Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sri Lankan crisis - solution anyone?

The Indian Centre for South Asian Studies was formally launched on June 18 at the Hotel Savera, just before the commencement of a two-day seminar titled ‘Deepening Political Crisis in Sri Lanka’. Speaking at the inaugural, Prof. V. Suryanarayan, who founded the Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras, said that the idea of starting the Indian Centre was to sensitise people about the unfolding scenario in the neighbourhood. Many such organisations do not broaden their base, trying to convince the same people who are already convinced, he said, adding that the Indian Centre would be different – it would spread its reach and focus more on the youth and student community. Knowledge is power, he reiterated; those who control knowledge will control the world.

“Countries close to us have become intellectually distant from India. The division of Asia into South and Southeast took place in Chicago after World War II. How many know that the distance from Phuket (Thailand) and Indira Point (southern most tip of India) is less than the distance between Chennai and Madurai?” he asked. “Our foreign policy is reactive. There are no efforts to study emerging trends in the region. Many in the IFS are not sensitive to happenings in the neighbourhood,” he said.

Prof. Suryanarayan referred to Romesh Bhandari, former Indian foreign secretary, who did not know happenings on the ground, and his “menumental ignorance” about Tamil names and aspirations. There was the feeling during Rajiv Gandhi’s regime that the Tigers (LTTE) could be neutralized within two weeks. However, it was wrong, totally wrong, the reason why the IPKF adventure failed badly. “Dynamic and vibrant think tanks are needed to provide meaningful inputs to Indian foreign policy. But we are content with our jobs and research priorities,” he pointed out.

Former Indian Ambassador N.N. Jha referred to the sharp deterioration in inter-community relations in Sri Lanka, of ethnically two groups of Indian origin who like India but keep quarreling. He recounted his experience with a Sri Lankan he had met during his first innings in the island nation, in 1958, the Sri Lankan had donated land for the setting up a branch of the Viswa Bharati, and had also contributed magnanimously to the renovation of old temples.

So, what is the solution to the Sri Lankan crisis? Is a military solution an answer? Jha did not think so. But he had no concrete suggestions either.

It was Sukumar Nambiar, a national executive member of the BJP, who took the initiative to establish the Indian Centre for South Asian Studies and to organise the seminar. Whether it will prove effective in moulding public opinion and become a reference point for issues connected to the neighbourhood, we will have to wait and see.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A special bond with dogs

Dr. Chinny Krishna’s name is almost synonymous with the Blue Cross of India. Not surprising, since he is its founder member and has been a member of its governing body and editor and publisher of the Blue Cross newsletter for 43 years. Dr. Krishna finds time to visit one of the five Blue Cross centres everyday. He is on the board of the World Society for Protection of Animals and one of the signatories to the People for Animals (PfA) Trust. He was Vice Chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India (2001-04).

Not many know that Dr. Krishna is also the managing director of Aspick Engineering Pvt. Ltd., an ISO 9001 company that manufactures special purpose machines for the Department of Atomic Energy and Space Research as well as for many large corporations in India and abroad.

If you visit Aspick, you will find several dogs lazing in the premises, some comfortably asleep in chairs in Dr. Krishna’s office. For lunch, the dogs, mongrels all, have porridge from bowls laid neatly outside. Dr. Krishna’s love for mongrels is reflected on a notice board that visitors to the factory cannot miss: ‘If you can’t decide between an Alsatian, a Doberman or a Poodle, get them all. Adopt a mongrel from the Blue Cross shelter and get everything you are looking for – all in one dog. The intelligence of a Poodle and loyalty of a Lassie, the bark of a Shepherd and the heart of a St. Bernard, the spots of a Dalmatian and size of a Schnauzer and the speed of a Greyhound. A genuine all-Indian has it all. Get the best of everybody. Adopt a mongrel’. Dr. Krishna and Nanditha have 14 dogs at home, all mongrels.

How did Dr. Krishna cultivate his love for animals? “I probably owe it to my grandfather, T.S. Krishnamurti, principal of the Government Arts College, Coimbatore, who instilled in us a great sense of reverence for all life. Our conversations at the dinner table centred on a wide range of subjects, and animal welfare was a part,” he says, adding, “We’ve always had cats and dogs; many mongrels found a home with us. During 1949-54, we even had a goat that was rescued from the Yelahanka air base.”

Coimbatore-born Krishna grew up in Bangalore where his grandmother took care of him. After seven years at A.C. College, Guindy, from where he obtained his B. Tech and M. Tech degrees in chemical engineering, Krishna gained an M.S. and Ph.D. in management from the USA. It was in 1959 that his parents Usha (India’s first woman pilot) and V. Sundaram (also a pilot) decided to start a small clinic for animals at home. The clinic was registered in 1964 as the Blue Cross of India. Dr. Krishna was one of the nine co-signatories of its Articles and Memorandum.

The same year, appalled by the horrific way the Corporation of Madras was killing street dogs, the Blue Cross began to study the issue. “We were surprised to learn that the Corporation, one of the oldest in the world, had started its catch-and-kill programme in 1860. Section 218 of the Madras City Municipal Corporation Act of 1919 authorised catching and killing any dog on the street that did not have a license tag,” Dr. Krishna points out. Soon, Dr. F.D. Wilson, Chief of Surgery, Madras Veterinary College, and Honorary Medical Advisor of the Blue Cross inaugurated a free spaying centre at Dr. Krishna’s home on Bazullah Road. “Spaying by a skilled veterinarian is a relatively simple operation. Only a small incision is required, the operation takes only 15-20 minutes, and very few animals show any sign of discomfort after the operation. A spayed female dog or cat is permanently removed from the danger of breeding,” Dr. Krishna explains.

Today, thanks to Krishna’s initiative, the Blue Cross (www.bluecrossofindia.org.in) runs a successful animal birth control (ABC) programme at its centres on Lloyd Road and in Toducadu, Tiruvallur, and full-fledged animal shelters in Velachery and Kunnam, near Sriperambudur. It employs 50 people, including veterinarians, drivers, attenders and a cook. Till 1987, the Blue Cross had no paid staff; its early vehicle drivers were pilots.

The Blue Cross ABC programme in south Chennai and 17 municipalities is something Krishna is proud of. “Until 1995, as many as 135 dogs were being killed at the Corporation Dog Pound. In 1996, thanks to M. Abul Hasan, Corporation Commissioner who later became Special officer, we were able to start the programme. He gave us a chance to prove that ABC works and assured us that he would personally monitor the programme and that no dog spayed and vaccinated would be caught.” ABC worked, and the killing of dogs at the Dog Pound stopped. The Corporation converted the Pound into an animal birth control centre that is now looked after by the PfA. Madras and Jaipur were the first Indian cities to start a sustained ABC programme.

In Madras, a Blue Cross supervisor would accompany the dog van. Each dog caught was carefully tagged with details of the exact location from where it was picked up. Initially, about 30 dogs were collected each week from areas such as Adyar, Besant Nagar, Kalakshetra Colony, Thiruvanmiyur, Taramani, Kotturpuram, Guindy, Saidapet, Ekkaduthangal, St. Thomas Mount and Velachery.

“Across the world, it has been found that catching and killing stray dogs has never led to a long-term reduction of the stray dog population. Because dogs from neighbouring areas move in to fill the vacuum, and the number of strays depends on the availability of food and breeding grounds. Today, the number of street dogs in Chennai has reduced by 70 percent. The purpose of the programme is also to bring down the number of cases of rabies,” Dr. Krishna says. In Chennai, the number of rabies deaths reduced from 120 in 1996 to 5 in 2004; Jaipur has reported no rabies death 2001 onwards (ten cases were recorded in 1996).

Is Dr. Chinny Krishna happy with what the Blue Cross of India has achieved? “How soon can we change things? How soon can we make the Blue Cross redundant? When can we shut down and throw away the key? Those were the questions that played in our minds when we established the organisation. It was a sort of dream. But obviously, we have failed. Today, we have to look after abandoned pets too. Many pet owners buy dogs as status symbols. When they face a problem, the dog is left on the road. What kind of human beings are we?”

Nurturing young minds

Can two hours of teaching a week for three months make a difference to a child? Shaarada K. Sriram, Managing Director, Ideal Play Abacus India Pvt. Ltd. (IPA) is convinced that it can. Her conviction is based on feedback from thousands of parents who have found tremendous improvement in the overall academic performance of their children after they joined IPA. Shaarada’s organisation has grown rapidly ever since it was founded in July 2003, in Chennai. Today, she and Chitra Ravindran, her business partner and Director-Training, and their team of about 1,000 teachers spread across India cater to 50,000 registered students, through 400 centres.

Abacus is an ancient Chinese tool still widely used in place of the calculator in China. On each rod of the abacus, there are four beads below the beam and one bead above. The beads blow the rod are each equal to 1, while the one above is equal to 5. Analysis has shown that the development and growth of the brain is most pronounced when a child is 4-12 years old. Using abacus, children are trained to use the right and left halves of the brain effectively, helping them concentrate better, improve speed and accuracy, and develop analytical thinking. In 2000, when abacus was a new concept in India, Shaarada had gone to see the product as a parent. She was so impressed that she decided to pay Rs 60,000 and become a franchisee. It was a difficult task convincing parents to send their children to try out a new concept, but Shaarada’s door-to-door canvassing helped.

IPA, ISI 9001:2000-certified from the British Standards Institute, is affiliated to Play Abacus Sdn Bhd, Malaysia, and Guang Xi Abacus Association, China. It is the only Indian company to have received the Premier Achievement Training Certificate from the Chinese Abacus Association. Shaarada and her directors are trained in advanced concepts such as square-roots, cubic-roots and fractions. All teachers are graduates with good communication skills and love for children. Stevan Tan, President, Play Abacus Sdn Bhd, formulates the curriculum training.

IPA’s success with abacus led to the introduction of Vedic mathematics in 2006. IPA’s Vedic mathematics programme now covers 125 centres in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan.

A system of mental calculation based on the Atharvaveda, an ancient Vedic text, Vedic mathematics can speed up arithmetic calculation and has applications to more advanced mathematics, such as calculus and linear algebra. Calculations are carried out mentally – students can invent their own methods, there is no one ‘correct’ method.

Abacus includes a lot of writing activity for children. Noticing that several children had bad handwriting, Shaarada started classes in handwriting as a summer activity, and recently launched IPA’s handwriting programme.

Another recent introduction from IPA has been the Creative World of Colours, an arts programme that makes use of a wide range of teaching aids and colouring material such as colour pencils, oil pastels, and water and poster colours to stimulate creativity in children. The programme, conducted in association with the Malaysian partner, comprises six levels and includes recognition of colours, shapes, simple drawing and craft, drawing animals and cartoons, mastering colouring skills, and using poster colours. Certificates are presented to students who pass each level.

The winner of the Best Woman Entrepreneur of the Year 2006 Award from Franchise India Holdings Ltd., New Delhi, Shaarada owes her success to her excellent network of franchisees and high quality standards. “We have made a lot of difference to women too. Most of our franchisees are women. We have seen the attitudes of these women change, their increased confidence. There’s also satisfaction in seeing children wearing our T-shirts and carrying our bags in different parts of the country.”

IPA demo students have travelled to Jammu in the midst of army tanks and escaped bomb blasts in Assam. Shaarada and Chitra have several stories to narrate, of how they came up the hard way. Once, while travelling to Bangalore by train, for a presentation in Hosur, they had to get down at Krishnarajapuram and take an auto to the venue. There was no time to change clothes or have breakfast. And while Shaarada was making the presentation, her student helping her with it almost collapsed, tired after the journey. Another time, Shaarada had to rush to for a demonstration to Amritsar from Delhi. No train ticket was available. She chose to go by the night bus, without her family’s knowledge. “Only Chitra knew. Seated next to me was a Sardar, and I spent a sleepless night,” she recalls.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

When heavyweights speak

There are only three students at the SRM Nightingale School in West Mambalam attending the PG Diploma course in Journalism. One, a Sri Lankan, is a journalist, and another, does the layout and design for a local Tamil paper. Although there was some apprehension about starting the course with only three students, it seems to have been a good decision to kick-off the PG Diploma in Journalism course – for one, the three students have been fairly serious, and for another, almost all the faculty members, some of them distinguished in their fields, have shown interest in teaching the three. And it’s a pleasure for someone coordinating the course to have a few heavyweights address just three students.

Recently, there was Prof. V. Suryanarayan, well respected for his views on India and its neighbours and director of the Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies. It was only two weeks since the professor had had an eye surgery, but he was gamed enough to come and talk on subjects such as the genesis of the Kashmir problem, the Sri Lankan crisis, the Northeast imbroglio, and also about how Gandhiji was against partition of India and his days in Naokhali in West Bengali during India’s Independence.

Incidentally, the Indian Centre for South Asian Studies is organising a bi-national seminar on ‘Deepening Political Crisis in Sri Lanka’ on June 18 and 19 at Hotel Savera. The seminar will see some interesting speakers, including Prof. Suryanarayan – N.N. Jha, former Indian Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Nepal; G. Parthasarathy, former Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan; and some distinguished Sri Lankans as well. The Indian Centre for South Asian Studies is a research institution that has been established recently, to study the problems facing the South Asian region and their impact on foreign policy. Jha will formally launch this organization on June 18 at the inaugural session of the seminar.

The convener of the seminar is Sukumar Nambiar (98400 33128).

Saturday, June 07, 2008

No match for books

For years, Chennai has had only two morning newspapers – that is, after The Mail closed down in the early 1980s. Readers really had nothing much to choose from – while the older paper was conservative, the other was bold and often made for interesting reading. However, for credibility, people relied more on the older.

The newspaper publishing business in Chennai changed after the launch of a newspaper headquartered in Hyderabad. And the scene has changed further with the recent arrival of the fourth – from Mumbai stables.

So, how are the four papers different? How do you choose one, or even two? Surely, reading all four with the supplements is impossible even if you are unemployed! In any case, news stories are likely to be similar; and with features too, there’s hardly much that stands out – it’s all about fashion and lifestyles, parties and Page 3 celebrities, and about people and places you have read over and over again.

Don’t forget there are business newspapers too – there are now five, with the launch of a new one from the same Hyderabad stable. And an evening newspaper as well.

To top it all, there is television, news as it unfolds. And there is the BBC, CNN, Discovery and National Geographic if you are keen on watching some excellent documentaries.

Another thought: does reading two or four newspapers really enhance your knowledge? At the end of it, how much do you gain? Not much, I’d say.

Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that books are much better companions; they open out the world to us much better. Sad that many of us are not able to make time to read good books. If only we could!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Poor feeding on a birthday

This morning I visited the Mahalingapuram Ayyappan Temple with my mother – her birthday. She had wanted to pray and to feed the poor. A newly married couple and the marriage party were leaving as we entered. Inside, arrangements were being made for the child-naming ceremonies; one or two families were waiting with the bonny babies.

At the stroke of ten, the watchman called out to two or three poor, old people who were waiting outside. As they came towards the entrance, others like them followed. My mother then distributed the food packets, 50 of them, all in less then 15 minutes! One packet she took to an old and infirm person lying on the ground at a distance, and at the end of it all, she said she hadn’t felt better in a long time.

The Mahalingapuram Ayyappan Temple is one of the oldest and best maintained temples in the city. When Ayyappa devotees in Nungabakkam formed the Sree Ayyappa Bhakta Sabha in 1968, the objective was to conduct weekly bhajans and the yearly Ayyappan Vilakku celebrations during the Mandalam-Makaravilakku period. Gradually with the growth in membership and activities, the Sabha felt the need for independent premises to conduct religious discourses and cultural programmes.

The pratishtha and kumhabhishelam of the sanctum sanctorum was performed in 1974. Simultaneously, the smaller temples to Lord Vigneshwara and Lord Muruga were completed. The sthala pooja was performed in 1970 by the high priest of the Chottanikara Temple near Ernakulam. The poojas at the temple are performed by namboodiris strictly according to the Agama Sastra and the advice of the Sabararimala high priest.

The Sabha has a well-stocked library and it also runs a medical centre in Pushpa Nagar.