Vidya Josephs Blog

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She sat there, straight and tall,

Immobile of face, naked of eyes.

Something about her

A dignity in death perhaps

Stirred me to life.

In her arms a child of four-five

Suckled, trying to glean

A few life giving drops.

There she sat, half naked,

Her clothes in tatters

There – in the midst of a teeming city

Which passed her by

She was invisible.

Unnoticed, unwanted, expendable

 

Years and years later

I remember her,

Her face intrudes, and my silence shames.

She is lost – the silent Madonna.

 

I was off the air for so long..,I guess nobody remembers me anymore. Still, I’ve decided to come back again to my blog… hope this time my staying power is longer.

 

I was off the a…

Siri’s Poem – Words of Wisdom

I will have no fear
When God is here.
Evil has tears
When he sees God’s children
Having no fear.
Cry, O Cry Evil.

Siri Chenni 10.9.2010

Its raining! Our chief minsiters devout prayers have been answered and how! Tunga is brimming above the danger mark – and each time we cross the ramshackle, so-called – new bridge, we hold our breaths – the streets are all mushy and full of dirt and what-not and the administration is WONDERING, believe me, its true, whether to announce holidays to schools. Given the fact that most of our government school buildings (private school buildings are no exception!) are on the verge of collapse and given that the rains have been particularly vicious this time over, (thanks to our chief ministers prayers?) one would think that the administration would not really have to think too much over the matter. But then bureaucrats have a wierd sense of humour. Last week, holidays were announced for three days, which incidentally included a Second Saturday and a Sunday. And the announcement was made at around 11 pm on Thursday night!! Not surprisingly tiny kids with their truck-load of books trudged to school on Friday morning, were told to go back home and trudged right back again! One hopes that the chief minister would once again pick up his hotline, call the rain gods and seek an end to the deluge! There is this famous saying in Kannada, which my grand mother often told me – Hittala Gida Maddalla – which roughly means that we always tend to underestimate our own. Apt in this situation, wouldnt you say?

Mention NAAC and you see long faces and heavy sighs from almost all university and undergraduate teachers. Not many people outside these circles realise the importance or otherwise of this organisation. NAAC, or National Assessment and Accreditation Council is an independent body established by the UGC to assess and accredit institutes of higher learning. Colleges have to go in for NAAC accreditation once every five years and all aspects of teaching, learning, evaluation, infrastructure, support mechanisms – everything in fact, will be assessed and then accredited by NAAC. Institutions are graded as per their achievements and performances in seven criteria laid down by NAAC and getting an A grade by NAAC is considered very very prestigious by institutions.

So where is the catch? One must remember that NAAC s assessment is based on the documentation which is placed before it. Consequently, if an institution claims that it has made strides in new methods of teaching, NAAC will want to check the documents which will prove this claim.  Documentation therefore is the key to get a good NAAC grade. Institutions and teachers strive throughout the five years to build data and many times create data and documents which will impress the NAAC peer team.  Anybody can realise how terrible this can be, especially since many institutions do not mind creating documents that stretch the truth considerably!!!

The reason why I am talking of NAAC today is because the team is all set to visit our college in late August. Amidst the desperate rush to get everything just right for the big event, there are some incidents which simply get forgotten – sometimes deliberately.

All colleges have to have a grievance redressal cell and a student counselling cell to help, counsel and aid students. Last year, when we were readying the NAAC report one of my fifth semester BA student, who was majoring in English consistently absented herself and was not to be found in the campus at all. I had noticed her right in her first semester since she was a bright Muslim girl, full of life and laughter and was very popular with the opposite sex. Like all small town colleges, ours too is a gossipy nosy one and her freedom and friendship with boys did not take long to reach her family. Very soon her mother was a regular visitor to the college. What I remember seeing was a tall, angry middle aged woman standing guard over a petite, stubborn girl. I thought the mother was overdoing it a bit in this age and time. But soon the tale developed a twist. Reshma, that was the girls name, was supposedly married, a mother of a two year old son and was now divorced.

When she came back to the second year and began her third semester, she was a girl who was far mellower and looked much more grown up. I wondered if I was simply seeing her in a different light. She remained responsive and enthusiastic in her classes and I had little to complain. Her marks were good and I kept telling her that if she tried a little hard she really could work towards a university rank.

Then the third and final year  – two final semesters – and Reshma was not to be seen at all. Finally in September, she deigned to come to my class, just a day before the internal assessment tests. I was furious with her and I bluntly told her that she could not walk in and out of my class as if it was a marriage hall. She bowed her head and refused to speak. I asked her to come and meet me later and when she did asked her if this was her idea of a joke.

The tale that came out then shocked me out of my wits. Apparently, Reshma s mother did not want her to continue her studies, but wanted her to marry. And it was not an ordinary marriage either. Since Reshma herself had been married earlier, she was now being married off to a wealthy middle aged man, (whose age according to Reshma was 54) and had three wives already. Reshma told me he was not very keen on her either and was certainly not romantically inclined – he would marry her, sleep with her, sell her off to somebody else and then divorce her. Her mother was being paid a hefty sum to agree to the match. Stunned and disturbed I decided to speak to her mother. Without mentioning anything against the marriage I told her mother that Reshma was a very bright student and begged – literally begged – her to allow her to complete her graduation. Very very grudgingly her mother agreed to allow Reshma for the time being to attend her IA tests.

In her internal assessment test, Reshma, instead of answering the questions had narrated her side of the miserable story. She said that though her mother had agreed to allow her to finish her studies, it was done only to ward me off. She said her mother would not allow her to live if she refused to marry the aged man. She said she did not want to marry that person under any circumstance because it would only mean prostitution later on. She had to tutor young kids and pay her mother for her and her infant son s upkeep at present.

I again spoke to her and her mother. This time however, I realised that the mother was deliberately avoiding my eyes while assuring me of sending her daughter to the college. I spoke to Reshma separately and told her not to antagonise her mother and to agree to all that she said. Only ask for time, I said. A little time… thats all you need. I gave her the phone numbers of the 24 hour womens help line – Santwana and my own and told her to call me if she needed me.

Then the semester exams were upon us. I watched Reshma as she appeared in a burka everyday and wrote her exams. On the final day I told her to be very careful during the holidays and to come back on January 1st for the last semester.

In January, when college reopened, Reshma was dead. She had died in December and according to people in her family she had committed suicide. Her friends, who were devastated told me that it was cold blooded murder and she had been buried even before anybody could see her body.

I then spoke about this to everybody in the college. I told my students, teachers, friends, everybody and I felt we should do something . I knew I could do nothing alone and sought the support of my friends.  I was advised to just forget it as a bad dream. 

Seven months hence when we are building data for our student conselling cell – on how well we have counselled and helped our students, Reshma refuses to fade away… she lingers and haunts and mocks my efforts to shut her away, refusing to become just another statistic. Can one ever forget?

There is something about this mans poetry that gets to me. Not surprisingly I hadnt even heard of him till about a couple of years ago, caught up as I was with the everyday mundane happenings-on in Shimoga. And then the drastic, heart-wrenching decision to give up reporting and to take up (what then seemed to me) as a boring, tedious, routine teaching job!!! I had never ever wanted to teach, I had decided as a teen that I would become a journalist and thats what I did become. Call it fate, (mis)fortune or whatever, I had to opt for a teaching assignment. Its almost three years now and I have slowly, slowly realised that I love this …. what shall I call it – job? profession? vocation? or just life?
Neruda is the most haseen part of this new life of mine. I still remember the first lines of his poem sent to me as an sms attachment by a friend…

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
……
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

The immediacy of emotion in his poems is what strikes me each time I read him. The passion and despair that reaches out to you in one of his most famous poems Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines is perhaps incomparable in world literature. Read these lines and you will realise what I mean..

Tonight I can write the saddest lines
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too…

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky…

Tonight I can write the saddest lines….
To hear the immense night, still more immense without her
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture…..

The same night whitening the same trees
We, of that time, are no longer the same…

Love is so short, forgetting is so long

Neruda s poems are not just about love. He was passionately committed to leftist politics and his works reflect the political struggle of the left and the social, political and historical developments in South America.
One of my other favourites is the stingingly sarcastic To the Dead Poor Man. where Neruda annhilates the Christian celebration of the poor and the meek.
Why I started writing on Neruda is because of Bageshrees translations of some Neruda poems in her blog. And of course, classes began today and I get to introduce Neruda to a host of students from different backgrounds!!

A friend, who is now in the USA, commented on my posts and said that she was shocked at the changes in her beloved Shimoga. Much as I would like to alleviate her fears, I realise I cannot. Not because Shimoga has changed all that much, but because I can see where it is heading and this alarms me. Shimoga, being a hub of culture, literature, art and music, and of course education, had retained its unique small-town charm against all odds. Somehow Shimoga was the place where one could feel the real pulse of the Kannada heartland. All those aspects of the Kannada lifestyle that we love so much, an attitude which symbolised everything good about the Kannada world – a soft spoken, well-mannered, welcoming attitude – was found in this sprawling semi-Malnad town. Shimoga always prided itself about its citizenry and rightly so, since some of the most well known faces in the field of Kannada culture, literature and politics have hailed from this part of the world. So what has changed? Is it the language that jars? There is no doubt that the lilting and lovely sounding Kannada cadence has changed drastically – apart from the filmy influence, a rapid hybridisation has taken place wherein Hindi, Tamil, English and Kannada are all mixed up in a street language which bears no resemblance to the language that we spoke in our homes not so long ago. What seems stylish to our teenagers seems horrifying to me.

Meanwhile, the Bangalore English is also rapidly making inroads into Shimoga with young parents desperately trying to speak only in English at home so that their kids will not have problems later. I hope this fad will die a quick death and people will realise that speaking a particular language need not necessarily mean adopting a culture so totally alien to ones own.
But what seems sinister to me is not just a fascination with the language – but a deeper change in attitudes which is pushing this tradition-bound society into a tail spin.
Recently, more than four hundred massive trees were cut down on the Shimoga-Bhadravathi road to make way for a four-lane super-fast highway. Shimoga, which has the distinction of being the hometown of the most important environment protection activity in recent years (the Tunga-Bhadra Ulisi Horata not only managed to make the entire nation sit up and take notice but also resulted in the literal closure of mining activities by the KIOCL in the Sahyadri hills), remained quiet and unruffled at this massive tree felling. In fact, a majority of the people supported the tree felling because it served the bigger cause of better roads.
Shimoga was the place where the Dalit protest movement, the farmers agitation by means of the famous Kagodu Satyagraha, the socialist movement and recently the environment movement came to fruition. All this was made possible because of an aware, educated and committed community of people for whom Shimoga and Kannada Nadu were realities beyond which no other reality existed. It is this belief which has now been eroded. Shimoga, for its people, is just one rung in the ladder. Their world has expanded and the horizon reaches to the heavens.
However, I should not sound too pessimistic. Recently, a mall opened shop near the Vinobanagar Police Chowki. The Chowki was till then home to hundreds of small vegetable vendors who would bring farm fresh vegetables to be sold at the pavements to middle class households. Since most middle class women are also working women, they prefer to buy vegetables in the evening and ready them for the next days early morning cooking. The Mall, like all Malls announced that it would sell fresh vegetables at affordable and real prices and deliberately tried to undersell the vendors. Within a few weeks, one could count the number of vendors left on the pavements of Vinobanagar since a majority of their customers had decided to shop in air conditioned comfort at the Mall. I thought this was another nail on the proverbial coffin. However, a few weeks later when I passed that way I could see a teeming pavement full of vegetable vendors. The reason: after a month or so of underselling, the Mall had started to increase prices thinking that the petty vendors had been driven out. Also, the comfort of shopping for everything-right-here was outweighed by the cumbersome billing process where one had to wait and wait to get a computerised bill for two bunches of coriander. And last but not the least, the average consumer had realised that Malls create needs where none exist and that one tends to buy far more than one requires when one goes to a mall. So the end-note – the vendor with whom one can quarrel, bargain and still come away smiling is very much back, at least in Shimoga!!



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