Saturday, 8 July 2017

On the language divide in India - part 2

Continuing with my earlier post here I want to address the potential reasons for the anger against the "imposition" of Hindi.

  1. The theory that is easiest to discount is the Aryan-Dravidian divide. Just to give one example of the long-standing unity of the country - Agastya who is said to be the father of all things Tamil is an "Aryan" rishi. Tamil Sangam Era literature talks about the Ramayana. Adi Sankara who was from what is today Kerala was the key figure in rallying together Hindus after the impact of Buddhism. The strongest constituency for this reason would be Tamils who are steeped in the ideology of "Dravidian" politics. On the other hand there are Tamil scholars like Dr. Nagaswamy who themselves are debunking this divide.
  2. The second reason is to put it simply, money. There is no monetary incentive for a non-Hindi speaker to learn the language. English on the other hand is today the lingua franca not only in India but across multiple developed nations. It is felt to be one of the few positive outcomes(?) of the British Raj. I do not need to dwell on the importance of English in the contemporary world. Let me give you another example. For reasons best known to them a lot of people mistake me for a north Indian (at least till I open my mouth, and occasionally even after that - I am grateful to my BIT Mesra batchmates who taught me the language!). When I had newly moved to Chennai on work, one day I hailed an auto. Even before I opened my mouth the much-maligned Chennai auto driver, started speaking Hindi! Further in places frequented by tourists, and in Marwari enclaves I am sure you will find local shop keepers speaking the language even in non-Hindi areas.
  3. A very, very important factor that I feel is a reason is that the imposition, perceived or real, is one-way. Nobody can dispute this fact. I do not think there is any school in north India which offers a south Indian language as an elective. Our leaders need to remember that our states are formed largely or completely around languages, and that is good. We need to nurture the diversity that we have. However, in this scenario, where only non-Hindi states have Hindi imposed on them there is justified anger on why a non-Hindi language is not offered in the north. 
My personal sympathies lie with the third point. Hence let me dwell on this point. 

  1. First of all people staying north of the Vindhyas seem to be utterly, and I mean Utterly ignorant of those to the south of the range. I am sure all my south Indian friends, especially the non-Tamil ones will agree that being called a Madrasi is one of the most irritating things. Why? Because the ignorant person calling me that is erasing an identity that I am proud of and is confusing with something that I am not! Many north Indians probably may not even be able to name the four major south Indian languages. And for crying out loud, the linguistic basis of statehood that we have today, is because of the south Indian states, especially (erstwhile) Andhra Pradesh. Even for those who know a little, my mother tongue is "Telegu". For God's sake, it is TelUgu. Hence if Hindi is made compulsory unilaterally consciously or unconsciously the government is furthering ignorance and possibly giving rise to a (potentially) false sense of superiority as well.
  2. Further, our languages are wonderful and logical. How many people know that the consonants in our languages form sounds from the back of the mouth, the throat to the lips? Try pronouncing ka, cha, Ta, ta and pa if you have not tried this earlier. I am not sure if anyone knows why the English alphabet extends from A to Z in that order with vowels randomly thrown in. There is a lot that our languages can communicate to one another. For example only two languages (in my knowledge) - Sanskrit and Telugu have an event/performance called an avadhaanam. This is a fantastic feat of scholarship and memory that I am not even sure how many other languages can reproduce. How many non-Telugu speakers have even heard of this? I myself have very little knowledge. I am sure the current generation, even in Telugu families are not aware of this. By giving greater and greater importance to one language we risk giving a quite burial to some of these fantastic inheritances of ours.
I respect the sentiment that is often cited - it is better to learn a common or widely spoken Indian language than English, which is a foreign tongue, that too of an oppressor. I agree to that. In fact if I know the other person knows Hindi and English both, I would like to speak Hindi. However, I have one request to anyone who gives this reason to me. You show equal respect to something which is not your own and learn a language. It need not be mine. But this removes the feeling I have of something being pushed down my throat without reciprocity.

Now I move to the third part of this topic. What can the government do? There is no short term solution to this. I would suggest that in every state there must be an elective to learn make the student learn a language that is NOT the student's mother tongue and one that s/he is familiar with. Benefits?
  1. Students get to know firsthand the diversity of our country and can gain new respect for other cultures. We will hopefully have less usage of Madrasi and Telegu.
  2. Learning a new language is one of the things scientifically proven to improve brain function and keep it active. And I do not need to say this is important to a kid.
For those who will blame me for further loading, burdened students I do have a response. Let this not be a single year language. There is no use to doing that. Let it be spread over a few years. Let the child understand the language in its majesty and beauty. Let him not fear it as another subject to be learnt by heart. Also, I understand there are multiple approaches to teaching any language. Learning by starting with grammar is definitely going to be painful. Let us try to find one that is not painful, by teaching use first, and hardcore grammar later.

In choosing electives, at whatever level it may be, we suffer from the tyranny of large numbers. I cannot choose to learn an elective I like unless there is a certain minimum number of students who also want that. This need not be a constraint in today's world where video conferencing/lectures and learning apps are increasingly becoming the norm. NPTEL is already present. Why can't we have something like that for languages?

So to summarize the last section:
  1. Make the student compulsorily learn a non-familiar language.
  2. Do not restrict it to one year, let the child take time to learn it.
  3. Give the child the freedom to choose any language of his or her choice.
  4. Instead of every school maintaining a dedicated pool of teachers for all languages, these can be taught remotely.
This concludes this topic. I look forward to writing more. I eagerly await the vistas that the train of my thought will unravel in the days to come.

Edit: I just read an article on Swayam. This further strengthens my point above about teaching languages via video lectures - real time or recorded.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

On the language divide in India - part 1

A long break from writing. I recently discovered that there ARE people who read my posts :) I anyway have stuff to share. Hence I am back!

This article is based on the recent arguments over "imposition" of Hindi on south Indian states. In the interest of brevity I am dividing what I have to say it into multiple portions. Also, as mentioned in an earlier post, apart from commenting about the present state, I will also suggest what I feel is a resolution to the issue.

As always, I am open to being corrected if I am wrong. Let me state at the outset the following:

  1. My mother tongue is Telugu. I am extremely proud of being born into it. Sanskrit is another language I respect immensely (maybe more than Telugu?). I am decently fluent in Hindi and English apart from Telugu.
  2. I am one of the increasing number of Telugu speakers who lament about the increasing usage of English in daily Telugu speech. Today a majority of Telugu speakers seem to be more comfortable inserting English words (Hindi/Urdu in Telangana) into their daily speech. I am sure this is the case throughout India, with other languages as well. In fact I recently saw an interview of an important Hindu religious leader who is supposed to have been educated in Telugu medium. His speech was possibly peppered with more English than mine! Funnily enough Christian preachers and evangelists seem to be sticking to an almost outdated mode of Telugu, what is called, graanthikam, or one that is found in books.
  3. Chronologically, Hindi is a relatively new language compared to the south Indian languages. Hence the amount of "classical" literature in this is less than that in the south Indian languages. I am clubbing dialects like Awadhi (with apologies to the speakers of these "dialects") with Hindi as we know it today. 
  4. Due to geographical reasons the northern part of the country has had immense damage caused via invasions from outside - Mongols, Turks, Greeks et al. This has had impact on multiple facets of what we call north India today - language, food etc. For this reason, I believe that what one gets to see in the southern part of the country is actually closer to what was the original Indian version of that cultural aspect. For example, there are certain Vedic rituals which are not retained in memory by anyone outside Kerala. 
  5. I believe the Aryan-Dravidian hypothesis is hogwash and is just an attempt to drive a wedge in a land that is culturally one. Point 4 above is another reason I believe the theory is rubbish. 
  6. Further, I believe many of the so-called "Indologists", especially westerners are not fit to comment on Indian texts. I will explain why. As many would know, the Vedas were passed down orally for thousands of years without putting them in writing as the pronunciation is almost if not equally important as the text of the slokas. There are Vedic scholars called Ghanapaathis, especially in Andhra (I have not seen them elsewhere) who have committed Vedas to memories. I believe that a lot of Vedic scholars DO NOT KNOW the meaning of what it is they are reciting. The simple reason is that to truly know the meaning one has to be well versed in nirukta and that is a different subject altogether. Also, Sanskrit is a language where the same word can mean different things in different contexts. And to borrow from Rajiv Malhotra's books, the same thing has multiple names depending on the characteristics. For example, the word maa can mean "to me" or it can mean negation. On the other hand paavaka, agni, havyavaahana are all terms used for fire. Also, India's many texts are interlinked. Hence without truly understanding the multiple meanings and multiple sources it is foolish to claim to be an expert on anything related to Indian culture.
Having laid this foundation I will next proceed to build my case as to WHY (in my opinion obviously) south Indians seem to be prefering English over Hindi. I will also put forward suggestions on HOW to remove some apprehensions. Some of the suggestions I have in mind are really long term-oriented, in the sense that they cannot be implemented overnight. I will share these in the forthcoming posts.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Why I abhor the idea of Rahul Gandhi coming to power

This article was prompted by this article I saw being shared on Facebook member, Chaitanya Chinchlikar. Of late I have been in two minds on writing about politics. However this article really got my ranting juices flowing.

As Chinchlikar pointed out it very much looks as if the writer has his head in buried beneath soil. However what really got my goat was the entitlement or inheritance that the author seems to be talking about. It fills me with disgust that we have people like Rahul Gandhi as part of our "leaders" today.

Rahul Gandhi has never held any public position of responsibility in the country till date. His government was in power for ten years. He had a golden opportunity to work as a minister and learn the ropes of administration. His family has been in politics for much longer. He could have been a minister in any of the Congress state governments. Had he asked for it, possibly he would have been the Chief Minister of a state also. But no, he shirked all responsibility. To Congress sycophants this may seem to be abstinence from power. Sorry, to me it seems to be arrogance to hold the top post in the country without the humility or willingness to serve at any lower level.

He insists on speaking out on topics that seem populist to him. He spoke about Dadri, JNU etc., wherever he had an opportunity to target the ruling dispensation. He did not speak a word on the recent Kerala rapes. He has not commented anything on the recent murders of a student and a journalist in Bihar. He is visible typically only when he has an opportunity to target the government, that too which is not manned by his party. 

He does not seem to have a clue about international affairs. I do not recall any statements worth remembering having been made by him on the Italian Marines affair (I even did a quick Internet search). Though some foreign leaders seem to meet him in occasion I am not sure what is his actual awareness of what happens on the international stage. He seems to want to become a messiah for the masses. While the masses have to be addressed he should remember that there are today a huge middle class and educated youngsters who do want his dole. They want opportunities. They don't want huge statements. They want things to change. They want the situation to improve. 

Rahul Gandhi has lent his voice in support to the JNU agitation. It is now coming out that the protests which also spoke about Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad were funded by the Congress and the Left. ISIS recruits arrested recently are also revealing how they are mingling with these crowds to foment unrest. So is this guy doing anything productive? I do not think so.

We have had three major changes in the recent past which offered a ray of hope to many disillusioned Indians. One was the victory of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi. However, now the less said about Kejriwal, the better. While there seems to be some good work (with regard to school fees) being done, Kejriwal is making a spectacle of himself by targeting the PM at every available instance and with his daily theatrics. The other was Nitish Kumar who first came to power with the BJP's help, promising change from Lalu's administration. He either miscalculated Modi's appeal or wanted to become the PM himself and broke up with the BJP. He is now an ally of the much-maligned Lalu. Lalu's sons seem to be getting more press of late today than the CM. It will be interesting to see what happens during the next state elections. I hope Bihar does not slip back into its erstwhile lawlessness. 

The third was Narendra Modi coming to power. There have been occasional weird outbursts from extreme right wing elements which Modi has not said much/anything about. However in general the government seems to be trying many new things - reforms in bureaucracy, making it accountable, reducing red tape and corruption, renewed focus on energy savings, reforming the railways etc. Shrill voices from the opposition, and absolute non-cooperation from the Congress are putting a spanner into the works. Many Indians will be happy if Rahul Gandhi uses his "power" and cooperates with the government to bring out changes in the country. Let him claim credit after that. That seems to be one department where he needs absolutely no training.

The aforementioned article seems more akin to a paid news article which has a semblance of balance thrown in to avoid exactly this kind of accusation. I hope the writer analyses better before he writes such stuff.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Can this technology reduce traffic offences?

As an Indian living in a large city I am a daily victim of traffic jams. Funnily enough in the midst of the national debate on "intolerance" someone did point out that we are actually very tolerant as we live peacefully with our roads and traffic. Also India is an impatient country. How often do we see people jumping queues and vehicles jumping lanes often even in the wrong way?

Like any large city Chennai implemented a lot of one-way routes to manage traffic. There is one such bridge/flyover in Chennai, a Y-shaped one. The leg is two-way while one is supposed to only go up one arm and only come down the other - which increases the distance. I have seen autos, two-wheelers and even heavier vehicles happily go down the up-route which used to irritate me to no end. I did see a few police personnel a few times, however the offenders were mostly free to do as they wished. The genesis for this post was this irritation.

The Delhi AAP government is also in the news about its proposed measures to curb pollution in the national capital. One question being raised is that how this would be implemented, especially given that Kejriwal has no control over the Delhi Police. The odd-and-even registration plate rule being proposed needs a big increase in the police force for it to be effectively enforced.

Given the above two scenarios I suggest the following tracking solution. As I am not very savvy electronics-wise I will not be able to go into details. I will try to address a few concerns which may be raised.

1. EVERY vehicle sold will have a certain chip/RFID tag containing certain information - owner's name, vehicle details etc. This has to be implemented by each manufacturer. Today every vehicle has a unique chassis number and engine number. However this information has to be transferred to a readable device. There should be certain designated devices only which can write information onto these chips/tags.
2. The second step would be to implement a sensor network. These sensors should be able to only read the information from the chips/tags. 
3. The third is to integrate the data read in this way to a back-end network. To avoid privacy concerns users should not be able to browse through the data stored. Alternatively data access should be controlled via court warrants etc. The system should only be able to generate alerts based on certain events.
   a. A stolen vehicle's registration number turns up
   b. Two consecutive sensors detect a vehicle going in the wrong direction
   c. The vehicle is not supposed to be on the road
4. Implementing the sensor network will definitely be expensive, especially given the number of sensors that have to be implemented. One idea is to mount these sensors onto street lights. True, there are many places which do not have street lights. However via this method the government can implement two solutions. The sensors can be powered via solar panels mounted on the light towers. 
5. Obvious parameters to be covered:
   a. The power consumption should be low
   b. Devices should not be removable from vehicles
  c. Write access to the chips/tags should be available only with designated people like vehicle manufacturers, RTOs etc. 
   d. Personal data will be stored in the system, so privacy safeguards should be watertight.
  e. This is an obvious candidate for an IoT application. However to keep cost and power requirements low technology like RFID should also be involved.
6. This solution will obviously not work if the tag/chip is removed. So the solution should also involve measures to prevent this.
   a. random checks on vehicles
   b. the chip/device being able to send an alert when it is removed

I end this post here. Hope to see something like this on the roads, for that matter anything that will better our lives!

Friday, 23 October 2015

Why the country can't afford fringe elements now, and why the government has to act, now

Politically I am a moderate right winger. I support causes like stopping cow slaughter, putting an end to forced/induced conversions etc. However I prefer dialogue rather than banning things outright, or taking law into our hands. Hence the moderate qualifier to my right wing tilt.

Today we have a government whose Prime Minister is admired by many people, both inside and outside the country. The young in India especially seem to believe in him, that he can bring about a change. I don't think I would be wrong in saying that the mandate which brought the present government into power was more in favour of Narendra Modi than the BJP or the NDA. Also the electorate was fed up with the perceived corruption and inefficiencies of UPA 2 and booted them out. 

Thus Narendra Modi was the right person at the right time and place. Hence he has a delicate balance to maintain. After a long time there is a strong central government. After a long time there is a government which is not left or left-of-centre-leaning like the Congress. There is a real chance to make a break from the past and chart new paths. Things are beginning to change. Piyush Goyal has made a lot of changes at his ministry - power, coal and renewable energy. There are visionary goals ready for the government - Make in India, Digital India, Swachh Bharat etc. The Defence Ministry is a different animal today as compared to the past. Government clearances and file movement are much faster today. It is almost like Modi knows that he does not have much time and is a man in a hurry. Only God knows for how long he will remain productive. However he is being hampered by fringe elements, whether from the BJP, the Sangh Parivar or from other sections of the society bent on creating mischief. 

Today the government has to face issues on two fronts. On the one hand there are many who seem to have a permanent foot-in-the-mouth. These include people part of the ruling dispensation/government (General VK Singh, certain sadhus and sadhvis et al). They talk about highly charged and avoidable topics, embarrass the government and give ammunition to the opposition to bay for the government's blood. On the other hand there is the entire opposition and news-hungry media. They pick up issues, both significant and trivial and give major coverage. Some sections are either so blindly anti-government or pro some other side that they have to make mountains out of molehills also.

The people of this country, especially the young, and the hopefully-not-blindly-biased have to decide what is good for it. For the sake of the future, for the sake of the country the PM and government need to pull their act together. If a few heads have to roll, let them. But it is high time that the PM and government stop non-issues from derailing an agenda of good governance.

Let Modi not go down as a person who could have done a lot, but did not!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

On Malayalis in the Gulf

An alumnus of IIFT Delhi, and a Malayali himself, Abhijith Bhadran had posted this article on Facebook. It got me thinking. I am putting in writing a few thoughts which came to my mind. I would invite comments on them, and definitely wherever people think I am misinformed or wrong.

In India we have three states where the Left has traditionally been strong - Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. However compared to Kerala the other two states are not that well off. I feel there are a number of factors behind this.

Agriculture and manufacturing are two segments of the economy which can employ a lot of people. In all three states there probably have been no major (successful) efforts towards industrialization after the Left came to power. This means that the workforce had to find jobs mostly in agriculture. West Bengal and Kerala have been blessed with fertile soils and water supply to support agriculture. However beyond a point people would not want to remain farmers. Now the next step is either the services industry or manufacturing. IT services were not so popular in the pre-liberalization and pre-dotcom boom days. Tourism and allied industries were also just hobbling along. Hence manufacturing was the obvious other candidate for employment. There were no industries available to gainfully employ the workforce. Hence people were forced to look outside.

For Kerala the Gulf was the closest place which was prosperous economy-wise and stable geopolitically. They seized this opportunity and moved. Bengal and Tripura did not have any such areas like the Gulf closeby. The closest were Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. However I believe a Bengali Singapore (like a Malayali Gulf) did not come up because of a few reasons. Generally (many earlier generation) Bengalis were a content lot and did not aspire for prosperity the way others did. They did not want to move from their hometowns to a new place. Further Singapore developed more because of financial services and trade which require more skilled manpower rather than the Gulf where oil production, a labour-intensive industry dominated. For Tripura the available option was Myanmar, which well, was probably not that great an option, especially after the junta came into power.

I believe another reason for Malayalis' success in the Gulf is religion. Kerala has a significant percentage of Muslim population. As the ET article points out Muslims in Kerala are probably the most prosperous compared to anywhere else in India today. A Muslim Gulf probably was a significant reason why Malayalis were able to prosper. I cannot make a similar case for Bengal or Tripura.

Tripura may not have been able to prosper for another reason - logistics. It is in a landlocked corner of the country. Though Kerala is also at an extreme end this is a very active area, historically, right from Roman times. Due to its location Kerala has been a major gateway throughout history. This also may have had a role to play in Keralites going out the way they have. I am not sure why but traditionally (Hindu) Indians were against crossing the sea. There are still people who hold to this belief. It was said to be polluting or something on those lines, I am not sure what it is exactly.

To summarize, lack of local opportunities, religion (to whatever small extent), a desire to prosper and openness to travel played key roles in Kerala prospering by emigration to the Gulf.

In light of this there are a few things that we need to be cautious about or that we need to do:
1. The Gulf is slowly moving out of oil production into logistics, tourism, financial services etc. This can have a direct effect on our people employed there and forex infows. However I believe, that Indians have happily diversified into these already.
2. Bengal seems to have moved from a militant Left to an equally militant Mamta. She should realize this for the state to prosper. 
3. As part of our engagement with Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh we should focus on majorly boosting infra and trade with the north-eastern states to begin with. The rest of the country can follow after that.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

To practice or to preach, that is the question

This article may offend some, and will definitely bore some, be warned. If it does, do forgive this article as the ranting of an ignoramus.

I was prompted to write this after hearing "Noor-un-ala-noor" from Meenaxi (I love the song) and reading its translation on the Internet. This song forced MF Husain to pull the movie from theatres. I am unable to locate the first page where I saw the translation but this page explains the meaning beautifully.

I have been reading the Aghora Series by Robert Svoboda of late. I would recommend this as a must-read for everyone of all faiths, and for those without faith too. One caveat is that these have to be read with an open mind. Any strait-jacketed mind, irrespective of faith (or the lack of it) may not be able to digest these books. Books like these, Autobiography of a Yogi (Paramahamsa Yogananda) keep reminding us about the unity behind various faiths in the world today. 

At the same time we have people trying to blindly propagate their faith or impose their beliefs on others dogmatically. Here I am referring to proselytizers. Further, on one side we have westerners claiming scholarship on India and her languages, faith etc. imposing their view backed by "scholarship". On the other we have people like Rajiv Malhotra countering them via Indian responses to western views. On another side we have people like Robert Svoboda, westerners who have experienced this land and have shared their experiences. Every religion today seems to have two aspects - one which is strictly religious and "by the book", rigid. The other is more spiritual dealing with the Supreme Power rather than a personal or manifested God.

The song, though Islamic in origin will probably not be liked by many Muslims, especially those following the narrow interpretation of the Taliban and their ilk (remember terrorists banning music in the Kashmir valley?). It talks about the singer seeing God everywhere, as divine light. He sees God in everything. In Hinduism this is the state of the enlightened person, the Gnani, who does not see any distinction between various forms in this creation. He has realized that everything in this creation is God, including himself. There is a line in the song where there is mention of a veil being lifted, after which the singer is able to behold the divine beauty. The Hindu calls this veil, maya. Once this is lifted realization dawns, that he is one with the power behind this creation.

This would sound blasphemous to those who follow strict interpretations of the Abrahamic religions. According to my understanding these do not allow normal people to reach a state of prophethood, a person who has realized God. However I also understand that Jesus himself talks about the Kingdom of God being within us. Look at this interpretation. This externalizes God's kingdom. However I feel the interpretation is much simpler, here, now and actually within reach. Every being irrespective of faith is inherently divine and just needs to realize that (not bookishly like I am saying now, but by experience). Once this realization dawns the person becomes one with the omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent power in the universe - one may call it by any name, it is beyond names.

Now coming back to another inspiration for this article. I used to read scholarly views, doubting the origin, authenticity etc. of the religious and spiritual practices of India. I harboured some doubt myself. Then I also heard discourses by people like Chaganti Koteswara Rao, read books like the Aghora ones. Honestly I hated the book Asura and the Ramayana series by Ashok Banker which sought to retell the Ramayana. I am not saying I am free of doubt now. However, I also realize that some things are beyond argument. Apparently Adi Sankara composed the Bhaja Govindam when he saw an old man talking about grammatical principles. His advice is to go beyond texts, arguments, debates and worship the Lord before it is too late. I am guilty of what the old man did too, also I do not profess any great qualities like self control, humility, lack of egosim etc. which are the basics needed on the spiritual path. However I felt this is something which has to be put out today, when all that people seem to be doing is to debate, rather than try and experience or realize themselves. Of what use are scholarly debates, apart from dividing people? One should realize the unity behind what we see in the world today and try to improve, help oneself.