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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

An Epitome of Devotion

Ramcharan Yadav, the History teacher of Lokmanya Vidya Niketan Indore, alighted the bus and asked the children to get down quietly. The class eight students were on their annual school trip, and this was the next stop for them. It was a quiet afternoon, and the sun was considering calling it a day. After ensuring all students were feeling good, the teacher started speaking.

‘What you see here was constructed by a person who lived among us some years before, in the love for his wife soon after her soul bid farewell from this Earthly world.’

As expected, there was no collective sigh of exclamation from the kids, who had grown up watching engineering marvels and sky breakers across the globe.

‘Of course this may not seem to be such a great feat today, but you must remember that he had achieved the same at a time before machines started cutting stones or computers began to lay out meticulous plans. Twenty two long years were spent in the construction.’

Ramcharan watched with delight some jaws being dropped in astonishment.

‘How deeply did he love his wife, sir?’ asked young and bright Deepika Kaur.

‘They are yet to come up with a device to measure love, my child. Let us say more than his life.’

There was a quietude as some tried to contemplate what it meant to love someone more than their own lives.

‘All right, kids. We have other places to visit before nightfall. Please position yourselves and let us take a photo.’

The thirty six students arranged themselves in two rows and posed for the class photo. The teacher pulled out his camera from his handbag. Click. Thirty six faces smiled against the backdrop of a simple road carved by a poor laborer by the name of Dashrath Manjhi, popularly known as The Mountain Man.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Seventeenth Century Striving To Even Out the Odds

Close to the city of Paithan, in a small village called Sauviragram, which lay along the banks of the great river Godavari, lived a woman named Ilaa. Being cotton farmers, her family was well to do, but not among the richest in their area. It was the harvest season, and cotton had to be picked from the plants. The wholesalers and traders from Paithan would be arriving in just a few weeks, carrying gold and goods for barter. They would exchange what they carried for the cotton that the farmers grew. The bales of cotton had to be ready in time! Work was at its peak!

But Ilaa was not to be found in the fields. She wasn't working. Instead, she was sitting by the banks of the great river Godavari.

'I am sick of this!' she grunted loudly. The cool breeze could not dampen her frustration.

‘Ssh...Not so loud, Ilaa! Others may hear.’ whispered a precarious Eknath.

They both sat cross legged in the soft sand by the riverside. The wild outgrowth gave them a cover from the villagers who passed by. This is where they used to meet, and converse. Eknath came from a Brahmin household of the same village. His father was a temple priest, and at the tender age of nine his father had performed his Upanayana. There started his training in Sanskrit and other religious affairs. Eknath and Ilaa knew each other from childhood, and the bond had only deepened.

‘You do not understand it, Nath. I am running out of ways to convince my father.’ Desperation was written all over her face.

Eknath knew he needed to pacify his friend. Hesitantly, he placed his right palm on her slender shoulders. She tossed it away gruffly.

‘Why are you mum? Speak up. Do you also believe that women must not have the right to education?’ she inquired.

‘Of course not! But that is how the society around us thinks. What can we do about it?’

‘Do you know what my father said today? He told me that man and woman are different; hence their duties are also different. Men are physically stronger, that is why their area of work lay outside their homes. Men are expected to be farmers, weavers, soldiers, lawmakers, rulers, doctors, masons, teachers and even priests. Women are subtler, and their duties include cooking, washing, cleaning, giving birth and all household chores.’

‘Well, isn’t it true that men are physically stronger than women?’ Eknath tried to reason with Ilaa.

 ‘If it is so, why do my family ask me, a woman, to pluck cotton from the plants? Isn’t that a man’s job?’ Ilaa had made her point.

Eknath knew his friend was right. ‘I am not of the view that women must be uneducated. But one should respect his culture and civilization.’

‘Our civilization was not always like this, Nath. Centuries ago in the Vedic times, women enjoyed equal status as men.  They received education and observed brahmacharya, studied the Vedas, and composed Vedic hymns. Women had access to all branches of knowledge.  I respect that golden civilization.’

‘How do you know so much about Vedic periods?

‘I only know what my mother used to tell me when I was a kid. Her mother had told her when she was a child. My mother used to tell me the story of a lady by the name of Vishvara, who composed outstanding hymns. She is my inspiration. I want to go through each verse of our epics, and indulge in intellectual debates. Alas, our patriarchal society forbade it.’

None of them spoke for a while. Both knew that there was no easy solution. Quietly, Eknath started writing something on the wet sand using his fingers. That caught Ilaa’s attention.

‘Now what am I supposed to make out of these lines, straight and curved?’

Eknath had in fact written her name using the Devnagri script. His heart panged when he realized that Ilaa could not recognize her own name. He was about to say something, but was cut short by a booming voice.

‘Namaste Eknath!’

Ilaa and Eknath turned their heads towards the direction of the voice. When he saw who it was, he immediately stood up and folded his hands in respect. Ilaa followed suit.

‘Pranaam guruji.’ Eknath bent to touch the feet of guru Nimbarka, who trained him in Sanskrit.

‘Rise, my child. I was here to collect water for pooja, when I heard your voice. What brings you here at this time of the day?’

‘This is my friend, Ilaa. We were talking, while enjoying the cool breeze.’ Replied Eknath.

‘So it is her name that I see on the sand, then.’ He remarked, pointing to the spot where Eknath had drawn using his finger.

‘Yes, my teacher.’

Nimbarka turned to Ilaa. ‘What bothers you, young lady?’

Ilaa was taken by surprise.  ‘Nothing, guru.’

‘Do not withhold, child. I am able to read minds.’ He joked with a straight face.

‘Well...my friend wishes to read and write, guru. Unfortunately women do not have any such rights in our land.’

‘I see. It is ironical that somebody with the name Ilaa has to fight for knowledge. Do you know the significance of your name, child?’ asked the guru.

Eknath was the first to respond. ‘As per legends Pratishthana, which is the ancient name for Paithan, was built by King Ila, who was the king of Bahlika Kingdom.’

His guru nodded in agreement.

‘In Hindu mythology, Ila is an androgyne, usually described as a daughter or son of Vaivasvata Manu and thus the sibling of Ikshvaku, the founder of the Suryavansha Dynasty.’ Replied Ilaa.

‘It is amazing to see that an illiterate woman knows this much about our ancient texts.’ Commented the guru. ‘If you go through the Aprisuktas, you shall see Ila being mentioned many a times in Rig-Veda, along with Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge. I hope you see the irony now.’

‘I want to read everything, guru. I want to read the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Gita. Will you teach me the letters, guru?’

Her child like wail amused Nimbarka. ‘Stop worrying about your problem and start working on it.’ 

He pointed to the inscription of her name on the sand. ‘Now you have learnt how the letters I and La looks like. You would be able to recognize these wherever you see them. Next time when you visit the Shiva temple, observe the phrase at the main entrance. You would see five characters that stand for na, ma, shi, va, ya respectively. This way you would be able to learn by yourselves.’

‘But isn’t it unfair, guru? Isn’t it unfair that boys are given systematic education while girls have to do it inconspicuously, as if it was a sin?’

‘The world around us is full of disparities, child. But everything changes as years passes. A time would come when women would be treated equally as men. They would be educated, be allowed to go out and work, and discrimination would cease to exist.’

‘Such a situation was prevalent in our society. Unfortunately, it was centuries ago.’ Ilaa opined, referring to the Vedic times.

‘Time is like a circular river, Ilaa. What existed would return some day in the future. Now, if you would excuse me, I shall take leave.’

Ilaa hesitated before speaking. ‘I hear that the Chhatrapati Sivaji Maharaja is planning to visit Paithan while proceeding to Jalna. What if we go and meet him in person? Wouldn’t he address our grievances?’

‘I must commend on your high spirits, Ilaa. But things are not that easy. No society can accept drastic changes. Presently the notion of women being confined to homes is deep rooted in our minds. Trust me it would undergo change, but changes takes their due course of time.’ Nimbarka tried to present the reality, while not dissuading the spirited Ilaa.

‘Well I understand your point, guruji. I am only unlucky to be born in the wrong time.’

‘People label someone great only when she rises against the odds and strive for better living conditions. With your hunger for knowledge, I am sure you would learn the letters soon enough. Then you would be in a position to teach other woman folk. They would start respecting you, and your confidence would rise. You would then be able to convince your critics on the merits of learning. Things would definitely be tough, but you have in you the determination to strive.’

‘Thank You for your inspiring words, respected guru.’ Ilaa touched his feet to seek blessings.

‘You shall be blessed, child. Always remember that if you seek you shall find the answers.’

Guru Nimbarka wished Ilaa good luck and went back to his residence. His disciple Eknath accompanied him. Ilaa was left alone at the riverside. Once again, Ilaa had a look at the inscription of her name. For some reason she found a strange joy rising within her. For the first time in her life, she had learnt how to read an alphabet.

Ilaa promised herself that this would only be a beginning, and she would not stop until she achieved her goal. From a distance, she could hear the shouts of her family members, who were busy picking and sorting all those cotton balls in the farm. She smiled to herself, and started walking in the direction of the cotton farm.

source: pinterest

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Poem: Culinary Love

We were never meant to be together.

I am a native. She came from beyond.

I am white. She is brown.

I am sweet. She is hot.

I am dry. She is not.

We were never meant to be together.

Or so they thought.

Without her, I am baked flour.

Sans me, she is ignored by all.

Despite the odds, forward we did go.

She ran through me with vigor.

As we drenched in steam.

Together we saw,

A great union taking birth.

It was culinary love.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Movie Review : Do Aankhen Barah Haath

Title : Do Aankhen Barah Haath
Language : Hindi
Year : 1957
Director : Rajaram Vankudre Shantaram
Genre : Drama, Crime, Comedy
Lead Role :  Rajaram Vankudre ShantaramSandhyaUlhas

Do Aankhen Barah Haath (Two Eyes, Twelve Hands) is widely regarded as a classic milestone in the history of Indian cinema. The story of the film is based on the 'open prison' experiment that was conducted some two decades before the making of the movie.

Adinath is a prison warden who decides to carry out this experiment on six murder convicts, in an unprecedented attempt to show them the greatness of mercy. He hopes to nourish their human sides by offering them a second chance. Would his gambit pay off?

I believe that a film could be labeled a classic if viewers can connect with it and debate it across the dimensions of time and space. In that regard, this movie justifies the tags attributed to it up to a considerable extent. While the story and making is commendable, elements of drama and theatrical performances by the actors dampens the viewing experience by a notch. Nonetheless, credit must be accorded to the makers for coming up with such a socially relevant theme even at those times.

A lot of debate still goes on what is the right kind of punishment for offenders. As such, Do Aankhen Barah Haath offers us something to ponder.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Movie Review : Fifty Shades of Grey

Title : Fifty Shades of Grey
Language : English
Year : 2015
Director : Sam Taylor-Johnson
Genre : Drama, Romance, Erotica
Watch trailer on Youtube
Lead Role :  Dakota JohnsonJamie DornanJennifer Ehle

Fifty shades is an erotica, based on the 2011 novel by the same name. In fact it is only the first installment of what we could call the Grey Trilogy. 

The movie tells us the tale of a successful entrepreneur Christian Grey and a college going teenager Anastasia Steele. Ms. Steele meets Mr. Grey for an interview on behalf of her sick friend Katherine, and let us say her changes drastically. Is the change for good or bad? The answer is best watched on screen.

Fifty shades of Grey had its fair share of controversy in India thanks to its explicit visuals which the extremists found hard to accept. What intrigues me is that these people have no issues with the amount of graphical description on sexual intercourse in novels but hell breaks loose if the same is found in visual media. Irony, huh?


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Character Assassination

“Vani woke to the incessant crying of her newborn. Today was a long and exciting day for her and her hubby, Vimal. The nine months of anticipation had finally culminated in the Labor Room of the Little Flower Hospital. Vimal was on cloud nine ever since she had told him that she was expecting. He had taken it for granted that it would be a boy. That months that followed saw Vimal googling frantically for top baby boy names. A hundred sites showed a thousand names, but he was not content with any of those. Vani came up with Aditya, and Vimal gave the thumps up. They would lovingly call him Adi. Vani decided not to tell him that Aditya was her ex-boyfriend.

Vani got the shock of her life when she realized that fate had other plans for them. She expected Vimal to break down as the nurse announced that the baby was a girl. To her pleasant surprise, he seemed normal with the news. He even joked that now they would have to hunt for a new name. If Vimal was faking his emotions, he was doing it proper.

The excitement of the day was beginning to take its toll on Vani, who was feeling drowsy. The baby girl was peacefully at sleep in her crib near Vani’s hospital bed. Vimal looked exhausted, yet he sat there reading some magazine. All was well until the quiet of the night was disturbed by seemingly terror filled shrieks of the newborn.

Panic registered in her head when she felt the crib vacant. She started looking around, and the sight she saw brought her heart into her mouth. Vimal stood by the window side, holding the baby by its feet. Apparently he was tossing the baby out through the window. She wanted to scream out loud, but the shock had seemingly paralyzed her, strapping her to the cot.”


‘Deekshith stopped typing and went through what he had written. The sense of satisfaction that usually fills his mind was missing. He shook his head and had another handful of roasted peanuts. He ate peanuts whenever he wrote. It helped him think better. And he wrote quite often. Deekshith had another shot at the incomplete story, and he identified the problem. The story was simply depressing. He started musing on it. He felt that there was too much negativity in the real world already. The local newspapers daily reported instances of rapes, murders and robberies. He need not add new miseries on top of it. A writer ought to give people hope – the philosophical light at the end of the dark tunnel. Feeling determined, he started typing again.’


“Vimal tossed the baby out of the hospital complex, and then Vani woke up from her nightmarish dream, sobbing. Her hands were trembling. Vimal, who had fallen into a slumber, came running towards her.

‘What’s wrong, love? Why are you all shaken?’

Vani checked the crib, and was insanely glad to see the baby fast asleep.

‘I – I had a bad, horrible dream, Vimal.’ Vani was now in tears. ‘I dream that you were disappointed with the baby being a girl, and were tossing her out through the window.’

‘Oh that’s a terrible thing to imagine. Why would I do something so demonic? Sure I was a tad disappointed, but I do love my daughter as much as I would have loved my son.’

‘I know. Forgive me, dear.’

‘It’s okay, honey. You know I have been thinking a lot on what name we should give her, and a few are on my list. What do you think of Janaki?’ Vimal did not tell her that Janaki was the name of that girl from his college, on whom he had a huge crush.

‘Janaki is perfect, Vimal. We shall name her Janaki, and we could call her Janu. It’s perfect.’

‘I knew you would like the name. Now get some sleep.’ He kissed her goodnight, and went outside for a coffee.’”


Wait a minute. I have this feeling that most of our stories follow the happily ever after adage. In most of our novels and films, the hero marries the heroine, the loser achieves success and all problems simply make way for a happy life. Alas, the reality speaks a different story. Anyway, our story does not end as it is…


‘Deekshith was contended at the way his story had ended. He proofread it to make sure no errors had crept in. He was all set to post the story in his blog when he felt a sharp pain near his chest. A vein near his lungs had suddenly busted. He got up in pain, but his legs gave in. Soon he collapsed onto the ground. After struggling for some minutes, he succumbed to the pain.’

(Thanks Shrestha)