Thursday, June 19, 2014

Small Towns and Their Hinterlands

India has always had an interesting history of ancient riverine towns, and entropots on the trade route, at the cusp of mountains and plains, and rivers and seas. The hinterland is the most interesting of geographical phenomena, because ancient cities like Benaras, Gauhati, Gorakhpur, Kochi, for example, would bring to attention not just the co-existence of various religions, but also of occupations. One only has to think of the phenomenal variety of production of crafts that many small towns carry with them, to know that the idea of the  modern city or the metropolis is something which speaks demographically of industrialisation, and artificially produced consumption patterns. Metropoli, by their very nature, as the Mexican sociologist Manuel Castells showed, are linked not only to cities of various population density, but also to small towns and villages. It is the nature of communication networks that allow small towns to be meshed with a larger more complex and voluminous maze of populations, with their varied occupations and their social and cultural needs. India’s villages are now being sought to be denuded by the intensity of massive modernisation projects with the assumption that the greater volume of electricity produced by damming rivers, will bring down local populations through a Malthusian project, which will make villagers  lives seem outdated and on the route to  self extinction.
Industrialised agriculture, which the so called  Green, White and Mulberry Revolutions propagate are based on the idea of mono agriculture. Punjab and Gujarat are examples politically of what happens when industrialised agriculture projects itself as the only  type of modernisation that is available to the Indian imagination. Tamil Nadu has offered another way, which is agriculture as sustainable, as a means of livelihood, and of cross border exchanges, leading to profound nutritionally substantive indexes. It might be interesting to look at the way in which Tamil farmers have foregrounded education too, since the time of Nadar freedom fighters, such as Kamaraj, to premise professionalization as a goal, along with the contexts of farming, engineering colleges,automobile manufacture and industrialisation as co-existent occupational zones. The same tradition has valorised weaving,  metal and stone work as ancient occupations which have a very important role to play. Spiritual centres also attract tourists, as do dance and  music as  forms of classical and contemporary discipline. The dialogue between Kerala and Tamil Nadu on the question of dam renovation is probably the most interesting relic of a colonial history, and foregrounds how we think of Agriculture and Tourism in the two states. The Pallakad gap has now completely transformed from verdant hills to a long traffic lined route for trucks going between the two states carrying goods.
It is very important to set up the debates on what the people want, by conducting studies which are not biased towards industrialisation as the only way in which modern Indians see their role in a buoyant economy. The average land holding is two and a half acres, perhaps, but the constant success of traditional farmers in producing bumper crops, whether in Nalanda in Bihar or in the former arid zones of Tamil Nadu, have to be understood within its cultural and historical contexts. With the water crises and climate change  representing itself continually through modes of adaptation by local farmers, it is necessary to take the voice of activists into account. The North East which has withstood varieties of colonialism, including interior colonialism, is now in a precarious political condition with the appointment of an army chief known to have disciplinary action being taken against him for vacuous, or even worse, actively dastardly behaviour against local communities.
When we look at tribal or dalit communities, we have to be aware of the way in which their world view is attached to visions of the land as a potent and animistic force. When they are forced to leave their homes, where they are able to lead frugal lives in consonance with their beliefs, they are rendered destitute. This is why for decades the Indian government (bureaucracy) has worked with alleviation of poverty programmes rather than with the  sole idea that forced eviction is the only way that the poor can be forced into the cities as cheap labour. Industrialised farming will create the kind of destructive, separatist and entropic violence that India faced in the 1980s, and which continues to be seen in Maoist regions.
 Where people are well fed, clothed, educated and offered employment, the chances of survival of people and freedoms are the highest. Alongside this, comes the awareness of citizen rights and privileges. By constantly offering free electricity to urbanites in large cities, so that their recreational and consumption enhanced lifestyles are protected, we are doing tremendous damage to the environment and to  local communities.
Small towns, which have a hinterland in agriculture, also provide us the best window to tourism, which is one of the most revenue generating occupations in the globalised world. This permits people to have the autonomy to choose how and where they wish to live, rather than competing unthinkingly with the  industrialised West,  and which also  permits revisiting our pragmatic orientations with regard to survival strategies.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Soccer as  Strategy

Football is a cult. It brings people together because of the speed of the game, and the instinctive thinking required by the players, and the split second response by commentators and couch potatoes equally, as they watch the game. Football is visceral, because it pounds the senses, wrenches the guts and men and women fall in love with the players by the  numerical signs on their back, as each one is distinguished by a particular style. Advertisers find this rampant energy immediately sensual, and so there is a great colourful propoganda about players and clothes and shoes as much as there is about energy drinks they consume off field. Since football arouses such passion, the streets become the immediate playground for the emotions of the audience, as they revel. They swirl about in search of their cultic heroes, and they become mobs, who drink a lot, and fight with one another. So football becomes the site of the most spectacular riots and dishevelment, where the players are assigned the stature of gods.
 Because the blood flows in the veins so fast, football fans are proud of their feelings, and carry it into the sports stadium. Decorative and patriotic face paint is a little like war paint, and the noise is also profoundly higher, since it communicates the individual body as the site of personal and collective identity.
The real play grounds for footer are in the villages and streets of the urban jungle. Since young boys are inculcated in the sport very early, their desire to be known is also very heady, and film makers are happy to make football films to show how much it means to be a young Maradonna. The vivacity of the game leaves the audience spell bound, while the players themselves live in the  vivid Olympia of their actual proficiency and collective grandeur. Ordinary people can identify with the game, because the tactile nature of the sport means that the warriors will always do what is good for one another, in order to win the game. The "other" is clearly demarcated, and so the real passion is in teamship, and in surrendering one's individualism one actually hones one's superior gamesmanship. Women's football is something which is promoted but not practised, primarily because men represent the sport as that which will emulate the work of the Gods. and the women have only an ornamental or passive status. In Brazil and Argentina, liberation theology promoted the training of football stars in the local community churches where the sons of poor people could aspire to greatness and wealth and power. The idea of hard work leading to honour is not unknown in Christianity,  yet, the specific aggrandisement that football brings is surely a sign of its investment in Capitalism. The medieval churches were built on the loot of war and inquisition,  similarly the soccer theatres are an aspect of the capitalist industry putting its signature on the game. Countries which are poor often have governments which take the carnival and spectacle of sports to define how they will organise the resources of labour and management and profit incentives to make the game do something else rather than  just play. While the world watches, and the stars battle it out, the steel industries and the cocoa cola and the branded clothes and shoe companies will make their profits. The urchins who play in the sun and rain will succumb to hours of television time in order to become passive recipients of the advertising barrage.Cities will undergo transformation, and the carbon trail to the soccer cities will be humungous.
Pele will remain the spiritual ancestor of freedom, the icon of resistance to  war, control mechanisms and political silencing. When football stars become models of behaviour, then every child who watches them on screen, in live play or in the auditorium, will dream of a day when they too have a chance to make that difference. Soccer is not about Homo Ludens but also about glamour, degradation, salvation and rehabilitation. Not surprisingly, for left leaning states like Kerala and West Bengal, the call to street football has always been very noticeable.  The quantum of energy  expended requires a wholesome diet, and both the Malayalees and the Bengalis have a rice eating, fish eating culture, where stamina is the index, not girth or height. Goa has always had football, because the village traditions there too encourage volleyball and football. The Jesuits in South America have been great propogators of sports as a stepping stone to the  possible dream of equality for the poor. The tradition instills discipline, rule bound behaviour as well as hierarchy. Equality is premised in the idea of individual aptitude, which then allows the trainer to take on  a team which he can hone to perfection, given the autocratic nature of his own choice making facilities about who can do what best. That decision is for the trainer to make. Oddly, the acceptance of this is what gives each player his autonomy.