Tuesday, July 17, 2012

THE ONE AND ONLY SUKUMAR AZHIKODE


(Sukumar Azhikode,(1926-2012) award-winning writer, scholar and the most influential Gandhian intellectual in Kerala, had been fighting cancer for nearly a year. Hailing from Kannur in north Kerala, he had made Thrissur his home but was cremated at the historic Payyambalam beach in Kannur with full State honours.An intellectual giant, a great humanist, a cultural guru, a committed secularist, a champion of human rights and a sentinel of social values, he gave expression to his ideals through more than 35 books, thousands of articles and countless orations — all laced with grace, dignity and humour. As a literary critic, he upheld the timeless values of the classics. His range was wide, ranging from Indian philosophy, Vedas and Upanishads to the subtly nuanced pure literary criticism. His writings on poetry gravitated towards sociological and cultural criticism)
                  I knew it was my last visit. For around two months, Sukumar Azhikode, the charismatic presence in the dais in all important functions  in almost every village in Kerala for the last 60 years, was bed ridden, his thundering voice becoming weaker every day, the non-stop procession of people from all walks of life coming to see him day and night outwitting the medicines’ limited ability of rejuvenation, the cancer cells gnawing at him hesitating for the final kill. It was really a befitting scenario to the farewell scene of one of the luminaries of Kerala’s cultural scene.
                 We had shared many platforms during the last decades and his canny sense of humour was invigorating in equally in personal talks and before the mike and it was always a pleasure for all to hear him. He was vicious in his attacks on leaders who he felt are erring at the cost of justice and social ethics and the beautifully venomous words he used endeared him to the audience and readers, but in most of the cases put an indelible wound which remained as a scar mark on the victim. Azhikode was a Gandhian to the core, in deeds and personal life, and regarded these comments to the Gandhian dictum of never hate the enemy, but only his wrong acts.
                Sukumar Azhikode had a brilliant mind which Kerala will miss and it is a real loss to our society. He took upon the responsibility of a corrective mechanism, a watchdog syndrome within the system. He never wanted to change it, but was satisfied with creating awareness about the mistakes and he left the process of corrective action to the societal mindset.
                He was the super star in Malayalam oratory and the beauty of Malayalam language was really felt by the listeners when the words flowed with colourful ripples supported with his enchanting body movements.         
               On the material ladder, he was not an achiever. He was never made a vice-chancellor by the politicians, offered only the lowest of the padma awards when comparables got vibhushans and bhushans, his ambitions in literary field to become President of Kendra Sahitya Academy thwarted at last moment and in political field to become Lok Sabha member decisively smashed in political equations and his love affair  never had even an endearing Devdas climax.
               But he was one of the greatest real achievers of our generation. He was throned in the minds of millions of ordinary malayalees, whose causes he always championed fearlessly and vehemently. Funny part is that even diametrically opposite groups, ideological or social wanted him to be with them. But he wanted everybody to be with him.
               In our present money oriented psyche, he was one of the very few leaders who gave more importance to the economic value of justice, happiness and equality rather than the value of material possessions.    
               His last words to me were futuristic.
               It was the second time I was visiting him in the Amala hospital in Thrissur . Both times I told: I will take you to Ernakulam for an inauguration in a few days after your discharge from here. The first time he smilingly agreed. The second time I had gone with GPC Nair, one of Kerala’s top technocrats in management educational field in his newly acquired Rolls Royce car. I told Azhicode about the car and said that we were going to take him next in the Rolls Royce. He smiled and when we were leaving he called me and whispered in my ear.
               Don’t hurry.
               He and I knew that the golden Rolls Royce from the heaven was waiting for him for many days and nobody can say no to the Gods.                                               
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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Eco tourism- Historically speaking

Eco- tourism is the ga-ga word in Kerala now. It tops the oft-repeated comb words in the vocabulary of young and old Kerala intellectuals of 21st century looking around for a bit of revolution and finding no scope in the political or ideological arena enter the fresh green environment of nature preservation and connected ecological kaleidoscope. It is a self-satisfying phenomenon for the activists and quite an easier way for achieving wide publicity which in the present competitive world, it is difficult to attain without extremely high ability and dedication.
I have a doubt, a genuine one for which I think I will not get a direct answer. Still I feel we should ponder over it. What is meant by eco- tourism? Is it the tourism connected with ecology or with economics. May be both. Just as in the cases of other pious organized activities in the fields of education, medical services and religion, the strong undercurrents of economics overpower everything else. Worldwide, tourism generates annual revenues of nearly 3 trillion dollars and contributes nearly 11% of the global GNP (Gross National Product), making it the world's largest industry.
But the die-hards will not agree. So let us see it in the historical perspective.
Let us just try to find out from our past. And where should we start except from our God’s own country, Kerala? Who was the first tourist to Kerala? No doubt. Lord Mahavishnu’s fifth incarnation, the first in real human form, Vamana himself. Vamana was so enticed by hills and rivers, the greenery and soft winds of this land that after completing his mission of removing Mahabali from the throne and packing him off to the nether world, he didn’t wait much. He came as Parasurama in his next incarnation, first as a tourist, but found the land so fertile and the people so friendly that he decided to colonize the land with his followers from the arid poor hilly tracts of Deccan plateau. But he had problems. Fortyfour perennial rivers and hundreds of streams, thick woods and deep lagoons and no roads or pathways. And worse still the land was infested with snakes, hundreds of varieties, most of them poisonous. Parasurama threw his axe wildly, cut down trees, reclaimed marshy lands, elevated the snakes to the deity ’ s level with special sarpakavu in every household and declared that the entire land belonged to the temples. The Keralites were given in return the blessings of God, the weather forecasts for cultivation and celebration of innumerable festivals to forget their downtrodden existence. In Kerala, every household had their serpent shrines where they grew all types of medicinal plants and herbs. Most of the illness in the household were cured by the herbs from their own backyard. The vegetables and even foodcrops were cultivated in the compound around the dwellings. A unique eco-friendly society grew up. But it was ecology and economics combined which motivated Parasurama. You may laugh at this stating that it is only a legend. OK. Let us leave it and come to the recorded history.
The first real tourists to Kerala were the Jews. In 587 BC, when Nebudchasnasar freed the Jews from the Babylonian prisons, a large batch among them fled the country and came to Kerala shores traveling in the merchant vessels plying from Egyptian shores to eastern ports. In 370 BC, Titus Vespasian destroyed the sacred temple of Jerusalem and many were taken as prisoners and sent to Mayokra. A large batch of their descendants came and settled in Kerala.
In 52 AD, St. Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ came to Kerala and was received at the port by the leader of the Jewish community Habban. St. Thomas had come to save the souls of these fallen Jewish communities. He converted many of these Jews and also many local influential families to Christianity. He established seven places of worship, called Palli, the name for the Buddhist temples in the local language.
Marco Polo in the 13 th century had recorded. The great province of Malabar is the best of all the Indus (the name India was derived from Indus, the great river now in Pakistan) and it is on the main land. There is in this kingdom a great quality of pepper and ginger and cinnamon and nuts. The travelers came to Kerala enamored by the aroma of the black pearl. The Chinese, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Jews. The Chinese concentrated at the port Kollam, 60 miles south of Kochi, and the Phoenicians at Musaris, 20 miles north of Kochi. The Arabs were the traders and middlemen. The major commercial land route, the caravans originating from the Gangetic planes in north passed through the eastern mountains and plateau and ended in Kerala ports after traversing 2000 miles.
It was all sheer commerce. But unfortunately the locals had very little voice in the matter. The local rulers received meager tax revenue. The tradition is still religiously followed. Only one more mode of transport is added. By air. Now Kerala boasts of three airports, all of international specifications with direct flights to east and west. Few more would come in a decade.
Keralam was perhaps the flag bearer in the eco-tourism idea from time immemorial. Here tourism was always eco-friendly and economically attractive.
So let us shout: Eco-tourism is ours to stay.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Who is the God, in God’s Own Country?

Who is the God in God’s Own Country?
It is a fair question. The Marxists, who are not permitted to believe in God rules Kerala and shamelessly proclaim that Kerala is God’s own country. I was sure, something is wrong somewhere. Then I saw and heard the climax of the Marxist party’s well organized state conference at Kottayam two years back. The groupism in the party as promised was ended and only the burning pyre was to be lit. Then what happened, we all saw it live in TV.
Rain and Dance. The burning pyre doused. Leaders running hither and thither. An unrehearsed fiasco. Strong reprimands and don’t care attitude of the booze. The God had intervened. Sure.
But who was this God? The omnipresent one who attends and caresses even the non-believers’ party conference. The God is everywhere, in the pillars and the walls, Prahlada’s words were confirmed by Lord Vishnu himself by his incarnation as Narasimha, the lion man.
In Kerala I am sure there is a God, and he is now with the Marxists. It is historical. Lord Vishnu’s two incarnations, Vamana and Parasurama are directly connected with Kerala. And God Almighty sent St. Thomas to Kerala coast centuries before the pagan Europe heard about Jesus Christ. So Kerala is God’s dear land. No doubt. He changes form, we know, depending on the circumstances and need.
Bhagavad Gita clearly says.
Abhyudhanam Adharmasya…
Whenever there is wrongdoings, I would take new forms and will be there is. Lord Krishna had told Arjuna.
Now which form he has taken in Kerala?
From the 1940s nobody who was not a communist was accepted as a normal human being in Kerala. Everybody was a communist or at least a socialist. Even the most ardent capitalist in Kerala was socialist, if not communist. The communist capitalists organized trade unions and led agitations. All the political groups, even the blatant caste based and religion based political parties also swore by socialism. The Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary all three pillars of democracy here wore socialistic gowns. The Fourth estate not only swore, but also led the other three in vocalizing it.
The real new God was Communism. But nobody got upset about it. Kerala Communism was a very special variety, homemade, a heady spicy mix of Chinese Marxism, Russian mafia, Cuban dreams, orthodox Hinduism, Lord Ayyappa and a shot of democracy for taste.
Kerala, the God’s own country was always ready to replace God with Marx, Satan with bourgeoisie, heaven with classless society and the temple with party. The replacement saga is not over. It still retains the fancy of the public. Kerala people are searching for an idol and experimented with Vivekananda, the world renowned Hindu philosopher, Sree Narayana Guru, Kerala’s spiritual and social revolutionary, and EMS, the outstanding politician Kerala had produced in the post independent era who had almost outwitted spices and changed the color of Kerala map on the world atlas from the lush green to blood red. Kerala started boasting itself by democratically electing world’s first ever-communist rulers. Even hardened communists of Russia and China couldn’t believe it. Really they looked with suspicion at Kerala people and rarely their leaders who used to have very friendly relationships with the Central Government in Delhi included Kerala even in their sight seeing tours.
Even the opponent political parties in Kerala had to swear by socialism to survive and rule the state in alternate five year terms.
So really in which form the God appeared in the Marxist Party’s state conference and made His presence known?
Now I knew. God always deal with the top and it is easy for him. Who knows, He also may be a capitalist in his thinking, otherwise, why should there be such poverty and misery in the world, I was wondering. The God talked to Karatji, the general secretary, I am sure. And malayali Comrade Karat spelt it out in oxfordian English quoting EMS, the all knowing doyen.
It was just before the ceremony of lighting the fire at the funeral pyre of factionalism in the party.
He said.
Our God is now our Parliamentary Aspirations.
Long live the God.
In God’s own country, how can He appear in another form!

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Cricket- Waiting for the next delivery

When Lagan, one of the best movies to come out of Bollywood in the last decade, hit the screen like a Yuvraj sixer, we felt all the thrills and tensions of a closely fought one dayer between India and Pakistan. Amir Khan superbly mixed cricket and politics in the rural atmosphere of the early 20th century India. It had all the ingredients we wish and cherish. The fight between the oppressor and oppressed, non-violence movement, seeds of independence struggle, thin under-current of love of the white mem-sahib to the rustic Indian youth. And finally, the Indians win against all odds. God helped with umpteen number of no-balls and wides. In the last over, last ball India wins. If you remember, the last pair was batting, they required six runs with one ball to go and Amir Khan lofted the ball superbly, it was caught at the boundary line, but lo, the fielder, the white sahib, the captain, the villain, had just out-stepped the line and the verdict was not out; runs added six. And we, the Indian team and the Indian viewers, won. The match was between an Indian village team and the white sahibs’ team. The stake was the new tax imposed on the tillers of agricultural land. Of course, when the rulers lost the match, they sportingly abolished the tax.
Fiction writes or rewrites history and I am sure after a few decades, the saga of Lagan would become part of our independent movement. I wrote a novel, Cricket, in the early 90’s. It was before the match fixing years, and was perhaps the first full length novel based on the game in Indian literature. In the novel, I had introduced our Chief Minister and the Opposition leader trying to make political capital out of the match and both try to establish distant blood connection with the debutant malayali cricketier Unni. Now it is not only the politicians, but all super stars in cinema, business and industry jump to the cricket wagon. It is not money or power alone. Something more? A charisma? Or is it vote? I don’t know.
But there is something in cricket that we don’t find elsewhere? What is it? It is simple and straight. India has the best of billionairs and the poorest of poor in the world IIM boys get placement jobs at salaries of 150 million rupees a year and the Indian farmer is committing suicide as he could not cope up with a loan of 20 thousand after a year’s labor. The latter is only half day’s wage of the fresher. But both are cricket crazy. For the poor in India, cricket is a replica of his life. Decades back, once BBC asked India’s super star Amitabh Bachan as to why an intellectual and highly educated artist like him takes up roles that are clearly unrealistic, irrational and simply foolish. He replied quite seriously. My films are for the poor Indian masses. They have nothing except hope for a better life, in this world if possible. They are sure that they would get it in the next world, but they hope for a lucky break in this life itself. I personify their hope. I play the simple character who has done well in this life itself fighting against all odds. They all want to sing and dance and fight the wicked. I do the same on the screen. And they are happy and satisfied.
Amitabh Bachan and Sachin Tendulkar. Both are real Indian heroes for the masses. Our aspirations personified. But Sachin is not acting. And that is where we find the real answer to the acceptance of cricket as the most popular medium identifying our life. Just watch a shot. Shoib Akhtar is breathing hard, he waits, brushes the ball in his hip, the shine is better, looks at the batsman readying up about 75 metres ahead, and starts his run. Sachin Tendulkar, the short man, almost of our height, a troubled childish look on his face lifts his face, and watches the oncoming tornado. We know anything can happen now. Anything. The only surety is that there is nobody to help Sachin on the field when he is facing the onslaught now except his own ability and determination. Even those qualities may not be enough. He needs luck also to survive and succeed. Eleven opponents. Two umpires in the field and two in the pavilion, watching his every step. And thousands of spectators roaring for the kill. You have a partner on the other end ready to help you. But he cannot do much. Maximum he can keep you from run-out problems. Is it not a replica of life? Real life? The modern life where you are all alone when you are to face any problem? You have a partner, but she or he can help only to a very limited extent, almost like not getting you run out through her/his mistake. You have education, talent, intelligence, physical and mental health and grit and determination to succeed. So you are facing the world. Still you don’t know. You may or may not succeed. You may be out in the first ball itself or you may go on to make a century.
We are Sachin. We can be out with this ball or we can hit a sixer. The ball can be wide, or a no ball. It can touch the pads and go for leg bye to the boundary line. Lucky. The ball can grace the bat go near the slip fielder. Luck. He drops it.
We win and move ahead. We wait for the next delivery.
Cricket is our life, our hope and our dreams.
Pawarji and Anil Ambani. Shah Rukh and Vijay Mallya. How can we blame these dream merchants?

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Oh! For a nine inch twig!

I was really wondering.

What is India's real major current problem?

Suppose we don’t read newspapers or hear radio or see TV or browse online news and switch off cell phones for two weeks.

What will happen? During the two-week period which would be the most important problem for us ?

Let me think for a Kerala household ?

The monsoon is showing its irritating presence and side effects.
Surely at least one of the children or old parents or somebody in the family will fall ill. Not serious, but a slight temperature, headache, cough or stomach upset. Being health conscious and well informed about symptoms and hundreds of viruses and illnesses, we rush to the nearest doctor. We have plenty of well-equipped clinics and hospitals in almost every small town and well-qualified physicians to attend. The modern doctor you face is not a general practitioner, but a specialist and hence has to first make sure that the patient’s illness comes under his expert special knowledge. The tests and atmosphere of the clinic keeps up the intensity of the slight illness and we are happy that proper medical care is given.

The doctor examines the various test reports and prescribes medicines.
The tests and consultation bills are quite shocking enough, but we don’t mind. When we go to the medical shop with the prescriptions, there is double shock. The prices of medicines have almost increased five to ten times in the last two years.

The slight illness which could have been cured by rest or fast or small adjustment in food intake or a bit of thulsi leaves or powdered pepper have made a sizable dent in the family budget.

This is a very serious problem.

The geometrical progressive increase in the cost of health care in a society where the mindset is geared to the super-specialities is to my mind, the most important problem of Kerala, and to great extent, India.

Of course, we relish in going to the costliest of hospitals for even minor treatments.

We are ready to get a by-pass surgery when proper rest and regular exercise with food control would have given better solace. At the first opportunity we rush to the super specialities craving for transplantations of any of our organs.

In Kochi, my city,we have dozens of wonderful super-speciality hospitals with an array of best-qualified personnel and ultra modern equipments. And there are hundreds of super clinics as well.

But Kochi, or for that matter, any of the towns in Kerala, do not have sewage system. No pure drinking water. The mosquito slapping is Kochi’s favourite past time. An esonophelia content of 10% in the blood is normal for Kochi citizen as against 5.5% for human race.

And Kerala's towns and villages are fast developing to be the suburb of Kochi.

I am not against hospitals and super specialities. I am of course apprehensive of the potentially dangerous social phenomena of religion, healthcare and education coming together under control of non-government, non-accountable bodies and tuning our minds. Our mindset is being corrupted in an irrevocable manner.

Gandhiji, wrote:

In India, 90% of our illness starts with fever or dysentery and both are caused by the impurities in the drinking water and contaminated surroundings. We don’t require super speciality costly hospitals for our general health care. The nature has given it in abundance in a simple medical equipment. It is a nine-inch long twig. Just make a six-inch deep hole on the earth before you sit for the morning toiletry and fill it with the displaced earth after you finish. You will stop contamination of the flowing water and create a richer soil.

The concrete jungle of Kochi has no soil or twigs.

But we can find alternatives. Technology can create wonders if focussed.

A super speciality drinking water project and multi-tier sewage disposal System.

It would be our nine-inch twig.

Any takers?

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Monday, July 5, 2010

The Three R's and the Inevitable Fourth

It was 1943.

I was seven. Studying in the Vettathuvila primary school in Chennithala, a village in central Travancore. I was perhaps the most brilliant in the class. I got double promotion and was now in class III. I had a knack for arithmetics and could recite the multiplication tables of even 13, 14 and 15 without battling the eyelid. But even I could not cope up with the simple problem our Headmistress Kunji Amma teacher wrote on the blackboard.

The problem was in one line.

Change Sarkar Rupees 27 panam 3, chakram 2 and kasu 11 in to British Rupees, anas, and pies.

All the little brains are working out for the next two periods on this.

Sarkar rupee is of the native state, so it should not be above British Rupee. So Sarkar Rupee is 28 chakram, British Rupee is 28 1/2 chakram, 4 chakram 1 panam, 16 kasu 1 chakram, 16 anas one British Rupee and 12 pie 1 ana.

Can you do it in one hour?

We all come out with different answers. The canes swing.

We become closer in one respect. We are united in our fear of arithmetics.

This was the scenario of all the primary schools in Travancore. it is no wonder that Travancore did not produce any outstanding mathematician or engineer or physicist of international calibre.

Bill Gates said:

A mother of a two and a half year old child initiates him to the world of letters by making him fold a crayon between his fingers and drawing two slanting lines and giving a connecting line in the middle and asking him to shout A. Neither the lines nor the figure has any connection with the sound it represents. The child’s brain cells are in overtime work to find a out why or what it is. So by the tine he learns the alphabets, he has misutilised and overutilised his brain energy and capacity which could have been useful in more creative manner.

He says the computer will simplify the process.

And new inventions will come out of the brain cells which remain fresh and receptive and hence capable of new and unpredictable inventions.

The three R s, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, are the symbols of learning, knowledge, progress and finally wisdom. But when I write it and read and
re-read the word R s, I am amused. The gap between the R and S was shrinking every time I re-read it and now there is practically no gap and I have to use all my learning and wisdom to see that R s do not represent Rs. Rupees, the wealth.
Learn to earn wealth. Not wealth of knowledge but wealth of money.

The idea is truly un-Indian where the wise and learned, Brahmins were on the top of the social order and the really wealthy, the Vaishyas, the traders and businessmen came third, after the administrators and military, the Kshatriyas.

Bill Gates and the western trained Indian economists would have poohpoohed the idea. Think of Ambanis or Mallayyas to be below in social hierarchy to the swamis of Ramakrishna Mission or vice-chancellors of our Universities.

India led the ancient civilisations where begging was an honourable profession, and the learned, the Brahmins lived on the alms religiously given to them by the rest. The knowledge and wisdom were not to be used for wealth creation for self. It was for the benefit of the society and the beneficiary, the society should perpetuate the wisdom by meeting their bare physical needs.

Then it became such a force that Buddhism insists that a real Buddhist monk has to live on alms alone and the begging bowl has become the most important part of his robe.

Thus the three R s were in olden times never connected to the Rs, the rupees.
Of course in those days the three R s were not considered necessary at all for all and sundry. The education was the prerogative of the highest, the Brahmins.
In Kerala, prior to sixth and seventh centuries the three R s were never a part of the society and nobody felt any need for it. Even arithmetics was not necessary in their daily lives.

The basic use of arithmetics in a society is in respect of measurement of space, time, weight and price. In those days the distance was easily connected to Vilipadakale, the distance upto which your shout can be heard and Nazhika, the distance you can travel when your shadow changes by a Charn, the length of your open palm. Measurement of weight, no problem. Thalachumad, the weight your head can hold. And money. There was no middleman price for any product in the barter transactions and when by any chance a few coins, mainly gold, are received from some Arab or north Indian traders, the coin was a collector’s item or turned into jewellery. The coins as such are diligently buried generally deep below nalukattu, safe centre place of the dwelling. It becomes the nidhi, treasure for future generations.

So there was no need of reading, writing or arithmetic.

Then came the Budhhists combining Palli and Pallikoodam , the temple and school combined. They also had healthcare as part of the system. The remnants of it can still be felt at the Budhhapalli turned temples in the coastal belt, at Kodungalloor, Cherthala, Thiruvizha, Maruthorvattom, Thakazhi etc.

The Namboodiris just changed the scenario, They came in hordes and captured the entire Kerala in a manner unique in World history. They didn’t spill a drop of blood, but conquered the entire society physically and mentally with tonguelashing Sanskrit words and hymns and a laborious way of writing in user unfriendly palm leaves using Narayam, an iron tool more useful in deadly combats.

It took many centuries for Keralites to get a script of their own and they got their first schools with traditional teacher, the Nilthezhuthasan in every village. The hereditary teacher started teaching the children the three R ‘s in the well spread white sand collected and kept for this purpose. Promotion to use of palm leaf came in the advanced courses only.

The most important feature of this development was that the Kerala society got one of the unique custom found nowhere else in the world.

Ezhuthiniruth. Initiation of the child into the world of letters.

Of course the three R's are still a part of us and the fourth now controls the first three. But a little remembrance, nostalgia, gives us something to think of.

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