Remembering his 18-aavadhu atchakkodu and the discussions with my friend Ela! Also liked some of his reminiscences. Will be missed.
Archive for the ‘People’ Category
Sorry to hear the passing away of Prof. Vishveshwara. I first met him (and, I think, Prof. Saraswathi Vishveshwara) on a train journey from Mumbai — which turned out to be unforgettable since, as we were reaching Bangalore we heard about the abduction of the actor Rajkumar, and there were issues about local transportation. Soft spoken and known for his work with the planetarium, Prof. Vishveshwara will be missed.
I learnt the sad news from Abi. I have enjoyed his book on appreciating Carnatic music!
Hindu reports on his passing away. His illustrations (especially for some of RKN’s books — emerald route, grandmother’s tale) will be remembered for long! I also remember his drawing of some truck drivers drinking chai from saucer on a road side shop sitting on tyres.
Rajni had a playful response to criticism. I remember when a Serbic Marxist wrote a critique of his work claiming that Kothari had forgotten to mention the word class. With easy equanimity Rajni replied that he had not mentioned cucumbers either. This ease was important because the period of the 1960s and the 1970s was dominated by a pompous left which treated Marxism with a form of idolatry. Rajni felt that Marxist critiques dealt more with the formal economy and had little place for marginal groups and the informal economy. Little protests did not acquire the officialdom of trade union struggles. The movements alone in the era, Chipko, Narmada, Balliapal and fishermen struggle in Kerala had to struggle with the official radicalism which refused to go beyond conventional categories. CSDS became an archive and a sounding board for many of these struggles which linked ecology, livelihood and empowerment to the still life of electoral democracy. Rajni had an easy way of pushing younger colleagues to stretch beyond themselves. I remember when the Bhopal gas disaster occurred. He looked at me and said, “Let’s see if your work on science helps. Pack up. You are leaving for Bhopal tomorrow.” When I began my work on science and violence, he sent me to Hiroshima requesting the Mayor to take me around the city. He believed that projects should begin as pilgrimages; he was always nudging us to see linkages and connectivities. He never lectured, and wanted us to discover and internalise and share our insights. For him mistakes were something precious one owned up to. He was a great teacher but always taught by anecdote and example.
I must confess that in the final decade, many of us moved away from the Centre and Rajni. Quarrels are important because they mark the contours of a relationship. One felt that the Centre was now imitating itself rather than inventing ideas. In spite of having moved on and all the distance I realised how much the Centre had taught me.
In his final years, Rajni Kothari was a lonely man — ill and broken by the death of his wife Hansa and son Smithu. In the meanwhile, political science had lost its flavour of dissent. It had become a game of think tanks and Rajni must have watched it with wry sadness, a prophet abandoned by his own community. But the future will no doubt celebrate the man.
The introduction of educational qualifications as eligibility criteria for contesting panchayat elections has shocked and angered rural Rajasthan, including supporters of the ruling BJP.
A must-read article for some of the interesting anecdotes and incidents that Roy describes:
I have been trained for 40 years of my life, particularly in democracy, ethics, and governance, by illiterate but highly educated people in rural India. We have traded skills. Naurti, now Sarpanch of Harmara (Ajmer district), is “illiterate,” but learnt to use the computer at the age of 50 and teaches middle and high school dropouts how to use the computer. She has no class 8 certificate, but uses the website of the Ministry of Rural Development. Who is more skilled between us is debatable. I would not advocate that Naurti head the Ministry of Human Resource Development or that she teach me Shakespeare, but in matters of governance in the panchayat she is heaps better. My informal learning about the invention of scientific thought, of Galileo and Kalidasa, have provided a worldview worth the learning. But I am not equipped like Naurti to understand the nitty-gritty of getting a panchayat quorum to take a difficult and just decision when faced with a contentious issue. I do not know if I could face the ire and possibility of violence for standing against sati, without caste or money on my side, as she did. She will not be trapped into a situation by unethical, unjust people; nor will she be trapped by the writing on a paper that she cannot understand.
I remember Beelan, 65, scoffing at me 35 years ago saying I had nakal (copying by writing) whereas she had akal(mind). I could not remember figures and money spent, but many of my illiterate friends remembered details to the last paisa. A weaver of Ikat in Odisha is a mathematician — not only in simple arithmetic but in the intricate art of dividing numbers to form patterns.
Roy’s conclusion is also worth quoting:
The cherry on the cake is that the State government as well as the Centre proudly tout formal learning as an unnecessary criterion for choosing Ministers. In reality, 90 per cent of their work is through the written word, unlike that of the sarpanch who deals with the human condition.
Hindu reports on the passing away of Koothapiran. The Sunday evening programme of Siruvar Solai was much anticipated one at our home. Vanoli Anna with radio where children’s groups can perform for the programme and Azha. Valliappa with Gokulam where children could contribute pieces to be published in the magazine did a lot to promote creativity among school children.