Sunday, July 09, 2006

Hop, Skip, Travel and Ruminate

The past one month has entailed hectic travel for me. From Delhi to Mumbai to Chennai to in and around the Northern part of Tamil Nadu and the Southern part of Andhra Pradesh...the going has been swift and has been never ending.

My yearly/once-in-two-years jaunt to the state of my roots, Tamil Nadu always brings two aspects, nostalgic memories and beams of ideas about what to do in the future. The pull of my roots is an invariable force that goes along with my peripatetic life. The force reaches irrestible proportions when I reach my ancestral village(s).

This visit to my ancestral village(s) was different in a way, because now I was a social scientist with a 2 year gestation period of learning Political Science (apart from tinges of working economics, history and sociology). Hence this time, my eyes were keenly observing patterns ...such as the kind of political parties that were dominant in these areas..the structure of caste hierarchy that was so clearly visible...the decline of the rural economy and the obvious patterns of migration that seemed so apparent. Tamil Nadu's flourishing trading and service economy was also visible...

The decline of the rural economy was the most distressing aspect that could be discerned from this visit. Clearly farmers and agrarian workers were looking for opportunities beyond rural areas and were migrating in numbers to the flourishing urban areas and getting integrated with the service economy. Urban settlers (for a longer period of time) were in the meantime sending their children to the innumerable engineering and medical colleges and they are in turn joining the software sector in droves. Perhaps a longer stay could help me discern the status of the much vaunted manufacturing sector in Tamil Nadu.

The efficacy of the state as a service provider in the transport sector however has remained intact. Tamil Nadu still looks among the best in roads, essential bus services, a kudos that was always reserved for it for a long time. The education sector also seems vibrant. The explosion of technical and professional colleges seems continual despite reaching critical mass. Perhaps a study of the impact of private college education also needs to be done, the back-of-my-mind keeps reminding me.

Meanwhile the frequent train travel on second class berths across the breadth of the country toward and from Delhi/Mumbai/Chennai is teaching me several aspects too. My interactions with my co-passengers (mostly from the lower middle, middle and lower classes) have earned me rich insights. For example, a talk with a trader in Delhi told me how small traders (the typical constituency of the BJP) were facing trouble due to globalization! A 1 hour talkathon with a retailer put things about FDI in retail in perspective. Listening to woes of co-passenger textile workers in Mumbai gave me inputs about the lives of skilled artisans in the unorganized sector.

A few encomiums to the Indian Railways are also necessitated. Fares on the Indian Railways are very much affordable. The fact that the IR has attained surplus profits without any concomitant increase in fares is telling on how essential social services can be effected in tandem with sound business. An India Today survey on ministers ranks Laloo Yadav high. A IIM A Professor confesses to recommending privatization for the IR, which was heading toward doom in his opinion and is now whisking students to the Railway Bhawan to learn new lessons from the success story of this PSU. Concomitantly, an article appears in the Hindu on the PSU story and the role of the Ideological state apparatus in creating a negative aura about Public sector units.

A fifteen day hiatus in the constant travelling is used to help out with pamphleteering for the reservation campaign. This was perhaps my last contribution to student activism in the role of an insider. Personally, this past two months have been tough on my gray cells. Decisions on what to do in the future have occupied most of the time. From questions on my career goals (whether to remain an activist academician grad student in line to enter politics or become an academician grad student with options to pursue in the future), to the invariable pressures and pulls from friends and family on what to do next, mental stress has never been this tough. In the end, I have caved in to popular pressure and have taken the easier pursue graduate education in the country I that loathe for its international policies, the United States and land up in academics and pedagogy back in my country after completing grad education. The redeeming factor is that there are as much serious and intelligent dissenters about policy making in the United States whom I adore as much there are outside. Perhaps I can make the best out of this decision and keep my heart and mind equally happy.


Dust-Biter said...

Good seem to have come to terms with yourself (as seen in the closing lines)...

As I always say, one can disagree with the policies of US but one can never ignore US :-)

Wish you the best.


Srini said...

Thanks, Simha. You said it right. Its always a tough thing to marry emotions and ambitions.