Saturday, May 28, 2016

What Does Social Media Mean to You?

One of the things I have noticed on social media is that everybody is broadcasting themselves, as if they are celebrities. I called up a friend and was told, “What, you don’t read my Facebook posts?” he was accusing me of not reading his Facebook posts to learn about his broadcasts, of his celebrity status. He was actually thinking, “Here I am such a celebrity on Facebook with 2000 followers and this idiot wants to meet me. Let him see my posts, I don’t have the time.”

We may lose a lot of friends that way. And, truth is, of these 2000 followers whom you call friends, no one cares a hoot – nada, zilch – about you, what you post, what selfies you upload. It all goes into a void. And, you aren’t a celebrity, some people have already ignored you, others are in the process. What you consider as your broadcast has already been censored by listeners.

With what I have experienced in online forums – quite a few – I have no illusions about celebrity-dom or being popular. Sure, I admire those people who get hundreds of likes on their posts. They have made social media their alternate life, while I see it as just a place to relax, catch up, stay in touch.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

A Wedding: When the Rap Music Made Us Hungry

I went to a childhood friend’s son’s wedding yesterday. This friend was a neighbour in the suburb of Chembur and all the family was known to me. So, it was an occasion to renew old bonds, and to show off my mildewing old suit. It is interesting how the Syrian Christian weddings take place. People are at their best and their worst at the same time, as you will see. At this wedding, as usual, there is an interesting mix of Christians from around Bombay. In one corner were the Santa Cruz Marthomites, because the girl was from there, in another was the Vashi Marthomites, because the boy was a member there, in another corner was the Panvel Marthomites, as the boy is currently based there. Scattered elsewhere were the odd Anglican CSIs from Sanpada, Chembur, and Vakola.

Everybody was in their best behaviour at 7 p.m. which was the official time of the reception. Children were running around, a DJ was being crazily loud, but no dancing happened, we are conservative, you know, though a few old uncles, well past their seventies were seen jiving with their hands in their pockets. Well, um, the DJ also danced alone, behind his console. Then the welcome drinks came as a welcome relief from the heat, and, then, what is called “starters” which was panneer, vegetable sizzlers, and chicken tikkas. We waited exchanging pleasantries with an old neighbour, my companion for the evening, from long ago. We hadn’t seen each other for ages, so we had a lot to share.

Though the DJ was splitting our ear drums with crazy rap and hip-hop numbers, we managed to talk, as only Malayalis can. We used sign language mostly. Then one hour passed and the bride and groom hadn’t arrived. An emcee said they were on the way and there would be a sweet welcome for them. Meanwhile, beauties were seen sashaying and young studs were seen swaggering around. So we waited in patience, ogling the girls in pretty numbers, men doddering around, old uncles and aunts in wheel chairs, all in silent expectation.

The emcee was looking harassed but was managing quite well. We had run out of subjects to talk about. Then we started pointing out the people – who looked familiar - and how we were either related or were from the same village. It was like playing a game. Then this game, too, exhausted. We were consuming starters and welcome drinks by the litres. It seemed as if we won’t need dinner if this continued.

Then the emcee triumphantly announced, at 9.30 p.m. that the girl and boy had arrived, after two-and-half hours of waiting. Curiously we were very hungry by this time. The zen-like patience we had exhibited earlier had evaporated and we were waiting for the announcement that food is served. Even the sashaying and swaggering had stopped. See, the music had not entertained us, it had made us impatient and edgy. All the more reason to believe that modern music doesn’t work for us old codgers. We were waiting for the meeting to begin so the music would stop.

Then there began a round of introduction for the bride, groom and their families. The emcee handled this expertly. I guess he has some experience with such states of anomie, or he would have been a wreck by now. That over, the bride sang a song, which was melodious. We all admired her voice and said, “She is very talented.” Our eyes were on the buffet tables to see if it had begun to be filled with food.

Introductions over, the groom gave a very humorous speech, which was lost on a distracted audience. Only a few claps resulted. Since the music stopped, talk had resumed. One uncle, potbellied, was standing, welcome drink in hand, staring at the audience continuously from a front row, as if searching for meaning to life.

Mercifully, then the emcee announced that the function had ended. And then the whole audience erupted into an ungainly and unglamorous dash towards the food tables. The carefully nurtured sangfroid of the evening was abandoned. Manners were disregarded, feet stamped, saris and sequinned dresses held aloft, husbands were separated from wives, mothers from children, brothers from sisters. At the buffet queue, luckily I managed to get behind my wife, but my companion for the evening and his wife, son, and grandson were not to be seen.

Luckily we found a seat to sit on. Like in a train, seats were reserved, and a handbag on the seat meant it was “Reserved against Cancellation (RAC)” by the lifting of the handbag. My companion then came around asking for his wife. Then the wife came asking for her husband. And, then the son and grandson came asking for both father and mother. We had become a chomping, slurping, gorging mass by then.

You see the rap and hip-hop music had made us crazily hungry.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Problems of Today's Youth

A survey in today’s Times of India states that 58 per cent (Bombay) of youth have considered committing suicide. Only 26 per cent in Bombay have told their parents about it and discussed the reasons with them. This is frightening and shocking, at the same time. What is going wrong? It also says that the reason for contemplating suicide is because of depression. Whatever, however they are, parents love their children. I am yet to meet a parent who says he/she dislikes his/her child. (With the exception of a celebrity who allegedly killed her own daughter recently.) 

Something is wrong and, obviously, seriously wrong. So I decided to go a bit into the problems faced by children. What is causing this huge resentment in children? We, as middle class parents, want the best for our children and work hard for it. In the process, we also forget something about the modern world in which children grow up.

Here are a few pointers, because it concerns us, most of all, because they are the future of society and of the country.

1. They don’t understand what is going on.

Yes, they don’t. They don’t read newspapers, they skim through the news. They would watch some reality shows or competitions rather than a few good news channels. Parents should encourage the reading habit in children by buying them books appropriate for their age.

2. Easy availability of sub-standard entertainment (video and audio).

I mean, I listened to some of the songs young people listened to and was appalled. There isn’t music, just beats, and the lyrics are just horrible, except for a few catch words repeated, “Waka, waka, yeh, yeh.” Is that lyrics? That would make the youth more frustrated because entertainment should also address human issues: love, longing, nature, and incidents. Songs about love and longing is acceptable but not music videos that are provocative, such as Lady GaGa’s (She isn’t a lady, is she?).

And, most importantly, pornography is easily available, leading to a growth in desire, but not respect for the other sex. A person who views pornography cannot and will never respect the other sex. As a corollary he/she may not get respect from the opposite sex, leading to depression. Thoughts about unnatural sex forms a barrier between a boy and a girl and that could lead to misunderstandings and fights. That might be the reason behind most cases of sex offenses and crime.

3. Mobile phones.

Parents give mobile phones to children to know where they are, and to find out if they are safe. However, the sad fact is that these high-end mobile phones are misused and most youth exchange pornographic videos on them. That was not the intention with which the phones were given to children. Being in a very impressionable age, they would be tempted to experiment with sex, a bit too soon. I think youth should shun pornography as unnatural, thereby obviating a market for obscene videos.

4. Income disparity. 

Though you may give the best you can afford to your child, they are not blind to the income disparity between you and parents of their friends. This could upset them and depress them. Suddenly, all the love you give them may seem meaningless, though you may be working very hard to give them what they want. Parents should make children understand their financial background, so they wouldn’t make unreasonable demands.

5. Marital discord

Some parents do not get along which each other, resulting in fights, which may really depress the child. Parents need to understand that their fights would affect the child, and that should make them careful before fighting before their child.

6. Children should know how to speak to strangers

Parents teach children not to speak to strangers. But they should also be taught to speak friendly, non-threatening strangers, or, adults, with respect. They should also know how to discourage unwanted people from talking to them. They can demonstrate this by taking children with them for outings and letting them learn from your own behaviour.

7. Learning

Learning should be an overall, personality developing activity. A child should develop musical, athletic, and social skills. They should also respect and appreciate the art and culture of their parents and their ancestors. Put them in touch with these early in life. Just hankering after good grades and percentage is not enough, he/she needs to be an overall champion. So what if he/she is not on the merit list? Being on the merit lists has its on problems; it puts pressure on children and youth. Many merited children have failed subsequently, and non-merited children have excelled also.

8. Being depressed doesn’t help

Psychoanalysis is a science that deals with the working of the mind. It isn’t really a medicinal science (it prescribes medicines in chronic cases) in that it goes into the working of the mind to suggest what can be done. Having positive thoughts, being with positive people, and being occupied by positive activity can cure most cases of depression, which is what I strongly believe. A firm belief in one’s religion can help, that’s why I encourage children to believe in whichever faith they belong to. Faith doesn’t teach children to hate anybody (except maybe the fundamental ones). The very act of singing songs and chanting can heal a troubled person.
Young people idol-worship certain movie stars forgetting that they are humans and, therefore prone to failures. When these idols fail, or, rebuff their advances, they become depressed. Youth should never worship another human being as being infallible. They have their own weaknesses and fallibility.
Waking up every morning thinking how awesome the day is, loving the nature around you, loving the birds and animals can cure you of depression for the entire day. Recently I read somewhere (A Facebook post, I think.) that a single positive thought as soon as you wake up can carry you through the day and make it a big success. So wake up thinking “how beautiful is today.”
There is a lot more to share. So watch this space, as they say.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan's Biography Is Published

There are things that come to you by way of ancestry that you cannot deny. One such thing, which I am proud of, is my great uncle Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan, who was my grandfather's cousin. Tharakan also known as "Mahakavi (great poet)" was also called "Sarasa Gayaka Kavi (poet who sings)". He was, as mentioned above, a good singer and writer. The only novel of his that I have read is "Madhubalika," which is curiously set in Calcutta, may be, he has travelled to Calcutta in those days. Among his poems is an epic poem "Vishwadeepam (Light of the World)" based on the life of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Thomas Cyriac (Right) Presenting Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan's Biography to writer Ravi Varma Thampuran.
Here is his Wikipedia biography, which I have written. Family lore is that when he used to visit our village for a Poet's Conference (Kavi Sammelanam) he used to insist on my grandfather P C Mathew sitting beside him on the dais. He and my grandfather were close, as they had grown up together, and were good friends. My grandfather, the abovementioned P C Mathew was a lover of reading and literature and filled his house with many books. I have inherited quite a few of his books from those days, which, bye the bye, is another story, for another post.

I have often felt a need for a published biography of Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan. That seems to have come true with the publication of his biography by Dr. Jose Parakadavil. Here's a photo taken at the launch of the book by Dr. Thomas Cyriac (former Vice-chancellor of Gandhi University) presenting the said book to writer Ravi Varma Thampuran (whose novel Shayyanukamba was published recently).

Monday, April 04, 2016

This Happened on a Sunday!

It’s difficult to go for a walk these days. Yes. You think you are control of a situation, but, actually you aren’t. What I am going to describe left me sadly disillusioned. It happened thusly. Sundays, I go for a walk with my friend Henry in the environs of the dam, which is, alas, dry now. There is a slum by the side of the dam which was nurtured as a vote bank by the local politician. It has given refuge all kind of unwanted and fugitive elements, about which we couldn’t do anything. The slum has grown to occupy a huge area and is still growing, like all slums in New Bombay. When the politician is in league with the police, you can’t do much.

As I said, I and Henry were on our evening constitutional when we met a youth from the slum, riding a bike which was making a huge, deafening roar. Obviously he had disabled the silencer and, he was finding it a way to attract attention to him. As people with anti-social feelings often do, he was enjoying himself, being obnoxious. There is a hospital in the area, many aged people reside there, even many patients. So, we stopped him to give him a piece of advice. He got down from his bike in a menacing manner. He was only about twenty, his left ear was pierced and I think he was drunk.

-   Why is your bike making so much noise?
-   What goes of your father? It’s my bike?
-   Don’t talk like that. We are of your father’s age.
-   Then talk like old people.
-   We are saying there are sick and old people. There is a hospital in the locality. (In fact, we were standing in front of the hospital.)
-   What do I care? It’s my wish. (“Meri marzi” is a Bollywood song lyric that had become famous some time ago.)
-   But you should get it repaired.
-   I told you it’s my bike, didn’t I? Is it your father’s road?”
-   Don’t take my father’s name.

Till now Henry was leading the conversation. He had become upset about the boy mentioning his father’s name. The young man was truculent and had no respect for age. (But that’s the norm these days.) I interceded and took a flustered Henry away from the spot and asked the youth to leave. By this time some people had gathered, but they didn’t help, or, involve themselves, though, it was their problem, too. I knew I could phone the police station, but that would be taking matters too further. I fear going to the police station, because then there would be revenge from the boy and his gang.

Belapur is a small place. Everyone knows everyone, but it vexes me that this happened. Most of the people living around the area is known to me and greet me on my daily perambulation. Then I remember the incident of Dr. Pankaj Narang, beaten to death because of an argument. This happened in Delhi, it could happen in Bombay too. Economic disparities have enraged poor people and we may be the target of their anger. I told the boy to go away, the onlookers, and those looking from their balconies dispersed after they saw the tamasha, some were smiling and laughing. Laughing? About what? Humiliation of Henry, who is a senior citizen, and I (soon to be one). They don’t know they could be in such a situation tomorrow.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Book Review: Darkness at Noon

Finished reading Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. I completed it over a month as I am a slow reader, and, generally relish every word. This, however, was worth the relish. Here’s a talented writer, much talented than many I have read recently, telling a chilling story, that makes you tremble to your bones. This is the story of a fictitious country, a socialist one, told by one of its highest disgraced founders. However, it rings true in its linear narrative that spares nothing, and you feel the cold darkness of the cell where the protagonist is kept prisoner.

If this is what happens to a founder of the socialist empire, then what could be the story of countless others who have been massacred, jailed, exiled, and disgraced? One thing that runs through the pages is the terror of such an evil empire. You shudder to think of this happening to your country, or, your immediate environment. God forbid!

Yes socialism may sound good from the outside, but inside its all hell. Theorising over class and rank, the murder of a trusted assistant, trial and execution of a friend who, initially tries to protect you through rank, must have been traumatic experience for party apparatchik Rubashov. He served his masters well, but was misunderstood and could do nothing about it. He was, ironically enough, jailed for anti-party activities, a common allegation in socialist parties. The prison scenes, the interrogation tactics are chillingly described by the author.

Worth a read, though it is a classic, or, in fact, because it is a classic.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The State of Public Schools in Kerala

The camera team from the television channel arrives at the school gate. There are three teachers, but no children to teach. They ask where are the children? This is a school, right? And, it isn’t a holiday, right?

The teachers are flustered. It’s obvious they haven’t faced the camera, in their lives, so far. They stammer and mumble that all the children have gone to a wedding. So the school is empty and the teachers have nothing to do. All the children have gone to a wedding? So how many children do you teach here? Five? Yes, five! Three teachers for five students? Yes, you are right!

That’s the state of Kerala’s public schools today according to a report in the television channel Asianet. In public schools funded by the government there are no students to teach because all the students have to gone to private schools. The government pays the teachers an atrocious salary (by city standards) to do nothing. A teacher gets around Rs 15,000 when they join. And they get a big pension – half of their salary – when they retire.

The reason is that the standard of teaching in public schools in Kerala is abysmally low. Teachers don’t bother and the children don’t care. Parents who send children to these schools are the poorest and the reason they send children here is because they get a good mid-day meal with rice, vegetable, and egg. Besides, the teachers arrange to bring children to school by sending their own cars. They also offer enticements like uniforms, bags, books, umbrellas for free. Because, if these five children don’t show up in school, their jobs are gone. They may be transferred to somewhere worse than the boondocks.

This is how education works in Kerala, the 100 per cent literate state. So, why don’t they improve the standard of education in public schools? Who is bothered, as long as Gulf income is there, who cares? Now with all oil at a new low when the Gulf workers return, imagine the situation.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Some Thoughts on Republic Day

I am on my morning rounds, after finishing a set of exercises, on a few machines installed in the local garden, by the kindness of my friend, the corporator. Thence, I sit on a park bench to make notes. A man cycles past me and I notice that his cycle doesn’t have a foot pedal on the left side. Seeing his expertise, I guess he has been going around this way for some time. Why doesn’t he get it repaired? I think people are like that. My thoughts go to my profession – writing. A good writer will write anywhere, in whatever circumstances. So I must write something on my blog today, the 26th of January 2016. So, what should I write about? Ah! Today is Republic Day. So I must write something about what it means to all of us.

This is the Wayside Inn in Kala Ghoda where Dr. B.R.Ambedkar used to sit drafting the Indian Constitution. 
India became a republic 66 years ago on this day January 26th, 1950. I am sharing this here so that the new generation, which doesn’t know much (or, care to know) about history, should know because it is about their country. It’s true we got independence in 1947, but then from 1947 to 1950 we were a dominion of the British empire ruled by a governor-general and the British monarch George VI was still the constitutional head of the country. This is something like Australia and South Africa, both of which, even now, have the queen of England as their head of state.

It was in 1950 that India became a republic, free from the domination, so to speak, of the British Empire. True, the British must have resented this. From 1947 to 1950 Nehru was not a prime minister but a secretary of state of the British Empire. The first governor general of free India was an English man, Lord Mountbatten. He was succeeded by an Indian, C. Rajgopalachari. That brings us to the question: what is the significance of the Republic Day? It was then that India became a fully independent country, and not just a colony of Britain like Australia or New Zealand.

Now we have an identity to be proud of, a nation built by our visionary leaders, who fought for the independence and sovereignty of our country with their own minds and bodies. It’s our duty to see that their fight shouldn’t go in vain and that we should uphold the principles they have laid down in the constitution. It’s our duty to protect the constitution and the principles laid down in it, such as: freedom, equality, freedom to practise any religion, fundamental rights, civil rights, and political rights. The preamble to the constitution states:

“WE THE PEOPLE OF India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a [SOVERIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC] and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity,
And to promote among all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the [unity and integrity of the Nation];
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT, AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.” Courtesy: The Constitution of India, LexisNexis.

Though the constitution was adopted on November 26, 1949 it came into effect only two months later. In this period our leaders suggested minor changes and later signed their approval.

Sorry! This is The Woodside Inn in Colaba. I got confused by the similarity in names. I have lunched here too!
The constitution was written by Dr. B.R.Ambedkar and it is said it took him three years to write. It’s a beautiful, though complicated document to go through. I have a copy of the constitution published by LexisNexis. I have had the luck and honour of lunching in the historic and iconic Wayside Inn (Now, changed to Silk Route), a restaurant in Kala Ghoda, Bombay, where Dr. Ambedkar used to sit drafting the Indian constitution. A picture of the historic restaurant is given herewith.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cargill Documentary on RT

After seeing a one-hour documentary on Cargill on Russian Television, I am at a loss of words to express how I feel about the pernicious presence of big business in agriculture in the world. It seems the question of GMOs and corporate level farming will be a major challenge not only in India but in the whole world. I have written about Monsanto and its activities with BT Cotton in Vidharbha and other areas in India. What Cargill, a privately-owned corporation is doing around the world is equally pernicious, to say the least.

While at it, the multinational corporations are taking over farming in the world. Will this see the death of the small farmer, which is the backbone of Indian agriculture, nobody can tell for sure. The corporations may comply with laws in their home country but abroad they use all means to subvert and sabotage the local population. Cargill was under a cloud when they constructed a port in Brazil without Environmental Assessment (EA). It is also accused of using child labour and intimidation tactics to make small farmers surrender their land for their huge farms.

See the documentary if you can. Unfortunately it is not posted on but there’s a link to Indian farmer suicide here.