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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Summer snippets


The advent of warm days

Long,lazy hours

Birds building nests

And jacqueranda flowers

Petite nameless blooms

Demure and shy

Turning their heads away

From the stare of the sky

Voluptuous rich sunflowers

Seducing the sun

Thirsty cattle near the waters

Yes, Summer has begun.

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Posted by on April 30, 2011 in Poetry

 

A Date with History- trip to Bihar

A Date with History- trip to Bihar

        Have always been curious about Bihar. Think about all those history lessons one learnt by rote. All those confusing dates that refused to register and the names of various kings in the  long lineage of dynasties. But even amongst all those pages of wars and exploits and secessions , the annals  of  King Ashoka  who gave up fighting and spent the rest of his days working for the welfare of his subjects, never failed to intrigue. He is still so much a part of every Indian’s everyday life , isn’t he, our currency and the national flag and the National emblem all bearing symbols of what he had left behind.

      After the Kalinga war and King Ashoka’s adoption of Buddhism, his kingdom is said to have had fifty years of  prosperity and peace . The soil of Magadh is where Mahavir and Buddha walked , where dharma was supposed to have flourished , where Nalanda, one of the world’s oldest universities, attracted those bitten by the bug of learning from all over the world, including Huein Tsang.

    And then we have the Bihar of the present times.  How could a region turn so topsy turvy? What had happened in between ?

     My recent trip to Bihar was courtesy some close friends , whose young nephew Anuj,  was to be married. I knew the boy too and it didn’t take long for them to persuade me to attend the wedding in Gaya. Theirs is a large joint family and it was quite a fascinating experience in itself to be going up and down the stairs of their residence , from one floor to another , from one suite of rooms to another where each separate branch  of the huge family tree spread out. The inhabitants there were from different generations and it was confusing when somebody called another quite obviously only old enough to be of his father’s generation “Dadaji” (grandfather) . Joint families of course can have a lot of undercurrents going on , but it is  a wondrous thing that they still exist even rarely in these quite individualistic times. I feel the advantages would  more evidently present themselves if only the older generation were a little more accepting of the changing mores .

       The building was one of the many rows of houses , standing shoulder to shoulder on one side of the street. Gaya is not one of the cleanest towns by any standards , but it was quite alive. People and rikshaws and cars jostled each other on the roads , unnervingly sometimes. There was hustle and bustle from dawn till dusk , in the neighbourhood.

     I didn’t see too many buses on the roads though. For the wedding , we travelled from Gaya to a place called Giridih,   which is situated in Jharkhand just across the Southern border of Bihar , in the direction of and close to Shikharji, which  is an important place of piligrimage for  the Jains . The marriage was to take place in a community complex there,  as it was convenient, logistics-wise for both the families of the bride and the groom.

       On the way, all one saw were  stretches and stretches of barren land on both sides for most of the distance of about 175 kms. It was punctuated by small clusters of  houses and shops here and there  and a few townships. The exciting bit of the journey for me was to pass by Jumrathalaiya, in Koderma district. I was immediately transported to those days when Vividh Bharati was our prime source of entertainment . Jumrathalaiya  is a word akin to Timbuctoo. It gives you the feeling that they didn’t actually exist . But all those song requests that used to flood the Vividh Bharati  programmes of hindi film songs  was a sure sign that it did. Mr. Jain , my host told me that the place around that area used to be rich in mining activities and it had been a flourishing town till perhaps the 1990s and the place had a considerable num,ber of phone connections , even in those times.

     

The marriage of course was a vibrant , heady mix . Colourful sarees and jewelry, music and dance  , tasty food . It was fun but exhausting as well , true to form of any Indian wedding , I guess.

      

Our visit to Nalanda, the next day was a solemn affair in contrast. The remains of the monasteries, with its small cells , where the students of those times must have laboured over their texts , the small beds built of mud and stone, the sloping section in the walls of some of the rooms which let in the light , the platforms where discourses may have been delivered , the remains of temples, all  gave an eerie feeling .

The Nalanda University is supposed to be the oldest residential university in recorded history, that housed thousands of precious books, all of which is said to have been burnt , some say by Allaudin Khilji , a Turkish invader , while others hold that the fire was the result of confrontation between the brahmanical order and the Buddhists. Xuan Xang(when we learnt about him in our history texts, he was Huein Tsang) had travelled across mountains and deserts to reach Nalanda , where he had stayed and studied for many years. There is a new monastery that has come up recently near Nalanda, which has been built in tribute to the great scholar, which is a must visit if one is travelling to this region.

       And then of course , the visit to Bodh Gaya. Funny isn’t it that as Indians , all of us take so much pride and talk incessantly about “our culture and heritage” and yet apparently it was a British archeologist who unearthed the remains of both Nalanda as well as the Bodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya.

There was a huge crowd that evening at Bodh Gaya, as is the case everyday. Lots of Buddhist monks, lots of tourists from Srilanka and lots of local people as well. The place was buzzing with activity of both the worldy type which involved buying and selling as well the religious type of meditating and chanting . It was quite touching to see a large group of Buddhist monks praying for the earthquake victims of Japan , near the Bodhi tree. I’ve posted  some more of the pictures on my Facebook  profile . Take a look.

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     What was really nice about the whole trip was the optimism that was clearly evident everywhere . From Moti, the driver to those doing business in the Jain household where I was staying, and others one met elsewhere , all waxed eloquent about “hamara Nitishji”. He really seemed to be making a difference. He has sent a strong message, it seems across all the Government departments that the systems must be functioning and functioning well. People are feeling more secure . More investments are flowing in and property prices are going up. The newspapers apparently carry details of which doctors are on duty in the Government hospitals, lots of labourers who had left the state in search of employment elsewhere have returned , there are more children in the schools and more teachers to teach them. The roads are being improved , there is more of police patrolling and so on. One really wishes that other Chief Ministers would learn a lesson or two from  Nitishji.

      The travel bug had invaded my blood a long time ago and I am glad that now I can   succumb whenever  its attack gives me the itch to pack my bags and board a train or bus. I personally feel it’s the best way to expand one’s minds and hearts. Besides, it makes coming back to one’s own personal space and the warm circle of dear ones and friends all the more appealing after staying away for a while. My advice folks, put on your travelling boots once in a while. It is really worth it.

 

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2011 in Travel

 

Strange whisperings


Something that was buried deep

Breathes and grows and blossoms bright

Something that sighed in the dark

Shows its face towards the light

The scent of jasmines in the wet air

Sunset spreading streaks of gold

Ripples basking in the moonlight’s glare

Delights my senses as of old.

Vague stirrings within me,beyond expression

Mellifluous echo of violins and drums

Rainbows and roses,happy confusion

Peace presiding over the dusk that comes.

It will not last, this hour, this mood

Like sun on snowflakes will melt away

Then uneventful boredom to make me brood

Waiting for the magic of another day.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in Poetry

 

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Aborted


The silken soft grass was my bridal bed

The rising mound a pillow for my head

The night sky a bejewelled canopy

When Nature made love to me.

His amorous breath was a fragrant breeze

Whispering through the rustling leaves

Passionate conquest, all barriers torn

My mind fertile, a poem was sown

I nurtured it , deep inside me

Till it clammered aloud to be set free

The birth took long , I bore the pain

But the babe was dead, all my labour in vain!

Yet to blame my lover, there was no cause

Nor was I less ardent in my response

But somewhere in me imperfection lay

With time repaired, perhaps it may.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in Poetry

 

Iris and John-the marriage of true minds


Totally unconditional love that does complete justice to Shakespeare’s sonnet  “Marriage of true minds”. That is what the story of Iris Murdoch and John Bayley represents.  For someone who has been fond of reading , I feel almost guilty now for never having read any of her writings.

The film  “Iris” , directed by Richard Eyre is based on John Bayley’s book “An Elegy for Iris”. The film  tells the story of how the two met in Oxford where they were both teaching and then flits back and forth  , bringing out starkly the vivaciousness of the younger Iris and the vulnerable , helpless human being she had become in her later days, when she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Their personalities didn’t seem to match at all . She is the confident , outspoken , spirited one and he is gawky and naïve in comparison. But of course they must have recognized something in each other that they knew would outlast the peripheral impressions of compatibility. The characters are so well acted out by Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville as the younger Iris and John and by Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent as the aging couple , coping with the effects of the disease that had incapacitated her even in her normal day to day activities.

Imagine someone, who regarded words and expression of thoughts as something that was of paramount importance to the human existence, suddenly hitting upon a total blank. How frightening that must be. How much of love and patience must he have had to help her through each little tiny act through days and weeks and months.

I’ve always marvelled at the way, filmmakers in Hollywood and in the U.K choose actors to play the different roles and the meticulous way in which they try to portray them  even lookswise. Out of curiosity I googled for pictures of Iris Murdoch and John Bayley  and was struck by the close resemblance the actors seemed to have with the originals, both in their younger days as well as in their advancing years. Of course there is any amount of learning to be done by our film industry here  in India , particularly in the case of Bollywood films, but this aspect is something no one even really bothers about.

Iris is a must watch film for many reasons..for reaffirming belief in true and unflinching love, for excellent direction and editing, for wonderful acting and for increasing one’s awareness of a malady that seems to leave you totally at the mercy of the love and patience of your dear ones.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2011 in literature, Movies

 

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The games I play


I’ve just been cleaning my refrigerator. It looks “cool” now , the vegetables neatly stacked on the racks and the bottles of pickles, tomato sauce etc all accessibly arranged. Now there’s enough space to keep more bottles of water which now gains priority with the steady rise in temperatures.

I was putting away the lemon and mint leaves when this thought ran through my mind. .I don’t forgive easily when someone I trust lets me down. This is the story…

I have this habit of loyalty  to particular shops and vendors once I’ve been convinced that the rates are okay and the quality of the stuff I buy is worth the price. When my kids were small and would readily and happily wear clothes I bought for them , I would do all their shopping from a particular shop in Shankar Market in Connaught Place. For one thing it was convenient to  go there from my office during the lunch hours and moreover  I was quite satisfied with the fabric, design  and prices they offered. I was their regular customer for many years having two kids with an age gap of eight years.

Well I have similar propensities when it comes to shopping for vegetables from the local weekly bazaar. I don’t have the patience to go asking for the prices and sorting through the vegetables on a dozen different carts before deciding what to buy from whom. I usually have my itinerary all chalked out and settled, .onions and potatoes from one vendor, tomatoes from another guy  who has his cart at one corner, lemon, green chillies, mint leaves and  sweetcorn from the fellow who has his wares spread out in between the one selling spices and another selling spinach and other leafy vegetables and so on. Having bought what I need, I get straight back home without usually trying to find out whether  the stuff was being sold cheaper elsewhere. As I said, I settle for a few regular stops after having established a feeling of rapport or trust that  I wouldn’t be cheated , being a regular customer and all that.

Every thing was going on fine till a couple of months ago,  when   after buying lemons, beetroots and sweet corn , I was walking ahead and just for the heck of it I asked another chap selling similar stuff for the prices of each of those items  and I got so infuriated when I realized that I had just paid almost double the price for all of them.  I went back promptly and questioned the vendor. After fumblingly explaining  about making   a mistake etc. he returned some money to me. But he had lost me then and there. If it was only on one item , I would’ve granted him the benefit of doubt. But this was too much, I told myself.

For the past few weeks , I have been deliberately avoiding him. Not just that,  I also make it a point to  stroll  by very casually , making sure he notices me , stopping by at the next cart etc. just to let him know that I was really and properly offended with him. I am not at all sure he cares two hoots . I guess  the only person I was trying to avenge was myself.

Because  what was really making me angry was the fact that I had let myself  be taken for a  fool. . I should’ve been more aware and not depended just on some instinctive conclusions which was  not necessarily  appropriately or justifiably  arrived at and I now realize that it wasn’t a question of forgiving that guy. It was more of forgiving myself, which I should start doing now.

So come next Saturday, I’ll probably walk up to this vendor  and buy lemons and mint from him again. So I’ll  lose a little face now. So what? I’m already feeling better 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2011 in Reflections

 

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Sepia tinted memories


Certain memories have a strange way of remaining with you all throughout one’s life. Try as I will, I cannot fathom why they are still there from so long ago, while others just fade and then totally disappear.

What are my earliest memories?

I can remember cuddling up to my father as a little child, rubbing my face against the stubble on his cheeks and gently falling off to sleep, listening to the dull sound of the sea waves in the distance.  Some nights, when sleep wouldn’t come, I would stare at the pitch black square outside the windows and feel terrified of the figures that I thought I saw there. When it rained, the fear was multiplied, as the incessant sheets of the downpour would make the darkness more intense. On other  nights, however ,the moonlight  brought a kind of magic, transforming  everything. Even now, trees and foliage drenched in the silvery whiteness of moonbeams, gives me a high.

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The smell of the sea was always there in the afternoon breeze . I could watch the palm fronds swaying languourously in those lazy hours, for any length of time and not feel bored. Many  evenings were spent on the sea shore, digging out mussels and walking nimbly across granite rock embankments.

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The smell of rose water, even now, brings back memories of a distant old aunt who  used to live with us in our joint ancestral home. There were rows and rows of bottles stacked on the shelves in her room. Her son used to sell them, I think and on days when she filled up those bottles with rose water(can’t remember exactly how she went about making it, some concentrate was added to distilled water may be), the fragrance would be swirling around in all the rooms. We moved out of that house when I was around eight, never saw her after that, as they too had gone off to some place, the house itself being sold off by all the family members, as there was no one staying there anymore. The smell of rose water brings back that aunt although there is nothing else that I remember of her, apart from her name, not even what she looked like.

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I have no idea how old this house was. Even in my memories of childhood, the walls and floors had that ancient feel . I even remember one of my cousins falling down through the floor of one one of the passages on the upper storey, down to where there was a kind of open bathroom with a well in the corner. As far as I can remember no great harm was done.

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I remember sliding down the railing of the stairs countless times. And that door on the right-hand corner led to a very dark room with no windows , where the females of the house delivered their babies.  I must have been born there too.

tharavad8 I do remember the mid-wife  in a white sari  hurrying in and out of the room when my youngest brother was born and somebody accompanying an elderly  lady doctor with a slow gait, into the house, carrying her important looking black bag . The room was dark without any sort of ventilation and the whole ambience was that of mystery.

 

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We slept in the room upstairs farthest to the right . From the window on the other side , we could see the sea and specks of boats coming in . There used be a “raat ki rani” bush in the front yard. My eldest brother seen in this picture ,  used to procure stamps from his friends in school with the promise of gifting them squirrels, which he was reportedly adept at. When days went by with no sign of the same, it was from  these windows that he would see them approaching the house  accost him on home-turf and  he would then beat a hasty escape.

I remember the cranky old woman, who lived in one of the row of  rented houses, just outside our compound wall. Almost on a daily basis, she would pick up a fight with the neighbours, who were as voluble as she was. Hurling abuses on the top of her voice, she would grow hoarse with the shouting, and then would start beating on a vessel with a stick so that the clanging sound would drown out the voices of her opponents.

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I remember the death of an old man in the neighbourhood, when I was around five , of being told for the first time, that death meant no coming back  and how the cold fear and sadness swept over me with the realization that my parents could die too when they grew old. I remember standing there  at the end of the lane, crying, waiting for my father to come back home, the growing dusk adding more melancholy to the vague sadness and loneliness. Years later, there was this recurring dream I used to have of me standing at the edge of a vast desert like terrain, completely alone, with vultures flying all over, across the sky and for some reason, on waking up, I would recall the feeling of dread that I had experienced , as a child when I became conscious of death as an inevitable end of our lives.

I can perhaps say too that the spectre of death, waiting in the wings,to take over life, has been a kind of constant undercurrent, lurking in my mind and has therefore  emphasized for me, as a philosophy to live by, why love and understanding and not negativity and hatred ,should  be the compelling factor governing the way we think, feel and act. For I would want to breathe my last at peace with myself.

Who knows about tomorrow?

 

P.S: My elder brother and I paid a visit to this house many years after I’d written this. These pictures  were clicked on that occasion.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in childhood, Nostalgia

 
 
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