Musings for a responsible society




Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my life...in vain!
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Friday, February 5, 2016

നോവ്

                                                            കഥ

പ്രിയപെട്ട സുഹൃത്തേ

ഞാന്‍ വീണ്ടും ഒരു കഥ എഴുതാമെന്ന് വിചാരിച്ചു. അതെ, വളരെ നാളുകള്‍ക്കു ശേഷം. നീയാണല്ലോ എന്‍റെ എല്ലാ കഥകളുടെയും ആദ്യ വായനക്കാരി. ഞാന്‍ ഓര്‍ക്കുന്നു. വായിച്ചതിനു ശേഷമുള്ള നിന്‍റെ നീണ്ട മൌനം. നിന്നെ ഞാന്‍ എപ്പോഴൊക്കെ വെറുത്തിട്ടുണ്ടോ അതെല്ലാം എന്‍റെ കൈയെഴുത്തു പ്രതിയും വച്ച് എന്‍റെ ക്ഷമ നീ പരീക്ഷിച്ച നിമിഷങ്ങളിലാണ്. നിന്നെക്കുറിച്ചാകട്ടേ ഈ കഥ?

ഒരു കഥയെഴുതുവാനുള്ള മൂഡ്‌ എങ്ങനെയെനിക്ക് ഇപ്പോള്‍ ഉണ്ടായി എന്നു നീ അദ്ഭുതപ്പെടുന്നുണ്ടാവും. മൂഡിന്‍റെ പേരുപറഞ്ഞ് പൂര്‍ത്തിയാക്കാതെ വലിച്ചെറിഞ്ഞ എന്‍റെ കഥകള്‍ കണ്ടിട്ട് എന്നോട് ‘ഗെറ്റ് ലോസ്റ്റ്‌’ എന്നു പറഞ്ഞ നീ ഇപ്പോള്‍ വിചാരിക്കുന്നുണ്ടാവും ഞാന്‍  ഇതാ വേറൊരു കുറ്റകൃത്യത്തിനു മുതിരുന്നു എന്ന്‍. നിന്‍റെ വാക്കുകള്‍ ഞാന്‍ മറന്നിട്ടില്ല: ‘നല്ല ഒരു കഥ പാതി വഴിക്ക് വലിച്ചെറിയുന്ന നീയും, ഗര്‍ഭചിദ്രം ചെയ്യുന്ന സ്ത്രീയും തമ്മില്‍ എന്താ വിത്യാസം?’ എനിക്ക്  ഒരിക്കലും ദഹിക്കാത്ത നിന്‍റെ അതിശയോക്തി കലര്‍ന്ന ക്രൂരമായ താരാതമ്യം!

ഈ കഥ എന്‍റെ പഴയ കഥകളില്‍നിന്നും വേറിട്ട വഴിയിലുള്ളതാണ്. എന്‍റെ മനസിന്‍റെ അഗാധതലങ്ങളിലെവിടെയോ നിര്‍ജീവമായികിടന്ന ഏതാനും ഓര്‍മശകലങ്ങളില്‍ ചാലിച്ച കഥയാണിത്. ആദ്യമേതന്നെ വൈരുദ്ധ്യം കടന്നുകൂടിയതായി നീ ഇപ്പോള്‍ വിമര്‍ശിക്കുന്നുണ്ടാവും. നിന്നെ കുറിച്ചുള്ള കഥയില്‍ എങ്ങനെ എന്‍റെ ഓര്‍മ്മകള്‍ക്ക് പ്രസക്തിയല്ലേ? നിന്‍റെ പാട്ടുകളെക്കുറിച്ച് ഞാനും എന്‍റെ കഥകളെകുറിച്ചും നീയും ഓര്‍ക്കുകയും സംസാരിക്കുകയും വിമര്‍ശിക്കുകയും ചെയ്തിരുന്നെങ്കിലും നമ്മുക്ക് രണ്ടുപേര്‍ക്കും തമ്മില്‍ വലിയ ഒരു അപരിചിതത്വം ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നു.

Another fatal infection in your backyard:Scrub Typhus! Beware!

My family and me spent a few days during our Christmas-New Year holidays at my in-laws’ house. It was a happy time as we celebrated their wedding anniversary and the birthday of Father-in-law (Daddy). Just a day before we left, Daddy complained of slight fever. As per the physician’s advice, he took paracetamol for a few days. Since the fever was not coming down, paracetamol was given as I.V.  The blood test was repeated to verify attack of any virus and nothing adverse was noticed.
We constantly enquired over phone as we lived in a different city. Temperature became normal for two days and then again went up. He was admitted to a nearby hospital and mild fever continued for a few days more and doctors there had no clue about the disease. They said, it could be a urinary infection and started giving medicines for that. They also put him in ICU to check his cardiac status as his BP shot up. As they found the ECG and Echo normal, they told mummy that the fever will go once the urinary infection is reduced.

Meanwhile my wife took the night bus and reached the hospital in the early morning and found Daddy almost collapsed in his bed, unable to move or speak. The transition to this stage was in a matter of a few hours. Till the previous night he was moderately active and was speaking to everyone. My wife who is also a doctor asked the physician of the hospital about the status of the patient. He said, ‘he is suffering from dementia’. My wife did not believe the physician’s story of urinary infection and dementia and told him so. She said she is taking him out of the hospital to get him readmitted in a better hospital. The physician didn’t like someone questioning his theory and angrily disappeared from the scene.

Daddy was rushed in an ambulance to a nearby multi speciality hospital (SUT Hospital). By that time his kidneys and other internal organs had malfunctioned. It did not take more than a few minutes for the physician Dr Dhanya to zero in on the most probable infection: Scrub Typhus. She immediately started the appropriate antibiotic without waiting for the blood results which confirmed the disease after 24 hours. Daddy was put under life support in the ICU.

What is Scrub Typhus?
We need to be aware and beware of this as it is fast spreading all around.
Let me summarize below what WHO tells about the infection:
Scrub typhus is an acute, febrile, infectious illness that is caused by Orientia (formerly Rickettsia) sutsugamushi. It is also known as tsutsugamushi disease.
How it is transmitted?
Scrub typhus is transmitted to humans and rodents by some species of trombiculid mites (“chiggers”, Leptotrombidium deliense and others). The mite is very small (0.2 – 0.4mm) and can only be seen through a microscope or magnifying glass. Humans acquire the disease from the bite of an infected chigger. The bite of the mite leaves a characteristic black eschar that is useful to the doctor for making the diagnosis.
 In India
Scrub typhus is prevalent in many parts of India but specific data are not available. There have been outbreaks in areas located in the sub-Himalayan belt, from Jammu to Nagaland. There were reports of scrub typhus outbreaks in Himanchal Pradesh, Sikkim and Darjeeling (West Bengal) during 2003-2004 and 2007. Outbreaks of scrub typhus are reported in southern India during the cooler months of the year. Scrub typhus is a reemerging infectious disease in India. It occurs more frequently during the rainy season. However, outbreaks have been reported during the cooler season in southern India. Certain areas such as forest clearings, riverbanks, and grassy regions provide optimal conditions for the infected mites to thrive.
What are the clinical symptoms of Scrub Typhus?
The chigger bite is painless and may become noticed as a transient localized itch. Bites are often found on the groin, axillae, genetalia or neck . An eschar is often seen in humans at the site of the chigger bite. The illness begins rather suddenly with shaking chills, fever, severe headache, infection of the mucous membrane lining the eyes (the conjunctiva), and swelling of the lymph nodes. A spotted rash on the trunk may be present. Symptoms may include muscle and gastrointestinal pains. More virulent strains of O. tsutsugamushi can cause haemorrhaging and intravascular coagulation. Complications may include atypical pneumonia, overwhelming pneumonia with adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)–like presentation, myocarditis, and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Patients with scrub typhus often exhibit leucopenia.
Image: Medscape.com
How to differentiate scrub typhus from other diseases?
Differentiating scrub typhus from other forms of typhus as well as from fever, typhoid and meningococcal infections is often difficult during the first several days before the Scrub Typhus initial rash appears. The most common signs are similar to a variety of other infectious diseases (typhoid fever, murine typhus, leptospirosis and dengue fever, etc.) which should be taken into consideration. The geographical location of scrub typhus, the initial sore caused by the chigger bite, and the occurrence of specific proteins capable of destroying the organism (antibodies) in the blood, provide helpful clues and are useful in establishing the diagnosis.
What diagnostic tests are available for confirmatory diagnosis of scrub typhus?
The diagnosis may be confirmed by a laboratory test such as serology. The cheapest and most easily available serological test is the Weil-Felix test, but this is notoriously unreliable. Fifty per cent of patients have a positive test result during the second week. This test is now being replaced by a complement-fixation test. It is a serological test to detect specific antibody or specific antigen in a patient’s serum
What is the effective treatment against scrub typhus?
Scrub typhus is treated with antibiotics. The drug most commonly used is doxycycline; but chloramphenicol is an alternative.
How to prevent it?
It has been shown that a single oral dose of chloramphenicol or tetracycline given every five days for a total of 35 days, with 5-day non-treatment intervals, actually produces active immunity to scrub typhus. There are no effective vaccines for scrub typhus.
In endemic areas, precautions include wearing protective clothing. Insect repellents containing dibutyl phthalate, benzyl benzoate, diethyl toluamide, and other substances can be applied to the skin and clothing to prevent chigger bites. Do not sit or lie on bare ground or grass; use a suitable ground sheet or other ground cover. Clearing of vegetation and chemical treatment of the soil may help to break up the cycle of transmission from chiggers to humans to other chiggers.
Measures to prevent the infection
The early diagnosis of acute scrub typhus can greatly reduce the chance of life threatening complications and guide optimal therapy. Awareness and education activities should be targeted at schoolchildren, teachers and women groups in endemic areas. Involvement of community-based organizations in prevention and control of scrub typhus is important.
Rodent control is a multidimensional activity that requires multisectoral cooperation. Different control strategies such as trapping, poisoning and use of natural predators are in practice. Allowing weeds to grow around buildings also encourages rats and mice. Good sanitation in and around buildings creates an environment that is less suited for rodent populations. Proper sanitation may not eliminate rat populations but often can prevent them from flourishing in high numbers. Repeated increase in rodent population even after the use of poisons is a good indication that habitat modification is needed.
 (Source for information http://www.searo.who.int/entity/emerging_diseases/CDS_faq_Scrub_Typhus.pdf)

Daddy recovered

The late diagnosis had resulted in the failure of internal organs. With systematic treatment and repeated dialysis, he could be revived. He had to be in the hospital for about two weeks. Though he is back home, it will take a few months for him to recover fully to good health.

A few points to note!

Never delay a blood test if the fever continues for more than three days.

Make sure that the patient’s tests are done in a reputed Lab with all facilities.

Don’t think of saving money by going to a small hospital with inadequate facilities. It will be fatal! It was a big mistake that Daddy insisted on getting admitted to a small hospital (advertised by them as speciality hospital) where there were no proper medical assistance.

Never completely trust your medical insurance company! They will promise to give you money and will vanish at the time of billing!


                 © Sibichen K Mathew

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Where are the footpaths and the safe crossings in Bangalore city?



When my friend Raj Kumar invited me to go with him for a coffee at a popular joint a few kilometers away, I said ‘Yes’, but on a condition that we would walk rather than taking the car. Then he asked me a very pertinent question: “ Where is the footpath?” I didn’t have an answer.

Urban infrastructure in India, especially in cities like Bangalore, is pathetic. It is a well-known fact. But most deplorable is the pedestrian unfriendly (anti-pedestrian , is a better word) policies and projects . There is no place for pedestrians to walk on the main roads. It is almost impossible to cross the roads. Many times, one has to walk kilometers to find a pedestrian crossing or a safe place to cross the road. I have experienced this on the busy roads where I had to wait for more than half an hour to cross even at the zebra crossing. It points to a traffic management that is insensitive to the pedestrians.  

Following photos are of the footpath of a  prominent road in Bangalore city. 







Pedestrians are forced to walk on the road as the foot paths are obstructed. Slabs in foot paths are broken at many places with dangerously open manholes that are not visible at nights. There are no adequate street lights.  Many ride their two-wheelers on the footpaths. 14590 cases of foot path riding have been registered by the Bangalore Traffic Police in 2014 alone.

Pedestrians cross the road because there are no convenient zebra crossings, subways or footbridges.  But it is very interesting to see that many jay walkers were booked under The Karnataka Traffic Control Act (1960) and levied fine after producing before a magistrate. It is reported that over 2200 persons have been penalized by the Bangalore city traffic police in the last six months for walking on the road or crossing at medians. Traffic police cannot be blamed for this action as jaywalking is dangerous. However, many times pedestrians cross the roads not for their convenience but because there is no other alternative.

According to a release by the Bangalore Traffic Police, ‘In India, nearly 5 lakh cases of accident are reported and nearly 1.5 lakh people lose their lives in road traffic accidents and nearly 5-6 lakh people become permanently disabled. In Karnataka, nearly 10,000 people die due to road traffic accidents and in Bengaluru City more than 700 people are being killed in road crashes. No contagious diseases, nor Tsunami or any other natural disaster is known to take the death toll to this extent.’

There is a saying in Malayalam that ‘one who sits on an elephant doesn’t know about walking down on the road’. This is what has happened literally in the sphere of pedestrian service. For a change, those who are in charge of governance should walk on the main roads during peak hours and experience the hardship faced by the pedestrians. That could prompt them to focus on pedestrian-friendly urban road projects.


        © Sibichen K Mathew                        Views are personal

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Air lifting my uncles: Good theme; But with minor flaws


My mother’s brothers built their fortune in Kuwait. Both of them had respectable government jobs back in Kerala. One worked at the Inspector General’s Office and the other with the State Public Service Commission. As the salary was not sufficient to lead a decent life, they went to Kuwait after taking long leave from the Government. Every visit of theirs from Kuwait was celebrated by all relatives and friends as they brought several bags full of goodies. It was feast every day at home till the day they left after their holidays. Every dinar earned was spent for the happiness of the near and dear ones and they boarded the flight back to Kuwait to earn more. For most Keralites, gulf countries were like 'land of Canaan where milk and honey flow’. 

Their dreams shattered on 2nd August 1990 as Iraqi forces stormed the streets of Kuwait under the leadership of Saddam Hussain. The lives of about 1,80,000 Indians were under threat and  future looked bleak for them. They lived in uncertainty, insecurity and hardship since the day Saddam declared Kuwait as the 19th province of Iraq. Their relatives in India were worried and prayed for them. Only one thing made them strong in spite of all difficulties: The mutual care and support of all Indians. Mr Mathew, Chairman of a large company was one of the few Indians who coordinated the evacuation efforts with the Indian government after overseeing their transport by road to Amman. He was the last Indian to leave Kuwait after 487 Air India flights carried the stranded Indians in a span of 59 days.  My uncles also arrived leaving everything there: bank balances, household goods, cars and their funds with the employer.

Raja Krishna Menon, directed the movie ‘Air Lift’ (released on 22nd January, 2016) after preparing the basic script with the help of three others after researching the events during the invasion of Kuwait and after a series of interactions with people who witnessed the events. Akshay Kumar played the role of Ranjit Katyal, the Indian businessman who volunteered to coordinate the evacuation efforts. The story is about the challenges faced by him in his mission. Apart from the obstacles created by the Iraqi Major, he had tough time convincing his company employees, Indians gathered at his office seeking help and also his own wife about his strategies to get out of the violence stricken Kuwait city. Undoubtedly, the theme is exciting for the lovers of patriotic films and the movie is an engrossing one for most viewers.



When a real incident is converted into a movie, the most important challenge would be how to make it a thriller, an entertaining stuff or one that discloses a secret hitherto unknown to many. The movie doesn’t provide any of these. Unlike what is usually done by directors in similar genre, the director didn’t indulge in exaggeration, lie, or introduction of a sub-story to please the viewers. But in order to gratify the commercial interests, he inserted songs at inappropriate junctures. He could have done away with songs and dances, except in the period before the invasion. Another challenge of a movie based on real incidents is not to omit any vital ingredient while plotting it as a story. Since, many who witnessed and experienced the happenings are still alive, the movie would be subjected to a critical appraisal by them if there are major deviations.

Apart from narrating the bureaucratic and political bottlenecks at the level of the Indian government, ministry of external affairs, and the embassies, it would have been more interesting if the movie had focused on the decision making challenges at the diplomatic levels. The movie tried to project that the issue was not of any concern for the government or for the foreign minister, which is not fully true. The movie seems to give the credit for one of the largest evacuations by a single country of its people to a single Indian businessman (the character Ranjit Katyal) rather than giving the Indian government its due.

K.P. Fabian, former Ambassador of India, who was head of the Gulf Division of the Ministry of External Affairs when the Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, coordinated the repatriation of over 176,000 Indians. For an oral history project of Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, he narrated the events very clearly. Following excerpts would throw light on the role played by the Indian government:

‘Immediately after I received first intimation of the event, I rang up my immediate boss Additional Secretary (Political)) I.P. Khosla, Foreign Secretary Muchkund Dubey, and Foreign Minister I.K. Gujral. The immediate next step was to draft a statement conveying our views and apprehensions. Uppermost in our mind at that moment was the plight of our people. In that statement, we called upon Iraq to withdraw. Iraq’s action of invading a sovereign state was definitely a violation of international law. …We decided to urgently arrange repatriation of our nationals. Additional Secretary I.P. Khosla and Minister I.K. Gujral went to Amman from Europe, where they were visiting, and I joined them there from Delhi. I flew by an Indian Air Force aircraft (IL 76) with some communication equipment. Minister Gujral met Saddam personally. At the place where the Indian community had assembled, there was no stage or podium or even a raised platform. So Minister Gujral stepped onto a chair and climbed onto the bonnet of a jeep! The assemblage was really angry, and remained hostile even after he started to speak. But in less than three minutes Minister Gujral made them shout “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” (Victory to Mother India). This was indeed a remarkable feat, not fully recognized by the media or the general public. We decided that the only way to get our people out was through airlift. A very small number of people did come back by boats and other means. To arrange all this, a Cabinet Sub-Committee was formed, consisting of representatives of External Affairs, Civil Aviation, Finance and Defence Ministries. Minister Gujral chaired it. Normally, a Cabinet Sub-committee is serviced by the Cabinet Secretariat. T.N.R. Rao, Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, was very cooperative and I, as Joint Secretary in the Gulf Division of the MEA, started preparing the agenda and the minutes, of course with Minister Gujral’s approval. I.P. Khosla supervised. The Cabinet Secretariat was fully kept in the picture. We did not have to go through the normal time-consuming channels and it did help. The important thing was that thanks to the excellent rapport between the MEA and Civil Aviation Ministry, we did not waste time in routine writing of notes. For example, if there was a message from our Embassy in Amman that there were four thousand evacuees, all that I had to do was to make a call to the Secretary or the Joint Secretary concerned in the Civil Aviation Ministry. I could be sure that the necessary number of planes would leave in hours. The Secretary, Civil Aviation, Mr. Ganesan, deserves our thanks for his speedy reaction to our various requests.’ (ORAL HISTORY: Biggest Ever Air Evacuation in History, Indian Foreign Affairs Journal Vol. 7, No. 1, January-March, 2011, 93-107)
The above facts give a different picture about the actual scenario which was quite different from what was projected in the movie.

While the performance of Akshay Kumar is commendable, there is nothing great as far as other actors are concerned. In fact, performance of the Iraqi Major and some of the key employees of company looked amateurish. In a movie showcasing a war and related trauma, there is enough scope for good cinematography and creative editing. This has not been properly utilized. Emotions are not presented and captured in a manner that can impress the viewers.

With all these flaws, this movie is a one-time watch because of the relevance of the theme. An ordinary Indian living in India cannot imagine the trauma of a person who is stranded in a politically unstable and war-torn alien country.  He may not know how in such situations people react, governments respond and relationships mend or break. Therefore, apart from the patriotic spirit the movie possibly invoke, it would also give an insight to the larger sociological context in which migrant populations live and cope up across the world.  

Epilogue
My uncles, though very disappointed as they arrived back in India leaving their job and possessions in Kuwait, decided to join back in their jobs in the state government. Meanwhile the news of the withdrawal of Iraqi forces reached and they got ready to leave to their Canaan land. They went back, lived there for many years, and earned so much to fulfil their dreams to become a respectable, affluent gulf returnee in the God’s own country to live in peace and self-respect. In the end, US had the last laugh!
                                                               © Sibichen K Mathew.   Views are personal.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The one who doesn’t mind: The suffering of the understanding



“She relishes the burnt toast. Give it to her!’

How many of you feel that the understanding people always get a raw deal? If you do, your perception is not untrue. 

Are you such an understanding person?

You are very 'adjusting' to every situation. That is the perception of others about you.  Therefore it is likely that the other guy who is very rigid in his preferences would get priority over you.  You make the life of ‘others’ as well as the 'rigid' person a lot happier.  So,  when you are asked to wait for a longer time than you are required to or when you get settled in a less comfortable position than what you are entitled to, for the sake of that 'un-adjusting' person,  you stay contented wherever you are!


Image: Freestockphotos.biz.


Don't you feel that everyone deserves to be treated equally irrespective of the fact that one is demanding, sensitive, cynical, or smart? Is there any limit to being understanding?

Do you know what is squeezed to the hilt when we travel? The hand baggage we carry! And what suffers the most? The zip of our bag!  We try to squeeze everything inside and still the zip helplessly cooperates with us to close it.  After that, we still find a few things outside.  We test the strength of the zip again and almost damage the bag while doing that.  This is exactly what we do with those understanding ones. We exploit them to the maximum extent possible. 

It is written that, ‘Never test good people. They are like mercury. They will not break when hit. They will just disappear from your life silently'. We can make a relation bend to our advantage and can be proud to be a smart winner.  But we need to be aware that there is a remote or imminent possibility of a break in the relationship if we have tested the patience of the gentle soul beyond its level of tolerance.

This happens in every domain of life. However this is most conspicuous in career settings. (I have written about this in my book 'When the Boss is Wrong')

So, what is the message? To continue to sacrifice even when you are exploited or to stop taking any extra burden if you think that you are being unduly exploited?

To get an answer to this, you need to ask a question to yourself.  Why did you become a sacrificial goat many times?  Was it forced on you by someone? Or was it because of situational compulsions? You need to get away from those individuals and try to wriggle out of such unjust situations at the earliest opportunity.  You don't deserve to be slaughtered on a regular basis. You need not be the only one who deserves to be given a banana with dark patches or a burnt toast when others insist for the perfect ones.

If you voluntarily step in or step out of a situation to mitigate a problem faced by someone and  that someone is unwilling or incapable of doing something which he or she is supposed to do,  you may do it for a few times and not as a matter of practice. But if you find happiness every time you sacrifice for others even when you know that you are exploited, go ahead and continue to do that.  However you are instrumental in making such parasites and exploiters thrive.  This is not desirable if one aspires to see a just society.  Even if you don't mind being unduly exploited, it is your duty to leave their yoke to themselves if they have the potential to be capable to shoulder it.

Truly, the world is still a beautiful place because of the sacrifices of a cross section of individuals and groups who do it willingly, happily and sincerely.  They spread the message to others that one can still be happy while shouldering an extra load.  The exploiters too read the message and enthusiastically forward it to others without parking it in their life even for a moment.  "Yes, sacrifice and sermons are good for others now and for me, may be later."

One could glorify suffering to find solace in a state of perceived deprivation or exploitation. This glorification is based on moral or philosophical grounds rather than rational or utilitarian perspective. However human behaviour is substantially influenced by rational impulses and expectations. Therefore, many of those ‘sufferers’, whether it is voluntary or involuntary, will end up cribbing quietly, unless they have the innate power or the spirit of the divine.


                                                © Sibichen K Mathew

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Limits of Tolerance


Nothing is infinite and unlimited in the world. Even the life is limited by time. So are privileges, rights and virtues. Therefore tolerance also has its own limits.

image:catavino.net


Tolerance is the cost for the richness brought by diversity. Tolerance doesn’t mean acceptance of the views of others. If one accepts the views and practices of others then there is no relevance for tolerance either as a law or as a practice. Thus tolerance is the direct outcome of a belief that differences and extremities exist.

Nation is ideally defined as a large body of people inhabiting in a territory and are united by common descent, history, culture, or language. But there are nations that do not follow any of this attributes and still could be called nation. Benedict Anderson, a political scientist called them imagined communities.  Countries like India do not have a common social, cultural, religious or political culture and consequently there are attempts to bring in homogeneity to create a ‘unified nation’.

Dissent emerges within a country when the dominant power tries to bring in certain uniformity on the lines of its ideology. It is true that scientific temper and reasoning need to be predisposed in the views and decisions taken in a democratic state. But it is equally necessary to ensure that the rationality and logic are not out of bounds for  the institutions surviving on faith and belief. The conflicts and mutual accusations happen when the state foregoes the scientific temper and the institutions and groups expect popular acceptance for all their irrationalities. Then there is a hue and cry for peaceful coexistence. People call it tolerance.

Along with the belief and practice related to a particular ideology and lifestyle come the specific rights attached to them. They could be social rights, economic rights, political rights, cultural rights, spiritual rights or any other similar rights. Now the pertinent question would be whether the tolerance needs to be integrative or choosy as far as a particular group is concerned. Can one respect and accept one or more of the rights and practices of a group and reject the others based on their own reason? Will that amounts to intolerance? If such a situation emerges, there is a possibility that the supporters of the intolerant views of a state consider the target groups as enemies of the state. Ultimately, this could lead to the disintegration of the nation-state comprising of diverse groups.

Rainer Forst, a German philosopher and political scientist gave four conceptions of toleration. They are a) Permission conception where toleration means that the authority (or majority) gives qualified permission to the members of the minority to live according to their beliefs on the condition that the minority accepts the former’s dominant position, b) Co-existent conception where a state of mutual tolerance is preferred to conflict as a matter of political necessity, c) Respect conception where despite there being an objectionable difference between them, citizens morally regard each other as having equal legal and political status, and d) Esteem conception where despite the positive acceptance of difference, there are reasons to still consider one’s own position to be more attractive.  In a country  like India, where the diversities  are extreme, in a situation of ‘nation-building homogenization process’, tolerance characterized by co-existent conception and respect conception can reduce the conflict and mistrust between communities or with the state.

The pertinent question would be whether it is possible to expect absolute tolerance by everyone to everything? Definitely not! Can someone tolerate a practice that is not only irrational, unjustifiable, and illogical but also inhuman and utterly derogatory? In such cases, the democratic state needs to be courageous enough to use the law to curb such practices rather than pleading for tolerance. Can those indulging in such practices demand tolerance from others as a matter of right? If the domain is religion, then the task is tougher for a ‘secular’ state.

The possible conclusion from the above discussion is that both the state and the specific groups cannot expect or demand absolute tolerance. What one can expect would be, as John Rawls put it, a reasonable pluralism, where the religious, moral, and philosophical doctrines that citizens accept will endorse toleration. Yes, there needs to be limits for tolerance even within a secular democracy.


           © Sibichen K Mathew                                             Views are personal

Thursday, November 12, 2015

An eye on gold

The Prime Minister of India has launched two attractive schemes to use about 20,000 tonnes of the precious metal treasured by residents in their homes for the development of the country. The Gold Monetisation Scheme  and the Sovereign Gold Bonds Scheme  will enable people to earn attractive interest for the gold deposited and for the gold bonds purchased. This is a very laudable initiative to use gold for productive purposes. But what would be the response of the public in this regard?

Image: 22 caratjewellery.blogspot.com

Unlike the citizens of many other countries, the affinity of Indians to gold jewelry has cultural and historical significance. Many are sentimentally attached to their personal jewellery. One incident narrated by an official indicates the emotional bond Indians have with the yellow metal. Income Tax sleuths were busy conducting a raid on a big business man in his residential premises. Officials unearthed huge amounts of cash from the premises. Obviously, the man, who concealed his true income in the income tax returns, had to just sit helplessly while the taxmen sealed the currency in suit cases.  But the hue and cry from the man and his wife started the moment the officials began weighing the gold jewellery in the house. Though the jewellery was worth only about one-hundredth of the cash found, they became very upset when the officials seized those personal ornaments.

 As in many societies and cultures, the life of an Indian centers around a number of familial, social and religious functions. This is irrespective of and usually thrusted upon by his primordial affiliations. In almost all functions, the presence of (or presents of) gold jewellery is inevitable. Even when the child is in the womb of the mother, a ritual called ‘valaikappu’ is performed on the pregnant woman in most of the places. Parents and near relatives adorn her with gold ornaments. Later, after the delivery it is a common tradition to feed the child with gold and honey (within hours of the birth). Gold chain is put on the baby’s waist on the twenty eighth day after the birth. After a few months, the naming ceremony is conducted wherein the child is given new ornaments by the close relatives. It is customary to receive gold jewellery during ceremonies and functions like tonsuring and ear-boring ceremonies, annaprasannam (first meal ceremony), vidyarambham (initiating the child to learning alphabets), upanayanam (sacred thread wearing ceremony among the Brahmin community), puberty ceremony, and marriage. Thus the jewellery has become an important cultural artifact for Indians.

Apart from the above cultural significance attributed to gold, it is also a metal which brings along with it emotional and social security, empowerment and social status, especially for the Indian women. Unlike many other family assets, women hold the role as the custodian of the gold jewellery in many homes. That has made the attempts of many men to dispose of the jewellery not as smooth as in the case of other family assets.

Gold is also a reason for frequent fights between couples and between their families. Gold jewellery takes the form of a villain in many relationships. People make and break marriages in the name of the quantity and quality of gold jewellery.  Many times misery awaited to those daughters who landed in the hands of avaricious in-laws. Relationships in Indian society are embedded with several sovereigns of gold jewellery which in turn defined the nature of reciprocity between people.

It will be a tough task to lure Indian families to part with their gold, even if that means an extra income. Another area of mobilization would be the huge gold treasure of religious trusts and those managed by royal families by giving them attractive interest. Many worship centres receive gold jewellery as offerings from the devotees and the same are kept idle.


 One does not know what prompted Henry Ford to comment that the gold is the most useless thing in the world. Not only the women, the kings and the queens, but also the sovereign governments have an eye on the gold! Nevertheless, it will continue to be a cultural symbol and a source for women empowerment. The new slogan is ‘all that glitters is gold!’

                          (c) Sibichen K Mathew            Views are personal

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

4 Films I recently watched



I am not an uncontrollable cinephile.  But I do like to watch movies occasionally and like to analyze it quite incisively.  Bad ones create guilt and disappointments within me for wasting my time in a movie hall. Good movies unleash creative energy within me. There are movies that brought me tears and I never felt embarrassed for that as the nature of depiction of certain events by the respective directors deserved an emotional appreciation. Certain characters, events and dialogue could emerge out of the screen and haunt us for some time after we finish seeing the movie. Many times, we don’t mind watching a movie we liked again and again.

I could watch four movies in the last ten days (it was a rare treat to myself). Two in a hall, third in a flight and the fourth at home. None of them disappointed me. Let me share them with you in the order of my liking: the best to the next best. 


The Best:      ‘Manjhi: The Mountain Man’





This is a real life story of Dashrath Manjhi (1934-2007), a poor labourer who lived in a village in Bihar, India.  He single handedly ventured into creating a road in a hillock using a hammer and a chisel. Ketan Mehta wonderfully created a beautiful story out of this. Nawazuddin Siddiqui played the role of Manjhi  and Radhika Apte, as his wife.

Current generation is unaware of the nature and extent of untouchability that gripped many parts of the country decades earlier (I don’t mean that it is vanished completely). The movie clearly depicts the suffering meted out by the poor and the low caste in the traditional Indian society. In the second part of the movie, one can see the determination of a single individual to fight against all odds to achieve what he aspired, for the benefit of the people. The director has given a visual treat to the viewers by showcasing unadulterated humor, romance, and wonderful music.

There are many flaws in direction and script. I would like to condone all those irritants for the following reasons:

a.       The movie carries a great message to the humanity
b.      The producer had the courage to finance a movie about a simple, humble and extraordinary villager  who followed his dreams
c.       The movie depicts the life in the caste-ridden traditional Indian society.
d.      The socio, economic and political realities of society projected in the movie are still visible in  contemporary India and provides a hint that individuals can spearhead a social revolution.
e.      Above all, the superb performance of Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

For above reason, I give the above movie Rank No.1 among all four movies I saw in the last ten days.

Second Best:    Still Alice




This movie I watched while travelling from Delhi to Bangalore in Air India’s best fleet, ‘The Dreamliner’. (You should not miss travelling in this state-of-the-art Jet.)

‘Still Alice’ is about how life changed for a family when the lady of the house, Alice, a professor of Linguistics started forgetting words, names and events in life. The husband and the three children were in a shock when the Doctor told them that it is an Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Julianne Moore acted as Alice and Shane McRae as her husband. Directed by Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer, the movie clearly depicts how a person with Alzheimer’s progressed in life and how her immediate family coped with that. You will like this beautiful movie for the wonderful acting, apt expressions of emotions, and realistic scenes.


Third Best:     Piku





Piku is the story of a hypochondriac Bengali father Bhaskor Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchaan) and his busy architect daughter Piku (Deepika Padukone), wonderfully narrated by Juhi Chaturvedi and ably directed by Shoojit Sircar. This is a movie you should not miss! This is not just about how a stubborn father who suffered chronic constipation and a short-tempered daughter coped each other under one roof, but  on how individuals with views and attitudes that are at variance struggle to get along each other. Irrfan Khan wonderfully played the role of the manager cum driver of a cab company. Amitabh Bachchan once again proved that none can beat him in playing a role so realistically.

This is not a typical Bollywood movie with romantic songs and dances in exotic locations, artificialities and unrealistic story line. The movie is closer to real life and the settings, dialogue and the scenes looked very natural.


Fourth Best:     Baahubali




I could not miss S S Rajamouli’s ‘Baahubali’ after it has broken all box office records. I watched the Hindi version at Inox. I liked the movie, touted as the most expensive Indian film, for its best use of technology and the amusing choreography. It is worth a watch for entertainment and also to appreciate the efforts of the producer to invest about 120 cr (US $18 million) and reaped more than 600 cr so far. Nothing unique about the story, but it carries a social message. 

                                                               Sibichen K Mathew

Read an interesting movie review by me below:

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Paradise Lost & Regained by Ratnadip: A Review



There is a proliferation of English Indian fiction especially from the young Indian authors in the last few years. Most of these revolve around themes such as romance, relationship strains, emotional recoveries and marital adventures of urban, middle class, educated and career youth. Much of the story line and instances narrated are repetitive in many works and the ends are predictable.  Another ‘popular’ stream of non-fiction originated in the last several years is from the authors who are fascinated by the Indian mythologies. It was a very refreshing feeling when I came across ‘Paradise Lost & Regained’ by Ratnadip Acharya, an acclaimed author who wrote several pieces for ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ series.



Charles Darwin wrote ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’ in 1872 to tell the world about the life and relationship within the animal world. He wrote about the verbal and non-verbal communication of emotions by animals. Very few authors attempted to travel to the animal world to create imaginative work of fiction. Works like ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell, ‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams,  and ‘Warriors into the Wild’ by Erin Hunter are very popular even today.

While travelling in a train from Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India towards Thiruvanathapuram, I enjoyed the beautiful sight of several cows and goats happily grazing in the wonderful greenery in a moderately pristine surrounding.  Some of them looked at the train and the passengers, though that would be a very familiar sight for them every day. Birds sat on on the cows and picked what they want and the latter enjoyed it. There were calves playing around the field with joy. Dogs and goats slept adjacently. Watching all those beautiful moments designed by the creator for all beings without any discrimination was quite a fulfilling experience. Some beings in the world choose to be happy through peaceful coexistence and some others, like we the humans, fight for an upper hand.   I would not have keenly observed those beautiful creations on that journey but for the book I was reading at that time.   ‘Paradise Lost & Regained’ kindled an urge within me to observe, understand and learn from the animal world. Certainly, I too got the revelation like the young deer (the protagonist) in the book that all life on earth is a gift from nature which comes in a package that contains challenges and danger and one must be courageous and responsible enough to make the most of life, and to share it with others.

Paradise Lost & Regained is a beautiful story as told by a deer about not only the physical environment we live but also about the universal attributes of trust, love, hope and courage. The deer vividly narrates about her life from the birth in the forest to human captivity, and the great escape. The events narrated are very entertaining, intriguing and exciting. It is very evident that the author is a keen observer and has a clear understanding of animal instincts, behaviors and responses.  

The book triggered in me several strands of thoughts that I would like to share. As we live in this world and cross various stages in life, we face many people, challenges and opportunities. In the early life, when there are many things to explore and get excited, we find meanings but tend not to probe and evaluate. But later in life, we get into an ‘evaluation’ mode rather than a ‘living’ mode. If the evaluation is on us it is productive and reformatory. But if the target of evaluation is always the other people and events – past and present, then it is derogatory, wasteful and destructive. Thus we ‘live’ each moment in the childhood and as we grow up as an adult, we tend to spend most of our time worrying and regretting.

We tend to forget that the life is a precious gift and that we need to live in gratitude the entire life. In the story of the deer we see that the biggest compliment one can get is from one’s own mother as none loves us so much than our mothers. None instills in us more confidence than our own mothers. “You are one of the chosen few, my child. I am so proud of you”, whispered the mother to the baby deer who had already read her mother’s message for her in her eyes, radiant with joy. The mother’s words, her tender care and the protection gave the baby deer the courage to face the challenges in life and to succeed. How many times in our life as we grow big and cross many landmarks, we think about the pain of the mother and the influence she had made on our personality. The little deer was grateful: ‘Feeling grateful to life, I closed my eyes while the milk from my mother’s breast continued discharging into my mouth without the least effort of mine. I wished this rare moment had never come to an end’. The mother gives the first lesson of unconditional love in our life. She is love personified.

This is a story of emancipation by carving out paths ourselves against all odds.  The author makes the protagonist think like one in the ‘Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho that ‘if the universe has conspired to set me free from here, no man-made barrier can thwart me in getting my golden days back….a strong trust filled my heart and made my eyes twinkle with joy’.

Let me reproduce an insightful communication from the mystery bird to the deer, the central character in the story:
‘Whenever the attributes like jealousy, greed, hatred take hold of you, they will pull you down quickly to such a state where always prevails misery. Whenever they grab your being, you are bound to have a quick fall from a state of joy and bliss. And once you are within the grasp of jealousy, hatred, envy, self-doubt it is so difficult to set yourself free and return to your actual happy and loving self. So never allow an emotion to overpower you that may drag you down to a pitiable state. So always be aware; always ask yourself before doing anything if you are acting out of jealousy, malice or hatred, selfishness or envy. If the answer is yes give yourself sometime and watch the forest, ……. , the stream for a long time. You will always find that never do they act out of jealousy, malice or hatred; nothing can tempt them to lower themselves. There is a deep sense of dignity and self-respect in them’
It is a humbling but enlightening exercise if we, humans, attempt to observe our fellow beings from the animal kingdom. That can indeed create a social-psychological awareness of the whole system of creation and the purpose of life. From that learning, we could gain a new perspective about the mother earth and how we should treat our fellow beings.

Ratnadip Acharya is a graduate from the NIT Jamshedpur and is a well-trained street magician. ‘Paradise Lost & Regained’ is a very well written fiction that can make you glued to the theme even after you finished the book. This is a work that deserves attention of readers across the globe. Simplistic presentation, inspirational thoughts (though slightly sermonic), exciting story line and the unique theme could be the reasons for you to grab this book. The book is available at Amazon.in

                                                                © Sibichen K Mathew


Read some of my other book reviews below.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Port out, if you are not satisfied with your mobile service provider

You used to take your meals in a restaurant in the city. After a while you find that the quality of meals in that restaurant is deteriorated. What will you do? You might complain to the manager or the owner of the restaurant about it. Still, there is no improvement and you are not satisfied with the service. What will you do next? Will you make a complaint to the Food Quality Inspector in the Government? Will you file a petition in the jurisdictional consumer court? You won’t be doing any of these as they are time consuming and tedious. You will take the most easy and effective step. You will stop going to that restaurant and select another restaurant for your meals.

Exactly the same thing has happened in the telecom sector since last few years. There were lakhs of complaints about the poor service of particular telecom service providers (TSPs). The Mobile Number Portability (MNP) regulations (within a telecom circle) of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) implemented in 2010 has radically transformed the telecommunication services in India. Under that provision, any consumer can port out his connection to another operator and can get allotted the same number. This has ensured improvement in the services by telecom operators.



From July 3, 2015, the TSPs are ready to roll out MNP across the country allowing consumers to retain the same mobile number anywhere in India.


What is the procedure?

Source: TRAI

·         Send an SMS ‘PORT' (space) Your ten digit cell number   to 1900

·         You will get a Unique Porting Code (UPC) through SMS from the donor operator (your present TSP)

·       Approach the new operator (recipient operator) with the UPC within 15 days and submit the porting 
     request Form and Customer Application Form enclosing the proof of identity/address.

·       Normally, recipient operators do not charge any fee for porting-in. The maximum prescribed fee that can be charged for processing is Rs 19/-

·     The new operator, within 24 hrs, shall forward  the request to Mobile Number Portability Service Provider (MNPSP)

·      The donor operator shall, within 4 working days inform MNPSP whether the porting request is cleared or rejected (with reasons) by it.

·      The porting shall take place within 36 hours (except in J&K, North East and Assam wherein it is 10 days), from the time of clearance by the donor operator.

·         Maximum time for porting a mobile number is 10 days from the date of porting request.

·     Service will get disrupted only for less than 3 hours, that too at midnight, when the porting takes place.

When porting request can be rejected?

·         There are pending dues of more than Rs 10/- to be paid by the subscriber
·         Porting request is made within 90 days of taking a connection
·         A request for change of ownership of the connection is in process
·     The mobile number to be ported is sub-judice or prohibited by a Court of Law or part of a group connection.

If any porting request is wrongfully rejected or delayed by the donor operator, on complaint with evidence, TRAI may impose on the TSP a financial disincentive of  upto Rs 10000/- . It has levied more than 10 crores on this account so far.

Where to complain?

For any complaints on porting, please approach the complaint center of your existing operator and if it is not redressed, file an appeal to appellate authority. Appeal can be filed through email/fax/SMS. The details of the appellate authority can be found in the website of the TSP.
As on March 31st 2015, Indian consumers have successfully ported out more than 15.3 crore connections.

Now, why are you waiting? If you are not happy with the services of the existing TSP, make a porting request today! But ensure that the new operator has good network and service in your area.


© Sibichen K Mathew       Views are personal.  Source for information: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. 

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