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 vain!
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Tamil, the Tamilians and the Tirukkural

I am a fan of not only the Tamil language but also the Tamilians in general. My fascination towards the language increased as I started learning it. First it was out of an urge to excel in work though there was no career compulsion. Later it was a personal admiration after knowing the richness in that great language, both oral and written.

I was posted in Tamil Nadu and as part of a sensitive job handled by me, I used to come across many handwritten notes in Tamil. Instead of always depending on the team members I wanted to understand the content myself. I bought a book ‘Learning Tamil in 30 Days’ from the Higginbotham's book stall at Coimbatore Railway Station. I did the theory at home and the practical in the field. My first learning assignment was to read all posters of films pasted on all street walls across the city. As a young man I was equally fascinated with the Tamil movies as well during those days. I could read all bus boards and all writings on the signboards and other hoardings. Later I started reading printed texts though it took much time to complete each page.  But I could understand the content of all letters, petitions, papers and documents easily and that facilitated by job.

If a Tamilian goes to the nearby state Kerala and try to speak Malayalam, the cynical mallus (not all but the typical ones.) will try to laugh at him and tease him. But if a Malayali goes to Tamil Nadu and tries to communicate through his broken Tamil, they would not get offended. On the contrary they would appreciate the attempt. That was my experience.  I was encouraged by my Tamil friends whenever I tried to speak in Tamil. I don’t know whether I can generalize this. But the point I am conveying is that an attitude of inclusiveness and openness can break the barriers created by language in a country like India that is severely divided over linguistic affinities.

My inspiration for learning Tamil was my teacher Shri A Selvaraj, who retired as a Chief Commissioner under the Ministry of Finance, Government of India. He is a Tamilian but had mastered the Malayalam language. He spoke fluent Malayalam and read a large number of books in that language. He could engage in very in-depth debates on most of the leading Malayalam literary works with any literary critics from Kerala. I remember this incident. A leading Malayalam actor was summoned to his office in respect of an important matter. I happened to enter his chamber for an emergency work, when he was ‘interrogating’ the actor. To my surprise I found him engaging in an intellectual debate about a movie remake of a Malayalam classic, and he pointing to the actor how many vital elements of the original story were missed in the movie. (There were two results for the ‘interrogation’:  First, the actor understood his deficiency in that particular area of literature. Second, he admitted his omissions for which he was called ‘to question’ and did not challenge the concerned proceedings. )

Let me not divert from the main topic.

Whenever I attended any function in Tamil Nadu, I heard speakers quoting extensively from the book ‘Tirukkural’. Even ministers and parliamentarians from Tamil Nadu drew from it whenever they wanted to make a point in parliament or in many other meetings. Union Minister of Finance from Tamil Nadu never missed a reference to Tirukkural in his budget speeches. Though learned about the book in School I never knew much about this great work. Thiruvallavar , an acclaimed Tamil poet wrote this book around 30 BC. He had courageously pointed out the need for correcting certain defects in the society of that time. Unfortunately some of those defects still lie in the society of today and hence its contemporary relevance. Tirukkural is considered as the most translated work perhaps after the Bible and the Koran.

I wanted to read the Tirukkural, but the Tamil work was a little tough for me to understand.  After many years, on  request my friend Alagiri procured the English translations of Tirukkural by Dr N Mahalingam and Dr S M Diaz.

Dr N Mahalingam wrote in his introduction: “Though the Tamil language saw the birth and growth of countless works on various subjects, none can be said to be comparable to TIRUKKURAL. There is none to compare with this, even in the literature of other languages”.

Dr V C Kulaindaiswamy in his foreword said:
 “Tirukkural is  a treatise on the ‘Art of Living’ born out of the culture of the Tamil society. It is the contribution of a genius that the Tamil country has produced. …..The basis for its immortal and universal appeal is to be seen in its secular character, clarity of thought, depth of understanding, perception of the unshifting foundations of human life, penetrating insight into the essentials and the capacity to present them in an extremely generalized form, avoiding carefully any particularisation’.

The work consists of 1330 epigrammatic couplets grouped into 133 chapters, of ten couplets each. It comprises of three books: 1) The first book ‘On Virtue’ consists of 38 chapters deals with various themes that include ‘In Praise of Rain’, ‘Asceticism’ and ‘Virtue’. The second book contains 70 chapters that deal with ‘Wealth’ covering themes such as government, polity, economy etc. The third chapter contains 25 chapters and the main theme is ‘Love’.

Dr S M Diaz, a former Indian Police Service officer, who is also a scholar of Bible, took pains to translate Tirukkural to English and has compared specific verses with other sacred texts like the Bible and the Gita. He argues that the work of Tiruvallavar differs vitally in many ways from the works of Plato and Confucius, but even more radically from the concepts of State polity presented in Arthasasthra by Kautilya (Chanakya), and in  Prince, by Machiavelli.

Taiwanese poet Hung Ching-Yu, who writes under the Pseudonym Yu Hsi translated Tirukkural into Mandarin. In his speech after receiving the Tiruvallavar award at Chennai he said: ‘I acknowledge the Tirukkural as a universal scripture.’
The concepts propounded by Tiruvallavar in Tirukkural are based on Dharma of a universal character in time and space.  The volumes extensively deal with many subjects. Some (out of a total of 133) are given below:

In praise of God
The glory of renunciation
On self restraint
Control of temper
On wisdom
Freedom from envy
On diplomacy
On assessment of relative strength
On friendship
On making wealth
On just rule
On choice of the right time
Efficiency in action

Some other interesting topics
Wicked friends
The enemy within
Sensitiveness to shame
In praise of the lady’s charms
Wasting of eye through wistful longing

Chennai based Central Institute of Classical Tamil (CICT), an autonomous  institute under the Ministry of Human Resources Development of Govt of India has taken efforts to provide translations of Tirukkural in various languages. This is available in many Indian languages. Dr Tarlochan Singh Bedi has translated the classic into Punjabi.  The Tirukkural has been translated into Latin, German, Mandarin, French, Polish, Russian and many other foreign languages.

If you have not read it so far, please step into any of the big libraries or buy a copy for yourself.

For English translation by Dr Diaz a, please contact Ramanandha Adigalar Foundation, Kumaraguru College of Technology Campus, Coimbatore -641 006 or Varthamanan Pathippagam, 40, Sarojini Street, Chennai-17.  Other versions of the book are available in Amazon and Flipkart. But ensure that what you buy is an authentic translation of the full work and not an abridged one.

(Views are personal.)                                       © Sibichen K Mathew

(e-mail subscribers of Cyber Diary may go to the home page to get the updated version of this article along with comments.) 

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Evolution of Modern India

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10 reasons why I voted this year. What about you?

1.       I got my new voter ID after I relocated to another city. I applied online and the application was processed within a few days! The details were printed on the card without any mistake.  I found that the photo on the card looked exactly like me.

(It is said that one’s worst picture will be on the voter id card or the Aadhaar card and the best one is in the Facebook as profile picture. There were reports  recently that in 14817 cases Aadhaar document contained photos of wrong persons, and in some cases the photos were of trees, animals and buildings! Incidentally, one of the prominent candidates of my constituency was the Head of Aadhaar project, who left a lucrative career for public service.)  

2.       In many past elections, my vote was exercised in absentia by disciplined and alert cadres in my village after ascertaining that I had not reached there on the polling day. At least this time I wanted to fail them!

3.       A few days before polling, two young volunteers (educated working professionals in large corporates) from the ‘civil society’ came home and handed over the official voter slips. The agents of the prominent candidates came home and handed over the voter slips. I located the polling booth in my residential colony itself on the evening before the polling day. I was inspired by the work of those young professionals and also the fact that the polling station is just a few buildings away! SMS based service to know one’s polling booth was a good innovation.

4.       I was an election observer earlier in two sensitive but beautiful states (Bihar and Assam) and was involved actively to ensure free and fair elections there. I thought, if I don’t vote, it would be in the nature of ‘moral turpitude’ and could be accused as a ‘civil offence’ by a ‘criminal’ servant!

5.       The new wave in Indian democratic environment triggered by a watchful election machinery and the fact that there is an expenditure of more than ten thousand crore for the government, the interest groups, the candidates and  the parties prompted me to step out to register my choice. (See my article on the new strategies adopted by political parties here)

6.       I was fascinated by the new developments in the Indian political scene where I could see many new faces without the typical ‘political’ stereotyped positions and appearances, though I may not necessarily subscribe to the views of all of them.

7.    My Facebook page was filled with photos of the index fingers (with indelible ink)  of friends and acquaintances who voted in the initial phases. That inspired me a lot!

8.      I was also inspired to vote because of the spirit of various business establishments and NGOs and their unique initiatives in making people vote this election.  In my city, many coffee outlets offered free coffee to the youngsters who voted for the first time. Spas and beauty salons offered 30% discount for those who flash their indelible ink. Several food joints and cinema halls offered special discounts for those who have taken time off to vote. I heard that such initiatives were well received in many other cities too. In Chandigarh, the officials gave surprise gifts and discount coupons to worth Rs 500 to the first 10 voters at all 400 polling booths in the city.

9.       The government gave me a paid holiday to cast my vote and not to sit and watch television or to go for a picnic!

I am glad to hear the news that the Election Commission of India has ordered action against a few large private companies for not declaring a holiday to enable employees cast their votes. Since government spends thousands of crores for the election, would it be a good idea to suggest the government to give a day’s wages to all those labourers, the unemployed, and people below poverty line who came to cast their vote?

10.   And the last and the most important reason is that it is my fundamental duty to vote as a citizen of the country and it is a privilege conferred on me by the largest democracy in the world. I need to uphold the democratic values of the nation. I don’t want to taste a dictator to know the value of democracy!

First voter at the Polling Booth. Thanks to my dear wife for the photo

 I reached the polling booth at 6.30 am along with my wife and we were the first persons to vote at 7 am. Then I took a ten hour drive to my native place with family to be with my mother in the evening for the ‘pesaha appam murikkal’ (Breaking of unleavened Passover bread).) 

We reached native place 5.30 pm and later, being the eldest (and the only son) in the family, I cut the Kurisappam (Appam made from rice batter but not fermented with yeast. The eldest male member cuts and distributes to all members of the family along with a milk preparation containing banana and jaggery). The day is called Maundy Thursday, a day before the Good Friday. 

(Views are personal)                                    © Sibichen K Mathew

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The 'Queen', the Marriage and the Tears

I read this somewhere; There are three rings in marriage: The engagement ring, the wedding ring and the suffering! And here is a French proverb: ‘Marriage is like a fortress besieged: those who are outside want to get in, and those who are inside want to get out’. 

Why do men and women who do not get a suitable ‘alliance’ continue to sulk? 

Rani, whose role played by Kangana Raut in the Hindi movie ‘Queen’, was shattered when her fiance Vijay acted by Rajkumar, who won the national award for his role as a lawyer in the movie ‘Shahid’(read my review of Shahid here) suddenly conveyed his decision to backtrack. By the time the wedding celebrations had started at her home and the relatives had already arrived. She cried and pleaded before Vijay.  But the fiancé refused to budge. Rani ‘rescued’ herself from the grief and shame by going ahead alone to Paris for ‘honeymoon’ pre-booked by her father. Vikas Bahl, the director of this beautiful movie has showcased how Rani became a real queen by becoming independent!

Now, let us come out of the reel life to real life. When a busy architect Sunil decided to marry a leading advocate’s daughter, he had a lot of dreams about marriage and family. He sensed something bad just after the engagement. Ramya was too immature. Though he wanted to call off the marriage, he was prevented by his relatives stating that she would be fine after marriage.

After their marriage, there was not a single day without a fight. She was unhappy because he chose a domestic location for honeymoon whereas she dreamt of being at Paris with him. She fought with him during the entire period of honeymoon stating that he was miserly. She harassed him for any call that he received, if that happened to be from a lady. She distanced herself from his family and stayed put in the bedroom and asked the maids to serve the food in the room. Among several incidents Sunil narrated this:  One day after a temple visit she asked him to take her to a particular restaurant in a five star hotel for dinner. He readily agreed and told her that he has not taken the purse containing the debit cards with him, but he has about Rs 5000 in his pocket. He told her this so that she would order food that would cost less than the above mentioned amount. She called for the menu card and ordered a signature dish of the hotel for her, which would cost Rs 5000/- And then she asked him to order whatever he wanted. Sunil didn't order as there would be no money left for him and he knew that she would never open her purse which contained money that she used to take from him. He thought he will have a bit from the dish ordered by her. When the exotic dish arrived, she had nibbled just one or two spoons of the stuff and asked the bearer to take it away as the dish was not to her liking without giving a chance for Sunil to have the food. She quickly left the dining hall without waiting for Sunil. He followed her towards the car after paying the bill. He was used to such behaviour from his partner and regretted being into a relationship with a girl who came into his life to destroy his peace, happiness and enthusiasm.

After hearing Sunil, I felt really sorry for him. How would he spend his life with a person like this? It would be better for such persons to lead a life alone rather than in continuous unhappiness.

Why the hurry?

Sociologists believe that marriage contributes to better mental and physical health of adults. It creates a new generation of individuals with emotional, physical and social well-being. Marriage also contributes to the moral well-being and drive for growth among people. Proponents of the ‘marriage protection hypothesis’ argue that marriage contributes to longevity as people will be more controlled in their activities that could harm their health status otherwise.  

But why do people jump into marriage thinking that it is a mandatory social institution and everyone is eligible for that? Why do parents worry too much about their children when they cross the ‘marriageable age’? Why do most women and many men are desperate when they don’t find a suitable match? Why does society think that everyone (other than those who opt for celibacy for religious or spiritual reasons) should get married after a certain age?

Sumit and Sujata knew each other for three years before they got married. After marriage, Sujata told categorically: ‘I have married only you. So don’t expect me to be in touch with your family members.’ She refused to go with him to meet his parents on weekends or holidays. Sumit didn't project that as an issue to avoid any unpleasantness in their relationship, though he felt hurt by her approach. He looked after her parents as she wished. But later, life became intolerable for him. He found her to be very selfish. Incidents narrated by him might look trivial for outsiders, but he felt hurt by her behaviour. Sujata refused to give her vehicle when Sumit wanted to go for an urgent meeting, when his vehicle was in the workshop for repairs. Many times he found nothing for him to eat when he reached home late from the company. Once he had to go to his relative’s house to sleep as she deliberately bolted the house from inside so that he will not open the house with his key. The reason was an argument over a silly issue that morning! Sumit, who was very patiently tolerating Sujata for long, took a decision to file a divorce petition. At that point of time Sujata realized her mistakes and refused to agree for the divorce. Sumit said: ‘Enough is enough. I don’t mind staying single for the rest of my life. But I can’t stay with her!’.

Though there is no accurate statistics of divorce rates, reports indicate that there is steady increase in divorces in many countries. 

'The seven-year itch'

The phrase ‘The seven-year itch’ is very popular among those who keenly watch the separations and divorces in society. It is said that between 4 and 7 years of marriage couples get affected by this and they either get divorced or get adjusted to each other by the 7th year. But the scenario is different now. Many divorces happen within a few months of marriage. Patience and toleration limit of the new generation is much less than the older generations! Many in the older generation were scared of the stigma attached to the divorce those days and quietly adjusted to their partners. In the Booker Prize winning novel ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy, she has written that the lady of the house cried when her husband died, not because she loved him but she was used to him!

Marriage is a privilege. Is it for everyone?  

There should be an opportunity for ‘due diligence’ to the couples to get familiarized each other to decide whether the person who he or she is going to get married is the right person for him or her. Premarital cohabitation that prevails in some tribal communities before marriage would not be an appropriate proposition from the point of view of morality or religion. Instead of being in love, two persons can be close friends for a long time with the approval of their families so that they can understand each other’s temperament and attitude much better. The only condition is that they should not become ‘lovers’, as in that case, they may get blinded!

Pre-marital courses are compulsory among a few religious communities in some countries. A comprehensive short duration course should be made mandatory for all persons who wish to enter the institution of marriage.
The state should increase the minimum marriageable age for people. (For example, 35 years)as there are many benefits. a) The unrealistic expectations will reduce, b) By that time they will be financially independent, c) They will be emotionally more mature, d) They will get enough time to make the choice, and e) There is a possibility that this would have a positive bearing in highly populated countries.

Once a couple decides to marry, they should not jump into the status of parents without making their marriage stable. Only mutually responsible couples can become responsible parents. Pregnancy spacing needs to be promoted by government through incentives.

The author of the book ‘Sirach’ in the Bible wrote:  ‘I would rather live in the same house with a lion or a dragon than with a bad wife.’ It could be applicable to both husband and wife. Therefore divorce might be a necessary evil in some cases. But the governments need to make divorce rules and procedures gender neutral rendering justice to both.

Though marriage is not a joke, most of the jokes shared and enjoyed by many married adults are related to marriage and spouses. Henry Ward Beecher said, ‘Well-married person has wings, poorly-married has shackles’. Love, trust and selflessness can produce happy relationships. 

Hinduism presents a unique dimension. An interpretation says, 'Marriage is not a social contract temporarily entered into under the influence of romance or dissolved at one’s pleasure. It is the most important religious sacrament, necessary for every individual to realize fully one’s potential and to fulfill the responsibilities which one’s owes to one’s self, one’s family, one’s ancestors and to society at large'. Islam considers marriage as a social necessity and religious obligation and there is no role for celibacy. Marriage is indeed a contract and a sacrament. In a contemporary reading of gospel of St Mathew it is written:  "Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn't for everyone".

“Marriage is not a noun; it’s a verb. It isn't something you get. It’s something you do. It’s the way you love your partner every day.”(Barbara De Angelis)

(Views are personal. Images given are stills from the movie 'Queen'. I recommend all the girls [guys too] to watch this movie)                                
                                                                    © Sibichen K Mathew


Best strategy to get the vote: The ‘promissory’ notes!

I have seen several Loksabha elections in the past. But none of them excited me so much like the 2014 elections. In almost every constituency there is tough fight between more than two candidates. It is interesting to watch the debates on various TV channels and innovative campaign in the field and through social networks. But I liked the pre-EVM days for just one reason. Watching the updates regarding counting of votes from morning till late night was such good fun during those days of manual ballot papers. Now, within a couple of hours of counting, the results are out and the excitement vanishes in no time.

But what I wanted to say is something else. We have heard enough about supply of rice bags (no one wants it now!), liquor bottles (always in demand), Sarees etc.  I hear about a new strategy. Candidates have become financially prudent and wise. Now they don’t want the voters to cheat them after receiving any goodies.

The innovative method adopted by a few persons is this: They give a coupon with a number written on it to the ‘voters’. The people were told that if the candidate wins they can go to particular shops and buy specific goods by producing the above coupon.

I analysed this innovation. The candidates can gain a lot in this scheme:

a)      No election official or opposing party can catch the distribution of any valuable before the election
b)      There is no expenditure to lure the voter before the election
 b)   No voter can cheat them by not voting after receiving a valuable
 c)    The voter, in order to get the gift will vote for that candidate
 d)  Not only that he will vote, he will tell many others also to vote for that candidate by telling good about him. He knows that only if that particular candidate wins he can get the gift!
 e)  The shop keepers who have tied up with the candidate to supply the goods after the election will give a good discount to the candidate because of the bulk orders. Since the candidate has won, he will be in a better bargaining position with the shop keepers after the election. They will pay much lesser amount for the goodies.
 f) The election expenditure monitoring team would have wound up their stay in the constituency by the time the goodies are purchased and none would be interested to file a complaint at that stage!
 g) The secret will be perfectly maintained by the recipients of the coupons from the winning candidate. Even the recipients of coupons from the defeated candidates will quietly throw the coupons to the bushes!

What an idea Sirji!

Photo: PIB 

Purchasing proxies
 One man was rushing to his native constituency very far away from the state capital where he worked. I asked him why the urgency. He said, he has been asked by one of the candidates contesting in his native constituency to make two ‘proxies’ file the nominations. He is supposed to identify two  persons belonging to the same community of the opponent so that at least a few votes will get diverted! Of course, there is a cost to this!

Bulk booking of railway tickets and cancellation
I am not sure of this. But people say that there is another strategy followed to escape the eyes of the expenditure monitoring teams. Train tickets for upper class berths in long distance trains are booked from one location for a group of persons and those tickets are cancelled in another location to take the refund. A safe transfer of cash to deserving hands! But the time tested strategies of the hawala operators who transact based on a code (the number in a specific currency note) is the system to be busted as crores are ready to be delivered by those agents on behalf of parties and individuals!

Tip of the iceberg
On 5th March the Election Commission of India (ECI) issued the schedule for Loksabha elections 2014. Within a few days it appointed Election Expenditure Observers across the country to keep a close watch on election expenditure of the candidates and to ensure that no inducement is offered to the electors. The election expenses ceiling for candidates has been revised by the Government of India vide Notification dated 28th  February, 2014. As per the revised ceilings, the maximum limit of election expenses for a Lok Sabha Constituency is Rs.70.00 lakh per candidate for all States except Arunachal Pradesh, Goa and Sikkim. For these three States it is Rs.54.00 lakh per  candidate. For the Union Territories, the maximum limit is Rs.70 lakh per candidate for NCT of Delhi and Rs.54.00 lakh per candidate for other UTs. One person who worked very closely with a party commented: ‘It is realistic if they make it per-day ceiling!’

Within just a few weeks of declaration of elections, the Election Expenditure Observers from the IRS and their colleagues have seized Rs 195 cr illegal money transported for meeting election expenditure. The state of Andhra Pradesh lead with a seizure of Rs 118 cr. Apart from this 25.56 lakh litres of liquor and 70kg of Heroin were also seized.

A company who is in the area of media and publicity was approached by a few people to take up the campaign for their candidates. But they said, they will give only 10% of the amount by cheque and the rest will be by cash. The company refused the contract. Glad to hear about such a company which did not fall for the black beauty. 

(Views are personal)                                       Sibichen K Mathew


Kuriakose Elias Chavara: A forgotten social revolutionary

When Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara is being elevated to the stature of a saint, one should not once again make him purely a religious missionary ignoring his role as one of the greatest social reformers India ever had. His sanctification undoubtedly, is a blissful moment for every devotee, but that should not relegate him exclusively to a space within the four walls of the church, monastery, or any religious institution.

Kuriakose Elias Chavara never figured in any History books. He was never a subject matter of historians who attempted to do research on the 19th century social reform movements.

 It was Kuriakose Elias who pioneered the social reform movements in Kerala much before Chattampi Swamikal and Sree Narayana Guru. Though the four-fold Varna system as practiced in the other parts of the country was not in existence with the same rigidity, the Kerala society was marred by untouchability and consequent disabilities and deprivations. Large cross sections of people didn’t have access to education. For the first time in the history of Kerala, Fr Kuriakose Elias initiated the task of assimilating the so called untouchables to the mainstream society. He started schools in remote locations for the people from very backward communities. His revolutionary proposal to have an educational institution attached to every church was implemented and that had transformed the entire society irrespective of caste and creed. As there were churches in every part of Kerala, Schools could be started all over Kerala (the term ‘Pallikkoodam’ originated there). Unlike the western oriented educational system started by the protestant and Portuguese missionaries, the schools started under the initiative of Fr Kuriakose Elias introduced Sanskrit, followed Gurukula type of pedagogy, and taught also about the cultural and social values of Kerala society and India.  

Many social thinkers and policy researchers of the country may not know that as early as in 1830s Kerala Schools had free noon meal scheme for all the children. It was the idea of Fr Kuriakose Elias to give free meals, clothes, and study materials to the students so that the poorest of the poor and the ‘untouchables’ got an opportunity to study. The success of noon meal scheme conceived and implemented by Fr Kuriakose Elias inspired Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyer and he recommended the scheme to the King for implementation in all Government schools. Now this scheme has been implemented all over the country.

Prof A Sreedharamenon, the noted historian and Padma Bhushan awardee  wrote in a note sent to the Department of Research and Documentation, Chavara Hills, Kerala as follows:
“I feel sorrow for not having been able to study more deeply about Father Chavara whom I have often met in studying and writing (sic) about Kerala history. This note is meant at least in part to remove that sorrow. People like Father Chavara should be given the place they deserve.”

Though focus of this short article is to highlight the role Fr Kuriakose Elias Chavara played in bringing social and educational reforms, one cannot omit his unique contributions to the church. The prominent among them are a) the efforts to avoid schism in the church, b) establishment of retreat centres for the first time in the country, c) introduction of homilies d) sourcing of funds for social service from the community rather than depending on any foreign donations, e) establishment of printing press, f) publication of books etc.

Looking at his personal life, one could see three pillars on which his spirituality was built. One was the 'continuous repentance'. Second was 'acceptance'. And the third was 'complete surrender'. He wrote: ‘God, you gave me a pure white dress of goodness. But I was foolish enough to make it dirty and became a sinner. You wanted me to be a role model for others and to become a light to others. But I don’t have the oil to light and there is no fire within me’. With continuous repentance, he entered the stage of acceptance of God’s will. He heard the inner voice: ‘As a priest, you are being called to holiness. You have forgone the world. Now, unless you get rid of even the smallest dust particle of the world from you, you would not find holiness.  That means, you need to exercise self-control in every step in your life: while you sit, walk, work, play …’ . With this realization, he reached the final stage of ‘complete surrender’ where there was no separate mind other than God’s will.

Fr Kuriakose Elias was a social reformer, educationist, professional manager and a prudent financial planner. No wonder, the congregation established by him in 1831, the ‘Carmelites of Mary Immaculate’ (CMI) has at present its activities in 25 countries with professionally managed educational institutions, health care centres, social service organizations, pastoral work mission stations and publishing houses.

On April 3rd 2014, Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church signed a decree that would lead to canonization of Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara shortly. The Catholic Church canonizes those whose lives have been marked by the exercise of heroic virtue after it has been proved by common repute for sanctity and by conclusive arguments. The church does not make them God or Godly, but sees ‘saints as nothing more than friends and servants of God whose holy lives have made them worthy of His special love’ (Reference). For church, all saints are role models for people to lead a life valuable to society. Just like we fondly remember our loving fathers and relatives who have departed, the saints are universally recognized as models for people to get inspired to do good.

 ‘Sanctity is the vocation for everyone. Anyone who lives in profound communion with God can experience this’, said Pope Francis in his address on All Saints Day in 2013. He said: Saints are not supermen who are born perfect. They are ordinary people who followed God with all their heart. In the smallest and despised faces of people they saw God.

Though late, on this occasion it is necessary for the government, the academic institutions and the mainstream historians to initiate comprehensive research on the contributions made by Fr Kuriakose Elias Chavara to the Indian society. That will be a fitting honour and an appropriate tribute to the great social reformer of the 19th century Kerala.

Those who would like to have a quick reading about (Saint) Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara can read  ‘A Pearl: Truly Indian’, a brief biography written by Fr Thomas Panthaplackal CMI (2005). He  has very concisely showcased his life along with notes about him by very eminent people. You can access the e-book here. 

(Views are personal)

                                              © Sibichen K Mathew

A few eye-opening stray thoughts

My daughter wanted to have a pair of spectacles. She thought that it would enhance her ‘look’. Most of her classmates wear spectacles and she felt that it is a handicap not to have one. She would put her grandma’s ‘high-powered’ spectacles though she was warned that she would get a headache. On a trip to a tourist location she cajoled us to buy her a pair of spectacles with plain glasses and she enjoyed wearing it to ‘show off’ to her friends. 

As soon as the above cheap stuff was broken in a few weeks’ time, she started reminding us about the headache and the need to visit an ophthalmologist. But she was disappointed after the last two annual check-up, as they said that there was nothing wrong with her eyes.

This year, as she complained that she is struggling to read what is written on the board, I took her again to an eye clinic. Though the optometrist reported a slight ‘power issue’, the ophthalmologist was not sure. She wanted us to come again the next day for a re-check. The next day when they came to the conclusion that she needs glasses, my daughter instantly became jubilant.  We went to the optician in the hospital premises to place order for the glasses. He showed us several frames and the cheapest frames would cost Rs 1200/-. My daughter chose the most stylish of the cheapest. Then the person at the counter told me that the charges for the glasses are separate and one can get them for as low as Rs 200, but the ‘better’ ones would cost a few thousands. I asked him whether the cheapest glasses are functionally inferior to the costlier ones. He said that the cheapest ones also meet the same standard as per the specification given in the prescription and we left the place after ordering the best of the cheapest!

That day, by afternoon, my staff spotted redness in the corners of my eyes. I had not thought that spending time in an eye hospital with optometrist, ophthalmologist, and optician would give me a free eye infection. After reaching home, my wife spotted the redness and concluded that it was an infection. She called up her colleague who is an ophthalmologist and got the prescription to buy the eye drops. My daughter went to the pharmacy located in the residential colony and bought the medicines immediately. I was asked not to watch TV, not to hook to the laptop and not to read anything. I went to bed at 9.30 pm, a few hours earlier than my usual bedtime, though I didn't get sleep for long time.

I realized the value of eyes at that point of time. What is life without our eyes? Recently I read that about 37 million people in the world are visually impaired. Out of this about 15 million people are from India. Almost 75% of the cases are avoidable blindness (corneal blindness) which can be cured by transplanting donated eyes. If I felt impaired a few hours because I couldn't watch television, read books or work on my laptop, I really needed to worry and empathize more about those who cannot see anything for several years. A few months back I suggested to a voluntary organization to do a campaign for eye donation to get more people enrolled. I also had discussions with two leading hospitals and tried to develop a team to take the initiative forward. But the project is yet to take off.

I need to be more sincere on this! We don’t lose anything by donating our eyes as we do it only after using and misusing them during our entire lifetime. Whatever covenant we make with our eyes, they still go where they want! It is written, ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light’. It is also written, ‘If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.’(Mathew 5:29). It would be great if we can bring light to those who are visually impaired by donating our eyes rather than making our own way to further darkness.

In the morning I frantically searched for dark sun glasses to put on. Though it is a myth that conjunctivitis would spread if we look at someone, I thought it would be better to wear glasses. It is uncomfortable for people to see the reddish eyes. We always try to hide the reality behind dark glasses!

As I started scribbling this during the lunch break, I got repeated calls from my daughter. She asked, ‘Can you tell the optician to get the glasses today itself as my friends want to see them at the basketball court this evening?’

“Living in that childish wonder is a most beautiful feeling - I can so well remember it. There was always something more - behind and beyond everything - to me, the golden spectacles were very, very big.” (Kate Greenaway)

If you want to know about donating eyes and the procedure, click here

Views are personal                                              Sibichen K Mathew


The art and craft of smiling: This is learning time friends!

A few months ago, while sharing the dais with a VIP, I wondered! Why doesn't he smile? Normally this category of VIPs showers their lavish smile to people in public. Later I understood that once someone is in power, he is not supposed to smile unnecessarily. Power and related responsibility tightens those facial muscles that help one to smile. Though there is no consensus among scientists and researchers on how much effort one has to take to smile, an email forwarded to me said that it took 43 muscles to frown and only 17 muscles to smile! That means, smiling is easier and less tiresome than continuous frowning!  But many people in power give that disgusting facial expression when they meet people.

Recently I saw colourful posters all over the walls in the town with the smiling photograph of the VIP mentioned above. Oh! How the photographer could make him smile so well? Later, I found the VIP meeting people and addressing the gatherings with relative ease and enthusiasm. He waved at everyone on the road, smiled at every human being present, caressed every child he saw, and hugged every dirty looking creature on the way! Someone whispered, ‘Voter is the king till the date of polling!’

The bureaucratic bosses need to learn from above VIPs

I have written about some of the bureaucratic bosses earlier. Their smiling curve goes down as they go up the ladder. There is one difference when we compare them with the VIPs mentioned in the beginning of this article. Those VIPs would lavishly smile at least periodically (mostly once in 5 years) when they come out of their ivory towers to get ‘recognized’ by the public. But the bureaucratic bosses and some senior corporate bosses tend to use the seventh cranial nerve (the facial nerve) very rarely for smiling at people below them. They prefer to be serious till they retire.

Following is an excerpt from my earlier writing on this:

‘In many organizations one can spot boss who tend to keep his smile as a treasured expression that cannot be showered on all and sundry in the organization. He thinks that the serious expression on his face and his measured words would give him an edge over others as the one holding the very important post. He tends not to give an immediate appointment for those who want to see him even when he is absolutely free. His incoming calls are screened if they are from subordinates. He prefers to come straight to the business and targets during one-to-one meetings leaving no room to give a warm regard for the employee-visitor either in the beginning or at the end of the meeting. There are many bosses who get out of the car and walk straight into their cabins through the corridors of the office without even responding to the respectful and friendly wishes of their employees. 

Bosses are not directly imported from outside on a fine day in many organizations. They are made to become bosses over a period of time by virtue of either their merit or seniority in the same organization. And employees and other stakeholders of the organization naturally expect better understanding and empathy from a boss coming up from the same organization. Of course, a certain degree of change in the interaction pattern is tolerable though not always desirable. For example, he may leave the luncheon circles he used to be an active member. He may stop cracking jokes with his erstwhile colleagues and may not seem to enjoy the conversations any more.  Subordinates are kept at bay fearing demands for undue advantages.

Gianpiero Petriglieri and Mark Stein , in their article in ‘Organization Studies’ describes what they call ‘The Unwanted Self’ to refer to the Projective identification in leader’s identity work. According to them ‘while the leaders are likely to work hard to actualise and maintain selves that reflect’ what is valued by team members, there also ‘exists a reservoir of selves that they do not like or wish to become’. From the above perspective the demonstration of ‘seriousness’ and ‘arrogance’ by bosses may  be a perverse way of gaining and exerting power.

Smile goes a mile

Machiavelli had said that it is better for leaders to be feared than to be loved. That would not be applicable in modern organizational settings. Warmth and kindness will make bosses more popular and respected in the organization. Those who believe in demonstrating a ‘busy boss behaviour’ and an attitude of ‘boss means only business’ are definitely mistaken. Gone are the days when one could extract work from subordinates through threats and undue manifestation of authority. Present day employees expect understanding, empathy and encouragement from the bosses to contribute their best.’

Moral of the story

If you have forgotten how to give a good broad smile, this is the time for you to step out to the streets. You can learn the art and craft of smiling from the VIPs this month! It could be artificial. But the people are happy! After all, who loves a frowned face?

(Views are personal. Categorized under academic area: 'Leadership and Self-improvement')

                                                                    © Sibichen K Mathew

Suicide of Salomi and a few questions to ourselves

It was Sunday, July 4, 2010. After the morning mass in the Nirmala Matha Church, Prof T J Joseph was driving home in his car along with his aged mother Elikutti, wife Salomi, sister Mary Stella and children Ami and Mithun. A group of people stopped their car and dragged Joseph out and chopped his right hand and threw the palm to the nearby field.

Google image

The ‘crime’ attributed to T J Joseph was this: He took a portion of a Screen Play written by a well known writer P T Kunhumuhammed, titled ‘Thirakkatha: Oru Viswasiyude Kandethal’ meaning ‘ Screen Play: Finding of a believer’ to prepare a question paper. The extract was from an approved book for the students by the University titled ‘Thirakathakalude Samaaharam’ (A collection of screenplays) edited by Binu Kumar and published by Kerala State Language Institute. The sentences extracted by Joseph from the story by Kunhumuhammed for a punctuation exercise in the Malayalam Question paper were as follows: (English translation is given below)

‘Protagonist: God, God
God:   What is it you son of a bitch?
Protagonist: How many pieces will we get if we cut one mackerel (a type of fish common in India)
God: Dog, I have told you so many times that there will be three pieces’

The question paper was to a class of about 32 students of second year B Com for an internal assessment examination for Malayalam language paper in his college. The mistake he committed was to put the name ‘Mohammed’ in place of the Protagonist. Joseph might be referring to the name of the author himself (the name of the author contains the word ‘Mohammed’). It was also a fact that the name Mohammed was very common in that locality where there are thousands of people with that name. But use of the word ‘Mohammed’ irked a few persons in the locality as they believed that the professor is blaspheming the prophet Mohammed. The incident led to the arrest of Joseph, violent attack on him by a few people, his suspension from the college, and arrests of those who were behind the attack on Joseph. Though many condemned the incident, a few of them thought that Professor should have the foresight and should have been a bit more careful while inserting the name in the question paper which could be misinterpreted.

Suicide of Salomi

49 year old Salomi, wife of Prof T J Joseph was found hanging in the bathroom of their house on March 19, 2014. After continuous suffering from physical, emotional, financial and legal trauma, Salomi chose to die possibly out of sheer frustration. Her husband was not taken back to the post by the college management even after a clear verdict of the local court. The management did not even give a clear promise to take him back and give him all the retirement benefits. It is said that the family had to spend huge sum for his treatment. They were pinning hopes on the financial benefits he was entitled to get from the college after being a lecturer in various colleges under the university for more than 30 years. Even his request for withdrawal from the Provident Fund was not processed. They needed funds for the marriage of his daughter. They didn't have money to support their son’s studies who was preparing for the Civil Services Examination. Salomi struggled to provide meals for the family.

Photo: Mathrubhumi

As there was no favourable decision from the college to take back Joseph (who was due to retire in a few days), Salomi was shattered totally. She found only one way to save the family from the financial strains. If her death can make the authorities a little compassionate, that could save her family. She hanged herself not in protest against the authorities but to make them open their eyes to their suffering. Indeed, her death made authorities to have a re-look at the issue and reinstated Prof T J Joseph on the last working day of his service so that he will get all retirement benefits and provident fund. 

The questions to ourselves

Salomi was undergoing intense emotional struggle within herself because of the sufferings the family faced for the past several months. She felt that there was no hope for recovery. She also thought that her husband can never get justice. Yes, there was an inordinate delay in getting the justice that Prof Joseph deserved. But due to procedural complexities, legal bottlenecks and attitudinal rigidities, the authorities did not act promptly. However, none told Salomi that there is hope as the authorities can’t delay the justice for ever. There were none to counsel and give emotional support to Salomi when she was anxious and felt that there was no solution?

This is a clear case of apathy of people around her. There is lack of proper social support from the near and dear ones to understand the emotional status of Salomi. She would not have taken such an extreme step had there was someone who took care to listen to her grief and tried to console her.

Where were those church organizations? Where were the women’s associations, prayer groups, counselors, Rev Sisters? This is a failure of the people around Salomi, who could not provide her the necessary emotional support when she was passing through a tough stage in her life. One could see a convent or church in every nook in the district where Salomi stayed. There are hundreds of voluntary organizations, counselling centers, women self-help groups and retreat centers in and around the locality. Forget about organizations, one good friend could have prevented Salomi from taking such extreme steps by being in touch with her much more closely to instill in her fresh hopes to live for the family.

Such incidents as reported above are results of artificial social networks in the society. When we have thousands of friends in our Facebook accounts, there would be hardly anyone who is ready to listen to us at the time of need. People prefer to be away from us and happy to ‘like’ us and ‘share’  from a distance. It is estimated that about 15 suicides take place every hour in India. As per the statistics of National Crime Records Bureau there is steady increase in the number of incidents of suicide in the country in the last few years. According to World Health Organization, one suicide happens every 40 seconds in the world.

Having dependable friends for frank communication, involvement in social activities, facilities for counselling, family meets, meditation and prayer could ease out the stress and depression to a greater extent. It is the duty of each one of us, as responsible members of the society, to identify the people who are depressed and disappointed, to lend our ears to those who hate to live in this world and to bring them back to life with hope and courage.

Read below stories of people who have committed suicide because of lack of proper emotional support and counselling:

 If anybody wants to see us, you have to break open the door This was the note written and pasted on the door of their house in Bangalore city by a mother and her son. Read

Suicide of the skinny boy. I was shocked to read the following news item in the paper the other day titled ‘Taunted, ‘skinny’ boy kills self’.  Read

(Views are personal) 
                                                                                  Sibichen K Mathew


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