Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Two Ways

If I were given two ways to effect change - social transformation, revolution, then this is what I would do...

When I was a little girl, I would often be awakened in the dark early hours by sounds of singing, chanting. This used to be a norm in those days...groups of people went around in 'mandalis' singing devotional songs, spiritual songs, songs to awaken not just the body, but also the heart. I remember lying awake to these songs, sometimes drifting back to sleep, but sometimes running to the balcony to watch the group of singers pass by. Mom would be up - invariable, getting started on her day's activities of running a household with four children. I have through the years often thought about these wakings - these arrivals of dawns with songs, and I have missed the singers. I have also thought, I could go around, in early dark hours, waking the world with songs, strumming of tamboora, the gentle rhythms of manjeera. These days of discovering Kabir, going around singing Kabir has renewed this desire. It occurs to me that if one were awakened to Kabir's songs of seeking - for truth, for meaning, for revolt against petty meaness in society, of divisive hatred, of love - boundless, all encompassing love, then many of the social ills would be erased - forever. Then lessons in equity, equality, need to be taught in classrooms (which they are not anyway) but would be imbibed deep inside, transformative lessons of recognising truth.

Many years later, I came across another revolutionary idea. A bunch of scientists used to go around, talking science to audiences of students from schools and colleges - basic science, the step wise rational process of science, the discoveries and stories of science. I was introduced to this concept by Sharath, an ex-collegue of mine. I still remember his message " If a society functioned on basis of a collective with individuals capable of posing questions and seeking their own answers, then many of the current social ills would automatically disappear." Also, " the scale of science from micro- to macro-, biology to astronomy, puts a particular human life in perspective - then caste, wars, hatred etc. becomes meaningless..." I remembered then, as now, how I enjoyed ending my lessons on stellar evolution with words " we are all star-dust" - a fitting perspective required to wipe out difference of relegion, sex, caste, race... None of these need to be preached overtly - it is enough to say " we are all truly just stardust" or study the processes that govern origin and evolution of life on Earth, and the wonder at it.

Given that there are many things I don't do, these are definitely two things that I think would be worth doing to "time-pass".

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


किनकी चीखे बरसी गरजते काले बादलो के साथ?
किसके आंसू समाये उचलती सागर की लहरों में?
कितने स्वप्न बिखरे सूखे सुनसान रेतो के सेहर?

ये जो मरे, मारे , बरबाद हुए,
उजाले की खोज में
घायल हुए आशा की चट्टानों पर
उजड़ गए आज़ादी की उम्मीदों पे

उनको बरबाद किया
इन आजाद देश के दलालों ने
तोला सोने के सिक्के से
बेचा लहू और भूखे इन्सानों से

यह नही पहचाना कि-
हम भी मरेंगे - मार उजाड़ कर
कुछ महेल, कुछ सिक्को कमा कर
अहंकार कि चोटी पर - हम भी मरेंगे!
धूल हो जायेंगे!
और नही छोडेंगे,
कोई गीत, कोए स्वप्न,
कोई उजाले कि परख-
कोई रंग, कोई सुर कि तलाश
सीर्फ खरीददार की समज,
और सोने की चमक,
बस, ...सीर्फ यह!!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Meeting Veerappa Moily - Our Minister for Law and Justice

For those of you that know me personally, also know this - I am an impatient person - too impatient to act, rather than a more prudent approach of think, consider, digest, before re-coursing to action. So after the usual ranting on the unfairness, unsoundness, the down right unacceptability, objectionability, crass unfair and meanness of the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill, I decided to do something about this...I contacted Nityananda Jayaram the author of the Tehelka story that first alerted me to this issue. And...based on his advice, yesterday I called up our Law and Justice Minister, Mr. Veerappa , Moily, and wonder of wonder, I was given an appointment...ok, I did cheat a bit, I did refer to myself with a "Dr." prefix, that I usually do not acknowledge, and also said "I am calling from IISc...", which is also true - I live here!

Today, I went at the appointed hour with my husband, who happens to be a bonafide IISc Professor, to meet the Minister. We were shown into an unassuming office with racks of interesting books. I was curious and looking through the bookcase when VM walked in. Since he was leaving back for Delhi in less than one hour, we got immediately to the point. We told him that we wanted to see him as concerned citizens deeply troubled with what we had read in the media.We had two points to make:1. The Nuclear Liability Cap Bill was the only legal gauruntee for future victims, in case of a nuclear disaster - and so had to be commensurate with the level of likely damages and 2. The nuclear industry in the US was responsible for $10 billion towards damages in case of a disaster event in their country and with our far higher population density, the extent of damage was certainly going to be far greater - another sentence on how another Bhopal could not be allowed to happen etc.

Through all of this, VM gave us his undivided, focused, quiet attention, accepted the literature that Atul (my husband) had accumulated from the internet, read the underlined portions, and agreed to look into the matter. He also graciously offered us tea/coffee, that we declined. We left, satisfied that we had been heard, our concerns aired to a receptive, intelligent human being, who seemed to have taken us seriously.

We planted a seed today and left.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Three Pillars of Human Evolution

Today I declared to a friend " Greed and apathy are the two dominating influences that govern social evolution". Here I am restricting myself to the western or the closely imitating urban upper Indian class that is self-centered, financially focused, accumulation greedy, and apathetically lethargic to interests that do not promote their personal goals. After some thought, I decided to add a third criteria that governs widespread individual choices, and that is Fear. So, the three solid pillars on which our current class evolution rests are Fear, Greed, and Apathy - probably in that order of importance. Now, allow me to elaborate.

Our instinct for survival has translated into an understandable fear - a fear to safeguard life. However the scope of this primal response has widely broadened beyond expected boundaries to include not just life, but also to preserve a quality of life, lifestyle, exploitative class privileges, a position in the socio-economic pyramid, which with the global parameters and uncertain market trends seems to require a constant climbing, striving, working upwards, to maintain position on a slippery downward slope. So, to some extent, this insecurity we carry as a class merges into smudged boundaries of financial/capital worth that we aspire towards which are sufficient not only to preserve life, but to promote security, improve quality of life. Unsurprisingly, this insecurity towards wealth anti-correlates, strongly, with the amount of wealth one is sitting on i.e. the wealthy are more greedy for immoderate wealth than the needy.

This automatically leads me to the next criteria dictating my class' evolution - Greed. The cliched, but still a profound Gandhian observation " Earth has enough for everyone's need, but not everyone's greed" still rings true with succinct clarity, but truth and clarity are not pursuits easily accommodated in today's world. Probably, it is the speed with which we live, that doesn't grant us that vital pause to ask, is this right, true and clear? Or, maybe we know that our daily pursuits are so meaningless that we dare not pause to acknowledge them so.

And, what do we run after, or, what do we seek? Even a most obsessive money monger would refuse to acknowledge greed - it is considered in ill taste to say, "I only want money" ,or "it is the only pursuit worth pursuing" - or wait, I should not be too hasty -what do we pursue money for - and is that our only form of greed? Maybe a deeper reason behind this outward pursuit of greed, is an inner vaccum of happiness, joy, a life well led. Combined with the crazy consumerist notion that one can buy happiness, everyone pursues the currency God that can directly be cashed in for happiness - of a fancy home, a designer dress, a luxury holiday, a spa package! And, it is not enough just to experience these happiness products that money buys, since - beyond a certain amount needed to promote health, security - happiness is really a state of mind, not a bought item. Further, one has to advertise what a lot of happiness one has been able to buy with what a lot of money. Thus, a crazy race for buying happiness dictates this generations obsessive addiction to wealth accumulation or Greed.

Finally, Apathy, the one curse of our identity identification, individual development, a defining of personal wants/goals isolated from a broader scope of overall social well being. An apathy for the 'other' outside of yourself to not count, not be taken into consideration; an apathy, driven by a need to be comfortable in non action, driven by a feeling that the less one does, the happier one is, allocating task of personal management and personal well fare to the needier lot, on lesser pay and more work, than would accept oneself. Why are we so apathetic? Why is there so much lethargy that we close our eyes to misery, shut our ears to pain, are asleep to what is done around us, behind our backs, openly, brazenly in front of us - we watch it in comfortable stupor on television channels, extreme cruelty played out in extreme crudity, in front of our eyes, till we yawn, stretch, and declare, "its time for bed!"

All this that I think, and all this that I say, I say recognizing me in my society, and that society in me - a wretchedness of identification with a class that I belong to, or was once long ago, in my near past, a part of - a sleeping class, that still sleeps, but I am slowly, deliberately starting to wake up!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Last Weekend...

People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and Alternate Law Forum (ALF), Bangalore, co-hosted a very special event.

Harsh Mander's 'Fear and Forgiveness' was released in Bangalore on 5 Sept., Saturday. The event had a number of speakers, besides the author, reporting on the chilling and insidious incursions that hindutva type organizations are making into Karnataka, especially in the coastal belt. Recent times have seen a rapid rise in communalism arising from the divisive politics of hatred that these groups practice to fracture and breakup secular communities. To many, it seemed that the communal climate that is evolving here, terrifyingly mirrors the situation in Gujarat, pre-2002 genocide.

There are many things I carried away from the event. First, the book - now I am no longer looking for an excuse to not read it.

Secondly, the still ringing dire warning by Harsh Mander, that maybe, situations like Gujarat will not repeat, but only because the climate of fear that the BJP state aided Sanghas are carrying out have succeeded in the minority communities accepting a second class citizenry status subsuming their constitutional rights guaranteed within the democratic framework of this nation.

Third, the many stories of hope that Harsh Mander was able to share with us - go buy yourself the book! One thing that struck me is his deep conviction, which I am not able to have faith in, that for every tragedy there were three stories to afford hope, lighten the dark, restore faith...what I could identify with was his experience that the ones who stretched out a helping hand were least often from the upper class (that has replaced our old upper caste tier), often people of the majority faith who found no conflict in their own religious beliefs and the ability to live with the faith of others - these were not acts of bravery but acts of standing up for who they were, even in crisis.

Lastly, was the concept of Nyayagraha, or, inviting justice. Harsh Mander explained it this way - Gandhi's Satyagraha invited truth by breaking immoral laws or constitutional wrongs. Following a code of ethics and non-violence the Satyagrahis forced the justice system to re-examine the righteousness of certain act or law. Within the current scenario of a fair constitution and a viable legal system, the issue at hand is, for the citizens to force the government's machinery to follow the letter of the law, while maintaining a highest ethical code of conduct themselves. The idea is beautiful, its effectiveness really viable, but if, and only if, we all, in the largest numbers, join this battle, take responsibility of our non-functioning, unfair, corrupt, abusive, frequently autocratic, sometimes totalitarian nexus of our political, administrative, judicial service,served by our law enforcers, the security and police force, and enforce accountability, enforce their just and constitutional operation --and we really have no option but to do just this.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Giant Extinctions and Elusive Ghosts

We heard about it a few nights back - over a really nice dinner. Our friend reported that it took an Australian journalist to write about it in a UK magazine to bring us news in our very own backyard.

As a developing country with a closet full of issues, including poverty, hunger, illiteracy, disease, communalism, corruption, pollution, environmental destruction, species extinction - that we do not deal with - there are some matters that we urgently, immediately, commit to, without due thought, process, or public involvement. The latest appears to be a clearance given to search for highly elusive elementary particle, the neutrino, and to do this right within our highly sensitive, greatly diminished and fragile ecosystems in the Nilgiris. India-based Neutrino Observatory(INO)will involve a 100,000 tonne neutrino detector covering over 2 kilometers of tunnels right through vital elephant corridors in the Nilgiris. Usually, these extremely elusive particles "are searched by detectors in huge ice-caves in the polar regions or at the bottom of the deep sea.". We, however, with our moronic national wisdom, have thought it fit to not only join the hunt, but also hunt in our own tiny, eco-senstive, and rich, bio-diverse backyard with certain, and irreversible losses to forests, habitats, species.

Will the committee that saw it fit to accept this proposal please stand up, and take a bow? Will the scientists that proposed this ridiculous search please doff their caps that we may all see there is nothing under there? Is there no where else for you to take your mindless games? And don't we, the citizens, have a right to know, to stop this foolhardy $167 million USD project, and say " Thank you, but, no, thank you" - we would rather keep our forests, elephants, tigers, leopards, plants, birds, amphibians, species instead of maybe, just maybe, find a neutrino in a distant future.

Please learn more here and protest here.

This topic was also covered in this excellent Tehelka article, more than a year back.