Self Scape

Remembering My Encounters (in Third Person) 

M. Nadarajah (Nat, Ph.D.) started his work life around the 1980s in the squatters of Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) and India (Chennai). Since then, he has worked over the last 40 odd years in many capacities and positions, in many national and international organizations. His journey has taken him through a number of interconnected initiatives covering a wide range of areas: consumerism, environmentalism, media-ted realities and critical media education, philanthropy, education (including pre-school), people-oriented design development, institution building, software development, process (ISO) management, strategic planning, urbanism, agroecology, alternative healing practices, inter-trans-faith initiatives, sustainability and spirituality.

Nat has a number of books and documentaries to his credit. In 1999, he published his doctoral thesis Culture, Gender and Ecology: Beyond Workerism (offering a non-workerist model of historical materialism). In his doctoral dissertation, he explored the critical realities of human alienation, objectification, emancipation, everyday life, and hegemonic power. It was his aim to explore the possibility of creating a future where the conflicts between 'man and nature' and between 'man and man' are resolved. It is a theme that has influenced him in all that he did.

Though he has stopped now, over the years (1981 - 2007), he has produced a number of issue-based documentaries (mostly in India, but also in Malaysia) for various agencies and groups: A Profile of Empowerment (nn women's self-help and empowerment; Based on the work of a women's group in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, 1988), Killing Fields (on the impact of pesticides on Indian farming and food production and about alternatives such as organic farming, 1989; Shot all over India), A Nation Mortgaged (about IMF's Structural Adjustment Policy's impact on the economy and society in India, 1994; largely based on news footages at the library of PTI television division), Christianity in Mizoram (transaction between local Mizo culture and Christianity (largely Baptist), 1997; produced by the MIzoram state government and shot over a month all over Mizoram), Sustainable Penang (exploring culture and sustainability in Penang, Malaysia, 2006), Lord's Prayer (a conversation between man and God, Shot on steadicam as the conversation and the prayer proceeds; 2003), and A Path Among Trees (Journey through indigenous Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Japan, 2007; based on still images and used for reflection).

He has worked as one of the principal researchers for a sustainable urbanisation project with a Japanese institute (IICRC) in Kanazawa, Japan for three years (2000-2002). The project covered urban centres in Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Nepal. As a result of his involvement with this project, Nat co-edited a book entitled Urban Crisis: Culture and Sustainability of Cities. In the conclusion of the book, the edited volume offers a unique perspective on urbanism, the Kanazawa School of Urban Sustainability. The book covered issues of culture as well as spirituality. The United Nation University (UNU) Press, based in Tokyo, published it in early 2007.

Nat was involved around the same period as executive secretary to the Asian Communication Network (ACN), which was based at St. John University, Bangkok. It was set up as an Asian inter-faith, inter-disciplinary initiative to create learning and sustainable communities through participatory and dialogical communication and formation programmes. This was a voluntary engagement. Through ACN, Nat shared the meaning and practice of sustainability in many Catholic seminaries in Asia. As part of this involvement, he edited a publication entitled Pathways to Critical Media Education and Beyond (2003).

In early 2000, he was also appointed as executive director of the public-listed SMR Technologies, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As part of this role, he helped set up ISO processes and project management office (PMO).

In 2005, Nat was awarded the Asian Public Intellectual (API) Fellowship by the Nippon Foundation, based in Tokyo, for a period of one year. Between 2005 and 2006, he was an Asian Public Intellectual fellow journeying through four Asian countries. For the research fellowship on the culturally embedded notions of sustainability, he travelled, met and stayed with indigenous communities in Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Japan. Going through this 'research pilgrimage', the orientation presented by the indigenous peoples was quite apart from the UN definition on sustainable development. Unlike the UN's orientation, the indigenous people experienced sustainability as the other side of spirituality. It is a work that laid the foundation for a systematic critique of the UN's effort on sustainable development. And the natural connection between sustainability and spirituality. It clearly showed that sustainability is not about technology as much as about spirituality and our approach to development.

This research journey resulted in a pictorial book on sustainability and spirituality in 2014 entitled Living Pathways: Meditations on Sustainable Cultures and Cosmologies in Asia. The journey continues. He is presently working on Living Pathways II: Finding Ways Back to Nature. All these experiences have encouraged him to share thoughts on reframing sustainability from the point of view of engaged spirituality and rethinking of what it means to be human within a larger ecology in which we are just a part. This is also a theme that he continues to work in and contribute.

From 2013 to 2015, Nat worked as a consultant for the Pesticide Action Network for the Asia Pacific (PANAP), which is based in Penang, Malaysia. He was involved in researching, designing and setting up a virtual institution to promote biodiversity-based ecological agriculture (or agroecology). The International People's Agroecology Multiversity (IPAM) articulates a research-learning-action orientation and is based on 5 interconnected platforms i.e. research, learning, action, knowledge, and community building. The aim of IPAM: to nurture and promote the principles and practices of non-violent/non-destructive agroecology and the universal concerns of small agricultural food producers -- agricultural workers, fisherfolks and indigenous peoples. (Though the initial construction of a full-scale digital multiversity became a challenge to implement in terms of support technical team and funds, it was eventually revised, reorganised and launched.)

Nat also works closely with Signis World (World Catholic Communication Agency based in Brussels) and has just completed running the Laudato Si Global Fellowship Programme for Young Communicators (at the Xavier Centre for New Humanities and Compassion Studies, where he is presently based). Young communicators came from Cuba, Argentina, Mexico, Togo/Italy, Philippines and India. The International Certificate Programme is based on a partnership between Signis World, Brussels and Xavier University Bhubaneswar, India. The focus of the fellowship is to create a network of young communicators who will promote the meanings and the message of Laudato Si for a more compassionate, caring world.

Nat is a sociologist by training and holds a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. For him, the present form of humanities and social sciences produce narrow disciplinary streams and knowledge silos. For over 2 years from 2014, he has been exploring transdisciplinary and transformative learning approaches in higher education in general and with Xavier University, Bhubaneswar, India in particular (as he explored the notions of sustainability, spirituality and compassion). It is his firm understanding that the way mainstream tertiary education is approached today, particularly through 'artificial' silos creating disciplinary focus, needs to be drastically changed. This historical mode of producing knowledge has to be transcended. Its use is really over. His research today is focused on the unspoken area of the ecological footprint of educational institutions that are contributing to many of the critical global social and ecological problems..

He is presently the chair professor of Xavier Centre for New Humanities and Compassion Studies at the Xavier University Bhubaneswar (Odisha, India). In the long term, the effort is directed at forming a School of New Humanities and Social Sciences to go beyond the usual disciplinary streams and knowledge silos. The effort is to build a school based on transdisciplinarity, transformative learning and critical civic engagement. It is an effort that is of course not easy to take forth.

As part of the Centre's effort, he has been a guest editor for a Jesuit-run, Delhi-based journal, Social Action (the first issue of 2020, January-March). The theme of the issue is "morality, public compassion and other-directedness". He has also been working for the last 2 years on a pictorial book of his journey as an Indian Malaysian citizen. The book entitled, Protest, Prayer, Peace: Visual Disclosures of the Indianness of Malaysia. The book is a collection of his photographs shot over a period of about 12 years and will be released as an e-book at the end of 2020.

Nat is a Malaysian presently based in Bhubaneswar, India. He can be contacted at amanibana@gmail.com.