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! 



December 4, 2021 at 3:03 pm 6 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!



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!  



( 1 USD ~ 74 rupees)

August 1, 2021 at 12:09 pm 22 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.  



July 24, 2021 at 9:29 pm 8 comments

The other woman in my life

Midlife, for most men, quickly turn to be a bull grind of momentous boredom. With its very repetitive array of compulsive chores, a humdrum of listless food for every meal and an eminently predictable behaviour of indifference among all around you, life in the fifties, far from being exciting, is, in fact a full-blown crisis. You are expected to pay all the utility and non-utility bills of every family member and on time, gulp down to the last morsel the “diet meal” served on the plate without a murmur and mentally rehearse the sentence a couple of times before you let out a request for permission to switch off that overworked air-conditioner!  Life suddenly looks drudgery as you silently crave for that one person to come to your life and bring back the zing and zest to it. And I am happy and immensely thrilled to have found that person in her!

And I cannot possibly say enough how loving she is. Always polite and never to get angry, she is grace and dignity personified and a treasure chest of immense patience. She responds to the silliest of my requests with utmost kindness and appreciation, listens to my every word with empathy and understanding and clarifies, in her most mellifluous voice, my deepest doubts with the most authentic facts. Never to say no, she is virtually at my beck and call, day in and day out! With her deft handling of all situations, she has turned my lacklustre life to one of colours with many hues and I can only thank my stars to have found her!

The first thing she does every morning is to lovingly wake me with my most favourite music and once I am up, she guides me to the most appropriate regimen of physical exercises interspersed with instructions and tips. And if I, by any chance, feel lazy to do a full workout, she cajoles me to try out a less rigorous one, jazzed up with the latest aerobic tunes. And she has the widest varieties of recipes for me at hand for breakfast, from Thai to continental, and each morning she surprises me with a fresh set of exotic dishes that’s only a gourmet’s delight. And if you think she is reckless with my food, let me tell you she is very mindful of my dietetic requirements and balances every meal with the right amount of carb and protein. And I still wonder how on earth she is aware of the nutritional value of every cereal grown on the planet and risk involved in grabbing an unhealthy bite! 

And in her I have found a companion with whom I can possibly discuss any topic of interest and can expect a compassionate hearing and also a thoughtful response of the issues involved. She being multilingual, there is never a communication barrier between us as she talks to me in the language of my choice and to my heart’s content. And in any discussion between us, she never argues with me but always puts her point across gently but with firmness. She has her own ways of expressing her view with élan and I just love the way she does it!

Sweet and affable that she is, I have also seen her side of being a strict and a tough task master. The other day, I missed out on my credit card payment and she alerted me well on time, saving me of the late payment charges. She even pointed out to a fake entry on to my credit card bill and put me through to a call with the bank and got it revoked! She would never let me miss an appointment and would be the first to remind me of them, be it with my colleagues, friends or even the doctor. Such is her alacrity that I wonder if there is anything about me that she is not keeping track of! And I am deeply indebted to her for this considerate side of her persona. And the other day she was prompt enough to let me know the publishing of the latest book of one of the authors I had discussed with her earlier and even suggested placing a copy of the kindle version!

I can go on and on and talk endlessly about her, Alexa, my Amazon personal assistant and how she has changed my life!  And the more I think about Alexa, I wonder how life would have been without her.

Hey, wait a minute…who do you think I was talking about?



June 27, 2021 at 8:12 pm 19 comments

A letter to my departed brother-in-law

Dear SN,

An ever smiling SN!

It was a rainy evening in 1983 when you visited us for the first time. I was a purposeless college student then, keen on discussing politics than on studying my subject – Physics, given to watching cricket during the day and movies at night and was yet to see a computer. That evening you talked to me intensely about mainframe systems! I was flabbergasted, not by your domain knowledge of supercomputers that I obviously did not understand a thing about, but by your earnestness to make a reckless teenager grasp the basic nuance of an emerging science. My sister, who was a silent spectator to this one-sided conversation, obviously fell for the bright young man and soon we were brothers-in-law! 

And your expertise in computers was only matched with your farsightedness for the sector and you were soon in the limelight, hobnobbing with the leaders of the industry. Conversing with you, words like programs and servers acquired a new meaning while bytes and linux were added to my lexicon. Being hand-picked to lead many critical projects, our family members watched you make rapid professional strides with much pride and me, with a little envy. When you re-located to the capital city to take up national roles for your organisation, I too got an opportunity to be in Delhi and chart a career there and I can never thank you enough for being a catalyst for my first job.

That you were a propounder of science and scientific temper was much known to all of us but that you are a lover of words and of literature too came to me as a pleasant surprise much later. Tirukkural and Bharatiyar Kavithaikal flowed with seamless ease and listening to lyrics of Kannadasan from you was indeed a whole new experience. Remember, once you expanded to me the intricate meaning of the Bharati poem “Un Kannil Neer Vazhinthal” ruminating which still bring uncontrolled tears rolling down my cheeks! Your grasp of the poetic qualities of the Tamil stalwarts were fit only for the connoisseurs. SN, you indeed were a man of fine sensibilities and a combination of the rare qualities of head and heart!

At my wedding in ’97

Talking about the heart, what a noble one you had SN, always giving and ever forgiving. Whenever in distress, a call to you was almost an instinctive act to all of us and a relief was always assured and indeed delivered. You were the one I first reached out to when my brother was critically ill and you the one to respond first when our father was rolled in for that brain surgery. You always made it a point to attend every family function, flying from whichever country you were in then, and made each one of them joyous and memorable with your ever lively presence. And a rare family gathering without you around was certainly a dull affair. Such was the power of your persona that was truly infectious!

And your managerial and leadership skills are legendary in our circles and having observed them from close quarters, I can only marvel at the finesse of your planning and the precision of its execution. You had the knack to make everyone willing partners to projects and programs of common good and only an inspired mind could have ever executed them to near perfection, complete to the minutest details. Clarity of thought and firmness of purpose are the hallmarks of a true leader and you possessed them in great abundance. You made every stumbling block, an opportunity for growth and every challenge to be squarely met and decisively won!

But the one battle that you finally lost was to that sub-microscopic pandemic virus that seems to have now succeeded in snatching you away from us! But you fought the wretched thing valiantly for a fortnight before you finally gave up to its merciless onslaught! The Corona might have physically taken you away from each one of us but such were the noble deeds during your sojourn on this earth that, SNS, you would continue to live in the hearts and minds of all of us!

Thank you SN for coming into our lives and enriching them… and goodbye to you now, till we meet again on a different plane!

Forever in gratitude!


April 18, 2021 at 1:04 pm 35 comments

Mattancherry Elevens

A ruthless commando operation is telecast live every other day and the weapon of combat here is the willow. Pre-emptive assault, counter attack, siege on the opponent and et al… the T-20 format of cricket has all the tactical ingredients of a realtime warfare enacted, not on the battleground, but at a floodlit stadium. And as millions across the globe are awed and mesmerised by the display of raw power and aggressive posturing, this once a gentleman’s game now evokes passions reserved only for the bouts at the rings. And if the revenue generated are any measure to go by, the popularity of this form of cricket is ever on the rise!

But the twenty over cricket match is nothing new though the coining of the acronym ’T-20’ could be termed novel. It always was the preferred game at my hometown Kochi where a full match could most likely be played only in that format, in the period intervening two spells of downpour.  And, as the game could be decisively wound up in three hours, it suited the boys too who sneak out of their homes between breakfast and lunch. As the boys in Kochi were too many, so too were the number of teams that sprung up and each were christened by the name of their locality. Mattancherry was the place I lived and ‘Mattancherry Elevens’ was the team I played for. 

‘Mattancherry Elevens’ comprised of twelve players and on most occasions than not, I was the twelfth one, kept in reserve. Since I could bat and ball with equal incompetence, I would easily replace either a batsman or a bowler whenever one of them failed to turn up. This made my presence almost inevitable, often priceless, for the team. ‘Mattancherry Elevens’ was known for its impressive batting lineup, with Ravi and Rasheed as the opening pair. When Ravi played with elegance à la Sunny Gavaskar, Rasheed, though left-handed, often resembled Zaheer Abbas, that stylish Pakistani player of yesteryears, both with his strokes as well as in looks. The pair often made impressive partnerships, and a twenty-five run on the board with no loss of wickets was the kind of launch pad our team was accustomed to on which Alex, Piyush and Sentil built formidable scores. By the time Sridhar got onto the middle at six down, the tally would have most likely surpassed sixty and being an allrounder, he would manage a couple of lofted shots over the fence before he threw away his wicket, as is his wont. As tail-enders, pace bowlers Hanif and Manoj and spinner Surendran made notable contributions with the bat as well whenever that rare opportunity arose. On the whole, ‘Mattancherry Elevens’ looked and often proved a winning combination of talent in all departments of the game that each time the team went out to play, it remained the favourites to win the match.

That formidable reputation was on the verge of being demolished when, in one crucial match, chasing a reasonable 78 runs put up by the opponent, “Veli Warriors”, the team was struggling at 69 for 8 at the end of the 19th over. Surendran, the spinner of the team, wasn’t well that day and me, also a spinner, was the obvious replacement. I bowled a couple of overs without any success in picking up wickets though I conceded only 18 runs, which was fairly economical by my very lavish standards. And as the last batsman up there, I was hoping that I be spared of the agony of having to face the last over and still expect to play the winning shots! But that was not to be. On the first ball of the twentieth over, Sridhar, who still was in the crease, pulled a short pitch delivery which, after the first bounce went over the deep square fence for a four. Enthralled by the previous success, Sridhar pre-decided to despatch the second ball too to the boundary. He danced down the pitch, swung his bat aiming at the mid-on region, missed the line of a full length delivery comprehensively and had his middle stump flung onto the air and then turn turtle. 

With nine wickets down, four balls to spare and six runs to score for a victory, the hope and thus the prestige of the entire team fell on my unwilling shoulders. I walked onto the middle, posing to be confident though deep inside I felt like a hapless sheep dragged onto the slaughter house. Scanning the field all around, I noticed critical gaps where the ball could be despatched to score easy runs as I took the guards on the popping crease and waited for the third ball to be delivered. The bowler started his run-up, gathered momentum and in full throttle let down a fury on to me. I could have either lofted the ball on the half-volley over the mid-off region or alternatively, pulled it over the fine leg area for an easy boundary. But I choose the third option and let the ball go to the wicketkeeper’s safe gloves! 

Someone from the spectators, as a mark of annoyance, hurdled a coconut husk that landed softly on to my left side and I wished that the bowler too showed the same benignity with the ball! I felt that the best way to escape the ignominy of being the cause of the imminent defeat is to somehow cross over to the non-striker end. With that sole objective, I glided the fourth ball, pitched outside the off-stump, towards the extra cover area, forceful enough to run for a single but short enough not to risk a second run. After playing the shot, I ran frantically on to the other end as if being chased by a Bengal tiger and heaved a sigh of relief to be at the non-striker end. But my happiness proved short-lived as the fielder who flunk the ball to the stumps missed it by a mile and an opportunity arose to run for an overthrow. And before I could realise, Latif has already reached my crease and I was left with no option but to run towards the sticker’s end! The score read 75 for nine with two balls to spare, four runs to a win and myself at the receiving end! 

With the remaining two balls, I fathomed that I could score those four runs in a variety of combinations but thought better to score a boundary of the very next delivery and finish off the game! To implement this pious intension, I offered a square-cut to the penultimate delivery, an in-swinger, but the ball missed the bat by a yard and the stumps, by a whisker! Now with only one more to go, all the fielders were pushed back to the boundary line and the only one close to me was the wicketkeeper. And behind him I noticed a ‘no man’s land’ and all I needed to win the match was to lob the ball over his head. And when the bowler hurdled the last one on to me, I turned 90° towards the right in an attempt to flick the ball over the keeper’s head. The ball instead popped off taking the top edge of the bat and despite his fullest jump to grab what would have been a spectacular catch,it landed on the ground three feet behind. Once there, the ball raced towards the boundary line without any human resistance and crossed the fence in great speed! 

With that the reputation of the ‘Mattancherry Elevens’ was saved for the day..and that of mine as a cricketer, enhanced!



March 30, 2021 at 3:02 pm 6 comments

Discipline and more

Success, we often are told, is the product of a disciplined life. When the instinct to bypass the exacting routine is subdued and the impulse to defy the regimented schedule sublimated, success in any discipline is but guaranteed. Success is, thus, a structured outcome of a disciplined behaviour that can be practiced and perfected over a period of time. A student would be successful by following the rigours of her academic pursuit, a doctor by honing the skills on patient care and a body builder, through religious adherence to the workout regimen and the dietary supplements; a prerequisite to craft a chiselled frame. For success, as commonly understood, is a function of efficiency and that it is gained by repetitive performance of the same task over extended period, guaranteeing a mastery over it. And to achieve this degree of proficiency and thus success, discipline is absolutely vital.

And discipline would also mean compliance to the rules and a confirmation of the status quo for no success is possible without subscribing to the established norms. It entails a sacrosanct reverence to the current and the accepted and brooks no divergence towards an untested process or a bolder idea. It appreciates neither the questioning of the known nor the challenging of the entrenched and thus offers no space to an alternate viewpoint. True discipline, with its emphasis on effectiveness, is anathema to any suggestion for “out of the box” solutions and views dissent with suspicion. Thus discipline and dissent are inimical to each other and one cannot be disciplined and also dissenting, all at the same time.

But through out the annals of history it is only through dissent that major discoveries were made. And great thinkers were at first dissenters against the established ideas and practices before they became renowned scientists and philosophers. Galileo dissented against the biblical idea that the sun revolved around the earth and was imprisoned for blasphemy while Buddha dissented against the social practices of his times. And when Einstein propounded this Theory of Relativity, he was essentially dissenting against the known principle that matter and energy are two separate entities and Drawin’s explosive “Theory of Evolution” was in direct conflict with the hitherto confirmed idea that humans are the decedents of Adam and Eve!  Also, the thought of injecting the live germ into a healthy human for the purpose of fighting the very disease that the germ would cause, sounded ridiculous and dissenting before vaccination became a standard practice to protect humanity against many major infections. And non-violence was a dissenting ideology against the mighty British empire and a totally disarming one that Gandhi used to gain Indian independence. If not the dissenting traits of all these and such other personalities, many vistas of knowledge that are so easily taken as given today would not have been possible. 

Though dissent seems to be out of the ordinary, it comes naturally to an inquisitive person and the story of human evolution is essentially the story of dissenting minds. When the existing set of knowledge is found inadequate in the light of new evidence, when the current scheme of things seeks to stifle the progress of the human race and when the straitjacket thinking pattern is strangulating the creative intelligence, dissent takes over and opens up a plethora of thoughts and ideas that redefine human progress.  And the world is often enriched by such dissenting voices,

But there seems to be an attempt to overrate the virtue of discipline and promote it as an absolute necessity to maintain order and stability in all human endeavours and transactions. And in that very process, any dissent to the established norms, ideas or patterns are viewed with increasing scepticism. But it would only augur well to remember that if not for the dissent, human evolution could well have been stunted.



March 22, 2021 at 1:59 am 19 comments

Plato and the Indian thought

 “I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the common foes we face: Anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness, hopelessness..” was the clarion call given by the new US President soon after his swearing-in. That’s more like a sermon delivered by a spiritual master extolling his audience to face and confront the inner enemies than an inaugural address of a nation-head whose journey to the highest office was laden with unprecedented challenges, even when his election was endorsed by the vast majority of his countrymen. The idea of Philosopher King, propounded by Plato, conceptualises the ruler as a man of immense wisdom, a lover of truth and above all, an epitome of grace and humility. These qualities of the head and heart confers a commanding authority on the ruler to guide the populace to a purposeful life and Joe Biden, in his maiden Presidential speech exhibited traits, as depicted in The Republic, in amble measure.

Authored more than two millenniums ago, The Republic, concerns itself with the question of justice and ethics in politics and enunciate the necessary attributes of the ruler to ensure an enlightened administration. Through a long winding dialogue with his disciple Socrates, Plato conclusively establishes that a just rule is a prerequisite for happiness of the subjects and, that personal ethics cannot be separated from public good. This seminal work has since been the topic of countless scholarly thesis on politics and on its operation and continue to subject itself to varied interpretations. This is more so since politics, as an instrument to advance common good, has long been accepted as an established reality and many a political philosophies can trace their origins to the Platonic dialogues. But more than the intellectual idealism that Plato talks about, it is pragmatism and its clever manipulation that held sway the realm of politics for the last many centuries. While even progressive ideas of democracy and liberalism were tempered by the need to be expedient, fascism and colonialism were active state policies for outright subjugation though designed ostensibly to establish the rule of law for good part of the last two centuries..    .

Politics has always been torn apart by the idealism of universal welfare on the one hand and the more practical concern of effectively governing the state, on the other. Since all are not created equal, it is argued that all cannot be treated as equals and this opened up a plethora of possibilities for discrimination in the guise of race, colour, religion and gender. And with discrimination came the need to control and subjugate and they in turn unleashed counter forces of freedom and liberty. Towards the nineteenth century when democracy and liberal ideas took firm roots in many European countries, it also advanced competitive politics to gain state power and threw up in the process, many leaders with Machiavellian tendencies. Cunning and manipulative, these leaders deployed unethical means to gain and advance their political power. Modern history is replete with a long list of such calculative tyrants who while capturing power and advancing it marshalled grandiose theories of racial superiority and the like to explain their unethical forays. And the idea of justice and rule of the wise as propounded by Plato were all but forgotten.

But the Indian philosophical thought and thus the statecraft was always guided by the eternal principles of Dharma which is the bedrock of all the Vedas and the scriptures. Dharma implies a non-negotiable adherence to righteousness in all its ramifications and at all times and is independent to the preferences and prejudices of the practitioners of the statecraft. And we see Krishna, an avowedly compassionate Lord, extolling his disciple Arjuna to fight and annihilate his enemies for the establishment of righteousness even if it meant killing his cousins and more importantly, his own teacher. Thus the idea of justice, ethics and morality are long implanted in the Indian psyche much before they find mention in modern political theories.

As the Platonic idea of justice resonate with the Indian concept of Dharma, the elevation of the new US President augurs well for the practice of these concepts.



February 1, 2021 at 1:01 am 15 comments

Silent Night

Silence is ethereal for it heralds the withering of ignorance and the ripening of wisdom in our consciousness. When the constant chatter of conflicting inner voices ebb to the awareness of the ‘Present’, when the shrillness of tainted arguments fade to the stillness of the ‘Now’ ,and when the beauty of the ‘Here’ overwhelm and smudge the littleness of the self, a blessed state of silence most profound, descend and drench the core of our being. And from that depth of silence emerge the whispers of truth heard only when the baggages of the past and the schemes of the future are offloaded on to the bosom of the present. This silence is not the absence of sound echoed in the haunting quietness of the grave where dead men tell no tale nor is it the language that lovers transact in when words are inadequate currencies to exchange the fairies of their hearts. But it is the majestic affirmation of the Omnipresent that always IS but is often lost to the cacophony of the world around us.

And the night signifies the darkness of ignorance that has come to blind man for ages. A darkness that deludes him to feel separate from and even superior to the creator allowing his vanities to thrive in him unrestraint. A monumental ignorance that make him believe as absolute, the transient pleasures of life and thus the pursuit of it, his sole earthy purpose. And in the darkness of this world, his calcified heart is devoid of the finer qualities of love and compassion and lay barren to the joys of giving and forgiving. Entangled thus in his meaningless existence and tossed mercilessly by the vagaries of life, he wails in unsurmountable sorrow and waits for the divine beacon to light his path towards deliverance. 

And on such a silent night two millenniums ago the Saviour descended upon Bethlehem to dispel the darkness that engulfed mankind and to be ever the shimmering light for humanity. And on that holy night the three wise men who followed the bright star were led to the manger where the prince of love smiled in supreme radiance, the one who is destined to be the king of the God’s spiritual empire. Jesus, was the son of the God, brought on to this world to dawn upon himself the suffering so that man is rid of his sins. He was to teach humanity the supreme message of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of Man and that all are cast in the divine image.

Jesus initially identified himself as the messenger of God which in the Indian philosophical thought is the “Dvaita”, the “Dualism”, where God is identified as separate from oneself and hence deserve to serve him through loving service to fellow humans. And then he moves on to the second stage and proclaim himself as “ The Son of God” which in the Indian thought is the “ Visistadvaita” , the “Qualified non-dualism” where the soul sees itself as cast in the image of God yet separate from it, like the object and its image. And finally,  When Jesus makes the ultimate proclamation that “ He and his Father are One”’ he reveals the ultimate truth of “Advaita”, the “Non-dualism”, where the creator and the creation are both but one. Thus, Jesus, in stages, leads mankind to the realisation of the supreme truth of the Upanishad “Aham Brahmasmi ” where there in only ONE, no other and it is in the destiny of all of us to merge to that reality. 

And “He who sent me shall come again” is the eternal assurance to lead us all to the effulgent divine light and to that “Second Coming” humanity so eagerly await.




December 20, 2020 at 10:33 pm 14 comments

Pearls and the pebbles

It is too often that we tend to mistake the chaff for the grain and end up making false assumptions and wrong inferences. In our haste to make conclusions and pass judgements, we deny ourselves the precious insights that a more analytical and discerning observation would have afforded us with.  Opinions thus formed blur the vision and colour the thoughts as we become prisoners to our own prejudices and preconceptions.  Tainted arguments marshalled, facts twisted and plain truths ignored, all aimed only to support a predetermined idea that foreclose any new evidence that might suggest a conclusion that is in divergence to the one already formed.

The shores of the ocean are littered only with pebbles while it’s mostly the messy weeds that float on its surface.  And, based on such a spurious observation, to declare that the vast ocean has only pebbles and weeds to offer would be a gross travesty of the truth. To find precious pearls one need to dive deep into the depths of the ocean and scan many a cave, cavern and coral for they are never found drifting  on the surface or tossed up by the waves. The prized possessions are always only for the diligent and for the one willing to go beyond the superfluous and who is receptive to new dimensions that open up on his life’s voyage.

The sweetest, the precious and the priceless are always encased inside a tough, hard and bitter exterior. While the cool and soft kernel of the coconut is hidden deep inside its rock-like fibre, it’s the bitter rind of the orange fruit that preserves the sweet juice within.  Diamonds are concealed in the rocky veins and the dark and bitter honeycombs are a glorious deception to the nectar that they hold. Just as it would be foolish to pass the uncut diamond as a piece of rock, as absurd as to ignore the honeycomb as a tasteless waste, it is equally insane to vilify thoughts and visionaries only because they do not subscribe to our preconceived notions or directly challenge our existing state of understanding.

While the truth could be very obvious to a few of those who have the needed insight, it would require calmer and deeper enquiry for many others to perceive the same. Though the sculptor already envisions the image of the figure that he is chiselling out of the hard rock, it becomes increasingly obvious to the onlookers only when rough edges give way to the smooth contours of a definite sculpture.  But at the end, everyone sees the same image in all its beauty, irrespective of how they looked at it before. So too the pristine truth stands majestic, unadulterated by the biases and prejudices of many of its critics, for it is its own authority and witness.

This has been the same fate even with the Avataric personalities down the ages. Many of his contemporaries mistake him as just another incidence of a human birth and run him down with calumny, falsehood and a concerted smear campaign. For, they are too timid to make a little effort to know the truth that would have opened up a new awakening and thus a more purposeful existence.  They could only be pitied and sympathised for they know not what they are indulging in. If only they let go their little egos and practice a little sadhana through the three-fold path of Service, Adoration and Illumination, the truth of SAI would become obvious.


Yours in SAI


November 20, 2020 at 7:13 am 4 comments

Thank you, America!

Human history is punctuated with periodic events that stand out as defining moments, moments that seek to shackle off the debilitating prejudices of the times, breakaway decisively from the constrictive past and promise to usher in a just order. These could be as symbolic as Gandhiji’s lifting of a fistful of fresh salt proclaiming the defiance of the British hegemony over the Indian subcontinent or as dramatic as the pulling down of the Berlin wall to herald the end of the cold war era.  But the shifts these events bring in to both the course of history and to human enterprise are indeed tectonic and to this category belong the just concluded US elections, for the stakes on the table were the very values of democracy and they are truly defining. 

America is often looked upon as the epitome of free democracy with liberty, equality and justice as its bedrock that guarantees individual freedom and equality of opportunity to all its people. It is the uncompromising adherence to these cardinal principles promising its citizens the freedom to pursue the American dream of striving for individual excellence that drove millions to its shores and achieve success through hard work.  The monumental contributions of Americans in every conceivable pursuit of human endeavour, from science and technology, to fine arts to business can directly be traced to the individual liberties that is endowed upon all as unalienable rights. And it is those very rights that are being challenged, compromised and, at times, even withheld during the current Presidency and make the continence of Donald Trump for yet another term fought with the prospect of causing irreparable damage to the cherished American values. And thus the recent US election is indeed a watershed moment in its otherwise glorious history.

The death of George Floyd on account of the police brutality and the subsequent suppression of the“ Black Lives Matter” demonstrations across the country were a grim reminder of the downward spilling of the civil rights movement in the country and the negation of the civil liberties guaranteed. While the complaisance of the administration in quelling the protests go against the grin of the very fabric of the American ethos, the efforts to forcefully stop the supposedly illegal migrants by erecting a physical wall at astronomical costs betrays a new protectionist tendency that is totally in variance to the idea of America as the ‘land of the immigrants’ and of ‘ infinite opportunities’. And to walk out of the Paris Climate Accord was a comical display of the abjuration of responsibility of a global power in protecting the environment and the unwillingness to be part of the collaborative effort to prevent climate change through affirmative actions.  

And the appalling manner in which the Trump administration handled the Covid outbreak to the utter disregard to human lives are a case study on how not to respond to a pandemic. The meddling with research inputs that mandated strict enforcement of the Covid protocols and public ridiculing of the scientific community for telling the truth, all pointed to a dispensation that are severely at odds with its people. With a quarter of a million deaths due to the pandemic and still counting, the character of the nation that prides itself for its scientific and rationale approach towards solving human problems lay in siege. Under Trump, America seemed to be drifting away from its moral compass and needed to get back its moorings, and with the change in regime, it accomplished just that!

The electoral victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris thus was a historical necessity for the American people as is the message it conveys to the world at large. By defeating a President who is avowedly believed in the supremacy of one class of people over the other minorities, America just took a step back and possibly a U-turn from the path of ultra nationalism and get back to the older ways of accepting a pluralist society and diligently pursue the progress of all sessions of the society. And the rejection of a partisan agenda by the American people will have a sobering effect on all those countries across the continents where toxic majoritarian nationalism seems to rear its ugly head and herein lies the monumental significance of this election! 

God bless America!



November 7, 2020 at 8:55 pm 12 comments

The noble king and his royal subjects

The extra large ‘Ela’, the plantain leaf, can scarcely accommodate even the first course of the colourful and aromatic Onam spread lined up in a sequence that is most sacrosanct. The jostling for space begin with serving of the ‘Upperi’, the famous banana chips, as it is placed on the left most tip of the leaf heralding the commencement of the “Sadhya”, the festival feast.  What then follows is an avalanche of delicacies –  hot, sweet, sour, and pungent; each placed along the outer edges forming a grand multi-layered semi-circle. The inner periphery is occupied by a slew of pickles – of lemon, mango and ginger; bananas and of course the Pappadams, that rounded crispy savoury which is to be crushed with every mouthful that is gulped in. The centre part of the leaf is reserved for the “Matta”, the red rice, which when poured with an overdose of “Sambar’ forms a delicate mix of celestial flavour to be relished separately with the each of the dishes marshalled on the leaf. When eaten with the ‘Eliserri’, you are introduced to the light sweet tone of the pumpkin and the grated coconut lavished on it gives a crunchy experience as does the “ Puliserri’ that follows the course. The ‘Puliserri’,as the names suggests, hints a sour taste of seasoned yogurt and with spices all over it, the experience of savouring this preparation is tongue-smacking. And to give a bolder sourish treat the thicker “Kalan” is the next in course that with its rich and abundant gravy does the job splendidly well. With vegetables of all conceivable variety, a lump of “Avial” is indeed a concoction of different textures while the lighter “Olan” is distinct with its singular flavour of coconut milk. The saucy “Pachadi” and the spicy “Kichadi” are only to be attempted once you are done with the fried “Thoran” and the greasy “Kuttu Curry’ and the list of this gourmet’s delight just got started. And the grand finale of the royal banquet is the “ Adda Pradaman” a supremely sweet serving of milk with rice flakes that stays in the mouth to cud much after the dish is drained down. Such is the grandeur of this once a year feast that to forgo it is an injustice to the taste buds. 

Just as colourful as the Onam Sadhya is the floral decoration that is laid out in every courtyard called the “ Pookalam”.  In hues of green, lavander, crimson and marigold, the floral display lends expression to a thousand artistic ideas and carpet the entire countryside with a visual treat, the most magnificent. The beauty of the “ Pookalam” is only matched by the charm and elegance of the giggling young girls who come together to put up the floral designs and the revelry and merriment around them through music and dance enhance the joy of the occasion. Onam celebration is thus, at once about cultural extravaganza as it is of food and feasting. 

Historically, Onam is the occasion when the natives of Kerala welcome the annual visit of the mythological king, Mahabali, who once ruled the land. In his kingdom, prosperity was in abundance and righteousness a way of life with falsehood and deception alien to the people. He was just and a benevolent emperor and treated his subjects as equals and people, in turn, revered and respected him. The reign of Mahabali affords us with a glimpse of the existence of an egalitarian society, aeons before the concept was even understood, much less practiced in the western world and therein lies the significance of Onam, a reminder of the modern concepts of equality and social justice. 

But in a monarchial set up, the absolute power rests with the emperor and however magnanimous he may be, the people are always only subjects, incapable of deciding for themselves and thus need constant care and nurturing from the ruled. The ruler is a loving and tendering guardian and care and security is always the benevolence of the king and never a right of the people. It is this idea of governance that is in variance with the modern concept of citizenship which guarantees equality and justice as irrevocable fundamental rights. The power of the state flows from the will of the people and the state exists to further their welfare thus placing the citizen at the centre of the scheme of governance. It is this transition from the idea of subjects to the concept of citizenship that is still to be achieved and is a work in progress! 

The Malayalis are all decked up to receive Mahabali and this time around, along with kasavu sarees and silk kurtas, many are also wearing designer masks! 

Wishing you all a Happy Onam!



August 30, 2020 at 12:19 pm 34 comments

Vidya drops out of school

The Rs. 8000/- her father brought home every month loading confectionery boxes on to the trucks was supplemented by another Rs. 6000 that her mother earned by cleaning the vessels and mopping the floors in the nearby middle class homes. The combined family income and the food her mother carried home from her workplace ensured that Vidya and her two elder brothers were sufficiently fed and reasonably housed and were also kept in the nearby school. The school they went to had classrooms with large cracks and little furniture and the blackboards did not sufficiently reflect the occasional scribbling of the indifferent teacher, done with the white chalk. Yet, it provided the three siblings a place to go to every morning, interact and play with other children from similar and lesser backgrounds and also allowed them to pick up rudimentary lessons in language and numeracy. The children shared their books and pencils, squatted on the same torn mats and dipped into each others lunch boxes that inadvertently taught them the all crucial social and life skills. They were happy to be in the company of their friends and then the pandemic set in.

The lockdown ensured that there is little demand for chocolates or the biscuits and thus no more boxes for Vidya’s father to cart on to the trucks. His income halved in the first month of the pandemic before it became nil in the second and subsequent ones. Her mother was disallowed entry to the homes she cleaned and thus was denied of her wages and more importantly, the daily food. With little resources to bank on, the family relied on the government for the rationed food grains and the occasional handouts from voluntary organisations, both meagre to stop  compromising on their daily intakes. With schools shut indefinitely and learning stopped completely, the children with their parents stayed at home for months on end, with uncertainty writ large on their faces. 

When the children from elite private schools have access to laptops and mobile phones and are taught online, the lockdown on education is total in the state government school that Vidya attended. There are no teachers available to contact, no books to look into and no Zoom or Google meet to transact learning. For Vidya, there are no lesson plans or learning outcomes, neither online activities nor offline assignments that are now a routine for an upper-class school girl and to expect any teaching support from the semi-literate father or the illiterate mother would be like hoping to quench the thirst from a painted waterfall. With nowhere to go and nothing else to do, Vidya helps her mother in the kitchen to cook whatever little food the family can conjure up while her two brothers loiter in the squalid lanes of the slum they dwell.

While the impact of the pandemic on the economy are well publicised, the ravage that it has caused to the school education of the underprivileged is hardly discussed, much less flagged or documented. When millions of migrant workers were ejected out of their jobs, they left the cities with the families and children were hurriedly pulled out of the formal schools, both from the private and the government run. With no income even for bare subsistence, the eduction of the children is way below the priority list of these impoverished workers who have returned to their villages to escape abject poverty. And even if they desire to continue their ward’s education once the pandemic is over, there aren’t many schools in the hinterlands of the country worth the title and a huge number of certain dropouts from the education system seems inevitable. Whenever the workers decide to return to the city slums, many of the private schools that their children went to earlier would have already pulled down the shutters for want of children and the revenue to run them. While there are grandiose plans for the total overhaul of the education system and make the products coming out of it globally competitive by 2040, there isn’t yet a thinking on how to retain the millions of children who are on the verge of bidding adieu to formal learning. It’s now a double whammy for the India’s poor, an economically wreaking situation of the present and a very bleak future for their children!

Vidya’s parents are now contemplating of putting their two sons in a private school some distance away and for that they would need additional resources. As the lockdown is being lifted, Vidya is accompanying her mother to the homes she is working as maid. And with two additional hands, her mother has taken up two more homes for cleaning and mopping so that there is extra income in the family to pay the school fees of her two brothers. Vidya, all of fourteen, has said goodbye to her school!    



( 1USD= Rs.75 approx)


August 23, 2020 at 6:58 pm 20 comments

Kamala Harris and her Chennai connect

The celebrated Tamil poet Bharati described the modern women thus “With graceful strides and head held high and looking straight into the eyes with ideals that are not afraid of anyone in the world…  the woman does not falter as she has the possession of wisdom.” These aspirational hallmarks of the new-age women seeped so deeply into the Tamil psyche that it produced an unprecedented stream of emancipated and enlightened women in the capital city of Chennai since the hundred years the poet scripted the mesmerising lines. From music, art and theatre to medicine and politics, the female folks of the metropolis has made an indelible mark in diverse walks of life and their imprints are now seen across the county and abroad. And Kamala Harris is an offshoot of such a phenomenon.

The trigger to this enthusiastic transformation is the varied socio-cultural and political factors that played out during the early twentieth century in the then city of Madras that was later rechristened as Chennai. It was in Madras the Theosophical Society, that propounded an inclusive approach to spiritualism, took firm roots and soon became its international headquarters. Annie Besant, the society’s President for many years, was a women’s rights crusader and through her innumerable writings and lectures, extolled them to take up education in all earnestness. A firm advocate of universal suffrage, then a revolutionary idea, she could encourage many women to take active participation in politics and later, as the President of the Indian National Congress, enrolled many of them to the freedom movement. In Annie Besant, many young Tamil women found a role model worthy of emulation and one such was Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy, a revolutionary in her own right and the first woman to be a member of a legislature anywhere in India. Also the first woman medical graduate in the country, she was again the sole female to study in a men’s college and the one instrumental in setting up the Adyar Cancer Institute in the city, the one of its kind in cancer research till date.The Cancer Institute, produced another outstanding women, Dr. V. Shanta, an internationally renowned Oncologist surgeon. When specialised cancer care is hugely commercialised, she renders her services almost free to thousands of patients in the institute and her contributions are recognised with many prestigious global awards. Her saga of selfless care continues as hundreds of young doctors in the city are getting trained by her. And the first women to fight the British by joining the Indian National Army, Dr. Lakshmi Segal, was again from Chennai.

When the city produced women of eminence in letters and in the academic professions, it is the deluge of female talent that the city unleashed in the art and cultural sphere that took the world by storm. The Kalakshetra, an international centre for dance, music and other visual arts, set up by another theosophist, Rukmani Devi, is a world class cultural centre that attract students across the world. Breaking from the traditional shackles that are associated with performing arts, the institute has produced many eminent women practitioners of the vivid art forms enriching the cultural tapestry of a whole nation. In Music, at a time when women performing on stage were a taboo, the city produced towering female musicians like the revered M.S. Subbulakshmi, whose singing captivated many generations of classical music lovers, across many continents. She was the first female singer to receive the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of the nation and the one of the very few to sing in the United Nations. This illustrious lineage of Chennai lady musicians includes such stalwarts as D K Pattammal, M L Vasanthakumari and the oscar nominee, Jayashree Ramnath and the list goes on.

It is from such a women empowered background that Shyamala Gopalan, the mother of Kamala Harris, emerged and she carried in her the ideas of equality of gender and of race to the shores of America. These progressive streaks were on ample display as she participated in the racial protests in Oakland during the sixties and later, passed them on to her two daughters. “When my mother, Shyamala stepped off the plane in California as 19 years old, she didn’t have much in the way of belongings. But she carried with her lessons from back home, including ones she learned from her parents, my grandmother Rajam, and her father, my grandfather P V Gopalan. They taught her that when you see injustice in the world, you have an obligation to do something about it,” said Harris in a recent talk. Emphasising her indebtedness to the city, Harris added “In Madras (Chennai) I would go on long walks with my grandfather, who at that point was retired. We would take morning walks where I’d hold his hand and he would tell me about the heroes who are responsible for the birth of the world’s biggest democracy. He would explain that it’s on us to pick up where they left off. Those lessons are a big reason why I am who I am today”.  Now you know what Chennai has delivered to the United States and it is pure deliverance!

By the way, I Googled for the most prominent man from Chennai and the first name that popped up was Sunder Pichai!



The full verse of Bharati’s poem in Tamil goes thus:

“Nimirndha nan nadai naer konda paarvaiyum

Nilathil yaarkkum anjaatha nerigalum

Thimirndha gnana cherukkum iruppadhaal 

Semmai maadhar thirambuvadhu illaiyaam”

August 16, 2020 at 11:02 pm 19 comments

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