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

Saturday, March 19, 2011


The Brahmin community in Kerala ( other than Namboodiris) and all castes in Tamil Nadu have the practice of marrying within the family. Marriage among second and third cousins is quite normal. In fact the boys in Tamil Nadu have the first right of refusal( right to marry the murai ponnu) before the girl is sought to be married outside the cousins circle. A few view this practice as unscientific and trace the ailments suffered by the offspring to the close relationship between the parents before marriage. At the same time the community is vehement that first cousins both on the paternal side(father’s brothers) and maternal side (mother’s sisters) do not intermarry and the prohibition on “Sagothra’, marriage stems from this practice atleast as far as the paternal side goes. In a number of cases girls marry their maternal uncles though boys marrying their paternal aunts is not permitted. If one tries to look for logical support for the practice, one would find that medical science too frowns upon inbreeding. At the same time, as in those days, the source of income was common and wealth was held in the name of family, in order to preserve the family wealth and income, marriage within the family was encouraged at the permitted level. Another reason could be, as the families were living under the same roof, intermingling of boys and girls of marriageable age was quite normal, and such intermingling facilitated marriages between cousins. Unlike boys’ Convents, such intermingling provided a healthy sexual outlook. In astrology too, there is no prohibition on marriage between cousins. One cannot visualize any other reason for such close within the family marriages.
It is in this context, the research done by Professor Kari Stefanson of CODE Genetics , Iceland , that throws fresh light. According to this study, marriage between first and second cousins had more children than distantly related couples with good chances of getting more grandchildren. Thus, mating with cousins has reproductive advantages. As a large family was always encouraged and those with more children having been considered blessed, no wonder, marriage within the family circle was widely practiced, if one accepts Stefanson study findings. As a corollary, should we not discourage marriage within the family atleast on the demographic ground, when our objective is to have lesser number of children ?
Readers more familiar with the subject, perhaps would enlighten us further..



Friday, March 18, 2011


In his excellent small Book ‘One Minute Manager’, author Kenneth Blanchard says that every one of us is endowed with competence of varying degrees to perform a task and also commitment of divergent intensity to complete an assignment.

Thus, those with less competence and more commitment, often slog without much success. Many workaholics belong to this category. They are hard working but not efficient or effective. There are others, who are quite competent, but are not committed enough to the cause. A good number of trade union leaders in enterprises come under this category. They are extremely capable, but their commitments lie elsewhere.

Those with very low degree of commitment and competence cannot be entrusted with any responsibility. They need constant monitoring, guidance and course correction. They retard an organisation’s progress.

Individuals with high degree of commitment and competence can be delegated any task. We have two classic examples in our epics. Hanuman was highly competent to surmount any difficulties and navigate his way and his commitment to Sriram was total and unshakable. Therefore a major responsibility was delegated to him and he completed the project with great acumen. Bhishma Pitamaha was a totally accomplished man. Archery, bravery, political strategy or sheer knowledge, everywhere he outshone others. Bhishma had sacrificed his personal glory and pleasures for the interest of Hastinapura. To him the only mission in life was to serve the interest of Hastinapura’s Rulers. He abdicated his thrown to serve his Cause, an example which centuries later, King Edward VIII followed in England . No wonder, Bhishma was made the supreme commander of Hastinapura’s ruling forces in the Kurukshetra War.

Those with very high degree of commitment, often have a narrower view and are oblivious to their surroundings, save their one cause, object or mission. In his eagerness and commitment to protect the interest of Hastinapura’s rulers, Bhishma didn’t realize that he was not on the side of the Champion of Dharma. Whoever fought Hastinapura had to be repulsed back, seemed to be his war strategy. As the Commander of an army, he cannot allow his enemy to escape. And, as he had taken a vow never to attack a woman, he didn’t attack Sikhandi, Sikhandi being a woman in his previous birth. Thus, at times, his commitments circumscribed his performance. Interestingly, apart from his physical prowess, courage and blemish less dedication to Sri Ram, we haven’t heard much about Hanuman’s dexterity in other areas. Those who instead of trying to understand the Vedas, their metaphysics and Philosophy and devote their days nights in merely repeating their stanzas, Sankara calls as ‘Vedabhyasa Jatas’ - meaning fools who merely repeat the Vedas. One needs to have a wider vision and not mere focusing on a spot.

If commitment has to enhance competence, commitment should play the role of an enabling force and not a retarding one. Krishna too had commitments but his commitments were made subservient to his competence. Arjuna’s commitment to a wrong sense of reverence, compelled to him to lay down his arms. Unlike Bhishma’s commitments, Krishna ’s commitments didn’t distract him. Mahatma Gandhi’s commitment to peace and non-violence did not stand in the way of his fighting the British.

Our commitments should be such that they do not make our competence meaningless. Commitment to a wrong cause can make our competence destructive. We have been reading daily about able men, being led astray because of their commitment to wrong causes.

And finally, let us enhance our competence in our chosen field and make our commitments to add value to our competence. An Abdul Kalam, a Dr.Narayana Murthy and a Mahendra Singh Dhoni exemplify this.