Thursday, October 16, 2014

Import of Naranath Branthan's acts

Like every other geographical location, myths and folklore abound in Kerala. Parayi petta panthirukulam is one of the most popular amongst them. The story dates back to the famous Brahmin scholar of Vedas and Astrology, Vararuchi, who was one of the nine gems (Navaratnas) in the court of King Vikramaditya.
The legend goes on to say that Vararuchi, on his travel to Kerala, married a girl Panchami, as he was impressed by her intelligence and believed her to be of Brahmin origin. However, he did not know the truth that she was nurtured by a Brahmin but was actually born of low caste – that of a Parayi (Pariah – socially ostracized and therefore Pariah or outcast). This wedlock begot twelve children, eleven of whom were asked to be discarded by Vararuchi himself, the strange logic being that if God has provided a mouth, the child would live. This weird behaviour made Panchami sad and when the twelfth baby was born, she said he was born without a mouth. Unfortunately what she said came true and the boy had no mouth! Vararuchi is said to have taken the boy to a nearby hillock, where he turned into an idol. The deity on the hillock thus came to be known as Vayillakunnilappan, literally meaning the ‘Mouthless God on the hill’.  The other 11 members of the clan are Agnihothri, Pakkanar, Rajakan, Uliyannoor Perum thachan, Vallon, Vaduthala Nair, Karakkal Matha, Uppukootan, Pananar, Naranth Branthan and Akavoor Chathan. Parayi petta panthirukulam, literally therefore means the "twelve castes borne from Pariah woman", is an important legend which probably highlights the evolution of the social fabric of ancient Kerala.
Naranath Branthan
Naranath Branthan Picture Courtesy:
While all the twelve are unique in their own way, Naranth Branthan occupies a prime place as he is known as the lunatic prophet. Thiruvegappura and the nearby Rayiranelloor Mountain in Palakkad District, which is known as 'Branthachalam', became his usual abode. Due to his eccentric behaviour and unusual actions, people perceived him as 'mad'. At Rayiranellor Mountain on the 1st day of the month of Thulam he is said to have had the vision of the Devi (Goddess), and later for the benevolence of the people he enshrined Devi in the Mountain and started his worship there. No clear descriptions have yet been received of Naranath's last days. The Rayiranelloor Mountain is 500 feet tall and has a width of 300 acres. It was believed that Naranath Branthan would roll big rocks up the mountain painstakingly and once it’s reached atop he would roll them down. The sight of the rolling stones tickled him to no end and he would break into rapturous laughter.
Naranath Branthan’s with his acts of rolling stones uphill and then rolling them down reminds me of Sisyphus, in Greek mythology. But Sisyphus is condemned to roll a rock up to the top of a mountain, only to have the rock roll back down to the bottom every time he reaches the top. While one acted out of sheer volition, the other did it to atone for his sins. In any case, Albert Camus in his book “The myth of Sisyphus” identifies Sisyphus as the archetypal absurd hero, both for his behaviour on earth and for his punishment in the underworld. To him life must have been a constant struggle, without hope. Naranath Branthan’s actions however assume great significance. It simply conveys a universal truth. It’s so difficult to achieve things (rolling rocks uphill) whereas it is a no-brainer to fail. Another philosophical import of his strange act could be to illustrate the vain effort of humans to achieve something “great”. In today’s world of selfies, likes and shares, when people go to any lengths to achieve perceived fame, real as well as virtual, this is so topical. Pleasure of such achievements is so very ephemeral.  It perhaps lends insight into the immediate emptiness one feels after success. Rolling stone uphill over and over again signifies our struggle behind something else, and once the target is achieved, we go on the same trip again. It seems like an act of constantly refuelling the emptiness with more empty, meaningless wants and needs. Here again he asserts the absurdity of human actions.
Today marks the 1st day of the month of Thulam, the third month (mid-October – mid November) in the traditional Kerala Malayalam Calendar. And today many people climb up the Rayiranelloor Mountains to relive the mythical legend of Naranath Branthan, who is said to have had the darshan of Devi on the 1st of Thulam. More than just climbing up the hill for old times’ sake, it would be even more meaningful to reflect on the acts that we engage ourselves in. For, Naranath Branthan’s as well as our own acts are mirrors that much help us keep perspective and refine our own lives – and well, give meaning to ours!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Looking at Possibilities

While doing my MOOC with Coursera on Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence*, Prof. Richard Boyatzis, the Course Instructor shared with us a host of videos that were inspiring. Of it all, the one that captured my attention and being was that of a YouTube video on Under Four Trees – a school that was started by Mrs. Zikhali for a small community in Nkomo Primary School in rural KwaZulu Natal, Mnqobokazi, South Africa. The amazing project is sure to leave you inspired. Do watch this link below – and if you are in the field of education, this is a must watch.
To me it focused on two things:The power education can wield even making the poorest of the poor, rich.Passion for what one does can convert all of the problems into possibilities.
Two wonderful lessons. It is not that these are eureka moments – it has always been there. However, when one sees the fruits of the events through videos and films, it conveys home a very strong message, and encompasses you with an unshakable faith that there is nothing that we cannot accomplish. 
When Nomusa Haslot Zikhali, the Principal, reached Mnqobokazi to start the school, she was flabbergasted. There were no buildings. No resources. Just a wild field replete with undergrowth and bushes. The challenges were too many. Inclement weather. Rains that would make the stream they had to cross overflow with water. Crocodiles in the stream. Dust laden winds. Parents wanting their children to look after cattle or even younger siblings. And that was when she decides to move closer to the community and set up the school. She had to go from home to home in the community to impress upon them the need to educate their children. Her passion to educate these children weighed high than the troubles and travails.
In spite of that, in January 1999, there were just 10 children ready to join the school. And where was the school started? Under Four Trees!!! Each class – Classes 1 ,2, and 3 were allotted one tree each and the fourth one was Mrs. Zikhali’s office. As an educator, I am ashamed to say that I would have given up and just left the place for greener pastures. I am sure 99% of us educators would have done that. But not, Mrs. Zikhali. She persisted. And converted every problem into a possibility. The government did send other teachers to start the school, but they all gave up. Mrs. Zikhali on the other hand took the challenge head on. Thus from a one-teacher-220-student school, Nkomo Primary School has moved into another league now: 900 students and 23 teachers. Eight classrooms. And plenty of support from Africa Foundation to raise money for infrastructure.
Another challenge Mrs. Zikhali had to face was the presence of most vulnerable children in her school – whom she calls Child-headed Households, a chilling euphemism for those whose both parents were dead. Her school now has 153 of them – i.e. 17% of the under-13. To persist under these challenging and emotionally draining circumstances requires determination and the keen desire to make a difference in these students’ lives, which she had in plenty.  Her inspirational tale of nurturing, educating and transforming has been made into a movie called Under Four Trees by filmmakers Suzanne Cross and John Simpson.
Inspirational Leader
Inspirational Leader
Thank you Mrs. Zikhali for teaching me some very crucial lessons. The best one I will cherish and practice is to convert every problem into a possibility! If we look for solutions we can think creatively and find a way or two. However, many of us look only at the problems and therefore the possibility of a solution is just not there in the vicinity or in the periphery. May your tribe increase and be beacons that will enlighten the path of many educators like me.
1. Mrs. Zikhali’s photograph from http://underfourtrees.co2.
[* I wrote about being a fan of online learning vide my post Am delighted to get a certificate signed by Prof. Richard Boyatzis, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio and to have completed it with 84.5%. If you have never tried a MOOC, please do it today! :) ]

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Independence Day

Freedom. Ask me about it!!! :)
The very word conjures magic in my mind. With fascists, dictators and authoritarian regimes around the globe, proud to say that my country India stands high in a pedestal. 
@ 67 we have a whole lot of achievements to our credit.
Nation building...
Self sufficiency...
Improvements galore...
White and green revolutions...
Yet, methinks the SOUL of Freedom has deluded us even now...
To achieve that we need dignified, accountable politicians who will make our visions a reality, by keeping the interest of the nation at all times...
A well oiled officialdom, who will ensure that right things happen in the right way at the right time...
And a populace of patriotic Indians who will remember the sacrifices of the freedom fighters, not just on Independence or Republic Day, but each and every day, in fact every moment... and will live together in camaraderie and achieve all success together by keeping the secular fabric of the nation intact...
Into that kind of an India let us all awake! 
Let each one of us be the change we wish to see in and for our Nation - and make her truly, Sare Jehan se Achcha Hindustan Hamara...
Happy Independence Day, Folks!!!