Skip to main content

the year that was at Samanvaya...

as the year 2010 comes to an end, a quick look back -

...the year 2010 started in a flurry of activity, none more significant for me personally than the release of "Param - Positive News", a news letter with positive ideas, people and initiatives. it was released during the annual "Ennangalin Sangamam" meeting (which happens each year on the first Sunday of the year) in Chennai. Positive News represents the aspirations of several people, that, there ought to be a news journal dedicated to carrying positive news about whatever goes on all around. The release itself was a major event, with spontaneous team forming towards putting together the journal and several others coming forward to participate / pitch-in for the idea.  Editing Param through one of the intense time of changes in the office was tough, but, also rewarding in terms of its impact, the number of positive stories that it carried and highlighted the efforts of the small person, did matter to others in similar situations. 

The Editorial that I had written is being republished in similar Positive News journals in other parts of the world. Currently, we are going through the pangs of  any such truth centric start-up and I am sure we will be able to bring the subsequent issues once we address all our distribution and sponsorship issues.

...we had also started the year in the middle of the anti-Bt Brinjal Campaign as part of the Safe Food Alliance. Our office (the earlier one at Mylapore) had been converted to the campaign office, we had several interesting meetings, campaign movie was discussed and released, being part of the meeting with the Chief Minister that led to the state government expressing its apprehension and then the rally in the Beach protesting against all GM Food. Thanks to the democratic process of decision making in the sensitive issue proposed and praticed by Jairam Ramesh (the only Minister in the central cabinet with any respect left), we are saved from the GM Food for some time (though it is already being eroded through another regulation going by the look of it). He has been rated by more than one new mangazines and groups as the 'Man of the Year' and I fully subscribe to such a labelling (though I have my apprehensions about the purpose of such annual labels). He has been consistent, intelligent and most importantly transparent. Transparency has been a premium in Indian politics this year and he is our only premium league member.

Safe Food Alliance (SFA), a small initiative of a few individuals has through the Bt Brinjal campaign become a important advocacy group. though we still remain informal network and all of us work under our own banners, its work is defined by the immediate issues on food safety felt by the ordinary person and the work itself has been organized, managed and executed by volunteers. Volunteers who have as always come from several walks of life, some to retain contact and become friends, many just expressing solidarity on the issue and remain just a call away. SFA, like our earlier initiatives of Friends of Bhuj and Tamilnadu Tsunami Relief Initiative (TTRI), to me is another proof that we as a nation place immense pride and value in volunteering for the greater common good and will willingly not just participate dropping whatever we do, but, also, contribute and spread such efforts.

Personally, for me one of the most rewarding experiences has been showing the campaign film amongst village women and urban school children and finding out that there are common threads in response that indicates a value of reverence to food. 

'what were doing in Andaman?', was an exotic question that I have been posed this year as most associates knew that I was in the island tip of India a few times this year. For over a couple of years now, a collaborative initiative is being executed to create newer forms of rural livelihood options based on local resources amongst the Nicobar islands. In evaluating the stated objectives of the programme against what had been executed, it was interesting to understand the larger issues of the Andaman & Nicobar islands. the islands maybe a great place to holiday, beautiful photos to show, but, very difficult and trying place to live. elderly military service men in distant islands that require at times 4-5 days voyage to reach, narrating the horrors of the post-tsunami relief efforts and how many parts in this difficult terrain has still not been cleared, was a painful learning experience. the way the government treats the local (tribals) in these islands is indicative of how they are treated across the country. the urgency with which we want them to modernize, the need for the forest lands to be encroached, the priorities of the government as against that of the people, particularly, locals...if 'development' debates across the country can be concentrated and some more added, that is the Andaman for you. serene, peaceful, beautiful, yet...anyway, thankfully, some good sense prevails and the initiative will henceforth be driven by the locals for their needs, our assessment helped, I hope...

(the pic. above is a collage of several sunrises i witnessed this year in different parts of the country, from the himalayas to the andaman islands)
association with Varanasi Weavers Foundation, an institution involved with creating a new form of business that will profile and support highly skilled weavers of Benaras has meant several visits this year to Benaras, to  provide inputs in management, to facilitate a few changes, to participate in discussions on future the year draws to an end, it is heartening to see that he efforts are paying off, there is definitely a change in the way things are happening and the future under a new team is poised to stabilize and grow...visiting the timeless city has left me with several interesting tales, an acquired taste for the Benaras paan, new lessons on how to eat sweet and an appreciation of the leisurely lifestyle and some understanding of the culture of the city (experience including an unforgettable late night classical concert on the ghats of Gangaji). if there is a place for cows in India, it is the streets of Benaras...

...i need to mention that the experience of the Benaras paan is worth it, in Benaras. Unlike what goes for paan elsewhere, overstuffed, too sweet and deliberately made costly, Benaras paan is extremely simple, yet, very local and complex to make. the native betel leaf has two varieties called, 'maghai' (the yellow thin delicate melting variety) and 'jagannathi' (green leaf), with the leaf coming from Bihar (Magadh) and Orissa (Jagannath's place) areas respectively, the chunna and kathai are applied in two different ends of the short maghai along with the supari. that is all to the paan. it is the freshness of the leaf, the few ingredients, the way it is prepared and processed, that gives it the flavour and the leaf just melts in the mouth. the banarasis hold it that you can't get it anywhere else, you can't even carry it as it has to be consumed within an hour of preparation preferably. 

A course on managing Community Owned Social Enterprises (COSE) was co-launched along with CCD, Madurai at the Sadhana Institute, in Sevayoor near Madurai in August 2009. Samanvaya has evolved this programme along with the CCD team and several others. The course started with the challenge of whether men from within the rural communities who through their association with the NGO have stumbled into the concept of Social Enterprise can be equipped with skills, knowledge and orientation to manage such enterprises in their villages themselves. We started this as an exploratory process, thanks to the CCD's commitment to delegate their managers to begin with.  We did away with the conventional idea of a 'course' or a 'programme' and adopted a model whereby the 'students' spent about 4 days a month with the 'faculty' during which they broadly picked up knowledge in several management subjects apart from skills in several areas including accounting, computing and language. The candidates tried some of what they learnt through the month in their areas of work and came back with experience and learning for the next month, their case stories and situations are the only lessons and their notes only course material...they also undertook several action research assignments including "village institutions - traditional and modern", "rural markets and domestic consumption patterns", "traditional knowledge in daily life", etc., the candidates have also benefited from several "visiting faculty" who have shared with them topics ranging from philosophy, tamil literature, limitation of social sciences, design and indian idea of aesthetics, mainstream marketing techniques, etc.,

We have committed to give three years to shape this course and at the end of a year, the learning for us has been immense. The candidates too have repeatedly acknowledged that they have benefited substantially in their areas of work. The beauty of training for enterprise is of course, that the benefits are often tangible and immediate. but, for me the most satisfying result has been the acceptance of the candidates to own up to their local issues and community identities, and, willingness to lead through addressing immediate issues in the communities. we still have more than a year to go, however, despite several limitations, these have been the most satisfying days of the year. 

Sustainable Enterprises Development in Auroville Bio-region (SEDAB) is a large, concentrated and collaborative initiative of several units from within Auroville along with the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. This initiative envisages setting up of several rural enterprises utilizing the eco-friendly technology and solutions that have been developed by Auroville based institutions. The project is awaiting financial sanction by the Government, however, has already started its activities. From the concept to the current initial phase in execution, the project has traversed a long distance and we have been part of the team shaping the idea, facilitating and currently closely working with the executing team on the project. Auroville is a place of  people with amazing talent, extreme dedication and higher aspiration. It has been a pleasure to work, learn and grow with the idea amidst the creative energy such people bring in. We have committed to be with the project during the initial phase of the first year and continue to facilitate at the underlying knowledge dimensions of the project.

In the context of this project,  i also met some very dedicated and wonderful government officials at different levels, actually one with whom i am extremely impressed. it has given some hope that the bureaucracy may be wrong, but, at times if the right people are on the job, it can still be tweaked to perform for the people. 

One of the amazing people we have had the opportunity to get associated with this year has been Dr. Sailaksmi of Ekam Foundation. We have been briefly associated, but, have been stuck by her drive, dedication to the cause of serving poor newborn and faith in the goodness of people to accomplish the seemingly impossible task.

Research work as part of the Multiversity for me has been to look at the Indian Psychological traditions. This is an area with much work already, yet, some critical components missing. It has been a privilege to meet and understand some practising version of Indian Psychiatry from some very interesting people across the land all through this year. I hope to have a draft paper on this subject early next next. We had also launched the Multiversity Forum in Madurai and held a few meetings earlier this year. The new Multiversity Website carries our link rather prominently as a Multiversity institution, i consider this a honour to be in the same page as activists legends such as Md. Idris and Claude Alvares.

Samanvaya continues to maintain the online repository of Dharampalji (, with a few minor modifications this year. This includes removing some of the volumes from the online medium for clean-up and further work.  We were happy to facilitate organizing the release of Dharampalji's book, 'Understanding Gandhi' in Tamizh and also play a small role in an ongoing movie project on his work and ideas. I also had the opportunity to be associated with creation of the WiKi entries of both Dharampalji and Dr. C.V. Seshadri. The larger Samanvaya Website still remains rather out dated as modifying it would be an independent project by itself for which we haven't found the time.

We had to forego the Samanvaya  Freedom Lecture after 7 years of consistently organizing it. I had already posted a note on the same earlier in this blog. One of the important influences and associations this year has been that of Jaishankar, who has been associated with the COSE effort at Sevayoor since last year and more recently with the Kapas organic cotton project of Upasana. Samanvaya has benefited through his association and commitment to natural farming and understanding.  We have also benefited through the association with Kapas project, having gained much understanding regarding the complex cotton and textile issues. 

Another rare honour this year was to be given the opportunity to nominate the dedicated work amongst the Leprosy Afflicted Persons (LAP) by the team headed by Shiva at the Ramakrishan Mission, Chennai for over two decades for the Dr. Sanjeevi Awards.Such recognition for dedicated work is certainly a great encouragement for grassroot workers and motivates others.

On the negative side, we have not updated/communicated often enough and several invitations for sharing or work through writing, discussing and/or sharing sessions have been marked "to be followed up" and left unattended to in the mail box. I have not been able to provide much time for blogging. 

Overall it has been an extremely active year (I may have left out a details and several projects as I haven't followed a strict "reporting" format here) with several learnings and satisfaction of having contributed to a few good ideas. Except for an encounter with an research agency that failed in research priorities and a few NGOs who failed to understand what they were supposed to know (what's new there, anyway), it has been good association with most institutions. We had moved office from Mylapore to Tiruvanmaiyur earlier this year and will move again in the new year to Velachery (await announcement on that). Samanvaya has changed its tag line after much contemplation to "truth, simple, small...shaping actions for a better planet".  This is in line with our conviction that today, more and more institutions and ideas need to align with truth, stay simple and small. 

As we close the year, there is much to look forward to and a much to look inwards too. I am thankful for several friends who have consistently been available to us and given us valuable feedback and shared their concerns, without blessings of such souls, we wouldn't be around. Thank you and greetings for a peaceful new year. 

Ram, Chief, Samanvaya
24/12/2010, Chennai