Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Again from Glass palace… A unique landscape along the Irrawaddy river in Burma...fascinating read…
…Of all the river’s sights the strangest was one that lay a little to the south of the great volcanic hump of Mount Popa. The Irrawaddy here described a wide, sweeping turn, spreading itself to a great width. On the eastern bank of the river, there appeared a range of low, foul-smelling mounds. These hillocks were covered in a thick ooze, a substance that would sometimes ignite spontaneously in the heat of the sun, sending streams of fires into the river. Often at night, small wavering flames could be seen in the distance, carpeting the slopes.
To the people of the area, this ooze was known as earth-oil. It was a dark shimmering green, the colour of bluebottles’ wings. It seeped from the rocks like sweat, gathering in shiny green-filmed pools. In places, the puddles joined together to form creeks and rivulets, an oleaginous delta that fanned out along the shores. So strong was the odour of this oil that it carried all the way across the Irrawaddy. Boatmen would swing wide when they floated past these slopes, this place of stinking creeks. Yenangyaung.
This was one of the few places in the world where petroleum seeped naturally to the surface of the earth. Long before the discovery of the internal-combustion engine there was already a good market for this oil; it was widely used as an ointment, for the treatment of certain skin conditions. Merchants came from as far away as China to avail themselves of this substance. The gathering of the oil was the work of a community endemic to those burning hills known as twin-zas, a tight knit secretive bunch of outcasts, runaways and foreigners.
Over generations, twin-za families had attached themselves to individual springs and pools, gathering the oil in buckets and basins, and ferrying it to nearby towns. Many of the pools had been worked so long that oil level had sunk, forcing their owners to dig down. Some pools had gradually become wells, a 100 feet deep or even more - great oil-sodden pits, surrounded by excavated sand and earth. Some wells were so heavily worked that they looked like small volcanoes, with steep, conical slopes. At these depths oil could no longer be collected simply by dipping a weighted bucket. S twin-zas were lowered in, on ropes, holding their breath like pearl divers.
Standing on the lip of a well, Rajkumar would go over to watch the twin-zas at their work. A man went down the shaft, rotating slowly on a sling. The rope would be attached by way of a pulley, to his wife, family and life stock. They would lower him in by walking up the slope of the well, and when they felt his tug they would pull him out again by walking down. The lips of the wells were slippery from spills and it was not uncommon for unwary workers and young children to tumble in. often these falls went unnoticed; there were no splashes and few ripples. Serenity is one of the properties of this oil; it is not easy to make a mark upon its surface…
Saturday, December 26, 2009
This is from Glass palace by Amitav Ghosh. I was fascinated.
"...Almost invariably, they would find themselves following the course of a Chaung, a rushing mountain stream. Every few minutes a log would come hurtling through the water, on its way down to the plain.
To be caught in midstream by one of these hurtling 2 – ton projectiles was to be crippled or killed. When the path switched from one bank of the Chaung to the other, a lookout would be posted to call out the intervals between logs so that the porters would know when it was safe to cross.
Often the logs came in not singly but in groups, dozens of tons of hardwood caroming down the stream together: when they hit each other, the impact would be felt all the way up the banks. At times, a log would snag, in rapids or on the shore and within minutes, a tangled dam would rise out of the water, plugging the stream. One after another logs would go cannoning into one another, adding to the weight of the accumulated hardwood. The weight of the mass would mount until it became an irresistible force. Then at last something would give; a log, nine feet in girth would snap like a matchstick. With a great detonation, the dam would capsize and a tidal wave of wood and water would wash down the slopes of the mountain.
Chaungs are the trade winds of teak. In the dry season, when the earth cracked and forests wilted, the streams would dwindle into dribbles upon the slope, barely able to shoulder the weight of a handful leaves, mere trickles of mud between strings of cloudy riverbed pools. This was the season for the timber men to comb the forest for teak. The trees once picked, had to be killed and left to dry, for the density of teak is such that it will not remain afloat while its heartwood is moist. The killing was achieved with a girdle of incisions, thin slits carved deep into the wood at a height of four feet and six inches off the ground (teak being ruled despite the wildness of its terrain, by imperial stricture in every tiny detail).
The assassinated trees were left to die where they stood, sometimes for 3 years or even more. It was only after they had been judged dry enough to float that they were marked for felling. That was when the axe-men came, shouldering their weapons, squinting along the blades to judge their victim’s angle of descent.
Dead though they were, the trees would sound great tocsins of protest as they fell, unloosing thunderclap explosions that could be heard miles away, bringing down everything in their path, rafts of saplings, looped nets of rattan. Thick stands of bamboo were flattened in moments, thousands of jointed limbs exploding simultaneously in deadly splinter blasts, throwing up mushroom clouds of debris.
Then teams of elephants would go to work, guided by their handlers their oo-sis and pe-sis, butting, prodding, levering with their trunks. Belts of wooden rollers would be laid on the ground and quick fingered pa-kyeiks, specialized in the tying of chains would dart between the elephants’ legs, fastening steel harnesses. When finally the logs began to move such was the friction of their passage that water carriers would have to run beside them, dousing the smoking rollers with tilted buckets.
Dragged to the banks of Chaungs, the logs were piled into stacks and left to await the day when the chaungs would awaken from the hibernation of the hot season. With the first rains, the puddles along the streams’ beds would stir and stretch and join hands, rising lowly to the task of clearing away the debris accumulated over the long months of desiccation. Then, in a matter of days, with the rains pouring down, they would rear up in their beds, growing hundreds – fold in height.: where a week before they had wilted under the weight of twigs and leaves, they would now throw 2-ton logs downstream like feathered darts.
Thus would begin the logs’ journey to the timberyards of Rangoon: with elephants nudging them over the lopes into the frothing waters of the chaungs below.
Following the lie of the land they would make their way from feeder-streams to tributaries, until they debouched finally into the engorged rivers of the plains.
In years of bad rain, when the chaungs were too feeble to heft these great weights, the tiber companies’ profits plummeted. But even in good years, they were jealous, punishing taskmasters – these mountain streams. At the height of the season a single snagged tree could result in a pile up of 5000 logs or more. The servicing of these white waters was a science unto itself with its own cadre of adepts, special teams of oo-sis and elephants who spent the monsoon months ceaselessly patrolling the forest: these were the famed aunging herds skilled in the difficult and dangerous arts of clearing chaungs.
Once while sheltering beside a dying and girdled trunk of teak, Saya John gave Rajkumar a mint leaf to hold in one hand and a fallen leaf from the tree in the other. Feel them, he said, rub them between your fingers.
Teak is a relative of mint, tectona grandis, born of the same genus of a flowering plant, but of a distaff branch, presided by that most soothing of herbs verbena. It counts among its close kin many other fragrant and familiar herbs - sage, savoury, thyme, lavender, rosemary and most remarably holy basil, with its many descendants, green & purple, smooth leaved and coarse, pungent and fragrant bitter and sweet.
There was a teak tree in Pegu once, with a trunk that measured 106 feet from the ground to its first branch. Imagine what a mint’s leaf would be like if it were to grow upon a plant that rose more than a 100 feet into the air, straight up from the ground, without tapering or deviation, it’s stem as straight as a plumb-line, its first leaves appearing almost at the top clustered close together and outspread, like the hands of the surfacing diver. The mint leaf was the ssize of Rajkumar’s thumb while the other would have covered an elephant’s footprint, one was a weed that served to flavour soup, while the other came from a tree that had felled dynasties, caused invasions, created fortunes, brought a new way of life into being. Between the faint hairiness of the one and the bristling coarse texture fur of the other, there was an unmistakable kinship, a palpably familial link.
When the timber-heavy streams of the monsoons debouched into the Irrawaddy, the impact was that of colliding trains. The river was by now a swollen, angry torrent, racked by clashing currents and pock-marked with whirlpools. When the feeder streams slammed head-on into the river, 2-ton logs were thrown cartwheeling into the air; 50 foot tree trunks were sent shooting across the water like flat bottomed pebbles. The noise was that of an artillery barrage, with the sound of the detonations carrying for miles into the hinterland.
It was at these points where the river intersected with its feeder streams, that the teak companies’ profits were at greatest risk. So fast were the Irrawaddy’s currents in this season that the timber was as good as lost unless quickly brought to shore. It was here of necessity that that the logs passed from their terrestrial handlers to the aquatic, from oo-sis and elephants to river folk and raftsmen.
The streams’ confluences were guarded by retrievers specialised in the capture of river-borne logs: for the sum of three annas per log, these swimmers swung a human net across the river, wresting the logs from the currents and guiding them into shore. At the start of the season whole villages moved locations to take up stations along the river. Children kept watching along the banks, while the elders breasted the currents, darting between the giant trunks, treading water around churning whirlpools of teak. Some of these retrievers came back to shore lying prone on their captured logs, legs dangling. A few rode in standing on their feet, guiding the spinning, moss covered logs with prehensile toes: these were the monarchs of the river, the acknowledged masters of retrieval.
Once brought to the banks, the logs were anchored and moored. When enough had accumulated, skilled raftsmen bound them together into river-worthy craft. These rafts were all of the same size, the number of their logs being set, by the companies’ ordinance, at an exact 360 in each, a round sum of 30 dozen.
At one ton or more per log, this gave each raft, the tonnage of a small battleship and a deck space that was many times larger, wide enough to accommodate a fair or a parade ground. At the centre of each of these immense floating platforms, there stood a small hut, built by the raftsmen as housing for the crew. Like the temporary dwellings of teak camps, these raft-borne huts were erected in a matter of hours. They were all exactly the same in plan and yet always different in execution - one being marked by the trailed shoots of a quick growing wine, another by a chicken coop or even a shelter for a pig or a goat. Each raft bore a tall mast and a pole with a handful of grass affixed to the top, an offering to the river’s nats. Before being cut adrift, the rafts were assigned numbers, to be displayed on their masts along with the flags of the companies that owned them. The rafts travelled only between dawn and dusk, covering 10-15 miles a day, powered solely by the flow of the river and guided only by oars. The journey to Rangoon from upcountry forests could take 5 weeks or even more.
Despite their immense size-the rafts were immense in construction,: running afoul of a shoal or sandbank, they could disintegrate in a matter of minutes. Solid in appearance, their surfaces were as deceptive as quicksand. Thousands of gaps constantly opened and closed between the logs, each, a small but deadly ankle trap..."
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
It’s a monumental work that starts with magnificence and proceeds to become mundane.
Well, that’s my one-line judgment for those of you who do not have the patience to go through a rather lengthy book review… I would still ask you to read it. Only one paragraph is dedicated to storyline. The rest are my thoughts.
It’s quite a story; appearing at one time to be the story of a dynasty, and then of an empire, of the royal family, of lovers, then of a nation, of several nations, of world war, of a family, of individuals and of generations… intriguing the readers as well as making them impatient.
Storyline in a paragraph - The royal family living in he Glass Palace at Mandalay in Burma is taken into custody by the British and removed from the palace, first to Madras in India and then to the Outram House in Ratnagiri in Maharashtra where they spend the rest of their lives. Rajkumar, an ordinary Indian boy working in Burma falls in love with Dolly, a domestic help of the queen. Years later, when he has become a successful businessman, he travels to India to find Dolly. He marries her and both return to Burma. Uma, wife of the district collector posted in Ratnagiri becomes a friend of Dolly. After her husband dies, Uma becomes involved in the freedom struggle and travels to Europe and America. The story moves on to the next generation where the children are occupied with various businesses across India, Burma and Malaya, even as Japan and England go to war. The lives of people are thrown into chaos and turmoil. The Indian soldiers fighting in various countries for the British are mere employees doing a job for money, without any love or patriotic feeling for England……the story moves to yet another generation. The last few chapters return to a changed Burma, where people live in perpetual fear and mistrust…in the midst of all the ruination bequeathed to them by the ravaging foreigner who came to their land for the love of teak…
The initial setting of this story – Burma, King’s palace, fort, - and the time - marked by the historical event of English invasion – make it very interesting and charming.
The story of Teak – its felling, its death, its revenge and finally its subjugation has been dramatised & romanticised – vividly described as if it were a story of people. How teak caused invasions, felled dynasties and brought a new way of life into being… is very fascinating.
I had read somewhere that Economy dictates everything in life. The example of teak made me see how.
People, culture, lifestyle and society – all of them bore upon themselves the strong signature of their profession of felling teaks.
Teak turned a people and a nation into all kinds of specialists that were needed to fell teak…Oo-sis, elephant riders, teak camp leaders, fasteners of chain to the logs, clearers of streams in the event of snagged logs across the stream....and, the training of elephants to thrust their weight upon a target with the amazing precision of an arrow striking a point.
It brought out such skills and such adaptability in men! It created a new species of people. Life got all its meaning from this profession.
Life still gets all its meaning from the professions that people follow. Isn't it? And when you change your profession, life acquires a new meaning.
The story in the beginning is unputdownable and full of promise.
Language is quite simple and generally nice.
Imagery is effortless but effective. You can actually see those teak forests, 2 ton logs being swept by waters, the red sores over the hind-parts of an anthrax infected elephant, the bay and the promontory at Ratnagiri, the river, the gorge, the Peepul tree at the lip of the gorge…and many other pictures.
Rajkumar’s character sketching is noteworthy in that he is an unusual protagonist. Not quite loveable but you want him to win.
As for other characters, the landscapes which they inhabit are solitary and so are the characters themselves. The teak forests, the rubber plantations, the Outram House overlooking the Arabian Sea...
Yes. Almost all characters are solitary and aloof. Dont understand why the author chose to sketch them all that way.
It’s a monumental work written after a lot of research.
Actually, the book is one of those rare cases where every ingredient is excellent - imagery, portrait of landscapes, facts and history, but the story itself is not well told… the story is there, definitely, but not well told. Like I said in the beginning, it starts with magnificence and gradually become mundane.
For various reasons...
It’s a story of generations - but as the story moves from one generation to another, there seems to be a digression.
At certain points, storytelling fails. How Rajkumar managed to get the contract, how he managed to find out what the other competitors had quoted, how he figured out where the king and queen lived and how he managed to meet them, this is not explained. One has to simply assume that the boy was a very clever and able fellow who could do all he wanted.
Character sketching in general is inadequate.
Somewhere the story becomes unreal, artificial - reader does not get any insight into the working of thoughts and emotions in the minds and hearts of the characters - Rajkumar and Dolly - how they came together, for instance.
The bonding between characters – how they related to each other, how they got along, how they felt, is not brought forth.
That’s when the story loses the charm it had in the beginning and a kind of banality creeps in: when the reader is presented with one event after another occurring in time without the author pausing sufficiently to explain how people responded to those events and happenings in their lives; without the author dwelling upon the hearts and minds of various people in the story.
It is as if the author, after completing the story decided to do away with many paragraphs to make the book less bulky. I wouldn’t have minded the bulkiness if the book could give me a full appreciation of the story.
The book is full of interesting, absorbing facts. While it is good, it has its pitfall. There is just about enough fiction to prevent it from being called a documentary.
Usually, in fiction, the story forms the main theme of the work and other aspects such as language, imagery, character sketching, history and facts serve as embellishments. In this work the story serves as an embellishment whereas facts and historical events form the main thread… well almost! I wouldn’t call it a book of fiction, but a book of facts. And fiction is there to provide flesh for facts.
The author is omniscient and wants to present all his knowledge in one single book. He has too much to say and he insists on saying all of it- history, geography, teak, Army, British, world war, rubber plantation, freedom struggle, royal palace of Burma, monarchy…
A little more focus on one or few threads through the story would have been better.
The book suffers from the problem of plenty. The story tires in the end.
The last few chapters however, serve to redeem the book. They look back in retrospection and the tragedy in the end comes more as a relief and a break from monotony, than as pain.
My final word. Read this book.
Use of language…(this is for me)
There were ripples of activity in the darkness, like the fluttering of moths in the recesses of a musty cupboard (a good simile). People crept slowly out of their dwellings that surrounded the citadel.
This is how power is eclipsed in a moment of vivid realism, between the waning of one dynasty of governance and its replacement by the next; in an instant when the world springs free of its mooring of dreams and reveals itself to be girdled in the pathways of survival and self preservation.
His face was weathered with hard use and his lips were heavy and richly colored, very red against his dark skin. Along the line of his jaw there was a fold of flesh that hinted at jowls to come. He was far from good looking, but there was something arresting about him, a massiveness of construction, allied with an unlikely mobility of expression - as though life had been breathed into a wall of slate – (a good analogy)
It occurred to her that if she’d had children of her own, they would have been of the same age, they would all have been friends - the canvas of a lifetime’s connections would have acquired the patina of another generation.
He had a strange sense of having stepped into a picture that had been created with the express purpose of tricking the eye. At times, the tunnels of foliage around him seemed still and empty, but moments later they appeared to be alive with movement. With every step, figures and shapes seemed to appear and disappear, as rows of trees fell into and out of alignment. Every gracefully arched tree held the promise of cover, yet there was no point that did not intersect with a perfect line of fire. … the sound of footsteps echoing down the long straight corridors that stretched away from him in every direction.
It was impossible to distinguish form from shadow, movement from stillness - the real and the illusory seemed to have merged without seam…
Suddenly the baby’s face turned a bright, dark red and she began to cry at the top of her voice. At that moment, the world held no more beautiful sound than this utterance of rage: this primeval sound of life proclaiming its determination to defend itself…
There was a restful numbness in her body: she wanted nothing more than to sit there as long as she could, relishing the absence of sensation. But as always, her tormentors were bearing down on her…”get up, Manju, get up”. - perfect expression of feeling…something all of us identify with.. A feeling all of us have felt at one point in time or another…
His friends were out of earshot although he could see them
A timid, undemonstrative person
He tipped his basket into the refuse heap
He offered her a respectful genuflection
Intrusive display of concern
She looked thin, limp, wilted - a candlewick on whom grief burnt like a flame.
There was no simplicity in the boy’s face, no innocence: his eyes were filled with worldliness, curiosity and hunger.
Like all books where stories are set in a historical period, this one gives facts that are interesting and amusing
Such is the footwork of the skilled aunging elephant that it can balance its weight on the lip of a waterfall, perch like a crane upon a small mid-stream boulder, turn in a space that would trip a mule…
Railway sleepers were made of teak… those days
The world’s richest gem mines lay in Burma and many fine stones had passed into the possession of the ruling family.
Many 1000’s kept vigil through the night. The steamer’s name was Thooriya, the sun. At daybreak, when the skies lightened over the hills, it was gone.
King Mindon was perhaps the wisest, most prudent ruler ever to sit on the throne of Burma. Thebaw was his son
Rangoon was founded by Thebaw’s ancestor Alaungpaya.
Maids did their shikoes before the queen
‘Its just a sari’ the queen said, ‘but she’s wearing it in the new style.’ she explained that an Indian official had made up a new way of wearing a sari , with the odds and ends borrowed from European costume - a petticoat, a blouse. She’d heard that women all over India were adopting the new style.
Near Aden was a narrow channel flowing between two immense cliffs - this waterway which formed the link between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea was known in Arabic as the Bab-al-Mandab, ‘the gateway of Lamentation’. Could there possible a better chosen name?
Europeans on the ship were friendlier once they were past the Suez Canal. Mrs Dutt hadsaid that it was always like this: there was something about the air of the Mediterranean that seemed to turn even the most haughty colonialists into affable democrats.
A partner in the plantation, he had been responsible for ensuring a steady supply of workers, most of them from the Madras presidency, in southern India.
The assassination of the Grand Duke Ferdinand in Sarajevo…. They did not, like the rest of the world, have an inkling that the killing in Sarajevo would spark a world war…
Nor did they know that rubber would be a vital strategic material in this conflict: that in Germany the discarding of articles made of rubber would become an offense punishable by law; that submarines would be sent overseas to smuggle rubber; that the commodity would come to be valued more then ever before, increasing their wealth beyond their most extravagant dreams.
They have a saying - “Every rubber tree in Malaya was paid for with an Indian life”
‘Brihannala’, a Bengali name (rare), proved obdurately resistant to everyday use.
Unlike his father, how was not a believer of colonialism, unlike his father. His antipathy to British rule was surpassed only by his loathing of European fascism and Japanese militarism.
Colonialism’s difficulty was freedom’s opportunity
The name of our village is Kotana, near Kurukshetra, not far from Delhi. it’s a simple village, but there’s one thing we always say of Kotana…In every house in Kotana, you will find a piece of the world. In one, there’s a hookah from Egypt, in another, a box from China…
1942.….One afternoon, her elderly gatekeeper came to tell her that there were some destitute outside, asking for her. This was only too common at the time; Bengal was in the throes of a famine, one of the worst in history. The city was full of starving migrants from the countryside, people were stripping the parks of grass and leaves, sifting through the sewers for grains of rice.
A saying “nowhere do they have such a gift for laughter as they do in Burma”, yet it was evident that the laughter here had a special edge, honed upon fears that were never quite absent. It was a greedy kind of merriment, as though everyone wanted to have their fill while they could.
Weston reflecting on Trotsky “New and revolutionary art forms may awaken a epople or disturb their complacency or challenge old ideals with constructive prophecies of change…
In Myanmar nothing is simple. Every household has a registered list of members. Nobody else can spend the night there without permission….
"What marks the difference between classical and modern writing…in classical writing, everything happens outside - on streets, in public squares and battlefields, in palaces and gardens - in places that everyone can imagine.
As a writer, nothing is more difficult for me than this - going into a house, intruding, violating..."
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I had bought the bus ticket to Nubra the previous day. The bus that was supposed to leave at 6 in the morning, left only after 7:30 or so. So I grabbed some breakfast and got into this rickety old bus. Soon, the bus was filled with passengers, mostly the local people who commuted between villages. Did not really see tourists.
I had a window seat. The bus started and within a short time, it was packed and I thought it would burst.
We started. It was going to be one of the most memorable bus rides ever. Ladakh is magical. Truly.
No superlative can do justice to what the landscapes of Ladakh do to the human mind and heart as they fall on a pair of unbelieving eyes, greedy to behold the picture forever. And forever.
My camera went click, click, click, click and click almost all throughout the 5-6 hour bus ride. I resisted sleep so that I would not miss anything interesting that lay outside the window. The high altitude at which I was moving gave me a ‘top of the world’ feeling and it actually felt like flying. With every bend in the road and every turn that the bus took, a new world unfolded, in colours that I had never seen in nature.
Have you seen mauve coloured mountains? Next to purple hills? With snow on top? Immediately next to a huge pile of sculpted brown & beige sand? With red and chalk green stones strewn over it? A frozen sheet of white that was a lake, in between two brown hills? An eternity of space at the edge of which are many more mountains engraved with designs? Green fields in a desert? A village in the shade of poplars? And a small stream running about frivolously in the midst of complete solemnity?
Yes. I was flying on a magic carpet.
From the travel book…
“The ascent was dramatic offering breathtaking panoramic vista from the top.
The road to Nubra initially skirts the cultivated farmlands north of Leh, up a valley that extends for over 10km beyond the city, with the village of Ganglas at its head. A series of hairpin bends follow as the road ascends the rugged slopes beyond the verdant valley. There are great views back of the Stok range, with its snow peaks. After about 25 km, you reach the military encampment of South Pollu (15900 ft), where your permits are checked. The terrain gets more desolate now as the ascent continues up the grim mountains, over long switchbacks. Patches of snow appear on the upper slopes as you climb higher; down below, the road you have come up by, a black strip of asphalt twisting and turning as it snakes up seems like a giant dark sphagetti strand dropped from heaven over the rugged hills. By now you are on the slopes of the main ridge of the Ladakh range, and the roads head westward as it climbs.
Khardungla, the world’s highest motorable pass (18380 feet, disputed). Only one-way traffic is normally permitted on the pass - between 9 AM and 1 PM vehicles heading towards Nubra from Leh, other way round between 1 and 5 PM.
Khardungla pass, 39 km west from Leh overwhelms most 1st time visitors. It is 2608 feet higher than Mont Blanc, the highest Alpine summit and only 1942 feet lower than Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest peak. The top of the feeling is heightened by the panoramic view of the snowy Saser Muztagh (eastern Karakoram) Range away to the north, with the Argan Kangri seen on the right, being the tallest of the peaks in that range. There are a dozen odd military sheds on the pass from one of which tea is served free to visitors. Soldiers man the check-post, coordinate army traffic besides keeping the pass snow-free. Because of the strategic military importance of the Nubra road, the Indian army ensures that the pass stays open all year around. The road was built in 1976, before which it was a bridle path used by caravans on the central Asian trade route and open to civilian vehicular traffic 12 yrs later”
All I had to do to touch snow was to stretch my hand ouside the window. It started a few inches from a my arm and extended all the way up to the mountain top!
A few hundred meters before Khardungla, I got down(from the crowded bus, with great difficulty) where I took these pics. Within 2 minutes, I was frozen and my lungs were hurting.
Thats the view from Khardungla pass. The bus did not stop or I could have had tea from that only shop that serves tea for free...
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
It’s a story about a Seagull, called Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Unlike all other Seagulls in his community whose everyday life was spent in finding scraps of food around fishing boats, Jonathan Livingston Seagull was passionate about flying. He flew all day and late into the evening trying different styles of flying, attaining newer heights and greater speeds. He would not eat well, became weak but would not give up flying. One day, he was ostracized from his community by the seniors and leaders of the community for not conforming to the rules of the society.
Jonathan continues to fly more and more and attains great skills. One day as he flies, he enters a new world, a new realm above and beyond the realm he previously lived in. in this strange place, there lived Seagulls who were all like him. They had defied their society to pursue their flying interest. Having done the unusual and the noble, they had all become elevated.
In this place Jonathan meets a guide, an elevated seagull who teaches him more about flying. Most important of all he learns about the art of reaching any place by just thinking or wanting to do so. He is told that the mind is all powerful and the limitations that we find in ourselves exist because we believe in them. After a lot of faith and practice, he learns the special art.
Having learnt this greatest skill he does what no other would normally do. He returns to his original realm or world and works towards enlightening the other mundane seagulls. Even in the midst of mistrust, suspicion and resentment, he wins the hearts of many seagulls who follow his path and come under his tutelage.
A simple fable about rising beyond the routine of struggling for subsistence in order to follow one’s dream or one’s true calling. About having the courage not to tread the safe path shown by convention but to follow the trail that leads to the treasure of knowledge, freedom and perfection. And yet to empathize with the custodians of convention and to be able not only to forgive them for their judgment but to be able to love them, accept them and return to them to share with them what you have found.
Lines from the book…
Heaven is not a place and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect…
The gull sees farthest who flies highest...
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
No. This is not one of those so called ‘modern’, ‘westernized’, young Indians reveling in fashionable self-deprecatory talk. It’s an understanding, an explanation of an Indian pattern often mocked at.
Among other things, the book ‘Discovery of India’ discusses art – music, painting, poetry, literature and drama – that developed in different nations, races and civilizations.
Although there was some form of art everywhere, Greece and India seem to have produced copious amounts of significant art. There are some inevitable but interesting comparisons.
One comparison was that between Greek and Indian Drama. Indian drama essentially meant Sanskrit Drama those days.
The author observes that there are powerful tragedies in Greek drama. But there is no tragedy in Sanskrit drama. I have studied Sanskrit in school and college and in the course of my study I have come across several plays – Abhijnyana Shakuntala, Mritchhakatika, Swapna Vasavadatta among others. I have read the great Indian epics. But I never noticed this characteristic feature!
Only when I read this book, it struck me – ‘Oh yes!, there is no tragedy in Sanskrit Drama’!
This I believe was in keeping with the Indian spirit.
Indians have always had unwavering faith in the doctrine of Karma. Even today, Karma is a strongly believed theory in India. Good begets good and evil begets evil. It’s a doctrine above and beyond questioning, above and beyond verification. It governed most of morality and ethics that prevailed in the ancient Indian society. It was a sort of paradigm in which people lived.
Now, what is a tragedy? A bad thing happening to a good fellow. Isn’t it?
And this is not in keeping with the principle of Karma and people would not be able to identify with it or reconcile with the idea. A bad thing happening to a good fellow was simply not acceptable to them. A good thing happening to a bad fellow was equally unpalatable.
True, in the Ramayana, Rama is exiled to the forest, his consort is kidnapped by Ravana, but in the end he triumphs and returns victorious. In the Mahabharata, the protagonists, the Pandavas were humiliated by the Kauravas (antagonists), they lost their kingdom, spent 13 years in the forest but in the end, they won.
So tragic events are permissible in intermediate stages but in the end, the good fellow has to be happy. The whole thing has to make sense, meaning, it has to be in keeping with the doctrine of Karma.
All of modern Indian drama and Indian cinema directly or indirectly derive from Sanskrit drama. Therefore it has been a pattern in most Indian movies that the hero wins in the end always, no matter how improbable his winning may be, no matter how impossible his situation.
Nowadays, of course things are changing and we have heroes with imperfect character and villains whose actions, the movie attempts to justify. We do have tragedies and there isn’t necessarily an explanation. But the happy ending pattern is always mocked at.
Now that I know where the pattern comes from, I UNDERSTAND. It does continue to seem funny, but it has ceased to be ridiculous.
Just thought I would share this all with you.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Palli Samaj is all about life in rural Bengal.
Ramesh, a native of the village, but bred mostly in the city of Calcutta romanticizes village life. He imagines it must be charming and innocent. But when he revisits his village after many many years, he is simply disillusioned.
He sees that the village society is plagued with politics, persecution of the innocent, rivalry, jealousy, greed, selfishness, family feuds and disharmony between people.
There is the caste system, ostracization and untouchability. The custodians of so-called religion are the most fallen people. People are scheming against one another and preoccupied with schemes to usurp other people’s property.
There are Muslims in the neighbouring villages who are more united than the Hindus (who are divided because of caste), but the Muslims covet each other’s daughters and wives.
There is malaria that has confined people to bed for weeks and months but no one cares to cover up the stagnant ponds which are the breeding grounds of the disease.
He decides to return to the city disgusted with what he sees but is detained by his aunt Bisveshwari who is one of the few good people in the village and has retained her sensibility in the midst of madness.
He tries to help the people there by attending to the causes of the village such as bad roads, dilapidated school, etc, only to find himself in an imbroglio and finally lands in jail.
When Ramesh returns from Jail he sees that the problems have corrected, as if by a strange dispensation of Providence.
What his conscious battle for months could not do was achieved by his going to prison.
Beni, Rama, Ramesh, Bisveshwari are the main characters of the story.
A few noteworthy lines from the book...
Always make fully sure that the fire is out, the debt is paid and the enemy vanquished...
While in city, Ramesh had thought to himself, “if only I can once reach my village, I can escape all these evils. There, religion governs life and society has still preserved its integrity.’
But where was religion alive in these villages? If the very essence of religion has disappeared, why did its putrefying corpse reign supreme? It seemed as if rural society was clinging in desperation to this distorted and decomposing cadaver and in the process, sinking deeper and deeper into slimy degradation. But the most pitiful contradiction of ethics was that the jibes of the villagers were directed at city life – where, they asserted, religion was non-existent!
After raining non-stop for two days, it was just letting up towards the evening...
Whether or not a person is truly worthy can be assessed only when money comes into play! This is the time when no deception is possible and only man’s true nature comes to the fore...
Author observes that there was more unity in Muslim villages. “the manner in which everyone clustered around to help the needy in whatever manner possible was something Ramesh had never witnessed in any Hindu village”...
The disputes and discord that result due to caste differences, are a sign of progress and not the cause. The strife has to come first...
Persecuting the innocent...
If he returned to the city, there would be no hope of any redress t all...
The more we analyse falsehood, it increases in strength. There is no greater sin than increasing evil through one’s own impatient actions...
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Diwali. October 09. Mysore.
I, my brother Murali, my cousin Phani and another cousin Aravind – all gathered at my place. After fireworks and dinner, it was bedtime. There was a lot of laughter as we talked about this and that… and finally we came to the topic of ghosts.
My cousin Phani has a penchant for running into ghosts. This time, it was during his stay in a room in Bangalore with his friends.
They were the three of them in this room on the first floor of this independent house in Ashoknagar near Vidyapeetha circle.
One of the boys was careless and the other two would rebuke him for being forgetful about various things.
After bathing, for instance, this boy would forget to switch off the boiler. After a few times of being told to be careful and after some scolding, the boy started being careful. But the problem continued. The boiler switch was found to be on! And the poor boy pleaded that he had surely switched it off!
At night when the boys were asleep, their blankets would be pulled off or misplaced.
One day, my cousin’s friends planned to go to the temple. The two of them woke up first, had their bath and started getting ready while my cousin was asleep. My cousin woke up in a while and entered the bathroom. When he was still bathing, his friends shouted goodbye to him and said they would lock the door from outside. My cousin came out of the bath to find that his friends had gone.
What he also found was that the door was bolted from the inside and there was nobody else in the room! That’s when his suspicion was confirmed.
The next day, he accosted the house owner’s son and made a few enquiries about his family members and who had stayed in the room previously. The boy revealed that he had an elder brother who had committed suicide and he used to live in the same room as these boys lived in now!
My cousin is a fearless guy and continued to live in the same room. Of course, they brought in pictures of Gods and hung them on the wall and all that, but if I were in his position, I would have vacated the place the same day. Freaky!
The discussion that night went on to other ghosts that my grandparents and other people had run into in our native village. My mother who had been sitting next to me asked us to stop the morbid discussion as it was quite late and we should not be going to bed with all that in our head. Moreover, I was going to be sleeping alone upstairs in my room!
But courageous as I am and not easily shaken by these things, I encouraged my cousins to share some more of it with us. And then we went on to discuss ghosts of presidents in the white house, ghosts of patients who died on the operation table in hospital corridors, this really gory picture my cousin had seen, this really scary movie which they had watched during broad daylight and got scared etc. and then there was the inevitable question “Do you believe in ghosts?”. All of us agreed that we did.
It was time to retire. I walked to the dark stairs and turned on all lights in a hurry. (Usually, I climb the staircase without caring for the lights!). I walked to my bed and sat on it. The windows behind me were all closed. Thanks. But one window on my side was open. I looked in its direction. It was dark outside. And quite still. I called up two of my friends and consulted them. I could have slept alone. I told you I am courageous. But then, what if I saw a scary dream and woke up in horror? What if I heard some sound and opened my eyes to see the tall figure of my father standing at the door?(He has this habit of walking around the house ‘making sure everything’s alright’ on days that he does not sleep well).
So I decided to sleep in my room downstairs. I did not dream that night. And the next morning we talked about more ghosts. Some very mischievous proven ghosts that have made people vacate their houses. The unstoppable ones that did not even care for exorcists who are scarier than ghosts. I will write about them later.
Last night (my place in Bangalore), as I woke up in the dark to drink water and groped my way to the kitchen, this episode about my cousin occurred to me and a chill ran down my spine. Having stayed in different places and for the last 2 years, all by myself, what with so many people committing suicide all the time, I am grateful that I have not run into a ghost!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
After touring all the places south of Leh and saying tata to driver, I still had some energy left and decided to go to Shanti Stupa.
Built by the ‘Peace Sect’, an association of Japanese Buddhists, and inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 1983, the Shanti Stupa crowns a hill on the western edge of the Leh valley and can be reached by a flight of steps (157 in all) that rises just off Changspa.
The climb is most enjoyable. Every 2-3 steps, you stop and turn around - to look at the same picture - from a higher and higher point as you are climbing... The sun sets a little more each time. The hue of the evening mellows - as the hot afternoon white transforms to a softer gold, yellow, and then peach and pink and eventually blue... So dramatic...
The chalk white Stupa is a place of peace and reflection.
The walls of the dome inside are embellished with Buddha images; on the lower level are 53 Buddhas while the upper level has the master portrayed in four symbolic poses. There is a small shrine outside the dome enshrining a golden Buddha.
Dinner at Womderland - Primavera - capsicum, olives, capers, parsley, sundried tomato, garlic and olive oil. Banoffee pie... very interesting...