Siragugal @ Ooty: Kalyani takes off

kalyaniIt has been a while since  I heard from my friend and blogger Kalyani in Ooty.  So  it was a pleasent surprise,  when I got a mail  from her the other day,  in her  avatar, as secretary,  Siragugal.

The last time  we interacted,  this was a few years back , she said the library she started for municipal school kids  wasn’t setting the Ooty lake on fire.  In a blogpost last month  kalyani wrote, ‘ children drop in at the library sporadically’  and those showing up on a given Sat. didn’t necessarily turn up the subsequent weekend – ‘so its hard to sustain any program’.

That was when Kalyani had occasion to attend a PTA meeting at Thalaiyattumund Municipal school,  and interact with some parents.  What did they want their children to learn ?  To speak English,  to learn Hindi, computer, karate, drawing…. the sort of things children  didn’t get at a municipal school,  but would need to get ahead in life.

Reinventing itself in 2013,  Siragugal has started  a three-month  ‘Speak English’  programme for 20 municipal school kids.  An Omni van transports them to Siragugal  library daily  after school.  The parents are asked to  pay Rs.500 per month towards transport and so they have a greater sense of commitment,  says Kalyani. She adds that they use material bought from Eureka, Chennai…Every week they pick a topic,  teach  vocabulary, with stress on dialogue,  question and answer, related educational games and activities. Volunteers are welcome to drop in,  so that children can interact with people from varied walks of life.  Saturdays are for painting, games and much else.

The next time you happen by Ooty, do  find time to drop in at  Siragugal for an evening with Kalyani’s  children.  Her mail   siragugalooty@gmail.com

‘Satyameva’ Khan, Sunday ke Sunday

Wonder what goes through the minds of perpetrators of abuse and excesses when they watch Amir Khan’s  Satyameva Jayate.  Would they feel guilty ? Would they fathom the  consequences of the  cruelty they perpetrated ?   Short of naming them,  the victims  appearing on the show profiled  their oppressors and their acts in such graphic terms that they should  fall steeply  in their own eyes.

Maybe,  one of these days we get to read in the papers  about one of these guys taking his own life  out of remorse. Maybe someone guilty calls Amir Khan to  apologize on camera. Maybe  I’m daydreaming.

Anyway,  the Sunday 11 a m TV show anchored by film actor/maker Amir Khan is watched by almost everyone I have met.  Having missed the first two episodes,  I found myself conversationally inadequate in any gathering of  friends and neighbours,   who seemed to have  nothing else to talk about for a day or two after an episode.  If you live in a close-knit gated community, as I do, you simply can’t escape  Satyameva chat among residents you run into,  at the clubhouse or the grocery shop in our Chennai apartments complex.

The last straw was my son’s weekly call from California. And he talked about….you guessed it.  When he heard my wife and I  hadn’t watched either of the two episodes   our son promptedly e-mailed the YouTube link to the Amir Khan Shows –  about abuses on women and children.  Now that I have watched them on YouTube I feel updated ;  and  can’t help talking about the  episodes I just watched , while others,  having had their say, are waiting for next  Sunday’s episode.

I don’t know if Amir Khan was inspired by anyone,  but I see a  touch of Oprah in his show.  Both score high marks  on being thorough in their approach to any issue they take up . The format covers  case studies,  victims interview,  relevant research or govt. committee report,  expert comments,  and a summing-up.  At the end of the hour,  I was  left reasonably rattled by the revelations – that 53 percent of our children fall victim to some form of abuse;  that culprits are usually someone known to the victim and trusted by her/his family.  In many cases he is part of family – an uncle,  grandpa or someone so close as that.  There was this case where a schoolgirl falls a prey to indecent advances made by  a teacher who comes home to coach her in maths,  history or whatever.

Girls raped at tender age   by live-in relatives,  and married women forced into abortion for carrying a female in womb suffer in silence.  In rare cases where child victims gather courage to speak,  their accounts are hardly believed or their complaints taken seriously,  more often,  by their own parents.  Victims of abuses get trapped in a  ‘can’t talk, aren’t believed’  syndrome.

Amir Khan has got some of them talking , on camera;  and their gut-wrenching stories prompts  us to  re-define relationships within extended families,  re-draw lines of permissibility. Vulnerable children and,  particularly, their parents can’t be faulted, if  they start   looking over their shoulders,  so to speak ,  at friends and relatives with penchant to get too close to their young ones.

We have had just two weeks of  Satyameva Jayate  (SJ).  It would,  perhaps,  take 20 more episodes for  Satyameva Jayate to become an unfailing  weekly habit . And then,  every  Sunday, 11 a m,  would the  Amir Khan Hour,  nationwide.  Undoubtedly,  Amir Khan is on to a good thing.  My concern is,  if a busy celebrity of his stature would continue to  find the time and energy to sustain the weekly show, at a reasonably high bench-mark he has set for himself in the initial episodes.  Would he re-visit topics he has covered,  in later episodes ? For issues such as female  foeticide and child abuse couldn’t be wished away with a single celebrity show.

As Khan says,  the magic wand that makes things happen is within each of us.  We could do our little bit to put our shoulders to the conversational wheel Amir Khan has set in motion, nationwide. I don’t know  if  Cindrella and Harish Iyer would consider opening  a Facebook page  to encourage others who have been through such hell  to come out of their closets to talk out their past. The Amir Khan Show has got the country talking about issues we have till date  refrained from mentioning even within the confines of our living rooms,  let alone on national television. And bloggers could keep the talk going with their posts,  reviewing what Amir Khan brings up in his weekly episodes.

A childhood with grandpa

When you grew up, or raised your own kids, did you have an experience which felt 100% real to you? So said the IndiBlogger e-mail announcing the Kissanpur contest.

I couldn’t recall right away any anecdote or childhood incident that fit the bill. It is easier to think of episodes in life that made you ‘feel good’, but are they necessarily the ones that give you the feel that they are real,100 percent ? The real-feel episode I share in this post wasn’t a feel-good one while I went through the phase. But as I look back on it, I feel it was as real as they come.

If it wasn’t for IndiBlogger e-mail, I wouldn’t have strayed so far down the memory lane, some 65 years back, to dredge up a childhood that I spent with  thatha (grandpa). This was in mid-1940s when I was less than 10 years old, living away from parents, with my grand-parents. When my parents moved to New Delhi – father being in a govt. job – they left me behind under the charge of grand parents in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu.
The primary school I went to,  in Telugu Brahmin St., was across the road from my grandparents’ place. Periappa – father’s elder brother – was the school head-master. Which wasn’t such a good arrangement. My uncle, a stern disciplinarian, was  a terror in the school. What was worse, besides being the school head, he took Class IV.  And, as his nephew, I wasn’t shown any favour, though they counted me among his favorites, off school. He made me stand up on the bench (a standard punishment) even for minor lapses such as talking to someone across bench,  trading match-box labels or cigarette-pack fronts  with classmates during school-hours.

At home grandpa, a retired cop,  ran our household of three – that is, grandma and me – a bit like a police training establishment. I had a time-table for meals, play, study, and sleep. The only grace-time (when I could do whatever I felt like) was when grandpa had his afternoon snooze. But then I was away in school, on week days, returning home at 4.30 p m. By which time grandpa would be up and about.
Grandmother, subject to her time-table, occasionally flouted it.  She would simply disappear next door – like they do for water-cooler breaks in offices –  for a mid-day gossip with neighbour; or she would linger longer than  warranted, at our door front chatting thayirkari (lady selling buttermilk door to door).

Grandma got away with it,  but I wouldn’t dare flout the routine, set for study and play. Regulation play-time started at 5 p m, when I escorted thatha to the neighbourhood Gandhi park. He took a designated park bench for listening the evening radio programme relayed all over the park through a public address system. I wasn’t obliged to listen to radio, though. Grandpa would let me try the swings, slides and things in the play area. An hour and quarter later, 6.30 pm,  we headed home.

Study time, under thatha’s watchful guidance, started at 7 p m. An hour later,  he retired for 15 mins.  to the kitchen for evening meals. On his return, 8.15 p m, ,thatha made his own bed  on a cement slab embedded in a corner of his room. What followed was 15 minutes of question time, when thatha would ask me something, anything,  from class lessons, lying in bed.  At 8.30 p m, as if on cue, patti (grandma) showed up at thatha’s door to summon me for meals. That was the signal to which I looked forward the whole evening; the signal that my day was done.

Such small delights made my day. Grandma, as most of the clan are,  was considerate. She would even let me sit in at after-dinner gossip session grandma held with neighbours at the door-front thinnai ( a cement platform to seat a gossip group).

I hate to admit this, my feelings were mixed – sad, if somewhat relieved –  when thatha passed away . At the age of 11  I rejoined  my parents in New Delhi

Talking the walk, Swapna’s Delhi Walk

When  Swapna Liddle’s  Delhi – 14 historic walks   was made available by  BlogAdda for book  review  I grabbed it because I wanted to  ‘re-visit’  Delhi; and because I believe heritage walks are not just for tourists,  but are  also for the likes of me wanting to re-discover Delhi. And here I found a historian with a doctorate in 19th century Delhi  to take me around.

Carrying,  as I do,  an emotional baggage of  having spent my college, and early working life in the city, I admit to reading  Delhi – 14 historic walks with tinted eye-glasses that had weathered 30 Delhi summers (1950-80s).  And if,  in  Liddle’s  290 pages,   I find the  book  leaves something to be desired,  it is because of my rather high expectations.  I expected the author to lead me by the hand while talking the walk,  pointing  things with anecdotes.  I expected a story-teller to bring  alive  the ruins and tombs of nawabs and other nobility with tales,  gossip and myths of their life and times.

I wasn’t totally disappointed, though.  Diwane Khas  at the Red Fort assumed a khasiat (added value) for me after reading Swapna Liddle ,  in the sense  I visualized  the emperor’s special court hall as the  spot where  Shahjahan  suffered the indignity of getting  deposed from the throne by his own son Aurangazeb.  Among other nuggets from history that Liddle weaves in her historic walks was Mehrauli’s  Metcalfe connection.  Sir Thomas Metcalfe,  British agent at the Mughal court in the 1840s, showed up as  bit of a crank in the sense that he converted the first floor of Quila Khan’s tomb in Mehrauli as a retreat.
The Qutab Minar, widely known as symbol of the Turkish conquest of northern India,  was seen by the Muslim faithful as a maznah, from where they gave the call to the faithfuls to come for prayer. Someone who could climb up the Qutab (72.5 m), and still have the stamina to call out to the faithfuls,  must have had super-human lung-power. Hogwash ?  Perhaps,  but it made an interesting read.

The book made me wonder  how Ballimaran got its name ;  I had no occasion to learn, till I read Liddle,  that  Mirza Ghalib lived in a rented haveli that belonged to a neibourhood  hakim.  And that Delhi’s St.Stephen’s College  was initially housed in a modest Chandni Chowk  house in narrow lane called  Katra Kushal Rai.

I wonder if  sarkari tourism  depts.  realise the potentials  of  city walks.  Walking tours are mainly done by  NGOs and through  individual initiatives.  I have read about some city-loving  San Francisco residents devoting their weekends to  taking interested  visitors on neighbourhood walks.  Nearer home, the walks with which I am familiar,  in Mysore and Mylapore (Chennai),  are individual initiatives.  The royal Mysore walks  is the creation of a software techie who got bitten by the walkbug in Singapore. While on assignment abroad Vinay was so taken in by the Singapore city walk  that he chose to return to  native Mysore  to start a heritage walk.  Vinay’s business model has apparantly been  successful  enough for him to start a Mysore bike tour.

I wish his success drives him enough to try out walks for other interest groups –  R K Narayan walk (of his haunts in the city),  the Maharaja’s College walk,  Kukrahalli walk (for bird-watchers),  The Mysore Banyan Walk , Mandi Mohalla or  the Agrahara walk. Speaking  agraharam,  my media friend Vincent D’Souza  has been conducting walks centred on the agraharam in Chennai’s Mylapore. 

INTACH with which the author is associated conducts the walks  she writes about in her book.  Her friend  Surekha Narain,  who acknowledges  Swapna Liddle  as a guiding force, is into conducting  Surekha Walks  devoted to the  Ghalib trail, the Pahargunj bazar, and the 1857 Mutiny walk.  I have a few walks ideas, triggered by my sense of Vintage Delhi. Would  Surekha  consider any of these ?

The Coffee-house walk:  Starts from Janpath where the original coffee-house was located. When the India Coffee Board decided to close  down  its chain of coffee-houses in 60s, their employees, left in the lurch, were backed by the Delhi coffe-house regulars to form a workers’ co-op to take over the Board abandoned coffee-houses. When they  faced eviction from  Janpath, the workers union started the search for an alternative, with  the support of coffee-house regulars –  they included artists,  academics,  poets,  journalists, politicians, lawyers,  insurance agents, and students. Among the regulars were  Inder Gujral and Young Turk  Chandra Shekar.  A joint agitation by coffee-house  regulars and workers  resulted in NDMC  allotment of open space where Thambu coffee-house came to be located .  So called because , the the coffee-house functioned under a tent.  That was the space where  Palika Bazar is now located.  The workers’  coffee-house  eventually moved to Mohan Singh Place,  still in Connaught Place (CP).

Meanwhile,  some  regulars from my time (70s-80s)  drifted away to other C P  locations such as the United Coffee House,  the Tea House in Regal Building. On a Delhi trip a while  back I discovered  a small band of old time regulars meeting  at Connaught Circus Embassy restaurant.  The group of coffee-regulars  is sustained  by my college friend  S P Dutt  (Barkha’s  dad) – we have been coffee-house regulars  since our days together in Hindu College,  till our jobs took us away from  Delhi.  I left New Delhi in early 80s, for good.  SPD, as friends call Dutt, returned to the city,   re-connected with old-time regulars after retirement,  and Embassy is where they meet nowadays.  Out-of-towners ,  like yours truly,  visiting Delhi can catch up with  S P Dutt’s group at Embassy, on weekdays –  ‘make it there,  11ish’,  as SPD would say when you call.

Karolbagh Monday market:  A weekly walk, on Monday,  holiday for  Ajmal Khan Road traders. It is  on Monday pavement hawkers of all type take over the stretch from Pusa Rd. end to the Unani hospital. The pavement close to the Gurudwara Rd. crossing on Ajmal Khan Road  would be of interest for pavement shoppers of used books.

Worship Walk, of 3 histoic temples, a gurudwara and a church. Could start from the Hanuman temple near Rivoli Cinema, Connaught Place;  walk down Irwin Rd. to  Gurdwara Rakhab Gunj;  Continue the walk upto the Gole Post office, where there is a church;  take a turn towards the Bird Rd. Kali Mandir, located on encroached pavement; and make your way to Birla temple on Mandir Marg via the heritage Gole Market.

The Mandir Marg Ridge: This walk could interest alumni of Mandir Marg schools,  notably Harcourt Butler and Madarasi.  Students living in Karolbagh used to walk to school through the ridge,  picking along the way  wild berries with sour-sweet taste,  that grew on thorny bushes.  The back-door ridge was also the escape route, notably for those who had running accounts at the Madarasi  school front  chai-samasa dukhanwala.

Delhi University Walk: For students in my times,  who did cafe-crawling before,  after,  and,  often, during class hours.  University coffee-house,  strategically located near the campus gate bus stop,  was usually the place where students started their day. From here it is a few minutes walk to the Miranda House cafe,  so named because  of its proximity to the noted women’s college hostel. And then there was Wenger’s,  an upscale cafe near the university library, conveniently located for students meeting  for ‘group study’.  After the study session at Wenger’s  day-scholars take a walk with hostellers to catch the bus home,  from the Miranda House stop. The 8 pm bus to Kashmere Gate,  Daryagunj and beyond  that passed by Miranda House was  widely known  among students as Ashiq Special. 8 p m was when the  women’s hostel gate closed for the day.

Of Team Anna and Arun Maira’s ‘fireflies’

Our industrial output,  slipping into a negative growth mode,  plunged to minus 5.1 percent in October (see headline).  The same month last year saw a robust 11.3 percent growth.  Economics alone wouldn’t  explain such  steep fall to dismal depths within a year.  Corporate leaders talk of a governance deficit.  The government (read PM),  facing the charge of  decision-making paralysis,  points to compulsions of coalition politics that resulted in the govt. having to put on hold FDI in retailing, despite a cabinet decision. Localised protests hold up commissioning of Kudamkulam nuclear power plant. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are engaged in disruptive politics over the future of Mullaiperiyar dam.  And then we have Team Anna  dictating terms to the govt. on drafting the  Lokpal Bill, and giving parliament a timeline for enactment of the Bill.

This then is the scenario in which I got to read  Arun Maira’s  ‘Transforming Capitalism.  The book’s sub-title – ‘Improving the World for Everyone‘ – sounds rather presumptuous , I thought.  But then I wouldn’t fault the author, for it is often the publisher who gives a book the title that   sells.  A  compilation of  Mr Maira’s  newspaper and magazine articles,  the book is designed to help business leaders and managers undertand the social issues they need to factor in,  while making business decision. Mr Arun  Maira,  a Planning Commission member,  has spent decades in the corporate sector –  in the Tatas and later at the Boston Consulting Group.

Transforming Capitalism‘ is the sort  of book  you choose to  read for ideas,  for professional guidance,  and for other info. of  your interest.  You don’t need to start at the beginning  ,  and plod through chapter, after chapter, to get at the guts of it , on Page 148 (as I did) . The chapters, reproduced from Mr Maira’s media writings  ,  are stand-alone pieces  that  people read on morning commute.  As the author says in the preface,  his chapters are longer than Tweets,  but they are short enough to be read during a brief plane ride. You can start anywhere, flip through chapters,  go back and forth. I did this all,  and also revisited a chapter,  in which Maira writes about  people’s movement led by Arvind Kejriwal  – Parivartan.

Reading of all  the good work he has done at Parivartan,  I couldn’t help wonder if too much TV does a person  any  good  for his  reputation or for  the cause he upholds .  Mr Kejriwal  of  Team Anna fame is all over on TV nowadays,  so much so that you can’t escape his  presence at prime-time  talk-shows,  by switching channels, unless  you switch to cartoon channel or switch off altogether.

Anyway,  even as the govt.  announced  the  date for moving the Lokpal Bill  in Lok Sabha  Anna Hazare  reiterated his threat to go on fast from December 27, if,  by then the Bill doesn’t get passed in parliament.  Team Anna may have zero trust in  govt., but their apparant intolerance with the ruling party,  and the ultimatum Anna Hazare sets for the parliament  do not set a healthy precedent  for growth of people’s movement in a democracy.

In refreshing contrast to present day,   the 2009 scenario   of   civil society awakening after RTI,  as articulated by Mr Maira in his book , appeared  conducive to the spread  of  Parivartan-type communities in various  parts of the country. The  communities were driven by  by varied causes –  provision of drinking water,  adult literacy,  village schooling,  micro-lending,  women’s issues and concerns.

Mr Maira,  terming them  ‘communities of practice’,  says the spread of such communities  would transform India from bottom up. The communities  (‘fireflies’, in Mr Maira’s book) that used the provisions of the Rights to Information Act  to help people get their dues and prevent grass-roots corruption can be connected to each other through networking, and not by hierarchies.  The  author would like to see the govt. (with its  power to facilitate ) as well as the corporates (with their  resources) stepping forward to promote a supportive framework that enables many more ‘fireflies’ to rise.  This, according to Mr Maira,  is the only way India can step up growth in a free market economy. This perceptive chapter in the book has been reprinted  from  Civil Society,  a monthly magazine.  Its publisher Umesh Anand  was the one who persuaded Mr Maira to do the book.

And I got to read Arun Maira through  this  programme of  book reviews by bloggers.  Anyone who blogs; and  has flair for books  can access Blogadda for details .

Talking books, unread & reread

The bookshelf in front of my desk has often had me  wonder,  ‘would I ever be able to read all those books  before my time is up’.  I am 73 .  Browsing the Net and channel surfing have pushed reading books to  a back-seat in my re-ordered daily routine.

My shelf has books waiting to be read.  It has part-read books bookmarked to be taken up later.  And there are the ones I gave up on after a chapter or two.  Such is my backlog of reading.

This, however, doesn’t end one’s quest for books to be read.  My current wish list includes Vinod Mehta’s Lucknow Boy, and  a pre-Jan 25  Egypt’s novel Taxi,  by Khaled Al Khamissi,  who weaves a story of despair,  poverty and hopelessness through the voices of  Cairo’s taxi drivers.  Of course, I am in no rush to get Lucknow Boy ; would rather wait for it to show up at a used-books seller’s  pavement spread . That is where you can haggle before buying. Books picked up at county  library book sales  during our periodic US trips,  account for scores of titles on my shelf.  The thing about them  is,  during closing hours of sales,  you pay only for a carry bag , and they let you take away as many titles as the $2 bag can hold.

As if I am obliged to read all books in my possession,  the unread and unfinished ones  sitting in my shelf give  me a  ‘guilt’  feeling  whenever I pick out an odd title for a re-read.  How could I go back to something I have already read,  when there is so much still to be read,  and not much time to do it in. You find an answer  in this magazine piece  by Hannah Rosefield.   Readers come in two types ,  she says – people who reread books, and  those who don’t.

A self-confessed first category person Ms Rosefield cites in her defense  Patricia Meyer Spacks’s book, On Rereading.  She is quoted as saying,  “rereading a book loved over a decade ago may provide a comforting continuity, a sense that both we and the book have remained essentially the same, but equally it can reveal how much we have changed, or how different the book is from our memory of it.  Perhaps we like it just as much, but for different reasons;  perhaps we don’t like it at all”.

Though I am not the type that rereads books, I revisit a title ,  prompted by something I watch or read about in the media. Reading  review of a  book on Eva Braun I made a mental note to look for Hitler in my shelf.  A festival screening of Trisha,  a movie adaptation of Hardy set in India,  prompts one to revisit  Tess by Thomas Hardy.

Rosefield  in the magazine piece, referring to the types of readers,  doesn’t mention the  type of people who read two or more books at any given time. I am doing three right now – An Amateur’s Attempts – a collection of blogposts and other bits by my young frind Lakshmi Bharadwaj; The Bookseller of Kabul; and a re-read of Reel Power, a book by Mark Litwak on what makes Hollywood tick.

A Hajj roznamcha

51-vjxra2NL._SL500_AA240_Amir Ahmad Alawi of Lucknow went on Hajj pilgrimage in 1929. It took him five months those days;  and he maintained a diary of the pilgrims progress on a daily basis.  Alawi wrote,  not for publication,  but  for himself,  and for his circle of friends and relations.  Had they invented the Internet eight decades earlier Alawi would have blogged his Hajj roznamcha.

Alawi’s account  has now been published –  Journey to the Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Diary – at a time that coincides with  the Hajj season this year.  Last year over 17 lakh Muslims from the world over visited the holy sites of Mecca and Madina. Hajji Alawi’s diary has been English translated and edited by Mushirul Hasan, historian, and Rakhshanda Jalil of jamia Millia Islamia.