Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Random Thoughts - IV

First it was Madeleine Albright and now it is Hillary Clinton. I suppose Bill Clinton has surrounded himself with overawed feudal women.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Doesn't covering hands and legs completely give undue advantage in Kabaddi? I guess grip on bare legs is firmer than on clothed legs.

Image courtesy: Faramarz.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Agriculture in South India - notes

Zimbabwe land reform 'not a failure'

the 10-year study of 400 households in the southern province of Masvingo debunks five myths:
That land reform has been a total failure
That most of the land has gone to political "cronies"
That there is no investment on the resettled land
That agriculture is in complete ruins, creating chronic food insecurity
That the rural economy has collapsed.
I hope such a study would be conducted in India too. The problem is the impact of many of India's ground breaking policies has not been studied scientifically. The first one should be highly politicized 'caste reservations'.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Liberation from caste identity - Part II

2. Alternative Worldviews:
In the alternate world of united India, would it be possible for the intellectual classes of underprivileged castes to liberate their fellow caste men? As we have already seen proselytizing religions might have attracted many a family from these castes. However, whether the castes as a whole might have converted is difficult to imagine. Some of the castes have created their own religious structure on account of certain strong religious figures, but, they too have adopted the Vedic scriptures. It's tough to determine whether they have overcome the caste identities. I'll take up a scenario where intellectual classes coming up with alternate worldviews. But is it possible?

An alternate worldview requires a reference ideals. These are not hard to find after the success of,
- human rights
- scientific methodology
- fiscal accountability (maybe)
in western European society. However, the problem is all of these are textbook ideals for the castes. These are neither part of traditions nor written in holy books. And thus, do not invoke respect or reverence.

Then what is the alternate worldview that these intellectual classes can propagate?

Few years back I read an article in a Kannada periodical belonging to a Malayali weavers' caste that somewhat looks in that direction. First let us check what the author had to say when this community faced its greatest crisis or moment of truth around 50 years ago. I have translated the article from Kannada.

When we rewind our memories to 50 years back, the visual that opens up and haunts our minds was that of perennial struggle with poverty, ignorance, illiteracy and inferiority complex. It was a time when our dependence on our caste occupation led us to pauperism. Majority were below poverty line. No education; No job; No roof on top; No clothes to wear; The caste occupation was our slow poison. When the question of life and death looming large, how many of us left our loved ones and migrated to unknown lands in search of jobs? How many of us ended up wearing masks to escape from inferiority complex, suspicion, disrespect, poverty and illiteracy? When the caste and the caste occupation couldn't lift us up form this predicament, how many of us became chameleons to assimilate into a new place, a new language, new people and a new environment?
Here we observe that except for poverty all other handicaps like inferiority complex, suspicion, disrespect and ignorance were legacy of the caste system. However, the author doesn't see those as the necessary requirements to escape from the caste identity. In fact, he calls upon younger generation, whom he views as successful on account of being educated and successful in their new fields, to take pride in their caste identity and continue the cultural traditions ( of course not the ones that required them behave like slaves in front of Brahmins) associated with the caste system or Hinduism.

This is a typical case of pooling individual successes of the present (despite the caste) to give respect to their past caste identity. It's again accepting a philosophy that during their moment of truth acted as a catalyst for their failures or legitimized their failures as an expression of the lower birth. More importantly, it is like accepting an ideology which transfers what should have been society's failure as whole to individual's failure thus further limiting generations of such individuals' families. This type of misguided pride in the caste identity and ideology can get perverted and can take as a vengeful caste pride in the case of castes with numbers in their side. Nevertheless, the author here is trying to give an identity to the younger generation who he believes, and probably correctly, as confused. So what is his worldview or ideals for the younger generation?

Nobody is superior and nobody is inferior in a society. As discerning critics and great souls have said, we are all essentially animals. Brahminhood is nothing but our intellectualism, discretion and good characters. We find barbarians who claim to be brahmins but behave even worse than petty animals amongst us or in our neighbourhood. Therefore, we should be brahmins by deeds. It is possible to achieve brahminhood whatever be the caste or whatever be the society around us.

The problem is that the salient features of brahminhood is an unqualified statement.

Let us forget all that self realization dumbness - even though that probably was one of his ideals- as it is fundamentally a flawed philosophy (misunderstanding of sexual reproduction...as I have argued in one of the posts before).

Let us overlook the castiest purity rules that were part of the good characters which required them piously discriminate other castes in the past.

Let us overlook patriarchal good characters which were completely misogynistic including that grotesque ideal of viewing females as gods. In fact, in many of these characters Malayali non-brahmin castes were very progressive with their serial monogamy for both males and females including widow re-marriage and divorce. Ironically, in present day middle class Kerala society it might be not very easy for Malayali widows to re-marry or divorcees to find men.

Let us overlook vegetarianism though many in the underprivileged castes think Brahmin success in education is because of their vegetarianism. For some strange reason the counter arguments considering the successful non-vegetarian Brahmin communities or non-vegetarian European society or argument that Brahmin communities had three to four generations of headstart in modern education along with their literate outlook do not help. I believe of all the things since it's the easier and cheaper one to follow that might have made the choice of vegetarianism attractive for many artisan and merchant castes.

I believe the author is hinting at simple life, integrity and discipline.

In my opinion, the first one is related to non-productive life that Brahmins lived. When the 'dharma' of a Brahmin was not material gain then simple life follows easily from that. However, it's completely irrelevant for productive people like weavers. In fact, majority of them lived simple life by default owing to their poverty in the past.
Integrity is indeed a noble ideal however if you consider non-materialist dharma of Brahmins it was in fact irrelevant in their case (make note integrity in other parts of life is obsolete as I have mentioned how Brahmin worldview might be considered very barbaric in those cases). It should be noted here that money making does not have noble obligations in the caste scriptures. In fact there was no dharma associated with money making thus there was no sin in wrongful money making. If anything was there it was for Brahmins and not for Vaisyas and Sudras. It's a fact of life in India that money making is considered legally corrupt and hence acceptable for everyone. The gods of India themselves require monetary inducements or monetary gratefulness. It may look contradictory to Brahmin ideals however considering the fact that only Agni is Brahmin among gods and the rest all part of either other Varnas or not part of the caste system, it makes sense. Thus integrity was not part of the gods too (as Agni isn't worshipped in India). If an Indian subscribes to the caste ideals and maintains his/her integrity then most likely it is out of indifference to life and not because it is the right thing for a human being.

Then there is discipline. Well, it was a must trait for any occupation. There is nothing Brahmin about it. But I'm not sure whether transferring the concept part of their occupation to education is intuitive for non-brahmins as it's for brahmins.

I think I can skip 'intellectualism' and 'discretion'.

So, what we understand here is, it would have been tough for intellectual class to come up with an alternative living in its Indian identity. It's a different matter if they are able to absorb the universal characters, that I have talked in the beginning and which became successful in Western Europe, as part of their communities' traditional culture and identify themselves with them.

How about the period when Islam didn't have much impact? The intellectual classes existed in pre-Islamic South India among these underprivileged castes. But they lost out mainly because they couldn't come up with alternate identities. Around 13-14th century when South India had stable kingdoms and trade flourished, such elite classes came into existence among many castes. Many artisans, fishermen, trader castes claimed Brahminhood or Kshatriyahood or Vaisyahood and wrote their own scriptures or came up with their own mythologies (notable thing is dominant agricultural castes though Sudras technically but never faced handicaps because of it didn't claim any higher Varna credentials).What we see in this seemingly stupid, hilarious or hypocritical act, in whatever the way one sees it, it shows no caste in its right mind accepted that it's low or some other caste is high. I have seen certain types of interpretations that the people accepted caste hierarchies without any kind of protests that we see in the class wars of Europe. In my belief it was the self-sustaining nature of the caste system that kept it for so long. There were rebellions in the past but they were put down by the castes just above them thus never really challenging the brahmin authority.

However, ironically, it was not the idea that there was nothing low or high by birth that remained in descendants of those communities today but their claimed higher castehood. It is very clear, that most of them became part of backward castes and needed to be helped by affirmative actions, that their forefathers idea of 'upgrading' didn't really work.

Unfortunately that intellectualism eludes a big chunk of them still today. And since 19th century literates among dominant castes see their second rank in the society unacceptable or Sudra title equally humiliating have come up with their higher Varna claims like 13-14th century artisans and merchants.

1. Homo Hierarchicus by Louis Dumont

Random Thoughts - III

Caste Consciousness is alive in Pakistan 
He said his wife was accused of blasphemy after getting into an argument last year with a group of women when she was sent by the wife of a village chief to fetch water.
Mr Masih said the other women challenged his wife and said it was sacrilegious to drink water collected by a non-Muslim.
"My wife took offence, saying, 'Are we not humans?' This led to an altercation," he said

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Liberation from caste identity - Part I

I wrote previously that had there been no separate country for Indian Muslims, the castes in India wouldn't have developed a 'Hindu' identity. The argument  that Hindus and Muslims were two different nations(championed by some Muslims) was equally true for each caste. Each caste was an independent nation. Even though this might not have given rise to caste specific countries, but eventually,  intellectual classes would have emerged among middle and lower castes which would have liberated those castes from their narrow caste worldview and identities.

I was wondering how the situation would have played out in the alternate history. As far as I could think there could be three major variables.

1. Proselytizing religions
2. Alternative worldviews
3. Caste size

1. Proselytizing religions
What would have happened had there been no division of the idea of India based on religion? The first question that comes to the mind whether the castes that had privileged positions in the hierarchy would have allowed other religions to poach their unprivileged castes whose presence in the system,for an observer, gives them their sense of superiority.

If you see Indian history the answer would be a surprise 'NO'. However, if you understand the philosophical purity-pollution foundation of the caste system that might not look very surprising. Let us consider bellwether state of caste philosophy, Kerala's history.

I came across this article on the genesis and growth of Malayali Muslims (Mappila) that quotes the various authors of the past millennium how privileged castes treated converts to Islam from underprivileged sections. We should keep in mind Muslim and Christian writers' highly political nature of their religious belief while reading these quotes.

Another point to be noted is that” the conversion of low caste Hindus to Islam did not lead to estrangement between the followers of the two religions. The change of faith among the low castes or out caste Hindus never seemed to have been a matter of concern to upper caste Hindus”

Shaikh Zainuddin reports:
The unbelievers never punish such of their countrymen
When embrace Islam, but treat them with the same respect
shown to the rest of the Muslims though the convert
belongs to the lowest of the grades of their society.

When the lower castes realised that conversion to Islam accorded them higher status in the society and they would surpass many vexations and discriminations, they accepted Islam in large scale, C.A. Innes had pointed out that a “number of recruits come from time to time from the ranks of Tiyyans and from the Cherumans and the serf caste to whom the “honour of Islam,” bring franchisement from all the disabilities of an out caste.” Thus a low caste through conversion rushes ahead several steps higher than that which he originally occupied.

Graeme in his report submitted to the government in 1822, had noted the point thus:
He (the converted low caste) is no longer a link in a chain
Which required to be kept in a particular place. His new
Faith neutralises all his former bad qualities. He is no
Longer a degraded pariah whose approach disgusted and
Whose touch polluted the Hindu of caste, but belonging
now to a different scale of being; contact with him does
not require the same ablution to purify it.

After emphasizing Graeme’s view Logan observes: “The conversion of a Pariah or low caste Hindu to Mohammedanism raised him distinctly in the social scale and he is treated with more respect by Hindus.”

This attitude continued down to the twentieth century. C. Kesavan, a social reformer, in his book, has quoted an appeal submitted by the Ezhava community to the maharaja of Kochi. The appeal points to the plight of the Ezhava in a very pathetic manner: “Even now in certain schools, especially in the girls’s schools, we, the slaves. had no permission. We, the slaves, are never admitted in the students houses. Even We the slaves, cannot go near a post office. The notice boards which prevents our movements didn’t decrease, but increase. We, the slaves are not appealing for higher privileges and had no desire to enter temples of caste Hindus. Our appeal is very moderate and it is that, while we are continuing as Hindus we may be provided the right and liberties which we get when we are converted either to Islam or Christianity.”

It was about the same time Kumaranasan, the Ezhava poet in his lines, mocked at the Brahmins who maintained strange and irrational practices:
A Cheruman (a serf caste) who keep off,
The way many a distance
When embraces Islam,
Can be seated aside.
Don’t be afraid, oh, Lords’

However the main fact remains that a low caste Hindu obtains by conversion many a substantial benefits, for Mappilas as a class, pull well together and he is a bold ”Hindu” who tramples on their class prejudices and feelings.
For an outsider the caste system might appear either an exotic oriental farce or as a  stagnant pit of both privileged and under-privileged. But it was the philosophy of purity-pollution that none of the castes understood but couldn't over come that remained the backbone of its existence.

What we really should see here is that the castes didn't consider their identity was part of the political system of the land. Though the kings/chieftains of Malayala region encouraged Muslims and Islam because of economic reasons that is beside the point. Was this only true for Kerala?

Consider North-West India(which includes Punjab and Sindh of Pakistan, Kashmir of India). After the spread of Islam in those lands, the remaining Hindus were mostly made up of privileged castes. However, until the arrival of the British there were no organizations or movements to stem the rate of conversions. In fact, in Kashmir almost all of the remaining castes were Brahmins. So, it's obvious that the privileged castes in those regions gave higher respect to converted underprivileged castes than the ones who remained with them in the pit.

The whole scenario appears as if the privileged castes were depending on the underprivileged castes' "boldness" to liberate themselves so that they can liberate themselves from their purity-pollution fears. I'm not sure whether the situation has changed much for non-political privileged castes of present day. A Brahmin I knew, who always maintained his pride in his Brahminhood, once claimed that all erstwhile untouchables or Dalits should renounce Hinduism and wondered why they hadn't already.

It is in this background I believe the creation of Pakistan resulted in political identity of the castes (now termed as Hindutva). The creation of Pakistan resulted in physical fear for the privileged castes (as they have seen the cleansing of their equivalent castes in Pakistan, Bangladesh) that they have plunged into number games championed by Muslims. But the true victims of this game have been underprivileged castes who lost an opportunity to liberate themselves from their limited life and worldview with the advent of education, opportunities and new ideas.

I'm not overlooking pre-partition Hindutva political movements like RSS and Hindu Maha Sabha. However, their success with underprivileged castes or with the castiest privileged castes wouldn't have been so great but for the unifying identity gave by the Muslims to all the castes. But, certainly, being educated in Christian (British) schools would have created political religious view among the privileged castes anyway. However, possibility that they would have been successful to bridge the caste faultlines, as they have done at present, without making any changes in the system (all the untouchability rules were made illegal by the secular government of India but the caste marriages and the food practices haven't been touched) would have been low. Their success in propagating Hindutva identity was made easy as they were able to peddle the fear of Muslims to all sections of the caste society.

1. Genesis and Growth of the Mappila Community

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Matriliny in Andhra Pradesh - IV

During the 'shaving of head' ceremony of year old babies, in some of the temples in Andhra Pradesh, it is the maternal uncle who acts as guardian of the child in the rituals and not the father.

I wonder if that has something to do with the lapsed matrilineal tradition of this region.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Battle of the Sexes - viii

Maybe this genetic study can be taken as a prototype to understand cultural traits too. How man created things like male god/s have negative effect on females or how patriachal ideals get perverted expression among females.

This battle, observed across many species and known as intralocus sexual conflict, happens when the genes for a trait which is good for the breeding success of one sex are bad for the other -- sparking an 'evolutionary tug-o-war' between the sexes.
 It has previously been thought these issues were only resolved when the trait in question evolves to become sex-specific in its development -- meaning the trait only develops in the gender it benefits and stops affecting the other.
However, a new study by the universities of Exeter (UK), Okayama and Kyushu (both Japan) published Nov. 4 in Current Biology shows this doesn't always bring an end to conflict -- as even when the trait becomes sex-specific, knock-on effects can still disadvantage the other sex.
Kensuke Okada, also from Okayama University, said: "The view that sex-limited trait development resolves this kind of genetic battle of the sexes is based on the assumption that traits are genetically independent of each other, which is frequently not true.
"What we're seeing here is that genetic architecture can provide a general barrier to this kind of conflict resolution."
Via Science Daily

Thursday, November 04, 2010

gulon mein rang bhare

You have to know about the life of Faiz (or maybe any poet, I don’t know) before you can try to translate his work. On the face, Faiz’s poems seem to portray love and longing for the beloved but they do not. They talk about social and political issues. They talk about revolution! My first translation of ‘gulon mein rang bhare’ made it a love poem but my father-in-law corrected me. (I will show you later one stanza of this poem that was written as a love poem)

This poem - 'gulon mein rang bhare' - is one of the most famous poems of Faiz. I think that I should have kept this translation for later, but I couldn’t stop myself. I was introduced to this poem through Mehdi Hassan’s ghazal and we must have heard it over hundred times. Here I have included two stanzas that are not sung by Mehdi Hassan.

There is a fascinating personal story also attached with this ghazal. When my in-laws were in Moscow and they hosted a party on the first birthday of their daughter (my wife) and Faiz also came! (He was a friend of a friend) And mother-in-law sang this ghazal for him. Meeting Faiz, remembering the ghazal in full, and having a singing voice, that is a chance in a million!

So, I had to translate this poem now. But again, I think if I had translated it after doing a few more of Faiz, I would have understood him better and put more into this beautiful poem. A lot of its beauty is lost in translation but for now, I cannot do anything more. So, this is it.

How I wish flowers take new colours!

And the breeze brings fresh winds of change.

I plead you, come to me now, my love,

Maybe, if you come, my garden may bloom again.

My caged body is cheerless today,

Someone please fill hope in the morning breeze.

For god's sake! don't let it not go empty,

Let it carry with it the story of our friends.

When will we wake into the morning,

To the sweet sound from your lips,

And when in the evening will we rest,

Taking in the scent of your hair.

Strong is the bond of pain,

though we are weak and poor,

When we hear your call,

We, all your friends, will come together.

We went through hell, but all right.

Once this evening of separation is over,

Our tears would have,

Cleaned you for your next life.

We welcomed them as friends,

But later their greed for power ruled,

They tied us down, and cut through us,

They divided us, bits and pieces flew.

O’ Faiz, in my exile, no place,

Gave me any pleasure,

After I left my circle of friends,

I found solace only in gallows of death.

Random Thoughts -II

Union Telecom Minister A Raja has been blamed for causing a loss of Rs 1,76,379 crore to the state exchequer in the second generation (2G) spectrum scam, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has pointed out in its final report.

We could have used that money for;
- 6 Commonwealth Games, or
- 456 Chandrayana Missions, or
- Defense budget for 2011-12

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

This had to come

Spending time with Urdu poetry was bound to have repercussions. This original (original here only means that it is not translated or copied) poem started off as a reply to a mail and then I added verse after verse. The last two verses were added in the bus, on my way home. To those people who lost out on my PPs of youth (Poor Poems just like PJ stands for Poor Joke) this is an example. But the best part is, even though I disparage it, for fear of how the reader would take it , when I’m writing it, it doesn’t at all look silly. Only when one looks back, after some time, it looks poor. I think that is a good sign, because it shows that one growing intellectually and poetically.

I cannot sing,
Neither can I dance.
Cricket is the only game,
I play just by chance.

My chess is ordinary,
In cards, I always end last.
I wanted to be a runner,
But my breath said – whew, not so fast.

I cannot talk,
All I can do is laugh
Then you expect a thinker,
But in two minutes you’d had enough.

Somewhere, as I grew,
I thought – ‘So what, I can write’
But then I gave up,
Coz there’s no thrill in black and white.

Now I just engross in my job,
It gives me pleasure unbound.
But then comes weekend and I feel again,
Whew, two days off is just insane.

So, Monday now,
Is the best day of my life.
Office is like,
Coming home to my wife.

It took me three days
And five versions, to write this one.
At last I can say,
Whew, this project is done.

O’ SHE, how true rings the saying
that goes around here.
When you’ve got no talent,
you become an engineer!

I will call this poem – “When you’ve got no talent, you become an engineer”

Next time I will write something to ingratiate the engineering profession.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

My first translation

In my earlier post, I mentioned that I randomly selected a poem and translated it. That is not true. I picked the first one in the list. And it had to be one by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

The poem is - "aaye kuchh abr kuchh sharaab aaye". If you follow Urdu, you can read the original from here.

First came clouds, then came wine, much later the curse came.
Every night, moon set from my terrace, and sun rose from my glass.

Warm blood gushed through my heart when I saw her again.
On every page of my life was there, a chapter of her love and sacrifice.

Sitting idle, I was counting what I have lost and I thought of her.
Her pain hadn’t left me, everyday it brought in me fresh thunderstorms.

Many a happy gatherings have I ruined, when I came in,
My silence echoed, from every nook and corner, my yearning for her.

O’ Faiz, but the path I took was my goal,
And where I reached, I was always welcomed by success!!

Just like one should never explain a joke, a poem also shouldn't be explained. To each one his own interpretation. During the translation I was imagining a person who had to left his loved one to pursue material goals. The last two lines were difficult for me to comprehend. Later I got to know from my father-in-law that the last line should have been something like - " I had no goal and the journey was my destination, and so, whatever came my way, I took it as success" Here I'm trying to learn the nuances of translation and the Urdu language. if there is any reader who can correct me, I will be happy to know his interpretation.

Urdu poetry

I am SHE. OK, when exactly did my fascination for Urdu start? I think it started from my high school days, with the poetry written for Hindi films songs by the likes of Sahir Ludhianvi, Shakeel Badayuni and Shailendra. (Note: Hindi and Urdu are interchangeably used.) However I did nothing to give credit to this fascination. I picked up a few words from the movie songs and from ghazals and just sat up tight . I also wrote some childish poems in my school days and I remember winning a (class-level and not any bigger) prize in my 7th standard for a silly poem. I wrote more bad poems during my Engineering and had the audacity to read it aloud to my friends. I believe no one (including me) had any inclination for poetry and hence I escaped unscathed, without any one remembering anything about those poems and I’m glad that when we meet, many more unpleasant things may be brought up for the innocent purpose of laughter but not the poems.

OK, coming back to Urdu, the most attractive part of Urdu for me is the phonetics. It’s very sweet to the ears. I can speak five languages (of which two languages have no script) and follow 3 or 4 more. So, I think you can take my word for it. Even if someone does a research on the sweetest languages, you can be sure that Udru will figure in the list. Another attractive part for me is that the pronunciations in Urdu will always allude me, no matter how much I try. Tell me, how many of you have a personal tutor to get the pronunciations of your mother tongue right? Many Muslim families, who speak Urdu at home, get a personal tutor for their children to help them get the right pronunciations of the difficult to pronounce Urdu syllables. (For example, ka in qayamat or kismat or taqdeer. Kha, Ga, pha are relatively simpler)

I read my first Hindi novel about six years back. I would have liked to say I have come a long way from there but no. Recently I read Ismat Chugtai’s novel which had at least ten unknown Urdu words on each page and the publisher was kind enough to give meanings of these words on the footer of each page. This helped me read the book but I don’t really know how many of them I remember now.

Five years after first listening to Abida Parveen’s recitation of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, considered one of the greatest Urdu poets of our times, I got curious to find out what is the meaning of the poem. There was another favourite Faiz’s poem ‘ Gulon me rang bhare’ sung by the great Ghazal artist Mehdi Hassan. We knew this was a poem about revolution and had a vague idea of what it means but again, not giving any leeway to my fascination, I left it there. I cannot rule out a certain thrill when there was an unknown word in the poem that sounded good and was open to any interpretation, limited only by one’s imagination.

Last week I read a random poem by Faiz and looked up online Urdu dictionary and this led me to try my hand at translating it. This rekindled my interest in poetry and new interest in translation. I also found that translation is a sure way of remembering the difficult words that, otherwise, get wiped out of memory in no time. Just like any other fascination of mine, this will also die very soon but as long as it lasts, I want to contribute to this blog of my dearest friend who has kindly given me unrestricted permissions for a hundred years. But if he does a re-org, I will have to remind him again.