April 1, 2018

Dear Colleagues
Since random reflections began fifteen years ago, we once again arrive on April first, in some quarters known as April Fool’s Day. Here again:
  • In the rapid growth of new institutions of higher education, several campuses have been built in remote rural areas. Many of these professional public and private universities recruit students from across the country. New infrastructure in campuses contrasts substantially from surrounding rural areas. Mostly English speaking students from upper middle class urban families inhabit such campuses, creating major contrasts with local culture in language, dress, food habits, music, etc. Similar situation arose in 1950s when new public sector industry was set up in remote rural areas, hoping for growth impacts in surrounding regions. A visit to Hindustan Aeronautical Ltd factory in Koraput (Odisha) may show otherwise!
  • Traditional herbal treatments for maintaining good health have always combined body with spirit. African herbal medicines are in this respect very similar to traditional systems of medicine and health care in India. A champion of such traditions—Wangoola Wangoola—found such parallels between ceremonies and rituals in India and his native place Ginja, source of the Nile (modern Uganda), where human evolution began. Reclaiming such indigenous health traditions and practices has been possible only through mother tongues. How many languages are being lost and forgotten in pursuit of human ‘progress’? Mono-cultures of languages does not bode well for the ‘health’ of humanity?
  • Kuwait has been a major port on the Persian gulf for centuries. Its strategic importance for trade and defence has been realised over the millenniums. Surrounded by Saudi Arabia, Iraq & Iran, it offered an important sea and land route connection over a long period. Music, arts, poetry and other cultural practices developed in this region over centuries. Today, Kuwait hosts two higher education Institutions devoted to theatre and musical arts; it has a museum-cum-library of Arabic poetry and several large libraries with strong collections of old manuscripts.
  • Examination fever in India grips students this month as they prepare for High School examinations. More than the students, their parents are anxious, trying to nudge and support their kids to prepare and do well in those exams. On top of that, there is the spectre of ‘leaks’—exam papers are leaked to some for a price in advance. Such phenomenon adds further tension to an otherwise highly strung period. Do other countries also face such anxious periods of ‘examinations’? Are papers regularly ‘leaked’ out in advance in other countries too? Do any countries have ‘cheat-proof’ examination systems?
  • For eight days in March, Hindus and Christians were fasting together in northern India. Christians have been observing 40 days of ‘lent’. Hindus were fasting during ‘Navratras’. And calendars merged in such a way that March 25 was celebrated as ‘Palm Sunday’ by Christians, and ‘Ram Navami’ by Hindus. During a recent visit to the Grand Mosque in Kuwait, the local Arabic guide explained so beautifully that Torah of Moses (for Jews), Gospel of Jesus (for Christians) and Quran as recited to Prophet Mohammad by Angel Gabriel (for Muslims) are part of the same genealogy of faiths—love for all!

Happy Easter to you all!


Rajesh Tandon