I went to Kolkata to deliver Kristodas Pal Memorial lecture on 24 July. Coming from an economically backward surrounding, he went on to become the editor of Hindoo Patriot, a nationalist weekly newspaper published from Kolkata that played an active role in exposing the oppression of indigo planters in Bengal and igniting the nationalistic fervour among the educated masses. He was a civil society leader, a politician and an educationist.
Far ahead of his time, like Rammohan Roy, he helped usher in new and progressive ideas which brought fruit years later. It was he who ideated about self-rule in India, which years later Bal Gangadhar Tilak made his mantra of ‘swaraj’. He talked about ‘bloodless warfare’- an idea which found resonance in Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of ‘ahimsa’ years later. As an editor he showed how to criticise the government, strip it naked for its folly- without making it an enemy. Through his writings and addresses he tried to secure justice for the masses.
Kristodas Pal (1838- 24 July 1884) would be remembered for his vision, wisdom and fortitude. On his 135th death anniversary he is more relevant than ever before.
Pondicherry (officially it is now Puducherry), a French colonial settlement in India until 1954, is now a Union Territory town bounded by Tamil Nadu. After reaching Pondicherry, it is really difficult for outsiders to now which part of iT is in Tamil Nadu and which is in Pondicherry. A stretch of street could be in Tamil Nadu followed by Pondicherry and again Tamil Nadu. My local friend tells me that a simple way in which one can know where are you is to look for liquor shops. As there is less tax on liquor in Pondicherry, there are more number of liquor shops in Pondicherry part.
Pondicherry’s French legacy is preserved in its French Quarter, with tree-lined streets, mustard-colored colonial villas and chic boutiques. A seaside promenade runs along the Bay of Bengal and passes several statues, including a 4m-high Gandhi Memorial. Statues of the French generals are still there, but they have been shifted to the farthest corner of the road.
Politics in Puducherry
Besides the beach and Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry or its modern avatar Puducherry is also known for its politics. Puducherry and National Capital Territory of Delhi are the two territories which have democratically elected governments like Indian states. Puducherry assembly has thirty three seats (30 elected and 3 nominated). As the number of electorate is very small, every MLA candidate here tries to develop a loyal vote bank or try to buy votes. Therefore ultra local issues and money play important role in Puducherry politics. Money is increasingly playing its role practically everywhere. But in Puducherry the scale is mind boggling.
I was invited for some academic work in Pondicherry University . Founded in 1985 by the Government of India, the university is a collegiate university with jurisdiction spread over the Union Territories of Puducherry, Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
It has 50,000 students in its 90 affiliated colleges including 10,000 students in the distance education mode. The current strength of students studying on-campus stands at 6,500. It has a sprawling and very green campus. With students coming from all over India and abroad, it wears a cosmopolitan look. It has a Community Radio Station, which has an interesting content mix.
“Puduvai Vaani” is the Community Radio Station established by Pondicherry University with the support of UGC. The test transmission in our Puduvai Vaani was started on 23 August 2008. The full-time transmission started on 1 January 2009 onwards. The full-time transmission is going on air from 1 January 2009 onwards.
Puduvai Vaani was started with an aim to make people aware about various social issues The present in charge of the station Prof. Niveditha tells me that majority of the programs aired through this station are made by members of the local community after they are provided basic training in radio production. The students of Department of Electronic Media and Mass Communication are provided training in radio production here. Furthermore, students from other departments are encouraged to participate and create radio programmes for the community. It also serves as a training centre for mass communication students of other colleges, who undertake radio production training for a fee.
Banner Culture in Pondicherry
You’ll find all kinds of banners and flex in Pondicherry. No where in the country have I found so many banners proclaiming a birthday party or a marriage.
Interestingly, the design of the banners follow a pattern. At the bottom you’ll find small mug shots of friends and relatives, some with their sunglasses. (This, I am told, is the latest trend: a profile shot with sun glasses) At the middle you’ll have mid-size photograph of the birthday boy/girl/baby/ couple, if it is a marriage banner. At the background on the top will be the photogrpah of one or political leader or great leaders or religious gurus. It shows the allegiance of the concerned person/family.
Despite a specific law (Puducherry Open Places (Prevention of Disfigurement Act) 2009), and overzealous attempt by the Puducherry Governor Dr. Kiran Bedi to pull down the banners- there are more banners per square feet area in this city than any other city of the country.
Call it a fad, call it a trend- people of Puducherry love to flaunt themselves on the banners. The local flex printers are laughing all the way to the bank.