Thursday, December 14, 2006

Heroes and heroines at the Games

Jaspal Rana, the 18-year old wonderkid we saw a while ago, is back in action, and I can't believe it's been 12 long years! He's named the best athlete at the Asian Games at Doha. I hope he does not go back to oblivion again as he did once. (It seems he was fighting some illness).

While we remember Rana's name even after quite a long time, most athletes don't enjoy so much of our attention. Mahesh and Paes are making news for wrong reasons. Sania has become more of page 3 than the sports page. Other names and snaps are in the newspapers when they fetch us medals at the Games, but the names go unregistered. Let me raise a toast for you guys (we are going to forget you all in a few days anyway)..

Sinimol Paulose who won bronze in 1500m;
Yogeshwar Dutt who won a wrestling bronze;
Archery team that won bronze;
Sailing team that won silver;
Aboobakker Thanikkal, Joseph Abraham, Bhupinder Singh and K M Binu who won silver in the men's 4x400m relay;
Pinki Pramanik, Satti Geetha, Chitra Soman and Manjeet Kaur who won gold in women's 4x400m (she also won a silver in the individual 400m) ...

(I have already forgotten the rest!)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Happy Christmas, in Rappai's name

Theetta Rappai (that translates roughly as "eater Rappai") passed away.

A piece on him that appeared in four years back: Restaurants ban India's 'Big Eater' (26/08/2002)

This diary won't be very regular for the rest of the year. So here's Christmas and New Year wishes in advance!

Friday, December 08, 2006


The beauiful name stands out. [It could be an interesting story in itself-- People from the "lower" castes were not allowed to give good names to their children. In Kerala, there were a set of names that were "reserved" for them-- none of our "merit" mongers seemed to have any problem with this reservation. One my friend has told me his father named his sister "Suvarna" (golden) and called her "thampu", as a short form of "thampuratti" (the queen) in what was perceived as an open challenge to the existing social system, and it made many feel threatened.]

Coming back to our heroine, Chithralekha is a Pulaya girl from Thrissur, Kerala. She married a boy who belonged to a different caste (Ezhava -- a shudra caste, comes under OBC, Other Backward Castes). The boy's family and CPM, the leading left party in the state, were against it. The boy was from Kannur district, a CPM stronghold. In order to make a living, they decided to buy an autorikshaw and Chitralekha was to operate it in Payyannur town. She faced problems getting a driver's card, and when she got it, it was continuous harassing in various forms by the fellow automen (most of them ezhavas and dominant castes). The glass of the vehicle was broken and she was beaten up. When the case went to the police, they said she is a prostitute. Then her autorikshaw was burnt to dust in the night, and she was threatened she'll face the same fate as that of her vehicle.

All this happened more than a year back, and I heard about this story for the first time from my friend who mentioned it in an e-mail. I could not find any details on the net. Not even a single news-paper report. (Unlike in the recent Khairlanje incident that the media was forced to give some coverage. Here is one letter that Ravikiran Shinde sent to Rajdeep Sardesai. This blog post checks why Priyanka is not quite a Priyadarshini Matoo and Jessica Lal for us). Recently another friend of mine faced the same problem when she was trying to document this incident in the context of gender-caste opression in Kerala.

She figured out that this was second such incident of a Dalit woman's auto rickshaw being burned in that town.

Unlike Maharashtra (latest Outlook carries an article on the Dalit rage that followed Khairlanje-- interesting), issues of caste oppressions are not dealt with politically in the "God's own" Kerala where CPM takes the contract of rectifying all the social and economical problems (ok-- first we will "boil down" things to class politics, and do what we feel like). If anyone else-- any group, political outfit, persons-- try to raise any issue, they will be silenced. And the opposition Congress is useless-- they don't feel any need for any serious political intervention, they are content with the people who get fed up of the left rule and put them in power every alternate election. I hope Kerala grows up to deal with such issues in a political way.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Police Story 2: The missing lion

While writing about the Police Story, I remembered an old joke on Delhi Police. I'm bad at recollecting a story well (though I can still feel the punch it had on me the first time I heard the joke) but would still give it a shot.

The lion goes missing from the New York zoo. The New York Police goes all out on lion hunt, but fails. Then they call friend Tony Blair, and the British Police team arrives. They use all their resources, searches the siberian islands and the African jungles, but can't trace the lion. Then someone suggests that NY take the help of the Delhi Police. Delhi Police comes to the zoo to check the site, and gets hold of the bear in the next cell. Bear is taken to the lock-up. Policeman comes and tells the bear, "bol tu sher hai" (tell you're lion). Bear is clueless.

The next day, the bear confesses he's lion.

[There are different versions of this story.]

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Police Story

"According to reports in a leading daily (August 26 and September 4), Hoshangabad police charged a couple with the murder of their twelve-year-old son. Their son was indeed missing, and a body was found near the railway track. The parents confessed to the crime, and spent over 45 days in jail.."

"Six months after his murder, young Gabbar turned up in town.."

"As for the parents who confessed to the murder of a son who was alive — “They broke three of my fingers with sticks,” said the father.."

"It further involved, in the face of incontrovertible evidence of the boy being alive, reiterations in court of the police version under oath, urging the court instead to prosecute Gabbar’s family for producing another person as Gabbar.."

* * *

The above (and below) quotes are from an interesting story by Nivedita in today's Telegraph, where she asks this question that she finds nightmarish:

"what happens to police procedures and media reportage when nothing less than national security is at stake?"

She asks, "Would this blatant miscarriage of justice have been reported in the media if the parents had been arrested on a different sort of charge? If Gabbar himself had not turned up alive? What if Gabbar had been killed in an encounter?"

"Last month, a woman widely known in academic and activist circles in Delhi — Sunita of Daanish Books, a small alternative publisher — was detained by the police in Chandrapur, where she had set up a book exhibition.."

"..when concerned phone calls and faxes started pouring in, the police claimed that they had “clinching evidence” (a phrase they repeatedly used) that this Sunita was a Maoist activist from Jehanabad, where her Maoist husband had been killed some years ago in an encounter. During her interrogation, the official insisted that she admit she was from Jehanabad, despite her assertion that she is from Bhagalpur, and that she had never lost a husband to police bullets. A policeman told her confidently at one point, Hum saabit kar ke rahenge ki aap vohi Sunita hain, Jehanabad ki.."

"..during interrogation Sunita was asked, “Why do you sell books on Bhagat Singh? The British have left, haven’t they?

"Reports in local Hindi newspapers published the police version without any further comment or corroboration.."

[link to complete story]


One my friend tells me she's passing through Guwahati, and gives me her mobile number so that I could call her once she's here.

I find it amusing-- the idea of someone from "Mainland India" carrying a mobile to this part of India, the north-eastern states. I carried mine when I came for a visit early this year, and it took a while for me to come to terms with it.

That the mobiles don't roam across the "border".

This is after all, a "special" area-- with special powers to army, specially detached from the nation..

Friday, December 01, 2006

D2: Missing the action

Not that Dhoom 2: Back in Action missed the action-- we missed whatever action/inaction of D2 because we had a bag with us. We had to return the purchased tickets. Because we happened to be in a sensitive locality, in sensitive times.

After the double bomb blasts in the first week of November, a rikshaw-puller, his wife and their one and a half year old kid died in a follow-up incident at Guwahati railway station on 23rd November. If that wasn't enough, it seems ULFA has put a "ban" on screening Hindi films in the state.

Despite all this, the cinema halls were flocked with people-- it was just three days after the blast-- thanks to all the hype as well as the curiosity associated with a sequel. And in general, the public here appear to be used to all this-- they didn't seem to give a damn, and the streets were as crowded as it could get.

[Coming back to the film, I think they're overdoing the publicity-- the Guwahati city special of The Telegraph has been carrying Dhoom specials-- interviews with Hritik, Bipasha, Abhishek, Aishwarya and the director Sanjay Gadhvi, the "Dhoom quotient" and what not.. for more than a week now; it's slowly getting on one's nerves!]

Friday, November 24, 2006

Dam Bad?

"New Delhi, Nov. 22: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has postponed his visit to Manipur to lay the foundation stone of the Tipaimukh dam, adding to the drama over the controversial project in Churachandpur district.." [from yesterday's paper]

What drama? Here are some links: [Oct 24: Naga groups in anti-dam brigade], [Nov 12: Tipaimukh strike cripples Manipur],[Nov 13: Delhi to ignore dam protest]..

* * *

Chinese movie 'Still Life' wins Golden Lion in Venice

From China Daily: "VENICE, Italy - The Chinese movie "Still Life," a surprise entry set against the backdrop of China's gigantic Three Gorges Dam project, won this year's Golden Lion - the top award at the Venice Film Festival - on Saturday..

"Still Life" was shot in the old village of Fengjie, which has been destroyed by the building of the Three Gorges Dam, and tells of people who go back there.."

* * *

"Perhaps India's most precious fragile ecological zone, the Northeast is now facing a paradox: to be damned or not. The big dam lobby is planning to bulldoze thousands of acres of forests, fertile villages, rivers and streams to build 73 dams in the Northeast and 42 in Arunachal bordering China. At Yazali in Arunachal, the Ranga nadi has been killed, destroying downstream ecology.

Outside the mainstream's gaze, this is a recipe for apocalypse now under a nasty Police State. The tribal people of Arunachal have begun the first fight which has spread to Manipur. Despite deaths in police firing as in Manipur recently, the fight has spread.."

[quoted from Tehelka 2nd anniversary special in an earlier post on this diary]

* * *

Some Q and A on Sardar Sarovar: Who pays, Who profits
[This document is somewhat old, the figures may have changed a bit, but not for the better]

* * *

Some more dam stories, including Tehri and the legendary Bhakra-Nangal, to appear in a follow-up to this post (say, in the comments section). Please post your comment with the stories/details you have on big dams.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Deepa aur Shabnam (and Kunhimema)

They are women at the creche.

Deepa reminds me of Kunhi mema, my mother's younger sister. Both of them look very similar (Ok, Kunhimema looks much smaller now-- really true to her name-- she has shrunk over years) and both have a deep sadness written on their face. Even the clothes Deepa wears remind me of mema.

Or may be everyone who goes through such hardships look the same. I don't know about Deepa, but I have grown up seeing different stages of my mema's life.

Singing romantic film songs ("Devathaaru poothu..") in her teens, with some sadness in it even then;
Taking us to the Kasturba Gram and issuing children's books for us from the library for us;
Her marriage (we really celebrated that one, I can't remember any other wedding as much);
Eating pork at her place (it was yummy!)
Her husband (he became our pappan) who used to run a mini van and later a Toddy shop;
Going for a Mohanlal-Priyadarshan comedy film with the newlyweds;
Having rabbit's meat at pappan's shop once;
Playing with their children Sreekanth and Sreejith;
Pappan dying of heart attack young;
Mema carrying the family on her shoulders..

She knit flowers to make garlands for god at a temple in the morning,
Worked as a peon at a bank;
Later she lost that temporary job and went to a bakery (after the garlands were made)..
Her body shrunk in the process.
She developed pains in her body, was admitted to hospital once or twice;
Doctors asked her to take rest but she could not afford it;
She takes medicines.. but she hasn't given up.
She goes on.

She cries well-- One funda of her life is that when you're at a house where someone has dead, you should really cry loud, and it would make the people there feel good :)
(She did that at her marriage also, like many other girls, to make her parents feel good).

Ok this has already become so long.. I'll write about Shabnam (and things/feelings/people I associate with her) in another post, hopefully sometime soon.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Uchchakkum Rathriyum Kaaryam Kashtam

My friend has come to India after a training abroad. It seems he has got some Johnnie Walker with him. That takes care of the mornings but what about afternoons and evenings?

[reference: Malayalam film Udayanaanu Thaaram]

Some Nostalgia

enerally landed on this page of IITB slangs-- new and old, thanks to Anish.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Cameraman

"Cinematographer with a preference for natural light who acted as midwife to Bergman masterpieces", says an obituary of Sven Nykvist (1922-2006) that The Guardian carried. Thanks to G P ramachandran for pointing me to this article and reminding me of a cinematographer's role in films like The Virgin Spring, The Silence, Cries and Whispers and Fanny and Alexander.

a shot from cries and whispers

(Image: a shot from Cries and Whispers (Viskningar och rop, Swedish). Ingmar Bergman and Sven Nykvist shot Cries and Whispers (1972) in red. Nykvist won an academy award for Best Cinematography for his work in this film).

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I'm Hearing Voices..

["I'm hearing voices again" - Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in The Hours]

Following up to yesterday's post, I'm featuring a few of the woman voices on the blogosphere here. These are people I know-- if you know of someone, please add to the list by posting link(s) in the comments.

summer in hyderabad, by jenny:

"they put it in the local newspaper,
among the tits and thighs that
keeps the sales going on,
between the color face of a PYT
the black and white of my death.."

[the obituary]

"..and so i come close to your bruised head your black eyes that you hit against the mirrorr and i come close to the lips that kissed death and escaped yet another time and i touch your face remembering the summer clouds that all morning went pass my sky.."

[when i come back (for M)]

Walk Alone, by bindu:

"It is only when you shift houses
That you know
That your self moved in certain corners there
When you drag old dust filled memories out
To pack or discard
That you know
They existed in those particular nooks and crannies.."

[Shifting houses]

"We each have one
Calculate, add, multiply, enter
How much have I done?
How much have you taken?.."

[Logbook of Lovelssness]

"We play games of conquest
We conquer minds
For some short while
We need to fill ourselves within others
Or, else we fear,
We do not exist.."

[Conquests of the Mind]

it's time.., by gargi:

"i dont see her when i search my memories
i dont like/dislike that.
now, she exists in my life,
not as my mother.
someone who is present.
thats all.

is that because of her
is that because of me..."

[mother, mother..]

flux, by sreejitha:

"Fear is like an antenna.
When you are weak
it's there
fully active
to recieve
all curses around.."


"You spoke:
Spoke of truth
for truth itself
here and there
Got trapped.
Trapped in "love"
they call it, still.."

[Abhimanyu phase]

"IT's not easy knowing what to share.
For, all the time u might not be knowing what you have.
They might not have allowed a space wherein you can peep and find out
What you are
or at least to begin with,
What you have.."


towards a language of my own, also by sreejitha:

"i mix up too many things.
all because of ignorance.
i dont even know
how to be democratic- cum -assertive
So to put in another way
I can be a passive democratic person
or an active undemocratic assertive one.."

[mixing up]

"I asked myself how to live
or with someboday
or in a commune?
First i wanted to foster my thoughts
being with myself.."

[so.. how to live?]

"Let men be free from patriarchy
Help men to be free from patriarchy.."

[I, a feminist]

"So what has been tough for me as a feminist?
One thing is
BEing with someone who loves you.."

[Dealing with..]

I know one need not feel depressed about the boring reruns of words and images.. There must be a lot of people who can give us something drastically different, especially women. And other sections of the society who have been silenced or have had to remain silent for a long time now. I don't mean the privileged ones who have established themselves, or even the lesser known (but still privileged) who express through blogs or shortfilms. It is a matter of getting the right platform, and I understand it's tough. Attempts to get these thoughts into limelight fail often [recently read an interview with a documentary filmmaker's wife in a Malayalam weekly-- she was desparately trying to give the "safest" answers that made the interview a mockery, but I believe she didn't have much of a choice]. But I think the time is near.. they can't remain in the dark for ever.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Natural Question

This Onam, one of the leading periodicals in Malayalam published an interview with an author who writes short stories and has written a couple of novels. The last question was paticularly interesting: "When you write so much about intimate encounters between men and women, the natural question is whether it has anything to do with your experiences".

I don't understand why is this a "natural" question, and wonder if this would have been a "natural question" had the author been a man.

She could have just said that none of your business. But being a woman, and having to live in Kerala among an apparently intellectual society that is sex-starved and moralistic when it comes to women (many woman writers have faced threatening phonecalls and other kinds of threats), she prefers to give the safest answer possible-- a disclaimer that it's got nothing to do with her or anyone else's experiences, and they are completely imaginary.

* * *

I hear that Sithara S, who has written some quality short stories in Malayalam, has gone into silence. She didn't live in Kerala (probably out of the same fear) and was settled in a foreign country. But a woman has to keep fighting those who try to silence her-- either from the society outside or from within the family-- especially if she chooses to express (through writing, theatre.. whatever). I hope Sithara gets back into business soon-- the Malayalam short story scene is really sad.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How long?

One third of the planet will be desert by the year 2100, say climate experts in the most dire warning yet of the effects of global warming..

The century of drought, The Independent (U.K.), Oct. 4, 2006.

"Drought threatening the lives of millions will spread across half the land surface of the Earth in the coming century because of global warming, according to new predictions from Britain's leading climate scientists.

Extreme drought, in which agriculture is in effect impossible, will affect about a third of the planet, according to the study from the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.

It is one of the most dire forecasts so far of the potential effects of rising temperatures around the world - yet it may be an underestimation, the scientists involved said yesterday.."

areas that cause CO2 emissions mainly are the

This pic from the film "The Inconvenient truth" showing the global temp rise by 2100 shows that the carbon dioxide emissions come mainly from the "developed" countries whereas the resulting rise in temperature would be more in the poorer regions including Indian subcontinent, Africa and South America.

[Thanks to Deleep for the link and the pic].

Friday, November 10, 2006

Intolerance and indigestion

The Telegraph
, Sunday October 8, 2006. Bharathi S. Pradhan writes about Dor:

"When you first watch Nagesh Kukunoor’s impressively shot Dor, you want to simply applaud it as good cinema. (I even sent him a text message that I loved the film and its performances.).."

"Whether it’s Ayesha’s award-worthy performance or Shreyas’ amusing moments, the credit marks pile up in favour of the director who has made engaging cinema out of a story inspired by the Malayalam film Perumazhakalam.."

I haven't seen the film (it was not even released in this city), so I can't comment on this. I'm not sure I'd have checked it out even if it were running here. I had given Perumazhakkalam a miss, after seeing some of the newspaper promos. But the article is titled "Kukunoor’s minority report". May be there are some interesting observations.

As it turns out, the observations are not just interesting. Funny, ridiculous, alarming..? Or may be all of these.

"..once you stop the gush of compliments and ponder over the film, you realise that Nagesh Kukunoor has a definite agenda other than just entertaining his audience."

[Well, what could it be?]

"He did it very subtly in Iqbal where he set the deaf and dumb aspiring cricketer smack in an agrarian Muslim family. It was done so casually, it could have been any other normal Indian family with its cricket-loving mother and sister, and a hard working farmer-father opposed to the game. There were no Allahs, subhanallahs or mashallahs punctuating every sentence. Except for one scene taken outside a mosque, there were no namaaz versus cricket practice debates either."

[Oh, that's certainly not acceptable! Wonder how we missed it in Iqbal! This guy is so clever he is pushing an agenda in such a casual manner that we don't notice!]

"In short, other than introducing the lovable little family, Nagesh never reminded you that this was a Muslim family. On hindsight, one understands that his agenda was to show a Muslim as no different from someone from the mainstream. So far, pretty fair."

[Ok, that would pass, even if it is not entirely fair.]

"But after watching Dor, one suspects Nagesh was only testing the waters with Iqbal."

[Wow! That one sentence takes the cake. "testing the waters with Iqbal". Checking whether we, who are being taught continuously by Ms. Pradhan and others how dangerous and fanatic these Muslims are, can take one film with a "normal" Muslim family!]

"In Dor he goes further and draws a stark contrast between the ‘progressive’ minority community and the ‘regressive’ Rajasthanis (read that as Hindu). Nagesh’s Muslim family has a lively, spirited heroine called Zeenat.."

[But how dare he show a lively, spirited girl in a Muslim family?]
[some storyline details snipped]

"..Very sweet, very innocuous. Except when you move to Rajasthan and contrast Zeenat with Meera, the widow whose signature must be got on that pardon-nama. It is here that Nagesh’s determined agenda to show the Muslim as progressive, independent-spirited and far-from-marching-backwards-into-the-dark-ages, moves into top gear.."


"Zeenat befriends Meera without revealing who she is or what she wants from her. If you think about it, it’s actually a con, winning the unsuspecting widow’s confidence when there is an ulterior motive behind the hand of friendship."

[Thanks for telling us.]

"But Nagesh strives to ensure that you don’t lose your sympathy for Zeenat. And then, he has Meera go through all the humiliation that a traditional Hindu setup gives its widows. Most of it is unfortunately true, for widows do get treated like sub-humans in the land of sati, dowry and female infanticide.."

[Point noted.]

"However, Nagesh cleverly chooses this backward-thinking traditional family as a contrast, even going so far as to have Meera’s father-in-law, otherwise a proud man, strike a pimplike business deal where the payment is his widowed daughter-in-law’s youthful body! Sure, that happens too, but it looks a trifle mischievous to take the worst elements of this (Hindu) society only to paint a glorious picture of the (Muslim) other.

Go ahead with your agenda Mr Kukunoor, we applaud any story of a normal progressive Muslim family. But must it be at the expense of bashing another community thus?"

That surely we can not take. We'll portray Muslims in general as terrorists, pimps, villains, bad guys, religious fanatics in may be all of our movies but we can not take if a not-so-pleasant picture is portrayed of one single Hindu man or one regressive community (we know that happens but thats not the point..) in a single film. We sure can not tolerate this. We can not digest this. Sorry, no Hajmola, no Gelusil will help.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Nicaraguayil Ortega!

Malloo film buffs may remember this dialogue from the film Sandesam: "..Nicaragua-yil Ortegaye purathakki avide oru pava government-ine sthapichu.." (In Nicaragua, Ortega was ousted and a dummy government was put in power.. [by the US])

Sreenivasan's character, a hardcore communist, tells this (and some comments on what happened in Polland-- it was a good laugh) in reply to his brother's-- he's a Congressman-- comments criticizing the left parties in Kerala. Their father, played by Thilakan, can't stand these two political rivals fighting in the house.

Today I was reminded of this line by my [needless to say, leftist] friend Dileep. It seems Ortega is coming back to power in the central American country after 16 years. He also sent me a link to Deshabhimani online news (CPI-M paper in Malayalam) that celebrates the comeback.

But another friend Arun tells us it's not the Ortega that he used to be.. It seems there are considerable changes his positions.

"Mr. Ortega, ousted in a 1990 election after his Sandinista government had fought a civil war against U.S.-backed Contra guerrillas, has reinvented himself as a moderate and a reconciler who will bring jobs and growth. His campaign colour is pastel pink, his rallies play John Lennon's Give Peace a Chance, and his running mate is Jaime Morales, an ex-Contra.

Mr. Ortega, 60, is paunchier since his rebel heyday, when he was compared to Che Guevara. Secularism has given way to support for the Catholic Church and its abortion ban campaign. He has declined to debate with rival candidates and focusses on rapturous rallies in the barrios.."

[ Sandinista comeback alarms U.S., also from The Hindu.)

However, if even a moderate, paunchy, Catholic Ortega is sending panic signals to the U.S., we may see more sanctions, more poverty (Nicaragua is apparently the second poorest country in the western half of the globe, after Hayti), another "axis of evil" and probably another war or another coup. It seems the U.S. had warned the people even before the elections of sanctions and other "dire consequences" that a Sandinista comeback would lead to. Business as usual.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"Minority" on the other side

"Why can small numbers excite rage? They represent a tiny obstacle between majority and totality or total purity. The smaller the number and the weaker the minority, the deeper the rage about its capacity to make a majority feel like a mere majority." [Arjun Appadurai, Fear of Small Numbers]

Naeem Mohaiemen starts his article with the above quote. Here's some background, in his own words:

"I was stirred from slumber by an e-mail I got from Dhaka last week. With the most volatile elections of Bangladesh history approaching in two months, the minority vote (Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Paharis, Adivasis) is a target as they are expected to vote for the left-of center AL (Awami League) en masse, vs. the rightist-islamist ruling coalition of BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party).

In the e-mail, my friend wrote: "I have already received 3 independent e-mails from
contacts in Bangladesh (2 Hindu, 1 Christian) who are terrified after threats their families have received in the last few days ("don't vote, or we'll kill you", basically). As the rumor-mongering kicks in and accusations are traded, the minorities will again become a pawn between the two main factions."

I wrote the text below in response. An abbreviated version of this was published in the main Dhaka newspaper yesterday.."

To The Polls, Unless Your Name Be Das, Tripura, or Roy, by Naeem Mohaiemen.

Monday, November 06, 2006


The news of blasts in Guwahati city leaves us shocked. We were at one of the blast sites a couple of days back. What do these blasts achieve? Is this the only way to get noticed or to raise one's stakes in a bargain? Can't we even dream of a day when we can walk free in this part of India without being afraid of an uncertain blast or a certain armyman?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

High-class Non-vegetarian

One of the first things I noticed in Chennai was the number of "High class vegetarian" restaurants in the city. First time I saw one, I told Sreejitha we may not be able to afford this one, it's calling itself "High class". But we decided to give it a try, and fortunately that wasn't the case to be. (The food wasn't High-class either, but that was not our major concern). "Are you a Brahmin?" and "Are you a vegetarian?" questions that hit us when we started looking for a house helped us understand that terminology better. My friends (who have been staying in Chennai for some time) then shared with us their experiences of the tough times thay had finding house in this city, the dirty looks that they faced for being non-Brahmin, meat-eating scoundrels.

Then I saw "Hotel Malabar" at Kodambakkam which proudly announced "High class non-vegetarian hotel". I was happy to see that, though the food wasn't so good (my friends who stay near Malabar told me it used to serve real High-class non-veg food earlier, at affordable prices).

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Alitalia knows who they want on board

A letter to editor on Tuesday September 5 Chennai Edition of Deccan Chronicle read: " is indeed puzzled to report regarding the refusal of Alitalia to fly a Delhi passenger, even when he had very clear travel documents and a confirmed ticket.." and the letter refered to DC, Sept 4. I found a copy, and the lead story on the front page went: "Alitalia tells man he's unfit to fly: Delhi ragpicker had a ticket, but didn't fit `profile' ".

"New Delhi, Sept.3: In a startling and clear case of class bias, the Italian national airline Alitalia refused to allow a Delhi resident to fly business class to Milan, on his way to Brazil to attend an international conference, despite the fact that the passenger had a valid ticket and all his travel documents were in order.

The reason: Santraj Maurya, who made a living out of collecting waste on Delhi's streets, and whose streetsmart leadership skills had attracted the attention of an NGO which was sending him to attend a conference on the impact of privatization of waste pickers worldwide, did not-- in the airline's view-- fit the profile of a businessman or an international traveller.."

Ok, "puzzled" and "strartling" are subjective. And this is about two months late news. But not necessarily stale, as much of the media avoided it. (It did not stay on the online version of the newspaper for long). We had had a related topic about this airline here on this diary once so I thought it makes sense to have this here for record.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Srividya, you'll be remembered

Actress Srividya died of cancer a few days back. When I think of Srividya the image that comes to me first is the Alice of Aadaminte Variyellu. Then there were many mother roles we can't forget-- Swati Tirunal, Apoorva Sahodarangal, Dalapati, Ente Sooryaputhrikku.. And there was Maggie of Daivatthinte Vikruthikal, for which she won the best actress award for the third time (Idavazhiyile Poocha Mindapoocha and Rachana were the first two, which I have not seen).

Deshabhimani pays tribute to the actress in its cinema page-- "Ananjupoyenkilum" by poet Rose Mary, followed by lyricist-director Sreekumaran Thampi recollecting his memories. Articles are in Malayalam, the link points to a pdf file so that there are no font issues.

[Here are links to The Hindu and Rediff takes].

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A place called Singur

Singur. A place in the Hoogly district of West Bengal.

"I won't give up my land," says 48-year old Loknath in an article that appeared in Mumbai newspaper DNA. He knows that some ‘boro karkhana’ (large industry) will come up, for which he has to give up his farmland, his sole source of income.

The story goes that the CPM-led Left Front Government of West Bengal is set to acquire the multi-crop lands at Singur to make way for a small car factory. A move that will leave many farmers like Loknath landless. It's not just the farmers-- apparently this move will render more than ten thousand local inhabitants including farmers, sharecroppers and daily labourers jobless.

A group of scientists from various research institutes have personally visited the area and declared that it is beyond any doubt that the earmarked lands are extremely fertile and vast majority of those grow multi-crops throughout the year, and a group of research scientists from the Center for Studies on Social Sciences (CSSS), Kolkata have tried to capture this in a documentary film “Abad Bhumi” (Right to Land). They have also prepared an online petition that addresses the Governer of West Bengal. Don't know how much it'll help though.

Yet another example of the much-hyped "Globalization" eating up our resources and not accounting for it? Probably. But we may forget that soon.

As we already seem to have forgotten that the Colas have been sucking out our groundwater and ruining our villages (they fill the soil with toxics in return as a token of their gratitude) -- be it Mehendiganj in Uttar Pradesh (where Coca Cola draws out more than 250,000 liters of underground water per day and dumps toxic wastes) or Plachimada in Kerala (where the plant was shut-down once following a court order and is operational again now). In Shivaganga, Tamil Nadu, people's protest prevented a plant of Coke being set up in a region that was already facing water scarcity. There are silimar stories of struggles from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand, Patna and Hajipur in Bihar, Satharia Jainpur, Simhachavar in Ballia, Hathras in Aligarh, Dasna–Masoori in Ghaziabad, Bijnor in U.P., Badoli and Panipat in Haryana, Mandideep and Bhopal in M.P., Ahmedabad and Herea in Gujarat, Kudus and Thane in Maharashtra. Now the issue is whether the drinks have pesticides in it (Bahu Tulsi and Aamir Khan are assuring us they are safe) or whether having pesticides is a non-issue as even mother's milk has it, or whether it is right to compare Cola with Mother's milk.

* * *

[Some details and updates on the Singur story at PCFS page:
    Forced Eviction of Farming Communities in Singur, West Bengal (and other links)

Also see: Tata Motors defends site selection at Singur, Times of India, 21 October 2006.

CPM defends the move: All India Kisan Sabha (CITU) leader and Industries Minister in People's Democracy]

The moon, the sun and Pooja

In this earlier post I talked about Excitement. Yesterday I receive another mail from Pooja. This time it's more of a curiosity that it evokes in me than excitement.

"..In a city of all unexpected places, among a Muslim community whose hairs stand on end in sight of my bizarre outfits, the endless parade of men and women of various ages and forms who come and go, my pumping up the tires of my circus cycle, my solo-ness and unconcern over it and the absence of my mythical Himalayan husband… but who, nevertheless accept, tolerate, and support me.."

"..I am running of all things, appropriate at once and also absurd, an art and performance gallery- draavidia, the first one of its kind in the little macondo city of cochin (and arguably in kerala.) (Ten years ago now started by a philosopher poet.) a funky east meets west in a pooja-kinda-way pricey shop (the lunar shop) and helping with a funky café (the solar café). i make herbal tea potions again- this time of vanilla pods, saffron, licorice, fennel.."

"..I love you. I need your support and blessings and letters and visits. I need financial support. I could bring so many of the amazing traditional and contemporary performance artists I know in kerala here if I had money...i need great music to play for full moon dance parties. If you’ve always wanted to come to India and have had no excuse. Come! You can stay here and help or do a residency…besides which there are plenty of beautiful places to choose from in kerala to live- by the ocean, in the mountains, in the woods…"

"..its not unlike the storytimes at simon's rock, not unlike the sunday potlucks in portland, not unlike what you might fathom, colorful, eclectic.."

Here's the address to send letters or other contributions:

draavidia art and performance gallery
customs boat jetty
fort cochin
ernakulam district

She says she'll be there till feb/march for sure.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Happy Deepavali (I miss the month of Ramzan)

Happy Deepavali to the readers for whom it means much. To me it meant a holiday till I reached Nagpur to do my engineering, where it meant a month of holidays. And then eventually a festival that many of my friends celebrated. Who get goodies from home when they come back after the holidays.

And I miss the month of Ramzan back home. It did mean a lot to us in our school days. (My friend here asks me if I could write this without fear if I were a Muslim. I leave that question to you. On second thoughts, how does it matter when one is living every moment in fear and in pressure to prove one's Indianness?)

Ok, we were talking of Ramzan. Yes it meant a month of holidays-- when I was in primary school (till 7th std) Ramzan used to coincide with the month of June. Our school, along with other "Muslim" schools, closed one month late and opened one month late on 1st July when all other schools opened on 1st June. It also meant Patthiri and Irachi (thin Rice roti and chicken/mutton/beef) coming in from the neighbourhood houses in the evenings. And more..

Things aren't so good these days-- a Hindu has to wear signs of being a Hindu (one my little friend in class 2 asked his parents why wasn't he wearing a tika when every other Hindu child in his class did), and a Hindu is not really welcome in a Mosque (this doesn't apply to temples, as "non-Hindus not allowed inside" or "ahindukkalkku pravesanamilla" board was always there). Don't know where we are headed..

Let that not stop the celebrations. Happy Deepavali and Id Mubarak!!

[image courtesy : "jung aur aman"/anand patwardhan]

Friday, October 20, 2006

Afzal zinda hai

The title refers to news that Mohammad Afzal Guru's execution, originally scheduled for today morning 6am, has been put off. However, this post is not about Afzal. But I got to writing this thanks to him.

Yesterday being the last day before the fazi, I happened to enter a couple of noicy rooms filled with people baying for blood, one on an orcut community and another on The Times of India page, and one would be shocked to see the amount of misinformation that gets propagated and becomes common wisdom.

It seems the Supreme Court order said "[the attack on parliament] had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to [him]. But scanning through the aawaaz, I realized that this "collective conscience" won't be satisfied until the last Muslim in this nation is hanged.

The blogpage ToI promoted on its page had comments like




(yes, in all caps) and

"B*star'd Abdul Kalam finally he also chose to be Mus'lim first than an Indian President"..

(and much more)

When I responded to making Dhananjoy vs Afzal a Hindu/Muslim issue, asking him to get their facts right (If one chooses to make it a Hindu versus others issue then it has been a huge triumph for the caste Hindus, as almost 100% of the people hanged in independent India are Dalits or religious minorities), someone (who calls himself "SUDIP IS AN ASSHOLE") writes, "WHY DO YOU DIVIDE BASED ON CASTE FIRST OF ALL"?[** footnote on this below the post]



Well I didn't know this one! I hail from Kerala, and from the *only* district in Kerala that has more Muslims than Hindus (Kerala has 14 districts). I still would like to know the source of this guy's information, as this gives an idea how intense is the hate campaign against Muslims of this country.

I do get to hear glimpses of such "wisdom" making rounds once in a while from various sources. For instance, when I once visited some schools run by the Sangh Parivar in the tribal areas of Maharashtra. They are teaching the children, so far so good, but one lesson that is repeated often is that Muslims and Christians are our enemies. Even the games and songs talked of how one should take to talvaar (the sword).

Another popular myth links Bombay riots (1992 Dec-93 Jan/Feb) to 1993 March Bombay blasts, about which Dilip writes here.

And about the "bombs in every house" that is women, and the parents who allow her to go to college which ends up in them in "having love affairs, often with Muslims" and how can we prevent this from happening..? Prasant Jha in Himal, got link from Shivam's blog. By now, not quite shocking.

* * *

[** Why do you divide based on caste? Seemingly innocent question. Like those people who say "why do you want to divide people with reservations". There was a time when I used to ask this too. When one section takes all the privileges that it has got in the society being the "dominant" section, and when some sections are denied most of those previleges, that is not "dividing" people. When one tries to account for the discrimination, she is.

Why is it that it is always Dalits (who are outside the castes), and then Muslims and Christians, who get death sentence?

I don't count Afzal in this, his has been a speacial case, he got good media attention, has got good connections including foreign ones.. Most other victims of death penalty in independent India haven't had such luxury. Here's one reference.]

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Of a Dead Youth

"of a dead youth:

an essentially de-politicised childhood, we all share.

history, not very interesting topic.

cocacola, why not?

poor? do they exist?
(yes, i saw the photos on a forwarded mail..
really sad.)

from life?
we want freedom, money, love.."

Its time.. so Gargi has decided to break silence.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Rang De Basanti Salaam!

That was the name of a programme aired along with RDB on Gandhi Jayanti day on STAR GOLD. It was supposed to talk not about the making of the film that has been chosen India's official entry for Oscars, but about those who are keeping the spirit of the film alive.

It sounded funny, if not ridiculous. To have a film like Rang De Basanti on the (only?) day we are supposed to get high on non-violence. Going by the film, I tried to guess who were those people the programme would try to showcase. Naxalites? Less likely. The film's spirit lied not only in taking law in one's hands or in violent means of action. Like many other films that claim to address the "real" issues that concern the nation, this one also echoed the urban middle class sentiment that the corrupt politicians were THE problem we faced.

Worse, the people who swore by RDB in the real world were the foot-soldiers of the anti-reservation army. You mean, them?

I wanted to check it out but was terribly tired. TV was on, I was off. Yet shots of a singer from Punjab caught my attention. His name was Bant Singh.

He was lying with both his hands and a leg cut off. Apparently his daughter was raped by the "upper" caste Jat Sikh landlords, and his fight for justice earned him this.

He was singing a song with a flash of smile on his face.

A few days later I got a mail from my friend-- the subject line read "Urgent: Bant Singh's rehabilitation". "Bant Singh's courage will be a source of inspiration to all but we need not be mere spectators to the tragedy unleashed on him. We can express our solidarity by helping him access the best possible medical rehabilitation, so that he is back on his feet. Doctors have pointed out that with the current developments in medical technology, it would not be impossible to fix artificial limbs, both arms and legs, for him..", said the mail.

A link in the mail led to an article A Torso Flaming With Spirit that appeared in Tehelka.

Jithe khun hain meren veeriyan da Vishiya sadkan te haqan di luk banke Buchar khaneyan chon jithe lok mere Nittar rahe itihas di thuk banke Maa dhartiye sada suhagne ni Mere yaaran nu janam tu deyin uthe… [from another Tehelka article on Bant Singh].

So what if he can't hold Jagmeet in his hands again, the dalit singer has not given up his fight.

For once I thanked RDB for helping me know this man. And his daughter.

Friday, October 13, 2006

When our Intelligence traps us..

".. our intelligence also catches us in its net, the nature of which is to link causes and effects and by forming a logical argument. Then we try to get our life to an order that fits that logic; view the world through the same. When things don't happen according to this logic, that leaves us astounded. We feel it is impossible, it can not be true. Things don't cease to happen just because our intelligence considers it impossible. Thus when the path that the life and the world takes does not match with one's intelligence, it baffles the brain.."

I know it's not a very good translation. Original below, in Malayalam:

"..buddhiyum ithupole namme mohitharakkarundu. karyakaranangale kortthiNakkivachchu tharkkikamaya oru nyayatthinu roopam nalkiyittu, aa nyayam vachukondu swantham jeevithatthe krameekarikkukayum prapanchatthe nireekshikkukayum cheyyunnathaanathinte swabhaavam. athanusarichchu karyangaL nadakkaathe varumpoL amparannu ninnupokunnu. athanusarichchallatheyulla sambhavangal prapanchatthil nadakkumpoL athasaadhyam ennum asambhavyam ennum vilayirutthunnu. asambhavyam ennu manushyabuddhi vilayirutthiyathukondu maathram sambhavangal undavathirikkunnilla. ingane jeevithatthinteyum prapanchatthinteyum gathiyum swantham buddhiyum thammil iNangaathe varumpoL buddhi kuzhanhupokunnu.."

[Swami Muni Narayanaprasad in his explanation of Sree Narayana Guru's Darsanamaala]

This happens with most of us but we often manage the situation somehow and save our thoughts from getting completely fouled up. But when one is extremely convinved that the logic that one has found is "THE TRUTH", and the world around her/him is not flexible enough to change it ways the way (s)he wants, it is likely that the person goes mad..

And we are often helpless..

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Is Sharmila Irom real?

Last week one my friend told me he was in a campaign to gather support for Sharmila Irom's hunger strike in Delhi. He also gave a few links.

I didn't have any idea who she was and what the issue was. Going through some of the links, I learnt that she has been on a fast unto death at Jantar Mantar, Delhi. Next day I noticed the name on the newspaper, it said she was arrested by Delhi Police and was taken to AIIMS.

Last few days I have been trying to figure out who's Sharmila Irom, why was she on a fast. With the help of the web I figured out she started her hunger strike in November 2000 (you read it right) against Armed Forces Special Powers Act and she has been on a fast unto death since then. For almost SIX years! She is now being force-fed through a pipe in her nose on the orders of the state administration.

"How is she alive now then
" was one (natural) response I got from a friend when I shared what I learnt. The only conclusion I could reach was that it is not only food that keeps one going.

Another response was a more concerned one. Concerned about me, not the lady. That I'm in Assam, I better stay away from such delicate issues.. Life is precious.

Yes, my life is precious. What about many other lives that hang on this particular act? And if this is so much delicate an issue, what is this act all about?

Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 (AFSPA) grants special powers to the Indian armed forces to arrest, detain, interrogate or even kill any person on mere suspicion with impunity. Manipur (where Sharmila hails from) and her neighbouring states of north-east India have been reeling under this act for almost half a century.

Following widespread protests against the law, the Centre set up the expert panel headed by former Justice Jeevan Reddy to review the legislation in 2004. The panel last year submitted its report to the Centre, which is yet to act on its recommendations. Apparently the commission had recommended the law should be repealed ("The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, should be repealed," it notes in its recommendations. "The Act is too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars"..)

My fast is on behalf of the people of Manipur. This is not a personal battle – this is symbolic. It is a symbol of truth, love and peace”, says Irom Sharmila Charu.

More on her and about the act can be found at (the site is being updated regularly with news on her and on the law against which people in Manipur and elsewhere in the North-East have been agitating for several years).

Friday, October 06, 2006

Farmer and her land

"A farmer wants a loan from the bank to dig a well in her land."

"Every citizen has the right to express her thoughts, cast her vote or contest elections."

These sentences may shock some, and it seems some are even finding them outrageous. After growing up learning the boring lessons on how mother washed me and combed my hair, and how father worked in the farm all day, this is indeed a refreshing change.

"A number of new NCERT textbooks for class I to class XII have been designed to encourage children to question social prejudices, discrimination and inequalities. This is a conscious reversal of the earlier trend where textbooks reinforced prevailing stereotypes", notes Deepti Priya Mehrotra in India Together (article dated 5 October 2006).

Monday, October 02, 2006

Mahatma Gandhi meets Munnabhai

October 2 was a holiday, and Mohandas decided to check out the latest product that's selling his brand..

Mahatma Gandhi: Arre, tu to is baar ekdum pseud dikhrela hai bhaai..

Munna: Haan bhaai, sab jagah vikaas ki baat horalla hai, apna look bhi thoda vikasit ho gaya samjho bhaai..

Circuit: Aur mera naya cheshma dekha bhai.. Mere gale mein ka sone ka wajan bhi badh gayela hai Gandhibhaai!

MG: Lagta hai uske saath saath tumhare rishtein bhi badal gaye hai.. Pichli baar tumlogon ka ek "aam aadmi" image tha, kahaani mein bhi kuch aise character the jo not-so-elite India ko represent kar rahe the.. Iss baar to kahaani mein sirf amir log nazar aa rahe hai bhaii.. jaise Karan Johar ki film mein hote hai!

M: Kya karein bhaai producer ko shayad laga hoga multiplex audience ko unki class kihich kahani pasand aayegi.. Aur bole to shayad unko ye bhi lagta hai middle aur upper middle class mein Gandhigiri phailane ke liye aise characters chahiye jinse woh log relate kar paaye..

MG: Kya bol raha hai! Ye movie Gandhigiri phaila raha hai..?

M: Main nahi bola bhai.. Akhaa media bolrela hai.. Aur apna producer aur director bhi wohi bolrela hai..

C: Magar tumhe aisa nahi lagaa naa Gandhibhai.. Main bhi wohi bol raha tha.. Ye sab Gandhigiri Non-violence sab bakwaas hai sirf Dadagiri chalta hai-- yehi film ka moral of the story hai! Bura mat maanna bhaai mujhe Gaandhigiri ke barein mein kuch pata nahi hai (woh film dekhke tumhe pata chala hi hoga) main to sirf film ki message ki baat kar raha hoon bhaai..

MG: Circuit sahi bol raha hai.. Gandhigiri mujhe sirf iska poster mein dikha tha.. ki "Statutory warning: This film contains nonviolence.." Uske aage to film mein sirf goondagiri nazar aata hain! Tu bhi kyaa aadmi hai Munnabhai, do main mar pade to pehle bolta hai aage kya karna hai Gandhi ne bola nahi hai, uska bajaa dalta hai phir apnaa Gandhigiri yaad aata hai..

M: Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi hai bhaai.. director saab ko lagtaa hai uskaa bajaa daalna chahiye.. mera matlab hai usko lagta hai audience ko wohich mangta hai.. to main kyaa karoon bhaai?

MG: Aur tu bhi Circuit.. Woh bechaara jyothish ka bheje pe bandook lagake uska dimaag out kar deta hai aur phir bolta hai "mujhe sorry bolne kaa hai".. Isko tum Gandhigiri bolte ho?

C: Maine pehle hi bola tha bhai.. Ye Gandhigiri Wandhigiri mein apun ka vishwaas nahi hai.. Sach to ye hai ki ye apna hero Munna ko bhi vishwaas nahi hai, directorsaab ko bhi nahi hai, naa film dekhke jo "enlightented" ho gaye hai unko! Aur mujhe kya bol raha hai ji..

MG: Magar ek baat to hai Circuit.. Tu jab pyaar se "Bhaai" bolta hai naa, Sanju bhaai ke saare female fans jalke koyla ban gaye honge. Pehle film mein bhi aur abhi bhi! Tu sahi mein Munna ka pyaar mein to nahi hai..

C (blushing): Ye sab public mein bolne ka nahin hota bhai..

LS (passing by, shaking his hips): Just chill chill just chill...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Nominees in Most uncool ad category are..

My entry is "veta ho to koi bhi english bol sakta hai" or some such crap, where a housemaid is shown singing an English song and a young guy opens his moth in disbelief. The maid says "main chalti hoon saab", and walks away. Guy's mouth is still open. The tagline follows. Boo...!!

What do the people who make (and enjoy) such ads think? they are some special species who are born with some magical power (their dad/mom/grand-dad/grand-mom got some power from aliens..) that makes them able to speak English? Many housemaids end up in that job after having to drop out of school or having to discontinue further studies. Many of them do speak good English too (if they don't speak English with you, that's because of your attitude that they are not supposed to be in your league and you want their class to remain under yours forever..) Boo boo..!!

Please post your entries in this category.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Naan Aanaiyittaal..

Witnessed one old style Orchestra (in Malayalam we call it a Ganamela) near the Kodambakkam railway station at Chennai last month. The volume was high, and when I came to the scene it was one guy singing an old sad Tamil song with all his emotions put into it. I didn't know the song, I couldn't figure out the lyrics but I got the "feelings". Guy was in white and white. So were the others on the stage. The Orchestra leader had a black coat over his white shirt, and kept swinging his arms in the air. I sat in the front along with some locals, while many people who passed by showed their discomfort by closing their ears with their fingers.

Then there was newer and faster numbers (sang by someone who wore a white t-shirt and white pants), and old MGR numbers ("Naan Aanaiyittal.." that was the only song I knew. There was a couple of "once more" shouts after that song) The crowd, though small, was happy. That included me.

The emotion man came on the stage again, and some younger ones booed him. Guy didn't give it a damn, he again threw all his passion into the sad, sadder, saddest song. Later I spotted him behind the stage going for a tea or a cigarette, and I went and told him the song was good. He was happy, and thanked me, but the expression was like "I knew it was good.. It had to be good". Yes, it had to be good. Thanks, Bhaskar. Thanks other singers. Thanks the organizers.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Polio outbreak: Do bundein zindagi ki?

It seems there's a Polio outbreak in the country. The number of Polio cases reported this year is around 300, whereas it was 66 last year.

I got to know about this outbreak late. Mainly because I have been traveling over the last two-three weeks and have not been following news regularly (thats also the reason there wasn't any new post on the blog for so many days). I first read about it in the leading front-page story of "The Telegraph" yesterday. But after that I noticed one mail from my friend in my mailbox that gave a link to an Indian Express report on the government's explanation of the rise in Polio cases. Coming from the Government spokespersons, it naturally attributes it to kids who give polio drive a miss. It does not stop there, it goes on to target the Muslim community in particular: "Another problem that the government has to deal with is that UP's large Muslim minority are reluctant to get their children immunized because of rumours that polio drops are part of a Western conspiracy to make their children sterile. Nearly 70% of the cases are from minority communities.."

My friend can't hide his anger:

"Those who do these based on pseudo-scientific reasoning are doing unpardonable crime and
irreversible damage to their children

"The Telegraph" story is a twist in the tale, and suggests that the Government is desparately trying to hide the ineffectiveness of the Pulse Polio drive.

"India’s health bureaucracy ignored scientific advice about flaws in the polio immunisation programme for nearly 20 years and suppressed research that might have led to faster eradication, doctors have said.." [Polio botch-up blame at Delhi door,]

"The doctors have challenged assertions by health officials that the surge in polio in western Uttar Pradesh this year -- and the resulting setback in eradication efforts -- was only due to poor immunisation there last year.

In scientific papers and interviews to The Telegraph, they said India's failure to eradicate polio also stems from wrong decisions on dosage and choice of vaccine..." the report continues.

"The number of polio cases in India has surged this year to 297 after a steady decline for years and a record low of 66 last year."

"Children who got as many as 10 doses have still got polio in Uttar Pradesh this year."

"John believes policy-makers displayed an unscientific bias towards OPV over the inactivated injectible polio vaccine (IPV) that has been shown through studies as superior in many ways."

"In a paper three years ago in the Proceedings of the Indian National Science Academy, John suggested there might have been an effort to suppress findings about IPV's advantages. His own studies comparing IPV with OPV in Tamil Nadu were approved by the Centre on the condition that he would not publish the results."

"Another pediatrician in a government medical college in New Delhi told The Telegraph that he was discouraged from studying IPV."

[Images from The Telegraph report]

Now we'll try to check the science and "pseudo-science" in the claims and counter-claims. Last month when we talked about not vaccinating Aadil, I had promised to come back with the arguments against the Oral Polio Vaccines, popularly known as "Pulse Polio" (Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar come on the mini screen often to coax us to give our children the two drops of life).

One of the main arguments of the anti-OPV drive in Kerala was that OPV is discontinued in most developed countries. In USA, the Oral Vaccine was banned in 1999 following a case of "Vaccine caused Parallysis". (Read about one such case at The campaigns have documented similar cases reported in India/Kerala as well).

A "Science Daily" report admits that OPV runs such a risk, but says that it can be overcome by "proper coverage" (A 2004 outbreak of polio in China traced back to live attenuated oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is widely used in global eradication efforts, highlights the small but significant risk to eradication posed by the use of OPV at suboptimal rates of coverage..,
When this became a debate in India, the Government's stand was that if all the children in the country are given the vaccine at the same time (yes-- same time, not the same day), it was safe. Can one get any more unrealistic?

Oral Polio Vaccine is no longer recommended, says one US health brochure (pdf).

And now, check this:

    Despite the figues showing the Polio cases on the decline in the countries that are on the OPV drive now (India, Pakistan, China, some African countries), the figures (the official ones itself) of Non-Polio AFPs (Accute Flaccid Parallysis, cases of polio-like diseases), is showing an exponential rise in all these countries.
    In India, The number of cases of non-Polio AFPs rose from 772 in 1996 to 27,000 in 2004 (the polio figures dropped from 1105 to 136 in the same period).
The activists claim there is a chance that many of these cases are actually that of Polio and are not reported as Polio, because there are parties who benefit from the OPV drive and they are influential enough. I find it a serious concern. But can we ever expect honest research to happen in such areas, and even if research happens, what is the guarantee that the real results reach us? Chances seem grim:-(

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Onam day: My Snake charmer friend Jetson

His friends call him Paampu Velayuthan (meaning a snake-charmer) but Jetson is not quite a snake charmer in the sense that we understand that word. People call him when they find a snake, he comes and catches it, and leaves it back in nearby forests. He says he got to snakes as he wanted to do "something different", and snakes because they were around us but everyone was scared of them. "I wanted to change the people's attitude towards snakes, and give a message that they are just like any other living being". He seems to have succeeded in it to an extent, and there are people now who make a call to him before trying to kill the snake with whatever means they could find (I have seen people killing a snake hitting it with a branch and then pouring kerosene and burning it, it was a dreary scene. Ugly memories remain more clear, says Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata in Thousand Cranes).

Last month when I went to Kerala on a long weekend (Tuesday was Independence day, Wednesday was Janmashtami, so if you take off on Monday it was a five-day long weekend, isn't it tempting?) my Maharashtrian friend came with me. He wanted to do something exciting. I checked with my friends in Kerala, who told me that most trekking places in Kerala are difficult doing in monsoons. I didn't want to disappoint my friend, I called Jetson's house. His mother asked a number of questions about my whereabouts and why I called him, apparently to make sure it is not one of those "snake calls".

Jetson is now taking the snakes more seriously and is planning to do a research on Indian snakes. (Naturally, his folks are a bit worried). The 23-year old can be reached at jetson_for_animals at yahoo dot co dot in.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Happy Onam!

Wish you all a happy Onam! (Tuesday 5th September is the main Onam day this time, the thiruvonam day of Malayalam month Chingam).

I was looking for a good Onam pic on the net to share with my friends, something other than the cliched Onam images of thiruvathira (a dance form where girls dress up and swing to please the voyeuring male gazes), pookkalam (a rangoli of flowers), vallam kali (boat race) or Kathakali (supposedly signifying Kerala, though majority of Keralites did not even know what it was like), and I landed on on sarah and rock sea's page.

One month in the life of a Diary

It's about a month since we moved here, and I'd like to share the blogger experience with the readers. First I found the white background too bright, so dimmed it a bit so that it went easy on my eyes (as well as yours). While blogger offered better looks, flexibility and RSS feeds that were compatible with most blogrolls, I realized that it was difficult reading this blog without organizing the posts into categories. More so because the posts didn't stick to a particular topic. I found some means to fix it (thanks to this page) and I believe taking that much trouble was worth it and it is more readable now. But by then blogger has come up with a beta version that has the provision of tagging posts. The diary is still in the "old" blogger, though I think we'll eventually switch to beta.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hitchcock Effect

Watched Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" last night. One of his lighter films. Still it managed to kill my sleep (could be the beer). Had this strange dream that I was trying to cover up some murder that someone else committed on a train (Mangala Express), I get some money for it.. Police is after me but I have left no evidence.. I'm walking on a hill carrying that money (in a huge cover, trying to hide it under my shirt) and I'm afraid someone would notice..

Last week I had watched "Vertigo", which was a different genre altogether. It was very intense, the suspence element was much more, had a lot of tense sequences, in short watching it was strenuous (and it's in colour, made 7 years later in 1958). But there wasn't any hang-over like this. Perhaps it haunted me enough while watching it. Have to watch it again, at least two-three times more.

I don't think there's anything left to be written about Vertigo, so I'll only reproduce one of the film's posters [source:].

Hope to watch "Psycho" sometime next week.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Boy, get up, there's no dinner for you!

Talking of bad experiences, it's hard to miss this one. In Malayalam there's one phrase, "to wake one up and tell there's no dinner". I had a chance to figure out how bad it is, thanks to Al Italia.

It was about three years back, about an hour past midnight. Flight for Milan took off from Mumbai airport. I had not had dinner that night and was hungry, but more than that I was tired and sleepy, so I fell asleep even before the flight took off.

The the air hostess woke me up and said it's dinner, I was irritated that it disturbed my sleep but was happy I was getting to eat something. After about five minutes, she came and told me sorry sir, we have run out of dinner. Presumably everyone else in the flight got their meals. Including my friend who was traveling with me. We were on the last seat, we were students and we did look like students.

The Milan-Mumbai flight experience was even worse. It was afternoon, and I was served vegetarian meals. When I asked for non-vegetarian meals, they first told me they ran out of non-veg meals. When I told them I just saw someone else (who look white) asking for a non-vegetarian meal and she got it, the air hostess started arguing with me, then she asked me for my boarding pass to confirm I had indeed opted for non-vegetarian meals. And then they got me the non-veg meal.

The difference in the manner in which they treated similar requests from me and the foreign lady suggested that I was at the wrong place. I did not expect that on an international flight. That, along with the previous experience, convinced me that I shouldn't travel Al Italia again if I'm given a choice. [I didn't bother to file a complaint, as I didn't feel it was worth it.]

"Lights on" Rocks!!

Have you ever experienced the "lights on" tremors at Satyam Cinemas, Chennai? I am new to the city and have been to just two lights on shows, one a screening of "36 Chowringee lane" followed by a conversation with Aparna Sen, and the second one "Hangman" followed by Om Puri. Both were held at Sree.

Both the screenings sent shivers down one's spines, literally. Throughout the show, the hall was vibrating to an extent that on the first day, I thought it was a mild earth-quake shaking the city. (Okay-- first I thought it was my mobile but then I confirmed it was switched off. Then I thought it could be "Krrish" or some such loud film "rocking" the hall below, but it didn't seem to stop. I checked with my friends later to make sure I wasn't the only one who felt it.)

The second time I was more prepared for it, but it is certainly not good news that this is a regular feature at Sree (or is it only for the lights on screenings?) Some special effect that you did not ask for?

[Appendage: I was watching 36 Chowringee lane for the first time and Aparna Sen was an added attraction, so I did not consider leaving the hall on the first day.

was boring and cliched, and even worse, the illiterate characters of some interior Maharashtra village spoke English-- this happens when one makes films exclusively for festivals. Hariharan cleverly avoided talking about the film, and instead talked about the new wave films that Om Puri was a part of.

The sound during the interaction session was bad both the times, so much that Aparna Sen and Dhritiman Chatterjee decided to go without mics for the entire conversation.

Another bad experience I've had at the Satyam cinemas was the Subham that is "undergoing renovation", where my eardrums suffered badly. Someone has written about it here.]

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Who is Grisha Perelman?

I first heard this name about a week back. I got a mail which carried a Newyork Times article dated August 15, that started with a question "Grisha Perelman, where are you?"

I didn't know who he was, but the first few lines caught my attention so I didn't delete it. It went thus:

"Three years ago, a Russian mathematician by the name of Grigory Perelman, a k a Grisha, in St. Petersburg, announced that he had solved a famous and intractable mathematical problem, known as the Poincaré conjecture, about the nature of space.

After posting a few short papers on the Internet and making a whirlwind lecture tour of the United States, Dr. Perelman disappeared back into the Russian woods in the spring of 2003, leaving the world's mathematicians to pick up the pieces and decide if he was right.."

The article goes on:

"Now they say they have finished his work, and the evidence is circulating among scholars in the form of three book-length papers with about 1,000 pages of dense mathematics and prose between them.

As a result there is a growing feeling, a cautious optimism that they have finally achieved a landmark not just of mathematics, but of human thought.."


"But at the moment of his putative triumph, Dr. Perelman is nowhere in sight. He is an odds-on favorite to win a Fields Medal, math's version of the Nobel Prize, when the International Mathematics Union convenes in Madrid next Tuesday. But there is no indication whether he will show up.

Also left hanging, for now, is $1 million offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass., for the first published proof of the conjecture, one of seven outstanding questions for which they offered a ransom back at the beginning of the millennium.."

The Fields Medal (it is awarded once in four years to mathematicians under 40, see Mathworld and wikipedia entries) was announced day before, and Perelman did win it. As expected, he declined to accept the award or appear at the congress (International Congress of the International Mathematical Union, where the award ceremony is held).

It seems to have become an added motivation for the "investigative" journos to come up with more masala and more drama. Latest gossip that is making rounds is that the guy was fired from the Institute he was working at, and he now lives with his mother's pension money, and also that he does not want to talk about Mathematics. (Could be true.)

All this would have made mathematitians happy. It is not every day that mathematics is in news! [Also see].

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

About Not vaccinating Aadil

We haven't vaccinated Aadil.

I don't know how you would react to it. Many of our friends didn't know how to react either, and some have reacted vehemently. We are putting the child at risk is their argument, by opting for vaccination one is supposed to be playing it safe.

As one of our friends said,
"Vaccinating a baby is something I by default consider to be a logical step. This impression mainly due to my prior readings and oral interaction with various people."

In our everyday life we do buy many illogicalities as "logical" without realizing it, because we usually get to see only one side of it. I don't know whether vaccinations are really useful or not, but after getting to read some material that suggested that vaccinations could have an adverse effect on one's health, and after listening to a few parents who chose not to vaccinate their children (they seemed as healthy as other children if not healthier), we decided to save our child of the risk of vaccination.

I also grew up learning how the advent of vaccinations was a turning point in the history of modern medical science, and it was this compilation of "Vaccination Myths" by Alan Phillips that got me to shake it off for the first time. [Many people have come up with counter-arguments to the points that the authour makes here, but I think it is still worth going through once as a starter].

In the last 5-6 years there has been many campaigns against the pulse polio programme in our country, and I am planning to do a documentation of the material that the activists have used against this programme. Watch this space.