‘Peace is not news’ : Shanti Sena

September 27, 2014

My wife and daughter were to travel alone to Chennai today. At the time of planning, over a week ago, the significance of this date didn’t strike us. But, by yesterday, with the hype around the impending judgement, it was clear that they could be stranded midway or at the station. The trip itself was not unavoidable, but, my wife, resolutely, decided to proceed with the journey, come what may. Why should we bring our lives to a halt for no fault of ours? [They have reached safely, just in time.]

I went to Thiagu Book Centre, around noon, and had a wonderful discussion with the Saturday regulars. We had a very special guest in the eclectic writer, Vittal Rao. From Pa.Singaram to Gunter Grass, from Tippu Sultan to his comrades, from world war graves to submerged forts, he spoke about a host of topics. We heard of the judgement midway during our discussions. There were warnings from our homes, that the city is shutting down. However, I was glad that none of us was in a hurry to scamper home. We stayed there longer than usual.

On the way back, I did get a bus to Gandhipuram – it reached there with a few minor detours and traffic snarls. The city was indeed shutting down. The police had asked the cinemas to close. The shops were downing the shutters. People were returning home, en masse, from offices and schools. From Gandhipuram, there weren’t many buses; home was at a very walkable distance, and I walked down, leaving behind a large crowd at the bus stand waiting with uncertainty.

All along, I was asking myself: Why is everyone panicking? Who are we running away from? What can happen, if we all choose to stand up and stay normal; continue to enjoy our lives? Who gave the authority to a handful of goondas to bring our lives to a standstill? The only authority they have is lent by our own timidity. What high cause are the agitators fighting for? What moral rights do they have to even be on the road, when they should be hiding away in shame? And what moral rights do many of those who rejoice (both in TN and Delhi) have, when it is only a matter of time when their turn shall(should) come?

And how can I not think of Gandhi, now? The thought that was filling up my mind was his idea of Shanti Sena – a voluntary, unarmed peace brigade to avert and mitigate riots. A few tens or hundreds of peaceful local volunteers roaming around the city in small groups can positively do what the hapless, or the unwilling, police can’t.

In my interview with Narayan Desai, he had talked about the role of Shanti Sena in the Northeast. Here, he explains in more detail about the genesis of Shanti Sena.


“there had been times when violence was averted.

“This is possible when a Shanti Sainik has lived in an area for a long time. The Shanti Sainik would assess the situation and talk to the right people, and in this way prevent a real outbreak. Of course, in a case like this, Shanti Sena would receive no credit, because things would go on as normal, and the public would not know there had been a likelihood of a riot.

“Peace is not news.”

Gandhi spoke of the “undreamt-of and seemingly impossible discoveries” that would be made in the field of nonviolence. Shanti Sena is surely one of those.”

(Photo by Nedya, 2012)

(Photo by Nedya)

Gandhi, in his own way of blending the abstract with the concrete, lists down the ‘qualifications a member of the contemplated Peace Brigade should possess.’

  • He or she must have a living faith in non-violence. This is impossible without a living faith in God. A non-violent man can do nothing save by the power and grace of God. Without it he won’t have the courage to die without anger, without fear and without retaliation. Such courage comes from the belief that God sits in the hearts of all and that there should be no fear in the presence of God. The knowledge of the omnipresence of God also means respect for the lives of even those who may be called opponents or goondas. This contemplated intervention is a process of stilling the fury of man when the brute in him gets mastery over him.
  • This messenger of peace must have equal regard for all the principle religions of the earth. Thus, if he is a Hindu, he will respect the other faiths current in India. He must therefore possess a knowledge of the general principles of the different faiths professed in the country.
  • Generally speaking this work of peace can only be done by local men in their own localities.
  • The work can be done singly or in groups. Therefore no one need wait for companions. Nevertheless one would naturally seek companions in one’s own locality and form a local brigade.
  • This messenger of peace will cultivate through personal service contacts with the people in his locality or chosen circle, so that when he appears to deal with ugly situations, he does not descend upon the members of a riotous assembly as an utter stranger liable to be looked upon as a suspect or an unwelcome visitor.
  • Needless to say, a peace-bringer must have a character beyond reproach and must be known for his strict impartiality.
  • Generally, there are previous warnings of coming storms. If these are known, the Peace Brigade will not wait till the conflagration breaks out but will try to handle the situation in anticipation.
  • Whilst, if the movement spreads, it might be well if there are some whole time workers, it is not absolutely necessary that there should be. The idea is to have as many good and true men and women as possible. These can be had only if volunteers are drawn from those who are engaged in various walks of life but have leisure enough to cultivate friendly relations with the people living in their circle and otherwise possess the qualifications required of a member of the Peace Brigade.
  • There should be a distinctive dress worn by the members of the contemplated brigade so that in course of time they will be recognized without the slightest difficulty.
  • These are but general suggestions. Each centre can work out its own constitution on the basis here suggested.

Harijan, 18-6-38, p. 152

It is a pity that we abandoned this idea, like most other Gandhian ideals. It is an idea, which needs revival.

The books that made me

September 3, 2014

I am usually one of those indifferent persons who cause chain posts on social media to collapse. But the latest chain on Special Books is interesting. Some of my friends had tagged me. And I, readily, oblige for a change. 

These books may not necessarily be the ones that I still rate highly. These are books that have been special to me or have influenced me at that point in time. This list is largely in a chronological order.

The Early Phase – my school days:

1. Adventures of Subramaniyan – you couldn’t have read these stories. They were never written down by their creator – my father. But I entered the world of stories through them. And I don’t remember any of them fully; I doubt if my father does – I don’t hear him telling those stories to my daughter.

2. Kamba Ramayanam – This must be my first audio book: another book that I have never read fully, but almost feel like I’ve know it, as I’ve been hearing these stories from my father from the age of 3. Later, my school was the regular host for Kovai Kamban Vizha. [If we were to make a similar list of movies, I would include Parasakthi, Manohara, Devadoss and Pudhiya Paravaigal, none of which I had seen then, but heard, or thought I heard, the entire stories and dialogues from my father.]

3. Black Arrow, Robert Louis Stevenson – I won this book as a prize at school, and this, most definitely, was my first English novel. Looking at the chapterwise structure, I still remember thinking that they were short stories and being surprised to see the continuity. Loved it then – the War of Roses and King Richard, the forts and moats, bows and horses.  Later, the world of English/French classics opened up for me, thanks to my maths teacher, YM Joghee, and a wonderfully stocked school library. For Tamil novels, there was a compact Government library. I travelled around the world, underneath the sea, escaped from prisons, got onto time machines, fought the aliens, found the treasures and mines, robbed the rich and served the poor. 

4. Award Dictionary – Is there any rule that prohibits dictionaries from entering books lists?  I was used to getting books as gifts from Joghee sir. But this was one of the two books, which he recommended me to buy at a book exhibition. It was a helpful companion for many years. The dictionary had some useful appendices, and I knew the sequence of American Presidents and British Prime Ministers by heartsomething to boast about, at school.

5. The Complete Works of Shakespeare – this is the other book that Joghee Sir recommended me to buy. One summer vacation – I think I had just completed my ninth standard – I would take out our wired chair, which had a nice slanting backrest, lay it outside the veranda, close to the street, under the neem tree, and read for over a month. I can’t say for sure, if I was hoping that the passers-by would be wowed. But I managed to finish all but two plays (36 out of 38)! Don’t ask me how much I remember. Othello was my favorite play and Iago the favorite character (largely because he didn’t reform at the end). Only the Satan of Paradise Lost was as charming. 

6. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens – Was it because of the book itself, or the serial on DD – I adored Pip and Estella, Joe and the escaped convict. I think it must be the serial. I enjoyed all the other Dickens’ novels, which I read, equally if not more.

7. பொன்னியின் செல்வன், கல்கி (The son of Ponni, Kalki Krishnamurthy) – Walter Scott and Alexander Dumas were amongst the most favorite writers of my childhood. Kalki matched them, and in my opinion, exceeded them. Every Wednesday, I would go to our petty-kadai (petty shop or பெட்டிக் கடை?), wait for the Kalki magazine to arrive, read the weekly episode of Ponniyin Selvan standing there or while walking back home. Vanthiya Thevan and Nandini, as sketched by Manian, are etched in my memory. There is not another book that I’ve read, where I remember as many names as from Ponniyin Selvan. 

8. Sujatha – Cannot pinpoint any single work of Sujatha (that maybe his failing too). But he was a big influence for a long time. I’ll easily credit Sujatha for my early interest in computers. How many amongst us who grew up in Tamilnadu in the 80s on a generous diet of mainstream Tamil magazines, wouldn’t?

9. மௌனியின் சிறுகதைகள் (Mouni’s Short Stories) – Found this book in our local library. I remember how stunned my father was – largely because even he had to admit that Jayakanthan was not the be all and end all of Tamil literature. If there is any book that I can flaunt to show that my childhood taste was more refined than what some of the books in this list portray, it has to be this.

10. A far-left biography of Bhagat Singh – I used to say, “We need a leader like Netaji” at every elocution contest during the school days. Bhagat Singh, and the many other revolutionaries mentioned in this book, also became heroes for me. Thanks to this book, I came to hate Gandhi so much, that I turned vegetarian, just to see if I can do as well, what that ‘old pretender’ did. It took me over 20 years, before I discovered the true Gandhi.

11. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy – This was probably the last book that I read before joining college. A romantic masterpiece is what I felt then.

12. War and peace, Leo Tolstoy – Inspired by Anna Karenina, War and Peace became the first book that I bought with my first ever earnings (for some survey work we did for our college), But while Anna took 2-3 days of rapturous reading to finish, War and Peace took 2-3 years. It was inspiring, thought-provoking and often, dreary. But finish, I did.  It became an important literary badge to wear.

13. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand – I think I am now almost at the opposite spectrum of what Ayn Rand stood for. But I must admit that her books fascinated me at the age when I read them.



After college, my reading pattern changed. I started buying books, and relied less on libraries and friends (am back to libraries, now). The significant ‘best lists’ and reviews on internet became initial guides to picking up good books.

Here is a top of the mind, and by no means, representative or exhaustive list of fictional works.

1. Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky

2. புயலிலே ஒரு தோணி, ப.சிங்காரம் (Puyalile Oru Thoni, Pa.Singaram)

3. 18வது அட்சக்கோடு, அசோகமித்திரன் (18th Parallel, Ashokamitran)

4. புதுமைப்பித்தன் சிறுகதைகள் (Pudumaipithan Short stories)

5. ஐந்நூறு கோப்பைத் தட்டுகள் (சிறுகதைத் தொகுப்பு, குறிப்பாக, பிராயணம், புலிக்கலைஞன்) – அசோகமித்திரன் (Short Stories, Ashokamitran)

6. Gora, Ghare Baire – Rabindranath Tagore

7. ஜேஜே சில குறிப்புகள், சுந்தர ராமசாமி (JJ:Some Jottings, Sundara Ramaswami)

8. The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce

9. கோவேறு கழுதைகள் – இமையம் (Beasts of Burden, Imayam)

10. The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

11. திசைகளின் நடுவே (சிறுகதைத் தொகுப்பு) – ஜெயமோகன் (Short stories, Jeyamohan)

12. வாடிவாசல் – சி.சு.செல்லப்பா (Vaadivasal: Arena; CS Chellappa)

13. விஷ்ணுபுரம் – ஜெயமோகன் (Vishnupuram, Jeyamohan)

14. Lolita – Vladimir Nabakov

15. Blindness – Jose Saramago

16. The Stranger – Albert Camus

17. வண்ணநிலவன் சிறுகதைகள் (Short stories, Vannanilavan)

18. அம்மா வந்தாள், மோக முள் – தி.ஜானகிராமன் (Amma Vandaal, Moha Mul – Thi.Janakiraman)

19. Love in the time of Cholera, Garcia Marquez

20. Various plays, Oscar Wilde

21. A House for Mr.Biswas  – V.S.Naipaul

22. Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka

23.  பொய்த் தேவு – க.நா.சு (Poi Thevu, Ka. Naa. Subramanyam)

24. சாயா வனம் – சா.கந்தசாமி (Chayavanam, Sa.Kandasamy)

25. Blind Assassins – Margaret Atwood

26. Thirst for Love – Yukio Mishima

27. Animal Farm – George Orwell 

I don’t see an end in sight for this list – I could go on. I might keep revisiting this list, and editing it to add names that I missed out, or to add more books that I read.

Special mention :

1.Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky – This is a book that I stopped reading midway, since it drew me inside a cave which I didn’t want to enter and held out a mirror that I didn’t want to look into.

2. வண்ணதாசன் முன்னுரைகள் (Forewords of Vannadasan) – I bought many of his short story collections, primarily because I was fascinated by his forewords.

3. Tweets and blogs – Payon (பேயோன்) – His brand of satire and humor are very unique to Tamil.

4. The various lists and reviews of Jeyamohan, which led me to many of the modern Tamil and other Indian writers.


Now, finally, to the books that truly shaped and influenced me:

1. Thirukkural, Thiruvalluvar

2. My Experiments with Truth – Gandhi

3. One Straw Revolution – Masanobu Fukuoka

4. The Story of Nai Talim – Marjori Sykes

5. பாரதியார் கவிதைகள் (Poems of Subramaniya Bharathi)

6. என் சரித்திரம் – உ.வே.சா (My History, U.Ve.Swaminatha Iyer)

7. Ghaffar Khan : Non-violent Badshah, Rajmohan Gandhi

8. Mohandas : A True story of A Man, his People and an Empire – Rajmohan Gandhi

9. Satyagraha in South Africa – Gandhi

10. Hind Swaraj – Gandhi (and many other books on and by, or related to, Gandhi and Gandhians)

11. Biographies of Bharathi – Yadugiri Ammal, Va.Ra, Chellammal.

12. Essential writings of B.R.Ambedkar – Valerian Rodrigues

13. Dhammapada – Buddha

14. Economy of Permanence – J.C. Kumarappa

15. Unto the Last – John Ruskin

16. On Civil Disobedience – Thoreau

Thiruvalluvar and Gandhi came together to nudge me to do what I am doing now. Similarly, over a single train journey, I saw Fukuoka and Gandhi (through Marjorie Sykes) combine to urge me to take the next step.

I wouldn’t be exaggerating, if I say (it is not that I am saying this with pride), books made me.

A Falls by any other name

September 3, 2014

Cinema has stamped its influence on our lives in so many million ways. Over 25 years ago, we visited a waterfall near Coimbatore, with our extended family. It was a little after the release of the blockbuster movie – Vaidehi Kaathirunthal, which had a song partly shot there. The falls was named Vaidehi Falls, in its honour. It wasn’t as imposing as the ‘Punnagai Mannan’ falls (Athirappally falls in Kerala) but had its own charm. The speciality was a small slope, where you could slide down along with the water. The falls was located a few kms away from the nearest village, Narasipuram, which was connected to the city by a solitary bus then. From there, we had to take a bullock cart on a muddy road to reach the foothills and then trek some more distance on foot. The typically unruly behaviour of a few drunken youth at the falls, ensured we never visited the place again. But what made the experience unforgettable was the glorious wind that started blowing on our way back and almost carried us to Narasipuram, eliminating the need to hire the bullock carts.

Last month, we visited that area again to see a farm land. No bullock cart, this time – we were on a car. But yet another journey for a few kms on another muddy road, made muddier by recent rains. Our new found friend egged us on, getting out of the car, and walking down to ensure we don’t drive into a watery pit. Our car followed him. When we got down, we could see fresh elephant droppings and footprints of wild boars on the wet soil. The farm was at the foothills, on the edge of the forest. Only a dry stream separated it from the forest. Not too far away, a ‘kumki’ elephant had been brought that day to counter the wild ones. We breathed in the fresh air from the Western Ghats all around us. The silence was constantly pierced by the songs of the many unknown birds. Our friend pointed towards a thin white line on the mountain, not too far from where we were.

“That is the Vaidehi Falls.”

Much has changed. No more solitary bus – it is well connected now. There is a metal road till the foothills. No bullocks. No carts. But the name-

Don’t know if the falls had another name but this name has come to stay.

[Of course,I could’ve just played the song without having so much to say.]