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