author of the month – anupam patra

Starting from this month is a new monthly feature on my blog – ‘author of the month’. What better way to debut my series than to feature debutante author Anupam Patra whose book ‘Promises of a Firefly’ has been released recently.

Even though Anupam is from my home state, I got introduced to him through the blogosphere. I was attracted to the distinguishing literary and artistic quality of his blog from day one.

I was excited to read his book and I was not disappointed. As I gather from his Goodreads page, so have been the experience of many readers who have spoken very highly of the book.

Brief note about Anupam

anupam

 

Anupam was born and raised in the millennium city of Cuttack in Odisha. He finished his schooling and graduation while growing up in the thousand year old city’s narrow lanes and ambient warmth. Inspite of the necessity of having to pursue science and then law for a career, his love for art has always shone the light of his soul. He used to teach and has worked as a banker prior to taking up public service as his profession. An avid lover of all forms of art, he confesses to find comfort in telling stories.

 

My Interview with Anupam

Q: Tell us about your writing journey.

A: It began here in blogosphere in the autumn of 2011. I walked into this space, looking to turn myself away from a few things that were happening in my life at the time. I didn’t expect anybody to read what I wrote, I mean, there were veterans whose essays and stories and poems were around. But I got lucky to earn a small but supportive readership. Their consistent magic with words inspired me to keep scribbling something every day. There were times when the struggle would resurface and take me away from writing for days but whenever I returned my friends here were there to take me back with un-deteriorated warmth. Their support has been my real asset. I had never thought of writing a book. Till I met Mahua Ray Das, a phenomenal artist herself, who on our very first meeting decided to push me towards that goal. She was cynical about my writing but gentle with her guidance, even when I was hostile to her suggestions. She set my sail on that course. She stuck around, never let the boat rock. To ensure it never drowned, she herself got on the boat and took that long, undetermined, lonely, neurotic, journey with me. It was not easy. I was constantly mired with problems but she never gave up, even when I was constantly forcing her to. Her contributions for this book are immense. The journey for this book began with her eliciting a promise from me in a small book café in Bhubaneswar in August 2015, the promise that I’ll give her a book of my own one day. The belief she had in me was what fuelled my will to write.

Q: Who have been your inspirations?

A:The works of Richard Flanagan inspire me. Out of all his works, The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Gould’s Book of Fish have left a lasting impression on me. His writings have an effect of breaking me in a beautiful way. There’s an element in his stories that wraps itself around you. Like a sunrise waiting to happen and you wait for it after a long, despair driven night and the sunrise manages to bring a sort of an illumination that is sweeping and vivid and fresh yet you find yourself unable to forget for a moment the night that has passed. For it is that night which Flanagan has by then wrapped around you forever.

Q:  How do you balance your creative pursuits with your public service?

A: It is undoubtedly tough. I am not earning anything from the book. The whole of my royalty shall go to a foundation that will use it for a year’s school fees and ancillary expenses of an orphan girl and if anything remains, it shall be donated for procuring academic essentials for orphan kids. If there is still any money left, the above cycle will be repeated. On the other hand, the earning from my profession takes care of my needs. Actually, it also takes care of my writing in many ways. Plus, the hopes with which the common man comes to the chair I occupy, is a huge responsibility to discharge. I have a moral obligation to justify the tax payer’s contribution that makes my salary. So the scale is always tilted towards the side of my service. My profession involves a lot of reading and research and writing after all of which the mind and the body get worn out. It is then that my heart’s will to weave stories balances out my desire to write fiction. But it is such a physically taxing indulgence. As a result, so many times, I have dozed off on my computer table, only to wake up hours later, about the time of dawn, drooling on the keyboard.

Q: As you evolve as an author, do you feel you are evolving as a person also?

promises of a firefly.jpgA:The life of a writer can be terrible in spite of being purposeful. When he is able to catch the tone of his characters in ink, and everything is flowing out smoothly from his pen, it is the most complete he will ever feel. But when it doesn’t happen that way, there is barely anything he can forgive in this world. By that measure, the worst hit was taken by my family. They had to quietly let me go for hours, sometimes they were wise not to ask why at all must we part, and sometimes emotional to prod, neither of the ways bringing any change of luck. Eventually they understood how it is going to be. Then there would be work and health conditions and lack of imagination and all sorts of things that would make me want to shut everything for once and for all. I don’t know about others but for me, writing is walking down an untaken road where there are equal chances of confronting delight and despair. But you brave that chance because you want to bring to life moments you think deserve to be experienced by your readers. When you’re penning those mistakes, regrets, hopes and love your characters find on pages, you are creating experience, and you cannot create any without letting it touch you. I have always only written in one method, one hand dipped in ink and the other in shades of life. It’s a fulfilling endeavour. And for all that it is worth, you evolve in the end. You evolve because at the completion of any struggle, there is some evolution that is bound to happen.

Q: What were your expectations as you started writing the book? Are you satisfied the way the book has turned out?

A:You’ll perhaps find an author who will claim that his work couldn’t have been better. So I won’t say that I am satisfied the way the stories have turned out. Surely, they could have depicted more, had greater depth and better proximity to what I wanted to tell through them. But, I wouldn’t change the larger picture in any of the stories. That has come out exactly how I’d wanted. As far as my expectations from my book are concerned, to be honest, I never wrote it with any expectations. Maybe because I have no illusions about my writings. The only hope I had in my mind was that my readers should get the point of the stories. That’s all. And I’d happily go to sleep.

Q: Any other thing that you would like to share about you or the book with our readers.

A: I am a novice and there’s a lot I’m to learn about the craft of writing which is why I’m keen on hearing honest opinions as to where I could have done it better. And yes, I hope I’m able to write more books. At the moment, it feels like I cannot write one more line of fiction ever again, like writing this book has dried up all creative juices within me. Believe me, it is frightening, this feeling of inadequacy.

About the book, I’ll say this. Since the book was published, I’ve been asked about its theme. Even at the launch, when I took questions from the audience, a curious girl came from far behind the crowd, asking for the microphone. She must have been a fast reader for she raised some interesting points about the theme and the genre of my stories and if all of them are tragedies and interconnected. Recalling her query, I’d like to say that the stories in Promises of a firefly are not light tales or have cheerful narratives for they intend to show us our boundaries regardless of the occasional heroics life affords us. Now, that is not necessarily tragedy. It could be something as simple as truth. Some of these truths we are likely to have seen or heard around us. And as one of my readers told me over e-mail, there is this element of hope that can be found if the stories are read carefully. I want readers to find out for themselves. And if they are able to remember the stories, recall their moments when they are not holding my book – that would be a great thing for the storyteller in me.

Promises of a firefly is available on Amazon. Here is the blurb:

A blind girl’s chance meeting with a stranger sets her on an unforgettable journey of love and light; a loveless marriage is rebuilt by the very thing that is meant to destroy it; an estranged mother’s fight to reunite with her daughter reveals to her the strengths and flaws of bonds of blood, two women separated by years of hostility discover the many forms of heaven and hell as fate decides to redeem their relationship; an eighty year old man’s chronicle of love and loss that tells us all about the permanent consequences of choosing against our heart’s will. These are stories of promises and letdowns, of faith and betrayal, of sins and atonement; stories that introduce us to lovers, bravehearts, convicts and prostitutes. ‘Promises of a firefly’ binds together eleven tales that remind us of our gifts, our glories and the crushing limits of our lives. 

The author can be reached at  anupampatra2017@gmail.com

points of time

point of time

It could have started at midday as well.
But, midnight is a scary point of time
And romantic.
A night as dark as Krisna

Is there a point where time deflects
Or takes a U turn?
But there was no such U turn
When my mother died.

Are there cycles of time
So that nothing is novel, new or unique?
Or, is it a hell lot of forgetting
Before the turning?

moving adaptations

There would be, perhaps, half a dozen movies for which I must have read the original book either after or before I saw the movie. Of course, unlike the Hollywood ones the Bollywood productions have been disappointing.

Gone with the Wind

In case of Gone with the Wind, first I saw the movie, for the first time some twenty five years back. By that time this 1939 movie had already become a classic. I read the lengthy novel  afterwords. Contrary to what I had thought the fact that I had already watched the movie did not diminish my interest in the novel. Maybe, had I not watched the movie  I would not have read the novel. It won 10 academy awards and is considered one of the all time greatest movies of Hollywood.

Unlike the Bollywood movies based on  Chetan Bhagat books, this  movie is not a loose adaptation of the novel. The professionalism displayed by everyone connected with the movie is remarkable.  One can experience all the flavours of this 1000 odd page novel in the four hour movie. I watched the movie (DVD) for the second time a couple of months back.  It is worth mentioning that ‘Gone with the Wind’ is the only novel written by Margaret Mitchell in her life time.

Silence of the Lambs

In this case, I read the novel first. In an earlier post on this blog titled A Gripping Tale,  I have written about my reading experience and how I came across the book. I had read the book before the movie was released. Hence I was curious to see how the movie was adapted. I was not disappointed.

Elementary, my dear Watson

Being a Sherlock Holmes fan since childhood, it was logical that I should not have missed the 2009 movie ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and the sequel ‘Sherlock Holmes-  a game of shadows” released in 2011. Robert Downey Jr. has played the eccentric detective perfectly with befitting support from Jude Law as Dr. Watson.

Earlier, I remember watching a number of BBC serials  based on the Sherlock Holmes stories. Even though my memories are vague, I don’t think the serials were as interesting as the books.

Now a days many adaptations of Sherlock Holmes are run as serials on various channels, a Chinese lady passing for Dr. Watson in one version that I saw. It is titled Elementary. With Guinness book of records listing Holmes as the most portrayed movie character, it has become difficult to keep track of the various spin off versions of Holmes.

Tales from Malgudi

R K Narayan was himself disappointed when he saw the movie ‘Guide’.  Narayan’s Guide had to undergo necessary improvisation to fit into the Bollywood version with necessary songs and dance and the usual tadka.

But, the serials produced by Kannada actor and director Shankar Nag brought in all the nuances of RK Narayan’s stories. It is still a pleasure to catch up with one odd episode of Malgudi Days telecast on good Old Doordarshan from time to time.

 

 

 

 

be a light unto yourself

veda vyasa

It is the credibility of the gurus and the saints that makes an anti social element to don the garb of a guru or a saint so as to carry on criminal activities. Remember, even Ravana came in the garb of saint to abduct Sita?

Fortunately though, the kingdom of Ayodhya did not have the treta yuga version of deshi journalists and imported intellectuals who would condemn Ravana, Vishwamitra and Vashistha to the same categroy of godmen and frauds.

When Buddha was dying, Ananda – one of His foremost disciples – started crying and said, “What will I do now? You are leaving and I have not yet become enlightened.”

Buddha said, “Don’t cry, because I cannot make you enlightened — only you can do that miracle to yourself. “Be a light unto yourself — APPO DEEPO BHAVA.”

This has been misinterpreted by many to mean that a person does not require any guide or guru on the spiritual path. But Buddha said this to a disciple who had already evolved to a certain stage in the spiritual path. If He had meant that there was no need for a guide or guru in the spiritual path he would not have taken any disciple at all in the first place and the moment any body came for advice He would have turned them away saying, “APPO DEEPO BHAVA.”

A prominent person of India said in a recent interview, “…… Unfortunately today, with all the bogus spiritual gurus around, people are being misled. My advice is to look within. Meditate. You are your own best guru.”

For this eminent person, presence of some bogus gurus becomes reason enough not to seek a genuine guru. Applying same logic, will he not make any friend because a few friends turn out to be unfaithful? Will he not go to a doctor because a few doctors are engaged in fraudulent practices?

There  are lakhs of gurus and saints in India belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jaina and other dharmic traditions.  A few of them have been tainted with immoral and illegal activities. Even some of them had been falsely implicated as happened in he case of the Kanchi Seer.  Unfortunately, our media only highlights those cases where a criminal used the garb of a saint to cheat. While the saints who are genuinely engaged in pursuit of knowledge and other philanthropic activities do not find even a two line or two second mention in our sensation and TRP driven media.

Moreover,  why should the word guru be used in the spiritual context only? The ancient Indian seers divided knowledge into two broad categories: apara vidya and para vidya i.e knowledge of this world and knowledge of the beyond or,  worldly knowledge and spiritual knowledge. So, there are gurus for the worldly knowledge and there are gurus for the spiritual knowledge. While Vyasha, Vashishta and Vishwamitra are spiritual gurus, Dronacharya and Kripacharya are gurus in the art of warfare.

Of course such eminent persons and their ilk do not use the word guru. They may use words like ‘Godmen’ in a derogatory context to demean all Hindu spiritual leaders and figures and dare not say anything about the wrong doings of the religious leaders of Islam and Christianity.

There is reason to suspect the bonafide ‘humanist’ and broad mindedness of such intellectuals when they make a selective attack on the ancient Indian tradition of transfer of knowledge down generations in the Guru-Shishya parampara.

Recently a close aid of the Pope has been accused of serious sexual crimes. A Muslim religious teacher has been found to be raping girls as young as five.  There are black sheep among the religious leaders in every religion. But when it comes to targeting religious and spiritual leaders our media and a section of our elite society target only Hindu spiritual leaders.

It is not surprising that such intellectuals of dubious distinction and mala- fide intentions continue with their vicious agenda to malign Indian traditions. What is surprising is that a section of religious Hindus, who take pride in being experts in scriptures, make  light of the guru. (coincidentally, guru also means heaviness)

I have a friend who has been reading the Bhagavat Gita regularly for the last twenty years. The other day I was surprised when he argued against the guru shishya parampara. He became silent when I pointed out that the knowledge of the Gita is a dialogue between a master and a disciple. The knowledge comes when Arjuna is ready as a disciple to receive the knowledge. The advice did not come as long as Arjuna considered Krishna merely as his friend.

The 7th sloka in Chapter 2 reads: (Arjuan says)

Karpanyadoshopahata swabhavah
pruchhami twam dharmasammudhachetah,
Yatshreyah syannischitam bruhi tanme
Shishyasteham shadhi mam twam prapannam.

(With my natural traits overcome by a sense of helplessness and sin, and my mind perplexed regarding my duty, I ask You – tell me that which is definitely good for me. I am your disciple; teach me who have taken refuge in You.)

The  Bhagavat Gita is a part of  Mahabharata which is  composed by Veda Vyasa on whose honour Guru Purnima is celebrated.

Sant Kabir dedicated many of his couplets (Doha) to the glory and grace of the Sadguru. He assigns Guru with a higher pedestal than God. The inescapable need of a Satguru in one’s life is brought out by the following couplet :

“To find the Guru is a great boon:
without Him, you are lost,
As the moth attracted by the lamp’s flame
falls into it in full knowledge!”

Of course, it has happened in some exceptional cases, like that of Astavakra or Sri Raman Maharshi who attained to spiritual awakening without the guidance of a Guru in Human form. So, one has to examine oneself and see if, one is has already reached to that stage of spiritual maturity, why should one take the trouble to find a spiritual master?

Other than those few exceptions, whether in spiritual life, or material life, or any kind of education,  everybody needs guidance till a certain stage, after which one may go on one’s own.

It is said that when the student is ready the master appears. Maybe, the Master has no role to play when the disciple gains the ability to walk on his own.

Coincidentally, today is Guru Purnima. I bow down with deepest gratitude to each and every one who has played the role of a Guru in my life, in matters material as well as spiritual.

one year of one life is not enough – a recap

The first blog post was written exactly on this date last year.

Of course this is not my first blog. Two out of the earlier three blogs were lost to unprofessional hosting services. Unfortunately,  in one case I lost half of the posts as well due to my casual attitude towards regular back ups. Now I ensure that I back up regularly even though the blog is now hosted on the server of a trusted service provider.

Another blog that I used to have on blogger platform has been closed down as it was not practicable to have two blogs on the same theme.

I am thankful to all my fellow bloggers and readers for their encouragements and feedback. Hope, your love will continue to shower.

My special thanks to Ruchi Verma of Wiggling Pen (Formerly For Foodie Family) for considering my blog as the best personal blog of 2016.

Here are a random selection of ten posts that you might have missed:

1.   Bhajiwali’s Husband  : My maiden attempt at fiction (short story). Tried to find out a suitable name for the bhajiwali’s husband. But, could not.

2.  I see you as you are : Wouldn’t  it be a nicer world if we saw individuals as individuals stripping each one from their ethnic, religious or other kinds of stereotyping.

avtar2

3. Colours of a subzi bazaar: We are all familiar with a typical Indian subzi mandi. But have we ever taken a close look or soaked in its colourful ambiance? Interestingly captioned, this collection of photos  captures the moods of the neighborhood vegetable market.

sbh

4. It takes all the running you can do to to keep in the same place: Certain quotes and lines that linger your mind vaguely may make sense much later. Same thing happened with this line from ‘Alice in Wonderland’,.

alice_in_wonderland

5. When the wrapper is considered superior to the gift inside: emphasising the inner over the outer, Sant Kabir, in one of his couplets, says – Jat Na Puchho Sadh Ki Puchh Lijyo Gyan. One should not ask for the caste of a saint but know him from his wisdom. Seen from another context the saying highlights the obsession of the society with the outer.

6. Sunday musings and random notes #5: I have posted a series of lighthearted musings titled ‘Sunday musings and random notes’. This one with a few puns thrown in here and there takes a peak into the Bond movies over the years.

sanskari-bond-2

7. My idea of an evolved human being: The title says it all. It is about my idea of an evolved human being. It is what I personally strive to evolve into, in spite of being taken advantage of at times.

8.  The Revelation: My attempt at composing a sher in angrezi. A micro poem of just four lines. I could have as well written it here. Then, you would have missed the photo and some insightful comments.

9.  Suppose dogs were allowed status update: Another micro read. A funny take on the world of social media update. A short read.

10. Love is in the air: An attempt to explore various flavours of love, including the mundane ones.

love3

 

 

 

 

four micro poems to mark my centum post

To mark my 100th post, I am releasing four micro poems that have been gathering dust in my arsenal quite for some time.

post100.jpg

The sand artist

Neither will our deeds last

Nor shall we

But, look at the sand artist

How excited is he

 

Perfection

The perfect are entombed

Or, adorn the shrines

Those little bits of imperfection

are your sex appeal

 

Immortality

She held back her favours

For life after life

All I asked was a moment

To soak in immortality

 

The oldest profession

Preaching is the oldest profession

Not prostitution

Divine displays hide vulgarity

And vice versa

 

 

events galore in bengaluru

Indispire 176.jpg

Like any other metro city, Bengaluru is host to numerous events – literary, culinary, cultural, artistic, social & unsocial, open and clandestine. Much as am I tempted to attend many of the events, a person of not so affluent means like me is not only restrained from the financial angle, but also by the limited availability of leisure time after spending eight  hours on a job and four hours on commuting on a daily basis.

Even on weekends Bangalore traffic can be nasty quite often. In spite of all the constraints, I try not to miss the literary events, especially the literature festivals.  I have already shared my experience of Times Literature Festival and Bangalore Literature Festival  on this blog.

I was one of the invitees to the #BererXp Indiblogger meet Bangalore. I was eagerly looking forward to attend the event as it was an opportunity to interact with other bloggers from the city. However, an unexpected personal problem that popped up at the last moment ensured that I was deprived of this opportunity. Nevertheless, I had the vicarious pleasure of attending the meet by reading the accounts of the events shared by fellow bloggers.

There is a large Air Force Station where I stay.  As there are people from all over India, many cultural events of other states are organised here on a regular basis. These are kinds of religio-cultural events like Durga Puja, Ganesh Puja and the car festival of Lord Jagannath. Alongside the puja rituals, there would be galore of cultural events everyday. Even though these are organsied by specific communities, people from all walks of life participate in the events wholeheartedly.

 It is only in Bengaluru that I have had the opportunity to watch many kinds of national and international sports events. My first stint in Bengaluru was from 1989 to 1995. Then I was serving in Indian Air Force. Whenever there was any international cricket tournament, the authorities sought defense personnel for security duties. I had the opportunity to attend a couple of international cricket matches as a security supervisor. Those days security duties were not that risky like in these days when every crowd gathering is a potential target for terrorist modules working in India. Moreover, as security supervisor one had access to all areas of the stadium.

The test matches were sleepy no doubt, the saving  grace being one had a chance to see the sport stars in flesh and blood. Even the pace of the One Day matches were not as frantic as the matches have been after the T-20 format came into  existence.

Since long I have stopped being an enthusiast of the game of cricket. During the last season of the IPL when a friend came up with a couple of complimentary tickets for the IPL, reluctantly though, I accompanied my family to witness the match. Oh boy, did I witness the match.

We reached the venue half an hour before the start of the match. The stadium was overflowing with people. Loud speakers, or should I say super loud speakers were blaring out music and the anchor’s shouts competing with the noise from the crowd. The decibel levels were so high that it would have turned the tender ears of a young kid deaf for life.

Then the match started.

Hardly had the ball escaped from the bowler’s hand when the spectators sitting in from of us stood up with flags in hand, shouting and waving. There was no way to witness anything that was happening on the ground. This happened again and again. We had to look at the giant digital screen for a replay in order to know what was happening in front of us, on the ground below. Finally I calculated that for the three and half hours that the match was played, we watched the match directly for half an hour and the spectators backs and flags and the giant digital screen for three hours.

I am reminded of a similar incident when I stayed back to attend the rock  concert organised to mark the culmination of a literary festival. The audience was a mixture of those who had come exclusively for the rock concert (The rock star’s young fans) and those who had actually come for the literature festival but stayed back out of curiosity for the rock concert (consisting mostly of middle aged and old fellows).

At the scheduled time, the rock star came, saw and went back. After some time an announcement came that the rock star was annoyed that the audience members were sitting in chairs. So, the organizers had no way but to remove the chairs so that the rock star would come back to regale the audience. A couple of volunteers came to hound out all the young and old, strong and weak occupying the chairs.

After the last one of the chairs was removed from the venue the concert began. Every one was standing and standing with their mobile in video mode, flash on, while those with a little short in height struggled to have a glimpse of the rock star. With so many flash lights on, the elaborate colour lighting of the stage lost its sheen.

The rock star sang one line and asked the audience to repeat the line ten times. It was obvious that his hard core fans knew all his songs verbatim. After some time the fans sang his songs even without being asked. The hall was jam-packed and there was hardly any space to move about. A section of the audience started to dance unmindful of causing any physical injury to their neighbors.

Confused, bewildered and feeling out of time and space, I fled.

Maybe, we are living in an age where ‘sound’ packaging is taking centre stage in all walks of life pushing the content to the sidelines.

 

 

Journey Through Karnataka’s Heritage Sites

For the Christmas vacation of 2015, the initial plan was to go somewhere far away, outside Karnataka. But plan A did not work out somehow. So here was the plan B – why not visit some nearby tourist places of Karnataka that we have been postponing visiting for years. A day before the visit, we decided, our 2/3 days journey would start with Shravanabelegola, then on to Shringeri through Belur and Halebeedu.

So, early one morning towards the close of 2015 we hit the road, me – the driver, Subha – my wife as the mentor and Dipayan – our 13 year old son as the official navigator and photographer.

Our first destination was Shravanabelagola which is about 160 kms from Bangalore. As I learn that some years back the statue of Gommatesvara at Shravanabelagola was voted overwhelmingly in a Times of India poll as the first of the seven wonders of India, I wonder, “how come I have missed such a wonderful site even though I have stayed in Karnataka off and on for over 10 years.”

Shravanabelagola

Belagola means white pond and shravakas are Jain seekers. As the place is famous for both, it is named as Shravanabelagola. There is a beautiful pond- even though no more white – in the middle of the town which is flanked by two hills Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri.

On Vindhyagiri stands the majestic monolithic 57 feet high statue of Gommatesvara. There is no alternate to climbing barefoot or with socks the 650 odd steps to reach the sacred footstep of Lord Gommatesvara. Of course there are palanquin bearers for those who cannot climb. To reach the top, it takes a leisurely half an hour. There is no need to hurry. It would be better to take frequent breaks not only to stabilize breath, but also to appreciate the surrounding views as you climb. And of course to click those selfies to share on the social media.

As you climb up the Vindhyagiri Hill you can have a bird’s eye view of the Shravanabelagola town and the Chandragiri Hill across the town. It is here at Shravanabelegola that the Mauryan Emperor Chandragupta Maurya lived the last years of his life after converting to Jainism. On Chandragiri hills are a number of memorials to various Jain monks and a temple.

While climbing up the hill, you have the feeling that you are rising above the mundane affairs of the world and the majestic statue standing high on the mountain radiating bliss is inviting you to rise above the worldly worries and obtain the peak of bliss and innocence.

As one reaches the top of the hill through the winding steps one cannot but stand in awe of the magnificent statue of Gommatesvara Bahubali. Let it not be identified with the fictionalized character Bahubali of the eponymous multilingual movie.

When the movie Bahubali was released it drew protests from the Jain Community. May be, I think rightly so, they feared that the movie will evoke wrong associations and ideas concerning Jain History which is already misrepresented on many accounts by the scholars of Indian History.

On the rocks on both the hills are a large number of Kannada inscriptions that have survived the ravages of time for a thousand years. These have provided valuable information to the historians and archaeologists. However to me what was of special interest was the story of Bahubali written on a large board.

The story of Bahubali

Bahubali is the son of the first Jain Tirthankar – Rishavdeb who was the king of Ayodhya before entering into ascetic life. Rishavdeb had one hundred sons and two daughters through his two wives. Prominent among the sons were Bharat and Bahubali. Before renouncing worldly life, Rishavdeb crowned Bharat as the king of Ayodhya and Bahubali as the king of Taxshila. Other 98 sons were also made kings of various remaining provinces.

Bharat was highly ambitious. After subjugating 98 brothers he wanted Bahubali to surrender his kingdom. But Bahubali, which literally means the strong armed, would not consent. So war became inevitable. Fearing large scale devastation, the learned from both the sides, suggested a novel method – instead of the armies of both the sides engaging in battle, let there be a duel between the two brothers. Perhaps, it was keeping in line with the Jain principle of Ahimsa or where total Ahimsa was not possible to go for minimum collateral damage. Bharat was defeated in all the three rounds of the duel. But instead of being humbled, the defeat only infuriated him more and he sent his special weapon, known as Chakraratan – a wheel bestowed with magical powers, to kill Bahubali. To everyone’s surprise the weapon could not even touch Bahubali.

At first Bahubali was enraged. However, a sudden realization dawned on him and made him wonder about the futility of war and the craving for worldly gains. Thus, humbled in victory, Bahubali gave away his kingdom to Bharat and set on the journey of self-discovery. He engaged in deep meditation in the standing posture for such a long time that creepers grew over his legs. With a little help from Rishavdeb, Bahubali finally became enlightened.

Awestruck, as I climb down the Vindhyagiri, I cannot but agree with what the famous journalist Vir Sanghvi had written in an article after visiting Shravanabelagola – “It is a sobering thought that around 500 years before Michelangelo created his David, Indian craftsmen had created a statue that is much more beautiful and far more impressive. ….. Long before the European Renaissance and long before the great structures of the medieval era – such as the Taj Mahal – were created, India had a cultural heritage that was the envy of the world”.

The head anointing ceremony

Every 12 years, the head anointing ceremony known as Mahamasthakabhisheka is performed in an elaborate ritual where in the idol is bathed in sacred liquids like sandal paste, milk, ghee, turmeric paste etc. The grand ceremony, that draws millions of people, culminates with the showering of flowers from a helicopter. The next one is scheduled to be held in February 2018.

The message of Gommatesvara Bahubali

Bahubali, the strong armed one, stands alone, naked, innocent and majestic radiating bliss and peace atop mount Vindhyagiri to announce to the world that to patronize non-violence requires unsurpassed strength. It is not a sign of meekness and weakness. Defeat need not always humble someone. Real victory is victory over one’s own negative tendencies and ignorance.

Belur and Halebidu

Our next destination on the heritage tour was Halebidu which is at a distance of about 80 Kms from Shravanabelagola. We reached there by lunch time, hungry enough to devour whatever was on offer. So we did not mind the shanty hotel near the Hoysaleswara temple offering typical south Indian Thali.

Belur and Halebidu bear the testimony to not only the grand and distinct architectural style as the Hoysala style of architecture, but also the ravages done to a culturally advanced society by the barbaric Muslim invaders from time to time. A UNESCO study says that out of the 1500 temples built by the Hoysala rulers, only 100 survive today. Many temples were destroyed by the army of All-ud-din Khilji led by his general – Malik Kafur.

Belur was the first capital of the Hoysala Rulers whose empire spread all over Karnataka and some of the neighboring states. During their reign from the 10th to 14th century AD, art, architecture literature and spiritual practices thrived due to generous patronage of not only the rulers but also the influential citizens. In addition to the places of religious rituals, the temples served as centers of art and culture and sometimes even as courts. The Hoysala style attempted to achieve grandeur in ornate design with profusion of intricately carved stone sculptures, in contrast to the temples of other styles built to grand size , both vertical and horizontal.

The Chennakesava temple at Belur was commissioned in the early part of the 12th century by King Vishnuvardhana. The Vaishnavite Temple was earlier known as Vijayanarayana Temple to commemorate the victory of King Vishnuvardhana over the Chalukyas, as one legend goes. It is said that the Saivite Hoysaleswara temple at Halebidu was built by prominent merchants to rival the Chennakesava Temple in grandeur and glory. However after the completion of the temple it was dedicated to King Vishnuvardhana, who shifted his capital to Dwarasamudra which was later on called as Halebidu meaning the Old City. Some say King Vishnuvardhan was converted to Vaishnavism from Jainsim and his wife Shantala was also a Jain. Nevertheless, she patronized many Hindu temples. Overall, it is seen that during the Hoyasala period, a highly culturally and intellectually developed plural society developed making immense contribution to Indian and Kannada art, culture and literature.

The main attraction of Halebidu are the two conjoined temples of Hoysaleswara and Shantaleswar. There is an archaeological museum inside the compound of the temple. Other places of interest are the Kedareswara temple (also built in Hoysala style) and the Jain Basadi which are at short distance.

I was intrigued by the story behind the Garuda Pillar to the south side of the Hoysaleswara Temple. Usually Vishnu’s vahana Garuda sits on the Garuda pillar in front of many Vaishnavite temples. However, this Garuda Pillar here is erected in honor of the body guard of King Ballala II. I learn that Garudas were highly skilled and loyal body guards of the kings. With the death of the king they served, they also ended their lives. In this particular case, the body guard Kuruva Lakshma was so loyal that he took the life of his whole family along with his own.

Inside the the Chennakesava Temple at Belur are a number of other temples, some added later on after the consecration of the main Vishnu Temple. As I enter the large temple compound in the afternoon, roam around and sit down for a while to meditate, it gives one a feeling of timelessness. Nothing much has changed inside the temple during the last 800 years, including the form of temple ritual that has been carried on without even a day’s break .Of course men have come and men have gone. The carvings on the outer walls and the inscriptions provide valuable information and hints about the life in those days.

Each image, each carving has a story to tell and they are in thousands. The history and archeology enthusiast may need months to explore and fathom them. Even for a casual visitor, one day is definitely not enough to appreciate various historical land marks (that includes Hoysala-style step wells) spread in and around Belur and Halebidu.

At the end of a tiring day, falling asleep was not much of a problem. However certain vague and dreamlike feelings lingered on as I felt being transported back in time to those golden days of history. I hear the sounds of sculptors chiseling and bringing into life, lifeless objects, with the hope that the creations outlived the creators. I see them signing off their work with a feeling of pride and accomplishment (literally, because many of the carvings bear the name of the sculptor in local language). On various pandals inside the temple, discourses and discussions are going on as to the origin of the universe, the nature of reality and the ultimate aim of life. In another corner, the compositions of poets find expressions through accomplished dancers and singers. In the streets outside, the common citizens carry on with their lives as usual while the threat of battle and devastation looms large. Soldiers return from battle, wounded and tired, yet surviving to tell the tales of camaraderie, courage and victory.

Shravanabelagola, Halebid and Belur have been proposed to be included in the list of UNESCO heritage sites. There has been no such recommendation for Sringeri. May be because, Sringeri does not boast of any monument of architectural grandeur. Nevertheless it is an important landmark contributing to the notion called India and towards the preservation of ancient Indian spiritual and intellectual heritage. Thus seen, it is no less a heritage site than Shravanabelagola.

On to Shringeri and Shirimane Falls

The 100kms odd journey from Belur to Sringeri was mesmerizing. The winding road through the ghat sections of Chikmagalur district is flanked by coffee estates. In between there are stretches of roads that are in need of repair and it slows down our journey. Otherwise also, we stop frequently to have a panoramic view of the surroundings and examine the plantations of the estates. My wife gets fascinated with the creepers that grow on the tall trees which provide a canopy to the coffee plants. We learn that these are the creepers that produce black pepper. We reached Sringeri long before lunch time to take a little rest and visit the temples of Sringeri Sarada Peetham. The guest houses constructed and maintained by Sharada Peeham are well maintained and the charges are very nominal. Of course one can opt for one of the more expensive private lodges or home stays located throughout the town and the outskirts.

Sringeri is a small town with a population of about 5000 and is situated on the southern side of the river Tunga. There is ample parking place in between the town and the river and adjacent to the Sarada Peetham.

The majority of tourists were school children who came as a part of their annual excursion during the Christmas vacation. It was a bit crowded. At other times we may not see so many footfalls. As the place was meant to be a citadel of learning and contemplation for those who took to the monastic order, it would be fitting if the place is not filled with bustling crowds all the year round.

However, there is a story behind the place being chosen to be the first of the four original ‘Maths’ established by Adi Shankara. While passing through Sringeri, Adi Shankara saw a unique site near River Tunga. It was a very hot day and a snake had spread its hood over a frog to shelter it from hot sun. Adi Shankar could discern the special vibes permeating the place. The story has a modern parlance. Huge number of fish gather at the river bend near the temple to be fed with puffed rice by the human beings. They have so much faith of not being caught and fried that they come near you without any iota of fear or hesitation. Truly, it is a place with special vibes. The presence of ancient temples, the river flowing by leisurely and the green mountains standing still create a serene and peaceful atmosphere.

Here it may be remembered that today there are hundreds of swamis and saints who claim to be the torch bearers of the traditions started by Adi Shankaracharya. However, Adi Shankar established only four ‘Maths’ – one each in the southern, western, northern and eastern part of India, entrusting each Math to be administered by one of his four prominent disciples- Sureshwara, Hastamalaka, Totakacharya and Padmapada. Thus, in the south we have the Sharada Peetham at Sringeri, in the west at Dwaraka we have the Dwarakapeetha, Jyotirmath is located at Badrinath in the north and at Puri in the east we have Govardhan Peetha. Presently the Sharada Peetham is headed by Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamiji who is the 36th in the lineage of head pontiffs of the Peetham.

The temples of Sri Saradamba, Sri Toranaganapati, Sri Vidyashankar, Sri Adishankara and another dozen odd temples are located inside the temple complex on the southern bank of the River Tunga. Sri Vidyashankar Temple was constructed in 14th century combining Hoysala and Dravidian style of architecture. Different temples inside the complex have been constructed at different times. Our visit and prayers at the temples on the southern side culminated with the partaking of the free lunch (annaprasada) inside the temple complex. The lunch consisting of kheer, rice, sambhar and butter milk was simple yet sumptuous. Temple authorities claim that every day on an average of 8-10 thousand people are provided free lunch and dinner.

In the evening we went to the northern side of the peetham across the river. A narrow high bridge over river Tunga connects both sides of the premises of the peetham. Of course, nearby there is another hanging foot bridge for the use of the villagers on the other side of the river. The northern side across the river houses the living quarters of the pontiffs, other swamis and disciples. It has the ambience of an Ashram. One can have an audience with the head pontiff Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamiji and his successor designate Sri Vidhusekhar Bharati at prescribed timings in the morning and evening subject to their availability at Sringeri. Luckily for us on that day both of them were available for darshan.

There are a number of other temples in and around Sringeri. Another interesting place that we visited in the afternoon was the Sirimane Falls located at a distance of about 20 kms from Sringeri. Even though the road was so bad that it created doubts as to whether it would survive the next few days to be regarded as any kind of motor-able road, the waterfall was worth a visit. Here again the crowd consisted primarily of sportive school students running to enjoy a bath while their shouting, reprimanding, threatening guardians and teachers played the spoilsport.

The Article originally appeared on TourMyIndia. Visit the site for more photos.

 

faux pas – e- kabootari

pigeon kabootar

Thus went our distorted version when the Bollywood song- Kabootar ja ja ja – was at its height of popularity:

Kabootar ja ja ja

Pehle pyar ki

doosri chithi

teesre ko de aaa

Have you ever been the unintended recipient of a love message from another’s wife? Well, I have been. I recoil with horror when I recall the three days of the ordeal that followed after, unfortunately,  my wife discovered the message.

Well, more of that later.

Of course, you must have felt jealous when your spouse got flattering attention from another of your sex and you were a little sidelined. If you think it is only the ladies who get more jealous in these matters compared to men, you are thoroughly mistaken. Count me out of course. When my wife gets undue attention from a male member of the society I just end the matter with a gentle chide.

Social media (facebook in particular) have become vine yards to display ones’ vanity without any impunity. While young girls display the specialty of their pouts, ladies want to extract as much jealousy as possible from their friend circle by flaunting their latest acquisition of  jewellery or costumes. Let us not be unfair to the fairer sex. Men also have found numerous ways to flaunt their vanity on Facebook and make fellow men livid with envy.

You may also read:  If dogs could have status updates

Once it so happened that when I came across the frequent FB status updates of a lady who is a family friend, being an occasional mischievous fellow, I heaped exaggerated praises on her beauty and sense of dressing. This did not go down well with my wife when she discovered this and demanded an explanation. Of course all ended well when my friend’s wife  explained that she was well aware of the satire behind my exaggerated praises. Her husband too laughed it off when he came to know about it. Finally no damage was done either to my reputation or to our relationship.

But in another occasion I was not so lucky even though I was not the harbinger of any mischief intentionally or unintentionally.

One day I got a message from a friend’s wife through whatsapp, “Janu, I love you”.

Knowing my personal romantic history and capability I was dead sure it was not meant for me. But still then.. may be … who knows? So to confirm my hope against hope I messaged back, after two days when I had partially recovered from the shock,  “Are you sure?”

She was surprised, and asked back, “Sure of what?”

Then I became double sure it was not intended for me. Just to show off what a gentleman I am, I wrote back to the lady that I have received such a message from your mobile no and I am sure it is not meant for me. Please send it to the intended person, most probably your husband in this case and please take care in future to see that such messages reach the right recipient. Immediately, she apologized and the matter ended there.

Or, so I thought.

Being a fellow of casual attitude on such sensitive matters  I did not bother to delete the message and coincidentally my wife came to know of it. I could sense the storm gathering. She also wanted to clarify the matter. But, we had some guests in our house. So, it was only after three days that we could sit down and settle down the issue after due verification, confirmation and counter verification of all the facts. But, those three days. I lived with a feeling that any time an earthquake was going to happen.

The above is a mixture of what actually happened and what might have happened. However, here is my message to all frantic users of social media:

When you are feeling romantic, please take extra care so that the kabootar – e-digital doesn’t convey your romantic feelings to an unintended recipient with a sensitive spouse. Your lousy faux pas – e – kabootari has all the unintended ingredients to rock someone’s steady boat. 

do self help books help?

self-help

Those who can, they do; those who cannot, they teach – thus goes an old maxim.

This can be a bit harsh to the teachers and coaches. Of course I include the writers of self help books and motivational speakers in this category. I say this even thought I myself have been and still do, off and on,  teach, give pep talks and write on ‘Art of Living’.

It does not mean that teachers are not successful. Only thing is that their growth, in the field that they are teaching now, has stopped.

Now  consider this. If somebody is passionate about science, he (she included) would go into the depths of science and come up with some invention or land mark scientific theory. He would not plunge into teaching science right after graduation or post graduation.

Players usually become coaches when they are well past the time when they could win at professional sport. In a sense they are teaching because now they can’t.

In fact I would rephrase the saying to say that  those who can should not teach, at least while they are still doing it and in the filed they are doing it. There comes a conflict of interest issue here. When a writer conducts creative writing workshop  I do not think she will honestly pass on all the secrets and tricks that has made her successful. Similarly, a professional payer cannot share all his secrets to others who are either his competitors or his potential competitors.

Today the book market is flooded with self help books. It is another issue that that the majority of the self help books do not help as was found out in a survey done some time back.

Before picking up a self help book one should do this simple probing. Did this author succeed in any thing other than in the field of writing self help literature. Recently, a book titled Success Mantra became a best seller in India. At least it was claimed to be so. The writer of the book is Mr. Subrat Roy and he wrote this book while he was in jail for his fraudulent practices. No doubt he has been successful. But what kind of success are we talking of?

Those who never worked in an office writer books about how to succeed in the workplace. Sometimes, people who failed in every field they tried their hands on, write books about how to achieve success and suddenly the book becomes a best seller.

Similarly,  I come across a number of motivational speakers whose only claim to fame is being a successful motivational speaker. Many of them chose this field because they could not stick to and persevere in their earlier chosen fields. Some of them might have been kicked out of their earlier jobs. Yet, they are hired by companies by paying hefty sums to motivate their employees to work hard and be more productive.

It is not that I have been a strict adherent of the wisdom I am dispensing here. I have also read a number of best seller self help books. One thing I have noticed is that if you pick any book, not only does it say why this book is the best book,  it also tries to convince you that all the other books are totally out of time and useless. Now examine another scenario. Suppose there are 100 self help bestsellers. Every books proclaims that other ninety nine books would not work. So by the authors’ own collective admissions 99% of self help books do not help.

But all self help books are not totally useless. Occasionally, you may comes across a book that dispenses wisdom and insights to uplift you.

I have come across friends and colleagues who are addicted to self help books. They do not read anything else. If you are one of them, remember: there had been successful people since the time of Adam, long before the Americans started flooding the market with self-help books.

Of course, you may take solace in this positive possibility. If you read enough number of books on how to become a motivated productive employee, one day you my end up becoming one of those motivational authors or speakers.

Well, what has been your experience? Please leave your opinions.