Thursday, September 9, 2010

Published in ‘The Hindu’, 27 Sep 1992
Adakkaputhur, Malabar
Shadows in the Lamplight
Vijay Menon
My mother and I made a trip deep into Malabar to see my father’s relatives. They were gentry in the hinterland of Adakkaputhur in Palakkad district. It’s a place I remembered dimly from my childhood. In my memories, my father’s tharavad, or ancestral home, was a sprawling tiled house on acres of lonely farmland where old people in white moved slowly through the verandahs. There was no electricity or running water. When darkness fell, the lamplight threw grotesque shadows on
the walls and beyond the courtyard foxes howled at the moon. Much of that has changed today. In Malabar at least, the hinterlands are no longer really remote.
They are mostly just a bus ride away. But the journey there is still beautiful. To reach Adakkaputhur, you take a bus to Palakkad on roads that are winding strips of tar on an undulating countryside, and get off at Perinthalmanna. From there you board a country bus that rattles you at breakneck speed to Cherplesseri fifteen kilometers away. The roads are narrow, the buses overcrowded and the frayed tarpaulin cover on the window flaps wildly in the breeze. The driver is always in a tearing hurry and you hurtle past green fields and blue hills clutching the seat bar for balance. You get off at Cherplesseri and stretch cramped limbs. You are in beautiful country in the lap of the Blue Mountains. The fields are green with rice sapling and the city is a world away. Up another bus and down another winding road to my father's ancestral place. Everywhere around you, the celebrated lush green of Kerala. The bus takes a sharp climbing turn and you catch your breath in stonishment. Towering over you, hidden a moment ago, is the stark face of a rock quarry. The granite and mud walls seem to rise vertically out of the green earth. The lorries at its base and the men hanging on scaffolding on the rock face seem incredibly small and brave against the harsh stone. You open your mouth to speak, the bus turns another corner and it’s gone. You blink startled eyes and turn to look again but the hills are once again thick and green. Was it hallucination or was it real? Three more kilometers down a side road in a neighborhood where everyone, even the bus driver, knows my uncle because he is the panchayat officer. You get off at a field beside a stile with a few steps leading up to a thorn-covered gate. The stop is simply called officer padi - the steps leading to the officer’s house. You step over the stile, open the gate and walk along the ridge between fields of green paddy waving in the breeze. Neatly laid irrigation canals brim with water. A thin old man with skin wizened by many summers in the sun herds a couple of buffaloes into the water. A small boy jumps in after them with a shout. When you pass by they stare at you silently and shyly smile.

This land belonged to my father’s family once. Lush green and healthy land, acres of rolling country. The houses and cottages that dot the land formed part of the estate. Does the family own any of it now? My father wouldn’t know. He left Kerala at fourteen for an education and a job in a far place he no longer knows who owns what and no one’s going to tell him. My grandmother can’t. She’s old and asthmatic and lives in a distant past inside her head. Reform and the new laws have in her own
lifetime seen her move from feudal over lordship to being a trustee of an entangled legacy. She now lives in a small cottage with a daughter and a large dog. Occasionally her sons drop in to check on her well-being. She will not go with them to the city. We talk of old times and new times. My mother wants to visit the big house where other relatives of my father stay. I don’t particularly know any of them, our ties are distant, but my mother is a stickler for the disappearing protocols and courtesies of the old joint family system. I borrow my uncle’s motorcycle and double my mother to the big house. This was the house of my childhood memories. The wooden rafters are still grim and the courtyard is still house to a brooding silence. The years have not diminished the house. In a curious way I’m glad. Many times in different places, I have returned to the places of my childhood and they have usually been lesser than I’d remembered. But here, the big house still
broods on the farmlands. The mango and jack trees and the inevitable coconut palms cannot soften the severity of its lines nor lighten its demeanor. But in the afternoon sun, the courtyard is bright and a child’s laughter brightens the murmuring
silence. I pass through a darkened room and overcome by a childish impulse I flick the lamp switch. Light pours out of a sixty-watt bulb. My cousins laugh when I tell them about my memories of shadows in the lamplight when we were children here together. They thump me on the back and tell me I’ve been away too long. Times have changed, they say. Of course they have. And yet. The land has changed hands and now the government, not the landlord collects the taxes . But when you walk on the fields in Adakkaputhur, you still sometimes pause and look back over your shoulder for no reason. This is a deep country and memories are long. The men are indolent, hard, and hint of licentiousness. The women are strong and suffering. At dusk,
when night approaches from the darkening hills and when the fields are empty, you tend to walk a faster step to the homestead. The confidence of day is now prey to the uncertainties of the night. And when night falls on the fields and the courtyards of Adakkapathur, the lamplight still casts shadows in the dark.
പി.ടി. ഭാസ്കരപ്പണിക്കർ
കേരള സംസ്ഥാനത്തെ ഒരു പ്രമുഖ സാമൂഹികപ്രവർത്തകനും എഴുത്തുകാരനുമായിരുന്നു പി.ടി.ഭാസ്കരപ്പണിക്കർ (ഒക്ടോബർ 15, 1922 - ഡിസംബർ 30, 1997).
ജീവിത രേഖ
1922 ഒക്ടോബർ 15-ന്‌ പാലക്കാട് ജില്ലയിലെ അടയ്ക്കാപുത്തൂരിൽ തമ്മെ പണിക്കരകത്ത് കാവുക്കുട്ടിയമ്മയുടെയും കൊയ്ത്തൊടി മനക്കൽ വിരൂപാക്ഷൻ നമ്പൂതിരിയുടെയും മകനായി ജനിച്ചു.
വിദ്യാഭ്യാസം അടക്കാപുത്തൂർ, ചെർപുളശ്ശേരി, പാലക്കാട് എന്നിവിടങ്ങളിലും മദ്രാസ് പ്രസിഡൻസി കോളേജിലും. മ‍ദ്രാസ് സൈദാപ്പേട്ട ടീച്ചേഴ്ദ്സ് കോളേജിൽ നിന്ന് ബി.ടി. ബിരുദം. ബി.എസ്.സി, ബി.ടി ബിരുദധാരിയായ ശേഷം അദ്ദേഹം നാലു കൊല്ലത്തോളം സ്കൂൾ അദ്ധ്യാപകനായി ജോലി നോക്കി. അക്കാലത്ത് കാറൽമണ്ണ ഹയർ എലിമെന്ററി സ്കൂളിലും പെരിഞ്ഞനം, പുറമേരി, ശ്രീകൃഷ്ണപുരം എന്നിവിടങ്ങളിലെ ഹൈസ്കൂളുകളിലും സേവനമനുഷ്ഠിച്ചു. 1957-58 കാലത്ത് തന്റെ തന്നെ ശ്രമഫലമായി സ്ഥാപിക്കപ്പെട്ട അടക്കാപുത്തൂർ ഹൈസ്കൂളിൽ പ്രധാനാദ്ധ്യാപകൻ ആയും സേവനമനുഷ്ഠിച്ചു.
1997 ഡിസംബർ 30-ആം തിയതി പാലക്കാട്ടുവച്ച് അദ്ദേഹം നിര്യാതനായി.
രാഷ്ട്രീയ സാമൂഹിക പ്രവർത്തനം
ആധുനിക കേരളത്തിലെ പ്രധാനപ്പെട്ട സാമൂഹിക പ്രസ്ഥാനങ്ങളായിരുന്ന ഗ്രന്ഥശാലാ പ്രസ്ഥാനം, ശാസ്ത്ര സാഹിത്യ പ്രസ്ഥാനം എന്നിവയുടെ സ്ഥാപക നേതാക്കളിലൊരാളായിരുന്നു പി.ടി.ഭാസ്കര പണിക്കർ. കമ്മ്യൂണിസ്റ്റ് പാർട്ടി അംഗമായിരുന്ന അദ്ദേഹം, മൂന്നു കൊല്ലത്തോളം (1948-51) ഒളിവിലും ജയിലിലുമായി കഴിഞ്ഞിട്ടുണ്ട്. 1954-ൽ, ശ്രീകൃഷ്ണപുരം ഹൈസ്കൂളിൽ അദ്ധ്യാപകനായിരിക്കെ പഴയ മദ്രാസ് പ്രവിശ്യയിലെ മലബാർ ജില്ലാ ബോർഡിലേക്ക് തിരഞ്ഞെടുക്കപ്പെട്ടു. തുടർന്ന്, തന്റെ മുപ്പത്തിമൂന്നാമത്തെ വയസ്സിൽ, ബോർഡിന്റെ അദ്ധ്യക്ഷനായി തിരഞ്ഞെടുക്കപ്പെട്ട അദ്ദേഹം ആ സ്ഥാനത്തെത്തിയ ആദ്യത്തെ കമ്മ്യൂണിസ്റ്റ് നേതാവും ഏറ്റവും പ്രായം കുറഞ്ഞ ആളുമായി. അക്കാലത്തെ മലബാർ പ്രവിശ്യയിലെ ഭരണം കൊളൊണിയൽ രീതികളിൽ നിന്ന് മാറ്റി തികച്ചും ജനകീയമാക്കാൻ അദ്ദേഹം സ്വീകരിച്ച നടപടികൾ എല്ലാവരാലും ശ്ലാഘിക്കപ്പെട്ടു. 1958-ൽ ഇ.എം.എസ്‌. മന്ത്രിസഭാകാലത്ത് വിദ്യാഭ്യാസ മന്ത്രി ശ്രീ ജോസഫ് മുണ്ടശ്ശേരിയുടെ സെക്രട്ടറിയായി നിയമിതനായി. 1959 മുതൽ 1965 വരെ കേരളാ പബ്ലിക്ക് സർവ്വീസ് കമ്മിഷൻ അംഗമായിരുന്നു.
കേരളാ പബ്ലിക്ക് സർവ്വീസ് കമ്മിഷനിൽ നിന്നു വിരമിച്ച അദ്ദേഹം, കേരളസമൂഹത്തിൽ ഗുണപരമായ മാറ്റങ്ങളുണ്ടാക്കിയ ഒട്ടനവധി സാമൂഹിക പ്രസ്ഥാനങ്ങളുടെയും സന്നദ്ധ സംഘടനകളുടെയും ആവിർഭാവത്തിനു നേതൃത്വം നൽകി. 1969 മുതൽ 1971 വരെ സർവവിജ്ഞാനകോശം (10 വാള്യം) എഡിറ്ററായി പ്രവർത്തിച്ചു.1971 മുതൽ 1974 വരെ ഗ്രന്ഥശാലാ സംഘം അദ്ധ്യക്ഷനായിരുന്നു. 1969 മുതൽ ഏതാണ്ട് കാൽ നൂറ്റാണ്ടോളം തിരുവനന്തപുരം കേന്ദ്രമാക്കി പ്രവർത്തിച്ചു പോന്ന അദ്ദേഹം ബാലവിജ്ഞാനകോശം, ഭാരതവിജ്ഞാനകോശം, ജീവചരിത്രകോശം, ദ്രാവിഡ വ്ജ്ഞാനകോശം എന്നീ റഫറൻസ് ഗ്രന്ഥങ്ങളും എഡിറ്റ് ചെയ്തിട്ടുണ്ട്. വിദ്യാലോകം, ശാസ്ത്രഗതി, ശാസ്ത്രകേരളം, പ്രൈമറി ടീച്ചർ, പുസ്തക സമീക്ഷ എന്നീ മാസികകളുടെയും എഡിറ്ററായിരുന്നു. കാൻഫെഡ്, ഭരണപരിഷ്കാരവേദി, സ്ഥലനാമസമിതി, ഇന്തൊ-സോവിയറ്റ് സൗഹൃദസമിതി, ലെനിൻ ബാലവാടി (തിരുവനന്തപുരം), അഗളി ഗിരിജനകേന്ദ്രം എന്നിവയുമായും ബന്ധപ്പെട്ടു പ്രവർത്തിച്ചിരുന്നു. ശാസ്ത്രസാഹിത്യ സംബന്ധിയായ നിരവധി പുസ്തകങ്ങളുടെ രചയിതാവുകൂടിയാണ്‌ അദ്ദേഹം.
പ്രധാന കൃതികൾ
• ശാസ്ത്ര പരിചയം
• സയൻസിന്റെ കഥകൾ ( 3 ഭാഗങ്ങൾ)
• ജീവന്റെ കഥ
• മനുഷ്യൻ എന്ന യന്ത്രം
• ഗ്രഹാന്തര യാത്ര
• പാർട്ടി ( നോവൽ)
• യന്ത്രങ്ങളുടെ പ്രവർത്തനം
• സ്പേസിലേക്കുള്ള യാത്ര
• വികസിക്കുന്ന ജീവിതവും ദർശനവും (ലേഖന സമാഹാരം)

An Exam with a Difference
Teachers, parents, public-spirited organisations, and altruistic individuals have innovatively intervened in the educational landscape of Kerala.
Every October, thousands of school children in Kerala, enthusiastically participate in an exam. They know the questions in advance and do not have to memorise facts. They can seek the help of people, periodicals, books, the Web, and their own imagination. The P T Bhaskara Panicker Memorial Science Exam for Children is an exam with a difference -- a candidate found referring books or asking around gets more marks.

The exam is perhaps unique in India's educational landscape for three reasons: its aims, content, and organisation. "Our objective is to encourage the spirit of inquiry. And develop self-study skills," says school-teacher V R V Ezhome, key organiser and leader of the Kannur-based Social Action group for Science, Technology and Humanity in Rural Areas (Sasthra). In 1989, dissatisfied with the education system that emphasised learning by rote, Sasthra started summer schools in rural Kannur and neighbouring districts, where children attended classes on poetry, painting, music, mathematics and grammar. The Science Exam was initially held to develop the habits of reading and library-use among these children. Behind Sasthra, summer schools, and the Science Exam was one man - P T Bhaskara Panicker.

PTB, doyen of Kerala's science literacy movement and a sought-after editor of encyclopaediae, set the first question paper. He also enlisted the support of voluntary associations in central and southern Kerala to organise the exam in their regions. Panicker died in 1997, and since then, the exam bears his name.

I have before me the question paper of the 2002 exam. "Instructions and Guidelines" recognises that some questions can be answered in one word, but cautions: "that is not what is expected. To answer each question, you must collect as much information, pictures, statistics, etc. as you can." Thus, when quizzed about the first Lok Sabha Speaker, a student has to not just name him, but write a few lines about G V Mavlankar.

I rush past questions that one finds in other general knowledge tests -- quizzes, mental ability, tell-me-why -- and stop at Question 68. It asks: "Are astrological predictions credible? Investigate based on the predictions for a particular star-sign, as appearing in periodicals of the past five weeks." The next touches a contemporary issue - Government policy to shut 'uneconomic' schools -- and requires the student to write a letter (to the Education Minister) suggesting steps to prevent schools from turning uneconomic. The final question invites the student to write a poem or paint a picture on "Gujarat's Grief."

Students get marks for citing their information sources. Below one answer, a note-book proclaims, "source: sister." Year-books and encyclopaediae are popular reference points. "Students call book-sellers and newspaper offices to get elusive answers," informs P Sudhakaran, co-ordinator in Ernakulam district. After the competition, there is a scramble by children to get their note-books back. Who would not treasure the first little encyclopaedia he compiled?

Sudharman, whose daughter "took the initiative" and won a prize, feels that the exam is different, but not better than conventional ones. "It is not a test of the student's ability because he can ask around," he points out. Joy, another parent, disagrees. "The questions are of a high standard. The exercise will be useful to students in the long run," he believes.
Like the exam, its organisation is also unconventional.
Like the exam, its organisation is also unconventional. The question paper is set by Sasthra and delivered to schools through a network of voluntary groups working on education and related themes. These organisations - like KERDA in Alappuzha, Asha in Thrissur, Seva Mandir in Kozhikode, Aarshabharat in Wayanad - co-ordinate activities at the district-level.

Students have one month to explore and submit answers in note-books. Evaluation is done by a teacher of that school, or where teachers are less willing, by college students, bank officials, and other volunteers. In each school, two students are awarded prizes, and to reduce bias, one person assesses all the answer-scripts of a particular school. District winners compete at the State level for a gold medal given by the Parassinikkadavu temple in Kannur.

Flexibility in using local resources generates variations in conduct of the exam. In Thiruvananthapuram, the competition is for high school students, while in other districts, upper primary students also participate. In Ernakulam district, the exam culminates in a science festival for children. There is no exam fee, but in northern Kerala Rs.5 is some times collected to meet costs. Local firms, banks and shops sponsor events, and members of the public chip in. "A restaurant-owner provided food, free of charge, to all students attending the State meet," recalls a volunteer. Aware of the organisers' financial constraints, volunteers also put in money to meet local expenses.

The PTB Memorial exam challenges the perception that most schools, especially rural schools, cannot promote explorations beyond prescribed textbooks. "In Thiruvananthapuram, the response is greater from rural schools," observes organiser P R Jayapalan of Balavihar. Participants belong to diverse socio-economic backgrounds, and among recent prize-winners was the daughter of a plantation labourer.

Those familiar with P T Bhaskara Panicker and his work will agree that the annual exam is characteristic of the man who conceptualised it. Like PTB's breadth of knowledge, the exam covers a wide range of topics - including current affairs, science, geography, history, culture and agriculture. For implementing innovative ideas, PTB mobilised large numbers of organisers and participants. In Ernakulam, one of the ten districts where the exam is at present held, efforts of Spark Research Centre, PTB Smaraka Balasastra Pareeksha Samithi, Sasthra, and Samanvaya attracted 75,000 students from 346 schools last year.

In many ways, the PTB Memorial Science Exam for Children is a beacon for our times. It is an extraordinary effort involving students, teachers, parents, socially-conscious organisations, and public-spirited individuals. It supplements conventional tests and fills a gap in our education system. In the wider public sphere, without relying on high-voltage public relations or management jargon, it displays the power of civil society to intervene constructively. P T Bhaskara Panicker demonstrated it in 1990. Dozens of volunteers he inspired, do it year after year

Sunday, November 23, 2008

P. T. Bhaskara Panicker (1921-1997)

പി റ്റി ഭാസ്കര പണിക്കര്‍
Visionary intellectual and activist.
P T Bhaskara Panicker, visionary intellectual and activist, played a key role in shaping movements that made modern Kerala. On the political landscape, this school-teacher shot into prominence in 1954 as the new President of the Malabar District Board -- the first communist in India to assume power by the ballot box. He was only 33 then, but his legendary leadership and progressive administration in Malabar District of Madras Province, moulded the image of the Communist Party as one 'fit to rule', and helped the Party win legislative assembly elections in Kerala in 1957. Later, PTB quit electoral politics and served as Member of Kerala Public Service Commission. After retirement, he pioneered social movements that shaped modern Kerala. Most notably, he was associated with the founding of the science literacy movement, and the spread of the library movement. An able organiser, he worked for and inspired the setting up of numerous voluntary organisations across Kerala, including KANFED (for non-formal education), INDIS (for inter-disciplinary studies) and Place Names Society. He was also a sought-after editor of encyclopaediae and the author of several books in Malayalam. PTB's simple living, innovative ideas and infectious enthusiasm endeared him to his collaborators.

More information

P T Bhaskara Panikker Smritirekha (2001), a collection of Malayalam essays by eminent personalities and PTB's collaborators -- portrays PTB's activities as political activist, administrator, science literrateur, organiser, and educator.Published by: PTB Memorial Trust, Adakkaputhur, Palakkad, Kerala, IndiaPrice: Rs.100/- (excluding postage)

The State Institute of Children's Literature (Government of Kerala), in its series on great personalities, has published a book on PTB in Malayalam.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

കെ പി സ്‌ എച്ച്‌ എ യുടെ 2006-2007 അധ്യായന വര്‍ഷത്തെ സംസ്ഥാന അവാര്‍ഡ്‌ ടീച്ചര്‍ക്കായിരുന്നു