The Setup

Continuing from the previous post, let me write down everything that defined my work setup.

The Curriculum

This is where the fun starts. I worked with two different curriculum throughout the year. The school wanted me to teach the mandated Samacheer syllabus and the organisation that I work for wanted me to teach to the Common Core Standards. The Samacheer part contained the Social, Science and the “English as a subject” subjects to be taught, the organisation gave me Mathematics  and “English as a standard” subjects to teach. It is actually painful to be a teacher and teach language either as a subject or as a set of standards. More on that separately sometime later (which is almost never).

The Red Ink

There were 37 notebooks for each (3) Samacheer subject to be checked and corrected 3-5 times in every term. Each term itself is about 3 or 4 months. And there where 2 mid-term term tests and 1 end of term test for each term. For the organization’s part, we were supposed to conduct Unit Assessments, which is one in 6 weeks, Weekly assessments and if possible Daily Assessments. I just did the Unit Assessments. Tried Weekly assessments but dropped it after a couple of weeks, it was getting out of hands. English made up for it, by making me correct a set of at least 10 questions every alternate day. I remember sitting, standing, sleeping, walking and even jumping on/off trains with my bag on the shoulder, papers on the left hand and red pen on the right.

The Sessions

The organisation’s way of making sure we are fully equipped to handle everything in the classroom. It was usually planned in the evenings after school when we are in our lowest glucose levels and looking out for a corner to curl. The sessions did make a lot of sense to the people who were organizing them. They were usually about how to teach, how to handle kids, how to understand a particular area in order to deliver it the way it is supposed to be. But one thing no one seemed to care/understand/grasp was there was no single way to do stuff.

The Printer

Canon LBP2900. One trademark of being a TFI fellow is we print more paper for each kid than what government or the school would. Having a laser printer really does help. One can be free of the timing restrictions imposed by the Xerox shops and save a lot more money. I printed about 8000-9000 pages in the last 4 months alone. 1500 rupees for all that paper and 400 rupees for the toner and the immense flexibility of being able to print whatever and whenever.

The Travel

The travel was two/three legged. I usually started off with short bus ride 5E/23C/49 from Adyar depot to Madhya Kailash, took a train from Kasthuribai Nagar station to the Beach Station, and then finally took 44C from Beach Station to the Power House stop. Sometimes the 5E-Train combo was replaced by the 21H/PP19 from Adyar Depot to Parry’s Corner. Initially used 6D from the backside of Adyar Depot, but extra 300m walking and having no alternate buses made me switch to other options. One thing good about the train travel is I always found space to sit and even work on the laptop if required. Having a monthly season ticket for just 105 rupees was another boon. Never had to worry about tickets/queues and oversleeping during return journeys.


These define the physical boundaries of how I worked in the past one year. But how did I actually work? What was “The process”?

After 1 Year

Sitting on the rope cot in my grandparent’s home near Kodumudi, Erode, listening to Rainbow FM staring at the laptop screen is where I am, when I write this. Very far away from anything related to school, students and teaching – Physically. Teaching is a job that grows on you and you grow over until both becomes indistinguishable from one another. Looking back after one year of being the worst possible teacher in my own rating, I think I have also become the worst possible blog writer in many people’s rating.

The first blog post was written well before I became a teacher and it turns out it has been 364 days (so not 1 year really). I have written about 5 posts excluding “Hello”, of which only 3 during the Fellowship. This points to the very obvious fact about the Fellowship itself – it is hectic and mad at the same time. It also points to the fact that I never took time to unload myself as often as I should have done.

So, I am going to write down a summary of what all I can possibly remember in a subjective manner. This blog was not meant to be subjective in any way, it was supposed to be a place where things will be recorded as is without analysis or perspective. But with such a big backlog of about a year, I doubt I can write anything objective as-is here.

The Setup


ECI Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Tondiarpet – that is the name of the school where I was placed as a Teach For India Fellow to teach a set of 37 students in 4th grade. The school is run by a trust run the Evangelical Church of India, hence ECI Matric. It has about 900+ students studying from Pre-KG to 12th standard. There is a church in the middle, the Academic block is to its left, the Office and the hostel are to its right. The standard size of the classrooms is about 30×30 ft (guessed never measured), which is kind of crampped when you consider there are 77 students, desks, bags, cupboard, and a divider wall in the middle to distinguish Section A and Section B.

My Class

My class was made up of 38 poor souls who did not know what they were doing, which included 1 adult trying to make sense of whatever was going on. The class had about 19 boys and 18 students from middle class backgrounds, so wide and varied that I actually don’t exactly remember what middle-class is now.


The school opened at about 8.30AM and the staff are supposed to sign the attendance register before 8.55AM. There is a morning prayer meeting at 8.55 in the church for all the christian teachers and at least one staff member of each grade are to be present, if they are non-christians. So I experienced more religion in my one year of fellowship than what I have seen in my 25 years of existence. The School gets over by 3.30PM and the tuition(s) are over by 4.30PM. Generally I left the school by 3.30PM.

I lived about 90 minutes away from the school, so my day generally started by around 7.15AM when I got out of the house and ended by 5.30PM when I got back to the house.

………………….. to be continued .,

Pampering kids

There are two kids in my class who have better reading, writing comprehension skills that half the class, which should make them “above-average” in conventional sense. Both have a problem – attitude. Their parents tell me they were the toppers of the yesteryear. I had given C-D grades to them during the 1st term exam and the parents were very upset. I didn’t know the kids this well back then and thought them to be just normal kids. As the parents coming barging in with complaints and pointing fingers at me, I was taken aback thinking I was perhaps not seeing them as to what they are capable of doing. I was apprehensive of meeting their parents thinking that it was my fault. Perhaps I have made a bad evaluation of their papers. I was just three months into being a teacher.

Recently an incident put things in perspective. I have taken the kids to play in the ground, while I was keeping scores and overseeing stuff other kids were doing, these two have sneaked up to the first floor and have gone to the classroom. I was perplexed when I found this out at the end of the class. When I reached the classroom with the other kids, one of the two has hit the leg on the desk and has been crying.

The parent was furious – obviously. The parent went on to praise the child to be the one who always gets the first rank, scores well in everything, has got a shield for something and the other kid was the one who was always a competition to the first kid. These two were supposedly the toppers of the class. Now a days the kid is not willing/interested to come to school. Doesn’t seem to eat the lunch properly. Handwriting has deteriorated. Looks dull in the evening when the kids returns home. All symptoms of kid not enjoying the school and then the word came “teacher not taking good care of the child”. I was left wondering for a second what the parent actually meant. These kids are the ones who always create problems in the class. The kid in discussion has been said to be a great pain in their team and the kid barely pays attention in the class to what I am saying. Most of the time I get distracted trying to bring their attention. Slowly as the conversation progressed one thing became clear. These were kids who have been in the limelight most of the time in yesteryear(s) and here is a teacher who refuses to accept the fact and give the attention they think they deserve.

I am thinking about a number of other kids who are attention seeking as well and get themselves a place in the class. They get more warnings and consequences in the classroom than others. But there is one categorical difference with them and these kids. Their parents don’t praise them as simple as that. No pampering whatsoever. Their parents talk about what the kid should improve but not how great they have done. When these parents were told their kids have secured “A”s their reply was “OK”. Didn’t utter a “very good” or that “He/She reads well” kind of comment.

Such a difference in behavior.

Impact of Cinema

Impact of Cinema – One can write reams on it. I will stop with the incident in the classroom in which I teach.

The Incident

First to the as-is version of the happenings of the day, without any personal bias, adjectives, adverbs or any modifier that challenge reporting fact.

The occasion is Children’s day. The students are given a chance to dance and sing in the classroom. Initially, there is the chaos of 4th graders who are told to self organize themselves. After the initial phase of confusion clears and the performances start to flow. Boys sing songs which are aimed to tease girls. Songs like “இந்த பொண்ணுங்களே இப்படித்தான் தெரிஞ்சு போச்சுடா” “ஊதா கலரு ரிப்பன், யாரு உனக்கு அப்பன்?” flows from the boys and Church choir songs from the girls. One of the girls point out that songs by the boys are aimed at teasing girls. The guys decide to tease during one of the choir songs and start making dance movements which are done by actors drunk on the screen. The teacher has to intervene and warn them not to do it. The girls decide enough of Choir and sing a Cinema song. The song is “வேணா, மச்சா.. வேணா, இந்த பொண்ணுங்க காதலு.. அது மூடி தெரக்கும் போதே உன்ன கவுத்தும் கோட்டரு..”, for which the movements breakout in the boys ranks, for which they are warned by the teacher again. A girl reaches out to the teacher, to ask, why the boys are being shown a hard face on a good day. The teacher explains that the boys are teasing them and the girl retorts “So what?”.

My thoughts

I am not sure what to write here. Are they supposed to be the questions that I have now? The fears that sting me? The irritation that angers me? I really don’t know. I am suppressing my overflowing urge to deconstruct the happenings of the day and relate it to the effects cinema causes on little children aged 8-9 yrs and draw conclusions on gender bias, inequality and impact of culture. Because, I don’t want to draw any conclusions here, now, at this point.

The Two Men Inside a Man

இந்த கதை என்னுடைய கதை அல்ல, சிறுவயதில் “Solidaire” தொலைக்காட்சி பெட்டியில், “DD1” ஒளிபரப்பிய பொழுது பார்த்தது. யாரிடமாவது சொல்ல வேண்டும் போல இருந்தது. இந்த வலைதலம்தான் செவிசாய்த்தது.

ராமசாமி தன் ஆடு இரண்டையும் அரமனசா ஒட்டிகிட்டு வந்தார். இருக்குற ஆட்டையும் வித்துட்டு என்ன பண்றது? வைகாசி வந்திருச்சு. காட்டு வேலை இருக்கும், தெனமும் கூலிக்கு போன ஒரு மூனு மாசத்துல எப்படியும் ஒரு ரண்டு குட்டிக்கு காசு சேத்திரலாம். பேசாம இப்ப ஒன்ன மட்டும் வித்துருவோமா?…. இப்படி ஆயிரம் யோசன மனசுக்குள்ள ஓடிகிட்டு இருக்கும் போதே, “சீக்கிரம் வாப்பா, நாம போய் சேர்ரதுக்குள்ள சந்தையே முடிஞ்சுருமாட்ட இருக்குது”ன்னு பெரியசாமி கத்தரது கேட்டுது. தலையத்தூக்கி பெரியசாமி பக்கம் ஒரு ஆட்டு ஆட்டீடு, இழுத்து எட்டி வெச்சார்.

இன்னும் கொஞ்சம் சாவகாசமா வந்திருந்தா, பெரியசாமி சொன்ன மாதிரி சந்தை முடிஞ்சுதான் போயிருக்கும் போல. இப்பவே ஆளாலுக்கு வாங்குனத இழுத்துகிட்டு போய்க்கிட்டு இருந்தாங்க.

“என்னபா, சந்தைக்கு வங்கவா வாரோம்? பொருளக் கொண்டாறோம் சீக்கிரம் வந்திருக்கனும், பாரு எல்லாம் இப்பவே நடையக்கட்ட ஆரம்பிச்சுட்டாங்க”, பெரியசாமி நொந்துகொண்டு திரும்பி பாத்தார். ராமசாமியின் கவனம் முழுக்க ஆட்டின் மேலேயெ இருந்தது.

“இந்தாப்பா ராமசாமி, தேவைன்னா வித்துதாம்பா ஆவனும். ஆடுதான? நாலு மாசம் போவட்டும் இதே சந்தைல வங்கிக்கலாம். ஆட்டப் பாத்துகிட்டு இங்கையே நில்லு, நா போயி ஆள் யாராவது சிக்குனா கூட்டியாறேன்.” சொல்லீட்டு பொரியசாமி நவுந்தார். ராமசாமி மனசுல இப்ப ரண்டாயிரம் யோசன.

பெரியசாமி ஆளோட திரும்பி வந்தப்ப, ராமசாமி ஒரு ஆட்டோட தலைப்புடிச்சு, கண்ணப்பாத்துகிட்டு இருந்தார்.”ராமசாமி, இவுரு ஆடு புடிக்கத்தான் வந்திருகாறாம், ரெண்டு பெரும் பேசி முடிவு பண்ணுங்க”. “நாம்பேசர மாதிரி இருந்தா உங்கள ஏங்க இழுத்துகிட்டு வர்றேன்? நீங்களே பேசுங்க.” வாங்க வந்தவர் ஆட்ட புடிச்சு பல்ல பாத்தார், கால மடக்கிப் பாத்தார், அப்புறம் எந்திருச்சு “சரிங்க பேசலாம்ன்னார்”

வாங்க வந்தவரும், பெரியசாமியும் கொஞ்சம் தள்ளி போயி துண்டுக்கு அடீல கையவிட்டு, பேரம் பேசுனாங்க. ஒரு கட்டத்துல, வாங்க வந்தவர், “ஐயா பொண்டட்டி தாலிய வெச்சு காசு கொண்டாந்திருக்கேன், இதுக்கு மேல முடியாதுங்கா” அப்பிடின்னது கேட்டுது. பெரியசாமி திரும்பி வந்து, “ராமசாமி, இவ்வளவுதான் இருக்காம் என்னப்பா உனக்கு சரியா? குடுத்துரலாமா?” “அண்ணே, ஒரு சின்ன சிக்கல். ஆடு வர்ற வழில வெசச்செடிய மேஞ்சிருச்சு. ராத்திரி அசப்போட்டுதுன்னா செத்தாலும் செத்துரும். அதான் … விக்க வேண்டாம்னு …”ன்னு இழுத்தார். பெரியசாமி அதுக்கு மேல அங்க நிக்குல. ஆட்ட, வாங்க வந்தவன்கிட்ட ஓட்டி உட்டுட்டு, காச வாங்கி ராமசாமி சுருக்குப்பைல துணுச்சுட்டு, ராமசாமிய தள்ளாத கொறயா கூட்டிகிட்டு ஊட்டப்பாக்க நடைக்கட்டீட்டார்.

இந்த ஒளி(லி)நாடா முடிந்ததும் திரையில் பெரிதாய் ஒரு பத்தி எழுதி slide போட்டிருந்தார்கள் – அதில் எனக்கு நியாபகம் இருப்பது.

ஒவ்வொரு மனிதனுக்குள்ளும் ஒரு ராமசாமியும், ஒரு பெரியசாமியும் இருக்கிறார்கள்.

The Idea of Democracy

Before I begin, (can be skipped)

I have a few things going inside my brain as if spun like the saw dust in convection experiment. Though mostly ignored, these things tend to jump in between a conversation or tend to pull conversations towards them so that they can show themselves. This has resulted in a number of “long pause” moments in my conversation. This poor blog is the place where I decided to pour them down, so this process of convection can stop.

The Scene

Most Indians would have had “democracy” explained to them them, as such, in their schools via the standard definition of “by,of,for the people”. What it means in real life, though is understood later in life when circumstances set right. I understood it when I watched a 70s, probably even 50s or 60s, movie. I don’t remember the entire story line, but the scene which gave me idea of democracy sticks to this moment. The scene unfolds as follows:

A group of rebels fight for the freedom and liberation of their land from the clutches of the king, they call evil and his rule tyranny, and establish democracy. On a particular day, they get hold of a bodyguard of the king. He is brought in chains and made to stand before the council of the rebel leaders, who are sitting over a table, discussing strategies. The bodyguard reveals nothing to the council’s questions and proclaims his loyalty to the king. The head of the council tells his men to throw him in a dark cell. As the men holding the chain wait for the council members to leave before they can take the bodyguard away, a man brings dinner to the leader and places it on the table and spills the drink on him. The leader becomes furious at this indignation in front of a enemy and beats the man (a servant in his mind). At this point, the bodyguard laughs aloud and asks:

“Is this what you call democracy? Is this the new world order you are fighting for? If this the example of the society you are fighting to create, my motherland is better served by my King than your democracy.”

And is pulled out of the room as soon as he finishes his rhetoric. The leader stands at the now empty hall, except for him and the servant now curled in a corner, stunned at what has just happened. He turns towards the man in the corner, goes and hugs him uttering “We are all one, we are all equal..” and the scene fades away.

The interpretation

No other song, no other writing, no other painting, no other teaching, and no other anything has made me understand the meaning of democracy as this scene from an unknown movie. It essentially captures what every true believer in democracy fears, “autocracy”. Although none of the governments in the world would accept it, each one them is autocratic with varying levels of autocratic influence. Things like occupy movement have tried their best to expose this wolf in sheep clothing, little has transpired to reality.

Having said that, I do not mean to take the stand of a socialist by condemning free economy and enterprises, nor do I support the capitalist propaganda of talking in terms of wealth. But I believe there exists enough moral ground between the two in order to explore and settle. And probably the correct interpretation of democracy lies somewhere in that space.

Indecision and Enterprising

Trains journeys are quirky, just like India. I happened to meet a bank official of a nationalized bank in the last journey. He talked about a lot of things from UPSC exams to anger management, credits to my other co-passenger. If one wants to understand the status of economy, among the many people to meet should be a bank official. The following accounts from him tell a general tale of how India is today.

Account 1: The bank is planning to construct housing for its employees so that it can do away with the monthly Housing Allowance (HA) it pays. The management team has done the math and has estimated an amount under which it is economical for the bank to build housing, above which the bank is better off paying the HA. Tenders were issued and it attracted only 3 bidders. To be a reasonable they need to attract at least 6-7 bidders. But it simply doesn’t happens. Moreover, the three who have bid have a nexus. The bid amounts are so high that, if any bid is accepted, it becomes uneconomical for the bank. So the team talked with the bidders to get the quotation down, for which the bidders impose terms so all three can benefit. If the terms are accepted, it becomes illegal. This has been repeating year after year. The only things the team has to offer is – indecision. Simply the team cannot decide.

The official tells that it is not a unique case in banking. The problem persists at all levels of decision making in the economy right from the ministerial level. The example he gives is the famous 2G Spectrum case. While the CAG quotes a presumptive loss of so much crores due to illegitimate issuing of licenses, what has the redone legitimate 2G licensing done last year achieved? Certainly it hasn’t brought the exchequer the intended amount. If audited, it may even turn out the present income from the licenses, may even be less than the “tainted” money. In the bank’s case they have opted for indecision rather than either loss or a tainted profit.

Account 2: In theory, the education loan is the most ideal form of borrowing. One doesn’t pledge anything or provide any 3rd party surety.  The bank simply keeps entire trust on the borrower and his commitment to repay. In reality, rarely there exists a ideal system. He says the percentage of loan repayment is somewhere between 15-20%, in student numbers not in the amount repaid. The catch here is the lower the loan amount, the more likely the student is likely to pay. So technically the unpaid 80-85% are the heavy borrowers. Why doesn’t the student pay? The reasons vary from inability to pure greed. Some interesting reasons:

  • a girl student has been married to a person, who demands the entire salary to be given over to him. So the girl is willing to give in writing stating something like, “Arrest me if you want to for defaulting. I am better of in a jail than with my husband”
  • another girl’s husband simply considers it a matter concerning her father and warns of legal consequences if troubled by the bank again
  • a medical student in Australia simply wasn’t interested to pay even after settling down there, the case was pursued throw embassy and notice served before the parent coughed up
  • an engineering student earns 18,000 per month in Chennai, what is left of personal expenditure and family commitment is too little even for the interests
  • one doesn’t simply wants to repay the loan as the government is busy waiving them

So what does the bank do? How do they recover the money? The solution again is indecision. The new manager comes pushes the repayment period for a six months further and leaves the office without showing bad loans and the next manager repeats it. Because in most cases, the student simply has nothing in his pocket to give.


While I am not a economist to even the smallest of measures, this is what I observe. Of all the posh talk regarding FDI, market liquidity, global cues, blah blah persists in economic strengthening of the country, hardly any thought is given to the strengthening of local enterprises. It is hard to tell when our Finance Minister last talked about anything other than foreign investment and global market cues. While the situation, in terms of laws and regulations, for IT services and tech startups seem conducive, with introduction of things like within-24-hour registration, there is hardly any push in other sectors. Hardly anything fresh comes out from India. Even in crown jewel of Indian enterprises the IT, the industry is largely based on services and the lookout for an Indian Google or Facebook (I am not talking about a equivalent service) hasn’t ceased yet.

This sluggishness in enterprise is the one of the big reasons, that fuels the indecision in India. Had the entrepreneurial scene been better, the dilemma of the housing construction for the bank wouldn’t have existed, not all students would have been made to pre-sell their labor in the name of loans, or even better, they wouldn’t have a hand to mouth existence like a daily-wage laborer. While I wouldn’t argue lack of enterprising is the only reason for indecision at various levels in the economy, it does have a undeniable connection when dealing with the development.  While there are a multitude of reasons for this slack, it is important to recognize the impact it has on the economy and accept the fact, no matter how much the FDI is, whatever the global cues are, we have approached a point where economic growth is being held back by our indecision and the lack of home grown enterprises solving local problems.

Amateurs We Are

A highly opinionated piece on the Student Hunger Strike Movement for Tamil Eelam. Why the movement doesn’t gain or will never gain importance due to the amateurish execution.

This post is a highly opinionated piece on the Student Hunger Strike Movement for Tamil Eelam. The views are my own and doesn’t reflect anyone else’s.

I have been getting emotional and all that due to the meager response we received for the student strike across Tamil Nadu pressing the Central Government to bring out a referendum condemning Sri Lankan Government for its genocidal activities against Tamils and a demand for a separate state(country) of Tamil Eelam. Some said our strike was already a success since the DMK party has walked out of its alliance from the UPA Government. Some said it to be the greatest student movement since 1965. Was it really a great movement? And if so, why are we still counting on Facebook likes and social media for news delivery? Why hasn’t any 24×7 new channel called any of us for prime time? Why do strangers still question us about impact of the movement? Sure, it has been on for 15-20 days, depending on how you count, and has mobilized students all across the state (Tamil Nadu) including entire colleges in many cases. It has students from all sorts of background, arts, science, law, engineering, medicine, charted accounts. If the educational diversity isn’t enough, the geographic is more amazing, we have got support from Pittsburgh, London, Paris, Melbourne, Malaysia, Canada, Gulf and the list flows. Despite all this diversity, variety, size and enthusiasm, we were still a inner page news. Impact? Big psychologically – among the people who followed us, encouraged us and supported us, but politically – measurable if you count that DMK walkout. If you want to measure the political impact based on our set goals, well, I would say NIL. Everything that happened in the last week would have happened just as it happened, despite the movement. Why? Why didn’t it move anything tangibly?

Update: A student representative talked in the 9’o clock prime time in Puthiya Thalaimurai as I wrote this. At last a tinge of impact.

The Answers

The answer is simple, we are still students, inexperienced amateurs. That is it? Nothing more? Judging by the Press Meet that happened on 22nd March 2013 in the Chennai Press Club, I personally think, Yes, that is it. Nothing more.

Peeking a little bit, trying to know the anatomy of this movement and its growth, I am trying to see what really ran this movement (yes, it is past tense already, at least for me). The movements roots are seen in the Hunger Strike by Loyola students, they fasted at least for a week before getting arrested and thrown into the hospitals. Early reports chided their demands. Other college students were heard joining the movement in support of the protest. When IIT joined on 17th and a public call was put forth for all Tamil Nadu student strike on the 18th, there was no stopping. To me 18th was the day of rising, but who gave the strength? No one. As I re-positioned myself on that day looking for the core of the movement, it struck me, there was “No one”. Everyone had been doing and everybody else was also doing, no central authority, no agenda, no multistage plan, no organization, nothing. Just an ad-hoc network that kept itself flowing. There is no structure in the anatomy.

We wouldn’t let any political party to guide us, we wouldn’t allow anyone dictate our agenda. We just wanted to go on and on and on. People who were there on the Marina that day (20th March) know that feeling. Some said it was fight until death, but the well-known untold truth was, the movement was bound to die on the day of Geneva UNHRC voting. 21st March is the day the movement will finally loose shape is what I suspected. After some field action on 21st,when I saw the update “There will be a press meet by 11 AM at the Chennai Press Club tomorrow“. I thought “this meet is the one that is going to make or break the movement” The movement was in its perfect infancy. I had tweeted earlier,

. Not just the students, the movement itself was perfect clay for mould.

The Press Meet

I would say the the Press Meet broke the movement, put it bluntly, it just said “We were just kidding guys, you just fell for a prank”. Don’t take it wrongly that I am insulting the movement or the people who gave the press release. It is just that we guys are amateurs. When I entered the Press Club someone (4 of them) was already getting ready to sit on the dais. They called themselves representatives from some student federation. They said that Center hasn’t yet reacted to the protests of students and in order to make it turn to their side they would give a deadline until March 31st. If they haven’t reacted by then, they would get students to protest in front of President’s residence. In the meantime they had planned to arrange seminars across all districts of Tamil Nadu to bring more awareness about the Eelam issue. That was it. Press meet over in a matter of 5mins. I really thought, wow, so short and simple, clear and crisp, this is going to be great. A week to plan, co-ordinate, maybe create alternate approaches and execute. Although I was a bit disappointed for travelling 40mins for a 5min press meet, the message was more than compensating. In fact, bright and acceptable to all standards.

But the day wouldn’t end that easy. When I came out, there was another group waiting, the people who have organised the Marina Beach event, the people behind the FB page and to a certain degree it was the core group who initiated the movement. Then who are those people who talked to press a moment ago? What? They are different? There are two groups? Forget groups, now we have two faces? Two identities? “A movement with two faces is history even before it is born” is my opinion. The second group was a loose congregation of individuals from various colleges, mostly one per college, rarely two. This explained the movement’s  structure-less anatomy and ad-hoc-ness.

The Amateurs in Action

I had the option to stand on the dais or to sit down as a audience. I chose to sit down, for I am not worthy to stand on the dais. I haven’t attended a press meet in life, but have seen a lot of project reviews. I presume both are almost same, there are people sitting opposite to you ready to strip your project naked, tease every part of it until they prove your work is shit or you prove them your work is gold. No body really bothers the actual outcome (at least in colleges), what matters is the work you have put in, things you have learnt, and what the future work is. So the students were on the stage presenting their project, this one was a real world one.

First an introduction and official statement was requested. Both proved we were kids. The introductions went haphazard with almost 10 people introducing themselves. It would have been better if spokespersons would have been decided and they introduced and started with the official statement. The statement was a lengthy one, thanking for the students who made this possible, condemning the nil response of the center, the important demands of the movement, and the future plan. The future plan is the one that poured ice water over the burning fire, it is to undertake a “Non Cooperation Movement” against Govt of India to pressure them to take notice of the issue. Non Cooperation Movement? Against British? No? Not the British India? Oops Sorry. I am still wondering, how did this people even conceive this idea?

Press had some unfinished business that day, they wanted first to know about the integrity of the movement before even talking about what the movement “plans” to do. With two parties issuing Press Release on the same day on the same dais, anyone would doubt the integrity. Luckily the clear and crisp guy who talked earlier was in the dais with the second group too, but gave a fuzzy reply. He said, “When you fight under a single banner, it might induce boredom. Since two bodies are there we can carry each other in times of slackness.”  What? Boredom? Slackness? After 1 week on field? Oh! Boy. Why me? Why did I feel good about this guy a few minutes before? The press pressed for more, students blurted out there exists some differences, but they are working hand in hand with each other and will support each other. I really wish they have resolved conflicts and issued a joined press release, hiding the differences under the dais carpet. If two groups are bad, different future plans are worse. Look at them, one wants to reach Delhi, one wants the Delhi to reach them. I personally felt, the press meet a disaster. The more they are going to talk the more damage would be inflicted.

Moving to the Non Cooperation movement, press wanted to know how students planned to implement it. The implementation would be by not paying toll fees, no taking tickets in trains, no paying taxes, not doing anything that earns a revenue for the government. So who would implement it? Will the students block the toll collectors, the ticket counters, lay siege to tax offices..etc.? “It is to be done by gaining the support of the public, and hence we are calling the public take up the non cooperation movement”. What? A call for the public? I thought it was a student movement. Public support is good thing to ask for, but telling public to take forward the movement? This is where I really really felt the “We were kidding……..” moment. Even if the directive was to telling students lay siege to toll gates and ticket counters I would have felt happy at the simple-thought proposal of “non cooperation movement”. But telling the public to take over indirectly was like “Hey play time is over go to bed now.” Actually this statement put the movement to bed. Someone was mentioning something about stopping the power from Neyveli Lignite Corporation at the last minute briefing when waiting outside, luckily they didn’t mention it inside, I would have stood up and walked home crying.

The official statement carried a phrase, “throwing the Congress Party out of Tamil Nadu by democratic process“.  I actually warned the guy before entering not to talk about political parties in general. It looked like Congress was already printed in the press note they brought. Fine, if hell breaks loose who cares about excesses? Then came the question:

Why congress?

Because they don’t support our agenda.

The BJP doesn’t support too. What do you say about that?

We do not support BJP either.

You want to make the center to act. If both parties are against your demands, whoever comes to power in center they won’t support you. How/When do you think you can achieve your goals?

We will create a third front.

This hit the floor square, everyone laughed, including me (pardon me,I didn’t mean to insult). Future movement organizers, I beg you, if you are creating a apolitical movement, make sure your entire process is apolitical. I personally would have preferred to talk about central govt in general not about a particular party. Or at least would have avoided the direct political questions by saying the movement is not yet fully grown to impact such big political changes. I am not thinking this over and writing, I was precisely thinking those “deflective” answers sitting in the audience, I just wonder why no one on stage thought the same.

With political immaturity clearly exhibited, it was time to take the Foreign Policy test. There was some phrase let loose somewhere about “boycotting US goods” in the students’ statements. When I heard that question, I actually thought myself sitting in pre-1947 era press conference.

“Why do you want to boycott US goods?”

“Since US has been supportive of the SL govt and has brought out a eye washing resolution in the UNHRC, we strongly condemn their actions and hence call for a total boycott of US goods in Tamil Nadu”

“Ok. What about China goods then? China too supports the SriLankan Govt.”

“We would call for a boycott of Chinese goods too.”

“Do you think this will actually work out?”

“That is what we want to convey in this press meet, we want the public to support us by boycotting these goods”

Personally I wanted to get up and reply, “The questions are beyond the preview of our planned agenda” and put an end to this leg pulling by the Press, but someone had put the US goods boycotting thing in it already. The water has gone above the head, would it matter if its a feet or a yard?

Then the purpose of these boycotts and non cooperation was raised. Drawing the attention of center govt, the US and others, making them to hear our pleas and getting them react was the response, at which a press member commented a bit bluntly “No one will come to talk you from the center. No one.” I think that guy really supported the students and wanted the movement to have a tangible outcome, but was completely put off by the amateurish way things turned out.

Someone asked, “Since you are against the center government completely, don’t you think this might affect the future prospect of Tamil Nadu students in getting passports, or central govt jobs etc.”. I don’t know whether this was a legit question. What I sensed was, it was a tricky question to bring out the secessionist ideals hidden under the movement, if any. I didn’t have answer, don’t yet have. The reply served the questions purpose though, “While two Kerala fisherman were killed by Italians, a lot importance was given to the issue, but more than 570 Tamil Nadu fishermen have been killed so far, but there is no concrete step taken by govt to stop this. We think we (tamilians) are already being treated as second class citizens, so being sidelined by center is nothing new”. There you go trickster, we have fallen for it. Satisfied? This response brought out the secessionist thoughts hidden underneath neatly.

Luckily my most feared question did not come up. If they have inquired about the presence of LTTE leader Prabakaran’s photos in the protests, we would have been goners. For many would have said Prabakaran as their leader and called themselves a LTTE cadre. I think since the majority was Tamil media, we were saved that moment.

There are a few more pain points to note as well,

  • at some particular point someone on the stage became emotional and started shouting
  • at the end of the press meet someone from dias called the press people and explained for some obscure question asked in the middle somewhere and was given no consideration
  • answered almost every question put forth, even for things that were beyond the purview of the movement
  • naive – couldn’t judge questions that would eventually bring out the bad hidden under

Last Words

I understand this was the first press movement most would have attended and there might be slips, but some I have put forth are blunders. At least I think them as political blunders. At the end, I am under the confusion, whether I am complete fool who thinks himself to be intellectual enough to write this piece or I am actually more mature than the amateurs.

I wonder when everything was shared over the facebook, Why wasn’t a call for opinions on how to take this movement was not called for? Why wasn’t the points to be spoken in the press meet discussed over with others? Did they assume themselves to be the leaders of the movement? It is more questions for me. If this press release is going to decide the future of the movement, then the epitaph has been written between the lines of the press release.

A Day of Activism in Anna University

A recollection of the events that happened on 18th March 2013 Anna University Strike in support of students striking all over TamilNadu to press for sanctions against SriLanka in response to killing of Tamilians.

Anna University, a silent place where political issues rarely rise to the surface saw its own share of Student Activism for a political humanitarian issue on March 18th 2013. This is a recollection of what happened on the day as I know it.

Pre-Strike Activity

Loyola Student Hunger Strike started about a week ago in support of a referendum against the SriLankan Government for Genocide of Tamilians during the Last Eelam War with the LTTE and ended only to snowball the movement across all over Tamil Nadu. With the IITians joining the protest on 17th March, it was time Anna University students came out of their comfort cocoons and took to the streets.

I was sitting at a WiFi hut near the canteen talking about the extra-ordinary presence of a large group of police posted in the Saidapet Court. I have been reading that the student movement has come to a conclusion that sitting and protesting wouldn’t move things and has decided to take things to the real world by picketing the central government offices. Just then a student near me was talking over the phone about the presence of police in the campus. I let it slip through, since the Computer Science Department was hosting technical festival Abacus ’13, and police, usually, is the topic when people come in to university premises, since they were deployed about a week ago in response to the Loyola Strike.

Getting there

It was about 10.40AM when I was sitting in the Student Research Lab of Institute of Remote Sensing trying to learn time series analysis using the R Statistical Package for my Thesis. The friends who have tried to go out for refreshment came back and reported that students aren’t allowed outside the building. There has been a strike called on by the students by 10.30AM and all the buildings have been ordered to lock down to prevent other students from joining them. I began tweeting..

At about 11.00AM my friends went on a scouting party and found a open door unguarded and slipped out, when I received the tip and by the time I went there staff have figured it out and the door was closed shut right before me. Then I saw the watchman going to the loo and walked out of the front door just like that, collected my friends and joined other in front of the red building by 11.20AM.

The Sitting

The tar road in front of the Red building at 11.30 in a sunny day. There couldn’t be a bad choice for sitting all day in the shady green campus. But this is activism and it has to be done (it looked like that). So we sat there all day.

Amid all this, someone informed us that the university VC is on his way to the scene and a poster is on its way, we are supposed to hear him talk and sign on the poster and move away. This created a small outcry and I think plan was dropped. What actually happened was, the VC arrived, talked without a public address system and the staff members stood under the building watching over us. Which effectively meant nothing to a large section of us who didn’t hear a single word.

Co-ordination and Organization

Sitting there all day, almost every word I heard was about the number of holidays they would get, how the internals would be affected, whether they would be given attendance for the day and what the poor souls from the Computer Science Department will do as their technical events start today. Every now and then among the shouts about posing right for the media cameras I would hear about the Sri-Lankan issue. I shifted my place 3 to 4 times trying to locate myself into the core group, but to no success, for I couldn’t find the core group.

There wasn’t a visible set of students organizing, everything happened ad-hoc. Someone thought people needed water in the searing heat and brought a sack of water packets, someone figured out they needed money for refreshments and collected money on the spot among us and brought biscuit packets and more water. Someone, who I think the core group which started this went out and returned back with a poster stating “Anna University Students Support Eelam Student Strike”. When someone thought the final year Under-grads should lead, or whatever, they formed a human chain surrounding us sitting there, then dissipated away as they began to realize it was a bit useless at that place. It took a lot of roasting on the metaled road before someone brought a roof over our heads around 3.00 in the evening. People were holding the support ropes in hands and standing in place of the pegs. Finally someone (me) thought they could place a big stone and tie the rope. Someone wanted to tie the poster to two poles and hold it, then they realised they are better off letting it hang from the tent roof top.

So it was all that “someone” who did things, the people who just did it without wanting credits, I do not know who bought me the water and I do not for whom my money bought biscuits. Almost no one knows who brought that tent, and no one know how it stood. It was all left for “someone” to do.

The Girls Standoff

My last update in twitter was this ..

I tried to update from mobile phone but a feature phone with a flaky GPRS connection wouldn’t suffice. So I rushed to my department where I have left my belongings, brought my laptop found a spot where I could get WiFi and posted those tweets. While I posted the last tweet I was really hoping there would be some sort of standoff by 5 and maybe we will leave by 8-9PM. To my surprise as I was posting my last tweet I could see people standing up and dissipating. When I rushed to the spot people were talking about dispersing as the time was over. I found that a group of 6 have obtained permission for the protest from the Dean and they have promised to wind up by 5PM and it has been given in written signed by the six. So that was what being explained to others, but the girls weren’t satisfied. They wanted the protest to continue, they said winding up at 4.30PM is kind of dumb and loked like as if we are office workers. They wanted to stay. While even the boys who wanted to stay were up on their feats and looking around hoping to get in touch with someone with the same idea, the girls didn’t even get get up, they just sat saying it was their right to express. They aren’t saying anything against the college or the government, they just wanted to show their support for the SriLankan Tamils. They wanted the government to understand. But the organizers clearly had their own plans, they informed people might be arrested or even worse lathi charged if they stay there beyond 5PM. Luckily there were a set of protest-aware girls who explained the difference between the arrest and detention and the police are here to give protection not beat them. Those who initiated the protest and their supporters clearly wanted their way out before anything could go amess, hence it was informed that, it was planned to be here until 5 and they will leave by 5 and anyone staying here beyond that is their own wish. With that girls chose to stay and some boys like me who thought protest should go beyond the office hours stayed.

The End

Those who wished to go were informed to shout a slogan and disperse. And so it happened. What was left behind were a group of Post-Grads with a handful Under-Grads. The police were consulted and they informed us we can do whatsoever silent protest as long as we are inside our house, that is our Anna University but the head of the house clearly wanted us out by 5PM. Then there was a lot of discussion and it was finally decided to create a group email, inform people, plan and organize a protest if necessary on the day the college reopens. For once we are out today, we cannot come in until it reopens, so there is no way Anna University is going to protest. What ever protest we want to do shall remain as a protest by the Citizen of India by coordinating with others organizing things outside. The protest of the day shall end there.