Sunday, October 14, 2007

KTWV 08 Issue 39: Issues continue

I am not surprised that the issues regarding the appointment of the Principal, as well as the Vice Principal and the Bursar, are still continuing.

Yesterday's New Delhi edition of The Hindu had a report Notices issued over St. Stephen's appointments that says that the petition states that the appointment of Rev. Valson Thampu as the Officer on Special Duty is illegal and as there is no Principal, the appointment of the Vice Principal is also not legal, and also the appointment of the Bursar is also illegal.

NEW DELHI: The National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) on Thursday issued notices to Delhi University, Chairman of the Governing Body and Supreme Council of St. Stephen’s College and the University Grants Commission on a petition alleging illegal appointments of college Principal Valson Thampu, Vice-Principal M.S. Frank and Bursar N. Raghunathan.

It pains me greatly to see Stephanians, anonymous letter writers, a Bishop, a Principal not acting as Principal but enjoying his posting as a Vice Chanceller in another University, and other grown men behaving in a manner which is totally non-Stephanian in character, and certainly not Christian.

With this sort of disturbing story hanging around the neck, no amount of great work or positive programmes will be able to get the necessary traction, and the only thing that suffers is the wonderful name of our College.

I wish that people would learn to work with each other in the spirit of what was instilled in me as a Stephanian in the early 60s. And for wanting that I am being labelled as a fundamentalist Christian!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

KTWV 08 Issue 38: 25 years on

Posted on my Jacob's Blog and the Stephanian Kooler Talk Blog.

On Tuesday, I went Oulu Airport to receive a friend, a very dear friend. In fact, my very best friend when I was in College between 1960 and 1963. He was my inseparable friend of those years.

Ajay arrives in Oulu.

Ajay Verma did Mathematics Honours between 1960 and 1963. Like me, he lived in Mukerji Court. There was only one Mukerji Building block those days. He was in T Block while I was in S Block. We went together for breakfast and dinner. Spent the evening hours after college together going for some scrambled egg on toast for tea and later, after dinner again went to the Cafe to have coffee and a smoke.

We played table tennis together in the JCR or played chess, draughts (checkers) or bridge. He was my bridge partner and together we almost won the first JCR Bridge Championship, except to beaten on the very last hand by the twins, the Rai brothers, Suraj and Chander, who bid an unbelievable 7 spades against our bid of 7 clubs and made that hand. Only the intertwined thinking of identical twins snatched certain victory out of our hands!

Ajay came to College from Pondicherry, where his mother lived in the Arubindo Village. He completed his pre-university from Loyala College, Madras before joining College, although he would have preferred to do engineering at one of the IITs.

Ajay left college and joined the Indian Army by going to the Officer School at Dehra Dun. From there he went into the artillery at Deolali near Nasik and then to Cooch Behar in West Bengal. He was sent to the front line in the war against Pakistan and had the narrowest of escapes when the shelter he was in was blown up just a couple of minutes after he had stepped outside for a cigarette. (So I hardly blame him for continuing this habit!)

He left the army after the war and joined Bata's as a trainee and worked in Calcutta and Faridabad. Ajay did not see much future then and set off to Canada to make his fortune. He stopped at Copenhagen, met his life partner, Else, and settled down in Lund, Sweden. He started work in the Hotel industry and worked for SAS Hotels and then in Airline catering till he finished his career with a series of jobs in SAS Radisson, ending at the Beijing hotel till his retirement late last year. He now consults but is enjoying himself in retirement dabbling in the Swedish stock exchange, more for fun than profit.

He has bought an apartment in Pondicherry and is off in a few days to winter there, away fron the dark and cold winters in Scandinavia. Unfortunately, before he could enjoy his time there, he got news last Friday that his 91 year old mother had passed away.

Ajay talks to Else in Lund.

In his "busy" travel schedule, he has done 15 long haul flights this year, he took a few days off to drop in on Annikki and me. I was wild with him when he told me that when we were meeting after 25 years, he was off in just 3 days. But things were happening in Lund, so I had to let him go.

Ajay sees a windy blustery autumn sunset in Oulu.

Annikki at the Nallikari beach.

Ajay at a windy Nallikari.

During the time in Oulu we had a rip roaring time that only dear friends can enjoy together. We shared news about our past lives and careers, laughed incessantly at all our past pranks, I showed him my small town and with Annikki enjoyed the bitterly cold wind and amazing autumn sunset of the Oulu Nallikari beach.

Like me, he is an early riser, being up ay 5 am, so we enjoyed long days together. It was with great sadness that I bid farewell to him on Friday morning and it was as if a void had descended on Kampitie after his departure.

It is already time for Ajay to leave.

The real spirit of Stephania prevailed in our residence for the short time he was here, urging me to give serious thought to organising a reunion of 1960-1963 Stephanians in Delhi in 2009, when Annikki and I are scheduled to make our next visit to India.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

KTWV 08 Issue 37: Ragging gets into the limelight

There has been much written in the last few days in Delhi newspapers about an incident at College, first reported as a Ragging, then as a case of inebriated students doing something crazy and then as a minor prank in which the pranksters had been suspended by the College authorities.

From the reports that I read, it appears that four senior students sprayed some cologne on a fresher and then threw a match on him, causing minor burns.

Firstly, this could never have been ragging. Ragging that takes place in College does not extend beyond the first two to three weeks of a new academic years. In September, one is looking at the end of a whole term and no fresher would be ragged that late in a term.

This was very obviously misbehaviour of four students and the decision of the Principal to suspend the students was probably correct.

All of us old timers of the 50s and 60s have all been ragged. I do not think any of us were any the worse for the ragging we went through in the first two weeks of College, after which we made good friends with our seniors. Most of us who were sports oriented were soon sharing the playing fields with our seniors and enjoying a great relationship.

Ragging was hard, but it was also great fun as the seniors tried to outdo themselves in finding new and interesting, yet amusing ways to rag the freshers. No harm ever fell on anyone being ragged.

Ragging "officially" ended after Freshers Night in the Junior Common Room (JCR), which was quite a hilarious affair as freshers were dressed up in fancy dress and the competition to find the "Miss Fresher" was the highlight of the evening. That was the time we had no girls in residence (or College) and the Miss Fresher was the sweetest looking young male student. (Real names not revealed her, but Daisy was Miss Fresher in 1960 and Susy held the title in 1961. I do not remember the name of the Miss Fresher title holder for 1962! Anyone remember that?)

I was ragged by several seniors who later became my good friends.

When it came to my turn to rag, unfortunately, or fortunately, I was standing for the post of President of the JCR, so I did no ragging.

However, one day, I happened to be sitting in a friend's room where some jovial ragging was in progress, when Dean Rajpal walked in. He reported all present to Principal Sircar to take action against us, with possible suspension.

By that time I had been elected as President of the JCR. I met with Principal Sircar, not so much to plead my case, but to tell him what the other students were up to was just a bit of harmless fun.

Principal Sircar knew what the meaning of ragging was and dismissed the whole incident without any further ado.

The following year, I did no ragging except one case where one youngster I had never met was getting off ragging by claiming his close connection to me. I put him straight and that was the end of ragging per se.

Between 1960 and 1963 I know of no case where there was anything but light-hearted fun.

I wish those who are the powers that be will intervene to separate ragging from causing willful hurt, and that the process of breaking the ice between seniors and freshers can be done in an organised manner which is fun for all.

Ragging in end September - impossible in St. Stephen's College!

Monday, October 08, 2007

KTWV 08 Issue 36: Philip Mathew hits 60

Philip Mathew (known to me as Thambi) was a Stephanian a few years after me.

Younger brother to 64er Mammen Mathew (Rajen), Thambi is also the father of a couple of Stephanian boys of the 90s. His sons are married to daughters of a Stephanian of my era, 63er Abe Tharakan, who is the sea food mogul of India.

Thambi manages the Cochin office of the Malayala Manorama. I also think he is managing the English publication of Manorama Group, The WEEK.

Among his interviews I think has been one of Nelson Mandela.

Please join me in wishing him a great 60th.

Friday, October 05, 2007

KTWV 08 Issue 35: Finland best for living?

Posted on my Jacob's Blog, the Cathedral School Seventh Heaven Blog and the St. Stephen's College Kooler Talk Blog.

In a Readers Digest report just released titled Study says Finland best for living and which was covered by Reuters, caused Annikki and me to think about our combined life in India, Finland, Sweden, Germany and England over the last 60+ years.

This evening, we went to the Nallikari beach for Annikki to collect stones. (I just walk around doing some photography with my lousy camera) and help her carry the collection to the car!

The yellow, gold and red autumn leaves were strewn all around, truly beautiful.

The autumn sunset was glorious. It felt as if we were lifting off into space!

Looking at these photographs of today and the peacefulness that surrounded us on this beautiful autumn evening, maybe you and we can agree with what has been claimed in the report!

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The Nordic countries are the world's greenest and, despite the cold winters, Finland is the best country to live in, according to a Reader's Digest study released on Friday.

Finland was followed by Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Austria.

"Finland wins high marks for air and water quality, a low incidence of infant disease and how well it protects citizens from water pollution and natural disasters," the study said.

My having lived here for the last 23+ years (of course, Annikki was born here and lived the first 18 years of her life here) makes it difficult for us to either agree or disagree with even this specific conclusion.

Annikki said that when we came to Finland there were several reports saying how unhealthy the tap water was in Finland as it was over-chlorinated. In her opinion, things have not improved since then.

She queries the validity of this report as the source of the data is not known to us. If it came from Government sources, then both of us agree that it is a load of bull!

Finns are great at creating a golden image like a beautiful polished apple, but remove the skin and we will find many worms gnawing away inside.

Many environmental activists also may not agree with this study done by U.S. environmental economist Matthew Kahn, who looked at issues such as quality of drinking water and greenhouse gas emissions as well as factors such as education (totally stereotyped) and income (low after high taxes without corresponding benefits).

When we look at education in Finland, there is nothing even coming close to the level of "education" provided by my alma maters, Bishop Cotton School (Bangalore), which had 7 playing fields for its student in its town centre campus, Cathedral and John Connon School (Mumbai) and St. Stephen's College (Delhi).

Incomes are certainly not high. Retained income is low. Savings are virtually non-existent.

But people feel they are rich because of the easy accessibility to long term low interest loans that enable them to enjoy their "own" homes and new cars and other material benefits!

But that is certainly not a reflection of the income standard in Finland.

Certainly, I do not drink anything but tap water. Annikki and many others tend to buy bottled water. Many go to bore well taps located around the city to collect their drinking water as they do not think the tap water is healthy.

My philosophy has always been that tap water contains all the germs and bacteria that our bodies require to build resistance to the local environment. Avoiding that diminishes our natural resistance.

It used to be said that India had the greatest advantage with regard to germ warfare as all the Indian Government had to do was export water from Calcutta!

My health over the last 23 years compared to most others I know in Finland proves my point of view. I have had no major or even minor illness during that time and never lost a day of work during my working life.

Mathew Kahn obviously did not meet the many thousands of Finns who suffer terrible allergies to dust, pollen, cat fur, dogs and many edible items as nuts, milk, etc. etc. Our grandson, Samuel, is a typical example - allergic to tens of things!

This is a direct consequence of a bad environment and living practices, so this would contradict his conclusions.

Finland is a great place to live if you follow the rules we have laid out in the book "Handbook For Survival in Finland" written by Annikki and me which was published in 1994.

But for others - life can be very very difficult on all fronts.

Our new Findians Google Group, which should go online in a few weeks, will tell you many of the pros and cons of working and living in Finland and the changes that have occurred during the last two decades.

So stay tuned!