry reforms, in the context of the recent controversy about the Sri Lankan President Rajapakse's wife's entry to the Guruvayur temple. This is not the first time the Guruvayur temple is courting controversy in this regard. The reports that Uma has linked to in her post make it pretty clear.

Now I have something to say which I think is relevant. It's about an instance of a reform that was successfully initiated in Guruvayur by a few people including my father. I have heard about this from my father and I thought I would have a post on that. But my father has already written about it and I thought it's easier for me to quote him.

So here's an excerpt from Natannuvanna Vazhikal, my father's autobiography. I've taken some freedom with the translation, and I have enabled a few hyperlinks.

And yes, the protagonist of the story -- Yousuf Ali Kechery, well-known Malayalam poet and President of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi -- has already appeared in Uma's post.

Reminiscences of the Guruvayur days
by N.V.P. Unithiri

In the early part of 00's, I was a member of the editorial board of Bhaktapriya, the journal of the Guruvayur Devaswom. Even earlier I had been working in association with the Devaswom journal. Also I usually participated in many of their annual cultural programmes like the Narayaniyam commemoration day.

I had published many of my articles in Bhaktapriya. These include a paper on the Srauta sacrifices of Kerala, one about the costumes in Krishnanattam and essays about the Taittiriya Aranyaka and the Taittiriya Pratisakhya. My Sanskrit translation of P. Kunhiraman Nair's Narabali also appeared in Bhaktapriya.

Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri's, perhaps the most famous among the Guruvayur saints, Narayaniyam is rather well-known. There have been any number of studies on the Narayaniyam. Many might know that he was a great grammarian too. And some might be familiar with his grammatical works like Prakriyasarvaswam and Dhatukavyam. But it's not widely known that Melpathur had authored more than thirty Champu kavyas. Even among those who have heard about these, there must be many who haven't had a chance to look at these works. So I decided that perhaps I could use my editorial space to write expository columns in Bhaktapriya about these relatively unknown works of Melpathur's. These columns included expositions of Melpathur's Champu kavyas like Rajasuyam, Niranunasikam, Panchali swayamvaram, Subhadraharanam, Kaunteyashtakam, Kuchelopakhyanam, Dakshayagam, Ajamilamoksham, Dutavakyam, Kiratam, Swahasudhakaram, Gajendramoksham, Yudhishthirabhishekam and Kailasavarnanam. It was nice to know later that many readers of the journal found these articles both accessible and useful.

A few incidents from those days are unforgettable. The editorial board meetings used to take place every second Thursday. Lunch would be the temple prasadam. Paal payasam -- rice kheer -- was always there. As I was diabetic, I would taste just a little bit. Swami Mridananda, who was also a member of the editorial board, had diabetes in its later stages. He would have a lot of payasam though. Our incipient admonitory frowns would give way to a hearty laughter with Swamiji's words: "Lord Guruvayurappan's prasadam will do no harm".

Swamiji absented himself from these meetings gradually due to increased levels of diabetes. Recently he passed away.

Though ours was a journal associated to a Hindu temple, we decided that we should publish all the works that were of some interest to our readers, irrespective of the author's religious persuasion. As this was not the norm till then, we also decided to take the initiative and request a few of the non-Hindu litterateurs to submit their works to the journal. Poet Yousuf Ali Kecheri was one of the first to respond. Professor M. Leelavathi, another editor, received the poem. In our next board meeting, she showed it to me. That was a fine poem. But we were sort of hesitant to publish it right away. Because the poem touched upon the most controversial aspect regarding the temple that the non-Hindus weren't allowed inside the temple premises. The poem had (rightly) criticized such rules from a progressive secular point of view. But did not the Guruvayur temple have its own set of norms and conventions? And this tradition of course had nothing to do with modernity or democracy or secularism! The decision to have contributions from non-Hindus was in itself kind of revolutionary!

But then how could we not publish it? Not just that it was a great piece, Yousuf Ali had submitted it upon our inviting him to pen down something for us. In any case we decided to go by the decision of the venerable Professor K.P. Narayana Pisharody, the eldest amongst us, a great scholar, and also Yousuf Ali's Sanskrit teacher.

"We've Yousuf Ali Kecheri's poem with us. Please take a look", Professor Leelavathi gave it to Pisharody.

"It should be very good. He's very talented", Professor Pisharody commented even before reading the poem.

Professor Pisharody then began to examine the poem. Slowly there developed a tinge of gloom on his face.

"Alas, we shouldn't publish this in Bhaktapriya. This of course will neatly fit in Mathrubhumi or some such magazine." Professor Pisharody had decided. One question remained unanswered. How could we return an invited poem?

Finally we decided not to do anything on the matter! Do not publish and do not return!

In the near future something else happened. There was a sizzling controversy surrounding the wedding of Congress leaders Vayalar Ravi's and Mercy Ravi's son. The wedding took place in Guruvayur and the controversy was around the topic that Mercy was a Christian. But something positive resulted from the brouhaha. The public mindset started supporting the secular democratic forces on issues of this sort. It became increasingly clear that the resistance to reform and progress was coming from a fringe orthodox minority. We concluded that the overall atmosphere was ripe to experiment and that the time had come to go ahead and publish Yousuf Ali's poem. And the poem came published. It did not result in any further controversy!

Friday, January 13, 2006

At that time

Wonder what happened a while later! [Link.]

On the topic of Brezhnev, the other day I saw an Ashoka tree planted by Brezhnev in our campus. His visit was in 1961, three years before he became the General Secretary of CPSU. Brezhnev was the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet at that time. Prime Minister Nehru had visited the USSR in September 1961 and this was Brezhnev's reciprocal visit. The plaque reads thus: Planted by / H.E.L.I. Brezhnev / Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of USSR / On 18 December 1961.

I was telling a friend of mine about Brezhnev's tree and I told him that the tree looked rather short for its 40+ years. "That's the planned economy growth. A free market tree would have touched the sky by now!", he said.

Of course something else was happening in India at that time. On the 18th of December 1961, the Indian troops entered Goa, thus ending four hundred years of Portugese rule. Nehru had repeatedly warned about using force in the preceding months. Tension escalated with the buildup of Portugese and Indian military stregths in Goa in November - December, and Portugal had appealed to the UN Security Council. On December 15, the UN Secretary General requested the prime ministers of India and Portugal not to allow the situation to deteriorate. And that was the day Brezhnev's fortnight long India trip began. On the 18th, when the Indian troops moved in, when Brezhnev planted that tree that I can almost see through the window while I type this (!), Portugal called for an emergency meeting of the Security Council. Portugal's friends in the West introduced a resolution calling for Indian withdrawal. The United States strongly criticised India. President Kennedy urged Nehru not to use any force. The Soviets stood by India. In particular, they vetoed the UN resolution.

By the way, my institute has an MoU with the state of Goa for almost five years now. The MoU envisages possibilities for collaborative activities in several areas including the development of facilities for providing e-communiation and internet acess in Konkani and Marathi languages, setting up of mechanisms for the upgradation of quality and level of technical education in Goa, and setting up of distance education and e-learning facility in Goa.

Brezhnev's tree has a lot of stories to tell!

P.S: The Goan crisis description is from A Study of Crisis by Michael Brecher and Jonathan Wilkenfeld.

Number Theory authority honoured

Number Theory authority honoured.

[Link via Aswin.]

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Talk by P. Sainath

The second lecture of the Mass Media Vs. Mass Reality series will take place on Wednesday, 18th January, 2006 at 5:30 p.m. The venue is the St. Xavier's College auditorium, Mumbai. Sainath will be speaking on The Moral Economy of the Elite: Rural distress and the challenge before journalism. The talk is organised by the Indian School of Social Sciences along with the Xavier Institute of Communications and St. Xavier's College.

Send me an e-mail if you would like to have more info about the talk.

[Via e-mail from Dionne Bunsha].

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Campus Bloggers

    Does coming across so many beautiful things in life so frequently, transfers your "beauty sensors" from your heart to your brain?
My friend Amit reflects on his research life, in his latest post.

Amit and I were together in my previous inst. I have recently discovered a few bloggers from there. They make a very interesting read.

Two of my favourite bloggers are from the same campus too. And you know their blogs: Uma and Pablo.

There must be many blogs from my present campus. But I've noticed only a few. Ramanand, Shantanu, Devendra and Varun. Ramanand is of course a blog veteran.

If you blog and if you are from this or this inst, please do let me know.

Update (Jan 14): Two more campus blogs (Thanks Samudrika):

Monday, January 09, 2006

Photos of Mathematicians

Check out this nice project by C. J. Mozzochi. Link via Peter Woit.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Did you know?

Did you know?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Indibloggies

It's voting time again. Last year I made my votes public. Here are my votes for this year:

If you like to participate, go here.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Kalamandalam Hyderali, RIP

Two obits: Second link via e-mail from Pradeepkumar. Photo from The Hindu.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

King Faisal International Prize

    Professor M.S. Narasimhan, honorary fellow at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, has been selected as a co-winner of the prestigious 2006 King Faisal International (KFI) Prize.

    Narasimhan's co-winner is British professor Simon Kirwan Donaldson, president of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences and professor of mathematics at Imperial College, London.

    The award consists of a certificate hand-written in Arabic calligraphy summarising the laureate's work, a commemorative 24 carat 200 gm gold medal uniquely cast and a cash prize of 200,000 dollars.

    The announcement was made on December 27 by Prince Khalid Al Faisal Bin Abdulaziz, Director General of King Faisal Charitable Foundation and Chairman of King Faisal International Prize Panel.


Update (Jan 06): Here's an Indian Express report. (Thanks Pradeep).

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Wish you ...

... all a happy and prosperous 2006!