'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

South-West and North-East

This Mullaperiyar Dam thing has been going on for a while. Panic (whether grounded in facts or fanned up by selfish politicians is not quite clear but the panic itself is very real) has gripped upwards of a million people in central Kerala; in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu, processions are being taken out, provocative slogans raised and effigies burnt; sporadic mob violence has erupted (in a particularly spectacular instance, a large troop of lawyers looted a few Keralite-run shops in Chennai and challenging the traders "Don't you dare to deny us water!") and there have been inter-state threats (backed by actual action) of road blockades and economic strangulation. The Center, which is said to embody Mainstream India (whatever it really is), has certainly not been silent: Every few days, it generates reports on the lines of: "We shall facilitate a frank discussion to solve the Dam issue - Manmohan", "We reserve the right to intervene in this inter-state matter and shall intervene at the appropriate juncture. But first, there should be peace - Manmohan", "Everyone should exercise restraint - Sonia", "The Prime Minister Understands our Concerns - Oommen Chandy", ...

Keralan representatives at the center have dutifully joined in churning out similar samples of equivocation and quibble. The gem: the other day Central Minister Antony said something like this: "I do have my own viewpoint on Mullaperiyar but I don't have a standpoint."

The general Keralan public (especially those in the valley downstream from the dam) have begun to feel the rest of the country and the center in particular does not really care. That (Medha Patkar apart) major intellectuals/activists have not made any meaningful noises has begun to vex not only the local intellectuals. For example, I had expected Ramachandra Guha and Arundhati Roy to either endorse each other or tear into each other on this issue; in my limited knowledge, neither has done either.

Some Keralan politicians, allegedly only regional satraps, have already issued statements which go: "The Center and the mainstream media should shed their passivity. Kerala is a part of India and its people are Indians and have a right to live in this country!".

Note: Shashi Tharoor, Kerala politician, central legislator and intellectual (the only such combination) did say things like: "A new dam is the only way out... If the present dam breaks, studies have found that the impact would be that of a hundred odd atom bombs going off!" But all that was in mid-December; Tharoor has since fallen very silent indeed, maybe under orders from above.

Now, if one were to reason that the Center cannot possibly be too concerned about what happens in far corners of this huge country, I can say with conviction that it certainly is not the case: a couple of years back, a rather short-lived blockade of the road link to Kashmir had triggered frenzied action among big political and media players. And whatever happens with Gujarat since the horrible events of 2002 is always BIG.

But the people of Mullaperiyar valley (and the South-West in general) do have solid 'company'. One just needs to look right across the country and see how much the 7 North-Eastern states have mattered to the 'Mainstream'. After nearly a life-time of independence and national integration, the only news items that filter in from that other corner of India are the "Believe it or not" types - a lady activist's 10 year-long and ongoing hunger strike, a 100 day plus blockade of a city by restive tribes, participants in a procession by agitating tribals getting thrashed and worse in Assam, a group of Manipur ladies daring the Indian army to "take their flesh"... Each of these a by-product of a problem ignored and allowed to fester interminably(*). Indeed, one hears more about how immigrants from the North-East are racially taunted in Mainstream India (Delhi in particular) for their alleged "Chinese" features - and the standard protest of the victims is said to be "Hey, we too are Indians!".

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Perunthachan Connections

I often refer here to the great cycle of Keralan myths called 'Parayipetta Panthirukulam' - the lives and adventures of 12 divinely gifted siblings of antiquity. Some of the siblings were historical figures but were not all contemporaries in any strict sense - the poet/sage Tiruvalluvar ('Vallon') who lived around the time of Christ was one of the brothers and so was Uppukoottan, who was a Muslim and hence could not have lived before 7th century AD. It was clear to me from a long time back that several members of this legendary fraternity were non-Keralan or non-Mallu - the aforementioned Tiruvalluvar, Tiruppan Alwar (Pananar) of Srirangam, Karaikal Matha (the 'lady' of Karaikal, a place on the Tamil coast)... were all clearly Tamil. But I was quite sure that Perunthachan, master craftsman and practical trickster, was out and out Mallu. And now, I have to correct myself.

'The Hindu' recently had an article on Vettuvan Koil, a rock-cut temple deep in Tamil Nadu. A significant Pandyan achievement along with the more famous paintings at Sittannavasal, the site has a mix of Jain and Hindu sculpture and architecture. Some superb details have been captured on this page:

Therein lies a Perunthachan connection. 'Vettuvan' in Tamil could mean either 'carver' or 'slasher (killer)' and refers to a local legend about the master architect/sculptor who built this koil (temple). While work was in progress, this guy murdered his even more gifted son in a fit of jealousy. As penalty, he had to leave the project unfinished; Vettuvan koil was never consecrated. This story line faithfully echoes (or anticipates) the (Keralan) myth of Perunthachan dropping a heavy chisel to sever his brilliant son's head. Note: While the Tam version of the legend is somewhat obscure, the Keralan counterpart is well-known.

I recall that near Chennai there is a place called Vettuvankeni (Vettuvan's tank/pond). I have not been there but I suspect it might have been the site of another of Perunthachan's achievements. Here is the story: a temple management hired Perunthachan to dig a ceremonial tank but the project soon ran into serious trouble as the trustees were totally divided on the shape the tank ought to have - some wanted a square, some a circle and others a rectangle .... Perunthachan worked out a complex, "egg-like" geometric shape which could indeed (!) look like all of these specified shapes - when viewed from suitable vantage points. The tank was soon ready but in a final twist, it was never used - most rituals need to be performed with reference to the cardinal directions and the tank was so disorienting that even east and west could not be made out!

Personal: I spent several months last year searching for the convex planar shape P with the property: if two mutually identical (congruent) convex shapes of largest area possible are cut out from P, the largest fraction of P's area goes waste. I could not solve the problem properly ... but I am tempted to christen the mysterious shape of P, the 'Perunthachan Oval'. Some details are here:

The name I propose is aided by this bit from Wiki: an oval is any curve resembling an egg or an ellipse, but not an ellipse. Unlike other curves, the term 'oval' is not well-defined and many distinct curves are commonly called ovals.