Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective

Malankara World Journal
Penta Centum Souvenir Edition
Volume 8 No. 500 October 14, 2018


Chapter - 29:

An Indian Education From a Foreigner's Perspective By Thane Richards

Indian students are taking their useless Indian liberal arts degrees and going abroad to get real ones that signify a real education. A real education being one that challenges the intellect and questions paradigms, not one of rote memorization and conformity. ..

Hunger Stalks My Father's India Long After Starvation End by Mehul Srivastava

India is now a generation removed from those "ship-to- mouth" days, even though those words today still bring back memories of national humiliation. Less than 2 percent of Indians now go without two square meals a day, and far fewer still die of starvation. ...

Is India in a Coma? by Mohan Maruti--India

Europeans believe that Indian leaders are too blinded by new wealth and deceit to comprehend that the day will come when the have-nots will hit the streets. ...

Life in Kerala 100 years Ago

The more we change, the more we remain the same. ... (In Malayalm)

Living in India is like having an intense but insane affair By expat Catherine Taylor

Tonight, as I waved my high heel in the face of a bewildered taxi driver, I thought suddenly: I am absolutely nuts in India. It's a thought I have often. Someone or something is always going nuts, and quite often it's me...

Letter To My Grandson by Dr. Verghese Kurien

I started my working life soon after our country became independent. The noblest task in those days was to contribute in whatever way we could towards building an India of our dreams - a nation where our people would not only hold their heads high in freedom but would be free from hunger and poverty. ...

Reflections on India by Sean Paul Kelley

If you are Indian, or of Indian descent, I must preface this post with a clear warning: you are not going to like what I have to say. My criticisms may be very hard to stomach. But consider them as the hard words and loving advice of a good friend. Someone who is being honest with you and wants nothing from you. ...

Why India is part dysfunctional, fully functional by Aakar Patel

However horrible a place it may be, India is balanced out by all of us: north Indians, south Indians, east Indians and west Indians. We are a unit, and the unit works. ...

Indian culture or Bad Upbringing by Ram Krishnaswamy

Basically Indians are brought up to believe that cleaning is a menial task meant for the low lives and in this instance the cinema cleaners were also Indian students. What Irony. ...

Chapter - 29:

An Indian Education From a Foreigner's Perspective

By Thane Richards

I recently read an article in Kafila written by some students from St. Stephen’s College in Delhi that really made me think. To quickly summarize, the piece criticized the draconian views of the Principal of St. Stephen’s College regarding curfews on women’s dormitories and his stymying of his students’ democratic ideals of discussion, protest, and open criticism. The students’ frustration was palpable in the text and their story felt to me like a perfect example of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Except Indian students are not an unstoppable force. Not even close.

In 2007 I was a student at St. Stephen’s College for seven months as part of a study abroad programme offered by my home institution, Brown University. In as many ways as possible, I tried to become a Stephenian: I joined the football (soccer) team, acted in a school play written and directed by an Indian peer, performed in the school talent show, was a member of the Honors Economics Society, and went to several student events on and off campus. More importantly, though, I was a frequenter of the school’s cafe and enjoyed endless chais and butter toasts with my Indian peers under the monotonous relief of the fans spinning overhead. Most of my friends were 3rd years, like me, and all of them were obviously very bright. I was curious about what their plans were after they graduated. With only a few exceptions, they were planning on pursuing second undergraduate degrees at foreign universities.

“Wait, what?! You are studying here for three years just so you can go do it again for four more years?” I could not grasp the logic of this. What changed my understanding was when I started taking classes at St. Stephen’s College. Except for one, they were horrible.

This was not an isolated incident — all my fellow exchange students concurred that the academics were a joke compared to what we were used to back home. In one economic history class the professor would enter the room, take attendance, open his notebook, and begin reading. He would read his notes word for word while we, his students, copied these notes word for word until the bell sounded. Next class he would find the spot where the bell had interrupted him, like a storyteller reading to children and trying to recall where he had last put down the story. He would even pause slightly at the end of a long sentence to give us enough time to finish writing before he moved on. And this was only when he decided to show up — many times I arrived on campus to find class abruptly cancelled. Classmates exchanged cell phone numbers and created phone trees just to circulate word of a cancelled class. I got a text almost daily about one of my classes. My foreigner peers had many similar experiences.

I would sit in class and think to myself “Can you just photocopy your notebook and give me the notes so I can spend my time doing something less completely useless?” I refused to participate. Instead, I sat at my desk writing letters to friends.

If it were not for the fact that attendance counted towards my marks, I would have never showed up at all. There was no need. I calculated the minimum attendance required not to fail, hit that target square on, and still got excellent grades. In one political science class the only requirements for the entire period between August and December were two papers, each 2,500 words. I wrote more intense papers in my U.S. public high school in a month. Readings were required but how can this be enforced when there is no discussion that makes students accountable for coming to class prepared? The only questions I heard asked during my classes were about whether the material being covered that day would be on the exam. Remember, this was not any regular liberal arts college — St. Stephen’s College is regarded as one of, if not the best, colleges in India.

The best learning experience I had was hundreds of miles from campus with four other students and one professor on a trek to Kedarnath during the October break. We had multi-day conversations spanning morality, faith, and history. During one memorable overnight bus ride our professor told us the entire Mahabharata epic from memory while we leaned over seats or squatted in the aisle to be closer to the campfire of his voice while the rest of the bus dozed around us. The thirst in these students was there and this professor exemplified passionate teaching, but the system was and is broken. Bearing in mind the richness of India’s intellectual tradition, my entire study abroad experience in India, from an academic standpoint, was an enormous disappointment.

To pause for a moment, here is the problem with me talking about this topic: right now many Indians reading this are starting to feel defensive. “Nationalist” is a term I have heard as a self-description as they defend Mother India from the bigoted, criticising foreigner. They focus on me rather than the problem. I have had people unfriend me on Facebook and walk out on meals because I politely expressed an opinion on politics or history that went against the publicly consented “Indian opinion.” For a nation that prides itself on the 17 languages printed on its currency, I am greeted with remarkable intolerance. Even after living in India for close to three years, attending an Indian college, working for an Indian company, founding an Indian company, paying taxes in India, and making India my home, I am not Indian enough to speak my mind. But in a nation that rivals all others in the breadth of its human diversity, who is Indian enough? Because if loyalty and a feeling of patriotism were the barometers for “Indianness,” rather than skin colour or a government document, then I would easily be a dual U.S.-Indian citizen. This Indian defensiveness is false nationalism. It is not a stance that cares about India, it is one that cares about what others think of India, which is not nationalism. That is narcissism.

My voice should be drowned out by the millions around me who are disappointed with how they have been short-changed by the Indian government — their government. Education is one of the most poignant examples of this and serves as great dinner conversation amongst the elite:

“The Indian education system is lost in the past and failing India.” Everyone at the table nods, mumbles their concurrence, and cites the most recent Economist article or Pricewaterhouse Cooper study on the matter in order to masquerade as informed.

“Yes, how sad.”

“Yes, how terrible.”

“Yes, India must fix this.”

Yet amongst my fellow Indian education alumni, I mostly hear a deafening silence when it comes to action. What is remarkable is that all students in India know what I am talking about. They know and are coping: Indian students are taking their useless Indian liberal arts degrees and going abroad to get real ones that signify a real education. A real education being one that challenges the intellect and questions paradigms, not one of rote memorization and conformity. Or, as was the case with my Indian friends at Brown, they skip India altogether. Sure, I took some unimpressive classes at Brown and no curriculum is perfect, but Indian students should be demanding more. Much more.

We are entering a year of politics and elections. Movement against the inertia of regressive forces is an atavistic trait in young Indians and the students of St. Stephen’s have much to gain from change. Instead of just the promise and illusion of an amazing liberal arts education, imagine if my teachers had actually taught their classes? Whoa. If the end is knowledge, then St. Stephen’s students would win big. Yet, when it comes to change, the students wrote the following:

“Education in India awaits a rescue from the hands of such figures [The Principal].”

Who, may I ask, do you hope to be your rescuers? Your representatives in government? Your parents? The characters from Rang De Basanti?

One lesson that no college is very good at teaching is that in life you should not expect others to fight your battles for you. While higher education is a public good and has champions in the private and public world, students are the ultimate stakeholders.

About The Author:

Thane Richard is obsessed with the future of digital journalism and founded Dabba Radio while living in Mumbai to counter the restricted FM news regime. He is currently overseeing an ongoing editorial and design re-imagining of StartupNation. Thane is based out of his backpack and is travelling the world searching for inspiring stories of entrepreneurship.


Hunger Stalks My Father's India Long After Starvation End

by Mehul Srivastava, New Delhi - Bloomberg News

It was 1958, my father was still a child, and India was running out of food.

That year's wheat crop had slumped by 15 percent, the rice harvest by 12 percent, and prices in the markets were soaring. Far from his village in eastern India, ships laden with wheat were steaming toward the country, part of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower's plan to sell surplus grains, tobacco and dairy products to friendly countries. All India Radio gave daily updates on the convoys, and the army barricaded ports in Mumbai and Kolkata against the hungry crowds.

"It was this very coarse, red wheat," said Narsingh Deo Mishra, a childhood friend of my father's and now a local politician in their home village. "We were told it was meant for American pigs," said Mishra, who, like my father, grew up listening to stories about the food shipments. "Back then, we weren't any better than American pigs. So we ate it. We ate it all and we begged for more."

That year, and the hungry ones that followed, took their toll. At 18, my father, Dinesh, weighed about 40 kilograms -- just under 90 pounds -- and in a photograph taken at the time, his cheeks are sunken, his Adam's apple prominent and his eyes bulge from a gaunt skull.

India is now a generation removed from those "ship-to- mouth" days, even though those words today still bring back memories of national humiliation. Less than 2 percent of Indians now go without two square meals a day, and far fewer still die of starvation.

Nutritional Purgatory

And yet, in places like my father's home village of Auar, an insidious malnourishment has taken the place of empty stomachs. The vast majority of Indians, especially villagers, are suspended in a nutritional purgatory -- they eat enough to fill their stomachs; not enough to stay healthy.

More than five decades after those U.S. deliveries, I returned to the dusty, hot village of my father's childhood, hoping to understand why.

In the arc of modern India's elemental struggle to feed its teeming people, my father's childhood years were among the toughest. After squandering an early opportunity offered by record-low grain prices to build up stockpiles, by the time my father was a child, the country was again falling prey to the vicissitudes of drought and flood that had foreshadowed famines for centuries. India was poor, foreign currency scarce and the fields had yet to be sowed with hybrid seeds and enriched with chemical fertilizers.

Green Revolution

As my father grew into his teens and early adulthood, India began to gain the upper hand in that struggle -- a Green Revolution had taken hold in agriculture, enabling the country first to feed itself and, later, to sell its grain on global markets. Masked by those victories, something was going horribly wrong. In the early 1970s, the number of calories the average Indian ate began rolling backward.

In 1973, villagers ate just under 2,300 calories a day, according to the National Sample Survey Office, a branch of the ministry of statistics. By 2010, that number had dropped to about 2,020, compared with the government floor of 2,400 a day to qualify for food aid. The mismatch manifests itself in some of the world's worst scorecards for health: half of all children under three weigh too little for their age; eight in 10 are anemic.

Corruption, Theft

Some of the causes are clear: corruption, incompetence and official indifference mean a decade-long economic boom and bumper harvests have failed to nourish millions of children doomed to stunted, shortened lives; record stockpiles of grain rot in warehouses; supplies meant for the poor are stolen, sold in local markets, even overseas. As much as $14.5 billion in food was looted by corrupt politicians from my father's state of Uttar Pradesh alone, according to court documents, interviews with rights workers, government anti-graft investigators and local officials, and testimony from a whistleblower who said he was involved in the scam.

Some causes are more subtle: bureaucratic barriers that stop families getting the free rations they are entitled to; shrinking access to land and forests to grow or gather food; the rising unpredictability of agricultural work.

During months of reporting on India's malnutrition scourge, I spoke almost daily to my father, who had long since escaped the village and now runs a national scientific research center in Kolkata. His childhood held lessons for me, I suspected, on the habits and mindsets of the rural poor, and the reasons why the bountiful harvests of Indian fields are denied to the very farmers who produce them.

Going Home

So, this June, I drove about 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast from New Delhi to Auar, deep in the heart of Uttar Pradesh state. The local district of Pratapgarh is among the poorest 200 of 640 in the country, according to the government.

I'd been to the village before -- first as a child, and again in 2000, when I was getting ready to leave for college in Virginia. My father, who wanted me to remember my family's origins, stood out from cousins and old friends in his starched white shirt and tailored trousers, no longer comfortable sitting cross-legged in the dust.

He pointed out the few reminders from his childhood -- the elementary school built, according to family legend, with the proceeds from a single gold coin saved by a great-granduncle during years of toil in Burma in the 1920s; the brick additions made to the mud house that belonged to my grandfather. By then, the house was falling apart, emptied of family now living in cities and scattered across India.

This time, I set up camp outside, sleeping on a borrowed cot under the mango trees my father climbed as a child. For the next two weeks, I walked the dry, barren fields of the village, parched and expectant for the rains that this year, at least, never fully came.

And for those two weeks I ate what the average poor and landless Indian villager could afford.

Phones, Bikes

In some ways, Auar has kept pace with modern India.

About 400 of the village's 2,000-or-so residents carry mobile phones, according to the local merchant who offered a recharging service for the equivalent of about 20 cents, using car batteries he carried on the back of his bicycle. Some 60 motorbikes could be seen parked outside houses.

Auar is also connected to the power grid, and every other day the electricity poles would hum and spark for a couple of hours, bringing life to the television in the small village store and to a handful of tube-wells that irrigate the fields of wealthier farmers. It was a luxury, nonetheless, since about 400 million Indians have no access to electricity at all.

Pigs, Feces

In other ways, Auar is unchanged from my father's time. It took dozens of agonizing cranks on a hand pump to fill each bucket of water; every act of nature required a 15-minute walk to a field where pigs rooted around weeks-old feces.

In 38 of the 40 households I visited, I could count the ribs of the teenagers and note the distended bellies and loose, stretchy skin on the toddlers, the first and most obvious symptoms of a diet sufficient in calories but lacking in protein. Doctors called this form of malnourishment kwashiorkor when it was first reported in 1935 from Ghana, taking the local word for the illness a child gets when it is weaned too early because of the arrival of a new baby.

In Auar, the villagers had no name for it.

Ninety-two percent of Indian mothers hadn't heard or didn't understand the Hindi or local-language terms for malnourishment, a 2011 survey of 100 districts with the worst child development indicators found. If every child in a village is malnourished, the survey concluded, then every mother assumes her own child is normal.

I tracked down Ghanshyam, the son of a laborer who had worked about 2 acres (0.8 hectare) of land my grandfather owned. My father remembers that the laborer's wife would pick up the rare scraps of food left behind from our family's dinner, and take them home for her sons.

‘Never Left Enough'

"She would whisper to me to take larger servings and leave something for her children," said my father recently, when I was prodding him for buried memories. "Even now, I feel guilty -- I never left enough."

Rakesh, my oldest uncle, would leave as much as he could, my father told me. "But I was young, I didn't really think."

When I first met Ghanshyam, he took me to his one-roomed mud and straw hut in the center of the village. Dressed in a torn shirt and lungi -- a cloth wrapped around his waist -- and barefoot, it was unclear whether he was from the same brood of children who grew up with my father. He couldn't tell me his age -- too young to recall, as my father did, the school holiday to commemorate a visit by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1956; not too young to remember the short-lived friendship of India and China turning into a border dispute six years later.


Ghanshyam, to me, embodied India's poor and malnourished -- he owned no land, except for the plot on which his hut stood. His body racked with the tuberculosis that infects 2 million Indians every year, he scrabbled for work on the fields of those who did own their land, making between $2.50 and $3.50 a day.

When strong enough, he told me, he would hitch a ride from a passing truck and head for Pratapgarh city in search of construction work paying as much as $3.75 a day. On other days, Ghanshyam would wait for villagers to come find him for odd- jobs. One afternoon, a neighbor paid him $1.50 to build a small roof. Once, he spent four or five hours helping to clear a field of weeds and stones. He made 80 cents that day.

In recent weeks, Ghanshyam had found only a few days' work in total: the monsoon was late, so there was little to be done in the fields; construction had slowed in anticipation of those same rains that are the life-force of rural India.

Left for City

With that meager income, Ghanshyam supported his wife, Urmila, two teenaged sons and the wife of an older son who I never saw. When I asked what happened to his eldest, Ghanshyam looked away. Urmila, a quiet woman who rarely spoke to me unless her husband was nearby, later told me the son had gone to a city to look for work and never returned. He left behind two infant boys -- more mouths to feed on the days they didn't spend at their maternal grandparents.

Every evening, I would give Ghanshyam about 50 cents --last year the government set that amount as the daily poverty line above which Indians no longer qualify for food aid. In exchange, his wife included me in their meals the next day.

In the mornings, we drank small cups of watery tea with milk, sweetened with a nugget of jaggery -- made from unrefined cane sugar. In the afternoons, we each ate three rotis, a heavy, unleavened bread, dipping them into a thin gruel of lentils and spice called dal. At night, before walking over to their home, I used a stick to shake a few sour mangoes from the trees. Urmila boiled them in the dal to add flavor, pouring the mixture over some boiled rice.

Meat, Fish, Eggs

It had been a year, at least, since Ghanshyam last ate meat, eight months since he was able to catch fish in the village river, and six since he had had an egg, he told me.

Later, when I showed photographs of the meals to Rachita Singh, a nutritionist at the Saket Max Hospital in New Delhi, she estimated they would provide about 1,700 to 1,800 calories a day.

This diet, heavy in cereals and other carbohydrate-based calories, is what most rural Indians eat. In 2010, 64 percent of the calories consumed by villagers came from cereals, about 9 percent from oils and fats, less than 5 percent each from sugar and pulses like the lentils we ate. Fruit and vegetables, meat, eggs and fish together made up about 2.5 percent, according to studies of meals across rural India by the statistics ministry.

So far, experts have mostly argued over possible reasons for India's worsening diet, without reaching a conclusion; Abhijit Banerjee, an economist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Poverty Action Lab once described it to me as the "million-dollar question."

‘Slice of Mango'

Life in an Indian village has always been hard, even though my father remains nostalgic for childhood there. Over the past decade he wrote and published short stories about his childhood, mostly in the literary section of Kolkata's English-language newspaper, The Statesman. He scoured his memory -- and his fantasies -- for details and, in a story dedicated to the family mango trees I now found myself sleeping under, described his dinners:

"The stories would continue till mother was ready with thick chapatis of bajra (millet) and a curry of new potatoes and urad dal (dark lentils) with a lot of ghee (clarified butter) and saag of either mustard or bathua (a leafy vegetable), and of course two or three types of mango pickles," he wrote in a "A Slice of Mango."

That description of a rich and varied diet always felt at odds to me with the reality of what Indians in his era ate. When I finally asked if that was really a true picture, his answer was the saddest thing he ever told me.

"That is how it ought to have been."

Riverside Life

Auar, like most Indian villages I have visited, is actually a collection of hamlets scattered around a central body of water, usually a deep well or two. In Auar, life centered on what the villagers generously called the river. More of a rivulet, it was too small to show up on my maps.

Sluggish and dirty when I visited at the end of the dry season, it served a multitude of purposes along the narrow stretch that ran past the village. Upriver, where the water was thought to be cleaner, children would do back flips and women brought their laundry, the gentle slapping of wet cloth on stones filling the air. Early in the mornings, the few households that owned a buffalo or cow would bring them for a bath. Downriver from the village, past a quick bend, the bank was a squelching, stinking open toilet.

Caste Divisions

The hamlets, called bastis, were segregated mostly by caste or religion. Others were settlements of five or six huts belonging to members of the same family. Sixty-two years after India's first constitution declared caste discrimination illegal, the system still dictates the daily lives and constrains opportunities for hundreds of millions of people.

My first day in the village, I was taken to the upper-caste basti to meet the village headman, a tall, broad-chested Brahmin named Vinod Upadhyay. I wanted him to know I would be living in the village, and asking questions. He offered me a plastic chair outside his two-story brick house, where a shiny motorcycle stood next to an electric water pump. A servant brought out tea and biscuits.

After my first sip, I asked Upadhyay why he wasn't joining me.

"When I eat with lower castes, it disagrees with my stomach," he answered nonchalantly in Hindi.

Middle Ground

My father's family, of a middling caste called the Kayastha, was perched somewhere in the center -- we had neither the land nor privileges of the Brahmins, but were spared the humiliating poverty of the lowest castes. Our hamlet reflected that; in old photographs my father took during trips back to his village, the mud hut has started to take the shape of a house -- a small brick addition in the early 1970s, another expansion in the early 1980s. Our neighbor was a distant cousin, his neighbor another cousin, and our hamlet about a 10-minute walk from Ghanshyam's, where the huts were smaller, packed closer together, sharing a single hand-pumped well.

At the bottom of the pile was the basti for the lowest caste Hindus and Muslim washermen. The houses were sometimes no more than straw and wood held together by rope; a thick, sludgy open sewer -- more a rut in the land, filled with dirty water and feces -- oozed past them.

A paved road, built in the past five years or so, ran alongside the hamlets, connecting them to a small highway town called Shankarganj, a blink-and-you-miss-it highway pit stop with a few shops selling bottled soft drinks and stale biscuits. On Saturdays, a vegetable bazaar would set up around 3 p.m. and appeared to be the social highlight of the week.

Cramping Bowels

My life in the village quickly fell into a pattern that in many ways has remained unchanged for centuries.

Rising with the sun, my stomach already growling with hunger, I would seek a secluded spot in which to empty my slowly cramping bowels. With little running water, and almost no indoor toilets, entire fields were open latrines. Women rose earlier still, defecating in the dark in the hopes of some privacy. Open defecation is a national crisis for some 665 million Indians, soiling water and food supplies, and a major contributor to the spread of pathogens that kill about 1,000 children a day from diarrhea, hepatitis and other diseases.

I'd bathe under a tube-well pipe, pumping with one hand while trying to rub myself clean. At Ghanshyam's home, his wife would already be burning some dry twigs to boil our morning tea. Before the sun rose too high, I would accompany Ghanshyam on his search for work.

City Slacker

One morning, we hitched a ride to Pratapgarh city, joining a group of day laborers waiting at a traffic intersection to be picked for work. Those with obvious skills -- the painters with their brushes and cans of turpentine, the carpenters and their tools -- were chosen first. Last were people like Ghanshyam, who had little to offer but their strength. I followed him to where about 20 men were working on the foundations for a family home. My offer to labor was refused -- my city clothes, tinted glasses and well-fed frame betrayed me as an outsider.

I watched Ghanshyam carry bricks for an hour, his pace slacking as the sun climbed. By 10 a.m., the temperature was 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius). When the foreman yelled at Ghanshyam for being too slow, I took his place. We dug ditches and broke bricks to mix in the mortar. It had been a week since I had migrated to the village diet, and by noon, I was exhausted. The men around me had withered too, their movements slower, their ribs glistening in the sun.

Ghanshyam opened a lunch box, and we ate onions and rotis. We had drunk the dal while waiting to be picked for work.

Small Return

The temperature had climbed to 118, and the workers talked to the foreman -- cursing and complaining -- into letting them rest in the shade a half-hour longer. For two more hours, Ghanshyam and I took turns laboring. Finally, at 4 p.m., the foreman handed out the wages: Ghanshyam pocketed $1.75 for both of us; the other men earned $2.20. Ghanshyam's tuberculosis had slowed him down too much; I had done little to help.

Working with Ghanshyam reminded me of a home-building project I'd volunteered for a few months ago in Delhi organized by non-profit Habitat for Humanity. I'd started off my day enthusiastically passing bricks in a human chain to colleagues. Within hours, back aching and tired, I abandoned the effort, soaking up the New Delhi metro's air conditioning on the ride back home.

My diet in India's capital and the sedentary lifestyle of a financial journalist hadn't prepared me for building houses -- not for Habitat for Humanity and not to help Ghanshyam. As a member of the small, urban middle class, I ate close to what the average American does -- more than 2,500 calories on most days, close to 3,000 when I ordered in pizza, washed down with Coca- Cola.

Pizza Fantasy

In the village, the cereal-laden meals sat heavy in my stomach, and I felt less hungry than I had imagined I would. The most obvious impact was a constant sense of lethargy -- I moved more slowly and took longer to recover from short bursts of labor, like at the construction site. My weight dropped by about 5 pounds in the two weeks I lived there.

In the evenings, my phone would light up around 7 with a text message from Papa John's (PZZA), the U.S. pizza chain that had recently opened a branch in Delhi. For $11 -- or 22 times the government's poverty line -- I could order the medium pepperoni and cheese pizza I'd been dreaming about, except Papa John's would deliver it to my air-conditioned apartment in a posh Delhi suburb, not to this sweaty, hungry corner of India.

Calorie Puzzle

In 2009, economists Angus Deaton and Jean Dreze wrote a paper arguing that the reason Indians were consuming fewer calories today than in the 1980s was that they needed fewer calories. Poor Indians now had bicycles and fell sick less often, they said, and that might solve the puzzle that has confounded economists studying Indian nutrition -- falling calorie counts at a time of rising real incomes.

Economists have seen this trend twice before, according to Deaton and Dreze -- in post-Mao China in the 1980s and 1990s, and in Industrial Revolution Britain, from 1775 to 1850.

Before I left for the village, I called Deaton, who teaches at Princeton University. He was irritated that my questions focused only on calories -- the environment in which those calories were consumed and burned, and the manual labor the person had to endure were equally important, if not more so.

"I am not saying, for instance, that Indians are well- nourished," he said. "What I am saying is that the fact that they are eating fewer calories doesn't mean anything unless you know more about the rest of their lives."

Budget Squeeze

Following Ghanshyam around, I was less convinced that Deaton's explanation was the right one. Neither are Deepankar Basu and Amit Basole, two University of Massachusetts economists. In a draft paper last month they found that while Indian incomes have gone up, a rise in spending on other essential items -- such as healthcare and transportation --meant the amount of money left over for food has remained stagnant at a time of high inflation.

There is little data to show that Indians have moved into less physically strenuous jobs -- India has yet to experience the kind of industrial revolution seen in large parts of China that has freed an entire generation from the fields. Sixty-nine percent of the nation's 1.2 billion people still live in the countryside, against 49 percent of China's 1.3 billion.

‘Poor, Slowly Worsening'

The lives of Ghanshyam and other villagers in Auar seemed beyond what 1,700 calories or even the government recommended minimum intake of 2,400 calories could sustain. India's state medical research council says workers doing moderate or heavy labor need 2,730 to 3,490 calories.

I had picked Auar because it allowed me a glimpse into how little had changed in rural India since my father was young, in spite of a five-decade gap during which India became a food- surplus nation. By almost every measure, Auar fits the national averages for nutrition -- poor, and slowly worsening.

After some advances in the lead-up to the early 1990s, malnourishment rates in India appear to be stuck. Forty-six percent of children under three were malnourished in 2005, the last time a nationwide survey was carried out, compared with 47 percent the decade before. Twenty-one percent of Indian adults are malnourished, against 17 percent 10 years earlier. If lives had gotten less strenuous, and living environments healthier, then shouldn't those rates have dropped? Deaton agreed that the latest data were puzzling.

To be fair, while India has struggled to improve nutrition for the entire country, it has largely managed to eradicate starvation deaths. Also, as India hasn't counted its malnourished in seven years, Ghanshyam and the rest of Auar may be outliers in a sea of improvement.

Stoned in Heat

Most days, Ghanshyam never found work. We would lie in the shade, stoned in the heat. We moved as little as we could, stirring only to swat away flies and move our cots with the shadows. Soon after sundown, the darkness was complete, and almost everybody would head to sleep.

I'd walk back to the ruins of my father's old house, and imagine his childhood.

In the stories he published, my father recreates a bucolic life interrupted by misfortune -- disease, the curses of slighted gypsy women, ghosts and poachers. The stories echo his own childhood. He survived smallpox, his body still scarred from the near-death experience. A sister, born underweight and listless, died of malnourishment at six months old. She had been named Munni; Hindi for "our little girl."

Railway Children

In 1964, my grandfather landed a job as a conductor for state-owned Indian Railways, moving the entire family -- my grandmother, three sons (two more came later) and three daughters -- to the city of Allahabad in eastern Uttar Pradesh. In socialist India, a government job was perhaps the only way out of poverty. My grandfather leveraged his accomplishment with a relentless focus on educating his sons.

That urge was a relic of our caste beginnings. Without large tracts of land to cultivate, Kayasthas in Uttar Pradesh and the neighboring state of Bengal became a caste of peons -- clerks, bookkeepers, minor functionaries for the local maharajahs. That emphasis on being able to read and write has left an imprint throughout my family's known history -- the great grand-uncle who spent his life's savings to build the primary school my father studied in, and which still educates the village's children.

Hardship Endures

Hardship hadn't ended with the move to city living, nor with the ballooning shipments of American grain. Even as U.S. exports of wheat surged from nothing in 1954 to 4 million tons by 1960, intermittent floods and drought meant hunger remained a menacing presence. Money the U.S. loaned or granted back to the Indian government from the wheat sales failed to find its way into better irrigation, storage or roads.

In the markets, food remained unreliable. Droughts in the mid-1960s pushed prices far beyond my grandfather's income. New to the city, my father and his brothers stood in lines outside ration shops to get rice and wheat. Often, he remembers, the shops would run out of supplies before their turn.

At 14, my father had won a National Merit Scholarship, an Indian government program designed to help poor, talented students in villages pay for their high school and early college educations. The promised monthly stipend did not come till four years later, by then my father was a student at Allahabad University.

By the time my father was 16, escape was near. Higher- yielding hybrid seeds, modern fertilizers and improved irrigation meant famines were becoming a relic of India's past.

End of the Beginning

At 19, he read an advertisement in a newspaper for a job in Mumbai with the government's science and research programs. He clipped out the ad and stowed away on a train, in much the same way as millions of migrants still seek out a better life in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore today. The interview went well, and he landed a job that allowed him to earn a PhD in nuclear physics at the same time.

For my father, the years of lining up for food rations were over. His older brother, who studied engineering, had gotten a job with the government of Uttar Pradesh, and their combined incomes paid for the education of their younger brothers and the weddings of their sisters. Looking through my grandmother's old trunks this summer, I found stacks of receipts from the postal service checks that my father sent home -- the first was in 1971 -- each with a short faded note to his family, including my favorite, an admonishment to stop pressuring him to get married.

Best Forgotten

That final leap, from poverty to lower-middle class, was repeated by each of my uncles -- the three remaining brothers also became engineers. My cousins and I were born into families that could easily afford food, and the deprivation of Auar became a memory, best forgotten and rarely discussed.

And yet, at family reunions, it is clear that childhood hunger stalked them into adulthood.

My cousins and I tower over our uncles -- I am four inches (10 centimeters) taller than my father, six inches taller than my mother. One cousin was an amateur boxer in the Indian Navy, another passed the rigorous physical training required to join the Indian intelligence service and is posted in the Himalayas. A single generation of good nutrition catapulted us into the top 10 percent of Indians for height and health.

Deaton, the Princeton economist, pointed out that in healthy countries, the average adult height increases by about a centimeter every 10 years -- Scandinavians have grown by just that rate since 1950.

Indians have managed to grow at half that pace -- it would take us more than 200 years to reach the five-foot, 8-inch average height of an American male in 2006.

Dangling Feet

While the single generation of good nutrition that my cousins and I lived through separates us from our parents, it also separates us from the national averages. In Auar, I felt like a giant, stooping through doorways, my feet dangling over the edge of my borrowed cot.

At dusk, I would walk with Ghanshyam along the borders of the village.

Ghanshyam, with me at least, is a quiet man, miserly with his words. He had resisted my attempts to get him to share more than his most basic thoughts. One night, when I asked him about his favorite meal, he suddenly opened up. He told me he had been happiest when planning his eldest son's wedding. As the groom's father, he was the most important guest, and he described at length the dinner thrown by the girl's family.

"Mutton korma, chicken curry, fish curry, naan, saag paneer (spinach cooked in cottage cheese), pulao," he listed, along with the desserts -- a sweetened rice pudding called kheer; jalebis, which are sweet, fried dough; and ice-cream.

On my last day in the village, I drove to Pratapgarh and had a restaurant pack up that exact meal. That night, under the mango trees, I threw a small banquet for Ghanshyam's family and that of his neighbors.

Bone Banquet

Thirteen of us sat under the biggest tree, and in the light from my car's headlights, Ghanshyam and I shared a small bottle of local liquor made from a flower called mahua he had brought for the occasion. He laughed when I spat out my first sip, and I noticed for the first time that he had no teeth except for the front row.

About an hour after dinner, as I packed my gear for the trip back to Delhi, I heard a rustling behind me. I thought it was a stray dog going through the empty plates and Styrofoam boxes, and I turned on my flashlight to scare it away.

Instead, the beam lit up Ghanshyam's wife. She'd come back, she said, for the chicken bones I'd thrown away. For a family too poor to buy meat, even boiled-up bones make a valuable addition to the diet.

"With some spices, it will taste just like chicken curry," she said.

Source: Bloomberg

Is India in a Coma?

by Mohan Maruti--India

Europeans believe that Indian leaders are too blinded by new wealth and deceit to comprehend that the day will come when the have-nots will hit the streets.

A few days ago I was in a panel discussion on mergers and acquisitions in Frankfurt, Germany, organised by Euroforum and The Handelsblatt, one of the most prestigious newspapers in German-speaking Europe.

The other panelists were senior officials of two of the largest carmakers and two top insurance companies - all German multinationals operating in India.

The panel discussion was moderated by a professor from the esteemed European Business School. The hall had an audience that exceeded a hundred well-known European CEOs. I was the only Indian.

After the panel discussion, the floor was open for questions. That was when my "moment of truth" turned into an hour of shame & embarrassment - when the participants fired questions and made remarks on their experiences with the evil of corruption in India.

The awkwardness and humiliation I went through reminded of The Moment of Truth, the popular Anglo-American game. The more questions I answered truthfully, the more the questions got tougher. Tougher, here means more embarrassing.

European disquiet

Questions ranged from "Is your nation in a coma?", the corruption in administration, even in judiciary, the possible impeachment of a judge, the 2G-telecom scam and to the money in billions, parked illegally in tax havens.

It is a fact that the problem of corruption in India has assumed enormous and embarrassing proportions in recent years, although it has been with us for decades. The questions and the debate that followed in the panel discussion was indicative of the European disquiet. At the end of the Q&A session, I surmised Europeans perceive India to be at one of those junctures where tripping over the precipice cannot be ruled out.

Let me substantiate this further with what the European media has to say in recent days.

In a popular prime-time television discussion in Germany, the panelist, a member of the German Parliament quoting a blog said: "If all the scams of the last five years are added up, they are likely to rival and exceed the British colonial loot of India of about a trillion dollars."

Banana Republic

One German business daily which wrote an editorial on India said: "India is becoming a Banana Republic instead of being an economic superpower. To get the cut motion designated out, assurances are made to political allays. Special treatment is promised at the expense of the people. So, Ms Mayawati who is Chief Minister of the most densely inhabited state, is calmed when an intelligence agency probe is scrapped. The multi-million dollars fodder scam by another former chief minister wielding enormous power is put in cold storage. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chairs over this kind of unparalleled loot."

An article in a French newspaper titled "Playing the Game, Indian Style" wrote: "Investigations into the shadowy financial deals of the Indian cricket league have revealed a web of transactions across tax havens like Switzerland, the Virgin Islands, Mauritius and Cyprus." In the same article, the name of one Hassan Ali of Pune is mentioned as operating with his wife a one-billion-dollar illegal Swiss account with "sanction of the Indian regime".

A third story narrated in the damaging article is that of the former chief minister of Jharkhand, Madhu Koda, who was reported to have funds in various tax havens that were partly used to buy mines in Liberia. "Unfortunately, the Indian public do not know the status of that enquiry," the article concluded.

"In the nastiest business scam in Indian records (Satyam) the government adroitly covered up the political aspects of the swindle - predominantly involving real estate," wrote an Austrian newspaper. "If the Indian Prime Minister knows nothing about these scandals, he is ignorant of ground realities and does not deserve to be Prime Minister. If he does, is he a collaborator in crime?"

The Telegraph of the UK reported the 2G scam saying: "Naturally, India's elephantine legal system will ensure culpability, is delayed."

Blinded by wealth

This seems true. In the European mind, caricature of a typical Indian encompasses qualities of falsification, telling lies, being fraudulent, dishonest, corrupt, arrogant, boastful, speaking loudly and bothering others in public places or, while travelling, swindling when the slightest of opportunity arises and spreading rumours about others. The list is truly incessant.

My (MOHAN'S) father, who is 81 years old, is utterly frustrated, shocked and disgruntled with whatever is happening and said in a recent discussion that our country's motto should truly be CHANGED TO Asatyameva Jayete.

Europeans believe that Indian leaders in politics and business are so blissfully blinded by the new, sometimes ill-gotten, wealth and deceit that they are living in defiance, insolence and denial to comprehend that the day will come, sooner than later, when the have-nots would hit the streets.

In a way, it seems to have already started with the monstrous and grotesque acts of the Maoists. And, when that rot occurs, not one political turncoat will escape being lynched.

The drumbeats for these rebellions are going to get louder and louder as our leaders refuse to listen to the voices of the people. Eventually, it will lead to a revolution that will spill to streets across the whole of India, I fear.

Perhaps we are the architects of our own misfortune. It is our sab chalta hai (everything goes) attitude that has allowed people to mislead us with impunity.

No wonder Aesop said. "We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to high office."

(The author is former Europe Director, CII, and lives in Cologne, Germany.)

Life in Kerala 100 years Ago
നൂറു വർഷം മുൻപ് എങ്ങനെയായിരുന്നു കേരളത്തിലെ ജീവിതം ?

നൂറു വർഷം മുൻപ് എങ്ങനെയായിരുന്നു കേരളത്തിലെ ജീവിതം ? ഇതാ അതി മനോഹരമായ ഒരു ലേഖനം . മാത്രുഭുമി യിൽ നിന്നും എടുത്തത്‌ … ഒറ്റയിരിപ്പിനു വായിച്ചു പോകുവാൻ തോന്നുന്ന ലേഖനം ആണിത് . അതി മനോഹരമായ ഭാഷ .. അങ്ങനെ ഒഴുകി ഒഴുകി പോകുന്നു …

ഇതാ വയിക്കൂൂ… ആസ്വദിക്കൂ ..

നൂറു വര്‍ഷം കഴിഞ്ഞെത്തിയതിന്റെ പുണ്യം
മുരളി തുമ്മാരുകുടി

ഈ കര്‍ക്കടകത്തില്‍ എനിക്ക് 50 വയസ്സു തികയും. 2014 ല്‍ 50 വയസ് തികയാന്‍ 1964-ലാണ് ജനിച്ചതെന്ന് പ്രത്യേകം പറയേണ്ടല്ലോ. ഈ സമയത്ത് ഞാന്‍ ചുമ്മാ ഒരു ‘തോട്ട് എക്‌സ്‌പെരിമെന്റ്’ (ചിന്താ പരീക്ഷണം?) നടത്തി നോക്കി. അതായത് ഒരു നൂറു വര്‍ഷം മുന്‍പാണ് ജനിച്ചതെങ്കില്‍ (ജനനസ്ഥലം, ജാതി, കുടുംബം എല്ലാം ഇതു തന്നെ) എന്തു തരത്തിലുള്ള ജീവിതമായിരിക്കും എനിക്കുണ്ടാവുക?

100 വര്‍ഷം മുന്‍പാണ് ജനിച്ചതെങ്കില്‍ ഉറപ്പായ ഒരു കാര്യം ആദ്യമേ പറയാം. 50 ാം പിറന്നാള്‍ ആഘോഷിക്കാനോ അതിനെപ്പറ്റി ചിന്തിക്കാനോ ഞാനുണ്ടാകാനുള്ള സാധ്യത തീരെ കമ്മി. അന്ന് ശരാശരി മലയാളി പുരുഷന്റെ ആയുര്‍ദൈര്‍ഘ്യം 40 വയസ്സില്‍ താഴെയായിരുന്നു. അഷ്ടവൈദ്യന്മാരും ഇംഗ്ലീഷ് ഡോക്ടര്‍മാരും പോരാത്തതിന് മന്ത്രവാദികളും വിളിപ്പുറത്തുണ്ടായിരുന്ന അക്കാലത്തെ രാജാക്കന്മാര്‍ പോലും അന്ന് 50 കടന്നിരുന്നില്ല. എന്റെ അച്ഛന്റെ തറവാട്ടില്‍ 36 വയസ്സിനു മീതെ ആണുങ്ങള്‍ ജീവിച്ചു തുടങ്ങിയത് അച്ഛന്റെ തലമുറയിലാണ്.

‘പണ്ടുള്ള ആളുകള്‍ക്ക് എന്താരോഗ്യമായിരുന്നു, ഇപ്പോഴത്തെ ജീവിതരീതിയുടെ ടെന്‍ഷനും കൃത്രിമ ഭക്ഷണവും ഒക്കെയാണ് മനുഷ്യനെ രോഗിയാക്കുന്നത്’ എന്ന തരത്തിലുള്ള ഡയലോഗുകള്‍ കേള്‍ക്കുമ്പോള്‍ എനിക്ക് ചിരി വരും. സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യം കിട്ടുന്ന 1947 ല്‍പോലും ഇന്ത്യയിലെ ആണുങ്ങളുടെ ശരാശരി ആയുസ്സ് 50 വയസ്സില്‍ താഴെ ആയിരുന്നു. അന്ന് 50 വയസ്സിനു മുകളില്‍ ആരും ജീവിച്ചിരുന്നില്ല എന്നല്ല. നല്ല ആരോഗ്യമുള്ളവരേ അന്ന് വയസ്സായി മരിക്കാറുള്ളൂ, അല്ലാതെ വയസ്സന്‍മാര്‍ ആരോഗ്യത്തോടെ ജീവിക്കാറില്ല.

100 വര്‍ഷം മുന്‍പായിരുന്നെങ്കില്‍ പിഎച്ച്ഡി പോയിട്ട് ഒന്നാംക്ലാസ്സ് വിദ്യാഭ്യാസമോ ഐക്യരാഷ്ട്രസഭയിലെ ജോലിയോ പോയിട്ട് തിരുവിതാംകൂറിലെ ഗുമസ്തപ്പണി പോലുമോ എനിക്കുണ്ടാവുമായിരുന്നില്ല. വെങ്ങോലയില്‍ ഒരു സ്‌കൂള്‍ വന്നത് 20 ാം നൂറ്റാണ്ടിന്റെ ആദ്യമാണ്. അതിനു മുന്‍പ് ജനിച്ച തുമ്മാരുകുടി കുട്ടികള്‍ ഒന്നും ഒന്നാംക്ലാസ്സിന്റെ പടി കടന്നിട്ടില്ല. കൃഷിയല്ലാതെ ഏതെങ്കിലും തൊഴില്‍ അവരാരും ചെയ്തിട്ടുമില്ല.

വെങ്ങോലയില്‍ ആശുപത്രി വന്നത് 1981 ലാണ്. എന്റെ ചെറുപ്പത്തില്‍ പെരുമ്പാവൂരില്‍ പോലും ഒരേ ഒരു ഡോക്ടറേ ഉള്ളൂ (ഡോക്ടര്‍ കുറുപ്പ്). വൈദ്യശാസ്ത്രത്തില്‍ മുന്തിയ ബിരുദമില്ലെങ്കിലും ആധുനിക വൈദ്യത്തിന്റെ എബിസിഡി ഒക്കെ അറിയാമായിരുന്ന പാട്ടായിക്കുടി ഡോക്ടര്‍ ആയിരുന്നു വെങ്ങോലയുടെ ലൈഫ് ലൈന്‍. പിന്നെ അത്യാവശ്യം വൈദ്യമൊക്കെ അറിയാമായിരുന്ന ഒരു വേലനും. ചുമ്മാതല്ല 30 വയസ്സിനുമുന്‍പ് എന്റെ മൂത്ത കാരണവന്‍മാരെല്ലാം കാലപുരി പൂകിയത്. പക്ഷെ, കഷ്ടം എന്തെന്നു വച്ചാല്‍ കാരണവന്‍മാരുടെ മരണം തടുക്കാന്‍ അച്ഛന്റെ വീട്ടുകാര്‍ കണ്ട പോംവഴി നാട്ടില്‍ ഒരു ഭദ്രകാളിക്ഷേത്രം പണിയുകയായിരുന്നു. ഒരു വൈദ്യശാലയോ ആശുപത്രിയോ പണിയിക്കുകയാണ് വേണ്ടതെന്ന് മനസ്സിലാക്കാനുള്ള വിദ്യാഭ്യാസംപോലും അന്നില്ല.

വിദ്യാഭ്യാസവും ആരോഗ്യവും പോലുള്ള പൗരന്മാരുടെ അടിസ്ഥാന പ്രശ്‌നങ്ങളില്‍ ഗവണ്‍മെന്റ് ഇടപെട്ടിരുന്നില്ലെങ്കിലും ആണുങ്ങള്‍ മീശവെച്ചിരുന്നോ കല്യാണത്തിന് വലിയ പപ്പടം കാച്ചിയിരുന്നോ, സ്ത്രീകള്‍ അമ്പലത്തില്‍ കയറുമ്പോള്‍ മാറു മറച്ചിരുന്നോ ശീലക്കുട ഉപയോഗിച്ചിരുന്നോ എന്നെല്ലാം അന്വേഷിക്കാന്‍ നാട്ടില്‍ നിയമവും ആളുമുണ്ടായിരുന്നു. ഈ പറഞ്ഞതെല്ലാം നിഷിദ്ധവുമായിരുന്നു. നാടുവാഴുന്ന പൊന്നു തമ്പുരാന്‍ തീപ്പെട്ടാല്‍ ഉടനെ അന്നു പിറന്ന കുട്ടികള്‍ ഉള്‍പ്പടെ തിരുവിതാംകൂറിലെ ആണ്‍പ്രജകളെല്ലാം പുരികം ഉള്‍പ്പടെ ശരീരരോമങ്ങളെല്ലാം ക്ഷൗരം ചെയ്തുകളയണം എന്ന് നിര്‍ബന്ധം. അക്കാലത്തു പൊന്നു തമ്പുരാക്കന്‍മാരെല്ലാം പ്രായമാകാതെ ചത്തുപോകാറുള്ളതിനാല്‍ എനിക്കും ഈ ക്ഷൗരം ഇടക്കിടെ ചെയ്യേണ്ടി വന്നേനെ. നൂറു വര്‍ഷം ശേഷം ജനിച്ചതിനാല്‍ പ്രധാന മന്ത്രി മരിച്ചിട്ടും എന്റെ രോമങ്ങളെല്ലാം സുരക്ഷിതമായിരുന്നു എന്നാലോചിക്കുമ്പോള്‍ ജനാധിപത്യത്തെപ്പറ്റി എനിക്ക് രോമാഞ്ചം വരുന്നു.

ജനാധിപത്യം എനിക്കു തന്നത് രോമാഞ്ചം കൊള്ളാനുള്ള രോമം മാത്രമല്ല അതിനുള്ള സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യവുമാണ്. ഭരണാധികാരികളെ പറ്റിയോ ഭരണവ്യവസ്ഥയെപ്പറ്റിത്തന്നെയോ തമാശ പറയാനും വിശകലനം ചെയ്യാനും വിമര്‍ശിക്കാനുമുള്ള സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യം 100 വര്ഷം മുന്‍പ് ചിന്തിക്കാനാവില്ലായിരുന്നു. രാജാവിനെ പറ്റി പോയിട്ട് സ്ഥലത്തെ ജന്മിയായ കര്‍ത്താക്കന്മാരെപ്പറ്റി പോലും ഒരു വിമര്‍ശനം പറഞ്ഞാല്‍ തല ഉണ്ടാവില്ല.

വിമര്‍ശനം മാത്രമായിരുന്നില്ല തല പോകുന്ന കുറ്റം, കളവുതൊട്ട് ഗോമാംസം ഭക്ഷിക്കുന്നതുവരെയുള്ള കാര്യങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് വധശിക്ഷ സാധാരണമായിരുന്നു. ഇതു നടപ്പിലാക്കാന്‍ നാട്ടുജന്മിമാര്‍ക്കുവരെ അവകാശവും ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നു. വെങ്ങോലയില്‍ എന്റെ വീട് ഇരിക്കുന്ന പറമ്പിന്റെ മുന്നാധാരത്തിലെ പേരുതന്നെ ‘ആളെ വെട്ടി ഞാല്‍ ‘ എന്നാണ്. വെങ്ങോലയില്‍ വധശിക്ഷ നടപ്പിലാക്കിയിരുന്നത് ഇവിടെവച്ചായിരുന്നത്രെ.

അന്നത്തെ ജന്മി കാരണവര്‍ വധശിക്ഷ നടപ്പിലാക്കുന്നത് കാണാന്‍ വന്ന മരുമകന്‍ പയ്യന്‍ ഒരിക്കല്‍ അമ്മാവനോടു ചോദിച്ചത്രേ ‘അമ്മാവാ, തലയില്ലാത്ത ഒരാള്‍ക്ക് ഓടാന്‍ പറ്റുമോ?’ ഈ ചോദ്യം കേട്ടവഴി അമ്മാവന്‍ സ്വന്തം ഭടന്‍മാരില്‍ ഒരാളോട് അതിവേഗതയില്‍ ഓടാന്‍ പറഞ്ഞത്രേ. ഓടിവന്ന അയാളുടെ തല ഒറ്റയടിക്ക് അമ്മാവന്‍ വെട്ടിമാറ്റി എന്നും വന്ന ആയത്തിന് തലയില്ലാതെ ആ ഭടന്‍ കുറച്ചുകൂടി ഓടി എന്നുമാണ് വെങ്ങോലയിലെ ഐതിഹ്യം (ആ കാരണവര്‍ തുമ്മാരുകുടി അല്ല കേട്ടോ). അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ ക്രൂരതയും നാട്ടുകാരുടെ പ്രാക്കും കാരണം കുടുംബം നശിച്ചു പോയെന്നും ശാപം കിട്ടിയ പോലെ ആ പറമ്പ് അവിടെ കിടന്നുവെന്നുമാണ് പുരാണം. അവിടെ വീട് വക്കാന്‍ പോലും ആളുകള്ക്ക് ഭയമായിരുന്നു. പക്ഷെ ദൈവ വിശ്വാസമല്ലാതെ മറ്റു അന്ധവിശ്വാസങ്ങള്‍ ഒന്നും ഇല്ലായിരുന്ന എന്റെ അച്ചാച്ചന്‍ (അമ്മയുടെ അച്ഛന്‍) ധൈര്യമായി ആ സ്ഥലം ചോദിച്ചു വാങ്ങി എന്നും അവിടെ വീട് വച്ചു എന്നുമാണ് കേട്ടറിവ്.

തല മാത്രമല്ല അന്ന് ശിക്ഷയായി വെട്ടി കളഞ്ഞിരുന്നത്, വിരല്‍ തൊട്ടു കൈ വരെ ഏതവയവവും നഷ്ടപ്പെടാം. കൂടാതെ, അടി, തടവ്, ഭ്രഷ്ട് , നാട് കടത്തല്‍, പിഴ എന്നിങ്ങനെ ശിക്ഷകള്‍ വേറെയും ഏറെ. ശിക്ഷയല്ല കുറ്റവിചാരണ തന്നെ 19 ാം നൂറ്റാണ്ടിലും അതിക്രൂരമായിരുന്നു. കുറ്റാരോപിതനായ ആളോട് തിളച്ച എണ്ണയിലോ ഈയത്തിലോ കൈമുക്കാന്‍ പറയുകയായിരുന്ന നാട്ടുനടപ്പ്.

കുറ്റാന്വേഷണം ഏതാണ്ട് ഇന്നത്തെ പോലെ ഒക്കെ ആയിരുന്നു. സംശയം ഉള്ളവരെ പിടിക്കുക, ഇടിക്കുക, അവര്‍ കുറ്റം ഏറ്റില്ലെങ്കില്‍ മുന്‍പറഞ്ഞ ശാസ്ത്രീയ മാര്‍ഗത്തിലൂടെ അപരാധിത്തം തെളിയിക്കുക എന്നിങ്ങനെ. അന്ന് സാക്ഷികളായി പോലീസ് പിടിക്കുന്നവര്‍ക്കും ഉണ്ട് ഇടി. നമ്മുടെ കുറ്റാന്വേഷണം പുരോഗമിച്ചിട്ടില്ല എന്ന് പറയാന്‍ പറ്റില്ല.

വിചാരണയും ശിക്ഷയും അതികഠിനമായതിനാല്‍ അന്ന് കുറ്റം കുറവായിരുന്നു എന്ന് തോന്നും. ഇപ്പോള്‍ ശിക്ഷയില്ലാത്തതാണ് കുറ്റവാസന പെരുകുന്നത് എന്നാണല്ലോ പൊതുധാരണ. പക്ഷെ അതിക്രൂരമായ ശിക്ഷകളും വിചാരണയും ഉണ്ടായിട്ടും കളവും കൊലയും ബലാല്‍സംഗവും എല്ലാം അന്ന് സര്‍വസാധാരണമായിരുന്നു. കായംകുളം കൊച്ചുണ്ണിയെ പറ്റി എല്ലാവരും കേട്ടിട്ടുണ്ട്. കുമരകം കായലില്‍ കൊള്ള സംഘത്തെ ഉണ്ടാക്കിയിട്ട് വീട്ടിലിരുന്നു കളവു മുതല്‍ അനുഭവിച്ച തുമ്പയില്‍ കുറുപ്പിനെ പറ്റി ചരിത്രത്തിലുണ്ട്. കൊച്ചിയിലും തിരുവിതാംകൂറിലും കൊള്ളയായി നടന്ന തേവേലി വര്‍ക്കി ആയിരുന്നു അന്ന് വെങ്ങോലക്കാരുടെ പേടിസ്വപ്നം. നാട്ടിലെ ജന്മികളായ നമ്പൂതിരിഭവനങ്ങളില്‍ അക്രമിച്ചുകയറി സ്ത്രീകളെ മാനഭംഗപ്പെടുത്തുകയും പണവും പണ്ടവും കൊള്ളയടിക്കുകയും ചെയ്തു എന്നതായിരുന്നു ഇയാളുടെ പേരിലുള്ള പരാതി. സംഗതി എന്തായാലും ഏറെ കഴിയാതെ തിരുവിതാംകൂര്‍ പട്ടാളം ഇയാളെ വെടിവച്ചുകൊന്നു. ഇപ്പോഴും ഇന്ത്യയില്‍ പല ഭാഗങ്ങളിലും കേസന്വേഷണവും വിചാരണയും ശിക്ഷയും എല്ലാം പോലീസു തന്നെയാണ് നടത്തുന്നത്. ഇതെല്ലാം വ്യത്യസ്തമായി ചെയ്യുന്ന കേരളത്തിലേക്കാളും കുറ്റകൃത്യങ്ങള്‍ അവിടെ കൂടുതലുമാണ്.

കുറ്റമൊന്നും ചെയ്തില്ലെങ്കിലും സാക്ഷി ആയില്ലെങ്കിലും സര്‍ക്കാരിന്റെ അടി കിട്ടാന്‍ വേറെയും വഴി ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നു. കരം കൊടുക്കാതിരിക്കലാണ് ആ വഴി. ഇന്നത്തെ പോലെ ആദായ നികുതി, ഭൂനികുതി എന്നിങ്ങനെ ഏറി വന്നാല്‍ പത്തു കരങ്ങളല്ല അന്ന്. കല്യാണത്തിന് പന്തലിടുന്നത് തൊട്ടു സ്ത്രീകള്‍ സ്വര്‍ണ അരഞ്ഞാണം ഇടുന്നത് വരെ എന്തിനും കാശ് പിടുങ്ങാന്‍ സര്‍ക്കാര്‍ റെഡി. ‘എന്തു കൊണ്ടാണ് രാജ്യങ്ങള്‍ മുടിഞ്ഞു പോകുന്നത്’ (Why Nations Fail) എന്ന പ്രശസ്ത പുസ്തകത്തില്‍ നാട്ടുകാരെ പിഴിഞ്ഞ് പലതരം ടാക്‌സ് വാങ്ങുന്ന രാജാക്കന്മാരെ പറ്റി പറഞ്ഞിട്ടുണ്ട്. സ്വന്തം തൊപ്പി അറിയാതെ താഴെ വീണാല്‍ ആ പേരില്‍ കരം പിരിക്കുന്ന ഒരു ആഫ്രിക്കന്‍ രാജാവുണ്ടായിരുന്നത്രെ. എന്നാല്‍ കുതിരക്കും പശുവിനും കൊടുക്കാനുള്ള പുല്ലു വില്‍ക്കാന്‍ തിരുവനന്തപുരം ചന്തയില്‍ എത്തുന്ന സ്ത്രീകളോട് കെട്ടു താഴെ വയ്ക്കുന്നതിനു കരം മേടിച്ചിരുന്നു എന്നത് നാം അറിയാതിരിക്കരുത്.

ഇത്രയൊക്കെ കരം ഉണ്ടായിട്ടും അതൊക്കെ കൃത്യമായി കൊടുത്തിരുന്നു എന്ന് കരുതരുത്. അഴിമതിക്കാരായ ഉദ്യോഗസ്ഥന്‍മാര്‍ അന്നും ഏറെയുണ്ട്. അഴിമതി മാത്രമല്ല ടാക്‌സ് വെട്ടിപ്പും സര്‍വസാധാരണം. കൃഷിയുടെ പകുതിയും കപ്പവും കരവും ലെവിയും ഒക്കെ ആയി പോകുന്നതിനാല്‍ കൃഷി ചെയ്തു കിട്ടുന്നതിന്റെ പകുതി ആദ്യമേ തന്നെ ഗവര്‍മെന്റ് ഉദ്യോഗസ്ഥര്‍ക്കോ ജന്മിമാരുടെ ശിങ്കിടിമാര്‍ക്കോ അറിയാത്ത സ്ഥലത്തേക്ക് മാറ്റലായിരുന്നു പ്രധാന തന്ത്രം. എന്റെ തറവാട്ടില്‍ സ്ത്രീകളുടെ കിടപ്പ് മുറിയുടെ അടിയിലുള്ള രഹസ്യ അറയിലായിരിന്നു ടാക്‌സ് വെട്ടിച്ചുള്ള ധാന്യ ശേഖരണം. ടാക്‌സ് വെട്ടിപ്പിന്റെ ആദ്യപാഠങ്ങള്‍ പഠിപ്പിച്ച ഗുരുകാരണവന്മാരുടെ ഓര്‍മക്കായി, വീട് പുതുക്കി പണിതപ്പോള്‍ കൃഷിക്ക് ടാക്‌സ് ഇല്ലാതായിട്ടും, ഞങ്ങള്‍ ആ രഹസ്യ അറ സംരക്ഷിച്ചിട്ടുണ്ട്.

അങ്ങനെ വിദ്യാഭ്യാസമോ തൊഴിലോ ലഭിക്കാതെ ഇടക്കിടക്ക് ആപാദമസ്തകം ക്ഷൗരവും ചെയ്തു എന്തിനും ഏതിനും കരവും കൊടുത്തു അത്യാവശ്യം ടാക്‌സ് വെട്ടിച്ചും ജീവിച്ചിരുന്ന എന്റെ കുടുംബജീവിതം എങ്ങനെയായിരുന്നിരിക്കും എന്ന് നോക്കാം. 40നു മുന്‍പേ തട്ടിപ്പോകുന്നതിനാല്‍ 20 നു മുന്‍പേ വിവാഹം നടന്നിരിക്കും. മിക്കവാറും അമ്മാവന്‍ കണ്ടുവച്ച പെണ്‍കുട്ടി ആയിരിക്കും വധു. കെട്ടാന്‍ പോകുന്ന പെണ്ണിനെ കല്യാണത്തിനു മുന്‍പ് ഞാന്‍ കണ്ടിട്ടുപോലും ഉണ്ടാവില്ല.

പക്ഷെ നായരായിരുന്നതിനാല്‍ ഇക്കാര്യത്തില്‍ അത്ര വിഷമിക്കേണ്ട കാര്യമില്ല. വിവാഹത്തിന് അക്കാലത്ത് അത്ര വലിയ സ്ഥിരത ഒന്നും ഇല്ല. അധികാരസ്ഥാനത്തുള്ളവര്‍ക്ക് എന്റെ ഭാര്യയെ ഇഷ്ടപ്പെട്ടാല്‍ പിന്നെ ഒഴിഞ്ഞുപോവുകയല്ലാതെ തടി രക്ഷിക്കാന്‍ വേറെ മാര്‍ഗം ഒന്നുമില്ല. ഇത് സാധാരണക്കാരുടെ മാത്രം കാര്യമല്ല ഉന്നത ഉദ്യോഗസ്ഥന്മാരുടെ സ്ഥിതിയും ആയിരുന്നു. അധികാരമുള്ളവര്‍ക്ക് ഇഷ്ടമാകുന്നതു പോലെ കാരണവന്‍മാര്‍ക്ക് ഇഷ്ടക്കേട് ഉണ്ടാക്കുന്നതും ദാമ്പത്യജീവിതം അവസാനിക്കാന്‍ കാരണമായിരുന്നു. നീണ്ടുനിന്ന ദാമ്പത്യബന്ധങ്ങള്‍ ആ തലമുറയില്‍ നായന്മാര്‍ക്ക് ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നില്ല എന്നു തന്നെ പറയാം. ഭാര്യമാരുടെ കാര്യം പോകട്ടെ സ്വന്തം ചോരയില്‍ പിറന്ന കുട്ടിയില്‍ പോലും എനിക്കന്ന് യാതൊരു അവകാശവും ഇല്ലായിരുന്നു. അമ്മ വീട്ടില്‍ വളരുന്ന കുട്ടിക്ക് വേണ്ടി വിദ്യാഭ്യാസത്തിനു സഹായിക്കാനോ അല്പം സ്വത്തു സമ്പാദിച്ചുവക്കാനോ പോയിട്ട് ഒന്നു കളിപ്പിക്കാനോ കളിപ്പാട്ടം വാങ്ങാനോ ഉള്ള അവകാശമോ അവസരമോ അന്നുണ്ടായിരുന്നില്ല. നിങ്ങളുടെ കുട്ടികള്‍ നിങ്ങളുടേതല്ല എന്ന് ഖലില്‍ ജിബ്രാന്‍ പറഞ്ഞത് നായന്‍മാരെ മുന്‍പില്‍ കണ്ടിട്ടാവണം.

ഇന്നു ശരാശരി മലയാളി കഴിക്കുന്ന ഭൂരിഭാഗം ഭക്ഷണവിഭവങ്ങളും അന്നു നമുക്ക് അജ്ഞാതമായിരുന്നു. ഇഡ്‌ലി, ദോശ, ചായ, കാപ്പി, സാമ്പാര്‍ ഇവയൊന്നും അന്ന് മലയാളി മെനുവില്‍ ഇല്ല. പുട്ടിനെ കുമ്പം തൂറി എന്ന മ്ലേച്ച ഭക്ഷണം ആയാണ് കരുതിയിരുന്നത്. തികച്ചും കേരളീയം എന്നു നാം കരുതുന്ന അവിയല്‍ പോലും അറുപത്തിനാലിനം വിഭവങ്ങളും ആയി അമൃതേത്ത് കഴിച്ചിരുന്ന കൊച്ചി രാജാവിന്റെ ഭക്ഷണലിസ്റ്റില്‍ ഇല്ലായിരുന്നു. കപ്പ കേരളത്തിലേക്ക് വരുന്നത് 1880 ലെ അരി ക്ഷാമത്തിന്റെ സമയത്താണ്. രാവിലേയും വൈകിട്ടും ചാമയോ അരിയോ കൊണ്ടുള്ള കഞ്ഞിയും താളുകൊണ്ടുള്ള കറിയും ഒക്കെയായിരുന്നു അക്കാലത്ത് മലയാളി കര്‍ഷക കുടുംബത്തിലെ ഭക്ഷണം. രാവിലെ ഭക്ഷണത്തിന് പാലത്തേക്ക് (പകലത്തേക്ക്) എന്നാണ് പറഞ്ഞിരുന്നത്. അതുകൊണ്ടുതന്നെ ഉച്ചഭക്ഷണവും വൈകിട്ടു കാപ്പിയും ഒന്നുമില്ല. ഈ രണ്ടുനേരം ഭക്ഷണം തന്നെ എല്ലാവര്‍ക്കും എല്ലാക്കാലത്തും ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നില്ല. 1850കളില്‍തന്നെ തിരുവിതാംകൂറില്‍ അരി ഇറക്കുമതി ചെയ്യേണ്ടിവന്നു. ഭക്ഷ്യക്ഷാമം 1970 കള്‍ വരെ തുടര്‍ന്നതിനു ഞാന്‍ സാക്ഷിയുമാണ്.

പത്തൊമ്പതാം നൂറ്റാണ്ടില്‍ ജനിച്ച ഒരാളോടേ ഞാന്‍ അടുത്ത് ഇടപഴകിയിട്ടുള്ളൂ. എന്റെ അമ്മൂമ്മയോട്. അമ്മൂമ്മ സ്‌കൂളില്‍ പോയിട്ടില്ലെങ്കിലും കീര്‍ത്തനവും ശ്ലോകവുമൊക്കെ മനഃപാഠമായിരുന്നു. അതിരാവിലെ കാളയെ പാടത്ത് കൊണ്ടുചെല്ലാന്‍ ഞാന്‍ എഴുന്നല്‍ക്കുന്ന സമയത്ത് അമ്മൂമ്മ ശ്ലോകം ചൊല്ലുകയായിരിക്കും.

‘നരനായിങ്ങനെ ജനിച്ചു ഭൂമിയില്‍
നരകവാരിധി നടുവില്‍ ഞാന്‍
നരകത്തീന്നെന്നെ കരകേറ്റീടണേ
തിരുവൈക്കം വാഴും ശിവശംഭോ.’

മൂന്നു നേരവും ഭക്ഷണവും കഴിച്ച് മക്കളോടും കൊച്ചു മക്കളോടും ഒപ്പം കെട്ടുറപ്പുള്ള വീട്ടില്‍ സമാധാനത്തോടെയും ആരോഗ്യത്തോടെയും ജീവിക്കുന്ന അമ്മൂമ്മ ‘നരകവാരിധി നടുവില്‍ ഞാന്‍’ എന്ന് പാടുന്നതിന്റെ പൊരുള്‍ അന്നെനിക്ക് പിടികിട്ടിയിരുന്നില്ല. പക്ഷെ ആ ശ്ലോകം എഴുതിയ കാലത്ത്, ആരോഗ്യസംരക്ഷണമോ ഭക്ഷണസ്ഥിരതയോ ഇല്ലാതെ, സ്ഥിരതയുള്ള കുടുംബമോ സ്വച്ഛമായ ജീവിതമോ ഇല്ലാതിരുന്ന ഒരു തലമുറക്ക് ഈ നരകത്തീന്നു കരകയറുകതന്നെയാണ് അഭികാമ്യം എന്നു തോന്നിയതില്‍ ഒരു പൊരുത്തക്കേടുമില്ല.

ഒരാള്‍ ജനിച്ച ജാതിയും മതവും ആയിരുന്നു പത്തൊമ്പതാം നൂറ്റാണ്ടിലെ എല്ലാ അവസരങ്ങളിക്കും അവകാശങ്ങളിലെക്കും ഉള്ള പാസ്‌പോര്‍ട്ട്. അക്കാലത്തു അത്യാവശ്യം അവകാശങ്ങളൊക്കെ ഉള്ള നായരായി ജനിച്ച എന്റെ കാര്യം ഇങ്ങനെ ആകുമായിരുന്നെങ്കില്‍, മറ്റുള്ള വിഭാഗത്തില്‍ ജനിച്ച ആളുകളുടെ കാര്യം എന്താകുമായിരുന്നു? യേശുദാസിനെ പോലെ സംഗീത പ്രതിഭയോ മമ്മൂട്ടിയെ പോലെ അഭിനയപ്രതിഭയോ 1840 ലും 1850 ലും ഒക്കെ ജനിച്ചിരുന്നെങ്കില്‍ അന്നത്തെ ചുറ്റുപാടില്‍ അവര്‍ ഒന്നും ആവില്ലായിരുന്നു. മറു നാട്ടില്‍ പോയി പഠിച്ചു പ്രതിഭ തെളിയിച്ചു വന്ന ഡോക്ടര്‍ പല്പ്പുവിനു ഒരു സര്‍ക്കാര്‍ ജോലി കൊടുക്കാന്‍ അന്നത്തെ അധികാരികള്‍ക്ക് തോന്നിയില്ല.

പക്ഷെ ഇന്നത്തെ കാര്യം അതല്ല. ജീവിത സൌകര്യങ്ങളും അവസരങ്ങളും സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യവും ഉള്ള ഒരു കാലത്തിലാണും നാം ജീവിക്കുന്നത്. 2014 ല്‍ കേരളത്തില്‍ ഏതു കുടുംബത്തില്‍ (ഏതു ജാതിയോ മതമോ) ജനിക്കുന്ന കുട്ടിയും ശരാശരി അവരുടെ മാതാപിതാക്കളേക്കാള്‍ അധിക കാലം ജീവിക്കും, അവരെക്കാള്‍ കൂടുതല്‍ ഭക്ഷ്യ സുരക്ഷയും, ആരോഗ്യ സംവിധാനങ്ങളും അവര്‍ക്കുണ്ടാകും, അവരെക്കാള്‍ വിദ്യാഭ്യാസം നേടാനുള്ള അവസരവും ജീവിത സൌകര്യങ്ങളും അവര്‍ക്കുണ്ടാകും. ഇതെല്ലം നമുക്ക് തന്നത് നമ്മുടെ മതേതര ജനാധിപത്യ ഭരണ സംവിധാനമാണ് . പക്ഷെ എന്ത് കൊണ്ടോ അങ്ങനെ ചിന്തിക്കാന്‍ നമുക്ക് വിഷമമാണ്.

പകരം തലമുറകളോളം ചങ്ങലകളായി നമ്മെ തളച്ചിട്ടിരിക്കുന്ന ആചാരങ്ങളും അധികാരഘടനകളും, ആളുകള്‍ നഷ്ടബോധത്തോടെ ആണിപ്പോള്‍ ഓര്‍ക്കുന്നത്. നന്മ നിറഞ്ഞ പോയകാലത്തെ പറ്റി അക്കാലത്തെ ഗുണഭോക്താക്കള്‍ മാത്രമല്ല അക്കാലത്തു പീഢനമനുഭവിച്ചവരുടെ പിന്‍തലമുറയും വാചാലരാവുന്നു. അങ്ങോട്ടു തിരിച്ചു പോവേണ്ടതിന്റെ ആവശ്യകതയെപ്പറ്റി സംസാരിക്കുന്നു, അന്നത്തെ നന്മയെപ്പറ്റി കഥകള്‍ മെനയുന്നു.

ഏതു ചരിത്ര പുസ്തകത്തില്‍ നിന്നാണു സാര്‍ നിങ്ങള്‍ ഈ നന്മ നിറഞ്ഞ ഭൂതകാലം കണ്ടെടുത്തത് ? ഞാന്‍ വായിച്ചറിഞ്ഞ ഏതൊരു ഭൂതകാലത്തിലേയും കൂടുതല്‍ സന്തോഷവും സൗഭാഗ്യവും നന്മയും നിറഞ്ഞ ഒരു കാലത്താണ് ഞാന്‍ ജനിച്ചതും ജീവിക്കുന്നതും. അതിലെനിക്ക് പങ്കൊന്നുമില്ലെങ്കിലും സന്തോഷമുണ്ട്. പത്തൊമ്പതാം നൂറ്റാണ്ടിലേക്കോ അതിന്റെ പിന്നിലേക്കോ ഉള്ള ‘നല്ല സംസ്‌കാരത്തിന്റെ’ കാലത്തേക്ക് ആരെങ്കിലും ടൈം ട്രാവലിന് അവസരം തന്നാല്‍ ആ വണ്ടിയില്‍ കയറാന്‍ ഞാന്‍ ഇല്ല ചേട്ടാ.

നമ്മള്‍ മനസ്സിലാക്കാത്ത മറ്റൊരു കാര്യം ഉണ്ട്. അമ്പതു വയസ്സിനു താഴെ ശരാശരി ആയൂര്‍ ദൈര്‍ഘ്യം ഉള്ള രാജ്യങ്ങളും സമൂഹങ്ങളും ഇപ്പോഴും ഈ ലോകത്തുണ്ട്. സ്വന്തം ഭരണാധികാരികളെ തിരഞ്ഞെടുക്കാനുള്ള സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യം ഇപ്പോഴും എല്ലാ ലോക പൌരന്‍മാര്‍ക്കും ഇല്ല. പല മനുഷ്യര്ക്കും ഒരു രാജ്യത്തേയും പൌരത്വം പോലുമില്ല. കയ്യും കാലും വെട്ടുന്ന തരം ശിക്ഷാവിധികള്‍ ഇപ്പോഴും ലോകത്ത് നില നില്‍ക്കുന്നു. സ്വന്തം ജാതിമത ഭരണ സംവിധാനങ്ങളെക്കുറിച്ച് അഭിപ്രായം പറയുന്നത് പലയിടത്തും ഇപ്പോഴും തലപോകുന്ന കുറ്റം തന്നെ. രണ്ടു നേരം ഭക്ഷണം കിട്ടാത്തവര്‍ ഈ ലോകത്ത് ഇപ്പോഴും ഉണ്ട്. വിദ്യാഭ്യാസം ലഭിക്കാത്ത കുട്ടികള്‍ ശതകോടിക്കണക്കിന്, സ്വന്തം ഇഷ്ടത്തിന് വിദ്യാഭ്യാസമോ ജോലിയോ തിരഞ്ഞെടുക്കുന്നത് പോയിട്ട് സ്വന്തം ശരീരത്തിന്റെ ഇന്റഗ്രിറ്റി പോലും സൂക്ഷിക്കാന്‍ അവകാശമില്ലാത്തവര്‍ എത്രയെത്ര. അസുഖം വന്നാല്‍ പോകാന്‍ ആശുപത്രിയില്ലാത്ത, ആശുപത്രിയിലാണ് പോകേണ്ടത് എന്നറിയാത്ത സ്ഥലങ്ങള്‍ 2014 ലും ഉണ്ട്.

ഇതിന്റെ അര്‍ഥം എല്ലാം തികഞ്ഞ ഒരു കാലത്തും ദേശത്തുമാണ് ഞാന്‍ ജീവിക്കുന്നത് എന്നല്ല. സത്യത്തില്‍ ഇന്ന് ലോകത്തില്‍ മറ്റു പല സമൂഹങ്ങളും അനുഭവിക്കുന്ന ഭൌതിക സൌകര്യങ്ങള്‍ പോയിട്ട് പല വ്യക്തി സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യങ്ങള്‍ പോലും നാം അനുഭവിക്കുന്നില്ല. ഉദാഹരണത്തിന് യൌവ്വന കാലത്ത് കണ്ടു പരിചയപ്പെട്ടു ഇഷ്ടപ്പെട്ട ഇണകളെ തിരഞ്ഞെടുക്കുന്ന രീതി ഇപ്പോഴും നമുക്ക് ഒരു പുതുമയാണ്. പരസ്പര സ്‌നേഹത്തിന്റെ പിന്‍ബലത്തില്‍ അല്ല ജാതിയും, മതവും ഉള്‍പെട്ട ചട്ടക്കൂട്ടിനുള്ളിലാണ് നാം ഇപ്പോഴും ഇണയെ കണ്ടെത്തുന്നത്.

ജനാധിപത്യ മാര്‍ഗത്തിലൂടെ നമ്മുടെ പ്രതിനിധികളെ കണ്ടെത്താന്‍ നാം ഇപ്പോഴും സങ്കുചിത മായ ജാതീയ ചിന്തകള്‍ ഉപയോഗിക്കുന്നു. മനുഷ്യാവകാശം എന്ന വാക്കിന്റെ അര്‍ഥം നമുക്കിപ്പോഴും ശരിക്കും മനസ്സിലായിട്ടില്ല. കേരളത്തിന് പുറത്ത് ലേബര്‍ കാമ്പ്കളില്‍ കഷ്ടപ്പെടുന്ന മലയാളികളുടെ അവകാശവും കേരളത്തില്‍ അങ്ങോളമിങ്ങോളം ലേബര്‍ കാമ്പ്കളില്‍ നരകിക്കുന്ന ബംഗാളികളുടെ അവകാശവും ഒന്നാണെന്ന് ഇപ്പോഴും നാം തിരിച്ചറിഞ്ഞിട്ടില്ല. ആരോഗ്യ സുരക്ഷ പദ്ധതി ഇപ്പോഴും നമുക്കില്ല. വധശിക്ഷ ഇപ്പോഴും പ്രാബല്യത്തിലുണ്ട്. സ്വവര്‍ഗാനുരാഗം ഇപ്പോഴും ഒരു കുറ്റമായി നിയമവും തെറ്റായി സമൂഹവും കാണുന്നു. അഴിമതി രഹിതമായ ഒരു സമൂഹം ഉണ്ടാകാം എന്നത് നമുക്ക് വിശ്വസിക്കാനേ പറ്റുന്നില്ല. എല്ലാ ആളുകള്കും സ്വന്തം വീട് പോയിട്ട് സ്വന്തമായി ഒരു കക്കൂസ് പോലും ഇപ്പോഴും ഇല്ല. നമ്മുടെ നഗരങ്ങള്‍ വളരുംതോറും അവിടം ജീവിക്കാന്‍ പറ്റാത്ത തരത്തില്‍ മലിനമായി വരുന്നു.

ഇതില്‍ പല കാര്യങ്ങളും ശരിയാണെന്ന്, ഉദാഹരണത്തിന് വധശിക്ഷ, സ്വവര്‍ഗ അനുരാഗതോടുള്ള എതിര്‍പ്പ്, അറേഞ്ച് ചെയ്ത വിവാഹങ്ങള്‍, നമ്മുടെ ഭൂരി ഭാഗം പേരും ഇപ്പോഴും വിശ്വസിക്കുന്നു. ശരിയാണെന്ന വിശ്വാസം ഇല്ലെങ്കിലും ഇത്രയും തലമുറകള്‍ ആയി തുടര്‍ന്ന് വന്നതിനാല്‍ ഇതൊന്നും മാറാന്‍ പോകുന്നില്ല എന്നും തോന്നിയേക്കാം. അത് സ്വാഭാവികം ആണ്. പക്ഷെ അങ്ങനെ ആകണം എന്നില്ല. ബിബ്ലിക്കല്‍ കാലം തൊട്ടുണ്ടായിരുന്ന അടിമത്ത വ്യവസ്ഥിതി ഇപ്പോള്‍ ലോകത്തെമ്പാടും നിയമ വിരുദ്ധം ആണ്. പക്ഷെ അടിമകളെ ഉപയോഗിക്കുന്നത് തെറ്റാണെന്ന് ലോക സമൂഹം അംഗീകരിചിട്ടു ഇപ്പോള്‍ നൂറു വര്ഷം പോലും ആയിട്ടില്ല. അതുകൊണ്ട് ഇപ്പോള്‍ തികച്ചും സ്വാഭാവികം എന്ന് നമുക്ക് തോന്നുന്ന പലതും ഒരു നൂറു കൊല്ലം കഴിയുമ്പോള്‍ മാറി വരും, അന്ന് നമ്മുടെ പിന് തലമുറക്കാര്‍ ‘എന്റെ അപ്പൂപ്പന്റെ കാലത്ത് ജാതകം നോക്കിയാണ് കല്യാണം കഴിചിരുന്നതെന്നും എന്നും റെയില്‍വേ കമ്പാര്‍ട്ട് മെന്റില്‍ സീറ്റ് കിട്ടാന്‍ കൈക്കൂലി ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നു എന്നും ‘ അതിശയത്തോടെ ഓര്ക്കും. ഒരു ഫോണ്‍ കിട്ടാന്‍ കൈകൂലി കൊടുത്തിരുന്ന കാലം ഞാന്‍ തന്നെ ഓര്ക്കുന്നുണ്ട്.

പക്ഷെ ഒന്ന് നാം ഓര്‍ക്കണം സാമ്പത്തികവും സാംസ്‌കാരികവും ആയ പുരോഗതി ചുമ്മാതെ സ്വാഭാവികമായി ഉണ്ടാകുന്നതല്ല. ശാസ്ത്രമോ സംസ്‌കാരമോ നമ്മുടെ ചുറ്റും ഉള്ള രാജ്യങ്ങളോ പുരോഗമിച്ചു എന്നത് കൊണ്ട് മാത്രം നാം മുന്നോട് പോവില്ല. നമ്മളെക്കാളും സാമ്പത്തികവും സാംസ്‌കാരികവും ആയി മുന്നില് നിന്ന അനവധി രാജ്യങ്ങള്‍ അന്ധവിശ്വാസങ്ങളുടെയും അനാചാരങ്ങളുടെയും പൊട്ടക്കുളത്തിലേക്ക് തിരിച്ചു ചാടിയിട്ടുണ്ട്. നമ്മുടെ പുറകില്‍ നിന്നവര്‍ മുന്നില് കേറിയിട്ടും ഉണ്ട്. നമ്മുടെ ഭാവി നാം നടത്തുന്ന തിരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പുകളുടെ പരിണിത ഫലം ആണ്. ഭാഗ്യത്തിന് നമ്മുടെ ഭാവി, വ്യക്തിപരം ആയും സമൂഹമായും തിരഞ്ഞെടുക്കാനുള്ള ഏറെ സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യം ഇപ്പോള്‍ നമുക്കുണ്ട്. അത് വേണ്ട പോലെ ഉപയോഗിച്ചാല്‍ മാത്രമേ നാം മുന്നോട്ടോ പോകൂ. ‘ഗത കാല സൌഭാഗങ്ങളുടെ’ പ്രയോക്താക്കളുടെയും സത്വ വാദികളായ നേതാക്കളുടെയും വാക്ക് കേട്ട് നമ്മുടെ കാരണവര്‍മാര്‍ പൊട്ടിച്ചെറിഞ്ഞ ചങ്ങലകള്‍ നാം തിരിച്ചു എടുത്തു അണിയാതിരുന്നാല്‍ മാത്രമേ നൂറു വര്ഷം കഴിയുമ്പോള്‍ നമ്മുടെ പിന്‍ തലമുറയ്ക്ക് എന്നെ പോലെ സന്തോഷത്തോടെ ‘നൂറു വര്ഷം കഴിഞ്ഞെത്തിയത്തിന്റെ’ ഭാഗ്യത്തെ പറ്റി ഓര്‍ക്കാന്‍ പറ്റൂ.

വാല്‍കഷണം: നൂറു കൊല്ലം മുന്പത്തെ ഭാവനയില്‍ ഞാന്‍ ആരായിരുന്നാലും സത്യത്തില്‍ ഞാന്‍ മുരളി തുമ്മാരുകുടി എന്ന സുരക്ഷാ വിദഗ്ദ്ധന്‍ ആണല്ലോ. അപ്പോള്‍ അല്പം സുരക്ഷ പറയാതെ എങ്ങനെ ലേഖനം അവസാനിപ്പിക്കും? നൂറു കൊല്ലം മുന്‍പ് ഒരു ദൂര യാത്ര പോകുന്ന സമയത്ത് നല്ല സമയം നോക്കി വേണ്ടപ്പെട്ടവരെ ഒക്കെ കണ്ടു യാത്ര പറഞ്ഞിട്ടാണ് പോകാറ്. വഴിയുടെ ദുര്‍ഘടം, ആരോഗ്യ സൌകര്യങ്ങളുടെ അഭാവം, വഴി നീളെ കൊള്ളക്കാര്‍, പോരാത്തതിന് പനയുടെ കീഴിലെല്ലാം യക്ഷികളും, ഇതെല്ലാം കാരണം യാത്ര പോയാല്‍ തിരിച്ച് എത്താതെ ഇരിക്കാനും സാധ്യത ഉണ്ട്. ഇന്നിപ്പോള്‍ ഈ പറഞ്ഞ പ്രശ്‌നങ്ങള്‍ ഒന്നും ഇല്ല. എന്നാലും, കേരളത്തില്‍ ദൂര യാത്ര അല്ല ചെറിയ യാത്ര ആണെങ്കിലും നല്ല സമയം നോക്കി, ഇനി തിരിച്ചു വരാന്‍ വല്യ സാധ്യത ഇല്ല എന്ന് വിചാരിച്ചു വില്‍പത്രവും എഴുതി പോകുന്നതാണ് നല്ലത്. പണ്ട് യക്ഷികള്‍ ഉണ്ടായിരുന്ന വഴികളില്‍ എല്ലാം ഇപ്പോള്‍ ശകടാസുരന്മാര്‍ പായുകയാണ്. യക്ഷിയുടെ മുന്നില്‍ പെട്ടാല്‍ എല്ലും മുടിയും എങ്കിലും ബാക്കി കിട്ടുമായിരുന്നു, ടിപ്പറിന്റെ അടിയില്‍ പെട്ടാല്‍, ഠിം ! .

The more we change, the more we remain the same എന്നോ മറ്റോ ഒരു ഫ്രഞ്ചു കാരന്‍ സായിപ്പ് നൂറു വര്ഷം മുന്‍പേ പറഞ്ഞു വച്ചിട്ടുണ്ട്.

Source: Mathrubhumi

Living in India is like having an intense but insane affair

By expat Catherine Taylor

TONIGHT, as I waved my high heel in the face of a bewildered taxi driver, I thought suddenly: I am absolutely nuts in India. It's a thought I have often. Someone or something is always going nuts, and quite often it's me.

I was trying to get a taxi driver to take me home, a mere 500 metres away, but it was pouring with rain and my shoes were oh-so-high, and it was late. He, of course, was having none of it; no amount of shoe-waving and sad-facing from a wild-haired firangi was changing his mind, when suddenly I remembered the magic trick - pay more than you should. "Arre, bhai sahab,50 rupees to Altamount Road? Please?" And off we went.

I have lived in Mumbai for almost three years. It was my choice to come - I wanted offshore experience in my media career and India was the only country looking to hire - and I wanted a change. I needed something new, exciting, thrilling, terrifying. And India gave that to me in spades. In fact, she turned it all the way up to 11. And then she turned it up a little more.

To outsiders, living in India has a particular kind of glamour attached to it, a special sparkle that sees people crowding around me at parties. "You live in India? My God, really? I could never do that. What's it like?" The closest I have come to answering that question is that it's like being in a very intense, extremely dysfunctional relationship. India and I fight, we scream, we argue, we don't speak for days on end, but really, deep down, we love each other. She's a strange beast, this India. She hugs me, so tightly sometimes that I can't breathe, then she turns and punches me hard in the face, leaving me stunned. Then she hugs me again, and suddenly I know everything will be all right.

She wonders why I don't just "know" how things are done, why I argue with her about everything, why I judge, why I rail at injustice and then do nothing about it. She wonders how old I am, how much I earn, why I'm not married. (The poor census man looked at me, stunned, then asked in a faltering voice, "But madam, if you're not married then. who is the head of your household?") I wonder how she can stand by when small children are begging on corners, how she can let people foul up the streets so much that they are impossible to walk along, how she can allow such corruption, such injustice, such A LOT OF HONKING.

But she has taught me things. She has taught me to be brave, bold, independent, sometimes even fierce and terrifying. She has taught me to walk in another man's chappals, and ask questions a different way when at first the answer is no. She has taught me to accept the things I cannot change. She has taught me that there are always, always, two sides to every argument. And she was kind enough to let me come and stay.

She didn't make it easy though (but then, why should she?). The Foreigner Regional Registration Office, banks, mobile phone companies and rental agencies are drowning under piles of carbon paper, photocopies of passports (I always carry a minimum of three) and the soggy tissues of foreigners who fall to pieces in the face of maddening bureaucracy. What costs you 50 rupees one day might be 500 rupees the next, and nobody will tell you why. What you didn't need to bring yesterday, you suddenly need to bring today. Your signature doesn't look like your signature. And no, we can't help you. Come back tomorrow and see.

It's not easy being here, although I am spoiled by a maid who cooks for me, and a delivery service from everywhere that ensures I rarely have to wave my shoes at taxi drivers. I buy cheap flowers, trawl for gorgeous antiques, buy incredibly cheap books; I have long, boozy brunches in five-star hotels for the price of a nice bottle of wine at home, I have a very nice roof over my head . on the face of it, it would seem I have little to complain about. But then, I am stared at constantly, I have been spat on, sexually harassed, had my (covered) breasts videotaped as I walked through a market, had my drink spiked, been followed countless times. I have wept more here than I have ever in my life, out of frustration, anger, loneliness, the sheer hugeness of being here. But the longer I stay, the more I seem to relax, let go, let it be.

But I do often wonder why I'm here, especially when I'm tired, teary and homesick, my phone has been disconnected for the 19th time despite promises it would never happen again, when it's raining and no taxis will take me home. But then a willing ride always comes along, and we'll turn a corner and be suddenly in the midst of some banging, crashing mad festival full of colour, where everyone is dancing behind a slow-moving truck, and I won't have a clue what's going on but a mum holding a child will dance up to my window and point and smile and laugh, and I breathe out and think, really, my God, this is fantastic. This is India! I live in India! She hugs me, she punches me, and she hugs me again.

Yet I know won't ever belong here, not properly. I know this when I listen to girls discussing what colour blouses they should wear to their weddings - she's Gujarati, he's from the south, she's wearing a Keralan sari. I know when my friends give me house-hunting advice: "Look at the names of the people who already live there, then you'll know what kind of building it is." (Trouble is, I don't know my Kapoors from my Kapurs, my Sippys from my Sindhis, my Khans from my Jains). I know this when my lovely fruit man (who also delivers) begs me to taste a strawberry he is holding in his grubby hands and I have to say no, I can't eat it, I'll die. I know I will never belong because, as stupid as it sounds, being truly, properly Indian is in your DNA. I marvel at how incredibly well educated so many of them are, how they can all speak at least three languages and think it's no big deal, how they fit 1000 people into a train carriage meant for 300 and all stand together quite peacefully, how they know the songs from every Hindi film ever made, how they welcome anyone and everyone (even wild-haired, complaining firangis) into their homes for food, and chai, and more food.

I've seen terrible things - someone fall under a train, children with sliced-off ears, old, old men sitting in the rain nursing half-limbs while they beg, children covered in flies sleeping on the pavement, beggars with no legs weaving themselves through traffic on trolleys, men in lunghis working with their hands in tiny corridors with no fans in sky-high temperatures. I've read heartbreaking things, of gang rapes, corruption, environmental abuse. I've smelled smells that have stripped the inside of my nostrils, stepped over open sewers in markets, watched a goat being bled to death.

I've done things of which I am ashamed, things I never thought I would do. I have slapped a starving child away, I have turned my head in annoyance when beggars have tapped repeatedly on my taxi window, I have yelled at grown men in the face. I have been pinched and pinched back, with force. I have slapped, I have hit, I have pushed. I have screamed in anger. I have, at times, not recognised myself.

I've yelled at a man for kicking a dog, and yelled at a woman who pushed into a line ahead of me when I wasn't at all in a hurry. When a teenage beggar stood at the window of my taxi, saying "F. you madam" over and over, I told him to go f. himself and gave him the finger; once on the train I let a kid keep 100 rupees as change. I am kind and I am cold-hearted, I am fair and I am mean, I am delightful and I am downright rude. I am all of these at once and I distress myself wildly over it, but somehow, India accepts me. She has no time for navel-gazing foreigners; she just shoved everyone along a bit and made room for me. She has no time to dwell on my shortcomings, she just keeps moving along.

And then, and then. I've been to temples where I've sung along with old women who had no teeth, I've held countless smiling ink-marked babies for photos, I've had unknown aunties in saris smile and cup my face with their soft, wrinkled hands, I've made street vendors laugh when I've choked on their spicy food, I've danced through the streets at Ganpati, fervently sung the national anthem (phonetically) in cinemas, had designers make me dresses, I've met with CEOs and heads of companies just because I asked if I could. She hugs, she punches, she hugs again.

In short, I have been among the luckiest of the lucky. She keeps me on my toes, Ms India, and I have been blessed that she let me stay for a while. She wanted me to succeed here and she gave me grand opportunities and endless second chances. She willed me forward like a stern parent. She welcomed me. And when I leave, because I know I will one day, I will weep, because I will miss her terribly. And because I know she won't even notice that I am gone.

Letter To My Grandson
To My Grandson

by Dr. Verghese Kurien

When did I write to you last? I have trouble even remembering! In today's fast-paced world we have become so addicted to instant communication that we prefer to use a telephone. But speaking on the telephone only gives us an immediate but fleeting joy. Writing is different. Writing - even if it is a letter - not only conveys our present concerns and views of the events taking place around us but it becomes a possession that can be treasured and re-read over the years, with great, abiding pleasure.

What is contained in the chapters (The Book : I TOO HAD A DREAM) that follow is, of course, more than a letter. You may not wish to read it all right away but, perhaps, a couple of decades or more from now, you will pick up these jottings of mine again and they will give you a deeper understanding of what I have done, and the reasons I pursued a life of services to our nation's farmers. You will then discover in them valuable reminder of the days just before the world entered the twenty-first century. And you may want to share my memories with those of your generation, or even younger, provide them glimpse of the world your grandparents lived in and knew.

I started my working life soon after our country became independent. The noblest task in those days was to contribute in whatever way we could towards building an India of our dreams - a nation where our people would not only hold their heads high in freedom but would be free from hunger and poverty. A nation where our people could live with equal respect and love for one another. A nation that would eventually be counted among the foremost nations of the world. It was then that I realized, in all humility, that choosing to lead one kind of life means putting aside the desire to pursue other options. This transformation took place within me fifty years ago, when I agreed to work for a small cooperative of dairy farmers who were trying to gain control over their lives.

To be quite honest, service to our nation's farmers was not the career I had envisioned for myself. But somehow, a series of events swept me along and put me in a certain place at a certain time when I had to choose between one option or another. I was faced with a choice that would transform my life. I could have pursued a career in metallurgy and perhaps become the chief executive of a large company. Or, I could have opted for a commission in the Indian Army and maybe retired as a general. Or, I could have left for the US and gone on to become a highly successful NRI. Yet I chose none of these because somewhere, deep down, I knew I could make a more meaningful contribution by working here in Anand, Gujarat.

Your grandmother too made an important choice. She knew, in those early days, life in Anand could not offer even the simple comforts that we take for granted today. However, she ardently supported my choice to live and work in Anand. That choice of your grandmother to stand by me has given me an everlasting strength, always ensuring that I shouldered my responsibilities with poise.

Whenever I have received any recognition for my contributions towards the progress of our country, I have always emphasized that it is recognition of the achievements of many people with whom I had the privilege to be associated with. I would like to stress even more strongly that my contributions have been possible only because I have consistently adhered to certain core values. Values that I inherited from my parents and other family elders; values that I saw in my mentor and supporter here in Anand - Tribhuvandas Patel. I have often spoken of integrity as the most important of these values, realizing that integrity - and personal integrity, at that - is being honest to yourself. If you are always honest to yourself, it does not take much effort in always being honest with others.

I have also learnt what I am sure you, too, will find out some day. Life is a privilege and to waste it would wrong. In living this privilege called 'Life'. You must accept responsibility for yourself, always use your talents to the best of your ability and contribute somehow to the common good. That common good will present itself to you in many forms everyday. If you just look around you, you will find there is a lot waiting to be done: your friend may need some help, your teacher could be looking for a volunteer, or the community you live in will need you to make a contribution. I hope that you, too, will discover, as I did, that failure is not about not succeeding. Rather, it is about not putting in you best effort and not contributing, however modestly, to the common good.

In life you, too, will discover, as I did, that anything can go wrong at any time and mostly does. Yet, there is little correlation between the circumstances of people's lives and how happy they are. Most of us compare ourselves with someone we think is happier - a relative, an acquaintance, or often, someone we barely know. But when we start looking closely we realize that what we saw were only images of perfection. And that will help us understand and cherish what we have, rather than what we don't have.

Do you remember when you accompanied me to the magnificent ceremony in Delhi in which our President awarded me the Padma Vibhushan in 1999? With great pride, you slipped the medal around your neck, looked at it in awe and asked me very innocently if you could keep it. Do you remember the answer your grandmother and I gave you? We told you that of course, this medal was yours as much as it is mine but that you should not be satisfied in merely keeping my awards - the challenge before you was to earn your own rewards for the work that you did in you life time.

And in the end, if we are brave enough to love, strong enough to rejoice in another's happiness and wise enough to know that there is enough to go around for all, then we would have lived our lives to the fullest.

Source: Contents of a letter addressed by Late Dr. Verghese Kurien (appeared in his autobiography)

Reflections on India

by Sean Paul Kelley

[Editor's Note: Sean Paul Kelley is a travel writer, former radio host, and before that, an asset manager for a Wall Street investment bank that is still (barely) alive. He recently left a fantastic job in Singapore working for Solar Winds, a software company based out of Austin, to travel around the world for a year or two. He founded 'The Agonist', in 2002, which is still considered the top international affairs, culture and news destination for progressives. He is also the Global Correspondent for The Young Turks, on satellite radio and Air America.]

If you are Indian, or of Indian descent, I must preface this post with a clear warning: you are not going to like what I have to say. My criticisms may be very hard to stomach. But consider them as the hard words and loving advice of a good friend. Someone who is being honest with you and wants nothing from you.

These criticisms apply to all of India except Kerala and the places I didn't visit, except that I have a feeling it applies to all of India.

Lastly, before anyone accuses me of Western Cultural Imperialism, let me say this: if this is what India and Indians want, then, who am I to tell them differently. Take what you like and leave the rest. In the end it doesn't really matter, as I get the sense that Indians, at least many upper class Indians, don't seem to care and the lower classes just don't know any better, what with Indian culture being so intense and pervasive on the sub-continent. But, here goes, nonetheless.

India is a mess. It's that simple, but it's also quite complicated. I'll start with what I think are Indias' four major problems - the four most preventing India from becoming a developing nation - and then move to some of the ancillary ones. 1. Pollution

First: Pollution. In my opinion the filth, squalor and all around pollution, indicates a marked lack of respect for India by Indians. I don't know how cultural the filth is, but it's really beyond anything I have ever encountered. At times the smells, trash, refuse and excrement are like a garbage dump. Right next door to the Taj Mahal was a pile of trash that smelled so bad, was so foul as to almost ruin the entire Taj experience. Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai, to a lesser degree, were so very polluted as to make me physically ill.. Sinus infections, ear infection, bowels churning was an all too common experience in India. Dung, be it goat, cow or human fecal matter, was common on the streets. In major tourist areas filth was everywhere, littering the sidewalks, the roadways, you name it. Toilets in the middle of the road, men urinating and defecating anywhere, in broad daylight.

Whole villages are plastic bag wastelands. Roadsides are choked by it. Air quality that can hardly be called quality. Far too much coal and far to few unleaded vehicles on the road. The measure should be how dangerous the air is for ones' health, not how good it is. People casually throw trash in the streets, on the roads.

The only two cities that could be considered sanitary, in my journey, were Trivandrum - the capital of Kerala - and Calicut. I don't know why this is, but I can assure you that, at some point, this pollution will cut into Indias' productivity, if it already hasn't. The pollution will hobble Indias' growth path, if that indeed is what the country wants. (Which I personally doubt, as India is far too conservative a country, in the small ‘c' sense.)

2. Infrastucture

The second issue, infrastructure, can be divided into four subcategories: Roads, Rails, Ports and the Electric Grid.

The Electric Grid is a joke. Load shedding is all too common, everywhere in India. Wide swathes of the country spend much of the day without the electricity they actually pay for. Without regular electricity, productivity, again, falls. The Ports are a joke. Antiquated, out of date, hardly even appropriate for the mechanized world of container ports, more in line with the days of longshoremen and the like.

Roads are an equal disaster. I only saw one elevated highway that would be considered decent in Thailand, much less Western Europe or America and I covered fully two-thirds of the country during my visit.

There are so few dual carriage-way roads as to be laughable. There are no traffic laws to speak of and, if there are, they are rarely obeyed, much less enforced (another sideline is police corruption). A drive that should take an hour takes three. A drive that should take three takes nine. The buses are at least thirty years old, if not older and, generally, in poor mechanical repair, belching clouds of poisonous smoke and fumes.

Everyone in India, or who travels in India, raves about the railway system. Rubbish! It's awful! When I was there in 2003 and then late 2004 it was decent. But, in the last five years, the traffic on the rails has grown so quickly that once again, it is threatening productivity. Waiting in line just to ask a question now takes thirty minutes. Routes are routinely sold out three and four days in advance now, leaving travelers stranded with little option except to take the decrepit and dangerous buses. At least fifty million people use the trains a day in India. 50 million people! Not surprising that wait lists of 500 or more people are common now.

The rails are affordable and comprehensive, but, they are overcrowded and what with budget airlines popping up in India like sadhus in an ashram in the middle and lowers classes are left to deal with the overutilized rails and quality suffers. No one seems to give a shit.

Seriously, I just never have the impression that the Indian government really cares. Too interested in buying weapons from Russia, Israel and the US, I guess. 3. Bureaucracy and Corruption

The last major problem in India is an old problem and can be divided into two parts: that've been two sides of the same coin since government was invented: bureaucracy and corruption.

It take triplicates to register into a hotel. To get a SIM card for ones' phone is like wading into a jungle of red-tape and photocopies one is not likely to emerge from in a good mood, much less satisfied with customer service.

Getting train tickets is a terrible ordeal, first you have to find the train number, which takes 30 minutes, then you have to fill in the form, which is far from easy, then you have to wait in line to try and make a reservation, which takes 30 minutes at least and if you made a single mistake on the form, back you go to the end of the queue, or what passes for a queue in India. The government is notoriously uninterested in the problems of the commoners. Too busy fleecing the rich, or trying to get rich themselves in some way, shape or form. Take the trash, for example, civil rubbish collection authorities are too busy taking kickbacks from the wealthy to keep their areas clean that they don't have the time, manpower, money or interest in doing their job. Rural hospitals are perennially understaffed as doctors pocket the fees the government pays them, never show up at the rural hospitals and practice in the cities instead.

Does Anyone Cares?

I could go on for quite some time about my perception of India and its problems, but in all seriousness, I don't think anyone in India really cares. And that, to me, is the biggest problem. India is too conservative a society to want to change in any way.

Mumbai, Indias' financial capital, is about as filthy, polluted and poor as the worst city imaginable in Vietnam, or Indonesia - and being more polluted than Medan, in Sumatra, is no easy task. The biggest rats I have ever seen were in Medan ! One would expect a certain amount of, yes, I am going to use this word, "backwardness," in a country that hasn't produced so many Nobel Laureates, nuclear physicists, imminent economists and entrepreneurs.

But, India has all these things and what have they brought back to India with them? Nothing. The rich still have their servants, the lower castes are still there to do the dirty work and so the country remains in stasis. It's a shame. Indians and India have many wonderful things to offer the world, but I'm far from sanguine that India will amount to much in my lifetime.

Now, you have it, call me a cultural imperialist, a spoiled child of the West and all that. But remember, I've been there. I've done it and I've seen 50 other countries on this planet and none, not even Ethiopia, have as long and gargantuan a laundry list of problems as India does. And, the bottom line is, I don't think India really cares. Too complacent and too conservative.

Why India is part dysfunctional, fully functional

by Aakar Patel

Indian society functions as a whole. Observed in part, it's dysfunctional. Let me explain. Without Gujaratis and Rajasthanis, India wouldn't have an economy. Delete Tata/Birla/Ambani/Mittal/Premji and India begins to look like Bangladesh. The rest of the country - Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Kashmir, UP, etc.- will have lots of culture but little else.

That such a tiny community monopolizes the ability to raise and manage capital is frightening. However, it needs to be understood as part of a whole. There are things missing in Gujarat and Rajasthan as well, whole chunks, without which those states wouldn't function properly.

Gujarat's contribution to the Armed Forces, for instance, is instructive. In 2009, The Indian Express reported, Gujarat sent its highest ever number of recruits to the Indian Army. How many? A total of 719, in an army of over a million soldiers. Mind you, this was after a big awareness campaign. In the preceding two years the number of Gujarati recruits was 230. Gujarat has 55 million people but it depends on the rest of India to defend it.

Gujarat also needs another thing, though some might disagree. As a mercantile culture, Gujarati literature is quite poor. The shelves of Crossword stores in Ahmedabad (Surat has none) are lined with volumes of Bengali novels in translation. I wonder how many Gujarati novels have Bengali translations. Probably none, but Gujarat needs the literature of others and I only discovered Camus through his Gujarati translations.

Gujaratis speak no English and though Azim Premji and Ratan Tata run billion-dollar information technology businesses, they are dependent on south Indians to staff their companies. This sort of dependency is everywhere we look in India.

Mumbai's two dominant communities, Marathi and Gujarati, are incidental to Bollywood. Bollywood is properly the product of Punjab and the high culture of north India's Hindustani speakers. Why is this so? Punjab's peasants have an extroverted physical culture (writer Santosh Desai observed that bhangra was the only Indian dance form which exposed the armpit), which is unusual on the subcontinent. This culture is the basis and the setting for entertainment, and the reason why Bollywood migrates so easily to Pakistan. However, Punjabis and north Indians need the liberal environment that only Mumbai can give for their talents to flower. That's why Pakistan doesn't really have a film industry, though there is plenty of talent. Partition hurt Punjabi Muslims, because they are perfect for our film industry.

Why is Pakistan such a mess? Some would blame Islam, but they'd be wrong. The problem isn't religion at all. The problem is lack of caste balance. There aren't enough traders to press for restraint and there are too many peasants. Too many people concerned about national honour, and not enough people concerned about national economy. Put simply: Pakistan has too many Punjabis and not enough Gujaratis. The majority of Pakistanis live in Punjab, but well over 50% of government revenue comes from just one city in Sindh: Karachi. Why? That is where the Gujarati is.

Gujaratis are less than 1% of Pakistan's population, but they dominate its economy because they are from trading communities. Colgate-Palmolive in Pakistan is run by the Lakhani Memons, the Dawood group is run by Memons from Bantva in Saurashtra (the great Abdus Sattar Edhi is also a Memon from Bantva). The Adamjee group, advertisers on BBC, are from Gujarat's Jetpur village and founded Muslim Commercial Bank. The Khoja businessman Sadruddin Hashwani owns hotels including Islamabad's bombed-out Marriott. Khojas founded Habib Bank, whose boards are familiar to Indians who watched cricket on television in the 1980s. The Habibs also manufacture Toyota cars through Indus Motors. Pakistan's only beer is made by Murree Brewery, owned by a Parsi family, the Bhandaras. Also owned by Parsis is Karachi's Avari Hotels.

People talk of the difference between Karachi and Lahore. I find that the rational view in Pakistani newspapers is put forward by letter-writers from Karachi. Often they have names like Gheewala, a Sunni Vohra name (same caste as Deoband's rector from Surat, Ghulam Vastanvi), or Parekh, also a Surat name.

Today capital is fleeing Pakistan because of terrorism and poor governance. To convince investors things will get better, the Pakistani government has appointed as minister for investment a Gujarati, Saleem Mandviwalla. The Mandviwallas own Pakistan's multiplexes, which now show Bollywood. The place where Gujaratis dominate totally, as they do also in India, is Pakistan's capital market. Going through the list of members of the Karachi Stock Exchange ( this becomes clear. However, few Pakistanis will understand this because as Muslims they have little knowledge of caste.

The Gujarati tries to hold up the Pakistani economy, but the peasant Punjabi (Jat) runs over his effort with his militant stupidity. Why cannot the Pakistani Punjabi also think like a trader? Simple. He's not converted from the mercantile castes. There are some Khatris, like Najam Sethi, South Asia's best editor, but they are frustrated because few other Pakistanis think like them. Are they an intellectual minority? Yes, but that is because they are a minority by caste. One great community of Pakistani Punjabi Khatris is called Chinioti. They are excellent at doing business but in a martial society they are the butt of jokes. I once heard Zia Mohyeddin tell a funny story about the cowardice of Chiniotis and I thought of how differently a Gujarati would look at the same story.

Can the individual escape caste? Of course he can. What defines behaviour in this sense is not genes but culture. Baniyas are brought up to seek compromise, to keep emotion in check, to identify value, to understand capital, to persist. This does not come automatically, and it is wrong to believe otherwise.

My teacher, the most learned writer in journalism, is from the Burki tribe of Waziristan. It isn't the place you would look for intellectuals, but he cannot be defined by his tribe. It takes intellectual effort, however, to distance one's self from culture and upbringing. This is especially true in a society that is collective. And yet examples of those who defy caste and community are all around us.

There aren't many Sardarji jokes you can crack about Manmohan Singh, an austere and measured intellectual. I believe it is not possible to understand India without feeling caste. That's why I respect the individual who breaks away, and he is everywhere you look. Our army chiefs immediately after independence were drawn from warrior castes. The Coorgs Cariappa and Thimayya, and Saurashtra's Jadeja (from a warrior caste Gujaratis call “Bapu”). But in a few decades we had Brahmins (Sharma and Joshi) and even traders (Malhotra, Malik and Kapoor). We can learn from each other since we live with each other.

However horrible a place it may be, India is balanced out by all of us: north Indians, south Indians, east Indians and west Indians. We are a unit, and the unit works.

Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media.

Indian culture or Bad Upbringing

by Ram Krishnaswamy

Only two weeks back I was at the Cinemas in Sydney watching Mani Ratnams new movie O K Kanmani.

It was houseful with Indians mostly from Kerala, Tamilnadu, Andhra and Karnataka

When the movie finished I observed the bunch of young men in the front row who left all their coffee and soft drinks cups and pop corn all over the seats and carpet and did not bother to take their rubbish with them and drop it in the bins provided at the exit. It was no different in UK a few years back.

Yet when I go to the cinemas in general I notice that most Australians will take their garbage and dump them in the bins on the way out. Not all as some teenagers behave badly too.

Basically Indians are brought up to believe that cleaning is a menial task meant for the low lives and in this instance the cinema cleaners were also Indian students. What Irony.

I was almost going to tell these men to take their own rubbish with them but held back as these youngsters rule the world and have no respect for elders which was part of the Old Indian Culture.

With a huge influx of students from India there was a huge demand for apartments on rent. After a couple of years Real estate agents got instructions from owners of properties not to rent apartments /houses to Indian students.

This is a far cry from the respect commanded by early Indian Migrants who were mostly Medical doctors .

Sometimes I am not sure if this is Culture or just bad upbringing by Indian Parents who molly coddle children especially the sons. A young Indian girl was in sydney on her honeymoon and said Uncle I dont know how to make Coffee or tea or boil an egg. It was disgusting but then she was working for IBM India :-)

As for donations to Charity, Christians donate when attending Churches or send out Cheques regularly to local charities. Good muslims put aside 10% of their income annually for charity, Hindus are often content with spending money doing archanas in Temple and dropping a few coins in the Hundi.

I used to raise money for my favourite charity jeevodaya in the 90's. Non Indians were most generous. There was this mega rich Indian Doctor who paid for dinner for two and insisted that his 18 year old son should be allowed to dine free..

Never hosted Charity dinners again. Just raise funds through word of mouth these days.

I am generally very astute in business matters but got cheated three times in Sydney and all three sadly were Indians.

One chap befriended me through the net and promised to develop a web site for me and I agreed and he seemed to do some preliminary work. Then he said Ram dada I need some money urgently please send me Rs 75,000 asap and it will be payment towards your web site. A week later I was told the Sardar ManPreet Singh moved to Canada and the company did not receive the money I sent.

Sad but true


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