Posts filed under ‘National’

Taming the Dragon

The gruesome killing of twenty of our soldiers by a bunch of Chinese army men, nay butchers, in a pre-planned, diabolical attack has rightly caused immense outrage, not just within the country but among all right thinking citizens of the world. What is so sinister about this onslaught is that, it was carried out just as the negotiated de-escalating process was in progress! And, as if to make a mockery of all established conventions, the bodies of the martyred soldiers were mutilated and flung into the raging Galwan river causing revulsion at the audacity of the act. While the nation mourns at the loss of its valiant sons along with the bereaved families, it also steels the resolve of a race, long acclaimed for its forbearance, to avenge the inflicted wrong and decisively tame and rein-in the dragon that, of late, has gone amok.

When the entire humanity is fighting the corona pandemic that originated from the Chinese soil and struggling to come to terms with the incalculable misery it has unleashed, the Red Army, as a diversionary tactic, is in an expansionist mood. When serious doubts are raised world-wide on the theory that the virus originated naturally and as evidence mount on the possibility of it being artificially manufactured, a rattled establishment is on an all out spree to change the narrative through a maze of geopolitical misadventures.  And to aid it in this agenda is a well crafted web of media blitzkrieg aimed to misguide, misinform and misdirect the public opinion and thus push the subcontinent towards a dangerous confrontation. The game becomes all the more cataclysmic when friendly neighbours are wooed to turn hostile and are induced to act against India. And the nation is well within its rights to bring in an immediate correction and secure its borders.

To neutralise the Chinese forces and push them back from the LAC is of immediate import but a long term strategy to counter the Chinese aggression, both military and economic, calls for a deeper and unbiased understanding of the enemy’s strength. When the stated policy is to “hide the strength and bid for the right time” it becomes all the more imperative to unravel those strengths and how they were acquired in a short span of two to three decades.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc. recently made a telling commentary as to why they manufacture their iPhones in China and it is not the cost factor. “ The number one reason why we like to be in China is the people. China has extraordinary skills. And the part that’s the most unknown is there’s almost two million application developers in China that write apps for the iOS App Store. These are some of the most innovative mobile apps in the world…” says Tim. And this extraordinarily high level of technical skills spans across all the manufacturing sectors making it not just the preferred location, but almost an inevitable one. And that is not all… what the Chinese have achieved is that they have seamlessly integrated high level of craftsmanship with the latest robotics technology that makes the products rolled out of their factories technically world class and aesthetically superior, a lethal combine for any nation to beat. This level of competency among its working class is built by assiduously strengthening their school and technical education systems that has one-point focus on quality. It is no surprise that many of the top class universities in the world today are in China!

And the only hope for India to catch up with the Chinese and acquire a matching technical expertise across sectors is to totally revamp our school education system which today, is largely in shambles. There has to be a re-focus towards skills development right from the middle school as against the present day rote learning and there is an urgent need to jettison the outdated syllabus and align the technical education to the demands of the modern industry. Our engineers passing out of colleges should not be doing coding jobs in IT companies or attending calls at BPO centres but rather be designing a variety of innovative products at innumerable R&D centres. Only with such a shift in priorities would we ever be able to make India a manufacturing hub of comparable quality and effectively neutralise the challenges thrown to us as a nation. 

The taming of the dragon is now no more a choice but a compelling need. 

Yours

Narayanan

June 19, 2020 at 6:30 pm 9 comments

Gandhiji’s Talisman

The grandfather clock in our house was an ancestral property and my father’s was the third generation to inherit it. It was a mammoth time machine with many a needles, dials, wheels and a huge pendulum, all encased in an exquisitely crafted wooden box. The pendulum was kept in perfect oscillation by a network of wheels rotating at varying speeds, the cogs of the bigger ones pushing that of the smaller wheels. The margin of error of the time it displayed was 1/100th of a second, a precision standard that could be the envy of the most modern atomic clock. While it struck a single bell for half-an-hour, the number of the bells it let out every hour matched the hour count it displayed, the peaks being the noons and the midnights. The machine needed regular oiling and servicing and once in a week winding of the keys, an exercise that my father undertook with clockwork precision. It also served as cocoon to sparrows that seamlessly flew into the drawing room from the courtyard and built their nest on the broad upper curvature of the clock to lay the seasonal eggs. The machine served well for generations and kept a close watch and a benevolent glance on all of us siblings during our growing up years. 

But one noon there was no more ticking of the seconds hand nor was there the tolling of the bells at the appointed hour. The grandfather clock had ceased to work completely with all the needles looking upwards as if to convey that the life of it has moved to the heavenly direction. No amount of cajoling the pendulum and winding of the keys could bring it back to life as it stood motionless, up on the walls. Slowly we stopped expecting the hourly strokes and the habit of looking up to check the time also soon left us. But the clock remained on the wall for many more years because it continued to be the home for the tiny birds to nestle its babies as my mother resisted all attempts to disturb their habitat with the zeal of an activist. The sparrows flew in and out of the drawing room umpteen times everyday, dirtying the floors with every flight with its droppings and mother would endlessly clean them without a murmur, only to ensure that the birds happily raised their families in our house. This went on for years until the sparrows themselves became a rare species owing to the unending constructions all over, leaving them with little space to whiz around and thrive. But the grandfather clock continued to hang on the wall, waiting for the sparrows to come and build their nest on it. The clock episode taught us all the cardinal lesson of putting the interests of the less privileged above our little inconveniences and that it is the binding duty of the fortunate ones to take care of those who are dependent on us, even if that means taking upon ourselves the extra burden. 

This sensitisation to put the interests of others above that of oneself stood me in good stead when faced with many a moral dilemmas later in life.  Be it the question of cutting down staff to increase profitability, or finding newer ways and methods to spruce up sales, the interest of the less vocal and more disadvantaged were always protected, even when it meant slower growth, increased expenses or compromised efficiency. The hand woven cloth was preferred to machine made synthetic fibre, purchase from the local stores superseded the temptation to relieve the hi-tech shopping experience of the malls while the services of maids, washermen and the like were continued to be availed even when surrounded with modern gadgets meant to replace these manual work.  

As  advances in web technology, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and the like are making forays into our everyday life  and adversely impacting the lives and livelihoods of millions, the need for a human compass based on compassion is most acutely felt now than ever before. And it is here the talisman given by Gandhi, would serve as guiding post to resolve the moral dilemmas of the present age and help us arrive at the right choices, be it the individual decisions or the policies at the government level. Gandhi exhorts us to recall the face of the poorest man and benchmark whether the decisions we contemplate to take be of any help to him and if the inner voice is in the affirmative, then we should follow that course of action with abandon. This way, a simplest and the most effective tool is granted to us by one of the greatest human beings ever to walk on the face of this earth, that could make the most complex decisions easy and morally upright.

Yet, sadly, it is this very fundamental yardstick that we fail to gauge our decisions with that result in colossal damage to society and the nation at large. If only we remind ourselves of the poorest man and place his welfare as the centre of our actions, we would invariably arrive at the right choices always and would be spared the agony of causing distress to the ones whom we are meant to serve.

Yours 

Narayanan

June 10, 2020 at 12:05 am 15 comments

The great digital divide

Moolchand’s cheap Chinese handset has, of late, turned silent. Not that the instrument has conked off but, the pre-paid number in the mobile is now “out of service” as it is not topped-up for days on end. It takes a minimum of Rs. 50 to keep the mobile active but in this extended period of lockdown and weeks of zero income, Moolchand scarcely has any money left with him for the purpose. And even when he manages to cough up the little currency needed, he could neither find a shop open to get it done nor has the knowledge and the access to charge it online. His wife, living in a remote village in Purnia district of Bihar, has no clue of either his whereabouts or his wellbeing as the only line of communication with the family now lay in tatters. Moolchand is desperate to reach out to his family for about a month now but even the most advanced mobile technology won’t allow him do just that without putting money to the account!

The new age connectivity of the mobile and the internet is touted as a great leveller that would ensure seamless access to information and to services that would ensure equality among all the citizens. But as the days of COVID-19 pandemic get prolonged, what emerges as a stark reality is the great digital divide that segregates the poor and the marginalised from the rest of the countrymen. When basic food and other essential needs are out of bounds in the normal bazar, it gets usurped and hoarded by the upwardly mobile through a web of online purchases and modes of payment. While the likes of Moolchand struggle to survive through a mixture of community handouts and government doles, the tech savvy class indulge in many an online activity of fun and leisure, all from the comforts of their homes. The shutdown robbed the urban poor of both their income and the self esteem and digital technology is nowhere near to their rescue. 

With the penetration of the high-speed internet and the easy access to digital platforms , the idea of “work from home” was quickly lapped up by the privileged few while the vast majority of the populace lost their livelihood to the Corona onslaught. Many innovative methods to transact business online were smartly adopted and soon Zoom meetings, Webinars and the likes became the order of the day just when multitudes in innumerable shelters despaired to quell hunger and thirst. The drawing rooms of the middle class households increasingly morphed as office spaces in the new scheme of things while every conceivable space in the relief camps where taken up for human occupation. The access to technology has endowed the fortunate class with newer privileges and its very denial to the vast majority is threatening their survival. The Coronavirus has indeed demarcated the digital haves from the digital have-nots in the most cruel way.

As in business, the elites have quickly integrated the digital offerings for the purpose of education too and now almost all private schools conduct classes online. Lessons are taught through a combination of Google classrooms, whiteboard demos and interactive activities with teachers and students secured in the safe environs of their homes. This new methodology is bringing about a paradigm shift in the ways lessons are transacted while the less fortunate children on the wrong side of the digital divide have neither their schools running nor have the wherewithal to harness the technological advantage. This would further widen the knowledge base and the skill sets among students from different economic strata that is already skewed over many fault-lines.  Digital technology thus is fasting emerging as the new differentiator with those without access to it hugely marginalised and even losing the battle for survival.

Meanwhile Moolchand’s mobile got an SMS alert which read thus “ Your mobile services are temporarily disconnected. You can reactivate the number by paying online by clicking at the link given below”. He neither could read the message nor did he care to know what it meant…he just waits for things to become normal so that he could charge his mobile from the nearby petty shop.

Yours

Narayanan

PS: Moolchand is only a representative of the vast number of migrant workers who are stranded in various cities across India.

April 24, 2020 at 11:32 am 12 comments

Band 7 point something

 

IMG_1748Simran Kaur, a chubby eighteen year, was making the last minute polishing of her listening skills as she jot down points of the anglicised lecture that is streaming through her earphones.  She is desperate to clock an overall Band score of anything between 7 and 7.5, which is eluding her in the last two attempts, to secure a seat for a two year random diploma course in a Canadian university.  A decent score card in International English Language Testing System or, IELTS in short, is the passport for thousands of youngsters like Simran who see a future only in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada and a foreign university course is a well crafted route to move, study, work and finally settle in developed countries.  And of the four skills in English language proficiency that this exam tests a student, Listening has been the one that Simran is finding hard to crack…having only listened to Punjabi throughout her school days… But this time around, she is exceedingly confident as she enters the sound proof chamber of the designated examiner.

Preparing for IELTS is now an obsession among almost all who have crossed seventeen and the size of the coaching business, maybe, is next only to the famed textile industry of Punjab. From farmhouses to havelis, from posh offices in swanky malls to scrambled rooms in shanty buildings, IELTS coaching centres have occupied every conceivable space in the state…across cities, towns and also in the ‘Pind’, the village. And the hoardings that call-out students to enrol to these centres evenly dot the skyline, pop-up in the middle of the fields and also are in display on the rear of most public transports. As you travel through the cities and hinterlands of the state, there is no way you can miss the import of this exam, both for the economy of the state as well as for the future of its youth.

IMG_1749A parent typically spends about Rs. 40.00 lacs on his straight-out-of-the-school child’s two year course in one of these foreign universities.   This amount is not just an investment to his education but also an insurance premium that guarantees a good life for him beyond the campus. As soon as he gets into the university, the student scouts for and gets odd jobs that give him the money to meet his immediate needs and the two-year period is spent as much to get acquainted to the work life of the country as it is to acquire the degree. Once out of college, work permit becomes the next goal to be achieved and after a period of struggle, everyone manages to get it and enter into a life that would remain a dream back home. Green card, PR and citizenship, all follow one after the other and before long, one slips into the ease and comfort of the adopted country. It is estimated that, from Punjab alone, there is an annual outgo of Rs. 40,000 crores to foreign universities to acquire these  degrees/diplomas. 

While it is desirable and even admirable that our children take foreign degrees and work there, once it becomes an unending exodus of the prime resource of the society, its youth, the impact it leaves on the state is indeed catastrophic. The young population is becoming scantier with each passing year and the one that are passing out of the schools have their eyes set on foreign soils. When the working population is fast ageing and there isn’t enough young people to take up their positions, the consequence of it is all too glaring…unattended fields, fast vanishing social life and mushrooming number of old age homes. Empty malls, vacant theatres & shopping arcades and cities fast losing its usual hustle and bustle…. the symptoms are all too evident to ignore.  And there isn’t yet a sign to stem the tide or to bring back the qualified.

Meanwhile, Simran is done with her IELTS exam and is in all smiles. This time, she is sure to score a Band of 8 plus!!!

And it’s now time to celebrate…. with बैंड बाजा!

Yours

Narayanan

August 25, 2019 at 4:13 pm 4 comments

Election in a bye-gone era

When Kochunni Master campaigned for the elections in my parliamentary constituency way back in the 80s, he never asked the people to vote for him. He would rather, tell the electorate why they should not vote for his opponent, Prof. Achudhanandan, a popular columnist, an electrifying orator and above all, a distinguished professor of Physics in one of the prestigious universities of Kerala. If Achudhanandan goes to Parliament, Kochunni Master would argue, the citizens would be deprived of their regular Sunday treat of listening to the professor in the local town hall. With masterly dialectical reasoning that is delivered with the prowess of a flawless language, Prof. Achudhanandan would intellectually dissect the most contentious social and cultural issues of the times and, with wit, sarcasm and political pun would rip into the idiosyncrasies of his opponents, week after week. And to lose a professor who has, time and again, produced many of the country’s finest scientific minds, Kochunni would remind his audience, is a direct disservice to the younger generation. And if all these are not good enough reasons to keep the professor away from parliament, a compassionate Kochunni would ask the citizens to at least show some concern for his health which is not fit enough to withstand the extreme cold and heat of Delhi and would thus insist to desist from voting for him.

When Kochunni asks the voters not to vote for his opponent, professor would in turn, ask them sarcastically, why they should vote for Kochunni, and for good reasons. With his well-known trait of mixing up facts and figures, Kochunni would add the much needed laughter to our otherwise humour starved parliament, professor asserted. “When once asked to Kochunni why the Malayali nurses are coming back from the gulf in large numbers”, professor informs the audience with a smirk that is hardly concealed “the answer of our Master was that the mothers-in-law in Kerala want to be nursed by their nurse daughters-in-law!”. “ And to a reporter’s query whether Kerala should demand for nuclear plant, he resorted “ yes, yes…such trees are good for our state’s climate!”.  And this grip of Kochunni over the English language is only matched with his abundant skills in “ Kalari Payyatu” and a huge lung power to go with it…which, the Professor felt, would make Kochunni a great ambassador of both the martial art and the renowned art of sloganeering of the state, which would be in ample display in the portals of parliament.

While the candidates demonstrated great ingenuity in the styles of their campaigns, the participation of their supporters in the entire election process showcased an amazing degree of variety and distinctiveness. When one set of supporters organised street plays to drive home a political message, other one converted a huge wall into a canvas for political graffiti… and the entire city wore a festive look. Parodies of hit film numbers that spared none in the political hierarchy, marches in party uniforms to the tunes of bands, caparisoned pachyderms mounted with party symbols and flags to the  accompaniments of traditional Panchavadyams ( set of five musical instruments)…. the list of colourful cavalcades is long and mesmerizing.  And when the season is one of celebration and mass bonhomie, it also afforded the young and the stylish to flaunt themselves in their fineries, a beauty pageantry of sorts. In this magnificent Mela of sound, music, dance and theatre, a panoramic view of that gigantic democratic process, wherein the voice of every citizen echoed its august presence, was in display in all its grandeur… filling every heart with pride for a young nation and ushering in hope to an assured future.

The day of the polling started early with long and winding queues dotting across the booths… with the young, the old and the infirm… all lined up with keenness to exercise their franchise. Voters were ferried to and fro by fellow citizens and the party enthusiasts kept themselves busy explaining how to mark our preference in the ballot paper and how important it is not to waste a single vote. And everybody listened and agreed. The occasion was serious and solemn and all took it that way, a date with the Indian democracy.

When the results were declared, the winner and the vanquished, both rejoiced and hugged each other and wished well to one another accepting the verdict of their master, “The People”.  And the people celebrated the victory of the democracy… because every vote counted.

 

Yours

Narayanan

February 25, 2019 at 12:05 am Leave a comment

Sheer Anand!

To experience and to be established in the indescribable and the indestructible joy of the self- which is beyond the grasp of the senses, the mind, and the intellect – is envisioned as the supreme goal of all our spiritual journeys. To facilitate man to achieve this extolled state, great personages has, from time to time, chartered many paths of austerities and penance, devised various methods of rites and rituals and codified them into great religious traditions . The faithfuls who unflinchingly followed their tenets were vouchsafed of a glimpse of that bliss and its very source.  And those who thus tasted its nectarine essence went on to also describe it as the supreme unsullied truth which is but pure consciousness.   Just as the sun cannot be separated from its heat and light, all these three attributes- of Truth, Consciousness and Bliss- are integral to that ultimate knowledge of the self. An experience of the unalloyed bliss is not possible without being established in the fullness of truth and being in total integrated awareness. Thus the three dimensions of its nature is divinely expressed as Sath-Chit-Anand,  Anand being the quintessential bliss.

Such an oceanic bliss is reserved only for the highly evolved souls but for many of us, ordinary mortals, sports and games are more easily accessible sources of joy.  Children as most happy when they are playing and adults take delight watching their favourite players in action and all enjoy the excitement and thrill of a keenly fought match. When many of the out-door sports excite our senses and give us that adrenaline rush with every twist and turn of the contest, there are other games which challenge our cerebral faculties and the joy experienced in playing and watching them are more sublime and hence truly elevating. The game of Chess is the emperor in this category where intellectual prowess, analytical skills and strategic thinking, all need to be simultaneously marshalled and deployed to outsmart and outwit the opponent with every move on the square. And when Vishwanathan Anand displays a complete command and dominance over the world’s best brains in the game, we get a glimpse of his brilliant mind and with every emphatic win at the highest level, he confers immense pleasure and joy, so true to his name.

Vishy Anand is a phenomenon that defies any analysis and he completely and fully is a self-made master. In a country which has never before produced a player of any consequence in the game, Anand was to become the first Grand Master from India and that was just a beginning of a glorious saga. He has taken on all the great players of his time, including the two Russian chess icons, and has beaten each one of them. From being the only one to dominate in all the three formats of the game to winning the world championship title five times ( so far), Anand’s achievements are simply mind-blowing and are the stuff that dreams are made of that inspires an entire generation to pick-up the nuances of the game. When all these stupendous feats are accomplished without the moral backing of a gaming history back home, Anand stands as a lone colossus of unparalleled achievements. The unassuming and composed nature just adds beauty to this towering personality and his demeanour at the pinnacle of glory is a lesson in modesty. Anand is as much a joy to hear and listen to as it is to watch his game.

But in a country that has a single-minded obsession to just that game of the willow, Anand’s historic contests and win in Moscow got drowned in the noise and scandals of the IPL. When the world keenly watched and dissected his every move on the board, back in India, there was scant coverage and media buzz about the event and a general public apathy and ignorance about the battle being played out for the world championship title. Even after the win, the enthusiasm and thrill among the masses was found awfully inadequate and hardly reflected the monumental nature of the victory.  When the nation is unable to differentiate between the manufactured thrill fuelled by semi-clad cheer leaders dancing with aging film stars and the genuine crowning glory of a sporting legend, there indeed is a deep malady and a crisis of character that demands immediate attention.

Chess is a game that is played in over a hundred countries of the world and if at all there is an Indian sports personality who is recognised and admired the world over, it undoubtedly is Vishwanathan Anand. But for a country that hardly acknowledges any sport other than cricket, a game played in about twelve countries (and that includes Canada and Netherlands!) and hardly qualifies to be termed an international sport, Anand and his achievements are just footnotes to be referred only in the passing. In any other nation, such a person would have been projected as its most priced procession and would have become its face for the world. But we would brook none of these.

The nation is known and remembered by the contributions of its citizens and if we fail to recognise our true legends and honour them for their excellence, we may soon be left with only mediocre to cheer for.

Yours

Narayanan

June 4, 2012 at 12:27 pm Leave a comment

Class(room) wars

Indian classroom

I, till the other day, felt that my primary school days were quite lacklustre and didn’t offer anything for me to feel proud about, but not anymore. There were some distinct features in the ambiance of that school which I always overlooked but struck me like a thunderbolt only when I looked deeper into the school system that my daughter is presently part of. The school where I went itself was not a great piece of architecture, to say the least.  With leaking roofs, uncemented floors and creaking doors, the building resembled more like an abandoned titled mansion of the nineteenth century than a functional school where everyday five hundred children assembled to pick-up elementary lessons in language, science and arithmetic. While the holes in the roof allowed copious amount of sun’s rays to penetrate into the classrooms throughout its day’s journey, in the long monsoon months of Kerala, they also let down sheets of water that wetted the books and cleaned the slates of the children sitting below with their umbrellas open.  The benches on which we sat were more like see-saws that, when the boy on the right got up, the one on the left invariably went down and the whole classroom was always rocking. Three pieces of black-painted wood was stuck together to form the blackboard and when the teacher found it hard to make her writing on the board legible, children found it easy to convert it into “fixed stumps” for a quick game of cricket. The classrooms were separated, not by brick walls but by thin sheets of garden-fence material which again spotted holes of various sizes all over it. Peeping through these holes, a child in class three can check-out what is in store for him a year ahead and the child in the other class can always recap what he studied the previous year. And when teachers let the children read their lessons themselves to indulge in an exchange of pleasantries with each other, the sounds from the classrooms mingled and reverberated as one great voice of learning.

But in this school the only common factor between myself and my friends were the books we carried and the uniforms we wore. Each of us came from different social background; our parents had varied levels of education and did different jobs, we practiced different faiths and our economic statuses were too disparate and why, even the languages that we spoke at our homes were not common.  Yet, in the school, we learnt the same lessons, shared the same facilities, played together and fought with each other without a thought of our obvious differences back home. While my father was with a reputed British tea company, Benny’s parents were teachers, Dinesh’s father a businessman and Rajendran’s mother worked as a maid in my house. And yet in school, all the four of us sat in the same bench.  Though most of us walked to our schools, Dinesh always got dropped in his father’s car and Benny accompanied his mother in the town bus. And each time I got a scolding from the teacher, my mother would invariably come to know of it, thanks to Rajendran’s mother.  Rajendran benefited much in his studies by being in the company of studious Benny and the rich Dinesh often shared chocolates with the rest of us. As we grew up, we took different paths in life and parted ways but wherever we are today and in whatever occupation, we all cherish a shared childhood.

As I look at my daughter’s class today, I am disappointed by the almost monolithic backgrounds of these students with variety and diversity, that was so much a given in my school days sadly missing. They all are children of the upper middle class families, their parents work for large corporations or multi-nationals, talk in a common anglicised lingo and live in high-rise apartments. Their world is occupied by TV sops, tinsel idols and a host of identical online activities and they all possess a common disinterestedness about the lives and struggles of the less fortunate. They live in their own cocoons in a world infested with facebook , twitter and i-store  where  the likes of Rajendran have no place.   In the scheme of things of these private schools, a decent education is the sole preserve of the economically advantaged children and if the parent belongs to the wrong side of the divide, it is almost blasphemous to aspire to send his ward to these glorified portals of learning.

That’s why the Government thought that it would be a great idea if twenty-five percent of the seats in these schools are reserved for children from economically weak families so that classrooms become more egalitarian and these children too can avail a modicum of quality education. The highest court of the land concurred with this ideal and now private run schools are legally obliged to set one-fourth of their seats for pupils from weak sessions of the society.This ruling is definitely not to the liking of either the school management or to the neo-rich parents. The schools complain that these children will not be able to do well because they don’t have a supportive environment back home and hence will bring down the over-all performance of the school.  And the parents say that in the company of the ill-behaved and slanging brats from the slums, their children will be spoilt beyond redemption and with hygiene standards among them being low, they argue that their children will even be put to health hazards. These arguments are marshalled with such force that they seem to acquire a legitimacy to keep the schools out of bounds for the poor.

This contracted thinking among the elite class betrays a mindset that revels on the status of exclusivity and believes that class destinations are their birth right and therefore need to be guarded zealously. For them, the ideals of inclusive society are more fit for academic discussions than for practical application and preservation of the status quo is the most desired goal.

Who will have the final say in this classroom war and  a share in the nation’s progress is now anybody’s guess.

Yours

Narayanan

May 23, 2012 at 11:45 pm 8 comments

The Mosquito syndrome

The fourth estate, in many ways, is the barometer of a nation’s health as an independent, creative and fearless media fiercely adhering to the principles of justice is a definite bulwark to the powers of the state. Deeply reflective of the social, cultural and psychological moorings of the people, the media not just carries out the duty to inform but also shoulders the responsibility to shape the contours of public discourse that paves the way to the emergence of a more enlightened citizen.  While admirably fulfilling its primary role, it has, over the years, contributed immensely to the enrichment of the languages, the art and the culture of the country thereby refining and re-defining the aspirations of its people. Media has indeed been the harbinger, both of continuity and of constructive change.

But of late, a malignant ailment is fast eating into the very moral fabric of our media and that is its collective preoccupation, nay obsession, with the negative, the depressing and the sickening events that happen around us. Through incessant and senseless amplification of the crimes and their cover-ups by the crooks, a cacophony of disdain is unleashed that almost drowns down the sane and the sobering voices of reason.  And while the disturbing facets of the society are highlighted, events that cheer us up, achievements that could inspire the young to a higher purpose of life and individual feats that are worthy of emulation are largely left under reported or scantly treated in the nondescript columns on the inside pages of our dailies.   Thus, an honour killing is necessarily a front page news item when a breakthrough in frontier medical sciences is worthy of only a fifth page beat report; whereas the footage of the latest Maoists or terrorists attack is to be unendingly played on all prime time TV channels, the tireless and yeomen work of individuals and organisations aimed towards the upliftment of our tribal population seldom interests our visual media. The debauch and the wayward behaviour of a miniscule section of the society are projected as signs of progress and as a statement of upward mobility while the unflinching adherence of the overwhelming majority to the time tested values and codes of conduct are treated with absolute contempt. In an age where TRPs, web hits and eyeball retentions are the only measures of value and worthiness, all barriers of morality and decency are transgressed to score high ratings in these parameters of popularity. Our media today is fast succumbing to a serious malady which if left untreated is sure to deal a body blow to the very edifice of our traditional and family structures that has ensured security and continuity to our societies for centuries.

Like the mosquito sucking the blood of healthy people and spreading diseases among them, our media is guilty of sapping the vitality and the positive energies of our youth through an unrelenting focus on the frivolous, the flippant and the blatantly malicious aspects of our national life. Instead of being an instrument in channelizing the hallmark characteristics of idealism and selflessness of the young towards the task of nation building, the media today has a corrupting and demonising influence on them – a far cry from the salutary role it played in shaping men of sterling character during our freedom movement.

Instead of exhibiting the despicable nature of the mosquito, media should be more akin to a bee. Sucking only the nectarine honey and spreading lovely fragrance all around, the activities of the bee are so pregnant with sweetness that it invigorates all that it comes in contact with. Likewise, our media too should, through a conscious promotion of the vibrant and the inspiring, the challenging and nourishing aspects of our public life, ignite the latent goodness of the people and propel them to achieve excellence in selfless endeavours.  That is the vest that our media today need to adorn.

From the stinging mosquito to the humming bee, the media make-over is indispensable.

 Yours

Narayanan

May 14, 2010 at 11:33 pm 6 comments

education@BoP.in

The dissipated columns of glazed swanky residential apartments stand menacingly, overlooking a sea of squalid slums and shanty hovels. The elite upmarket school is bustling with the chatter of chubby pupils in spotless uniforms smartly creased by the tender hands of semi-clad children of the neighbourhood huts. The fancy headlight of the Lands Cruiser throws a blinding illumination on the footpath dweller as he scuttles his face away to a more benign direction! The stunning contradiction that is called India is mind numbing while the peaceful resignation and acceptance of the status quo could be very revolting, even nauseating, to the uninitiated on the reality of this nation.  

The vast mass of people who form, what has now come to be called as, the “bottom of the pyramid” or BoP in short, has been the subject of many scholarly studies. Theories propounded and postulates assumed on the nature and the cause of their poverty and definitive roadmaps proposed chartering which, their plight could be improved. The most magnificent of these scholars is Prof. C.K. Prahalad, who, instead of adopting a top-down approach of doling out largesse from outside, saw them as people quite proficient in shaping their own economic and social emancipation, given the right environment.  He argued that a more realistic method to improve their lot would be to increase their capacity to consume which in turn would enhance their ability to produce and thus contribute to generate additional income. He suggested, for example, that by making available world class hygiene products to the people at BoP, there would be lesser chances of people falling sick, freeing more hours and days to do productive work which would have a direct positive bearing on their incomes. Professor could thus convince many multinationals that there is a fortune to be made by serving this “bottom of the Pyramid” class which compelled them to package their products and services to the specific needs of this huge market. One rupee shampoos, fifty paise iodised salts, two rupee toothpastes, ten rupee mobile recharge and many umpteen products hit the stores in small sachets that re-defined the concept of rural marketing in the country. This “consumption led production led income generation” model of poverty alleviation has been the most singular and game altering contribution of our times that the generations to come would marvel at the foresight of Prof. Prahalad who passed away early last week. The world is truly indebted to this great genius whose hypotheses are based on sound business pragmatism and driven by compassion to the under-privileged.

While a consumption-led economic regeneration model would trigger great productive energies, it by itself will not be sufficient to permanently pull the people out from their impoverishments.  For, to consolidate the gains and ensure that people do not lapse back to poverty, there has to be a massive effort towards providing quality education, a task that, we as a nation can afford to ignore only at our own peril.  The enactment of basic education as a fundamental right is a recognition of the urgency of this task and many unique, novel and even seemingly bizarre strategies need to be adopted to bring to fructify this mission.

 Of the many initiatives that were tried out previously to bring the child to school and thus improve enrolment and retention, nothing has been as successful and revolutionary as the legendry noon-meal scheme.  Pioneered in the state of Tamil Nadu, it instantaneously led to a massive jump in school attendance and a rapid decline in drop-out rates. While more children in the classroom was a direct consequence of this program, with a meal a day, complete with dal and curry and an occasional egg, the nutritional status of the students showed marked improvement, a  huge spinoff of the program.  If one were to travel through the hinterlands of Tamil Nadu in the morning hours, he will not fail to see the sights of children marching to schools, not necessarily with a school bag but definitely, with a dented meal plate and a steel tumbler to accompany it.

But just as ridiculous as offering rituals in a temple where there is no deity, bringing children to schools where there are no quality teachers is making the entire state run education system, a public mockery.  And the one challenge that prevents primary education striking roots in the country is the near non- existent of trained and committed teachers, a yawning gap that requires out-of-the-box thinking and unconventional solutions to bridge. Given the numbers required, the traditional method of incremental training of teachers is just not enough. Do we have an alternate model to emulate?

 Some of the techniques deployed by few gurus in instructing their oriental teachings is worthy of closer examination and may offer a solution to the problem. The popularizing of Yoga by Ramdevji among the masses in a short period of time and preparing thousands of trainers in the art through a variety of techniques, including the use of mass media, is a definitive model that can provide valuable insights on transforming an idea into a mass mission.  If the intricate skills of yoga can thus be imparted en masse, there isn’t a reason why potential primary schools teachers cannot be trained in basic school education through the adoption of this method. But for this to happen, we need to go beyond the cliché argument of secular viz religious education and lavishly imbibe the spirit of these programs that ensure wide acceptance.

In short, we need to look for solutions closer at home than transplant an alien remedy that could prove worse than the disease.

Yours

Narayanan

April 24, 2010 at 11:49 pm 5 comments

A tribute to our MPs – Men in Parliament

 

Of the many virtues that men are adored for, it’s valour that stands supreme. In the face of formidable challenges, men of valour fight heroically, vanquishing every foe or perish themselves in the process.  While the thunderous army of chivalrous cavalry men pulverising the mightiest of armies dot our medieval history, it’s the indomitable courage of our countless countrymen, armed by the sheer strength of character and sacrifice, that broke the vertebrae of a mighty global empire and rooted out the foreign yoke from our land .And men of letters wielded their pen to inspire a generation script new annals, unparalleled in valour and never wanting in courage. From Shivaji to Gandhi, from Arjun to Bhagat Singh, from Tagore to Bharati, our national heritage is an uninterrupted stream of towering heroism of noble men. 

This heroism continued to find eloquence in the post-independent India as erudite men immersed themselves to the task of nation building and in structuring the many institutional edifices that nourish it.  An Ambedkar and his colleagues set upon to the meticulous crafting of the most comprehensive and inclusive constitution, the like of which the world has neither seen before nor thereafter, a Sardar Patel single-handedly embarked on a Bismarckian mission of annexing and unifying a scattered motley of princely states, and a Nehru unravelled the blue-print for the social, economic and scientific regeneration of a majestic country long subdued by alien dominance.  These astute parliamentarians were ably supported by the financial wizardry of a TTK, by the oratory skills of a Krishna Menon, by the non-partisanship of a Mavalankar and many such titans inside the house while men of the stature of Mahalanobis, Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai gave purpose and direction to the young nation from outside. Oh, what a masculine lineage our present parliamentarians have!

But the challenges thrown to our current MPs are much more over-arching than anything their predecessors had ever have to content with and tests their very character and the limits of their spirit of sacrifice. By asking the male MPs to vote for the women’s bill that, in rotation, reserves 1/3rd of the seats in Lok Sabha and state legislatures for women, they have been virtually instructed to script their own political obituary. When called upon to decide on the question of Indian independence, Churchill famously remarked that he cannot preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. And now our own men in the parliament are called upon to preside, participate and actively vote for the liquidation of their own survival! A choice between one’s instinct for self-preservation and the larger national aspiration for gender equality. Will our MPs rise to the occasion?

 The answer is a resounding Yes. It’s yes because our men have always put national interests before selfish agendas. It’s yes because they have the ideal of a galaxy of stalwarts who selflessly propelled our freedom movement. It’s yes because we have a glorious tradition of honouring the women at all costs and that includes the subjugation of one’s self interests. And it’s yes because our men in parliament correctly gauge the pulse of the nation which is overwhelmingly towards giving women their due. It is this accurate assessment that resulted in the passing of the bill in the upper house. And it would again be for the same reason that it will get its accent in the lower house.

In all these the valour of our Men in Parliament is in ample display. The true MPs!

 Yours

Narayanan

March 12, 2010 at 5:00 pm 10 comments

An open letter to M.F.Husain

Mr. Maqbool Fida Husain,

It has been a week of great relief for many of us here in India as we believed that with the conferment of Qatar nationality for you, the controversy surrounding you would at least subside, if not end. But then it was not to be so. The media is now on an overdrive projecting you as a victim of a malicious campaign and that your blasphemous depictions of the venerated mother and other deities are nothing more than an artist’s freedom for creative expressions. Some call it a sad day for India while a few other headlines yell it as a national shame. As a lay Indian but nevertheless a proud Indian, I will try to explain to you why I feel terribly hurt, nay, deeply humiliated, by your artistic profanity, a sense of outrage that a large section of my countrymen share with me.

In one of the beautiful compositions found in the puranas, the sages invoke the mother as ” Shrimata Shrimaharagyi Shrimatsimha Saneshvari…”  ” The one divine mother of all, the great empress of the whole universe, great sovereign enthroned on the lion” thus capturing the extolled stature and the enthralling magnificence of Shakti, the feminine aspect of the Divine. The great seers goes on to describe her as “Nirlepa Nirmala Nitya Nirakara Nirakula ” “one who is free from all affectations of external contacts,  free from all impurities, who is eternal, who is not limited to and by any form and is never agitated”. She is “Nishkalanka”, the one without a blemish. And if you portray such a pristine purity in vulgar nudity and in disparaging union with a lion, will we not be hurt?

The Vedas describe Goddess Lakshmi as an embodiment of absolute bliss and the bestower of all prosperity and who is supreme over all created beings. “The Shri Suktam” glorifies her as “Chandra Prabhasyam Yashesham Jwalantim”  “who is beautiful like the moon, who shines bright, blazing with renown”.  And if such a one whose grace can confer all happiness, wealth and joy is depicted in derogatory nudity sitting over Ganesha’s head, will we not be hurt?

And when you paint Sita Maa, who is worshipped as the epitome of chastity, “Pathivritha Shiromani”, as sitting on the lap of Ravana, again in nudity, will we not be hurt? And when you trample upon and demean the most sacred relationship between her and Hanuman, will we not be hurt?

Your cursed brush has not even spared the motherland and your besmirched representation of her not only smacks of a vulgarity of the most debasing variety but also of a certain mischievousness. Does this also come under artistic freedom? We appreciate you for the honourable and the fully decked up representations of your mother, your daughter, Faiz and Ghalib in your paintings. But when this courtesy is not extended to our goddesses, will we not be hurt? Maybe you meant it to be so.

What Duryodhana could not do to Draupadi, you, Mr. Husain, though figuratively, did it to our goddesses and to our motherland.

A gross transgression!

Narayanan

Take my survey

February 27, 2010 at 12:05 pm 8 comments

Batting for Hockey

It’s pure wizardry with the stick. The ball rolls over it… to the right, to the left and again to the right in rapid succession as the player make lightning advancement towards the scoring post.  The great “Indian Dribble” is at once a menacing deception to the opponent, a mesmerizing rally to the spellbound spectators and a powerful technique which, when unleashed, yielded a rich harvest of goals. Introduced by the Indians way back in the 50s, it  changed the way hockey would ever be played and catapulted the nation as the undisputed champions of the game. Today, a mastery on the technique of the “Indian Dribble” is a definite pre-requisite for a player to be of any consequence in the game.

Come circa 2010, the great Indian hockey is at shambles and the rot is gender natural. The men and women of our national teams, instead of dribbling the ball, are now wrestling with the officials. With spates of accusations, unpaid monies, drastic resignations and boycotts, our hockey has everything to keep the masses entertained – off the field, that is. An inspiring film that injects passion to the game, though a commercial success, did little to change the mindset of men who matter.  Once a national pride, the sport today is being strangulated and is gasping for breath. And when the symbol of national honour is at stake, are we to remain just mute spectators?

Many argue that the decadence of hockey coincided with the rise and the rise of  The Cricket. The sport of the willow attracts all the sponsorships, monies, media coverage and ads while its players enjoy celebratory status. The nation lives on a daily dose of cricketing news and the T20 format ensures a round the year action that leaves little room for any other sport to capture our imagination. With an overload of critics, commanders, analysts and many other sundry “thinkers of the game”, it never fails to engage. A testimony to this is the media coverage on the exclusion of Pakistani cricketers from IPL which could perhaps only be compared to that of the 26/11 terrorist attack.

It is this very popularity of cricket that could now come to the rescue of hockey and salvage the game from total oblivion. If only the czars of the game displayed wisdom and magnanimity, the issues of  financial crunch that plague our hockey could be effectively resolved.  Yeah, hockey need to be cross-subsidised by cricket.  And we, as a nation, have always lived with cross-subsidies- we pay, for instance, more for our petrol so that the cooking gas is available cheap and companies support their weaker products by piggy-backing them with their strong brethrens. If it works well for our economy, shouldn’t it work better for our games? An hockey cess on every cricket match, on every telecast of cricket and a definite ear-marking of a portion of its profits for the development of hockey would breathe fresh life to it. Indian cricket today need to bat for the hockey.

Countries that have emerged as great sporting nations have done so only by a deliberate policy of synergizing their combined strengths to overcome their weaknesses. And it’s time now that India too leverage its commanding cricketing status to the advantage of other sports. With India hosting the World Hockey Cup this year, it’s just the right time to act towards this goal.

Chak De India, Chak De!

Yours

Narayanan

January 26, 2010 at 8:05 am 1 comment

Small is beautiful but littleness is ugly

Poets, philosophers and commoners have all alike been entranced by things that are small and little, and the BIG difference they make – The small little cottage, the small little dot on the child’s cheek, the small little squirrel doing its bit in the lord’s mission and the small little pat on one’s back . Small little words of encouragement have triggered great achievements and small little but timely help have shaped great personalities.

What makes small so beautiful is its completeness. An infant who is happy within is a source of great joy to all around. The distant star twinkling with its little light is a delight to watch. And that small little smile makes Mona Liza so complete yet so enigmatic. 

But when smallness is sought to be achieved by amputating a larger whole, it becomes a tasteless waste. Such are the efforts of our politicians that they neither appreciate the value of size nor the pre-requisites that make the small beautiful. The clamour for carving out “Telengana” from Andhra Pradesh is such a course towards self- destruction that has the elements of the most sinister designs working behind it.  If  it comes to fructify, it shall spell the collective doom of both the regions.

This is so because , Telengana shares its water resources, that are so essential for the independent development of the region with the other regions. All the major rivers and water resources in Andhra flow through Telengana towards the Andhra region and one has only to look how Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are fighting for years over the Kaveri water, and the blue-print for future disputes, riots and violence are in front of us. Oh, a tragedy is just unfolding before our very eyes! 

Little politicians have total disregard for the welfare of the state or its people. For them, it is one more state with all the positions right from the chief minister’s chair, up there for grabs.  No price is too high if it means a direct shot at the Gaddi! Littleness is not just ugly but positively dangerous.

We can only hope that better sense would prevail and people will be spared an unending spell of hatred and violence.

Yours

Narayanan.K

December 11, 2009 at 6:42 pm 1 comment

Maa Tuje Salaam!

 “Vande Mataram”  is again reverbarating, not as an inspiring national melody but as a controversy borne out of a view point of the most bigoted nature. The Islamic scholars of the country opined that the national song is unfit for rendering by a true Muslim and issued a fatwa that refrains the faithful from singing it. It is only Allah, the scholars concluded, who is to be venerated and no one else, much less the motherland.

A.R. Rahman’s iconic rendering of the song held the nation spellbound and instantaneously catapulted it as an all-time  favourite among the youth of our country. The  practicing Muslim in Rahaman didn’t find anything blasphemous when he thundered “Vande Mataram” to scintillating music. Nor did the people of India, muslims included,  ever shy away from humming the song. 

Allah is all-pervasive and there is no place where he is not. And by extension of this logic he cannot but be in the motherland too. And when you bow down to your motherland, you are in fact paying obeisance to that one supreme. No “Namaz”  is complete without  prostrating on the earth you stand. Is it not an act of reverence to the land that sustains you?

It’s one’s motherland that is more desirable than even the heavens and the doors of “Jannat” are forever closed to the one who disrespects his motherland. 

 Maa, Tuje Salaam!

Yours

Narayanan

November 10, 2009 at 5:51 pm 2 comments

The tale of two, nay three, Gujaratis

Pranava implies the primordial sound that transcends the trilogy of time, space and causation and a sincere practitioner of this sacred chant is assured of an eternal permanence, freed from the limiting and inhibiting nature of the worldly existence.

And when Pranav Mistry unveiled his “Sixth Sense” technology which literally brings the virtual world to your finger tips, what he actually did was to free the knowledge world from the shackles of patent-royalty-licence syndrome. Pranav would soon open-source this technology and with that happening, “Sixth Sense” would gain an omnipresence akin to that of the primordial sound that his name signifies.

With a few random and rhythmic moments of his hands and a pendent fitted to his finger, Pranav resembled more like a master conductor crafting the most rapturous music than like a techie hardwared to bytes and thereby to billions. And when this lad from Gujarat announced that it all for free and that money matters little for him,  he exemplified  the highest traditions of selflessness that has few parallels in today’s much maligned corporate world. 

Juxtapose this gesture with that of the other Gujarati,  the Ambani brothers, and you couldn’t have asked for a more contrasting personalities. The twosome brothers are now fighting each other in the Indian Supreme Court to decide who should get the best spoils of the gas reserves that they supposed to have discovered in the Krishna basins. One of them sees it as his fiefdom to amass unrestrained wealth by selling this national resource to the highest bidder and the other trying to grab a share of the cake. It just doesn’t matter to either of the Ambani brothers that the gas reserves has been there over a few millions of years, much before mankind appeared on the face of this earth. For this Gujarati brothers it’s money alone that matters!

Of these contrasts, one shall be consigned to the dustbin of history and no prizes for guessing the correct answer. And the other, glorified forever for going beyond the self.

Yours

Narayanan

November 8, 2009 at 7:17 pm 4 comments


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