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.

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Monks and Wolves Thursday, Feb 14 2008 

Since the last terrorist attack in Hyderabad all major shopping malls have set up security checks. The security people open and check the bags before putting them away at the counter, frisk you and run the detector all over you.

One day when I was coming out of a mall I saw two young Hindu monks clad in their trademark saffron robes accompanied by a 60+ woman in saree coming up.

The woman turned her head left and right and scanned everyone’s face.  She seemed to be asking proudly: Don’t you see me moving around flanked by two holy men?

The monks had cloth bags hanging on their shoulders, but they didn’t care to deposit them at the counter. Instead, they went straight to the entrance. The men at the bags counter looked at each other, but didn’t direct the monks to hand over the bags. They were at a loss to know what to do with the monks.

The monks and the woman reached the entrance and stood there. The security man at the door hesitated for a moment. Suddenly he bowed respectfully and opened the doors for them. The monks and the woman went in.

No checking the holy ones!

The meek and submissive behavior of the security men and their utter disregard to their normal duty shocked me.

The saffron clad men and the woman accompanying them could be wolves in a sheep’s clothing!

With such security men around you can expect more terrorist strikes.

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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.

Seminal Questions Monday, Jan 29 2007 

In India, arranged marriage is the norm. Parents derive foremost satisfaction from arranged marriages of their children because their role, authority, preferences and approval prevail.

But all marriages are not arranged. Though elopements and love marriages face disapproval from the family and the society, some bold and adventurous couples take that course.

In arranged marriages parents and other responsible elders in the family consider all aspects of a relationship- family, financial security, close relatives, social standing, and the like- before approving a marriage. A marriage is not just a relationship between two individuals, but a strong and lasting bond between the two families of the couple.

Parental fears and concerns have more emphasis in an arranged marriage and mostly these are the issues considered traditionally. Couples are required to abide by what the parents have decided for them. Their own personal concerns and needs are not considered much; they are considered to the extent they can be accommodated. That’s all.

In such a scheme the following critical questions recommended by relationship experts do not have a place. Nevertheless some of these questions can be asked and discussed even by married couples. But those in love and want to marry may consider them first and marry next.

1) Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?

2) Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?

3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?

4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?

5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?

6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?

7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?

8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?

9) Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?

10) Do we like and respect each other’s friends?

11) Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?

12) What does my family do that annoys you?

13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?

14) If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?

15) Does each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?

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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 timesofindia.indiatimes.com, 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.

NDTV.com 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.

Washingtonpost.com 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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Why So? Thursday, Dec 14 2006 

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday told delegates at
an international conference questioning the Holocaust that Israel’s
days were numbered.Ahmadinejad, who has sparked international
outcry by referring to the killing of 6 million Jews in World War II…

His
words received warm applause from delegates at the Holocaust
conference, who included ultra-Orthodox anti-Israel Jews and European
and American writers who argue the Holocaust was either fabricated or
exaggerated….

Iran
says it organized the conference to shed light on the reasons behind
the formation of the state of Israel after World War II and to allow
researchers from countries where it is a crime to question the
Holocaust
to speak freely….(Link).

I fail to understand why ultra-orthodox Jews are ant-Israel and why it’s a crime in some countries to question Holocaust. Can you please explain?

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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”.

(Link)
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An Affirmation of Diversity Friday, Aug 25 2006 

School children in India are required to mug up a lot of stuff about ‘unity in diversity’ from their school textbooks. Most of it is in Social Studies textbooks. The intention is to help children imbibe a sense of affinity with everyone overcoming barriers of identity and promote the idea that the one identy that binds them all together is the inclusive national identity-they are all Indian.

 Sashi Tharoor, India’s candidate for the post of the Secretary General of the U.N., holds the view that "we are all minorities in India". (Sashi Tharoor.com.WordPress Tag: Shashi Tharoor)

In his latest column in the Hindu he repeats his favourite argument again and cleverly uses the example of linguistic diversity in India to affirm his belief. The denomination of a rupee note is printed in eighteen Indian languages (recognized by the Constitution of India), each in its own script, on the back of the note so that any Indian from any region of India can feel proud of reading the denomination of the note in his language. A fine example of inclusive representation.

Although Hindi is India’s national language, the notion that Hindi enjoys majority status is false.

"The Constitution of India recognizes 18 languages today, but in fact there are 35 Indian languages that are each spoken by more than a million people — and these are languages with their own scripts, grammatical structures and cultural assumptions, not just dialects (and if we’re to count dialects, there are more than 22,000. over 35! Dialects 22,000!"

But when two educated Indians meet somewhere "it is in English that they establish each other’s linguistic identity"!

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Cartoon Riot In Hyderabad Sunday, Feb 19 2006 

 
The virus of cartoon riot spread in Hyderabad on Friday afternoon, but the situation was brought under control by the police.
 
The trouble started as the congregation at Hyderabad’s prominent mosque in Old City resorted to slogan shouting and stone pelting when they were coming out of the mosque after Friday prayers. Old City is the stronghold of  Muslims in Hyderabad and one of the worst communally sensitive and violence prone spots in the country.
 
The protest gradually grew into a riot and spread into surrounding areas.
 
The occasion of Friday prayers keep the police on their toes because sloganeering and inflammatory rhetoric dominate the after prayer meetings in mosques. The potential of the crowd filled with explosive emotion to plunge the region into violence as they disperse is very high. So the police always keep vigil and remain ready to prevent a flare up.
 
The police did a commendable job on Friday. The situation was brought under control by using minimum force- lathicharge and teargas shells were effective. There was no loss of life. The rioters damaged public transport buses and set a police motorcycle on fire. Some shops were looted or damaged. There was attempt at widening the conflict by targeting temples.
 
A municipal councilor and a few others were taken into police custody.
 

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