Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Biennale: Kochi-Muziris 2012

On December 12, the Chief Minister of Kerala would formally inaugurate the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012 at the historic Parade Grounds at Fort Cochin. This would be India’s first Biennale. There was a Triennale at Delhi in 1968, but that was a one shot affair. The Kochi-Muziris 2012 would open the world of art and culture to tens of thousands of people from many countries.

Biennale technically means an art exhibition held every two years. It started in Venice in 1895. The words Thierry Raspail used about the 11th Biennale at de Lyon fits Kochi-Muziris 2012 (Kochi is likely to be better known to people outside Kerala as Cochin) as well - “a kind of gigantic show window for all the best art at the moment.” Additionally, it reflects the history of at least three millennia.

There is also the cultural and historic aspect. The event would include the presentation of a number of traditional performing art forms, literary gatherings and an International Book Fair too. It is not surprising that Kochi-Muziris 2012 has been listed by The New York Times and British Airways Journal as one of the major global events of the year.

The label Kochi-Muziris has great significance. Muziris, in recent years known as Kodumgalloor in Malayalam and Craganore in English, died in the process of Kochi being born.  That was in 1341. Till then Muziris, about 30kms north of Kochi, was one of the most important harbours of the world. People from the East and the West came there for trading.

There are claims that teakwood for King Solomon’s palace went from Muziris. (Whether Solomon really existed is another matter.) Spices from the Malabar Coast were indispensable in the cuisine of the upper class, particularly in the West. The Semites probably had the advantage in the westward trade. They might have known of the direct trade wind across the Arabian Sea before others became aware of it as Hippalus Wind in 45-47 CE.

Several foreigners who came for commerce settled in and around Muziris. It is generally believed that St. Thomas the Apostle landed in Muziris in 52 CE to spread the Word of Jesus Christ. This date appears to have been before Gentiles were admitted to Christianity. Even the word Christian had not been coined then. Some historians mention that the Apostle preached at the synagogues in Malabar.

Apparently there was a sizable Jewish population in Kerala at the beginning of the Christian era. Those converted by St. Thomas and their descendants came to be called Nazranees. There was another large scale migration of Jews to the Malabar Coast during Titan’s siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Many Arabs too had families in Kerala.

This flourishing port of Muziris became defunct in 1341 CE. There are different theories about this. One is that natural silting over the years closed the shipping channels. The other is that heavy floods in River Periyar deposited huge quantities of sand and debris making the port unusable. A third and probably the more likely possibility is that some geophysical occurrence in the sea closed Muziris and opened the connection to the Vembanad Lake at Kochi, making it a safe natural harbour.

PHGCOM India-Rome trade route map.

Envisioning the possibilities of the new port, an alert Perumpadappu Swaroopam (Cochin Royal Family) shifted the capital to near Kochi in 1405. The area started growing into an important international trade centre. A community of Jews moved in. (See: One more Cochini Jew Bids Adieu ) Then came the Portuguese, Dutch and the English. The Arabs were mostly concentrated at Calicut in the north of Kerala. But people from other parts of India like the Gujaratis too settled in Kochi. (See: Kerala: Sand from the lakes)

Raja of Cochin

The Dutch capturing Cochin Harbour from 
Portuguese in 1663.

A view of Cochin in early 19c
English sail ship MALABAR
Paddy fields and coconut groves

A backwater scene.

An old painting of Chinese Net for which
Cochin is famous.

It was against this historical background that the Biennale was named Kochi-Muziris 2012. Originally, the idea of the show was given active support by MA Baby who was the Minister for Culture in the earlier Left-led Kerala Government. He was successful in forming a lead team of government officials, artists and other prominent persons. The Kerala Government also sanctioned funding of Rs.5 crores.

But in Kerala, the land of Raja Ravi Varma, nothing is beyond dispute. Some of the local artists are miffed because they were not included in organizing the Biennale. The media appears to have played it up without studying the details. All that led to the stoppage of government funding.

The Foundation that is managing the Biennale is feeling financial tightness. But there is personal funding. Private benefactors and galleries are also helping. It is only fair that the government conducts a proper enquiry quickly, publicize the findings, and resumes financial assistance.

Perhaps it is not too late for the local artists who feel ignored to get involved in this great effort. KC Joseph, the Minister for Culture who has said that the Government is all set to make the event a success, and Tony Chammani, the Mayor of Cochin can play a major part in bringing everyone together.

This is what Dr. Manmohan Sigh, the Prime Minister said about Kochi-Muziris 2012, “The jewel in the crown of Kerala will now earn prominence thanks to this event, which is aimed at promoting art from across the globe.”

The publicity for the project could have been possibly done more effectively, but there is no doubt that the Biennale would be a great success. It will have a major commercial impact as well. The important venues of the event are Aspinwall House, Pepper House, David Hall and Durbar Hall, all historic locations of Kochi.

Kelly Crow, Art Reporter of Wall Street Journal has tweeted, “FINALLY! India will debut its own contemporary-art biennial called the Kochi-Muziris Biennale on Dec.12 in Kochi, Kerala area.”

The show will be on till 13-03-2013.


Note: All images are from Wikimedia Commons. Some have been edited. CLICK to enlarge.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Savita case, a tragedy in Ireland

A man takes his wife and their young son boating. The boat capsizes in deep waters. The man is a good swimmer but his wife and son can’t swim. The husband can save only one of them. The question here is who should be given the preference. If a decision is delayed, both would drown.

Was it something like this that happened in Ireland last month?   

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Kerala High Court on alcohol policy

Two recent suggestions by the Kerala High Court have become the major talking point in the State. One is that bars should open only at 5 in the afternoon. Lunch time drinkers and those who go to office after some stiff ones certainly won’t like this. But the main point of contention is an earlier observation of the HC to stop toddy tapping and replace that drink with beer.

Keralites celebrated Onam this year with liquor worth Rs.100 crores from the State owned Beverages Corporation. This does not include bar sales, liquor consumption at parties, illicit and smuggled drinks and toddy. (According to senior journalist Vechuchira Madhu nearly 9 million litres of spirits are smuggled into Kerala annually from neighboring states.) God’s Own Country reportedly spends more money on liquor than on rice.

The reactions of different sectors to HC’s toddy to beer suggestion show how strange people can be. One leftist trade union leader claimed that the idea was to break up the toddy taper’s union which CPI (M) controls. The Muslim League welcomed the idea. The Ezhava community which has deep involvement in the toddy business and is a large vote bank, immediately protested that the League’s plan was to hurt them.

The State’s Congress Chief stated that toddy was a healthy drink and the Government would never ban that business. The Excise Minister reacted that the court cannot tell the people what to drink.  

Why did the HC make such a view about toddy? Successive governments have failed to ensure the supply of pure and hygienic toddy. What is being sold in most of the 5000 toddy shops in the State is not the pure stuff. It is said that many toddy shops provide a concoction made with ammonia, ash gourd and some other ingredients including a bit of real toddy for the flavor. There may be other recipes as well. Sometimes arrack which is prohibited in the State is added for greater kick.

Kerala sells 2.9 lakh litres more of toddy per day than what it can produce! About 3.15 lakh coconut trees are tapped in the State. The maximum quantity of toddy that is obtainable from a tree is 1.5 litres a day. That works out to about 4.73 lakh litres. The daily sale is said to be 7.64 lakh litres. Where does the balance come from? There is no import of this item from other States.

Now let us come to Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL), the labelled stuff. By opening the bars only at 5 p.m., some reduction in alcohol consumption can be expected. But the bars account for only 21% of the daily sales. It seems impractical to open the Beverages Corporation outlets also only at 5 p.m. The rush would be considerable.  

What seems important to me is to analyze where the bottles from the shops - mind you, 79% of the total quantity – are taken. Drinking at public places (like the road side), hotel/club rooms and houses of ill-repute cannot be much. One report says that there are over 600 unlicensed bars in the State. They could account for a considerable quantity. Nevertheless it would appear that most of the liquor is drunk at home, either with friends or alone.

Some friends gathering at the same house everyday to drink is unlikely. Mostly it would be the man drinking alone. In some cases the wife might also join. According to statistics, 5% of Indian women drink. In Kerala it could be more. But in many cases the women do oppose the husbands drinking and often not too tactfully.

This is perhaps a deficiency of the several awareness programmes (which have all failed) aimed at the reduction of alcohol consumption. Instead of picketing toddy shops or fighting with the husband about his drinking, why not make it pleasant for the man if he wants to drink at home? It could possibly reduce the quantity he consumes.

Domestic violence is often projected as one of the nasty sides of drinking. But the situation is not too bad. We have fewer problems in this area than some of the Western countries. A 1997 survey in Switzerland showed 20% of their women faced domestic violence. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) confirms that cruelty by husbands has increased in Kerala from 9.8 in 2004 to 11.8 in 2007 while the National average remains at 5.3.  Surprisingly around 60% of Kerala women seem to believe that their husbands have the right to beat them.

Alcohol and Drug Information Centre claims that 80% of the increasing number of divorces in Kerala State are linked to alcohol consumption. But the numbers are not high and mostly the problem is related to the money spent on bottles and temporary sexual inadequacy caused by heavy consumption. No woman would like her gold to be sold to finance drinking or go through the nightmare of sleeping with the drunken husband.

The most shocking situation in Kerala is that even though the legally stipulated minimum age for drinking is 21, school children have openly started hitting the bottle. TV channels were recently showing pictures of boys in school uniforms in the queues at Beverages Corporation outlets. No one there seemed to bother.

Well, that is how it goes. Dr. Thomas Isaac, the Finance Minister in the previous government, once said: “Am I happy that liquor consumption is going up? No never. But it's an assured source of revenue for the government. And even if I don't collect it, there will still be consumption of liquor". Imposing prohibition or increasing the price of alcohol will only help moonshiners and the corrupt persons.

Perhaps the solution lies with the women. A smart, pleasant wife would be able to induce her husband to be at home in the evenings, keep him happy and attempt to make him consume less liquor. Awareness programmes on these lines should be organized for the ladies. That might help.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The mayhem in Orissa

The tragic events in Orissa reminded me of something that happened in 1986 on the eve of the Pope’s arrival in Kerala. I was present at a discussion about the impact the visit could have on the different religious groups in the State. There was apprehension that protests might be organized on the contention that the Pontiff’s trip would adversely affect the Hindu interests and feelings.

One middle aged Nair gentleman concluded the dialogue by saying that Hinduism was not a weak entity that could be damaged by the visit of a Pope. He knew the strength of Hinduism. It is a religion or a way of life that is built on solid theological basis. Jesus Christ is believed to have told His chief disciple, ‘Peter, you are the rock on which I shall build my Church’. The wisdom of the Rishis, and the Vedantas form the indestructible foundation of Hinduism.

History stands witness to this. India has been ruled by the Moghuls and the mighty British. The Portuguese, the Dutch and the French dominated pockets in the country for long periods. In spite of all these, Hinduism survived.

Some people claim to be apprehensive about the future of Hinduism. Do they really believe that there is a genuine threat to the religion? In Orissa, out of the 36.7 million people, 94.35% are Hindus. This includes 5.1 million Dalits and 7 million plus Adivasis; they are the underprivileged.

Most of the Dalits and Adivasis live in abject poverty and backwardness. Reportedly, there are instances of them being denied entry into temples. It is doubtful whether they are accepted as true Hindus by the savarnas (upper class). It would appear that the Christian missionaries are mostly working among these oppressed people.

Uplifting the downtrodden through education and other means often pose problems to the vested interests. When the Portuguese were converting low castes in Kerala in the 17th century, protests arose from the upper caste Hindus and Christians. There was nothing religious about that. It caused inconvenience, economically and otherwise, to the savarnas because conversion released avarnas (lower class) from their caste obligations. (See History of conversions to Christianity in Kerala – an overview )

Another significant point is that the Christians, not Muslims, are the second largest religious congregation in Orissa, though their strength is only about 620,000. The Muslim population is even less, and rather subdued. It is the Christians who provide education and other amenities to the backward people, thereby empowering them.

Affiliation to any particular religion is not a prerequisite to be a citizen of India. That is what secularism is all about. And, any citizen of India is free to do what he wants within the bounds of law. That is what democracy means, what the Constitution guarantees. Again, it is the job of the government to enforce law, not that of a citizen or a group. That is known as the rule of law.

Any one who breaks the law should be brought to book. This includes erring missionaries, bogus god men and people who indulge in arson and murder for whatever cause. Those responsible for the killing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader and his four aides last Saturday, whether Naxals or Christians, should be arrested and prosecuted without delay. The same should apply to those who indulged in criminal activities since then. That is the duty of the government.

We have an ancient civilization. Every Indian should be proud of that. But what is happening in Orissa today is making a mockery of our heritage and traditional values.

Very sad indeed!

Cross posted from Song of the waves - Parayil A. Tharakan Blog

Monday, June 23, 2008

Nuclear Deal: The Left, and right

Last week India witnessed two ominous events. The first was yet another incursion into Indian territory by the Chinese. The other was the Left parties carrying the brinkmanship on India’s talks with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) almost to a point of no return.

What is the problem with IAEA negotiations? Accord with IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a prerequisite for concluding India’s 123 Nuclear Agreement with the USA. The IAEA, which was originally formed as ‘Atoms for Peace’ under the UN umbrella, is the premier agency for promoting safe, secure and peaceful use of atomic energy. Without their approval, India may not be able to procure uranium, the critical material, even for the existing facilities.

China has been a member of IAEA from 1984. The statement made by China at the IAEA General Conference in 1997 says, "China always supports the safeguards activities of the Agency. China signed the voluntary-offer safeguards agreement with the Agency soon after joining it, and subsequently acceded to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the NPT, displaying China's consistent sincere wish for the maintenance of world peace and stability…” The full text can be read at http://www.nti.org/db/China/engdocs/chiaea97.htm [Accessed on 21/6/08]

Why do the Communists oppose India’s discussions with the IAEA? Their view seems to be that India should limit its atomic cooperation to Russia. But Russia has made it clear that India has to obtain clearance from the IAEA and the NSG before future collaboration in the nuclear field can be effective. Russia is reportedly supporting Indo-US Nuclear Pact.

It is generally considered that India’s nuclear technology is more advanced than China’s. Both countries accept the reality that atomic plants are essential to meet their energy needs. Ground realities do not sustain the Indian Communist’s claim that alternate sources like coal can provide the country’s power requirements. Therefore, it is not surprising that the major parties in the country do not oppose the idea of an Indo-US Nuclear Deal.

Is the Left unaware that China would be the gainer if India’s nuclear energy program is thwarted? China is rapidly expanding their atomic power capability with mostly Western technology. Even Westinghouse of USA had helped them build a facility. According to reports China’s plan is to expand their nuclear energy capacity six-fold by 2020.

If the Indo-US Nuclear Pact becomes a reality and India enters the world market, there would be escalation of the demand for and prices of uranium. Neither India nor China is self-sufficient in this metal. If India is out, China can procure uranium at low prices and outpace India’s development. By the time India stabilizes its thorium (indigenously available and cheaper) based technology in the next few decades, China would be too far ahead.

If the NPA, more specifically the Congress, genuinely believes that the Deal is good for the country, they should go ahead and conclude the talks with the IAEA and sign the 123 Agreement. That may lead to premature election and possible loss of power. The Left parties, in turn, would have the chance to face the people and vindicate their stand.

It would be a historic day for India if those in power decide to put the country before the self interest of hanging on to their seats.


Also see:

Indo-US nuclear agreement

123 Go - BY THE BOOK

[Cross posted from: Song of the waves - Parayil A. Tharakan Blog]

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Caste Wall Story

Have you been following the ‘caste wall’ case in Uthapuram village near Madurai, Tamil Nadu? According to the media this is what happened: On May 6, the government authorities opened a passage through the wall that separated the Dalit and Pillaimar (higher to Dalits on the caste scale) sections of the village.

In protest the 500 odd Pillaimar families left their homes and moved to live in the open on the nearby hills. They claim that they had built the wall on their patta land for protection after a clash in 1989 which resulted in the death of six people and torching of several houses. They refuse to come back to the village unless the government establishes a full fledged police station there, grants compensation for the houses destroyed in the 1989 clashes and allots them a plot of land to build a temple.

There are several legal, moral and political angles to this stand off. The Pillaimars blame the Marxists for inciting the Dalits. The leftists on the other hand claim that the wall was one of shame that perpetuated untouchability. CPI (M) General Secretary Prakash Karat rushed to the spot to rally the Dalits. The non-Dalit Hindus were quick to support the Pillaimars.

Which group has more votes? Would that be the basis on which the problem is finally sorted out?

Now, a shift of scene from Tamil Nadu to Kerala. My village has never known a caste or religious conflict. The population consists mainly of Hindus (high caste, backward class and scheduled caste) and Christians (high caste and scheduled caste). There are three temples and three churches (all Syrian Christian) within a mile radius of my home.

The first temple belonged to upper caste Hindus of course. With the Temple Entry Proclamation by the Maharaja of Travancore in 1936, lower castes could also enter the temple, but always had to be contented with backseats. The Ezhavas (Backward Class) built a place of worship of their own, in which the Scheduled Caste Pulayas hardly had any role. Well, ten years back the Pulayas built their own temple.

The Catholic Church played it smart. It consecrated the newest church to St. Martin de Porres who is the patron of backward people and announced that it was mainly meant for the Pulaya converts. Well, a couple of them are on the Parish Council. No Latin church, since that community doesn’t have a presence in the area.

Each community now has its own place of worship and thing to do. No need for inter caste clashes. That the Marxists have infiltrated into all these religious places is another matter.

Is this the answer to what seems to the never ending communal/caste conflicts in India? ‘Unity in diversity’?

What do you think?


Also see:

Caste System: Is Kerala still a madhouse?

Kumaran, son of Kuruppan

Cross posted from Song og the waves - Parayil A. Tharakan Blog

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kerala Brahmins – moving with the times

(This is posted from
Song of the waves - Parayil A. Tharakan Blog)

Kerala Brahmins are called Nampoothiris. How long have they been present in this small State in the southwestern corner of India? The legend is that Lord Parasurama created Kerala from the sea and settled several Brahmin families in the new land. Another view is that Kerala emerged from the waters of the Arabian Sea due to some geophysical phenomena in the distant past.

Whatever that might be, undoubtedly the Nampoothiri presence in the State goes back at least a millennium. It is believed that stringent caste system was introduced in Kerala around 9c CE. All through their known history the Nampoothiris have made great contributions in many fields.

During the centuries that have passed the rituals, practices and conventions of the Nampoothiri community remained more or less stagnant. This naturally led to practical difficulties as times changed. Eight years back a committee of fifteen acharayas was formed by the Yogakshema Sabha Vidika Parishad to look into the problem. After in-depth studies and intense debates this peer group modified and codified the traditional practices and rituals of the community.

This alteration covers sixteen major areas including Nompoothiri veli (marriage). This function, which was spread over four days, has now been recast into four kriyas conducted in a single day.

I understand that the reformation is done without disturbing or compromising the traditional conventions, convictions and canons. The revision is based on the belief that Brahmin culture is established by the sages for the good of mankind and the ultimate objective of blending with the Paramatma.

Azhuvancheri Thamprakkal, who is the doyen of the Nampoothiri community, announced the new code earlier this month. In my humble opinion, this is a great stride in bringing the nampoothiris in fusion with modern times without diluting the basics.

(This is based on a report in Malayala Manorama of April 13, 2008.)


Also see:

Vedas, Syrian Christians