A perfect day in Provence Part II

A perfect day in Provence II. May 21

Spent the day in Aix en Provence, a place I had visited twenty five years ago when a small group of us from different countries had met in one of the University hostels to spend a couple of days editing a book under the chairmanship o f Prof. Howard Mehlinger of Indiana University. The Sourcebook of Teaching Social Studies was published by Unesco in 1980 I believe. That was when I was still at the old ERC.
Aix today is an elegant town with shops, apartments and restaurants that cater to a more prosperous elite than mere students. Tour buses stop here enroute to Marseille and the Cote de Azur. We drove around until we saw a sign pointing towards Atelier Cezanne, the studio of the famous artist. After driving around seeking a parking place, and finding none, we stopped in a quiet residential neighbourhood and walked a fair distance. Followed a group of tourists headed for the same museum, which turned out to be a small house set in a garden with many trees. Some tourists were sitting in the shade of the trees waiting to enter as the house was small and very old, the guide told us, and it would not be safe to let so many people in upstairs. When we finally managed to walk up the narrow stairs we found ourselves in a fairly large shabby room with large windows that let in the sunlight.
It was disappointingly bare of paintings, with only a few framed sketches and faded photographs on the walls, and some memorabilia, such as a painter’s smock, easel, paint brushes and pots and pans for making tea. I felt it was not worth the time and effort getting there and paying an entrance fee. Having seen the paintings of Cezanne in museums around the word, this “atelier” was a let down!
After a quick lunch at home we set off for Marseille, a half hour drive along the highway from Aix. It took much longer as we got into the heaviest traffic I have seen so far in this part of the world – a testimony to the size and importance of Marseille. As we drove in we got a view of the dense spread of the habitation along the Mediterranean, the tightly packed buildings spread over the nearby hillsides. In the curve of he sea was the island of d’If and its fortress made famous by Alexander Dumas in the story of the Count of Monte Cristo. High on the hill across the bay was the Church of Notre Dame de la Garde which was our destination. We drove past the port, and the many yachts and boats anchored there. A wide plaza was crowded with small shops and tourists.
It took a while for Priya to negotiate the narrow streets – on both sides of the streets there were cars parked so there was little space to negotiate! – climb the hill with its hairpin bends, until we came to the parking area at the foot of the Church its dome and walls with broad dark stripes characteristic of Moorish architecture. On the spire of the church there is a golden Madonna with the infant Jesus, glowing bright in the evening sun. An elevator took us up to the entrance from where we got a beautiful panoramic view of the city and coast. Below us jutting out on a square promontory into the sea was the chateau built by Napolean for Josephine where she could live looking out to the sea.
The interior of the church was richly painted, the tall arches and domes decorated with paintings, stained glass windows coloured the high walls. Hanging from the ceiling were models of different kinds of boats, for this is a city of seafarers, and each model was of a different kind of boat. The church has been endowed by many contributions of well- known wealthy families of Provence, and individuals, in thanksgiving for prayers answered, their names inscribed on tablets set in the walls. Walking around behind the church we saw bullet marks on the outer walls where shells had struck during the siege of Marseille in the Second World War.
The view from here of the urban sprawl of Marseille and the sea curved around the low hills was spectacular, as I thought of boats and fishermen returning home anxious and stressed, and seeing the glowing golden Madonna from a distance, surely more inspiring and heartwarming than a mere lighthouse!
Our return home was equally stressful driving for Priya – who is an excellent driver – until we hit the highway and speeded up.
We arrived in time to fetch the children from school at 5 pm. Avantika is a lovely
teenager in ninth grade, and the twins are eleven year old Vedika and Aditya. They go to the international school which is very close to the house. Their school starts at 830 am, so mornings are not as frantic as they are in Delhi, getting kids ready for school. Lunch is served in the school, which the kids unanimously said was awful, but they are not permitted to bring snacks from home! So they come home hungry, ready to snack.

In the evening we sat down with a glass of wine to watch the news on TV channels in India followed by movies.

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Visit to Provence (Contd)

Ksheerabdi Krishna works for a company in the US and is deputed here in France to work for the European counterpart. The family has been here five years and expect a transfer back to the US at the end the year. They live in a small town Nuynes near Aix in beautiful country side, and the air smells clean and fragrant. The trees, pruned during the winter are sprouting new leaves. The roadsides are speckled with the bright red of wild poppies – called coquliquot.(sp?) The bushes had bright yellow blooms – colours of Delhi’s red silk cotton and yellow laburnum that are flaunted with bright abandon in our summer.

Priya greeted me warmly and while Krishna went to work, we continued our conversation over coffee. She then took me to Castelle, a medieval fortified town on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean. It has quaint cobbled streets, narrow houses fronting the street, stone archways, and dozens of little shops and restaurants that cater to the tourists who swarm over these ancient towns and villages of Provence in the months of June thru August

The balmy sunshine and brisk breeze made the walk through the town pleasant, as we looked at the different crafts and artwork for sale. One woman in her seventies, who was born and grew up in this town makes and sells perfumes, scented candles and decorative items that are most attractive and tempting. I came out of the little shop smelling of roses as she sprayed her best perfume on me.
We had lunch at a small restaurant that specializes in crepes of different varieties.

We returned home, and while Priya cooked a delightful veg meal, Krishna and I exchanged news, and watched the IBN TV channel and Modi’s election as the BJP leader in Parliament and his speech, which we appreciated for its eloquence and emotional appeal. Can only hope and pray the country moves forward under his leadership.

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Visit to Provence Part I

Visit to Provence Part I

It was a hastily planned trip, but could not have been a more perfect or idyllic trip, even though the departure from Delhi was chaotic.
I was busy until 4 pm with school related work, and practically did all my packing after that. Last minute dash to Khan market to get mangoes for my host family Krishna and Priya and their kids. Also put in a jar of my Best in the World marmalade

The Lufthansa flight and check in were faultless with German efficiency. My friendly counter assistant’s name was Louisa and I asked her if she was from Goa. No, she said, I am from Chennai. Her eyes brightened and she smiled widely when I spoke to her in Tamil. I had asked for a wheel chair to save the long mile walk to Gate no. 11. That took care of all my worries through immigration and customs. I was early enough that the reclining lounge chairs were vacant so I settled for a nap before the boarding time at midnight.
With little hand baggage I was comfortable in my aisle seat and slept through most of the flight to Munich.
Here too there were wheelchair assistants waiting and I was guided towards a young man who would take me – and others – to our gates which were on another floor and literally another kilometer’s walk away. Munich airport is as large as Delhi, but the different areas are connected by walkways and large elevators and escalators, so there seemed to be more passage ways.
I asked the young man, in German, how far it was, and he replied, in German that we would go in an electric car. As we walked towards the car, he realized I had spoken in German, and surprised, he turned around asked where I had learnt the language. I explained and he rattled off in a Bavarian accent which is difficult to understand anyway, and I had to listen carefully to reply. He brought a Punjabi lady and her child to me to answer their questions as she spoke only Punjabi and wanted directions to the baggage retrieval and immigration. She looked relieved that I could explain to her. So I had a role as interpreter. Once again I realized how important language is to establish a rapport and bring a smile to a face.
We drove off in the car, my companions a young Punjabi woman and her little daughter Jasleen, whose eyes our German driver-assistant could not help admiring!
The electric car took us to another floor on an elevator large enough to accommodate the car, and finally after dropping off the young mother and child at their gate, I arrived on the ground floor at my gate. All the way my escort chattered telling me he worked four days a week at the airport and on the other days he had his own business as an Event Manager. He introduced me to the immigration official saying “this lady can speak German” so I had to re- program my brain to answer questions like ” how long are you staying in EU? Where are you staying in Marseilles. etc” and remember to hook the verb on to the end of the sentence!
Getting to Marseille in a small plane was familiar – on to a bus, to a small ATR plane which we boarded by a narrow step ladder. On the hour long flight we were served beverage and muesli with yoghurt for a breakfast snack – which was very welcome.
Marseille airport looked deserted and small in comparison to the others I had been through. Getting my bag off the carousel and wheeling the trolley was a cinch — no customs, not a soul in sight. Outside the familiar welcoming smile of Krishna, and a short walk to the car park before we started talking non-stop during the ride to Aix – mostly about Modi the election and future prospects.

Ksheerabdi Krishna works for a company in the US and is deputed here to work for the European counterpart. They have been here five years and expect a transfer back to the US at the end the year. They live in a small town near Aix in beautiful country side, and the air smells clean and fragrant. The trees, pruned during the winter are sprouting new leaves. The roadsides are speckled with the bright red of wild poppies – called coquliquot.(sp?) The bushes had bright yellow blooms – colours of Delhi ‘s red silk cotton and yellow laburnum that are flaunted with bright abandon in our summer.

Priya greeted me warmly and while Krishna went to work, we continued our conversation over coffee. She then took me to Castelle, a medieval fortified town on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean. It has quaint cobbled streets, narrow houses fronting the street, stone archways, and dozens of little shops and restaurants that cater to the tourists who swarm over these ancient towns and villages of Provence in the months of June thru August

The balmy sunshine and brisk breeze made the walk through the town pleasant, as we looked at the different crafts and artwork for sale. One woman in her seventies, who was born and grew up in this town makes and sells perfumes, scented candles and decorative items that are most attractive and tempting. I came out of the little shop smelling of roses as she sprayed her best perfume on me.
We had lunch at a small restaurant that specializes in crepes of different varieties.

We returned home, and while Priya cooked a delightful veg meal, Krishna and I exchanged news, and watched the IBN TV channel and Modi’s election as the BJP leader in Parliament and his speech, which we appreciated for its eloquence and emotional appeal. Can only hope and pray the country moves forward under his leadership.

PS (I did say the trip was flawless, but the one tragedy was that the bottle of BITW Marmalade was broken and it took Priya most of the next three days cleaning out my suitcase of all the sticky delicacy – although she did manage to retrieve some of it. She did however pronounce it the Best in The World!)

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A Day in Court

The island was crowded as the Penguins gathered for their meeting. The leader of the group slowly waddled up to the ice mound and raised himself, his flippers glistening.
All the other penguins in their black suits, white shirts and white ties, looked up at him respectfully.
A few seals, walruses and others in their different attire watched from afar, but there was general interest in what appeared to be an important conclave of the flock of penguins.

Penguin Mandy who stood on top of a raised ice mound looked around and surveyed the crowd. He, as leader of the penguins had to settle a dispute among his flock.
Penguin Charlie shuffled up to the front raised his flipper and squawked his complaint against Penguin David. PM looked enquiringly at David, as if to ask “And what do you have to say?”
A small group of younger penguins gathered around David whispering shuffling and trying to intervene, but David was imperious and arrogant as he squawked aggressively at Charlie. Mandy tried to placate him as he turned to Charlie as if to say “Let us cool off, and discuss this later”

With relief the penguins dispersed, the younger ones moved away to play games on the wide expanse of ice. The seals and walruses watched bemused as they saw the “fighters’ Charlie and David moved away and sat down together to eat the fish they had caught and converse amicably, their dispute forgotten.
The only question on their minds seemed to be “Who will get the bigger fish?”

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The Mysterious X Factor

Julian Crandall Hollick, author and broadcaster, has made several trips to India. His radio broadcasts on Public Broadcasting Service in Boston have been popular for many years with listeners in the US.. Four or five years ago he came to India to do a series of broadcasts on the Ganga, traveling from the source of the river in Gaumukh above Gangotri to Sagar Island at the mouth of the river He and his wife traveled by car, and for several weeks on a boat with a crew that navigated through difficult stretches of the river. En route he recorded and photographed life along the river.. Two years ago he published a book on this river journey called Ganga, published by Harper Collins.. My sister and I were presented with our copies of the book and we discussed it with him. When he mentioned the stories he had heard about micro-organisms that cleaned the river of its pollution, my sister recalled that our grandfather had done considerable work and research on the “bacteriophage” Grandfather Dr. Kesava Pai was a well known pathologist in Madras (*now Chennai) in the early part of the 20th century, where , after graduating from Madras Medical College and winning the Johnson Gold Medal, he was appointed as a research pathologist in several British Institutes. He did early work on the anti-rabies and anti-tetanus vaccines at the Pasteur Institute in Kasauli, and later on the plague vaccine at the Haffkine Institute in Bombay (now Mumbai). He went on study leave in 1922 to Europe and on his return he worked on the treatment of tuberculosis. We three grandchildren lived with our grandparents, and with his deep concern about diseases and infection, we were subjected to all the prophylactic vaccines, for immunization, especially against cholera and typhoid, both killer diseases in those years before anti-biotics were developed. It was then that he researched on the bacteriophage and gave us grandchildren this protection against cholera and typhoid, by mouth. There are scientists today doing research on bacteriophage, micro-organisms that lie on the bed of the river, and rise to the surface, multiplying rapidly to devour bacteria and putrefying organic matter. It is not only the Ganga, I am sure other rivers nurture the bacteriophage on the sandy beds of the rivers, which perhaps are now being destroyed by dredging by the sand mafia. In the Ganga they are being destroyed by the chemical waste from the leather tanneries which use chrome, a destructive chemical that not only kills the bacteriophage but also fish and other forms of life in the river. “

A recent article by Prof. Dipankar Gupta eminent sociologist  at JNU, deplores the tendency to “seek foreign sanction for Hindu intellectual property….while there is clear hostility to things western .. on a number of testy and historical issues Hindu activists have sought western scholars many of them truly obscure to secure their intellectual claims.To back the contention that the Ganges is forever pure and immune to pollution because of an “X factor”a certain Julian Crandall Hollick is quoted by Hindu activists across a wide band. The Ganges is said to be blessed by a a certain “bacteriophagus” that eats up disease agents.If you find this hard to believe track down a Henkins…””

My response
Dear Prof. Dipankar Gupta
I read your article in the Times of India of Saturday August 17, 2013, and thought I would share my blog with you. You write about Julian Crandall Hollick’s mention of the Mysterious Factor X to pronounce the Ganga forever “pure and immune to pollution” whereas Mr. Hollick’s has actually been writing and broadcasting about the danger of pollutants in the river due to the unrestricted disposal of industrial effluents in the river. Like many of us he is curious about the widespread belief that Ganga has managed to clean itself through microorganisms called “bacteriophage” (not “bacteriophagus”), and he has been meeting scientists and environmental activists who have been studying what Mr. Hollick calls the X factor. I was not aware that he is cited by Hindu websites, which is amusing, if not disturbing.
My grandfather was not a Hindu fundamentalist and his interest was only in science and means to combat disease. In fact he debunked many superstitions and traditional cures for illnesses from his scientific point of view. He is remembered at the King Institute in Guindy, Madras, where he was the first Indian Director, for his work on tuberculosis from which many of the rich and elite of Madras society suffered. At that time penicillin, streptomycin and chloromycetin were not heard of.. Julian Hollick was fascinated to hear from us about grandfather’s work on the bacteriophage, “the mysterious X factor”, as he had started to work on this for a PhD at a university in the UK. (Incidentally the Discovery Channel recently discussed this factor in the Ganga water in one of their programs).
I am not aware that the purity of our rivers is a Hindutva theme. It is a very serious environmental issue. Whether you believe in the sacred-ness of the Ganga or not, as Indians we acknowledge that this great river – as also many others – are our life and their pollution should be a matter of our survival.
I am not writing this out of any political bias. I thought you might be interested in my little knowledge of the bacteriophage. Thanks for your patience in reading this.
Sharada Nayak

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Tulsi-mai stepped out into the hot dusty air and turned to walk down the main street of the village. The uneven stones of the unpaved road were hot to her feet as she walked carefully, picking her way through the clumps of cowdung. A bullock cart came down behind her, the driver calling out to his animals who trotted jauntily, the bells on their horns ringing in rhythm. Tulsi-mai stepped aside to let them pass and acknowledged the greeting from the cart driver.

Everyone in the village knew her. Even though now widowed, she had not lost her status or the people’s respect. Her husband had been a small landowner, but the family had lived there many years. The Nayak family was one of the old settlers from a village nearby. Selling most of their rice fields, they had settled down to trade in Karkala which was on the main road that connected Mangalore and Udipi, an important temple town and place of pilgrimage. There was talk of improving the road and introducing motor traffic – an exciting prospect for the villagers for, though they had heard of motorcars, most of them had never seen one.

Tulsi-mai was preoccupied. That morning she had received a letter from her eldest daughter Padmavati, giving her the news of her granddaughter Tara’s pregnancy. Her first great-grandchild!  There was excitement and joy at the prospect. She had asked her son to read the letter to her a second time. Not having had any formal schooling, she relied on her elder son to read out her letters and write her responses for her. She had dictated her reply to her daughter, asking when she should send her the herbal oils for massage, and the nutritious preserves that were a traditional dietary supplement for expectant mothers. These would all be made at home with fresh ingredients according to recipes handed down in the family.

Lost in her thoughts, she found she had reached the end of the street and the steps of the Padmavati temple, the goddess after whom she had named her daughter. Her visits there were frequent, for she enjoyed a few moments to sit in the peace of the temple courtyard and relax, away from the constant coming and going in her house. It was easier now for her to get away from her household chores as her daughter-in-law, of whom she was very fond, managed the house and the hospitality for the many guests that came in daily. The young girl had learned her duties, she thought.

When her husband died, Tulsi-mai withdrew from social life, shaved her head, and wiped from her forehead the large red kumkum mark she wore when her husband was with her. Her saree was a dark maroon cotton, with no decoration. The end of her saree was wrapped around her bosom and over her shaven head. She wore no blouse. She removed all her jewelry. Only a single gold chain remained on her neck, on which she hung the key to her small box of clothes and personal things. All other keys, and with them the responsibilities for running the house, now were vested in her son and daughter-in-law. Nevertheless, they still consulted her, and in her own quiet way she made most of the decisions of the family and the property that gave them their small income.

Tulsi-mai walked up the temple steps. The carved wooden door was open. Ganesh smiled benignly from his niche above the lintel. As she walked across the small courtyard to the shrine she heard a sound, the rhythmic rasping sound of a grinding stone. Pausing at the shrine, she looked at the small image of the goddess and admired the decoration – the red and gold saree draped and pleated like a fan across her seated form, the garlands of fragrant jasmine in loops carefully arranged to frame the idol.

Folding her hands in silent prayer, she asked for Her blessings, recalling the letter and the news she had received. Please, Mother, let it be a boy! Keep Tara safe and in good health.

She reached up to ring the bells hanging above the doorway to the shrine and stepping back, turning to her left, she started to walk around the shrine in the ritual pradakshina or circumambulation. Even as the sound of the bells ebbed away, the other, harsher, sound of the grinding stone reached her ears. On an impulse, she left the courtyard and climbed the two steps of the verandah leading to the rooms where the priest and his family lived.

Stooping to enter the dark rooms, she walked through them to the outer courtyard and the temple wall, where in the sunlight she saw a young girl seated on the ground at the grinding stone, one leg stretched out before her, the other folded across as she bent over, swaying in a regular rhythm, her hand grasping the wooden handle as she turned the stone. With her free hand she poured fistfuls of grain into the central hole in the stone and watched as the flour spilled out from between the wheels. As she rocked back and forth, her hair came undone and cascaded in dark waves down her back, touching the ground.

Tulsi-mai felt her heart contract in pain, tinged with worry. Unconsciously she reached for the saree covering her head, feeling the prickle of her shaven head, the drops of sweat, as she pulled her saree over her forehead tucking its edge behind her ears. The girl stopped to knot her hair, twisting the ends around, she realized there was someone behind her and turned quickly. Her face was transformed by her smile of recognition as she rose to greet the older woman.

“Sit down, child. Where is your father? He is not in the temple.”

“He must have gone to the well to fetch water for the pooja,” the girl replied.

“I’ll find him. Don’t let me stop you from your work.”

“Can I get you a glass of milk?”

“No, thank you. I don t take anything at this time of the morning.”

Tulsi-mai turned and walked back to the courtyard. As she came down the steps, she met Krishna Bhat with a pitcher of water on his shoulder. He set it down and greeted the older woman respectfully as she sat on the edge of the verandah, indicating she was ready for a conversation.

Adjusting her saree over her head, she asked him directly, without any preamble, “What are you going to do about Kamala? She is almost nineteen, a grown woman, she cannot spend the rest of her life grinding grain to pay for her keep!”

The expression in the priest’s eye changed, his eyes dropped as he looked at his feet where he stood, unable to answer.

Kamala had been married when she was eight years old. According to the custom at the time, girls were married before puberty. When a girl reached the age of fourteen or fifteen, she left her parental home to consummate the marriage, to join her husband’s family as daughter-in-law and housewife.                                                                       Kamala’s marriage lasted only six months. Before she was old enough to join her husband an epidemic of the plague swept the area, and her young husband was one of those who died. She did not remember him, his face or his voice. She did not understand what had happened, as she saw the shock and grief in her parents, a feeling she could not share. She continued to help in the house, play with her sisters in the little coconut grove behind the temple. The girls enjoyed the mornings when their mother helped dress them, oiling and braiding their hair. They would pick the flowers and they learned to tie jasmine into garlands using the dried fibre from the banana tree. There was disbelief and hurt when her mother refused to put flowers in her braided long hair. Her two younger sisters married and left home. By now, the growing girl had understood the implication of her widowhood. She could not participate in her sisters’ marriage ceremonies, as she was considered unlucky and inauspicious. Her father, unable to give voice to his grief had, however, adamantly refused to shave her head. He could not bring himself to do this to the daughter he loved, and listened silently to the criticism from members of his caste.                                                      Kamala realized she was a burden to her parents, a financial as well as an emotional one. She started to grind grain for women of the village, and the few coins she earned were dutifully given to her mother, as her father withdrew into his shell, not saying anything to her, unable to accept the money. The sound of the grinding stone gave her a peculiar joy – it lulled her by its monotony, allowing her thoughts to float beyond the palm trees stroking the sky, into the hills beyond, where the monolithic statue of the Jain saint Gomateswara stood tall and rigid, looking out, unseeing and aloof, where perhaps the stone-blind eyes turned those thoughts into dreams, some as empty as the clouds that could not weep except when the monsoon warmth allowed them to vent their tears. Then rain came in torrents, bringing fertility to the rice fields, the seeds ripening into grain, but some seeds were infertile, some could only have unfulfilled dreams. So, back to the grinding stone.

Tulsi-mai looked at the man who stood speechless before her and saw that he was crying. She waited a minute before asking softly, kindly, “Would you allow me to take her with me? She could help me with my household chores. In a couple of months, if you agree, I will send her to my daughter in Madras. My first great-grandchild will be born before Divali. She could help with the baby.”

Krishna Bhat’s face seemed to be carved in stone, but the tears continued to flow unchecked. After a while, he pulled the towel off his shoulder to wipe his face and spoke with difficulty. “I will leave her in your care. You have always been good to my family. With you and your family, I know she will find a home. She is a good girl. You will not find her a problem in any way.”


Kamala left the sheltered temple courtyard to enter the house of the Nayak family down the road, where she stayed in the kitchen area at the back of the house, unobtrusive but doing the routine chores with quiet efficiency. She spoke little, and could not voice her protest or fear when she was told she was to go to Madras. Where was that? What would she find there? Who were the people she would live with? She knew only Tulsi-mai, and she was the only one she wanted to be with, safe and secure under her shadow.

It was a long journey in the jolting bullock cart, looking back as the village receded, and with it the familiar sights and sounds, rice fields and palm trees, the creak of the waterwheel, the shout of the farmer as he urged his oxen at the plough. It was nightfall when they leached Mangalore and she was dropped at the home of Tulsi-mai’s second daughter, who was married to a merchant and lived in an imposing house on the main street. The bustle of the town and the lights seemed strange, but there was no time to look around. She walked to the well at the back of the house, washed and returned nervously to the kitchen, where she ate on a banana leaf. The family had already eaten. She was told she had to take the next morning’s train to Madras.

Train? There was a moment of panic. She felt trapped. There was no turning back. She hardly slept and looked out of the small window as dawn brightened the sky.

Tulsi-mai’s son-in-law took her in the cart to the station and left her standing on the platform as he looked for the ticket collector. As she waited, clutching her small tin trunk and brass water-container, the noise of the people, the hiss of the steam engine, all heightened her fear. The ticket collector soon arrived, showed her where to sit, and told her escort that he would see that she was all right. He would help her when they reached Madras, he said reassuringly.

Kamala did not remember much about the journey. Kind people offered her food and water, but she shook her head. (A priest’s daughter accept water from strangers? Her father would never allow that!) She dozed fitfully as the train rocked and rattled through the night.

The bedlam at Madras railway station would terrify anyone – the huge shed, several trains, shouting porters and vendors. Kamala sat crouched in the corner of the railway compartment as it emptied. All the passengers collected their luggage and left. The ticket collector came accompanied by a suited, impressive-looking man with a moustache and spectacles. He spoke to her in her language.

“I am Padmavati’s husband, and I have come to take you home.” Joy and relief washed over her, smoothing away the tension on her brows and leaving her limbs suddenly weak and tired. She smiled tentatively and, quickly lowering her eyes, rose slowly and followed him, asking no questions, trusting him and knowing in her heart that everything would be all right from now on. Tulsi-mai had told her so.

1928, 1931, 1932, 1935

Four little babies were born in the house on Harris Road In Madras in the eight years following, and Kamala remembered them all, sharing the joys and sorrows of a proxy motherhood.

Tara’s first baby was a boy, stillborn.Kamala felt the pain and disappointment of the young mother as if it were her own. She stayed by the bedside, wiped Tara’s face that was lined with exhaustion and reeked of chloroform. There was an unspoken caring, and from that day on, Tara came to rely on her for all her needs.

The three babies, all girls, who were ushered into the world in the early 30s were all first bathed and dressed by Kamala before they were handed over to their mother. There was something about the soft, wet newborn baby that filled her with an aching joy, fulfilling her need to hold it close, as she wrapped it in soft cloth. If there was disappointment that they were girls, she never once uttered it. They were babies and they needed her.

I was one of the three girls, the middle one.

We called her Akka (aunt or elder sister). I remember Akka scolding me when I spilled food on my new dress, tugging at my braids as she tied the ribbons at the end of each braid, putting a cold compress on my forehead when I had diphtheria and was burning with fever, standing by the door as we had our music lessons, and walking us to school.

“Where is your ayah today?” asked my friend as we waited for the school bus.                                                                     “She is NOT my ayah,” I said angrily.                                     “Then what is she?”                                                                        “She is my Akka,” I said, simply. She was not a servant. She was Akka. Not merely a member of the family, but a mother- figure.

1947 Independence!

The festivities in India were soon marred by Partition and the riots. My parents were at the Indian Embassy in Moscow. We were alone in Delhi, with only Akka to take care of us.                                                                                       There was violence, curfew and sleepless nights. Akka kept vigil. Locked doors and fear remain etched in my memory. By January, life was quieter in Delhi and we left for Mangalore by train and boat via Bombay, escorted by Akka.


My older sister was married, a traditional wedding in Mangalore. Akka was in the background as all the women of the family discussed the wedding arrangements. She carried the major burden of the work, but it was never obvious to anyone how important she was. She knew her place. She stayed on the dim fringes, not to be seen because she was a widow, and therefore unlucky.


I went away to Madras to college. Akka gave me lots of advice (which irritated me) and lots of food (which didn’t!), especially pickles which were hoarded and shared with my roommates.


I was in Delhi University after completing two years of intermediate science In Madras.  I was soon involved in student activities and every time I won a trophy at an inter-collegiate debate or drama competition, I would remember to show it to Akka, to tell her of my success. She would invariably set me down on a wooden seat on the kitchen floor, pick up a handful of rock salt and red chillies and wave it around me, muttering the names of all the people, spirits, and animals who, jealous of my success, might cast an evil eye on me. She would throw the salt and chillies into the coal fire and watch with satisfaction as they sputtered. Then, with her forefinger, she would rub a bit of soot from the edge of the hearth and make a black mark on my forehead to protect me from all harmful forces.

I saw an announcement on the university notice board of an offer of a full scholarship for a woman student to study at a college In New York. On an impulse, I took down the particulars and sent in an application enclosing my biodata. I thought it was a lark – I never imagined that I would go anywhere near the shores of the United States. It was a surprise, therefore to receive a letter informing me that my name was on the short list of candidates called for an interview. With great delight, I showed the letter to my parents that evening. I was not prepared for their reaction. There was disbelief, consternation and lots of questions. Where was this college? What did I plan to study? How much would it cost? There must be expenses that the scholarship would not cover? Above all, there was their concern that a 19-year-old girl was not perhaps ready to go abroad. Graduation and then marriage were part of their plans for me, not study abroad and a career.

My parents discussed the matter, finally agreed and I traveled to New York with a scholarship, returning after two years. There were many events later in my life, and I can remember Akka’s role in all of them. My marriage, my first home and Akka teaching me cooking; the birth of my son, Akka’s oil massage and hot soups.


My son had the measles, but Akka was not there to help me take care of him. She was ill with jaundice, and little did we know that she had cancer. I left my son in my husband’s care to go and visit her. She asked me to write her Will, which I did. She signed her name, the only writing she had learned.

A few days later she died, 35 years after she had entered our home. According to her wishes, my elder sister’s husband lit her funeral pyre.

My mother was inconsolable. As we sat and talked about her, Mother recalled the evening when I had come home with news of the scholarship to study in America.

“ I was so confused and undecided about whether you should go to America,” my mother recounted. ”Your father was reluctant, and I was half-inclined to agree with him. Then I went to the kitchen and told Akka what bothered me. She listened and asked me a simple question, ”If you had had a son, what would you have done?”              Without hesitation, I replied, “Of course, he would have studied abroad like his father.”                                       “Then,” said Akka, “be grateful that God has given you a daughter who has the intelligence and the opportunity to study. Why don’t you let her go?”                                              I went back to the bedroom and told your father firmly, “We must give Sharada the opportunity to study in America.”

I wish Mother had told me of this incident earlier, I wish I had said to Akka, “Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for helping Mother make her decision. Thank you for lighting the way ahead, even if I was only a girl.”

You had no life of your own, no education, no possessions to call yours. No one knew you outside our family circle. But you had hopes for us, your children, and these were given substance by your love. It is over thirty years since you died, and so many successes and failures have checkered my life. But all career opportunities and international awards came my way only because you dared to speak your thoughts. I didn’t know your dreams. But you knew that a woman need not fear the future, and dreams can somehow be made to come true. You knew – even though you had been a woman of no consequence.

Postscript                                                                                    1999

Akka had been gone more than 35 years, but there were       many occasions when I remembered her; especially when there was a bend in the road ahead – “the road less traveled”- towards which she had pointed me many years ago..

When I received an award at the TMA Pai Foundation in Manipal, I had a written speech about my experience in international education for which I was being given this recognition. With my sisters, my son and his family, I had driven down the road to Udipi and Manipal passing through Karkala, and my mind was crowded with memories of Akka and her home there.

Standing before the microphone on the dais, my speech in front of me, I found I could not read it. It had, to me, lost its importance. Anyway, it had already been printed and circulated to the audience in front me. They could read it later.

In a spontaneous burst of emotion, I told my story of Akka, and how I would not be standing there in front of them receiving this award but for her dream. My family in the front row looked up at me in surprise, tears in their eyes.

At the end of the function a young man came up to me and asked, “What was Kamala’s father’s name?”  I told him, he was Krishna Bhat, priest of the Padmavati temple in Karkala. He looked at me, and then looked down at his feet. He said, simply, “I am of that family. I am sorry I did not know her.”

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It was September 1940. There was an air of festivity in the big house on Harris Road, Madras, where the family had gathered for a reunion. It was  a special treat for the children, Kanaka aged nine years, Sharada (7) and little Shanthi aged four, for they had been waiting eagerly for their parents’ return from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). They had been living with their grandparents, with visits to Kandy during their summer vacations, and now they were happy to know that their parents were returning home to Madras at the end of their tenure of four years there.

Much of the excitement was due to the fact that  their parents, Vittal and Tara Pai were returning by aeroplane! They were to go Meenambakkam aerodrome to receive them, which in itself was an adventurous journey for the little girls. Grandfather’s blue Studebaker sedan took them along the long empty stretch of road, out of the city, past St. Thomas’ Mount.  Skirting the hill crowned with the church of St.Thomas, they saw the vast space of the aerodrome, as the car entered the airport building. Grandfather spoke to the manager and asked about the arrival of the plane. “Very soon,” he said, “we are in radio contact and have given them permission to land”.

                               *    *    *   *    *

We three girls ran outside, shading our eyes, looked to the sky, as grandfather pointed to the south, the direction from which the plane would come.

“There it is!”

“Where? I can’t see it!”

“Look! Just over the church on the hill.”

A tiny speck in the sky grew into a large dragonfly, the buzz grew louder, the small single-engine plane came down lower, made a wide circle and landed on the small strip, bumping three or four times, until it came to a halt a couple of hundred yards in front of the building where we waited. The noise ebbed to silence as the engine was switched off and the propeller came to rest. We waited impatiently, grandfather’s hand on my shoulder restraining me, as grandmother held Shanthi’s hand. The pilot opened his little window and called out to the ground crew who brought him a step ladder. The small door at the back was then opened and Father stooped as he got out and turned to help Mother. They saw us and waved. We could barely wait until they came close enough, so that we were allowed to rush forward to be hugged, and littlest one picked up by father high in the air. The pilot Capt. Guzder joined us. He asked us if we would like to see the plane and we moved forward as a group to see this amazing vehicle. We looked inside one by one and wondered how they could squeeze into this little space, Father with the pilot, and Mother on the small seat at the back with the mailbags and luggage.

As we drove home, the adults’ conversation was constantly interrupted by our questions: Weren’t you afraid that you might fall into the sea? How do you stay up in the air for so long? Could you see the houses and people from up there? Could you see our house as you flew over Madras?

In the evening my father answered all our questions patiently, as we listened with interest to his account of the experience of flying, and the bird’s eye view of the southern coast of peninsula.

After dinner, as Akka, who took care of us, got us ready for bed, I told her how amazing it was that a machine could fly like a bird. She said laconically, “ Vishwakarma knew all about this. He made the pushpaka viman which Ravana stole from his brother. Ravana carried away Sita in this “flower plane”, and took her to Lanka. But Rama brought her back in the vimana. They had flying machines too!”

I digested this information thoughtfully. That night I dreamt I saw my mother shouting for help as she fell from the plane and a big bird got caught in the propeller as he tried to save her. Unfortunately, neither my father nor Capt. Guzder were there to catch her – as I woke up with a start.

*   *   *   *   *

Flying machines are getting bigger and better, as modern Vishwakarmas compete for sales to international airlines. One is filled with awe as one sees the roomy comfort and gadgetry even in “cattle class” When they announce the departure of a flight and ask the passengers, in chaste Hindi, to board the “viman” they are referring to a big bird called a Dreamliner. All very commonplace at everyday journeys at airports around the world.                                    I fasten my seat belt and accept the little bottle of water offered by an air hostess.  I close my eyes and remember a little girl and a plane in 1940.

Fortunately, the wings of fantasy are not designed by technology, or a child’s dreams fashioned by a computer.


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A rare star

It is but rarely that one meets an individual who transcends all geographic boundaries and is known not as a citizen of any country but as a humanist who fought tirelessly for social justice and for the rights of all those who are exploited and denied their basic human dignity and right to survive.

Ward Morehouse, who died on June 20 in Northampton, Mass. at the age of 83 years, was bound to India by many ties, close friendships and a shared concern for its people.

Most people I speak to remember him for his work for the Bhopal gas victims.

Ward was such a remarkable man… He was quiet and self-effacing, so many people did not recognise his strength and tenacity in fighting for social causes, — often a losing battle, as we see in Bhopal I wish more people in India fought for our own in this sustained manner.

The tragedy of Bhopal motivated him to write, speak and travel to carry on the fight for the cause of the thousands who suffered – and still suffer – from the horrible aftermath of the gas poisoning. He walked with the protesters, wrote about Bhopal and lectured to audiences in America to create an awareness of the enormity of this crime that corporate American refuses to acknowledge.

To those of us in India who had the privilege to work with him and the opportunity to be influenced by his courage and his commitment, he will continue to stay with us, and hopefully through us and our work,- for his spirit must and will continue to inspire many..

I met him first in 1966 when he set up an office, funded by the NY State Education department to help US teachers understand an India that did not find adequate recognition in western school text books. In this effort he came to identify with Indians across social classes, and was dismayed that most American expatriates in India lived in lifestyles that were cut off from the realities of mainstream India. Through his office, the Educational Resources Centre, he made it possible for groups of teachers and educational administrators from the US come and experience an India that he had come to love.

He gave me my first job at the ERC and has left a lasting impact on my thinking and my work.

I am still continuing the ERC, working with teachers and students, both in India and America. Ward’s imprint is so permanent that all the harsh weathering of political storms cannot dull or fade the colors of his idealism. For that I am what I am, and I do what I do. For that I am grateful to Ward.

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My true education started when I became a teacher, and I discovered my ignorance.  Fortunately I was not assigned the task of teaching a roomful of children their prescribed lessons from a prescribed syllabus. My first job in 1969 was to develop curriculum on India for high school social studies teachers from America. Their knowledge of India was scanty and their textbooks full of stereotypes culled from British books, I was told.  It was suggested that we should recommend materials about independent India, for their school libraries, develop curriculum material, teaching aids and audiovisual material for use in high school classrooms.

That was when I faced my challenge as a teacher. What did I know about my country, an urban educated young woman who had done all my schooling in British India? Although my family had roots in our home village, nevertheless I was, and still am, a city person.

“India lives in its villages “said Gandhiji.  So an understanding of village India is an important part of social studies curriculum, especially for a western high school.   I traveled a lot, improved my Hindi, learned its many dialects, and began to get used to the discomfort of spending several days in the rural countryside. “The greatest learning comes with a feeling of some discomfort,“ a wise teacher once told me.  It was not just the physical discomfort, but also the inability to understand and process the difficult questions, and the answers which did not clear the fog of city-bred ignorance. But the learning seeped through bringing with it empathy and understanding of a different India than the one I knew.

American teachers ask many  questions, especially about villages and caste. Every visiting group of teachers and students that comes to India on Study Abroad Programs has a lecture session with a university professor, on Caste. Naturally, when a US President comes on a state visit to India  a Village Visit is always included in the program.  This  village is usually carefully chosen for its proximity to Delhi, (or to Jaipur for Rajasthan is so colorful!). When the President arrives there is a wonderful festive air in the village, the freshly scrubbed and painted cluster of homes, the clean lanes. Flower garlands at every step, smiling kids perform in their bright renovated schoolhouse, village women demonstrate  their skill on computers in the panchayat ghar, the media cameramen go crazy trying to get that one picture that will tell a story in the next day’s newspaper. Soon people forget the real name of the village; it is now referred to as Carter village.

India lives in its villages, said Gandhiji.  The politicians too know that. When elections are due there is an awareness of a rural vote, caste and religious groups are clotted together as “Vote Banks” to be wooed with sops and incentives, money spent lavishly on electioneering.  Jobs for the Jobless, laptops and tablets for the educated, and above all reservations for Dalits/Muslims euphemistically called Minorities. Rural Indians vote in large numbers unlike the apathy of the educated cynical city folk. Their innate pragmatism and wisdom makes them unpredictable. Our glib psephologists in TV discussions weave their words into forecasts and exit polls. But the results usually surprise everyone who has been glued to these TV analyses.

What are the real issues in rural India?

I was driving with a group of American teachers not far from Agra, when one of them asked, “Can we stop at a village?”  I agreed and we turned off the highway into a narrow unpaved road that led to a village. Haystacks, cowdung  cakes slapped on walls, cattle tethered to trees, a small yellow painted temple, a banyan  tree under which sat some men on charpoys in desultory conversation. Everybody looked up as our van passed and stopped near the tree. I  got down first and greeted the men, introduced the visitors as school teachers and asked, Is there a school here?  Within minutes a small crowd had gathered, men and women, the women with their faces covered , and hordes of small  children in minimal clothing, curious, jostling to come close and catch their our attention. There were lots of questions from the villagers and the visitors; I was the interpreter. We visited the one room school a distraction for the children seated on the floor chanting their arithmetic tables in a monotone. The male teacher asked one of the children to read from their English reader and encouraged them to speak to the visitors. Their conversation in English was usually limited to the question “What is your name?” followed by suppressed giggles.

We were invited into homes, and in answer to our questions they explained the working of the chulha, the grinding stone, the fodder cutter. We were a group of women so it was the women who asked us questions. It was embarrassing when some of them touched stockinged legs to feel the nylon and wondered why the skin was so smooth and shining!  They touched blonde hair and asked if it was natural. Were they married? How many children did they have?  If they were unmarried, there was the inevitable question,   why have you not been able to find a husband? No question was too personal.

The Americans had their own questions usually about village and agriculture. Where did they get water? What hospital facilities did they have? Didn’t they have toilets?. Where did they go, the women, for privacy?

Then came the inevitable question: what caste are  they? What religion?   While so many questions were being asked back and forth, one of the Americans repeatedly and persistently nudged me to ask them their caste and their religion. I knew they were all there, Dalits, Muslims, Yadavs, Brahmins. Should I ask, who among you is Dalit, which one a Muslim, etc. ? But I only asked, What caste are you? There was a moment of silence, then an old Muslim woman answered . “In this village we have only one caste. We are all Poor.”

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Udai Pareek, a friend and mentor

Udai Pareek, a Friend and Mentor

It was a balmy day in February 2010. We were enjoying the beautiful ambience of the ECC campus in Whitefield, its tall trees and birdsong  were a welcome oasis amidst the noise and bustle of the city of Bangalore. A group of young students, undergraduates from different colleges  in south India had gathered for a workshop on self-development and leadership organized by my  office, the Educational Resources Centre Trust. With me were  Sachin and Shailendra, two of our student alumni who had been part of our campus workshops which my Trust had been instrumental in starting in 1995. Like so many college and high school students who had participated in these workshops, they had gone on in their professional lives to practice what they had learnt in these workshops in ways to influence young people  towards greater awareness and self confidence in their work situations and  develop their life skills. Sachin has had an impact on many young people with his counseling role; Shailendra, now a teacher continues to work with Sachin in developing tools for career counseling

We were there for a student workshop, but that evening we were waiting eagerly to greet someone who had influenced all three of us in immeasurable ways.

Udai Pareek’s plane was late. He arrived escorted by Philip Rajan who had met him at the airport, and stopped en route at a restaurant to get him something to eat. It was characteristic of Udai that rather than complain about the delay, he waxed eloquent on the quality of the “set dosa” he had enjoyed!

We spent the next morning describing to him our project on career counseling for students and a tool that Sachin and Shailendra were developing,  to assess the young person’s aptitude and interest in choosing a career. Udai listened,  provided them with suggestions, his insights and his critical inputs.

I left them at their discussion to conduct the workshop sessions.  When I returned he asked me when he could meet with the students. I hesitated; he was not well with bad bronchitis and I did not want him to strain his voice, but he insisted. The hour long session that followed  will remain in my memory for his skill in processing their questions and answers, and the impact it had on the young people. Their diffidence and awkward expression melted into enthusiastic and articulate participation.

Udai was to leave late the next morning for lunch with a colleague, after which he would go to the airport to take his flight to Jaipur. He had had a bad night; I was awakened by his coughing in the room next door. We had breakfast together. I asked him if I may take him to my son’s hospital nearby for medication but he forcefully declined.

Our conversation turned to personal beliefs and philosophy, on medicine and treatment. Udai was an atheist. He said little to try and convince others of his belief, but was stubbornly against any rituals or religious practices. Rather than prayer, a positive attitude, courage and determination to face problems were stronger forces in healing. He told me that he had indicated in his Will that his body was to be donated to the medical college for study and research. There were to be no funeral rites or memorial services.  I was not surprised when Anagat called to tell me this, when he passed awayH

Memories of my last conversation with him in February 2010 at ECC Bangalore are still so fresh. As always, saying goodbye to him left me with the anticipation of another occasion where I could discuss, argue and learn from him. The “processing” was always stimulating.  But this not to be.

Everything he taught me came to my mind as I wrote my Convocation address to the graduates of North Maharashtra University, in late February at Jalgaon.  I sent the speech to him by email for his comments, and despite his ill health,  I received a prompt email of approval, which I treasure.

It is two years since Prof. Udai Pareek left us, but I remember him not just today, but practically every day when I work, write or talk to students, because of the way he changed me and my thinking.
I am sure all of us who had the good fortune to be with him remember him in different ways.
I thought I would write on the anniversary of his leaving us, in a silent tribute to remember him with gratitude for his teaching and guidance that I have been privileged to receive..
There is no adequate way that I can describe or accurately assess the impact of Udai Pareek on academia and in his chosen field of work. Some great people leave their footprints on the pages of history books through their deeds, their work, their writings. But the greater ones are those like Udai Pareek who have left an impact on the hearts and minds of students and colleagues and influenced so many with his wisdom, humility and unfailing generosity.  There are few like him who will continue to guide in his modest invisible way, for generations to come.

Marc h 21, 2012

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Dr Udai Pareek, 1925-2010

About 35 years ago in 1975, two scholarly gentlemen undertook a consulting assignment to review L&T’s performance appraisal system.

The outcome of the assignment was historic because it resulted in the formation of the country’s first formal HRD department at L&T.

The two gentlemen were Dr Udai Pareek and Dr T. V. Rao. If you have attended and benefited from a Human Process Laboratory (T-Group) conducted by ISABS (Indian Society for Applied Behavioural Science), one of the persons you should be thankful to is Dr Pareek, because he was one of its founding members. If you are a facilitator and have looked for tools and instruments in human relations and OD training, there is a good chance that you might have found many designed by Dr Pareek.

If you were ever looking for a framework to improve the role effectiveness of employees, you could not have missed Dr Pareek’s landmark book Making Organisational Roles Effective.

Dr Pareek, fondly called Udai by those of us who have had the good fortune of knowing him and aptly called the father of the HRD and OD movement in India, passed away on March 21, 2010.

Dr Pareek was the Chairman of EMPI’s Udai Pareek HR LABS and distinguished Visiting Professor at the Indian Institute of Health Management & Research, Jaipur.

He was the former Senior L&T Professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and the only Asian to become a Fellow of the National Training Laboratories (NTL), USA.

He was Chief Editor of the Journal of Health Management and a Consulting Editor of the Journal of Applied Behavioural Science.  He was also the first editor of Vikalpa and has been on the editorial boards of Administration Science Quarterly, Organization and Group Studies, Psychologia and so on.

Dr Pareek authored and edited about 30 books and over 360 papers and was awarded several national and international awards.


I see process work as enriching my professional role as a trainer and a consultant as much as helping me as a person and in my personal world(friends, family). I have found several challenges which beckon me to new voyages: moving beyond intrapersonal processes to group processes and societal processes, searching the Indian heritage to learn the dynamics of process work in different settings, extensive use of process work in various aspects of the society , addressing urgent social issues (differences, marginalisation, harmony, collaboration, equity, empowering) through process work and so on. It is exciting to work with younger colleagues who are the torch bearers to usher us into the next century, which we hope will be brighter and more humane.



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