even for gods one life is not enough – the ritual of nabakalebara

 

nabakalebara 2015
sand art by Sudarshan Patnaik

There are hundreds of festivals and rituals associated with the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri, the annual car festival, which falls on 25th June this year, being the most prominent one.

There is one ritual that is unique to this temple. The presiding deities of the temple – Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Sudarshan take new bodies after a gap of some years. It happens when there is a repetition of the month of Ashadha according to the Hindu calendar followed in Odisha. This ritual, known as Nabakalebara, happened last time in 2015.

The year round rituals associated with the Jagannath Temple are a mixture of vedic, tantric and folk traditions. What make the idols lovable are the rituals taken from folk traditions where the idols are treated as living human beings. So they are subjected to the daily routines beginning from brushing of teeth , bathing, eating and sleeping. Like it happens with a human beings,  the bodies are subject to death and decay. Following our philosophy of transmigration, the souls in the idols discard old bodies and get new ones.

The elaborate rituals associated with Nabakalebara starts with Banajaga Yatra – the journey to the forest to select the four neem  trees that would be used to make the idols. The trees must fulfill certain criteria like particular marks on its trunk among other things.  It is believed that the chief priest of the temple gets directions in his dreams about the location of the trees.  When a tree is identified, elaborate pujas are made in honour of the trees before cutting. While the usable parts are carried to Puri in a grand procession, the unusable parts are buried with respect.  Even a temple is built at the place where the tree stood. People consider each part of the tree and its surroundings to be divine  and people throng the place to celebrate with religious fervor.

After the idols are ready, the life force of each idol known as brahma  or pinda inside each idol is transferred by the chief priest to the new ones. This is a closely guarded secret. Nobody knows what that pinda  contains. People say the original flowers and other material put inside the idols during the earlier Nabakalebar are still found fresh.

The idols are made ready before the car festival or the Rath Yatra.  The old ones are buried  inside the temple at a place known as Koili Baikuntha with respect and rituals associated with the death of a near and dear one. The celebrations with the new idols are accompanied side by side by a kind of an unofficial state mourning  where the people of Odisha follow all the rituals associated with the death of a family member like not celebrating any auspicious ceremony at home for a period of one year.

Indian Bloggers

those cool summer days

 

indispire 169

“Now that Deepayan’s school is closed for summer vacations, why don’t you all come down here.”  It was my brother in law at the other end of the call.

“If Durga is not free, at least they  can send Deepayan here to spend a couple of weeks.” I could overhear his wife’s loud prompting.

“I heard what bhabiji said. We will discuss and call you back”, I said and hung up.

It was this invitation that brought back memories of long summer vacations of my childhood spent in my maternal grandparents’ home. It also prompted me to suggest the topic on Indispire.

Indian BloggersTill I was 8 or 9,  summer vacations meant my granpa’s palce in Narayanapur, a tiny village four  kilometers away from my own village. Usually we walked the distance, through rice fields, mango groves, and along a  river avoiding the  lengthier motor-able road.

Narayanapur is a small village consisting of about a dozen  houses. My grandpa’s was the corner house towards the western end of the village. It had extensive coconut, banana mango, palm and other plantations covering the back and the west side the house. In front, across the main village road, was his lemon estate. My morning and evening routine consisted of  assisting my uncles in taking care of the plantations. There was a thatched mud walled house in the lemon estate that served as the place for my noon time siesta and reading room. Other pastimes included  swimming in the  pond adjacent to the village, exploring the numerous ancient temples surrounding the village and occasionally, playing with the other village boys.

My grandmother specialized in preparing various types of traditional sweets. Back in those days my favourite sweet item was ‘Arisha Pitha’.  Whenever she sensed that the charm of grandpa’s place was wearing off she would say, “Look I have already made arrangement for your favourite sweet dish. Tomorrow you will have it”.  Another incentive to detain me was to inform me that the Mahaprasad  from the local Narayana Temple was the lunch menu for the next day. This Mahaprasad, which was home delivered in a huge thali, consisted of varieties of rice, dal, curry and sweets – twenty to twenty five items in all. It was  sufficient for seven to eight adults.  Of course you have to pre-book, sometimes weeks in advance. Now imagine, home delivery of lunch for the entire family including guests in a remote village that too against a very nominal donation. Moreover, this system is as old as the twelfth century temple.

Grandma also made varieties of pickles from fruits and vegetables which were collected from the plants  grown around the house. It was so much confusion to choose the pickles of the day out of so many varieties – carambola, bitter gourd, amla, bamboo shoot, mango, lemon and so on. Again some of them had sweet as well as pungent versions.

After spending two to three weeks or sometimes a whole month,  I would be back to my native village. The summer vacation was far from being over.  In my village the days would be spent among friends with the usual sports, games and a little badmashi. Our play ground was not restricted to the village street, our houses or the backyards. It extended to the two huge  mango groves, three ponds, two mountains and a river surrounding the village.

 The two mango groves did not belong to any particular owner as a whole. Each tree or a group of trees had a different owner. So, the access to the mangoes was restricted but not to the grove or the trees. Because of this, while the security guards had a very tough time,  it  provided many avenues of fun to us.

During those long summer days a personal connection was established with each of those hundreds of trees. Each  mango tree had a character of its own.  If one gave out mangoes that tasted sweet only when raw,  another  was useful only as pickle, and yet another one must be left alone till its fruits fell down ripe. A group of two to three mango trees in a corner of the grove provided such thick foliage, not a single ray of the sun could make it to the ground thus, making it ideal to host the marathon card games for the village idlers.

I went to my native village a couple of years back. When I visited the mango groves, I was almost in tears. The majority of the trees were either uprooted or branch-less. The Cyclone Phailin that stuck Odisha in October 2013 did all the damage it could do so that this vibrant childhood playground  lived only in our memories.

ageing gracefully

 

Once somebody asked His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar – ‘How can we age gracefully?’  Pujya Gurudev answered,  (with a mischievous smile and a small subtle gesture toward himself) “Like this! See you are really asking how to look attractive. Your desire to look attractive makes you unattractive! If you want to look attractive, have that feverish desire that makes you unattractive. But if you are calm, serene, then that brings beauty….”

Indian BloggersQuite often ageing ‘gracefully’ is equated with sporting a youthful look and many industries now survive selling those dreams. Some people go to great lengths to prove to the world that age has not withered their physical powers in any way even though they might have added a few wrinkles. There was this US millionaire who married an eighteen year old girl when he was eighty six. He spent millions and hired many top scientists to do research on slowing down aging process.

Many wise men have come up with prescriptions and consolations for the problems that come with advancement of age. “Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul”, says Samuel Ullman while Jeck Benny philosophizes, “Growing old is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”. However here is a nice piece of advice from Ogden Nash, “Old age begins and middle age ends the day your descendents outnumber your friends”.

In India, traditionally, a certain amount of grace and respect has been attached to aging and in many families the eldest enjoys the veto. While the problem of aging has been an engaging concern in the west since long, with the disintegration of joint family and deterioration of family values it is becoming an ever increasing matter of concern in the east as well.

Be it on the popular films or the media, the solutions suggested mostly emphasise on being young at heart in line with what John Kenneth Galbraith said “If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon our heart. The spirit should never grow old.”

Some would like to continue to be young in their acts as well.  “I’m not in the least interested in growing old gracefully; I want to grow old disgracefully, with a gleam in my eye. I want to carry my own wood into my cabin on the day that I die,” said Leslie Kenton.

Worse than the obsession of hiding the wrinkles is the self inflicted pain of aging regretfully. Unfortunately, a great many of today’s middle aged and aged subscribe to it. While those concerned with freezing the marks of old age live in an utopian future, those aging regretfully live in a perpetual ‘should have’ past. The latter may agree with Mark Twain’s saying “Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been”, – as if old age is not meant for smiling at all.

A simple antidote to aging regretfully would be to age gratefully.  When one ages usefully, aging gracefully is a natural follow up. May be that is what Pujya Gurudev indicated when  questioned about aging gracefully.

It is not that only when one has some kind of official or formal position, one can age usefully. Just an intention to change the dynamics from trying to be the centre of attraction every situation to giving attention to others will work wonders. One of the common complaints of the aged is- “Now no one cares for me, nor do I command the respect or awe  that I used to have”.

sri sri ravi shankar
Sand art tribute by famous sand artist of Odisha – Sudarshan Patnaik

(When we talk of aging gracefully and usefully, who can be a better example than Sri Sri Ravi Shankar himself. By the way, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar steps onto his sixty first year today. Wishing him all the best. He has been a guiding light to millions in mastering the Art of Living. May his grace continue to flow for ages to come.)

being woman

 

On one hand, in our ancient literature, we deified her, put her on high pedestal as the female version of God calling her the epitome of power as Durga or, the bestower of wealth as Laxmi, or the dispenser of wisdom as Saraswati.

On the other hand, in two of our most revered epics we held her responsible as the root of all conflicts. We gave her less rights and enormous responsibilities, in one case to manage five husbands and in another, to pass through fire to prove her fidelity.

Indian BloggersIn China women were not considered to be possessing a soul so that they could be treated and traded like any inanimate object. In the gambling episode of Mahabharata an impression is given that women could be put on bet like any other material object. Thus, treating women like an object has been the bane of all ancient civilizations. Even in a so called progressive free thinking country like US, it was not untill 1920 that women got voting rights. Even today, in certain religions, it is perfectly legal to treat women as dispensable objects.

Has the situation in India changed much?

Large segments of Indian population still are uneducated, underfed and live in backward areas.  Fetal killing of potential female child is still prevalent in man y parts of India. No doubt many positive steps have been taken by successive governments like reservation in the local bodies and the latest campaign- “beti padhao beti bachao“. But, unless the mindsets of majority of people change, there will not be much change in the ground reality is spite of incentive schemes.

In the context of today’s India I would suggest the following six point program to empower women. I know a few of the suggestions  are too serious to be implemented. Nevertheless, please do not laugh these off.

  •  Beti padhao and beti bachao should not just remain a slogan and should be implemented across all segments of society.
  • In family settings it is seen that women act against other women. Many elderly ladies give preferential treatments to male children giving the impression that their female siblings are children of a lesser god. Thus, since early childhood wrong impression is given about gender parity.
  • Even if women are give positions of power, quite often they are just used as proxies, as happened with Rabri Devi in Bihar. Ultimately, it boils down to the mindset of people. The society must be comfortable with women enjoying all kinds of rights at par with men. No discrimination should be made by the family or society or the state in terms of opportunities and compensation.
  • The time has come for women themselves to come forward. I think it will be a mark of true feminism when women consider the plight of the less fortunate ones and fight for women of all part of the society in stead of restricting their movement to a few fashionable or intellectuals issues.

Now the more serious ones –

  • All the feminists should come forward united at least for this issue. Now a days, a lot of wife bashing jokes are in circulation in social media giving it the impression that women are already empowered and there is not need to do anything further. They should call for a blanket ban on all such jokes and if required file a case in Supreme Court like it happened sometime back when someone filed a petition against Santa Banta jokes. (To hell with your sense of humour, you male chauvinists)
  • Last but not the least,  Modiji should create a separate ‘women empowerment’ ministry. As the minister for this department he should choose … no no not Sushma Swaraj,  …….. no no not Smriti Irani…. but Rahul Gandhi himself. You may say that he does not belong to his party. Nevertheless, Modiji should show some compassion. After all,  Rahul Gandhi is the only politician who has used the term ‘women empowerment’ more number of times than his biological age. Moreover, this is an opportunity for Modiji to compensate for all the jibes he has taken at Rahul till now.

dharmic nature of aggression

Are the non-aggressive, tolerant attitudes of Hindus a liability, so much so that many of them have become victims of apathy, conspiracy and forced displacement in their own homeland. Ref: Kashmiri Pandits, Col Purohit, Sadhwi Pragnya. #hindusvictimised – Thus goes the topic for Indispire Edition167

The premises are definitely wrong. I say this not only in the context of Hindusim, but also in the context of any other religion.

Indian BloggersIn the western media and intellectual circles, the liberal use of words like ‘Islamic Terrorism’ and ‘Islamophobia’ has become fashionable these days. It gives  an impression that any adherent of the religion must match such characteristic. Thus, the vast majority of Muslims who lead their life as normal responsible citizens get tinged with these negative characteristics. It also undermines the humanistic and mystic contribution of many liberal groups like the Sufis.

Terrorism and other aggressive means are used either by an individual or a group of individuals, quite often for their own vested interests. However, these individuals or groups associate themselves with a religion or a few selected tenets of religion (twisting the tenets out of context)  to give their activities a kind of legitimacy. This does not mean all the followers of that religion or ideology subscribe to such hardliner views.

In fact, it is India that has been the victim of ‘jihadi’ terrorism much  more than the west. Yet, in our country, neither in mainstream media, nor in intellectual circle do we use the word ‘Islamic terrorism’. It may appear this shows our maturity as a democracy.

But the double standards of our so called secular intellectual circles are evident. Of late, there has been liberal use of the word ‘Saffron Terror’ and ‘Intolerance’ to indicate as if the country is infested with Hindu Militants. Such double standards show that the mainstream media is subjugated to some forces that want to give an impression, ‘Look, this religion as a whole qualifies to be associated  with negative attributes associated with extremism and intolerance’.

In fact a campaign has already started to bring words like ‘Hindu Militancy’, ‘Hindu Phobia’ , ‘Hindu Intolerance’ and other such terms to mainstream narrative so as to tinge  the religion and all its followers with this negative connotation. It is in this context that I have used the hash tag  hidusvictimised.

Once again, to make my stand clear, I strongly feel that it is never the whole of the religion (let it be any religion) that is to be blamed because a few adherents of the religion, to fulfill their own megalomaniac tendencies and other human afflictions like excessive greed and lust,  use violence in the pretext of religion or some of its tenets.

This said, it is also worthwhile to examine specific allegations made against Hinduism to prove its nature of intolerance and tendency of  violence. Those who bring these allegations, like the proverbial elephant judging blind men hand pick a few partial events that suits their preconceived notions and ignore the vast body of evidences and  events that would depict a different story.

One important factor that should be kept in mind while making any evaluation concerning Hinduism is that it is a dynamic religion, or, what Rajiv Malhotra in his book ‘Indra’s Net’ calls a religion with an ‘open architecture’.  It means the tenets and practices of Hinduism are not frozen across time and space. Hinduism today is vastly different from the Hindu practices and principles that prevailed even a couple of centuries back. All the Dharmic religions (religions that originated in India), due to close interaction with one another, assimilated many elements of each other over a period of time and these religions still continue to evolve, discarding certain elements and taking up new ones.

If Chandashok was the epitome of violence, Dharmashoka was the epitome of compassion. Had there been no transformation of Ashoka in the aftermath of the Kalinga war, the war itself would have been forgotten being just another war of an ambitious emperor. Kalinga war gained prominence in history because of the transformation of Chandashoka to Dharmashoka.

How many rulers in history went through such transformation? Did it happen with the Alexanders of that era whose hunger for power continued till their last days. Did such transformation happen with any of the Islamic rulers  whose violence both at the time of conquest and during their rule surpassed all inhuman treatments imaginable.

The Hindu aggression that we see manifested in the form of Shivaji and other warriors of the Mughal era  was a secondary and defensive aggression in the sense that it was in response to counter the aggression and atrocities of the Mughal rulers.

It may be worth while to note that, during Military campaigns,  Shivaji forbade his soldiers to kill women and children and destroy Mosques.  This was in contrast to the aggression of the Mughals and their predecessors who killed indiscriminately and destroyed thousands of temples. In fact many of the Mosques that stand today have been built out of destroyed temples.

Same way, when events like Godhra are discussed, our so called secularists conveniently forget the events that led to the incident. To be specific, the incident of the burning of innocent Hindus in the railway coach is kept out of discussion, as if loss of Hindu lives do not matter. The issue of the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits and their displacement from their homeland is not given as much importance in our national narrative as the loss of lives post Godhra incident. Same way, the regular destruction of thousands of temples, post independence, not only in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but also in our own country do not find mention even in the eighth page of our newspapers. These activities continues to happen even to day. On the other hand, the destruction of a dilapidated unused Mosque in a prominent place of pilgrimage for the Hindus, continues to drive the anti Hindu debate in our mainstream narrative.

Our journalists continue to target Hindu religious and spiritual leaders, blowing out of proportion any seeming error committed by them, quite often without even verifying the facts. Going by the trends in the last couple of years, it seems Bollywood too has joined the bandwagon of Hindu bashing. This is evident not only from the statements made by some celebrities, but also from the kind of movies being made. In some of the block busters of last couple of years, criminals, terrorists and Pakistanis have been shown to be somehow more humane than Hindu spiritual leaders.

Quite often the ground reality may be quite different from the picture attempted to be projected by a section of our intellectuals and  journalists.  No doubt these groups have their own vested interests clothed in secular ideals.  When the debate about intolerance was at its height of attention in the mainstream media, I went around the streets of India, like the jesting Pillate searching for truth. But, I was as disappointed as the Pillate of ancient Greece. I could not find any trace of intolerance among the common men in the streets of India.

I have put forth some facts and historical contexts to bring to light those sides of the events that we pretend to forget. Now, it is for the reader to decide – considering the tenets of Hinduism and taking into account its overall history, are the Hindus as intolerant as the so called secular intellectuals would like us to believe?

no romeos please, we are indians

 

It is not that only celebrity authors like Chetan Bhagat mutiliated beautiful words like girlfriend to make it half girlfriend. India has a glorious tradition of debasing beautiful legends.

Romeo was a great lover and a faithful one. The love between Romeo and Juliet was mutual. It is tragic yet, legendary. In the east too, we have such legends like Majnu and Laila,  Sohni Mahiwal,  Sirin and Farhad and many others.

Laila oh laila, aisi hun laila, har koi chahen mujhse milna akela – there goes a popular Bollywood number downgrading the legend associated with Laila to the lowest level possible. Of course, we have made the legend of Romeo to meet with the same fate.

Indian BloggersShakespear’s Romeo does not have the least bit resemblance to the roadside side badchalan laundas of India who are the inspiration behind our anti Romeo squads. Thank God, neither did Romeo live, nor did he leave any progeny behind to see this day. Had he been a little less tragic like the hero of De Caprio Titanic, his descendants would have commuted mass suicide after coming to know the down-gradation of his legend to such base levels.

These badchalan laundas stand at street corners passing lewd comments and teasing each member of the opposite sex, who dares to pass by. Sometimes things take uglier turn when they try to gain physical proximity and they create nightmare for girls who are not escorted by any male member.  Wholeheartedly, do I support the action of the so called Anti Romeo squads who are out to make public places safer for women.

Then, there are these true followers of the glorious tradition of Romeo and Juliet. I mean the romantic part not the tragic part. I do not have any objection to two consenting adults coming together in response to certain emotional and biological stimuli provided, they are as faithful to each other like the legends whose footsteps they follow. Neither is it unlawful.

Of course, there is thi minor irritant what in technical jargon is called – PDA, which is Public Display of Affection in its expanded from. Quite often, such Romeos could be spotted with their Juliets in public places like Parks and Cinema Halls, busy in PDA activities as if being oblivious of the people around.

To counter these PDA activities, some self styled preservers of public moralities in India have come up with anti-Romeo vigilante groups, in line with the cow vigilant groups. While I condemn the activities of such vigilante groups who have no right to take up their own romantic failures on such romantic achievers, I appeal that even the official Anti Romeo quads should not take any action against them.

Rather, we should come up with innovative ideas to save and encourage such couples who are the preservers of the beautiful traditions set by the legendary Majnus and Lailas.

My suggestion is that we should enact a central law to make it mandatory for parents with children afflicted with Romeo Juliet Syndrome  to give their children enough pocket money so that they can afford Private Display of Affection.

Alternately, we should have Romeo Lounges in every public place in India in line with the Smoker’s lounges at airports and elsewhere, so that the public is not the least bit affected by the cultural pollution spread by these Shakepearean Romeos and Juliets.

😀 😀 😀

(In response to Indispire Edition #166 at Indiblogger )

pda.jpg
Image source: Newtimes

girlfriend by two

 

When I first came across the word Half Girlfriend during the launch of the eponymous book written by our great Indian novelist and twenty first century intellectual Sriman Chetan Bhagat ji, I wondered what might be the meaning of such a word.

In Indian hotels, we are used to the rate card of a full plate as well as a half plate. You have half versions of tea and coffee. In Indian tradition, after marriage the girl becomes ardhangini.

Of course, the concept of ardhangini is understandable. After marriage the wife and husband become one unit. So, each unit is half of this arrangement. But, our male dominated society never uses the word ardhanga which should be the synonym to mean the husband.

Half girlfriend?

Is this  girl gifted with only half of the limbs that a normal girl has? Then, her boyfriend must indeed be a great hero to be emulated by all Chetan Bhagat devotees?  (by the way,  bhagat is derived from the word bhakt– a devotee)

Or, the protagonist boy has two girlfriends concurrently, thus, each one deserving only to be a half girlfriend?

Indian BloggersWhen I confided my confusion to a dear friend and Chetan Bhagat fan and who goes by the name Ketan, he suggested me to read the book to clear my confusion. I shuddered at the prospect. The last time I attempted to read one of his books, after two pages I had such mental indigestion that it took me two weeks to recover. Such heavy stuff.

Imagine. If I struggle for a day and break my head to make sense of only one word invented by this great innovative author, what will happen to my chetan man (conscious mind)  if I go through the whole book.

So, I let the meaning of ‘half girlfriend’ remain a mystery. What is going to happen after all. Already I am living with half a million mysteries of the universe that may not get solved in a million years to come. That includes the greatest unsolved mystery of all times, “Why did Kattappa kill Bahubali?

At the same time I am afflicted by another mystery. The name half girlfriend is an insult to the women folk. To be more politically correct he could have used the word half boyfriend. Is Chetan, a misogynist?

I expected some feminist organsiations to take up the gauntlet, come in an Arnab Goswami show to  spread  the fire of protest so wide that the nation wanted to know only one thing – How dare Chetan Bhagat be more incoherent than the host of the only fire powered show in India?

The nation wide controversy would have made Chetan rolling on the floor laughing all the way to the bank while the sales figure of his books reached the moon.

But all this did not happen. Chetan did laugh his way to the bank, though. But, what happened to the feminists? Did they think it too trivial an issue considering the history of this nation in treating its female species, or, all of them got converted to the cult of Chetan Bhagat?

Of course, there were some halfhearted protest responses. One wrote a book titled Half Boyfriend. Another wrote a blog post titled Half Girlfriend/ Half Boyfriend.

A few days back,  Ketan  phoned me. He said he was speaking to me from Thailand. He had taken a short break from his vacation activities just to speak to me.

“Hey buddy. You know what. The movie trailer is out.”

“What movie?”, I asked.

“The movie based on Chetan’s  book,  Half girlfriend.” He was so enthusiastic – like  a cult member out to recruit.

“So what?”

“You wanted to know the meaning of half girlfriend. Well, see the trailer”.

He sent me the link. I opened the link and saw the trailer. My confusion got more compounded.

So what is a half girlfriend?

A character in the trailer, who seems to be the protagonist’s friend, tries to describe the boy girl relationship as – Dost se thodasa jyada, boyfriend se thoda sa kam. Somehow it makes some sense, vaguely though.

But man, how do you decide it fits the definition of a half girlfriend/boyfriend or, a half relationship.  How do you assign a numerical value to an abstract concept.

Of course, there seems nothing special about the relationship that the author tries to hype up by assigning it a value of  half. In any boy meets girl story, there comes a point from where the relationship could go either way. It is just a short lived phase of a relationship.

But the relationship must have a number. Otherwise, it will not bring good luck to the book. Thus spake Chetan’s astrologer.

Yes, it is the same astrologer that Ekta Kapoor is affiliated to. Let me reproduce the enlightened conversations between the astrologer and Chetan here:

Astrologer:  Look Chetan. I have already given alphabet K to Ekta. Knowing your type, for you no alphabet. Only numbers will do. Use any number between five and half in your title.

Chetan: Surely I will do. By the way, anybody who knows five words (three English and two Hindi) can not only understand my book, but also aspire to be a best selling author like me. But sir, after spending four rigorous years in IIT, and later on at IIM,  this much I know that half is not a natural number.

Astrologer: It is a combination of two numbers one and two. So don't worry.

After a few years Chetan wrote a book and wanted to titled it - Point Five Someone, to sound like the earlier one and to ride on its popularity all the way to his bank account. But before sending it to the publisher he wanted to have the final word of advice from his astrologer.

Chetan: Sir, I have written another book about a guy who is not even worth five points.  Shall I call the book Point Five Someone? 

Astrologer: No no. Make it more spicy. Give him a girl friend and call the book Half Girlfriend. It will achieve two things - confusion and curiosity. They go hand in hand. Good for marketing, you know. 

Chetan: By the way Sir, I thought you are an expert in astrology only. But, I see you are good in marketing too. 

Astrologer: Ha ha. Why not? let me tell you. There isn't much difference between you and me. Both us make millions by selling truckloads of bullshit.

Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore him. His books adorn the bookshelves of half of my friends, occupy at least half a self in any library you visit, cover half of all the total space available in leading book stores- offline or online.  He is on TV- on talk shows and f**k shows. (I was thinking of a match making show where he acts like a f**ked up host).

He writes half banal and half unintelligible centre page articles on national newspapers. Like his books, movies based on his books make millions. Ketan, says that the movies are not exact adaptations of his books, but are loosely based.

Oh God, that is the saving grace. Being loosely based, the movies can take any kind of spin off.

It is said that the Americans are so adept in sales and marketing that they can sell real estate located on the moon to the Chinese. Well, Yankey dudes, here in India we have got the baap of  all salesmen.

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image credit: schoopwhoop.com

India First

The unique thing about living in India is that one learns to live under a plethora of diversities and yet, love it. Nowhere does one get the real taste of this unique feature than in Armed Forces.

Yes, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of an Armed Forces fraternity; Indian Air Force to be precise, for two decades. Close interaction with people from different parts of India is a daily affair as part of your work.  Moreover, your frequent transfers throughout the length and breath of India gives you an in depth experience of the locality, that a casual  visitor to that place may not get.

Hard work and celebration is a part and parcel of military life. In addition to official celebrations, we used to have a lot of informal celebrations organised by the members of different religious and cultural communities. Without any inhibitions every one participated in those informal celebrations. I have lost count of how many times I have been part of X’mas and Id celebrations. We respected each other’s religions and cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Yet, neither did we lose the pride in our own unique culture or religion, nor did it make us a chauvinist or a fanatic.

In a formal way or in an informal way, there was  was zero discrimination based on caste or religion or ethnicity. It was secularism at its zenith. Whenever we met with someone, we just felt we are meeting with a fellow Indian. No judgement, prima facie or otherwise,  was formed about an Individual because he belonged to a different religion, caste, ethnic group, or spoke a different mother tongue.

Of course, by and large, people in India live peacefully in spite of having so many  groups with conflicting ideologies.  At the same time, it cannot be ignored that vested interests incite fanatic and chauvinistic feelings in the common man who falls prey to such mass manipulation tactics. Quite often the leader who incites chauvinistic feelings based on native language or ‘the perceived legitimate rights of the son of the soil’ may have his own children studying in posh schools where learning of the local language and love for one’s native customs and culture are considered stuff for lesser mortals.

Yet the common man forgets this and is ready to take the gauntlet against those imaginary enemies who are out to pollute his culture. He himself maybe as much ignorant about his own culture as someone who stays in his state temporarily. His own children may be reluctant to talk in local language. He himself is not the least bit interested to learn anything about another culture. But, he expects that (and considers it an insult if they don’t) people who come to his state, whether voluntarily or as mandated by their job,  must speak the local language, know every thing pertaining to the state and adapt themselves to the local customs.

A person who falls prey to such manipulative forces loses his perspective in distinguishing love for his own religion from fanaticism and love for his own ethnicity or language from chauvinism .

After leaving the Defense Services, due to professional requirements, I stayed in a city that prides itself of being a cosmopolitan city. I took an apartment. It was good to see that the apartment complex had residents from different states of India. There were a number of serving as well as retired Defense personnel and some hailed from my home state Odisha. It was also good to see that the residents celebrated many occasions like the New Year, Ganesh Puja, Diwali, Holi etc. together.

Another unique feature of India is its large number of religious and ethnic festivals spread throughout the year. A particular day or occasion may have many regional and local versions.

Fourteenth of April- the solar new year, is celebrated in different parts of India in different manners. It is known as Mahabishuba Sankranti and it goes by different names in different states. Like, somewhere it is Vishu, somewhere it is Poila Boishakha and so on. In my home state Odisha itself it has a number of local versions of celebration. In many parts of Odisha it is celebrated as Pana Sankranti because a special type of Pana (non-alcoholic sweet drink) is prepared on this occasion.

So, a few of us got together and decided to celebrate the Sankranti. We also decided that we would prepare and sponsor the special sweet drink so that people from other states get to have a taste of the same. We were enthusiastic about the celebrations. Many volunteers came forward offering help in organizing the events. I was asked to put out a message in our whatsapp group informing about the celebrations and inviting all to come and participate. I am reproducing my message word for word (sans place references):

"Hearty Greetings to all on the occasions of Mahabishuba Sankranti / Pana Sankranti /Odiya New Year / Ambedkar Jayanti/ Good Friday /Vishu / Baishakhi / Bihu / Lord Hanuman ji's Birthday (& any other festival if it is left out)

At (apartment name) let us celebrate this occasion with songs and drinks. 😀

On this grand occasion, all are invited to an evening of devotional songs and music. Place: .......... . Time: 6:30 pm .

Traditional Pana (non-alcoholic sweet drink) will be distributed as prasadam 8 p.m on wards on behalf of Utkal Samaj. 

All are coordially invited to participate with family and friends.

I was enthusiastic that people would be happy to read my message. I also expected that some would appreciate my sense of humour. Of course there was enthusiastic reception from the residents.

But the message did not go down well with a particular gentleman who demanded to know why I had forgotten to mention the name of his state which too celebrated the new year on this day.

I had given my greeting message after some research on the net. I double checked and found that neither Google nor Wikipedia knew that this state as a whole celebrated any kind of new year on this day. Nor, was there any mention of any unique specific name by which this festival was known through out the state. Of course, in some parts of the state, especially in temples it was celebrated as a general religious festival befitting the occasion of Mahabishubha Sankranti. 

Secondly, supposing that there indeed was any kind of state specific festival associated with the date, the gentleman’s demand  was akin to the demand of a child who goes on asking every stranger it meets, “uncle,  why did not you wish me on my birthday?”.  It was a childish demand based on his own ignorance mixed with chauvinism .

Thirdly, to make my message all inclusive and implying that due to my ignorance I might have, inadvertently,  left out mentioning any peculiar name associated with the festival I had included the phrase “& any other festival if it is left out” in my greeting message.

Still then, to assuage his feeling of being slighted, to prevent the festive spirit from being spoiled and to avoid the issue being dragged further, I sent a message expressing my apology for my omission.

But, the gentleman was in no mood to reconcile. He continued with his rants,  “Even though, you people stay in this state for so many years you do not learn about this state, blah blah blah……. “

One of my well wishers asked the gentleman to stop reading negative connotation from the  message and appreciate the fact that someone is inviting every one to be part  of a celebration. Of course,  this only  enraged the gentleman more and he continued with his offensive messages.  So I sent a message again requesting every one not take anything seriously as my message was just an invitation for a celebration.

Thereafter, in spite of being prodded by my friends to give a fitting reply to his humiliating messages, I chose to remain silent and asked others just to ignore his rants.

My Defense upbringing had taught me to protect my fellow Indians even at the cost of my own life. At the same time, the Indian in me did not want to fight with a fellow Indian over a trivial issue even after being humiliated badly.

I hoped that our silence would ultimately make the gentleman silent, unless he was so ungracious as to find something wrong with our silence as well. But the gentleman was gracious enough to stop his rants finding no takers for his further provocations.

Lufthansa’s attempt to incorporate Indian culture, cuisine and hospitality into their airline’s services takes this ‘India First’ approach a step further. However, there is a catch.

So, watch the above video to know of their conspiracy theory. There are plenty of hints in the video. Then supplement it with detailed knowledge about their conspiracy to Indianise themselves at the following link:

#moreindianthanyouthink

Definitely #moreindianthanyouthink.

oh sister, my sister

 

(This time, in stead of I writing a blog post in response to the topic of Indisipre Edition #165, I asked my son Dipayan to write one. Being the beginning of the academic year, I saw him having too much fun and I wanted to curtail it. But I was proved wrong as he announced that writing the article was no less fun.)

guddi2.jpg
Adyasha & Dipayan

I love my sister. Though there’s 10 years of difference between us (ten years three days to be precise), there’s no gap of affection. She is now in Switzerland, but still we talk often. I do miss her, but I still get to talk to her, and that’s a good thing. Quarrels are rare, because the last time we quarreled must be around 8 years ago, when I was 6 and she 16 and we used to stay together (aah, those days…). But those quarrels used to end in a jiffy. None of them were too serious. I stayed with her till her twelfth class. After that she went for higher studies to NIT, Trichy where she stayed in a hostel. So, we met only during vacations.

Two years back, she went to Zurich to do M.S. Since then, we have been able to meet only online.

We used to play many small games together, and we had a lot of fun. I didn’t feel bored at all when I was with my sister.

Indian BloggersHaving a sister has many advantages. A sister is more caring and patient than a brother. My sister taught me many things. She taught me many good values, and of course, helped me a lot in my studies. Not only in studies, she helped me a lot in everything, and in return, I helped her. According to me, helping and caring is what makes a sibling relationship special.

She used to hug me tightly and kiss me everywhere on my face and call me many affectionate names like ‘cutie pie’, and I believe she would do the same when I meet her now. She says even if I grow, I would still remain a small child to her.

My sister motivates me not only by her words but also by her deeds and achievements. She was one of the CBSE All India toppers both in Class X and XII. She carried on her academic feat to NIT, Trichy,  where she was also much sought after for co-curricular activities like organizing and compering special events, creative writing and editing.

She tells me what to do and what not to. She is my inspiration and I am proud of her. When I miss her and cannot immediately contact her online, I watch the following video on youtube, which is a recording of her fun presentation on drones at Science Slam Zurich.

Let’s hear it folks- in pristine form.

I am no expert in any kind of music. I don’t need to be . A connoisseur of food need know the details of the recipe.

Classical music and folk music are both  ancient in origin and have been carried forward by a tradition of pass over to the next generation, sometimes through family ties and sometime through Guru-Shishya Parampara.  I feel the main difference between classical and folk tradition is that while classical music is highly refined, folk music is music in its raw, virgin form.

Classical music has been adopted by maestros of music and patronized by people of high society. Whereas, folk music is a cry from the heart of people who lived very close to nature. There is a simplicity and spontaneity in folk music that can be highly  seductive.

Every mainstream language has many dialects. While classical ragas could take lyrics from main stream languages as well as dialects, folk songs are usually in dialects.

Even though I do not understand the dialects, my heart finds instant connection with the Rajasthani Folk music. Rajasthan is a treasure house of folk music. It is amazing to see people living in harsh conditions producing such sweet melodies. The other day,  when I came across this BBC documentary titled – The Lost Music of Rajasthan -on youtube, I could not but watch it without any break.

The above BBC documentary highlights the efforts taken by a few individuals to preserve folk music, not a museum piece but in its living natural surroundings. While the protagonists of the above documentary are apprehensive about the survival of the folk music, some lament that the purity of the folk tradition is getting compromised by the use of modern instruments and the influence of film and television.

With changes in the social structure, economic conditions and influence of other cultures certain level of changes are bound to happen. I only hope, the changes are for the better, without uprooting the traditions altogether.

Be it in any langauge, folk music can touch a chord in the heart instantly. India, being home to thousands of tribes and dialects, every state has a number of folk music traditions.

About four decades back, the song Rangabati –  a folk song in the western Odisha dialect Sambalpuri became popular not only in Odisha but also all over India. Imagine a song going viral all over India, long before the advent of internet ! Rangabati  continues to fascinate. The song continues to be a favourite. Some have tried to give it a modern make over in MTV Coke Studio,  to disastrous consequences.

(Poor video quality, but the song is original)

The above one is sung by  Sona Mahapatra, in her trained methodical style and voice and in accompaniment to  modern instruments.   When you listen to both the songs,  you can feel how folk songs get murdered when you try to refine it, or maybe, try to sing without feeling it. No doubt, the attempt by Sona Mahapatra created a lot of controversy. Sona Mahapatra has song many Bollywood chart busters. I like many of her songs. But sorry, Sona. I find your Rangabati attempt repelling.

You may also read : The Bouls of Bengal