Monday, September 29, 2014

From ‘Through Siberia by Accident’ by Dervla Murphy

…the passport officers eventually sauntered on to the scene, tired-looking young women with closed faces, replicating their Soviet predecessors. In a perverse way it cheered me that capitalism had not yet taught them to feign friendliness for the sake of the tourist industry.

…the new Moscow’s crime-ridden image.
To the casual visitor, poverty is more evident than crime, the sort of poverty never visible in Soviet times. Next morning, as I approached a skip ….. an old man, desperately seeking food amidst the household waste of this affluent district, seemed not to notice me. When he found a small plastic bag of stale crusts, discoloured lettuce leaves and chicken bones the relief on his face was harrowing to see.

……five-and-a-half day train ride to Tynda ….. How ……would a three-year-old react to five days confinement? …..I was deeply impressed by Dima. He never once woke up anybody, always peed in his potty at convenient times, was carried out to the loo once a day for more substantial matters, ate everything put before him, contentedly gazed out of the window for hours on end, his lips moving, inventing a game in his mind. When it suited his parents and sister they played with him but he never demanded attention though lacking all those diversions we provide for long journeys. In nearby compartments four other toddlers and small children were equally well-behaved and happy. Do the Russians have something to teach us about child-rearing?

Mrs Baranskaya volunteered to make up my bed, a touching gesture of welcome – characteristic, I was soon to realize, of the incomparably hospitable Siberians….

Because the multinational breweries’ advertisements give the impression that beer is almost a soft drink, it is now openly imbibed in circumstances where vodka would not be tolerated. Frequently I saw small boys swilling from cans, sold by most pavement kiosks, while awaiting their school buses. As Russia has been notorious, over the past thousand years, for off-the-scale alcoholism, it is hard to forgive those corporations now enticing young Russians to develop a pivo addiction

I had by then realized that the Siberians’ devotion to their domestic animals does not extend to guard-dogs who must endure a loveless life, forever chained, feared by all but their owners.

It is impossible to escape from any Siberian home ….Siberian hospitality is agreeably informal, strangers being absorbed into a family circle without ceremony, and no polite protests were made when I joined …..

……..Adam Olearius in the 1630s…made four journeys among the Russians and reported, in what became an international bestseller …..
After a meal, Russians do not restrain, in the hearing of all, from releasing what nature produces, fore and aft. Since they eat a great deal of garlic and onion it is rather trying to be in their company. Perhaps against their will these good people fart and belch noisily….. So given are they to the lusts of the flesh that some are addicted to the vile depravity of sodomy not only with boys but also with men and horses. People caught in such obscene acts are not severely punished. Tavern musicians often sing of such loathsome things, while some show them to young people in puppet shows.

….Russian bees have a long-established reputation for ferocity.

Feodor was one of those standard Muscovites ….who have missed out on the varied genetic contributions that make many Russians look interesting.

…Russian proverb: ‘We meet you according to your dress and see you off according to your mind.’

…Lake Baikal ….the lake’s emanations have influenced Severobaikalsk. I cant complain of unfriendliness anywhere in Siberia but this town’s relaxed amiability and spontaneity seem exceptional.

I like the Siberians’ tendency to congregate in their kitchens, invariably small but very much the centre of the home ….

A carefully conducted inquiry found that 67 per cent of boys and 46 per cent of girls regularly drank alcohol… comes from a 1901 survey of the recreational habits of rural schoolchildren, aged seven to thirteen, in Moscow province ….Alcoholism has afflicted Russians to an alarming extent since at least the Middle Ages …..

Sadly, it is not a sobering fact that today’s Russian adolescents are less likely to celebrate their sixtieth birthdays than the 1900 generation.

From ‘The Living Gandhi. Lessons for our times’ Edited by Tara Sethia and Anjana Narayan

‘So it comes to this that under exceptional circumstances war may have to be resorted to as a necessary evil …. If the motive is right, it may turn out to the profit of mankind, and that an ahimsaist may not stand aside and look on with indifference, but must make the choice and actively cooperate or actively resist’

For Gandhi, the drive to increase material wants is the essence of the modern West and its fatal flaw; it is the engine of imperial expansion, of economic inequality and exploitation, the seed of war and the cause of environmental despoliation.

…Gandhi admonished that ‘the test of orderliness in a country is not the number of millionaires it owns but the absence of starvation among its masses.’

Gandhi’s candour and integrity have the additional benefit of encouraging similar behavior among those around him: as Erik Erikson reported, ‘In his presence, one could not tell a lie.’

…..Macauley said:
the intellectual improvement of those classes of the people who have the means of pursuing higher studies can at present be affected only by means of some language not vernacular amongst them …..
a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia….
it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern – a class of persons in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect ….

Mahatma Jotirao Phule’s historic memorandum to the Hunter Commission in 1882 questioned the sociopolitical character of knowledge in education imparted by the British Raj. It lamented that almost all the teachers employed in the primary schools were Brahmins, not used to productive manual labour. Their students in turn imbibed ‘inactive habits’ and tried to obtain government service. Phule proposed that teachers of primary school should be those ‘who will not feel ashamed to hold the handle of a plough or the carpenter’s adze when required’ and who will be able to mix themselves readily with the lower orders of society’.

Gandhi asserted that:
The foundation that Macauley laid of education has enslaved us … [Was] it not a sad commentary that we should have to speak of Swarajya [Self-Rule] in a foreign tongue?

….Nai Taleem ….whatever be taught to children, all of it should be taught necessarily through the medium of a trade or handicraft …. The brain must be educated through the hand.

He warned that education through English medium has resulted in ‘a permanent bar between the highly educated few and the uneducated many’ and ‘made our children practically foreigners in their own land.’

…the social character of the occupations that Gandhi envisaged for introduction into the curriculum. These occupations included spinning, weaving,…..tanning …..pottery, farming, ….building and cleaning latrines … Without exception, all these occupations involved manual work and were undertaken primarily by the lower classes/castes viz. Dalits, tribals, Other Backword Classes and Muslim artisans, with the women among them playing a significant role.
The political message is inescapable: accord these occupations and the communities engaged in them a central place of dignity in the education system that was never their destiny in Indian history.

….educationist Krishna Kumar noted that ‘a low-caste child would feel far more at home than an upper-caste child’ in schools pursuing the Gandhian curriculum, thereby making ‘the education system stand on its head.’

When children learn through productive work, the Macaulayian practice of prescribing textbooks would become superfluous, just as Gandhi had passionately argued. Instead of textbooks, each school would have a reference library or resource material drawn from both local and global sources as well as texts, oral or written (now multimedia too), prepared by the community and children themselves. This radical concept of how children learn should enable the school collective of students and teachers ‘to seek answers to the questions that arise in their minds … queries would reflect the nature and the stage of their engagement with the physical and social world around them’. Expectedly, the ‘path to knowledge will thus become entirely open-ended, non-linear and contextual.’

At the end of the Wardha Conference in 1937, Gandhi said, ‘I have given many things to India. But this system of education …is, I feel, the best of them.’ Yet, what to Gandhi was his best gift to India is precisely what the Indian state negated. …..India continues to adhere to the Macaulayian framework instituted more than 175 years ago!

Gandhi realized that the knowledge that the constituents of the informal economy – that is, farmers, artisans, women, adivasis and small retailers – possess is found abundantly in society. However, this lokavidya (loka = people/world, vidya = knowledge/skill/art) does not have the prestige enjoyed by school and university knowledge. Ordinary life and work are not even considered knowledge-generating activities. Gandhi’s economic programme was intended to take full advantage of the knowledge found among the people in order to make economic development inclusive for all.

….Gandhi’s economic and political impulse was to decentralize rather than centralize. Village industries (or ‘dispersed industrialization’) and panchayats, two cornerstones of Gandhian economics and polity, are testaments to this fact.

…..Gandhi says
….we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use. Provided this character of the industry is maintained there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines and tools that they can make and can afford to use.

Not only does small-scale and dispersed industry rely on a widely available knowledge base, but in turn the presence of a thriving industry itself creates the conditions for an intelligent populace. Thus:
Since the wanton destruction of this central village industry and the allied handicrafts, intelligence and brightness have fled from the villages, leaving them inane, lusterless, and reduced almost to the state of their ill-kept cattle.

…Gandhi’s insistence on craft-based production by the masses (as opposed to capital-intensive mass production designed by experts) can be seen as not only a response to mass unemployment, but also as an attempt to preserve the link between the masses and science.

Gandhi’s criticism of modern science is that its supposed objectivity or value-neutrality (the so-called separation of fact from value) actualy hides a value system that can be just as easily anti-human as it can be pro-human. Similarly, knowledge gathered under the command of capital must submit to profit as the most important value. In contrast to knowledge gathered in the regimes of science and capital, lokavidya can be defined as a knowledge system that does not claim value-neutrality nor accords primary place to profit, but instead keepst at its centre the value of lokahita or sarvodaya

….Gandhi attacks ‘Western civilization’ not because individuals influenced by it are selfish and greedy – indeed individuals in any civilization can be so – but because this civilization makes greed and selfishness into ideals to be aspired to.

‘What I object to is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labour-saving machinery. Men go on saving labour, till thousands are out of work and thrown on to the open streets to die of starvation.’