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.