Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sattal conference on ecreativity

It was amazing, up in the hills. There were wild yellow flowere in all the rock crevices, and the number of birds singing in the morning were many, all at once. The ancient Paleolithic rockculture was very much on the surface, and the artists and musicians who gathered were versatile with computers as they influenced their work. I was away for just three days, but felt that the conference brought our many different cultures together for a small span of time, but connected us in strangely mythic ways. the conferenceon internet and music has now been happening every year for the purpose of networking between similar intellects which are marked by their different standpoints. It takes place in the Christian Ashram of the Sattal estate made famous by Stanley Jones, a Gandhian of great theological repute. Imagine singers, dancers, photographers, visual artists all getting together to express that the world was represented through the heart and mind and will, regardless of religious belief or because of it. I loved being there, turn up every year, though I presented only once in 2009 on "Shakespeare and the Sonnets". After everyone left, I stayed on one more day, to soak in the silence of the ashram, without too many people around, and found that the founder Stanley Jones had left his materials for analyses in a time capsule which can be opened only in 2030. I will be then 74 years old, and yet one of the dancers at the conference on ecreativity Maida Withers, Professor of Dance from Washington D.C was 74 years old, so I guess, its possible I might come back to Sattal to look at the papers and diaries and letters when I am older. Who knows? I bought some lovely Sattal honey to eat on toast, delighted to be back home.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

JNU Alumni Reunion

A typical day in JNU means being in many places at the same time. So in the morning I was at an Ethics in Research seminar, and Raghu who was peer group in the 70s spoke interestingly about the nature of social science research and why confidentiality and security might actually raise problems for access to materials, and therefore may be detrimental to democratic discussion. At 3 pm, in an entirely different location old students of JNU gathered and Prof Romila Thapar gave us a sense of how important it was to pursue the task of academics for the sake of academics, and that the rigour that was needed was essential to the cause and could not be sacrificed for any reason. Peter De Souza in his usual charming fashion spoke about the ways in which the radical JNU student of the 70s was essentially a free spirit, fearless and concerned with the space of the University as one which depended on enterprise and dialogue. Neerja Jayal was forthright about having a future in academics where JNU would not compromise its right to be different, for that was why it was set up, that was the original mandate. The two scientists, one of them VC Sudhir Sapory said that JNU's real strength came from interdisciplinarity and they hoped that this would be further strengthened both within the Centres, and across Schools.
I skipped the alumnus dinner and the concerts because I wind up early, and hopefully no one minds that I dont turn up for evening functions. In the 15 years I have taught in JNU, I have only been to three collegial or public dinners, and clearly its okay!Thanks to Chandrashekhar Tibrewal for getting us all together, and for the great love he has for his alma mater networking with the team for many months.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Secularization, Three Language Use and Many Other Issues

The "Diversity of Education Practices" Debate started off on 11th February with interesting debates by alumni and research students of JNU in discussion with each other, in the dynamic presence of Vimala Ramachandran, the eminent activist and National Fellow, NUIEPA, over very different positions and interlocutions of the previous day's narratives. So Shereena Banu asked for the return to the secular in class rooms, while Manaf said what was significant was access to education, and the frameworks within which hygiene and food and the spaces allowing rural children to enable themselves was a priority. The Lutheran Arcot Mission delegates communicated that state support for education in whatever form it appeared was why the mid day meal scheme and state sanctioned salaries for their schools made teaching fruitful in Aided schools.The book which is planned by the contributions of the resource persons of the debate, will put the materials more clearly in place, which each author elaborating the debate and voicing the details of the general arguments I have placed on their behalf.
At Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, the Director, Prof Mahesh Rangarajan pivoted the argument around the use of link languages in Education. Jane Sahi's life work of vernacular education for primary school education was then the nucleus of a debate between the Chairperson for the discussion, Prof Nachimuthu (Head of the Centre for Indian Languages, JNU) and Director NMML and this became an interesting moment, when the sociological view, and the cognitive view was placed side by side as Nachimuthu put it. The Sociological view, he said is that English is an important language for the Dalits because it promotes occupational mobility, the cognitive view is that in the early years, vernacularisation is necessary at the primary school training because it makes the child confident in his/her mother tongue, and sets the space for the survival of ancient cultural resources, whether oral or literate.
Jaya Iyer, the Director of the Children's Centre, with the team of librarian, summer camp director and museum guide, at Teen Murti house gave us a wonderful sense of how children looked at extra curricular activity as a happy space in which they looked at parallel learning programmes which are supported by their schools, teachers and parents. Thanks again to all the delegates who came from very distant places and obscure villages where their work is recognised among the local communities they serve. And thanks to Priyamwada Some for orchestrating the meeting at NMML, Teen Murti Bhavan.
We had a wonderful time for the two days, so thank you JNU for funding this first dialogue between our many organisations.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Standardisation of Education Conference in CSSS, JNU

I finished my book on Ramana Maharshi in 2006, and it was published in 2010, with Roli. However Tiruvannamalai became an anchoring space for me, and for the last five years I have been visiting some schools and talking to the teachers. It occurred to me last year, after I had written up my notes for a paper which Prof Jayaram will be publishing in a book in honour of Prof Satish Saberwal, that I should try to get the teachers I had met in the course of five years of interactions and conversations to JNU. Nine teachers from the Network came to JNU, and two teachers from Lutheran Arcot Mission. We should have a volume on the proceedings out in summer of 2013. It was interesting to hear the way in which these teachers spoke of their success stories in terms of the love for farming that these children had, their familiarity with the soil, the possibility that many of them may not have survived in regular schools but contributed to society in many different ways, or that the teachers learnt from the students. Levi Strauss has an essay in the Savage Mind, which we use in class often, which is about how children who are tribals or peasant know the names of hundreds of plants while urban children may know the names of only three or four. The interesting thing about the conference was the framing locations in which the social scientists spoke about hierarchies of education, the question of explaining what one is to the state and the strategies of documentation which may keep one inside the state or outside. What are the margins, and how do theologies and isms work to keep one integrated or alienated. Very specifically what is the role of the judiciary in democracy, and how can we locate the ways in which quiet work involving decades of involvement allow people to choose how they live and how they are educated. The coercive aspect of education was of interest to activists and social scientists equally, and so the dialogue will continue tomorrow with the research students and some of the M.A students playing a more vivid role as interlocutors to the conference.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Snake In our Path

My neighbour in JNU whose husband teaches with me in School of Social Sciences has a house in Alleppey which belongs to her husband's taravad. So we combined a trip together to Kerala, since she wanted to visit Pallakad where I own a flat near the river Kalpathy. Vijaya Ramaswamy, well known author of many books on religion and feminism, and also a JNU Professor, had introduced me to the Kalpathy area, and I have been visiting there for some years, setting up a field work base as sociologists always do, wherever they go. There is no direct experience for us, it is always the trained eye that observes. I speak for myself, I am sure there are many Sociologists who do not compound their lives with all things only Sociological. Since Tara's husband is our neighbour in Allapuza (yes, my father inherited a house from his father,and my mother owns that house) we are more than just acquaintances. Kalpathy became very interesting for me through her eyes, because she is an artist and a mystic, who works with the theme of transcendence in her work. She also has a prolific garden of lilies and jasmines and all things seasonal in JNU. So, when Tara said that she wanted to experience the aura of the Viswnath Swamy temple, I was delighted to have her for company. We got off the plane, at Coimbatore, we took a taxi and speeded down to Pallakad. Opened the flat, ran the water, (it was swept and clean already) and then we went to the shops to get some food. On the way, Tara kept saying "I can smell snake!" I had no idea what she meant. She kept repeating this, and then two minutes later, we saw a fat coiled snake in our path, and stepped past it. Recently I saw a Hollywood film on TV ( with a very young Michael Douglas) where the actor named, kills a snake just before it is to bite the actress, and he said nonchalantly "A Bushmaster!" Well, sitting on my sofa in my comfortable house in JNU (never mind the seepage which refuses to get fixed) I recognised the snake as the one we saw in our path. We were then more pleased that Tara's Nair facility for recognising snakes which is in her blood, had proved correct. We really stepped past jauntily, just tired I suppose and not really letting the fact sink in that it was a snake. After we bought our idlis from the local cafe, we walked back and this time there were three men with torch lights, saying "wait, please, do not move!' and we said simultaneously and cheerily "Oh we have already seen him!" and went past, carefully avoiding the pool of water, and looking at the snake with tourist interest.
It was drizzling, we got a cough that in my case took three months to dislodge, and as for the snake, it was dead the next afternoon. It had a petulant open mouth in death, and its small head had been crushed by some vehicle or perhaps with a stick. Why it chose to come down from the hill and lie in our path, no idea. Sometimes when it rains, the snakes slither down. When its very hot in JNU, the snakes come out looking for water, and while crossing the road they get killed. They have their lives, and we have ours, and sometimes our paths cross.

Corrections of previous notes with a new trip to Kalpathy in November 2011

This trip I got completely new stories from Kalpathy. I actually got to see the lingam inside the temple, standing at the edge of the courtyard. Previous accounts said that it was the pillar, with its scraped off inscriptions, and I was quite baffled. How could she have carried it, that widow from Kalpathy visiting Benaras? The descendant of that Pallakad Raja who gave her permission to install it, said to me, "You can come and see the lingam in the sanctum" I refused, fearing all the reprisals that might follow, but he said "You can stand here on the edge of the slab, if you dont want to come into the inner courtyard. And you will see what you will see." What I saw was a St Thomas Cross. I was quite startled, but later my friend Tara said what I saw was a trikonam. What is interesting is that in 2009 the idea that the inscription stone was the lingam was communicated to me quite strongly and clearly, and on this trip in the fervour of festival time, when all are allowed entry, the lingam appears so vividly to me in the language of my own religious instinct.

Kalpathy: Settlements on the river

Some unpublished field notes from Pallakad Diaries, an ongoing work
27th June 2009
The local historian Mr Lakshmi Narayan has promised to take me inside the Kalpathy Viswanath Swamy temple, since as a Syrian Christian I cannot access it’s interiors without permission. He says that I can circle the interior of the temple, like tourists do, but not present myself before the sanctum, since that is not permitted. While we are waiting for him to get ready, we go inside the temple precincts which has a shopping area. This, as we have been told is open to anyone. There are some residences on either side of the temple, a tailor’s shop and another which sells holy pictures, oil and beads.
Rajan Narayanan, a priest doing rituals for the dead talks to us. He says that Lakshmi Ammal, a widow had returned from Benares, given coins to the temple and left the stone there, The stone is a lingam, it is about six feet tall. It had inscriptions but now these are gone. (We have photographs of the inscriptions, a temple spokesman says comfortingly. Since Kerala has a wood tradition, it is possible that the medieval script was not seen as significant by the asari who polished the stone.)

Kalpathy is the place where Lakshmi Ammal established the lingam from Banaras, and so it is called the Banaras of the South, for those who cannot take ashes to Banaras, may visit Kalpathy Vishwanath Swamy temple for the mortuary ceremonies of their kinfolk. The connection with Banaras continues, and Lakshmi Narayan tells us that in Vishwanath Swamy temple in Benaras, every evening rituals and songs support the Tamil pilgrims under the umbrella of the Shankaracharya of Kanchi.
We walk around the renovated Temple. Mr Lakshmi Narayan is very proud of the changes, and old ladies congratulate him on the continuous work of modernization. Every twelve years it is renovated (or should be) according to him. Only one rafter of the old temple has been incorporated into the new structure. The rest have been built back into the wooden portals of a building, like a shed, with an aluminium roof, at the rear courtyard..they are pretty wood carvings with simple motifs of flowers. Surrounding this facing the river, is a small sacred garden which is kept scrupulously clean by the old attendant. The snake stones are venerated here.
Mr Lakshmi Narayan tells me that Kalpathy is a convenient ritual site for many families in Kerala, to carry out their funerary rituals. The priests are called Shivacharyas and are trained in the agamams. Originally they were from Mayavaram, but now some come from Coimbatore. They must be trained in the scriptures, they must be recognised or accepted by the serving priests. The Smartha Iyers, who live in Kalpathy are not equipped to deal with mortuary rituals being householders. However they are very learned in scripture, and there are some very well known Deekshitar families.