Monday, August 20, 2018

Marooned in Kerala

The scale of any tragedy can only be estimated. One could never possibly imagine the colossal scale of impact. Therefore, it is useless to pretend that one is able to. The situation in Kerala is no different.

Even as I write this, I cannot comprehend that over 661,000 people are presently displaced and there is a looming threat to thousands more. Over 350 people have lost their lives, and the destinies of their families have changed forever. Across the state are hastily organized relief camps where people are coming to terms with the misfortune that has befallen them. Over 200,000 people have taken refuge in over 1,500 relief camps across 14 districts of Kerala. As report after report streams in, the distressing picture of a state in misery is inescapable. It is also unparalleled and unprecedented.

And, during these distressing times, emerge heroic tales of compassion and selflessness. Men in uniform brave walls of water to ensure that lives are safe and the extent of the tragedy is mitigated, while ordinary men and women, fisherfolk and good samaritans, without any means, training, equipment, or comfort, comb neighbourhoods, night and day, to ensure a diligent and concerted search and rescue process, often disregarding grave perils to their own lives!

However, Kerala's woes are only beginning. Roads, bridges, and public infrastructure have been ruined. It is estimated that 10,000 kms of roads are damaged and require rebuilding. The scale of damage caused to houses across hundreds of villages and towns is unfathomable. Scores of villages lie inundated in water and debris, without power, communication systems, or access to relief measures. Essential supplies including provisions, potable water, medicines, fuel, food, clothing, beddings, etc., are in short supply. Corpses of dead animals lie littered in water, threatening an outbreak of disease and infection. The state of healthcare infrastructure to respond to the aftereffects of this tragedy cannot be immediately assessed. Entire plantations of cash crops lie devastated. The state government has pegged the economic loss at a staggering Rs. 195 billion (Rs. 19, 512 crores). These losses continue to mount even as I write this. The human cost and emotional impact of this tragedy are far from being calculable.

But, this outpouring of mine should not be construed as an abridged version of news reports. It isn't. Elsewhere, lately, there have been noises of the not so nice kind. It is being propagated that this tragedy has befallen us since we are lowly, immoral, and unholy 'beef-eaters', besides being utterly ungodly and uncivilized in desiring that our women be allowed the basic essential (not privilege) of equality to worship a Lord Ayyappa, who it seems, according to the archaic beliefs of some people, desires only male patronage! It is futile, I know, to reason with nitwits whose intellectual disabilities do not permit them to comprehend cultural beliefs outside of their own tiny and seemingly important realms of existence, that they glorify as being the holy grail of living. No, that is not how this tragedy has come about. Not due to the wrath of gods, nor in the consumption of the holy cow. But, yes, due to a blatant disregard for the environment, and the proximate cause being the incessant downpour that has struck us mercilessly and unabated for months. But, this is not the time for a post-mortem. Not yet. There will be agencies, bodies, and commissions of enquiry, established exclusively for that purpose. They will, in turn, determine, rightfully so, that beef, gods, and religion have nothing to do with floods and natural disasters. However, I'm not sure if that inference would satisfy those relics steeped in mindless and medieval attitudes. There is simply no cure for foolishness and the rest of us have little choice but to endure the pain of sharing the world with such imbeciles. However, mercifully, such dim-witted, gormless, and unintelligent voices are not the reflection of the population at large. They are isolated and individual at best.

Now, it is imperative that I state the purpose of this write-up. It is, as I mentioned before, not the summary of news reports to aggregate facts and figures. Neither is it an opinion to counter the mindless voices of some severely disordered who continue to attribute wildly insane reasons to the cause of this grave tragedy that has struck millions. This post is to express gratitude to nations and people who, from far and wide, across the boundaries of cultures, borders, and religions, have stood with us in solidarity during our time of grief and misery. Your support in gesture, kind, and capital are acts of kindness that we shall, forever, remain indebted and grateful for. It has reaffirmed in us, once again, that during calamity, we can stand together as one, to shoulder each other, in exactly the manner which is expected of us. During these trying times, we are witness to extraordinary feats of courage and selflessness by ordinary people whose zeal and zest allow us the gift of life. Armies of volunteers, military and medical personnel, government officials, and ordinary people continue to brave incomprehensible dangers to ensure that further lives are not lost. This is a true reflection of the unequivocally positive nature of the human spirit and its endeavour. It is this gift that keeps us alive, literally! But, Kerala is in need of a whole lot more. There is so much that needs to be done and we could do our bit, in our own way. No act of kindness is small, inconsequential, or insignificant.

As the moral and social philosopher, Erich Hoffer once said, "the hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings." That is what I find myself doing today, an atheist in prayer, one who is counting his blessings for the fortune that he continues to enjoy.

If you are in an affected zone, here is how you can request for help: 

To contribute in kind, please see 

To contribute to the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund, please see 

Important Announcements on the Floods in Kerala: 

A list of relief camps across Kerala: 

Relief Camp Requirements: 

List of Registered Requests (District-wise): 

District Needs & Collection Centers: 

Register as Volunteer: 

NGO/Company Registration for Volunteering: 

District level point of contacts: 

Map view of Relief Resources and Flooded Streets: 

Google Person Finder (Kerala Floods): 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Better Tomorrow

Nothing defines India better than its agrarian identity. It seems reasonably agreeable to see agriculture and India as being synonymous. Agriculture, in India, can rightfully be considered as being among the oldest professions that exist. History teaches us that the practice of agriculture, in India, dates back to well beyond the times of the Indus valley civilization. This is our strength. This is also our identity. Although, it will be judicious to state that it is not our only identity.

It is no small measure of success that our country ranks 2nd, in the world, in terms of agricultural produce. This is by no means an accident. It is the result of generations of hard-working, well-meaning families, who have toiled, in the face of indescribable adversity. To understand that a staggering 120 countries are beneficiaries of Indian agricultural exports is a fact that should, and does, bring immense and eternal pride. It is also powerfully humbling.

But, that is not all. Even in the face of a rapidly decelerating share of contribution to the GDP, agriculture contributes 17.32% with a Gross Value Add (GVA) of Rs. 23.82 lakh crore. If that is a number that appears bewildering and beyond comprehension, allow the effect to sink in. Hell yes, it certainly is incomprehensible! Some of us nouveau, entitlement-willed, math-whiz, logic-driven, page 3 aspirant corporate honchos who do not understand the magnitude of that number - I suggest we open up an online converter that will throw up the dollar equivalent that shall perhaps help us break it down, to the limited connotation of our perception, and assist in understanding the enormity of what it accounts for.

And, while you do so, here is something else that you would like to know: No doubt, India is witnessing a never-before transformation that is changing the landscape of this nation, in ways that were never thought of before. With it comes a massive change in its ethos and demographics. Never before has that been more evident, than it is today. We live in an India where the fashionable persuasions of professions (and disciplines) such as Information Technology and Banking & Financial Services (to name only two of many influencers) have transfigured new-age living to whole new dimensions and possibilities. Well, good, indeed. That surely is the social measure of progress that a vast majority of urban India frenetically yearns to become part of. Certainly, nothing wrong with that. But know this; even while we pontificate about automation and robotics as trends and drivers heralding the next big wave of industry transformations, agriculture accounts for 50% of our workforce. That's some 600 million people across the country. Or 8.87% of world population. Could there be a bigger employer? Perhaps, yes. But, I do not know of it. Neither do I care. What I do know is the obvious - that a vast majority of the Indian workplace cannot and will not be defined as being swanky, temperature-controlled, piped-music ambient, artistically charactered offices that are nestled in monstrously vertical spaces towering into our skies. So, while a great many of us go to work in these classy, upmarket locales, we must not forget that we are only a minuscule populace, if not altogether a negligible lot that exists. We are not a representation of India's progress. We are only an example. A tiny example, at that. It can be estimated (because I have not found updated statistics) that India's arable land-bank aggregates to about 159.7 million hectares (or 394.6 million acres). This is second only to the United States. The stark abjectness of what is Indian couldn't be more saddening than it is today. Surely, we couldn't be more divided - or different!

However, all of that pales in the face of some of our most debilitating problems there are. And, that begins in attempting to comprehend the plight of the Indian farmer. Surely, no one would be more quintessentially Indian than the Indian farmer. Or so, I think - much to the dismay of so many who would fire up a discourse on how our society has existentially been plural and illustrious of individuals with diverse occupations. While we debate, I would like to point out that no class of people have, in India, been more undervalued for their contribution than the Indian farmer. How, you would ask. I only have to tell you about the debt-ridden, compensation-starved, pitiful state of the farming community in India. Could there be a more pronounced state of irony than the fact that the very people who produce food in such volumes are forced a life of starvation and pittance, without adequate recompense? If you have the slightest measure of empathy, you will agree that I'm being mighty charitable in my illustration. Make no mistake, though. My description is a reflection of my ignorance. The situation is frightfully dire and more atrocious than we can possibly fathom. Downfalls in remunerative prices of commodities, woeful cash crunches (thanks to measures such as demonetization), problems related to marketing and selling, and a general slowdown of the agricultural sector apart, it would be handy to know that over 13,000 Indian farmers committed suicide in 2014-15 (No information pertaining to 2016-17 is available since the National Crime Records Bureau is enjoying an onset of summer slumber). And if that wasn't appalling enough, it was ascertained (in 2014) by the National Sample Survey Organisation, that the average monthly income of an Indian agriculture household, in 2012, was Rs 6,426 (Yes, you guessed right - the NSSO, like the NCRB, likes to work between its slumber).

So, when 35,000 weary, tired, and forlorn souls marched into India's megapolis - our lieu déterminé for everything finance, trade, and commerce, we could be absolutely certain that they did so to demonstrate the plight of their deprivation than the collective abilities of their potential. And, in doing so, they couldn't have been more mindful and decent. I might also add, among other things, their ability, in the face of suffering, to be human. Recognizing that the timing of their march coincided with ongoing school-leaving examinations, (that have long been a source of punishing strain to the student community, more for their outcomes which have lasting social implications), they decided to trudge along during the night, to make their arrival inconsequential and not obstructing to the city's functioning. Consequently, there were no disruptions - not one incident, which is so uncharacteristic of a protest, of any protest.

Mercifully, we, as a people, rare as it may seem, invoked wisdom and exercised restrained in not resorting to any callous, lofty, moral, and virtuous preachings that 'such actions of the uneducated and the uncivilized were unwarranted and detrimental to normal living.' Mumbai, on its part, known and loved so much for its resilience and compassion, despite its breakneck, unbroken pace (which is the stuff of legend), welcomed them heartily, offering them a place in what is proximate to the ultimate seat of its executive power. This, to me, is the perfect reflection of Indian ethos. What followed, was, indisputably, a triumph of our democratic values and traditions. The government's accession and the subsequent calling off of the protest are glorious examples of human success. More importantly, they reflect the application of wisdom in the most appropriate measure - in the hope for a better tomorrow.

May history evidence this to become a precedent of sorts, a testimony of our ability to accord significance to our priorities. But, at a more personal level, may this also be an opportunity to express a debt of gratitude to those millions out there, whose thankless job it has been to ensure that we have been well fed.

Monday, February 19, 2018

India's National Newspaper

Two things prominently stand out from my childhood – the Nilgiris (the blue mountains of Ooty) and The Hindu. India’s national newspaper, is for me, a memory that transcends time. It is, as it has always been, very timeless.

My association with the paper began while in school, when my father, ever diligent in his efforts to inculcate in me an early practise to begin reading, sought me, every day, to spend a few minutes, to read a small portion of any front-page news-item. I was required to identify five words, which weren’t known to me, and refer his red, bound, ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ to obtain their meanings. For a restless adolescent, this was a problematic affair. And, a particularly uninteresting one.

However, some of the most gripping incidents of childhood and teenage years, I read from The Hindu. The paper, to me, seems synonymous with the breaking-news culture of present-day television news programming (although, looking back, I must say that the quality of reportage was different by galactical proportions and could possibly never be compared with the shite of these days). Many an account, good and bad, have since been associated with their dutiful, unfailing bearer. In many ways, it also was my connection to the world outside, offering an uninterrupted glimpse of people and places I couldn’t readily comprehend.

Slowly, I was enamoured by the fascinating writings of Art Buchwald, Palagummi Sainath, Paul Krugman, Chinmaya Gharekhan, and Bibek Debroy – to mention only a few. Growing up, it didn’t matter, nor was it evident to me, that the paper carried a heavily tilted leftist bias, compounded with attitudes such as pro-Chinese, pro-Sinhalese, pro-Gandhi dynasty, and what not!

My first brush with India’s entirely ‘page 3’ newspaper, (whose name I shall dutifully refuse to pronounce, which also appropriately, and ironically, reflects the depressing times that we live in presently), came about in 1997, when my meandering took me from home, for the very first time. Immensely popular, especially for its bollywood-trivia and intensely salacious style of story-telling, it was voraciously consumed en masse. Blasphemy in colour – or so, I thought!

Suddenly, The Hindu, even with its unrivalled mastery of the English language and celebrated journalistic expression, seemed old-fashioned. Its readers were looked down upon as relics from a pre-historic past. An increasing lot, who had not the slightest inkling of what class-act journalism looked like, pontificated, at length, about how the paper was ‘overrated’.

But, was the paper losing appeal? Or, was it becoming the preserve of a very select group of readers? Was sensation becoming a mass requirement? Evidently, it was not everyone’s newspaper. And, with its limited availability, its circulation and readership, it was no match for its wildly popular tabloid rival. Even though the paper made progress, it lacked a national presence – in a very big way. And, then, the coverage – or the lack of it. While other papers offered sections of news pertinent to a whole range of subjects, oftentimes properly categorized for easy and quick consumption, The Hindu continued its focus on a very limited range of topics.

Could the paper do something to keep up with changing times? Absolutely. Should it change fundamentally in doing so? Absolutely not!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Putting Pen to Paper

Sometimes, somethings take a lifetime.

A few days ago, on a whim, I did something I hadn't done for a very long time. Strolling into a stationery shop, I bought myself a bottle of ink. Whether it is to make good on a lifetime of deplorable handwriting, or to be able to revisit a time and an age that is most cherished, I wouldn't know - but, the feeling was one of monumental excitement and enthusiasm.

Diligently washing and cleaning a modest collection of fountain pens that hadn't seen light in more than a decade, I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, a powerful, gripping recollection of the past. A torrent of memories arrived, unleashed, as if freed forever, from a dark, deep abyss, that had contained and restrained them for what seemed a measure of eternity.

And, then, the words poured, haltingly at first, then steadily, as if they had been reassured of a definite indestructible path, until, in the accompanying of their joyous arrival, the outpouring reached a celebration of sorts - words lending form to thoughts emancipated from their cavernous hold, where they lay concealed and buried, strangled and lifeless, forgotten and consigned, until the chance action out of an impulse had finally set them free.

Truly, somethings take a lifetime.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Rock Me Tonite

Anyone who has followed rock music and its progression has most certainly understood, recognized, and celebrated Billy Squier, for his immensely popular music thematic to a more softer yet inherently contrasting loudness, contained together, that has since been classified as the genre known as 'arena rock.'

It has undoubtedly become a cultural inflexion in the evolution of yesteryear music - often standing out as a milestone that signalled the advent of a whole new age.

In the words of historian Gary Donaldson, who comes closest to describing the phenomenon, as being 'big hair, big voices, and really big guitars', this new form resulted in musical reactions like never before and rightly spawned subcultures that changed the social definition of onstage-performance, style, and appearances that now remain immortalized and often revered.

Little wonder that the period of the 80s is still considered the golden era of the new rock movement that gave rise to an army of names who would go on to establish themselves as influential and admired voices earning legendary fame and cult status.

But, I digress.

This is not about the style or genre, neither is it about the metamorphosis that came about so famously. It is more personal, actually. And, that is the recollection of the 1984 super hit, 'Rock me tonite', which, for me, is the 'truest' and the most absolute hallmark of Squier. Apart from of course the wonderful energy and electric tempo that this track so richly demonstrates and evokes, it is also in many ways the transformation of the artist - to embrace the then-emerging phenomenon that was known as techno-pop, the result that can at best be described as the fusion between the output of elegant guitaring and a new wave of electronic sound.

Critics may argue, and rightfully so, that this was a milestone that signalled the end for Squier - thanks in part due to the original video that portrayed, or rather sought to associate, a hideously stereotypical gay-theme with the rampant drug culture that seemed, at the time, most acceptable socially - perhaps to categorize and justify the typification. But, make no mistake, the adverse reception wasn't for the portrayal of a community as much as it was for the heavily laden homoeroticism that instantly put distance between Squier and his audience who almost univocally called out that "he's gay and he's on drugs."

But, I'm no critic. I'd like to think of myself as a music-buff to whom Squier's music, 'Rock me tonite' in particular, has appealed in a very big way. And, one line in the track, expresses the most descriptive of my feelings, when I listen to it, that "you feel the blood poundin' way down inside."

Monday, January 29, 2018

On the Nature of Daylight

Max Richter is a very gifted being. If being a musician isn't beatific enough, he makes the sort of music that cannot quite be catalogued as belonging to any particular genre. The outcome of his pursuit is much beyond music; it is a certain substitute for language itself, the kind of expression that requires little articulation, in comparison to the burdensome semantics of any language, but can be understood clearly and instantly. His work has a certain subliminal effect of appealing to the innermost self as an intensely powerful substance that can evoke a multitude of feelings - truly rapturous and capable of consigning the beholder to faraway worlds and places that have no names or directions. Yet, that is merely the beginning.

The tone of his music plumbs depths that are deeper than the fathomless, the undiscernable. Profound and penetrating, in so many ways, and so much beyond description, there is considerable evenness, and yet the avoidance of any obvious structure or form, causing cataclysmic euphoria, like nothing else. While there is a very steady pulse, often throughout each piece, the distinction lies in the absence of any strong culmination. It causes the beholder to remain in a zone of the eternal. Perhaps, this is a very conscious effort to render it formless or minimalistic, and yet enormously evocative and haunting.

But what is most characteristic of Richter's music is not the music, it is the sensation of it - the undefined and yet permanent effect of the ephemeral, or the transient nature of feelings and emotions that it so skillfully causes to examine. Like a déjà vu, a deeply intuitive experience that is familiar only for a brief moment and is soon incomprehensible.

In creating what he has, Richter has ventured beyond limits of the classical and the postmodern, and his work, often interspersed, is a demonstration of his creative brilliance. However, that is the material part. What lies beyond is how his music seeks to offer a perspective, to the mind, to experience passions and sentiments as they are called upon by the notes and the hues, the feeling of the indescribable, the observation of memories, the trail of thoughts, and a glimpse of the unknown, of what is perhaps consciousness itself.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

With Winter Gone

The notion of normality or the purpose to seek normalcy is perhaps the biggest undoing of our lives. It is a hideous fallacy. Nothing is normal. There is no state of normalcy. Normalcy can at best be defined as a state of inertia or inertness - 'as having no inherent power of action, motion, or resistance.' Normalcy is also perhaps indicative of the only kind of certainty there is - that of mortality.

In truth, there is only change, the transcendental, the evolutionary. The human mind, linear, and morbidly fearful that it is, refuses to accept this ultimate truth. It goes as far as even rejecting it and drumming down all notions that contradict the acceptable. Not surprising then to see how people, collectives, and organizations spend a lifetime defining structures, systems, and processes in a quest to attain a normal state of being. Our institutions and social systems are built on this premise - contrived by linear beliefs and ignorant or disregarding of contrast. Consequently, so much of life is unseen, unknown, and unexplored. Worse, life is oft lived in a state of not being able to deal with life itself!

The intricacies of our lives are aplenty. They come in all forms and dimensions - overt, subtle, or unseen. But, they are there nevertheless. We don't see it, though, for we are consumed in defining our lives in the paradigm of what is normal and acceptable. In keeping with the need to exact purpose, form, and structure, we are caught in a compulsion to see and define things as being absolute, normal, and complete, as a means, as the ultimate.

The truth couldn't be further from this. The truth is that life is dynamic, as momentary as the clouds in the sky, and as formless as the river that runs its course.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Birds of Paradise

It is late in the afternoon. As I sit on the porch to savour this beautiful moment of calm stillness, soaking in the intensely beautiful greenery all around, a lot of movements catch my eye. It is magical and picturesque, to say the least - like a silent motion picture abuzz with countless characters in perfect harmony. With the sun preparing its descent, long creeping shadows fall across the expanse. There is a mild breeze, and it is quite cold this winter day. What appears to be a Honey Buzzard, one of the many species of raptors found in this region, circles overhead calling out intently, mimicking the cry of a kitten. A restless pair of Racket-tailed Drongos flitter about trying to catch insects mid-flight, putting up a spectacular dance of sorts in the air. Warblers, colourful and in plenty, hop about in unison, like a well-choreographed troupe of performers milling about to silent orchestration. Scaly-breasted Munias, an entire community of them, have descended on the wayward grassy patch, diligently scouring it and feeding on grass seeds.

Not far away, a pair of Sunbirds flitter about on the bushy Hibiscus plant, constantly hovering about near the flowers and drilling tiny holes on them in a dexterous effort to extract nectar. Surely, modern-day aviation must have designed the intricacies of mid-air refuelling, learning the ropes from these wonderful birds. A Vernal Hanging Parrot arrives to perch on a Banana plant. For a moment, it does absolutely nothing except to slowly tilt its head in a comical motion. Having satisfied itself, it ambles its way, rather clumsily, to the large unripe cluster of fruits. However, the fruits are not its objective. The heart-shaped crimson-coloured inflorescence, or the 'banana-heart', is what this creature is after. Settling down on the edge in a precarious balance, it begins a meticulous process of tearing away the bracts and extracting nectar.

Meanwhile, on the Silver Oak tree, a family of Scarlet Minivets, bright orange and yellow, are milling about, hopping across branches. They are not alone! Unperturbed by their going about, a flock of Magpie Robins dart to the ground below and make off to the tree, with insects, where they can devour them. It appears to be some sort of a merry-go-round with these radiant white and black creatures jumping about and flying back to their perches of safety and repeating themselves endlessly. Elsewhere, a funny looking White-cheeked Barbet descends on a Papaya tree and investigates the possibility of cutting up a fruit. But, the tender fruit is not ripe yet and the bird abandons its endeavour and flies away, perhaps to locate another possibility.

The neighbouring coffee estate abounds with hectic activity. A Greater Coucal is noisily foraging in the undergrowth. It hops about in a very unbirdlike manner and its striking red eyes stare at me ominously before satisfying itself of the inconsequential nature of my being. Not far away, an extended family of noisy Red-whiskered and Black-collared Bulbuls are enjoying themselves in the bird bath. Vying ardently to secure a moment longer at the bath, they fight and scramble among themselves causing a roisterous ruckus, while a more gentle and well-mannered pair of spotted doves walk about on the courtyard, nibbling scattered grain. And, there are sparrows! Where couldn't they be! A crew of sparrows has perched assertively on prime spots of real-estate - the bushy juvenile Mango tree in the courtyard, the White Bauhinia, the electricity line, and wherever 'sparrowly' possible. From their vantage sit-out, they scurry about to gather grain or seeds and aggressively drive away all competition - often, many times their size!

But, unbeknown to them all is a pair of intent eyes, regarding every move with malevolent glare and discerning these happenings as if to be ready and to pounce on an unsuspecting visitor, like a blitzkrieg! However, on this pristine day, there would be no casualties. His Royal Majesty, Lord Fudicus Cattus Fudicus, aka the Mighty Lord Puddix, the benevolent ruler of the stately provinces of Wayanad, and of our humble home  - the friendly (and opportunistic) neighbourhood tabby is satiated after a veritable meal of leftover fish heads. He is no mood for ambush and so, his subjects, our winged visitors, have survived to live another day, in what is surely paradise regained!