February 12, 2006

Warwick isn´t Oxbridge

I´ve had this conversation many times with different people. But the one thing that keeps emerging out of it is why Oxford, Cambridge (and to a great extent even the LSE) are just so different. And why Warwick will struggle to start punching at that level for a long time to come. No, this isn´t about the brand or the awe that these places awaken in many contexts.

It is the sheer lack of community across the entire University of Warwick. The campus is huge. And one of the things that are desparately needed are common rooms, spaces, bars and dining rooms where people can get together. Where greater interaction can take place. Where people can just hang out together. Coz these are the spaces where relationships are built and where you form your networks. However, it is almost absent in the whole of the campus for all practical purposes.

The spread of the campus means that you can have like at least four or five more dining areas. As well as bars and common rooms. However, the most social spots if you dont want to go to the Central campus bars/ food areas are in people´s kitchens. Not the most exciting place to go to is it? It´s sad that there are such few spaces at Warwick. If this university has to move up a rung, it has to seriously address how it can get people together.

Like Oxford and Cambridge does through its college systems. Or how LSE does through its halls of residences as places for community and common interaction. Its one of those things that have to come in. Or else, there is going to be just not enough interaction between people… And therefore, never networks which make the other institutions what they are!


My other blog

I´ve moved my blog for most part to:

Wandering, Leading, Following


January 01, 2006

2006

There are three pictures that come to me when we talk of a New Year. And, no matter, how hard I try, they refuse to go away! Three photos taken by the same photographer in the night and place in the front page of a malayalm newspaper maybe ten + years ago.

The first photo is your typical new year celebration of people in a night club. Lots of drink, lots of dance… all those elements so central to a new year… that we normally associate.

The second photo was that of a procession carried out by a group of people who´s New Year present was that they were fired from their jobs on the last day of the previous year. Obviously for them, the New Year would be dominated by the question on what to do in terms of getting themselves another job.

The third is that of a family of three (father, mother and a little baby) sleeping on the pavement in the new year.

Every single time when the New Year comes along, this perspective refuses to go away.

Three sets of people celebrating the New Year in such dramatically different fashions.

It reminds me of many things including the fact that I´m very privileged and that the worries that different people have for a New Year are probably just so much more than the ones that I could ever have.

Sobers down a celebration. But it always carries with it a message of hope. Of ´bad times´ however defined will end. And its always a good thing to have hope. Coz that has got to be the most important quality.


December 11, 2005

Bangalore and Paris

An article that is to be published soon… In a magazine in India.

Since moving to England, a story that is covered in great detail in this part of the world are the riots in France. What started as a couple of sporadic incidents in the poor suburbs of some Paris, moved last night to the heart of Lyon. The riots are apparently conducted by ´disillusioned young men´, mainly of coloured backgrounds who are generally unemployed or find it difficult in that country. Last night was the seventeenth night in a row where mobs have set fire to cars mainly around Paris and Lyon. It has been publicly admitted as a response to the lack of employment opportunities in that country especially for those of Arabic and African origin. While it does appear that the riots of Paris are far away for a country where economic growth is cruising along at over 6% per annum, the riots hold important lessons for India as it aims to deliver growth with equality.

Economically, India is one of great disparities. The economic boom of the last fifteen years has brought tremendous prosperity to a large number of middle class people, whose income has increased dramatically. However, this growth along with policies that India has followed has ensured in the marginalisation of a large number of people. Farmer suicides in the not too distant parts in both Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka (both flagships of economic restructuring) are reminders of the same. Economic data of Bangalore city itself highlight how the incomes of the bottom 20% of Bangalore´s population has more or less remained stagnant for the last ten years, while salaries of those in the top 20% have soared.

The response to this increasing disparity has been a call for greater equalisation of opportunity in cities like Bangalore. Ranging from reservations in the private sector as per the constitutional provisions as well as extending it to the locals (Kannadigas). Both these policies have been vehemently opposed on various grounds (and this article on the merits and demerits of the reservation policy). However, emerging out of this are a minority who are economically dominant especially in cities like Bangalore which are known for being very ´cosmopolitan´. This population is seen as a non-Kannadiga, non-Backward class population who have (rightly or wrongly) taken away jobs from the local people.

For these people, economic and social mobility has severely limited. Surveys of any slum settlement in Bangalore (and I suspect is the same all over India) reflect a disproportionately large number of Dalits, Other Backward Classes and Muslims. For these communities, despite the anecdotal evidence of a handful of people who have done well, it is almost impossible to believe that they can be a part of this IT revolution which has brought so much prosperity to the those whose houses they clean and cars they wash.

The increasing level of economic inequality is a hot stew, simmering up just waiting for the right time for the cauldron to explode. Some of the early warning symptoms have already been sounded. But many have disregarded the noises.

Currently, there is an ongoing public spat (where everyone seems to have an opinion) between Mr. H D Deve Gowd and Mr. Narayana Murthy. Here is one one hand a farmer politician who has questioned the policies and the integrity of a middle class icon. One derives his support from a rural, backward class base whose main access to power is through the ballot box. The other from an urban middle class who are generally seen as politically apathetic, but economically powerful. One who has been oppositional to a large number of infrastructure projects (like the Bangalore metro and the Bangalore- Mysore Infrastructure corridor). The other who has facilitated many projects including the Bangalore International Airport as well as the proposed elevated expressway to Electronics City. Both are as different as chalk from cheese.

In the public mud-slinging that has taken place, some sections of the media even ran a ´Save Bangalore´ campaign in which many felt that the city needed more Narayana Murthy´s and less Deve Gowda´s. That there is a need to recognise the achievements of one as it put Bangalore on the world map while the other… (well… lets not mention it).

This is not a commentary about the deplorable public feud that has taken place. But the public feud is an indicator of what is wrong with the development process that we seem to have followed. On one hand, you do have some people getting richer. But on the other, a larger and larger number of people in the suburbs of the cities of India are getting displaced and marginalised further. The economic benefits will reach them is what they say. However, when will it is the question that is asked? It will trickle down. I cant wait is the response as I see people getting richer around me while I see the government taking away my only livelihood which was my land.

Is this a distant possibility? Ask the Parisians whos cars have been burned. Or the Tamilians who were targetted during the Cauvery riots as they were seen as the richer community. Or the same community (Madrasis) in Mumbai over thirty years ago for displacing locals from more powerful jobs. Or even the ´Bangladeshi´ in large sections of the North East (especially Assam). Or the backward caste who´s house has been burned by the continuing caste wars in Bihar for control over resources among other things.

In the eagerness to malign one party or the other, we have missed an early warning signal for the growing economic inequality across the country and the precious little that we are doing to address the issues. Basic education remains a dream for many and after Kerala and the North East, not a single district (let alone State) has achieved 100% literacy (that was held up by a census). Healthcare is available only to those with large amounts of money with the growing privatisation of the healthcare system and its inability to deliver benefits to the poor. And social mobility is still crucially limited by the caste system. Anecdotally, think of the last time that you went for a social gathering and you saw more than a handful of SC/ ST/ OBCs (except if it was a political meeting).

And in this process of liberalisation, we seem to be constantly in the search for quick fixes without addressing the roots of inequality across the country. What´s worse, we seem to be actively promoting this inequality through policy. Through providing for subsidies and incentives that allows for the creation of an economic underclass. As a leading businessman on TV once said that we need labour laws that attract foreign institutional investors, domestic companies, local investors, foreign governments and multi-national corporations so that we can be competitive. The irony was, there was no mention of labour laws for labour itself!

If we consistently ignore the early warning signs like the reservations for locals, reservations in the private sector and the tiff on land acquisition, we run the risk of turning up the heat on this bubbling cauldron. And like Paris there is a real risk that it could erupt into a violent class confrontation across the country. At that time, it could be too late for us to fix many of the issues that need to be addressed today. Be warned!


December 01, 2005

IDLHR potluck pictures

Shibi, Nana, Yours truly and Selina

A dinner that we had long ago for all the IDLHR students… Was fun!! Enjoyable!


Snow!!

Its snowing in Warwick... From left to right... Buki, Bex, Juliette and Me!!

Was nice to have snow… And so here we are… with lots of it… sleet actually. But it was nice anyways. Supposed to be more this year. So looking forward to it. But apparently, they are not very good at handling snow. Therefore, need to be careful here! Well… part of living in England!!


November 29, 2005

Race

Warwick generally has this air of racial harmony with most races existing quite peacefully with another. There are no so- called ethnic issues that dominate either the student life, politics or campus talk here. Or at least at this point.

Dig a little deeper, and you do realise, that there do exist divisions within different races and nationalities. It is rare to find groups of people where members are of different races. Most informal groups within classes and outside it are based on ethnic or regional lines.

There is a lot said about it as well. Some feel that some races need to mix more with others. And that people need to be less insular. But it is very easy to make statements like this especially if these are not reflexive. The big question as always is on who makes the first move. And until someone does, different ethnic nationalities sit in their own glass houses and throw stones at each other.

Our own historical origins limit ourselves to the points to which we can go to meet the other person. While some people do not like a pub due to cultural or other reasons, it is central to the interactions that others have. Therefore,
where is halfway for these people? For them to meet and interact?

Recently stated was also the generalisation in a meeting that I attended about one particular race being the cause of all the ´filth´ in a kitchen. While it is convenient to say that this race was the cause of that filth, the same person in the meeting repeatedly mentioned ´I do not know who really causes all the mess´. Was it then fair to say that this race that could be easily identified and seperated was responsible?

The same race in different contexts (including in my own kitchen and other kitchens that I have seen) are actually quite clean making sure that they even clean up all the surfaces after use… And the race of the person who made the statement are the ones making a mess in many kitchens… Is it then fair to identify one race as being ´clean´ and another as being dirty? But its convenient.

Even Christians have their own groups with the most famous ´break-out´ being the Chinese Christian Society created as a result of the inadequacy of the earlier Christian groups to address their specific needs. It seems that even God has different races, even within the same faith of Christianity!


November 21, 2005

Weddings, meetings

The weekend was a whirlwind of activity as I attended a wedding… the first among uni friends… That I could attend. Technically it was the second. Coz the first was Prash who got married in Nepal. But we could not attend it! In fact, like Pet said a long time ago, Prash would just go to Nepal one day, get married and come back. And that's precisely what happened!

It was tiring. Not just coz I wasn't having the best of days. Tired and grumpy with a headache. But also meeting sooo many people after sooooo long took its toll on me… Should not. But unfortunately it did!

Then, spent the rest of the time at Gauri's, had breakfast at Mona's, picked up the bike from Bethnal Green before going off to Priya's for rava dosa, sambar, molaga podi, peanut chutney, chicken curry… wow! it was quite a spread! and i really loved it i say! was quite amazing! Nice :-) Must try the peanut chutney with borrowed blender from someone.

Helped Huong with her presentation and now just plodding through the reading for the civil society and activism course that I have to go through before two tomorrow. Good reading so far. And I do intend to make good starts to readings and actually do them this time much more systemmatically… Tho the beginning has not been auspicious! Welll… but it has been much better for sure!

Awright… Thats it for the night at one a.m. Till laterz!

JJ


November 18, 2005

Lead Kindly Light

Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me

This was one of the great Mahatma´s favourite hymns. And its just beautiful and more meaningful every single time I listen to it in my head. It´s so easy to get distracted with the big picture with the big plans in your life. But what is most important is the next step. The one step for now!! Its not even for today.

What better message than that for a community and a society constantly in the rat race to get ahead… Get ahead where? Don´t quite know. Just need to move forward partly because everyone else is moving forward.

Its also easy to see this as a ´cop out´, but if you look at Gandhi´s life, you can hardly say it was a cop out… That he was not practical. That he did not work in the real world!! He led the largest political mobilisation in the history of humankind against a colonial power that he felt was unjust and unfair to a country that was capable of ruling itself!

Did he have to make compromises? Yes… certainly and the most painful and documented one was the partition of India into two countries. However, this message that he carried with him still stays relevant.

Lead kindly light. Just a single step and thats more than enough for me!

Amen


October 31, 2005

UNICEF interenship in India

If you want more details, mail me!!

Dear all,

Greetings from UNICEF New Delhi! I trust that this message finds all of
you well and flourishing in your respective endeavours!

UNICEF is launching its 2nd internship programme in India for 2006 which
will be held from 12 June to 18 August 2006.

I would appreciate it if you can arrange to post/display the announcement
at appropriate sites in your University, as well as distribute it amongst
your fellow students to encourage interested and qualified candidates to
apply. I am sure that you will be our best ambassadors to promote the
programme and can give first-hand feedback to prospective interns! If you
need any further information, please contact me.

(See attached file: 2006 Internship Advert.doc)

Thank you very much.

With best wishes,

—————————————————————————-
Vinita Ghose
Human Resources Services
UNICEF, 73 Lodi Estate, New Delhi 110003, India

Phone: 00–91-11–24606132 or 24690401 (extn.132)
Fax: 00–91-11–24627521, 24691410


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