The Long Walk to Freedom is over

Nelson Mandela who created history has become history. A person I have admired tremendously, I have always wondered what made him do what he did.

RIP - The world will miss your Light...

RIP – The world will miss your Light…

Born to the royal Thembu family, he could have enjoyed his life in a nondescript way. But he did not.

He could have just lived his own life and disregarded the travails and troubles of his fellowmen. But he did not.

He was imprisoned for 27 years. 18 of those years were in a solitary cell, 8 x 7 feet with only a straw mat in the infamous Robben Island prison.

Long before the waters created the divide between the Cape and the Robben Island, it was inhabited by people. But after the Dutch settled at the Cape in the mid-1600s, the Island had been used primarily as a prison. In 1997, post Mandela’s release and after he became the first black South African President, the island become a museum and a UNESCO world heritage site.

The nearly oval shaped island according to Wikipedia is about 3.3 km long north-south and 1.9 km long wide. The swell of the open Atlantic sea breaks on the shore and the coral reefs around and causes the foamy surf of the sea to thrash and pound the island day in and out. The icy winds slash like sharp knives, painful and agonizing.

It is sheer irony and quirk of destiny that such an inhospitable terrain in the four walls of a prison in Robben Island became the cradle of an iconic movement as well as dug the grave of the most inhuman practice of Apartheid.

It is said that he was not permitted to wear sun glasses and the constant glare from the lime stones around damaged his eyesight irreparably. It damaged his eyesight but not his vision for his land.

Solitary confinement is the worst form of psychological torture. Man being a social being, to clip his wings of camaraderie and bonding is the unkindest cut of all. Mandela overcame this cruelest challenge too.

Now, what would that kind of solitary life have done to you and me, ordinary mortals? You can’t even take a few steps to keep your body machine greased and well oiled. We would have become bundles of desperation, frustration, seething with anger – ready to explode and implode, the flames of vengeance sky high and the worst of all an unforgiving attitude, I am sure. But he did not. He said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

Many thought a freed Mandela who also became the President could end up becoming a dictator or despot. But surprising everyone, and true to what he said, Mandela never engaged in any witch hunt. He never forgot the ways he traversed, yet he forgave all. He was compassion and humility personified. He believed that education is the panacea to all that ails the world. He said, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”. He longed to see a world free of violence and hatred. He said, “We owe our children – the most vulnerable citizens in any society – a life free from violence and fear.” His loved children and said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Rest In Peace, beloved Madiba. You are not just of South Africa – you belong to the World. A world that dreams of Peace, Justice and Freedom.

P.S: Wish most of those who are in politics in India would at least take a lesson or two, if not all, from this great icon’s life.

Leaders or Dealers???

The land of spices, coconut and lush greenery…
God’s own country, carving a niche for itself in world tourism…
First state to achieve near universal adult literacy… developed-world like life expectancy rate and good quality health care…
(The much touted Kerala Model of the 1970s has sadly collapsed and crumbled since then.)
Women outnumber men and that is so rare when compared to the typical Indian scenario…
The much prized secular co-existence with people of all religions… (even here dents are making inroads, thanks to vote bank politics.)
Politics courses through the peoples’ veins and newspapers are a must read for even the very average Keralite…

Along with all these feel-good factors in the field of education, health care and harmony, Kerala has so much to offer by way of resources also – be it natural resources including water and the most important of all – human capital. Yet, development is scarce. It is also stagnant. Politics, infighting, corruption and a host of other issues plague this little state of mine. Hartals and strikes are our regional pastime. Threats to public and private property during such enforced holidays have stunted growth at a cost of very large number of man hours. Boozing is the state hobby. The enormous consumerist culture, conflicting interests and petty politics have come to vitiate the very fabric of the once peaceful and productive state.

The young population is the pillar of any region. They are tomorrow’s citizens, nation builders, leaders and peace makers. What if some of these youth show signs of deviancy and delinquency? That is frightening. And it is sad and shocking to see that this happened in of all places, Kerala.

IAS officer

A gang of politically inclined youth (read: prospective leaders!) affiliated to the Congress’s youth wing, Kerala Students Union (KSU), marched into the Higher Secondary Education Director, Keshvendra Kumar IAS’s office on last Tuesday. After some slogan shouting and in spite of hearing a patient explanation by him, without any provocation they splashed black engine oil all over the IAS officer. (Earlier cowitch powder was sprinkled on unsuspecting students by teachers in the course of a teachers’ strike. What ingenuity when it comes to rotten deeds! I wish people could use their brains for creative purposes and not for such heinous acts!!) The Officer has gone on record saying, “I never expected this to happen in a civilized state like Kerala known for its progressive ideas and a high literacy rate,’’ said HSE Director, the incident. Ouch! Civilized? Progressive ideas? What bearing does high literacy have on a person? Culture and wisdom? I wonder if anyone would call us having any of those after what has happened.

The young IAS officer, Keshvendra, who hails from Sitamarhi district in Bihar on the other hand worked as a ticketing clerk in the Railways in Kolkata. After his day time work with the Railways, he toiled hard at night preparing for the civil services exam. He enrolled for a distance education course with IGNOU, passed IAS in his first attempt in 2008 and was ranked 45, an amazing feat from a man who could not even continue his regular classes after school. He needed a job to support his family which had been struggling hard to meet his education expenses.

It is indeed a blot on the state that these rogues engaged in such vandalism and deviant behaviour. Punitive punishment must be meted out to such disgruntled elements. These youth are the canker of the society. They should never be allowed to be part of any political party now or ever.  That will serve not only them but also those who sport such ideas a very essential lesson.

Mr Kumar, I apologize, profoundly and sincerely, for what a few of my compatriots did. I hope and pray that you will not judge the state and its people by the hooligan act of a handful. We need more IAS officers like you, Mr Kumar, to showcase strength of character, tenacity of purpose and  high aspirations to these youth who are honestly devoid of role models and are totally value-less. May your life and the insight into your travails in the course of your journey to the IAS be something inspirational to each young mind, here and all over the country.

Image Source: Deccan Chronicle

Spare Us, you Goons!

A helpless young girl was brutally gang raped in a moving bus and both she & her male counterpart were thrown out naked onto the street…The passers by watch the scene and do nothing…The Police who arrive argue for many precious minutes about which should be the jurisdiction of the crime…The heavily bleeding naked girl was even given a sheet of cover after the equally naked male escort begged for it…The brave girl after considerable fight, died in a prestigious hospital at Singapore… (Other rape reports and sexual exploitation are coming in from various parts of India.) I don’t need to write about the horrific details of the incident (the media is full of that in all its gory details) and how the youth of the nation, both male and female, rallied around seeking justice with even the edifices of power trembling at the cataclysm at what could have a telling effect on them and their echelons of power.

Having said this, I am ashamed and to a great extent shocked at the reaction of people with regard to this tragically horrific case, especially from people from the political tribe. Today a self proclaimed god man has also joined the bandwagon.

To quote William Shakespeare, these were the most unkindest cut of all. Just listen to these insensitive wisecracks… and believe you me, all of them are honourable people. My apologies to Mark Antony and his famous speech.

Abhijit Mukherjee, son of India’s First Citizen & President Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, speaking to a Bengali-language television channel, said that “highly dented-painted” women visited discotheques and then appeared at India Gate to protest the Delhi bus gang rape. And Abhijit Mukherjee is an honourable man.

CPI-M leader Anisur Rahman, who considers Mamta Bannerjee as his arch rival, while ridiculing the latter’s decision to pay compensation to women who are victims of crimes like rape and trafficking. “We have been told by the chief minister in the assembly that the government will pay money to compensate rape victims. What is your fee? If you are raped, what will be your fee?,” asked Anisur, seemingly of Mamta Didi. And Anisur Rehman is an honourable man.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat claimed that the incidents of rape were the result of adoption of western culture in society as a whole and that erosion of traditional Indian values were more pronounced in urban areas. “Crimes against women happening in urban India are shameful. It is a dangerous trend. But such crimes won’t happen in Bharat or the rural areas of the country. You go to villages and forests of the country and there will be no such incidents of gang rape or sex crimes,” he had said. “Where ‘Bharat’ becomes ‘India’ with the influence of western culture, these type of incidents happen. The actual Indian values and culture should be established at every stratum of society where women are treated as ‘mother’,” Bhagwat added. The one visible western practice that the RSS has imbibed is perhaps wearing of the shorts, or is it Indian too? Or are there more?? And Mohan Bhagwat is an honourable man.

When asked to comment on recent sexual harassment cases in the country, with Madhya Pradesh in particular, BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya said: “Whenever people cross their limitations, deterioration is bound to happen. It applies to everyone in the society. Whoever breaches the line, he/she will confront a Ravan.” And Kailash Vijayvargiya is an honourable man.

Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee President Botsa Satyanarayana termed the Delhi gangrape incident a minor one and questioned the need for women to be out at midnight. He later withdrew his statement. “Just because India got freedom at midnight, is it necessary for women to move on the streets at midnight?” he asked. What brilliant logic, isn’t it? And Botsa Satyanarayana is an honourable man.

If we thought that only men can make chauvinistic remarks, hold on. Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, a Senior Trinamool Congress leader, speaking to a news channel said, “If you’re referring to the Park Street rape, see that is a different case altogether. That was not at all a rape case. It was a misunderstanding between the two parties involved between a lady and her client. This was not a rape.” She made this comment while reacting to another obscene comment made by senior CPI(M) leader Anisur Rehman on chief minister Mamata Banerjee. And Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar is an honourable woman.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad blamed the ‘western model’ of lifestyle for growing incidents of sexual assault on women including rape, saying cities were losing the values. VHP international advisor Ashok Singhal termed as “alarming” the western model of living, which he said had been imbibed from the US. And Ashok Singhal is an honorable man.

Brainwaves. Wear overcoats. Travel in girls’ only buses where women conductors will only be appointed. “The meeting resolved to introduce overcoats for girl students, operate special buses for them and ban mobile phones in schools. Our government is committed to ensuring safety of women, particularly girl students,” said school education minister T Thiagarajan, of the tiny state of Pondicherry. And T Thiagarajan is no doubt an honourable man.

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray blamed “Bihari” migrants for rapes. “All are talking about the Delhi gang rape, but nobody is asking from where these men came. No one is asking who did this. So many cases are slapped against me (for speaking against Biharis) but no one is talking about the fact that all these rapists are from Bihar,” he said, addressing a public function in suburban Goregaon on Saturday. And Raj Thackeray is truly an honourable man.

Asaram Bapu, the self proclaimed god man said, “Only five to six people are not the culprits. The victim is as guilty as her rapists. She should have called the culprits brothers and begged before them to stop. This could have saved her dignity and life. Can one hand clap? I don’t think so.” I wonder in which world of reality is this so called spiritual man who courts controversy lives in! Does he even perceive the meaning of what he has said. No doubt, Asaram Bapu too is an honourable man.

What is visible through all these insensitive wisecracks?
We get to see the absolutely patriarchal and patronizing outlook of many.
They are all out of touch with what we, common lay people, feel and experience.
Male chauvinism at its very best.
Inability to accept the power that women have started yielding, with many of them being bread winners and focussed professionals.
They are all people with medieval mind sets and want to gain mileage – even at the cost of being notorious for courting controversies.
Each one has only his / her political point of view and nothing else. You and me don’t mean anything to them except votes – and that is needed only every fifth year.

So what we need most of all is a massive mind set makeover for both men and women. And I hope those of us who are wriggling with discomfiture at these utterances will remember what each one has said at the Battle of the Hustings. We don’t need such illogical, irrational and misogynistic people to lead us to help build our nation for the 21st century.  Not for the sake of our coming generations. We have the power to bring them down. Let us affirm to use it.

Spare us, Goons. Be a little kind. Compassionate. Sympathetic. Empathetic. Being a human being, is it too much to ask? And don’t you open your bloody mouth if you can and make absolute foot in mouth statements. We will at least have some respite.

To women, I just want to say this. We have treated this kind of male domination and patriarchy for too long. Like Rip Van Winkle we are in a deep state of slumber. For our sake, and our children’s sake let us wake up. So that, our girls will be strong and brook no nonsense. And our boys will learn to respect women. Therein lies the whiff of fresh breath, of freedom, that our nation really needs.

To all these who want to have dikats to talibanize women I would like to share these few lines that have gone viral in social media:

“Men should be offended when someone claims that women should prevent rape by NOT WEARING certain things;
or NOT GOING certain places;
or NOT ACTING in a certain way.

That line of thinking presumes that you are incapable of control.
That you are so base and uncivilized that it takes extraordinary effort for you to walk down the street without RAPING someone.
That you require a certain dress code be maintained, that certain behaviours be employed so that may be today, JUST MAY BE, you won’t RAPE someone.

It presumes that your natural state is Rapist.”

P.S: I have many men friends and relatives who have squirmed and were / are very concerned at the verbal diarrhoea that the high and the mighty have indulged in, leaving in shreds, sensitivity as a lost virtue. So when I write this it is not against all males; but am afraid, their numbers of those in my side of the fence are few. Them, I salute!

TICK-TOCK… The Clock is Ticking

Today I watched this award-winning documentary (Click on the play button to watch it) by Mr. Sohan Roy titled “Dams: Lethal Water Bombs”. I confess that many a shiver went down my spine. I am a Keralite; but I am not writing this as one but as a human being who wants peaceful existence possible wherever I live – not only for us, human beings but for all forms of life. 
This post therefore is not about politics.
It is not about one state versus the other.
Neither is it about water sharing.
Nor is it about who is right and who is wrong.
This is just about living beings’ right to live.
It is about the stark reality staring at human beings in a land that houses a decrepit dam, one that is in a “rare state of dilapidation”. In Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams, Patrick McCully says, “Once a dam has proved itself well enough built to hold back a reservoir (many dam failures occur either during construction or during or shortly after reservoir filling) its structure and component parts will begin to age. The unique nature of each dam means that every structure will age at a different rate in a different way. Some dams may remain safe for a thousand years, others may start to crack and leak after less than a decade. Around the world, some 5,000 large dams are now more than 50 years old, and the number and size of the dams reaching their half century is rapidly increasing.”
MULLAIPERIYAR …  if one goes by what McCully says about ageing dams, this one is decrepitly old – to be precise a grand old age of 116 years! The location of the dam further complicates issues. Built at the confluence of rivers Mullai and Periyar, in Idukki district, Mullaiperiyar is situated at an elevation of 850 MSL, in the ecologically fragile landscape of the Western Ghats. Being so, the catchment area alone boasts of over 2000 mm of rainfall annually. To add insult on injury, it is also precariously perched on the seismic fault line and has a fair share of tremors. In 2011 alone as many as 22 mild tremors and after-shocks have occurred in parts of Idukki and adjoining Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts since January this year, the latest ones being on 18th November, 2011 measuring 2.02 and 3.04 respectively on the Richter scale.
What does all this mean to me as a lay person?
A catastrophe is awaiting millions living downstream Mullaiperiar! And sadly it could be the worst in the annals of human history!!
The force of the rushing waters can bring down all small dams downstream including and even the mighty Idukki dam! That will unleash the latent water power akin to power of nuclear bombs!!
Heavy silting and unstable hill tops will bring more disasters in its wake!
An ecological time bomb awaits the destruction of fragile yet pristine forests and hundreds of species of flora and fauna including the endemic and red listed ones!
A realistic estimate predicts sheets of water about 42 feet in height would gush down – which would reach the Arabian Sea in just over 5 hours!
So people, can we set aside parochialism, differences in perceptions, ideas and political beliefs and look at this from a purely humane angle, in the name of lives of not only people but also flora and fauna housed in a part of one of the world’s hottest biodiversity spots??? 
By sheer coincidence the movie titled DAM 999, an upcoming 3D Hollywood movie, a tribute to the two and a half lakh people who perished in the world’s worst man made China’s Banqiao dam disaster of 1975, directed by Sohan Roy is all set for release on 24th November in the Middle East and 25th November in India.  
Let us hope that the mass appeal of the silver screen will be an eye opener to the powers that be and do its best to spread the message of untold misery and suffering a dam catastrophe can bring in its wake.
Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams, by Patrick McCully, Zed Books, London, 1996