Friday, December 30, 2011

last day of the year

Its been such a great year, inspite of the volcanic eruptions and the tidal waves and the buildings which routinely fell on people's heads because of bad construction. There is something very odd about life, people have things happening to them, in various degrees of intensity, and some visit hell on their way to work. What I find most interesting is the heroism of every day lives, the dignity of people who see their fate as interesting to themselves and who then make sense of their day in the best way they can. Sometimes these tragedies are so huge that they can never feel alone, because there are others who are quite dead, and will not have a Gregorian new year to wake up to. The odd thing about India is how many new years we celebrate...endlessly waking up to a new year, because we have 22 languages and now 22 new years to match.

Good bye Mr Whitman

Monday, December 26, 2011

Radius two kilometres

The sun was out this afternoon, and having been holed up all week with a bad cold, and the waterpipes in the upstairs bathrooms all pulled out and the new ones put back in, and cold wet cement leaching the warmth of the house, it was just great to go for a walk. The purple and red bougaenvillae were out, so was the sun. The four kilometre walk took two and a half hours, and it was good to have the road to myself for long stretches. When I hear the silence in JNU I realise that somewhere somehow I worked very hard to get back here. Sure, I lost a lot, too, by leaving my home in Patparganj with the children twelve years ago, but then...the open sky and the empty road, with the occasional parrot eating berries noisily, extravagantly with lots of ber wastage, just because there is flagrant amounts growing in the tree....I ought to disapprove of that parrot, but then the ants will enjoy the ones he dropped half eaten tomorrow. Nature doesnt have a sense of propriety when its happy, it just spins over and does odd things. That's what I feel in the cosmos when the sky meets the earth. Everyone is poor and hungry and the sky careless of its emptyness.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christian Laments

I went to Fr Keerankeri's funeral service after all, and the music that his friends played to comfort themselves was exquisite. The odd thing about death is the cascade of memories that people have about the one they will miss. Fr Keeran was a great biblical scholar, and he taught me Hebrew and Greek so that I could read the originals. I was the only woman in the class, and  a lay person at that. It was a Masters in Theology class, and the priests were people who learned the alphabets overnight. "IF you know Latin or Sanskrit, its very simple" they said loftily. We studied Paul Ricoeur and worked with exegisis and hermeneutics. There was only one moment which was a little complicated, because I was then 23 years old, and I involuntarily said in class "But Heaven is a utopia, like the stateless  society in Marx". I still remember the look he gave me. Such an odd blank uncomprehending look. The other Jesuits looked away. Fr Keeran sent me his books when he published them and one day I will read them again carefully to understand what everyone knew so well about him in person: the love commandment in the new testament.
So the songs at his funeral were about love and faith, and loss and belief, and I came away comforted.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

George Keerenkeri

Fr George Keerenkeri was a great teacher. I met him in 1980 at Vidyajyoti. He was a young Professor known to be one of the faculty's best. Prof JPS Uberoi introduced me to Fr Gispert, who was at that time doing lots of things, heading the library, teaching, editing the journal. Fr Gispert introduced me to Fr Keeran who was a very familiar Syrian Christian face to me, kind of typical for the community, the kind of face one finds in our families quite routinely. He taught me Greek and Hebrew, and though I was a rotten student, and took one month to learn the alphabets, and one month to scissors and paste from other works, so incompetent was I, even I was embarrassed. But from what I learnt from him was the essential humility a great teacher always carries, the ability to make the weakest in the class feel comfortable. I am not very good at keeping in touch with people, being an introvert, and generally fleeing crowds, so we never kept in touch, though for twenty years I sent the trio, Fr Gispert, Fr Keeran and Fr T.K. John christmas cards. Then I stopped, for no particular reason, or maybe it was because I could not put all our names on the cards, since Shiv had started travelling non-stop, and the children and I shifted to JNU twelve years ago. But Fr Keeran always wished me Happy Christmas either by postal card or by the web. Last night around 8 .40 I felt a sense of agony, so I called up some friends and then comforted, went to sleep. Good night Father Keeran, your life was a candle and there was never any dross, just the simple fire of your faith. I'll probably not be at the funeral.

Friday, December 16, 2011

ISS celebrates 60 years

Indian Sociological Society celebrated its 60th anniversary, and yes, it was in JNU. It was quite amazing seeing 1500 delegates gather in one place, and Vice President Hamid Ansari in his very elegant way gave the baton back to the intellectuals saying that they would interpret society fearlessly for that was their vocation. Three happy days went by, heroically managed by the research scholars, many of them having spent sleepless nights. The queues for food were really long, but there was enough to eat, inspite of the dazzling sunshine, people stood in the glare talking, laughing, debating. All the sessions were crammed with listeners, and the symposiums were very well attended, so much so that tea and television screens outside benefitted those who could not enter the auditorium. It was my first ISS conference, and I really enjoyed seeing the crowds, quite perplexed by the numbers, since the delegates had brought friends and family to hear them. The estimated number present for those three days is thought to be five thousand...
JNU is a hospitable hill, and so we never felt that five thousand was a mythic number. Yes, they must have been uncomfortable in their lodgings, but on the last day, the representatives said "Discomfort in large meetings is frequent, and to be expected, but the intellectual fare and the general excitement of ideas was wonderful and made up for it." That was courteous of them, since many had travelled three days from very distant places, and Delhi is very cold. I am now ready to go to the ISS conferences every year. I didn't go previously for the plain reason I don't like crowds much, and dread the physical discomfort of strange lodgings. Once I was booked to be at a  World Tamil conference, about 17 years ago, and then I backed out, because my youngest daughter was only a year old, and I didn't feel like leaving her to attend the conference where other scholars. like Dennis Hudson (a very dear friend from Massachussets) were  also expected. However, after I returned to Delhi from Chennai, every month for about two years, I would recieve an envelope with a Paris stamp and a handwritten address, and a photograph of the  exiled Tamil LTTE leader Prabhakaran. I found that quite scary!

Monday, December 5, 2011

conferences at JNU

We have three important conferences happening at JNU. The first is the ISS conference next week (10th-13th December 2011). The ISS conference  will have two thousand sociologists visiting the Centre for the Study of Social Systems. It has a joint meeting point at the IIT, Delhi, where the young sociologists will gather. The second conference is on Alternative Education Networks and The Right to Education, where school teachers from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu will be in dialogue with JNU scholars on 10th and 11th February 2012. The third conference is on Arts and Aesthetics in a Globalising world ( which is hosted by the Association of Social Anthropologists, U.K and convened by Centre for the Study of Social Systems, JNU and School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU in the first week of April 2012.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Malampuzha Dam

This visit to Kerala had me visit the Malampuzha Dam  again. It is 10 kms from Pallakad. Last visit was in April 2011. I had met some engineers there, to ask them some questions about the release of water in summer. They were busy that day, so getting any information was hard. A Sociologist hanging around the precincts when they had an important meeting, on a very hot day was so irritating, that to my surprise, they locked the engineers in the room where they had a meeting, locked them in with a padlock. I went around hoping to meet someone who would tell me what they were discussing. Everything is a secret, so finally I was told that they were discussing the opening of the park since there were complaints from the tourists from Tamil Nadu that without the Park being open it was not at all enjoyable to come to the Dam. I am sure there were other  matters too such as the installation of CCTV cameras, but an interview with one of the officers who was available to talk to me, conveyed that the dam has been renovated, that in summer they provide water to the farmers and to Pallakad town, and after the rains, ofcourse there is no worry of any kind. So this visit, in November was useful, because the flower gardens were open, the picnic groups were out and the idea of people visiting from far off places to see the water works was clearly evident. "Its a big dam by Kerala standards, but a small dam by other standards." When things are in order, there is not much to say.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Thekkadi is lovely from my memories of 1968. My father's sister's husband took us there for a weekend, and I cannot remember if we saw  elephants or not. The word dam was not in our vocabulary, nobody thought Thekkadi was a dam.
Now that the debates on Dam sites, seismic zones and the advantage of small dams are well in place, why should there be a discussion of Kerala's intention to protect its people? Kerala and Tamil Nadu are symbiotic, Kerala's vegetables come from Tamil Nadu. Quite often people miss their flights from Coimbatore if they do not leave well in time from Pallakad because of the truckers jamming the road both ways. Its an old relationship, older than Madras Presidency, and the crafts of the two lands were entrenched by frequent crossings, and a common vocabulary. The Malayalis and the Tamils understand each other perfectly. The Malayalis are well aware of the dangers of construction being one of the greatest producers of engineers. Just ask the question "How many engineering colleges do you have in Kerala?" as I asked of a engineering Professor who was on the train from Haripad to Trivandrum going to a conference, and the answer would dazzle anyone. My friend Tara and I travelling through Pallakad, Haripad, Allapuzha and Trivandrum realised suddenly thats why the humanities do not show up significantly in general education. But then, what about the Kerala Sociologists conference? How many turn up for those? The number there too is stunning. Or for the Film conferences in Trivandrum initaited by Beena Paul. And now the Literature conferences too show how involved the Malayalis are with postmodernity and its questions. The dam is not about control, it is about a  continuing relationship which includes town, country and tribal settlements, and the survival of several millions of people. Small dams are the political motif as the save ganga projects have clearly communicated, and this dam too must be rethought for the future of the earth in just such terms.

FDI and other things

Long ago I was invited to a discussion on industrialisation of agriculture and was quite aghast to see the then President, Prof Abdul Kalam and all the industrialists completely ready to industrialise agriculture without preliminary debate. Science had won it seemed, as they all smiled urbanely at one another in FICCI auditorium. Regardless of the plight of the farmers who produce bumper crop season after season without consideration of their own dreadful poverty, the state keeps suggesting that industrial farming is what will get us to occupy Mars at the earliest. The offer is ofcourse valid, but do we want to take it? Definitely not. Cash crop agriculture is one thing, but industrialised farming is quite another. The loss of lives in the rural sector should first be handled because multinationalism is not going to address this. The problem with politicians is that they cannot hear themselves, and they think everyone else is outdated. Learning from the mistakes of the west is something they never even imagine to be part of what they do. Ridding the countryside of the farmers who do form co-operatives, who can communicate what they need very clearly seems the obligation of the politicians ruling today. The jobs promised to the displaced rural youth is a small token while taking away livelihoods from millions of their kin. Since nothing happens without the consent of the people, it is unlikely that this move will succeed. Party affiliation is not obligatory to have freedom of speech, or to demand discussion over the most important events of the moment.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Murder most foul

I was flying over Cochin at 6 pm last evening, and told my friend Tara who was travelling with me that I loved Cochin.  I have never lived there, but often travelling over Kerala by bus, I ride through peaceful lovely Kochi, with its Chinese sails and limpid waters. Time stops still in Kochi. As we reached Delhi last night, at 10.45 p.m the lights over the city were symmetrical, titanium lights which was the same colour as the chopped up orange brown moon which echoed the street lights of the ordered night of the capital city. How tragic that Sr Valsa John was killed in Jharkhand for protecting the indegenous people of that terrain. We use so much electricity all the time, and the coal merchants have their empires too. Today walking to Munirka, I saw some children climbing a tree for firewood, for the dead branches which were very high up. The girl who was straddled on the branch in the dusty middle class suburb of Delhi was foraging for fire wood, not breaking or chopping, but collecting dead wood.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Ten years ago I had a terrible cereberal stroke the day after Diwali. Delhi got so heated up with crackers, that it set off a condition I did not know I had, that is multiple sclerosis. I landed up in hospital with the left side of my face twisted, and a clot in my speech centre. By the kindness of friends and family, and the amazing ability of my physicians at Apollo hospital, Dr Vinit Suri and Dr Prasada Roy, I recovered, and then have never returned to the hospital, because of the tremendously creative powers of palliative medicine. Once every month I go to Dr Qasim's clinic in West Nizamuddin, and collect my dose of homeopathic medicine. He treats me symptomatically. From April to October, I am always telling him I cannot cope, I have problems with sleep, memory, stiffening of joints and sometimes familiar mind shattering migraines. From October to March, I am fine, though the sclerosis manifests itself sometimes through arthritis, since the absence of mylin means the cold can be a catalyst to disrepair too. For that, there are oils which the JNU yoga teacher gives me.
Crackers really heat up the atmosphere. So this time, I thought I would buy plants instead. I went to the nursery near the Homeopathy clinic, and got bush roses, (they are called desi gulab) and two hybrid,  (red and yellow) which are called English roses, and an odd delicate croton in a pink, which looked like a maze of cappilaries on green. I also got azalea, which the gardener told me would have crowds of red flowers.
Sita waters the earth, they say, and in Sara Joseph's version, Ravana sleeps eternally, absorbed by the earth for his frugal ways and the honour he gave her by not abusing her. As opposed to the Draupadi myth, where kinsmen and neighbours wrest clothes off their kinswoman, the battle of Kurukshetra so close at hand, this is an interesting motif in the South Indian narrative tradition.
Niranam, where my father's clan lives, had its own poets who wrote a 13th century Ramayana. They are called the Niranam poets, and they  all came from the same family. Niranam was known as Nelycynda to the Greeks and Romans. It is a calm and gentle place, where St Thomas the Apostle is supposed to have made his first convert to Christ's teachings.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Enchantment of the World

I woke up at 2 a.m and wondered what I should do for today's lecture. I teach two compulsory courses, and will probably do this for the next ten years while at JNU. Today was my Sociology of Religion course, and the reading I found was a book published in 1995, called The Inhuman Condition, and the author is Keith Tester. He is a follower of Hannah Arendt's work "The Human Condition" and one of the things he is concerned with is the Weberian problematic of the Disenchantment of the World.
Those of us who read Weber for a living, know that alongside the clarity of the position on subjectivity and objectivity in social science is the real preoccupation with modernism, that is rationality, bureaucracy and alienation. A lot of the work by Zygmunt Bauman and others is to test this hypothesis in terms of what they call postmodern conditions of Fluid Societies. Obsolescence, waste, fear and the turnabout provided by the reading of fiction, where this becomes a staple for those who feel that fantasy provides an answer. Young people are avid readers and the genre of fantasy becomes preparation for the momentum required to think of the next move. The landscapes of the future are so close that they see the genre of a propelled imagination sufficient to handle the possibility that tomorrow they will be called upon to make the long march or to waft upwards into the skies in new machines with extended orbits.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Internet and its Accessories

The interesting thing about the internet is that there is a huge population of bored people out there, who legitimately or illegitimately get into all your stuff. They do this because they think they are working for the State, or against the State, for the Nation, for Community, for one's base self or another''s a little like the wolf who wishes to eat the lamb, and tarries for a bit, giving reasons, but then the narrator of the story knows that the reasons are immaterial, for the lamb will be eaten.
For just this reason, I get quite perplexed when I am asked to review something or offer an opinion on the bases of total confidentiality, and ofcourse I am completely convinced that this confidentiality is a ruse by which those in power think that thier iron gates are up, and are spiked!
Ideological differences are ofcourse the newest form of the new Luddites. They essentially believe that they are the gatekeepers to ideas, but the internet makes sure that any view of theft or claims to originality are already placed in the chronology of internet archiving.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

NMML 2011

I was pleased to go back to the Tuesday Seminar at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. I remember it from 1989. We had joined the Centre for Contemporary Studies, and the seminars were held every Tuesday at 3 p.m and  as Fellows of the Centre, we contributed to the Weekly paper reading, and there were many guests too. NMML has a new Director, Mahesh Rangarajan who is comfortable doing his job, and the NMML has been having many visitors who feel that the seminar life of NMML is the best part of its functioning. I felt nostalgic for the roses though which seem to have dwindled. Outside, in the circle near the gate, they were abundant. Delhi's best gardeners are to be found at its traffic crossings.
The seminar room was looking exquisite, (the thick expensive blinds were rolled up,) and I hope that in the days to come there will be  khadi silk curtains  instead.  (The price of nostalgia is to ask "Where is the portrait of Nehru in the Seminar Room and the natural brown curtains, were they brown or fawn or ivory in 1989?" The light was blazing in.)Meanwhile, the trees outside looked familiar, and like a lot of former fellows, I felt a wonderful sense of being back. I had not been visiting the Library for the last two years since I was busy with the Chairpersonship of the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, in  JNU but going back to NMML meant meeting friends and having tea at Kutty's famous cafe where ideas are shared along with tea and subsidised food.
IIAS, Shimla also gives one the sense of an institution which means a lot to those who frequent it. Peter DeSouza has a wonderful sense for paint, stained glass and gardens so conservation has meant as much  to the Director of IIAS, as fulfilling obligations to fellow intellectuals and buying books for the Library.
What startled me most about NMML was that a whole section of wood panellling had been pulled out, and glass replaced it. It seems odd that state institutions, managed by the pwd, often have rooms locked in without sunlight, and replacement of perfectly functional materials by expensive new materials.
NMML always buzzed with ideas and critical thought, so listening to Mukul Sharma, a journalist and ecologist was immensely interesting. Sharma interviewed Anna Hazare for ten years, culminating in 2001, so ten years later his book is in press, and he is delighted to share ideas and views. Fearless as he is, the data he has is stunning. Those of us who believe that India's Freedom Movement works with constitutional rights and parliamentary democracy will find Sharma's views completely anchored in the Sociology of reading movements, charisma and authoritarian figures. The audience was immediately motivated to ask many questions, and these were answered very charmingly and astutely.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Kota Literary Festival

Pushpesh Pant, who teaches with us in JNU, and is a food critic and writer, invited me to go to the Kota Literary Festival, which is an extension of the Jaipur Festival. I stood at the  Nizamud-din  Railway station, waiting for my fellow travellers to arrive, since one of them had a combined ticket. It was a blazing hot day,  I had arrived much too early, and waited at the station with Chekhov's Letters, (published by Penguin) to help me pass the time. Three minutes before the train was to leave,  S.S Nirupam, who works with the magazine Sarita, and had to put an issue arrived. Pushpesh Pant had got caught in a visa queue, and would not make it to the conference. I travelled with Anamika, the well known Hindi poet, and Manisha Pande who writes a very popular blog for India Today. Our companions in the compartment, were a book seller and his wife, Mr Jain of Jain Book Depot, Kota who told us about the book trade in a small town, where 90 percent of the books sold are English text books.
The town is four hours from Delhi, and we reached on schedule at 8.15 p.m, but Mr Jain whom everyone  in the compartment knew, said it was fifteen minutes late. Raining and all lit up, Kota looked pretty. But once the conference began we found ourselves tied to the velocity of the discussions, which were heady, given that the Vardhman Mahaveer Open University saw the work of the authors in the four language groups (Rajasthani, Hindi, Sanskrit and English)  necessary for the production of the lucid prose that Open Universities require.
It rained without stop for the two days that we spent in Kota, and everything was so green, I could have been in Kerala. It was amazing, and the residents said that they have had continuous rainfall for the last four months. In my wildest dreams I would never have imagined Rajasthan to be so green, but as the proud residents of Kota said, they have no water or electricity problems, but are not on the tourist map, though they are well known for Kota stone, Kota sarees, (which are very fine and crisp cottons,)  and the kachoris. Kachoris are stuffed  deep fried puris, with thick crusts, and a  delicious filling of roasted urad dal, besan, hing, pounded chillies, and coriander seeds. The workers and the rich merchants of the city stand elbow to elbow buying these hot from a shop called Ratan, on the Nayapura flyover. The Open University is hoping that an annual literary festival and the famous savouries of Kota will create a space for the guaranteeing of an airport to their kasbah. Talking to many of the people who were from Kota, and who had come to the conference, I discovered that they all spoke highly of their town. Kota has the sense of comfort and charm that its residents enjoy, and they don't have a tradition of eating out, because they are good cooks, who eat at home. It was pouring, but two of the participants thought it would be a good idea to go to a mall, to a barrista, to a promenade cafe (all aspects of conference life that they are used to)...these things do not exist in Kota, and good thing too!  If Kota gets its airports, the kachori as Kota nivasis know it, will probably become an obscure savoury  on a multinational cuisine list,which costs 80 rupees each, instead of 8 rupees each. Maybe democracy has its own ways of asserting itself in Kota, in the aim of the Open University, which is to reach out to one lakh students, many of whom will be first generation learners, and the celebration of the kachori on rainy evenings, by its inhabitants who unequivocally love their town, and are proud of it. The poets and writers at the conference, both men and women, speaking in Hindi, English, Sanskrit and Rajasthani made the event memorable, and the Open University will soon make their work available in print. The internet as the most significant means of communication was the topic of discussion for an entire session, where young poets and writers showcased their work in journals which are now household names..

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Art and Artists in a Globalising World

JNU is hosting a conference on The Arts, in collaboration with the Association of Social Anthropologists, U.K . The  website for information relating to the call for papers is
ASA12 3rd-6th April 2012, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reading Marx

The first chapter of German Ideology has interesting statements about the history of human beings in terms of their relation to Nature, and their relation to one another. Structures become activated by these two things, and what Marx communicates most clearly is that the relationship to things is what makes people different from one another. Will a technological imagination mean that people who have these become dead to agricultural time and agricultural practises? It really is very odd...because the earth diminishes then into a space where metal, glass mortar and concrete are sufficient. It really is like Creon's world, everything is metal. When the earth is blasted from this preoccupation of tangible metal things, then the colonisation of other  extra-terrestrial spaces will become more acceptable. Those who inherit the earth are probably the ones who feel nostalgic for the last blade of grass, the last drop of gleaming water. Good luck to all of us who are content with that! And there are many.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ram Leela Grounds

When I was very small, five years old and earlier than that, I remember walking to the Ram Leela grounds to see Ravana the ten headed monster of Hindu myth, burn with his brothers. They were funny and fierce, there were no speeches, and everyone had a great time, walking back in the dusty late evening, with the stars beginning to emerge, the large trees shadowing in the glare of the motor car lights, and the kerosene oil lamps of the merchants who lined the streets. That was circa 1960 to 1962 when I was just beginning to have the power of recall.
Going to see Anna Hazare today had the same ambience. It was the same kind of crowds  that one sees at Puja Pandals and at Dilli Haat, and at the Railway station. Happy families, general populace consisting of the youth, sometimes paired, and sometimes in gangs, and sometimes solitary. Everyone there on a week long carnival of emotion. In the distance, one saw Anna get up and go to lie down, just as he does on T.V. A sea of flags, tricolour flags, and a sense of how much Indians hope that the Gorement will hear them! The T.V vans gave out a great deal of diesel fumes, the savoury merchants and the mint drink vendors were all doing brisk business. Right opposite at the turn where the former antique/waste door and window shopkeepers and  erstwhile tonga keepers kept their horses, the buildings were moulding, but boys stood and flew freedom kites. A traffic jam, and then hey presto, a cavalcade of expensive white cars with accompanying policemen...every moment something happens in that field of some fargone 19th century moment. I remember  in 1962 perhaps, heading there to see the Queen of England wearing darkglasses and a scarf, heading past in an open van.  I went with my father to hear long speeches too by some citizen or other there. It still carries the sense of a people's place, though Turkman Gate looms with modern buildings.
Parliamentary institutions are too slow for people who have paid bribes for everything for too long, regardless of the political colour of the functionaries who were employed by the State, and who asked to be paid regardless of their political affiliation or yours. Yet, freedom to protest is a great space, and we need it as much as any other space which protect our legal rights at every turn.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Alternative Education

I wake up at the same time as the peacocks in JNU, at around four in the morning.  Since my routines during the week are implacable, I enjoy the leisure of silence before dawn, and the early sounds of the morning as the song birds are up only by around 6 a.m on a monsoon morning. In July I was in Bangalore interviewing Jane Sahi, the eminent educationist from Bangalore. She is a very simple lovely person. Great joy to be in her company for a few hours as we spoke, drinking lemon juice with her husband who has supported her work for a lifetime. Jyoti Sahi has his studio in the vicinity of the Sita School that Jane runs for local community children. Art work in the green and exquisite garden around their house,  seemed to merge. Where oil paint finished and green foliage began seems to merge in my mind. Both of them, with their children, who also by vocation are school teachers, have supported Alternative Education, which by its  very term resists the notion of a standardised syllabus. Here  below, is an excerpt from my paper, which is to be published in a Festschrift for Prof Satish Saberwal who was my teacher in JNU in 1978.  Satish was essentially always interested in the relationship of the State to it's people, and the tensions by which the centralisation principle was to be understood with regard to federalism in India's national administration and politics. Satish's friend Vasant Palshikar is one of the pioneers of the Alternative School Movement, and the  Alternative Education Network meets today inspired by the motivation that diversity in educational practise is essential to the cause of learning.

The eminent educationist Jane Sahi who runs the Sita’s School in Silvepure, Bangalore says in a published lecture, that 
The word we use to describe the place of education is “school” which is derived from the Greek word “skole”, which means leisure. It has also been linked to the meaning “hold back” or “rest”. Leisure for the Greeks has been explained as a "receptive attitude of mind…it is not only the occasion but the capacity of steeping oneself in the whole of creation.” Leisure is not spare time, nor idleness, but is connected with the celebration of meaningfulness. It is the play, the drama, the festival that serve as pointers to make the whole of life, including work and duty, worthwhile. Maybe, leisure carries with in the idea of a meaningful space.
Relatedness begins for the young child largely through the space of play. It is by seeing, grasping, moving, letting go, dropping, listening, undoing and constructing that the child discovers concepts of time and space and explores the laws of nature.” (Sahi 2000:55,56)
Jane Sahi, (interview 10.7.2011) argues that mother tongue learning is most significant, that the children who come to Sita’s School are trained very early to write in their own words. “In My Own Words” is the title of her new book, which is in press. She believes that the Right to Education debate must take into account the questions of parallel school education, particularly when it comes to village schools. The Standardisation argument is problematic and for them lethal, because what they are doing in the alternative school movement is essentially taking schooling to every child each according to his/her need. The movement is inspired by many who are networked now as the Alternative School Network. The blurb of the published Marjorie Sykes Lecture which she gave in 2000 says that “Sita School is outside the formal educational system following its own curriculum and methods of teaching. Artistic activity is one of the principal mediums through which children educate themselves with the help and guidance of the teachers. Most children attending Sita School are from the common poor folk who would otherwise have had to go without education. The children come from the five surrounding villages and are mostly first generation school goers.
The children are at school from 8 a.m and the older children stay until 6 p.m.They are divided into five groups according to ability rather than age. A number of activities are shared and there is a stress on interaction and co-operation between the different  groups.."

In terms of current standardization debates, Jane Sahi argues that alternative school education has different goals, and among themselves there is a great deal of debate about the methods to be used. For instance, Jyoti Sahi, (India’s best known Christian artist using indic themes in his painting, and former President of the World Association of  Christian Religious  Artists and the founder of the Art Ashram in Silvepura where Sita School is located,) says,  in the small booklet "What both Gandhiji and Tagore stressed upon was education through craft. Traditionally, there has been a distinction drawn between art and craft. Art is something inherent in each individual – a talent which each person has to discover. This art cannot be learnt, but it can be nurtured, and given freedom to grow. Craft, on the other hand, has much more to do with cultural traditions, and the development of certain technologies. These can be imparted to the young through a direct process of learning through seeing, and participating in a working situation. That, as I understand it, is what the gurukul system was oriented towards.."  The standardization of text books and school curricula will affect the teachers and thinkers in the alternative school movement primarily because they have had the energy and ambition to set up a discourse different from the mainstream, whether it be public or private ,  religious mission or state schooling. Influenced by Rudolf Steiner and Martin Buber rather than Maria Montessori, Jane Sahi talks about the necessity of engaging with the state on the right of the small schools like hers to survive. Only two children have registered in the local government school, all other children in Silvepure  go to schools of their  parents' choice, of which in the small village of Silvepure on the outskirts of Bangalore, there are many.  Similarly, when I walked for two kms on May 4th and 5th  2011 in Tiruvannamalai and spoke to the shopkeepers on the Giripradikshanam  (circumambulation of the holy hill) route, I was surprised at the number of schools that they said they sent their children to, for no two children went to the same school! A web search into the list of schools for Tiruvannamalai will show the vast number of schools available to the local populace, confirming the difference between the children in this respect. This  free choice is interesting, since much of it reflects religious or secular tastes, free or paid schooling and the questions raised about variety of syllabus would also be significant.
 There is also the Arunachala Village School, which is 7 kms from Ramanasramam  Tiruvannamalai in Vediyaptannur village. The trust was set up in 1996 by a Swiss lady, and  then Madan took charge. The school charges no fees for the local  children. Madan sees education and health as primary requisites in a democracy. The trust has a mobile clinic which treated 33,000 people last year.They serve 45 villages, and have covered 47,000 people with health care. The school is with teachers and students very involved with the tree planting programme for the betterment of the  local population, and has contributed plays as well as songs which are integrated into their routine learning practice. The greatest problem that is felt by Arunachala Village School is the preying nature of local bureaucracy, which does not clear papers  in time.

Here too, the children are given a space of freedom and discipline. There is the rigour of timetable and collective learning, on the other hand, the respect for the teacher is accompanied by an instinctive love. They are unafraid of the Principal, as Madan is a friend to the tiniest child.  
 Quo Vadis, which is a interfaith organization in  Tiruvannamalai also works with interesting experiments with young people, nomadic groups and foreign students who are looking for the certainty of co-existence on a global level. While wholeheartedly supporting conventional schooling, Dan Mission attempts through Quo Vadis to integrate children into the larger cosmos. Given freedom to express their creativity in functions which are organized conjointly, for Quo Vadis is the consequence of 150 years of the Danish or Tranquebar mission’s presence in South India. One of the organizers said at one such function in 2007, (quoted by the Express News Service, September 9 2007, in the website),

“Today’s education system treats first rank students as geniuses and low rankers as stupid. This creates a feeling of inferiority in many and superiority in a few. A good education should make the learners brave and liberal . . . Our aim is to make up for the deficiency in the present system of education, by making children confident and liberal thinkers.”

Another school which I have been following closely is the Marudam Farm School in Tiruvannamalai. Here we find European Spiritualists children and the local community children studying in close and happy interaction. Waiting recognition, the Marudam Farm School is based on Ramana's Theology "Be As You Are" which, with a blend of Montessori, Olcott and Krishnamurthi Foundation principles leads for a very systematic and sound base in primary schooling methods. Alternative Schools link with Open Schooling  for certification for the children in High School, at the last analyses, but without recognition  at the primary school level, they will face immense problems in the future. I hope the State and Central Governments will take the issues raised by Alternativists very seriously.

Mass Euphoria

Watching T.V, it looks like aam aadmi against aam admi, since all the citizens are complaining against each other...bribery and corruption is about not getting seats in medical college, or death certificates, being caged in by the  officers of the state. And who is the State? Why, the problem is not about catching the big guys, because that has been well in process for a while...the activists rubbed shoulders in the food queue for a brief moment with Kalmadi...but it is how the movement will catch all the cogs in the wheel who speak on behalf of the State. To confuse political party with the State is a problem indeed. The marvellous thing about democracy is the right to protest, and the right to be heard. If the Prime minister's office is to be under surveillance, why should the Prime minister have a problem? I am sure everything will be settled amicably and the standing committee will include this aspect in it's bill. That's optimism for you, since the actual close watching by everyone equally, bring us to the next phase of Orwell's Utopia.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Independence Day 2011

I woke up in the morning to pouring rain. Put on the t.v to see the Celebrations. It was interesting. Drizzle to downpour, the soldiers crisp in their uniforms, the flag never wilted for a moment, the school children in tricolour plastic rain coats, men and women under large umbrellas getting soaked dispassionately, and the Prime Minister thanking the farmers and workers for another wonderful year of service. He always does that, but Montek looks a little uncomfortable, the camera catching him wrinkling his brow as he frowns. Once Montek invited some JNU students for a talk, and asked them "Do your parents really let you wander around the countryside?"

 Or so I heard. To Delhi-ites the countryside is a memory, as the city absorbs them totally. Here is another poem by K.N. Viju.

Crossing Bharatapuzha

Each time I pass this way,
I promise to come again;
though I know I may not.

The river is the same dwindled stream
The sand bed dry with pools of water,
Bharatpuzha whose shores I loved.
Though always a stranger, a prodigal son,
Who left his soil and wanders still.

But if beneath the skies
I could choose a few yards
to build my home, it's here.
Like a roaming bird, I shall fold my wings
And ruminate on my long journey
if time allows - his mercy so uncertain.

A distant temple, beautiful because small,
Enchanting because desloate,
And green fields, fresh air,
People whose feet never hurry
The wind that forgets to move
And goes to sleep among coconut groves.

I must fill my eyes with these
The mind may crave, once I am off.

You become nearer when far,
To love you I must lose you.
Enigmatic love, like for the one
Who bore me, but now so far -
My memories alone can touch her
Beyond two thousand miles.

Do not forget me, I am yours,
I may not speak your tongue,
I may put on disguises,
But don't you know
I breathed your air, grew in your sunshine
You are the red of my life blood.

(k.N.Viju from "Valley Beyond Mountain", Paridhi Publications, Thiruvanthapuram 2011)

The interesting thing about India is that farmers with small landholdings (Prof Alagh, formerly of JNU once cautioned us not to speak of them as "small farmers") produce a substantial amount of food for themselves and the market (read the State). "Technologisation of Agriculture" just does not take into account that Punjab or Tamil Nadu may not be like Kerala. The standardisation debate is an anamoly from the 1960s. In Education too,  the idea that one uniform type of education, or curriculum, or Act which would debar all others from recognition is disastrous for 21st century India. Some of the most interesting debates today are located around the question of Diversity, whether with regard to religion, education or planning.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

New semester

The new students have come into class, some have returned home for the long weekend of Raksha Bandhan (when sisters tie amulets to thier brothers wrists and recieve gifts) and Independence Day to collect their belongings from distant hometowns. Most came prepared to stay, but the odd one flies back to Calcutta or Dibrugarh or Trichur to say goodbye once more to the clan. Its lovely to be in JNU in this period, for there is all the excitement of just starting a new session. We are out of our informal clothes in which we have spent the long summer, and wear formal clothes to class. There is no dress code in JNU but the new students too come bathed and properly dressed in the mornings, as do the older ones. Radical no longer means unbathed as it did in the '70s. When I joined JNU as a student in 1977, Dr S.P Pamra who was my mother's friend said to her, "Why are you sending her to JNU? I was caught in a procession last week and they were all unshaved young men."
I have 67 students in one class and on paper 97 in the other, but every morning there are fifty to sixty students in class. The truth is that our class rooms are not big enough. The JNU contractor has for years been shortchanging everyone. Our roofs leak, our sewers come undone when there is heavy rain, blocking our entry and exit roads, the paint comes off, we even sometimes have to wade knee deep in our own houses. Last year was quite dramatic for most of JNU residents, this year is better, because it was sultry and did not rain as heavily. However the lilies are out, as are the hibiscus, the new mango saplings with their tender maroon leaves. I have two new books in press, one is called "Reading Marx, Weber and Durkheim Today" and the other is called "Nelycynda and Other Stories."
K.N. Viju dropped in to JNU on 12th August to give me his new book of poems. He was discovered when a school boy by Aubrey Menen. the collection is called Valley Beyond Mountain and here is a poem from that book

The Seed of Light
All that I brought from the skies above,
Was a seed of light wrapped in clouds.
All that I planted on earth's barren soil
Was a lone seed of that sunlight

All that the years did was drip drop
A lonely dew drop once a while,
All my expectations now
The sprouting of that single seed.

Isn't it amazing that the Malayalis are always thinking of rain and their native land, and seeds sprouting? i was a little perplexed by the President's speech which I heard in both  Hindi and English. She said that technology and agriculture, or technologisation of agriculture was what the state looked forward to. I thought our bursting granaries implied that covering the costs of the farmer was what all the  contemporary debates were focussed on. The farmers have kept our economy stable by saving in the State Bank of India, by not being consumerist, by believing in the future, and producing more than they had even hoped. Kerala has a great tradition of moving with the times, and the government servants whom I spoke to in Pallakad earlier in the summer all supported organic agriculture. Corporate hand holding by the Nation State is a backward step at this particular moment, when all the world looks to organic farming and the rights of local communities.

We have full granaries

Sunday, July 17, 2011


The rains withhold themselves, and the weather gets humid and terribly hot. we stop depending on our desert coolers and our electricity bills go up with the airconditioner. But our gardens do well now that the blistering heat of April May and June are over. Its the season of bombs again, amputated bodies appear on the morning newspapers, looking like ancient Greek fields of war.  Each dead person has a mother, father, baby born or unborn, sisters, brothers, husband, wife or friends and a detailed autobiography of events, loves, and a murmuring heart now silenced. Its war by any name, and all death is to me an event never repeated.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mcleodganj and Dharamshala

The weather was wonderful. It rained a little, but there had been an IPL match in Dharamshala which I did not know about...I tend to skip sports news, which now run to three pages in daily newspapers, and its usually about money and potato chips. I always feel a little anxious when I go to hill towns and find that the people have no fruit to eat, and potato chips are the mandate of the day. The nationstate promotes potato cultivation because it is good commerce: they sell it to the multinational chips companies.  Fruit ofcourse reaches our towns and is pulped for urban dwellers.Fruit was wholly absent in Dharmshala, (some anaemic looking safedas sat in baskets, but no plums or apricots!) but I did manage to buy an excellent bottle of apricot preserve made by the Tibetan women's cooperative. The other aspect of the match was that there were immense traffic jams as the tourists just blocked up the little town with metal.
Dalai Lama's monastery is peaceful and overlooks lovely peaks of snow covered mountains. He is such a holy man he does not notice the drabness of the PWD architecture of the buildings... I was quite startled at how governmental it looked, that famous yellow paint, the cement and the stairs and the terraces really like those government schools we remember from the 1960s. The peace is palpable, like a steady heartbeat, and the monks go about busily with their work, and the pilgrims and tourists find what they are looking for. Outside the monastery two women sell momos to the hungry and the local hill men put out their wares of green leaf vegetables (Chinese spinach) of which there is a great deal of demand in the small eateries. The Tibetan jewellery is exquisite and there are lots of stalls, not competing, but communicating that a craft does not die when it has merchants and buyers. Ofcourse the merchants are the makers of these lovely things, (men and women beading and polishing as they wait) the colours of pearl and lapis and turquoise and amber gleam in the bright hot sun. When the rain is gone, the light is very clear, and the snow glints far away.
The temple of BhagsuNag is on the other hill. Aeons ago, a king called Bhagsu lived in Rajasthan. His people told him they were leaving his villages because they did not have water, and he was always lost in meditation so had never noticed.  He then travelled to the himalayas, and meditating all the while, filled his container with an entire lake. However on his return he fell asleep, near a Shiva temple. The King of snakes bit him,  killing him, and the water he was carrying toppled, and so emerged the waterfall one can still see today.
I went to the little church, where Lord Elgin of the Elgin marbles lies buried, courtesy of his loving wife, who left an epitaph saying her husband Bruce still speaks. There were lilies all around and a peaceful cemetry with other now forgotten and once loved humans marked by stones with words about their character. Unmarked graves are the best, because they allow the earth to rejuvenate.
Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, both gifted  and celebrated film makers were wonderful to spend time with, and the nunnery where I stayed, adjacent to their house had the most magical views and gardens. The nuns live quietly, doing their tasks with great and amazing joy...studying, debating, farming, dairying and supporting the crafts of their people.
When I returned to Delhi, the dust haze was incredible, and everything outside of the city was clothed in greyness: the sky, the cemented houses, the lack of trees in the border areas including Majnu Ka Tila (where the diaspora Tibetans live) were so desolate it shocked me. I saw a dead man in leafy New Delhi who had died from hunger and the heat. I crossed the privileged green bowers of MPs Quarters and then on to our own protected little planet of JNU where the laburnums were out, the research students moving around with dissertation deadlines, and then I was home again, ready to read Paolo Freire, where the intellegentsia of the people always recover and win.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

College friends

Just back in touch with a friend from college, who was a year older than me and we shared the same birthday. The odd thing about the BA is that it is completely fabulous, and Delhi University is particularly so, because of its proximity to the ridge and to Kamla Nagar which had bookshops and eating joints galore. When I studied there in the 70s, there was no road connecting Model Town to Filmistan, so we were saved from the onslaught of trafffic,  while walking to college,but yes,  thirty years ago,we had to walk two kms into the university. At seventeen you never think of this as a challenge. My friends and I would just enjoy the trees, and the rose garden, particularly in winter, and we sang a lot of songs walking arm in arm.  Those singers are still around  - Jethro Tull and Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan, but elderly like us!
My  three daughters, all who have done their B.A in Delhi University have  had startlingly similar  undergrad lives, and  it is always nostalgia that drives me to say, "But we did that thopa at the Tibetan Monastery." Our farewell for one of our teachers at Miranda House was infact at the Tibetan monastery and after our lunch three sets of B.A students,  the first, second and third year students, went in to light incense sticks at the Monastery sanctum. One of the Miranda House women from another batch went on to make a film on the Dalai Lama and those who follow his path in Tibetan Buddhism. I am talking of Ritu Sarin, who with her husband made an absolutely delightful film on the relevance of memories and the question of return to Tibet. I hope to see her at Mcleodganj this weekend, since she lives there with her family, when I visit with my old college friend Annie.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Summer in JNU

Its hot, and the mangoes are really disappointing this year, kind of pallid, or artificially ripened. Rain on and off is very cooling, but it affects the mangoes. The water melons are excellent though, and we are lucky to be able to afford them. The cuckoo is out early every morning, and so are our three kittens, who drive every one mad with their antics but still very adorable. We are going to block the two windows from which they come in and out, and then they will have to learn to evade the dogs and climb trees, and catch rats and birds like the other cats do. There is no point trying to domesticate them, they are wild Indian jungle cats, quite willful, and terribly intelligent. Their mother came with the house, she ambles in and out, and twice a year she literally litters. The father cat is a sweet fellow, who doesn't have much to do with all of it, except to greet his wife when she permits him. At  the moment, she is completely preoccupied with the kittens,  and since yesterday, she takes them out hunting at night. The dogs lurk about, and if they could they would kill them all, but the mother cat she is like a warrior with shining eyes who hurtles in their path, and they have to back and flee because there is something just terrifying about her when she explodes with rage that they are prowling around her territory. The most fearful enemy is the  large yellow tom cat, who last year leaped over all of us, and pierced the jugular vein of each of the three kittens born last year. That was the most tragic moment one can imagine, in a second, all the three kittens were dead. So this year, I hope the new trio will survive, little balls of fur each with a nature completely it's own. How lovely the world is in it's innocence and birth of new things.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Seeing the country on LTC, and almost getting to meet Binayak Sen

Vellore 5th June 2009
We arrive early. My father's sister and her husband have not yet begun their day. We call at the gate, and at last they emerge: an old couple, they remind me of Ovid's  poem about the old couple who feed the Gods, and whose wish at the last is to be turned into two old trees. My aunt gets us tea and breakfast. My uncle says he has 18 different trees in his garden. He begins to list them, bannanas, 3 types of mangaos, chikkus, papayas, guavas, lemons coconut and so on! He is on the phone half the morning because Binayak Sen, the radical village doctor who is an alumni of Vellore Christian Medical College is coming for lunch with the clan and study circle members. The clan consists of my father's sister and her husband Mathai Zachariah, and the the other Zachariahs, who are my grandfather's sister's daughter and her husband with their two sons. One of the sons had spear headed the campaign asking for support to Dr Binayak Sen.  (Typing up my notes two years later, I can only say, we too teach anyone who come to us, right wing students and left wing students and the secular sit side by side in class, surely the medical oath in modern India, or anywhere in the world,  is similar: "Turn no one away")

My cousin Gita and her husband have a farm at the edge of the dusty nondescript town. It is pretty, and while they are extremely succesful farmers, Gita's story is laughingly full of woes. In the beginning, they discovered they had a glut of tomatos, so Gita would take them to market before reporting for work at Christian Missionary College. They had tough busy lives as doctors  at the hospital, so the farming was therapeutic. But then the bull gored their employee, and he had to have stitches. The farm produced generously. Gita had enough rice and oil from what they grew. This year, they harvested 650 kilogrammes of mangos, and  1300 kilos of rice. They got Rs 5  per kilo for the rice, and sold 650 kgs of mangos for Rs 5000. Their disappointment was palpable - the poor farmer receiving nothing for his/her labour, not even covering costs. Their produce is organic but not having an outlet, they are forced to lose profits.

6th June 2009
We leave for Bangalore early in the morning by taxi, The driver has overslept, and Gita cannot go to work without seeing to our comfort and safety. She helps everyone of the clan members who come to Vellore, though she is a perfectionist, and at work Professor of Neuropathology, as well as a  celebrated reseacher in her field.
The drive down is lovely, the hills and fields skim past rapidly, and then we are in Bangalore, in the drizzle, the traffic jams, the BPOs, the malls. From an old colonial cantonment it is now a city of glass and  cardboard. Everything seems larger than life. I cannot quite get used to it.
My sister lives in a village called Horamavu. The village as it stood five years ago has gone. There used to be a row of Banyan trees, older than memory  and a typically idyllic village scene of elders sitting under it, as well as the serpent stones, so familiar to travellers in India. Now everything has diminished in a cloud of dust and construction. The malls of the builders and contractors (tiles, bathroom  fittings, furniture, carpenters and upholsterers) give way to more dust and high rise buildings, a Gandhi statue in the middle of a new paved road stands for the honourable past - the future is without the village or agriculturists. Fields still rich in gras, trees, orchards have been cut like pieces of cloth. Each will have an urban owner and a bungalow. Nandi hills can be seen on clear days.(Again as footnote to notes typed up two years after writing them, I mourn the loss of boulders and rocks in rivers in Kashmir due to exploitative mining.)
8th June 2009
We hired a taxi, my sister and I, and went through the crowded city to my grandfather's brother's son's house.He is a famous economist, Samuel Paul, who runs a Consumer Rights Centre in Bangalore, for which work he got the Padma Shri. His wife, Lily is a very clever artist, working with glass, metal, fabric, thread. With the author Shinie Antony, who lives in the vicinity, we go to the Library in HSR Layout, where I am to meet some writers who meet once a month. I enjoy the event, and there are lots of questions. How do I balance my work? What are the tensions involved in doing so? Is there any money in writing? Does writing about the tragedies of peasants seem like something writers do for a foreign audience? There is a journalist from the Hindu, Nikhil Varma, who covers the event in a short succinct paragraph.
10th June, 2009
We catch the night train, Island Express. After one of these  trains tragically, fell into a river, it is no longer called Island, but is the Kanyakumari Express. We sleep well, hardly remembering the nerve racking ride through traffic jams in Bangalore the night before.
In the morning, we find we are in Kerala. The train inches past all that well remembered scenery, hills, water, fields, tiled houses, water lilies, farmers and labourers knee deep in rice fields, rain, (its endless,) but four hour later, after entry in Pallakad, we are in Chenganoor.

12 June 2009
Molly, my cousin Sam's wife, takes me to Paramala on her scooter. Paramala Tirumeni is one of the most saintly of the Orthodox priests. Molly is a nervous rider. Every time she sees a truck, she stops her two wheeler and pedals with her feet."Yeshue, yeshue!" I can hear her praying desperately. She is terrified of the traffic and keeps referring to me as "load". Its the first time she is driving on the main road with a "load".
We drive through the most beautiful country. Chenganoor is "Gulf country diaspora" inhabited: fields are few and the tiled bungalows of the rich are many. The flowers are of the most brilliant hues, reds, oranges, purples. I have never seen flowers of such colors, ordinary flowers, which have grown to larger than life proportions.
We reach the church. (I look for old buildings. there are none. Where is the old church?)  Molly likes its largeness, its newness, its blazoning quality. It is huge, it is white. Its mammoth. Inside the church the stained glass is modern art. A fish. In blues and greens. There are three sets of altars. Its airy, sunny, empty, open. A few dozen people are sitting on the benches or talking to priests, or praying.
We step outside into the bright sunshine. There is a memorial to the man who had donated land to the church in the early 20th century. And then Molly shows me what I had come all the way to see. It is the tiny house which Parimala Tirumeni had lived in. It is so tiny. Its now a chapel, empty but for the sweeper cleaning it. Its the size of a twelve feet by ten feet room, and though it is a tiled room,  it has the sense of austerity and bareness - the ideal of a simple frugal disposition.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Winter Festival in Pallakad 2010

Last night I saw
a faun
Half beast half male
In the shadow of the river
basking in the moonlight
He hid his face
on seeing me approach
I startled by his beauty
Looked again
As the river lapped
Softly behind us
He too looked up
A body
so slender
so boyish
His expression
like a colt
And suddenlty
The faun was
bashful, narcisstic
tossing his head
Begging forgiveness
for his beauty
elegant and foolish
in the drizzle
left to himself
to grow and die
hidden away in
the cool vault of his home
by parents unforgiving of nature
yet loving him for what he was
and so he smiled again.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Leave Travel Concession 23.6.2009 Kerala


Sun gleams
on the lustre of
with traceries of veins
and rain falls
edging off dewdrops
falling like a
pearl singly on the earth
anodyne of leaves
stained red
by age and sunlight
flat as a palm
hammered by light
hanging close
in a garden
beyond the span of my desire
rimmed by the river
moss green
crammed with washed
where fish swim
in the light of bright
black wing of crow
hurries past my window
without cawing
lunch time is past
No rice balls
came his way
Dear ancestor
when was it
you ate last?
Two squirrels
at my window wall
racing one another
seemingly at cross purposes
intention to mate
by the drizzle.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Earthquakes in the 1960s

My earliest memories of living in Delhi (I was born in 1957, in Delhi, in  old colonial Victoria Zenana hospital) are people running out when there was an earthquake. There would be a shout in the neighbourhood, Thompson Road, now sacrificed to the metro, and tiny children would be picked up by their parents, and we would all run out into the open. They were not frequent, as threats of crises go, but the drill was always the same, stand under the open sky, and presumably look upto the open sky and say a prayer.
Yesterday I got a circular letter from the painter George Oommen, (website for his lovely paintings  on South Indian, are against his name) which was about what to do during earthquakes, "do not sit under a table, do not use the lift, do not use the stairs.".all very terrifying, but good advice, specially the injunction to curl in foetal position next to a bed or a large chair, should there be an earthquake or a series of them.
As the protagonist in A Visiting Moon which was a novel I wrote in 2000, and published by Indiaink in 2002, says, "The odd thing about survival is that one does it anyhow." (150)
I suppose my epitaph would be "Why me worry?"  The day begins, and routine chores will appear without are inviting them, maybe in new forms.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Monuments and Maidens, Marina Warner, 1996 or The Street (Paris)

Marina Warner is one of  my favourite writers, and in this book, "Monuments and Maidens", she has an interesting chapter on The Street (Paris). She is basically concerned with architecture, philosophy, facades and invisibility. I wish I had read it earlier, or having read it, remembered it! What she communicates so clearly is that Paris is fashioned, and therefore the text is inscribed,  and yet, following Robert Musil, she says that monuments are meant to be ignored. The preoccupation with the female form is now replaced by the structures of engineering that displace the body, as in the glass additions to the Louvre or the Pompidou Centre. Yet she says, "The city carries a story, the city presents a lure into its own version of the past; you could say it tells tales; that it lies." (pg 21)

The odd thing about maps and other people's versions is that they are merely guides no more,  or inscriptions for each pedestrian creates, memorises, retells, and finally in my mind everything is fantastic, because of the momentary quality of that experience. What fiction does is place an emphases on both narratives simultaneously, without believing that one is more important than the other.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wasted Lives, by Zygmunt Bauman,2004

Zygmunt Bauman writes a fascinating book which anyone working on narratives of misfortune must read.What is excess, and how do human beings cope with it? Does postmodernism create consumer cultures where waste becomes the icon of the perpetually indestructible? How do we treat those who handle waste? And are they themselves treated as redundant and obsolete? As stratification theory, Bauman's work draws us to the significance of  reading and telling stories. Stories are selective in themselves, highlighting one aspect rather than another.
"Asked how he obtained the beautiful harmony of his sculptures, Michaelangelo reputedly answered:"Simple. You just take a slab of marble and cut out all the superfluous bits." In the heyday of the Renaissance, Michelangelo proclaimed the precept that was to guide modern creation. Separation and destruction of waste was to be the trade secret of modern creation:through cutting out and throwing away the superfluous, the needless and the useless, the beautiful, the harmonious, the pleasing and the gratifying was to be divined." (pg 21) Bauman refers to the opposition that Lewis Mumford makes, of creating the new: Agriculture and Mining.Farming creates, recreates, reduplicates, multiplies, a legacy which looks at birth and renewal. "Mining on the other hand is an epitome of rupture and discontinuity. The new cannot be born unless something is discarded, thrown away or destroyed. The new is created in the course of meticulous and merciless dissociation between the target product and everything else that stands in the way of its arrival." (21)

Glass cities and nuclear energy,  however, stand apart from both.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cherry Blossom

I saw a photograph of cherry blossoms in the newspapers today in an obituary for Sendai, and thought that tea and cherry blossoms are what I imagine are archetypes for Japan. While the world crumbles, and tomorrow seems an abstraction, there will be some images which remain in our memory even as we atrophy with age, waiting for our turn. I saw cherry blossom in Belfast,  in 1997, early spring flowers, which lined the avenues. Northern Ireland had chosen it as their favourite flower for pedestrians, and for those who glimpse it from fast driven cars. The colour remain in one's mind for ages, because the flowers are fragile and lovely. Two months later, I saw a keepsake of a cherry tree,  for it was in a public garden in London, near King's Cross, where there was a monument to Mahatma Gandhi, and people left bouquets of flowers there, out of love and respect. There was a cherry tree in the corner of that garden, which was dedicated to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in the breeze, the petals of the cherry blossoms would fly this way and that, as summer crept in.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Versailles, Port Dauphin and Many other things not reported

Versailles was startling for it's grandeur, never imagined anything so wierd...Yet, in the wonderful changing light of a Spring sky, sometimes dark, sometimes dazzling, the palace stood out like a filigree dream in wastrel's gold. Inside, the stories were in themselves tragic, the king's room looking out to the gates, so that he could see who was coming in and leaving. Marie Antoinette's room with it's gold and blue settings and the one large bed, and the footstools for attendants and the small door from which she ran out  to the king's bedchamber,when the crowds burst in.  The king's room with it's sombre stuffy colours, haunted by the memories of his love for a former wife, the picture of his mother in law and father in law by  on either side of his bedside, portrait of his first wife on the wall, and the call to prayers insistent, in the glamorous chapel on the groundfloor, where everyone collectively spent three hours every morning, praying with him. I can imagine Marie Antoinette bored to bits, never left on her own, and shrugging away any concern with the real. And then ofcourse downstairs, the rooms of Madame Pompadour who held court and patronised the writers and the artists officially for  the court, displaced in time by another. Outside the large estate, described as Marie Antoinette's estate, and the cold frozen waters of a small lake visible from the glass room, where the chandeliers and the mirrors compete with one another.
In the above room, the light was so dazzling, that a woman had a stroke, the emergency squad arrived, she was wrapped in a gold sheet, and wore a glass mask, and struggled to speak with the medical team, who held her up, four men with anxious eyes. We watched, and then moved on to take pictures of marble sculptures ofApollo and Demeter and others who too  looked on with the eyes of time, innocent of death. The photo below was taken  by me before I saw the team of men in dark blue just behind with a red medical box attending to the sick tourist.
These children are smiling at their father and are part of a large family visiting Paris on vacation and  I am  the academic tourist on my own, photographing generalities in the blaze of an eccentric extravagant background. How were we to know that as we left this niche we would meet such a grave situation of life and death?

Port Dauphin, where I went to lecture on "Fiction, Biography and Memory" to students at the University, was interesting in stark contrast. Corridors into corridors, embellished only by students' posters and teachers' notices. The students in the class that Tirthankar took, in which I was a guest,  ranged from ages 20 to 50 years, the subject of thier study:"Indian writers writing in English" and the view from the window was all that was modern and utilitarian. It is these contrasts that interest me. On the way to the lecture, I dropped in to see my  friend Joelle, who gives me fragrant tea, and we chat about Ramanasramam and mutual friends who have helped us with the questions of work and survival, the landscapes of Tiruvannamalai where we have found a common sense of homecoming, which is so central to the concept of well being. She  is a dancer, who has finished teaching for a month in Milan, and will now be leaving for China to teach ballet to students there. A lot of the questions that Sociologists raise about globalisation is really centred around multiculturalism, art as profession and as therapy, and the ways in which age and professionalism enter into new vocabularies of learning to live in the new age.

Just before I leave Paris, I meet another friend Gilles, this time with his wife and child, and a colleague from London, Alex outside the Notre Dame. We meet outside the statue of Charlemagne, with both Alex and Gilles saying independently, "Is there a statue of Constantinople?" since  I had made a mistake when fixing the place to meet at.  I had got confused, because there was to be an exhibit in the Notre Dame of the "Crown of Thorns", which according to the veteran tourist guide, John Kite, had been sold to the French by Constantinople.   Gilles teases me, saying "Well, you probably know the cafes in Paris equally well by now." So Alex and I drink tea in thick white cups, and Gilles  and his wife  have hot cocoa, while their son eats (drawing all the while!) the famous crepe Suzette, folded neatly as only the French can do. The cafe is called Esmeralda in tribute to Victor Hugo.

John Kite had also shown us graffiti on the walls of Notre Dame, a beautiful cross carved into a pillar by a 14th century workman, so simple in it's design, it leaves you breathless. The Notre Dame he says was built by the contributions of the people, and not by the will of the King alone, so it remains a people's place.