Monday, December 26, 2005

She came to break the conventions and superstitions

ELIMINATING SEX-CONSCIOUSNESS: A dress to fit and be comfortable with
AJU MUKHOPADHYAY Deccan Herald Sunday, April 25, 2004
Peoples of different countries had different dresses with varied colours and shapes, which stroke wonder in one's heart. Dress is attuned to the climate of a country, a part of its culture. Indians in ancient time had two lengths of cloths as their main attire: Upper garment, uttariya and the lower one from the west, paridhana or vasana. In colder places a third garment was worn, draped like a mantle, called pravara. Differing in fashion of wearing, the same pieces of dresses, called dhoti, sari and chaddar were used to cover the body of all Indians of both sexes. Ladies in olden times perhaps kept the upper part of their bodies naked up to waist, as evidenced by the sculptures and paintings and confirmed by historians like A L Basham and James Ferguson. The Nayyar women of Kerala used to appear likewise in public until the recent past.In spite of innumerable foreign invasions the pith of Indian culture remained almost the same. In dress and fashion Muslim and Western influences have been more perceptible in recent time. Young ladies have almost discarded saris, mekhalas and such things. After salwar kameez, it is the time for trousers. It may be mentioned that trousers entered with the Sakas and Kushanas from the Central Asia.
The Mother introduced white shorts and shirts with kitty caps way back in 1944, for the girl students who took part in games and athletics. Not merely for convenience, the most potent point was to eliminate sex-consciousness among the young people. To her critic she said that she came to break the conventions and superstitions. But she respected all cultures. She herself learnt wearing kimono in Japan, veil in Algeria and sari in India. One takes from others when the wind of fashion blows, but it is better not to give up one's own cultural treasure altogether. In diversity remains the unity, not necessarily in uniformity.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Liberated society has confused itself

THE SPEAKING TREE: Take Cue from Panchkanyas On Women's Liberty
BAL MUKUND SINHA The Times of India Friday, Dec 23, 2005
The issue of premarital sex is being debated fiercely in the name of social morality. Tamil film star Khushboo had said in an interview that women should know how to protect themselves from pregnancy and AIDS if they chose to have premarital sex and that educated men should not expect their spouses to be virgins at the time of marriage. These statements created a furore. Political parties organised protests, police cases were registered against Khushboo and she had to render a public apology. The issue did not end there. Celebrities like actress Suhasini, tennis star Sania Mirza and Formula One racer Narain Karthikeyan spoke out in support of Khushboo's remarks. On the one hand there are moralists who cry that statements of this kind by celebrities would tear the fabric of social morality and expose a whole new generation to risky behaviour. On the other hand there are those who cite the Kamasutra and Khajuraho to defend free discussion and discourse on sex. Is sex — premarital, extramarital or otherwise — an issue? Remember the Panchkanyas: Tara, Kunti, Mandodari, Ahalya and Draupadi.
They are so exalted in our shastras that many believe that the sheer remembrance and pronouncement of their names can take you closer to divinity. Everyone of them had either premarital or extramarital sex or married another man after the death of their husbands. These women were put on a pedestal because they expressed their rights as women and as individuals. It is for an individual to decide when to have sex and with whom to have sex. It is an entirely personal affair, a natural right which no one can take away from her. There is the popular legend of the great love between Radha and Krishna. Radha was married to Govardhan but had the deepest love for Krishna. According to Puranic folklore, Radha once caught her husband spying on her while she and Krishna were making love. Radha reacted by hitting Govardhan and in the ensuing scuffle, her husband died. Repenting the loss of life of her husband, Radha later got back his life through prayer. The message is clear: No one has the right to spy on another or question an individual's love choice. Love and sex are personal choices between consenting adults. Why, then, do we want to hear from Khushboo, Sania or Suhasini about their sexual preferences?
Let them enjoy the right to their wisdom. The day a woman chooses to celebrate her decision and share her joy with society, she might also choose to go in for the social ritual of marriage. Our sages had given the deepest thought to these issues and they have narrated these in our shastras. It is a so-called liberated society that has confused itself over nothing. Traditional societies like ours do need to sacrifice some of this liberty to keep societal structure intact. Hence the ethics, morality and regulations. But then women, too, understand these social obligations as much as the rest of society. Why do we want to ask for their views and then go about criticising them? Every woman has certain inalienable rights, as long as they don't impinge on the rights of others.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The cultural development is more valuable than the service of the physical needs

Letters on Yoga Volume 1 Section Nine
The view taken by the Mahatma in these matters is Christian rather than Hindu – for the Christian, self-abasement, humility, the acceptance of a low status to serve humanity or the Divine are things which are highly spiritual and the noblest privilege of the soul.
This view does not admit any hierarchy of castes; the Mahatma accepts castes but on the basis that all are equal before the Divine; a Bhangi doing his dharma is as good as the Brahmin doing his, there is division of function but no hierarchy of functions. That is one view of things and the hierarchic view is another, both having a standpoint and logic of their own which the mind takes as wholly valid but which only corresponds to a part of the reality.
All kinds of work are equal before the Divine and all men have the same Brahman within them is one truth, but that development is not equal in all is another. The idea that it needs a special punya to be born as a Bhangi is, of course, one of those forceful exaggerations of an idea which are common with the Mahatma and impress greatly the mind of his hearers. The idea behind is that his function is an indispensable service to the society, quite as much as the Brahmin's, but, that being disagreeable, it would need a special moral heroism to choose it voluntarily and he thinks as if the soul freely chose it as such a heroic service and as reward of righteous acts – but that is hardly likely.
The service of the scavenger is indispensable under certain conditions of society, it is one of those primary necessities without which society can hardly exist and the cultural development of which the Brahmin life is part could not have taken place. But obviously the cultural development is more valuable than the service of the physical needs for the progress of humanity as opposed to its first static condition, and that development can even lead to the minimising and perhaps the entire disappearance by scientific inventions of the need for the functions of the scavenger.
But that, I suppose, the Mahatma would not approve of, as it would come by machinery and would be a departure from the simple life. In any case, it is not true that the Bhangi life is superior to the Brahmin life and the reward of a special righteousness. On the other hand, the traditional conception that a man is superior to others because he is born a Brahmin is not rational or justifiable. A spiritual or cultured man of pariah birth is superior in the divine values to an unspiritual and worldly-minded or a crude and uncultured Brahmin. Birth counts, but the basic value is in the man himself, in the soul behind, and the degree to which it manifests itself in his nature.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

My son, your son and AIDS

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar The Times of India Sunday, December 04, 2005
The focus has to be on prevention through better awareness. Some state governments in south India are doing a good job of improving awareness. Yet, this task cannot be left to governments alone. All of us must do our bit. What exactly? Well, you could follow my example.
In August, my 16-year-old son, Rustam, was getting ready to join a co-educational boarding school. I marched him down to the local pharmacy and bought him a stock of condoms. These, I told him, can make the difference between life and death. You will almost certainly get a girlfriend and have sex soon. Sex is bliss, but can also be death. Your girlfriend might be pure as snow, but she could have caught the virus from a blood transfusion or infected needle in a blood test. So, always use a condom. And always keep one handy in your wallet, since when the moment of bliss arrives, you will definitely not feel like going out to buy one. I am launching you in life with these condoms. May they be the first of many.

Modernism in Miranda

Sponsors kept out The Times of India Saturday, December 17, 2005
New Delhi: A fairness cream company had volunteered to sponsor it. But English (honours) students of Miranda House, determined to make their twoday event on Modernism a true expression of the spirit of breaking tradition that the movement had stood for, turned down the offer. Instead, they sold food they had themselves cooked and raised Rs 10,000 to meet the expenses of biennial event.
The event, comprising film screenings, discussions, and a photography and poster exhibition based on the themes of war, city and body, happened in the college premises on Thursday and Friday. Said Bharti Bharadwaj, a third year student and president of the Literary Society of the college: ‘‘We wanted sponsors. But just because this is a girl’s college, the only company interested was the one selling fairness creams. We didn’t want them to come, so we raised our own money.’’ There is even a competition ‘‘Eye for Detail’’, where students are required to identify fragments of the works of great modernist painters and cash prizes to be won.
Tracing the birth and evolution of modernism in literature, arts, sciences from 1890-1930, the ‘‘visual journey’’ had an interesting take on the champions of modernism. ‘‘They who led the modernist movement also ruled the world,’’ talked about the colonisation of the world and how the economics of it, fuelled the movement that was to alter the face of the world forever.
Sharmila Purkayastha, a teacher of the English department, said: ‘‘The idea was to drive home the point that the aesthetics was not without its political and economic roots. Modernism was just one of the themes we had in mind for the exhibition, but it was finalised because as a concept it is very difficult to be taught without the visual element involved. This gave the students a chance to understand modernism in its totality rather than in literary abstracts.’’ Teachers took an active part in the planning and execution, even obtaining prints of some of the first photographs taken after the camera was invented from their contacts in foreign universities.
There was something for everybody, the exhibition featuring works as diverse as those of Ezra Pound, Van Gogh, Schielle, Monet and D H Lawrence. The two films screened were Battleship Potemkin and Modern Lights.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I've always wondered how you adjusted?

They have a nice shared interest in art. While he creates sculptures, paintings and murals, she has more than a passing interest in visual art - having seriously pursued these arts before settling for her first love - dancing. Sharon Lowen, the Fulbright scholar and sensitive Odissi dancer, and Satish Gujral, one of India's best known and most creative artists, whose art extends to harnessing space via architecture as well, in a free-wheeling conversation with Alka Raghuvanshi at the latter's aesthetically maintained residence in South Delhi.
The conversation explores several genres for communication - words, signs, gestures and most importantly, Satish's wife Kiron, who conveys some of the words to him through a totally personalised language perfected over decades of togetherness. They talk of their experiences in foreign lands, the initial hiccups and the final triumph. What shines all through is their spirit, when they agree, when they disagree, when they embrace. Truly, there is almost a mutual admiration club at work here.
The Hindu Metro Plus Delhi Thursday, May 05, 2005

Sharon: It is interesting how there are so many parallels in both our lives in our experiences in alien lands. You went to Mexico with no language - neither English nor Spanish, no hearing, no money! And I came to India on a tiny scholarship, at an young age to pursue dance, not knowing the language, not knowing where I was going to stay, not knowing how safe it was... And to top it all, both of us didn't look alien in the countries we opted for!

Satish: But that was more of an advantage! We merged into the people seamlessly and didn't stick out!

Sharon: What was you motivation? How did you have the nerve?

Satish: I was always drawn to murals. Easel painting was for drawing rooms. Whether one painted the bourgeoisie or the revolution, it was going to land up in someone's drawing room! And I wanted to share my arts with everyone! And when I heard that Mexico was the place where murals were being taught, I knew there was where I had to go! Except I didn't even know where it was on the map! It didn't have an embassy here! I was the first Indian to go there. My mother said it was where the Pandavas had gone when they had to go to Paatal lok! My brother (I.K. Gujral) saw an advertisement offering scholarships to study there, he insisted that I apply. He said, what do you have to lose? And Octavio Paz, the poet and then the Mexican envoy to India, said: All that could be negative is already there, anything else can only be positive!

Sharon: That's the poet for you! When I landed, it was a horrible living experience. I decided to live as a paying guest with a family who went away to Shimla for a month, leaving me at the mercy of a small servant, who didn't understand the language, could barely cook and I didn't know if it was safe to go out to eat, what to buy, etc! Mind you, it was nearly three decades ago!

Satish: When I landed there after much high drama, it was rather tough as well. On the day I arrived, there was a change of government and all the civil servants and political honchos changed! And language was a huge problem. I met an American architect who offered to teach me English if I taught him Hindi. While I picked up English, he didn't go very much further with his Hindi! You are a dancer, how come I see you always with artists and not so much artistes?

Sharon: Ever since I came to India, I've had better relations with visual artists rather than dancers! There was more readiness by individuals to share rather than stonewall!

Satish: I've always wondered how you adjusted? A white woman, beautiful, alone... It was very inviting - not that men anywhere need too much invitation!

Sharon: My safety was in numbers. And I made sure that I didn't meet people in private. I was very social and hung out a lot with Shankho Choudhry, Biren De, G.R. Santosh, Shanti Dave, Himmat Shah - who were like protective uncles. I went out with so many different people to various places like art shows, dance and music concerts that some people must have thought that I was having an affair with several people! I knew if I had an Indian boyfriend, and if that relationship were to not work out for some reason, all my connections would collapse. Besides, I didn't think I was beautiful!

Satish: Were you so modest or so naïve! How did you make sure these artists didn't misunderstand?

Sharon: They came. They tried. But when they realised that it was not going to go any further, they went away to try elsewhere, but there were others who found me interesting and stayed anyway! Then I started taking my daughter. Since I didn't look western, I felt I had to uphold Indian values! You are the only male that I kiss! And that's because you are safe and I love you!

Satish: I think I should be offended at that safe epithet! But I learnt in life to play safe!

Sharon: No that's because you've got a more wonderful woman in your life at home, whom you love at least 100 per cent more than anyone else! You are one man who really appreciates women in the classical sense of the term and there are not that many men who appreciate women and one wants to be appreciated by someone one respects. Touche!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

India’s strong family bonds.

Shall the twain meet? Can we conceive of a modernity which is not Western but evolves from the matrix of Indian culture, asks MARTIN KÄMPCHEN The Statesman Jan 23, 2003 (The author is a German Tagore scholar and freelance writer based in Santiniketan.)
One of the most fascinating and troubling aspects of Indian life is the co-existence of pre-modern and modern mindsets and lifestyles. One does not seem to influence the other. Pre-modernity does not merge into modernity. The invisible wall dividing the two seems impenetrable. What makes this wall so strong? Scholars may give many reasons, relating this intransigence to the power of tradition, to the strongly felt need for identity of each group in a highly diversified society, or to colonialism which has created an aversion to modernity. Having lived in this country for nearly 30 years and mingled both with the upper and lower strata, I’ve reached a conclusion: Modernity and pre-modernity coexist because of India’s strong family bonds.
Critics bemoan the weakening of the Indian family system; its breaking up into nuclear units; weakening of morals, especially of the erosion of selflessness which allows to put family interests before the individual’s. And it’s always “the West” with its selfish individualism which is seen as the corruptor. Even the vulgar Bollywood film extols in its incongruent ways the family values of Hindu society.
  • The family is held together by hierarchy.
  • There’s no room for equality in a traditional family set-up.
  • The “higher” and “lower” is determined by seniority, or by the proximity of relationship.
  • The entire cosmos is kept functional by the way each member knows his/her position in relation to the others.
  • There can be no serious challenge to authority because traditionally authority is determined by extraneous factors, such as age, gender, and kinship, or sometimes by ritual authority, but not by such vague concepts as knowledge, experience, or wisdom.
  • The assumption is that with age, knowledge, skill and wisdom increase as well.
  • The hierarchy and non-equality of the Indian family is, I wish to emphasise, mostly a comfortable one.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Pratibha Shakti

Pratibha Prahlad to revive Lok Shakti The battle for Hegde legacy is on. After most of his family members joined the BJP, his long-time companion has now decided to revive the party he founded in 1996. From B S ARUN : Deccan Herald Saturday, March 13, 2004

Well-known dancer and late Ramakrishna Hegde’s long-time companion Pratibha Prahlad is all set to revive the Lok Shakti, the party he founded in 1996. Pratibha, who was associated with Hegde for 15 years till his death, is likely to take over as president of the party at its national executive on March 15.

Lakshmi Parvati Draupadi

Lakshmi Parvati resurrected By Radha Viswanath – Asian Tribune 2004-09-12
Lakshmi Parvati: You may recall that I was doing a biography of NTR when we got married. Then I got busy with so many things that that work remained unfinished. I have completed it now. It is in two volumes, and was released just before the assembly elections in the state. The Telugu volumes are now being translated into Hindi and English. I expect them to be ready for release early next year. Since the political climate in the state now is not suitable for the growth of my party, I am using my time to further my literary interests. I am working on a novel. It is called “Draupadi”, named after the mythological character in the Mahabharata. It is a contemporary work of fiction on woman in modern times. It is a message-oriented novel, which, I am sure will be a hit with all book lovers.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Better managers?

The Hindu Magazine Sunday, Dec 11, 2005
Having mulled over the matter for decades, it seems clear that women do manage in a way entirely different from the way men do. People-management and task-orientation are said to be the two axes along which the pundits judge managerial effectiveness. The woman's approach is different in both. As a result, in a world consisting largely of men as employees at all levels, they are beginning to make their mark felt. Whether women get the right opportunities or not is much less of an issue than 15-20 years ago. Articles about women's experience of working life, and more specifically of being managers, were a favourite with editors then. Was there in fact a glass ceiling stopping their promotions in jobs? Were all professions really open and accessible to them, except the physically onerous ones such as fire fighting — the real kind, not the metaphorical one, at which of course women are brilliant!
Take tasks first. To my mind, there is little doubt that women are potentially better than men at almost any job that demands accepting responsibility for delivering concrete results. If you think about it deeply, and observe the reality even in a relatively less affluent society like ours, this generalisation is true of the majority of women. In the poorer classes they manage even better because the woman has to make do with very little, and stretch her resources. After all, the economists tell us managing is all about scarce resources. Often she doubles up as a part-time wage earner too. In the more educated class, working generally in the organised sector, one finds they plan better; they chase, badger and tame colleagues into submitting to their ways. And as for relentless follow-up, which men joke about endlessly, women are superlative at it. Surely it must come from the DNA, since all societies have had a division of labour that meant the woman stayed back to keep the household ticking over like clock work.
Consider what it must have meant in the hunter-gatherer civilisations. The baby needed attention or milk, the older children needed to be occasionally sorted out, small emergencies handled, from a cut finger to a major problem — and all the while the cooking-cleaning-mending routine went on, with no gadgetry to take the place of manual work. What better situation can you think of, to teach one to manage time, to prioritise, plan and just get on with the work? Surely, the ability to take on difficult, repetitive, even thankless tasks and do them superbly well, day after day (which is in a nutshell what all the books and courses want us to learn) must have been etched thus in the female psyche aeons ago?Today's business scene or even non-commercial organisations need superior administrative skills, particularly of managing people and systems — which require a combination of this consistent performance along with the nimbleness of mind and body to respond to minor crises. No wonder women are better equipped here as well. The strange thing is that this has not been recognised and given due credit. Take for example the much talked about total quality management approach or TQM. One of its pillars is daily routine management, according to set processes, to learn which all we need is to look around us at home.
Households run only because the daily routine — such as boiling milk, packing the lunch box or setting curd with yesterday's buttermilk — all goes on with faultless precision, and on time, with fall-back choices even in times of great stress such as illness or bereavement. Of course, no one has taken the trouble to describe this with fancy jargon such as "seamlessly managing the end-to-end value-chain 24 by 7". That is all the difference! Doubtless one day some business school professor in the U.S. will discover this with amazement and publish an article in Fortune magazine, exactly as happened with the dabbawallahs of Mumbai and their six-sigma level accuracy in logistics. Don't forget that an economist has already won the Nobel for saying that the informal household sector represents an un-measured part of the GDP. A UN report some years ago estimated it at over eleven trillion dollars a year!
The starting point in the factory floor quality management for example is the process known as 5-S, which tells us to clean the workplace first, put everything in its proper place, mark and designate places and bins correctly, get the right tools for the job, and clean up afterwards and so on. The breakthrough here is that, unlike in the past, the person doing a task is charged with keeping the machine clean and looking after quality. "Put everything back in its place" reminds me of my grandmother for whom it was a lifelong refrain. "Let your hand do what the eye tells you must do" she used to say, meaning that you should keep an eye out for "deviation from standard", and most important of all, not wait to be told! No doubt, as she was married at 13 and had not gone beyond the fifth grade in school, this sound philosophy of managing came down to her not from books but through other women managers before her, an endless line of mothers and aunts stretching back into history.
The second aspect of human relations is a women's speciality. Here women manage the age-old paradox of management much better, juggling praise and criticism expertly; and never leaving anything to chance or taking it for granted, erring on the side of making sure at any cost rather than assume others will find a way. "We trust, of course," Mikhail Gorbachov is supposed to have said of the Soviet attitude to anything, "but we verify".
This would be cynicism for many men, but a woman finds nothing wrong in it. She knows from experience that with the best of intentions, the men in her life repeatedly say, "Oh leave it to me" and then come up with creative excuses for not remembering to order the gift, buy an essential medicine or ring their mothers on their birthdays. Intention and competence do not equal achievement — and she knows this to be an axiom. So if asked to choose between the directive and supervisory style on the one hand and the supportive, coach-mentor style, the woman loses no sleep over the choice. The latter is for the birds; get the job done first, the punditry can come later (at seminars!) is her general attitude.
Readers will have realised that there are many men too who lead by the so-called women's style of managing described above. That is exactly my point: there is a yin and yang in management and some men adopt the one that falls far more naturally in the realm of their "better half" and they manage the better for it. It is quite possible that the strong-willed go-getting CEO's have been brought up by a very capable and active mother and learnt from them unconsciously. To me this alone can help explain the popularity of the genre of leadership that was made so popular by Jack Welch of General Electric, the U.S. Who knows, since tough times are more common that good times, perhaps what the world needs is more `feminine' managers among men too.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Nationalist, Rationalist and Humanist

COLLECTED WORKS OF PERIYAR E.V.R. — Compiler: K. Veeramani
Advocate of human dignity; A tireless propagandist imbued with an extraordinary zeal for social transformation R. VIJAYASANKAR The Hindu Book ReviewTuesday, Sep 20, 2005
He was a nationalist who carried khaddar from village to village for sale and cut down hundreds of coconut trees in his farm as part of Mahatma Gandhi's temperance campaign. He was a separatist, who called upon his followers to observe August 15 as a day of mourning. He was ushered into the Congress by a Brahmin (C. Rajagopalachari) and rose to become the president of its unit in the Madras Presidency. He saw salvation for the country in the destruction of Brahmins, Hinduism and the Congress. He was a socialist who carried the message of Marxism to every nook and corner of the Presidency. He chose to be on the side of feudal lords and the urban elite of the Justice Party at a crucial juncture in history. From nationalism to social reform to socialism and back to social reform, it was a political trajectory that abounded in contradictions. Yet, it is impossible to dismiss E.V. Ramasamy Periyar as a rebel without a cause. It was his constant search for a vision that would liberate Shudras and `untouchables' from the shackles of casteism and blind religious beliefs that took him through various political shades.
The search began in early 20th Century when various political streams and philosophies that were to dominate the rest of the century were emerging, with all their conservative worldviews and infantile shortcomings. What was lacking was a comprehensive political vision that would help people defy a political order that was headed by the most powerful and exploitative colonial power in the world, change an economic condition that saw the deadly sweep of famines crush lakhs of lives and challenge a socio-cultural tradition that degrades human beings on the basis of their birth. Many leading nationalists of the Tamil country who fought the British rule chose to be rank conservatives in the social realm, encouraging child marriage and the Devadasi system, perpetuating caste-based discrimination in public places and opposing widow remarriage, and so on.
Those advocating social reform reduced it to anti-Brahminism, refusing to countenance the harsh realities of caste and class oppression in the backyards of their own colleagues. And socialism was only a nascent radical idea that had gripped the minds of sections of the Indian middle class in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution and which was only waiting to be implemented and experimented by Lenin and his comrades in an extremely hostile international environment. Periyar came under the influence of all these ideals and their upholders and went through several rounds of enlightenment and disillusionment. However, even the worst critic of Periyar's shifting political stances and soul-shocking agitational methods would not doubt the values of self-respect, rationalism and humanism that underscored his style.
The Collected Works of Periyar gives more than a glimpse of the kaleidoscopic trajectory that Periyar traversed in the 94 years he has lived (thanks to science and despite his atheism, he said a few days before his death on December 24, 1973). In these pages he comes across as a tireless propagandist imbued with an extraordinary zeal for social transformation. His theories and interpretations of the world are not those of a trained scholar with logical precision and intellectual rigour but the expressions of an irrepressible activist's anger against a system that enslaves man and woman in the name of caste and religion, and suppresses their ability to explore their human potentials. The words are thus simple and eloquent when he explains his worldview to the masses; and defiant, irreverent and sacrilegious (even obscene when he describes mythical characters and narrates Puranic tales) when he attacks the ideological foundations of the exploitative feudal order.
It was the image created by his iconoclastic words and deeds that lasted till the end of his life making Periyar a much misunderstood and despised personality and mostly hid from public view the modernist and humanist in him. His views on women ("our males and females should wear `lungi' and `jibba' uniformly"; "ladies should crop their hairs as gents"; "girl herself should be permitted to choose her life partner"; "pregnancy is the enemy of women for leading an independent life") science and technology, education, rural development, family planning were far-sighted and revolutionary, considering the social milieu from which he expressed them. The book under review throws light on the lesser-known side of Periyar.
Periyar's refusal to see religion as "the sigh of the oppressed" living in a socially and economically unequal system alienated large sections of people from his reformist movement — a reality that made even his staunch followers like C.N. Annadurai distance themselves from his atheism and embracing monotheism. His unwillingness to continue with his Erode programme (socialist in nature), take his struggle to the political and economic realms, and attack the material base of casteist and religious ideas made his revolution incomplete. British oppression and the fear of losing the gains made by his reformist movement owing to the political ascendancy of the Congress (read Brahmins) in the Madras Presidency made Periyar prefer the company of the non-Brahmin elite and desert his socialist comrades like P. Jeevanandam and Singaravelar.
It is the same unwillingness to enter the political realm that made him overlook the reality of imperialism, the fountainhead of international exploitation and inequality, which was eulogised by the Justice Party's Non-Brahmin Manifesto as a power capable of holding the scales even between castes and classes. Such ideological limitations and the compromises and deviations of his successors who have been alternately ruling Tamil Nadu for nearly four decades now have severely limited the transformatory potential of Periyar's ideas — a reason for the road he chose remaining half-travelled even about 100 years after he set out on it. Pub. by The Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution (This review is based on research under the Appan Menon Memorial Award.)

Monday, December 05, 2005

The other worlds

Sri Aurobindo passed away 55 years back, on December 5, 1950. He is perceived as a great soul but his writings have yet to earn the reception they deserve. The vast body of his work and the difficult diction he employs, may be the reason to deter the common reader; but even the scholar is not enamoured enough of them. The most plausible factor that seems to be responsible is Sri Aurobindo’s insistence on spirituality while discussing secular themes such as politics, poetry, the arts, or education.

The convenient demarcation between secular and the sacred suits the academic approach. But for Sri Aurobindo this is a faulty notion because the causal aspect is eclipsed. The linkage between the two is less of the manner of an umbilical chord and more in the nature of interpenetrating imbrications. If our sensory and scientific construct of the world fails to accommodate such a picture, it must be understood as a lack.

Astronomy as an ancient passion has helped us to know about the outer universe. Astrology, too, by talking of stars and planets attunes us to their subtle influences. The different abodes of gods as described by various mythologies, also, permit us certain familiarity of the other worlds. But we rarely take their effect on our lives any seriously. And the task of Sri Aurobindo is to hammer the modern mind so as to rid it from secular superstitions.

The inner and the other worlds are a consistent theme in his poem, Savitri. Composed through the years from Quantum mechanics to nuclear holocaust, this modern epic puts a stamp of authority on the unseen fecund worlds and their inhabitants who are inextricably linked to our motions and emotions. To recognize this reality seriously, is what Savitri demands from its readers.

The different parts of our being and consciousness, as delineated by Sri Aurobindo in his Integral Yoga system, are nothing but the other worlds. We can well imagine our plights as puppets when disparate worlds are very much in the play to pull the strings. Somewhat similar to the insight offered by Baudrillard that it is the object which uses and employs us and not the other way round that we ordinarily perceive. But then, how do we benefit by this concept in our practical life?

That there runs a perpetual consonance between the seen and the unseen, might seem, at times, hard to digest, but a poetic impression can be allowed to swim aloft. The process should further deepen in the realm of creative imagination leading to a faint intellectual recognition. Since the notion runs counter to our egoistic autonomy, it is bound to take a long time to percolate down to the distant and defiant impulses. And regular recitation of Savitri helps here; its mantric effect casting its reach down to our body cells.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Arab Women in Image Trap

by Ruby Bird Society November 27, 2005
Discussions on issues facing women in the Arab world tend to be monochromatic, often completely overlooking the diversity in the lifestyles and conditions of women in that part of the world. The media, intellectuals and feminists - no doubt, with the best intention - have bought into stereotypical depictions of Arab women. Readers and viewers are told that Arab women are weak, passive and always veiled. Most Westerners are unaware that women enjoy political and social rights in many Arab countries (especially, Tunisia, Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan and Syria). Undoubtedly, many Arab countries are a long way from achieving gender equality. But is this not a global phenomenon, not confined to the Arab world alone?
The Arab world itself is comprised of several nations (22 countries in all), with the status of women varying widely in all of them. The media, however, projects one norm - the most sexist and oppressive - onto the Arab world as a whole. There are no easy stereotypes that fit all these nations. In Tunisia, for example, wearing the veil is forbidden. However, women are yet to reach any kind of equity in the political or professional streams. The Tunisian President, Ben Ali, says that he wants to bring about a 30 per cent participation of women in public institutions by 2009. On many counts, Arab nations lag behind many other countries on gender issues.
Most Arab countries comprise a Muslim-majority population. The Arab world is excessively hostage to clerics, who do not allow the codification of civil personal status laws. They interpret Islam to sanction and perpetuate many sexist practices and views, including polygamy, the requirement of wifely obedience and unequal inheritance for women. What commentators miss here is that all of these practices have at one point or another been part of Christian and Jewish civilizations as well. In fact, culture is a wider concept than religion - it incorporates not just religion, but several other factors as well.
Hoda Elsadaa, a women's rights activist, who teaches English literature at Egypt's Cairo University, explains that while women hold prominent positions in the government or the academia in many Arab countries, the discrimination against them takes a more covert, culturally-cloaked form. She cites the example of the Egyptian minister of finance, who until 2001 was not able to travel without her husband's permission. Fatema Mernissi is another famous Arab intellectual in the West. Born in 1940, she studied political sciences in Morocco, France and the US. Since the 1970s, she has been writing expressively about the emancipation of women, and her works are widely read in both the West and in Islamic countries.
Finally, the situation of women in the Arab world is inextricably intermeshed with US policies in the Arab world, the economic exploitation, the US sanctions, western colonialism, discrimination by the media, the dynamics of US-Israel relations, and many other local and global affairs that impact women's lives directly.
By arrangement with Women's Feature Service Ruby Bird writes on Arab culture, specifically on gender issues. She is based in France. Top Society The Week of November 27, 2005 India's Foreign Policies in South Asia Need Review by Dr. Subhash Kapila Can Janata Rise Like Phoenix? by Rajinder Puri State of Hijack by J. Ajithkumar Narada and the Illusion of Maya by Aparna Chatterjee Kabira Teri Jhompri Gal Katiyan Ke Paas Why Bad Things Happen to Good People by Lama Chuck Stanford A Case for Islam by Dr. R.K. Lahiri, Ph.D Attention Seeking Behavior by Michael Grose Marriage is NOT about Religion by Meera Chowdhry Peeping Toms by Kusum Choppra Mystified Identity in the Mystified River of Life by Jayati Chowdhury Inducting Rasayana Therapy in Our Daily Routine by Dr. Krishna R.S. Magical Spots of the World by Dilip D'Souza Accessing Freedom by Robert L. Sungte Asia Quake, One Month On by Shehar Bano Khan Arab Women in Image Trap by Ruby Bird Gender Lens on Gypsies by Elayne Clift School of Wisdom by Neeta Lal Senior Story by Mohan Dadlani

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Beauty's ugly spot

The Hindu Magazine Sunday, Nov 17, 2002
Out of forty-eight chromosomes only one is different: on this difference we base a complete separation of male and female, pretending as if it were that all forty-eight were different. Germaine Greer

The word that comes to the mind when one thinks of women, irrespective of their nationality, culture, religion, class and social situation, is "beauty". Just as all men are assumed to have different I.Qs, so are all women assumed to have different Beauty Quotients, which means that some women are more beautiful than others, though all women are beautiful. Beauty is no more defined in terms of abstract ideals such as "truth" (Keats), "essence" (Lawrence), "exuberance" (Blake), "genius" (Oscar Wilde), or bliss. Today, the concept of "beauty" has grown into a flourishing global industry which treats beauty and the female body as commercial equivalences. Sheer paradox. Worldwide, a woman's "Agency" and "Empowerment" are advocated, while a consumerist culture traps women within the ambit of market exchange relations. This trap is laid for women right from childhood. For the girl, to be assessed as being "pretty" or "beautiful" is the highest accolade. "Little boys are made of frogs and snails, but little girls are made of sugar and spice"... thus goes a nursery rhyme. A baby girl is "beautiful" as a baby boy is "mischievous". The girl becomes a "charming" woman while the boy becomes a "daring" man. Beauty is no more an abstraction but can be made concrete by any woman who is rich enough to spend to measure herself upto the beauty standards set.
A global market revolves around these beauties or else it collapses. Beauty contests are, therefore, held all over the world. Female faces — from hoards of advertisements — stare, smile and invite us to buy everything under the sun: that new jar of face cream, box of powder, tube of lipstick, mascara, eyeliner..., which promise magic formulae to transform ordinary women into extraordinary beauties. When a girl grows up, she is taught to absorb an ideal image of a woman which, in our contemporary world, is a "tall, thin frame perched confidently on stiletto heels". This frantic pursuit of beauty goes to the extent of skin peeling, reshaping of noses, fitting breasts with silicone, wearing false eyelashes and false nails, and starving at the risk of damaging one's kidneys and liver. But beauty is worth it all!
Beauty standards are neither natural, constant nor absolute. A woman's body and looks are assigned different meanings by different generations. The images created represent historically inert structures. The inertia and change are not merely cultural conditionings imposed on women but a result of their own construction of psychological gender. Taste and judgment are always contingent upon the observer, changing with time. The historical variations range from the most painful experiences in ancient societies to modern elective methods used to reshape the anatomical parts of the female body. Devices to reshape women to whatever image that happens to be currently acceptable to those with the power to define it, have resulted in sometimes painful, and harmful, contrivances. Women have to change their figure every time the beauty standards are altered by the shifting social, economic and political influences.
The old Chinese practice of binding a girl's feet is a vivid example of the omnipresent principle of controlling women's bodies. Chinese poets went into ecstasy to see a woman's bound feet like "three inch golden lilies". They found beauty in women walking on their tiny feet like tender young willow shoots in a spring breeze. The story of Chely Rodriguez of Carpentaria, California, in our times is not much different from the heinous practice of Chinese foot binding. She starved herself so that her weight dropped to 98 pounds to concur with the ideal "hour-glass" image. In classical Greece and Rome, female curvaceousness was unattractive. Women wore restrictive bands to flatten their breasts. Similarly, by the 1920s, flat chests were again fashionable and "boyish" figures were in. In the 1950s, the trend was different and elective breast surgery was in demand to increase the bra size. Elizabeth Taylor, who underwent cosmetic surgeries quite often, was described to be "the most beautiful 61 year old on the planet." Notions of beauty are class advantageous. Beauty is contingent upon age and there is no level playing field in advancing age. The western images are downloaded in developing countries, which are potential markets of the beauty industry. Powerful signals are sent to girls to reshape themselves to the "hourglass" figure. Blatantly and subtly, the media preaches the ideals of beauty. For those who have earned their living through the beauty-game, by playing to the tune of beauty-architects, aging is hellish. This is the case with film stars and models. As they grow out of 25, they are thrown out of the profession because their only merit was their "beauty". Failing to value themselves, some of them end their life.
A woman's body is functional. It has to carry a child, unlike a man who is better fitted to keep whatever looks he is born with. But a pregnant woman or an average woman is not the modern ideal of beauty. Even those women competitors in beauty contests are not allowed to be natural. They are the creatures of artifice. They wear false eyelashes, artificially lift their eyebrows, undergo cosmetic surgery to reshape their breasts, and are required to dazzle us with full make-up and have elaborate hairdos and the latest fashionable attire. As a result, average women are encouraged to artificially imitate them as these beauties themselves are not quite as nature made them.
  • First, beauty norms render a very negative, devalued identity for women who gradually lose dignity. In the name of beauty, women are reduced to "biology" which, in turn, reduces the body into an "object", which again may be gainfully bought and sold profitably as a commodity in this new consumerist culture. The concept of beauty relates to a woman's body as the only merit that women can boast of, irrespective of any social distinction.
  • It is reductionism to the base. A woman is reduced to an object. It is the aggregated quality of physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual endowments that make a man or woman an agency. When a woman is reduced to her looks alone, she is deprived of dignity and worth. Her looks alone define her, not her differentiated mind. Therefore, women are not naturally accepted by men as colleagues or intellectual companions. Beauty and intelligence are rarely thought of together. Nietzsche said "when a woman inclines to learning, there is usually something wrong with her sex". Rather, a girl who tries to show off her mind instead of her body is penalised. When a girl stops listening and starts talking, she is considered to be rude and aggressive.
  • Whether a woman's I.Q. is 60 or 160, her first duty is to look attractive. The value of a woman is in proportion to her approximation to the beauty standards set. In 1966, when a woman was appointed as a vice-president of a corporation, journalists were impressed not by her competence but by her own statistics — 34-24-36. People marvelled at the anomaly that a brainy woman can be built too!
  • Consequently, women are tutored to feel that their body is not worth unless it fits the "beauty" frame set by society. They are psychologically alienated from their body, feeling inferior and detesting every normal phase of their physical growth. These phases do not relate them to men. What is more painful is that they are treated as an inferior species and in a culture like ours, they are untouchables during those women-specific occasions in their biological growth. A woman's body is deemed to be valuable only as long as it satisfies men or pleases others in the society. In fact, one's body represents one's integrity, as a separate self, distinguished from others. It is only through the body that one integrates sexuality with gender. But the silent and meek subjugation of women under the barrier of "beauty" encourages the display of obscene advertisements, posters, and the broadcasting of vulgar film songs, dialogues, dances and postures. To women who are involved in these displays, it is one way of asserting themselves and turning their body to be gainfully used as an asset in a market world as it is in the case of a poor manual labourer for whom his body is the only asset accessible.
  • The saddest fact is that women absorb only what society imposes on them and try to live accordingly. They do not realise what they really are, but seek for a pattern from men. Being-in-the-world for women is conditioned by the relationship between body and beauty. Hence it results in the differentiation within the psychological experience of a woman, between how they relate to self and others and how they construct their identity. Their relatedness and identity are constructed by external agencies of power — in our times, by the business tycoons who spin out of the beauty concept a multi-million dollar industry.
  • It is time we corrected out attitude towards women. The dehumanisation of women is not only detrimental to women but to men also. A woman's subservient status signifies an aberration in the nature of men too. It is imperative, therefore, to unmask the beauty myth. Our concern should be to create those roles in which women and girls are valued for their merits other than sex and beauty. From childhood, girls should be taught to respect their own bodies and their options and choices in order to feel self-worthy. Above all, the media and advertisements that constantly dredge up insulting and demeaning images of women should be countered through a powerful convergence of political, social and institutional wills.

To sum up, the cult of beauty is a cultural insanity. Its touch is beastly. Destructive. Surreptitious. Glamorous. Ultimately death — the death of human dignity and worth. Beware of it! Both men and women.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Coming together as a rainbow

Chandrabhan Prasad
The Pioneer May 11, 2003
How often do Dalit scholars, politicians, social activists, officers, entrepreneurs and NRIs assemble under one roof? To my knowledge, never. The scholars, writers and poets active in Dalit movements tend to believe that, barring them, everybody else is useless, serving their individual greed. Dalit politicians tend to believe Dalit scholars are a hopeless bunch of chest beaters, unknowing of what is happening at the grassroot level. Dalit bureaucrats tend to believe they know everything, and therefore all others must surrender their thinking abilities over to them, if at all something new must happen in the Dalit movement. Dalit entrepreneurs, however small they may be as a group, tend to believe everybody is after their money, and money alone. Dalit social activists tend to believe they are the most authentic flagbearers of the Ambedkarian resolve, but largely ignored. The only point of consensus among the above groups is their stand against Dalit bureaucrats, for everybody is united in hating them.
A large part of the Dalit genius, time, and resources is wasted in mutual distrust, mutual leg pulling, and mutual one upmanship against each other. I can hardly recollect one occasion where representative faces from all the above groups sat together under one roof, to deliberate on the crises the community is confronted with today. While all the above streams are passionately Ambedkarite, generally honest, and dedicated to the cause of Dalit emancipation, they are not always very focussed. Dalit scholars often fail to understand the constraints of India's parliamentary democracy, where most Dalit representatives are elected from a majority non-Dalit electorate. Dalit politicians, rooted to their business of politics, are often ignorant of the intellectual discourses taking place in contemporary India. So are the other groups, all living in their own self-constructed worlds of freedom and freedom struggles.
I have come across Dalit politicians with a profound grip on the dynamics of Indian society. I know many Dalit scholars, largely wordless, but extraordinarily great strategists. There are Dalit bureaucrats who could put many a Dalit scholar to shame in terms of their scholarly depth, and there are Dalit professionals who could be described as model Dalit activists. Dr LN Berwa is one such example. And there are a number of Dalit activists who could coin slogans to help lead all streams of Dalit movements. The BSP activists are masters of that. And there are Dalit entrepreneurs who not only fund Dalit movements, but who could also be substituted as ideologues. But there has been hardly any initiative to bring all shades, all streams of the Dalit movement under one roof, where all can mutually enrich all, all mutually believe in all, together unleashing a new Dalit movement.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Black liberation

Race, Islam, and terrorism: Most African-Caribbean men who become Muslims do so because it gives their lives hope and meaning. Robert Beckford The Hindu Wednesday, Aug 17, 2005 - Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005
Introducing the subject of "race" into the analysis of any area of social conflict can enlighten or obscure the real causes of distress. And this perilous pathway has been followed in some of the news coverage of young black men and domestic terrorism. Black men converting to Islam should be placed within the religious context of their communities, where religion still matters. African-Caribbean men and women continue to turn out in large numbers for religious activities. But Islam is able to do what the black church cannot — attract black men.

I have an ongoing dialogue with an artist who converted in the mid-1990s. His journey began when he listened to tapes of African-American Muslim preachers while at graduate school in America. The tapes made a clear-cut link between a commitment to Allah and black liberation from poverty, drugs, gangs, and meaninglessness. His first visit to a predominantly African-American mosque was life-changing. Hundreds of smartly dressed black men full of self-belief, black pride, purpose, and respect immediately became role models.
Many black men were impressed by Islam's Africa-centred preaching and positive association with blackness. After all, one of the most powerful icons of the 20th century, Malcolm X, made the journey from Christianity to Islam in search of black redemption. My artist friend says mainstream Islam provides him with a social awareness and commitment to justice that is mostly ignored in black churches. I have a nephew who recently converted while serving a prison sentence. Spending an inordinate amount of time alone in his cell, he took to reading the Bible and the Qur'an to pass the time.
Intrigued by the notion that Islam was the last testament, God's final revelation, he pursued his interest by attending lessons with the imam assigned to the prison chaplaincy. Convinced, he became a devotee. It was clear to me that the daily regime of Islam provided him with the tools for personal discipline and an interest in intellectual thought. Most African-Caribbean men converting to Islam do so because it is a religion with a capacity to give their lives hope and meaning. This is not a new idea. As long ago as 1888, the Caribbean educator Edward Wilmot Blyden argued that Islam was more respectful of black culture and easier to translate into Caribbean culture than Christianity. (Robert Beckford is a lecturer in African diasporan religions and cultures at the University of Birmingham, U.K.)

Close family members living abroad

At Home in the World THE INDIAN EXPRESS Thursday, August 18, 2005
Over 20 million people of Indian origin are dispersed in 110 countries all over the world outside India. About half of them are first generation immigrants or their immediate families — mostly in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and South-East Asia, apart from our own regional neighbourhood. In modern times many factors caused this wide dispersion — compulsion (indentured labour), hunger for knowledge and exposure, ambition and opportunities. India’s civilisational values, strong family bonds, nostalgia, and national identity exert a strong pull on all expatriates wherever they live. As is commonly said, you can take an Indian out of India, but you cannot take India out of an Indian.
Expatriate Indians are making vital contributions to India. Huge foreign exchange remittances, transfer of skills and technologies, establishment of market linkages, investments, and building a strong constituency for jettisoning economic orthodoxy are among their major contributions. This role is increasingly acknowledged and appreciated. The Indian state too is responding with some sensitivity in dealing with the needs and aspirations of expatriates. The meteoric success of accomplished Indians is helping transform the image of India, and our recent economic successes in turn are shoring up the self-esteem of expatriates.
But expatriates are playing an even more vital role in transforming India. Overseas Indians have a disproportionate impact on our national life. Most of the million elite families in India dominating our politics, business, bureaucracy and professions have one or more close family members living abroad. These strong bonds are shaping our attitudes, influencing policies and fueling aspirations. How can we channelise these energies constructively to build a liberal, democratic and humane society fulfilling our true potential and meeting the challenges of the future? There are three broad areas awaiting the infusion of new ideas and modern attitudes.
  • First, our politics has become big business, and rent seeking and abuse of power have become endemic. Money, muscle power, caste clout and pedigree have become the chief determinants of political recruitment, not true leadership qualities and contribution to public good.
  • Our democracy is robust and liberties are real. But our polity is in disrepair and needs mending. Greater representational legitimacy, democratic management of parties, better systems to make honesty compatible with sustenance in power, institutional checks and balances to prevent abuse of power, true empowerment and participation of people through local governments, accountability, and effective mechanisms to combat corruption are all critical to make our democracy work for the people.
  • We need to reclaim the republic stolen from our people. Expatriates who have seen how democracy can work for public good and prosperity, human dignity and empowerment, rule of law and institution building can play a creative role in reshaping our polity.
  • Second, India is confronted by growing challenges of modernization. Vast numbers complicate the crisis immeasurably. Even if we assume the will, commitment and resources, we lack the domain expertise in meeting these challenges. Education, healthcare, urban management, policing, delivery of justice, water, drainage and sewerage systems — all are in crying need of rejuvenation. Even a casual acquaintance with European public transport, British healthcare, American universities or the world’s great cities reveals how much we have to do to make up for lost time.
  • It is not merely a question of investment and infrastructure. We have to redesign them and make them replicable and sustainable by viable institutional and technical mechanisms. We need to adapt the best practices and innovate constantly. Who better than expatriates to make it happen, with their understanding of our special problems and intimacy with the best systems elsewhere, that work?
  • Finally, our society has unique advantages which promote harmony and happiness — strength of family, respect for elders, civilisational ethos, great sense of right and wrong, societal pressure moderating individual behaviour, contentment and natural propensity for restraint. But we also have some terrible deficiencies.

Moral neutrality to inequity by birth, wealth or position, mistrust and antagonism across groups and vertical hierarchies, and lack of a sense of common fate are our great failings. These are cultural traits in an ancient society with enormous baggage. Egalitarian approach to life, fair reconciliation of conflicting interests, and fusion of private gain with public good must all be integrated with our societal life. Expatriate Indians have the advantages of distance which lends objectivity, and exposure which opens new vistas.

They need to be in the vanguard of a social movement to overcome some of our egregious propensities. Our national leaders during freedom struggle were inspired by the liberal values and rationalism of renaissance. But popular nationalism was largely shaped by resentment against British racial bigotry, cultural atavism and idolatrous sense of patriotism. Expatriates can help us rediscover true nationalism based on liberal values, human dignity, enlightened self-interest, fulfillment of our potential, mutual respect and harmony. The writer is the coordinator of Lok Satta movement, and VOTEINDIA, a national campaign for political reforms Email:

The courage to be self-critical

INDIA EMPOWERED TO ME IS Doing away with the idea of exclusivity FORMER PRIME MINISTER THE INDIAN EXPRESS Thursday, August 18, 2005
Empowerment is a philosophical and historical process. It began with the French Revolution and continued with many others, particularly the Russian Revolution. Its philosophy and progress took birth after the Industrial Revolution, which is perhaps the most significant revolution as it triggered many things, particularly the concept of empowerment for the depressed sections of society. The most significant concept the Industrial Revolution gave us was the idea of educating workers, as it could not make workers productive without education.
A new impediment is the idea of exclusivity: those who have entered the empowered circle do not want more to come in. Coalition governments are an effort for inclusiveness so that those regions and segments of society, whose presence in legislature is small, get an opportunity to participate in governments. While many cynically point out to the absurdity of two-member parties, I look at this trend positively as it is an attempt to eradicate this unevenness. Democracy as an institution is meant to pursue the process of empowerment of those who are denied their rights, all the time.
However, disempowerment in the name of history, culture, caste or gender is not confined to India alone, even countries in Europe and South America are still giving the right to vote. In West Asia and the Islamic world, large populations still do not participate in the empowerment process. In an ideal society, only governments alone cannot accomplish this progress, it requires a re-education of society. Fortunately, the emphasis on the importance of a scientific temper is a concept which is entrenched in our society, from Buddha to Gandhi. Scientific temper basically means the courage to be self-critical.

Life is a big jumble

The new demographics promise nothing less than a redefinition of the stages of life Amrita Shah THE INDIAN EXPRESS Thursday, November 08, 2001
An advertising executive in Hong Kong once gave me an intriguing explanation for the rising divorce rate all over the world. People, he claimed, married on the principle of ‘‘till death do us part’’ secure in the knowledge that the end was a mere couple of decades away. With life expectancy rates having increased by leaps and bounds over the years, he surmised, ‘forever’ suddenly became too long to spend with one partner and as a result multiple relationships increased.
I do not know if there is any scientific evidence to support the above theory. But the eminent writer and professor of social science and management, Peter Drucker, writing in the latest issue of The Economist, draws a similar connection between longevity and work. In the near future, claims Drucker, people will keep working till their mid-seventies and in all likelihood switch careers or types of jobs as 50 years of a working life unprecedented in human history is simply too long for one kind of work. This means, that in years to come, we will have a shrinking segment of youth and a burgeoning one of the aged. The shift has the potential to transform life as we know it.
Drucker, looking specifically at the workforce, predicts that retirement benefits will start at a later age and will decrease in size with the corresponding increase in the number of claimants. Drucker also predicts that developed countries with their rapidly declining and aging populations will need to import labour. The kind of upheaval large scale immigration can create is mind-boggling. The possibility of a backlash in countries that are not used to such large numbers of foreigners is one possible effect as is the potential for growing multiculturalism, mixed marriages and so on. Such specifics apart, however, the new demographics promises nothing less than the redefinition of the various stages of life. What will childhood mean? And youth? And maturity?
A recent study for instance reached the conclusion that adulthood was no longer achieved at 21. The modern youth, it maintains, has to live a full 35 years to be considered an adult. Contradictions abound though. The old, for instance, have become increasingly youthful thanks to medical advances, fitness fads and other factors. Children, on the other hand, are growing up faster than ever before, weaned as they are on a range of sophisticated sources of information, toys and gizmos. ‘‘The line,’’ it claimed, ‘‘between maturity and childhood has blurred or vanished completely.’’ It is these shifts and blurs that are certain to go some way in shaping the future.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Irresponsible celebration of wealth and beauty

What kind of a society have we become? Is this the land of spiritualism? Of Hindu tolerance? Of Buddha and Gandhi? In his book, Revenge & Reconciliation: Understanding South Asian History, Rajmohan Gandhi claims that contrary to popular belief that sees India as a haven for the seeker, retribution has been a significant part of our legacy. Starting from the Mahabharata, encompassing events such as the execution of Arjan Dev and Partition to the killing of Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, bloody revenge has been a strong theme.
In the present set of instances, however, we seem to be faced with a less dramatic and far more commonplace problem of impulse control. How commonplace we do not quite know for information is scarce. But a recent magazine story documented instances of manic rage in children including rapes of infants by teenagers and quoted an Indian Council for Medical Research study that claimed that 12 per cent of Indian children below 16 had behavioural problems. A study of schoolchildren by Vimhans in Delhi and around found aggressive behaviour in 12 per cent of their sample.
Why is all this happening? Exaggerated expectations, peer pressure and warring parents were some of the reasons quoted for aggression among children. The entertainment industry is another common target in the blame game. And it is true that excessive violence in films and cartoons can have the effect of deadening sensibilities and inducing the sort of callousness that we have witnessed rising on an alarming scale. But these are just some of the reasons. In a sense, they are the outcome of changing attitudes and priorities. Is it the entertainment industry, for instance, that is the culprit or is it our excessive need for entertainment that seeks greater and greater stimulation — be it in the body count or in the amount of goriness on screen. Yet self indulgence and excess are glorified in every billboard and television commercial. Similarly over the last few years, the cult of the individual has assiduously and painstakingly been built up along with its emphasis on instant gratification, competitiveness and getting ahead, at whatever cost.
Simultaneously we have seen a build up of intolerance and hatred towards categories of people. The irresponsible celebration of wealth and beauty, for instance, that has the effect of marginalising whole sections of people: the poor, the unfashionable, the old. The demonisation of communities which has spawned a series of violent repercussions. Equally serious is the widespread trivialisation and dumbing down in every area of public life particularly political discourse that sees adults trading insults like juvenile delinquents. There are probably many more complex factors involved in the growing brutalisation evident around us. But these are some of the things we need to think about if this is not the India we are proud of.
The brutalisation of a nation THE INDIAN EXPRESS Thursday, October 24, 2002

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sports, exercise, athletics

My Experiences in the Experiment for the Education for Tomorrow by Prashant Khanna
I had the benefit of receiving my education in the Centre of Education started by the Mother under her own close supervision and care. That a healthy mind resides in a healthy body is now a recognised tenet of education in good educational institutions, but in Pondicherry this was implemented as far back as 40 years ago with a rigour beyond the farthest stretches of imagination of people elsewhere. It might come as a surprise that the time spent in sports, exercise, athletics was as much as in studies. It extended to almost 3 full hours, starting from 4.30 p.m. and going upto 7.30 p.m. and sometimes beyond.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

If you can’t climb a tree or make a pot, how can you throw a javelin?

It is the caste system that has discouraged competition, and destroyed sports culture The Indian Express Wednesday, October 06, 2004
We have returned empty-handed from the Olympics except for a silver in shooting. The pundits of ancient Indian history tell us that we have influenced the world with our ancient great games. Perhaps the only great game that our kings and acharyas were aware of was archery (banavidya). We heard a lot about Dronacharya’s so-called greatness. In terms of merit and efficiency, we know how anti-merit Dronacharya actually was. Between Arjuna and Ekalavya, one was put on the road of victory by denying equal opportunity to the other; Ekalavya’s body was mutilated.
However, India’s sports culture also suffers from a deeper malady. In ancient India, what were the games that we specialised in? From Ramayana and Mahabharata, we do not have any evidence of India acquiring great stature in the art of physical exercise, in which competition was thrown open for all social classes. Any nation’s sports culture emerges out of a strong production culture in combination with a mass intake of high-calorie food. National energy is built through day-to-day practice of the work ethic.
At a fundamental level, in the caste system, the Brahminic culture held all work that was centred around the body as spiritually undignified. Tilling the soil, pot-making, shoe-making, shepherding, toddy-tapping, palm- and coconut tree-tapping were seen as lowly and degraded. Those who were in a high spiritual position condemned productive and energy-building work. In fact, moksha was to be attained not through physical exertion but through mental efforts. No wonder India has traditionally failed to produce great sportsmen and women. If you can’t climb a tree or sculpt a pot, how can you throw a javelin or a discus?
Food culture plays a crucial role in the sports culture of a nation. In India, the hegemonisation of vegetarian food, the upholding of vegetarianism as morally superior, as against the consumption of multi-cultural foods, has cut at the root of the growth of Indian human energy both at the social level and also individual level. Two things happened because of the vegetarian campaign in India. First, enormous wastage of food resources. Second, Indian agriculture has been turned into a vegetarian agricultural process that limits the expansion of our food resource. The middle class, which is competing to send its children into the sports field, has become an insulated social mass in terms of food habits and work culture.
Leisure-centered games like chess and cricket do not help us in building the nation. At best, they may create emotional nationalism. India thus needs to encourage more energy-related rather than emotion-related games. Exceptional players like P T Usha, Dada Kishan Lal (who led the hockey team in 1948) came from lower-caste backgrounds.

Waiting for Toilet

Sudhirendar Sharma
On November 10, the rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was lamenting that a toilet or lack of it is the indicator of a country's health, not the GDP or Sensex-driven growth curves. A pithy observation for today, which happens to be World Toilet Day. Official apathy seems to encourage lack of sanitation in the country. Public hygiene is seen as a frivolous matter, whereas it is serious enough to beg the time and attention of policy planners. Singh's campaign for more toilets is as laudable as it is difficult to implement.
Noble laureate V S Naipaul diagnosed the practice of open defecation in his book Area of Darkness (1964). Naipaul believed that most Indians suffer from claustrophobia "once inside an enclosed latrine". He even wondered at the society's "collective blindness about the practice, arising out of the Indian fear of pollution and the belief that Indians are the cleanest people in the world".
Gandhiji had long remarked, "For India, sanitation is more important than independence". Does this remark hold any value? Sociologists contend that till girls and boys refuse to marry into a family without a toilet, the sanitation conditions are unlikely to change. The idea behind observing World Toilet Day is addressing sociological concerns, toning up technical hiccups and making toilets part of the global development agenda. Talking about toilets, however, is not glamorous. And to raise funds for toilets is even more daunting. To describe to an audience the significance of toilets, yet steering clear of lavatorial humour, is possibly the ultimate challenge development workers face today. The writer is with the Ecological Foundation. THE TIMES OF INDIA Saturday, November 19, 2005

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Italian author Umberto Eco visited India to chair a roundtable on 'Strategies for Acquiring Mutual Knowledge'. During the session he spoke at length about the care one must take while translating texts. He said that while translating, specially from one culture to another, extreme care should be taken in making the text accessible to the language it is being translated into.
The organisation that brought Eco to India, Transcultura, has been campaigning for alternative anthropology and "is constructed on the principles of reciprocal knowledge, respect and mutual enrichment, it develops metho-dologies of transcultural analysis applicable to different situations and intercultural contexts". The Italian semiotician feels such anthropological studies remove counter-positions of Us and Them. Most ethnic conflicts, therefore, have their foundations in the baggage of prior knowledge that comes with what we have read and seen on television and cinema. The basis for understanding all cultures is to make the correct translations, the right adaptations. Manoj Nair The Times of India Nov 19'05

There should be a common kitchen

The Unisex (Androgyny) Movement ultimately denies that there are TWO sexes. The New Left is trying to replace Sexual Complementarity with Angrogyny - Peter Myers, July 30, 2001; update July 21, 2004. June Singer's claim that Androgyny is the Guiding Principle of the New Age comes close to the mark. This is the idea that the individual human contains both sexual poles, instead of just one. It's the basis of the Unisex movement (unisex hairstyles, unisex character-traits, abolition of complementary roles in marriage).
H. G. Wells proposes (in his 1906 essay Socialism and the Family) that the individual, not the family, be the basic unit of society, and that the state take over the parenting role, paying women to have children. Bronislaw Malinowski debates Robert Briffault on the Anthropology of Marriage: marriage-malinowski.html. The West is the new Soviet Union - the bastion of Marxism (the Trotskyist/Fabian/New Left kind) & Zionism it was meant to be before Stalin wrecked the plot. Behind Feminism, Gay Marriage, the World Court, and the Kyoto Protocol lies a revamped Communist movement. Being anti-Stalinist, it does not wear the Communist label, and instead disguises itself behind a multitude of single-issue lobbies.

The Trotskyist/Fabian version of Communism is alive and well. Open-border immigation, casual relationships treated as equivalent to marriage, sex war, parents afraid of being "dobbed in" to the government, children equal to parents and the property of the state ... the wreckage of family life was brought to the West from the pre-Stalin period of the Soviet Union. We did not recognise it as Communist simply because we identified Stalin's modifications as Communism. In the early (Trotskyist) period of the Soviet Union, marriage was abolished, polygamy was abolished (this mainly affected the Islamic cultures of Central Asia), and homosexuality was legalised. Stalin restored marriage, gave advantages to married women over unmarried women, and made sodomy a crime. The Marxist Cultural Revolution, begun the West in the late 1960s, has taken the West down the path pioneered by the USSR. This change was engineered by the New Left, which had substantial non-theistic Jewish leadership: new-left.html. One must distinguish between the theistic and non-theistic Jews in this respect.

To understand the change wrought by New Left, one needs to know the Marxist theory of the history of relations between the sexes. It may be expressed as follows: Marriage as we know it arose only a few thousand years ago, when men enslaved women, making them their private property. Before that, descent was matrilineal, and a woman's children were supported by her relatives, no matter who the fathers were. Generally, the fathers were unknown. A woman had one or more husbands or lovers at a time, discarding them as she tired of them or fell out with them (or as they died). When this system was restored in the USSR, the state took over the role of the relatives, in looking after a woman's children. The woman joined the workforce, and the children were looked after in childcare centres. sex-soviet.html.

H. G. Wells, a closet Trotskyist, advocate of One World, wrote of Marriage and the Family: "Socialism, if it is anything more than a petty tinkering with economic relationships is a renucleation of society. The family can remain only as a biological fact. Its economic and educational autonomy are inevitably doomed. The modern state is bound to be the ultimate guardian of all children and it must assist, place, or subordinate the parent as supporter, guardian and educator; it must release all human beings from the obligation of mutual proprietorship, and it must refuse absolutely to recognize or enforce any kind of sexual ownership. It cannot therefore remain neutral when such claims come before it. It must disallow them." (Experiment in Autobiography, Gollancz, London, 1934, vol. ii, p. 481). Wells' "socialism" is quite different from what I mean by that term. More from Wells: opencon.html.
Likewise Bertrand Russell. He wrote, in In Praise of Idleness (London, Unwin Books, 1973): {p. 35} All this would be changed if it were the rule, and not the exception, for married women to earn their living by work outside the home. ... {p. 36} The problem is to secure the same communal advantages as were secured in medieval monasteries, but without celibacy ... {p. 37} The separate little houses, and the blocks of tenements each with its own kitchen, should be pulled down. ... There should be a common kitchen, a spacious dining hall ... All the children's meals should be in the nursery school ... Fram the time they are weaned until they go to school, they should spend all the time from breakfast till after their last meal at the nursery school ...

Teenagers in the West are totally turned against religion, and their parents, by the music & Hollywood TV shows that fill their minds. The West is the new Soviet Union. People like me are the new dissidents. I am no prude, but I believe in marriage, because it's for the long-term rearing of children. However, I don't believe that husbands & wives should be each other's private property. We all need to love more than one other person, and this includes sexual love. Is my position hypocritical? No - there's always been a certain amount of sex outside marriage. But to make that the norm, in place of marriage, to treat "relationships" as the equivalent of marriage - in effect to abolish marriage - that is another matter. As social breakdown proceeds, desperation will force us back to the essentials of life. We'll be looking for ways to re-establish family ties, and the bonds between men and women.
Under Lenin & Trotsky, the USSR abolished marriage - that's the situation we're in now, and we might as well learn from the USSR experience. Stalin brought marriage back in, and gave married women privileges over unmarried ones.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Eros vs. Aphrodite

In all justice, one must point out the judaic influence on Freud. It is expressed in his monotheistic beliefs in Science, as if thruth could have only one definition, and it shows also in a very noxious sexism. Freud could not imagine that strength and divinity could have a feminine form. It seems that Freud was himself victim to the male judaic obsession with god the father, the very obsession he had denounced. Even his idea of love, which was after all the only domain left to women, was personified by a male divinity. Why did Freud choose Eros, instead of its mother Aphrodite, the great Goddess of libido? Had he chosen to personify love by Aphrodite, instead of Eros, he would certainly not have written that libido is male. Ginette Paris

Friday, November 11, 2005


Jonathan Freedland
France's refusal to see the ethnicity of some of its people as relevant translates into de facto racism. If human beings were free of prejudice, the French republican ideal would work beautifully. Because we are not, it allows racism a free hand. It is a classic example of what happens when an idea designed for one era remains unchanged for a later one. A once decent value becomes pickled into a dogma — enforcing the very opposite outcome of the one it intended. The French do not face this problem alone. The U.S. has a model of integration that is the reverse of France's: it positively encourages new migrants to hold on to their first culture, happy to let them hyphenate as Italian-Americans or Irish-Americans. But that model is not perfect either. As we saw after Katrina, there are still plenty of Americans who feel excluded by their race. Britain has an emerging model too, one called multiculturalism. It did not arrive from nowhere, but partly came out of its own experience of race riots in the 1980s. Unlike France's, it recognises difference and has passed legislation to protect it. But multiculturalism is still the best model at hand. And, after the last 10 days, it may be the only one left. - Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005 © Copyright 2000 - 2005 The Hindu Date:10/11/2005

English as national language

The Indian Express: Friday, November 11, 2005
With a Government school coming into the villages in early Sixties, the nation began to connect with the village. Child education became a symbolic dream of their nationalist modernity. Education landed in our village like a helicopter of election season. In those days, we did not realize that by reading those text books we were going to produce a crippled mind that would push us into a culture of indignity of labour. The religion-centric nationalist education kept all the religious identities on the national table to drive daggers into each other. The caste-centred cultural spheres made us treat each caste an enemy of the other. A real secular self, with an inbuilt sense of dignity of labour, is yet to be born. A scientific temper that can challenge, our very neighbour, China, if not the West, may spring up if we recognise English as necessary national language to be taught on par with every regional language in every state from class one to every child. We must—and must—take out all forms of religious content from text books and teach dignity of labour on compulsory basis. Perhaps India then begins to empower itself.