Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I happened to attend Durga Pooja celebrations organized by a Bengali community in California. There were some cultural programs in Bengali organized by people in the community; music, dance, drama among other things.
One of the events was the skit enacted by children based on stories from The Panchatantra. While everyone commended the performance and complimented the lady who directed the skit, there was some disappointment (expressed by the woman herself) about the presence of an element of death in almost every Panchatantra story.
“Here in the US, all story books meant for children steer clear of blood and death”, observed a woman. “In Panchatantra, every story has death. The crab dies, the fishes die and so do many others”.
The remark trailed off….. the conversation proceeded to other things…
But my mind dwelled upon that observation about Panchatantra.
While the stand of the west seems sensible and thoughtful at the first glance…. it does not at the second. Attribute it to my excessive patronizing of India, especially the India of the ancient times….
So, were those sages (and people) who taught Panchatantra to children not very thoughtful? Is the Panchatantra flawed?
I refuse to believe; not because I find some wrong in the idea of the west, but simply because I believe that the Panchatantra cannot be wrong.
I refuse to accept even for a moment that ancient Indian wisdom could be flawed. Again… you may call it over patronizing….but anything that took birth in India during the ancient times is above and beyond verification…(for me)
In the west, people exhibit a feeling of strong resentment to death, decaying, mortality and aging, which is evident from the million dollar industry of anti aging cosmetics. This rejection of death is the reason why people suffer stress, anxiety, fear and insecurity especially during middle age and later. There is much effort and exertion in futility towards remaining young forever and adamant refusal to growing old.
We Indians on the other hand age so very gracefully and naturally. People turn to philosophy and spiritualism as they grow older and retreat from indulgence. They spend their time reading the scriptures, playing with grand children, going on pilgrimages and so on.
This disposition of readiness towards death that we Indians demonstrate stems from an acceptance of our own mortality that is woven into the fabric of our socio cultural life.
The Bhagawadgeetha that says “The body is mortal, but the soul is eternal”, the theories of Karma and reincarnation are all there for us to fall back upon…
These were not calculated entries made into our curriculum after we crossed a certain age but these were infused into our consciousness since our childhood.
An Indian’s attitude towards death is one of acceptance. His reaction is one of welcoming. Of the 103 verses in Gitanjali, more than 12 verses express Tagore’s sentiment towards death. Acceptance, readiness and willingness!
I know that the day will come when my sight of this earth shall be lost, and life will take its leave in silence, drawing the last curtain over my eyes.
Yet stars will watch at night, and morning rise as before, and hours heave like sea waves casting up pleasures and pains.
When I think of this end of my moments, the barrier of the moments breaks and I see by the light of death thy world with its careless treasures. Rare is its lowliest seat, rare is its meanest of lives.
Things that I longed for in vain and things that I got - let them pass. Let me but truly possess the things that I ever spurned and overlooked.
I was not aware of the moment when I first crossed the threshold of this life.
What was the power that made me open out into this vast mystery like a bud in the forest at midnight!
When in the morning I looked upon the light I felt in a moment that I was no stranger in this world, that the inscrutable without name and form had taken me in its arms in the form of my own mother.
Even so, in death the same unknown will appear as ever known to me. And because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well.
The child cries out when from the right breast the mother takes it away, in the very next moment to find in the left one its consolation.
So profound! One reading of these verses can put all anxiety to rest. Where else would you find it other than in India?
Having understood that death is a reality of life and the best way to deal with it is to accept it, I believe it is not at all necessary to guard children from the knowledge of death.
Aren’t lessons meant to last a lifetime imparted during childhood?…mother tongue, good behaviour, character… why not death then?
In fact what better time than childhood to disclose the most bitter truth of life when the resistance is least?
So does that mean everyone should be exposed to every reality of life?
What about sex? It’s a reality of life. Should children be exposed to sex then?
I believe they should not be… nature takes care of timely education…
How successful has the west been in protecting their children from exposure to sex?:-) That’s not a smile, that a snigger… that’s a sardonic smile…
Certainly the Panchatantra shields children from what they truly need to be shielded from!!!
Friday, May 09, 2008
One year since I started blogging. 75th post.
It was my ex roomie Manjushree who persuaded me to start blogging. Thanks Manju :-)
Prose, poetry, travel, photography, paintings, book reviews. That summarises my blog so far. I have plans to add my voice, some Sanskrit and more paintings to this space.
Initially, I was keen to hide it. It was a private blog. (I was guarding my masterpieces against plagiarism!) I had sent out invitations to a few people (chosen ones :-)) who alone could read my blog. They would have to sign in using their gmail ID! And then, after a few months, I went public. The comments that started coming in kind of gave me a thrill.
Let me take this opportunity to say a few things that I should have said, in my introductory post.
This is not a work of construction but a work of creativity. I don’t write because I have to write but only when my mind is preoccupied with something and I can contain it no more.
I have tried my best to abstain from rhetoric. There are thousands of articles on pollution, population, corruption, poverty and so on, available on the internet. I also dont write about topics like leadership, motivation, hard work, success etc, because there are hundreds of books on self help selling all the aforemnetioned subjects. What I write is MY observation of life around me.
Although there is a compulsion sometimes, I try not to write about the gory details of my daily life. But once in a way, when an evening has been made interesting because of great company(as in “From The 13th Floor”) or because of revisiting a place from the past (as in “Sajjan Rao Circle”) or just the lovely weather(as in “Breathtakingly Beautiful Bangalore”), I commit it to paper.
Occasionally when an evening has been made uninteresting (as in "Dogwoman"), I committ that to paper too.
Whenever I have delivered my speeches, I have been accused of a high speech rate; 200 to 250 words per minute whereas the recommended rate is 150 WPM.
Although my mind continues to spew ideas at the same high rate and my fingers continue to type equally fast, I am happy my readers can read at their own pace. :-)
I have also been accused of using a language that is almost always poetic and flowery. Let me take this opportunity to clarify that my language is not a work of construction either. My natural style of writing is such. There is really no flamboyance. As someone said, "I write to express, not to impress". The similes, the metaphors, the alliterations and other figures of speech are not calculated entries force-fed into the sentences but letteredfeelings that wave from my heart. They are simply inevitable! I have to make a conscious effort to keep even my official mails crisp, brisk and simple.
And then, I could not help a few crib blogs. Thanks for being polite.
Lastly, this blog has become my sanctuary.
I have always had so much to express, but not necessarily an audience to receive my expression.
There were so many ideas, thoughts, pouring out; perhaps spilling here and there. At last there is a container to collect everything that pours from my heart and my mind, both tangible and intangible…
I don’t have to wait to meet with an old friend to start sharing my thoughts excitedly. I just have to start writing. I will be read or heard or felt…
I have realised more clearly than ever before the importance of expressing what you contain within and the disastrous effects that can be caused to your personality and your self when you withhold your thoughts and your feelings…
This hobby serves to stimulate me intellectually more than anything else.
Writing has always been my pleasure and that too in a language which I am so passionate about (as if it were my mother tongue!).
There were essay competitions, the toastmaster speeches and standing ovations but very sporadic. This has become a part of my everyday.
I can clearly feel that I have matured as a writer. Still way to go.
I have been reading everyday. I have set for myself a target of two book reviews every month.
My dream to be a well read person one day is on its way to realisation.
I am thrilled with every increment of the count that sitemeter keeps of page visits. Every new comment excites me.
Everyday when I see the sitemeter number going up on my blog, I feel a childlike happiness.
Google has become indispensable. I have become more knowledgeable than before :-) … When I am quoting a scientist or a philosopher in my article(even though it may be as little as a single sentence), I have to research them before I write about them so that I am authentic…
Dictionary.com is another site I visit so often. It helps me when I want to use a certain word, but not sure which preposition to use it with.
Thanks to the Thesaurus available in MS Word. When I have used a certain word too often, like “abundance” and don’t feel like using, abusing or overusing the word any more, I simply right click and the Thesaurus gives me so many options; “profusion”, “cornucopia”, “plethora”, “superfluity” and so on…
Posts from certain fellow bloggers have made me wiser….given me ideas..sometimes they make me feel inadequate…when I have read twice a poem and still haven’t understood it… I wonder if I am only a success among the mediocre… and then I read my best post “As perennial as the grass” and I am reassured of my talent. :-)
I want to thank all my readers for appreciating me, for faithfully visiting me, for including me in your blog and thereby getting me more readers, for all your overwhelming comments…may you live long…. :-)
I will be hibernating for a while (just a short while). Till then do read my old posts and leave me LOTS of comments… :-)
Sarve Janaha Sukhino Bhavantu
God bless all…
A story of generations spanning decades or centuries never fails to touch you, move you and hurt you as you read.
I have read stories of generations before and have been deeply moved and left with a heavy heart each time.
Any story that spans one hundred years contains in it the completion of a cycle.
Birth, sustenance and death. And death hurts.
You read about people coming into this world. You become familiar and even attached with them as they grow, as they enjoy and as they suffer, as they perform great deeds, make sacrifices… And then they die. And that hurts.
People you thought would live eternally retreat into oblivion one day.
And very soon, they are forgotten.
Customs, practices and settlements created by older generations with love, dedication and devotion are uprooted and undone by newer generations.
As you read, a confirmation of impermanence takes away the comfort of immortality and you become disillusioned.
The impartiality with which time erases the noble and the ignoble, the kind and the cruel, the great and the frivolous strikes you as so unfair.
It saddens to see the detachment with which time obliterates men and their deeds of greatness, eroding them away as if they were nothing more than dust.
The unforgiving certainty and effortlessness with which time changes even that which seemed final, perfect and eternal, strike as cruel. In summary any story of generations reinforces human mortality and it hurts perhaps because your own mortality in an eternal time is reinforced.
“One hundred years of solitude” is a story of the rise and fall of a family, of a race, of a village. It would not be an exaggeration to call it an epic. It’s a chronicle of all the things that people of Macondo gained and lost.
The experience of reading this book can be likened to an odyssey through a rough terrain strewn with war, death, sex (without the context of love), incest, solitude etc. but you will relish it for several reasons.
There is a prehistoric charm to the tale… It corresponds to those bygone times when not all of land and water were discovered by and known to mankind; when tribes of people lived in isolation from the rest of the civilisation.
I struggled to get a perspective of another era, another time as I read about 200 year old men, gypsies, flying carpets, daguerreotypes(primitive mirror), cock fights, alchemy, polyandry and phenomena unheard of (like insomnia being contagious and causing memory loss).
Although it is filled with para-natural elements like dead men visiting the house and interacting with living people, flying carpets, disappearance of living people into the sky, accurate premonitions of death, mischievous elves etc, it is so well written that it seems to be based on a real life story.
The story is so alive in print; it must have been much more alive in the author’s mind.
The reading becomes exasperating for a few pages, where there are too many details of war, all repetitive, same killings, executions and court marital…
The only good about those few pages is that they prove the futility of war beyond doubt. The war episode clearly illustrates how those at war don’t know why they are fighting…that the final cause is always personal ego disguised as one of the “real causes”.
The repetition of names throughout the book from the beginning till the end, with father, sons and grandsons all having the same names makes the reading effortful.
I have to mention that I am extremely delighted, and surprised at the mention of Sanskrit in the book(the climax part)!
The style of narration is distinct. The entire narration is a succession of summaries followed by elaborations. Every so many pages, there is the summary (about a character etc) which includes the conclusion as well and the next few pages elaborate the story. For instance, right in the beginning, you know Aureliano would face a firing squad and also that he would die of old age. And the next hundred pages talk about the life of Aureliano. So there is really no suspense.
There is no humour either.
I wish, I could mention a few one liners, quotations, etc…as I usually do. But the narration in its entirety is one beautiful piece and I am not able to extract or separate fragments of literary splendour from a work that is such a harmonious blend of magic, nostalgia, imagery, tragedy, imagination and reality.
Some lines did register in my mind though…
During his last moments as he faced execution, he thought about his people, with a strict closing of his accounts with life, beginning to understand how much he really loved the people he hated most. (I shudder!)
The history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle.
And the last line of the book…
Races condemned to one hundred years of solitude do not have a second opportunity on earth.
A must read for all.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Having been a student of physics and electronics, I have had to plot many a graph in the labs.
We had to take meter readings from a voltmeter, ammeter or a cathode ray oscillator. Sometimes we had to measure temperatures at regular intervals and take them for readings. We were expected to first mark the readings on the graph sheet (these would be the dots or points). And then we were expected to draw a curve through these points. If the experiment had been done correctly, the curve would be a straight line or an exponential curve or a sinusoidal wave or whatever was expected.
But we were not the most sincere of students.
Most of the time, we knew what to expect. We knew that we expected a straight line or a sinusoidal wave etc. So we would take only those readings which would be on the curve. Sometimes we would truncate a reading; other times, round it off to the next digit. We would mark all the dots on the graph sheet and then select a few that helped us to draw a straight line. In the end there would a sufficient number of dots on either side of the line, which we would delete as if they had never occurred. Having a prior knowledge of the curve helped so much.
I wonder sometimes if the path traversed by us as we live, can be likened to a curve on the graph of life.
After a good amount of living, you will see that the graph of life is never a clean sheet with just a curve representing the life we have led. That would be the ideal thing to happen. But in reality, there are many stray dots, some close to the curve, some far away, and some dots of course that are On the curve; the dots that are meant to be. The curve itself is crooked more often than not.
Sometimes you are the one plotting the graph (or you presume to be doing so). Having no prior knowledge of what the curve is going to look like is a major impediment though. A straight line, a jagged line, a curve, a circle, an exponentially rising curve? Or an exponentially falling curve?
Other times the curve seems to be evolving on its own according to a preordained destiny.
In the midst of the many events that define our life, it becomes so difficult to establish a pattern. Because all the events when put together don’t seem to be taking you in any single direction but many diverging, different directions – happiness, sorrow, excitement, monotony, uncertainty, untimeliness, ecstasy, desperation, success and failure. How is the bloody curve evolving???
We don’t know. But we don’t give up. We try to find a curve, a pattern and believe in it.
We look in retrospection at the journey completed thus far, the path traversed and from the curve that we see, we build the rest of the curve connecting a point or a dot in the present to a point in future, with a lot of optimism, of course. This of course is the happy path, the curve of our dreams and not necessarily the curve that destiny has in store for us.
We go to astrologers, numerologists and palmists, not really to find out the truth but only for a verification of a preconception; preconception of the curve of our life; only because we want to be told “Yes. You will live up to 90. You will be rich. You will have a happy marriage.”
Every point or dot represents an event or an incident in our life.
Although some points don’t actually belong to the grand design, we fail to see this fact. We somehow drag every dot on to the curve, however out of place and time it may seem to be.
When I did very well in my exam for instance, the dot was definitely on the curve. There was nothing surprising about it. It fit very well into the grand design (rather what I believed to be the grand design). But when I failed in an exam, instead of admitting that I had failed and that it should not have happened, I told myself that this too had significance, that I learnt an important lesson, that failure is a stepping stone to success and so on. I should either have left out the dot calling it a stray dot (since it obviously did not belong to the happy curve) or bent the straight line, making it a crooked one, in order to accommodate the dot, admitting thereby that the curve of the grand design was crooked curve. But I kept the line straight and dragged the dot on to the line!
When I loved someone and lost, I should have moved on since it was not meant to be. But I thought there must be a reason why it had happened and held on to the memories, hoping he would come back to me one day.
And today after 10 years I can see so clearly that it was not meant to be and am glad in fact that it did not materialize into anything concrete. But since I did not have a prior knowledge of the curve or the grand design, I dwelled upon the incident for much longer than I should have. I held on to a stray dot in vain, while the curve grew in time never looking back at the stray dot.
The curve that we plot in our minds is almost always the way we would like the curve to be at that present and not necessarily the curve that destiny has already designed for us.
Some dots promote us to a higher level thus advancing the curve and some cause sorrow and distress, disrupting the curve.
Much contrary to what may seem obvious, a happy dot may actually be a stray dot and a sad dot, part of the grand design.
How else would one explain a love affair that brought great delight in the beginning and then turned out to be sweet poison? How else would one explain one’s departure from a place and people that gave a bleeding heart and then proved to be a blessing in disguise?
So how does one live life? What belief, what philosophy does one hold on to when the uncertainty of life makes it impossible to go on any further, when an idea of the future (at least a vague idea) becomes necessary to choose further direction?
After 28 years of living, I still don’t know. The confusion continues to grow.
When I look back, the once jagged, serrated line has smoothened itself considerably. (Even the straightness of the curve becomes monotonous after a while!). But out of sheer inability to move further without having a clue of what lies ahead, there arises a necessity to plot the future curve. And for lack of an alternate method to plot that curve, I will assume that the trend of the immediate past will continue and the curve will eventually smoothen itself completely.
As I continue to reflect thus, I am convinced about one thing. The curve that has evolved in all these years, is much better than the one I would have drawn if the pencil were in my hands and if I were free to design my life as I pleased. Ah! Destiny!
I had (more than once) almost sacrificed long term harmony in quest for short term gratification…
For short term gratification always disguises itself as the “bird in hand” while making long term harmony seem like “two in the bush”!
Just wondering… If you take the graph sheets of all those who have lived long, in all probability, the graphs will be unclean; one line or curve and many stray dots that do not fit the curve.
Whether the curve indicates the grand design or a combination of destiny and human efforts that fit into the grand design is debatable.
But of the stray dots, it can be certainly said, that they indicate several unsuccessful attempts by man to defy his destiny, his inability to understand the grand design and his efforts therefore (in vain) to move in a path that was never meant for him.
Monday, May 05, 2008
A poem inspired by the sacred lotus. A poem for the sacred lotus. But destiny had other plans. The lotus eluded me. This was long ago.....
Nevertheless, creativity is never futile although its source of inspiration may have ceased to exist.
You have entered my life
And opened the floodgates
All the love I have been containing
All these years comes gushing out
Like an ocean contained by a dam now broken
I am being carried away
I’m swept off the ground
Beneath my feet
Gravity has failed me
Open your arms wide,
Collect me, imprison me
Embrace me with all your might
And save me from erosion
For I fear
I will be washed away
By the flood of my own love
I will be swept away
By the flood of my own happiness
To a land of insanity
Or a land of pure ecstasy!!!
Friday, May 02, 2008
It is a nostalgic recollection of childhood days spent in absolute indolence. It is a portrait of the society and culture of old Bengal.
The author has put to paper fond memories of another era, the era which he relished as a child and the passing of which he witnessed during his growing years.
Young women in Palanquins carried by 4 – 8 servants, hackney carriages all over the city, the wrestlers who entertained people, Badam tree in courtyard, the ghost on the tree, women covered in veils, rumours about the presence of ghosts in the dark corridors, the palatial bungalows, times when dacoity was respected, games of olden days like top spinning, hunting for a tiger in a jungle, street plays, water of the Ganges, the luxury of servants and caretakers…many more…
Tagore was not very happy about the changes that times brought with them. The factories on the banks of the Hoogly that encroached into the fertile plains, the disappearance of horse drawn carriages and palanquins with the onslaught of motor cars, the retreating of street plays and wrestlers before modern cinema…
There are frequent occurrences of a poignant comparison of the “good old days” with ghouls of modern Bengal.
The tone in which the author expresses his displeasure however is not one filled with anger or frustration or fury but a tone full of poignance. A silent weeping of sorts…
As soon as the day of sunlight is over, the day of electric light begins. There is not much work done in it, but there is no rest, for the fire continues, as it were, to smoulder in the charcoal after the blazing wood has burnt itself out…
The work is also full of admissions of mediocrity and naiveté. Tagore writes of how disinterested he was in studies, of how late in his life he started to learn A, B, C, D, of the fact that he did not possess any special talent…of how he spent his early life in a village idling, passing time doing nothing…
My exercise books of all kinds kept from beginning to end, the unrelieved whiteness of a widow’s cloth. Confronted by such unprecedented determination not to study, my class teacher complained to Mr… (I love this para for the beauty Tagore has brought out in the language.)
As we grow, as we gain more exposure or become more sophisticated and smarter, we see more clearly how naïve or dumb we were in the past. We feel ashamed or embarrassed of our past. We even try to obliterate our past. I know a friend who tore away a photograph of childhood, taken when she was dressed as Shakuntala or some mythological character wearing make up and costumes that were quite anachronic!
I have grown up to understand that it takes courage and a high level of self esteem to accept our past or respect it. We don’t need to be proud of our past. We just need to have the courage not to disown it, to acknowledge it, as a part of ourselves, to accept it… no matter how crude, unpolished, unrefined we might have been during those primitive times. Because that is where the roots hold the soil and that is where you will want to return to after you have finished the world tour…
Even if you don’t return, one must not forget the path traversed after reaching the destination, however beaten, rugged the path might have been…
Back to the book…
There were some lines that struck me as beautiful and true.
As one swims to pluck the lotus, it floats further and further away on the waves raised by one’s own arms and remains always out of reach…
There is a God who compasses the humiliation of those who ignore their own limitations…:-)
Another interesting thing I observed in all works of old times is this.
The mention of places or locations is never without a reference to direction; south facing balcony, east facing window, room towards north, terrace towards west. What a perfect sense of direction people had those days! Direction seemed so important to people those days! Or was it merely easier since the Sun was always in sight and there were such open spaces?
In today’s times, for some reason, the knowledge of direction does not seem important to us. Also it is difficult to tell the east from the west in the midst of cluttered walls and buildings.
Directionless. That’s what we are! Literally and figuratively. How about that??
Tagore’s humour is as subtle as his poignance. It almost escapes you.
The crows are pecking at the scattered grains. Our dog Johnny’s sense of duty is aroused and he drives them away barking…:-)