July 7, 2013
In Greek mythology, Prometheus is a Titan who is credited with the creation of man from clay and the theft of fire for human use, an act that enabled progress and civilization. Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, sentenced him to eternal torment for his transgression. The immortal Prometheus was bound to a rock, where each day an eagle was sent to feed on his liver, which would then grow back to be eaten again the next day. Years later, the Greek hero Hercules slays the eagle and frees Prometheus from his chains. This mythological account inspired a four-act lyrical drama, titled Prometheus Unbound, by Shelley, first published in 1820. Prometheus Unbound has now become an oft-used English expression.
When we meet long-lost friends or new acqaintences, the converstion quickly drifts to our children and my wife gushes with visible pride that our daughter, Prima, is the Managing Editor of an internationally affiliated leading magazine and our son, Mohan, is Senior HR Business Partner in a leading multinational corporation – both frequently having to travel abroad on professional work. In return, we are now treated to a paean of the high-flying and acheivement-loaded exploits of their children, doing very well for themselves, often in foreign lands. The stories repeat themselves.
Yet, for all the achievements of our children, I cannot escape recalling that as a teen I had to combine my schooling with plowing our fields, carrying head-loads of organic compost from the cow-shed to the paddy fields and even carry on the head pots filled with human urine which was collected at home and used as fertiliser for vegetable patches. At the age of 12 or so I used to carry moodas of rice (40/50 KG?) from the homestead to the bullock cart station – about 2 km away. This has perhaps compressed my then tender neck-bones and made me shorter than I could have been.
How did I get unbound from the unpromising farming set-up? Analysing the situation, I realise that we are liberated from the cycle of poverty and stagnation through formal education and migration to new geographies, across the nation and beyond it - as is the case since 1960s, with thousands reaping the Gulf bonanza.
Looking back at the history of the Canara Catholic community, the 16-year captivity of Catholics, from February 24, 1784 to May 4, 1799 by Tippu Sultan is a tragic landmark. According to Thomas Munro, the first Collector of Canara, some 80,000 Catholics were led away (10,000 escaping captivity), on a 6-week, 340-km journey on foot across the Western Ghat jungles to Srirangapatanam – with 20,000 dying during the journey itself. When they returned, a mere 10,000, their lands had been misappropriated and they had to restart life from the lowest rung of the ladder. Yet, by the beginning of the 20th century, many Canara Catholics has established tile and cashew factories and plantations – representing migration across professions, from farming, and geographies represented by the plantation districts. At the same time, educational institutions came on the scene, the most outstanding event being the starting of St. Aloysius College in 1880 by a band of foreign Jesuits who landed in Mangalore at the close of 1879. The educated migrated to metro cities like Madras and Bombay in search of white collar jobs. Even the less educated found job on ships - mostly as cooks and butlers. Thus, the twin forces of education and migration liberated many Canara Catholics from the vicious circle of stagnation. Like Prometheus of Greek mythology, Canara Catholics were unbound and they went up the prosperity ladder from generation to generation.
This is the macro picture. The provocation to construct this macro scenario came from a micro case when I stumbled on some century-old documents conserved by a friend of mine, The micro case of his family dramatically confirms my macro speculation. But, unfortunately, apparently under pressure from younger members of his family, he denied me the permission to publish that story.
In my disappointment, I remembered a rustic story related to me by an illiterate daily-wager on our ancestral farm. According to him, a toddy cat (Beru in Tulu and Konkani) used to climb a palm tree and drink toddy from the collection pot kept by the toddy tapper on the crown of the tree. This nocturnal animal, resembling a mongoose, but jet black, one night drank the toddy excessively and could not manage its descent from the crown. It fumbled and fell to the ground. Fortunately, it fell in the soft slush of a paddy field prepared for transplanting. But, it could not extricate itself from the slush. Next morning the toddy tapper came on his rounds to collect the toddy for delivery to the toddy bar. He saw something black jetting above the slush. It looked like a tail and he tried to lift it out only to realise that it was a beru, with its nose also above the slush. When he lifted what seemed a tail, the messy beru emerged over the slush. Thinking to himself that the beru deserved this fate for stealing his toddy every night, the toddy tapper was walking away from the scene when the beru called out to him and said: “Muttini daye; dekked budu” – Why did you touch me, now wash me clean.
Having worked with my speculation and supported it with my friend’s family saga - on which I had worked for weeks- and not permitted to publish, I am trying to substitute the original story with my own family story.
This brings me to my own situation of breaking the cycle of stagnation through education to post-graduation level and migration – to Bombay. But the foundation for this had been put by my grandfather, Sabastian, and built on it by my father, Hilary. My grandfather left the cosy company of his clan concentrated in Thodambil village, along Kallige Road, which connects BC Road Kaikamba to Gurpur Kaikamba via Polali, downhill from Kalpane, and went across the hill to cultivate a larger farm at Bearykody. There was hostile resistance from the entrenched local farmers. But, my family stood its ground. Beyond this migration, my father got into off-farm business of running toddy shops far away from the home. He stayed away from the homestead and returned only for the week-ends. He earned the money to send his children to schools and colleges, including me to St. Aloysius College.
After the migration of my grandfather and father away from the cozy (but stagnating) setting of their clan, I migrated from a cozy job as lecturer in St. Aloysius College at a salary of Rs. 260 a month, with a room on the campus (in1960) to Bombay. But the credit for pushing me out of Mangalore goes to Fr Sylvester Monteiro, SJ (No kin), the then Rector and Principal of the college who found me no good as lecturer and gently suggested, before the close of the first year, that I look for another job. Whatever the push or pull, I drifted into journalism and writing and eventually into corporate communications, also involving writing. This is not to say that journalism is a better option, pay-wise, because UGC scales have made teaching financially attractive – apart from the prestige college professors command.
Beyond money for education and migration there is one more element – wisdom or enlightenment - as reflected in the following. My grandfather, in his migrated setting had money to send his son to St. Aloysius – but ended in disaster. The first person from our Thodambil Monteiro clan to be sent to St. Aloysius was my uncle Marian and he would have been (instead of me) the first person from our clan to graduate from there. He started off well but, I guess, he read too much and suffered from constant headaches. The boarding house doctor diagnosed that they were due to poor eyesight and recommended spectacles. The message was conveyed to my grandfather when he next went to the college to pay the monthly boarding fees. He flew into a rage. He solemnly declared that wearing spectacles was a mere town fad and no son of his would be pampered in this fashion. He asked Marian to pack up his things and carry them on his head walking all the way to Thodambil - a distance of 25 km.
These days, with vast expansion of educational institutions and opportunities for jobs in the Gulf, USA, Canada and Down-under, we take the role of eduction and migration for granted. It would be interesting to share experience of readers on my line of speculation that education and migration have and can liberate us from the cycle of stagnation and unbound our potential and launch us into the self-sustained orbit of progressively higher levels of growth and prosperity.
John B Monteiro, journalist and author, is the editor of his website www.welcometoreason.com (Interactive Cerebral Challenger) with format for instant response. His book Corruption – India’s Painful Crawl to Lokpal, recently published in America, (Priced $ 21.5) is available online on Amazon.in.
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