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  Greetings to all our readers and patrons
Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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Peripheral people?
  By John Dayal  
  I AM just back home from Manipur, where 40 kilometres on the National Highway (the old Burma Road) from the international border, near the Meitei village of. Kakching, a police party stopped my car, poked around, saw my several credentials and then grimly reminded me "they kill non-Manipuris here, you know". I continued, my Manipuri colleague handling the car, all the way to Imphal airport another 40 km away without incident. The Air India flight was an hour late.

I had come to Kakching to see the village, now a small town of 20,000, which had rebelled against a King's dictate, then suffered its consequences, later fought a legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court so that the people could enjoy the affirmative action fruits of being defined as a Scheduled caste. Manipuris, or the Meitei to be precise, were not always, and are still not all, Hindus. King Charai Rongba in the 15th century first heard of Hinduism from Guru Aribom, a mendicant missionary. A Meitei scholar told me Vaishnavaism was made the state religion in 18th Century by King "Pamheiba" and it Puya (Meitei Religious Script) Meithaba (Burning) is known as the day on which Meitei were converted to Hinduism from Sanamahi, their original faith. "It was on 23rd Wakhching (January) 1729. It is being observed every year," says my friend. Manipur also has local Muslims, and in recent centuries, many Christians, from Catholics to the Good Shepherd Community Church, the latest evangelical denomination.

But we were taking of the village Kakching and its rebellious people who defied the dynasties, and refused to accept Vaishnavism. They were, of course summarily excommunicated. The Kakching populace is also known as Lois, which means the "expelled community" for not obeying the royal command. The village had thriving local industry in iron mining and smelting, so it could defy His Majesty. After Independence, they wanted legal recognition, but it was not easy -- it was decades before they were classified as Scheduled castes, and could seek government jobs and education as a right. Today the village boasts of schools, a people's library and a people's Eco Park, created not through government grants but by local genius.

Planting a tree in the Park, the fault lines of Manipur seem far away. Just the Vaishnav and Sanamahi Meitei who live in the central valley -- about a third of the land for two-thirds of the concentrated population -- think of themselves as an independent kingdom whose former king was bamboozled into joining India. Irom, the iron lady, is on a ten year hunger strike, and women old enough to be her mothers, paraded naked before TV camera protesting the Armed Forces Special powers Act, yes, and the same law operational in Kashmir valley.

Not that even this is a universal demand. Some Meiei would rather the Army remained, just as a check on the home-bred militants-terrorists. Very complex feelings.

The Meitei youth, with few jobs and ill educated for the most, have evolved a dozen and a half underground militant groups, most fully armed with the latest in military technology. In the hills surrounding the valley, the Imphal Valley that is, till the borders of Nagaland and Burma are tribes of the Nagas and Kuki. They too seek an independent identity. A Naga group is currently in Delhi asking for liberation from the Meitei. And between them, the Nagas and Kukis have another dozen or so underground groups.

All these militias make their money from extortion, and occasional abduction. No one really complains in Imphal, for politicians and bureaucrats and middle men are making their own money by pilfering from the massive central grants. Very little percolates to the people. Sons and daughters of impoverished families are seeking jobs in Delhi and Mumbai as waitresses and shop assistants. A data of the North East Centre and Helpline shows, many of these youth are racially profiled in Delhi by our own boors, and some of the girls come face to face with gender violence, often rape.

The focus may for the moment be on the Kashmir valley, but New Delhi seems not to bother about any of its more distant citizens on the 24 X 7 basis that it should, be it Manipur and Tripura in the far north-east, or the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Andhra, or for that matter, the deep villages of Kandhamal in Orissa and Udaipur in Rajasthan. Out of sight is out of mind for the bureaucrats of North and South Block, and nothing more than "objects" for the "joint command", the euphemism for the Army acting in conjunction with local armed police sand the political elite.

All we hear is Central and Planning Commission sops. And sometimes they use the term "the peripheral peoples". That is a dangerous, feudal word which ought to have no place in the vocabulary and thought process of a civilised modern democracy where everyone is equal and central. They forget something very seminal about India. We are not a melting pot, and "they" in Kashmir and Manipur, are not "peripheral people". If we actually believe in the Idea of India, we with our imperial myopia in the political-financial twin capitals New Delhi and Mumbai, would have to come to terms with the fact that the "heartland" remains but an island which could become very isolated very fast in the larger ocean of the assertions of a diversified, polyglot, multi-racial, multi-hued, multi cultural, multi-ideological India.
Pope and the crowds
  By Ross Douthat  
  All in all, the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain over the weekend must have been a disappointment to his legions of detractors. Their bold promises notwithstanding, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens didn't manage to clap the pope in irons and haul him off to jail. The protests against Benedict's presence proved a sideshow to the visit, rather than the main event. And the threat (happily empty, it turned out) of an assassination plot provided a reminder of what real religious extremism looks like -- as opposed to the gentle scholar, swathed in white, urging secular Britons to look with fresh eyes at their island's ancient faith.

And the crowds came out, as they always do for papal visits -- 85,000 for a prayer vigil in London, 125,000 lining Edinburgh's streets, 50,000 in Birmingham to see Benedict beatify John Henry Newman, the famous Victorian convert from Anglicanism. Even at a time of Catholic scandal, even amid a pontificate that's stumbled from one public-relations debacle to another, Benedict still managed to draw a warm and enthusiastic audience.

No doubt most of Britain's five million Catholics do not believe exactly what Benedict believes and teaches. No doubt most of them are appalled at the Catholic hierarchy's record on priestly child abuse, and disappointed that many of the scandal's enablers still hold high office in the church.

But in turning out for their beleaguered pope, Britain's Catholics acknowledged something essential about their faith that many of the Vatican's critics, secular and religious alike, persistently fail to understand. They weren't there to voice agreement with Benedict, necessarily. They were there to show their respect -- for the pontiff, for his office, and for the role it has played in sustaining Catholicism for 2,000 years.

Conventional wisdom holds that such respect is increasingly misplaced, and that the papacy is increasingly a millstone around Roman Catholicism's neck. If it weren't for the reactionaries in the Vatican, the argument runs, priests might have been permitted to marry, forestalling the sex abuse crisis. Birth control, gay relationships, divorce and remarriage might have been blessed, bringing lapsed Catholics back into the fold. Theological dissent would have been allowed to flourish, creating a more welcoming environment for religious seekers.

And yet none of these assumptions have any real evidence to back them up. Yes, sex abuse has been devastating to the church. But as Newsweek noted earlier this year, there's no data suggesting that celibate priests commit abuse at higher rates than the population as a whole, or that married men are less prone to pedophilia. (The real problem was the hierarchy's fear of scandal, which led to endless cover-ups and enabled serial predation.)

And yes, the church's exclusive theological claims and stringent moral message don't go over well in a multicultural, sexually liberated society. But the example of Catholicism's rivals suggests that the church might well be much worse off if it had simply refashioned itself to fit the prevailing values of the age. That's what the denominations of mainline Protestantism have done, across the last four decades -- and instead of gaining members, they've dwindled into irrelevance.

The Vatican of Benedict and John Paul II, by contrast, has striven to maintain continuity with Christian tradition, even at the risk of seeming reactionary and out of touch. This has cost the church its once-privileged place in the Western establishment, and earned it the scorn of fashionable opinion. But continuity, not swift and perhaps foolhardy adaptation, has always been the papacy's purpose, and the secret of its lasting strength.

Catholics do not -- should not, must not -- look to the Vatican to supply the church with all its saints and visionaries and prophets. (Indeed, many of Catholicism's greatest figures have had fraught relationships with the Holy See -- including John Henry Newman, the man beatified on Sunday.) They look to Rome instead to safeguard what those visionaries achieved, to guard Catholicism's inheritance, and provide a symbol of unity for a far-flung, billion-member church. They look to Rome for the long view: for the wisdom that not all change is for the better, and that some revolutions are better outlasted than accepted.

On Saturday, Benedict addressed Britain's politicians in the very hall where Sir Thomas More, the great Catholic martyr, was condemned to death for opposing the reformation of Henry VIII. It was an extraordinary moment, and a reminder of the resilience of Catholicism, across a gulf of years that's consumed thrones, nations, entire civilizations.

This, above all, is why the crowds cheered for the pope, in Edinburgh and London and Birmingham -- because almost five centuries after the Catholic faith was apparently strangled in Britain, their church is still alive. (Courtesy: The New York Times)
Crying shame
  By Papri Sri Raman  
  APROPOS of A.J. Philip's article "Food security for rats" (published alongside), I liked his reference to the cartoon character Kunju Kurup. It was well written.

Philip hits the nail on the head when he says, "The off-take of wheat and rice from the PDS rose from 41.4 million tonnes in 2004-05 to 42.1 million tonnes and then fell to 39.5 million tonnes in 2008-09. During the same period, the procurement rose from 41.6 million tonnes to 55.5 million tonnes. And when APL families are exempted from the PDS, the off-take will further decrease and the quantity in godowns will increase".

As Philip points out, it is all a matter of simple mathematics. When Indians are supposed to be good at mathematics, it is a pity that the government does not understand such simple calculations.

Of course, the government cannot distribute rotten grain. But what I cannot understand is why the government does not follow the traditional system that housewives have been following for centuries. Age-old wisdom dictates -- use up the older grain as fast as possible. If it is rotten, give it as feed to the cattle or make ethanol out of it. In no case should grain be kept for more than one year.

In this context I am tempted to narrate an anecdote. Last year, I visited a self-sufficient community spread over 19 villages, in Andhra Pradesh.

I met the woman who runs the villages' "seed bank". Every year she collects new seeds. She does not keep the seed for more than one year. She distributes the old stock at harvest time and cleans out the shed completely. She then gathers grain for the "seed bank". This way the grains remain fresh.

Suppose the government has stocks of grain harvested since 2005. So, why does it not finish all the grain collected from 2005 to 2008? It can be sold to the cattle and chicken feed factory owners. Alternatively, it can be given to alcohol producers.

The government should distribute through the public distribution system only those grains procured after 2008. Of course, it should keep 42 million tonnes of new grain (2009-10) as buffer. Give another 15 million tonnes to the PDS from the buffer before the next procurement, i.e., in 2011.

Then the warehouses will also get cleared and new grain will be in buffer. If unlettered village women can do this, why can't the government, headed by an economist of international repute, be persuaded to do this?
Scary scenario
  By Meetu Tewari  
  GENERAL David Petraeus, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has stated that the burning of copies of the Koran by a US church, could increase danger for US troops stationed in Afghanistan.

After a protest by hundreds of Afghans on Monday on the Koran burning plans, Gen. Petraeus came forward to warn the Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center that their actions would endanger the lives of the troops. He stated that such an action would undoubtedly be covered widely in the media and be used by extremists in Afghanistan, and elsewhere, to fuel hatred against Americans.

The church plans to burn copies of the Koran, on church grounds, to mark the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US which provoked the Afghan war. The Koran is considered the Word of God and Muslims expect it to be treated with due reverence.

Any publication containing its verses or words, too, is given proper respect. Clearly any disrespect to the Koran would incite protests and violence. Already stories of the Koran being flushed down the toilet by US interrogators, in 2005, led to widespread violence in Afghanistan and left many dead.

Protests broke out across the globe as news of the Koran burning spread. In Jakarta, Indonesia, thousands protested outside the US Embassy. While the proposed plan of Pastor Terry Jones has been condemned even in official quarters in the US, the pastor says he is still praying for the soldiers and they are all considering the warning given by Gen. Petraeus but so far, they have not canceled the plans. The church is simply reconsidering the message they are trying to get across.

Terry Jones told CNN that sometimes "you see in the Bible that enough is enough and you stand up." Many claim his fight is against radical Islam. But on their church grounds stands a sign reading "Islam is of the Devil," the title of Terry Jones' book.

Their website states that Islam is a religion of violence but forgets to make the distinction between a religion and religious texts and its practitioners. It is for the practitioners of the religion to interpret their religious texts in the way they like. Christianity, too, does not preach violence but how the Bible is interpreted by its followers, (in this case the Dove World Outreach Center), cannot be blamed on the religion itself.

Though it is scary to see radicalism take such a form, what is more terrifying is the response the church's proposal has received from some normal, everyday people that this correspondent talked to.

There were just two persons who said that violence begets violence and offending the religious sensibilities of anyone is not the resolution. But the other persons approached stated quite clearly that there was nothing wrong in what the church was doing. Their responses ranged from it being a message to it being time the Muslim world was displayed a united front against terrorism.

Extremist views when expressed by educated people is something to be afraid of. Sitting in a far corner of the world and reading about a 50-member church planning to burn the Koran is shocking but leaves us untouched. But when we see that the tolerance of people around us has ended and we hear them express views which are nothing short of being extremist, it gets really scary.

Perhaps the time is not to just think about the Dove World Outreach Center but how the philosophy it espouses is suddenly being uttered by the people around us.
Rain, rain never go away
  By Cherian Thomas  
  RAINS were unusually heavy and of a different kind in Delhi this year. That took my mind back to Kerala and my childhood. Most of the Keralites, who had spent their childhood in "God's own country", would never feel disturbed by the rains, at least in their heart of hearts. It is a different matter that it invariably poured at the wrong morning and evening office time. Most of us wish for the heavens to open after we reach home and stop before we leave for office or school.

I belonged to "Onattukara" a sub-region in Mavelikara taluk in Alappuzha district, which was free from the ravages of nature, unlike some other regions of Kerala which always had tragic experiences of nature's fury. The rainy season was known in local parlance as "Panja Masam", a period of scarcity, without jobs and income. The menfolk would sit at home and enjoy their "bidi" while the womenfolk would somehow manage to keep the kitchen running with the help of Good Samaritan neighbours. But children, across the board, always enjoyed the rains.

Rains always poured cheers and brought forth the nostalgia of childhood. We had to walk nearly two kilometers to go to school. Those days it was a luxury to have an umbrella in the family. It is stitched and repaired just before the rainy season.

Children were not given the privilege of going to the school with the only umbrella in the household. They had to make do with the banana leaves cut for the purpose by their loving mothers. It was always fun all the way, going in a group, through puddles, splashing at each other and return home in the evening, fully drenched. Mothers would dry us out and make us sit before the fire in the kitchen.

When elders dared not to venture out for errand, children would volunteer as it brought the rare privilege of going out in the rain with the umbrella. The first such opportunity would be used to open and close the umbrella many times, in the process getting exposed to rain. Who cares when one has to show it off to friends? By the time, they would return home, it was as good as going without the umbrella.

The umbrella was old which, in spite of the stitching, would still leak, so also the roof of the house. We would put small "bartans" (kitchen vessels) wherever it leaked from the roof. The season entailed a lot of hardship for those whose houses had thatched roofs. This was also the season when rich people used to get "ayurvedic" treatment.

As a child, the only thing that frightened me during those days was the lightning and thunder which once in a while struck at coconut trees and destroyed them. The moment the lightening happened, we would rush inside the house with our ears closed.

Another sight that comes to memory is of the ladies who got stuck in the heavy rain. Returning from the evening market with tapioca and fish, they would take shelter in the veranda of households on the route. My mother always took the opportunity to exchange gossips with them. Though we children were taught the poem, "Rain, rain go away", for us it was always "Rain, Rain, never go away"!
Given below are some comments the article elicited:

The nostalgic piece holds true for most of us who grew up in Kerala and were lucky enough to have the "privileges" of a true childhood. Nicely written!

- Madhu Bhaskaran, New York

It was indeed a great read! Truly nostalgic!

- Sanjay, Madrid

Congrats. It has come up very well. During the monsoon season, the sides of the KP Road were converted into small streams and on the way to school or while returning from school, children used to make paper boats with the pages of notebooks and enjoyed sailing their boats in such small streams. And what they had in mind at that time was the adventures of Columbus. If you ask anyone about the best part of their life, mostly the answer would be their childhood days. Can we get back those childhood days?

- C.O. Rajan, New Delhi

Congratulations! It was a nice article and very nostalgic. It took me back to my childhood years. Keep writing and send such articles to me.

- Jacob Mathew, Melbourne

Nice thoughts. It brought nostalgic memories to me.

- Jose Joseph

Well written. Gone is the old village life in Kerala! Keep up with your writing skills. I also read your piece based on your experience in NY in the Herald of India!

- KP Pillai

If asked to use only one word to describe how your write-up is, I would say "nostalgic"! Never knew you can explain so vividly.

- Anonymous

This was a good piece of recollection of memory and comparison with present life.

- Cheriyan

Do you still have such a black moustache and front hair not yet receded? Put more ink in to you pen. I look forward to reading more such musings.

- Vijayan

Thank you for your touching reflections on the rainy season in Kerala. It made me nostalgic about my own childhood in Kayamkulam. These days, I hope it does not rain between 3 pm and 6 pm when I play golf. Believe me, there was not a single day on which we had to give up golf because of the rain! In Kerala, particularly in Thiruvananthapuram, there are no floods. Water drains out very fast and the traffic is unaffected, unlike in Delhi.

- TP Sreenivasan
Hindu cinema
  By Balvinder Singh  
  I WAS both surprised and moved by a wise move of the Chandigarh Administration that had put some placards, telling people about the preventive measures to tackle the seasonal ailments, written in Urdu to reach the growing Muslim population in the city.

This reminded me of my childhood days in the Punjab interior where Urdu dailies were preferred over Punjabi or Hindi ones. The only English daily, The Tribune, was almost non-existent in that backward region.

This and an incident that I narrate below led me to walk through my memory lanes to try to figure out the reason for the linguistic bias that we have been nurturing for no rhyme or reason.

The other day, while on a morning walk at the Sukhna Lake, I confronted a marketing vendor who was distributing free copies of a newly launched Hindi local daily. Maybe it was a mere coincidence that he avoided giving me a free copy! This made me curious and I stopped at a small distance and watched the vendor for a while. My fear turned out to be true. While distributing his promotional ware, he was giving a studied preference to Hindu walkers, over Sikhs!

This took me back to the bad old days when the Akalis had begun the Punjabi Suba movement, seeking the re-carving of the Punjab state on linguistic basis. I call them "bad days" because it was since those days that the Punjabi, as a language, got associated with Sikhs alone. Hindi became the Hindus' sole preserve.

And, perhaps, for the same reasons the rich and charming Urdu language, almost an official language of Punjab in the recent past, (one still can find loads of court records in the region penned in Urdu script), was forced to become extinct from the region by painting it to be the language of Muslims and Pakistanis alone.

However, for the first couple of decades after the dreaded Partition of India, Urdu was kept both alive and kicking by the 'Hindu' cinema, popularly known as Hindi cinema.

My assertion about 'Hindu' cinema might surprise some but close watchers of the 'Hindu' cinema remember it well that in those early days no Muslim hero or heroine could use his or her real name. This name change was neither associated with the change these days filmy people make due to silly astrological or numerological reasons. They, in fact, had to use Hindu names for general acceptance -- Dilip Kumar, Madhu Bala and Meena Kumari are a few examples that come instantly to my mind.

And no vamp or cabaret dancer could ever have a Hindu name; they always used to be Julies or Lilies, showing their cleavages along with a cross sign dangling from their necks!

Thankfully enough, though during all these years Urdu language did suffer quite a setback in the so-called Hindu cinema, the Muslim name bias, despite Thackrey goons always being ready to disrupt Bollywood cinema for their not-so-petty political gains, has, of late, vanished fully.

What surprises and pains me the most in this regard is that we still have not come out of the linguistic biases. No wonder that in the process we have almost killed Urdu, a language that was very close to our hearts, in the same manner the Punjabi language suffered in the Pakistani part of Punjab.
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