Fast, the new fad!

One of the most endearing scenes from my childhood years is the site of the vernacular calendar hung strategically at a wall in our house such that all glances fell on it very easily. The calendar, called the “Thadhi Calendar” in Tamil, had a picture of one of the innumerable deities of the Hindu pantheon and 365 tiny tear-sheets stapled on it from which my mother would tear off one every dawn as part of her morning religious ritual. Each of these sheets would carry data on the positions and movements of the celestial bodies during the course of the day that could make the most exhaustive Wikipedia post on the subject look very pedestrian. And to decipher those plethora of fine-printed almanac information calls for a training in astrology, religion and mathematics that only a school of zealously guarded traditional upbringing could offer. The monthly highlight of the calendar for the family is the “Ekadesi”, the eleventh day of the lunar month, the day on which my grandmother would invariably observe a fast.

Ekadesi, literally translated, would mean “one plus the tenth day” and the preparation for the event starts well on the” Desami”, the tenth day itself.  My mother would grind the wheat very coarse and soak it overnight which would form the main ingredient of the grandmother’s frugal meal once she decides to call off her fast well into the night of the Ekadesi day. Granny would spend the best part of the waking hours on that day in rituals and in contemplation and once tired of them, would resort to loud reading of some religious texts. And with night falling, she would partake her meal of sweetened wheat gruel and share a portion of it with all in the house. Everyone in the family would relish the unique recipe and would keenly look forward to the next Ekadesi! Grandmother continued this fasting austerity month after month, for years and decades and she believed it to be her sure-shot passport for a place in the heavens.  Fasting was thus a spiritual exercise for her, a tool for communion with the divine. 

What is essentially an austerity to please the gods, fasting, in the hands of Anna, morphed into a coercing technique to ruthlessly bring the “powers that be” to the knees.  And when Anna fasted, the government initially fumed, then fumbled, quickly stumbled and at last stooped and kneeled in front of a septuagenarian whose towering moral authority was too much of a force for the authority of the state to handle.  Cheering at its discomfort were the disempowered people of a nation, long lost their collective voice to tame their so-called representatives and felt humiliated at  the insignificance of their democratic participation that remain confined to its little duty of putting a little mark, on a little piece of paper  standing in a little booth- once every five years.  When the government became exhausted with each day of Anna’s fasting, the people knew they have discovered a new weapon to regain the right to script their destiny.  But when a new weapon is invented, it is only to be expected that it be tested in different scenarios under varying conditions so that its universal validity and effectiveness is scientifically established.  

Students could now think of fasting if their teacher gives them less than distinction marks and just in case distinction is not good enough, they still could fast to have the right to take guide books to the exam hall so that they could get nothing less 100%. And if even with 100% they still don’t find their names in the college admission list, they could again fast, either to get a seat or to make their score 101%.  At home, teenage children could fast and pressurise their parents to give them decent enough money to be able to take their fiancee to a five-star dinner and as SMS becomes passé, a day-long fast may not be a bad idea to speed up the next level mobile purchase so that they could video-chat with their friends, all night long.

In the hands of housewives, fasting could assume more lethality than a Kalashnikov in the hands of a Jihadi.  They could fast, not to reduce their waistline, but to compel their husbands to shell out a bomb of money at the month-end to buy that fancy diamond stud while the poor guy carries on with the same razor blade for weeks on end. And if that is not proof enough of its effectiveness, they could still try the technique to ensure that their mothers-in-law do not visit them for the next five years.

Oh, I just realised that I have been fasting all night long!  Let me break-fast.

Yours

Narayanan

August 29, 2011 at 4:46 pm 6 comments

The Joy of Resurrection

“Lesser affections diminish with separation; greater ones are enhanced with it.

The wind that blows out a candle flame also fans a forest fire!”

The crowning hair swinging gently with the wafting breeze strokes a divine romance in the heart’s deepest recess as the pair of exquisite velvet feet, peeping out alternatively of the sweeping silken gown, ignites an innocent longing to caress and to kiss them.  The bewitching smile playing on the vermilion lips dissolves a million woes while the gesturing hand suggests to hold the entire cosmos in its palm. And as the lord glides his way to the midst of his darling children; the gods above and the denizens below stood transfixed by that ethereal beauty which could have but only descended direct from the heavens. Clasping their hands in the highest veneration for their beloved master, the beaming faces of the beatified thousands reflect an inner state that’s swimming in an ocean of bliss. The stretched hand that lovingly accepts the penned prayers and petitions, the gentle nod which reveals an all pervading omniscience, the tender cajole that transcends the cumulative affections of a zillion mothers, the soft whisper that instantaneously dissolves the stratified ignorance of many aeons- The regal pageantry of such supreme benedictions is a sight fit only for the Angels!  

If the physical charm of the avatar captivates the outer senses, the nectarine words that emanate from the depth of truth prompts an inner vision that beholds the manifested beauty within. Cascading rapids of musical verses and poetic eloquence, punctuated with scintillating tales and subtle humour, the Lord presents the highest spiritual wisdom in the simplest dialect so that mankind could marvel at the authority of its source, ruminate on the profundity of the words and rejoice in the truth of the message.   Gently awakening the slumbering humanity, the celestial voice reminds the glory of man’s true lineage and beacons to proclaim it as its rightful heirs. His words herald the extolled goal to be reached and the royal path to be traversed and instil a firm resolve to embark upon a journey that is sublime and yet so thrilling. And as the aspirant takes the few infant steps, the Lord looks on with motherly pride, showering the child with gifts of love and words of encouragement. Such is the grandeur of the Lord who walked upon the face of this earth.

 And when such an Avatar chooses to shed the mortal coil and establish itself in its formless essence, the multitudes despaired inconsolably in the thought that the anchor sheet of their lives is now forever snapped and the guiding light of their existence, ebbed out. Caught in the tempest of the grief, they fervently wished to feast their eyes with the beauty of that form just one more time and sought to make amends for their lapses, assuming it to be the reason for the master’s abrupt exit. They vowed to tread the royal road with renewed diligence, all for the sake to bring him back in their midst. But when the Lord decides to bring down the curtains to his earthly sojourn, the feverish laments of countless millions are too timid a force to change his will which shall prevail at all times and in all circumstances. But the physical attachment to the form made them feel orphaned as they reeled in the agony of his separation.

This separation is but an outward void that compelled his children to look for him deep within and as they did it, Alas! they found their master shining there in all his glory, drenching their very being in love and bliss! Just as the sun cannot be separated from its light, as the sugar cannot be devoid of its sweetness; the Lord and his creations are so inseparably interwoven that one has no existence without the other. For hasn’t he not reminded us that “I and you are one” and when that reality dawns on us we rejoice in his resurrection in our very hearts – for he is Truth, Bliss and Beauty- Sathyam, Shivam Sundaram!

 Narayanan

July 24, 2011 at 11:33 pm 3 comments

The Samurai people

Japan, a group of many islands in the Pacific Rim, is the land of the most enterprising, hard-working and disciplined people belonging to the Nipponese tribe. Short in physical stature, the contributions of the Japanese towards the progress of human race are nevertheless gigantic and touch all endeavours of human activity- from science to spirituality, from music to martial arts. The nation, often threatened by natural calamities and once ravaged by a nuclear holocaust, is also the birthplace for the most fertile and creative minds.  The ideas and ideals emanating from here have often transformed human thoughts and fuelled human progress and there isn’t a civilization that has remained immune to its defining influences.  The small Japanese cars are a rage the world over, its electronic and digital goods are house-hold essentials and its engineering expertise has created architectural marvels in far-off cities across the globe.  While an Ikebana is signature statement for a connoisseur in fine living, Kaizen today is a technique employed the world over for constant plan, process and product refinements, all originating from the land of the rising sun.

Such colossal achievements have naturally given the Japanese a very firm grip on global markets, economies and politics. We thus have today more Japanese multinational companies in the world than any other nation, have trillions of Yen invested in all major economies and Japan play a very crucial role in the geopolitics of our world.  And by virtue of these commending positions, it occupied a pride of place in the comity of nations until that fateful March afternoon when the earth beneath it shook violently and altered its topography and with it, its destiny, beyond recognition.  

The advanced technology of the Japanese ensured that the buildings the quake shook stood erect but the churning of the oceanic waters spelt catastrophe to the nation that is often complimented for it high level of disaster preparedness. And soon the monstrous waves breached their natural boundaries and engulfed vast swamps of land, bringing down and sweeping away in the fury all that came in their way- people, houses, vehicles, bridges, farms, ships and even aircrafts!  Finally when the waves retreated, what were left behind are huge masses of rubble with undistinguishable human bodies stuck beneath them, flames leaping across from a hundred blazing fires and the threat of many impending nuclear accidents. As the nation face multitudes of human tragedy, a thick dark cloud of despondency hangs over the country.

But Japanese are no ordinary people to wallow in desperation and lament over the untold cruelty that the nature has inflicted on them. They are the descendents of the “Samurai” who would face the gravest situation with undaunted courage and fight till their last breathe, not for their selfish ends but for the well-being of the society and of the nation. They are cowed down neither by the severity of the crisis nor by the enormity of the tasks ahead.  They are the warriors who are duty-bound to safe-guard the nation and uphold its honour and self-sacrifice is a natural instinct of every Japanese to achieve this goal.

This trait of the “Samurai” is in amble display as the nation struggles to find a grip of its multifaceted problems in the aftermath of the Tsunami. Scores of engineers and technicians, with utter disregard to their own personal safety, are battling it out at the various nuclear plants to minimise radiation levels and to re-start their operations. Thousands of volunteers are on the streets in biting cold, looking for survivors and providing succour to millions, again putting behind their own safely and the need for minimum personal comfort.  Many of these people are themselves shattered by the calamity and herein comes to fore the innate quality of putting the interest of the nation and its people first and foremost – the true characteristics of a “Samurai”.    

Neither the earthquake of magnitude “9” on the Richter was powerful enough to shake or even to jolt the fundamental character of stealthy resolve of the Japanese nor the 33 feet high tsunami forceful enough to wash away the very distinctive spirit of communion and comradely among them. Again, the subsequent multitude infernos that blazed off and reduced to ashes all that it touched was not thermal enough even to bruise the mighty towers of national pride and purpose nor was the lethal radiation that spewed out of the ravaged nuclear plants  penetrative enough to mutate the essential DNA of courage and industry of its people.

In the midst of all-round destruction and the prospect of a grim and hard life that lay ahead, it is the extraordinary sense of   discipline and self-restraint of average Japanese that evokes awe and admiration the world around.   He might be the one who lost all his dearest ones, whose home and belongings are turned to a heap of soaked rubble and the one to whom future stares blank – but he holds within himself the sorrows of grave personal loss and patiently waits in unending queues for his turn to get essential supplies. These are qualities not seen in lesser men and are a product of generations of idealism and again it is these qualities that erase any doubt in the minds of the world community on the capacity of the Japanese people to emerge out of this crisis.  This sentiment of faith in its people is loudly echoed in the fast regaining values of the Japanese stocks the world over.

The world is truly humbled by the valour of this exceptional human race.

Also read https://chapter18.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/the-great-indian-stitch-less-garment/

 Yours

Narayanan

March 19, 2011 at 8:03 pm 11 comments

Buy now and pay forever

The man at the cash counter extending his hand asked “Can I have your plastic please?” I had just made a few essential household purchases from the neighbourhood grocery shop and was waiting to make the payment. The plastic carry bag, which had the stuff picked up from the store, is already in front of him and I was, for a moment, lost to figure out the other plastic he was alluding to.  “I mean your credit card, sir” his voice was demanding. “No. I am making the payment by cash” I indicated the mode of payment and counted out a few currency notes from my wallet and gave it to him. He gave me a glance that are most appropriately reserved for curious and near extinct animals in the zoo and bang opened the cash box to search for the various denominations of currency notes and few coins that he has to return to me as balance.  As I hastily collected the strewn notes from the table and the small metal coins that dropped on to the floor raising tinkles, I wished I had used the credit card instead! I could have done the job without a whisper, even if I had dropped the plastic on to the floor!

 The credit card is truly plastic not only by the material that it is made of, but by the way you can mould, mend and modify your payment options as you continuously indulge in unabashed purchases. You don’t have to have money to buy anything nor is it essential that you will have it later… as long as you have the plastic; you can live your life by the moment and on your own terms. Fitting effortlessly in our pockets, it frees those who have the money, from carrying cumbersome bundles of currencies and from the associate risk of losing them and bestows an aura of élan on the card holder. And for those who have got not even a nickel in their pocket, the card would never let them be wanting or inadequate. While it could be charismatic to flash the stylish card in swanky places, at times of emergency, the little thin plastic could be your saviour, bailing you out of awkward situations and conferring you peace, albeit temporarily, from financial worries.  The card, for the various avatars it enacts, has come to occupy a place of predominance, both in our wallets and in our lives.

 The digital world understands only the language of the plastic and with online business burgeoning, the usefulness of the card has only grown and grown exponentially. With it, you can instantaneously buy your travel tickets online, pay your utility bills, transfer monies to anybody across the globe, order that delicious pizza and download your favourite book in the e-format. The plastic is thus your gateway to the world of online mercantile and if you don’t possess one, you are effectively and comprehensively out of the expanding world of e-commerce that promises to be the single largest medium of business transactions in the immediate future. And it is in this virtual space that the card has made its transition from a luxury that one can conveniently do away with to an absolute necessity that one cannot do without.

 But the very convenience of the card could easily turn out to be a dreadful nightmare when its use is not judiciously tempered and instead seen as a tool to satiate one’s impulsive instincts. And this is the trap that the credit card entices one to walk into without actually realising it  and as many would have found out, one never really comes out of this debt trap without pulling up all the resources and the mental resolute to be out of it.  Devoid of caution, one is bound to be in perpetual debt, paying off the partial bill, month after month, without ever really clearing it off in full.  This is the price one pays when desires are let loose to maul without restraint and when happiness is sought to be achieved through materialistic possessions.

 I am going to pay my mobile bill using my plastic. This time around it is my debit card.

 Yours

Narayanan

February 26, 2011 at 7:32 pm 4 comments

Ignorance is no bliss

A recent survey conducted to test the level of general awareness among adult Americans revealed an alarmingly high degree of ignorance, ignorance of a few basic facts that even a primary school kid is expected to know. When asked to name a country that starts with the letter “U”,  very many could not name the obvious – United States. While a few said “Yugoslavia” assuming that it might be starting with “U”, blissfully unaware that the country has long ceased to exist, many confidently gave the answer as “Utopia”!  Rhyming with Ethiopia, they cannot be possibly faulted for presuming it as a country ducked somewhere in remote Africa and thus exhibiting the zenith of ignorance which is almost “Utopian” in perfection. Indians are the natives of Indiana, the number of sides a triangle could have is one or possibly none and the main religion of Israel is Israeli – these are some of the gems of profound knowledge that the well-educated, urbane Americans displayed. But if there was a prize for the bizarre answer, it would go to the youngster who, when asked as to tell the exact date of 9/11 incident, smartly and confidently replied “2nd October”!

 And if a similar exercise is conducted among the educated and the upwardly mobile Indians, there would be startling revelations of the heights of ignorance we are capable of scaling that could make even the most absurd American answer, very insightful! While for large section of the population living in the Gangetic plain the language of South India is just one Madrasi, for many, there isn’t any geographical distinction between Andhra and Kerala. This ignorance easily extents from geography to national history and when a young man was asked to name the great grandfather of Rahul Gandhi, he quickly gave the most logical answer,  Mahatma Gandhi !.  The commonality of the surname could have prompted such a confident reply and again it is the commonality of sounds that makes communism and communalism inter-changeable and nationalism something as sweet as payasam. An Aryan is, at the best, the name of a feature film and Mohenjodaro, a rhyming word the super-star throws to woo “Ash” in the film “Robot”. All this at an age where sources like the Wikipedia provide instant and encyclopaedic information of any subject on earth!  

Such a high level of ignorance borne out of total indifference towards acquiring a common standard of general awareness, which may not be of immediate relevance to every day existence, smacks at a larger malady which the societies the world-over are succumbing to.  One may be highly proficient in one’s chosen field of activity and possess the skills to eke out a decent living, yet not to be informed enough about the country and the world one lives in, endangers the freedom and liberty that citizens the world over have gained through centuries of struggle. A lack of general awareness among the population can easily be manipulated by the powers that be to misrepresent facts and unleash a campaign of misinformation directed towards perpetuating an authoritarian regime or to fashion the public opinion that favours draconian laws. Large number of Americans, for instance, believed that it was Iraq who made the 11/9 attack thus legitimising the American invasion of that country in the public mind.

An informed and enlightened public is the surest guarantee to safeguard the time honoured values of freedom, liberty and justice and societies the world over have paid heavy prices for not conducting informed discourses that affect their lives and their futures. Any disinterestedness in the nation’s affairs could mortgage our fundamental rights leading to years of suppression and subjugation in the hands of unscrupulous rulers and would call for violent struggles to regain them. The recent events in many countries only point to this truth.

 Yours

Narayanan

February 22, 2011 at 2:42 pm 4 comments

The heart of the matter

When we talk about the heart, it is mostly in reference to the romantic or to the medical. The heart is either stolen by that fairy-like culprit or it is attacked by the clogged cholesterol in the arteries and in matters of the heart, you are either a victim or a patient. When the heart is stolen, the victim searches for it in the eyes of the beloved and while it is attacked, the patient counters it with a stent if possible, or through a by-pass, if necessary.  The heart can only be a lover’s cupid or a meaty organ, to be chivalrously won or to be medically fixed and there isn’t any other way we would possibly associate the heart with.

But we use the heart to express a variety of thoughts and a plethora of ideas which range from the mundane to the philosophical.  Take the case of the heart attack for instance. The heart of the problem that causes this disease is the unregulated food habits coupled with a sedentary life-style and when this fact is recognised, we could take heart in the knowledge that the ailment could well be prevented.  And once we realise that we need take charge of our habits, there is a change of heart in the way we approach our daily dietary routine and are off to a heart pounding exercise regimen.  Sharing light hearted jokes and bursting to hearty laughs are the perfect recipes to bust the stress and keep the heart healthy. With a strong heart and an able body, we then begin to lead our lives to our heart’s content.

Though the heart is the centre of attraction, the romance is again not for the feeble hearted.   For, to win the heart of the damsel, one has to display lion-hearted courage to dispel the challenges of the diehard relatives and pass the test that true love entails.  Without this quality of the heart, one would only be heart-broken in his romantic voyage fit only to receive heartfelt condolences.  Half-hearted attempts to achieve success in any enterprise would be disastrous and it is more so where hearts are involved.

But vastly different from these aspects, there is another attribute that we could associate only to the heart and that is its pristine quality of compassion. Heart in Sanskrit is “Hrudhaya” its meaning being the “seat of compassion” and, heart truly is the altar from where the milk of human kindness flows incessantly and in copious measure.  On witnessing the suffering of other beings the heart melts instantaneously and rushes to provide succour and solace and it just does not distinguish or differentiate the recipient on any of the countless lines that the humans have invented to discriminate one from the other.  Like the sun that cannot be separated from its light, it is in its very nature of the heart to love and to give and it needs no reason to do it.

It is this very quality of the heart that it is in direct conflict with that of the head. The heart seeks the warmth of love and the head works on cold calculation and when the heart trusts and believes, the head doubts and suspects.   While the heart pours out selflessly defying all rationality, the head rationalizes every selfish demand and clothes it with cerebral justification. And it is in this fundamental contradiction that man, many a time, finds himself torn apart, unable to make the fine distinction between the voice of compassion and the clamour of logic. But listen he has to, if he were to make transformational decisions and that would happen only when he goes by the whispers of the heart.

And the lord too listens to the prayers of devotion only when it emanates from the heart that is filled with compassion and not when it is uttered from the head where doctrines and doubts clash.

Yours

Narayanan

September 11, 2010 at 4:52 pm 7 comments

Passing clouds and the spotless sky

The unblemished sky tinged in sapphire hue looked majestically pristine as the unfurled terrestrial canopy expanding across and beyond the horizons appeared spectacularly benevolent. Just as the aerial panorama seemed calm and serene, the sudden random streaks of lightning zigzagging over the zenith flashed out a hundred blinding illuminations while the roaring thunders that followed in quick successions threw the nature quickly into turbulent turmoil. The stray winds metamorphosed into gathering storms and whistled past with unreasonable fury and the laden clouds rolled over each other to turn into heaps of dark monsters frighteningly usurping the overhead skies.  Sparingly scattering tiny droplets of silver quickly gave way to sheets of torrential downpour and with it the fields submerged, habitats flooded and rivers breached their banks to inundate vast stretches of fertile land. In that unrelenting frenzy, the elements enveloped the sky above and the land below and merged into one single expanse of all-around devastation!

And as the storms petered, the rains thinned and the rivers quietened to return to their original courses, the sky once again presented a picture of tranquil beauty unfazed by the violent eruptions that were, not so long ago, played over its canvas.  However intense and tumultuous the weather patterns are, the sky would not allow itself to be marred by the scars of the activities that are staged over it. Essentially integral yet aloof and distant, it is a host to a myriad terrestrial spectacle and yet remains a silent and unconcerned witness on the backdrop. A detachment only matched in its magnificence by its own grandeur.  

This awesome disinterestedness to the surrounding cacophony and the stunning calmness amid clamouring chaos is a compelling lesson in detachment worthy of emulation for man too is buffeted, just as the skies, by the avalanche of unsettling experiences that trigger emotional upheavals on an untrained mind.  And just as the sky doesn’t get affected by every passing cloud, man too should seek to be free from the pulls of his fanciful thoughts and remain just a witness to the unending cascade of emotions that surge within him, one after the other.  And in this voyage towards attaining the state of stillness where the innate brilliance of the self does not fickle with every sundry emotion, the stately aloofness of the lotus flower is yet another guidepost. Though blooming and blossoming on marshy waters and drawing sustenance therein, the lotus does not inherit an iota of the repulsive traits of its habitation but instead, exudes an invigorating freshness that elevates even the stature of pond that it is embellished in. We too need to be of our environs yet not part of them and it is only in such an extolled position of detachment could we aspire to explore our true self.

But rather than picking a leaf from the University of Nature, man, like that cotton shred which gets tossed up by every whiff of air only to land and roll aimlessly, allows himself to drift directionless by his unregulated thoughts and uncontrolled emotions. And akin to the deer caught in the net of the merciless hunter, he gets fearfully enmeshed in the entrancing temptations of the worldly variety moving far away from the source of all his vitality- a dreadful reality!

And all this could be reversed only when he let go his clinched possessiveness and engrained prejudices and choose to embrace the unsullied state of nothingness. For in that nothingness is hidden the seeds of everything.

Yours

Narayanan

August 23, 2010 at 10:02 pm 11 comments

Space it right

A mystery that kept me in wonderment during my childhood days was the rhythmic gaps between the railings of a locomotive track.  When it’s all supposed to a pair of straight lines, the purpose of a deliberate space between two blocks of rails was too overwhelming a puzzle for my little mind to comprehend.  In a pre-internet era where “goggle a question” was still not an option, I had to wait till middle school before a considerate science teacher would unravel the secret of this disconnect to me. The heat generated during the summer days, the teacher explained, caused the iron rods to expand and these gaps provided the space for them to safely elongate. Without these gaps the rails would get buckled in and would seriously jeopardise the track. As the space between the rails are crucial, so also the need of it to be of an exact measure for, the teacher reasoned,  any un-wanted space could equally be detrimental when trains passing over them could skid over on a slippery day. The space, and an exact one at that, made all the difference for a safe train journey.

The concept of right spacing finds definite expression in the growth and maturing of many species on our planet. When the saplings are planted uniformly with sufficient space for each one of them to strike root and branch out, they grow up to become fruit bearing trees. And when smaller plants are inter-spaced with bigger and larger ones, they nourish one another thus providing a rich and varied harvest. But when an odd tree grows up to a monstrous size by spreading it veins deep under the soil and suck out the nutrients all for itself, even blades of grass would scarcely sprout under it. It’s in the very nature of elements to flourish where the avenues to expand are abundant.

This significance of the space expands into the horizons of human affairs as well as to the words we use to convey them. With the right measure of freedom and the creative liberty to experiment and explore, we find our children grow up to become well-rounded human beings capable and willing to take responsibilities in life. Once the relationships with our children are based on sound emotional bonding and not separated by the gulf of selfish agendas and are nourished through proper ties, they would become priceless properties to be cherished for a life-time. And when we confer sufficient space for each one of them to grow, expand and express themselves in myriad ways, we could together find true happiness previously found nowhere, blossom now here. To be loved by our beloved ones we should bridge our hearts and soak them with and in true understanding so that our relationships shine forth within.

But such a freedom and liberty should be regulated and moderated through a benign form of discipline and restriction. While the goats and other cattle could mow down and eat up an unguarded and unfenced sapling, the same cattle would come back once the guarded sapling grows up to become a full grown tree seeking, this time, its shade and shelter for rest and re-past. In the same way, we need to guard and guide our children through appropriate moderations so that they grow up to become worthy citizens.

For all these to fructify, the right space is of utmost importance.

 Regards

Narayanan

July 24, 2010 at 10:38 pm 5 comments

The great Indian stitch-less garment

Of the countless variety of trousseaus that unravel and enhance the innate charm of a lady, there isn’t an attire that is so captivating in elegance yet distinct in demeanour, stately and dignified yet sublimely sensuous as the stitch-less Indian garment, the Saree.  For the one who could carry it with élan, the saree confers poise and authority, style with substance and endow the feminine persona an aura of majesty.  With folds and pleats, laces and entrancingly winding hems, the draping of this very adorable apparel is as intricate and delicate as the designs and patterns that are woven on them.  The six yard eloquence on yarn is at once a loud proclamation of the genius of the Indian craft and a silent tribute to the glory of the womanhood.  

While a neatly worn saree presents the picture of a complete woman, each subtle shift in the way it is draped could epitomize an image of femininity that is distinctively different from each other. If the casual hanging of the Pallu (the loose end) over the left shoulder of an erect frame could be suggestive of a woman with authority, taking it around the back to the other shoulder could instantaneously symbolize deep modesty. Tuck it around the waist and there is a person ready for combat or cover it around the head and a woman of humility and reverence is born.  For the tall and the slim, the saree could just be the medium to flaunt a chiselled figure and for the plump and the rounded the saree perfectly hides the extra fat from public gaze. The saree could conceal as much as you want it to reveal! With gracious steps and a flowing tress, the lady decked up in the finest Banares silk is a picture of most tantalizing beauty that the eyes could behold whereas with a bun of gray hair, the octogenarian in starched Pochumpally eludes a charm that is equally mesmerizing.  The saree is the most egalitarian among dresses that doesn’t really let anyone down.

An essential accomplice to the stitch-less garment is the decoratively tailored jacket that is worn on the upper torso. With an amazing variety of cuts, shapes and designs, the jacket is indeed a canvas to showcase the skills of the couturier to complement and enhance the appeal of the fabric. Full sleeved or spaghetti strapped, stringed back or off shoulders, the jackets are natural extensions to saree that together would cast a spell on all and sundry.

But the modern day young Indian women seemed to have lost her moorings with this awe-inspiring garment as they are mostly seen in listless outfits. The saree, sadly, is now no more a regular wear, being confined to be worn for the occasional wedding receptions. For the working and the travelling woman, pants and jeans could be more a convenient option but when it comes to making a statement or to leave an impact, there isn’t yet a competition to the great Indian stitch-less garment.

Yours

Narayanan

July 17, 2010 at 9:05 pm 23 comments

Classical languages, political agendas

Semozhi Aana Tamizhmozhiyam” blazes off the A R Rahman theme number composed to celebrate the conferment of classical status to Tamil. This ancient south Indian language, is now placed in equal extolled pedestal with Greek, Latin and Sanskrit languages. A recent conference showcasing the antiquity, refinement and maturing of the language in the cultural, social, political and religious backdrops of its evolution was held in the city of Coimbatore. The conference captured the essential richness of language’s heritage and its vast literary traditions while scholars debated, dissected and endlessly devoured the sweetness of the innumerable works created in it. As the theme music played on every lips and reverberated on every hearts, Connoisseurs and commoners alike basked upon the fathomless beauty and glory of their tongue to their soul’s content.

To be called classical, a language should satisfy a set of most exacting criteria to which only a handful of the world’s languages qualify. First, it should be ancient, even dating back to antiquity and second, it should have an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own and not as an offshoot of another one. Thirdly, it should possess a vast and extremely rich ancient literature that is unique to it conforming to complex grammatical and literary patterns. And Tamil lives up to each of these benchmarks in ample measure and much beyond. The earliest stone inscriptions in the language dates back to 300 BC and judging by the maturity of the language used therein, it can be safely  said that its existence preceded these inscriptions by at least a thousand years. The language arose purely as an independent tradition not influenced by any other language streams and its literary repertoire is indescribably vast and rich. From the Tollkappiyam,  the Thirukkural and the Manimekalli to the modern works, Tamil literature exhibits a profound subtlety, complexity  and immense variety with underplaying universality in its themes. These characteristics make it all the more suitable to be called a classical language.

While Tamil flourished over the last few millenniums, another Indian classical language also achieved great literary advancement in the very same geographical region of southern India. Right from the beginning of the first century AD, Sanskrit achieved remarkable progress and made immeasurable contributions towards enriching the philosophy, culture, literature and music of the region through the works of the likes of Sayana, Vedanta Desika and Govinda Dikshita. Also, all the three proponents of the three main Indian philosophical streams of Dvaita, Visistadvaita and Advaita, namely Madhavacharya, Ramanujacharya and Adi Sankara have their great volumes of work composed in Sanskrit language and all of them flourished in South India. Their commentaries or Bhashyas on Vedas and Upanishads are today the treasure chest of great Indian heritage as they stand unparalleled, both for the beauty of their compositions as well as for their profound philosophical thoughts. This contribution of the Sanskrit language in South India also extended to fields like mathematics, astrology and astronomy as the works of the stature of Baskaracharya illustrate.

When two great languages vibrantly thrive in close proximity, it’s but natural that they influence and get influenced by one another resulting in the evolution of a composite and highly refined literary traditions that paved the way for the emergence of the most sublime philosophical ideas expressed in flawless language. The Shivaite and Vaishnavite literature propagated by the Nayanars and Alwars   stand testimony to this confluence of thoughts. What is more, the origin and development of the language of Malayalam is the result of this happy and joyous inter-mingling of two great classical languages.

But when political considerations overtake historical truths, when narrow chauvinistic agendas indulge in mindless glorification of the one to the suppression and strangulation of the other, what we get is a truncated and often disfigured replica of an otherwise glorious past. The misplaced enthusiasm of some of the so-called custodians of the Tamil language and their intolerance to an equally vibrant Sanskrit literary tradition has caused immense agony to a large section who pride in their composite and highly refined cultural traditions.

“The mark of wisdom is to discern the truth, from whatever source it is heard” wrote Thiruvalluvar, the great Tamil poet (Tirukkural – 423) and the hardcore Tamil enthusiasts would do well to revisit his works before they indulge in rampant denouncements of the other classical traditions to which they also are the rightful heirs.

Yours

Narayanan

P.S. To view the A R Rahman theme song click at the link given below

June 28, 2010 at 11:42 pm 9 comments

Where stones breathe

stones breathe click here to see pictures.

In his eternal quest for immortality, man has been continuously struggling with various mediums to lend an aura of permanence to his creative expressions which seeks to capture that elusive idea called “The Absolute”. Long after the physical frames turn to dust and much after they fade away from the memories of their loved ones, the kings and emperors of the yore used these mediums to remind their ideals and aspirations to generations on end. Through the verbal traditions of folklores, through stylistic prose and eloquent poems set to haunting music and through colourful and enchanting murals, these rulers deployed myriad techniques to communicate to posterity, the values they cherished and the valour they displayed in fending and fostering a culture and thereby a civilization. Without the active royal patronage of these art forms, most of them would have been extinct by now leaving us poorer of many a rich and vibrant tradition.

But when seeking an awesome permanence that outlives the onslaught of invasions, the battering of natural disasters and the silent ravages of time, the rock has remained the chosen medium to tell a thousand tales. The sturdy granite imbibes in it the carefully crafted carvings, the chiselled figures and the intricate ornamentations to capture every shade of human emotions and a canopy of animate and inanimate objects that together communicate, in grand eloquence, gripping stories of a bygone era.  In these sculptures are chronicled the triumphant march of kingdoms, the conquest of hearts and minds through philosophical ideas and also etched are efforts to answer searching questions on existence here and hereafter.  Though they show signs of withering, the sublime thoughts they invoke are as profound today as they would have been centuries ago as these stones silently breathe a vital life force that leave one invigorated.  

But behind these panoramas of supreme craftsmanship are the untold tales of sufferings, of humiliations and of corporal punishments meted out to the thousands of artisans and workers who toiled to bring them to shape and to life. They worked as slaves for their masters who administered inhuman treatment and were kept on bare minimum requirements for existence. Morsels of food were the only remuneration and more often death was the punishment for any lapse on their jobs. There could be exceptions, but the physical and environmental conditions in which these crafts were created   all point to a high degree of authoritarianism that brook no lenience.

As we pay tribute to their crafts through these pictures, they also remind us of the human tragic stories to which these stones are totally silent.

Yours

Narayanan

June 22, 2010 at 7:55 pm 5 comments

Inside 2622- Tamilnadu Express

The surging forward movement of the locomotive delivers rhythmic vertical strokes to the body while the chugging berceuse synchronised perfectly to the coaxing and cajoling horizontal swings transports the mind to a state of transcendental bliss.  The rocks of the moving train massages every nerve of the human anatomy that there isn’t yet a swing comparable to its magic that instantaneously puts your senses to a long spell of suspended animation. Though not sure if any medical researcher has worked on the subject, I feel  strongly that a train travel would be an ideal course of treatment to anyone suffering from bouts of insomnia. However sleep deprived one be in static life but in a train journey, you could sleep till eternity.

While the harmonic musical shake will put you to extended periods of slumber, the kaleidoscopic panorama of the view seen through the window would keep you wide awake throughout.  The rapid alternation of the scenes, from the lush green mellows to the long stretches of barren hinterland to the occasional site of a winding river, the nature, through its bountiful variety, casts a spell of awe and wonderment that doesn’t bestow the eyes the luxury to wink. And as you are charmed by the ever changing beauty of the flora that whizz past you, a bewildering  diversity of human beings that form part of the altering landscape would equally bowl you over. From a semi-clad solitary farmer negotiating his bullocks on the field, to the hoards of bejewelled ladies forming the part of a marriage convoy, to the rows of little girls carrying head loads of twigs, to the idling elders on the charpoys smoking their hokkas to glory, the spectacle of the human species and their myriad daily chores are indeed a treat that one cannot turn his sight from. And if all this is not enough to keep you awake, the sight of appalling poverty that characterise the setting of a railway platform would knock out any vestige of drossiness left in you.

Between these contrasting  backdrops that alternatively keep you in deep quiteuide and in expectant alertness, the engaging conversations with fellow passengers could be an intellectual stimuli. As many of you would have experienced, a verbal exchange with the co-traveller typically begin with the offer of a cookie and quickly turn very intimate and even personal as the travel progresses. A very comfortable topic that everyone around enthusiastically pitches in would be on the state of the political affairs of the country with each dissecting the reasons why the current dispensation is the worst that could have happened to the nation. This will not be complete without an eloquent self-appreciation of the virtues of our democracy and equally loud denouncements of our neighbour’s affairs. As the discussion gets animated, few passengers open up to share their personal data and even carry forward their travelling acquaintance to their grounded lives. And for the more enterprising lot, a game of cards and a round of chilled somethings make the journey a very memorable one.  With all these happening, there isn’t a dull moment in an Indian train journey.

It is now dark outside and inside passengers are spreading their beds after a sumptuous shared dinner. With the descend of a certain silence, it’s time for me to get caressed to a rocking sleep on the lower side berth and  the Rehman number “ Cheya Cheya” wafting from the ipod  of the upper berth traveller is damn intoxicating.

Yours

Narayanan

June 13, 2010 at 8:34 pm 4 comments

A distant dream

The distant moon is the epitome of serene resplendent beauty and the shimmering light of a fading star across the galaxy is more dazzling than a Kohinoor diamond. The haunting melody of a long forgotten past still lingers on while the valleys and hills of distant lands are always the enchanting backdrops of many a folk tale. The lands of opportunities and of good life are essentially across the seas and the rich bounties are only for the few willing to drip their sweat on alien soils! We are perpetually fascinated by the distant, the bygone and by the splendid imagery of an unheralded future that we fail to appreciate the joy of the immediate, the worthiness of the near or the beauty of the now.   

There is something about the distant that bestows it with an aura of mystique. Perhaps it is essentially the undefined nature of its elements that affords one the freedom to romanticise with it breaking free from the limiting and the restricting shackles of the known and the structured. A suggestion that it could be beyond the grasp makes it all the more attractive and that which is not readily attainable has a seductive captivation on all of us. And in this obsession for that elusive ethereal, we become inert to the joys of the present and the cosiness of the close and take flight away from the realms of the real. Thus the life style of an alien land is more adventurous, its taste, sight and smell more exotic and its permissive culture immensely liberating to the one swayed away by its influence.  A quixotic engagement with the far removed is only matched with the absolute contempt for all that is familiar, all that is life sustaining and all that could truly be claimed as one’s heritage. This negation and the dereliction are not limited merely to the social and cultural environments but extend to communities, peoples and neighbourhoods that are inextricably part of one’s upbringing, a contempt not confined to the familiar that is proverbial, but to ones’ own true identity.

This contempt of the closest is no more well pronounced than in our dealings with our neighbours.  It is easier to shed a tear for the suffering millions of the sub-Saharan desert than to sympathise with an ailing neighbour and provide her a little moral succour. We can, at the most, tolerate our neighbours but can never really care for them; for they are our pitted enemies that the destiny has forced us to live in close proximity. A neighbour is a moron, unaccommodating and an unavoidable nuisance while a morphing facebook contact is the one we are willing to vouch our lives on.  We could chat on for hours with our virtual pals but can’t stop to exchange pleasantries with the soul next door.  Disdain for the real leads to escapism from it with the virtual world providing the perfect cover.

But just as individuals are guilty of contempt for their next door kith and kin, nations are equally at fault in not being able to conduct their affairs honourably with their neighbouring ones. Countries wax eloquent on their quest for lasting peace and harmony among the comity of nations while they scheme the next assault on their immediate neighbours. Though they share a common history, mostly a common language and culture and are invariably from the common stock of human race, yet neighbouring nations are the fiercest when it comes running down each other. They form alliances and even military pacts with distant nations with the sole purpose to checkmate each other. In international real politic, you cannot be neighbours and yet remain friends!

Even religions which have identical lineage and are descendance of a common philosophical viewpoint are today at draggers drawn at one another. Christianity and Islam, though emanated from identical cultural milieus, having common geographical roots in the desert sands of West Asia and propagating similar egalitarian religious faiths are never as alienated from one another as they are now, threatening  global peace. The fight for supremacy between the Cross and the Crescent is a painful reminder of how similar doctrines could be divergently interpreted to cause fiction and animosity among its followers.

Only when we attempt to live in the present, see the goodness of the people we are surrounded with and strengthen the threads that inter-wove us as custodians of a common heritage, would we begin to lead a life of blessedness.

Yours

Narayanan

May 25, 2010 at 9:53 pm 7 comments

The Mosquito syndrome

The fourth estate, in many ways, is the barometer of a nation’s health as an independent, creative and fearless media fiercely adhering to the principles of justice is a definite bulwark to the powers of the state. Deeply reflective of the social, cultural and psychological moorings of the people, the media not just carries out the duty to inform but also shoulders the responsibility to shape the contours of public discourse that paves the way to the emergence of a more enlightened citizen.  While admirably fulfilling its primary role, it has, over the years, contributed immensely to the enrichment of the languages, the art and the culture of the country thereby refining and re-defining the aspirations of its people. Media has indeed been the harbinger, both of continuity and of constructive change.

But of late, a malignant ailment is fast eating into the very moral fabric of our media and that is its collective preoccupation, nay obsession, with the negative, the depressing and the sickening events that happen around us. Through incessant and senseless amplification of the crimes and their cover-ups by the crooks, a cacophony of disdain is unleashed that almost drowns down the sane and the sobering voices of reason.  And while the disturbing facets of the society are highlighted, events that cheer us up, achievements that could inspire the young to a higher purpose of life and individual feats that are worthy of emulation are largely left under reported or scantly treated in the nondescript columns on the inside pages of our dailies.   Thus, an honour killing is necessarily a front page news item when a breakthrough in frontier medical sciences is worthy of only a fifth page beat report; whereas the footage of the latest Maoists or terrorists attack is to be unendingly played on all prime time TV channels, the tireless and yeomen work of individuals and organisations aimed towards the upliftment of our tribal population seldom interests our visual media. The debauch and the wayward behaviour of a miniscule section of the society are projected as signs of progress and as a statement of upward mobility while the unflinching adherence of the overwhelming majority to the time tested values and codes of conduct are treated with absolute contempt. In an age where TRPs, web hits and eyeball retentions are the only measures of value and worthiness, all barriers of morality and decency are transgressed to score high ratings in these parameters of popularity. Our media today is fast succumbing to a serious malady which if left untreated is sure to deal a body blow to the very edifice of our traditional and family structures that has ensured security and continuity to our societies for centuries.

Like the mosquito sucking the blood of healthy people and spreading diseases among them, our media is guilty of sapping the vitality and the positive energies of our youth through an unrelenting focus on the frivolous, the flippant and the blatantly malicious aspects of our national life. Instead of being an instrument in channelizing the hallmark characteristics of idealism and selflessness of the young towards the task of nation building, the media today has a corrupting and demonising influence on them – a far cry from the salutary role it played in shaping men of sterling character during our freedom movement.

Instead of exhibiting the despicable nature of the mosquito, media should be more akin to a bee. Sucking only the nectarine honey and spreading lovely fragrance all around, the activities of the bee are so pregnant with sweetness that it invigorates all that it comes in contact with. Likewise, our media too should, through a conscious promotion of the vibrant and the inspiring, the challenging and nourishing aspects of our public life, ignite the latent goodness of the people and propel them to achieve excellence in selfless endeavours.  That is the vest that our media today need to adorn.

From the stinging mosquito to the humming bee, the media make-over is indispensable.

 Yours

Narayanan

May 14, 2010 at 11:33 pm 6 comments

education@BoP.in

The dissipated columns of glazed swanky residential apartments stand menacingly, overlooking a sea of squalid slums and shanty hovels. The elite upmarket school is bustling with the chatter of chubby pupils in spotless uniforms smartly creased by the tender hands of semi-clad children of the neighbourhood huts. The fancy headlight of the Lands Cruiser throws a blinding illumination on the footpath dweller as he scuttles his face away to a more benign direction! The stunning contradiction that is called India is mind numbing while the peaceful resignation and acceptance of the status quo could be very revolting, even nauseating, to the uninitiated on the reality of this nation.  

The vast mass of people who form, what has now come to be called as, the “bottom of the pyramid” or BoP in short, has been the subject of many scholarly studies. Theories propounded and postulates assumed on the nature and the cause of their poverty and definitive roadmaps proposed chartering which, their plight could be improved. The most magnificent of these scholars is Prof. C.K. Prahalad, who, instead of adopting a top-down approach of doling out largesse from outside, saw them as people quite proficient in shaping their own economic and social emancipation, given the right environment.  He argued that a more realistic method to improve their lot would be to increase their capacity to consume which in turn would enhance their ability to produce and thus contribute to generate additional income. He suggested, for example, that by making available world class hygiene products to the people at BoP, there would be lesser chances of people falling sick, freeing more hours and days to do productive work which would have a direct positive bearing on their incomes. Professor could thus convince many multinationals that there is a fortune to be made by serving this “bottom of the Pyramid” class which compelled them to package their products and services to the specific needs of this huge market. One rupee shampoos, fifty paise iodised salts, two rupee toothpastes, ten rupee mobile recharge and many umpteen products hit the stores in small sachets that re-defined the concept of rural marketing in the country. This “consumption led production led income generation” model of poverty alleviation has been the most singular and game altering contribution of our times that the generations to come would marvel at the foresight of Prof. Prahalad who passed away early last week. The world is truly indebted to this great genius whose hypotheses are based on sound business pragmatism and driven by compassion to the under-privileged.

While a consumption-led economic regeneration model would trigger great productive energies, it by itself will not be sufficient to permanently pull the people out from their impoverishments.  For, to consolidate the gains and ensure that people do not lapse back to poverty, there has to be a massive effort towards providing quality education, a task that, we as a nation can afford to ignore only at our own peril.  The enactment of basic education as a fundamental right is a recognition of the urgency of this task and many unique, novel and even seemingly bizarre strategies need to be adopted to bring to fructify this mission.

 Of the many initiatives that were tried out previously to bring the child to school and thus improve enrolment and retention, nothing has been as successful and revolutionary as the legendry noon-meal scheme.  Pioneered in the state of Tamil Nadu, it instantaneously led to a massive jump in school attendance and a rapid decline in drop-out rates. While more children in the classroom was a direct consequence of this program, with a meal a day, complete with dal and curry and an occasional egg, the nutritional status of the students showed marked improvement, a  huge spinoff of the program.  If one were to travel through the hinterlands of Tamil Nadu in the morning hours, he will not fail to see the sights of children marching to schools, not necessarily with a school bag but definitely, with a dented meal plate and a steel tumbler to accompany it.

But just as ridiculous as offering rituals in a temple where there is no deity, bringing children to schools where there are no quality teachers is making the entire state run education system, a public mockery.  And the one challenge that prevents primary education striking roots in the country is the near non- existent of trained and committed teachers, a yawning gap that requires out-of-the-box thinking and unconventional solutions to bridge. Given the numbers required, the traditional method of incremental training of teachers is just not enough. Do we have an alternate model to emulate?

 Some of the techniques deployed by few gurus in instructing their oriental teachings is worthy of closer examination and may offer a solution to the problem. The popularizing of Yoga by Ramdevji among the masses in a short period of time and preparing thousands of trainers in the art through a variety of techniques, including the use of mass media, is a definitive model that can provide valuable insights on transforming an idea into a mass mission.  If the intricate skills of yoga can thus be imparted en masse, there isn’t a reason why potential primary schools teachers cannot be trained in basic school education through the adoption of this method. But for this to happen, we need to go beyond the cliché argument of secular viz religious education and lavishly imbibe the spirit of these programs that ensure wide acceptance.

In short, we need to look for solutions closer at home than transplant an alien remedy that could prove worse than the disease.

Yours

Narayanan

April 24, 2010 at 11:49 pm 5 comments

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