India is Thrivvving in the Interiors; forget the snooty and skeptical city dwellers

 

As i went thru the streets of this town of 70K population and drove thru the interiors, i could see the festive spirit of the independence day. Each of the 28 wards in this township had a flag hoisting ceremony, most govt establishments, hospitals, schools and some shops had their own. There were others at the street corners. People exchanging greetings, young children coming and pinning flags on your shirt, people greeting each other, loud speakers blaring speeches, national anthem, etc. On the roads one could see school children returning after assemblies, some serious holding small flags high, someone thrusting sweet into his friends mouth, making merry, greeting passersby ‘Vande Mataram’ or ‘Happy I Day’, enjoying the spirit. For the first time since mid-1960s i was seeing this kind of festive spirit about our national independence.

It was almost like the famous Tamil Song ‘ஆடுவோமே பள்ளு பாடுவோமே ஆனந்த சுதந்திரம் அடைந்துவிட்டோம்…’ kind of spirit and fervour (Lets dance; lets sing now that we have attained joyous freedom). This was on my way to the Government funded hostel /school for tribal girls in Kumaran Bheem district Telangana.

when our own ceremony was over the patron of the school asked me if i would be interested in visiting the school. We had less than 3 hours to catch the train and school is about 25 kms away. But these days most parts of India – rural or small towns – seem to promise one KM/Minute speeds and so we dared.

1 Kumaran Bheem district was part of Adilabad district and recently bifurcated and is a reserved constituency. Not so long ago – about 10 years back- the district was Naxal infested. The MLA had been gunned down right in his house inside town. and as we were driving the patron (man right of SI) pointed to other areas where there had been skirmishes and cases of vehicle burning, arson etc. But the Govt of C Naidu seem to have had some 75 encounters and gunned down many. and both his Govt and the succussor govt seem to have done a great lot of developmental work to showcase the benefits of belonging to formal systems over staying alienated. The place still has tigers roaming in the jungles and occasionally seen on the roads in summer.

2 Kumaran Bheem has the status of God in this area. He was a warrior and tribal chieftain. About 600 years ago the area was ruled by Shahs of Ballarshah (who was the maha chief), and there were several smaller kings and chieftains under his protection. These poeple belonged to the Gond tribal sect – a god fearing, hard working, and honest group. In later years the Lombardas (south indians use Lomabardi to denote a certain sense of dressing). Lombarda are Naiks who migrated from nearby Maharashtra and supposedly more intelligent and smarter and said to have climbed the social ladder faster than the original occupants. There are frequent clashes between the two. When the Shah kingdom fell there were wars with the others, then the British, then the Nizam whose army gunned down Kumaran Bheem in 1940s. Thus he attained martyredom and Godly status. (when we were getting out of school we garlanded his bust with all the temple fervour, agarbathi, garlands and camphor and no footwear allowed). (see clipping)

It appears that Naxalism is of 2 kinds – one of people who get disillusioned with the formal systems and take to arms and the other of the descent variety. People in this region who have always had to fight someone or the other right thru history protecting their land and livelihood. they fought other tribal chiefs, then British, then the Nizam and when we attained independence, the Nation took the place of the list of tormentors and they continued their ‘war’.

3 Farmer Suicides: we saw some crazy youth dancing and posing for selfies and group photos on the railway track not aware of the risks. I asked the patron about farmers suicides and the agrarian distress esp given the fact that there was an acrimonious debate on the subject a few days back in the state assembly. ‘What former suicides. Just an attempt to milk the situation. Once something happens like that, the others will make a hue and cry to take maximum advantage and get their loans written off. The fact is the govt is giving Rs 20000 loan to each farmer for each acre per crop thru Grameen Banks. I also write legal opinions and the format is so standard. If you have repaid all your previous loans it hardly takes 10 minutes.

Its those who have over-reached that fall into difficulties. there is widespread absent landlord cultivation. People who can manage 7-10 acres of lease cultivation take 50-100 acres and fail to manage or their crops fail due to want of care and unable to manage some commit suicides.

Each villager/village house unlike you and me has 3 cellphones these days. One for songs playing – usually a chinese phone it will be, one a smart phone for whatspp, social media and facebook etc. and a basic phone for talking whose battery will last for 2-3 days. and most homes have a vehicle to move around – 2 wheeler and cars in some houses. every 50 households may have a tractor and and auto per every 20-30 homes to ferry people.

4 School. The school has over 400 girl children studying upto 10 th std. Has 18 teachers. The school is well funded by the State government and is one of several such schools in the district. The government gives them 4 pair of uniforms, 2 blankets, towels, and books and stationery, sumptuous breakfast (4 different items each day), besides lunch and dinner. They are all hostellers since their parents are too poor to afford any education.

When my turn came to speak, i said something by way of reiterating sacrifices made by our forefathers and elders and asked them to be mindful that freedom comes with responsibility. But when it ended, i asked permission from the chairman and the headmaster to speak to the students (if there is something like Public Listener as opposed to Public Speaker, i would like to be a member of the club) and enquired as to what each ones ambitions are. Many Doctors, some teachers, a solitary Collector, a dancer, and a singer. You can look at the video. Each of them gave a crisp, clear and onthe spot answers – no prevarication, whataboutry or may be … this or that kind. Very clear on their goals. When i asked the ‘singer’ to sing a song, no hesitation .. sang a telugu (i presume) song  and then one more volunteered and sang Honge Kaamyaab, ek din, man me hai vishwas. I asked her to lead the chorus and she did it unhesitatingly. .

I wished i had been as clear and bold and unapologetic about myself in my younger years. I remember an older cousin of mine asking me on my future plans when i was in my final year B Com. I gave such a shameful wishy washy, gooey diffident answer like ‘ if i pass my exams may be i will try for M com in such diffident halting manner that the questioner would have wondered ‘why is this worm even existing on this earth’.

5 Pace of public works. The state has done wonders in linking up water supplies. from being a dry and draught prone area, over the last 10 years thruough a network of irrigation canals and dams water is being provided to almost all areas now. about 5-6 months ago when we were traversing the same route, we saw some planning for an irrigation canal – some markers although the road bridge had more or less been completed. But on 15th August when we went, the canal had been completed and the CM announced water connection to some 26,000 villages virtually covering all the remianing villages.

6 Hemandroff Pattas. An englishman lived and worked amongst the tribal way before Independence. he had determined that each tribal family would require about 30 acres to survive. accordingly many pattas were issued and these are even today called by his name. (not sure of spelling). Even his successor /son worked in this area and are buried here.

The confidence, bounce and the optimism and confidence of the school children was radiating. So was the festive spirit of independence day. India is thriving and will gallop along speedily and see great heights. I was taken there to enthuse and inspire them. On the contrary it was i who got inspired by them and got my faith on our democracy and development renewed on the independence day.

While on the way back i offered a decent sum to start a scholarship for the school. My patron almost instantly refused saying ‘tension math leejiye. The school is well funded by the government. there is no dearth of resource. I called you only to inspire them. all of them will remember today for a life time.’ I only wished you had spent more time and eaten with them. I (the patron) donated a block and all these were arranged in a matter of 30 minutes by the local SI, chairman of school, and headmaster’.

It seems infinitely more enthusing to belong to a colony of hopefuls however lowly (in income stakes) placed than to a colony of cynical cribbers,even if they are reservoirs of wisdom. Many city dwellers behave as if they are superior to the nation and that the nation needs them more than they need the nation. Not so the interior.

Image may contain: 8 people, including Ram Chandran, people standing, people sitting, child and outdoor
Image may contain: 7 people, including Kamal Lakhotia, people smiling, people standing

Ramdev’s Republic

It is 45 years since I visited Rishikesh last. My memories were of floating wood logs, young boys and girls with tins tied to their back jumping into the river learning to swim, and boat rides when even as a kid I could stretch over and touch the cool waters of the new born Ganges. The promise of 4.58 hrs in Google as average travel time was tempting, so we chose Rishikesh as our week-end outing destination  when my niece and nephew landed up.  In the end, we spent the weekend, shall I say, trying to ‘reach there’.

We had our lunch at Ramdev’s ashram (or more appropriately his mini republic in the making) near Haridwar at around 4 pm… on the recommendation of our driver, who always recommend places that fit their standard of hygiene and cleanliness or where they get their food free. Sometimes they kind of force that choice on you. But in this case it must have been more due to affiliation and reasonable prices.

His establishment on the right side of road looked massive, huge herbal gardens, what looked like factories, and Patanjali research centre, Yoga centres, etc following one after the other. The food courts housed with some other facilities are on either side of the road just outside Hardwar towards Delhi. We saw a fleet of cars and buses parked inside the campus (thank him for they were not spilling over onto the roads. He seems to have skillfully estimated his following or having established the facilities created the requisite following). There was a milling crowd even at the time.

Most of the crowd was middle age – people who looked between 35 to 60 years – hardly any older ones (i could have counted them on my fingers), with their young ones in tow. I saw the same kind of devotion or urge in their eyes as when i go to India’s religious places like Tirupathi, Siddhi Vinayak Temple or SriNadhwara. Except here there was no God, it is more Ramdev. He seems to have become a sort of a messiah for the low income or low-middle income class. They were not chanting his name like in Trirupathi, but the vibes in the air was clear.

I may not be able to put a finger on what exactly his USP is – but it is not just religion: it is something more. May be they feel left out by the political process or that their lots have not improved as much in recent years as that of others. Or they are feeling culturally betrayed and need a new sense of identity. Or the rest of India has tried to fast forward traditions beyond what this class is comfortable with and Ramdev is the best bet to put the much needed speed breakers. There seems to be a huge vacant space of serving which marketers and political parties seems to have missed which he is serving which should account for his popularity.

I may not be conclusive – it is not just religion or yoga alone. Or just product benefits, aroma, taste, medicinal value, or environmentality, superior packaging.  It seems much more, much different. May be Ramdev knows or may be he himself does not know but has per chance hit upon the magic, like sometimes you succeed without knowing the reasons for your success. He would require a lot of de-coding. His products are a huge succees and I reckon that even if he were to put Patanjali banions and underwears, they will become instant hits. Such seems to be the sense of affiliation in the Ramdev Republic.

Now on to the food. The food itself was tasty – better than Ammas kitchen (Chennai), or Brahma Kumaris (BK) or Sri Sris (SSR), or Tirupathis Anna Prasadam (free).  Reasonably clean.

While i was waiting for my turn to pick up my Thali, the man ahead started an argument with the counter server. It was about the quantity of Rava Kesari (Sheera) in his meal. I thought it was alright but he was arguing it was less in comparison to his predecessor’s. It filled the steel saucer alright but still the man kept arguing over what perhaps would have been 2-3 gms difference or perhaps the shape it was served. I don’t know what gets our (all Indians and I stand at near the head of the queue) worst guts out when it concerns food. May be long years of seeing starvation around and many of us would have liberated out of that only recently and embedded memories and psyche remain.  Finally when the man behind counter obliged him in sheer frustration, the customer walked away with a smug (or triumphant) smile on his face.

Even while the drama was unfolding at my counter there was some heated exchange at the other. The customer was insisting that the kichdi be packed and the counter man as explaining that there is no such system. With each denial the temper was shooting up. The man behind counter turned around and asked his colleagues if there was some such system. Finally he lost his cool on his own ilk and ‘why don’t they tell at the counter itself that we don’t pack food’. And some mild adjectives to describe their mental state, etc. He was at his wits end … about to become one of the ilk that he himself described moments back. Finally he served kichdi to the brim on the plate (just that it wasn’t spilling over) and sort of threw the plate at the customer. I felt sorry for the counter server. I thought it was too much of a sampling error (2 in parallel) what i noticed. But if true, i suspect I may not last that job more than a couple of hours. Poor man from the interior or upcountry area in search of a daily living by serving people … we can be sympathetic or sensitive to each other a lot more. This is where i find Buddhist countries far more evolved.

I had been to Ammas kitchen a year or so back. They served too much of kichdi. I tried reasoning (when i argue with the counter clerks, i call it reasoning, pl note) i was imply incapable of eating their serving … it may last 2-3 sessions etc. and that she could serve as I deem full. But she said that she had to serve 275 gms (or 375gms) as the board announced and nothing short as per strict instructions, and that i could throw the excess if so desired. Some such similar disciplining happens in Tirupathi as well (they won’t serve anything in side cups or rasam and Butter milk in tumblers – impossible). I realised the value of standardisation of serves after seeing the quarrels.

A simple board announcing ‘No packing of food’ and just keeping a weighing scale near the counter and mentioning the size of serving (gms) would have quelled both the ‘Beja Frys’ I thought.  In both cases, my sympathies were overwhelmingly with the counter salesman.

Rating wise Ramdev’s food was tastiest, Tirupathi service quality the best (for the volume they handle anything less would be chaotic in no time), and for overall experience Ammas kitchen stands out. Ramdev must be recovering full cost at least and others don’t.

Whatever it is Ramdev Baba stands for or preaches, he could also teach them some basic courtesies, politeness, respect for rules and queues and sensitivity towards others. I have not found ground level sensitivity being taught at SSR, or BKs either. The 11 year old boy at Ramakrishna Ashram who showed me around in 1994 near Trichy was dignified and self assured. I wonder if they have such programme. He could have a huge impact. They all have raw love – if i fall ill on the road or down with an accident these are the very same people who would most likely rush to my rescue, not the priests of polish and outward politeness – it is the just the briefing which may be the missing link. Ramdev may be the best placed to bring about that welcome change.

May be he could teach them some basic hygiene, cleanliness and lessons on littering. They could become a million walking advertisements for his enterprise and convert a lot of the as yet unconvinced.

The price of Illiteracy and the cost of literacy

DSCN3196

We have recently started plantation activities in south western Myanmar – Ayyerwaddy state. We had to plant seedling and clones this rainy season. Typically for our plantation trees 1’x1’x1’ pits are ideal. Bigger ones are like babysitting your child till they are 35 years old – a sure way to spoil them. The roots should have it easy for the first few days and after that they should work towards fortifying their hold themselves – that’s when we get optimum results (or so I have been told). Continue reading

Correcting Distortions in Education Market

18-5-2008

The Hindu BusinessLine

There is perhaps no other market in India today that so completely marginalises the consumer and producer interest as much as that for higher education To correct the aberrations in the market, it is necessary to channelise the huge amounts spent by society on intermediary coaching classes for financing the actual end-education. Read on…

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/correcting-distortions-in-higher-education-market/article1624320.ece