Sunday, October 27, 2013

To the Eternal City ...

I have made two trips within a fortnight to the world's oldest living city, Banaras. The city as usual inspires me, takes me back to the roots of Hinduism, but sometimes also disillusions me. On my last visit I landed on the Maha Ashtami during Navratras, and the whole city was doused in the religious fervour. Banaras is indeed a City of Temples, one can literally fina a temple in every corner - on every nukkad or chauraha, on the side of a road, below peepul trees, near a pond and of course, on the ghats of the Ganges ... in all sizes, of various deities. 

While it is called Shiv ki nagari, people celebrate every festival, pray to all Gods... And as we travelled from airport to BHU, through the city, we saw all temples decked up with flowers and lights, offerings of fruits and sweets in their decorative patterns. Devotees thronged not only the puja pandals, but the temples nearby as well. 

And while people went on going around celebrating and worshipping, one could not help observe the nonexistent roads, power through gensets, debris strewn across and the piled up garbage. The administration in its efforts to widen the roads had also razored parts of the bundling on the sides which had resulted in not only the debris but mud and slush. A good monsoon season and the non-stop rains post Phailin cyclone further exposed the crumbling infrastructure and administration of the city. Being one of the important destinations for not only Hindus, but also for Buddhists and Jainists - the town is a major tourist place. And the city plays host to plane loads of tourists every day post monsoon season. 

It makes me wonder that the infrastructure in this ancient city must have been exemplary in the past to cater to tourists from all over the world. The city has been talked about by lot of travellers, poets and other historians. Infact, the city I remember from my childhood days was a lot cleaner, unpolluted and traveller friendly. 

So who takes responsibility of making this city habitable for its residents as well as the visitors? In the election year, what promises will be made by the political parties and what will be delivered? Will the city ever gain back it's grandeur or will it perish in the years to come?

To Banaras...

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Guha decodes Gandhi

To many of us common man, whatever we know about Gandhi comes from what we read in school or what we saw in Richard Attenborough's film on Gandhi. And we leave it to historians and scholars to weave their way through the realms of biographies and writings on and by Gandhi, and present us with the finished portrait.

Ramchandra Guha's new book Gandhi before India has done precisely that albeit with a focus on deciphering Gandhi before he became Mahatma. A simple austere ceremony to release the book on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti itself symbolised the Gandhian way of life. A stage bereft of any decorations except a podium, small red carpet with two chairs and a table, Chiki Sarkar introduced the book and the author. The author then went to talk about his obsession with Gandhi, his plans for two more books on the subject given his voluminous research work.

Ram Guha talked about Gandhi as one who talks about oneself, as if he had observed Gandhi in action. He attempts to portray characters - family, friends and foes who influenced Gandhi to understand the making of the man inside. He peppered his talks with revelations on how Muhammad Ali Jinnah corresponded with Gandhi in 1897, 50 years before the partition of India. Would history would have been different if the two would have become legal partners? Or would Gandhi would have been a different man if South Africa hadn't happened to him?

As Guha cautions not to emulate Gandhi as a father or a husband, he believes that understanding of Gandhi's vision for modern, inclusive and tolerant India is still relevant for the change that we want to see in the world... 

October 2, 2013

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Does Satyagraha rocks?

Prakash Jha's Satyagraha raises more questions than it answers. Power is corrupting, we know that. But even an iota of semblance of power seems to ruin the rational thinking. Channeling the minds and power of million people, and to control those levels of energy and passion itself requires a continued impartiality, time and again.

Media played this role effectively with the Jessica Lal case few years ago, and helped get the justice rolling. Since then, there have been many more cases where either media, social media or few people have brought together masses to protest or demand from the Government. This begets another question on the role of media; with the powerhouse of information that it can dessiminate, as the provider of platform where discussions can take place or bringing a balancing act between factions of different thoughts - is it walking the talk?

In the last couple of years, this form of social justice has primarily been led by social media, and it has been a more of metro centric phenomenon. In this digital age, with the help of few entrepreneurs or support from corporates, these movements can really reach to masses across cities and states to be more effective in bringing about the social change that this country really needs. The angry young man of 1980s of Bollywood has emerged as the angry, silent masses of this century who are on the verge of bringing another social revolution. While these Bollywood heroes can do all to bring this to forefront,  what is really needed is a Gandhi-like crusader with a reined passion, disciplined energy, detached emotions and unbiased mind to tie all the threads together to bring another Satyagraha.

That brings me to the beginning, did Gandhiji's satyagraha really achieved what it set out to? Did we win the short term battle of India's independence and lost out on a bigger and long term agenda of social independence? Did the leaders of the original satyagraha also became victims of passions of power and chose to be governed by emotions over logic? And thereby leading to deteriorating sensibilities of our sovereign rulers.

In search of more answers,
September 1, 2013

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Workaholic Wednesday

Mid-week blues is the right way to describe the day.  Arguments, conference calls, discussions and presentation making concluded the day. Planning for next day started in the elevator while it stopped at various floors through its journey from 12th floor.

I walked out of the office building to a beautiful sight of a setting sun. Manicured, freshly mowed green lawns on the sides of a water body that runs into a small fountain, frangipani trees flowering at the borders of the lawn, watered flower beds and peeping from behind the trees - a big round orange ball. Smell of flowers hit as I walked towards the massive iron gates.

Calm and peace flowed through me and stayed throughout the chaotic one hour drive to delhi.  Can we not take more time to smell the flowers, see the natural beauty, listen to birds and just enjoy the everyday things around us while we go around earning our living everyday?

To a thoughtful Thursday,

Monday, April 8, 2013

To the Iron Will...

RIP Margaret Thatcher!

For the generation of us born in 70s, the names of Margaret Thatcher along with Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike was synonymous not only for the women politicians, but also for the women who made their mark as the first women Prime Ministers of their countries.

In that era where the women liberation was still gaining ground, these strong women shattered the glass ceiling in the hitherto male dominated profession. For the common women though, professional life was still a struggle, except in some old fashioned professions like teaching; the society by and large was still safe and tolerable for women to live and let live.

Three and half decades later, the glass ceiling has been broken many a times. The role models are many a plenty, in almost all professions. And the changes are visible around us, largely in the intolerable behaviour of still a male dominated society. The roads are unsafe and so are homes. Women liberation has happened, but at the cost of the lives of those very women.

So while the world remembers the Iron Lady and her legacy, will it be also be relevant to remind certain sections of society that "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."

In salutation and in hope that the Iron Will in us never rusts,
April 8, 2013

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Dil maange more!

Another classical musical evening, a slice of Banaras, and memories of time gone by. Listening to three generations of violin player playing together, N Rajam with her daughter and grand-daughter, transported me to my childhood days, when she shared the boundary wall with my masi, and we could hear the strains of violin almost throughout the day. The joy on their faces as they played the classical ragas, the seamless coordination between the trio and the mutual encouragement to each other showed a shared warmth of similar such rituals and practices. The Banarasi in her could not resisted playing a Bhajan celebrating ramnavami as well as a Banarasi dhun. This performance was not only the showcase of Indian culture of teaching, guru-shishya parampara, but also of the myriad musical culture the country has.

From instrumental to vocal, it was the turn of Pandit Jasraj to take the stage. My first introduction to him was also at Banaras, at the Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh - an annual musical festival in the temple. He is the reason why I started listening to Hindustani classical vocal music few years back, and today I fell in love again. On the menu today was Bhakti Ras, and he spread the Ras in the audience. I have listened to him couple of times in the last two years, but it was different today, almost magical. For me personally, it was to hear him singing live my favourite compositions that truly made my day.

A lovely evening which came to an end too soon ... The music still haunting me as the day too comes to an end.

Do I dare say I want more of this,
April 6, 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I still have faith in this country, its people & its military …

January 26 has been synonymous for me with Parade at New Delhi for a long long time, and it remains so even today. But it is the Beating Retreat ceremony which I look forward to more than the Parade. Yesterday as I walked the entire stretch of Rajpath just to see the lights, the only wish I had was to watch this ceremony LIVE at Vijay Chowk someday.

As the cavalcade of cars brings the VVIPs, the TV camera pans down to a bird’s eye view of the North & South Block, and one sees the military bands come marching down from the Raisina Hills towards the ceremonial area. The bugle sounds, the national anthem plays and the musical journey starts. The much-decorated camel cavalry lines alongwith the setting sun against the almost majestic structures in sandstone.

It is a spectacle of a beautiful setting with music played by men in uniform marching to the tunes of varied music forming varied patterns. My personal favourite has long been the drummers and pipers, in varied colours of their battalion swaying gently to the music they play along. And too soon the hour is over, when you hear the haunting tunes of Abide With Me – the chimes accompanying the music of the hymn. As a kid, I used to wonder where does this bell like sound comes from?

The collection of tunes has changed drastically over last few years, but the aura of the ceremony hasn’t changed for me.The military precision of various bands as they march in tune, and other motions around the ceremony defines the phrase itself.  And as the national flag is lowered, and the bands march back playing Sare Jahan se Achcha, there is always a familiar lump in my throat … I am reminded that I am an Indian. The musical spectacle of bands fades away to the bright lights at Raisina Hills, the celebration of Incredible India comes to a close!

Proud to be an Indian,


January 29, 2013