Posted in Socio-Political

An Appeal to my PM Modi: Extend MNREGA to Marginal Artistes

No, this is not my idea. Happened to read of the suggestion put forth by a social activist vocalist. I second the opinion. If you take even the case of just Tamil Nadu, the state temples that are mid to considerable area size and those ancient and heritage sites, employ nagaswaram and thavil vidwans to play in their precincts. I am not sure whether these artistes count as govt staff in the temples that come under the ambit of Tamil Nadu Religious & Charitable Endowments dept. Generally those serving as office bearers in the temples managing the day-to-day affairs of our holy places are drawing govt salaries running into thousands of rupees every month, surpassing those of the archakas (priests) who may be most instrumental in the running of the temples. It can’t be a problem to bring under staff role the marginal or part time artistes working for the temples under govt admin. After all, our state govt is syphoning off all our temple funds and using our fundings for their own agendas. This is also an issue that the tamil nadu state govt must look into.

I understand that the marginal artistes who play mostly in temples and hindu weddings have been hit hard during the pandemic. With them those who take the beating include the street performers, etc. While the pandemic saw many artistes switch over to online media to continue with their profession, the marginal ones who have no access to information technology and/or those who are not tech savvy have been left behind to fend for themselves. There are NGOs who are pitching in to help their causes but this hardly suffices. Simply there are too many, many of them, and pan India, the figures could be mindboggling. These may include folk musicians and dancers, street performers, tribal artistes, village troupes etc. Without govt support and aid, the arts that these artistes sustain may perish with them. We are at a critical juncture presently. We never expected the pandemic to be running such a vicious course spanning years. This has taken a heavy toll on our economy. The worst hit are from marginal quarters. The marginal artistes have been out of job for months now. I like the suggestion that something similar to MNREGA must be in place to support the marginal performers/artistes. Of course this is not the first time, I am hearing of this idea. I find this cause very merited. I learn from media how Modi govt has been aiding economically in installments eliminating various levels of dispensing, directly reaching out to the marginal farmers. Dear Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi ji, my humble request to you is to look into the case of our marginal artistes similarly. You are doing a lot I am aware, you will be doing yeoman service for the survival of our rural and classical art forms that need to be passed on to the future generations by the struggling artiste communities if you can help them in anyway at this point of time. The state aid could cover marginal artistes such as musicians/stage performers and also visual artistes. A while ago I was watching the folk music of third gender artistes from Karnataka and also those from the Rajastani deserts playing sarod on the sand mounds of the barren landscape. Should their artforms die because of covid.

There is one more group of artistes that comes to my mind. This may include those like the light boys, makeup artistes etc., who could be employed in entertainment industry. There are also many who take up small roles – the small artistes, who have been out of job since covid struck for the first time. This third group is equally devastated by the corona surge.

Should we allow this to happen. A lot of critical issues could be vying for your attention Ji, yet I plead with you to give the dying marginal artistes a mere five minutes of your thinking. The marginal artistes of India deserve your timely aid. I am aware, the concerned states have their share of responsibility in the matter. Still please do something in your capacity for the marginal artistes. Something like MNREGA for marginal performing and visual artistes is not a bad idea. Please rescue from their hopeless situations. Thank you!

I got inspired to write this post from a carnatic vocalist turned social activist. I am listing a couple of art forms/marginal artistes who I came to know of from following him, just to show you how diverse India is and how vibrant our arts are. Dear Prime Minister, are you listening. These marginal artistes need your attention and help by way of financial aid in the lines of MNREGA- the minimal employment guarantee scheme of hundred days.

  • Thoorpu Bhagavatham (Andhra) – this theatre form is about to die completely for lack of patrons and aid support
  • Folk music artistes from Barmer, Rajastan including sarod and dholak players, etc.,
  • Jogappas from Karnataka (transgender folk musicians

And these are just a handful I am talking about who have been deprived of decent living because of the pandemic.

Posted in Socio-Political

Humanity Is Basic Decency

Equality and Social Justice are basic human decency.

My recent visit to African American Museum in Washington DC reaffirmed to me a lot of my views. Finally I know I have no ill-conceived notions on equality and social justice. Its despicable, abhorrent that some of us must even come to think they must be superior to fellow humans merely by virtue of birth. I cannot help but find parallels between racial prejudice that seems to be interwoven with the birth of modern America and the caste prejudice prevalent in Hindu India that are strikingly similar in most ways. Only, in India, the assault is more on the mind even today.

Muhammad Ali, the boxer, comes across as the most dynamic sportsperson with a mind of his own. We all grew up watching him, yet the powerful statements he made and the principles he stood for have moved me to the core. Not stopping with mere words, Ali gears up into action. He truly makes a difference. What an inspiring life!

Parts of this museum, in spite of my anticipation, bore into my soul straight. From fictions on Africa such as those of Wilbur Smith, I had precisely imagined the slave ships and the slave trade. However nothing prepared me for the graphic details and illustrations. In India we had a slightly different story. The ‘untouchables’ were sometimes asked even not to be seen. In Kerala, they had to move shouting so that they could be avoided seen from their voices. Breast taxes were imposed on women. Cremation and sanitation duties still continue to be caste-based. The brahmins, baniyas and kshatriyas prospered at the expense of the shudras and the panchamas without a conscience. Denying knowledge ran in the Hindu ranks. Knowledge reigns supreme in some communities, not because it was shared. Knowledge became a weapon to some because it was NOT shared but kept within blood lines. There has never been dignity of labour in Hindu community. There has never been a sense of service. Divinity and service to humanity are totally de-linked. Animal sacrifice seems to have been replaced by animal abuse in the abode of god and in the name of god. The temple elephants! No Vedas were prescribed to be monopolized by a single community. Scriptures from later dates connived to maintain the supposed hierarchy or social order dictated by the upper castes as the Varnaashramaa expanded aided by the Agamic temples. Psychological damage done to the lowest castes of India by the upper castes is staggering, with the former’s sense of dignity stamped upon for centuries that they lost count of their self-worth. This is very much like the captive elephant psychology. The ‘broken’ mammoth comes to believe that it cannot break the shackles of steel chain rooting it to a spot. The giant believes its place is confined and is unaware of its might. Just like the lowest castes of India believe that they belong where they should, and remain ignorant of their true potential. Genes can have a limited role in knowledge and skills. Rest can be achieved by sheer practice and training, with inculcation of good knowledge. The lowest castes of India have been at the receiving end of history quite like the coloured races of America.

Knowledge is Empowerment.

America is a far healthy and mature democracy where there is scope for debate on sensitive issues. In India, the very channels for a reasonable dialogue are shut tight that anyone who tries to pry open the sealed doors may be christened ‘anti-hindu.’ Hindu Dharma has a future if and only if the Agamic structure is dismantled or is infused with representation from every single walk of Hindu life. The way forward is for the Hindus to become an inclusive society where social justice has a chance to prosper. Caste based occupations must be turned into professional ones as a first necessary step. Why should we have to be discussing this seventy five years since our independence.

why reservation?

I have absolutely no regrets that some friendships have been strained because of my strong views on caste prejudice. I stand by my unshakeable opinion which received a resounding thumping at the African American Museum! I think it is not just indecent but utterly inhumane to even consider oneself superior merely by virtue of birth. Denying knowledge sharing is selfish and cowardice. That wrong sense of entitlement has to be stripped off some.

By sheer coincidence or perhaps by cookie manipulation (!) i chanced upon ‘Harriet’ in Netflix. Logging out with wet eyes. Hats off to the brave, intelligent, inspiring woman! She reminds of me of the much demure Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy, daughter of a Devdasi who was refused medical college admit for her caste. She went on to become the first woman physician in India who later founded the Cancer Institute, Adyar, Madras (Chennai), one of the first of its kind.

Posted in Socio-Political

Two Sides Of The Same Coin: India Vs China Perspective

Watched the picture ‘Padman’ based on real life story of Arunachalam Muruganantham from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, with Akshay Kumar in the lead.

Not really new to local scene, it still is a powerful message to hit rural India. Firstly, womanly matters are deemed too private in India. At least that is how it was until very recently. Now that even I can bring myself to write about it, I guess we are changing.

How a school dropout single handedly takes up the women’s hygiene issue is astounding. But knowing about the steadfast determination of fellow Tamils especially from the south of the state, I am hardly surprised. I was browsing a Whatsapp post that was comparing the Dravidian women with Aryan women. Modern historians would like to challenge the Aryan invasion theory. I wouldn’t want to get into that. Seetha from Ramayana and Nalaayini are two women from northern India who were pitted against Kannagi of Silapathigaram, and with Manimegalai and Kundalakesi of the south to showcase how liberated women from Dakshina Bharat were even 2000 years back, from before the birth of Christ. We had women court poets. Excavations in Tamil Nadu reveal a very literate society with constructed grammar and literature in usage at least two millennia before. Whatever happened to us in the interim ages. Murugantham’s clamour for a solution to women’s health woes somehow reminded me of our roots.

Muruganantham aka Padman is invited to TED talks, to Harvard, to all the IIMs in India! Unwavering he says, he will not commercialize his invention of breaking down the complex and 10-million US$ sanitary napkin-making machinery into simpler uncomplicated production units hand-operatable by villagers, because, that will defeat the very purpose of his intention and invention. He refuses to be bought over by corporates and uses his Indian patent to take the new economic sanitary pad revolution to rural India personally so that the illiterate and poor women of our villages would stand to benefit. What a refreshing change to the mindless commercialization of anything and everything. I am neither a capitalist nor a communist. In India too, we have a mixed economy with active participation of both private and public sectors when it comes to nation building. The key sectors such as our nationalized banks, central insurance agencies and railways are with the government so that the profit making by private enterprises would not deny essential services to the economically vulnerable sections of the society.

You need to be a very balanced humanbeing to deny yourself the golden chance of becoming a billionaire after all the spade work that you put in. Hats off to Padman. The picture in question is based in Madhya Pradesh to give the idea the pan-India appeal so that it reaches every nook and corner of India. You need to get a grasp of the socio-cultural undercurrents, the local customs and practices, the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’… and what a delicate subject to touch. Every single reaction of the villagers in the movie is justifiable really. You can call them country brutes but then I live in such a society. May be not exactly being urban based, but then India is like a huge village even now…

The Padman’s naive and yet bold initiative is what touched my heart. His single-minded pursuit of his ambition and confident drive. And his strong determination in adhering to the very purpose of his pet project not to be side-tracked to becoming one more money minting modern day start-up.

I doubt whether you can find a soul or story like this in China. Was watching ‘One child nation’ – the award winning documentary. The very chinese ruthlessness is so disturbing. Such a coldblooded calculation about everything. Remorseless. This you can notice from how they haven’t had the decency to apologize to the world community for destroying so many economies and for being solely responsible for wrecking havoc of unimaginable magnitude across the entire globe, with thousands of lives lost.

How can we even compare India with China. Padman for instance, is one of the million reasons, why we shouldn’t. You know, one thing common about both Padman and One Child Nation is that, both deal with fertility issues of women with the supposed weaker sex at the receiving end. How we go about these sensitive matters is the question. Both are physical to say so, but take a heavy emotional toll on women as well. It was sickening for me to watch the chinese documentary (of course not made by chinese). These are the guys who manufacture plastic rice, plastic eggs and add melamine to baby food. What standards are they setting for the world now. How can China even be deemed a super power. Is this really some growth story. Where is the heart and soul in chinese. Or is their heart made of plastic as well.

Indian kids who go to the US for university education bring back stories about China from their chinese friends. There is no mention of ‘Tianenmen square’ in their history. Kids born after 1990 have been ‘tutored’ into believing and contesting that the Tianenmen NEVER unfolded in their soil. It is shocking how the communists have successfully erased a political memory from the psyche of an entire nation. Reminds one of George Orwell’s 1984. If this is the nation that is to become the no.1 super power in future, then it is doomsday for Planet Earth. This country China does not believe in barring ivory trading or whaling. They think they own up everything from Tibet and Hongkong and Taiwan to Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh but do not have an ounce of honesty or shame in them to own up to the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic. China is the cancer of the world. China is the one truly lethal virus that we are all fighting. Only the sidekicks Pakistanis will lick the chinese boots like their lapdogs. All for a few crumbs of bread, what else.

Now no more does poverty in India concern me. The Covid-19 scare is revealing to us the humane side of the Indian society. The poorest amongst us are the strongest physically and emotionally. As for economics, they can survive with bare minimum. The truly handicapped are the better-do-do among us.

Heartwarming real life story of Arunachalam Muruganantham shows how humanity still has a chance in India. Our temples and classical music and dance forms and lighthearted movies reveal to us the beautiful side of our human nature. Science exists so that art can flourish. Not the other way around.

India too has populations issues. I am not saying ours is a land of milk and honey. Family planning is mostly suggested to us Indians. The choice is ours to make.

A pregnant wild elephant that forayed into a Kerala village was fed with a pineapple laden with firecrackers (to ward off the animal feeding from on agricultural farms). As the cracker exploded, the elephant with its bleeding mouth ran with searing pain to the river nearby. Refusing to be rescued by the forest officials, it died standing for hours in river water moving an entire nation. Now this is our headlines. The young mother elephant with its unborn calf in the womb broke a billion hearts as the nation mourned for the mother-child duo that bore the brunt of extreme barbarity at the hands of humanity. I remembered how China refuses to curb ivory trading and in fact deals in and promotes trades in wild life skins, hides, organs, teeth, nails etc endangering myriad species that are already in the verge of extinction. Who can stop them ever. When I think of the agony of the mother elephant, I think of how millions in this country of mine hold unshed tears for the voiceless gentle beast demanding justice to be served to the assailants. Mistakes and horrors happen everywhere, but there must be a willingness to acknowledge and admit to them and correct them.

China will NEVER pass the acid test of Democracy & Secularim. China will die and dissolve into thousand parts if they are put to this imminent test someday. China feeds and thrives on suppressed human rights. Now that is a simmering volcano that is bound to explode one fine day.

This soulless nation China can never become a super power or world leader in true sense. We must not allow that from happening either. Let India develop at her own pace. We are in race with none. Let us work and learn to serve not always with a profit motive. Let us go to the mandir, let us do the bhajans, let us dance and sing or just waste away lying bored in the sofa doing nothing. Let us laugh with friends, go out and have a jolly good time not making money. Because, this is how we are meant to be. We are not robots. Not everything is for sale in India as in China. Not everything has to have a price tag.

One of the greatest regrets of my life, is to stop with one kid. But that was a decision based on my circumstances. I see the lower middle class women in my city voluntarily opting for family planning. Not everyone goes for a second kid. This is an informed decision, not an enforced one. The success of India lies therein. But this applies only to Indian Hindus and Christians and Sikhs who put nation first over their religious affiliations. India is fighting the population jehad as well yet, family planning is not mandatory for us.

I would never want India to become the next China. Not in a million years. Let us see to that we are always the country where God wants to dwell in, not the devil. Let us be that divine spiritual beautiful temple, not a glazed lifeless mall that is China. The Padman Muruganantham with his life mission of taking affordable sanitary napkin to rural Indian women and the women of China abducted for sterilization, with their homes pulled down for going for a second pregnancy are the defining differences between us.