Sunday, October 21, 2007


Professionalism....Perhaps this the first word that freshers learn the moment they enter the corporate world. This is true especially in the case of engineers and managament folks. In course of time the word is hackneyed so much , that the very meaning of it is forgotten. Is professionalism all aboout smart dressing or Bond like charisma? Or is it like the good old chivalry of an Victorian gentlemen( and ladies too)?

Or is it something more deeper and concerns the true one self. For one thing I have learnt after joining the corporate world is that a pucca professional is just a cloak to cover our inner self. To rise up to the occasion we all act as professional in the corporate world. You may act like a professional , being polite, versatile and virtuous and so on. But in the inner self there is the jealous , mean and self centered soul, to which we are always vulnerable.

The question arises on what exactly are the do's and don't of professionalism. Have we not utilised office resources for private use? Unnecessary stationery requisitions , travel expenses exaggerations, holiday excuses, setting convenient targets, partying at company's cost or in worst case dirting the common toilet after use? (even in top notch companies I find this sordid state) These may appear trivial but the question that needs to be answered is that whether or not these acts constitute professionalism?

But of course there are other higher vices that are currently not condoned under the blanket of professionalism, like siphoning of funds, misdemeanour with women( and vice versa too)nowadays), constant vituperation and last of all inefficiency. The issue of work harassment is also hogging the limelight recently. The increasingly balanced gender participation(read as women joining) in office environment ,taking place in most of the companies in urban India, is the cause of this uproar. So its high time the issues of gender interactions are visited in the context of office environment. Currently locker rooms jokes, A-stuff SMS and 'voyeurism'*( looking at an wrong angle) is considered a taboo. Maybe in the future these stuff may pass in the list of trivialities permitted under the professionalism.

So being in the corporate world for more than a three months I realise that being a true professional is indeed a chimerical wish list. (in other words it like striving towards Carnot's efficiency in mechanical engineer's parlance) I have entered the professional world with all hopes of being a true professional. But I can sense that it takes a lot more than mere resolution to live up to it. I know not, what kind of a professional I would metamorphose into, but I always remember this chimerical professional.

* This is every man's nightmare..staring at the wrong places and getting caught in the process. Its often not the manifestation of bad character , rather it is the testosterone that is the real culprit. Remember there is an alter ego in all of us.......

Friday, June 29, 2007

Acknowledging the source

Off late Plagiarism has emerged as a contentious issue in the academic circles. The fact that plagiarism is a crime is slowly catching up with the Indian mindset. The question arises whether a blog account, as a vehicle for expression of an individual's ideas, can also scrutinised under the ambit of plagiarism.
So far in all my blog accounts I have never quoted my source upon which the facts have been presented. I tender my profound apologies for that. From now on I have decided to ascribe to a higher ethical standards by quoting all the relevant sources for facts or ideas in my blog accounts too. I shall also index and quote the relevant sources for my previous articles.

P.S: I shall endeavour to do my best to find the sources.If it is not possible I shall place an asterisk mark to highlight anonymous external source. Some of the figures mentioned in blog accounts may be approximate too. Hence i shall indicate it when the need arises.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Indian Railway- My Observations...

Perhaps there is no other organisation in our country that works with perfect synchronisation and zeal as the Railways does. Here professionalism is not measured in the sense of passenger satisfaction or expectations, but in the context of delivering the best out the limited resources that could be mustered.

Railways are not just a legacy of the British Raj, they are the part and parcel of the modern and vibrant India. Handling the Indian Railways is no mean task as the following statistics suggests,
  • Indian Railways are the largest employer in the world employing around 1.2 million people. (bigger than even the Indian Army, but second to combined forces of China's PLA*1!)
  • India has the fourth largest rail network in the world(around 64,000km track length*2)
  • India ranks first in terms of the number of passenger commuting through the rail network

So being the Union Minister for Railways is equivalent of being Minister for Northern Ireland (in UK) or Secretary of Health or Transportation in the US. Indian Railways is unique for the fact that unlike other PSUs, it has table its own budget in the Union Parliament and is part of Union exchequer(under the scrutiny of Public Accounts Committee of the Lok Sabha). In other words railways is government and government is railways. So there is little need for the railways to churn profits to its master.

Railways is also unique for the fact it doesn't publish annual account statement indicating profit or loss computation like most other corporate entities. Instead it assesses its performance on profit-Operating Cost ratio *3(currently around 78.5 i.e For every Rs.100 profit it has to shell out Rs.78.5 towards operations, one lowest in the world) and host of other revenue parameters. Thereby obfuscating the true picture of the Railways.

The truth is that the railways is heading for a bubble burst.This profit boom is not going to be sustainable in the future in the absence of infrastructure addition. Moreover the competition from low cost airlines ( air tickets are sometimes cheaper than First Class AC or Two Tier AC railway tickets*4!!) is bound to cause passenger migration to air travel. Moreover the high operating ratios are obtained by mere extension of existing trains.

For example, in the place of Tiruchirapalli- Bangalore night service, the train now operates between Myladurai-Mysore( my apologies to those who aren't sure of Tamil Nadu's geography). But cui bono? Off course there are passengers from Myladurai who wish travel to Mysore or Bangalore, but does it warrant a entire express of fifteen to twenty coaches to start from that place? I happen to board at Trichy and to my surprise most of the two tier berths were reserved for Trichy passengers. Worst still the First class coach travels empty most of time from Myladurai and gets filled only at Thanjavur or Trichy( this was admitted by a TTE himself). But for the railways it is a convenient arrangement as maintenance cost is reduced, operating margins improve in spite of empty berths and it can honour its social and political commitment of connecting far flung places on the railway maps.

And so we end up having express trains connecting wierd destinations like Nagercoil-Guwhati or Jammu Tawi- Kanyakumari( longest route in the country). One more added advantage of having such circumnavigating routes is that the exorbitant Tatkal fees can be levied. ( Tatkal or instant Tickets are generally booked for the entire length of the journey). In some long distance trains the tatkal fares for AC sleeper coaches for one leg of journey is costlier than even onward and return air journey combined!!

So the crucial question for the railways is to plan and build a network for the future India. The profits churned out during this period must be prudently employed for better passenger amenties, infrastructure addition and safety. One in which the best of service is offered at the least of cost. Railway stations must be modelled on par with air ports with best of rest rooms, cafeteria, shopping malls etc. One wise option is to go for fewer trains with better facilities. Security issues at trains (especially in Naxal prone States), food and hospitality services in trains can be made better for the price we pay. But before doing all these the railways must implement is that the loo in the train must be made a closed one (unlike the open on track loo).

P.S:When I was young I use to read the instruction inside the coach loo which states that "Avoid using the toilets at Stations". It's only later i realise the sad fact is that when using the loo at the stations, it becomes the job of the sanitary workers to clean the tracks and its a sordid spectacle to see the night soil from the platform. Moreover one must also consider the plight of lineman engaged in checking of tracks, connecting/ disconnecting coaches, locomotives etc..

Sources: [1] Anonymous blog accounts...identity yet to be ascertained

[2] Internalised fact ( read it about six years ago in my Std.X Geography text book)

[3] Internalised fact ( published in The Hindu)

[4] For example: Chennai Central- New Delhi Rajdhani Executive Tickets cost around

Rs.4325, while a Deccan Airways flight on the same sector starts from Rs. 3600.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Is the Left alright?

The Left parties in our country (namely the CPI(M), CPI, Forward Bloc etc.) are a curious misfits in our country's political arena. Sometimes they act in a supreme statesmanship manner ( protest against parking of pension funds in equity markets, irregularities in NREG programme etc.)while in worst of times they even dharna or boycott for petty issues. ( even issues that are trivial is magnified to their advantage like boycotting the state visit of US President George Bush to India, for his country's capitalist and imperialist attitude, while extending a red carpet welcome to President Hu Jintao of China!!).
The Left in India is a chimerical combination of the Intellectual spirit of the western democracies with the Gandhian spirit of dharna, non-cooperation and hartal, with a tinge of Communist spirit of direct action. The end result is that they are an alien lot stooped in the past and failing to apprehend the imminent future.
While one must appreciate their spirit of earnestness and integrity, their traditional opinions fails to grasp with the ground realities. Generally the democratic principle of political representation demands that the public policies should be formulated based on the general will of the people, not merely based on cannons, beliefs and customs.
There were times when these Left parties opposed the introduction of computers in PSUs like LIC. They even went to the extent of barricading the offices and all night dharna! Imagine what would have been LIC today without computers!! And their argument that jobs would be affected also proved wrong today. This is precisely the public mood that the Left is failing to comprehend even today. One shouldn't oppose just for principle sake, rather a through analysis of the pros and cons is needed, before arriving at a composite judgement.
Its high time that Left shed its traditional Nationalist cloak and get sensitised to the changing societal needs. A deeper understanding of the public opinions and the foresight of things to come must be driving force in policy formulations.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Reflections on Gender Equality

Our constitution envisions a society, where gender equality persists in all spheres of life. Well it remains to be seen how far this statement is true reality though. There is a a huge hue and cry in the Union parliament whenever a Women's reservation bill is introduced. This brings us to a serious issue, whether or not women needed to treated on a different class from men. Why restrict their numbers to mere 33%, when they have the constitutional right to contest any number of seats? What is the rationale behind reserving seats for women alone like that of Mayors or councillors in the local government level? Suppose a gentleman wishes to contest a mayorial seat reserved for a women, he is denied his constitutional right to contest for elections. This would tantamount to extending freedom to one at the cost of another. This is not the equality that our constitution envisioned.

Then how do we set forth to achieve an inclusive gender equality?

Perhaps the first step in ensuring gender equality is to put an end to the differential treatment meted out to the different gender. Believe me, this would work wonders in ensuring progress and integration of the women folks on par with men. In developed western countries this gender demarcation is gradually disappearing. They have university hostels , jail houses and apartments where men and women folks co-habitate(the perverted minds is bound to raise eyebrows) , women occupying the higher ranks in the armed forces( be it in combat or non-combat duties) commanding over men, women truck drivers , garbage cleaners or even astronauts etc. In simple terms they don't give a damn to the gender you belong to.

The second step is to sensitise the needs of the opposite gender. This is very much lacking in our country. For example, a woman civil servant ( of the rank of Secretary) in the Central Secretariat had no access to rest rooms at all in her floor, as it was traditionally used by men folks. Her plea for constructing additional rest rooms was rejected and was advised to use the women's staff rest rooms instead. In stark comparison, the recent British-Iran Navy sailors capture imbroglio, the British Army allowed the husband, of the captured lady soldier, on a paternal leave to take care of their daughter. This is perhaps the finest example of gender sensitization. (People in India would laugh at the story of an Army man on a paternal leave)

The third and final step would be remove the inherent gender bias i.e a man is superior to women. One way to achieve this could be to sequester the family life from that of the professional lives. Egoism must be removed from our mindset for a functional family to sustain.How many of us would like our wives to earn more than us? Or even climb up the hierarchy much faster than us? Would any husband migrate with his wife in case she gets a transfer? The answers are rather negative in majority of the cases. This calls for a serious introspection and change in the mindsets of the men folks.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Limited Universities to Universities Limited

Imagine this scenario in the future. The Union Budget was presented the day before. The university students are up in arms against against the imposition of Fringe Benefit Tax(FBT) on S-SOP( that's right its not ESOP, it is Students' Stock option). The Edusex (BSE index of the corporate universities) has plummeted by over 200 points. The worst hit are IIT Ltd. and IIM ltd. followed by umpty number of limited universities.
The students are fighting for their hard earned University shares to exempted from tax purview. Thats right, in the future University Ltd. wouldn't offer monetary scholarship alone, rather the scholarship is dispensed partly in stock options too.
Now we are not talking about some Hollywood gimmicks here. Corporate University is inevitable in the future to ensure an inclusive education for all. The National Knowledge Commission of India ( headed by Sam Pitroda) has remarked that over 1500 universities are needed In India by 2015 to achieve at least a 35% percent graduate literate population!!
If even for a meagre 35% level, a quantum leap of four folds is needed, imagine what would it to take to achieve a more respectable figure of 75 or 90%. Education is after all, universal. To implement this egalitarian vision, massive opportunities to pursue education must be created at rate matching the growth of population. The problem of limited universities can be tackled by universities limited.
But the fact is the government is cash starved to streamline the education. Even the school education is in dire need of re-structuring. A one percent levy,(announced in the last budget ) on taxes, is specifically meant for higher education.This is expected to yield only around 5000 crores. The majority of funds is disbursed as fees subsidies, staff salaries, infrastructure maintenance ,with little for research and development.
An undergraduate medical student in a Government college pays around a token sum Rs.2000/ as tuition fees or in a Government engineering colleges a student has to shell out
Rs. 5000 as semester fees ! Surely one cannot run a higher education system with such token fees. Subsidies are cash flows to drain with a bottomless depth. To make the government colleges efficient and truly global, the first thing that must be done, is to remove their dependency on the government coffers.
It is high time that the public is roped in to the industry of education. It may sound crass and unethical. but in reality it is the case. Profit motive is the driving force of any private institutions. The age of Guru- Shishia param para, is long gone. It is high time that the society perceives education as a profitable enterprise rather than a charitable endowment. Even hospitals are now corporate owned( e.g. Appollo , Fortis, Escorts etc.), so why not education?
The idea of universities going public, is mainly to generate the necessary capital to sustain the competitive edge and at the same time offer a more inclusive education for an ever increasing population. With the capital secured from equity issue, the company can embark on a modernisation drive.Being a listed entities, ensures that there is more transparency in University governance and regulations. (much better than the archaic and autocratic Trusts and societies that run them.) By going public, the society becomes a stake holder in the growth of the university. This in no way will dilute or debase the education service offered by the university. The only problem may be that the university must serve two regulators instead of one.( SEBI being one, and the other being AICTE/UGC/MCI)
The equity market in India has matured in recent times and more people are willing to invest in the stocks. The risk factors for a university are very low, as education service is an essential commodity in all times. But the questin that arises, is why would one want to invest in university stocks?
The answer to the question lies in the underlying premises that universities are centers of knowledge creation. Knowledge is power in tomorrow's scenario. In this case the consultancy, R and D inovations offered by the university is of great demand to the industry and the public. Professors and students alike can work towards this knowledge creation, and thereby earn more revenue for the university. Likewise the fees structure for students can also be reduced in the long run once the emphasis of university learning shifts from mere teaching to knowledge creation. The higher perks and salaries offered( on par with any competitive corporate entity) to the faculty might even induce the brighter brains to opt for a career in academia. On the part of the students a sense of collective responsibility and ownership might lead to superior performance, just like employee in a company.
I firmly believe going corporate is the best thing for our country educational needs. The government must explore the feasibility of bring this idea into practice. One may laugh at these proposals as being absurd or non-practical( like people did when Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations was published in 1757. Today we consider as Father of Modern Economics ). Perhaps in the future, ideas like these might usher in the radical change that could propel India into a superpower. After all any system that offers more number of seats at an affordable cost and improved quality is worth considering.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Re-Engineering the Engineering Euducation

It is a pathetic fact to note that India, in spite of churning out the largest pool of engineers in the world, is yet to channelise their expertise into nation building excercise. ( a look into our roads, bridges, sewer system, telecom sector,urban planning etc. is enough to certify this paradox.)
It seems we are churning out worthless engineers , who are even incompetent for call center jobs. The situation is worst in Tamil Nadu which has the largest number of engineering colleges in the country. (around 300 of them with the inclusion of one IIT, Government colleges, deemed universities and 'n' number of self financing colleges.) There is joke which says on any given highway in Tamil Nadu there is more probability of coming across an engineering college rather than a fuel station. That is the pathetic state of engineering education in this country.
Nowadays getting an engineering seat has become so easy, that any Tom Dick or Harry could get one, provided he passes the SSLC . (last year around 11000 seats were vacant in TN alone, with a few colleges registering single digit admissions for courses)
The scenario needs some serious intropsection as tremedous breed of talent is off on the drains. This can be utilised for vital. The only solace for this so called engineering boom is the the appetite of IT companies of fresh engineers. But for IT comapnies hardly there would no need for Placement wing in colleges. What is lacking is the diversity in palcement offers. ( In one deemed uinversity at Vellore, around 525 students were placed at TCS!! Just liking sheparding sheeps on to a IT bandwagon.)
To refine and fine tune the system changes must be made from the admission stage itself. A question that lingers in most of engineering students mind (like myself) is that if majority of palcements and job offers are only for IT and ITES sectors, what is relevance of pursuing traditional non-IT branches like Mechanical, Civil, Electrical etc. Institutions must streamline their admission numbers and focus more on diversifying their career oppurtunities. The emphasis must be more on quality and diversity, rather than quantity and universality.
Engineering syllabus must be made to suit the needs of the present day demands and not based on text books written decades ago. Some of the changes I suggest are summed up below.
  • Case study based approach, periodic practical exposure( like the five year sandwitch courses offered by PSG Coimbature), compulsory industrial internship etc. must be incorporated into the mainstream syllabus.
  • The choice of subjects can also be based on individual discretion. ( in the present scenario electives are offered in the final year). With the excercise of self discretion the students volunteer to learn more, rather than confining to the syallbus alone.
  • Mini projects and teaching assiatanships must also be made a part the curriculum.
  • Emphasis on attendance must be done away with. (imgine college students waiting outside Director's office with leave letters or worst with parents for leave sanctions.)
  • College students are responsible adults and it is up to them either to study or not to study. Spoon feeding and coercive tactics is not going to churn out qualified engineers. ( there are colleges in TN where it is a heinious crime for the opposite gender to interact!! They even have seperate staircases for men and women. Reason: It spoils the pristine learning atmosphere in the campus.)
  • Since enginners have all time in the world to kill (out of my personal experience) the education can focus on dual majors. ( with fundamendal science or humanities) This is very musch in practice in US universities, where you can two concentrations say for e.g. John Nash ( dramatised in the movie A Beautiful Mind ) actually majored in Chemical Engineering and Economics. He later went on to win the Nobel prize in Economics!
  • In this way the analytical skills of engineers can be coupled to the fundmendals reasoning of science, or humanist approach of arts. Carrer prospects and diversification is also possible through this.( only BITS offered this dual makor programme in India)
  • The objective of learning must shift from securing grades or percentages to that of understanding the engineering problems. Segmented approach to problems would not help. eg. A lot engineering mechanics problems can be solved by vector claculus approach which is thougt in two different subjects, but never applied together. ( even in the final year I find students traumatised by engineering mathematics, with the idea that maths is no way connected to engineering at all!! They can hardly distinguish between a partial derivative equation and an ordinary differential equations!)
( To be countinued....)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Reservation Ruckus (countinues..)

As mentioned in my previous article, the reservation in present form is a futile exercises of social mis-engineering. At the cost of affirmative action, we are creating a dangerously polarised society. In the long run, a resurgent form of reverse discrimination would be created.
Some of my proposals for a more inclusive reservation package is as follows:
  • Incorporate a clause of creamy layer in the process of identifying the backward masses.
  • Give more importance to economic backwardness parameters.
  • Provision of a slew of financial and non-financial incentives to students of backward community pursuing higher education in Universities and colleges.
  • Private institutions and corporates have a major role in enacting this provision. Taxation benefits, recognition etc. must be based on how good the private entities voluntarily implement the principles of affirmative action.
  • Prune up the school education system to meet the standards of the university system. Give preference to students from rural and public schools students.
  • Gender and disability must be taken into account in the reservation package.
  • Avoid granting reservations for post graduations and doctorates. (Once an individual has benefited from reservation, the individual is on a equal footing with other candidates of his batch. There is no point in extending reservation even for Ph.Ds and promotions.)
  • Appoint a statuary commission to oversee the affirmative action programme and its implementation. Sample surveys must be executed periodically to assess the economic and social status of the caste groups.

Now that we have seen the proposals, how do we go about in implementing them? Certainly caste based labelling of backwardness wouldn't augur well for the country in the long run. Instead we can define it on a fuzzy scale of Most Eligible ,Eligible and Casually Eligible for Affirmative Action. (backwardness has a negative connotation.)

Eligibilty points can be computed , say for a score of 100. An example of a spilt up is shown below, ( can be tailor made to suit the needs of the state)

  1. Caste (max 40 points) (40-SC/ST, 30-MBC, 20-OBC)
  2. Type of schooling( 20 points) ( 20- Govt schools, native medium, 15- Govt. Schools- english medium, 10- Rural private schools)
  3. Geographical backwardness ( 10 points) (based on HDI reports)
  4. Social inequalities.( 20 points) (gender, girls given more preference, physically challenged)
  5. Economic Backwardness (10 points)

To be countinued....

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Reservation Ruckus

We all witnessed the hue and cry raised in the aftermath of the government decision to implement OBC reservation in Higher education institutions. We often hear only the two extremist sides of the arguements.
Pro-reservation lobby argueing for set coreccting the historical injustices, while theanti-reservation group crying foul over moves to stultify merit.
One can label one group as good or other as bad. The indelible truth is that the problem is ugly. It is a matter of shame that even afer six decades of independence, more people are classified as backward?
In our country like India, how do you define backwardness? In economic or social perspective ,should one be judged as forward or backward? The Mandal Report primarily focussed on social parameters for ennumeration of backward masses. There comes the crux of the problem.
Often birth alone doesn't warrant a need for reservation. We got Presidents and Chief Justices from the downtrodden community ,with the help of course reservation. But what is the rationale of extenting reservation to their wards ? In a way we trying to perpetuate castiest society for the mere sake of enjoying fruits of reservation? In one NDTV television programme, I was shocked to see a Chief Secretary, evidently from a scheduled caste, argue for reservations for his wards and generations to come. His arguement solely rested on the fact merit was purchased by the rich and the upper caste, and that reservation was the only panacea for eradicating the historical social imbalances. If a Chief Secretary of a state feels backward, then who else in this country are forward?
Reservation withouth the exclusion of creamy layer is a futile excercise. It only leads to a kind or reverse discrimination, whrein the oppresed reinfoce their stranglehold over their former oppressors. To make it more inclusive more people must be brought under the ambit of the prescribed quota limits . Economic criterion must be incorporated into the reservation system.Even minority instituions must be made to comply with the reponsibilities of affirmative action. Gradually sample surveys must be carried out periodically to monitor the socio-economic status of the backward masses. If found necesary the paricular caste may be elevated to the forward status.
I shall discuss the steps to be taken on this issue in my next article.

Trivia Part II

Here is another set of trivia.
  • How many Presidents has Tamil Nadu produced?

The answer is three. ( Dr. Radhakrishnan, R. Venkatraman and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. However if the list includes Rajagopalachari, the erst while Governor-General, the answer is four. The highest for any state in India.)

  • Whom did Karunanidhi mockingly reffered to, as the 'Mahavishus of Mount Road'?

The Kasturi family of The Hindu. (apparently they belong to the Iyengar clan).

  • We are quite familiar with the name C N Annadurai? What does the initials stand for?

C is for Conjeevaram, the Anglican name of present day Kanchipuram and N denotes Natarajan, his father. (some other Anglican name includes Tanjore, Trichinopoly, Ooty(which is still in use), Tinellvelly, Ramand and more famous of them of all, Madras).

  • What is common to Sir C V Raman, Dr. Radhakrishnan and C Rajagopalachari?

They were the first recepient of the Bharat Ratna awrds in 1954. ( by coincidence all three had a Tamil origin. It happened once again in 1998, when Abdul Kalam and M Subbulaksmi were given the Bharat Ratna)

  • Who is popularly refered to as the Southern Gandhi?

It is none other than Kamaraj. ( When he died he had less than hundred rupees and a government house to stay).

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Trivia of Tamil Nadu politics

Perhaps the best phrase to describe Tamil politics is ' Caste, Cine Stars and Cut Outs'. ( the title of the book by Vaasanthi of India Today). Sycophancy is so ingrained in the system that nothing is true in TN politics as it appears. (Height of flowery language: an MDMK rebel cited Karunanathi as the 'light house' guiding the political cast aways like him, in a Madras port centenary function )
The greedy and ulterior motives of the leaders(parties jumping from one alliance bandwagon to the other, puppet chief ministers, self-immolations, uniform Dravidian Ideology) in overt public display, has greatly demoralised the Tamil intelligensia. This sordid state of affairs has led to the elite classes relegating the Tamil politics to the racist stereoytypes.
In spite of the perils that plagues the system, the romance of the Congress-Dravidian era rule cannot be ignored. To experience the romanticism of Tamil politics , I suggest folks to refer two things,
[1] Watch the movie Iruvar (by mani Rathnam)
[2] Read the book by Vaasanthi as mentioned previously.
It is rather intriguing to note that many key players of TN politics are not born Tamils. So I have decided to write a series of articles on TN politics. We start off, with a trivia on leaders of TN( rather the thalaivars of TN)

The Trivia:
  • Which Sri Lankan born Malayalee became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu?

Its MGR or Marudhur Gopalamenon Ramachandran. Marudhur being a village near Jaffna in Sri Lanka.

  • Who was the Chief minister of TN at the time of Independence?

Its an obscure figure. O M Ramasamy Reddiar( a Telugu speaking CM) Note: TN was then encompassed in the Presidency of Madras, which covered the four states of south India)

  • Who is the first lady CM of TN?

No it is not Jayalalitha. Rather it was the widow of MGR, Mrs. Janaki Ramachandran. ( who served for about six months, before being toppled by Jayalalitha )

  • Who wrote a letter to Mohammed Jinnah seeking his support for a seperatist state of Dravida Nadu?

It is none other than our very own Periyar ( E V Ramasamy Naiker- a Kannada speaking Tamil from Erode). As to the proposal Jinnah politely replied that the issue was of least botheration to him.

  • Which CM Of Madras Presidency, was also once the Governor General of India and Governor of Bengal Province?

C Rajagopalachari. ( Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the present Governor of West Bengal is the grand son of Rajagoplachari and the Gandhi family ( not the popular Nehru-Gandhi, rather the Mahatma Gandhi family).

To be continued........

Saturday, February 17, 2007

MS -The Carnatic Queen

Perhaps on the very mention of the word MS, the thing that crop up in our mind is that of a degree abroad. Being a college student we are accustomed to this more popular perception of MS. In music afficanado circles, it refers to M Subbulaksmi, the perhaps one of the greatest of Carnatic maestros.
There used to exist a club called the None Such Reader's Club at SASTRA (under the aegis of the redoubtable Prof. K. G. Seshadri ). Sadly now it has ceased to exist. ( the reasons are obvious, poor patronage of course. Hardly a dozen turn up at the club meets). In honour of the memory of the club, I had prepared a draft book review based on the popular biography of MS by T.P.J. George( of the Indian Express). I reproduce the text below.

Dedicated in memory of the None Such Club

MS-A Life in Music

There is a popular adage that music transcends all barriers. MS Subbulakshmi’s music is the finest illustration of this statement. The persona of MS has more to it than just her music. Her mellifluous voice, mastery over Carnatic music, command over the intricate diction of Sanskrit and Tamil music, unflinching devotion to bhakti and above all a sense of unparallel humanism, has conquered the hearts and minds of millions, not only in India, but across the world.

Her biography by T.J.S.George, a freelance journalist and author, based in Bangalore, captures the essence of her music and life. His book entitled ‘MS-A life in Music’ not only throws light on the life and times of MS Subbulakshmi, but traces the origin of Classical art form in South India, starting from the era of ‘devadasi’ with emphasis on both music and dance. He concentrates more on the evolution of the modern Carnatic music and the influence of technological innovations like cinema and gramophone in shaping the art forms. The book incorporates subtle references to the dominating influence of MS Subbulakshmi’s husband Sadasivam. The author adopts a true scholarly outlook by delegating the judgment of Sadasivam’s character to the readers themselves, instead of taking a one sided stance. He presents to us a microcosm of the incipient Tamil film industry of the pre-independence era and finally concludes with essays on the unique blend of bhakti music drawing inspirations from the North and the South of our country.

For most of the younger generation today perceive that Carnatic music to be centuries old with a strict static nature that renders it impervious to any adaptations. But in reality Carnatic music is just about two hundred years old and the fact is, it mutates time and again to suit the needs and taste of the people. It took its roots only during the British colonization of most parts of South India. In fact even the term the ‘Carnatic’ is a corrupt connotation popularized by the colonial powers in India. In general it initially refers to people of Karnatak (or Canara), but later on it assumed a pan-south conglomeration after the events of Carnatic Wars and the dynasty of the Nawabs of Carnatic(actually based in Arcot in northern Tamil Nadu).

It was Purandara Dasa, belonging to the period of Vijaynagar Empire of the fifteenth century, who laid the foundation to the modern science of Carnatic music comprising of raga, taal and sruti. The emphasis was more on the rhythm and its technicalities. The music that was evolved was rich but too complicated to appeal the masses. This was the primary drawback for Carnatic music failure to appeal artists transcending caste hierarchies. The invasion of the Muslim kingdoms of the Mughal era pushed this developing music to temporary oblivion. However even in these bleak times the traditional music belong to bhakti cult of Saivism, Vaishnavaism etc, flourished in Tamil kingdoms primarily due religious patronage and mass appeal. Also language played a pivotal role in popularizing the appeal of music, as people of the South preferred their native Dravidian tongue to alien Sanskrit. The lessons learnt during this period of temporary oblivion was vital to resuscitate the Carnatic music later, as it offered a valuable lesson that to sustain, the music must adapt constantly to changing milieu.

The much needed fillip to the Carnatic music occurred in later half of the eighteenth century due to the untiring efforts of the Divine Trinity of Thiagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Shyama Sastri. By strange coincidence all three founding Fathers of Carnatic music belonged to the same village of Thiruvaiyaru near Thajavur.
Thiruvaiyaru is aptly referred to as the birth place of Carnatic music and even today an annual festival is organized in the month of January every year to commemorate the birth anniversary of Saint Thiagaraja. The Carnatic music they proposed had Sanskrit and Telugu compositions as its inspirational core. This was partly due to the fact that the ruling Nayaks were Telugu and the court language was also the same. But the influence of Tamil isai (or music) to Carnatic music was brought about only later. This kind resurgent regionalism demanding incorporation of native language was partly aimed to defy the Brahmin hegemony and also to give it a mass appeal by cashing on the nationalist fervor of that time. Ultimately the Tamil isai enthusiasts had there say and gradually even Malayalam started making inroads into the Carnatic music. After acquiring a pan-south identity time was ripe for Carnatic music to grow leaps and bounds.

Befitting the pan-south reach of Carnatic music, Madras, the capital of British administered Presidency, became the capital city of Carnatic music. The establishment of the Madras Music Academy catapulted the Brahmin ghetto of Mylapore to the status of a kind of ‘Vatican Council’ of Carnatic music. Overnight Brahmins became the custodian of the music. An approval of the Brahmin ‘popes’ of Mylapore shabahs became quintessential for any musician even to pursue Carnatic music, let alone shine in that field. How did the guardianship of Carnatic music fell into the sole discretion of the Brahmins? Was is it entrusted to them or was it hijacked by the community to fortify its hegemonic social order? The history behind social patronage to arts is certainly an interesting one worth mentioning here.

Kanchi Achariya once remarked that the sole purpose of existence of Brahmin community was to preserve, protect and interpret Vedas for benefit of mankind. Indeed the social order that prevailed for centuries, as dictated the tenets of Varna Dharma, confined Brahmins to sole purpose of addressing the spiritual needs of the society. In the medieval times the art form, especially music and dance, was patronized by women community collectively represented as devadasis (meaning-women in the service of God). The Royal houses of the South India sustained these devadasi communities by extending grants to the temples to which these women were ordained. But the social system was to fragile to last in that way. In course of time expansionist and colonial powers made in roads into the south. In course of time the very sanctity of devadasis was debauched. The winds of change forced the devadasi community to adopt art as a means of survival. The sense of vacuum caused by the now defiled devadasi community was conveniently filled up by the Brahmin community.

The entry of Brahmins in art and music breathed a fresh lease of life to it. No longer was music considered a pastime of the defiled class. Every Brahmin family now perused music with vigour and in course of time a generation of new talents (read Brahmin talents) emerged into picture. Oddly even in modern times (pre-independence British rule) devadasis enjoyed a considerable degree of respect. An interesting anecdote which is quoted in the book is how once a prominent devadasi musician once declared in the august assembly at Thiruvaiyaru music festival that she was a Thevar-adiyal (meaning servant of God). Since this word cognates with the word Thevadiyal (meaning a prostitute), it caused a sense of bewilderment and amusement among the audience.

But the prospect of double discrimination, both gender-based and caste-based, was always looming large on the community. It is rather surprising to note that Subbulaksmi’s mother Shanmughavadivu herself belonged to the devadasi community. Usually devadasis trace their lineage through maternal lines alone. The father figure usually remains anonymous or known only in close circles. Another social machination of the hegemonic Brahminism culture was that a Brahmin was ennobled to wed a devadasi, in addition to his legal wife, under the pretext of benevolence and social support. This arrangement was also a blatant reflection of male dominated society’s selfish arrangement of convenience. The system provided relief to devadasis as it offered dignity and partial social acceptance. In course of time many legislative acts were passed in abolition of the devadasi system and even the very name of the caste devadasi was re-christened as Isai Vellalar (those who practice music) in Tamil Nadu during the Dravidian party rule. In course of time, the Devadasis became the footnote inn the history of art and culture.

The nuances of Carnatic music, developed over the years, are certainly interesting to read. In earlier times the a typical musical session would go on for hours together at night, with each singer and instrument artist taking turns to render their skills. It was the scholarly Muthuswamy Dikshitar who encouraged innovations in Carnatic music. He and his brother learnt to play violin under the tutelage of a British instructor at Madras (then a settlement known as Fort St George). Soon the violin became a staple of Carnatic music as miridangam. Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyer, aptly crowned the Rajah of Carnatic Music, pioneered the modern kutcheri format. He developed a new three tier format of kutcheri that includes a varnam, pallavi and mangalam. The varnam set the tempo for the evening kutcheri, followed by the Ragam-thanam-pallavi (RTP in popular parlance) wherein the artist manodharma is put to the test. The rendition of the final segment provides a soothing and benedictory valediction.

Technological innovations have also contributed to the spectacular reach of Carnatic music. The first Gramophone company, His Master’s Voice (HMV), was established way back in 1910 in Calcutta. The necessity of recording companies to supply to the emerging markets forced them to scout for new talents across the region. Radio arrived a decade after the Gramophones, although they were managed by amateur clubs. The British administered monopoly station All India Radio was established in 1936 at Madras and Trichy in the south. But one important aspect that was incorporated to Carnatic music as the result of radio and gramophone was brevity.

The three minutes recording time of typical 10 inch shellac disc gramophone and the AIR decree restricting a kutcheri to a two hour format became the norm. Carnatic music grudgingly had to come to terms with brevity. The tinsel town Talkies also left their indelible mark on the music form. Since the song had to be sung while the camera rolled, Carnatic artists and musicians made a bee line to the incipient movie industry. Even MS followed the same path to attain stardom. Artists like G. N. Balasubramanaim, S.G.Kittappa, F.G. Natesa Iyer and many others came up only through cinema. Perhaps the greatest star among all them is undoubtedly M. K. Thiagaraja Bhagavadhar, who still venerated as the first super star of Tamil cinema.

MS Subbulaksmi was born out of two mothers, Madurai city and Shanmughavadivu, both symbolizing the fundamental ethos of Tamil culture. Madurai city was then, like centuries preceding it, dominated by the temple of Meenakshi Sundaraeser. The family of Shanmughavadivu, like thousands of others, identified themselves with the sound, smell and heartbeat of the crowded and bustling Temple town streets. Life at their two room house at West Tower street alleyway was dictated by the mother. In the absence of a father figure she attended the needs of the children alone. People speculate that MS father could be Madurai Pushpavanam Iyer, the eccentric yet proficient Carnatic maestro, or it could be the eminent lawyer Subramania Iyer. Either of men mattered little for the family, as the absence of a ‘man of a house’ was never an issue. MS had two other siblings, one being an elder brother Shaktivel and a younger sister Vadivambal. They led a simple life devoid of any creature comforts. MS school education was discontinued after class five, for she feared teacher’s cruelty. Only the son Shaktivel persisted and obtained a college degree later on. Curiously among the three siblings only MS had a nickname of Kunjamma which was to persist through out her life.

MS proclivity towards music was noticed at a very young age. Her mother encouraged her to accompany her veena concerts. She was tutored by mother initially followed by professional instructions by eminent musicians of the city. For MS, Carnatic music was an intuitive gift rather than an acquired skill. She went on to orchestrate her first stage performance at the age of ten for the opening of a cycle shop, which later emerged as the auto conglomerate giant TVS. Her performance was recorded by a gramophone company under the title ‘Song by Miss Madurai Shanmughavadivu Subbulakshmi Age 10’. The tag MSS was an instant hit among the audience. In course of time the extra S was dispensed with, labeling her with the popular acronym MS.
The success of her debut album firmly positioned here on the trajectory of success. At the age of 15, she went on to stage at the prestigious festival of Mahamaham in Kumbakonam. It was here that her destiny had a strange twist from that of a Carnatic artist to that of a tinsel world actor. The Mahamaham was organized under the illustrious lawyer and cine-producer K. Subramaniam. It was his wife S.D. Subbulakshmi, also a friend of Shanmughavadivu, who recommended a performance slot for MS. Reluctantly he agreed to it. But to his surprise the audience were so enthralled by the MS’ music, that a second slot was given to her, to satiate the musical appetite of the music. Later on Subramaniam even offered MS a role in his latest movie Sevasadanam. Her destiny in the following decade of her life was strangely nurtured in the world of cinema.
Having won the approval of music aficionados of Thanjavur-Kumbakonam, time was ripe for the family to move on to Madras. The hero of the book, Sadasivam, enters the picture, at this stage of MS’s life. The author also throws light on the biography of Sadasivam, especially his turbulent early years. He was born in the family of Thiagaraja Iyer of Triplicane, as the second among the sixteen siblings. His restless pursuits and wild temper rendered his school education incomplete. He was at one time associated with the extremist elements of freedom struggle, thereby inviting arrests and payment of fines. During his formative years in Trichy, he often sneak into the Hostel of the National College (which exist even today) to evade police authorities. Having become disillusioned with the cowardly and meek behaviour of the extremists, he switched his loyalty to Gandhian principles of non-violence and ahimsa. It was under the backdrop of the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1920, that Sadasivam came under the influence of C. Rajagopalachari, the prominent Congress leader at that time. Soon enough Rajagopalachari became a kind of mentor, counsellor and more importantly a father figure to Sadasivam. But Sadasivam found his true ‘vocation’ in the field of the journalism. His job was not that of a journalist at Anada Vikaten rather it was a managerial one. It was here that his association with popular novelist and writer Kalki Krishnamurthy began and lasted through their life span. The fact that one of Sadasivam’s daughters was married to Kalki’s son is a solemn testimony to the bond between these men.

It was Sadasivam’s journalistic credentials that made him acquainted with the movers and shakers of the Madras society. He took personal interest in review of cinema and music. It was with regards to his editorial assignments that he first came acquainted with MS. The undeniable fact is that he fell for her on the first sight. This happened in spite of the fact that he was already married with a young daughter at that time. Even MS fell instinctively dependent on older and experienced Sadasivam, for she was in a helpless uncharted world of cinema. The pressure from her mother to get married to a wealthy Chettiar, reinforced her conviction to escape from the clutches of her mother.

What followed was a drama of epic proportions. No accurate version of events could be obtained, as Sadasivam made sure all facts were obfuscated to his advantage. The author renders the version of S.D. Subbulakshmi who recounted the events to him, when she was in her mid- eighties. The Madurai group headed by brother Shaktivel and MS’s mother, in sheer desperation tried to kidnap MS from Madras. Sadasivam, getting wind of the plot, rescued MS from them in true cinematic style, with the help of police. Sadasivam even went to the extent of sheltering her in his own house, with little regards to accommodate the sentiments of his wife. Having lost MS forever, her mother and family reconciled to city of Madurai. Shanmughavadivu lived alone and died alone, of cancer, in utter remorse and regret. The shooting of Sevasadanam began, and Sadasivam rendered himself as the full time assistant of MS. His overt relationship with MS, about half his own age, drew ire from the circle of family and friends. But Sadasivam brushed aside these arguments with utter disregard. Patiently his wife, Apitha, endured the changes around her, turning a deaf ear to rumours of an affair between her husband and MS. Two years on, with persistent bouts of depression, she died in her native town, in which the coup de grace was rumoured to be self-inflicted.
MS started working on her first film in the year 1936. Throughout the next decade she was undoubtedly the leading star in the Tamil, on par with the established leading film actors like S.D. Subbulaksmi and K.P. Sunderambal. Strangely she acted in a total of five films spanning the entire decade. With every film being a super hit, that was enough to propel her to the status of a national celebrity. Her film career was meticulously script written by Sadasivam. It was after her second film Shakuntalai, that they married, making the rendering MS under the full authority of Sadasivam. The roles she portrayed on the movies were multifarious, ranging from a young widow to divine characters like Meera and Savitri. Although on camera her acting was deadpan, emphasis on those days was on the ability to sing and captivate the audience. MS enthralled the audience by her mellifluous songs, which includes collections like Brukee Mukunde, Kaatriniyalae, that are mistakenly assumed today to be a part of Carnatic kritis.

Her foray into the movie world was also not free from rumours and controversies. Oddly three of her films were directed by an American director Ellis R. Dungan. It is hard to imagine today that an American, who hardly knew the language, could direct a movie in Tamil. Her on and off screen romance with G.N. Balasubramaniam, was rumoured to incite the jealousy of Sadasivam towards MS. Even their marriage was a secretive and a hurried affair in 1940, with a few of Sadasivam’s friends attending it. The letters written by MS to GNB, as revealed by the author in the book, during that time, showed that there is some element of truth in the rumours that were agog at that time. Sadasivam in his life time made sure only that his version of history is perpetuated. Sadly the truth would never emerge about the circumstances of MS’s marriage to Sadasivam.

MS’s last film Meera was a phenomenal success in both its Tamil and Hindi version. Critics often consider this film to be MS’s magnum opus. The film transformed the lives of the couple in many ways. Sadasivam decided unilaterally that it was time for MS to quit movie once and for all. He felt that the enduring image of Meera was apt to start the next leg of her career as a bhakti proponent. With the status of a national celebrity, Sadasivam’s political mentor Rajagopalachari utilized her musical genius for national cause. MS was prominent in all Congress party funding concerts. Even MS became more involved in bhakti music, transcending regional and linguistic denominations. Encomiums poured in from mighty leaders of that time including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. It said that the Mountbattens even had a special premiere of the movie Meera, just before their departure. The patronage by the powerful lobby of Mylapore Brahmin network, with the list including T.T.Krishnamachari, Venkatraman, the Kasturi’s of The Hindu, C.V. Narasimhan, Dr. Radhakrishnan and many others, MS status as the grand ambassador of Carnatic music was firmly enshrined in the era of independent India. She even represented India in the United Nations concert in 1966, which was her greatest international musical coup. Her international music accomplishment includes performances at the Carnegie Hall, Edinburgh Music Festival, the Indo-Soviet Festival and many others. But such fame and power made no difference to Kunjamma who devoted her entire life to two things, one being her husband and the other is her music.

Did power bring the necessary social acceptance? It certainly did, but it took time to be bestowed upon the couple. The features in sordid gossip columns and tabloid journalism, about the couple gradually faded away, with the emergence of new genre of cinema with underlying Dravidianism theme. Even when they met Kanchi Archariya for the first time, he refused to bless the couple, for MS had taken up the attire of a typical Brahmin lady in a madisar, a nine-yard saree with ‘pallu’ pulled across the waist in the front. But Sadasivam employed all means like that of cinema, music, religion, charity and political connections to ensure complete ‘Iyerisation’ of MS. In course of time people often judge mistakenly MS to be a default Brahmin, mislead by her way of clothing and mannerism.

One can categorize MS life into three distinct segments, first one under the guidance of her mother, second being the movie world and third of that of a nationally renowned Carnatic genius. In these three segments one can perceive a picture of her progression towards spiritual and artistic enlightenment. She was widely popular for her fund raiser concerts, for organizations ranging from the Adyar Cancer Institute to VHP. But what distinguishes MS from other Carnatic artistes of independent India, was the infusion of a sense of Bhakti into the music. While contemporary Carnatic artiste like M.L. Vasantha Kumari and D.K. Pattamaal were equally talented, they lacked the appeal and reach that MS enjoyed with audience through out the country. The Suprabhatam and Vishnu Sarasnams of MS were the manifestations of the resurgent Bhakti music that the audiences were longing for. When MS sang Rajaji’s hymn ‘Kurai onrum illai’ it sent out a powerful message of the self realization that she had achieved. In short MS became the very embodiment of bhakti.

Sadasivam was also equally responsible for the phenomenal success of MS. Their civil partnership was rumoured to be platonic for they had no kids on their own. MS considered Sadasivam’s daughters, Radha and Vijaya, as her own. She wouldn’t tolerate labeling them as her step-daughter. The elder daughter Radha became the supporting voice in later part of MS’s career. In all Sadasivam was the man behind MS, dictating every moves of her, ranging from concert finances to handling interview sessions. He accompanied her in all the concerts through out the span of five decades. The wealth accumulated by the success of MS career, helped Sadasivam to pursue his other passion, politics. Rajaji, his mentor, depended heavily on Sadasivam to run his Swantantra party. Sadasivam even went to the extent of providing his palatial mansion, Kalki Gardens, to the political cause of Rajaji. His journalistic endeavours included the magazine Kalki in association with his friend Krishnamurthy. However by late seventies the magazine, faced by dwindling circulation and stereotyped journalism, was forced to shut down. Sadasivam was accused on the personal front for failing to maintain the company. His capricious response was reminiscent of his youthful impulsive behaviour. He went to the extent of selling his Kalki Gardens to pay the employees twice their dues. It was only later that the magazine was revived under the auspices of his son-in-law and Kalki’s son Rajendran.

All great stories must come to an end. For MS, this end came with the demise of her husband Sadasivam, at the grand age of ninety five. MS, who was then around eighty two, was absolutely shattered by the loss. She refused perform in the public from then on. In fact by the time the author T.J.S George, started working on her biographical project, her senses faded completely for she was not in a position to recollect any events. Awards heaped on her, yet she was rarely attached to them. The concluding glory came in 2002, when she was presented with the Bharat Ratna along with Abdul Kaalam, the current President of our country. Surprisingly her death was not mentioned in the book, although she passed away in 2005, when the book was still under editing stage. Symbolically the author suggests that aura of MS will continue to live forever. In the end, MS the Carnatic maestro would have to be measured in terms of M. Subbulaksmi, the person.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tabula Rasa

To blog or not to blog, was a question that bothered me persistantly. I was an avid blogger before( when i was in my first and second year of my collge) and some how suddenly I stopped blogging. (for no good reasons). instead i began other stuff produced by my fellow blogger. ( a bit selfish perhaps)
now that i have relogged in as a new Google user of course , I made a promise to publish regularly. I firm believe that blog sites like these are a kind cathartic( oops GRE effect) channels for introverts like me. Also the good news is that many in my college have started to hook up to blogging. Good to note that .
Adieus amigo.