Bastards No Longer! Wednesday, Feb 27 2008 

Live-in relationship is becoming common in India today. Economic boom, job opportunities for women and the lure of urban life have contributed to it.

Parents who have accepted ‘working woman’ status for their daughters and reluctantly let them go and live in a city alone and away from family are a worried lot today.

Indian society, which stigmatizes even love marriage, is grappling with the phenomenon of live-in relationship and searching for ways to deal with it.

But what surprises me most is the courage of these couples to prefer live-in relationship to marriage and face their parents and society firmly.

In a recent landmark judgment the Supreme Court of India has given legal protection to live-in relationship and legitimacy to children born of it. The court has said that such a relationship between a man and a woman is not a state of “concubinage”.

The ruling gives legitimacy to and upholds the property rights of children born of couples who have lived together for long. The court frowns upon inference of bastardy.

It’s a remarkable judgment and I hope it’ll encourage live-in couples to have children. They don’t have to fear the stigma of their children being bastards: They are legitimate in the eyes of law, at least.

But the Supreme Court cannot force societal acceptance of live-in couples and their children through its ruling. Ours is not an enlightened society. Custom and tradition have strong hold on it and most people feel safe following them.


Techno Tots Sunday, Jun 10 2007 

My two-year old son demands that he be left at the computer and his mom and I take our hands off him so that he can ‘work’ with it uninterrupted.

He goes hog wild with the mouse, running the cursor all over the screen and clicking on the task bar icons and the shortcuts.

Somehow I keep the keyboard pushed under the table top, otherwise he’ll tap on it with both his hands and sometimes with his legs, too.

When the going gets tough, I turn off the machine and let him do what he wants.

Anyway, my work is interrupted when he gets so enthusiastic about working with the computer.

My boy has been attracted to the computer since he was about eighteen months.

As I noticed his joy in playing with the computer I wondered whether it was right to expose a little child as young as 18-24 months to the computer. Is there a recommended age level for introducing the computer to a child’s world?

I had no success in finding any convincing comments on this matter until I came across a blog discussing this topic the other day.

I was glad to learn that Amit Agarwal of Digital Inspiration had a two-year old son who was computer savvy. The famous Indian blogger had already faced my situation and devised ways to deal with it, in addition to finding relevant articles from B.B.C. (articles: 1 and 2).

His method of launching a slideshow or drawing software to keep the child’s interest engrossed in it doesn’t work with my son. What he wants is the whole system for himself and tapping on the keyboard and clicking the mouse.

The two B.B.C. articles are really good. They contain the findings of a study and views and opinions of some experienced people. Here is a summary:

· The very early use of computers is heavily promoted by educationalists…

· Computers make an ideal context for learning through play.

· The multi sensory experiences that they offer are particularly appropriate for the very young and promote the use of memory.

· Play on the computer should be viewed as one of a range of contexts for play, rather than given a separate status.

· Ten minutes, three or four times a week is a good guide.

· It is not desirable for young children to sit in front of a screen for prolonged periods of time.

· Young children should be encouraged to investigate the real world, and links made between this and the virtual world of the computer.

· Painting games…allows children to be entirely creative and are additionally excellent tools for developing fine motor skills.

· Computers will play a significant part in children’s learning experiences throughout their school days and beyond.

· Parents have a powerful role in determining their child’s perception of the ways that this tool can enhance knowledge and expand their world.

As you can see there’s no conclusive answer to the question. It all depends upon the informed judgment of the parents!

Keeping this in mind, I’ll let my two-year old son tap and click and make him happy.

HIV/AIDS Test Mandatory For Marriage Friday, Jan 12 2007 

I don’t know whether HIV test is compulsory anywhere for registering marriages.

In India, the state government of Andhra Pradesh has taken a crucial decision regarding the issue and is all set to make the test mandatory soon.

According to the U.N. India has the highest caseload with 5.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Of this 1.5 million cases are in Andhra Pradesh, making it second only to Maharashtra.

Recently the top brass of the state government and the ruling party have undergone AIDS test with a massive media blitz in order to generate public awareness about the disease and remove misconceptions about it. The other day a minister went as far as to adopt two HIV infected boys aged six and four. The boys’ parents succumbed to AIDS last week.

In India “some of the most painful parts of HIV infection [are]- prejudice, rejection, hurt, ostracism, etc.”, says a study.

In September last year, a man with full-blown AIDS in eastern India was stoned by villagers, who were scared he would spread the HIV infection. The 35-year-old man died later of his injuries. (Link).

In an incident near here a few weeks back a primary school boy was sent away from school and other schools nearby refused to give him admission, because his father died of AIDS and his mom and he tested positive.

A new group called Network of Positive People (NPP+) started by HIV positive people in Andhra Pradesh works for “raising awareness in the community to create a better environment for people living with HIV/AIDS.” Its various activities aimed at the infected are commendable.

The government hopes that there won’t be any hue and cry from any corner, especially religious bodies and orthodoxies regarding the proposed legislation. In India you can’t help inviting trouble from people whose religious sentiments you hurt by such things. And politicians are wary of that.

There’s also concern that it will result in an avalanche of fake test certificates that many people will pay for instead of obtaining genuine ones after tests.

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To Saddam With Love Thursday, Jan 4 2007 

When the news of Saddam Hussein’s capture in a dark hole exploded towards the end of 2003, and humiliating images of his bearded deranged face, and of his jaws opening for medical inspection, were beamed on television, another old man far away felt something turn inside his stomach.

Seventy-one-year-old P Sivasankaran Nair, for long in the peace of Palakkad in Kerala, rubbed his chest to console himself

Nair was the chief cook at the Basra International Airport between 1982 and 1987, once a heady place where Saddam Hussein used to come for elaborate dinners.

During that tenure, Nair’s path had crossed the dictator’s when he made a Tamil snack called bonda, a type of batata vada. Nair remembers that Saddam was so enamoured with the bonda that he asked animated questions about it.

Long before that meeting, Nair had considered Saddam a profitable god. “I educated my children, married off my daughter and constructed a house with his money. To be honest, I’m indebted to him for all the comforts that I enjoy today,” Nair says. He lives in a traditional house, that has a cosy purposeful austerity about it, in Kalpati, a Tamil Brahmin village.

His gratitude is so immense that when he opened a provisions store in 1989, upon his return from Iraq, he named it Saddam Stores. He sent some pictures of the shop to Saddam Hussein along with a letter in English.

Dear Supreme Leader,

I’d worked in your country for five years.

I came back to Kerala some two years back. To keep myself busy, today, I opened a small shop at my village. It’s my honour to name the shop after your Supreme Name. Whatever I’m today, it’s because of the salary you paid me. By your blessings, my family is leading a comfortable life. Welfare be with you always.

With profound love and regards,

P S Nair.

The letter not only reached Saddam, it also impressed him so much that he released the pictures of Nair’s shop and the flattering epistle to the local media with a statement in Arabic

“So many people come and work in Iraq. But it took one Nair from a distant land to express his gratitude. It’s not religion that matters. But the bond of human love. I’m touched by Nair’s gesture. This is what I call loyalty. This is what I expect from every Iraqi. Insha Allah.”

Nair’s friends in Iraq sent him the clippings. The story didn’t end there. Saddam Hussein sent a personal emissary, Muther Ali, to India who met Nair. And the message was conveyed to Nair that Saddam wanted him to return to Iraq.

But, when Nair cited age-related problems which forced him to remain at home, Saddam welcomed his children to join him at his palace. Unfortunately, none of them were of employable age then. Eldest son Suresh was studying in the tenth standard, second son Murali was in the eighth and Pusha, the youngest child, was in the fifth.

“Saddam conveyed that I was the most loyal citizen of Iraq and the country’s doors would always remain open to me. Ali presented a gold watch and Rs 16,000 in cash,” Nair says, producing the watch from his cupboard’s locker. The timepiece carries Saddam’s picture on the dial.

Nair has removed the watch’s battery to save it from the tedium of being in a working condition. “I’m praying for his welfare. Daily, I do archana in his name at the Shiva temple here. I’m certain he will come out unscathed,” Nair says, throwing his hands towards the heavens.

When he is confronted with the question why he worships a man who is believed to have killed thousands, Nair flashes an angry look. “Who says…?” he thunders. “It’s the US which is harping on this. I don’t believe a bit of it.

Kuwait deserved to be invaded because it didn’t pay what was due to Iraq. Then the killing of Kurds…you should understand Iraq was a military regime. It had its own laws. People who violated the laws also knew the punishment they faced.”

Nair ends his political observations with the conclusion, “It’s Bush who should be hanged.”

(From, dtd 26 Nov 2006)

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Gender Test and Humiliation of An Athlete Wednesday, Dec 20 2006 

Santhi Soundarajan won a silver in 800 m race in the just concluded 15th Asian Games in Doha, but was humiliated by the gender test that she failed and the subsequent decision of the games authorities to stripe her off the medal. The test is not compulsory, but unfortunately for Santhi it was done on the basis of a complaint from a participant. The test found that Santhi Soundarajan “does not possess the sexual characteristics of a woman” and had “more Y chromosomes” than acceptable in a woman!

The frenzied coverage the news received lacked any sensitivity and concern to the athlete and her background. Of the numerous news reports that I’ve accessed, only two reported the matter with care and attention to the details of the controversial test itself. reports the observation of Dr P S M Chandran, Director of Medicine, Sports Authority of India. It’s a compassionate, critical assessment of the whole episode. He says: “It is very, very unfair that you victimize a girl who has failed a gender test, unlike doping. Doping is a deliberate attempt to do some mischief. Being born with some physical, anatomical abnormality is not a sin,”… The complicated gender test is fraught with problems since it doesn’t “take into account differences in genetic make-up, chromosomal variations and genetic abnormalities.”

It’s a long procedure that can take weeks for the final result to come out and involves various tests done on the person by a gynecologist, a hematologist, an endocrinologist and a psychologist.

Santhi, a female by birth, has never undergone any surgeries or therapies to alter her gender. had a balanced assessment of the matter. The chromosomal variations found in the test could be caused by “genetics, intense training, and even poor nutrition like Soundarajan may have experienced growing up in a poverty stricken Indian family.”

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi deserves praise for inviting the athlete and her parents to his chambers and presenting her with the cash award that he had announced, despite the news of the test and its findings. The chief minister was generous enough to present them a huge plasma TV as well, since her poor parents had told that they hadn’t had a TV to watch their daughter’s performance.

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Can Success Repeat Itself? Tuesday, Dec 12 2006 

There was an interesting article in the Sunday Times, the supplement of the Times of India, Dec 10, 2006.

The gist of the article was this: success often remains elusive to many of the supremely successful people. However hard they may try, they fail to repeat the magic that had catapulted them to the peak once. There are a few exceptions, but they are very rare.

The examples cited are from Indian context, except in the case of Andre Agassi, who proved himself again at the French Open after a lull since his Wimbledon title.

I believe that even if one may not rise up again to the peak of success achieved once and which became an inspiring legend, one can continue to be successful in one’s chosen field of activity.

I think it is a topic worth discussing.

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"These kids are growing up faster" Friday, Dec 1 2006 

Technology and consumerism have accelerated the growth of kids aged 8 to 9 (tweens) who are already behaving like teens, experts say.

I think all thoughtful parents and concerned teachers may already have noticed this disturbing trend all over the world.

Dealing with this problem is not easy, as many of them have noticed.

Little children manifesting the attitudes and preferences appropriate to adolescents upset parents. For instance, which parent will like to accept his/her 10 year old’s behavior showing embarrassment at  having parents be too close?  

This trend is not only psychological but also physical.

“Several published studies have found, for instance, that some tweens’ bodies are developing faster, with more girls starting menstruation in elementary school – a result doctors often attribute to improved nutrition and, in some cases, obesity. While boys are still being studied, the findings about girls have caused some endocrinologists to lower the limits of early breast development to first or second grade.” (Link)

TV, Internet and peers are identified as three of the major sources of influences on kids that encourage them to talk, dress and behave like grown-ups. In some cases parents themselves are to blame for it, because they don’t set limits and draw the line. Some of the parents even encourage such things thinking them to be fashionable and they don’t want their kids to be left behind.

Young children influencing the buying decisions and family vacations are common today.

“…tweens represent $51 billion worth of annual spending power on their own from gifts and allowance, and also have a great deal of say about the additional $170 billion spent directly on them each year.”


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Mass Meditation Thursday, Nov 30 2006 

It’s amazing that Transcendental Meditation Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is 89 years old and still commands a large following with his quirky ideas and claims.

He’s built up a Vedic City in Iowa, U.S.A., where the famed Guru is organizing a mass meditation of 2000 adept practitioners of meditation (called as ‘yogic fliers’) for sending “a wave of positivity across the globe” for world peace and prosperity.

The preliminary effect of this transformation has already been felt in the U.S. where the assembly (christened Invincible America Assembly) has 1500 adepts meditating. It “is quietly transforming the nation and raising the country to a permanent state of peace, prosperity, and invincibility.”

“And when the number of Yogic Flyers reaches the square root of one percent of the U.S. population (about 2000), there will be an even more dramatic improvement…”

The Maharishi has a knack for linking all his fanciful ideas to some cryptic Vedic hymns and cloaking his gibberish in the language of modern science with the help of some of his well educated followers.

“The ‘non-linear partial differential equations’ governing the weather obey the characteristics of chaos theory. As a consequence, weather patterns are sensitive to infinitesimal changes in initial conditions—a phenomenon popularly known as the ‘Butterfly Effect.’ Even minute changes in people’s behavior can precipitate—or prevent—a hurricane. The Invincible America Assembly is raising the quality of collective consciousness—and of behavior throughout society—to be more harmonious, more life supporting. And Nature is responding more positively,” Dr. Hagelin said. (Link)

Dr. John Hagelin, it’s said, is a world-renowned quantum physicist and director of the Invincible America Assembly.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi claims that-

“simultaneous mass meditation creates a wave effect that calms the world, influences stock markets, decreases crime rates and prompts other positive societal behavior.” (Link)

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A Smoldering Fire Tuesday, Nov 14 2006 

The man selling fish in the picture is no ordinary fishmonger.

He is a 32 year old award winning poet selling fish in the market for making a living! He is from Kerala, my home state, and writes in Malayalam.

Although he has published eight volumes of poetry so far and won the highest literary award of the state government for his works, he remains very poor and lives in a shanty with his wife and two children. He took to selling fish for a living after trying out many odd jobs across Kerala. It earns him over Rs. 150 ($ 3.3) a day.

He even attempted suicide along with his family to escape the squalor of poverty but failed. Finally, it seems, he has accepted life with all its callousness and decided to live on by writing poetry and selling fish.

His poems are highly appreciated by critics. They note that his “poetic sensibilities come from his livid experiences…His mind is full of fire – but they do not yell out, just smolder”.

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Death In The Car Thursday, Nov 2 2006 

A car can be a deadly place to be in an automobile accident. And then, you can die while simply sitting in a parked car, its engine running, the windows up and the air-con running. The freak accident that recently involved three Chennai-based young software engineers in a Santro is an illustration of how death can strike viciously and silently while doing nothing less innocuous than sitting in a car. Now, though knowledge of the circumstances in the incident is still forthcoming, a post mortem report of the three people points a probable finger at the cause of death — a heavy amount of carbon monoxide in the lungs.


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