Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Namma Arcot Road: the team that made it happen



It's never easy to organise a public event. And for those who work, are mothers, wives and daughters, it's all the more difficult. That the Namma Arcot Road initiative has held out despite the odds is due to the excellent team spirit among the coordinators. And this time, it was a full team that delivered. They went one step further to donate part of the proceeds to Arvind Foundation, a charitable organisation for special children.

Here's a picture of the team after the event and another I particularly liked - because it reflected the spirit of the evening more than any other picture.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Women power to the fore at Namma Arcot Road jamboree






A woman expresses herself in many languages… Vimal is one of them. Remember that famous tagline that Reliance used for Vimal saris in the mid-1970s? That came from advertising legend Frank Simoes who also crafted some absolutely stunning visuals to go with that breathtaking tagline. Simoes, a genius who was also one of India’s best copy writers ever, is no more but his tagline continues to find expression in various ways.

This means that women, despite the odds, do find ways of expressing themselves when given a chance. Of course we all know (or do we?) that women are loving and caring, they go out of their way to please whom they like (mothers, fathers, siblings and children) and also people they don’t much care for (husbands and mother-in-laws, somehow father-in-laws come out as squeaky clean), they are more genuine in their affections than men are, and they have the amazing energy to work almost everywhere.

Multitasking may be a new word, but women over centuries have been doing just that. What they also do with equal aplomb is freaking out or having fun if you like, when given an opportunity. The pleasure they derive from small things, a man can never understand and at times it might even seem stupid to some men, but when women let go there’s no stopping them. And it really cuts across all age groups. I saw proof of that last night.

Well, I’m glad that Namma Arcot Road coordinators are also determined to have fun while trying focus on issues such as heritage. They (it’s an all-woman team) probably never had as much fun and excitement as they did when they put up a women’s fest at Hotel Green Park. When the moment arrived they were all out in resplendent attire – from jeans and Capri to Kanjeevaram silks and Garden chiffons, they were all there, 24-carat (or 18) gold or funky jewellery to match. I overheard (didn’t eavesdrop) one asking another while the music was on, where the latter had her low-cut blouse stitched. And then she drew aside up her sari pallu to examine closely the beads that hung from those blouse sleeves. I almost winced.

There were only a few men who dared enter the hall; there were quite a few outside swaying their heads from side to side to catch of glimpse of goings-on inside. And the few who were inside, were a photographer or two, a husband who was called to judge a ramp walk, and maybe (give credit to them) one or two who had the gall.

So, for about three hours, there was music and dance, singing aloud, and a variety of games that saw paper cups, buckets, glasses, water and even biscuits being used. Can you imagine men coming up with this sort of thing! Well, I can’t. But it was such a pleasure, seeing women in their 70s jiving and keeping pace with those in their teens and early twenties. There were also times when I almost burst out laughing (outside the hall, that is), like when a 71-year-old said she wanted to sing for her 78-year-old husband (he was probably at home) and then she cracked up after dishing out hardly a line of legible prose (or poetry if you will). Later on, I saw her going wild on the dance floor as if there was no tomorrow.

The ramp walk saw women climb the stage one after the other and strutting about a little, swaying to the music, each one a winner in some way. They didn’t need a Sabira Merchant (diction expert for Femina Miss India), a Queenie Singh (image and make-over expert), an Anupam Kher (acting mentor) or a Shiamak Davar (dance guru) to train them. So, more power to such women…

The pictures aren’t too good or clear (I didn’t take them) but they’ll give you a flavour of a night that was. The first two shows the packed hall; then the games with paper cups and the mysterious bucket; and you can se the oldies freaking out in the last one…

Remembering Selvaraj Carvalho, once again...

I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Chris Carvalho (Christy as I know him), about whose father, Selvaraj, I had written in an earlier blog, titled, ‘Requiem for a neighbour and a gentleman’. I’m reproducing his note so that others who know Selvaraj and Chris and their families, will get to read and understand Christy’s sentiments. I felt quite touched, and swallowed hard as I watched the video that shows a young Selvaraj and the place where he worked. This is what social documentation is all about. If only we had more Christys… Here’s the email he sent me:


Sashi,

Thanks for this blog. You have said so many good things about my dad.

I received this email while I was traveling and read this in KL airport.

Life in Sangeetha Colony is a remarkable one. We virtually grew up with the likes of Anita (D-107E), Kiran & Kishan (D-113F), Praful & Pravin Nair (D106F), Bindu, Binny, Bobby and many others who moved into the colony back in 1978. And we were all so well connected during those days, which seems lacking a bit now.

Mum & dad were planning to visit Oz & NZ back in 2001. Dates fixed, tickets purchased, when dad came to know that the insurance does not cover his heart condition. I tried convincing him that we can meet the expenses in case of an eventuality, he was not convinced; he did not want to burden us. This sealed the fate of any chance for him to visit us. And, mum couldn't leave him to visit us. However, I'm glad that we were able to visit them 6 times in the last 4 years, thanks to our stay in Brunei which is much closer to India. And, we were able to host a fantastic 50th wedding anniversary celebration for them, which was probably the last time that mum, dad and the 4 of us were together.

Retirement is a fantastic portion of our life and my dad lived this very well. He was positive about it. Usually, sickness in old age can be attributed to loss of hope and uncertainty. He was never sick. And his prayer, life and his relationship with God was the pillar of his hope and strength. It was only in the last few days that he was getting frail and Angelo's demise could have been a major factor.

His life has taught me a lot. Your blog has certainly been uplifting. Thanks for sharing this with me.

I am emailing a YouTube link which might interest you. We were in Tudiyalur for 5 years where Franky was born. In fact, the old photo was taken even before his birth. Dad was the factory manager for that T.Stanes fertilizer factory. I briefly visited this place on 29-Dec-10, less than 3 months back! Showed this video to dad and he was very happy. He had shared his feelings about this video to the neighbors.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sH-Xn3oDGL0&feature=youtube_gdata_player

BTW, dad's name is Ambrose Santiago Carvalho, as on the baptism certificate. Selvaraj is what his mum called him and eventually made it to his SSLC certificate, his passport etc. For all purposes, his name is Selvaraj Carvalho.


Chris Carvalho

Friday, March 25, 2011

Do we need polio campaigns when there are urgent public health issues that need attention?

Since 2004, there has been no case of polio in Tamil Nadu. Despite that, the State has continued with the pulse polio campaign from 2004 till date. This, according to Sheela Rani Chunkath, chairperson and managing director, Tamil Nadu Industrial Investment Corporation Ltd, who was speaking at the inaugural of the PII-UNICEF workshop conducted to sensitise journalists to issues concerning children and women.

Chunkath stressed there were many more urgent public health issues than polio; even many more deaths from traffic accidents during 2000-10, for instance. Everything had to be done with a sense of proportion, she said, and pointed to multinational pharmaceutical companies who wanted to sell their medicines in the Indian market that was open for grabs, rather than addressing more pressing issues such as malnutrition and diabetes that resulted in many deaths.

A simple HBA 1C test for diabetes, Chunkath pointed out, was good enough to judge the sugar levels of people. But hardly anybody knew this, she said, adding that enough was not being done to educate people about illnesses such as diabetes.

Touching on aspects of social development issues concerning women, Chunkath said that there was no data on maternal deaths or on infant mortality, no facilities for emergency obstetric care when women did in fact visit the local hospitals. Tamil Nadu, she emphasised had one of the best public health systems and “the government can do anything if it sets its mind to it”. She was, however, not for government hospitals adamant on 100 per cent institutionalised delivery for providing incentive; there was no harm in babies being born at home, but the incentive should still be given, she said.

“Institutionalised delivery is working in Tamil Nadu. Men have no idea about the trauma of birth; there’s no empathy for women,” she said, and referred to the Birth Companion programme she had introduced where every woman had a companion while delivering a child. She rued the stamping out of traditional birth behaviour (delivery of babies at home), and the dying skills of the dai, the traditional birth attendant.

Dwelling on the aspect of female infanticide, Chunkath said that from 1995 there were no details as to how many children had been killed as a result. During her term as State health secretary, she had embarked on a vigorous campaign to stamp out the practice in districts, blocks and villages, especially in areas such as Dharmapuri, Salem, Namakkal and Usilampatti where female infanticide was rampant. Chunkath termed it a post-Independence phenomenon and described its origins to the patriarchal family system where women were not allowed to light the funeral pyre, they had no inheritance rights, and were seen as incapable of looking after old parents. She was all for “shaking patriarchy” and wondered how educated doctors could be so insensitive and send women to scan centres that were doing roaring business. “Abortion is legal in India but you cannot unleash it on women. No doctor should be willing to reveal the sex of the unborn child. Educated people are the problem,” she said.

Coming to child health care, Chunkath said only allopathic drugs were administered to children in Corporation schools. Herbal (Ayurveda, Siddha) medicines can be introduced into the school health programme, medicines which could easily tackle headaches, fever, diarrhoea and dysentery. “We need validation from the West. Look within Tamil Nadu, at what resources we have. We need a strong government that looks at people’s interest,” she said.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lessons to learn: working journalists do not have the time / inclination to sit through 2-day workshops

Journalists are generally not known to be a patient lot. Most get restive easily, quite a few have a chip on the shoulder, and then there are those who don’t suffer fools gladly (I belong to the last category). At press conferences, there are even stringers and junior reporters who try to show how important they are. There are also hangers-on, those who come for a free lunch or dinner (when there are cocktails you’ll find more of them) and then disappear. However, during my two decades and more in journalism and PR, I’ve been fortunate to meet some wonderful reporters and writers and editors, many of whom have remained close friends for years. I’ve seen the passion in some for chatting up sources, digging in-depth for stories and churning out error-free copy. Perhaps they would have found the time for workshops as well.

That was more than a decade ago when life was more easy-paced and The Hindu didn't have competition in Madras, and The Times of India didn't have competition in Bombay. In today’s world of competitive journalism, where time is of the essence, few reporters will have the time or inclination to remain closeted in a workshop for two days. Unless, of course, the newspaper or magazine or TV network is sponsoring the journalist. WAN-IFRA (World Association of Newspapers and Publishers) conducts workshops that are quite expensive, judging by Indian standards, but there are top newspapers that pay and nominate journalists or photographers or designers to attend. Such sessions are usually handled by an expert in the field, and usually from overseas. The participation fee is high not only for the quality of content, but also to meet the expert’s fee, his airfare and hotel accommodation. But overall, WAN-IFRA has had a fairly successful run with such workshops and has in recent times built a name for itself in this respect.

On the other hand, when you offer a two-day workshop for free, with no commitment from any of the major newspaper or magazine publishers or TV or online networks to send their reporters or editors to attend, chances are that participation will be far from encouraging. And that is how the workshop conducted jointly by the Press Institute of India and UNICEF earlier this week turned out to be. It was only the inaugural and opening session that saw a reporter each from three of Chennai’s mainline English newspapers, and a few from the Tamil press. Once all of them left, the challenge was to how to get participants and show numbers. There was a sprinkling of freelance writers but if UNICEF and PII were looking at a select target audience, it was missing. On the second day, a few students from the Asian College of Journalism arrived to make up for lost space. That some of them might have benefited at the end is another story.

It’s a lesson for the future. If free workshops have to succeed, then the organisers must have a short, interactive session, primarily with handpicked journalists, allowing others to attend only if they have a record of writing on the subject at hand. They must list out the journalists who are covering events that they wish highlighted and who are likely to be interested in attending; the next step is to talk to the heads / editors of various publications and ensure that the person wanted is permitted to attend. Sending emails and making the odd calls just do not work.

The organisers must also understand that the compulsions of the city editor in a large newspaper are huge, especially during election time. He or she will not be able to spare a reporter for two days, even if the reporter is not on the political beat. Quite a few reporters double up as copy editors and their absence in the newsroom is felt almost immediately. So, the timing of workshops is another factor that needs consideration.

Also, it’s a question of money spent – for the hall and food for two days. And as is more often the case, the results will not be there for anyone to see. There was coverage of the inaugural by a couple of the city’s leading newspapers, but then that was not really the main objective of the workshop. The hope is that those who stayed back and benefited will bring to bear what they have learnt in future writings concerning issues related to children and women.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Some more lingering images from Sabarimala






Lingering images of Sabarimala… thick forests; devotes being carried on the doli; and one of several points where beads, malas and other knick-knacks hawked attracted passing devotees.

The fourth picture shows the soothsayers and removers of obstacles at the Malikapuram Temple dedicated to Malikapurathama, who according to legend emerged from the body of the demon, Mahishi, destroyed by Lord Ayyappa. She wanted to marry Ayyappa but he refused, saying he was a Brahmachari. When she pleaded, he said he would when there were no first-time visitors to his shrine.

The last picture might intrigue many. But the mannequin has always been there for years and you usually spot it as you descend. The person owning her sells an assortment of clips and other implements that can be used to style a woman’s hair. Some entrepreneurship… considering that the women who are supposed to trek up and down the hill must be bordering 50 and girls below 10 wouldn’t need them anyway. But who said men don’t buy stuff for their wives and girlfriends back home. They do, and this picture is proof of that.

Sabarimala - more images






The waters of the Pamba were placid this time, with hardly a crowd at the banks as the first two pictures show. But there was lot of litter / leftovers and the authorities had done nothing to keep the place clean. The tender coconut vendor here waits for customers even as the mercury hits a high for March. The typical shelter you find along the way, usually packed with hardly a place to rest, but this time the number were few. And a view of devotees arriving and returning early morning, about an hour after the sun had risen.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A corner in Aranmula where time stands still





There are many places in Kerala where time stands still, well, almost. It’s a land of streams and rivers, boats and boatmen, elephants and water birds, and of course temples. Aranmula, where we usually halt on our way to Pamba, is a small dusty town which still has some old-world charms. Before the PWD guesthouse is a wonderful sight – of a gently flowing rivulet, a wizened boatman who rows passengers across the bank for as little as a rupee or two. Wonder whether he knows that the 50 paise coin will go out of circulation soon.

Pictures show views from the guesthouse (which has been done up inside), of the waters, of Nature really, and of how you can spend a day just sitting there and watching the waters flow past, against the splendid backdrop of green (trees on the banks) and blue (the open sky where seagulls and eagles fly).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The trek to Sabarimala






I’ve been going to Sabarimala since 1984. Not every year, but most years. Every time, it’s been a satisfying experience, going together as a group of six or eight or ten, alighting at the Chengannur Railway Station in Kerala, hiring a van to Pamba, stopping at the PWD guesthouse in Aranmula to wash and change, worshipping at the Krishna Temple in Aranmula, walking barefoot to the cool Pamba waters, having a wash again if one felt like it or just dipping hands and legs in the waters, and then trekking the way up, the toughest part, and then finding accommodation, which usually is the Kerala Dewaswom Board guesthouse.

The first year, in 1984, I remember we had reached well past 6pm; it was dark and drizzling and we held hands and made our way up through difficult terrain, halting several times to drink lemon juice, glucose water etc. But every year, once we climbed the holy 18 steps and entered the temple, all the hardships were forgotten and we would try to get as many darshans as possible. Over time, some of the older members in the group have stayed away, because of age and ill-health, but others have joined. And every time it’s a great feeling doing the journey together.

We’ve never traveled during the peak season, the 41-day Mandalam Festival and then the Makara Vilakku. It’s mostly been September-October or February-March. This time, we chose to go in March and we were most fortunate. Despite the Utsavam, the large crowds were missing and for the first time ever I saw the holy 18 steps empty, or a lone figure climbing up. There were devotees posing before the steps for pictures. And what’s more, we had several darshans and at times it seemed almost unbelievable.

The Sabarimala trip is useful in other ways: there is a bonding among the group, relationships are strengthened, new friendships are forged, there’s bonhomie, and it’s a wonderful feel really. There are several light moments, too. For example, one in the group, a senior customs official, has the habit of snoring loudly at night. It starts like the soft purr of a well-oiled motorcycle, grows into a guttural roar and then explodes in mid-air as it were, almost like some of those crackers you see bursting high up in the sky during Diwali. Obviously, a few of us just can’t get to sleep with the ‘monster’ lying by our side; so, save for pouring water over him, all efforts are made to halt him in his tracks. Often, it’s impossible and we end up up rolling with laughter. And while we manage to finally find some sleep towards break of dawn, more out of lack of sleep than anything else, the monster is up and about after a sound sleep, ready for ablutions.

Pictures show the decorated arch outside the 18 holy steps or Pathinettampadi (notice how bare they are); devotees posing for pictures before the steps; and the sparse crowd inside the temple precincts.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Requiem for a neighbour and a gentleman

Some time ago I had written about old Tamil Nadu Housing Board HIG (high-income group) flats in KK Nagar being demolished by private builders to make way for new apartment blocks. Most of the residents in these colonies are old-timers with the children either abroad or staying elsewhere. For the elders, there’s a lot of sentiment. They bought the flats in the mid-1970s or so, and paid probably Rs 60,000 then, including registration. Over they years, these colonies have exuded an old-world charm that is difficult to describe.

The colony where I stay is one such, with huge space in the front and trees and shrubs all around the rear. Indeed, for nature lovers, it is an ideal place – it’s beautiful early mornings as all kinds of birds twitter and coo and crow; towards afternoons, it is quiet, so quiet that you can almost hear a pin drop if you are seated on a low branch in one of the tress. I often think of Ruskin Bond when I take a walk behind and gape at the tall trees or scatter food crumbs for the crows and ravens and a couple of dogs.

Soon, it will be a very different picture with many of the blocks getting set to invite the demolishers in. Financially, it’s good, but on the emotional front it’s a battle. Quite a few old couples are loathe to leave, even if it is only for two years, the time the builders will take to produce the new apartment blocks. They are in their 80s, not quite the right time to shift houses, houses that have been their homes for about 30 years. Anything can happen in two years and for some not in good health two years is a very long time.

One such neighbour is Mr Selvaraj, I never can get his first name. He’s been a resident in the colony for about 30 years; he’s seen his peers grow old and die, he’s seen children grow to become adults and leave, he’s also seen the death of his eldest son. Everyday before that death, Selvaraj would walk briskly down the colony early morning. It was a habit for years – first to the church nearby and then to his son’s for breakfast. His full-sleeve short neatly tucked in, his shoes gleaming black, his eyes hit the ground as he purposefully surged forward. It was like a morning walk for him, doubled by the happiness of meeting up with his son. But God had other plans. Selvaraj stopped the practice after his son died all too suddenly. Although he would come outside his home later, only with banyan and mundu, he was somehow not the Selvaraj of old. He would still smile and chat up people he knew closely, but deep inside he must have been grieving.

To add to it, when subject of demolition and re-building came up, he had no choice as the rest of the owners in his block had agreed and he didn’t want to say no. His heart was not for it though. This was his home for years where he was used to walking in the space in front, waking up at 3am and making coffee, waiting for the newspaper and looking out through the windows behind, and listening to music, which he loved. It hurt him so much that he once entered a friend’s house and told him that he preferred dying in his own home rather then elsewhere.

As it turned out, Selvaraj’s wishes came true. A couple of days ago, he died. He knew he was leaving. My pulse is going down, is all he said. The whole day he was up and about, walking restlessly, inside his home and outside. I saw him cross the road to go to a shop. Somebody else saw him standing still for a few seconds, moving forward, and then standing still again, on his way back. He just did not want to be taken to the doctor. The end came the same day evening. It was almost like a samadhi.

Today is his funeral. As I’m all set to leave on a pilgrimage to Sabarimala, I could not go and pay my last respect to him. But I heard that they had dressed him up, complete in a coat and tie and trousers. That’s the way he would have liked it. I remember seeing him so attired at a family function he had organised a few years ago.

Selvaraj never involved himself in politics or petty talk of any kind. He always had a smile and would come running to greet people he liked. He would clasp your hands tightly in his and give it a vigorous shake. At times, it was difficult to let him go. He loved talking about old times. He was said to have had a bad temper but he hardly ever showed it outside.

Earlier this week, everyday on my way to the Ayyappan temple nearby, I would bump into him early morning. And we would chat, sometimes joined by another old friend. Today, as I walked the same way I noticed a shamiana had been erected and visitors streaming into his home. I found it difficult to swallow and my eyes grew moist.

Thank you for being my friend, Sir, and may your soul rest in peace.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Good to be in the thick of things when you have some authority

When I started my career as an officer in the insurance industry little did I think that one day I’d be changing course and latching on to (no, not at straws) public relations and journalism. Later, when I was heading the PR and corporate communication function for a large South India-based business group and began writing for newspapers and magazines, little did I know that one day in the midst of accompanying oversees visitors and journalists (thank God there were no tapes then) I would once again change course, albeit slightly, to pursue a full-time career in writing and editing, which led me to work, first for India’s top business daily, then for the world’s apex body in the news publishing field, and then for India’s largest circulated English daily.

Today, I wonder whether I’ve taken up more than what I can chew – editing two journals for the Press Institute of India and being a sort of roving editor for two top Delhi-based publications. All this must sound indeed like I’m raving about my performance, but I’m not. It’s just that finally, in the 27th year of my career, I seem to have found my true m├ętier. May be travel has something to do with it, but it’s also being in charge. High-sounding designations without authority mean nothing and I’ve experienced some of it myself and have seen people unhappy without being given the freedom to do what they want. And when you are a writer or an editor without some authority, it can smother you inside.

Well, UNICEF and the Press Institute of India are organising a two-day workshop for journalists on March 23 and 24 in Chennai to sensitise journalists on issues that relate directly to children: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, and promoting gender quality. All part of the UN Millennium Development Goals, which have been set for achievement by 2015.

In Tamil Nadu, under nutrition of children, declining trend in the immunisation rates, not much of an improvement in the use of sanitary latrines, unaddressed child protection issues such as female infanticide, child marriage, abuse against children including corporal punishment in schools are some of the issues that are not highlighted adequately by the media. Here’s hoping reporters and editors, especially those connected with development journalism, will participate in the workshop. There is no participation fee.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Firebrand Gnani Sankaran talks sense, offers food for thought... and action



Gnani Sankaran is what you might call one hell of a writer. The popular Tamil journalist is now turning out to be a fiery English columnist, that is ever since he started writing for The New Indian Express. What readers like or love about him is that he is as bold as they come, plainspoken and uncompromising, whether the subject be art, culture or politics. Indeed, his pen spares nobody, not even politicians as old and as seasoned as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.

Sometimes, you wonder from where Gnani gets his courage. Is he not afraid of being attacked by goons or heckled by ruffians at meetings he attends? He says no. It’s not he who is frightened, but the reader, the aam aadmi, the janta. It’s their cross he’s carrying, unmindful of the consequences, yet there are not many who are willing to stick it out with him when it comes to brass-tacks. Yet he is willing to go the extra mile. He gave the example of how he once protested by lying at the entrance to Museum Theatre in Egmore when the autorickshaw he was traveling in was stopped from going inside. He lost the battle then, but won the war later when the Museum director wrote to him apologising and assuring him that the next time, the vehicle would be allowed in if he had a valid ticket for the show.

Gnanai is younger than 60, but he has been making a mark as a firebrand writer for more than 30 years, ever since he began wielding the pen. He is an author, is into alternative theatre (his plays are for the middle-class) and a filmmaker. He was one of the founder members of the Koothu-p-pattarai repertory in 1976. His objective overall: to promote values and provide clean entertainment. The second Sunday of every month sees a crowd of 100-plus in the backyard of his residence in KK Nagar, when somebody who has something interesting to say, sing or play entertains the gathering.

Gnani’s Web site (www.gnani.net) has this legend: An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind (attributed to Mahatma Gandhi). Apt indeed. Despite being the person he is, Gnani comes off as humble and down-to-earth. He is friendly at the outset; no frills for him. In his trademark kurta-pyjama he could very well pass off as a Bengali bhadralok. And perhaps he hangs a satchel over his shoulder as well.

I met Gnani for the first time last Saturday and we hit it off straight away. More than that, it was what he had to say to the audience that got me and the rest thinking. He asked the organisers, the Namma Arcot Road coordinators, why there were hardly any youngsters in the audience, adding that if they were indeed called and things were made interesting for them, they would arrive. From an angry young man of the 1970s (much like Amitabh Bachchan), he had graduated to an angry old man, which meant that nothing really had changed on the ground in India.

Gnani blamed the aam aadmi, the people, for most of society’s ills. Most people were interested only in their comfort; they were not really keen to ensure that the person next door was happy too. He mentioned that there had been attempts to stop him from speaking in public, and asked the organisers what they would do if somebody did turn up to halt the discussion. It was then that he said he wasn’t afraid, but that the common people were, and it was such fear that encouraged the goons. He stressed that although he was asked not to dwell on politics and political parties, “politics is a part of our times and it affects everybody till death… we can’t be oblivious to it.”

Gnani voiced his ire against the Indian educational system, a system that, according to him, imparted only skills and no values, values that went beyond religion. Children were hardly taught what team effort was all about, what cooperation or collaboration could achieve, all of which could be learnt well only through sport and culture. Many schools did not even have playgrounds. The public grounds available were often used for walking by the elderly. The result: children had no space to play and learn team spirit. “So children now only have the cinema to go to. There is only television to cater to their needs. They have to be content with what they get,” he said, and added: "We only train them to make money.”

Gnani pointed out that it would take at least five more generations to change things as they were, and only if there came along change agents, people who were proactive and cared enough about children and grandchildren to do something worthwhile. Quite a frightening prospect. Even that was difficult, he felt, because there was so little collaborative effort. People hardly knew neighbours, except when there was a fight or a death in the family, and there were hardly any exchanges between neighbours or friendship forged between children in an area.

One of the pertinent points Gnani made was about the fact that nowadays in many homes there were hardly meaningful conversations - between husband and wife, parents and children, or children and grandparents... The little conversations there were, were only functional - have you locked the door... don't forget to fetch milk etc. When there was lack of proper communication even at home, Gnani wondered how things could change quickly for the better in the outside world.

Pictures show Gnani quite at home, and the audience catching every word...