Thirukkural’s Kaamathupaal: The Book of Love

July 24, 2018

After another long break, I have resumed Thirukkural translation on my Thirukkural website. The first few chapters of Kaamathupaal are published in the bilingual Tamizhini e-magazine.

Gandhi on Allah-o-Akbar

February 9, 2022


During the Madras tour, at Bezwada I had occasion to remark upon the national cries and I suggested that it would be better to have cries about ideals than men. I asked the audience to replace “ Mahatma Gandhi ki jai” and “Mahomed Ali-Shaukat Ali ki jai” by “ Hindu-Mussulman ki jai”. Brother Shaukat Ali, who followed, positively laid down the law. In spite of the Hindu-Muslim unity he had observed that if Hindus shouted “Vandemataram”, the Muslims rang out with “Allah-o-Akbar” and vice versa. This he rightly said jarred on the ear and still showed that the people did not act with one mind. There should be therefore only three cries recognized, “Allah- o-Akbar” to be joyously sung out by Hindus and Muslims showing that God alone was great and no other. The second should be “ Vandemataram” (Hail Motherland) or “ Bharat Mata ki jai” (Victory to Mother Hind). The third should be “Hindu-Mussulman ki jai” without which there was no victory for India, and no true demonstration to the greatness of God. I do wish that the newspapers and public men would take up the Maulana’s suggestion and lead the people only to use the three cries. They are full of meaning. The first is a prayer and a confession of our littleness and therefore a sign of humility. It is a cry in which all Hindus and Muslims should join in reverence and prayerfulness. Hindus may not fight shy of Arabic words when their meaning is not only totally inoffensive but even ennobling. God is no respecter of any particular tongue. “Vandemataram”, apart from its wonderful associations, expresses the one national wish—the rise of India to her full height. And I should prefer “Vandemataram” to “Bharat Mata ki jai” as it would be a graceful recognition of the intellectual and emotional superiority of Bengal. Since India can be nothing without the union of the Hindu and the Muslim heart, “ Hindu-Mussulman ki jai” is a cry which we may never forget.

There should be no discordance in these cries. Immediately some one has taken up any of the three cries the rest should take it up and not attempt to yell out their favourite. Those who do not wish to join may refrain, but they should consider it a breach of etiquette to interpolate their own when a cry has already been raised. It would be better too, always to follow out the three cries in the order given above. Nor should cries be incessantly shouted. One often hears an incessant yell when a popular leader is passing through a station. I doubt if this incessant noise does the slightest good to the nation except to provide an indifferent exercise for one’s lungs. Moreover, it is necessary to think of our hero’s nerves and time. It is a national waste to keep him occupied in gazing at a crowd and hearing a cry in his praise or any other for full thirty minutes. We must cultivate the sense of proportion.

Young India, 8-9-1920


July 18, 1947

I very much like all the vows you intend to take. But do nothing merely because I advise it or just to please me. There is no sin as bad as self-deception.

We are falling lower and lower each day. Our depravity has reached such a point that reports of atrocities committed on women have become a common thing. I tremble at this. God will show the path. Just now I have but one prayer:

‘Ishvar’ and ‘Allah’ are Thine names;

To all, O Lord, good sense give. *

[From Gujarati]

* Ishwar-Allaah tere naam, sabko sanmati de bhaghavaan

There was a time when Hindus and Muslims had been united. There was the pact of unity between the League and the Congress in 1916. Whether it was good or bad was not the question. He was a newcomer in India at that time and hardly knew anybody or affairs in this country. Then came the Khilafat Movement and there was a communal unity that had never been seen before that. Today Hindus were frightened when they heard the cries of “Allah-o-Akbar”. In those days, these were the slogans repeated at all meetings: “Vande mataram”, “Allah-o-Akbar” and “Sat Sri Akal”. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in their thousands shouted these slogans with one voice. They were the same people today. Those who were youngsters in those days were grown-up men today. Why could not they live together as friends now? Gandhiji was not prepared to admit that bitterness had gone so deep that it could not be overcome.

SPEECH AT PRAYER MEETING, Chandipur, November 23, 1946



August 23, 1947

Gandhiji first referred to the cry of Allah-o-Akbar to which some Hindus had objected. He held that it was probably a cry than which a greater one had not been produced by the world. It was a soul-stirring religious cry which meant, God only was great. There was nobility in the meaning. Did it become objectionable because it was Arabic? He admitted that it had in India a questionable association. It often terrified the Hindus because sometimes the Muslims in anger come out of the mosques with that cry on their lips to belabour the Hindus. He confessed that the original had no such association. So far as he knew, the cry had no such association in other parts of the world. If, therefore, there was to be a lasting friendship between the two, the Hindus should have no hesitation in uttering the cry together with their Muslim friends. God was known by many names and had many attributes. Rama, Rahim, Krishna, Karim, were all names of the one God. Sat Shri Akal, was an equally potent cry. Should a single Muslim or Hindu hesitate to utter it? It meant that God was and nothing else was. The Ramdhun had the same virtue.

He then came to Vande Mataram. That was no religious cry. It was a purely political cry. The Congress had to examine it. A reference was made to Gurudev about it. And both the Hindu and the Muslim members of the Congress Working Committee had to come to the conclusion that its opening lines were free from any possible objection, and he pleaded that it shoud be sung together by all on due occasion. It should never be a chant to insult or offend the Muslims. It was to be remembered that it was the cry that had fired political Bengal. Many Bengalis had given up their lives for political freedom with that cry on their lips. Though, therefore, he felt strongly about Vande Mataram as an ode to Mother India, he advised his League friends to refer the matter to the League High Command. He would be surprised if, in view of the growing friendliness between the Hindus and the Muslims, the league High Command objected to the prescribed lines of the Vande Mataram, the national song and the national cry of Bengal which sustained her when the rest of India was almost asleep and which was, so far as he was aware, acclaimed by both the Hindus and the Muslims of Bengal. No doubt, every act, as he pointed out the previous evening, must be purely voluntary on the part of either partner. Nothing could be imposed in true friendship.

SPEECH AT PRAYER MEETING, Calcutta, August 23, 1947

K.M.Natarajan : The Gift of Friendship

June 27, 2021

(A Tribute to K.M.Natarajan, to be published in the Sarvodaya Talisman magazine, for which he was the editor. Translated from the Tamil essay written for the Tamil edition, சர்வோதயம் மலர்கிறது.)

In the year 2012, when I heard that the ‘Gandhi Katha’ lectures by Narayan Desai were to be held in Madurai, I went there immediately from Chennai. Narayan Desai was the son of Mahadev Desai, Mahatma Gandhi’s beloved secretary. He had recorded his experiences of growing up under the eyes of Gandhi. Hence, I was intent on attending that event. I met K.M.Natarajan for the first time there. He was the person who had organized the five day story telling series. I sought permission from him for conducting an interview with Narayan Desai. But I had not then known anything about Natarajan, who was fondly called by his acquaintances as KMN Annachi. I did not know at that time about how a beautiful long relationship was about to commence. The interview first appeared on the Gandhi-Today website. Later, my friends, Suneel Krishnan and Rattai Raghu, had met Natarajan with a copy of the interview; he immediately published it in print form in English and Tamil. It was then that my association with him began formally. In a way, this experience gave me an understanding of the kind of person he was. I realized he would never let go of a chance to integrate Gandhian enthusiasts into the Sarvodaya movement. I also knew he would actively pursue every opportunity to do Gandhian work. Narayan Desai’s talks were originally planned by the organisers of the Kudankulam anti-nuclear protests. But when the situation there deteriorated and the plan had to be shelved, Natarajan seized the opportunity and moved the programme to Madurai Gandhi Museum at short notice. In many ways, the contacts that I made during this event and the resultant experiences overturned my life and changed its direction. During this productive overhaul, Natarajan remained a constant supporter and mentor for me. He further invited me to take part in the Sarvodaya Day celebrations held in memory of Jegannathan. I met the family of Krishnammal Jegannathan there and her extended family of Gandhian workers from across the world. This gave further inspiration to pursue our new way of life. In his long social life, spanning over seven decades, there must be countless such incidents which each of us could recollect.

K.M.Natarajan was a great social activist and also an erudite scholar. We failed to introduce him well enough to the world outside the Gandhian fraternity and celebrate him sufficiently. But he was at the forefront of transporting Gandhi and Gandhian thoughts to the many generations who came after the death of Gandhi.

It was a rare achievement to preside over many Sarvodaya organisations and be the editor of three different magazines. He was doing these roles unrelentingly till his death at the age of 88. It showed his fervent attachment to Gandhian thoughts, his firm belief that his work was not over even after leading a long fruitful life, and his confidence that he continued to have something more to offer to the welfare of the world.

He had an undiminished interest in bringing new people into the Sarvodaya fold. Once anybody came under his touch, he would grasp them firmly with his loving hands. He remaining in touch with everyone he knew. I realized it during the meetings held to pay tributes to him. Almost everyone spoke of a recent phone call with him and the special affection he had for them. He made everyone feel they had an essential role to play.

I too think I had a special and unique relationship with him. Over the last few years, not a week went by with an hour-long telephonic discussion with him. He was twice my age and had many times my experience. Yet he moved with me as an equal and a friend. In recent times, there is no one else who has spoken more with me than him. My wife even felt slightly envious about this. During the last year of lockdown, he was very particular about helping me keep my spirits high. He asked if I have Kabasurakudineer (a Siddha medicine for Covid), and when I said no, he sent it along with other preventive medicines from Madurai to my vilage.

Natarajan took me along for various events. He made me record my experiences. He introduced me to various people who came to those events. He used to rue that I was not in Madurai and could not do more work with him. If I tell him about any book I read, he would immediately urge me to write an essay on it and publish it.

He told my wife that she translated better than me and encouraged her to write. He made her do live translation of others’ speeches. He had great love for our daughter too. Whenever she sang a song he knew, he would immediately tell her about his connections to the song.

Two years ago, I had introduced writer Paavannan to him. Later Natarajan was instrumental in getting Paavannan to write a series of essays on various unsung Gandhians. He arranged relevant books and contacts. Whenever he spoke to me, he would thank me for introducing Paavannan to him. Similarly, he kept saying we should continue to get essays from other mutual friends like Chithra Balasubramanian or Balasubramanium Muthusamy.

If I got distracted by other activities and delayed the completion of an essay which I had committed to write, he would gently and patiently remind me of it without ever sounding irked. He had a talent for identifying good books. When I told him about the book, Revolutionary Gandhi by Pannalal Dasgupta, he immediately ordered it from Kolkatta and sent it to me. I had deferred writing an introduction to the book for a long time. He ceaselessly urged me to write about the book. The book was written about Gandhi from a Marxist perspective and hence he thought it to be important. Later, when Dr.Jeeva read my essay and expressed his interest in reading the book, he got another copy for him. He published my long essay in Tamil on Tolstoy, splitting it across many issues. When he realized that The Kingdom of God is Within You, which was the basis was that essay, had not yet been translated into Tamil, he requested Dr.Jeeva to take it up. Dr.Jeeva apparently asked his sister, who knew Russian, to translate the book. When KMN came to know of Dr.Jeeva’s death, he felt shattered. He asked me to compile all the tributes written on Dr.Jeeva. He published some of them and paid a great tribute to him through his magazines. Today KMN Annachi is also no more with us.

While he was appreciative of my style of writing in English, he was a bit critical of my Tamil style. He found it to be too flowery and scholarly. He impressed on me that I should write in a simple language and ensure it is understood by all readers. Yet he continued to publish my essays without too many changes.

He used to say he didn’t have much time to indulge in literature since he was too involved in social activities. Though he felt attracted by Tamil writers like Jayakanthan, he said he was repelled by his views on drinking. He was of the opinion that literary writers should be righteous as well. Though he did not read literature to his satisfaction, he was well versed in both Tamil and English. He was adept at expressing his opinions, whether verbally or in writing, in a simple, clear and interesting manner.

He had something unique to say about everyone. He had personal experiences with Kumarappa, Vinoba, JP, Keithan, Jegannathan, Kamaraj, Kakkan and others. He had the opportunity to interact with scholars like Ivan Illich, E.F.Schumacher, Mark Lindley, Ramachandra Guha and others at various points of time. He had friendly relations with those who held opposing views too. N.Dharmarajan and S.N.Nagarajan, both with Communist affiliations, were his close friends.

Though Natarajan was a leading figure in the Sarvodaya movement, he never promoted himself. During private conversations and public speeches, he always shared countless experiences. But during such sharing, only the personality and achievements of others were highlighted and never his own contributions. When the Sarvodaya-Jegannathan Award was presented to him this year, he accepted it with shyness, since he was usually the deciding authority for choosing the awardees. However, he considered it to be a honour to be accepting the award in the name of his mentor, Jegannathan. I had written in detail about the speech he delivered on that day. He immediately called me up and asked, “Why do you to write so much about what I spoke?” He was clearly moved.

Natarajan was a great repository of the history of the past 70 years. He was a witness to its unfolding and he played an active part in it. We did not record his experiences and memories fully and it will remain one of our failings. Whenever I asked him for a time when I can do a long interview with him, he always asked, what was hurry, and directed me to do some other work. My wish to be with him for a few days and record all that he had to say has remained unfulfilled.

Recently, in a meeting with friends from foreign countries, Krishnammal Jegannathan spoke in memory of KNM Annachi. She was in tears throughout that meeting. More than any words, those tears bore witness to their long association and his indispensability to their activities. Though my acquaintance with him is much shorter, I feel the same emptiness that she seems to feel. The vacuum he has left behind in the Sarvodaya Movement is not easy to fill.

Sarvodaya Day Events – 2021

May 26, 2021

Sarvodaya Day is celebrated every year at the Constructive Workers’ Home at Gandhigram to commemorate the memory of the late Sarvodaya leader Jegannathan. Over the years, this event has attracted many people from all over the world and India, and from the villages near Nagapattinam. Due to the corona pandemic, the event this year was not held as a major function with hundreds gathering at the same place. A few of us came in person while many others joined us virtually for the three day conference held from Feb 10 to Feb 12, 2021. Speakers also delivered their speeches in person and from around the world by signing in online. There were some stimulating conversations as at the end of the speeches. The hybrid model made the conference a global event with panelists and participants signing in from various parts of India, Asia, Africa, Europe and America.

Day One – The Challenges during the Pandemic and After

The first day of the conference had speeches on the theme, ‘The challenges, opportunities and solutions during the pandemic and after’. Professor Dr. L.Raja of Gandhigram Rural University anchored the event and introduced the speakers.

The first speaker, Professor Richard Rose, teaches at Northampton University, UK. He spoke of the challenges faced in education throughout the world. He pointed out that the socio-economic gap has increased in recent years. He discussed why children from marginalised groups are more vulnerable than others. We will never achieve equity in education if we do not address poverty or marginalisation of girls. We will never improve learning in children until we address nutrition inadequacies. Three quarters of children (258 million) who don’t attend school live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Girls face more barriers than boys, said Professor Rose. More millionaires have been created in India in the last 20 years than whole of Europe, he observed. He also delved on the psychological impact of Corona and not going to school on children: monotony, anguish, irritation, etc. He termed the technology interventions as pseudo solutions as all children don’t have access to internet or television. He also raised the questions, do all children need to learn the same curriculum? What should children learn?

The next speaker, Heather Cummins, spoke from Zambia. She works with the voluntary organization, SSAP, and is based out of a remote village there; the nearest town was 80 kms away. Since there is no electricity at the village, she uses a solar panel to charge her phone and laptop. The natural isolation of the village has helped in keeping away the pandemic though the people were blissfully negligent or ignorant of the social distancing norms and wearing masks. They were not too bothered as they haven’t personally seen the impact. They have also frequently faced high rates of Malaria, HIV, Typhoid and cholera. Due to climate change, the rain pattern has changed. Earlier they used to get rains from November to April. Now they suffer a drought every two years and floods every third year. They have done nothing to pollute the world but they suffer the most because of the impacts of pollution. Heather Cummins wishes to set up an Ahimsa ashram in Sierra Leone. She considers Gandhi to be her dead Guru. She has learnt Gandhian thoughts at Gujarat Vidyapeet, Ahmedabad. She says she couldn’t have done any of her work without Gandhi. The people who come to take micro loans from her organisation, do not even wear shoes. They wear torn clothing. They just want the money to be able to eat their food now and think of how to repay later on. The small project of Ms.Cummins is their only real hope or chance anyone has given them. She says, one person can do a lot, and we are not here for vanity, like peacocks in India; we are here for each other.

Dr. Pankajam, the next speaker, is a former Vice Chancellor of Gandhigram Rural University. She said she was struck with wonder to see how disciplined the people in India were, when the first one-day token lockdown was announced. Everyone were inside their houses. But when the lockdown was extended indefinitely, the people started feeling anxious. They began wondering what kind of virus was this. The education of children was affected the most. How can children learn through online education? The hilly areas did not even have electricity. And they had no smart phone. Learning should be for total development of the child. It should not just be for building bodies. It should be building souls. Can we do that with technology, she wondered. What we have now cannot be said to be an education system at all. Children are isolated from the society. She appealed to all educated people to come forward and help children in the villages and remote areas.

The last speaker for the day was Dr.Jennifer Ladd, who runs the organisation, Class Action, to work towards addressing the inequities related to race, colour and class. It was 4 am for her when she spoke. She came to India for the first time in the 1980s. She met Krishnammal and Jegannathan at that time and was hugely inspired by them. She has continued to engage with their movement and with India since then.

Jennifer Ladd said America is known for its wealth. There is a lot of wealth but there is amazing depravation too. The contrast is so painful, she added. 38 million or 12% of Americans live in poverty in US (2018 US Census data). 15 million of those were children. During the pandemic, the wealthiest became wealthier, resulting in 39% increase in wealth for billionaires. The richest five saw 85% increase in their combined wealth during this period. (March 2020 to Jan 2021). There are inequalities already existing along the lines of Race, Class, Homelessness, English language learning, Disabilities, Special education needs, urban/rural, gender, etc. Death rates during the corona pandemic have been observed to be higher for coloured people and is the highest for Native Americans. The immense inequity of zoom schools is a huge and heartbreaking problem for which there is no suitable and equitable solution. Access to broadband is an issue for many children. If there are 5 children in a household with only one phone with a parent, it becomes very difficult for children to attend the zoom schools. Elementary school children spend 4-5 hours looking at a computer, they have stopped playing outdoors, do not interact with other children and are therefore not developing socially. However, some students find learning on zoom a better way of learning. For the special education students and for students with emotional problems, dissolution of schools dissolved their participation. Absenteeism has doubled. Homeless children are at higher risk, even as Covid leads to homelessness due to job loss, increased medical costs and families falling apart. The Covid impact is more severe on women. Women and mothers are dropping out of the workforce to take care of their families. Layoffs are hitting women much harder. Schools were also playing the role of providing food for poor children. One in five children go hungry and have no food security. They run the risk of going hungry. Some schools are distributing food even during the pandemic. Jeniffer also presented a number of creative solutions. She said we should take advantage of the sweetness of home by allowing children to show their pets and siblings. A recess should be given while leaving the zoom open so that the kids can talk to each other without directions from the teacher. There should also be teacher directed games. Some parents bring neighbour kids together to learn independently. Some of them create micro schools where families are hiring teachers to ensure kids from the neighbourhood can be together and continue to have social interactions. We need to continuously explore to see how schools can systemise the process of connecting families to community resources and how to centre equity in all aspects of teaching and learning. She concluded by stating we need a widespread push to recognise the identity and health of the whole child in K-12 education which will help educators to design support systems that can reduce inequity on multiple levels.

Later Vasimalai, the Chairman of Dhan Foundation, gave the concluding remarks and facilitated an interactive session involving all participants and panelists. While answering one of the questions, Dr.Richard Rose said, Covid hasn’t changed things; it has only created greater awareness of things that already existed. Dr. David Willis said, “This situation is not going away. It is a rehearsal for the climate crisis that is coming.” Dr.Bhoomikumar also concurred stating that since man is destroying nature, the interval between pandemics is narrowing. Vasimalai discussed with me about the possibility of a family functioning as a school. He said education is everybody’s business. He brought the day to a close with the profound remark that Philosophy should guide science.

Day 2 – Sustainable Agriculture

The conference continued on the second day with the theme, ‘Farming community’s struggles and strategies in the light of corporatization and commodification of natural wealth (land, water & air) and developing people-friendly policies.’

Paamayan, who spoke first, has had a long association with the Sarvodaya movement. He is one of the foremost scholars on farming in Tamil Nadu. He emphasised that India was an agriculture based society. The changes in climate have cause disruptions in the amount of rain, temperature, and water levels, making the role and nature of farming more critical. He presented four overarching points. First, the self-sustainability of farming has been destroyed by the Green Revolution. Seeds and fertilisers have been taken away from the farmer. Second, India is a democracy. Only if people get together to consolidate their voices, they get the benefits they deserve. But the farming community has not been in a position to gather and raise a unified voice. They are splintered and isolated. When the farmers launch a struggle, like the one happening in Delhi now, they are the ones who are most affected, unlike in other struggles, where other parties are affected. After the first five year plan, all laws have targeted to remove the farmer from their land. Thirdly, the markets are never beneficial to the farmer. Fourthly, the solution for this can be found in the traditional farming methods of Tamil Nadu – what Paamayan call as Integrated Farms which have self-sustenance at their core.

The ancient Tamils classified land into four types of land based on the terrain or landscape : Kurinji, Mullai, Pālai, Neythal and Marutham. Additionally, there was Palai to describe kurinji and mullai lands which were affected by droughts. Each of these have unique characteristics – based on the terrain, and also based on the people, animals, plants, etc. from those terrains. These were called Five Thinais. Depending one on the type of landscape, the method of farming differed. Kurinji farming resembled the ’no tilling’ method of Masanobu Fukuoka. Like in permaculture, the Kurinji lands had forests with seven layers of trees and plants. The rain and sun would not touch the ground directly. The leaves and twigs falling on the soil would accumulate making the soil spongy and fertile. There was no need to plough. In the Mullai lands, the people made compost with the dung they obtained from the cattle. In the Marudam lands, they came up with irrigation systems. They stored water in dams like Kallanai. They dug 40000 lakes in Tamil Nadu. They used 36 types of ploughs. It was a highly productive method of farming resulting in the creation of empires like the Cholas. In the Neythal lands, they grew fish and rice together. Paamayan clarified that he did not talk about these to uphold the tradition or to hail the past. When farming is done in contradiction to the nature of the land, it gives rise to many complications. It is results in water scarcity. It leads to digging up bore wells, which in turn bring down the ground water level. In such a scenario, a farming method that is in line with the landscape becomes essential. He presents Integrated Farming as a viable solution. When eco-villages are formed with individual or collective integrated farms, it creates the opportunity for experts from various domains to work together. The farms would be productive throughout the year.

Paamayan is giving shape to a eco-village near Thenkasi, where 103 friends have bought 110 acres of land. The administration of this farm is done by a collective. Various small scale value-added businesses have been started. Agro-ponds have been dug up. The first Pongal celebrations were held this year. He said, a movement to promote integrated farms should be formed to move towards a self-reliant and sustainable way of life. Only then would we see a world filled with peace and prosperity.

Ramasubramanian, who spoke next, runs a voluntary organisation, Samanvaya. He commenced his speech reminding us of the farmers’ struggle ongoing in Delhi which was into its 76th day. Over 200 protestors had died. Yet, the movement was peaceful, which cannot be seen anywhere else. He offered a Sikh prayer for them. Ram raised the question, why a scholar like Paamayan is not made the vice-chancellor of our universities. He shared an anecdote about a farmer who preferred happiness and liberty he got through native seeds over the promised higher revenues from hybrid seeds. In the the last 15-20 years, we have seen a transformational change among the people. Today we know organic food is healthy. Chemicals are bad. GM is not healthy. This shift has not happened due to government policies. It has transpired entirely due to people’s movements. Three major parties in Tamil Nadu have separate wings for environmental issues. Only people’s movements have pushed this agenda. Ram raised three main issues. First, in our education system, a vast amount of traditional knowledge has been ignored and set aside. It is not talked about in any universities. Knowledge of the people is not recognised. Organic farming is today not offered as a course in Agricultural Universities. There has been a failure to mainstream this knowledge and integrate this knowledge with policy making. Till date, in spite of Ram himself being part of committees to draft an organic farming policy, there is no such policy in Tamil Nadu. Secondly, we have retained the colonial governance structure. Currently there is a tendency to increase centralisation. Thirdly, markets are unfairly organized against people movements. Model villages came up in India as early as 1952. But they did not succeed in a big way as they got stuck in reaching out to the market. In order to counter this, we have to create regional, local markets. Ram has also been invited to offer a Green economy course in a college in Chennai.

Ram also mentioned that this year is the centenary year of the Gandhian Historian, Dharampal. To commemorate his centenary, a website, , has been created with writings of Dharampal.

The next speaker, Balasubramaniam Muthusamy, is the author of the acclaimed book, ‘Indraiya Gandhikal’ (The Gandhis of Today). He is the CEO of a company in Tanzania. He presents the model of companies like Amul and Aravind Hospitals which are based on the Gandhian economic principles and have met commercial success as the way forward. He explored the possibility of a cooperative movement in the farm sector. The Anand Milk Union was started in 1946 with the involvement of Vallabhai Patel, Morarji Desai and Tribuvandas Patel, and later grew to be a giant organisation under the leadership of Varghese Kurien. 12.5 million milk producers in 22 states are part of the milk cooperative movement. 70% of the prices paid by the consumers reaches the milk producer. In the US, this ratio is only 30%. Amul, the largest cooperative, earns 7 billion USD in a year. 3.5 million milk producers are benefitted. Similarly, when oilseeds were imported from foreign countries, there was an attempt to change this situation under the leadership of Sam Pitroda. The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) was handed the responsibility for this. A cooperative for oilseeds was formed. This operation, named Operation Golden Flow, strived to increase the production of cooking oil in India and achieve self-sufficiency. Brand Tara was created to be at the core of this operation. Production increased. Imports were reduced. In four years, Indian reached self-sufficiency in cooking oil. Tara became the biggest brand. But later, after 1981, the import was opened up to satisfy WTO norms, and there was a decline again. Producer welfare was sacrificed for the sake of consumer welfare. Currently the market for cooking oil is with large private corporations. Farmers cannot survive against their giant strength. J.C.Kumarappa has spoken about this power imbalance. A trader with the same amount of money as a farmer will have more power than the farmer. In India, the milk economy is much larger than the food grain economy. The entire supply chain is in the control of the milk producers. There are no middlemen. Cooperatives can be the core of Indian farming as well. If farmers produce and market food grains, meat, solar power along with milk as part of a cooperative, they will be able to earn higher incomes, says Balasubramaniam.

The final speaker of the day was Dr.Shobana Nelasco, an expert in developmental economics. She is a professor with Kamaraj University. In India the decision making authority rests with a small minority; they never consult the 70% people dependent on agriculture, said Dr.Shobana. She asserted, we need a revolution to change this situation. Those who are not connected with farming draft the farm laws. Wrong people are bestowed with awards and honours. The government, instead of giving essential items to the people, is busy distributing liquor through TASMAC. The elders have to give way to the young in decision making. Farming has to be moved to the state list from the concurrent list. Universal Basic Income should be given to everyone. Each of us should become an activist and take part in politics, said Shobana.

Later, Professor Pazhanithurai summarised the speeches delivered on this day and anchored a discussion with the panelists. Centralized way of managing agriculture won’t solve problems – it helps only the market, he said. Earlier there used to be corruption in the implementation of policies but now, we are seeing corruption in the drafting of policies. We have to think about what kind of policy needed for each state and within each state. The markets have captured political parties and are dictating the policies. We have to explore how can we influence policy makers. It can be done only by influencing political parties. He also cited the surmise of Aravind Veeramani that the state has failed miserably while the market also has failed in the context of poor; we have to build people’s institutions with small entrepreneurs. Further he cited Raghuram Rajan who has said that the institutions in India have failed. Communities have to assert themselves through a political process. The discourse of giving benefits to people has to be discontinued. We need to give them Employment, empowerment and entitlement. Dr.Pazhanithurai concluded with a message of hope. He said to see the number of youth who have got into organic agriculture after the revolution by Nammazhwar gives hope.

Day 3 – Jegannathan Memorial Lectures

On the final day of the conference, the Sarvodaya Day, the Buddhist monks who had come from the World Peace Temple at Sankarankoil led a peace march.

The veteran Sarvodaya leader, K.M.Natarajan, presided over the meeting and welcomed the gathering. He shared many inspiring incidents from the life of Jegannathan. Jegannathan was involved in Satyagraha right from his school days. Later he setup a hostel for college students in the name of Gokulam. He helped form the Textile Workers Union. He was more interested in starting the Farmers Union and was instrumental in starting one near Mayavaram. He enrolled members from the tea estates of Mancholai in Ambasamudram. He was at the forefront of various land movements. When J.C.Kumarappa tried to come to the protests Jegannathan had organized in Tirunelveli, landlords of that area wrote to the then Home Minister Vallabbhai Patel that Kumarappa was a Communist in Khadi clothes. Jegannathan organized a movement against expelling peasants from their lands in Kallankudi. At Vilampatti, he fought against misusing the temple lands. Valivalam Desikar was occupying 390 acres of temple land and Jegannathan launched a struggle against that. 4000 acres of land at Vadapaathimangalam belonging to the Sugarcane Corporation was lying unused and he fought many a battle against it. At the Constructive Workers’ Home, workshops for students and for training people of khadi were held. Natarajan had just completed his 10th Standard when he attended one such workshop facilitated by J.C.Kumarappa. Jegannathan was greatly influenced by what Kumarappa said when he was the Chairman of the Agrarian Reforms Committee, that ‘Land should belong to those who till the land’. When he was lodged in the Tanjore Prison, the idea in his mind firmed up that the land should belong to those who work on the land; it was the only way to end untouchability. It was as extension of this that he actively took part in the Bhoodan movement. He married Krishnammal in the space opposite to the Gandhigram Trust Office. G.Ramachandran, Kumarappa, Keithan and others were there. Keithan presented them both with a large khadi garland, which he put jointly over their necks. Kumarappa blessed Jegannathan with a friendly slap on his back. They gathered 25000 people and took a yatra to Madurai pressing their demands regarding land. They have given over 15000 acres of land to Harijan families. Though many political parties commemorate the Anniversary of the killings in Kizhvenmani, if one talks to the people, they take only the names of this couple. They have given 1 acre of land to all of them. Krishnammal has taught the long and difficult Tiruvarutpa Agaval to the village women. They put the women in the forefront of the satyagraha against prawn farms. 20000-25000 people would assemble by themselves. Their legal victory was celebrated in foreign countries too. Jegannathan was always engaged in work – students’ work, farmers’ work, industrial workers’ work, tribal work, work related to economic equality. He was always engaged in struggles and constructive work. Even when he appears in his dreams now, Natarajan said, Jegannathan is calling him forth to join a yatra. Natarajan shared many such rare experiences and expressed his delight in celebrating the anniversary of this great personality.

The first special lecture was delivered by Thiru. Krishnamoorthy of Vivekanda Kendra, Kanyakumari. He spoke about the ‘Women’s role in social transformation’ in the light of Amma Krishnammal’s life and work. He asserted that India will show the way to the world. Women will lead the way. Women have to unite. They can stand up to evil saying, we shall not fear, we shall not flee, we shall not attack. During the Chipko movement, women hugged the trees to save them. Now that deforestation is going on unbridled, there are landslides and floods in Uttarakhand. Only women can protect the environment. They have to fight to secure their due social status. They have to adhere to the lasting values of life and not the ‘use and throw’ values. They have to give importance to the traditional knowledge too. People like Laurie Baker used the traditional knowledge effectively in architecture. Women have to behave with compassion and empathy. They have to determined. They have to learn these from Krishnammal, spoke Krishnamoorthy, charting out a path for women.

The next special lecture was delivered by Dr.Vinoo Aram of Shanthi Ashram, Coimbatore. She spoke on the theme of ‘Creating a Social Safety net with Children during the COVID 19 Pandemic’. Dr. Vinoo observed that way back in 1948, it was decided to celebrate the Sarvodaya Day every year. The need for us to gather on Sarvodaya Day still remains. 3 generations have come together as a family on this day. Human emotions come out when you are isolated. It is one of the most important impacts of pandemic. This is the time for us to reflect and not just critique. Modern India or the modern world have never come to a standstill like this. The Climate Change activists have always presented this scenario – that the variables are changing and would lead to the outbreak of a disease. We were not prepared to face such a pandemic. Poverty, malnutrition and unequal distribution of resources had made us vulnerable to a pandemic. We have to create a social safety net. We shouldn’t be spending too much time analysing and too little time acting upon it and vice versa. Shanthi Ashram prioritised vulnerable children, families, single women, and people with previous illnesses. The continuous link they had with the community is an asset in a crisis. We have to provide high quality solutions for the poor. We need to present Gandhian thoughts to the young people with authenticity. Such shocks and displacement will occur more frequently. We have to be prepared to face such crises in future was the proactive message of Dr.Vinoo.

Jegannathanji Memorial Oration was delivered by P.V. Rajagopal of Ekta Parishad. He said, in today’s world, success is measured by money or power. Values like sacrifice and dedication are disappearing. Meanings of words are disappearing or distorted. For instance, democracy is not just about fighting and winning elections. Politics is not just about securing power. Reintroducing these words to the youth with the right values they represent is important. P.V.Rajagopal made four important points. First, he talked about modelling leadership. It is important for us to model leadership for the younger generation. What we are witnessing today in Russia, America, Turkey and Brazil are not the right models of leadership. He asked, where is the model Gandhi was trying to present. Jegannathan and Krishnammal demonstrated model leadership. They always used to think of the last person. We have to introduce model leaders like Jegannathan and Krishnammal to the young generation. The young are not interested in speeches. They want to see what do you mean by leadership and they want it to be demonstrated . We have to show them what it means to be listening, caring ,loving and sharing. Amma continues to inspire with those qualities. Secondly, we have to take people to a higher level of consciousness. Leadership based on hate speeches cannot be accepted by the entire nation or the world. It restricts itself to narrower groups based on caste, language, religion. The world is also facing a crisis of leadership. From Armenia to America the same problem exists. The current leaders exhibit no capacity to be national or global leaders. They only create differences and hate. This cannot take India far. We have to understand leadership presented by Gandhi, JP, Vinoba and Jegannathan. Thirdly, the Sarvodaya movement has to find answers to the problems faced by the country. Rajagopal recollected seeing Jagannathan bringing a larger agenda for the country. With respect to Prawn cultivation – people never thought it was a serious problem. He brought it up to a very high level.
When the Supreme Court passed an order to shut down the prawn farms, people in England were also celebrating because it was affecting millions across the world. As per the Oxfam study, 10% of global population holds 77% wealth; the top 1% holds 51% of the wealth and the bottom 60% hold only 7% of the wealth. The distribution of land and resources equally among people is important. Jegannathan and Krishnammal gave leadership to these issues. In Brazil there is this idea of a slogan based history. They observing that slogans are changing but situation is not changing. In India also, it is the same. Fourthly, there are four ways to solve the land problem. i) Retrieval of lost land. Powerful people, forest department have occupied land. It has to be retrieved. ii) Regularisation of land – poor people are sitting on a piece of land but have no title. iii) Resolve dispute of land – 60% of cases in India are related to land. iv) Redistribution of land.
In 2012, the Agra agreement between the government and the farmers was made possible by the march organized by Ekta Parishad. One lakh people walked from Madhya Pradesh for 1 month. Changes were brought to the oppressive British era Rehabilitation and resettlement Act. Modi government brought ordinances to subvert it but had to withdraw them due to mass protests. But the act is still not fully implemented.
Working with people at the bottom is important. But we have to work at the top also to bring about policy changes. When Covid came, Rajagopal said he hoped we will revisit our development model. This is not sustainable. It will destroy the planet in 10 years. But the revisiting didn’t happen. We are accelerating the model that has already failed. It is a tragedy. Therefore we have to inspire, continue to inspire; stay with the poor, were the inspiring messages given by P.V.Rajagopal.

This year’s Jegannathan Memorial Sarvodaya Awards were conferred on K.M.Natarajan and Vinoo Aram. Along with them, the award was presented to K.Selvaraj, a young man who has been involved in village reconstruction and strengthening of gram sabhas; and K.P.Marikumar who runs the Spark Academy to train students from poor families and also runs a home for abandoned dogs.

Finally, Krishnammal Amma, politely asked, “Can I speak for five minutes?” and went on to deliver an inspiring little speech in her usual inimitable style. “I shall stand and talk; I have to tell it all quickly,” she said. “I am not going anywhere now. I keep lying down at home. But there are some thoughts that keep occupying my mind. It has been 75 years since we won independence. But when I think of this country, I am reminded of a song by Ayya, Vallalar Ramalingam:
There is nothing more than a rag to wear;
There is no way that I can find to eat
There is not even an old straw mat to sleep
I have no courage to go to the good people
In this world and beg.

Today there are millions of souls distressed that they have no food, no eyes, no straw mat to sleep on. There is no one to go and look at them. I thought at least the Sarvoday family should take care of them…” she said and went on to list some of her experiences. She narrated how she went to the then Chief Minister, M.Karunanidhi, sneaked in to meet him early in the morning, secured his permission to register the land in the name of women and to do the registration free of stamp duties. She is anxious to rebuild the houses destroyed by repeated storms. She wants to meet potential donors and gather funds to start this activity. She quipped, she has a friend who assists her, and says, “Everything will be accomplished.” The friend she was referring to was her favourite poet-philosopher, Vallalar. As Leela, who was compering the day’s program, said, a new motivating force is born every time we see Amma and listen to her speech.

Tolstoy on Kaiser William II

September 5, 2020

Like a bold hypnotizer, he tests the degree of insensibility of the hypnotized subject. He touches his skin with a red-hot iron; the skin smokes and scorches, but the sleeper does not awake.

Tolstoy writes this about Kaiser William II of Germany, a good twenty years before the outbreak of the World War I. Sage words of caution from the wise man. Any resemblance to other persons, living or dead, is what it is.

/In Germany, where compulsory service first originated, Caprivi has given expression to what had been hitherto so assiduously concealed–that is, that the men that the soldiers will have to kill are not foreigners alone, but their own countrymen, the very working people from whom they themselves are taken. And this admission has not opened people’s eyes, has not horrified them! They still go like sheep to the slaughter, and submit to everything required of them.

And that is not all: the Emperor of Germany has lately shown still more clearly the duties of the army, by thanking and rewarding a soldier for killing a defenseless citizen who made his approach incautiously. By rewarding an action always regarded as base and cowardly even by men on the lowest level of morality, Wilhelm has shown that a soldier’s chief duty–the one most appreciated by the authorities–is that of executioner; and not a professional executioner who kills only condemned criminals, but one ready to butcher any innocent man at the word of command.

And even that is not all. In 1892, the same Wilhelm, the ENFANT TERRIBLE of state authority, who says plainly what other people only think, in addressing some soldiers gave public utterance to the following speech, which was reported next day in thousands of newspapers: “Conscripts!” he said, “you have sworn fidelity to ME before the altar and the minister of God! You are still too young to understand all the importance of what has been said here; let your care before all things be to obey the orders and instructions given you. You have sworn fidelity TO ME, lads of my guard; THAT MEANS THAT YOU ARE NOW MY SOLDIERS, that YOU HAVE GIVEN YOURSELVES TO ME BODY AND SOUL. For you there is now but one enemy, MY enemy. IN THESE DAYS OF SOCIALISTIC SEDITION IT MAY COME TO PASS THAT I COMMAND YOU TO FIRE ON YOUR OWN KINDRED, YOUR BROTHERS, EVEN YOUR OWN FATHERS AND MOTHERS–WHICH GOD FORBID!–even then you are bound to obey my orders without hesitation.”

This man expresses what all sensible rulers think, but studiously conceal. He says openly that the soldiers are in HIS service, at HIS disposal, and must be ready for HIS advantage to murder even their brothers and fathers.In the most brutal words he frankly exposes all the horrors and criminality for which men prepare themselves in entering the army, and the depths of ignominy to which they fall in promising obedience.

Like a bold hypnotizer, he tests the degree of insensibility of the hypnotized subject. He touches his skin with a red-hot iron; the skin smokes and scorches, but the sleeper does not awake.

This miserable man, imbecile and drunk with power, outrages in this utterance everything that can be sacred for a man of the modern world. And yet all the Christians, liberals, and cultivated people, far from resenting this outrage, did not even observe it./

– Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You

War and Ahimsa: Gandhi on Kashmir

September 1, 2020

I had compiled the writings and speeches of Gandhi on Kashmir from the time of invasion by the Afridi tribesmen from Pakistan in October 1947 till his death in January 1948. I wrote an introduction to it, which appeared in the Tamizhini emagazine in October, 2019.

I am now publishing the compilation along with the introduction as a free ebook on Google Drive.

The book is also available on the site and can be downloaded from here.

The Tamil (print) version of the book was published by Yaavarum Publishers last year (October, 2019) as போரும் அகிம்சையும்: காஷ்மீர் குறித்து காந்தி.

Excerpts from the book:

We can also observe some common threads emerging from these speeches.

Firstly, he emphasized that people’s opinion was paramount, be it in Kashmir or other territories, and neither India nor Pakistan should force them to accede. Gandhi supported the accession of the Muslim majority State of Kashmir to India, more because of Sheikh Abdullah than the Maharaja. He believed Sheikh Abdullah had the backing of all Kashmiris. “If it had been only the Maharaja who had wanted to accede to the Indian Union, I could never support such an act. The Union Government agreed to the accession for the time being because both the Maharaja and Sheikh Abdullah, who is the representative of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, wanted it. Sheikh Abdullah came forward because he claims to represent not only the Muslims but the entire masses in Kashmir.” [Nov 11, 1947]

When it came to listening to the will of the people, he thought it was essential and did not base his principle on time, place and gains.

Secondly, Gandhi was greatly impressed by the unity displayed by the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in Kashmir. About an earlier Sultan of Kashmir, he had said, “In days gone by when, accompanied by Hindus, Jainuluddin set out on a pilgrimage to Kashi, he got repaired all derelict temples he passed on the way” [June 12, 1947]. He saw Kashmir as the place where the idea of partition will be proven wrong. He could have thought of the accession of Kashmir to India as a victory for secular thinking. “The poison which has spread amongst us should never have spread. Through Kashmir that poison might be removed from us. If they make such a sacrifice in Kashmir to remove that poison, then our eyes also would be opened,” he said. “It is my prayer that in the present darkness in the country Kashmir may become the star that provides light,” he hoped and prayed [Dec 29, 1947]. He was greatly distressed when the Hindus and Sikhs attacked Muslims in Jammu.

Thirdly, it is for this same reason, his admiration for its secularist nature, that he opposed any suggestion to partition Jammu and Kashmir. It is evident that he thought partitioning Jammu and Kashmir along religious lines tantamounts to India accepting the principle of partition. “…Jammu and Kashmir is one State. It cannot be partitioned. If we start the process of partitioning where is it going to end? It is enough and more than enough that India has been partitioned into two. If we partition Kashmir, why not other States?“ he asked [Dec 25, 1947]. This was his strong position.

Revolutionary Gandhi by Pannalal Dasgupta: Gandhi through the eyes of a Marxist

August 19, 2020

[Published in the August, 2020 issue of the Sarvodaya Talisman magazine.]


There is no dearth of great books on Gandhi. One of the best books that I have read on Gandhi is Pannalal Dasgupta’s ‘Revolutionary Gandhi’. The book excited me for many reasons. First, the content, which presents all aspects of Gandhi as integral to the whole. Next, the context – the stories on the author of the book and how the book was written are, by themselves, interesting. And then, the story of how I came across the book makes it memorable for me personally.

Inspired by Gandhi’s writings on Nayee Talim and Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution, I had felt the urge to move to a village. Around that time, we had met a couple from a village near Madurandakam. Sriram and Karpagam, along with their friend Siddharth, had taken up farming in that village, having left their IIT degrees and urban lives behind. We visited them there on a rainy day, walking through a slush of mud. The simplicity of their lives held a great appeal for us. During the course of the long conversation that day, Sriram recommended the book, Revolutionary Gandhi, as a must-read book on Gandhi. This meeting helped us to move towards the village with more conviction.

Shortly afterwards, we made the move to a village near Coimbatore. At the government library in Coimbatore, one of the first books that I stumbled upon was Revolutionary Gandhi. I lived up to the expectations set by Sriram. Later, hearing me rave about this book, the veteran Gandhian leader, K.M.Natarajan, procured this book from Kolkatta, and gifted it to me. He kept urging me to write a detailed review about the book.

The book was originally written in Bengali in 1954-55 under the title Gandhi Gabeshana, when Pannalal Dasgupta was in jail. It was published in 1986. It took another 25 years for an English translation to come out. (By K.V.Subrahmonyan – ‘if no Bengali came forward, why not a Tamilian attempt’.)

Pannalal Dasgupta was the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party at the time of his arrest. Pannalal and his associates, while working at Jessop Company, had planned a shut down due to unaddressed grievances. When Pannalal was away, the protests turned into violent riots. As the leader of the group, he too was sentenced for life imprisonment. His excellent work in jail drew the attention of authorities; Jayaprakash Narayan visited him. He was released along with other political prisoners when Prafulla Sen became the Chief Minister of West Bengal. As his excellent translator says in his introduction, ‘This best-selling masterpiece in Bengali was the fruit of a transformation which came into his life. A political extremist, who formerly believed in violence as a means to social justice, turned once and for all into a complete Gandhian. Pannalal Babu became, like his hero, a true holistic revolutionary.’

At a time when many Marxists, especially in Bengal, were, by and large, critical of Gandhi, Pannalal Dasgupta presented a holistic picture of Gandhi through Marxist lens. “I believe that I understand the cult of Marxism-Leninism fairly well. I have read the works of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao Tse-Tung, Fidel Castro and also Che Guevara and put their ideas to use in the field of practical politics. Both in prison and outside I have lived the major part of my life along their philosophical lines. As I involved myself in all areas of India’s freedom movement, I was also well acquainted with the Congress and the Gandhian movement. During my long prison terms, I had the opportunity to listen to and read about different ideological viewpoints.” He further states, “Indian communists have never tried properly to understand Gandhiji. So I have tried to acquaint people with the two most important phenomena and ideologies of our times, Gandhism and Leninism. I have explained Gandhism in the light of Marxism and also analysed Marxian thought and action in the Gandhian light.”

Many decades after he had written this book in jail, he felt the urge to publish it because of the continuing relevance of Gandhi he felt during his constructive work in the villages, and the unbridled materialist pursuits of man that he observed around him. “Limitless consumerism is the biggest danger that faces mankind today,” he notes and considers Gandhian approach to be essential to counter it, since he kept counselling caution in such restlessness. “I believe that Gandhiji is a living reality and, as days pass by, people will be bound to take more and more interest in the man, his thought and work. Gandhiji raised some fundamental questions to which no ideology or ‘ism’ has yet been able to furnish a proper answer.” He cites Vinoba Bhave approvingly elsewhere, “To change the direction is the simplest way of outstripping others.”

In this essay, I am attempting to give an introduction to this unheralded book that deserves to be read widely, largely using the words of Pannalal Dasgupta himself, juxtaposing with the quotations of Gandhi from the book.


Pannalal Dasgupta likens Gandhi’s quest for truth to the main aim of science, which, he says, is ‘the search for truth’. It was Gandhi’s quest for truth that led him to non-violence. ‘Gandhiji believed that it was unjust to employ secretiveness and deceptive strategy in a struggle against an adversary. His moral objection to armed, violent struggle was mainly on the ground that it was inevitably accompanied by secretiveness, underhand methods and deceit. It was not the sight of death that turned him nonviolent. On the contrary, his conscience was unfailingly clear when, in his own nonviolent struggle, he had to bring people constantly face to face with death.’ His first and foremost emphasis was on truth and not on non-violence nor even God. Hence, Gandhi changed his maxim ‘God is Truth’ into ‘Truth is God.’

Read the rest of this entry »

What must the government do now?

May 15, 2020

What must the government do now?

Just run all the trains.

Forget online registration, forget aadhar card and arogya setu, forget who pays how much, just run all the trains free for a month or two.

Forget corona, forget social distancing, forget screening; it’s anyway irrelevant for them now. Just issue tokens or printed tickets at all railway stations across the country. 1200 is not the real capacity of a train in normal times. Double it or triple it. It can’t get worse than what we are witnessing on the roads now. “Indian Railways runs 12,617 trains to carry over 23 million passengers daily – equivalent to moving the entire population of Australia – connecting more than 7,172 stations,” say reports. How difficult is it for us to transport 100 million people in a few days?

Forget fear of misuse. Trust me, nobody wants to go on a tour in these times.

Let the PM appear on TV and simply assure the people who voted for him: “We shall run free trains all over the country for the next month or two. Whoever wants to go home, make use of the trains. We will ensure food and shelter where ever you are but if you want to go home, take the trains. Stop walking, reach the nearest railway station and take a train. Stay at the railway station or nearby shelters till you get a train. We have made those arrangements. Don’t rush and cause stampedes, I assure you we shall run these trains till the last migrant worker has reached home.”

And arrange shelters and food around the railway stations. If you can’t give them food, at least give them shelter till they get a train. If you can’t give them shelters too, just don’t harass them wherever they are. They can take care of themselves for a few more days. Just run those idle trains.

You can think of massive screening, testing and quarantine centres across the country after first allowing them to reach their homes.

You can think of how to revive the economy later on.

For now, just run those trains.

What else can the government do?

The TV Speech

May 15, 2020

I somehow managed to listen to his Hindi speech, which was as usual without English/local language subtitles, and understood these five things.

1. An expensive harpic package has been announced. The junior artistes will disclose the contents of the pack tomorrow.
2. Jan Dhan, Aadhar, Mobiles have landed us up in a JAM.
3. When you make in Delhi and sell in Pollachi, it is called local. Be vocal about local and change its meaning.
4. The management jargon like incremental change, quantum jump, five pillars, four Ls still have users after many decades of overuse.
5. There are good hairdressers in Delhi who are breaking the rule to work during the lockdown. One, however, has to appreciate their flawless workmanship.

I also noticed a sixth aspect. Those who are dreaming about roaming around in the vast palaces of the new Delhi vista do not have eyes for the migrants marching in the middle of the night with splintered soles. They shall not utter a single word to recognise their plight. They shall keep boasting about how their relief money has landed up straight in the pockets of those migrants too.

Two movies: Monsieur Klein & Toyland

May 15, 2020

Monsieur Klein (1976) is a disturbing French movie by the American director in exile, Joseph Losey (blacklisted in Hollywood as communist), set during the second world war during the Nazi occupation of France. The movie has an explosive opening scene in which a woman is being profiled rudely by a male doctor who inspects her nose, teeth, mouth, jaws, forehead, facial expression, body, hips and heels, and marks her as Jewish or Armenian or Arab. The woman pays fifteen francs for his services and leaves with her husband who had also come for profiling.

Robert Klein (Alain Delon) is a French art dealer who buys works of art at bargain prices from Jews who are looking to make money before escaping. He suddenly starts getting letters meant for another Robert Klein, a Jew living elsewhere in Paris. He traces his house but could not find him. He is desperate to find the motives of that person but is unable to make headway.

When Klein goes to meet the editor of a Jewish newsletter, which was sent to him unsolicited, the editor opines a friend might perhaps have subscribed for him. Klein says, “No one would play that sort of joke on me.” The editor asks the awkward Klein, “Do you think we are a subject for jokes?”

The police start suspecting Klein and ask him to prove his true-blue French identity.

Klein goes in search of the birth certificates of his parents and grandparents, and meets his old father. His father tells him there were Kleins in Holland and implies they could be Jews. He asks his father if they could be related to the Dutch Kleins and his father howls that they have been French and Catholic since Louis XIV. He is unable to get the certificate of his maternal grandmother who was born in Algiers.

The rest of the movie is about him trying to find and establish his identity, and the identity and motive of the other Robert Klein. The threat of a concentration camp looms over his head.

I cannot decide whether it is a historical or a futuristic movie. Needless to say, CAA,NPR,NRC were on my mind throughout.

Toyland – Spielzeugland (2007)

A wonderful World war II-Nazi era short flim that achieves in 12 minutes what others rarely achieve in a few hours and a lifetime.

Watch it – with children if you can.

[The film is on the link – read further after watching it, in case you are worried about spoilers.]

It’s intensely tragic but also offers a bright spark of hope. We (with our daughter) had to watch it twice back to back to let it sink in.

You can’t find a better way to tell your children people can’t be identified by their clothes and looks. And how humanity can somehow, sometimes if not always, triumph over fascism.

Notes on Corona – 5

May 15, 2020


When we went out for extracting coconut oil last week , I had also gone to the Electricity Board office to pay the electricity bill of our house owner. It is shocking that the government which asks us not to collect house rents is still collecting electricity bills. When people can’t step out of their houses, how can they pay their EB bills? Not everyone can be expected to pay their bills online. When I enquired, they said taking the readings door to door has been cancelled and we could pay the same charges as the previous month.

They had kept a bucket of water and liquid soap outside the office. Everyone was expected to wash their hands before entering the office. We had visited this office last month with the house owner. They had started this practice even before the lock down. They had kept a soap bar then [கட்டி in Tamil means both a solid bar and hug. Hence the ‘hug soap’ 🙂 ]. The house owner went inside while we stayed in the car. A person came on his motorcycle. When others instructed him to wash his hands and enter, he was very reluctant and kept grumbling.

“If I keep on washing my hands like this, my palm prints are going to vanish,” he mumbled.

He somehow managed to bend over his large paunch and washed his hands.

Meanwhile, our house owner returned and I started the car. The motorcycle was blocking the way a little. The person came running to move his vehicle.

“If you touch your motorcycle, you’ll have to wash your hands again,” I said and started driving away to the vegetable shop.

“What, yet again?” He was standing there, stunned.


Even in the middle of major disasters, or perhaps, especially during such disasters, governments and politicians and the police cannot curb their urge to clamp down on the freedom of expression. Even a small media outlet in a small city is not spared for the smallest of criticisms.


Arogya setu is mandatory for all employees? Gosh, I have never felt more relieved that I am not employed.


This report came up on my timeline and is slightly dated but the situation could not have changed much by now.

The impact of such a skewed representation in the highest layer of bureaucracy on the various decisions taken by the central government (this and the previous ones) that affect all sections of the society, especially in situations like the current one, cannot be ignored. When over 50% of the central ministers also belong to the upper castes, the problem is exacerbated. No wonder the central government did not anticipate or, if it did, did not care about something as huge as the migrant crisis and has responded to it poorly.

Among the English-speaking elite, caste is an issue that is discussed the least in the open. But it remains a huge factor in our country at all levels. It maybe subtle or crude, covert or overt, conscious or subconscious, but it pervades everywhere.…/of-89-secretaries-in-modi-go…/271543/…

/Only one of the 89 secretaries posted at the Centre belongs to the Scheduled Castes (SC), while three belong to the Scheduled Tribes, latest government data tabled in Parliament shows. None of the secretaries belong to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. /

/The representation of SC/ST/OBC officers in central government ministries/departments is lopsided even at the additional secretary, joint secretary and director levels. For instance, of the 93 additional secretaries in central government ministries, just six are SCs and five are STs, while there are no OBCs of this rank either.

Among the 275 joint secretaries, 13 (4.73 per cent) are SCs, nine (3.27 per cent) are STs and 19 belong to the OBC category./




Wow, India is such a happy and prosperous place to be in during lock down.

Interview with the Chief Economic Advisor of India.


P.S.: It was unbearable to watch the full interview. Those who care for the nuances can do it here . There are enough indications that the next stimulus package (note: stimulus, not relief – though M.S. Ahluwalia objects to this word for different reasons) will focus on the big industry. Both of them keep talking about stimulating demand. This sort of economic approach and jargon sounds so vulgar and insensitive in these times of distress. Oh, but the Jan Dhan data proves there is no distress. People just have to withdraw money from their accounts and spend. Direct benefit transfer to the poor is merely to exploit the high marginal propensity to consume among these sections, and not exactly to help them survive. [To me the JDY data just shows that the relief money of 500 and 1000 that the government gave to the women did not reach them fully.] M.S. Ahluwalia also does not have any radical solutions.

There are questions to the CEA from industrialists. How about some questions from the migrant workers?


Covid has shown us that we don’t need much money to live and that money is not everything. The demand for suspension of labour laws and the deliberate, sinister attempts to detain migrant labourers have shown us that the suave, modern industrialists are no different from the caricatured greedy industrialist villains of yesteryear movies who crushed union leaders through conspiracy. It has exposed their self-serving idea of growth. Jobloss is the threat with which they try to rollback hard-won labour laws.

The industrialised economy as we know it was raised on the foundation of slavery and imperialism. The champions of this economic model still clearly believe in soft slavery.

It is an opportunity for us to reimagine and recreate our world. Big industry is not essential for our wellbeing, and if anything, is only detrimental to our survival, as the climate emergency has shown. To save our economy, the failing exploitative industries should be saved at any cost is a politically sacrosanct idea which needs to be challenged. It’s time for the alternative ideas regarding decentralisation and self-sustained local economies to be mainstreamed.


Homework before 8 p.m. Please watch this.

/t was past one in the morning. I was on the road in our car trying to make it our next stop. Suddenly, near Bhiwandi, in Maharashtra, I was woken up by the sound of a child crying. This is what I saw-in the dead of the night. Haunting.
– Barkha on Twitter/


I wish the year was 200200. We would have got 200 lakh crores.

200-200. 200 lakh crores.
100 percent of GDP.

Now, FMji, go figure. No typos.


A large number of migrant workers have started walking back towards home from Chennai too 😦

These friends are genuine people doing more than what they can. Anyone who wishes to help, please reach out to Anantha Sayanan.