Talking in the train

September 30, 2012

It has become almost inevitable that I meet somebody interesting on the train….and almost always, they avail of the senior citizen concession. Not that they never existed before; but I probably never looked or I was travelling in AC coaches.

Two weeks ago, on the way to Madurai, it was an affable old lady, going alone to see her ailing sister. Frequently distracted by a voluble, returning-from-Abudhabi woman, boldly travelling alone to Tirunelveli with a toddler and tonnes of luggage, she told me, her mom-in-law had a principle of not marrying off her sons to anybody from Tirunelveli or Salem (they were roguish – ராங்கிகள் ). Teachers were also ineligible. They never live with their in-laws. She was neither. She said she wasn’t biased and gets along well with her daughter-in-law working in a software firm. Except that she retires to her lonely room at 4pm and stays there chanting and sleeping. For being being a stoic listener, she shared with me a few of the famed Manapparai murukkus and gave me a ride in her hired auto to my destination.

Yesterday, it was an elderly gentleman, sitting opposite to us, next to the window, which had the fire exit. The conversation started in Tamil when he said all windows should be made fire-exits. Then, I heard him speak in a very familiar-but-unfamiliar tongue to his wife. I asked him, which language it was. Sanskrit. He is on a mission to make everybody speak Sanskrit. His 50 odd students can all speak fluently in Sanskrit. In Sanskrit, hardly 5% are vedas and other religious material; 95% is knowledge. It has everything from metallurgy to nuclear physics. With dedicated effort, you can master Sanskrit in 1.5 years since it runs in our blood.

He said, the village that just passed by, has a rare Sanskrit name(Virinchipuram…Google threw this up for Virinchi and Tamil lexicon has this from Kamban’s Ramayana : வேதங்கண்ணிய பொருளெல்லாம் விரிஞ்சனே யீந்தான்). The villagers wouldn’t know the significance, ofcourse. Even nowadays, all baby names are in Sanskrit. He had chosen a beautiful Sanskrit name for his daughter, from Lalitha Sahasranamam.

I couldn’t suppress my reply, with my hand caressing our daughter’s head: We have kept a pure Tamil name for her. Mahirl Malar.

There was a nice breeze blowing through the window. The vast stretches of greenery, outside the window, were lovely. He decided to notice their loveliness and started watching them give way to a long range of mountains.

He turned inside when Mahirl offered him a cake. Then, when we talked, it was about the bus route to Perur, where he had to go to.

Keeping Gandhi alive

September 24, 2012

Met another Gandhian, last week. The 88-year old Narayan Desai. He is the son of Mahadev Desai – secretary to Gandhi, diarist and translator. Narayan Desai has written a Gujarati biography of Gandhi, which has also been translated into 4 volumes in English (My life is my message). As Secretary of Shanti Sena, which did very important work in the North-east and other areas, he has worked closely with Vinoba and JP.

He conducts Gandhi Katha, a 15-hour/5-day discourse on the life and message of Gandhi. He was doing a session in Madurai. The trip to Madurai was more than its worth. To hear it all from someone who grew up under the eyes of Gandhi, is quite an experience.The 2+ hours of personal time I got with him, gave me a piece of some remarkable experience. He is quite a remarkable person, who has been through some remarkable times – independence, peace efforts in the time of China war, bhoomi-dhan, Sarvodhya, Shanti Sena, emergency.

His parting words to me were “I am blessed to have spent 20 years each with Gandhi, Vinoba and JP.”
His comment on Thirukkural : “Vinoba used to quote quite frequently from Thirukkural. Translators used to struggle. He will often say the original couplet in Tamil too.”.
His advice to me on my training : “Get students to ponder about what is real development.”.
I met him again with my wife and daughter, when he was passing through Chennai on his way back. It was another great experience.
During his katha, he mentioned that fear is infectious and so is fearlessness. His love for peace, and his energy are infectious too. I am writing more about my experiences with him, in Tamil.

The warm touch of great kindness

September 24, 2012

She was sitting alone. Her head was shaking involuntarily, every now and then. She was reading a biography of Aurobindo.

I went and sat next to her and started talking. I was there at that conference, especially to hear her speak. And what a great opportunity I got to meet her personally. When she occasionally held my hands while talking, the chill-warmth was so energizing.

She talked to me about her tale of how she joined Vinoba. She mentioned about her son, who went to Cambodia to treat children affected by war crimes and has refused to come back, because he just couldn’t leave. She was thrilled about my work and told me, “You should include Bharathi along with Thirukkural”.

Krishnammal Jagannathan – follower of Gandhi; close associate of Vinoba; a fighter for the landless dalits, and against the powerful and destructive prawn industry.She is 87 years old; she spends 3 days a week looking after her equally illustrious 98-year-old husband at Chengalpet and goes to Nagappatinam for 4 days to take care of the various social activities she is still pursuing. (like trying to convince the District Collector to build 100 brick-houses).The way she talked on stage about their struggle against the prawn MNCs was inspiring – ” Our livelihoods, water and land were being destroyed for the sake of someone in Japan and Australia to eat prawns. My husband lamented, ‘Is it for this that we ate worm-infested food in British prisons?’ We decided to fight this through Satyagraha.”.

I could see a few people in the room sobbing many a time during her speech.

What a lady!
PS :   I am very late in posting this from my Facebook…this was written in July. Wanted to do a more detailed essay, which hasn’t happened, yet.

The unusual allies and a rightful protest

September 10, 2012

Kudankulam protestors have continuously been achieving the impossible – of bringing together the Congress, BJP, Communists, DMK, ADMK and a majority of the common people and intelligentsia on a single issue. They might even succeed in getting the parliament to convene for a special session to condemn them.
All of them talk about the foreign hand. Subramanium Swamy and Chidambaram are talking the same language. But the foreign hand is still refusing to be revealed except outside wild allegations.

All of them talk of the protesting fishermen being instigated by a small coterie of leaders. That the 10000+ protestors have even been hypnotized and brain-washed by that coterie. Ah, if only that were possible!
A protest that remained totally non-violent for over an year has turned partially violent today, when the main actors had to disappear under pressure from police. I wish it had remained non-violent despite the police highhandedness and I wish they had not disappeared – a Gandhi would have called off the protest if the protestors turned violent. But it doesn’t yet take away anything from the genuineness of the protests.

All of them talk of how the livelihoods of the locals will not be affected by the nuclear plant and its wastes. Oh yeah! I am amazed that people can pretend to believe this.

The Tamilnadu Congress President comments on TV that Kudangulam and Idinthakarai do not a Tamilnadu make. (hmm..that is the same attitude that Congress has towards Tamilnadu on Srilankan issue, that a Tamilnadu does not an India make). But the plant is coming up in Kudankulam and not in the whole of Tamilnadu. The rights of the people of Kudankulam to protest against the impact on their livelihoods is far more important than the power-crisis-induced support offered by the rest of Tamilnadu and India.

I see merit in Udhayakumar’s repeated assertions that the people of Kudankulam are not responsible for the power crisis -it has been caused by the administration due to decades of misrule and misplaced priorities. The protestors cannot be asked to pay for the faults of others. And they do not have the obligation to find the solution for the crisis, which is not caused by them.

All of them talk about the adamance of the protestors in not changing their opinions despite advice from all kinds of so-called experts. Why should they change and how can they, when they believe they are right?

(Cross-posted from Facebook)

On friendly nations and a death sentence

September 10, 2012

Many in the country are celebrating the death sentence for Kasab. Fair enough – while I don’t support death sentence for any crime for anybody, I don’t want to belittle the sentiments of those who do. What is the crime of Kasab? To state the obvious : he killed Indian citizens and ‘waged war’ on our nation.

There is another country which has been repeatedly harassing, attacking, detaining and killing Indian citizens (in addition to massacring thousands of their own). The Indian Government rewards them by training their soldiers on Indian soil. The national media doesn’t care. The answer by a Central Minister to the locals’ objections : “We will continue to give them training. They are our friendly country”. If we can be ‘gracious’ enough to continue to treat this country as friendly, then, in the same spirit, we should garland Kasab, give him further training to ensure he doesn’t get caught the next time and send him home safely.

And by the way, when is that world cup T20 starting? Another opportunity to show what a friendly people we are.