Wednesday, May 30, 2012


A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books As our plane descended over Kochi, my daughter said "look Papa. solar panels everywhere. The people of Kochi must be energy conscious". I looked down and saw shimmering in the sunlight bright sheets of steel. Later we learned that the roofs of houses in Koch had a sheltered space for drying clothes during the long monsoon season which lasts nearly 4 months. The drive from the airport to Palavivattom where we stayed was thrilling, the road clean and the traffic manageable. We stayed in Hotel Rennai Cochin, a well maintained hotel will all modern amenities. Of all the cities that I have visited, I think Kochi is by far the most interesting and though my stay was short, I loved every minute of it. Cochin has a long history and everywhere the past creeps up and confronts the visitor. The island on which the port of Cochin stands was the creation of a natural disaster in the fourteenth century which reshaped the coastline of Kerala. The Portuguese were the first to arrive here and in 1661 were driven out by the Dutch who controlled the valuable spice trade of the Travancore kingdom for nearly 132 years. On January 8th 1663 the Dutch seized Fort Kochi and the Queen of the Arabian Sea had to compete with other suitors for the attention of the Dutch Administration. Batavia and Cape Town were prefereed by the Gentleman XVII of the VOC. In 1741 the Dutch were defeated in the Battle of Calachel and the English became the dominant power in the Malabar region, though the power of the English was contested by the rising garrison states of Travancore and Mysore. The prosperity of the town is reflected in the many Dutch buildings that festoon Fort Cochin. The "pepper highway" brought huge profits to the European companies creating problems for the Mappillas, the Malabar Muslim community, who slowly faced economic stagnation as a direct consequence of the monopoly over the pepper trade established by the Dutch, the Portuguese and finally by the English. The history of Cochin's encounter with the resurgent Europe is found everywhere, particularly in Fort Cochin and Bolghotty Island. We started our tour of Cochin with a visit to the Sacred Heart College, Thevara, in which I had some official work. The College is well maintained.
Cochin is famous all over the world for the small community of Jews who migrated to this port town to escape persecution during the frequent outbreaks of violence against them in Europe. India can be proud of the fact that when Europenas were killing Jews as recently as the German Holocaust in the 1940s, India protected and patronised the jewish population. Unfortunately the silly policies of Nehru di8d not enable India to develop good ties with Israel. The Jewish quarter is replete with history.
The shops alongside the Jewish Synagogue are full of interesting alcoves where one probably can get genuine antiques if one's pocket is deep enough. The churches of Cochin are a marvel. One of the oldest churches in Southern India is located in Cocin. The Santa Cruz Basilica which was constructed by the Portuguese is an architectural marvel.
The seascape around Kochi has now become nerve center of oil terminals, container docks, ship building platforms, naval yard and a score of other unlovely things. Yet the Arabian Sea around Kochi retains a grandeur that is best witnessed when one takes the boat ride around the harbor. Kochi has some incredibly beautiful spots and the area around the High Court is one such.
The beauty of the buildings, the historical sites of memory, the grandeur of the sea around Kochi will linger long after one has left this beautiful city. My daughter, her friend Divya and Sandesh visited an elephnat training camp and here are the pictures:
Like all good things in life our trip to Kochi too came to an end. We a heavy heart my daughter and I packed our bags and returned to Pondicherry. But we took back from Kochi memories that will live in our hearts forever. KOCHI YOU ARE THE QUEEN OF THE ARABIAN SEA

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Kerala, Violence, Piracy and the past

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books The killing of two fishermen by Italian marines on the High Seas has led to a diplomatic row between India and Italy. In spite of the Congress dominated UPA Government giving contradictory evidence, the judicial process is still on track. The recent killing of T P Chandrasekaran has brought home to large sections of the Indian public that God's Own Country is rife with violence and Kerala with the highest rate o9f suicide and literacy must reflect on its own past to understand the reality it faces. The so called Communist faction dominated politics has given the state a thin veneer of sophistication which is wearing thin every passing day. Kerala historians eager to please their party bosses create a history which ignores the reality of Kerala's past. Thus the very questioning of the senseless acts of violence indulged by the Mappillas of Malabar during their frequent outrages will be branded by the so called progressive historians of Kerala as a reactionary/communal interpretation. Indian historiography is still stuck in the prehistory or Jurassic park of polemic and abuse rather than seasoned discourse. I think al_beruni was absolutely right when he said that Indians do not have a sense of history. The killing of the two fishermen ought to provide a moment of reflection: Is the Malabar Coast piracy prone and what reputation does the coast of Malabar enjoy in existing historical sources. The Malabar region and the seas adjoining Calicut have the reputation of being the most pirate infested through out history. K N Panikkar and other Pannikkars following him do not want to admit that piracy was an important aspect of the Malabar economy through out history. Since Kerala did not have a highly developed Governmental institutions we can say that piracy operated in tandem with landed and merchant groups especially during the late medieval period when the price of pepper rose in the international market. Some even glirify piracy as resistance to the Portuguese naval power. During the so-called "Sangam Age" which is only a literary culture, Kerala is said to have had extensive trade with the rst of the world, particularly the Roman world. The Roman Empire had extended upto Egypt and Alexandria became an entrepot for Indian exports. Pliny the Elder whose statement about the gold being drained by India because of Roman thirst for luxuries from mthe Orient is known to every school boy, also lamented that Malabar was full of pirates. The records from the Cairo Geniza, the Jewish depository for paper containing the name of Jaw eh, has a document that record the plight of a Jewish trader who was robbed twice on the way to India and back. Both times he blames the pirates of Malabar. Marco Polo very eloquently records the presence of pirates in Malabar and cautions people from going there. From Maghreb, we have the famous Ibn Battuta who said that Malbari pirates were rife in the coastal region of Calicult where he landed. Ibn Battuta was attacked by 12 warships and the envoy to Vijayanagara from Moscovy, Nikitin also compalined of pirates in the seas around Calicut and Kochi. From the Portuguese period onwards we get the chronicles of Barbossa and Tompires which speak of pirates harassing the Portuguese shipping. Of course by this time Portugal had acquired virtual stranglehold on the pepper trade and the Mappilla traders were reduced in economic status as a consequence. It is in this set of changed circumstances that the statecraft of Zainuddin al Malbari must be viewed. He wanted a grand alliance of all India kings against Portugal. Instead of fabricating progressive history it would be far better if historians of kerala start looking at Piracy as a factor that shaped the social and economic life of people of Malabar.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Twenty Second Convocation of Pondicherry University

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books
Today the 22nd Convocation of Pondicherry University, a major central university of India, was held and as is always the case the event was choreographed to perfection. The University has seen a fantastic progress during the course of the past few years particularly during the administration of Professor J A K Tareen the current Vice Chancellor. I had to attend the Convocation in the usual academic robes and I most most impressed with the Convocation Address of Her Excellency Nirupama Rao, India's Ambassador to the United States. The D Litt (Honoris Causa) was conferred on two distinguished individuals:Justice M N Venkatachaliah and Her Excellency Nirupama Rao. Both have achieved a high degree of recongined stature in their respective field of endeavor. As Chief Justice of India M N Venkatachaliah was instrumental in shaping jurisprudence in a fundamental way and he also presided over the Commission set up to Review the Working of the Indian Constitution. He gave an erudite speech in which he effortlessly flitted from quantum physics to literature to history and he spoke of the convergence of different streams of science during the course of the present century which will enhance the life span of people. Her Excellency Nirupama Rao spoke with a clipped accent of one well trained in the corridors of power. Her Address was inspiring as my young daughter who attended the Convocation was most impressed with her speech. Being a serving Ambassador she could not touch on aspects of Indian foreign policy which are controversial. However, she did recognize the vital importance of maintaining friendly relations with China. I personally believe that India must do more to improve relations with China and must not make the blunder of coming under the influence of the USA which regards China as a threat. India can learn a great deal from China and I wish the speaker who was an envoy in China had spoken of this as well. The number of students in the University has increased 7 fold and this year 85 Ph D degrees were awarded and the picture captures one of then receiving her degree from Nirupama Rao.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books Shri T P Chandrasekharan, an activists of the CPM and a follower of V S Achutanandan, the former Chief Misister of Kerala was brutally killed near Calicut yesterday. The life and death of this 51 year old Party activist illustrates the perils of Indiasn political life. By all accounts this man was a committed party worker who joined the Student Federation of India and rose through the ranks. Extremely popular with grass roots workers, this activist had built up a following for himself in the Communist stronghol;d of Onchiyam. In the recent polls his Revolutionary Marxist Party won the Panchayat polls and this seems to have alarmed the faction led by Pinyari Vijayan. Even the Congress Home Minister of Kerala T Radhkrishnan has hinted at the involvement of the Pinyari Vijayan faction in the killing. The CPM and the Muslim League both practice the politics of violence in Kerala with great abandon. Who can ever forget the brutasl killing of Balkrishna, the schoolmaster who was killed in front of his students in the classroom about a decade back. The highly politisised nature of Kerala society has led to a situation in whcih political violence has become the tool for maintaining control over the cadres. The frequent hartals and strikes have given Kerala the reputation of being a state on the brink of anarchy. I cannot understand why politics cannot be conducted in a civilised manner in Kerala. I must say that Tamil Nadu too is given to violence. Shri T P Chnadrasekaaran was travelling on his two wheeler when 3 or 4 men armed with country bombs and sharp weapons waylaind him and hacked him to death. One more loyal party worker was sacrificed on the red altar and I am sure that within days there will be a retaliatory killing and the spiral of violence will spin out of control like what is happening in Rayalseema, Andhra Pradesh. Political parties like the Congress and the Communist factions and of course, the Muslim League which promote violence in the political realm must be banned from Inidan politics. League which promote criminalisation of politics and deploy litical Shri T P Chnadrasekaaran was travelling on his two wheeler when 3 or 4 men armed with country bombs and sharp weapons waylaind him and hacked him to death. One more loyal party worker was sacrificed on the red altar and I am sure that within days there will be a retaliatory killing and the spiral of violence will spin out of control like what is happening in Rayalseema, Andhra Pradesh.