Spotlight on Moonlight

Moonlight

His dad was never at home in the evenings and that’s the reason we friends usually hung out at Anil’s house unrestrained after our school hours. Being the father of four school going children and the only son to an ailing mother, his dad’s income from being an accountant was scarcely sufficient to pay both the rent for their house and put food onto the table. For fees and to buy uniforms for my friend and the siblings, he offered his expertise to put in place an accounting procedure at a booming yet highly unorganised vegetable shop that was located nearby. He would often spend long laborious hours in the shop making every entry of purchase from the scrapbook onto the ledger and faithfully register all the sales and expenses of the day to make financial sense of the shopkeeper’s daily dealings. Over a period of few months, my friend’s dad streamlined the myriad transactions into an intelligible financial document for the owner of the shop to instantaneously know how much he spent and earned on a weekly basis and how much more money he would need to set-up his next shop. The proprietor of the shop grew his business considerably within a couple of years, added three more outlets and had set up a centralised purchasing system. And all these were seamlessly integrated into a robust accounting platform that my friend’s dad had so meticulously created. And when the mega expansion plan to open a chain of vegetable shops in the towns nearby was ready, banks were queuing up to advance the money needed, by virtue of the strong financials and sound accounting practices the vegetable vendor has followed. For all his services, Anil’s dad was paid a princely sum of Rs.1500/- a month and a daily supply of vegetables to his house and both eased the pressure of the family’s budget.

And in another city, my uncle, a reputed musician working in the state radio station, would bicycle for miles everyday to conduct private music lessons to spruce up his income. He would wake up in the wee hours, quickly get ready and would set off to take multiple classes before he joined his official duty at 9 AM. The routine is repeated in the evenings and it would be well into night before he reached home. Though ostensibly my uncle’s private classes did make the financial condition of the family comfortable, he, in the bargain, had trained scores of students in the difficult skill of classical singing and on the way, produced a few outstanding musicians worthy of taking forward the legacy. Thus, his outside the regular job activities gave a great fillip to foster and nourish a precious art. 

What Anil’s father and my uncle were indulging in is called Moonlighting, a perfectly accepted and even admired behaviour of responsible individuals to financially secure their families. And there are millions of such men and women who sacrifice rest and leisure and take up a second job so that the future of their dear ones are guaranteed. While many of them would be moonlighting to barely make the ends meet, a more aspirational lot have definite life goals motivating them to take up the second job. And whatever be the reason or the compulsion, it is in the nature of human beings to preserve and strive to prosper and moonlighting is indeed a legitimate method that turn one’s fortunes through hard work. And to call such a demonstrative life skill as unethical is completely misreading the instinctive nature of human preservation and a gross misjudgement of his priorities.  

Moonlighting, along with being very useful to the individual, also contributes immensely to the development and maturing of the informal sectors. It is beyond the resources of many in the unorganised sector, like the vegetable vendor, to hire a full-time professional and moonlighting affords them with the skills and the expertise needed for their growth at a fraction of their original cost. An educational institution engaging a part-time professor, a management professional offering his services to a start-up company or a techie working in a reputed IT firm developing an App for a restaurant business are all helping the small businesses achieve traction at a low premium. If the reputed doctors were not moonlighting in smaller clinics and hospitals, our healthcare system would have been all the more fragile.

In a study conducted recently in the United States, it is found that many are postponing their retirement decisions due to financial compulsions and are, in fact, taking up multiple jobs to remain economically independent. So moonlighting far from being an Indian or an IT industry specific issue, is now a global phenomenon with technology making it more accessible at the individual level. And organisations making an issue about it are out of sync with the times we live in!

Yours

Narayanan

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September 24, 2022 at 12:29 am 5 comments

We The People: Seventy-five years of freedom

For the nation emerging from the shackles of a long and debilitating colonial rule and limping its feet in the sands of time that’s bloodied by a communal carnage of colossal magnitude, the Indian Constitution is the sanctified gospel crafted for a model nation state. Echoing the consecrated aspirations of almost a one-sixth of humanity, the Indian Constitution promises its people a life that is just, equitable, liberal and free from prejudice. With 395 articles spread over 22 parts, the Constitution of India is the largest written document for governance anywhere in the world. It has, among others, adopted features from the British, the American and the French constitutions and thus resonates the cherished values and principles that are universal, gained and refined through centuries of struggle. 

Yet the guiding signposts for awarding ourselves with such an enlightened document, more so when the other country that simultaneously acquired independence opting for a highly sectarian and religiously bigoted statehood, are the timeless ethos of the Indian philosophical thought, enshrined in the Vedas and the Upanishads and etched deeply in the Indian psyche. The belief in the essential oneness of all human beings, in the idea that different sects are but limbs of the one Supreme Being formed the bedrock of an elevated idealism that translated into a workable political doctrine. And our constitution has stood our country in good stead!

The idea of equality of religions enshrined in it, for example, has its genesis in the Vedic dictum,” Ekam Sat, Vipra Bahudha Vadanti”,  meaning, that “the truth is one and wise men describe it differently”. The acknowledgement of the fact that there could be multiple ways to inquire into the nature of truth, and that different religions are but varied pathways towards the same goal, paved to accept and integrate people of every religion into our mainstream politics. This principle afforded the state to treat every religion equally and confer equality to its practitioners, a salutary accomplishment that many nations still find hard to achieve. 

Again, the concept of justice, of social, economic and political, has its underpinnings in the Upanishadic verse “Isavasyam idam sarvam”, meaning that the whole universe is permeated with one divinity and differential treatment of individuals is thus alien to our philosophy. This approach compelled the state to see poor and downtrodden as “ Daridra Narayanas” , worthy of special focus and targeted schemes to alleviate their poverty. At the social level, these “Harijans”, were seamlessly integrated through affirmative actions of the state, made possible only by the high ideals derived from our Vedic past.

The principle of fraternity that is embedded in the preamble of our constitution again can be traced to the Vedic roots which says :  Saha Nau-Avatu, Saha Nau Bhunaktu Saha Viiryam Karavaavahai” meaning “May we protect us both together; may we nourish us both together; and May we work conjointly with great energy”. This idea of this kinship and camaraderie, so essential for nation building, has fuelled us to conquer newer heights in scientific and technological advancements and thereby help resolve many a teething problems of a young nation.

It could thus be established that it is the glorious Vedic school of thought that we have freely drawn from to frame our constitution that inspire and instil a sense of awe in every Indian. And it is in our collective responsibility to safeguard and nurture these fundamental ideals inherited from our aeonian past to strengthen the edifice for a glorious future.

And as we celebrate the seventy-five year of our Independence, the ” Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav”, we again turn to the Vedas and chant a prayer for the wellbeing and happiness of every Indian:

Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah 
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet 

Which means,
May all become happy
May none fall ill |
May all see auspiciousness everywhere
May none ever feel sorrow |
May peace prevail ||

Yours 

Narayanan

August 14, 2022 at 3:30 pm 8 comments

Chak De, Go for It!

Go for it!

“It would take three years to bring the learning standards of these kids to the pre-pandemic levels” laments the middle-school teacher as she abruptly stops explaining the concept of LCM and HCM to the non-responsive sixth grade class. Exasperated, she then resorts to writing down on the blackboard the step-by-step method of dividing a three digit number by a single digit one, the arithmetic that was taught to them three years back. If the children has lost the understanding of division during the long years of school closure, their lack of multiplication skills now also cannot be far behind. And the teacher, hence, decides to pull out exercises on rudimentary multiplication from the class three textbook for the students to complete them as homework!

The loss of learning for children in the absence of physical schooling was, till now, merely discussed among a few teachers and academicians, that too in passing and in lighter vein. But the scale and the magnitude of this education regression in India is dawning upon the nation only now, with the recent publication of the National Achievement Survey that poignantly captures the extent of the damage. In all the parameters of mathematical and language skills and in the conceptual understanding of environmental science on which the children were tested across the country, the exposed learning gap is astonishingly wide and disturbingly deep and is alarmingly way below the national average as recorded in the year 2017. This loss in learning is found even in states that are traditionally better off in school education and the rot seems to be spread nearly evenly across the nation with the surprising exception of Punjab and Rajasthan. Though both these states scored above the national average, it’s Punjab that tops the list, outdoing all other states in eleven of the fifteen subject areas that the children were assessed and also by bettering its previous performance of the year 2017 by miles!

This strikingly phenomenal performance of one state in education cannot have come without the underlying and compelling socio-economic conditions and it is not hard to seek those factors that play out in Punjab. The singular ambition of an overwhelming majority of the Punjabi young population today is to immigrate and study abroad and eventually settle there. And to secure an admission in universities located in countries like Canada, Australia or New Zealand an impressive academic record is an essential prerequisite. To add to that, a decent score in IELTS, that mandatory test in English language aptitude for university admissions abroad drives almost the entire young population in the state to take up their studies seriously, pandemic or no pandemic. This is vouched by the fact that when the entire nation is gripped by the onslaught of the Corona bringing to halt every activity, the number of students appearing for and clearing IELTS in Punjab did not abate. Thus ambition, when channelised at the right direction has the power to buck the negative trend and bring in impressive results which could turn out to be a role model and inspire others to emulate.

A classroom in a school in Punjab

But mere ambition of the population to study well without a robust support system in place would just remain a pipe dream and it is here the role and commitment of the schools and the teaching fraternity of Punjab needs special mention. The state opened its schools last year much before the neighbouring states did and once the schools began functioning physically, the entire teaching community drew up a comprehensive plan to cover the lost syllabus. Many schools added extra days to the academic calendar and bridge programs initiated to do the catching up. The internet penetration being very extensive and the digital divide somewhat blurred in the state, the participation in online classes were much more in Punjab. With teachers enthusiastically lapping up the myriad digital tools available for teaching, the online classes proved decently effective in accomplishing the learning objectives and also did prevent any major slide back in retention. While all these may have also tried out in other states, it is the scale and the commitment of the vast majority of the stakeholders to roll out these initiatives that made the critical difference! 

Serious little learners!

The findings of the National Assessment Survey though would be a shocker for many, also affords us the opportunity to approach the problem with a fresh perspective, and the experiment and success in Punjab could act as a guidepost in this effort. As suggested in another report, this time by the ADB, the learning loss if not corrected soon could adversely impact the GDP of the nation in the medium run.  It is upon all associated with the school education to take note of the enormity of the task in hand to reverse the trend and there isn’t a day to delay this process. The need of the hour is to be on a mission mode and the time to act is NOW! 

 Chak De, which in Punjabi means “Go for It”!

Yours

Narayanan

Also read the story of a pizza delivery boy…. https://chapter18.wordpress.com/2021/08/01/a-pillion-ride-with-the-pizza-delivery-boy/

May 30, 2022 at 9:29 pm 16 comments

Musings from Kochi-III

The complex alphabets

If you were to Google for “the toughest Indian language”, the instant pop-up on the screen would invariably be Malayalam. With fifty-six letters and many ligatures (combination of two letters), Malayalam is easily the language with the largest number of alphabets and words formed with some of these are a near impossible for a non-native to pronounce. Try uttering ‘Mazha’(rain), that almost everyday weather occurrence in Kerala or ‘Thengya’ (coconut) that indispensable ingredient in every Malayali dish, you would get a sample of what a tongue-twister of a language Malayalam is!  You might find ‘Elluppamaaya’ such a hard word to sound out, but it just means “easy’ in the language.  And when hungry, you may want to say ‘Viśakkunnu’ signalling time for the meal but might end up uttering ‘Viyarkkunnu’ meaning that you are sweating profusely, a physical condition soon after having a sumptuous Malayali feast. But sweat you definitely will pronouncing ‘Vazhappazham‘, a gorgeous word for the humble banana while trying to utter ‘Khizhakku’, meaning east, your tongue might take a flight northwards. Your few brothers would collectively be called ‘Sahodarangal’ but each one needs to be addressed according to their order of precedence. Thus the one elder to you is a ‘Chettan’ and the other younger, a ‘Aniyen‘ though many refer to them as ‘Moothadu‘ and ‘Elayadu‘, meaning the matured and the tender. Overwhelmed by the burgeoning complexity of the language, you may just want to give up attempting to dabble with the tongue and might decide to say so in colloquial Malayalam…’Ennikku Vyya‘! 

Yet it is the tough Malayalam which produces a vast body of literature across genres and the ratio of its readership to the native speakers is indeed the highest among all Indian languages. When the numbers of books published is very impressive, it is its circulation and the sheer volume of their sales that reflect the standing of Malayalam as a very vibrant literary language. This status is only further confirmed by the top of the chart readership for Malayalam newspapers and magazines among all regional languages and the trend shows no signs of abating even in the digital era. The literary movement is only strengthened by a strong network of libraries in Kerala, both small and big, that ensures deep penetration of all published works in the language. It’s no accident that the writers in the language have been the recipients of many prestigious international awards and of course, a large number of Gyanpeeth award winners are Malayalis!

Translations of Paulo Coulho in Malayalam

Three distinct aspects can be discerned to have contributed to this pre-eminent status of Malayalam as a literary language par excellence. First, it is the religious literature of high poetical and philosophical merit produced in the language that contributed to it’s early growth. The ‘Adhyathma Ramayanam‘ by Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan written in a bird song format called the “Kilipattu” is considered a classic and continues to be a highly revered and narrated epic text. To that the works of sages like Poonthanam, inculcating a strong devotional fervour, popularised the poetic language among the masses. Also, the early translation of Bible, incidentally by two Hindus,  Chathu Menon and Vaidyanatha Iyer, did further carry the written language to a wider audience. Second, the reform movements and the new political ideas that came from the West unleashed an epoch literary activity and an avalanche of classical works in the language came into existence. The contributions of the Great Trio – Kumaran Asan, Ullur Parameswara Iyer, and Vallathol Narayana Menon, gave the language a literary tradition and a modern outlook that helped it to absorb and assimilate fresh ideas. The later writers could build on this grand foundation and develop the language that’s capable of communicating highly complex social and political thoughts with ease. Third, Malayalam has been the language in which all the major international works got translated early on. Not merely of Marx, Tolstoy, Shakespeare or other internationally acclaimed writers but also the works of many lesser known African and Latin American authors were made available in Malayalam, enriching the literary pool and variety of the language. French novelist Patrick Modiano for instance, who won the Nobel Prize for his book, ‘In the cafe of the lost youth’ was translated into Malayalam six months before it was translated to English! About a hundred plus works in other languages are translated into Malayalam every year and there would hardly be a Nobel laureate in literature or a Booker prize winner whose work is not published in Malayalam! 

And as the Malayali diaspora spreads its wings across the globe, the appetite for the language in its various literary and cultural forms is only bound to grow and thrive. So the next time you meet a Malayali, along with asking her ‘Nadu Evideyya’ do also check out ‘Enndha Vayikene?’ meaning “ What are you currently reading?”

Yours

Narayanan  

Also read: https://chapter18.wordpress.com/2022/04/11/musings-from-kochi-1/

May 1, 2022 at 1:39 am 25 comments

Musings from Kochi-II

A celebration of the game

Fourteen year old Stella is a very busy girl this summer. She gets up at 5.30 sharp, much before the sunrise, completes her morning chores in ten minutes flat and is at the dinning table, gulping down a glass of milk while her mother hurriedly plaits her curly hair tight. Quickly changing over to a trouser and the jersey T-shirt, she slips to her boots and by 5.45 is off to the grounds, with a full-sized football firmly secured in her bike carrier. Stella is damn serious about her training and is very ambitious of becoming a successful football player.

Girls dribbling the ball

With more than three hundred children dribbling and kicking scores of footballs and a dozen of agile coaches constantly shouting and whistling, the Veli Grounds at Fort Kochi wears a festive and a noisy look every morning. The training, that ranges from physical exercises and stamina building to sharpening the myriad tactics of the game, is a complete program that would prepare talented players for further professional coaching and refinement. While Stella is busy playing as a forward in a friendly match on one end, a group of children are running around plastic cones placed evenly in rows in the middle of the ground to hone their agility and the reflex through zig-zag movements . And another set of aspirants are doing the rounds of reverse hopping over jumpers that strengthen their flexibility and the skills to quickly change directions while on the far end of the ground are a bunch of boys and girls practicing long and lofted shots to enhance precision with punch. In all these aspects, the committed coaches of the Veli Lions Football Academy, that organises the coaching, make sure that every child enrolled for the program go through a rigorous training in all aspects of game. The idea of the entire exercise seems to be to identify and catch the promising ones early and prepare them for the professional circuits while inculcating discipline and team spirit on all participants.

Charlie..The Coach

It’s said that if football were to be a religion, it would have the largest number of followers. An estimated 3 billion people around the world are active enthusiasts of the sport and hardly would there be a country where the sport is not followed religiously. And yet the popularity for the sport in a country of India’s size is rather minimal and the reasons for them is not hard to seek. With electronic gizmos and digital games taking central stage, the urge among children to go out in the open and play is fast dwindling. And it’s in the weaning away the young generation from the deliberating effects of the electronic games that organisations like the one in Kochi are to be appreciated and encouraged. In a country that is obsessed with Cricket, it is indeed heartening to see a bunch of highly enthusiastic youngsters taking up football as their passion and pursuing them with great vigour. And football teaches, along with building stamina and endurance, the ability to be focussed for extended duration, the art of teamwork and the essential social skills to relate and communicate, both with friends and strangers – all vital life skills in a highly integrated and digitalised world of the twenty-first century. And for the girls in Kochi to take up a predominantly male sport in such large numbers is particularly heartwarming and sends a very positive message of gender equality to the rest of the country. 

Over the Jumper
With Coach Babu…Special emphasis on training the girls

As the world emerges out of the pandemic induced isolation for two long years, schools are struggling with the problems of reduced levels of concentration, shortened attention span, lack of discipline and obesity among students. These issues are apart form the more obvious and glaring problems of loss of learning of previous years and of lagging in academic targets. This changed scenario has thrown up fresh challenges for the schools to gear up the students to the earlier levels of competence and would need innovative methods and out of the box ideas to achieve them.  And a training in the game of football with all its ingredients of physical exertion, stamina building and team coordination could become an important tool in rebooting the entire education system to pre-pandemic levels. Football, thus has the potential to become an integral part of the new age school program and it would be in the larger interest of the society to consider a game of soccer before the start of a school day. 

Let the match begin!

Yours

Narayanan

Also read Musings from Kochi-1…https://chapter18.wordpress.com/2022/04/11/musings-from-kochi-1/

April 21, 2022 at 4:49 pm 10 comments

Fostering the Vedic lineage

Sri Seetharama Ganapadigal

The hazy sounds of the chorus Vedic chants heard from a good twenty meter distance turns electrifying as one steps into the sacred precinct of the Sri Bharathi Theertha Veda Patasala, situated in Mattancherry, Kochi. The rhythmic intonations of complex Vedic mantras by a group of dhoti clad boys sitting cross-legged in two inner-facing rows transports the listener to a rarefied field of divine exuberance. The benign glance of Seetharama Ganapadigal, sitting imposingly at the centre with hands gesturing the ebb and flow of the verses, ensures a strict discipline to the oral academic tradition and brings to life the extolled Guru-Shishya Parampara. And as the students effortlessly chant pristine sanskrit verses in precious meter and with clear diction, one is overwhelmed at the expanse of the Vedic knowledge and the grandeur of its expression! 

Sri Sri Sri Bharathi Tirtha Swamigal: Epitome of Vedic wisdom

The Patasala stands as a powerful beacon of light in the dissemination and in the re-establishment of the glorious Vedic wisdom and the students graduating from its portal spread far and wide to foster further this ancient tradition of learning. The pupils go through an exacting daily routine to grasp the essence of the vedas and to master the technique of its correct rendition for a period of ten long years. The daily schedule of a Shishya starts at the wee hours of the morning and the entire day is strictly regimented into vigorous periods for learning, practice, meditation and reflection. In the course of the curriculum, a student is expected to master 3500 Vedic verses called the ‘Suktas’, understand and grasp its philosophical underpinnings and chant them in different formats, each style more complex than the preceding one. The student once well versed in ‘Moolam’, the basic format of chanting is led to the advanced ‘Padam’ rendition and further progresses to more complicated and nuanced styles of ‘Kramam’, ‘Jadai’ and ‘Ganam’. And the mastering of such a vast body of knowledge and the formats demand an intellect of a superior order, a razor sharp memory and a voice quality that booms and reverberates. The student passing out is also a well disciplined individual with deeply engrained high moral and ethical values… a harmonious synthesis of the qualities of the head and the heart. 

With the preceptor

Vedas are the divine revelations, the Shruthi, and are the life breath of the Bharatiya culture. Sages of the yore to whom these sacred knowledge were revealed, codified and broadly classified them into four distinct branches – The Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas with each of these further sub-divided into Samhitas ( hymns), Brahmanas (rituals), Aranyakas (theologies) and the Upanishads, the philosophical thought pertaining to the branch. The Upanishads, also called the Vedanta, seeks to explore the nature of the Brahman, the Supreme, and establishes the truth, through dialectical reasoning, the oneness of all creations. Orally passed on from generation to generation, these vast compilation of texts covers all aspects of human knowledge and addresses myriad human needs, progressively leading the learner to the ultimate truth. Thus the Vedas can be unequivocally proclaimed as the texts of the supreme truth on which the entire edifice of the Sanathana Dharma, the eternal religion, stands erected and is the bedrock of the Bharatiya Sanskriti, the Indian culture, thought and civilisation.

The Patasala

And the torchbearers of this ancient wisdom has been the Brahmins, the priestly class, who, through their dedicated and selfless commitments, have successfully preserved these priceless heritage over millenniums. Undertaking many a personal sacrifice, withstanding immense challenges over centuries and many living in abject penury, Brahmins have gloriously upheld the sacred task of protecting and fostering the Vedas and securing them for the future generations. Harnessing modern communication tools, select members of the community are still immersed in the propagation of the Vedas and personages like Seetharama Ganapadigal are an integral part of that unbroken lineage established by the sage Vyasa Krishna Dwaipayana. 

Bhartiya culture will be preserved, protected and fostered only if the Vedic traditions are propagated and nourished and the true identity of the nation rests in the internalising the universal ideals as declared in the Vedas.

 “ Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”, meaning, ‘May the entire world be happy’!.

Yours 

Narayanan

April 15, 2022 at 1:22 pm 18 comments

Musings from Kochi-1

A day’s catch

The catamaran with the outboard engine cruised elegantly towards the silvery sands of the Fort Kochi beach. And just as it neared the shallow waters, Martin switched off the propulsion system allowing the boat to lazily drift towards the land. Once slowed down, Joby, Sunny, Jackson and Xavier jumped off the catamaran, each carrying a log of solid wood and hastily spread them parallel on the ground, at an equidistance of about a meter apart. Martin navigated the boat over the sleeper woods and brought the boat to a majestic halt making the transition, from the high seas to the safe shores, a perfect one!

The five fishermen had ventured into the seas the previous night and after repeatedly spreading the net for a gruelling twelve hours, the catch for the day was just lacklustre. Mackerel, or Aiyla in Malayalam, is the only variety that were caught and with all of them to share the bounty equally, it is another day of disappointment for them. The hotel and tourism industry in the city is yet to recover from the pandemic shock and with the season of Ramadan now on, the demand for the fishes is at its nadir, pulling down the prices to its lowest level. And a bucketful of Mackerel would hardly fetch enough money for the five of them to buy some food for the family and also pay for the diesel to make the next trip to the sea. The hard life of these fishermen only just got worse!

The picture of a lonely man casting his net from his small boat has been on the covers of many a glossy tourism magazine but the entire ecosystem of the fishing industry is so stacked against the small fisherman that his life is anything but glossy. Big trawlers go deep into the high seas and remain floating for weeks on end affording them with huge catches of a variety of marine lives. And the purse-seine method they adopt allows no creature that it surrounds to escape leaving very little for small fishermen with conventional nets to bank on. The catches are stored in gigantic freezers in the trawlers themselves that ensure intense fishing and zero wastage while small boats need to make shorter and more frequent trips back and forth for want of cold storage facility. Once on the shores, they are forced to sell the fishes quickly as they need money to make the next trip compromising on the price front and this cycle of exploitation goes on and on. 

This assault on the small players is universal and cuts across industries, professions and trades. Small shop-keepers are at a huge disadvantage vis-a-vis big marts and online giants, small farmers, pitted against corporate farming, are on perpetual survival mode and small manufacturers, faced with the relentless onslaught of technologically superior big sharks, are on compulsive sustenance level. Small, once considered beautiful, looks increasingly ugly!

But it is the small and informal operations that provide the largest number of jobs and is the backbone of a developing economy like that of India. And if the small ceases to exist, the big would also be in jeopardy as the demand for their product is created by the wealth generated by the small. For this cycle to sustain and flourish, there needs to be a conscious effort to strengthen the small and integrate it with the large and make the system a composite whole. 

Meanwhile, Jackson has promised his family a lavish Easter feast complete with mutton and a bottle of wine but with his daily catch going down along with its price, he is worried whether he could fulfil his commitment. With just four days to go, he still is an optimistic man!

May the Lord fulfil his small desire. Amen!

Yours

Narayanan

Also read Kochi shows the way… https://chapter18.wordpress.com/2022/04/21/musings-from-kochi-ii/

April 11, 2022 at 10:36 pm 6 comments

Holi-The wellspring of joy

Holi-The wellspring of Joy

The golden sun beam piercing the morning haze spreads a cosy warmth on the pristine earth.  The gentle northerly breeze wafts the fragrance of a thousand flowers as its countless hues carpet the ground till the horizons. The sweet chirping of the cuckoo birds strike a lingering melodious note of a bygone era. And the scented countryside is bustling with the harvest of many a bountiful crop spilling the granaries with lustrous grains. The days are getting longer and brighter and it’s that time of the year when nature decks up to unravel her beauty, most grandeur!  Rejoice, the celestial season of  Basant, the Spring, is here yet again, filling every heart with unfathomable joy and glorious bliss!

The season of Basant also enlivens the mystical and divine romance, enacted by the Lord, through colourful dance set to rapturous music. The Rasa Leela captures the myriad shades of  love that the Gopis nurtured towards their beloved and the pangs and agonies caused by their separation from him, that invariably follow.  They long to hold the Lord closest to their hearts but the playful One gives them a slip, everytime And Radha embodies the eternal quest for that nectarine sweetness of supreme love and the human predicament that prevents the final merger. Basant, in many ways, is also a celebration of unadulterated love, victorious of its many trials, victorious of, to borrow a phrase,  the “Ishaq Ka Imtihan”.

The natural adjunct to the season of colours is the festival of colours, the “Holi”.  With a riot of dazzling shades, deafening music and unrestrained revelry,  Holi is one occasion when man lets go his self-imposed importance and indulges in joyful inter-mingling without inhibitions. The colour on the faces is a great leveller that erases the distinction between the boss and the subordinate, between the ruler and the ruled, and, between the prosperous and the dispossessed.  And herein lay the egalitarian message of the festival and its loud affirmation on the essential and underlying unity of all creations that is beyond the multiplicity of the manifested world.

Oh, what a season, what an occasion, what a festival and what a message…. I am getting my “Pichkari” ready, what about you?

Yours

Narayanan

March 17, 2022 at 5:23 pm 5 comments

At the Dargah

My daughter has started a new photo blog and am sharing it here!

Pragya Narayanan

Met this sweet boy at the Nizamuddin Dargah during Eid. He was looking over at the Baoli. To me this picture represents a pure moment of faith and innocence.

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March 12, 2022 at 6:16 am 5 comments

Mattancherry — Pragya Narayanan

Clicked on iPhone 8 and edited on VSCO

Mattancherry — Pragya Narayanan

March 12, 2022 at 6:10 am 1 comment

A thought on Dharma

Jack is one of the five strong boys in the class but seldom gets along well with the other four except perhaps with Jim. And other than with Jim, John has great relationships with almost all and he is easily the nicest boy in the class, even when he enjoys a special bonding with Jack. John would help Jack with his homework and Jack would, in turn, lend his pencil to John wherever he needed one and also guard him against the stronger Jim.  The atmosphere in the classroom generally remained cordial and peaceful until one day Jack decided to steal the lunch box from Joe, the weakling boy sitting next to Jack. The entire class protested against this strong arm tactics of Jack and the other strong four even threatened to retaliate by isolating him. But John chose to remain silent and refused to stand up against this abhorrent behaviour fearing that the special status he enjoys with Jack would be jeopardised even when he concedes that stealing the lunch of others is deeply immoral. John places expediency and self-interest above righteousness even when he correctly guards his lunchbox as his inalienable right. 

The principle of morality has long vexed the human consciousness and when it is placed in direct conflict with self-interest, it has remained even tougher to make a choice. The questions often that are placed on the table are whether morality can be made subservient to expediency and can it thus be twisted and turned to suit one’s convenience? Or, is it that, the issues governing principles and morality are absolute and non-negotiable and thus are independent to the consequences of its application? There may not be an easy, much less a direct answer to the ethical dilemmas that human beings are at times posed with but there are in our epics and history, instances that could well act as signposts to help resolve such moral conundrums.

In the Mahabharata, the episode of the attempt to disrobe Draupadi and the behaviour of the learned men assembled in the courtroom then is a textbook case of how principles of morality and justice were subjugated towards self-preservation.  And of all the men, the baffling silence of Bhishma, a man of immense wisdom and of proven valour, in upholding his moral duty and stop the disgraceful act is a definite pointer as to how an overwhelming concern for self-preservation could cloud the rational thinking of even the most upright and end up in the wrong side of history. Bhishma was a powerful warrior and if there was someone present there who could stop Dhryodhana from the ghastly act, it was Bhishma and yet he acted powerless and cowardly, turning away the relentless plea of Draupadi to intervene. Bhishma was confusing his loyalty to Duryodhana with that of his higher moral duty of protecting the dignity of a women. In this bargain, even when being highly cultured, Bhishma miserably failed to rise above his mundane considerations and stooped low in esteem by setting an awful precedent. For this single act of indifference, Bhishma was tormented by his conscience till his last breath.

But in the other epic, the Ramayana, the character of Jatayu, the ageing eagle, sets an altogether different yardstick of moral compliance and adherence to the higher duty even at the risk of a definite death. Though weak and powerless, Jatayu tried everything within his strength to prevent Ravana from kidnapping Sita knowing only too well that he will perish in the very attempt. Sita was a stranger to him but that did not stop Jatayu from intervening and act valiantly against the mighty yet morally wrong Ravana for he had a clear understanding of his Dharma, the righteous duty. Though only a winged creature, the response of Jatayu was exemplary and in accordance to the highest values of moral obligation and for this single act, Jatayu would remain revered for ages to come. The Lord himself, as Rama, did the final ritual and obeisance to Jatayu and conferred him the highest honour while Bhishma spent his last days on a bed of arrows lamenting his fate! What a contrast of approach and what a forceful message! 

And from the same epic, the conduct of Vibhishana, the younger brother of Ravana is again a worthy moral compass that generations to come could easily refer to. Though fully dependent on his elder brother for his survival, Vibhishana did not shy away from pointing out the immorality of kidnapping another man’s woman to Ravana. He only knew it too well the wrath that would befall on him for his stance but humiliation and deportation are too small a price to pay when it comes to the question of upholding moral righteousness. 

In our recent history too, the application of this principles of morality can be found in ample measure when Gandhiji decided to call off the non-cooperation movement against the British rule in 1922. The non-violent movement had reached a crescendo and the Britishers were finding it increasingly difficult to contain the movement and were literally on their knees when Gandhiji decided to call it off due to one stray incident of violence. If not for the burning of a police station resulting in the death of few policemen in Chauri-Chaura, India, many scholars argue, would have gained freedom from the British yoke way back in 1922 but have to wait for a full quarter century to achieve it. For Gandhiji, moral correctness is far more pertinent than an independence gained through violent methods.

These examples from epics and history do richly demonstrate that moral principles are inalienable and are designed to serve a higher purpose not immediately discerning to the uninitiated. And they are to be adhered at all times and under all circumstances and their validity applies equally to individuals, societies and nations!

Yours 

Narayanan

March 6, 2022 at 4:46 pm 11 comments

Privilege and Prejudice

Prejudice was a concept that remained largely alien to me till I finished schooling.  My schoolmates came from a variety of social and economic backgrounds – some ultra rich, many, like me, from families of modest means and a few were abjectly poor. Yet we sat on the same benches, rote learnt our lessons from the same teachers and ate our lunches dipping into each other’s tiffin boxes. We would instantaneously know why a poor boy is downcast and rush to share our meal with him and would help out with the homework of another whenever she missed her class tending to her sick mother. And in those crowded and dimly lit classrooms, we consciously picked up basic language and arithmetic while unconsciously developed important life skills of sharing, empathy and compassion. These skills came handy later on in life when faced with the compulsion of having to survive with fugal means or when the need to be accommodating arose while living and interacting with people of diverse backgrounds in an unfamiliar city. 

But the school that my daughter attended did not brook any variation in their student’s economic status. They all came from similar affluent families, spoke in an anglicised lingo that called out their class identity and all of them possessed an equal disinterestedness in the lives of the less privileged. The school was beyond the bounds of the weaker sections and the students in turn were robbed of the opportunity to imbibe crucial life lessons; lessons that are available only when there is an intermingling of children from a plethora of social milieu. What was designed as a privilege to the elite kids turned out to be prejudiced educational setting that proved detrimental to the wholistic development of its children. 

And prejudice in real life extends in all aspects of human enterprise as was the case with Ann’s garden. With the confluence of a thousand roses and alliums, a visit to her garden was always a bonanza of scintillating visuals, clothed in tantalising fragrance. The countless shades unraveled by the myriad varieties of the two complimenting plants are only rivalled by the musky aromas that emanate from each of those floras. While the roses, with their thick and luxuriant bloom captivates you with a romantic lure, the ornamental inflorescence of the alliums were prefect accompaniments to cast a seductive spell on the one willing to indulge. Thus a stroll in her garden was a riot to the senses, celestial to the moods and ethereal to the soul, all at the same time.

But one day, Ann felt that there isn’t enough roses in the garden that would fetch her good returns and the alliums occupy more space than they deserve.She went on, thus, to replace the lesser plant with more exotic varieties of the coveted shrub and soon her garden was carpeted with an unending array of roses and more roses …red, white, pink and pastels in neat and monotonous uniformity. But as the garden became uni-species, the bugs and the pests that were kept at bay by the alliums become abundant and widespread. With no natural repellent at work, the bugs feasted on the rose petals with contemptuous abandon while the pests bored the stems and the bushes to leave them hollow and collapsing. And before she could fathom the extent of the botanical holocaust, Ann was left with a garden that’s a pale shadow of a connoisseur’s delight that it was just a few weeks back! It’s a self inflicted disaster that could have been averted if only the alliums were allowed to thrive and share the space alongside the roses. A catastrophic fall-out of a blatant act of prejudice! 

The current pandemic and its responses are a classic case of privilege of the affluent societies and their blatant prejudices against the poorer nations. When Covid was raging the world over last year, frantic efforts were made to quickly develop vaccines against the deadly virus and a slew of them were made available in a short span of time that would protect the world population from further infection and death. But then as the vaccines were developed, a stringent protective regime was also put in place that prevented the less privileged nations from having easy access to them. While developed nations began stockpiling of the vaccines in their millions, multinational pharmaceutical companies saw a huge commercial opportunity in the sale of them and subjected their availability only by conforming to the stringent patent and intellectual property rights. These measures ensured that vaccines remain costly for many poor countries and a large swath of their population still remain to be inoculated against the virus, for they are unaffordable. 

But when substantial section of the people are yet to get their first shot of the vaccine, they are the perfect candidates for the virus to infect and to mutate into more virulent forms. The outbreak of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus is said to have begun in the unvaccinated population of Africa which is now threatening to rapidly spread across the globe. If only the vaccines were made freely available to all the people of the world, we could have lesser numbers of mutations and possibly fewer waves of the pandemic. 

In a highly integrated world, prejudice towards some could prove detrimental to the interest of the privileged. And when it comes to the prevention of Covid, no one is safe until everyone is safe! 

Yours

Narayanan  

December 4, 2021 at 3:03 pm 11 comments

Running the marathon with slippers on!

Life’s important learnings often happen at strange places and it was in a Chinese restaurant that I picked up one myself. Waiting for the meal that evening, I watched with unabashed amusement the antics of two toddlers on the opposite table, each trying to negotiate a bowl of soggy vegetable soup. The first kid, sitting on the lap of her mother, dipped a lean lemonade straw inside the bowl and tried desperately to sip in the thick solution. Repeated sucking of the straw placing it at varied angles only resulted in a flattened and collapsing pipe without a drop seeping into the mouth. And quickly learning from the unsuccessful attempt of his sibling, the second one thought differently and took a steel fork that’s placed on the table. He made valiant efforts to scoop out the soup with the fork only to find it leak out completely and the child ended up licking the metal instead of drinking the liquid. The mother, giggling at the predicament of the kids, lovingly placed melamine spoons in each of the bowls and the children relished the delicacy with mouthfuls of the soup with its solid contents, eating them with the spoon.

Observing an artist at work later on, I gauged with greater clarity the importance of using the right tool to achieve the desired result. The artist, while painting the portrait of a celebrity model, deployed slender brush and finer strokes to capture the delicate contours of the human anatomy and preferred lighter shades to enliven the nuanced expression of her eyes. But to depict the sweeping drapery and the flowing tress of the woman, he chose broader brush and bolder strokes and thus bestowed a casual and carefree attitude to the lady’s persona. The one underlying principle that guided his artistic creation is appropriateness.

Appropriateness is pretty common sense that we have imbibed subconsciously with regard to our interactions with the innate objects. But that it is the technique that stands as the fine differentiator between effectiveness and otherwise in all inter-human engagements, struck me hard while watching a football match soon after. In the game, the demanding tasks of dribbling and the advancing the ball, outsmarting the opponent and scoring the goals are entrusted to the most agile and the versatile players while the less mobile and inherently defensive play at the back. Though, as members of the team, all the eleven have significant and near-equal roles to accomplish, it’s only when the position of individual player is mapped to his demonstrated skill that the team has a whole stand to benefit. A Lionel Messi playing at the sweeper position would never have become the soccer genius of lightning speed that he celebrated as nor a Cristiano Ronaldo a mesmerising demolisher, ripping through the opponent’s defence had he played as a wing-backer. The already inherent skills are unleashed when avenues are offered and it is never that opportunities presented make a person skilful. 

Yet, historically, it is the failure to acknowledge the genius of some of the brightest human minds and confer them appropriate place in society that has led to great losses to humanity. Socrates was administered the poisonous hemlock for his allegiance to true knowledge and Galileo was put to solitary confinement for declaring the appropriate places of the Earth and the Sun. And Einstein, instead of being honoured for his path-breaking discovery of the relation between mass and energy, was banished from Germany for lifetime. He went to US and joined the Princeton University, and the rest, it is said, is Modern Physics. The defeat of Germany in the World War II could be, to a large degree, linked to losing its scientific community.

While inappropriate allocation of tasks may largely confine to ineffectiveness, not putting the right  resource at the correct place in some cases could produce dangerous dysfunction and might positively be harmful. One of my friends has converted his helmet as a make-shift bag firmly mounted on to his motorbike… and he whizzes on the machine wearing a cowboy hat!! 

Another one participated in a marathon run with slippers on while a pair of his sneakers was safely secured in his backpack!!  All to avoid a sweaty feet!

BTW try chewing a gooseberry with incisors and you would know what appropriateness truly is!

Yours

Narayanan

October 15, 2021 at 12:16 am 6 comments

A pillion ride with the pizza delivery boy

Anytime it’s Pizza time

Having spent 20 unsuccessful minutes waiting to hire an auto, I grudgingly decided to walk the three kilometre route back home from the vaccination centre. Since employing the jazzed arm muscle immediately after a Covid preventive shot may not be a great idea, I left the car at home, got myself dropped at the centre by a considerate neighbour and happily joined the expanding tribe of the fully inoculated before I was stranded on the roadside desperately looking for a transport back. Just as I made a few hesitant strides, a bike from behind stopped aside and the youngster, lifting the glass shield of his headgear, asked me “ Sir, can I drop you somewhere?”. With the logo of the company prominently on display on his T-shirt and a bulged backpack firmly secured on him, I knew that he was a pizza delivery boy zipping through to make the next delivery of the delicacy and satiate the pangs of hunger of a starving soul. Since his immediate call of destination fell close to the place of my residence, I happily accepted the offer and squeezed myself on the bike, with the backpack sandwiched between the two of us. “Make yourself comfortable Sir” said the compassionate boy as he moved himself forward, almost sitting on the fuel tank, to create a little more space to accommodate my large body and soon we were on wheels!

Though the posture of my sitting was anything but comfortable, the spicy aroma emanating from the hot pizzas inside was so invigorating that I soon began to enjoy the ride, clasping the bag with my two hands and taking in the warmth of the stuff. “It should be farmhouse pizza that is selling most in this monsoon season” I made an informed guess to the boy based on the cocktail of smells of crispy capsicums and fresh tomatoes that was filling my nostrils along with the flavour of that baked oregano. “ Yes sir that is always the favourite but the Mexican and the Tandoori Paneer are also in great demand”. “ Oh that would mean that the business is brisk… so how many pizzas you usually deliver in a day” I continued the conversation with my probing questions and the boy was more than willing to indulge. “ Around 15 to 20 sir and after putting in twelve long hours of work, my earning is just about Rs. 400- 500 a day. I get Rs.25 per delivery” there was a tinge of lament in his voice as he said this adding “and the petrol expenses is all on me”.   “ But I am sure customers would be tipping you handsomely when you deliver these hot pizzas at their doorsteps”. “ Nothing much sir and maybe an occasional ten or twenty rupees. In these difficult times, not many are willing to shell out anything extra and some even ask back for the exact change after deducting the amount” . “ Is that so…that’s very mean” I sympathised with the boy as he continued “ The other day, one customer held back my bag till I returned the excess two rupees fifty paise that wasn’t readily available with me. Some even cancel the order if I am late by a few minutes and I will be made to pay a penalty for that”.  “ Oh life is tough” I agreed with him as I struggled to balance myself as he negotiated a deep pot hole in the middle of the road to avoid splashing from the muddy rain water puddle. 

“ Riding in these roads constantly is laden with much risk and how are you protected? Do you have a medical claim or an insurance policy?” I turned concerned and animated now as I became aware of his daily professional hazards. “ Insurance? We don’t have anything of that sort and if some mishap were to happen, the responsibility is entirely on to me. I am doing this job only for my survival” the helplessness of the boy was too evident to ignore. “ How long have you been doing this?” I pressed him for an answer presuming that he would be new to the job. “ Almost two years now, joined just before the pandemic struck. I really wanted to change but as most of the factories are in bad shape, no company is taking any new staff now.” 

“You speak so very well and I am sure you would be a matriculation pass” I prompted him to reveal his educational background not very sure whether he would have achieved that significant academic milestone that I just mentioned. “ Sir, I am a science graduate and studied physics and mathematics as my subjects. I will share my certificate with you on WhatsApp” he stopped the vehicle as he said this, having reached our common destination. Never before was so much revelation squeezed in a three kilometer ride, of ordinary people we meet everyday but know very little about…and in five minutes!

As I got down from the bike with some assistance from the boy, I thanked him profusely for his timely help. “ No problem sir” was his disarming reply as I shared my mobile number for him to send me the image of his degree certificate. “ That’s my degree certificate. Please help me get a decent job” requested the boy on hearing the peep of the WhatsApp message alert on my mobile. “ Sure, I will definitely try” was all I could muster to utter looking at the genuineness of his academic achievements!

“Thank you sir” said the boy in all smiles displaying in the process the whole array of his white teeth that resembled a lavish dose of mozzarella on a cheese burst pizza!  

Yours

Narayanan  

( 1 USD ~ 74 rupees)

August 1, 2021 at 12:09 pm 26 comments

By the rule book

“Sir, your cabin baggage exceeds the permissible limit by two kilos. You need to offload few of the stuff and bring it down to fifteen”… the young lady at the check-in counter said in a matter of fact way as she shovelled my Samsonite stroller aside without the airline tag. I had booked my ticket separately for this family trip as two of us preferred an aisle seat not available on a single purchase. My daughter and wife had checked-in before me and the combined weight of their luggage read just about 25 kilos. “You may adjust my excess baggage against the below par weight of the other two… we are all travelling together.” I flashed the three identity cards carrying the same address across the glass counter to establish our family relationship. “That’s alright sir but since yours is a separate ticket we cannot swap it that way. You better transfer few of your things on to them.” I ripped open my bag as well as one of the other two, pulled out few shirts and a pair of slippers from mine, rolled them together in the faded green half-trouser and thrust it into the other bag in full view and to the amusement of all the peering eyes in that busy airport lounge. My baggage now weighed exactly fifteen kilos and I was issued the boarding pass as we proceeded towards the security check. That day my two year old home knicker became my most popular apparel!

On reflection I realised the idiosyncrasy of the entire exercise and the embarrassment that it caused to the three of us. We neither exceeded the aggregate limit allowed nor did we reduce the weight by transferring few clothes from one bag to the other and the aircraft did ultimately carry all the forty-two kilos of our luggage to the destination, albeit in different bags. But it did bring out the ways in which rules at times are thoughtlessly applied inferring them only in their textual meaning and are used not as tools to help and assist but as weapons to harass and inconvenience the citizens. The case of the cabin baggage weight is just one innocuous incidence where letter of the law took precedence over its purpose but there could be situations when rules recklessly applied prove more damaging and may also at times result in undesirable consequences. And the credit card business is one such area where many fall prey to undue charges on technical grounds. I too had my share of being fleeced by a credit card company, for no demonstrable fault of mine.

I paid by cheque the entire credit card amount on the 2nd of the month, three days prior to its due date and the cheque was promptly put to clearance the next day. But since there were two national holidays with weekends in between, the amount got credited to the company only on the 7th and I was charged for late payment in the next bill. When I took up the case with the company, the reason given was that I should have ensured that the amount is credited to the company well within the due date and the fact that the company received the cheque well in advance doesn’t automatically relieve me of that responsibility. The argument that I could not have possibly paid before the second of the month or the truth that I do not have control over national holidays did not wash with the credit card company and I ended up paying late fees for the amount that I paid before time. That’s the way rules are so insensitively interpreted and the hapless customers are made to bear the brunt.  

While the cold interpretation of the rules mostly leave the parties aggrieved, it could also at times lead to loss of recognition of merit. Recently, a girl along with a boy scored the highest marks in a fiercely competitive national entrance exam for the medical profession but the boy was declared the topper. The argument marshalled was that when two candidates score the same marks, the one who is older will be ranked higher while common sense tells us that it is the younger one who deserves the kudos.

In the famous essay “ All about the dog” the protagonist, a young lady was not allowed to board a city bus on a cold winter night just because she was carrying a little pet dog on her lap as animals are prohibited in public transport. The fact that it is a tiny cute puppy which would cause no harm to anyone around does not reason with the bus conductor who is hell bent on upholding the law to its last letter even as the lady is freezing in the cold winter wind. The author of the essay, A.G. Gardner’s advice that rules are instruments meant to help the people with and are not meant to be used as a whip to scourge the people with, stands more relevant today than it was in the early twentieth century.  

Yours

Narayanan

July 24, 2021 at 9:29 pm 8 comments

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