Ramayana and Mahabharata

Post R&MA few years back, I was facilitating a workshop on understanding and appreciating cultural differences with participants from the US, Canada, and India. One of the modules within the workshop required each participant to decorate a table with some personal items that would give the audience a peek into his / her life beyond what they see at work. So we had participants putting up their family pictures, books that had inspired them, baseball bats,. ice hockey helmets, football jerseys, their father’s footwear, images of deities that they worship and so on. It was great to see the enthusiasm of people who had carried this stuff all the way from North America to Bangalore and the eagerness of people in India to showcase their background and heritage.

As the facilitator, even I had set up a table with some of my belongings. Some items that described who I am, what has inspired me, what I’m interested in and what I care about. One of the items on the table was a copy of the Mahabharata. I’ve been deeply interested in the Mahabharata and in my opinion it is the greatest story that has ever been told. I’m not going to go into the intricacies of the epic here, however,. if you are interested, you could read some of my thoughts here. Continue reading

On Adjectives

branding-iron.jpgSo, it has been more than two years that I wrote something on this blog. Long time indeed! Why didn’t I write in the last two years? Honestly, I don’t know. I can rationalize by saying I didn’t get enough time, I had other priorities, I got interested in other things, I didn’t feel ‘inspired’….Hang on! Yeah, it is that last one. At least it sounds fancy and writer-ish. ‘I was experiencing a writer’s block.’ Yeah, that’s it.

I have been thinking about adjectives. Why, I hear you ask. I will tell you in a moment. Well, as it happens, in school, one of the few subjects I was good at was English language. When I say ‘good’ here, I must concede that the word is being used in a relative context. I mean I didn’t score 100 out of 100 in any test or exam. I didn’t score the crazy marks that students get in ICSE exams these days – 97.5%, 98.7%, 99.1%, 99.6%, mind-boggling, isn’t it? However, compared to my performance in and enjoyment of other subjects at school, such as Mathematics and Chemistry, English language was sort of a refuge. An oasis in the desert; light at the end of the tunnel; the first drops of rain on thirsty, parched earth…well you get the idea. I know some of the more pedantic ones among you will point to four grammatical mistakes in this piece already, so I must make this point emphatically – when I say I was good in the English language, I mean it in relative, comparative, terms. English vs Physics. It is just that in my case the gulf was so huge that it was like comparing the taste of chocolate cake with ganache to that of gruel made with gelatinous grains and tree bark. Continue reading

Doing Nothing!

Doing Nothing!

Doing Nothing!

On Monday morning, a colleague at work asked me, “So, how was your weekend? What did you do?” My answer was instinctive, “Weekend was good. Did nothing! Was at home.” When I thought about it later, I realized that this ‘Nothing’ actually meant a lot. It meant quality time spent with my wife. It meant playing and sharing laughs with my daughter. It meant conversations with my parents. It meant flipping through a good book. It meant watching a great movie on the television. It meant going for walks in the evening. This is just my definition of the ‘Nothing’ that I did over the past weekend. ‘Nothing’ can mean so much more.

‘Nothing’ is actually pregnant with possibilities. It is an open canvas on which you can paint whatever you want. How liberating! There are no limiting factors, when you start out with nothing. You can do whatever you want. It means freedom. Not everyone can handle it. I think a lot of us working in the corporate world would become quite unsettled with it. So much so that we like to keep a ‘To Do’ list for the weekends and even the vacations that we take.  Continue reading

The Simple Joys of Life

ImageWow! It has been a long time. A really long time. More than a year actually. An eventful year. I became a father for the first time, and may I add, probably for the only time. Fatherhood! I have always been scared of it. I have always questioned how can a person like me, who likes to call himself ‘an eternal child at heart’, shoulder the responsibility of taking care of a child. To tell the truth, I’m still scared. Will I be able to help my wife bring our daughter up well? Will I be able to provide for her? Will I be able to take care of her? Will I be able to do as much as my wife does for her? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I love her. A lot! My daughter, the light of my life. It is great to go back home and see her welcome me with a big smile, her hands clapping in happiness. It is magical.

That leads me to the topic of this post. When and how do we lose this ability to be happy about the everyday things in life?  Even if we do feel this kind of happiness occasionally, do we express it? Why do we become cynical over time? We keep postponing happiness. “I’ll be truly happy after I retire”, “I’ll be happy after I buy a house”, “I’ll be happy when I become self-employed”, “I’ll be happy when I buy a BMW” or in my case “I’ll be happy when I own a PlayStation 4”. Well, mine’s a weird whim, isn’t it? Continue reading

The Mahabharata: The Conflict Within

krishna_arjuna_conchshellsI 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. Continue reading

Its Lunch time!

The Lunch Box

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. Continue reading