Saturday, December 28, 2013

Switching Allegiance

All my life, it is Krishna that I have liked. Rama never appealed to me.

It was my father who was devoted to Rama (how boring I thought), though he has a collection of Krishna statues at home and quotes Him often from the Geetha.

Rama was no match for Krishna’s charm, dynamism, diplomacy, energy and playfulness.
His virtue of obedience to father was not particularly attractive though his loyalty to one woman was a consolation and a rare example among Gods and demigods.

During my growing years, I read the Mahabharata again and again and as a result remember minute details of the story. I could answer most of the quiz questions on KBC or other quiz contests.
But the Ramayana, I read only once. And once more in high school for a certain exam. I remember only the outline of the story, may be its spine, a few ribs but no flesh and blood, to be sure.

Rama was always a faraway God, Krishna was near to the heart, more personal, more intimate.

But in the recent times, very gradually, very subtly, very slowly, this changed.
I did not even know about it.

I should have doubted it when I listened to that slow classical song in which the singer takes the name of Rama in a most imploring tone and I was touched by the yearning and longing in the voice.

But I realized it finally when I found myself going back to the song again and again and looking forward to that particular line and sang along beseechingly.

Then came the songs from my memory, always there but never visited, songs praising Rama, recounting his tale or simply mentioning him, they came to me one after another and I found a newfound love for those songs.

I became conscious of it, with a sense of mild surprise.

Then followed the understanding.

I had entered a new phase of growth in life.

Sure, as a general principle, all our outside world is a reflection of who we are inside, all changes without are a reflection of changes within.

But a change from Krishna to Rama, was no simple change, it must require transformation of a deep nature.

Acquiring a new taste – for a colour, or a song, a fruit – it does not take much.
But a new God? It takes everything.

And sure, I am going through transformation.

The fire is part of me and will be there but the waters have become deeper.
I will keep jumping in the air but my feet have found their ground.
I will continue to believe that I can change, I can control, but very importantly, I have learnt to let go.
I talk and sing and joke when I find the right company but more often than not I find myself keeping quiet.
I want to get back at the offender but I don’t lift a finger, I simply leave it to divine retribution these days.
I believe in human effort and action but I have seen the power of surrender – it leaves God with no other choice than to take care of you.

I will continue to love Krishna, but I have found Rama.
And it feels like a closure to my search – not so much for a God, but for the final destiny of my philosophy, my value system and ideology in life that have travelled far and long through various stages of birth, growth, digression, loss, discovery, branching, convergence and then lingered for long, waiting for their final calling.
For what does God stand for, if not a value system, a philosophy of life?

The calling has, as if, come. And the growth has begun.

From Smartness to Sincerity. Charm to Calm. Energy to Equanimity. Effervescence to Gravity. Vogue to Virtue. Tact to Truth...

Forgiveness? I don’t see it anywhere on the horizon but it will come.

On the table before me is the book “Lectures on Ramayana” by The Right Honourable VS Srinivasa Shastri once known to possess English of the highest standard in India.
I collected this book from a second hand bookshop years ago, upon recommendation by my father. Since then, several times it has been ‘the next book on my agenda”. Perhaps the time was not ripe.

Perhaps it is so now.

This year has come to an end with these thoughts and with this post.

New year is just a few days away. I have decided that it MUST be a better year than this one for book reading.
Let me begin my reading for the new year with this rare and precious book on Rama.
Let me also begin the new year with beautiful English :)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Music Lesson

15 weeks in the US.
Mouth-watering butter. Cheese in every kind of food.
Even Caesar salad which was mostly grass and leaf came with shredded cheese.
And then there was Cheese Cake factory. Also Taco Bell and its cheesy potatoes.

It made no difference that I was vegetarian.
It made no difference that I went to the gym almost every day.

I put on weight. Though it was not perceptible to others.

When I returned, I took to my fruit juices and salads and one meal a day.

After almost 3 months of this discipline, I became slimmer, though I have way to go before I get back to the ‘before US trip’ shape.

The only fault in my discipline seemed to be waking up very late in the morning and going to office by 12 and heading to lunch before turning on the computer. Work began only post lunch and went on till late in the evening.

But there was another fault and I was to learn it from the most unexpected quarter.

A month or so ago, I resumed my music classes which had come to a pause once I began touring Manhattan.

My new music teacher is so different from the old one.
While the old one enjoyed withholding until you begged, my new guru insists on giving even after your cup has overflowed.

I was in raptures when I found her. I had not finished singing my first line when she exclaimed, what a lovely voice I had.
That’s when I realized that my old teacher had not, in the 2 years of her tutelage, said one word in praise of my singing. Not one.

She too was happy to have me as her student. So she said.

The lessons came pouring. One Varna in just 3 classes. One devotional song in every class. She was set to offer her all.
Only, my cup had shrunk.

I would sing just four lines and already feel tired. I had to begin clearing my throat within minutes of starting the lessons.
She would make me tea at the beginning of every class to soothe my throat. But it didn’t help.
Practising at home was the same experience.

The result was that she taught me lesson after lesson and I could not master even one and reproduce it to her satisfaction in the subsequent classes.
My pending lessons started piling up.

I had never faced this problem ever. I couldn’t figure out why it was happening. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make much progress.
What saddened me most was the shadow of disappointment on my teacher’s face.

I thought of one means after another is search of a solution.

I went hunting for a suitable bottle for the bottle warmer I had bought from the US. I would heat water, dip into it one of my Tazo tea bags, add some honey and have the concoction before singing. Some warm liquid was what my throat needed. Moreover, honey improved voice quality, they said.

My father said, give up citrus. Citrus was part of my everyday diet. A glass of Mosambi juice was something I had every evening. Hmmm...

I called up my playback singer friend and told him my worry.
He said he had faced exactly the same problem – having to clear throat very often; and he had consulted Dr. Rudrappa, a renowned ENT specialist. The doctor had solved his problem with his prescription. Sometimes, you could have throat infections or allergies you were not even aware of. But Dr. Rudrappa would know for sure.
As for tiring soon, he would teach me some exercises when we met next.

That weekend, I attended two music concerts that were part of an annual music festival. The second day, I ran up to the artist and asked her a few questions, almost in desperation. Did she keep away from citrus? No, she had citrus, but avoided oily food, though not completely. What about clearing one’s throat? That was very harmful and must never be done; continue singing, wait for ‘it’ to go away on its own; drink warm water and do salt water gargling.

I came home somewhat consoled but not wholly at rest.

And then, in a flash it occurred to me.

For almost three months, I had not had breakfast.
Skipping breakfast is bad, very bad for the heart. And when you don’t have a strong heart, you cannot sing continuously, for more than a few minutes.

That’s why......!!!

But that was just my speculation. I wasn't sure I had found the right cause. I hoped it was the right cause because the solution was a simple one.
The very next day on, soon after brushing, I walked to the near by Adigas for breakfast.

It has been two weeks now.
Only two weeks, but I can say, my speculation was right.
I no longer feel tired as I sing, though I know it will be a few more weeks before I can sing effortlessly.

Looking back, I think, Oh God! What had I done.
For three months I had gone without breakfast, knowing that it wasn’t good for the heart, but believing that it would take years for it to have any real effect upon the heart, that a few months wouldn’t make a difference.
This was something I had never done before. Waking up late in the morning was an excuse but I had seen the brighter side of it and felt happy it would help me in shedding that extra fat.
And what a telling effect it had had. It had made my heart so weak that I could sing no more than 4 lines without feeling tired, without feeling an ache in the chest region. Every line after the first four was an effort.

And if it hadn’t been for my singing, I would never have perceived the effect and would have gone for months and years without breakfast and to think now of what it would have done to my heart!

Hence I thought it very apt to call this lesson, ‘a music lesson’.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Bigger Tragedy

I have not known fear in all my life.
My parents fear for me for just the same reason.

9:30, 10, 10:30, 11. In the night.
They didn’t mean much to me.

Lost in reading a book, I would suddenly realise it was 10 and I hadn’t had dinner yet. I would put down the book unwillingly, lock my house and amble to the Adigas restaurant nearby, humming a tune on the way, like there was no hurry, have my Dosa or Roti Curry and walk back thinking how much more easier it was to cross the road at that time with a just few vehicles passing now and then.

When I had finished calling all friends and known no one would be free to watch this movie that would be taken off the screens any time now, I would step out alone, take a bus to Forum mall to watch the 8 PM show. I had gotten used to watching movies alone by now, though I had company many a time.
I would come out of the mall at 10:30, my mind still on the roller coaster ride of songs, drama, dialogues and dances...a movie review already taking shape in my mind.
I would reject most of the autos for asking for double fare and finally take one to silk board. I would hop on to any bus that came, for all of them went straight to my home. When I got off, the movie review was almost ready in my head.
I enjoyed the stroll home, thinking how quiet it was at that time and how nice the houses looked when washed in the orange of sodium vapour lamps. I would look up at the half moon through the silhouette of the swaying coconut fronds, climb the stairs to my house never bothering to turn on the stairway lights, my feet knew the stairs by now. The key too went into the keyhole without a falter.

Once, only once, while walking back from the juice and salad place after dinner, I had noticed a man on a scooter pass me by, turn to look at me, and stop where he probably knew I would turn the corner. He waited for me there turning back to make sure I was walking towards him. Should I take another route? I had a better idea. I walked on, approaching him and when he was five steps ahead of me, I began running full speed, noisily, past him and stopped running when I knew he was far behind.
I still amuse myself with the idea of how I must have startled him! Ha ha... and how simple it is to outsmart these fellas...

Come summer, I would pack my bags, go to Himalayas, a different part of it every year. It never bothered me to be a lone traveller. The Pahadi’s were safe and extra helpful when you were a single woman.

And then Delhi happened. That girl. And the monsters with an iron rod.

I had been impervious to all news of crime. But not this one. Don’t know why.

I didn’t even know I was shaken until one day, when I was walking to Adigas and found myself turning behind every now and then at the sound of footsteps. Was I being followed? No, it was an innocent woman, it was a boy, it was even a dog. But I kept looking behind anyway.

It’s been a long time since I went to Adigas. Because I don’t like to walk that way.
There is only one way I want to walk. Without fear.

I do go to movies alone. But not for the 8 PM shows, only the shows that close before 8.

I don’t mind if it takes longer to cross the road. But I like the company of traffic in the night.

My feet know the stairs; the key, the keyhole. And my hand knows the light switch.

When I think of the man on the scooter lying in wait at the corner, I see an iron rod in his hand though I know he never had one.

If I am shaken, I know the other hundred crore in this country are.

And that, is the bigger tragedy.

The brutal killing of the girl was very tragic.
But the tragedy of all of us who survive her is bigger. A hundred crore people will live in fear, suspicion and mistrust every day.

The night and its silence which once contained moonlight, stars, silhouettes and poetry will now contain dark corners, footsteps, lurking monsters with iron rods.
A hundred crore people entitled to peaceful, free, fearless living will go through life carrying the burden of perpetual fear in their heart.
And that is the bigger tragedy. For there is only one way to live.
And that is to live without fear.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Truth and Permanence

The truth and permanence of this transient world and this ephemeral life have been questioned by many – saints, religions, enlightened men and the frustrated ones.

I have read about it. Understood it. Agreed with it. And cared very little for it.
Today, for the first time, the question is welling up from within me, accompanied by a real sense of wonder.

Before me is a picture on the wall.
There are four people in it. They are all equal.

But it wasn’t always so.

In a not so distant past, one of them was special.
So much that the other three were part of a hazy background. The wall, the room which the picture adorned were hazy too.
I, my body, my face and limbs were a haze. Only a throbbing heart was real.
In fact, the whole world was a haze. I passed through it not noticing anything; only searching for him everywhere and finding him in everything.

Someone whose absence was unreal and whose imagined presence, a reality.
Someone who was my first waking thought. And my last.
Someone who effaced all that was past and pervaded all present and future.
A cinder in the eye. A mango hair between molars. Felt and lived every moment.
The only one felt and lived every moment.

All space and all time, stretching up to eternity was just him.
It was an absolute certainty that no matter what, I would love him forever. Till the end.
And I prayed, in my next life too.
In fact, I prayed I would come again just for him, even if God meant this to be my last life.

One day, it was over.

That didn’t surprise me.

But to my utter disbelief, I got over him.
When I did, all the haze melted, a concrete world claimed me and life went on, as if nothing had happened.

What surprises me is that, as I look at the picture on the wall, I feel no pain, no longing, not even a trace of that fever that had raged for years.
I search for the ache and I don’t find it.
He is effaced from my heart so completely, that it is difficult even to recollect the sensation of the love that had once been my life blood.
A block of granite has turned to vapour.

And that’s when I ask: if THAT love was not forever, what else in this world could be?
If such an intense feeling was mere illusion, what else in this world was true?
If a devotion that eternal did not endure, what else in this world could?
If a love all consuming could come to naught, if a well so deep could dry, if an emotion so strong could die, what else in the world was true, what else in life permanent?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Everest Calling - A Melodious Finale

Last Day.

Seated in my aisle seat and not too keen to gape out of the window (anymore), I put on the ear phones and closed my eyes. It was late in the evening. It was dark outside.
As if to mark the finale, the old Mukesh melody began as the plane started taxiing.

Taron mein Sajke
Apne Suraj Se
Dekho Dharti Chali Milne…

I smiled at the experience that was about to come.
I changed my mind and turned my head to look out of the window.
Those who have heard the song and it’s prelude are smiling too, for they know what a dreamlike experience a take-off can be if this song is playing in the background. A late evening take off, not any other.

All the earth below was studded with a thousand yellow, white and orange lights. As we took off, the lights got closer and smaller. To someone who had been conduced to a dream like state by an unearthly song, it was difficult to tell whether we were flying away from earth or the earth was flying away from us.

The song meant,
Bedecked in stars, look, here she leaves, the Earth, to meet her Sun …

The city lights of Delhi became a fabric of stars, descended down to drape the earth that moment, as she set out to meet the sky.

And the song played on…

Jhanki Payal,
Mach Gayi Hulchul,
Ambar saara, Laga Khilne…

But that was in my heart.
The tinkling of anklets wreak a havoc, and all the sky unravels before me… Bedecked in stars, look, here she leaves, the Earth, to meet her Sun …


The last pictures… of the hotel in Kathmandu in which we had stayed, the manager who was so humble and kind, the Delhi airport, and two good friends who had a made a big difference to our trip.

In their midst is a signboard that is symbolic of our ultimate conundrum - our eagerness to attain Sattva and our reluctance to give up Tamas.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Bruised Goddess

This post is late in coming, but here it does, inspired by a facebook update, that (ironically) evoked in me, ideas radically opposed to those it intended to.

The goddess was bruised, of course by the brutalization of the girl in Delhi in December last year and another in Bombay recently.

But she was bruised more severely and much earlier by

- The objectification of women in the cinema and other forms of art in the name of creative freedom

- The brazen production of one item song after another in the movies in the name of entertainment

- The consent given by millions of men and women of this country to such abject degeneracy through their thronging the theatres to watch one ‘dirty picture’ after another

- Women ready to act in porn movies, worse than prostitutes; because they don’t just devour one man but weaken, cripple and enslave thousands of men

- An entire wretched generation of boys and girls that fuels the billion dollar porn industry through their ever raging search for more and more porn

- The quiet of a nation when Sunny Leone is given a red carpet welcome to our midst, paid to act in some useless TV show, given an image makeover and glorified as a successful icon

- More and more women taking to tobacco, alcohol and drugs for the sake of fashion and de rigueur

- Scores of women tossing their newborns into the hands of nannies to follow their ambition and career, in the name of liberation and equality

- An entire generation of women living neck-deep in cosmetics, chemicals, high heals, plastic surgery, silicon implants, abusing the sanctum of their body and directing most of their focus, time and energy to appearance instead of character building

- The willingness of women to objectify themselves through their dressing and attitude in the name of ‘to each his own’

- The simplification of a woman’s essence to a pair of tits and ass – by the effort and industry of various people under various pretexts – artists, movie makers, actors, singers, dancers, businessmen, researchers, governments, marketers and most of all by women themselves

It’s not that I am not outraged at the recent incidents in Delhi and Bombay; it’s just that I don’t know whom to direct my anger towards.

The police? No. We don’t even have enough policemen to guard us from thefts, frauds, murders, traffic accidents and terrorist activities. You want a policeman patrolling every street in the city watching over women passing by?
To all those who are angry at the police, will you make one of your sons a policeman to protect ‘the daughter of this country’? No, you won’t, you will make him a software engineer.

Law? How many laws do we already have in the books against every conceivable crime? How many criminals have these laws deterred from offending us? A very few. Lets have more laws for the protection of women, by all means, but they are not going to make any difference.

State? The police and the law are it’s arms. And we have discussed both.

System? We are the system.

Social transformation? Yes. But it’s not going to happen tomorrow. Not next year. Not even in the next five years. It will take 20 years.

So what should one do?
First, acknowledge that you and I are the system.
And before you ask for transformation through education in schools, begin transformation at home.

Will you say No to watching any movie that has item songs in it? Will you say No to watching any movie that has women in it with no meaningful roles but naked dolls with a view to market?
Could you say No to songs, Indian or western, filled with ‘shake your this’ and ‘shake your that’ and such lyrics that view women not as humans but as lumps of flesh?
Will you say no to porn?
Will you say no to smoking, drinking, drugs and everything that abuses your body?
Could you start caring for fashion and de rigueur? Two hoots, no more?
Could you say no to a shallow existence that revolves around beauty parlours?
Could you take a step back from your feministic notions of equality and understand that man and woman were never meant to compete with but complement one another?
Could you women delegate your ‘ambitions’ to your secondary role, but first perform in your primary role?
Could you even ask what your primary role is?

If your answer is No or if you are simply silent, then you have no bloody business to carry banners, march on streets shouting protests against the world. You are apathetic, downright, and your anger is pretence. Your raving on facebook and elsewhere are just to get yourself some attention and make you look good in your social circle that’s as half baked as you are.

I don’t watch porn, I vehemently say no to filthy movies, cheap TV shows that thrive on the voyeurism of the masses and to dirty literature.
But I am guilty of beauty parlour visits and one inch heels, though I don’t take it too far. I mean, they are the least of my preoccupations.
So I cannot say that the Goddess is perfectly happy with me. I am sure I too cause bruises on her, small and big.
But I am grateful for the good sense that makes me see all too clearly that a society gets just what it deserves, just what it asks for, that it’s all our own making and if anything has to change, it has to begin with me.

Yeah, I can see your next question coming.
What about the west? People there do all the above you are asking us not to, and yet, women are not brutalized.
My answer is, they may not be brutalized but overall, their situation is worse than ours.
Tell me what is better? One man killed by an enemy followed by universal outcry for ‘right to live’ or all men drinking poison of their own free will, smile on lips, no one seeing any wrong in it?
The former.(I pray you think so!)
The same way, a woman stripping of her own free will, smile on her face, is much worse a tragedy than a woman stripped against her will, tears, blood and all.

Stripping was just an example. Don’t take it literally, get the drift please.

A society that grows up on ‘sexification’ of everything from tissue paper to laptop (as seen from their advertisements) and gives its hearty approval to teenage sex and pregnancies, ‘prestigious’ porn stars, strip clubs, sex shows, naked women in Times Square inviting men to take pictures with them for money and lastly, to 50 percent divorce rates, is no haven for women. Nor for men. Not for any human being.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Settled Here

It’s amazing how people hold on to their land, their little 60 by 40 site, and pass it on from one generation to another as faithfully and certainly as they pass on their blood, but give up one whole country and all its legacy and all its heritage and not shed a single drop of tear.

This is what amazes me most at present, as I meet one Indian after another in America who has ‘settled down’ or is looking forward to settling down here.

Starting from their children, all of their future generations will be forever removed from India, its language, its idiom, its culture, its history and its customs. It’s a goodbye once for all.
I have goose bumps even as I think about it.

As I look out of the window of my 19th floor room in Sheraton, I see the World Trade Centre. I am thrilled to know I am looking at the tallest building in the United States. To its far right, I locate the tiny shadowy Statue of Liberty and feel thrilled again to know I am the only one who can actually locate it. I go to the 21st floor club lounge to look at the Manhattan skyline and one of the days I am delighted to see Empire State building in blue lighting. I commute in the subway like a New Yorker and feel proud when I help an American family get on the right train through a confusion of maps and signboards in the underground subway station.
I am not really missing India.
Every weekend I tour Manhattan, I discover something new. I am enjoying it here.
But only because I know I am going to be back in India in a few weeks.

If I were told one morning, that I would never go back, never return to India again, I would be standing at my 19th floor window, weeping my heart out, at my great loss and a greater lacuna that was to come.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Everest Calling - A Evening of Nepali Culture

I was not aware of this, but part of our package was dinner in an authentic restaurant with live performances depicting Nepali culture. There was singing, dancing, men in Yak costume, Yeti costume and all...we all were wearing the yellow and blue Mt Everest T-shirts that the tour organizers had distributed that evening.

The later pics are the interiors of the hotel.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Everest Calling - Kathmandu - Pashupatinath temple

In the evening, we visited the Pashupatinath temple.
Cameras were strictly not allowed. I took a few pictures from the outside.

It is not one temple but a temple complex and it is huge. There are many shrines, many ‘gopuras’ or rather, pagodas that make a much prettier picture from a distance than from inside the complex. Also from the distance, one is not aware of the crowds of people inside it nor of the squalidness that characterize all popular pilgrim centres.