Friday, March 30, 2012


The odd thing was that I went back to CSDS, after two decades, for a meeting called by Dr Jhoonjoonwala over the hydroelectric dam to be built over the Alaknanda. The World Bank had asked for a meeting with activists resisting the dam. World Bank representatives were quite complacent that the dam was a given, the energy was good, that the affected people would be compensated, that the dam was being built in an uninhabited space (two ravines and water coursing between). Uninhabited was used by Michael Levy just like Zionists spoke about Palestine in the 1950s!
Dr J and the Manushi representative Madhu Kishwar did an about turn, from the other activists, and said “Fine!” if it cannot be avoided, then lets talk compensation in exchange for cleaning the river Ganga. Strangest meeting I’ve been to. I lost, in total seven hours and one thousand rupees on transport, in this Save the Ganga project (one meeting at Gandhi Peace Foundation, and one at CSDS) but what about the villagers, who were introduced by the World Bank to new digital technology which shows the ancient river shifted from its bed, and twinkling with lights rushing to the city to create more energy for bright lights and malls. Their farming has gone for zuk, and I did not ask what the height of the dam would be because it is still hypothetical anyway, given people’s movements in India, which always communicates that it has learnt from the mistakes of the West. The Greens movement always is hopeful that the dialogue between the intellectuals and the local intelligentsia will be marked with a Paolo Freirian optimism, that the coexistence between industry and agriculture does not mean the extinction of the organic. Sitting in a shutup room, boarded up, without fans on, it got really hot for me and as an observer over this seemingly short lived “Save the Ganga Project” I returned to the Delhi of the traffic jams which had held me hostage for one hour and forty five minutes from JNU to Rajpur Road because of the 5.30 office rush hour jam

Monday, March 26, 2012

Refresher Course

Twenty six teachers came from all over the country to participate in the Refresher Course, and every day there were an average of three lectures for them. What was interesting for me was the way in which teachers respond to JNU, because at first they feel quite alienated from their routines, but soon, the teachers just respond to the intellectual zing of being in an environment which is certainly therapeutic in terms of its debates and its sense of the participation in the everyday. They get activated by the contributions that they make in interactions among themselves on questons of language and text, the politics of difference, the different orientations that those who come to speak have with one another speaking emphatically on perspectives which are quite opposed in content. In Sociology, this is called perspectives, and the receiver is supposed to work with these as best as he or she can. Contestation is an acceptable part of Sociological interaction, and the teachers begin to accept the largesse of JNU as the patronage of the State. As an experiment the JNU case has been one which communicates that learning is always interactive, and rather than the hierarchies of class, status, and gender the real problematic is how coherent one can be in persuading the other of a point of view of which he or she is not at all drawn towards. This dialogue is ofcourse ephemeral and people have to go back to their real lives, which is absence of libraries and research funding right across the country.
Yesterday I went to buy fish because it was Sunday, and sometimes I fall back into the cultural coding of my childhood. When I asked the auto driver to take me to the fish market, he said "Why are you buying fish during Durga puja week?" So I said, "I am a Malayali, so we buy fish on Sundays." While I bought the fish, he bought some toris ( a gourd that North Indians eat a lot of). He was not very interested in politics outside of U.P. Bengal did not interest him one was really obscure to him, the suggestion that politics might mean a mosaic of Mulayam and Mamta! For Sociologists the everyday reality that they face is similar, because if you are from Tamil country and living in Bangalore and teaching in a Jain college, then will the text of bureaucracy be different from teaching Sociology in a Jesuit College or in a Government College?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Indigo shawls from Kutch

My cousin Neena Paul is visiting from Santa Fe, and she showed me some lovely shawls she had bought from Dilli Haat, and since the weather turned cold today, I went to Dilli Haat and got one for myself. I really like it, its thick and soft and in dark blue and maroon and grey. Its cold again, and the shawl is from weavers who have got a prize for their work.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hundred years of OUP in India

It was a discreet gathering of publishers and authors,at the Taj Hotel, Ishwar Ahluwalia (self proclaimed ambassador of the relics from the world bank strata in Delhi's intellecual glitterati) deciding where people would sit, since the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was arriving to honour the centenary of the Oxford University Press in India.The politics of seating is ultimately the most interesting dimension of order and hierarchy.
The Prime Minister's speech was interesting, because he promises Libraries all over the country, and the idea very clearly communicated by him was that the knowledge of the natural person will be respected. So, craft communities and farmers, where an entire knowledge archive rests, should receive respect along with the feeding into BPOs and sweat shops of Indian labour, skilled as the new resource of our youthful population.This essentially means that if the redistributive ethic is in place, we should be moving from literacy to readership!
However, as I returned to JNU, I saw brawls among the city's poor: the new face of Delhi where the impoverishment of the slums is shocking citizens beyond measure. No highway, no mosaic art work for the common wealth games can hide the real face of India.Its a Dickensian world, and no amount of Malthusian speech that "the wages of the poor have gone up, but the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing" can hide hunger and the ravages of pensionless poor people. Why count the rise in wages of the working class,without looking at inflation side by side.
One of the interesting things that Hannah Arendt taught us was not to bypass commonsense in the understanding of the world. What is amazing that while the chandelier classes use up more and more electricity, it is left to the fisherpeople to protect the sea from which all life once originated if the unicelled theory of origins is to be believed. What nuclear energy will provide with instant gratification, the greens movement will displace with its fervour of belief in the future as a possibility. The fisher people took to digital technology fast enough in tarpaulin sheds after the Tsunami, but saying No to Nuclear energy will need much more support than we imagine. Germany has been very quick on vetoing nuclear energy, the French were quick to veto biotech agriculture, what Indian pacifists have in mind, I wonder.