Once there was a sparsely populated town in Kerala. There descended upon it, capable men who built institutions. Around these institutions like the VSSC, CDS, University of Kerala, Agricultural University, Keltron, DD, AIR, RRL, CTCRI, Libraries, Govt. Bodies and think-tanks, colleges, schools, museums, stadiums, theatres, etc grew a modern city of salaried working class and their children. We lovingly call this city by various names - Trivandrum, Thiruvananthapuram and Ananthapuri. Like everything sustained by human effort, these institutions stagnated. One fine day came Globalization. The people were ready for it but not the un-extinct dinosaurs who ran these institutions. Money became the sole-motivating aim for the masses and they looked elsewhere for succour. These institutions cried foul at the hydra that was changing people's lifestyles. They stagnated further when public interest in them dipped. The replacements that globalization threw up for them weren't anything admirable either. A city is known for the institutions it is proud of. What happens to a city when the institutions it was once proud of stagnate? What happens to a city where the sole-touted institution is the Technopark which beats just to the tune of money?
Is it not time to redefine socialism? Socialism has become a dirty word. Why shouldn't socialism from now on just be about awareness of social, economic and environmental problems and implementing solutions to it? Why keep adhering to the age-old inequalities of income argument? For me, the biggest injustice perpetrated is the tendency to teach children to play it safe. The most painful aspect of a socialist system is the difficulty in getting a new initiative approved. Socialism always begins with a crusader's zeal to improve and change the existing setup. But it soon settles down into a system where the men who take charge of the social setup will not allow anyone to change this status-quo. The collaboration of interest groups works at all levels in Kerala - everybody be it the communist, the congressman, the trader, the worker, the church, the media, the intellectual - everyone who is a part of the current system and deriving benefits from it, is never motivated to change anything. This proves that interest groups don't need capitalism to flourish. An interest group works transparently in capitalism while it functions with brute power in socialism.
The only solution is to set individuals free. In Kerala, every organization has to function with interference from the top and bottom. Administrators fail to implement latest technologies, hire and fire competent/incompetent staff, streamlining the functioning of their fiefdoms, losing precious time running from pillar to post for clearing payments and bureaucratic approval. I know of an example of a person who succeeded when he was liberated. In 1998, staring at a system which he knew would deny him any chances of getting to the top of the university hierarchy despite his credentials, he interviewed for and was put in charge of a miserably performing academic institution affiliated to KU. Funded and answerable only to the UGC, functioning independent of the politicians who remote-control the university, he very quickly transformed it into the first-ranking institution of its nature in the country. He succeeded where many people capable of doing such stuff floundered elsewhere. I know that person well - he is my dad. I wouldn't say he was lead by high ideals - he was motivated by ambition and a fierce determination to stand above his peers.
From my last visit to Trivandrum, I am convinced that what Trivandrum needs more than all the requisites for economic growth and development is the revitalization of existing institutions. The reason I am proud of Kerala is that in all purposes it is a distinct entity yet seamlessly fitting within India. We have our own distinctive social system and problems, film industry, literature, subject experts in all areas, and many other parameters for being evaluated as a "country". Once, the colleges in Trivandrum like University College, Arts College, Ivanios, etc produced most of Kerala's intellectual, cultural and literary giants. Today these colleges are in a state of disuse with several vacant seats for the many courses they conduct. In their place has come up self-financing engineering colleges named after their "reputable" wealthy patrons producing graduates who have learnt in 4 years what it means to have a good time forgetting all the good things they learnt in school of social responsibility and the power of the inner self.
Some of the most talented Malayalis I have met here in the US and who will go on to lead a successful and meaningful life were people not motivated by money. They took degrees in pure sciences and arts, but developed great interest in their fields of study, that opportunities never ceased to shower on them. And our well-educated malayali frog-in-the-well parents think they know it all while prodding their unknowledgeable wards into engineering and medicine. The US is in such a strong position because of people of all talents and dispositions. A US citizen encourages activities in their communities by going out of the way to participate or encourage. The world over, intelligent societies and individuals are realizing that there is no natural or man-made wealth worthy left fighting for. I guess the blame rests on our heavily stratified society, that malayalis, whatever be the colour of their collar, can never afford to take a break from wasteful competition, and perpetrate the same mentalities on the next generation too.
There exists today no real setup for the fostering of talented people. I knew people in my father's generation from such varied fields as zoology to space science. Today all the "successful" people I know are MBA's, engineers or doctors. People drill into their children's heads that every other profession which earns lesser is the failure of the social animal. To meet and to be in the company of writers, policemen, researchers, etc if I have to climb one ladder down in the social ladder, I would gladly do it because these are the people I would enjoy talking to. Do we want Trivandrum to be a one-dimensional city like kochi? I wonder if there is anything left in that crumbling mega shopping paradise which is not subject to crass commercialization.
In a few months i will go back to being a citizen of trivandrum...i feel sad at the decline of the cultural, academic, athletic and research bodies - both govt and private owned. I have second thoughts now on the so-called urban development we are seeing in our country...ultimately everything needs support from the ordinary man and good people who can rise up to take visionary leadership. But the good people are all in useless engineering colleges out of touch with the subjects they study or the many other subjects in the world. There will be very few left to provide quality leadership in the next generation. I am woefully out of touch with trivandrum...my last visit there, about three months back didn't evoke any nostalgia. It felt like I was looking at a city of tired and haggard people. A fresh start can come only from the schools. When I return, I hope to find and band with like-minded people who can carry a message to our young ones on the dangerous ability of conventional beliefs to throttle their potential.
P.S - For long, I have stayed away from writing on the world about me. I was preoccupied with my own struggles...that difficult phase is hopefully over. Around the net, I have read several brilliant people propose solutions to propel Trivandrum's development. I am of the firm belief that nothing will change in this firmly-entrenched system unless we can mentor today's school children to replace the adults of today. The radicals and progressive thinkers of my father's generation, all of them - people who stood up to Indira Gandhi's Emergency, run the show in Trivandrum today. In their race to the top, all of them conveniently dropped their ideals. But I can't help wondering if we are all going to go their same way. I have frequently heard people cite the example of the freedom struggle where men and women came up from nowhere to give leadership and shape a national movement at a time when all hope was lost. In these modern times of Free Speech, Expression and Opportunity should we just wait for that dark hour and then get into the act? Please don't hesitate to add your thoughts and disagreements to this post.