Mahadevan's Monologues

If we had the vision and feeling of ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. – George Eliot

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


If Historians of yore, have rated the leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Pizza, the Italian Queen of the culinary Kingdom, could be counted among the few that panders to the palate, in degrees unparalleled. Pizza has today crossed the frontiers and reigns every fast food joint, be it branded or otherwise. Youngsters in their teens and jeans, rave over it and even the middle aged have occasionally a mouthful and display a meaningful look.

Pizza always craves for a presentable look. Hence the Pizza bread is dressed up with lavish spreads of cheese, capsicum, onion, potato and green chutney and would look, as if clad in Saville Row Suit. A well made Pizza can easily wean one away from even Venky’s Chicken and would give hiccup to Hamburger. The society crowd swarms over it and yet, its forming an essential part in any auspicious occasions is unheard of. For formal dinners or marriage merry making, it is asked to stand at a distance, as the stiff upper lip variety would always look at it with askance. Like T.shirt on Saturdays, it has limited acceptability and admission, and an air of casualness around it.

Another serious shortcoming of Pizza is its inability to be a standard breakfast or an essential ingredient in formal lunches or dinners and yet has an outstanding record as a snack or side dish – almost like a Michael Bevon – a match winner, but in the limited variety, unacceptable to the classical one. It is too heavy to be a breakfast and too singular to be a lunch or dinner.

Pulav has an historical place in India and is accepted in the classical circle. You slightly modify Pulav and it becomes Briyani, which regaled the Royalties in the Mogul period and continues to reign. As it has well chosen ingredients like high quality Basmati Rice, green peas, beans, carrot etc. it is always in august company. No dinner or lunch is complete without Pulav being an essential part of it – like Tendulkar – it can be dropped only at the promoters’ peril. Equally well dressed like Pizza and elegant, Pulav can walk freely in any promenade, accepting acknowledgements in its stride. Kings and commoners both adore it and accept it as their own. Unlike Pizza, Pulav is native born and sons of the soil should certainly have right of place. A plateful of pulav, supported by spicy vegetables with salads and papad, one would ‘refuse to change his state with Kings’.

Unlike Pizza and Pulav, which have a universal appeal, Puliyodarai has a limited range and yet, is intense in its application. Made out of rice, tamarind, red chillies, chana and groundnut, Puliyodarai perpetuates one’s passion for it. Born with a boon not to perish under normal circumstances, puliyodarai proves an excellent accompaniment for travel. Puliyodarai, pampered with roasted papads and banana chips makes our journey memorable and meaningful and one longs for an extra length of the journey, lest the pleasure should come to an end soon. Puliyodarai is a puritan and hence roadside restaurants or even the Regal ones are not allowed to prepare it. Temples and residences and cooks in the marriage halls alone have the mandate to make it. Pulikacchal, which is a raw material for puliyodarai, appreciates in value, as the age advances, like vintage wine. An instant mixing of Pulikacchal with rice and roasted papad sends one into raptures. Puliyodarai plays a prominent role in any functions of an Iyengar family. Vaishnavaites’ shrines have perfected Puliyodarai to claim Brand Equity. Srirangam temple has a celebrity status, not only for the Deity, but also for the dexterity in the preparation of puliyodarai.

What is the common bond between the three born in different generations, locale and culture? All of them have enough merit to be a stand -alone serve and do not need side dishes to support them, though they are always seen in company. They either have an historical past or an instant appeal and fierce loyalty. Their preparation needs skill and competence of a very high degree, as they are complex in nature. Like the Pied Piper, they play tune and millions follow. They had humble origin, like some of the great Sages, and are today known for their sagas. They would continue to enslave us in the years to come.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Many among us believe that ‘there is a Divinity that shapes our end.” This belief, or rather faith, gives us comfort when we face failures or suffer a misfortune. Poet Shelley calls this, ‘a clinging to something afar / from the sphere of our sorrow’. Remove this faith, and we are weighed down by miseries and a feeling of remorse. If belief in fatalism provides a soothing balm in times of suffering, it also robs us of our ability to innovate and to be creative. It reduces life to a routine. We become a pawn or plaything. Khalil Gibran says,

“It is all a checker board of nights and days
Which destiny men for pieces days,
Hither and thither moves, mates and slays
And one bye one comes back to the closet and lays”.

Astrologers predict the future, based on planetary movements. In their scheme of things, human beings have to surrender meekly to planets. And yet, they also suggest ‘pariharas’ or palliatives. The effects of evil design of a malevolent planet would diminish if we propitiate a God, astrologers would argue. Fatalism, with a difference, perhaps!

But there are others, who would not submit to planetary influences. ‘I am the master of my fate and I am the captain of my soul’ they seem to say. If they do not have their way, they would not blame the stars. Like Caezar, they would confess – ‘The fault lies not in our Stars, but in ourselves. We are under- links’. The champions of free- will honestly believe that they can shape their future and that they are not dependent on the forces above. Though the protagonists of free- will are innovators and creative, as they do not have a support to fall back upon, they crumble and at times are smashed to smithereens, if their efforts let them down and they meet failures. In times of distress one needs a shoulder to cry upon. The drowning man looks at least for a straw to hold.

Two young bright ones, worked dedicatedly to pass a competitive examination and when one cleared the examination with distinction, the other, met with an accident and had to drop out of the examination. Do we call it conspiracy of the cosmic forces or failure of efforts? Would reasoning or technicalities provide consolation during such moments?

If belief in fatalism deprives us of our drive to do and excel, dependence on efforts alone may not bear fruit always and we would not have the strength to withstand failures. How to reconcile the two and emerge out winners? Krishna shows the way. ‘Put in efforts, and yet have the equanimity to accept success and failures alike’ is the advice. It is not indifference to results, which is a negative quality, but its acceptance without demur. It gives us a chance to analyse our failure, should there be a failure and put up a much better effort next time. After all, failure is the greatest teacher. We continue to be creative and yet, failures do not make us crest- fallen. Abandoning and leaving it to fate, is certainly taboo. Put in efforts with a single minded devotion and accept the result is the message. It has no religious significance, but only a psychological undertone. It instils courage in us and fortify our fortitude to face the vicissitudes of fortune. It is not a dogma because it can stand the test of time.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Steve Ballmer, the Microsoft Chief, during his recent visit to India, said that one third of the software engineers in the world would claim India as their home. In sheer rate of economic growth, India is one of the super powers today and by 2020, India is likely to brush shoulders with China, if not brush her aside. An Indian wins Booker Prize and another Indian, Jagdish Bhagwati, was short listed for Nobel Prize in Economics. If they wielded the Hockey stick with great wizardry a few decades earlier, today they are the acknowledged Kings of Steel ingots. We feel elated and announce it from the housetop that we have arrived.

Steve Ballmer also said that Indian supply of Technocrats and Scientists for Research and Development was too short of the need and demand. Chemistry Graduates and Civil and Aerospace engineers send their CVs to software Companies. If the Business Schools and software companies ensnare the bright, the lower end among the educated finds solace in BPOs and undergo cultural transformation. In the process, educational institutions do not get quality faculties and research institutions are deprived of dedicated men and women to do research. Research scientists are odd men out everywhere. Indian Manufacturers complain that they do not get quality engineers.

It is no doubt true that the four leading software companies alone employ more than two lakhs knowledge workers across the globe. But the vast army of the unemployed in the rural areas does not belong to this class. The intellectual calibre of the educated rural boys and girls is certainly not inferior. What they lack is self confidence and communication skill in English, two attributes needed for success in Software and BPOs. Chinese are aware of their limitations in English and therefore, they used their work force for building infra structure and manufacture. If India is the back office to the world, China provides the shop floor. Now they have turned towards software too. If 55% of our GDP is in the services sector which provides jobs to the educated, in China, manufacture occupies the major portion of their GDP and that takes care of their masses.

Prof. Indiresan, a former Director of Madras IIT, maintains that the millions of uneducated in India need to be provided jobs in the condition in which they are and there is no short term course to transform them. Emphasis on manufacture and infrastructure alone can provide millions of jobs. A Mittal buying the Arcelors may be headlines for the newspapers. But a Murugesan at Madurai continues to be unemployed. Only more deployment of Capital in India by our entrepreneurs and the foreign ones in manufacture and infrastructure would create jobs for our millions who are otherwise not employable. Thirty years of Communist rule made China a disciplined country. That discipline stands them in good stead today when they have switched over to an alternative and more rewarding economy. In India, we did not cultivate that discipline. We have arm chair critiques, pointing fingers at what they call bourgeoisie culture. We have too many proverbial frogs to drag us from moving ahead. And yet we too can do like China, even if it takes a little longer, by emulating them. Be conscious of your strength, and yet understand your weakness too.

When our builders build life style houses, let the government make them to build small functional and less expensive houses, for the poor too, as demonstrated by the 82 years young Jimmi Carter. The textile mills in Mumbai, which provided jobs to over one and a half lakhs of skilled and semi-skilled workers have now yielded place to marble floored palatial apartments, malls and multiplexes, depriving the mill workers of their wages and roofs. When we talk of higher disposable income of the employed class, should we not spare a thought for the incomeless unemployed?

Distracters thrive, when there is dissatisfaction around. Let us light the areas of darkness. ‘Diyas’ are meant for that.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


The recent Delhi High Court judgment, sentencing the rapist and murderer of Priyadarshini Mattoo, to death, gives the signal that even the mighty cannot escape the clutches of Law, In fact, a few months back, in one of my Blog comments I wrote that only women jurists should try rape cases. I am proved wrong. When I read some of the judgments and court proceedings, I certainly feel elated that we have one of the finest judiciary in the world. What I fail to comprehend is that in many cases, when a punishment is given for an offence committed outside, why there is remission in the punishment for good conduct inside the jail? Does the good conduct in the jail, bring down the seriousness of the offence or balm the hurt of the offended?

While participating in a debate on ‘Purdah”, Shabhana Azmi made a statement that there was no quarrel between different religions. ‘There is a quarrel between only the liberal and extremist elements in various religions’, she added. I think, Shabhana has a valid point. The extremists in all religions strive to stifle the voice of the saner elements. Reform can be brought about only by the liberals. When one observes the happenings around, perhaps one is tempted to think that the liberals are shrinking in size and the extremists, assume alarming proportions. Unless every religious group, produces reformers with the zeal of an Eashwar Chander Vidyasagar or a Raja Rammohan Roy, the extremist elements would tighten the noose around the necks of the faithful. After all, every religion, tries to improve the lot of Man and to make this world a better place to live. In the hands of extremists, religions become a tool, to serve their purpose. Religion is not the opium of the people, as Karl Marx said. It is the religious zealots, who reduce religion to the level of opium. .

The third one is the Imrana rape case. I am ill qualified to interpret a religious text, that too of a Faith, I do not belong to. And yet, my common sense tells me that rape is a criminal offence and hence has to be handled as such by the competent court of jurisprudence. We have a secular criminal law that governs us.

Finally, I am never tired of quoting Thomas Carlyle’s excellent lines:

“First make yourself an honest man and be sure that there is one rascal less in the