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.