Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Thursday, August 18, 2011

They Knew All About Us, But We Know Nothing About Them

Every time I return home on a vacation, I always have an opportunity to meet this interesting person called Dr. Oliver Noone. Ever since our last couple of meetings, there has been a nudging feeling in my heart to write about this outstanding person and his marvellous work on the history of Malabar. I have known Dr. Noone since I was a child. I was introduced to him by my father who was a dear friend of his father. Personally, there are many instances that connect us – some loose, some tight - but of late what draws both of us close is our common interest in maritime history and the deep-rooted urge to understand our past, know our present and attempt to foresee our future. Born in the beautifully landscaped district of Palghat – also known as the granary of Kerala – Dr. Noone is primarily a physician with special interest in Chest Diseases. His professional career had taken him to the United Kingdom almost three decades ago and there he got a chance to delve into the beginnings of the mighty British Empire and give colour to his personal passion of understanding the history of Malabar. His keen sense of detail and his physician’s eye has enabled him to touch bottom in his quest into the vast, dark and deep historic past of the British Empire and bring up to the surface a few precious souvenirs and hitherto unheard of materials that are sure to interest a military mind and the seafarer-war farer, not to speak of the spectacular opportunity that these materials would provide to the students of the history of Malabar.

Chatting with him is a pleasant and enjoyable feat as he took me smoothly into the essence of complex ‘geo-political decisions’ that the Europeans took centuries ago that sealed the fate of our nation. While it is most appropriate to listen to Dr. Noone’s interesting presentation on a wide variety of subjects and his discussions based on authentic references, my attempt here is to bring to the reader a gist of his work and to place pointers down memory lane and make the reader think of the need to understand the past in order to figure out the future.

We all know a little bit of the origins of the British Empire essentially tutored unto us by the numerous text books that we were expected to study during our days in school and for some of us through college. Some of us may have chosen to pick up understanding modern Indian history as a source of bread and butter and may have gone to become ‘subject-experts’ with scores of pages of research and hard work behind them.

Well, how many of us have really thought about the origins and reason for existence of the magnificent old English buildings that now-a-days almost everywhere houses government offices or allied services? How many of us would care to think about why the Germans built the Commonwealth Factory right in the centre of the Calicut city? Why did ‘Maamankam’ only happen on the banks of the Nila at Tirunaavaya and not on the fine sands of the beach at Calicut, the headquarters of the Zamorin? Why is it that three-fourths of the city of Bangalore is filled with buildings built with colonial British architecture which today mostly houses the Armed Forces? How did the British manage to build them there which once were under the strong clutches of the Tiger called Tipu Sultan? How and when did the British, which, once upon a time held only a meagre share of power when compared to the Mahrattas, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Mysoreans, the Rajputs, and the Sikhs become the unquestioned rulers of India? How did a small, impoverished, resource-less island in the periphery of Europe, on the edge of Atlantic, come to rule over the world with the epitaph “An Empire where the Sun does not set” attached to it? How did that island nation with limited manpower build so powerfully engineered and superbly seaworthy ships and construct awe-inspiring buildings all over the globe wherever they left their footprints? How did such a small country control major military campaigns so successfully and simultaneously in different parts of the world? How did their communications network work that even beats the most modern telecommunications systems of today?

Interesting questions – all of them. Many evenings spent with Dr. Noone made the legendary tube light flicker inside my mind and made me think. The more I thought the more intriguing it got. The more questions I asked to myself and sought answers, the more exciting it got. The revelations were astonishing and incredible. The facts that have been recorded and treasured in the long lines of bookshelves in one of the most respected libraries in the world opened up a ‘Pandora’s Box’ that were full of surprises and actual facts. Why is a successful medical specialist very much interested in unravelling the unknown records of our past? It did not take much time for the doctor to confess that it was some of the stories that he had heard from his aunty, Mrs Alice Absalom, which prompted him to make this time-consuming attempt when chance provided him with the opportunity and the ways and means.

The history of the British Empire goes way back into the early days of the formation of the Americas which were set-up by them as penal colonies for settling the wrong-doers. Where did the wrong-doers originate? They were those brethren of the English blood that opposed slave trade and forced labour – which the British specialised in along with other European nations of that time – and those who resisted the move of the British to annex Scotland, Wales and Ireland to recruit manpower to man the Army and the Navy and die for Britain and to work in the numerous plantations of Scotland, Ireland and Wales while the aristocracy lavished in the comforts of their castles and palaces in the secure confines of Britain and Europe. The rest were made up of slaves from the Dark Continent and elsewhere who were transported and held captive for labour. The Steven Spielberg classic “Amistad” provides in vivid detail the intensity of the various aspects of slave trade that the British and the whole of Europe had mastered. Human trafficking was one of the most profitable businesses of those days and any modern firm of today that boasts of centuries-old traditions would definitely have some strings attached to their history that would link them to this profitable trade. While the British allowed a moderately free administration in the Americas they introduced their trademark systems of education, law and general administration in that country. This marginal freedom proved detrimental to their control of that country in the decisive American Civil War that put an end to slavery in that region and the British were left hapless and lost. The English pride was hurt severely and the English society at large considered that an Empire was lost.

While the expeditions of the British mercantile community to the East was mostly to plunder the wealth of the East, their excesses in the West in the Americas was to extend their Empire and land holdings. It is interesting to note that while they allowed a moderately free administrative setup in the Americas, they were experimenting on a colonial model in the West Indies simultaneously. Upto the point in time when Lord Warren Hastings was the Governor-General of India, the British interests in India were purely that of merchandising and plunder and was not entirely aimed at colonising India. It was the loss of America that forced them to look at India as a potential breeding ground – and a very successful one – for colonialism. It was based on this realisation that certain policy decisions were taken to direct all energies to make India a substitute for the lost Empire in the American Civil War. This fact is cleverly kept under wraps in most history books – the most popular of the ones that people with an interest in this subject read in the beginning are authored by English authors – the English names and fervent reviews that praise such books blind us completely and we fall for the traps.

The decision to colonise India and the decision to make a major shift in the policy towards India was in the hands of two extremely smart and crafty British lawyers named Dundas and Pitt – for the mariner: it’s the same Dundas after whom ‘Dundas Point’ at the entry into Port Blair harbour is named. While modern English professors of history would rubbish the colonisation of India as a “Casual Decision at Lunch”, records that are available speak of a different story. The issue was debated, discussed and formally approved by the Royalty of that time as regards the political policy to be adopted, the form of governance to be adopted, the administrative policy to be adopted, the laws to be enacted and the military policy to be adopted for regaining a lost empire in India. It was a well-meditated decision. The experience in the Americas and the success in the West-Indies had enabled the British to perfect the drills to be performed in each aspect with surgical precision. Detailed reports that had been despatched since the first ever visit on Indian shores of a British sailor had been carefully analysed, conclusions drawn and tactics refined to match the kind of political and military resistance that were expected. Generous sprinklings of intelligence agents in the various ranks of the military and mercantile agencies of the British Royalty provided the vital link between the policy makers operating from their base in England, the Royalty and their representatives in India. These agents were masked as writers – some well renowned names too figure in the list, military officers, civilians and businessmen. The appointment of Lord Cornwallis as a replacement of Hastings as the Governor General was a strategic and political decision. Cornwallis was commissioned with the task of re-structuring and re-building the lost pride of the English Royalty at the hands of the Americans.

The military might of the British Empire and the beginnings of some of the popular Regiments of that time is very well documented. But an ardent military mind would be surprised to hear that many a Regiment had been setup with forced labour and severe punishments meted out to fellow whites – the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh -who formed the different layers of the officer cadres, while the bottom of the pyramid was stuffed with ordinary people called sepoys. Some of these Regiments that were raised solely for re-establishing the lost empire have outlived their primary aims and amalgamated into modern India’s Armed Forces.

As is well known, it was the sea-borne empire that the Whites built first - on the West by the Spanish and on the East by the Portuguese. Coming to talk about the Naval battles, there was an important sea battle off the coast of Malabar way back in 1503 which helped in establishing European sea power on the shores of India This decisive battle was fought between an Indo-Arab fleet led by the Zamorin (Saamoothiri) of Calicut and the Portuguese fleet led by Vasco-da-Gama. The first visit of Vasco in 1498 was exploratory in nature and was more of a reccee mission. The visit of Cabral that followed gathered more vital intelligence on the operations of trade and naval activities and carried them back to Europe. The third visit of the Portuguese was deliberate and aimed at securing the seas for the King of Portugal. This decisive battle saw the Portuguese using the Column and Line-Abreast Formations and generously using broadside firepower against small ships of the Indian fleet and completely destroying them. Militarily, this battle was a technology demonstrator and the first sea-battle to be fought in a completely different format from the hitherto widely practised method of “Ram, Board and Kill”. The result was that a one-million strong nation got control of the seas of a two hundred million strong nation almost overnight. Later research has proved that the broadside cannons (called Camoe) had devastating effect on the stability of the target ships once hit. Vasco-da-Gama’s ships of 1503 had enough such cannons to provide uninterrupted volleys onto the targets.

One needs to remember that akin to the British, the Portuguese were also renowned ocean explorers and experts not only in sailing ships but also in the most attractive profession of slave trade. So, when they came in search of India, they knew all about us and they had a clear idea what they wanted from us. It is also important to note the gap in technology and seafaring expertise that these alien forces possessed in comparison to the Indian fleet of that time.

While the Battle of Plassey is widely acclaimed as the most decisive battle that brought British supremacy over India, an equally important, but cleverly down-played battle was that of Seringapatnam where the Deccan Tiger Tipu Sultan was defeated and killed. Tipu was feared by the British more than any other Ruler in India because he and his father Hyder Ali were the only geo-politically sensitive rulers that India possessed at that time. They both were aware of their capabilities and their stature in the world as a whole. They maintained respectable foreign policies and had maintained healthy trade relationships with nations despite the control of the seas by the Europeans initiated by the Portuguese in Indian waters in 1503. The British had to defeat Tipu by hook or crook. They resorted to all sorts of tactics including bribes, contracts and diplomatic assignments to neutralise the threats from equally powerful Mahrattas and the military of the Nizam of Hyderabad. A close look at the power centres of those days would tell us the disposition of their territories and how difficult it was for the British to move and maintain a formidable Infantry and Cavalry from the coasts of the West and the East and then surmount the difficult Western and Eastern Ghats to reach the foothills of Mysore and mount an attack on Tipu. Cautious as they were, they never attempted to cross over from the North-West or the North-East as these areas were held tightly by the Mahrattas and the Nizam of Hyderabad and Circars respectively. However, they succeeded in securing Guntur from the Nizam of Hyderabad.

The first success in defeating Tipu’s forces in South India came to the Western Army on the shores of the Kadalundi Puzha at Thrikkulam, near the present Tirurangadi. This battle where three Regiments of the British Army took part could be portrayed as the beginning of the end of India as an independent State. This was the end of the first phase of attacks formulated against Tipu and this defeat marked the decline and the subsequent complete end of the rule of Tipu Sultan and his dynasty.

It would indeed be interesting to listen more about the unknown battles of Malabar and to witness the scenarios been recreated with the help of excerpts from authentic documentation from the proponent of this segment of information. Each and every street in Malabar has a tale to tell and so does each and every monument that lay scattered in the vast confines of this beautiful area. The River Nila, a significant witness to many battles still flows silently in the heat of the summer, but raging maturely in the flow of the monsoons. Scores of ancient households that line the banks of this legendary river would have at least one hero to boast about. There would doubtless be unheard ballads of valour highlighting legendary stories of victory of those heroes over the Whites known probably only to the residents of those pockets and now probably long forgotten.

One temple in the erstwhile Kingdom of Travancore has left a legacy which is amazing the world. Statistically Kerala constitutes only 4% of India’s gross wealth. I leave it to you to imagine what was looted out of India from 1717 to 1947?

Over the passage of time, the relevance of our past is fast disappearing from the minds and discussions boards of our families. Our quest for the future should never make us turn a blind eye towards our past. We owe our future to the numerous heroes who gave away their present for the sake of our today. It is important to realise that our children of tomorrow should know our today and our yesterday so that they might live to be better citizens and shape-up a brighter morrow.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Journey from the Past, through the Present and into the Future - Part - 3

Stopping to ponder over the Future …

As of now, we can consider our nation as a young country. We have a very low average age for the population, which means that we are looking at modest growth prospects in the future. However, the disposition of the present, which is the breeding ground for the future seems to be rotten in moral values while rich in facilities and economic freedom. I do not believe that economic freedom alone can lead a nation to be a regional leader. Cultural and moral education and practice is a very important part of growth that societies ought to inculcate in the youth who would be torchbearers of tomorrow. Culture is not the pseudo culture that the ‘American Idol’ or the ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ cults are propogating in the nation now-a-days. We have a much richer culture from our ancient past. We ought to embrace a path that takes us deep into that culture. Making money is not success. Aiming at excellence would naturally bring success along. Excellence is when we have a deep rooted understanding of a profession of our choice and a general knowledge on everything else that would help us take wise decisions when we have an opportunity in front of us. Our decisions have to be in line with the cultural fabric of our nation. One should not make the mistake of recognizing the latest glitzy TV shows as the true image of our cultural fabric. It is not. We ought to take the time out to go out into the hearts of India – at an individual’s level, one might chose to delve deep into his / her own village and its cultural make up and then broaden oneself to higher levels. Once we realize the pulse of India through our travel and interaction with people, we would be able to touch the lives of people around us with a meaning. Then our decisions and actions would give us more satisfaction and we would derive profits out of it. Success would come automatically.

Another important thing the youth should attempt and succeed is to remove politics from centres of learning – schools, colleges and universities – entirely. There may be firm resistance to this, but it is essential to remove politics from centres of learning if we want to look at progress of some kind. Think of the numerous lives that have been ruined because of student politics. I myself have witnessed meaningless fights and relegations and wastage of precious time in campuses due to stupid political games that political parties play inside campuses. Of late, we have had incidents of teachers being man slaughtered by gun-wielding psuedo-students as well as political hooligans inside college and school campuses. We also have incidents of politicians throwing public faith to dogs to tow the line of imperialistic and ingenuine world leaders, short-selling our great nation in some way or the other under tremendous international pressure. We have also witnessed with awe the shameless roles the so-called Opposition played at various stages behind the backs of the common man to short-sell their part of the share of India's sovereignty in some form or the other understandable only by the higher bosses of power and bureaucracy. During the time of Elections, we ought to apply genuine sense to decide on who should come to power – would we want to abet some traitor who would never be seen around until the next elections come, but would eat away all the concessions and priviliges we will be providing him based on our vote or would we prefer the honour to have voted a man who stands by his principles and for progress and not bound by stupid political party mandates and who can bring some kind of change in the daily life of ordinary people.

It is not only the political setup that has to wake up from their hangover from feasting on the honey pots seized from the common man’s bounty. The Industrial leadership that covers all sectors of development – which also funds all political parties irrespective of political ideology – needs to wake up to the needs of the modern Indian. There is an important part that the Industrialists and their partnering stakeholders need to practice in our times. They ought to provide decent wages and congenial work conditions to their workers. Putting boundless pressure on individuals will not only reduce their life, but also ruin their family life. In their pursuit to meet deadlines and please their bosses, they will lose out on precious time with their family, their parents and the all round growth that societal interaction provides to them. The industrial job-providers have conveniently disregarded one good thing that the White man practices. The white man hardly works on weekends and after office hours. He values his personal time and the time he allocates with his family and for leisure with as much passion as he would devote to his time spent on work. He believes on quality time at work and quality time for personal affairs. However, the Indian private industry has conveniently put personal affairs of their workmen in the back burner. The tactic is to lure the worker with carrots and ensure that his presence in the office premises is almost round the clock. I have had opportunity to witness and make a mental assessment of the work pressure to which professionals in the IT industry are subjected to. They hardly have any kind of quality family life, let alone a sprinkling of societal togetherness. Although the office spaces have grown swanky, clean and workable, what matters at the end of the day is what takeaway other than money and skills the individual has acquired so that he could contribute meaningfully to the growth of the society and community that he belongs to and thereby to the nation. Instead of professing and practicing an individualistic growth pattern akin to that practiced in the West, these industrial sectors – where the majority of skilled manpower of our country is absorbed – can do much better to improve relationships and brotherhood among their workforce. Some industrial houses have emerged on missions to empower rural India, but many still keep their corporate social responsibility to a bare minimum or even limit them to charity and trusts which are actually a part of their own large corporate structure so that the capital and efforts that is circulated largely remains within their own areas of interest.

What remains to be done in Education is phenomenal. Instead of training young boys and girls to be weightlifters by loading them with numerous text books and note books, the idea should be to minimize books and broaden their outlook and knowledge using practical systems of learning and put emphasis on educating them. Some effort is in vogue in reducing the pressure on the children by removing certain examination patterns. However, it does not reduce the workload of the children. The emphasis on outdoor activities and sports are very much less than what it used to be earlier. Very few schools adopt a proper physical training programme for their students that would mould them to good team players by the time they finish their higher secondary education. I have seen schools that operate out of hired flats with full state government recognition with not even a decent airy dining hall, water facility, bathrooms, recreation spaces and playgrounds for children. When enquired of such state of schools, the responses I got from teachers as well as parents was that there was no time for play for the kids as they got to prepare for entrance tests of all sorts and get good marks. This notion is absolutely trash. Work and play has to happen in balanced portions. Only then could a centre of learning boast of an education that has been provided. Otherwise they are merely training children and not educating them.

Community living and a life that has compassion to fellow human beings is getting eroded day after day in our society. Community is made up of families and individuals and it is one of the most basic units of the nation as a whole. It is where inter-personal transactions as citizens of a country takes place between families and households; between people of different professional, economic, religious and cultural backgrounds and where the interpersonal needs of people are provided for by each other. These kinds of interactions have reduced to annual affairs in most semi-urban and urban dwelling units. We hardly find active participation among people on community initiatives. There is a lot that we can learn from our country men of the North-eastern states on community living. It is interesting to note the natural ability of people in these areas to live together without individual egos overarching community needs. If this virtue could be learnt and practiced by the people of the rest of our nation, we would be much more ahead of any other country in the world.

The End of the Journey...

Doubtless, our great nation is poised for impressive economic growth and is emerging as a name to reckon with in international fora. However, at the end of this journey, I feel that unless we truly recognize our inner self, identify individually and collectively our strengths and weakness and put in sincere efforts to overcome our weakness to win over opportunities, we would long be overtaken by other emerging economies in our neighbourhood. We have a lot to do within and the very first thing to recognize is to look within and cleanse ourselves and our surroundings to healthy community living practices and build up our personal, professional and familial life on ethics founded on the strong foundation of our own splendid heritage. Let us be proud of what we are and lift our heads up high. Only then can we see better of the world around us and know where we are and go where we ought to go.

A Journey from the Past, through the Present and into the Future - Part - 2

In the earlier Part of this discussion I had gone to our immediate past where, delving into the psyche of the Indian Society of pre-Independence India, I had started a journey through the structure of that society and then came to a timeline almost a decade after gaining Independence. I had stopped at a point in the timeline when the Nation like a flower bud was starting to blossom. There, I had attempted to look at the future (which is today’s present) with the balance-sheet of a highly successful, world-renowned, Freedom Struggle and a bunch of hopeful Indians looking at a bright new future, in hand. It had then occurred to me that there were a few anomalies that were creeping in into the future balance sheets. I thought it proper to critically examine these anomalies that appeared to influence the growth process of our Nation. In this part, I intend moving further in the timeline, pondering over a few premises that became apparent during the journey so far. It would be natural to make an attempt to discover reasonable answers to many disturbing questions that formed the basis of this discussion in the first place. I may not be entirely correct in my findings. Many of you who read this at some point in time may have different ideas found over your own experience and gained over readings and peer discussions. You are free to key in your comments. My humble request would be to keep your comments crisp and clear. I would also request you to kindly upload only those comments which are relevant to the discussion and not to badmouth in this forum.

Part 2 of the Journey begins here …

Having had no successor mentored over a period of time, and having learnt the way Europe's Royalty kept their flag high for centuries on, it was but natural for the top line leadership of Independent India to nurture a form of politics where the Secrets of prime political decisions (that had been taken in closeted fora mentioned earlier) and the key to Power be retained within select groups (read families) of higher society. Whatever could have been the cryptic and complicated arguments that may have been deftly presented by the engineers of the movement in this direction, the greater part of national leaders of that time did not have enough spunk in them to either expunge such moves or to go to the people for a mandate. In hindsight: what could have the people decided either? They were so much isolated from the decision making processes, they never had any say in what transpired at the top, in any case.

The second line of leadership, which was expected to support the general cause of the nation as a whole, give voice to convey public opinion to the topline leadership, advise the topline leadership correctly on the long-term impact of their foolish decisions on the psyche of the young nation, nudge the more courageous leaders to stand up to such autocratic ventures of a select few, were in a state of trance after getting too close to the real centres of power. Rendered faceless in a Society that had once been the breeding grounds of ideologies of meaningful resistance, they had to face an emerging structure of the same Society that was slowly shedding its virtues of honesty, commitment to national cause and most of all, the choice of equitable participation for the able-minded in National Development. Meanwhile, the bosses of this society had already started formal sessions of training on a new form of politics in the ante rooms and at the dinner tables of their homes. Apparently oblivious to the evil developments taking place behind their back, the second line of leadership steadfastly ‘stood-by’ the top line leadership whom they believed-in blindly and were always prepared to obey without question.

What grooming the top line chose to provide their offspring, they carefully withheld from their able and experienced counterparts and comrades of the Struggle who would, had they been provided with the finesse of fine grooming, have risen to pinnacles of Statesmanship leading a whole populace to winning glory. With no formal grooming to help them nurture into strong national leaders of the future, the second-line leadership were left wanting on the ways and means of imbibing, practicing and nurturing the nuances of the key issue of leading a nation on which the later generations of the top-line leaders were getting groomed into. Except for a couple of ideologues, few realized that Dynastical Politics was being introduced by the ‘Centres of Power’ at the cost of a whole lot of genuine leaders who had been part and parcel of a long drawn Struggle. Soon the second line leaders found themselves in an irrelevant disposition with little or no role to play even in the most popular of matters of the emerging Nation. Having spent their time, energy, health and wealth for a Movement which had provided them and the Nation freedom from Colonial Rule and of which they were flag-bearers, many genuine members of the second line of leadership could not come to terms with the newly emerging form of politics and soon started to falter in their decisions and thereby misguide their loyal followers. The second line of leadership of a young India started to disintegrate. Few of those leaders, who had the will to fight, stood up to fight, but sadly, went down fighting. We don’t even know their names. The smarter of the lot, found it very convenient to be followers of the emerging form of dynastical politics. Having got to taste the legendary pot of honey (read privilege of proximity to power) they accepted for themselves the convenience of getting reduced to mere carpets on which the top leadership were happily treading on. Very soon they chose to forget the common man's trust and faith in them, which had made them what they were. They completely forgot the Common Man's needs that they were morally bound to fulfill, which were the essence of Nation Building. They chose the easier wrong than the harder right.

The utter disregard in enabling the masses to take part in true nation building led to chaotic overtures by a confused generation of leaders that emerged as a result of this serious mishandling of sensitive issues by the learned top leaders. The top leadership disregarded the need to develop think-tanks that had in-depth knowledge of the fabric of the nation, who were capable of making decisions and systematically executing them to successful completion. A classic example is the failure of the well-meaning five-year plans which took more than double the time allotted and still remains half undone. What the emerging nation needed was a sustainable knowledge bank of experts and elderly scholars who had the power to scrutinse parliamentary decisions and who held the power to veto such decisions that may, according to them has far-reaching negative consequences as far as policies related to national security, foreign relations and economic reforms were concerned. It took more than four decades of free and independent India to produce a sound financial manager who opened up Indian Markets ending a sickening License Raaj, which had been the result of distrust on the psyche of the ordinary Indian.

Where the native Indian failed, the White man won his war. Having tasted the creamy pie free of cost for more than two centuries, the whites never wanted to let go of the treasure trove that they had found, into the hands of 'monkeys' as he would later call the natives while in the company of his peers. He had started his psychological war on the people of India long before he left our shores and as years passed by, the results were emerging for his countrymen to party about. Hawks as they always were, watching out for the perfect chance to snatch away its prey, they got down to hatch plans for the economic invasion of the Indian peninsula. What seeds they had sowed at India’s Independence had grown to bear fruits. The Great Game had come to be in place to reap the benefits of the efforts of their forefathers. But by this time, having got wounded in War, he needed like-minded brethren in his quest and he forged alliances with a vide variety of Hawks. They packaged their potions in attractive deals that were designed for the emerging psyche of the modern Indian.

As for India, the masterplan of the Whites executed by default by the well-trained brains of Indian polity created a young generation of men and women who were more than willing to fight the white man's war against their own countrymen. The only difference this time, was that the whites had rented brains instead of guns. The packages were set to the modern Indian youngster where he could reach for it but could never grab it unless some major reforms had to be engineered in the nation’s Economic Policy. The neo-educated economists started the fight for the change - after all he too had become an intelligent slave at the hands of the whites who had taught his forefathers the tricks of the trade. Economic Freedom finally came and it became possible for the urban Indian to reach out and grab lifestyles, perks and facilities he had only dreamt-of in his wildest fantasies. The situation was akin to an overturned food basket amidst hungry fowl. Naturally, the fight for survival began yet again. Each member of each household in the country wanted to float in the comforts that were suddenly available for everyone who had the will to own and the inclination to pay the price of acquisition. Values that were cherised for centuries and traditions that were being followed from times immemorial were pushed to the corner in homes. Families made it convenient to suit the cultural setup the foreigner wanted the takers of his products to follow. The Economic Invasion had started.

Where peaceful daily life persisted with each family living in perfect harmony with his neighbour, there emerged envy and jealousy. The hunger for becoming an owner of a possession that hardly had a relevance to one's daily life came to rule the light of day. Families and communities started fighting for money, wealth and possesions within themselves. Groups of families emerged that were hallmarked for their quantum of possession of luxuries and wealth. Societies that were established as classless at the outset of Independence lost their relevance and many got replaced with those based on caste or community. In his passionate pursuit for luxury and wealth, the average Indian youth started losing interest in gaining a deep understanding of unity in diversity that has driven the nation for centuries. He started looking at the diverse culture of India as aberrations of the past. Heads of families blundered in not inculcating and breeding their offspring with a respect and concern for their compatriots. The limitless resources that the country offered and now deregulated in stages threw open immense opportunities for the modern Indian mind to make good use of. However, making good use was not welcomed in the transitioning society. Exploitation was the buzzword that the West had taught the educated lot that emerged with ideas to lead family businesses. The mentors of these neo-leaders could not match the new thinking nor relate it to suit the cultural fabric of the India they had seen and known. They themselves had been apparently blinded by the glare of the make-believe world that was taking shape in front of them. Facilities that they could never imagine when they were children were now available to be chosen not from one source, which they were used to, but from a variety of choices. The youngsters were gaining more intelligence than them, but were not interested in imbibing their wisdom. The elders in their struggle to match pace with the youngsters did try to drive some sense into the brains of the young; but the young never had the time to listen. Their psyche had been moulded differently by the West already – to look more closely at the Bottom Lines and to always set the eyes on the Bottom Lines only. What you do to improve the bottom lines mattered. How you did it did not.

While Economic Freedom threw open the wonderful world of opportunity hitherto unheard of in ordinary Indian societies, but were only the privilege of the Upper Class, it also brought in the bad effects of greed for money. Technology upgradation in all sectors made education, research and development scale greater heights. But it also started making virtual circles of exclusivity among its users. The youngster's peers and mentors at work were reduced to mere prototypes of an artificial world who only understood two words - money and money. Nothing else. The peers and mentors who by tradition have the moral responsibility to use his or her influence over their colleagues to advice on moral values, now laugh off such matters as trivial stuff. In result, the average young Indian, confused and misguided as he has emerged to be, with the help of like-minded groups of his society is now trying to circumcise the very diversity that has unified the nation for centuries and is trying to mould a society and class that emulates something he sees in the cultural extravaganza his foreign ‘master’ is presenting to him. The modern Indian has lost his true Identity, while the common man is awestruck at the struggle he has to do to manage a decent living. The emerging economy and the accumulation of wealth in certain pockets does not reward the technically qualified average Indian proportionate to his qualifications. When it came to wages, the Indian industrialists and their paymasters never paid any heed to the takeaway that the average Indian required to run his household. The age-old business tradition that the Whites practiced on their Slaves - to hold them on a thin line for survival while squeezing the juice of life out of them - was being practiced with great zeal in the industry but packaged in attractive literature and presented in a silver platter. In slow transition, the modern Indian has drained his brain for the sake of his white master. Some of them who saw greener pastures on the White man’s land and overcome by a self-centred drive, cheated on the soul of India when they migrated away to toil for their white master. For many of these migrants, the homeland has ceased to be dear to him and his offspring. He has degraded himself and his offspring to be glorified slaves of the White society. He has quietly forgotten what his motherland had given him in the form of the best of education and facilities to learn and elevate himself from the throes of downtrodden existence even when more than three-quarters of his countrymen were struggling to eke out a living to fill their stomach at least once a day. Not a tear fills his eye even as his motherland is being torn apart by the monster called communalism which his white master fomented through known friends as well as unknown elements. He remains stoic even as he, in his intelligent brain gets to realise that communalism and religious sentimentalism has grown to monstrous proportions with the realistic possibility of engulfing the entire nation in just a matter of time.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Journey into the Past and through the Present : Part - 1

A quick glance at our pre-Independence history would tell us that despite the vicious tactics of our colonial rulers to use communal and religious differences of the diverse Indian society and also the caste system which was widely prevalent at that time in order to divide the moral, religious and communal fabric of our nation, the maintenance of communal harmony had been successfully achieved to a large extent in our nation mainly towards the end of the era of our freedom struggle, particularly in our southern states. (It would be prudent to observe that caste system still remains deep-rooted in India across all sections of the society, even among educated citizens). This achievement, I feel, is directly attributable to the concerted efforts of our band of Freedom Fighters. The selfless devotion and self-sacrificial lifestyle demonstrated in ample measure by these Freedom Fighters, through their own personal example are commendable. Their impact on the raw, innocent minds of the general public of pre-independence India was immense especially when we see that the people of those times relied on the guidance and advice by such leaders and were used to emulating such leaders in their day-to-day life.

Communication played a very vital role in the success of these leaders. As we all know, tools of communication of those days were restricted to word of mouth, newspapers – though limited in number, letters, telegrams, personal contact through offices of local governance, radio and lastly the telephone. Although the telephone was not readily available to the masses, the radio was available to small sections. Ideologies that were discussed by leaders who were at the forefront of the Struggle had to trickle down through a channel that was slow but steady. Personal interaction was the key to effective communication of those days. The important attribute of this channel of communication was that it was more of a unidirectional, top-down channel than a bi-directional one. Naturally, a person who could pass down data while being a part of the channel, and also interpret the data into meaningful information had an audience who were willing to listen and therefore a following. The wisest of these became the bottom-most link to which was tethered the nation’s anchor for the Freedom Struggle. The path that these leaders who formed the bottom-most link in the chain of national leadership adviced and followed, became the path of the people who believed and vouched for their leaders and this I think is what brought them all together under one Flag, fighting for a single aim - the creation of a free nation.

As is known, the last few years of the Freedom Struggle were the most crucial in marking its success. The most important matter to note here is that at that point in time, the nation as a whole had a common enemy in the Colonial Ruler and this was the most important singular factor that brought every one together under a common banner. However, in that fight too, various tactics and ploys were used by leaders at regional levels to gather men en-masse in addition to the speeches and exhortations of great leaders of the Struggle. These tactics may have taken various forms and hues in different regions of the country of that time, commensurate with the prevalent customs and traditions of that society. For the information of the youngsters of today, it is important to understand that the typical Indian society of that time consisted of a poor populace being driven by a powerful few who wielded power and wealth. Naturally, there would have been different strata in that society with people divided over loyalty to the rich and powerful, (a section which had the protection provided by the colonial ruler) and those of the working class who were downtrodden and exploited by the rich and the powerful aided and abetted by the Colonial rulers. Incredibly, the influence of singular leaders of tremendous willpower who led the masses by personal example, who were respected by a large part of the society – including some sections of the rich and powerful lot - and who wielded notable influence over such a society made the differences in class, caste and creed to fall apart for the first time in those societies and then, by their own means influenced the minds of the people to unite despite their differences. Also, the horrors of the Freedom Struggle and the oppression meted out to its leaders by the Colonial Rulers generated a deep sense of compassion for brothers-in-arms which flowed out of the brotherhood's fear of danger to the society that was being threatened of extinction by a foreigner. This, in my opinion would have generated a unique sense of unity in the minds and hearts of the people surpassing all barriers of caste and creed which played a significant role in strengthening the moral fibre of the Indian society of those days.

It may be noted that the older population of today who had the good fortune to witness the transition to triumph of the Indian nation possess a strong moral fibre that is hardly affected by the changes in moral outlook that have overtaken and engulfed the newer generations. More than in the urban regions, this fervour is passed down to younger generations in rural India to a large extent even to this day. However, their voice is hardly paid any heed in modern Indian society. But why has it come to pass like this? Where has it all started? Why and who has started it? Who has let go this destructive monster of divisiveness from the bottle? The answer is still not clear and the intellectuals of today would have many reasons to give. However, as a layman who has only a very basic and practical understanding of how society flourishes over the years would be tempted to observe that the uncontrolled permeation of emulative cultures and the blind and mad rush for economic independence coupled with an unstructured education system would partially be responsible for this degradation of moral values and the ruptures in the once-strong moral fibre of our nation. Having thought so, it cares to analyze these premises critically.

Although the Indian Independence Struggle is widely known and documented as a nation-wide effort, India's struggle for Independence in its final days were concentrated more in the northern states and the more important political and democratic decisions were taken in closeted fora which were inaccessible to the common man. The patriotic fervour that was being echoed in the nook and cranny of the nation was attributable much to the yeoman efforts of the local leaders of the Struggle, who were as insulated from the frontline leadership as much as were the men they led. As we all know, and have been supplemented with information that have trickled down over the years since Independence, there is reason to believe that a few Games had started off within the walls of ornate buidings of northern India and in the minds of some of our legendary leaders - under the influence and political pressures of our erstwhile white Rulers - long before the dawn of the hour when the nation was being freed off colonial rule. There is also reason to believe that the Colonial Rulers had chosen to pull out of the country very abruptly, when the frontline leadership had not expected them to be, although they were largely aware that a pull out would be affected soon. This was probably done so by sensing the chaos and conflicting thought processes that was building up among leading personalities of the Struggle at that time.

The national leadership of that time was so deeply involved in the defensive, non-violent mode of Struggle that the development of differences of opinion on issues of very great importance that were being fomented for quite some time among themselves had gone unattended by design or by default and were unpardonably ignored. Here, there is enough historical evidence to support the logic that the second line of leadership at that point in time was not discernible and had it existed, those leaders weren't part of the strategic decision making processes which the frontline leadership were involved in. This led to a state of affairs wherein the second line of political leadership was virtually jobless thereby making them always live in a wonderland as to what practical steps need be taken in guarding the unity of the nation once it is created. The utter confusion that existed at this layer of leadership paved the way for a very convenient method of existence wherein they chose to tow the line of their frontline leaders and act as 'Yes Boss' secretaries to them. The second line of leadership who ought to have been ready to take over the job of streamlining the unity in diversity that had been achieved by then, with the same patriotic fervour that had helped the nation to win its model fight against colonialism, failed in its duty to identify its role and contribute to this very important task that was the very first step in nation-building.

The frontline leadership, powerful as they always had been in their own way found it very convenient in the initial days of chaos to keep this second line of leadership under their toes with little or no freedom to act independently. Here we can see the first manifestation of the results of the ultimate aim of the Colonial Rulers in the kind of education they imparted to the Indians during their two century old rule - to create just clerks and not administrators. The frontline leadership was afraid to let go of their deputies independently fearing the consequences of independence. They were fully aware that they themselves had not allowed their subordinates to be part and parcel of the larger picture of India's future which they already had formed in their mind.

They forgot over a period of time that the chaos which had managed to float around in the second line of leadership was percolating down the line to the lowest links - the Common Man - and it was but natural for the common man to start thinking of reverse engineering when he found out that his life hasn't changed much after the celebrations on the creation of the new nation had faded out of his ears. For the Common Man, life was still the same as it was when the nation was under Colonial Rule. Soon, he understood that it was only the colour of the skin of the Ruler that had changed, not the mindset. The Colonial Ruler had sown his seed of Division on fertile ground and coupled with the deep rooted caste system, the seeds of mutual exclusivity in society started gaining ground. With the frontline leadership continued to be engaged in closeted discussions on sorting out internal chaos, the second line leadership, which by now had taken the form of sycophancy for their survival turned to discover their own ways and means of cutting the cake and savouring a share of it, for, they never wanted to be left high and dry at the end of the day.

The Administrators of the new nation, in addition to the Leaders, who now became part of the new governing mechanism of Free and Independent India had been erstwhile students and under-trainees of the Colonial Rulers and they had only been taught the time tested techniques of the Colonial Ruler of 'Divide and Rule' and the nuances of British Bureaucracy which was essentially rooted based on the basic traits of a successful trader. The administrator of the newly formed nation was only a glorified undertaker who only knew how to squeeze the juice out of the workers under him in order to earn beans for his master and in the bargain get to keep a small kitty of his own. These administrators became the squeezers of their own countrymen and more often than not, they were comfortable in basking in the old glory, not liking very much the fact that stared at them that one day they had to vacate their chairs for the new generations that were coming of age. The education system continued to be the same old system with hardly any change in its basic structure that was made with a different aim by the Colonial Ruler - to produce clerks and not Administrators. The nation needed rational thinkers who had to be exposed to the world that existed and prospered outside its borders and this was achievable only by the rich and the powerful, who could send their wards off our shores to seek and learn what was available in Europe or elsewhere at their own expense. The poor and the needy continued to feed on the crumbs now being thrown at them by native Rulers, the only difference being that the neo-administrators were thick friends (they always were) with the rich and powerful who regretted the exit of their Colonial partners as well as with the new line of leadership. As a matter of fact, the trading community of India (with some exceptions) was always towing the line of the Rulers that ruled India - that is to say, when the British were the Rulers, they towed the line of the British and when the Leadership changed, gladly they changed loyalties to the new rulers, thereby ensuring that their businesses were not affected grossly.

Despite the design of the rich and the powerful, Independence from Colonial Rule gave the chance to the society of united India to emerge as a modern society which consists of the resurrected poor of the past who never had any access to wealth or power for generations on end. Naturally, the poor of the land were more comfortable being subservient to the rich and powerful and were defter in handling ploughshares and fields than handling wealth and the glitter of the higher echelons of societal life. With India's Independence came freedom of thought, action and choice. Though not cock-eyed, the ill-structured policy for integrating rural India into the path to democracy brought out the deep rooted evil of communalism into the brains of the well educated rulers of modern India, which led to the greatest mistake of Reservations based on caste, religion and creed being introduced in the system of governance, employment and education. The demon of Division based on caste which had been brilliantly put to use by the Colonial Rulers but which had been driven under the carpet and tred on during the Great Struggle to achieve Victory over the Invader was given official sanction by the Native Rulers to dance on main-stage in front of the whole new world . The fervent Freedom Fighters who lived to witness this shocking metamorphism opposed this foolish move of the Native Rulers at the very outset bringing out the consequences it would have in the long run. Although the learned lot of the Rulers fully understood what they were doing, they had no choice but to turn a deaf ear to those words of wisdom. Those learned great leaders by then would have realized their folly of not having designed and kept a genuine plan in place at the very outset for making India emerge as a spectacular nation that had to demonstrate itself globally to be a befitting reply to the colonialists. Unfortunately, their vision was blurred and did not focus at the larger horizon which was in front of them. The Whites, who had become masters of the Indian psyche could easily fool around with the brains of those great leaders, who, in fact had been trained by their own educationists. The lackadaisical approach that these leaders continued in not nurturing a second line of committed leaders (training for tomorrow) was the first political fault that happened in modern India and that which turned the fate of the country. The other was the failure to appropriately acknowledge the stalwarts of Indian Freedom Movement in the right spirit and convert those brains into Knowledge - Bank which had jurisdiction over the Parliament in all matters of National Development, Economic Policy and External Affairs. This would have been a befitting tribute to their contribution and a more patriotic and sensible decision which would have given them their due respect and by which the nation would have benefited manifold rather than reducing those great Souls to mere impressions on postal stamps and left to live a Dog’s Life through a meagre allowance of Freedom Fighter's Pension which practically has lesser monetary value than the equivalent monthly expenses of dog food that are being incurred in the homes of powerful politicians and bureaucrats of our times. It would have also encouraged the emerging leaders to understand the importance of imbibing and practicing moral values, which as a consequence would have re-inforced the strength of the moral fibre of the nation. The failure of the creme-de-la-creme of Indian politics to percolate down the knowledge and wisdom that they had gained in the course of their life and struggle in the Freedom Movement in a structured and disciplined manner to the lower rungs of their followers is the third major failure that the Indian polity suffered.

Growth of a Nation – Is there Sufficient Gross Underkeel Clearance?

Social Studies and Civics were subjects that were much too ignored during my schooldays not only by backbenchers but by the front benchers as well. The general belief - and to some extent the truth - was that these subjects are trump - cards for easy scoring in exams. This was demonstrated in full measure by some frontbenchers after it was mugged up over breakfast, lunch and dinner. This was also the only (sensible) topic among others in school education that could be reproduced with sincere eleventh hour efforts for the backbenchers (the basic aim at the backbench in any case is to obtain a pass mark, if feasible as all my mates there would agree). I wouldn't know if this philosophy has changed after over two and a half decades now (maybe one could substitute breakfast, lunch and dinner with morning and evening TV slots).

The thought process germinated after I had viewed a funny presentation that I had recently come across on one of the popular online video sites on the Great Info Highway. In this particular video, locals at an alien location in Uncle Sam's country were being asked basic questions related to their own nation. It didn't surprise me when obese native whites were struggling to guess the name of the American nation which begins with the letter 'U'. More shameless were the answers to other questions of similar nature which any schoolboy worth his salt would have correctly answered. The answers that I heard were so idiotic that it made me remember the Rector of my school who used to teach us social studies, civics and political science. I recollected his discussions on the basics of the Constitution of the US and I remembered that he used to summarize his classes with stories based on his own experiences and the general impression any White would convey through his interaction with others; I particularly remember that he always used to compare those aliens with the legendary toads in a well - each in a make-believe world closeted from the realities of the outside world. He used to remark that, for those aliens the word world used to mean only their nation with a 'U' at the beginning. The rest of the globe was alien to them - may be the reason why even their propaganda material available at their embassies label non-natives as aliens.

This above incident sparked a thought process in my mind (incredible for a frontbencher) which made me think: Are we any better? Of course, as Indians, we are far better off than them in such aspects of general information not only about our own great, dear nation, but on many other global issues as well. Also, despite many shortfalls in rural and urban India, we are emerging as a Global Power – so the media tells us. However, there appears to be a loss of focus in the efforts that we as a Nation are putting in to reach that level of perfection. Why is there a feeling of loss of focus? Are we on the right track that will truly empower us as citizens of this country? Whom have we benchmarked with? Who is our worthy competitor? Is our Nation as cohesive as it was when we gained Independence? Can we really run this race as a Nation and finally attain Victory? Is our Common Man really aware of the state of our Nation? Are the youth of today maintaining our status and image as a culturally rich nation with a distinguished heritage in these modern days too? Are they getting trained today to become worthy leaders of a Global Power of tomorrow? Are we getting traded off in a very stylish way? Would we be also reduced to such idiots as are the citizens of the Nation whose name begins with the letter ‘U’? The answers to these questions, as a matter of fact, are not as easy as one would think. It is not easily given nor is it easily available. To be true to ourselves, these questions have to be answered after careful analysis and introspection.

On my own, I then thought of delving a bit into these issues which I had created for myself. The thought process that flowed in my mind was typed in as and when I got time and later on organized in my own style. The flow is more or less streaming and keyed in as originally as it came. I thought of organizing the text in two parts, with distinct separators in time. Before we reach conclusions, we need to dissect the moral fabric of the present day Indian (includes me and you) threadbare for, he is the element that makes up the matter of interest about modern India that meets the eyes of world nations. For the moment, let us forget about the Great Game and save it to be discussed some time later.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

50 Years of Doordarshan

50 Years is a long time indeed. It came as a pleasant surprise to see in the news today that the Grand Old Institution of Indian Visual Media – Doordarshan is celebrating its 50th year of existence. From a facility that started off with a modest aid by the UN with about 180 TV sets and a makeshift studio, Doordarshan has become a mammoth with more than 1400 terrestrial stations, over 40 studios and reaching to over 90% of the nations one billion people. An impressive growth indeed.

I never saw something called as a TV until in 1986 when I went to Agra to stay on a holiday with a close relative of my brother-in-law who lived in the vast Agra Cantonement. They had a table top 16” Texla black and white TV which was kept atop the standard steel locker provided by the MES in the largest bedroom of their living quarters which had been converted to a family living room. Half the room had been covered with an assortment of carpets and durries neatly arranged in sequence with a bunch of handmade soft pillows which are a standard find in any Army home. In the late evenings, the whole family and the guests (we totalled a decent nine including my then toddler nephew) would sit and chat together in the living room with the TV running in the background, the volume jumping the upper limit of about 10 only when a nice programme of music or drama was announced. I still remember the beautiful village songs that used to be presented those days at around 1945hrs in the run-up to the news bulletins at 2045hrs . The tape-recorder cum radio was still the hero of the house, even though our hosts were quite used to the ‘luxury’ of a TV for some years by then.

For my own home to possess a TV, I had to wait for another couple of years until 1988 when my mother – a simple teacher who taught Art at a nearby school - took a loan and bought a BPL core model Colour TV. It was our proud possession as only a few homes had a colour TV in our immediate neighbourhood. My mother had ruled that a TV would step in only I passed the SSLC exams. I had to watch my favourite matches of the 1986 Mexico World Cup at my class mate and neighbour Prashanth’s home, whose father was my Hindi tutor and himself and ardent fan of the world’s most beautiful game - football. I remember fondly that I had the liberty to walk into their home any time of the day or night and demand for the TV to be switched on during the World Cup Fever days. To dream of taking such a liberty in today’s shrinking nuclear society is simply ‘Forbidden’, as most of you would agree. Doordarshan transmissions were telecast only in the morning and in the evenings with the Gyan Darshan coming in as a boring drone in the afternoons. The TV soon became an uninvited guest to be mute witness to many of our living room discussions, decisions and fights. It might have smiled with us when my lovely niece was born and my nephew started grappling up with life as he grew up. It used to go silent when my father took ill and was laid up in the living room, which also doubled up as our master bedroom. I closely followed the whole of the Seoul Olympics, the World Cup at Italy, the Festival of USSR in India, the popular serials of Hum Log, Gul Gulshan Gulfam, Ramayana, Mahabharata, The Sword of Tipu Sultan, Black Hawk and many many more in the years that followed. The power of the Television was incredible.

It would not be inappropriate to also mention that despite the well-meaning intent, the telecast of Indian Epics like 'the Ramayana' and 'the Mahabharata' and the less-historic 'The Sword of Tipu Sultan' probably served more to stir-up communal disharmony than to take to the masses the essence of these works originally intended by the creators. There may be some of you who may disagree to this, but it would be prudent to reflect and realise that this is a shockingly true revelation.

I was an ardent listener of the Radio too, which had been the hero of our homes till the TV came into our lives in down south Kerala sometime in the mid-eighties. What I could not correlate through the radio, I started to correlate when relevant topics were discussed on various fora on the TV. Even when I started gaining interest in the TV, my father ensured that his old Phillips Major was fully functional. Soon we graduated to the National Panasonic, when the old Major had to resign to the sidelines – a piece which still holds its place on my bedside table. The Radio remained the fastest and the main source of news until probably 1992, when the Cable News Network (CNN) of the US introduced us to the magical world of cable TV. The first ever televised war – The Invasion of Kuwait by Iraq had made a big difference to the way the Indian sub-continent viewed the TV. The stereotyped nature of programming culture followed by the Doordarshan vis-à-vis the International programming methods were out in the open for people to see and a sudden realisation dawned on the people of urban India that the future of urban programming lied in cable networks. The inherent delays in the news updates that Doordarshan provided owing to the official nature of the Broadcaster was clear to the ordinary middle class man who had got wind of the new technology that was catching up. Soon a feeling of being left out started to grapple the psyche of the ordinary man, who had to take the decision whether to stand loyally by his favourite Doordarshan which came in for free or to give in to the fancy and entertaining sets of channels that were being made available to those who could afford by self-made private operators at a seemingly throw-away price. The procedural delays that resulted in a lot of filtering and political censoring of news and programme schedules which probably were existent in those days (and maybe even now) coupled with the back-door entry of CNN in big hotels and into the upper echelons of Indian society started to spell the doom of the future of Doordarshan.

In a short time, many cable operators commenced operations in every nook and cranny of urban India that had a sizeable population which saw them laying their own cables and catering to a small group of homes or offices around a nodal point where a sizeable dish antenna could be accommodated with a clear view to the sky. However despite a bouquet of channels that the small time players could offer, Doordarshan’s reputation and its popularity did not wane so easily. Authentic news was always attributable to the standard national programme bulletins of both the All India Radio and Doordarshan. News readers like Gitanjali Iyer, Tejeshwar Singh, Sashi Kumar, Sunit Tandon, Neethi Ravindran, Rini Simon, Sarala Maheshwari – the most elegant of the lot and many more were popular names in all households. Though they were miles away and we would never ever have any chance of meeting them or chatting with them, they were so much part of our family. I still remember my mother being very upset when Rini Simon got married and became Rini Khanna and then started to bloat up. A sense of disbelief and surprise would always come over her when she would see the lean Gitanjali and then wonder how she managed to be slim and trim for ever, while I used to wonder how she was maintaining the tight upper-lip pose always and every-time.

It is important to note that notwithstanding the foray of cable TV operators and the subsequent opening up of bandwidth for private players; Doordarshan did put up a very good fight before going down in the fight for supremacy, which was once its monopoly. In its efforts to put up with the changing requirements of its urban viewers, Doordarshan came up with news magazines of comparable international standards like ‘Aankhon Dekhi’ by Nalini Singh, ‘Newstrack’ and the ‘The World This Week' by Prannoy Roy. The earliest mega shows with popular participation which was a fore-runner of today’s ‘Reality Shows’ is the esteemed musical show ‘Meri Aawas Suno’ which was aired sometime in the mid nineties. This show brought forth the now popular Sunidhi Chauhan, who was then an adolescent. We owe it to Doordarshan for the immense support it provided to budding artistes and youth cultural movements who were given ample opportunity to showcase their talents at the regional or national levels. Informative Digests like Living on the Edge, Lonely Planet etc. were so engrossing and well programmed that a lot many youngsters like me have benefited out of the knowledge it provided. Prof. Yashpal’s science programmes, Shyam Benegal’s series based on Nehru’s Discovery of India, Siddharth Kak’s ‘Surabhi’ which brought to our homes the million watt smile of the homely Renuka Shahane, who was instantly welcomed into the living rooms and into the hearts of many urban homes are unforgettable contributions to the Indian middle class. Also, Doordarshan was the only TV telecaster who concentrated on programmes on agriculture through its most famous series called ‘Krishi Darshan’.

I did my first TV programme in 1992 and I still have fond memories of our train trip to Trivandrum, the stay at a popular hotel in the middle of the city, the picturesque premises of Doordarshan Kendra, Trivandrum and the chance to meet some of the popular media personalities of Kerala of that time viz., John Ulahannan, Maya and the very real Shyamaprasad who was the Floor Manager and Programme Executive for our recording. Mr. Shyamaprasad had joined back after a coveted training programme at the BBC and was a known friend of our choir master Prof. Lancelot Thomas who had done a few recordings earlier.

It is also nice to reflect and realise that most of the founders of successful private cable operators of owe their origins to Doordarshan, which in many ways is also their Alma Mater.

Although many would be excited in discussing whether this communication behemoth should be laid to rest or revived to its lost glory, if not surpassing it, with, of course, solid efforts; I personally feel that Doordarshan hasn’t let its loss in its fight for popularity over-rule quality and maturity of its programming. The public-sector ‘Prasar Bharti’ which replaced Doordarshan still does have immense talents within its restricted walls and has an enviable set of quality brains. On many occasions when the relatively young cable channels have got over-excited on trivial issues and on other occasions have blown out of control issues that had to be handled delicately, Doordarshan has demonstrated a very high standard of self control and maturity in handling such issues. The only sad part is that probably its upper leadership hasn’t been able to take a strong and independent stand with a view to make it the Voice of Asia as veteran media person Shashi Kumar once dreamt it to be. His dream was a reasonable one as despite the diversity in our cultural composition, we have had the immense power to stay united over many centuries. We have had very high standards of freedom for the press in free India and the Fourth Estate on many occasions have guided the formulation of key policy decisions which India has taken as an Independent Nation. Financial Independence with accountability to the Public (through the Parliament) and Operational Independence with no accountability to the Parliament but only to the common man is what, I feel would turn around the tide for Doordarshan.

With an illustrious 50 years behind its back, I sincerely hope that the shepherds of this great Institution which has, no doubt shaped the destiny of India would keep a faithful watch over it and rear it to the fore once again, regaining all lost glory and make it the proud dream of every Indian – A name that would identify him all around the globe with a single phrase: TV means Doordarshan.

High hopes!! Is it? I think it’s workable.