I developed a serious interest in the Mahabharata about 9 years ago. It is not that I was not familiar with the plot of the epic. A.K. Ramanujan used to say, “In India…no one ever reads the Ramayana or the Mahabharata for the first time. The stories are there, always ready.” I think that is a very accurate remark. I had heard the main story and also the minor ‘stories within stories’ from my grandmother. Like many of us, I had watched the television series produced by B.R. Chopra that aired in the late 1980s.
So, when I say, I developed a serious interest in Mahabharata 9 years ago, I mean that I became interested in the multiple messages that the epic was seemingly trying to convey. I became interested in the historical context in which the Mahabharata unfolds. I became interested in the scepticism and dilemma of its major characters. I became interested in looking at the human beings behind the facade of gods and their avatars. I became aware that what I was familiar with, was the Vulgate Mahabharata, the one that was popular among Hindu families across India. The one which is about Krishna’s divinity, and the lila he performs to achieve a pre-determined objective, the destruction of the kshatriya clans to cleanse the earth of their vanity and misdeeds. I began to see that this was a very narrow view of the epic, and the question of ‘what is the epic trying to convey’, started to gnaw at me.
I had never heard of the Critical Edition of the Mahabharata, put together painstakingly through decades of effort by V.S. Suthankar and his associates. I was introduced to the Critical Edition and the human questions that it posed, through the works of Irawati Karve (1905 – 1970), the renowned anthropologist and an authority on the Mahabharata. Her book ‘Yuganta’, a collection of essays on the various characters in the Mahabharata, is what got me excited about the grand epic. The characters, and their ‘very human’ struggles and dilemmas came alive in Karve’s work. Her piercing insight broke the hard outer shell of the epic and revealed the fruit within. I began to realize that the Mahabharata was not only about the conflict between the sons of two brothers over succession, which resulted in a catastrophic war. I started to slowly become aware of the conflicts within each major character, and the battles that they are fighting within themselves. It is this awareness and its associated reflections that I want to share in this post. Read the rest of this entry »
I don’t know why I do this. I keep disappearing from this page and then come back with a resolve to be more regular with my writing, only to fall into the same trap again! Here I am, back again after a long hiatus, promising myself that I’ll be more disciplined going forward. Let’s see how it goes.
The other day I was talking to a friend from school and was getting nostalgic about those growing up years. We spoke about a lot. The school assembly, the teachers, the basketball court, getting punished, the dreaded homework, and the best of them all, the lunch break. I don’t know how it works today in Jamshedpur, but back in the late 80s and the early 90s, the lunch break at schools across Telco Colony was a sacred affair with a great many rituals performed. Everyday, the same pattern would play out and we would participate in it with vigor and cheer.
At the sound of the bell announcing the lunch break, we would rush out of the classroom, not wanting to waste even a single minute. The destination was the assembly area near the school gate, where all our tiffin boxes were kept. We didn’t carry our lunch with us; it was sent to the school by our mothers through tiffin-wallahs, who would collect the lunch boxes from various homes, before getting them to the school on their bicycles. We would identify our lunch boxes by the bag that they used to come in. Sometimes, even bags looked similar probably because they were bought from the same store in Telco Colony. In such cases, improvisations were performed, such as etching the name of the student on the lid of the lunch box. Read the rest of this entry »
I have been in Bangalore for the past 4 years, and ever since I came here, I have been wanting to go to Hampi. Finally, the plan materialized and we decided to go on a week-long vacation there in January. I had read a lot about this UNESCO World Heritage site, and also heard about its beauty and splendor from friends. I went with a lot of expectations and my expectations were not let down one bit. You have to see Hampi to believe it.
The site is on the south bank of the river Tungabhadra, and it is said that Hampi got its name from this river, which in olden days was called Pampa, and was worshipped as a river goddess. While settlements in Hampi and areas surrounding it can be dated back to the early part of the first millennium CE, the city actually reached the zenith of its political power as the capital of the powerful Vijayanagara Empire between 1336 and 1565 CE. The empire got its name from the capital city of Vijayanagara, meaning ‘City of Victory’, which in those days included the present day Hampi and areas around it. Contemporary chroniclers from Persia, Portugal, Italy, and Russia visited the empire during this period and left glowing accounts of the city, which was unparalleled in India and probably the world at the time. This once magnificent city, pride of the Vijayanagara kings, was ransacked in 1565 CE by the Deccan Sultans, who had formed a unique alliance against Vijayanagara. After defeating the Vijayanagara army at Talikota, some 90 kilometres away from the capital, the marauding Sultanate armies entered the city, plundered and pillaged it for 6 months, and then abandoned it. So thorough was the process of destruction that very few buildings were left intact. What remains at Hampi today are only the ruins of that great, magnificent city. Anyway, we will come to the sad part of the story later. For now, let’s focus on the foundation and growth of this great empire.
As one enters Hampi, the first thing that catches the attention is the landscape, which is lined with granite boulders of various colors, distributed either as hills, ridges or sometimes just piles of boulders balancing precariously against each other. One gets the feeling that the terrain might be a result of a massive earthquake. Archaeologists and authors John M Fritz and George Michell in their book ‘Hampi Vijayanagara’ say:
The terrain is, however, one of the most ancient and stable surfaces to be found anywhere on earth, its unique rocky appearance caused not by earthquake and upheaval, but by some three thousand million years of erosion, first underground and then, when uplifted, by exposure to sun, wind and rain.
The terrain might have been one of the reasons the Vijayanagara kings chose the site for their ambitious capital. The rocky terrain on all sides and the Tungabhadra to the north gave natural protection to the city against possible invaders. Read the rest of this entry »
On Friday, March 9th 2012, Rahul Dravid announced his retirement from Test cricket. I wouldn’t say, the announcement hit me like a bolt from the blue! I knew it would happen and I also knew it would happen before the end of this year. However, I was surprised by the suddenness of the decision. Why now? I asked myself. And then, it dawned upon me. The best players go when the world is asking ‘why now?’ and not ‘when?’.
But then, I thought, shouldn’t he have got a swan song series, a chance to say good-bye to his fans? He deserved it; moreover we fans deserved it. We could cheer for him in the stadium, chant his name, and shed tears as he raised his bat to us fans in the galleries for one last time, before walking into the sunset. While I was thinking about all this, I read his statement which said while he respects the fans’ desire to watch him play one last time, the fans should also respect his decision that this is how he wanted to go. No hullabaloo, no hype, no build up, only the poignancy of leaving and the pride of having served the game for so long! Typical of the man! No distractions, just getting on with his game.
For cricket lovers of our generation the following players will always be special – Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, and Rahul Dravid. We grew up watching these heroes, we grew up watching them fight hard and win matches for India, watching them take Indian cricket to great heights. Especially after the dark clouds of match fixing had threatened the very survival of the game in this country. Kumble and Ganguly have already moved on and now it is Rahul Dravid. I still remember his debut Test at Lord’s in the year 1996. While Sourav Ganguly got all the attention for his well compiled century, for me it was Dravid’s 95 that stood out for its technical brilliance. Lovely strokemaking, so pleasing to the eye. The cover drives, the flicks through mid-wicket, the straight drives, the leg glance, and the ferocious pulls, all grace and elegance. Read the rest of this entry »
Satyajit Ray was one of the most celebrated movie directors of the 20th century. His films won worldwide recognition and were regularly showcased at International Film Festivals. He even won an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in the year 1992. Ray not only scripted and directed his films, but also scored them and designed the publicity material for them. An artist, an all-rounder, a genius.
However, this post is not about Satyajit Ray, the movie director; it is about Satyajit Ray the author. I’m not going to put up any pretensions and say that I love Ray’s films. Honestly, I cannot relate much to them. Not for me the arty world cinema; I am the popcorn munching casual moviegoer, who has been brought up on a staple diet of Hollywood extravaganzas and kitschy Hindi movies. However, I am a huge fan of Satyajit Ray, the author. I love his books and I’ve read them over and over again. His stories have fascinated me, tickled me, made me cry, and regularly transported me into a world of imagination.
Writing was probably in Ray’s blood. His grandfather Upendrakishore Roychowdhury and father Sukumar Ray were prominent literary figures in Bengal. His grandfather had set up a printing press in Calcutta and the Ray family published a few Bengali magazines. It was for these magazines that Ray wrote most of his stories. I’ve read several of his short stories and novellas and have loved each one of them. Read the rest of this entry »
No, this is not about the movie, ‘The Adventures of Tintin’, Spielberg’s cinematic adaptation of the classic comic series by Hergé. I have not watched the movie as yet; though I do want to watch it – in 3D. Maybe I’ll try and catch it this weekend. This is about the Tintin books, compiled by Hergè over many years, and loved by readers across the globe. This post is about my love for the books, or to put it the way Thomson and Thompson would have, ‘to be precise it is to book my love’ for the classic series.
I first read Tintin when I was in school. A great many Library periods were gainfully employed in reading about the adventures of Tintin across the world, from Congo to America to Egypt to India to China to Scotland; even the moon. I remember desperately wanting to buy all the 24 books that I saw in the school library, but I knew we couldn’t afford it. So, I continued reading and re-reading them in the library, wistfully looking at the attractive cover pages, feeling the glossy inside pages, marveling at the beautiful drawings, and laughing at the slapstick humor. And then I grew up. Read the rest of this entry »
I had studied about the Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram in school and I remember being fascinated by the description in the book. I pictured it in my head as a majestic structure in black granite against the backdrop of the sea, with the waves lapping against the temple walls. How poetically beautiful! Some time back, I had the opportunity to travel to Mahabalipuram and see the Shore Temple. My wife and I had gone to Pondicherry for a vacation and we learnt that Mahabalipuram was only 100 kilometres away. So, one morning we drove from Pondicherry to Mahabalipuram, covering the stretch in about one and a half hours.
As I entered into Mahabalipuram, I realized that the place is no bigger than a small hamlet. It looked as if the place is frozen in time. My guess is, it wouldn’t have looked very different 300-400 years ago. We asked for directions to the Shore Temple and parked our car in the KSTDC parking lot. We met a guide called David who promised us to show not only the Shore Temple, but also all the other monuments in Mahabalipuram. He was a nice guy and we soon started chatting. He said he was born a Hindu but got converted to Christianity to marry his sweetheart. Heartwarming story, isn’t it? Anyway, I digress. Let’s return to the Shore Temple.
You have to walk a few paces from the gate to get to the temple. From the gate, it is hidden from view but as you walk towards it, it emerges, quite suddenly, and takes your breath away. A beautiful structure of black granite standing against the blue sky and the blue sea in the backdrop. I swear, it wasn’t much different from the way I pictured it in my head, when I was in school. The only difference was that the waves didn’t actually touch the temple walls. Walking towards the temple, I got the feeling that I’m walking back in time, years, centuries, millenia, to the 8th century when the temple was built by the powerful Pallava kings. The structure arrests your imagination and you just walk towards it, dumbfounded at its beauty. It becomes obvious why it has been chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage site. I clicked this picture from some distance. I know it has come a little tilted to the right, I’m not a great photographer, you see. Read the rest of this entry »
Alexander conquered most of the known world of his time. His empire stretched from Macedonia to Persia to Egypt to the North-Western border of India. He was a legend even during his time. There was speculation about whether he was god or demon, because of the kind of superhuman feats he performed. He himself believed that he was the son of Zeus-Ammon, a thought that was probably reinforced and kindled by his courtiers. It probably started as a mere whim in the oasis of Siwah, however, it later took roots in the depths of his being, and his self-aggrandizement blinded him to the reality that after all he was merely human. And it is this fact, that he was after all a mere human being that makes him stand out; that makes you take notice of his unbelievable achievements. Here was a man, who walked in flesh and blood, a man who went on to conquer the whole world before he was thirty-two.
Such has been the impact of Alexander’s influence on the world that his legend lives on. Even today, 2300 years after his death. He appears as a character in epics and fables across various cultures in Asia and North Africa, sometimes as a god, sometimes as a two-horned demon, and sometimes as a beast. In India, he is popularly referred to by the name ‘Sikandar’, and his name is synonymous with being the best, the ace, the invincible. There is a proverb in Hindi, which loosely translates to ‘The one who wins is called Alexander’. Whether you view him as a hero or a bloodthirsty villain, who brought death and destruction to wherever he went, you will find it difficult to argue against his magnetism. His magnetism is probably a result of his skills as a warrior, his leadership, his unbending will and determination, his unbridled curiosity, his passion to be the best, his passion to emulate his hero, Achilles! Read the rest of this entry »
Let’s talk about one of the most favorite snacks of India. The humble samosa. To the uninitiated, samosa is a stuffed pastry with savory filling inside, usually consisting of spiced potatoes, onions, peas, and coriander. I used to think that the samosa is indigenous to India, however, I was surprised to find out that it originated in Central Asia and was introduced to India only in the 13th or 14th century by Arab traders. However, the popularity of the snack today in India is phenomenal. Every region, every state, in India loves its samosa and has its own version of the ubiquitous snack. In this post, I’m going to talk about the kind of samosas made in the eastern region of India in general and Jamshedpur in particular.
First things first, the samosa is not called samosa in Jamshedpur at all! Owing to the huge Bengali influence on the city, it is referred to, by its Bengali name, ‘Singara’. My mouth waters as I write this word, and my vision is filled with the triangular pastry shell filled with amazing mashed, spiced potatoes inside. It is usually served with an accompaniment, usually some kind of chutney, however, I like it even if it is not accompanied by anything. Read the rest of this entry »
Turn the clock back. Remember how, as kids, we were asked by our parents to eat one whole bowl of vegetables because it was good for us? Remember how we were told that making the bed would somehow make us a better person? Remember how we were asked to clean the house before festivals? Remember how (my Indian friends would be able to relate to this more) cycling up to the flour mill with an impossibly large load of wheat would make us stronger and better? In summary, according to our parents, all that was good for us used to make us miserable and as a corollary almost everything that made us miserable was somehow good for us.
I used to think that, this phenomenon was restricted only to India until I was introduced to Calvin & Hobbes. One of my favorite characters in the strip is Calvin’s Dad. His quirky habits, such as, getting up at the crack of dawn, even when on a holiday, going for walks and occassionally cycling in a blizzard, insisting on going to wild, ‘itchy’ islands for holidays, giving bizarre, nonsensical answers to Calvin’s questions, make him one of the most endearing characters in Calvin & Hobbes. Well, that is for the readers, not Calvin. Calvin’s Dad always keeps looking for opportunities to build Calvin’s character by asking him to do things that are good for him. And like it is always with children, the things that Dad thinks are good for him, make Calvin miserable. Read the rest of this entry »