Vidya Josephs Blog

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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Michael Jackson Gone! Incredible, somehow. It was his songs and his popularity which pushed me into taking a peek at the world of pop music when I was a teen. I had just passed my Carnatic Junior Vocal exam and my very orthodox music teacher had warned me against even attempting to sing film (read non-classical) songs. And so my prejudices against Western pop music were just that much bigger. When my friend invited me to her home and then played the Thriller video for me, I had felt not just guilt but a sense of utter panic, (which I had then attributed to the video itself). But Thriller had caught on and soon I was reading up small tit bits about Jackson in newspapers and tabloids.. (Remember Blitz and those imported old edition Sun!!!) I grew out of the Michael Jackson mania soon enough and finally discovered the wonderful world of American Country Music, but it is to Jackson I owe my initiation into the world of Western popular music. When my younger brother had gone bonkers over Jacksons Black or White and BAD, I had remained the mature, eyebrow lifting elder sis, who knew better and therefore had better taste!! Last year, my daughter discovered Jackson and was fascinated with his dance moves, his Billy Jean and Beat It. She would not just try his moves and mouth his songs but was bent on educating me about what a wonderful artist he was. In her words, I was a boring mom who only liked slow sleepy songs and I should actually take an interest in modern (sic) fast songs like that of MJ!!!! I think this does speak volumes about his popularity and reach… across the world, across the barriers of language, colour or age! Truly an ICON.

I filled up my daughter s school diary today and this commonplace episode brought home the continuing ghettoisation of women in society all aroud us.

The entries were simple enough. Name, Father s name, profession, office address, phone number, Mother, (please note the sequence – father, his importance and then mother!) and then home address.

Finished. Being a working mother (in double shifts, or should I say triple?) I was just a little annoyed. The Mother had zero individuality in that school diary. And what is more sinister is the message which is being given to the little ones that the FATHER is the most important in the family and it is his work which matters. So where does my 9-5 figure in the scheme of things? My little annoyance is perhaps what angered me most. Somehow all these humiliations and insults and put-downs are taken in one s stride so to say and then forgotten. After a hectic day in office which is followed by a hectic evening and the next day another hectic morning – one has little or no interest left in indulging in luxuries such as this. And yet… yet!

The other day, a doctor friend complained that though she has four male doctors working for her, many patients refer to her as Sister.
The college that I work in has developed an elaborate mechanism of ghettoising women lecturers. Some of the most pain-staking, laborious and yes, soul-killing clerical work is handed over to women in the guise of equal work for all concerned. If one demands the participation of men, the non-working, smoking-drinking stereotype is put at your disposal. And all this is done by couching everything is lovely-sounding words – this is the most important part of academic work etc etc.
Why does it become impossible for the male society to accept women as equal partners – both in terms of responsiblities and in terms of rights? Somehow women get to shoulder the burden of running the show but with the credit going to someone who plays the minimal part in the entire act!

During the last couple of weeks, we, i mean to say, all those in the education department have had a first hand experience on what it is to work under an authoritarian government. The anti terrorism (sic!) jatha sponsored by the government did that quite well and adequately.

Meanwhile, something else happened in my college which i felt was far more sinister. Leaders from among students who emerged after the rally decided that they were insulted by a professor in the college. The reason: the final years were welcoming the first years and the said professor asked them to wind it up since it was later than usual. Students, male of course, and leaders, of course, found this insulting!! How dare a professor order them away from a college, their college in fact, when first years, a majority of them girls were watching how macho and tough they were!

they decided to strike classes and to demand an aplogy from the said professor. Guess what happened? The entire teaching staff, led from the front by the esteemed principal bowed low before the ‘leaders’ and apologised with folded hands.

The reasoning by the principal was that the irony of the teaching staff apologising to goons would not be lost on the students. Predictably it was totally lost and all of us, including yours sincerely, ended up looking abject and silly.

This is for real and this is here to stay!! Make no mistake folks, the world around us seems to like being dumb. A couple of years ago, when newsies hyped the dumbing down of the Indian middle class, most of us hoped that being dumb for long wouldn’t sit pretty on the educated buourgeosie and that they would bounce back with a vengeance. Unfortunately, this has not happened.

Today, the scene is far, very much far, worse. Last weekend, the Dharwad district administration and the government had organised a three day long district extravaganza – the Dharwad Utsav. The Utsav had everything – from serious discussions on Kannada language, literature, culture and politics to classical music and dance concerts, folk dances, the inevitable Hasyotsava and orchestras – you name it, they had it.

I attended the Utsav, mainly because the organisers had invited my husband for a talk. The other speakers included among others, my favourite K V Narayan.

You can certainly guess the number of people who turned up to listen to the seminar. My husband joked that he had arranged for his ‘audience’ (meaning me and the rest of the family). Though the talks were serious, thought provoking and certainly relevant, nobody seemed too keen.

Just an hour later, we visited the KarnatakCollege campus and lo! the whole place was flooded with thousands and thousands of people. The reason – a Hasyotsava followed by an orchestra.

Now how do we explain this? The middle class’s tale of woes has increased rather than decreased over the past decade. The much touted IT boom has helped just a minute section of this class. Then where are those voices of dissent? Where have all the protests gone?

Maybe the single sheet newsies in mofussil towns do have it right. Maybe people have realised that seminars are just that – discussions which lead to nothing. The scenario will remain just as bleak as it was earlier and maybe now, with governments becoming far more authoritarian, they realise that dissent will also mean the convenient tag – Terrorist/Anti-social/Naxal…

I finallly managed to take the kids out to Wonder La. They were so adamant that we should go, whatever the day, whatever the weather, that we consented and took them on a cold October day. It didnt seem cold when we started out, the sun was shining brightly and i used a liberal amount of sun screen on the two brats to prevent sun burn.

Wonder la, true to its name is wonderful. Very clean, neatly maintained with good hygenic food available at reasonable costs, it was a pleasure to be there. The only problem was that we had chosen a cold winter day to play in the water.

The minute I stepped into the play pool, the cold hit me and set me trembling. I tried to brave it out, but then a bucket full of water pelted on me, drenching me from head to toe and i, in turn, pelted out of the pool, as fast as  my feet could carry me. My brave two had no such qualms. Despite the biting cold, they (believe me!!!) enjoyed it. Dont ask me how, because I have no idea how kids brains work!

Srishti refused to come out of the wave pool and tried her small swimming lessons on all of us. Siri was a hit on the dance floor, gyrating to the pulsing music and dancing till she dropped. It was a day the kids will remember for more reasons than one, because I refused to go into the dungeon, frightened of its supposed scariness. The kids did that as well and then pulled me along where we had a long long laugh at the plastic skeletons which try desperately to scare us..

Shimoga, the one which most of you out there may be familiar with, is lost. Gone forever actually. For most of us, Shimoga immediately brings to mind the Holae (The Tunga River), Meenakshi Bhavan, Krishna Cafe, Shivappa Nayaka Market among other such landmarks like the Sahyadri College and Gopi Circle. The Sacred Heart Cathedral, which is a major land mark now, is a recent addition. But anybody coming to Shimoga city today, will be shocked out of his senses when he drives through the ancient B-H road. For, nothing exists there anymore. Meenakshi Bhavan is almost fully demolished, all the shop fronts have been brought down and the S-N market is a pile of rubble. The new government, whose chief is from Shimoga, believes that Shimoga should be (sic) upgraded! Which naturally means wider roads, more cars, more malls and god knows what else. The result, folks, is that we no longer have the Shimoga we loved and hated, cursed and blessed, which nevertheless was HOME. The government, read the chief minister, wants this ancient, rambling, historic city to be replaced by a so-called sprawling modern metropolis (maybe like Bangalore???) and the hundreds of ancient banyans and tamarinds and neems and honges which lined the shimoga-bhadravathi road were the first casualities. The Nidige lake, which was already fast disappearing because of silt deposits and lack of maintenance was the next. People of Shimoga, especially the merchant classes who had their shop fronts on B-H road were weaving dreams of larger tourist traffic and more business for them when the axe fell on them as well. The road extension of B H Road was taken up, ironically, on Ayudha Pooja and Vijayadashami festivals. The long five day holiday week turned into a nightmare to hundreds of merchant families which lined the B H Road. Even while we were trying to recover from the crassness of the entire operation, we stole a look at the devastated road and realised that Shimogas heartland had been mauled and broken beyond all repair.

I  do not know why this should affect me so much. I have never professed to love this gossipy, nosy old town all that much. But somehow this kind of modernism drives have very sinister overtones. I cannot but recall Hitler who was a hot favourite in Germany in the 20s and the 30s because of his so called dedication to development. Maybe the millions of ordinary Germans never even dreamed that their support to  this one man could result in the deaths of more than a million innocent people. Neither can I forget another mega development guru of our own times, Narendra Modi. A government which can use a festival like Ayudha Pooja to bring down the livelihood of hundreds, a government which is run by a party which professes the Hindutva ideology and swears by Hindu culture, can itself be an instrument which has destroyed a very ancient thriving native culture is, as I said, sinister.


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