Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Erstwhile City Of God...

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 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.


Anonymous said...

Please count me in.Me too now moved to Trivandrum.Love TVM a lot...

Karthik said...

Good post Jiby. I guess the problem of declining arts-science institutions stems from the fact that less and less students prefer to go away from the Engineering/Medicine stream.

VSSC seems to find it more and more difficult to retain the engineers. And hence, as a result, they are filled with people who can be termed "Sarkari scientists" thanx to the inherent beauraucracy in the system.

MC said...

i spend about 50% of my time in trivandrum now. your post has captured the problem very well. the single biggest problem is the political ingredient and intereference, which has over a period of time entrenched into every single office, institution, organizaiton, service and even community in kerala, particularly trivandrum. and that is eroding every value system and even peoples behavior. today you walk around the city, you can feel the aggression and arrogance in the street.

i have an unfinished article for DOC on the same issue. but your writing and way of expression is so good.

mathew said...

Refreshingly different perspective…This post could be applicable to any city for that matter.
The behemoth of government institutions which dot the cities are our pride and like you said all of them are now fading into oblivion...I hardly believe anyone is listening to AIR these days...when you have 5 FM channels which delivery market fare...I guess these are inevitable changes...nostalgic but expendable because of changing times. But then institutes like the university campus and CTCRI could all see better times if we have able administrators and funding.

It is true that Techno Park runs on money. But history has proved that it is what drives everything in this world…If CTCRI generates money or if RCC becomes a niche medical resort it would become another symbol of glossy capitalist masterpiece. I haven’t been to Cochin in the past two years but am afraid if it is just money pumped from outside driving the city it would last long. A city reinvents itself to self sustain like they are doing in Dubai. The place is gaudy display of wealth in the eyes of a socialist and a Mecca of capitalism for the rest. You could look either way.

For any city to survive it would need both…or infact for any city to have a wholesome identity, it should be a healthy mix of both…Institutes that generated money like Techno Park...and institutes which are engines for a bigger cause like the University or VSSC.

Am sad that our educational system is driven by the market forces unlike in west where the aspirations of the child is what matters...Probably I am victim of the same too. We have generated money, cars. and living a ‘good’ life…

But we are losing many budding poets...singers...painters…scientist…teachers...and that’s the sad-dest part…

Great post as always Jiby..

scorpiogenius said...

Many of us speak the same language when it comes to Trivandrm, dont we Jiby? And you have provided a totally different angle to view it.

I'm so pleased to come across you, mathew and a handful of motivated, gifted youth from Trivandrum who identify themselves to their roots. A city's greatest assets would be its citizens; and then Trivandrum would be one of the richest in India if we consider the amazing impact the city has on the webspace.

Your post speaks a totally different language Jiby, and views the problems faced by Tvm in a unique angle. Thanks for putting the thoughts into words, and we have around us, people with ears who can turn such ideas into action.

Hope to see more... :)

Neena Padayatty said...

Someone who chooses the pure science and arts stream in Kerala still meets raised eyebrows.They are either considered weirdos or labeled people who didnt make it through the celebrated Engg/Medical entrance Thanks to the prevalent middle-class mentality.But we can't blame them for being lured by the handsome salaries the professional courses offer.Who would not want to climb up in the social ladder?Voila!You have a brood of corporate employees working round the clock,hating what they do but loving the money it makes.Who cares for the garbage heap next to your school and the flooded roads as long as it does not affect your cozy nest?We again have our rulers to thank for endangering the group called teachers.They would gladly pay the bureaucrats who take work as a pass time than people who could be instrumental in making a better tomorrow.It would take very brave steps by individuals to change the scene.However posts like these are reassuring that "Hope springs eternal in the human breast"!

Jiby said...

janaki, nice to hear a new tvmite fall in love with the city. so it still has that something special, i guess.

karthik, it is a pity that these colleges haven't attempted to fight back against the loss they are suffering. If a Loyola Chennai, Stephens, etc still attracts the cream in these times, within Kerala definitely an Ivanios or a University College can surely rise back to their pre-emintent position.

mc, it sure has become a case of politics defining man than the other way around! your posts at DOC stand out because you highlight the fall of our standards. before we go in for big city development we need society to shore up its conscience...or it will only aggravate many of the bad tendencies we are already seeing.

mathew, a professor at tvm medical college told me of the simple model he developed to make his department self-financing...having diagnostic services functioning within the college itself...charging nominal fees to people who can afford the payment and providing free services to those who can't and he said the department actually ran up a little profit too which would go into upgrading exisiting facilities. small initiatives like these are what is needed in public institutions to be able to continue taking the lead in winning the confidence of the people...but i guess they are few and far between. i am a supporter of development through IT...but it's sad that it has become the dominating point of entry for our youngsters into society irrespective of their talents.

scorpiogenius, i am in the process of reading your blogs...and i find a lot there which tells me we share a few common goals. but i am wondering how we could have our say within the system if we are to bring about change. i'd children...people older are far too arrogant and comfortable in their soles to do anything positive. i have a few ideas man...but am a lazy soul...i don't want to work with adults...too many cynics amongs them who will kill my spirit...i wonder how we can create avenues to open a dialogue with schoolkids.

neena, i know what you speak of. if i can't change the direction my life is going in, i will regret all my life about not having gone to an arts college. i don't know if salary is the only factor that lures middle-class youth. there is a cocktail of insecurity and competition too which sucks them right in. how right you are, when you talk about the importance of teachers in our society. a few years back, i asked my parents whether its okay with them if i become a schoolteacher, they shot it down saying i am made for better things. deep in my heart, i know that's the job i am best fit for, but then life cannot be so simple for me.

scorpiogenius said...

but i am wondering how we could have our say within the system if we are to bring about change.
Well jiby, the best way to change a system is to be within the system; especially in a place like Kerala, which is always immune & suspicious to changes. Thats why we still havn't managed to replace Mammooty or Mohanlal or still havn't got the vision to see beyond 4 lane roads when 8 & 10 lanes have become global standards.

i'd children...people older are far too arrogant and comfortable in their soles to do anything positive.
Dont you think there is an avenue of hope? Just think, how would we have put across our ideas across each other? You are contributing to the growth of your city..5 years ago Trivandrumites didnt understand what a real city looked like, now they are silently witnessing the start of an explosive growth. People now speak more about Vizhinjam and Technopark than about LDF & Karunakaran. My dad is a simple example! :)

i have a few ideas man...but am a lazy soul...Ah come on..A blog-owner like you cant be described using that word.. ;)And as I've told its the ideas that turn to words and words to action...So we need the thoughts flowing..And you have lot of ears around you!

i don't want to work with adults...too many cynics amongs them who will kill my spirit.We are all adults, and we have among us people who are powerful enough to initiate changes. Vizhinjam had a lot of young men behind it...who changed the '???' sign associated with it to '!!!!!'..I personally know a few.

i wonder how we can create avenues to open a dialogue with schoolkids. Do we need to? Now every child knows about internet...about blogs...Just a matter of time before you, mathew, Ajay or mindcurry succeeds in sending the messge to a few of them. I'll tell you something. I was a cynical pessimist(like the one you whined about) a few years back and I never believed in the potential or uniqueness of my city. A few web forums & individuals drastically changed my attitude, and I'm now carrying on the duty. I now believe in the power of thoughts and words...

So we can do what we can best do..:), cant we?

silverine said...

Very nice post! You have uncovered the root of the problem's so well!

I dont see things changing when it comes to parents mentality but what we can do is encourage children's hobbies and keep their creative juices flowing by creating Institutions where kids can pursue their hobbies during weekends and holidays. This I think is the critical need of the hour. Bal Bhavan in Bangalore is one such example.

It is sad to see people trying to pick up long lost hobbies when they start working only to realize that the fire in the belly is dead.

hope and love said...

very true.. elder son is leaving loyola oday.. today is the last day of his plus two board exams..

Jiby said...

scorpiogenius, thanks for that wonderful reply in encouragement. i will seek you out when i return. most of the friends i currently have in tvm, are on a different track in life, which sort of disheartens me, but your reply assures me i can certainly find new people to ally with.

silverine, very correct. maybe that is the way to infuse alternate career choices for children. we have a bal bhavan in tvm too. it used to be a craze amongst kids earlier...i have no idea how it is faring. hmmm...what you said about the fire in the belly gone...wouldn't that be the saddest day in a person's life.

doc, thanks...i guess you live with all this, day in and day out. convey to gautham my best wishes. exactly 10 years back, i also made my way out of loyola but sadly with no goals in life. hope he is in a better position.

Mind Curry said... have been tagged

Jina said...

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.

that one was simply brilliant..totally agree to that line of thought.And simply because of that it becomes too damn difficult for anyone interested to even attempt at anything different.
And things like Civil Services being directly proportional to the amount of years you can spare by does not really hold its fort for more brilliant and apt people.

scorpiogenius said...

Talking about institutions, engineers and docs aren't the only breed sprouting out of Tvm. The great institutions such as the Music College, Fine Arts College or cultural institutes still churn out worthy products. But they seem to enter into oblivion, perhaps because Kerala society has lost its magnetism towards artistic values..Anyone can make serials, anyone can be a singer...talent or quality isn't a requirement for viewers now.

I just wonder if the image of our city being a class apart in art-science institutes is slowly changing. In 10 yrs time Tvm will be better known for its Space Technology Institute, Technopark, IISER or a bunch of Private Medical Colleges instead of the fabulous learning centers we possess now.

Vijay said...

I think all of us Keralites relate and feel so much for our land becuase of the fact that we've grown up there. I can cite examples in my own house wherein my brother who grew up in another town isn't as concerned when we talk about situations in Kerala.

Todays kids - somewhere down the line including mine - would grow up in alien towns which would ensure that they grow up never realising the culture, beauty, language and history of our Kerala.

Most of my interactions with cousins in Kerala have shown that they view Kerala as a peniteniary and are dying to complete their respective courses and move out of the state. They blame the political scenario and the social backwardness of Kerala as main reasons for this attitude among the youth.

The job scenario in our state hardly evokes a positive outlook among the youth. Thanks to political parties our state churns around 10000 of new jobs for every lac students who graduate.

Hehe..Reminds me of Sreenivasan's dialogue in "Chntavishtayaya Shyamala" - "B.A Kazhinhappolaanu arinjathu Keralathil thengaye kaati kooduthal graduate undennu"

You're right - a change needs to happen at the grassroot level - at schools...

Sorry for ranting and raving for so long...but would love to do my bit to give back to a land which made me who I am today