The Burden of Honor Monday, Mar 3 2008 

The burden of honor is more on the shoulders of women than men in India.

A man can err and it’s tolerated, but not so in the case of a woman. Her conduct is always scrutinized and no digression is tolerated or goes unpunished.

She’s required to conduct herself in accordance with all sorts of beliefs and practices regarding honor. If an unfortunate incident that could cast doubt on her honor occurs, the blame will never go. She’ll bear it all her life and suffer.

The great Indian epic Ramayana was created to tell the story of the most heroic, virtuous and perfect man, a man who protects Dharma (righteousness) under all circumstances, and therefore worthy of respect and adoration by all.

Rama, the hero of Ramayana, faces all sorts of trying situations and emerges victorious. His wife Sita willingly follows his footsteps and endures more. The demon king Ravana abducts Sita and carries her away. Rama kills him in a fierce battle and rescues her.

Rama returns to Ayodhya, the capital of his kingdom, to begin his reign with Sita as queen beside him.

But, for Sita it’s the beginning of another ordeal!

She undergoes an ordeal of fire to prove her chastity. Still the people of Ayodhya remain unconvinced and continue to doubt her. They wondered, “How can a woman who’d been in the custody of her abductor for months be chaste and pure? How can Rama, the protector of Dharma accept her?”

In the end Rama abandons her in the forest so that his subjects no longer doubt and question their king’s sense of righteousness!

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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The Learning Lab Initiative by AMD Thursday, Feb 7 2008 

Chip manufacturing company, AMD, and American India Foundation (AIF) launched a learning lab on the premises of a Government Girls High School in Hyderabad on Wednesday to impart computer education to students.

The lab was launched under AMD’s 50×15 initiative that aims at connecting 50 per cent of the world’s population to the Internet by 2015.

Over 450 students will be taught the basics of using a computer in the lab that consists of 14 computers equipped with AMD Athlon Dual Core processor and a Windows Vista operating system.

Since most of the students of the school come from families that cannot dream of giving their children computer education, the initiative has generated great enthusiasm among the students. (Link)

Mahatma Gandhi and Books Thursday, Jan 31 2008 

Mahatma Gandhi fell to an assassin’s bullet 60 years ago. It was gandhiji’s death anniversary yesterday (30 Jan 2008).

I’ve been thinking of the influence of books on his life since I posted ‘bibliotherapy‘ about self-help books and reading.

Gandhiji was not a voracious reader, yet books played a crucial role in the making of the Mahatma. The role of two of them was more radical than that of others. 

The two books were the Bhagavadgita, probably the most famous and influential of Hindu scriptures, and Unto This Last, four essays by John Ruskin.

The Bhagavadgita (the Gita)

Gandhiji read the Gita in England during his years there as a law student. He was reading the Gita for the first time and in English.

He felt the Gita was a book of “priceless worth” and years later he called it “the book par excellence for the knowledge of Truth.” A few years later the Bhagavadgita became a book of daily reading and “an infallible guide of conduct” for Gandhiji. He said:

“Just as I turned to the English dictionary for the meanings of English words that I did not understand, I turned to this dictionary of conduct for a ready solution of all my troubles and trials.” (Link)

He went on to write his own translation of the Gita in response to the earnest requests of his followers. He called it ‘Anasaktiyoga (the Yoga of Detachment/Desireless Action)’.

The Bhagavadgita was like a mother to Gandhiji, because he would turn to it whenever despair and confusion assailed him and like a mother the scripture never failed to give him solace and guidance.

Until his last day Gandhiji strived to attain the perfection of the man of god realization that the Gita speaks of. He would often tell that he was far from his goal!

But it is interesting to know how he learned the Bhagavadgita. He had found his calling and become a hugely popular leader in South Africa. Public work occupied all his time. Gandhiji would never allow even the study of the Gita interrupt the work to which he was devoted, so he devised a curious method for the study of the scripture:

“I employed the time of my morning ablutions. The operation took me thirty-five minutes, fifteen minutes for the tooth brush and twenty for the bath. The first I used to do standing in western fashion. So on the wall opposite I stuck slip of paper on which were written the Gita verses and referred to them now and then to help my memory. This time was found sufficient for memorizing the daily portion and recalling the verses already learnt.” (Link)

Unto This Last

Gandhiji read Ruskin’s essays in South Africa in 1904. It brought “instantaneous and practical transformation” in him. Gandhiji describes his encounter with the book in his autobiography. The chapter is titled ‘The Magic Spell of a Book‘ and it is very famous.

Gandhiji read the work in 1904 during the course of a 24 hour train journey from Johannesburg to Durban. He was deeply stirred by the three principles he discovered in it and decided to change his life in accordance with them. By the time he got off the train he was a changed man!

The three principles as he understood them were:

  1. That the good of the individual is contained the good of all.
  2. That a lawyer’s work has the same value as the barber’s inasmuch as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work.
  3. That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living.

He founded The Phoenix Settlement on the ideals of Unto This Last. It was the first Gandhian Ashram.

Later Gandhiji paraphrased Unto This Last into Gujarati and published it as ‘Sarvodaya (Welfare for All)’.

‘Many years after, stressing what he owed to Great Britain, Gandhi wrote: “Great Britain gave me Ruskin, whose Unto This Last transformed me overnight from a lawyer and city-dweller into a rustic living away from Durban on a farm, three miles from the nearest railway station.”‘ (Link)

The Whistle Blowers Monday, Jan 28 2008 

Is corruption a necessary evil in democracy? Do the public encourage corruption by accepting it as a way of life? Because nothing gets done without bribing the government servants.

Are all government officials in India corrupt?

No. Some people like S. K. Dubey and Manjunathan even risk their lives for being different and trying to expose the network of corrupt practices.

In India, top government job means power, status and easy life. But, there is also another factor- the wealth top bureaucrats can accumulate through bribes. If an official is not corrupt at the start of his/her career, he/she becomes one over the years.

But not all. Here is a brave and committed IAS officer, M.N. Vijayakumar, from Bangalore, who has been fighting corruption all his career spanning 26 years. He’s been very systematic. Unlike the two officials mentioned above, he’s been lucky.

The officer’s pillar of support is his wife. She has turned to blogging last year in order to let the world know in detail about their activities. Wide reach of information will also discourage their enemies, she believes. (Link to her blog).

Since he’s a part of the system, he knows it inside out. One of the methods he’s adopted in his fight against corruption, Right to Information Act (RTI), is a provision in the system itself. 

Now they are compiling the names of clean officials so that people can approach them straight away for getting their work done without bribing.

His wife says they have been successful to a certain extent. She says,

“There are plenty of honest people in government who support us secretly, but they are afraid to speak out; some tell us that they will help us when they retire…Several officers have now pledged in writing that they will no longer accept bribes.” (Link)

Frequent transfers, threats of kidnapping and murder and numerous other kinds of harassment have only emboldened 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.

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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Imitation Gandhis Sunday, Jan 14 2007 

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi 58 years ago, on 30 Jan 1948.

Gandhiji continues to inspire scholars and peace activists worldwide. Gandhiji also interests beggars and mean attention seekers.

In Hyderabad city, every now and then, you come across beggars young and old with tonsured heads, wearing a piece of loincloth and carrying a staff in one hand and a book in the other. All these imitation Gandhis are painted in aluminum colur from head to toe. I don’t know why.

Some of them choose a raised spot in a very busy place and stand motionless like a statue of Gandhiji. Frozen while walking.

The trick attracts attention of the curious public, but I’m not sure whether it fills their begging bowl. But that’s not my point.

No one has ever complained about this practice or tried to stop it. No one feels offended?

But this short video on Gandhiji on You Tube and broadcasted on two Indian TV channels has caused a furore. Congress party activists took to streets carrying placards and shouting slogans.

The video insults Mahatma Gandhi and the Nation, they claim.

The government has condemned the action of the TV channels and demanded a public apology from them.

In the video, Gandhiji resists violence with violence; brandishes a dagger, drives an SUV, goes to a bar in the company of two half-naked women and shoots and kills with a gun.

The video was posted on You Tube by an Indian in the U.S. He’s apologised since.

The poor beggars imitating the great man are seeking to fill their begging bowls, but what does this guy want to gain from it?

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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 timesofindia.indiatimes.com, dtd 26 Nov 2006)

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