Sunday, August 31, 1997

KTWV02-Issue 7: BBC deabate in Stephania Land

Fellow Stephanians,

Here I am again folks.

I hope this time round that I will have input from all you Stephanians out there to ensure that I can keep up this web zine for as long as I am able.

I start with a very nostalgic moment of this week.

I was not able to tune in to BBC World Service at 5 pm last Sunday (24th August 1997) to hear International Youth Debate which was billed to come from Delhi. I had to pick up my better half from work just during that hour. This year she is having a holiday looking after a museum which is open on Sundays during the summer and autumn (she gets to work when she gets home to look after this slob).

Come Monday morning, at 11.15 am on a beautiful early autumn morning, I sat comfortably next to my Sangean digital shortwave set and tuned in to BBC to listen to an edited version of the previous day's debate.

Like International Question Hour (as readers who read the LATE LATE NEWS will know, the programme on which I put a question to Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General), given a chance I always take time off from my absolutely Stephanian-like schedule (in short - bumming around) to enjoy these well organised BBC listener participation programmes.

The topic of the debate chaired by Britisher - Ms. Sahara Chauhan of the BBC was "50 Years of Independence and Still No Freedom".

(I hope all the characters mentioned here will excuse me if I do not have all the names correct as they were deciphered over the usual radio noise and the general assumption that everyone in the world understands a name spoken over the radio).

I was happily surprised (although I do not know why - after all, from where else can a debate in Delhi come from), just as when someone serves up Sherry Trifle for dessert, when Sahara announced that the debate was coming from our beloved institution, St. Stephen's College, Delhi.

Sahara asked Vinembra Agarwal to put forward the proposition. Vinembra did this in a masterly fashion as only Stephanians know how.

This transported me through time to the lively debates that I had listened to and participated in during the early sixties in the Assembly Hall

(I was never of top calibre debating skill during my time in Stephen's with the likes of Montek Singh Alhuwalia and many Aiyars (Mani, Swami and friends) around, but I had my day when I was later in London where my fast-talking Stephanian PJ skills shone against the rather mediocre mundane natives of England.)

The main thrust of Vinembra's argument was that as 97% of Indians are in the unorganised sector, 30% live in abject poverty, and as the per capita income is just $340, in the main areas of life, economic, social and political, the mass of Indians can by no stretch of the imagination be considered free (freedom being something which is individual-oriented) even after 50 years of independence. Vinembra said that freedom was only on paper. Discrimination of all communities (ironically, presently including the upper classes) was a fact of life and the corrupt political system was so evident that today a politician was able to install an unelected person, his wife, on the throne as Chief Minister when he was being hauled over the coals for possible corrupt practices!

Certainly a strong opening shot. I waited with bated breath for the reply.

Jaideep Bagchi was asked to respond. This was a well-grounded presentation in true debating fashion - not just a reeling off of counter arguments. Jaideep argued that independence is the freedom of the individual to choose. The fact the Indian electorate has on several occasions removed Governments, the most notable being Indira Gandhi after she imposed her emergency for 2 years, showed that India had a responsible and knowledgeable electorate.

Jaideep certainly had the audience moving in his direction with his arguments and elocution ability.

When the topic was then opened to the floor, the question of the literacy level in India came into question. With this came the usual question whether better education would result in freedom. It was here the bourgeois opinions started to tumble out when the elite(?) of society, Stephanians, linked education with literacy?

The arguments were strong and fierce but, in my opinion, they all missed the vital point about what is education?

Is a farmer, who can till his land at the right time using all the correct agricultural practices which have been handed down from time immemorial and not corrupted by present day non-eco type agricultural methods, and who produces bumper sustainable harvests from his small tract of land, but yet is unable to read and write or even sign a piece of paper, i.e., illiterate by standards laid down by the UN, uneducated?

Or, is education only achieved by becoming a Stephanian?

Moving to the second half of the proposition, Abajit Safiriyan was asked to present the future scenario.

Abajit used a very appropriate simile when he alluded to the bribery and corruption that was in place in India and that it was like a cancer which could not be cured by just a dose of chemotherapy. Abajit made a strong case that if India and Indians really wanted to be free, then, like the cancer or tumour, major surgery was required and the offending organ had to be removed by its roots.

Rahul Uspana was requested to respond. Rahul made a spirited attack on the proposers. He pointed out that today, 14 parties were in coalition to form the United Democratic Front Government in Delhi, with many States of the Union having completely different political parties in power, but yet able to form a national framework government. He drew reference to a few statistics, that exports were up 13%, the gross domestic product had increased by 7% and that India's market share of the world economy had doubled since independence. He projected that freedom would continue to increase for all Indians with greater globalisation.

Although there was not a woman debater on the dias, there was much solid contribution from the opposite sex from the floor. Certainly made my mind to wander back to our female-free environment of the sixties!!

The crux of the debate suddenly revolved around the fact that India had taken 200 years to attain Independence and hence 50 years was just a short period of time in a nation's history. As was succinctly put, the British had suggested that India should have independence when the people were "educated" - which undoubtedly would have been on a never-never basis!!

A key issue arose when Sahara posed the question whether everyone considered India was a happy land? Another question that came into the debate was how and when inequalities in society would be eliminated? Unfortunately, no clearcut answers to these questions emerged during the debate.

Sadly, the time flew by so quickly that the edited version of 45 minutes was over before I even realised it, ending in a vote, with 21 for the proposition and 34 against.

Personally, on a debating basis, I would have tied the debate, as all four participants were superb, in their debating skills and the content that they presented. I would have asked the (British) Chairperson to give her casting vote, but Stephanian dry vindictive humour was sadly not to be seen here in that context!!

I must admit that Sahara did a very professional job in the chair, almost as if she were a Stephanian (compliment or insult - Sahara?).

What was so illuminating was that even after a period of just over 30 years, although a generation may have passed, over the radio waves it was as if I was listening all over again to my friends and colleagues debating in the auditorium.

The attitudes and the stances were typically Stephanian in character and roused memories so poignant that as I looked out over the gleaming golden sunlit autumn leaves on the trees which surround our wooden arctic hut, I was transported back to the early wintery feeling of Stephen's as we congregated on the lawn, fringed with a few rose bushes, in front of Mukerji Block to debate the burning issues of our then world - whether the Mess Secretary should be fired for the lousy aloo-gobi served up for lunch, whether Sukhia's barfris were indeed the best in the world or at least in the Stephen's compound (our universe), or whether Deepchand was really the best barber/masseur in Delhi?

Well done Stephanians and thank you for dropping in to my home on that day (and in passing - also thanks to BBC!!). Hopefully, I have taken the mood to all those web surfing Stephanians who missed your performances.

One more news item in this issue that should interest Stephanians is that The WEEK, the Indian weekly from Cochin has come online. The latest cover story concerns none other than, guess who - a Stephanian in trouble.

You will remember not long ago I mentioned how Rathikant Basu, a good friend and colleague in college in the early sixties had been appointed as the head of Star TV India by Rupert Murdoch.

It seems that jealousy has taken hold of the situation and Rathikant is in the middle of a fantastic storm that is rocking the Indian establishment. The WEEK has featured it as their latest cover story. It is a good read.

Since The WEEK is also run by two Stephanians, and is a sister publication of this (our roots are the same as we are all of the K. C. Mammen Mappillai - Malayala Manorama stock), it is worth a read as the back-up Stephanian publication on the web!! [ :-) which means broad smile for some of you not so web savvy Stephanians]

Of course, nothing could replace Kooler Talk (Web Version) as your primary No. 1 Stephanian web magazine - it is your magazine which I am privileged to host!! [because this old badger thought of it FIRST]

I hope all of you will take note and feed me with stories and anecdotes to keep this a lively web site in its reincarnation - something which is quite common for Kooler Talk per se. Do let me know whether you feel it should be a monthly or a quarterly, or God forbid - a fortnightly. I do not want to penetrate your lives too much with too many scandulous stories - but a few contributions would be worth receiving.

Thank you for bearing with me as I have invaded your privacy yet again!! More in awhile.

Your (g)host (PJ of The WEEK?)

Jacob Matthan,
Honorary Editor,
Kooler Talk (Web Version),
Oulu, Finland