Friday, February 26, 2010

H.E Sir Vice-Chancellor

A casual glance at Bhartidasan University VC's profile caught my eyes. The following point is actually reproduced from his resume.

�Knights of Sovereign order of Princes and Knights of Antarcticland� of the Sovereign Order of Knights of Antarcticland, was awarded to Dr.M.Ponnavaikko by His Highness Sir Giovanni Caporaso Gottlieb, elected 42nd Grandmaster of Sovereign Order of Knights of Antarcticland State, USA, in the Nobility Awarding ceremony held on the 7th November 2009. With this Honor he is entitled to use the title Sir affixed to his name, H.E. Sir M.Ponnavaikko.

I cannot help but laughing at this award. I wikipediaed the Order and it turns out to be some kind of a secret society (like a Freemasonry society I guess).Well perhaps H.E. the VC could explain it?

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Protrait of Brahmin in Tamil Cinema

Cinema is often considered to be reflecting medium of a society's collective values and ethos. It offers an encyclopedic knowledge on the underlying anthropological trends of a society that it portrays.

Before I proceed, I wish to declare a caveat. I personally detest these caste distinctions and its demeaning machinations.Personally i have no faith or belief in such a system. My objective is only to provide an unbiased analysis of how a portrayal of a Brahmin or to a greater extent the institution of Brahmanism(i.e. its core beliefs, customs and practice etc.) has developed over the years in Tamil cinema. I have watched many of the movie I propose to discuss in this blog (except for those pre-independence oldies, which I have merely read about it).

Like all other Indian cinema , divinity was the predominant theme in Tamil cinema. The first Tamil talkie "Kalidas" was based on a Hindu mythological story plot. Brahmins in those days had a powerful influence on the cinematic industry partly through their financial clout and artistic domination. "Harishchandra" another classic of the era, protrayed a cunning role of Brahmin who demanded Raja Harishchandra's wife and son as "guru dakshina". K Subramaniam, another pioneering filmmaker of the era was the first who ventured to portray the evils of Brahminical domination. His 1935 classic film Nandanar storied around the a rich Brahmin land lord who ill treats his feudal serfs, only to realize one day one of them is actually an incarnation of Lord Nataraja. In Seva Sadanam, which explore the paradox of domestic abuse and prostitution,( a demanding role palyed by MS Subbulakshmi in her first film), witnessed Natesa Iyer ripping his sacred thread in disgust. This incident created quite a furor in the Brahmin circle in those times. (it seemed the Brahmin men had no sympathies for MS's character who forced to prostitution by her abusive husband). "Thayagabhoomi" was perhaps the only film in India to be banned by the Bristish after its successful run.Even the theme of this movie was controversial with a Brahmin teaming with Dalits to strive for the country's independence.

The decade after the independence saw the emergence Dravidian ideology into Tamil cinema. "Parasakthi", which propelled Shivaji Ganesan to popularity, was harsh in its portrayal of Brahminism. A controversial scene wherein a Brahmin priest attempts to rape a woman in precincts of a temple. The ensuing decade witnessed marginalization of the community in the cinematic field. Shivaji's performance in "Vietnam Veedu" portrayed the human side of a joint Brahmin family in post-independent India. Perhaps this is one of the few films wherein the Brahmin is viewed within a larger Tamil society framework.

In majority of Tamil movies I have seen, Brahmins are portrayed as being alienated from the mainstream society. They were either viewed as a sickling of the society or the vilified personification of money and intellectual power. One movie in the seventies that is contrary to the this popular perception was "Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal" which was based on Jayakanthan's novel. Lakshmi (who won the National Award for her role)played a role of single woman for ma conservative household who defiled the traditional norms reserved for women in the society. Bharathiraja's "Vedham Pudhithu" was noted for its realistic portrayal of the changing dynamics of Brahminism. For the first time the subject of Brahminism was explored within the complicated caste equation of the Tamil society. It also showed another aspect of Brahminism that hardly any movies highlihted, the plight of Brahmin women and her status within her family. (Amala played the role of the destitute Brahmin lady being thrown out of her community).

A macho-Brahmin image in Anniyan and Gentleman was a welcome change from the decades of vilification. "Gentleman " explored the subtle machinations of the reservation. The film dared to show a Brahmin being caught on the wrong side of the reservation system. Coincidentally both these films were directed by Shankar. Also there some time tested Brahmin family centric movie like "Aa aha"(which even my grandmother relished, one modern movie she thoroughly enjoyed). "Villadhi Villan" saw Sathyaraj playing a cunning Brahmin lawyer who uses his intellectual skills only to achieve his selfish ends.His role reminds me of Shakespeare's Shylock, who finally ended up losing his honour and his daughter(played by Nagma). But the off late there is a disturbing trend of attention being showered on so called Brahmin heroine roles . Most of the hero-centric movies invariably has the leading lady from a conservative Brahmin family. The heroine is made an object of lust by her insistence on clinging to conservative culture and peculiar dialect of Tamil. The movies that come into mind are Saami, Sethu and Sivakasi(remember the song 'Vadu maanga'). So we now have heroes being shown as perfect embodiment of Dravidian race while the Brahmin ladies as the meek Aryan subjects.

One song that comes to mind from Chellame goes like this." Arya udhadugal unnadhu, dravida udahugal enadhu. Aryam Dravidam onnrai kaalakutamae'. Alas after 75 years of Tamil cinema, we end up the with the same old racial projections being imposed on Brahmins. Having said that it would be too naive to say that Tamil cinema has stereotyped the community in its portrayal. But definitely in the seventy five years of Tamil cinema, a radical shift in the way Brahmins are portrayed is visible, from being venerated in the pre-independent era, to the venal during the heights of Dravidian movement, to the marginalized in post-Dravidian politics era.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

State gifts & Stately Gifts

Age old diplomatic precedents and protocols demand that a visiting Head of states are offered gifts befitting their world stature and strength of their nation's friendship. The US constitution abhorred such diplomatic gifts so much that a clause in their Constitution actually prohibits public officials from accepting gifts from foreign officials. In modern days, the trend is on full public disclosure rather than declining the gifts outright.


So every time a President/ PM or a King travels abroad, host nations scramble for a befitting gift. During Nehruvian era, India gifted our pedigree Tigers and elephants as state gifts. In course of time these gifts were rendered out dated ( perhaps this could have led to the phrase "white elephant" gifts?). Live animals have fallen out of fashion in Western diplomatic circles too. A rare pedigree breed dog presented to George Bush Jr. had a tough time to pass the country's quarantine standards, before being adopted. ( No it wasn't Bush who adopted the dog).

Then we had President Col Nasser of Egypt who presented a bride as a state gift to Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana (by the way Fathia Nkrumah was a Coptic Christian, so I guess Nasser had no qualms of gifting her).

Lately the Foreign Office of many nations have run out of ideas. US President Obama presented Queen Elizabeth an iPod with popular US tracks and a footage of her previous visits. (phew... I wonder who in the State Department proposed such an idea !!). The Queen had no trouble in reciprocating the same. She usually gives a standard silver framed photograph of herself and her hubby, with her autograph on it. Alas, they still think they are some sort a celebrity couple. Well at least you can excuse them.


Well it is time to revisit this age old diplomatic practice and put an end to these mindless protocols and trivialities.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Going down the drain...

We seldom value things that come free. Air and water are the first examples that comes to mind when I state this axiom. Water, the very essence of life, is being taken for granted by the affluent sections of the society. Is water that cheap, that you dont need to meter it?

After coming to US, I had to get use to bathing in a bathtub. But then I realised that I end up wasting more water , as it goes down the drain, rather than wetting any portion of my body. (also considering the fact the water is of drinking quality, I could not but help claculating the sheer waste). US Department of Energy estimates on average a person in US uses 200-300 liters of water everyday for domestic purposes !!. Man, this nation is one heck of a water gusher.

This led to a more insightful reflection as to why I need water to bathe? I could think of two salient reasons
  • First being the exfoliating effect of water. (removing dirt and dust from the pores of the skin).
  • Second, water being the viscous medium for the soap (including liquid based soaps) to act chemically as well as to ease the dabbing action. (imagine running a dry soap on a dry skin)

So I made a conscious decision on my part to use the age old Indian practice bathing with a water mug. I can easily guess that my water consumption has drastcially cut down. Plus, there is no water spliing outside the tub. (I wish my roomates could follow this simple rule!!!) But having said that its is wrong on my part to expect others to follow my example. Atleast let me practice first, before I start to preach.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Leisure & Productivity

As a country develops the labour productivity tends to increase. This would imply that a country endowed with better capital would be able churn out more goods per hour(or any unit of time) than a country with lesser capital investment. We can clearly the veracity of this hypothesis in our everyday life. The output produced by an average Bangladeshi worker per hour is much lower than the output produced by a German labour. This has nothing to do with the fact the Bangladesi are lazy or Germans are industrious. It only reflects the fact that an average German is better educated and equipped with technology to increase his hourly output.

Labour productivity is not an obscure measure. It can easily be estimated by dividing the GDP of a country by the total labour-hours available. For e.g in US 2008 GDP was 14,350 billion dollars(Source: Federal Reserve). And available total labour hours is 797 million hours. (Source: US BLS )So the average productivity comes around 18 dollars an hour per US worker. So statistically every US worker in 2009 churned out goods worth 18 dollars a work hour.( in current dollars without factoring inflation).

But as productivity rises the demand for lesiure also increases. After all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy right? So the developed country are witnessing the phenomena of high labour cost (it costs a lot more to employ Americans remember) and lesser work hours as well!!

Increasing there are calls for making Friday a part of extended weekend. In my college here in America, people increasing bid me Weekend wishes starting from Thursday afternoons !! In such a scenario we would effectively define a work-week as having only a four continuous working days of eight hours each (considering the fact that in the nineteenth century Industrial age workers toiled for more then twelve hours a day, all week long, this is indeed a remarkable turnaround !!). Increasingly leisure hours would only serve to undermine the competitiveness of an economy.

P.S: India has a long way to go in reaching labour productivity anywhere near OECD countries. In this age of increasing mechanization we still tend to cling on hard manual labour. Our NREGS(National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, similar to the depresssion era WPA in US) is one prime example of this atavistic mentality. Instead of training rural folks to equip them with marketable labour skills, we employ them in manual labur. The worst part the output of their is hardly ever produces tangible assets. Perhaps our public policy doctrine tend to prefer the status quo.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Price of everything and Value of Nothing

This was a very good book by Akerman and Heinzerling that I came across recently. It really opened my eyes to subtle nuances of price and value. Most of us judge the price of a good as an indicator of its value. But usually it is not the case.

I believe price, is the label that gets attached to a good to facilitate its sale or market transaction. Price of a good is only speculative. A shop keeper may sell a Persian rug for $5000. But come festive seasons the price may drop down to $4000 to pep up the sale. In this case does the value of the rug(say its aesthetics) diminishes in any manner? certainly it doesn't.

The value of a good is constant. At least it is constant for every individual .Values of goods tend to take considerable time to change. I may value a rug at lower value, and prefer a Walmart Mainstay's instead. After my value for a rug is determined by the function or utility it servers, say covering the bare floor or aesthetics.

Speaking of rugs it reminds of an interesting incident that happened recently. I wanted to purchase a new rug worth about $25 for our home. But my roomies took a vehement opposition to such outrageous luxury purchase. One mutual friend of our home even suggested that I was not sympathetic with my roomies and aspiring for a luxury world while my roomies are tethering in poverty and penury. Perhaps if we divide among all of us, it would only cost $5 each. But then the rug had no value for any of them. Naturally any price would be outrageous to them (as long as it doesn't come free of cost. In such case they wouldn't mind a rug in the living room).

Alas we live in a world wherein we check the price of everything,while dismiss the value of somethings to nothing.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Follow the herd..dont stand out

The other day while I was commuting the University bus, the driver threw a question at the passangers. Do you folks wanna switch on the AC? Well a seemingly simple question. Answer would be a firm YES or a NO.

But for nearly seconds (that seemed like an eternity) the question was answered with stoic silence. Then a few rumblings. Finally an owerwelming NO. I never realised human instincts are too complicated to understand.

Most of us have this "tag-along-the-majority" syndrome programmed in our genes. we wait for the crowd and then decide on our course of approach. We simply be refused to be on the part of the minority. we tend to sacrifice our individual views to majoritarian voices.

I definitely wanted the AC switched ON. Had I sticked to my guns and shouted aloud, surely the outcome would have been a different one indeed. Of course other passengers wouldn't mind as well, as they pre-programmed to follow the crowd.

Perhaps this explains why we need leaders in our social and political institutions. Most of us are simple unwilling to follow our heart says. Individuality is the first victim of this mentality. We are all leaders in our own merit. Unless we imbibe this spirit, I am afraid we would only end following the herd.