Picture Prompt- Week#1- The Wait

Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action;
rather it is “timing”
it waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles
and in the right way.

-Fulton J. Sheen

Waiting with patience is underestimated.

Every phase of our life invariably involves the waiting game. It is probably the most excruciating feeling. I don’t know what will happen or when, but all I can do is to wait and sit back. Sit back and watch for the time and the opportunity to knock my door, to light my life up.

It happens even to the best of people. We give our best. Yet, results are tales that only time would tell. I run in the park everyday. That is how I channelise my thoughts to make my day lovely. They say a positive mind is a key to a positive life. I don’t believe in it. yet I do have some beliefs myself.

So as I run in the park, there comes a moment when I just want to give up. I stop short of breath and gather myself up and look for the nearest empty bench and drop myself on it, with exhaustion. I see a couple of others walking and running past me. They all look focused and hopeful. It is as if they are raring to go, to grab the chances that crowd their doors and windows. I look at them, trying to give each of them a background. A story of their lives. May be they are in a worse state of mind than I am. Or may be they are blissful about their lives. Each of them seem to have a story.

I watch in silence as they move past me. I realise I am waiting for my time to come. I am waiting for that one opportunity to walk past me, just like these people. A future waits for me, just like the rising Sun in the horizon. The day looks promising, and so is my spirit. It gradually lifts up as the distant sky is colored with hues of rich orange and golden streaks. I feel the warmth of a new day. It feels good. Waiting feels good. It is my time to sit back and observe, may be. It feels good.

 

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When Statues tell Stories

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a walk along the statues in the Marina, as a part of an event. It was conducted by the Storytelling Institute on account of Madras Day. This is the advantage if you are a media student. You get to know a lot of events and somehow gather the energy to be present and see what happens there.

So the walk was planned along six statues, starting with the Kannagi statue and going up to the Avvaiyar statue. Here I shall try to document the background of each statue, with a mix of narrative from the walk and also a little from me.

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Kannagi Statue

Kannagi’s is a fascinating story. In those days, Tamil Nadu was ruled by different kingdoms and each kingdom had its own symbols of identification.

This piece of trivia was told to me by one of the Tamil teachers who taught me- Chola kingdom had anklets that had Rubies in them, while the Pandiyas down South had anklets with pearls in them. This was also an aspect of identity for the people back then it seems.

It was the time when Kovalan, Kannagi’s husband had come back to her. He was in an illicit affair with Madhavi earlier and he had realised his mistake. Once back with Kannagi, they sought to begin a new life and devoid of money, Kannagi gave him one of her anklets and told him to sell it. Kovalan set out with the jewel and was arrested by the soldiers of the Pandiya king, in Madurai. Their Queen’s anklet was missing and since Kannagi’s anklet looked very similar to the missing anklet, they arrested him and brought him to the king. The king, after taking a look at the anklet, confiscated it and ordered Kovalan to be killed as a punishment for theft. Thus Kovalan was killed. This news reached Kannagi and she was angry. She was sure that her husband was no thief and she set out to seek justice from the Pandiya king himself. She goes to his court and argued that the king had made a mistake in killing Kovalan. She said that her anklet had rubies in them, while the Queen’s anklets had pearls. She threw the anklet she had onto the floor and rubies scattered from it. She asked for her other anklet from the king and threw that open too, in front of the entire courtroom. It broke and rubies came out of them too, thus proving that the king had erred in executing Kovalan.

Distraught at the injustice meted out to her, with untied hair and eyes burning with fury, she cursed the then prosperous city of Madurai and reduced it to ashes. Worshipped as a deity in some parts of Tamil Nadu, she is the heroine of the Tamil epic- Silappathikaram, which means the tale of the anklet.

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Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

Born in 1897 and raised in Calcutta,  his father was a famous lawyer.  He was sent to England to study.  In England, he passed the Indian Civil Services Exam. The Jallianwalabagh massacre made him quit Civil Services training in England and in 1921 he came back to India.

It was then that he met Mahatma Gandhi, and joined the Indian National Congress.  He was arrested and jailed by the British so many times.  And for what?  Only for saying that his people should be free.  Eventually, he fell apart from Gandhi altogether.  He could not accept Gandhi’s insistence on nonviolence.

Gandhi wanted to change human beings. Bose just wanted to free India.

In 1941, when Germany went to war with England, he went to Germany (by way of Afghanistan). He broadcasted anti-British radio programs from Berlin. He accepted support from both Germany and Japan for he believed that an ‘enemy of my enemy, can be his friend’.

In July 1943, he went to Singapore.  There he organised the Indian National Army.  In March 1944, they crossed the Burma border and stood on Indian soil.  However, when Japan and Germany eventually lost World War II, the Indian National Army had to retreat too.  Then, in 1945, it was reported that he was killed in an air crash over Taiwan.

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Tiruvalluvar

One of the most important literary figures of the world, his work, Tirukkural encompasses everything that is required for a balanced and good life on earth. The book, also known as the Ulaga Podhumarai, has 1330 couplets, with chapters on justice, relationships, conduct, and governance.

வள்ளுவன் தன்னை உலகினுக்கே – தந்து
வான்புகழ் கொண்ட தமிழ்நாடு

sang the legendary poet, Bharathiyar. (By giving the world, Valluvar, Tamilnadu attained eternal glory).

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G.U.Pope

He was born in 1820, on an island off the East coast of Canada. His family migrated to England when he was small. He traveled to South India in 1839, to spread the word of Jesus Christ.

G.U.Pope was a good student of languages, and in time became a scholar of Tamil, Sanskrit, and Telugu. He started a number of schools, and in these schools, he taught Latin, English, Hebrew, Mathematics, and Philosophy.

He decided to translate the Tirukkural, and completed the project in 1886.  Then, in 1900, he completed the translation of the Tiruvaasagam (“Sacred Utterance”).  This is a volume of hymns composed by the ninth century Shaivite Bhakti poet, Manikkavaasagar.  Tiruvaasagam is the eighth volume of the Tirumurai, the sacred anthology of Tamil Shaivite Siddhanta.

The main message of the Tiruvaasagam is that the body is temporary and we should not spend a lot of time and energy pursuing worldly comforts. Those are among the root causes of pain and sorrow.  Rather, one should pray to leave the body and attain liberation (moksha). The soul should have control over the body and not the other way round. It also said that the ultimate aim in one’s life is to reach Lord Shiva’s feet or, in Christian terms, to be in the presence of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

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Bharathidaasan

A rationalist poet, he adopted his name owing to his admiration of Bharathiyar. His poems are based on social issues and in a way contributed to the Dravidian Movement in Tamil Nadu. His missions in life were to promote his mother-tongue, Thamizh, to change the idiosyncrasies arising from old traditions, and to use new formats to convey revolutionary ideas.

His poems reflect the society of his days and also echo a tune of morality and upright behaviour. He stressed the importance of being honest and also socially responsible. One of his poems that I still remember learning in my high school is this one:

“தன்பெண்டு தன்பிள்ளை சோறு வீடு 
சம்பாத்தியம் இவையுண்டு தானுண் டென்போன் 
சின்னதொரு கடுகுபோல் உள்ளம் கொண்டோன் 
தெருவார்க்கும் பயனற்ற சிறிய வீணன்“

The one who stays content with the welfare of his wife,

kids, food and wealth,

is the one who is of a heart that is as big as a mustard seed,

useless to anybody else.

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Avvaiyar

Avvaiyar lived in the ancient Sangam Age, over two thousand years ago.  She loved to write poetry. She wrote poems about nature, people, the universe etc. In those days, a woman writing poems was not encouraged. But she knew what she wanted and what she didn’t. She did not want to spend all her time taking care of children and a husband.  So she prayed,

“Please let me be bent, please let me be broken, please let me look in such a way so that no man would want to marry me.” 

The most important women poet of Tamil Nadu, she gave the world, Aathichoodi, which teaches moral lessons to children in a sentence. Each sentence is a story. Her friendship with Adhiyaman and her story about a Jamun tree are well known. Popular culture shows her as the one who sings songs in praise of Lord Muruga and Lord Ganesha.

*Some of the above content is hereby credited to Story Telling Institute and is used with their permission *

 

Emergency Retold- Kuldip Nayar

Title- Emergency Retold

Author- Kuldip Nayar

Published- 2013

Pages- 320

Genre- Non-Fiction

The book is an account, a live third person account of the Emergency. Kuldip Nayar was a journalist, who was imprisoned during the Emergency and had to undergo the injustice inflicted upon the masses.

We all know that the Emergency was one of the darkest phases India had to go through post-independence. The sufferings of the people at large, the motives and selfishness of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the multiple reasons that were given to justify the action etc are fascinating to think about and to read.

The narrative is apt and the facts presented are amazing. The book has been written with a lot of background research and interviews with stakeholders and the affected parties. It critically examines the effect and the impact of Emergency in shaping up of the political destiny of the country. It does not mince words when describing the tyranny of Sanjay Gandhi during the phase or of the inability of Indira Gandhi to accept the truth of Sanjay.

I have read a similar book authored by Shri.P.N.Dhar, who was Indira Gandhi’s secretary during Emergency. The review of that book can be read here. I had the feeling that Dhar was sympathetical and too soft towards the Gandhis and was in denial to see what really happened during the Emergency. This book by Kuldip Nayar does not do that mistake and gives us a neutral and blunt view of what is what.

Another book that I would love to read on this subject is the one written by Coomi Kapoor. She was also a journalist back then and had lived through Emergency. It must be an interesting read.

Despite a few editing errors here and there, the book is good. Readers craving masala, stay away, for this one is dry and boring if you are expecting drama.

The Fifth Estate- Comfort Food

We know that India has four estates- the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and the media. Without these, any country would not be complete. So in a way, we can say that an ‘estate’ here means something essential. I call dibs on calling ‘comfort food’ as the fifth estate because it provides comfort to people. Who does not want to live in comfort? There are many moments that we face, when we yearn for something that makes us feel better. What better way to deal with all the negativities than a bowl of say our favorite food?

So the discussion about food and writing about food came up in class, thanks to Nilanjana Roy. She, in this post talks extensively about food, packing it with interesting tidbits. How else would I have bothered to check out what Nimat-nama was? So that led us to discussing about our votes (context- read that post) for a national dish. No, I refuse to be a part of the Dosa bandwagon, because my dosa is mine. I would not fancy the liberal butchering of the soulful item with schezuan flavours. I would rather go and vote for Poori and Aloo masala. I mean, come on! They are Pan-Indian. Each state has its own version of this Sunday staple in most families. They don’t seem to hurt the wheat sympathisers from the north of the Vindhyas, it’s perfect!

So while we were discussing about our own choice of a comfort food, my thoughts never went past the first option- Paruppu Saadham and Potato Fry. To say the name in the language of High-end top notch-ish snootiness,

Steamed rice from the plains of Tanjore mixed in a generous serving of golden, cooked lentils with copious amounts of clarified butter, accompanied by a rich and sinful serving of potatoes, roast-fried to the optimum with a dash of exotic Indian spices. 

The blatant truth that the term ‘exotic Indian spices’ was nothing but our own mustard seeds, curry leaves, red chilli and turmeric powders, will only be known to us, the insiders. Moving on.

So that being said and my mind being the irritating monkey it is, reminisced about each time I had the heavenly meal. This meal means a lot to me, on a personal level. It actually represents something more than food to me. It reminds me of the days when my mom used to feed me with this. I was a child who did not like anything to do with curd or buttermilk. I abhorred the spicy rasam too, since I was apprehensive about the surprise it might give me down my throat. So this was the only other child-friendly alternative my parents had, to get me to eat.

So this combination resembles a warm hug in a bowl to me. Whenever I am sad, happy, ecstatic, angry, disappointed or 12345876235 other feelings, I would love to comfort myself with this. Although, these days, the list of accompaniments has become longer. For instance, there was this one time, recently, when I also added a cup of mango puree (made in Jugaad style) along with my staple supply and it was heavenly. The feel of warm rice and dal, with the essence of ghee in it well complemented by the spicy and crunchy potato fry is not something to be missed or to be taken lightly. If only all meals are like that! Sigh!

That brings me back to the point where I was pondering about the contenders for the honour of national food. I think our own Parotta (or Paratha, whatever!) is also equally, if not more, qualified to be chosen. Parotta has its own variety in every state. It can metamorphosise from the humble Kerala Parotta to Enna Brotta (Vanakkam Tamizhagam) to Aloo paratha and a bunch of other parathas with creative stuffings. 

Coming to think of it, Parotta offends the wheat and the rice sympathisers equally since it neglects both and is made of refined flour. It can be paired with vegetarian, non-vegetarian and anti-national gravies with ease and can be equally tasty and fulfilling. The biryanis can be damned and the dosas dare not be touched.

 

Perspectives- #3 Chris Huntington

All of us go through rough times in our lives. We battle it out, every time as if that is the last ever battle we fight. Sometimes, we feel tired and let it pass. I am reminded of this quote by Robert Frost that I used to tell to myself during tough times.

The best way out is always through

It is also true that every person who crosses our lives teach us something. It could be something simple or major, but they do it, knowingly or otherwise. It is on these lines that this post talks. The post is about a person who goes to a prison to teach the inmates and ends up learning a lot from one of the inmates.

The author shares his angst as a parent, who has adopted a son. He expresses his sadness on the fact that the boy would grow up oblivious to his own culture and roots. There is this truth that though the boy is better off with the author in terms of material wealth, he would still lose the old charm of his native. The author seems to realise this truth, which is surprising. In a time when people migrate in search of better material lives, not shying away from forgetting their roots, this author ponders on the value lost. It was fresh and strange to me, both at the same time.

We all have seen or experienced brain-drain at some point or the other. We also have this raging debate of our native languages dying out without anybody bothering to save them from extinction. It makes me think how much is all of it worth? Are we turning more selfish as days go by? Are we just bothered about ourselves and our families? Somewhere in the equation, aren’t we losing out on the bigger picture? I am not sure. These remind me of a poem by Bharathidasan, that I learnt during my high school.

“தன்பெண்டு தன்பிள்ளை சோறு வீடு 
சம்பாத்தியம் இவையுண்டு தானுண் டென்போன் 
சின்னதொரு கடுகுபோல் உள்ளம் கொண்டோன் 
தெருவார்க்கும் பயனற்ற சிறிய வீணன்“

The one who stays content with the welfare of his wife,

kids, food and wealth,

is the one who is of a heart that is as big as a mustard seed,

useless to anybody else.

We are becoming obsessed with our own happiness and fulfillment that we tend to undermine one major truth of life. Everybody is fighting their own battles. For each, their sufferings and issues form the crux of their existence. They go about those issues in a Do-or-Die mode. One just cannot blame them. It is the same fear of losing out that keeps them going. In a way, it has become a matter of survival of the fittest.

The author shares with us, one of the major lessons he learnt from one of the prisoners, Mike.

Be the best prisoner you can be.

This statement is a compassionate one if you think about it. It does not underestimate the struggle of other people. In a way, it acknowledges that one need not be similar to another in terms of problems and that all of us have certain limits and boundaries within which we may have to restrict ourselves in dealing with our issues. The statement gives credit to that component and implores us to put up our best show wherever we are and whenever it is. The author is right when he says that not everybody can do everything in life. In fact, even on an individual level, it might not be possible to do everything that one might have wished for. In such cases, the author tells us to live our best life, in any circumstance we may find ourselves in.

It is rare to find words of compassion around us. We all are in such a hurry that we fail to see the presence of another person near us. We do not really know who our own neighbor is and what they do for a living. For all we know, we might be sharing a wall with a serial killer, who is perennially high on LSD! (Just saying). We do not care anymore for such things, do we? There is one angle of people becoming sexually frustrated and do horrible stuff to kids, I agree. But we must realise that we would probably be the last generation who practically grew up, eating the same food as our friends in the neighborhood since all the families adopted us as their own, without any bias. We would also be the last generation who celebrated festivals together with the entire apartment sharing crackers and good wishes.

Perspectives- #2 Frank Bruni

This New York Times columnist is a revelation to me. His writings are smooth and provoke me to think emotionally. I happened to read two of his pieces, both fine ones, and it left me going back in time to look into my own life and my relationships with my father and sibling.

I have supportive parents. When I say supportive, I don’t mean someone who would go to the extent of sharing a drink with me, but someone who actually were available when I wanted to talk something or confide in them. May be that is what enabled me cruising through my troubled teenage without much of an issue. Even with such parents, I found his piece on his father relevant. I saw my life with my father when I was reading that piece. I will explain.

Fathers in many Indian homes are silent warriors. They strive every moment to ensure that there is food on the table and that his family is comfortable and not lacking anything. He might slog for long hours, do jobs that he doesn’t really like or having issues with his friends or colleagues, but we are not shown that side of his life. We are rendered blissfully unaware of those.

Growing up can do a lot of things to you. In many homes, girls grow up to move closer to mothers and boys to their fathers. This might be stereotypical and could even have stemmed from the set gender bias norms in our country, but that is how it worked for a lot of people I knew. This was in fact reiterated by my father when recently he called me up to tell me that until the age of four, I was extremely close to my father, such that I didn’t really fancy staying with amma. He mentioned this while he was trying to highlight that these days I am closer to Amma than I am to him. How I wish to tell him that nothing has gone wrong or it is not out of deliberation that I am closer to amma and that it was just how it happened. How I wish I could tell him that there are certain issues which would be better if discussed with someone of the same gender. Sigh!

There were times when I was told that my father had confidence and faith in me and my choices. Even if he did not highlight that himself, amma always ensured that she conveyed it to me. His confidence in me is what amazes me till date. Believe me when I say that I did not know it the moment when I was born. I took my own time to realise it and see it, all by myself. Till then, I had thought may be my father thought I was a dud head, who was confused about her life and who didn’t know the evil ways the society worked. He was and is a silent warrior. He suffers in silence and rarely speaks out what he is going through. That is how in fact we are cultured, isn’t it? Men are supposed to be macho and steely all the time while women are allowed the privilege to cry their hearts out. Men crying is seen as a sign of weakness. This generalisation actually is adopted as a vicious circle. Fathers don’t cry and seeing them serious all the time, sons avoid crying too. This goes on and on because, for any son, their father is their hero, their invincible emperor who is out to rule the world. My brother considers my father that way, I am sure.

I have a brother, who is like a baby to me. Even if he is 40 years old and I am 49, he would still be my baby. There are times when I have ruined his dreams when I joked about him being a marine engineer and a tea-master (Of course I did not know then that tea had strange strings of fortune with it). He has, in turn, made my life full of fun and laughter. I would have been a lonely, miserable kid if it was not for his presence in my life. We have tiffs even now. He seems to have a strange super power to gauge when I would be asleep and he could call and ruin my sleep. Hell breaks loose if I ignore his calls. Period. There is no appellate authority to plead to, for this heinous crime, FYI.

These write-ups, left me thinking if I would even stop to think about people and their actions twenty years down the line. The power of having an open communication channel, the significance of trivial bonds, the leniency that we are supposed to give our parents etc are usually under-rated. I wonder why. Is it because we are not afraid of losing these relationships? After all, it is our own family we are talking about. So what about the other working relationships? Are they working mainly because we put in that extra effort to maintain and nurture them? We could ponder over these issues for many a sleepless night, and I am sure we would be awed at the amount of taking-for-granted that we do.

 

Perspectives- #1 Chimamanda Adichie

This series, ‘Perspectives’ will have everything that I learn these days, which I feel I could share with you all. It could be well-written pieces, small things that I felt were significant enough, awesome articles or books that I stumbled upon etc.

I am fortunate to be a part of an amazing group of students, who never cease to amaze me with their thoughts and opinions. Even better are the teachers who introduce us to something new every day. That said, I would like to pen down my perspectives about a particular piece that supposedly took the West by storm when it was published. This piece is by Adichie describing the way the West chooses to portray the Third World.

I am sure we all would be familiar with the way India is stereotyped in the West by the West. We are vividly reminded of Slumdog Millionaire and Rajesh Koothrapalli from the Sitcom The Big Bang Theory. We have joined our American friends in laughing at the idiosyncrasies of Rajesh while reminiscing fondly about our days in India. More often than not, we might have also wondered if whatever we saw on screen was in any way reflecting the reality of the country we came from. But then, hey! That was only for representational purposes and must be taken in a comical sense. Similar is the image of SRK dancing to the tunes of Lungi Dance, singing about mixing lassi and coconut. Leaving aside the blatant fact that the lungi is different from the veshti (which is white or off-white in colour) the song and that particular movie was an abomination to the portrayal of Tamilians (please note that I am not using the terms Madrasis or South Indians, because I recognise that South India is more than just Madras). Owing to the above internal and not-so-internal conflicts of thoughts, I found the piece by Adichie relatable.

This piece is an attempt to bring to light the realities of what Africa, as a continent is. She is honest when she says that Africa is a group of many cultures and nations but then they are also strikingly similar in many aspects. Very much like India, right? A land that is a melting pot of cultures and languages. So much that India has a dance form that is unique to every state.

She talks about being expected to defend or be aware of something that happens in Egypt while she is from Nigeria. That is what we get to do in India. Many a time, I had wanted to pull Rohit Shetty and Honey Singh and slap them hard for the way they lacked in research while claiming to portray something. More so, especially because Shetty also took the name of the city which he claimed was instrumental to his story (or the lack of it). We also have such stereotypes in India. Madrasis, Settu, and a couple of other colorful names form very much a part of these stereotypes prevalent in India. Don’t even get me started on the North East India angle of it. While this mixture of cultures and languages might be common to insiders, the outsiders seem to be ignorant about these. Honestly, even insiders take geography for granted at times, but moving on.

Adichie then moves on to Madonna, who had adopted a child from Malawi. It is surprising how celebrities do a lot of things for the sake of symbolism or making a point, without actually intending to make a difference. This act of making the news somehow seem to have irked Adichie a lot. It irks me too, to be honest. The most recent example that I could think of is how our own Superstar keeps us on our toes talking about politics and the apparent system. The point being that there are many other ways, which are way better, to mean well to the people whom they say they care for, that would actually make a difference in their lives. Adichie goes on to tag such actions as ‘Cringe-worthy’. I felt she was justified in doing so. How big an impact is that if one child of Africa is given a better life in terms of money, health, and education? Isn’t these clear examples of giving them fishes instead of teaching them how to fish? And how is it good that the child grows up, in total oblivion to its own culture or identity?

The Western media portrays Africa as a perennially impoverished region. It seems to the viewers as if Africa is synonymous with poverty. In a way, they seem to glamorise the concept of poverty. The author takes a dig at this by calling out their hypocrisy when it came to wealth hoarding and appeasing and supporting of weak African leaders. She seems to imply that the cause and effect of such atrocities are the West itself. I feel the West has always had a major role in almost all the internal conflicts that are happening in today’s political world. Typical of someone who practises the ‘Divide and Rule’ policy.

Taking a leap to the above-mentioned idea of portrayal, I wondered how true it is that when someone says Africa, the immediate image that we get are that of thick jungles, malnourished kids, unclean streets, and chaos. This applies to almost all the third-world countries. Are we really the land of the snake charmers? By the way, I found India lovely and charming in Coldplay’s Hymn for the Weekend. But these form just a minor aberrations from the usual.

Do we take the effort to think beyond what is shown to us? Do we realise that there is much more to any place than what is portrayed by words or visuals? I think not. This is the author’s anguish as well. She seems to be thoroughly annoyed by the showbiz symbolism that Hollywood is famous for at the cost of her people in her own land. I found that anguish justified. There are many sides to any and every story, they say, and I second that fact with all my heart.