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 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

Hampi: Frozen in Time

Hampi

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. Continue reading

Writing on The Wall

Rahul Dravid

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. Continue reading