My Malayalam Blog

Please visit my Malayalam Blog at പൊത്തോപ്പുറം (

Sunday, 30 September 2012

An Immature Youth at CSDS (1977–1983)

When I joined the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in 1977, it was smaller in size, staff, infrastructure, and prestige. I was Personal Assistant to Mr CRM Rao, editor of China Report. I, however, worked more with Bijoy Babu (Bijoy Bhattacharya) who managed the production and distribution of the journal. I used to proofread China Report with him.

When CSDS started publishing Alternatives along with the Institute for World Order, New York, I was associated with the subscription of the journal. Mr Gabriel had worked for some time, but after his departure I took over the complete responsibility with the help of Mr PKK Namboodiri (my cousin) who by then independently handled China Report’s subscription.

Dr Ramashray Roy was the Director then. A couple of days after I joined, he called me to his room for something. During discussions, he asked me to call Mr Chadha on the phone. I hadn’t heard the name before. ‘Chadha’ was strange, but ‘Chanda’ was easier. And I asked for Mr ‘Chanda’. Dr Roy immediately corrected me, ‘Chadha’. And he made me pronounce the name correctly, which I did after a few attempts. I was overwhelmed when I met with Dr Roy sometime back at the Centre after a gap of several years.

I also served under the Directorship of the late Prof. Bashiruddin Ahmed, a down-to-earth and approachable person. One day I talked to him about Jayasree for a possible position in CSDS. He later told another colleague, “We are familiar with the work of Jayanthan and Krishnan (PKK Namboodiri). I don’t think there should be a problem.” When I wanted to resign from CSDS to join TERI, he himself advised me to take leave, and not resign. He said, “Any time you want to come back, do so, and we will take you back. You are always welcome.” After the initial six months’ leave, I extended it for another six months, and then I resigned.

The late Mr CRM Rao was the mildest and softest person I have ever come across. I consider it a privilege to have worked with him. When I left CSDS to join TERI, he wrote, “I am sad that you are leaving, but glad that you are doing so for better prospects.” He invited Jayasree and me to his home, but we could not make it. While working at CSDS, I did go to Mr Rao’s home once and enjoyed the warm treatment accorded by him and his wife.

The late Mr Giri Desingkar was outwardly very strict, but a very warm and loveable person. The first time he asked me to type a letter for him (this was a couple of days after I joined), I went and complained to Mr Rao! Why should I work for an outsider? Mr Rao said, “Yes, yes, he is in the China Report group, and you should help him whenever he wants.” It takes time to come out of the bureaucratic way of the government (doesn’t it?), where I worked for two years before joining the Centre.

A few days after I joined, I typed a letter for Dr Ashis Nandy. There was a mistake, and as I used to do in the government office (Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting), I put ‘xxx’ mark over the mistake and typed the correct version in the margin. When I handed over the letter to Dr Nandy, he said, “Mmm … in the Centre we don’t do such things, okay?” He was not upset (if he was, he didn’t show it), but was telling me the difference between working in a government office and at the Centre. But I remember for several months after that he dared not give me any work. Later on, when I knew how particular he was even regarding full stops, commas, and spaces I realized what a stupid thing was it that I did for him.

I was using an old Remington typewriter and it was extremely hard working on that. I wanted a change of typewriter. I put my problem before Mr CRM Rao, who agreed and talked to Ms Ava Khullar, Secretary. She asked me to send her a note explaining why I needed a new typewriter. I prepared an elaborate note and sent to her. About a week or two later I received a brand new typewriter. And I was very happy and proud. And to my surprise, within the next week, three or four more new typewriters were purchased for use by other people! It was like push-starting a vehicle. The initial push-start was very difficult, which I had to do all alone, and then it was a smooth drive for others!

Even now when I visit the Centre, the nostalgic feelings overwhelm me. I look at the corners where I used to work from. Sometimes I go and see the places where Mr Rao or Mr Bhattacharya used to occupy, or where Mr Khajan Singh used to have his empire from where he used to prepare the journal copies for mailing and prepared the register with paper cuttings. All the places have since been renovated and changed. There were several people with whom I worked and shared very cordial relations. Some of them are still working or are otherwise associated with the Centre.

I propose to write more about my days at the Centre in these columns in due course of time.

(The Golden Jubilee celebrations of CSDS commences in November 2012.)

[Next update on Sunday next]

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Sujit da I knew

Sujit Deb, or Sujit da, as we fondly used to call him, passed away last Monday (17 September 2012) in Kolkata.

Both Sujit da and I worked in the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi, during 1977–1983. He was the Librarian, and I was Secretary to Mr C.R.M. Rao, Editor, China Report.

Sujit da was a carefree character, the come-what-may-I-don’t-bother type. He did not care about the cloths he wore, the food he ate, the chair he sat on, nor the bed he slept on. He was at home on a cosy chair attending a conference or on the floor in the library with books or in the lawn chatting during lunch break. His main and only pastime was spending time in the office. He was a nice and kind human being, though occasionally I have heard him talking loudly to some of his colleagues. Though he was elder to me, we were friends. He was a down-to-earth man.

Sujit da was not married. I heard that Sujit da was a revolutionary in his heydays. Mr Bejoy Bhattacharya was also my colleague in CSDS during those days and he too was a bachelor. He also used to be a revolutionary (he changed his name from Vijay to Bejoy to Banglicise it!) in his youth. (I propose to write about Bejoy Babu in these columns in due course.) Is it a norm for revolutionaries to remain single?

We used to discuss several things. However, I have been quite averse to discussing home or relatives or enquiring such details from colleagues. This habit remains with me to this day. While I did not ask about his home or relatives, I did ask him why he chose to remain single. His answer was a big laugh. Then he said he had several girl friends and he used to ‘print’ (from letter press, since computers were not common then) love letters to all of them! This was his way of brushing aside personal queries.

Even after I left CSDS, whenever I used to visit there, library used to be my first port of call, to say ‘hai’ to Sujit da. He never acted busy and was always in a relaxed mood. The only thing which I didn’t agree with him was his habit of smoking. He smoked beedies, several of them every day. While he was not particular or regular as far as food was concerned, he didn’t forget his beedies and cups of tea.

After his retirement he worked as Consultant at CSDS and continued to spend most of his time at the Centre till a few months ago. When he realised he was suffering from an irrecoverable illness, he chose to return to his own people, who, it seems, failed him cruelly. Neither do I know the details, nor am I comfortable with writing what I heard. I can only say that he terribly misunderstood those whom he loved and trusted. He passed away nearly unattended and uncared for in a palliative care home.

Sujit da, you will remain in our hearts for many many years! Let your soul rest in peace!

Next update on Monday next

Sunday, 16 September 2012

My First Birth

My dear son,

I shall tell you a story. No, not a story, but an incident, which happened 22 years ago. You were in my stomach and were in a hurry to come out. We had only tapioca [a cheap staple food, used to be the lifeline for poor people during those days in Kerala] since the last four days. This was due to the simple reason that there was not a single grain of rice at home. You were not letting me sleep. I felt hungry, weak, fatigued, and feverish. Around midnight I woke up your father. I scolded him. I told him that he had no idea of the pain of a woman about to give birth to a child and that he could not even give me a little kanji (rice porridge). He just looked at me pathetically and apologetically. Where will he go to fetch some rice in the midnight?

He lighted the kerosene lamp and went up on to the machu (a false ceiling made of wood, which is common in most houses with tiled and slanted roof. Machu is usually used for dumping old and disused material as well as for storing bulk items such as bags of rice, coconuts, etc.). He searched for some time and came down with a handful of rice that he collected from there. He cleaned it and made kanji for me. After taking it, I felt somewhat relieved. I looked at him. He too was looking at me. His eyes were wet and I saw a drop or two of tear there. Your father was very strong mentally and physically. I had never seen him crying. But now … I could not hold back my tears. I wanted to apologize to him for telling him something which I should not have. But I just cried and cried.

And then slowly I fell asleep.

And the next morning you were born.

You are probably wondering why I am telling you this story now. This is only to remind you that you should not forget the path you travelled. You should always remember your past. Also remember that you are not born to rich parents.

As for my permission for purchasing a bicycle, consult Sreedharan and Narayanan [my cousins with whom I was staying in Delhi during mid-1970s when my mother wrote this letter] and seek their opinion. Sitting here I have no idea of the situation there. Do as they advise.


This was my mother’s response to my request for permission to purchase a bicycle to attend shorthand classes in the morning before going to office.

After thirty five years I still remember most of what she had written. If I close my eyes, I can still read that Inland letter. I have no idea how many times must I have read it and witnessed the events that happened a day before my birth. And every time it ended with tears flowing down my cheeks (just like it does now).

(A brahmin is said to be dwija or twice-born. Hence the title.)

Friday, 14 September 2012

Blah! The Common Man!

Venue: The Market Committee office
Event: Market Committee meeting
Agenda: Hiking the price of kerosene

(Legends: C – Chairperson; RM – Any Ruling Member; OM – Any Opposition Member)

C:      I welcome all of you to this important meeting. As you know the agenda is hiking the price of kerosene sold in this market.
RM:   Yeah, we know. We have been talking about it since some time now.
RM:   Let us get on with it.
OM  Hey, wait, don’t be in a hurry. Let’s discuss the whole thing threadbare before taking a decision.
OM:   Why do you need to hike the price of kerosene now?
C:      Well, you see, prices in other markets have increased. So kerosene dealers in our market are forced to spend more money.
RM:   [In chorus] Poor fellows!
OM:   But they are still getting a huge profit.
RM:   Yeah, they are. But their profits have come down from 150 rupees to 130 rupees. So they need to make up for the fall in profits.
OM:   What do you mean by 150 rupees?
C:      Per consumer per month.
OM:   Oh! Oh! Pathetic, profits have come down drastically.
RM:   [In chorus] Profits have come down drastically.
RM:   Let us also discuss what we are going to tell the people.
C:      We shall tell that other markets have raised their prices, and that the dealers are incurring losses.
OM:   But they are not. It is only that their profits have come down.
C:      Yeah, I know. But that is a loss. Isn’t it?
OM:   [In chorus] Yes, it is.
RM:   [In chorus] No doubt!
C:      All right, we have all agreed to raise the price of kerosene. Now let us decide how much to hike.
RM:   To nullify the loss of profit, what is the estimated quantum of rise?
C:      As per the dealers, we may have to hike the price by at least three rupees.
OM:   But how are we going to justify our stand before the people? They have elected us to oppose every decision you take.
C:      Yes, we know that. Don’t worry, we shall give you opportunity for that.
OM:   Mmm.
C:      [Calls somebody and talks in hush-hush voice. He ends the talk with a smile.]
RM:   Okay, so how much is it?
C:      We are increasing the price by five rupees.
OM:   [In chorus] But you said three rupees will wipe out their losses.
C:      My wife [looks at the phone] says it has to be five rupees.
OM/RM: [In chorus] Then let it be.
OM:   But how can we accept it without a fight?
C:      You don’t. You make a huge hue and cry and issue all kinds of strongly worded statements. You strongly ask us to withdraw the hike. You resort to hartals, bands, dharnas, processions, and anything you want.
OM:   But in case the common man, whom we will be using as baits, turns violent?
RM:   Well, police will take care of that.
OM:   All right. Then what happens?
C:      After three days of protests, we roll back the hike by two rupees. We are happy, you are happy, kerosene dealers are happy. Also, remember, elections are due next year.
OM:   Yeah, but what has elections got to do with the price hike?
C:      The two rupees they have collected for three days will be contributed to election funds in 60:40 ratio. Sixty for us, 40 for you. This is democracy and everybody has a right to be happy.

One lone voice from a corner: But, what about the common man’s happiness?

C/RM/OM: [In loud chorus] BLAH! THE COMMON MAN! [They all laugh wildly thumping on the desk.]

C:      When we talk about elephants, horses and bulls who talks about donkeys?

[The lone voice dies.]  

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A Malayalee on the Moon

Malayalees (those who speak Malayalam language) are said to be very enterprising and adventurous. There are several stories about Malayalees being found in every nook and corner of the universe. A story goes like this: Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon. He was taking a stroll on the surface of the Moon when he heard a voice, “Hello, Mr Armstrong, would you like to have a cup of tea?” He looked at the source of the sound and found a Malayalee tea shop. The Malayalee knew that one day man would land on the Moon, and he was ready with a tea shop! This may be slightly exaggerated, but yes, Malayalees are said to be an adventurous lot. It is also said that where there are four Malayalees, there will be five organisations! Every Malayalee wants his or her own organisation (and a stepney, too!).
In the national capital, though I have not counted, there may be a few hundreds of Malayalee organisations belonging to each region, religion, and caste. There are organisations for brahmins, nairs, ezhavas, varriers, marars, christians, muslims and so on and so forth. The most popular, classic, and elite organisation is, of course, the Delhi Malayalee Association, which has branches in every pocket of the city. Malayalee cultural organisations are present not only in Delhi, but also in other parts of the national capital region, such as Faridabad, Noida, Indirapuram, Gurgaon, and so on.  Then there are organisations connected with religious places. Count the temples managed by Malayalees in NCR, I don’t think it is difficult to cross half a century. And with each temple, there is a dedicated group of devotees and hundreds of floating devotees.
Having been forced to uproot from one’s native place which lies nearly 3000 kilometers away, these are the avenues through which Malayalees relive their past. Whatever be their aims and objectives, whatever be their activities, there is one occasion which they never ever forget to celebrate in the most lavish way, and that is Onam.  Wherever there is civilization, there are Malayalees. Wherever there are Malayalees, there are Onam celebrations. The celebrations of pravasi Malayalees continue for several weeks after Onam, since each celebration has to be arranged on a Sunday.
Gayathri, a well-known cultural organisation of Delhi celebrated Onam on Sunday, 9 September which I also attended. The celebrations included excellent cultural programmes, superbly organised, choreographed, and performed. Everybody behind the programme deserves huge applauses. Heartiest congratulations to each one of you who was part of the effort directly or indirectly.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Slowness intoxicates me

Once I was going somewhere and I had all the time in the world. I was driving slow. After some time I found slow driving was fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable, a lot more than fast driving used to be. I had never found driving so enthralling. I found a few faces turning towards me with the expression, ‘Poor guy. Has a big vehicle, but can’t drive!’ I was amused. After that day I decided to try to continue driving slow. The enjoyment, the comfort, the peace, and the relaxation were so much that I wanted to continue the experiment. After a few weeks, I decided that I shall never cross 60 kmph.

Initially it used to be embarrassing, since I thought I was obstructing the path of faster drivers. I pasted a bill board on the rear glass cautioning boldly that my maximum speed was 60 kmph. It thus became their responsibility to avoid me. I used to avoid the faster lane for their sake. Remember, I have said 60 kmph is my MAXIMUM speed, which gave me the freedom to be slower. Since the last few months I have been driving at 50 kmph, or sometimes even less. (Some of you might be thinking, ‘Oh! This fool will soon stop driving altogether!’) I have since changed the bill board to the picture of an eye (meaning ‘I’) DRIVE SLOW’.

Slow driving gives you a heavenly feeling. You don’t have to change gear nor apply brake or clutch every now and then. Once the sense of urgency is off your mind, peace begins to rule it. If somebody laughs at you and speeds away, you DO NOT feel, ‘Aha, you laugh at me? What do you think, I cannot drive? See this!’, and then speed away to overtake the offending vehicle. You feel you are beyond such feelings! Instead you start sympathising with them.

When you drive at 45–50 kmph, listening to some old classic songs, with several vehicles including two-wheelers overtaking you on both sides at great speed, you feel you are actually floating in the air. You feel you are on top of the world! The scornful eyes, the sympathies, the laughs, nothing of the sort affect you. You feel stronger and bolder. I also feel slow speed is the panacea for the so-called road rage. When you are not in a hurry and completely relaxed; when you are at peace with yourself, your car, and others; when you don’t react to deliberate misadventures, where is the ‘rage’?

You never have to wait for side, others do it; you never have to screech to a halt, others do it; you never have to yell at somebody for not giving side, others do it; you never have to zig-zag through heavy traffic, others do it. Let faster drivers have all the troubles, you have all the peace and comfort.

Another point is that you don’t use up a lot of extra time by driving at 50 kmph instead of 70 or 80 kmph. Faster vehicles also need to slow down or stop at red lights or in traffic jams which are common sights on Delhi roads. You don’t save a lot of time by driving faster. Why should you then miss the ecstasy of slow driving? I will not.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Another Note on Onam

Why is Onam so important a festival to Malayalees, so much so that the few other festivals such as Vishu and Christmas are dwarfed in front of it? In Kerala we do not celebrate Dussehra, Diwali, or Holi.

Onam is celebrated in Chingam (mid-August to mid-September), the first month of the Malayalam calendar. Let us revisit the month that has just passed, Karkidakam (mid-July to mid-August), the last month in the Malayalam calendar. Karkidakam is known as ‘panja’ Karkidakam, or the ‘pauper’ Karkidakam. This is a completely wet month with incessant rains. Having finished all the grains in the store, people find it difficult to make both ends meet. Due to the continuous rains, there is no work, making the days more boring, aimless and pathetic. In short, Karkidakam is a boring, sad, and drenched month when people tend to loose hope.

Maybe this is why people spend the month praying and reading religious books. Ramayana, the story of Lord Sri Rama, for example, is read in every home, throughout the month. Therefore Karkidakam is also called the ‘Ramayana month’. Any creative activity which serves yourself or others is service to God.  When there is no occasion for any such activity, they find it most beneficial to utilise the time praying. They are happy that they get a lot of extra time for religious chores.

All these change with the arrival of the New Year. The incessant rains have given way to occasional pleasant drizzles. The cold and wet days are gone and warm sunny days are here. After harvesting, the stores are full and so are the minds and bellies of people. Plants and creepers are covered with fresh green leaves and flowers and their fragrance fills the air. Plants feel so happy that they not only smile at you when you pass them, but also dance to the tunes of the slow winds. They too have found new expectations and new happiness. Disappointment has given way to new hopes and we look forward to a great year ahead. Animals and birds too join the festive mood. The whole atmosphere is filled with positive energy, happiness, content, and love.

What more does one need to feel happy and spread happiness, love, and warmth all around? Onam is celebrated in such an atmosphere. No doubt, Onam is the happiest and most important festival for all Malayalees!