Saturday, December 29, 2007

Globetrotting on Wings

Imagine a Government office on a weekday. What kind of faces you expect to see ? Mostly middle aged men and women, engaged half heartedly in the tasks , now routine for them for years. Some ‘know all’ veterans engaged in counseling the novices and some confused souls roaming around with not much work in hand. So on Wednesday last , when in one such office attendance was very bleak, at 5 in the evening, the boss decided to screen a documentary on migratory birds . What response do you expect from such a screening? Only few will attend and without much understanding, will copy the exclamations, praises and criticisms of the bosses...isn't it? At least I expected it to be so…and was surprised to find a very different reaction in the end. It was a house full show in our conference hall and though in the initial 10 minutes, there were whispers about what kind of 'movie' is this we moved along things changed for better . Yes, in my office, last Wednesday we screened Jacques Perrin’s oscar nominated documentary Winged Migration at my boss's insistence and a very mixed group of people was spellbound by the visuals and sounds of this amazing documentary. Eighty nine minutes of birds flying (and eating, and dancing, and floundering, and squabbling, and dying) were indeed quite sufficient to make audiences laugh, applaud, and gasp with wonder and delight .

In fact, I was wondering later on whether one should call it a documentary at all. My idea of a documentary is a bland linear narration of a subject. Not that I consider all of them boring or artless ,but there was something in this one which made me so happy. I don't remember getting such happiness from any other documentary. I was so happy to share the planet with such brave and beautiful creatures. Jacques Perrin and his team of technicians laboured nearly four years to create this paean to the beauty and character of our feathered friends, at least the ones that do a lot of traveling.. But the docu is not entirely about birds. Its about the world, humans and birds share . Human presence is very minimal in the narration , but we do have some very touching scenes with humans in it. Like a small boy running to see the birds back after a seasonal migration or an old lady feeding the birds in Spain. The feature is painstakingly shot without any special effects and that makes it very special. Further there is a clever use of transitions and very subtle use of commentary that makes it so perfect . But while i was watching it these considerations were not with me..i was just too engrossed in the beauty of the visuals and music .

Visuals are definitely the high point of the docu. Many shots are unforgettable: the reflections of Barnacle Geese repeatedly flash and disappear as they fly over flats with pools of water; Bar-Headed Geese sit calmly on a mountain in Nepal, looking remarkably calm in a driving blizzard, tuck their heads under wings, and then take off as the rumble of an avalanche builds( how the hell they knew that an avalanche is coming?) ; Red-Crowned Cranes strut, leap, dance, and trip on Hokkaido; geese fly above glaciers like cold blue granite; geese fly through a driving snowstorm with the camera traveling alongside them at eye and wing level; snow geese are shot from above as they fly over a flaming red maple forest in New York state; the telescope portal of an astronomical observatory opens just as a flock of geese flies across the widening slot; a pelican's lower beak pokes the bag of his neighbor's mouth all out of shape; dark African birds hold out their wings like an umbrella to shade the water they're walking in and many many more.

One thing that helps keep the film interesting is the variety of terrains as well as familiar landmarks from around the world. Cameras take us to the Himalayas, Saharan dunes, Greenland glaciers, paddies in China, a gorgeous desert oasis, grim and filthy industrial districts of Eastern Europe, and Antarctica. We see birds pass the Statue of Liberty at dusk, Mont-St-Michel, the World Trade Center towers, and the Great Wall of China. Geese flap under a bridge across the Seine, hardly giving a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty a glance, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance. We're treated to shots of a total solar and partial lunar eclipse.
But another and I dare say equally powerful feature was the soulful music. It was mostly a mix of sounds and instruments …no words as such( or may be in some language I don’t understand) , but it was so timely and so right for the visuals . Best part however, was to watch the birds living their lives unaware of the camera. Their joys, their routine, their struggles for survivals, their instincts was very facinating to watch .

At the end of the feature, I was just feeling very very glad….a feeling one rarely gets these days from any type of media. I highly recommend the documentary . Watch it if you can lay your hands on it.

Burying Dreams of a Nation

I don’t write Political blog and my posts are collection of very personal thoughts . So before I proceed on this post I must say that this is based on my views and knowledge – both of which have limitations. I have some very good friends in Pakistan and I have a lot of respect for their culture and faith. I am writing this becauseI have been thinking about this for last two days and I feel sad about the conditions prevailing in that country. After all as an Indian , I can’t help being curious about Pakistan. We share very similar culture and history and yet, a man made line on the map has made the destiny of the two nations so different. I read an interesting description of Pakistan in the September issue of National Geographic where they have called Pakistan as Islam’s Fault Line. It is true that the two conflicting forms of Islam meet in this land which was taken out of Indian subcontinent in the name of Islam 60 years back. There is relatively relaxed and tolerant Islam of India versus the rigid fundamentalist Islam of Afghan border…and there are followers of the both streams . But Islam as the founding philosophy of this land, has failed to unite the various ethnic groups of Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi , Pashtun etc , as a nation . So even in the last few days of 2007 when Pakistan is mourning the brutal death of its leader Benazir, it is also facing some difficult truths about the country itself.
Mohammed Ali Jinnah, is one leader whose life and ideas I find very intriguing. How he evolved/regressed in his political philosophy is something to be discussed and analyzed. By any standard, his was an eventful life, his personality multidimensional and his achievements in other fields were many, if not equally great. He was one of the greatest legal luminaries India had produced during the first half of the century, an `ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’, a great constitutionalist, a distinguished parliamentarian, a shrewd politician, a dynamic political strategist and much more. He started off as a liberal secularist westernized leader. In fact in his personal lifestyle I don’t see much difference from the Nehru Family. Then he started talking about Pakistan which was his brain child as a refuge for the Muslims and not an Islamic state. His model was of a democracy merged with Islamic ideals. Even in his inaugural address he said “In Pakistan….Muslims will cease to be Muslims , not in the religious sense , but as citizen of the state.” But this was never to be . Pakistan’s 60 years of existence is marred with bloody coups, hangings and assassinations…..the latest victim being Benazir …and again and again the issue of Islam pops us during these troubles.

General Zia –ul-Haq after seizing power in 1977 , hanging the democratically elected PM , promptly proclaimed that Pakistan was “ created on the basis of Islam”. General Zia set out to make it a hard core Islamic country despite the fact that most ordinary Pakistanis remain moderates. Pakistan is still struggling with issues of “crimes against Islam”, “Jihad” and “ Muslim identity” . So any discussion about Pakistan has to deal with these. I wonder why ? during any cultural interactions with Pakistan…be it through music or theatre , films or books and articles , one finds that most of the ordinary men and women have nothing to do with this fanatic and extremist struggle..they are simply caught in the midst of very troubled situation. While I was reading The Kite Runner and then The Book seller of Kabul, I realized how the Pakistani borders are infiltrated by Afghanis including the Talibans. So they have their jihad for Kashmir on one side, and support for Taliban on the other…in between, being economically and strategically depended on America, they also have Uncle Sam giving them advice on internal matters. I feel sad for the land which gave us some of the best writers, poets, artists and statesmen as it is no longer in control of its own affairs. Unfortunately, all these so called ‘jihads’ and Islamic struggles…and violence in the name of it, results in more poverty…leading to more backwardness, unemployment and vulnerability to be manipulated. The dilemma of the time was very well expressed by Indian journalist Saead Naqvi who in an interview said that even those who are crying out for democratic and civil rights are aware that with such widespread extremist presence and the fact of its being a Nuclear Power , army will continue to play a prominent role in Pakistan Politics and that too on its own terms.

This morning I read two old articles written by Benazir Bhutto remembering her father’s execution and the Shimla Conference . The first was very moving. It was saying more about a personal tragedy of losing a ‘papa’ than a national loss of a leader. In the same news paper I saw picture of Benazir’s son ………grieving loss of a mother and ready to carry out a responsibility of being born a Bhutto. As in this subcontinent we are very very feudal when it comes to choosing political successors , I am sure like Rajiv Gandhi , Rahul Gandhi and other leader-sons (and daughters) …Benazir’s children will also inherit the throne sooner or later . The personal tragedy will form basis of vote banks and soon people will forget the gravity of the crime. Same, however, may not be the future for the families of others ordinary Pakistanis who lost their lives in the same bomb blast.
Relatively, in India we are better off. Broadly our democracy is not faring as bad as theirs. Our economy is booming manifold and except for some blots , religion is not the core issue for us as a nation. But go deep down the brass tacks and perhaps an undercurrent of the same feudalism, same fundamentalism run across our land as well. I agree, not to such dangerous proportions…but not negligible either.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Meeting Job Charnock ....finally.

Three years back when I was walking for the first time towards AG Bengal building, which was to be my new office, I was overwhelmed by the magnificent colonial structures all around the Dalhousie square. It was then that I noticed an old church round the corner. That day, I made a mental note to visit these buildings very soon …specially the church. Believe me, it took me three years to walk exactly 38 steps from my office to see the beautiful and historical St.John’s Church. I passed by its gate dozens of time, every time promising myself that I will come back to see the church building very soon…but it had to happen only today. Just now, when I narrated this tale to a fellow visitor at the church and he aptly quipped the saying :The nearer the church, the farther from God. But thank God that it happened before I say goodbye to Calcutta. It was wonderful to walk in the church compound on this lovely afternoon (I went there during lunch hour ) . It was a learning experience too .After all , till yesterday, I knew only three facts about this church.
One that It houses Job Charnock’s mausoleum. Two that there is a replica of Holwell Monument which was commissioned by Curzon and third that this was Warren Hastings church... even later Governor Generals’ too attended the Sunday masses here …after all it is bang opposite the east gate of Governor General’s house (now Raj Bhawan) . Just before leaving for the church, thanks to my ever-reliable Google, I found that there is a famous painting of The Last Supper by John Zoffany .

Replica of Holwell monument in memory of the Black Hole victims

So curious by all this trivia, and equipped with my soapbox camera , I walked inside the green compound of the church. The old building was looking regal in the afternoon glow and adding to the charm were the groups of birds chirping happily on the old trees of the campus .About two dozen cars were parked inside….no, not the visitor’s cars ..these are cars of people working in nearby offices and High Court. For them ,the Church compound provides a cheap option for car parking. As for visitors, there were hardly any. Besides me there were only two other people admiring the building .

The Last Supper by John Zoffany .

This church , which was built in 1787 and is believed to be the original parish church of Bengal, is located on an area of 8 bighas and 16 cottahs. Warren Hastings and Reverend William Johnson were said to be the prime movers behind its construction at an old burial ground that had been closed since 1676. The land belonged to a zamindar Raja Nabo Kishen Bahadur (of Shovabazar Royal Family) who donated this land to Church committee and Warren Hastings in 1783. On 6th April 1784 the work started and within three years the building was completed.
I was very keen about this church because of Job Charnock. A very interesting person by all counts. He was ,of course, the British trade administrator and is founder of city of Calcutta but what I find most interesting about him is his marriage. The circumstances under which he met his wife were romantic, astonishing and somewhat appalling too. It is said that one day Charnock and his associates saw the ritual of sati being performed on the banks of Hooghly. Charnock saw the woman about to be burnt with her husband’s body. Moved by the scene and possessed by the beauty of the young widow, he ordered his men to stop the ritual, dispersed the crowd of relatives and priests and seize the woman . The woman was taken to one of his apartments and after few days he married her. It is believed that he even embraced Hinduism to get his ladylove’s consent for the marriage . They had several children and spent many blissful years together. Job Charnock however, is not lying alone over here, in his grave. He shares this cemetery with several distinguished Britons and of course his beloved wife and two daughters are also buried here . His sculpture was made by his son-in-law Sir Charles Ayar around 1695. The sculpture is a unique specimen of art. There is a dome with a pitcher appended to it. There are also the tombs of the daughters of Charnock, the sculptures of British Admiral Watson who with Clive liberated/subjugated Calcutta in 1757, Lord Brabourne, Lady Canning and several distinguished persons.

Job Charnock’s mausoleum

Inside the church besides the famous paintings of The Last Supper by John Zoffany is a marvelous stained glass window and memorial tablets of prominent citizens through the ages. It was interesting to find Mary Magdalene leaning over Jesus’ shoulder in this version of The last Supper. I was suddenly reminded of the movie ‘DA VINCI CODE’ . But what I found even more interesting was a huge organ with its wooden wind pipes going up to the ceiling. It was placed just next to the pulpit and I was told that it was brought from Glasgow .Believe it or not it still plays with perfect notes.

The lovely wooden Organ

Another beauty was a marble statue of a lady which was donated by the merchants of Calcutta. I was lucky that another visitor familiar with the place was also there. He took me to the clock and bell tower and from the roof of the church I saw a very novel sight of my office building . The clock chimes announced 2.30 (Yes, this 300 year old clock is still functioning). And what an old church and cemetery is worth if there are no ghosts. So my fellow visitor informed me that there have been several 'sightings' of a man playing organ and a woman (who was beheaded and later buried in the campus )walking near the graves with her head on her hand... that is not original... reminds me of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow .
The obelisk commemorating the black hole was moved from near the GPO to a corner of this graveyard. It is the earliest example of British masonry in India. Near the west wall is a replica of the Holwell Monument - originally erected at the site of the Black Hole of Calcutta. Those were the days of Governor General in council and the church contains the original furniture used for council meetings. It was brought from the Governor General’s house and is kept in the study of Warren Hastings the first Governor-general of India. The study is decorated with old oil paintings of the gentlemen who graced the room few centuries back . There are some old sketches of the church also kept here.

Thanks to the money received by World Heritage council in 2004 , the conservation work was going on for the church building and the cemetery .While present efforts are concentrating on conserving the exterior, reviving the clock and bell tower and cleaning the churchyard, subsequent phases will concentrate on the landscaping of the rest of the grounds and conservation of the mausoleums and tombstones there.
Let’s see when I can visit the next place in my list ..may be some other day during lunch hour . That is if my boss does not happen to read this post
You can find my pics from this visit here .

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Appearing “Correct”

Last Sunday , The Times of India carried a hilarious article on Political correctness in Britain. It was a picture of a Britain in crisis, a Britain that has become hilariously ridiculous in the name of fairness, equality and general safety standards. So much so that they even have a movement called the Campaign Against Political Correctness…and what else one can expect if even the nursery rhymes are being modified to suit the modern notions of political correctness. I learnt from the article that in England these days, Three Wise Men become Three Wise Women, and on occasion, Baby Jesus in the manger is a girl. Gingerbread Man is now Gingerbread Person. The words 'manpower' and 'mankind' are not used anymore in some organizations. And, in the face of increasing gay rights, when a councilor joked that Noah could not have taken only animals of the opposite sex into his ark, angry members of the council demanded that he be sent to "compulsory equality training''. Burger King changed the swirls on its ice cream lids after one man complained that the swirls resembled Allah in the Arabic script. Last year, the Greater Manchester Police advised its officers not to arrest Muslims at prayer times during Ramzan. A hospital bans cooing at newborns because it violates the human rights of infants. Some newspapers spell black with a capital 'B' and white with 'w' in lower case. The Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council banished from its offices the image of Piglet from Winnie The Pooh so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities.
I wonder if in India we are also following suit our former colonial masters in making a joke of our public behavior. I am not a Madhuri Dixit fan…in fact I did not even bother to watch most of her blockbuster movies. But no one in his/her senses can justify the anger some of our veteran politician showed on one of the songs of her comeback movie. The message is that we will have to revise our sayings, our jokes and our songs also to ensure they do not mention caste . It seems Sudanese are not the only people angered by a teacher's innocent act of naming a teddy bear Mohammed …we ,in India, are just few steps behind. Today morning I read in the newspaper that a Sikh gentleman in Lucknow took offence of a sardarji SMS joke and filed a FIR against Mukesh Ambani , the owner of Reliance communications.The newspaper on this issue comments that jokes targeting communities should stop..after all we are a multiethnic community .Very soon it will be politically incorrect to laugh at a Sardarji joke or a mallu or a Gujju joke .As it is our media works with unwritten rule of not naming Muslim community in case of riots. it is usually a clash between two 'different' communities or a procession of “ minority community” which leads to curfew . Naming these communities may intensify the situation. And media is not the only ones going paranoid. Schools too are joining the brigade. Punishing students is a complete no-no. Even announcing merit list may give inferiority complex to some kids so its just grading of A,B,C in our modern day school boards. Children are not to be admonished for their mistakes and wrongdoings for all you know this may violate the child’s right to express himself. In government offices also we follow a similar correctness of behavior. In fact that is why I chose the name of my other blog “Being Officially Incorrect”. Sadly nobody is bothered how this official correctness is making our system inefficient and ineffective. Male superiors have to be doubly sure to reprimand inefficient female subordinates in office …as a sexual harassment complaint comes very handy in such cases . Even while holding disciplinary proceedings against a person belonging to “underprivileged” class one has to ensure that the inquiry officer is also of the same class. Any decision related to Muslims has to be taken taking care of their religious status …even when it is about a completely non-religious issue. And all these unwritten rules have authority of experience. There have been court cases and political campaigns on these issues and in the name of appearing correct our system has often ignored the apparent, the obvious and the known. Even in our movies dialogues and characters must follow these rules or else we have outfits in all communities to ensure protest and violence on the streets. This ridiculous political correctness has no end and moreover serves no real purpose.
Discrimination against disabled does not change anyways in its gravity by calling them “differently abled persons”. But then who cares ? The funny part is that all these right activists and moral police authorities go in such funny details that they miss the main point of their protest itself. Often the protests lead to a greater curiosity and hence free publicity to the so called violation. A fine example is protest on Deepa Mehta’s Fire. It was by all measures a very ordinary and let me say- boring movie. It would not have earned one tenth of its revenue had not Shivsena protested against it and thereby making it an issue for feminists and right-activists .I still remember how vehemently Madhu Kishwar was opposed when she said that Fire is a very ordinary and boring movie . Same is true about Taslima Nasreen’s books. She is a very ordinary writer and all her controversial books are a written with an aim to create controversy ….but thanks to Muslim organizations she is a known name in literary circles , her books made good profit and she is seen a victim of Islamic Fundamentalism for the cause of freedom of speech .

In America these days, it is a discrimination of the other extreme. After 9/11 in that country it is politically incorrect to trust Muslims. No American Authority can afford to be reasonable when Muslims are concerned. So anyone with a Muslim name is unwelcome. One of my friends from Bahrain wanted to appear for CIA exam for which the centre was in USA. He was denied visa thrice because he is 22 , male and Muslim . To make his crime worse his name is Mohammed ….a solid proof for the American agencies that he is linked to some or the other Terrorist outfit and thus a potential threat to the American People.
Help! What kind of prejudiced, artificial and lunatic world sans any sense of humour and ability to laugh at , we are heading for ? I too feel like joining the Campaign against Political Correctness and if that involves laughing at 'gender insensitive' jokes and using 'unparliamentary' language when one feels like then so be it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Some Days are Diamonds .....

Finally I got the title for my post .This is from the song playing on my computer right now…and it reflects my mood very aptly. I had a wonderful day today. Indeed a Diamond –day . As it is , I love this period of the year. For one it’s the beginning of winter and also beginning of arrival of Birthday Cakes in the family . For two, this is the time when our garden in Lucknow used to be full of seasonal flowers and sitting there in the lawn, enjoying a good cup of ginger tea, daydreaming about life, was my all time favorite activity . Even in Calcutta one can feel the soothing sunshine and just a hint of winter but then on a weekday , you hardly notice the weather and its beauty. And sadly, weekends have a routine of their own.

I seldom take leave from office without any reason and the reason is usually my visit to Lucknow. But today was an exception. Few days back, I realized that I have most of my Casual Leaves unspent and its just one month before they lapse. Determined not to let that happen I took leave for a day just ike that and it was fabulous . One of the best things I have done in recent times. Such unexpected leaves on weekdays when everybody else is off to work are absolute pleasure. One can indulge in activities as and when one likes. My idea of ideal activities on such a day are :
1. Trying out that weird looking recipe which I once found in a cookbook
2. Arranging my wardrobe and enjoying the unexpected pleasure of finding some of my favorite dresses at the bottom of the shelf. Well , in fact this can also be a shocking experience if you happen to try a dress which used to fit “till the other day” and realize that now you’ve grown beyond it.
3. Reading old letters and replying to some . no no no…not emails. I am talking about post…in today’s terminology the snail mail, which I still love to receive and reply
4. Listen to all old favorite songs. You can have John Denver telling you what all he has been thinking about lately…and Pandit Jasraj recounting the glory of Mriganayani ka yaar.
5. Watching cartoons followed by a black and white movie .
6. Going to the nearby mall and buying things you DON’T need .
7. Going for vegetable shopping

8. Making flower arrangements
9. Reading old favorites in books and stories
10. and most favorite , looking out from the balcony and remembering old days...thinking nothing in particular..just admiring the glory of the day .

Today I could manage to do only some of these. I did some cooking . Prepared first Carrot Halwa of the season and also a favorite sweet chilly pickle with Kamy auntie’s recipe. I also read some old issues of Outlook Traveller . Watched Kishore Kumar starrer “Ek ladka Ek Ladki” and am listening complete Atu’s favorite Play list for the second time . Right now I am feeling very very happy and most irksome thought of the moment is that the day is almost over and tomorrow , as Scarlet O’Hara would have agreed , is another day…sadly an office day . So back to DP targets and Presentation for ADAI.

But then, all good things in life are short-lived. On the brighter side , I still have few more CLs with me and let’s see if I can use them as well. Now I know why some sensible government officer amde the rule that though leaves are not a matter of right, all government servants should be encouraged to take leaves. In the logjam of daily life one forgets how wonderful life is. So here is the title song for the post ,…some days are diamonds some days are stones… hope this will inspire you too , to enjoy doing 'nothing in particular ' for a day or two . The message of the day is :

Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Intoxication , philosophy and a candid life....

मिट्टी का तन, मस्ती का मन, क्षण भर जीवन, मेरा परिचय

(A body of clay, a mind full of play, a moment’s life - that is me).

This is how Harivansh Rai Bachchan introduced himself . He was born exactly 100 years back on this day . Though today's generation will know him as father of superstar Amitabh Bachchan and grandfather of Abhishek Bachchan , he attained the fame which very few poets in Hindi can boast of. He lived a candid life and the reflections of his sorrows, achievements and joys are found in his poems.
जो छुपाना जानता तो जग मुझे साधू समझता
शत्रु बन मेरा गया है छल रहित व्यवहार मेरा "
His poems are so real, so close to life that they are still recited in literary societies, in students' hostels and even in mainstream movies. His great collection 'Madhushala (मधुशाला)' is perhaps the most quoted book of modern Hindi poetry . While thousands know about him and his 'Madhushala' most are not sure about his place in literature. Till about 1975, he was a phenomenon to reckon with, but after that he was ostracised as belonging to a non-literary world (perhaps because of the rising glory of his son in the Bollywood) and no attempt was made to seriously evaluate him as a poet.In Harivansh Rai, the neglect caused a side-effect. He learnt to depend for his inspiration more upon his readers and committed audiences and built an unprecedented relationship with them. .
Reacting to critics' prejudices, Bachchan had in 1973 declared his retirement from poetry. He had announced it formally in his address to his readers in the last volume of his poem titled Jaal sameta where he wrote
जाल समेटा करने में भी वक्त लगा करता है मांझी ,
मोह मछलियों का अब तो तो छोड़ ...

"It takes time in closing the day(arranging the net) O fisherman, leave your desire for more fishes now"

He also promised to his readers in a different medium such as prose. By that time, Bachchan's first two volumes of the autobiography were already published and his reputation as a prose-writer was established. After some years, when the other two volumes were published, even his worst critics could not ignore him. Yet for most of them he was a better prose-writer than a poet. As against the belief that he was a poet of private pain, he was indeed a poet of joy. And 'joy' was indeed the nickname that he had given to his first wife 'Shyama'. Even his poems of sorrow collected in 'Ekant Sangeet' and 'Nisha Nimantran' have an intimation of joy and beauty, and by the time the poems of 'Milan Yamini were published, in which the lovers meet and meet, the joys of life can be seen as real and palpable. Harivansh Rai Bachchan cannot be dismissed simply as a popular poet. Talking like a common man, he was really a serious-minded poet. Of all his writings, his 'Madhushala' is the most misunderstood. This is no celebration of wine, which Bachchan never touched. It was in fact a comment of the social hypocracies and behaviour by taking wine as a metaphor . Listen to a part of it here . As a salut to this great poet and writer I want to share these beautiful lines from his pen:

मैं कितना ही भूलूँ, भटकूँ या भरमाऊँ,
ही एक कहीं मंजिल जो मुझे बुलाती ही,
कितने ही मेरे पाँव पड़े ऊंचे-नीचे,
प्रतिपल वह मेरे पास चली ही आती ही,
मुझ पर विधि का आभार बहुत-सी बातों का।
पर मैं क्र्ताजं उसका इस पर सबसे ज्यादा -
नभ ओले बरसाए, धरती शोले उगले,
समय की चक्की चलती जाती ही,
मैं जहाँ खडा था कल उस थल पर आज नहीं,
कल इसी जगह पर आना मुझको मुश्किल है,
ले मापदंड जिसको परिवर्तित कर देतीं
केवल छूकर ही देश-काल की सीमाएँ
दे मुझपर फैसला उसे जैसा भाए
लेकिन मैं तो बेरोक सफ़र में जीवन
इस एक और पहलू से होकर निकल चला।
जीवन की आपाधापी में कब वक़्त मिला
कुछ देर कहीं पर बैठ कभी यह सोच सकूँ
किया, कहा, माना उसमें क्या बुरा भला।

Monday, November 26, 2007

Being girlish and loving it...

This Saturday I read an interesting article in The Telegraph titled “ What’s Girlie Still” .In the age of unisex salons and a metrosexual man , this article was talking about few things which still remain stubbornly drinks,giggling and the like . Though a proud owner of a Pink Blog…I must confess that all things girlie are seemingly under serious threat in today’s world. Crying, giggling blushing, fainting and cribbing does not come very naturally to most of us anymore. However much we wow at Audrey Hepburn and Scarlet O’Hara, Madhubala and Saira Banos in our weekend matinees ,we no longer want to look like them. It’s the age of powerpuff girls. So from the celluloid divas to the girls next doors, no one cares for looking/sounding girlish anymore. There was a time when my elder sister had to face several critical glances and raised eyebrows for wearing jeans and flaunting boy cut hairstyle all the time . Then women like her were called tomboyish. And now everyday I watch more and more twenty somethings walking carelessly in blue jeans and white shirts , talking in very matter of fact tone , comfortable in talking about all topics from stock market to dirty jokes , sitting casually in roadside joints and looking more and more similar to boys of similar age. So Sania mirza was just representing her generation of girls when her T shirt declared that “Well behaved women seldom make history”. What is even more interesting is that the whole world is getting so used to this idea that no one is missing the coy , girlish damsels . So much so we find more and more moms and aunts are also equally comfortable in similar attire and attitude.

Being part of this generation W, I take pride in their attitude and style .I admire them for their ability to exist and succeed even in typically very male domain of things .But hold a sec, look carefully and you’ll find the same girls equally at ease while flaunting strawberry pink chiffon and chandelier earrings. Jane Austen is still a favorite with most of us and so are all things pink. We still give a second glance to the dress every other lady is wearing in the room and yes, shopping is a great amusement for us. Some of us may be hopping from one relationship to other with equal ease like the males of our species , we still expect our men to be courteous and caring . Though many of choose to be curt and formal at workplace , we can be very charming and witty when we want to be so. So should we conclude that men are still from mars and women form venus .
Nay…I guess it is much more than that kind of simple logic .My conclusion is that women in last few decades have evolved much more than men .They now excel in many new areas of life and are still capable of being very feminine..very true to their stereotypical role in the society. Though many find true expression of themselves in not being so woman-like all the time . In a nutshell, we have gathered more good traits from men than they have learnt from us. Their changes are still very cosmetic.... Well, to be fair on the other sex I must confess that they are also trying the things typically marked 'women-only'. O yes, many men are now very comfortable in household chores and some even watch those teary soap-operas , husbands are not what they used to be and a good percentage of men do try to appear metrosexual.Even market has acknowledge this change. The ‘Because You’re Worth It Too’ anti-wrinkle campaign by L’Oreal is a fantastic example. It shows a man in his thirties, the camera zooms in on his face and the voice over says: ‘What you think are great lines, she thinks is premature aging!’ Whack ! There goes your self-image. You’re not aging well. You’re no Sean Connery or George Clooney. You’re ugly or at least on your way there. But not to fear, once your self-esteem is destroyed, you can buy the new Men’s Expert by L’Oreal Paris line of products to rebuild while your fairness cream for men will do wonders the antiwrinkle cream will make you a decade younger . Hello brother...welcome to the she-domain of things .

But despite all these, I still agree with what I read on a coffee mug in a gift shop—“Behind every successful woman there is a very surprised man” . Stereotypes are breaking- very slowly but every clearly. Men also gossip. they also shop …they also dress up and some of the daring ones even have pink pyjamas . But all said and done, most of them are finding it a hard task to deal with the powerpuff girls of today. The old mantras of red roses and teddy bear may not work for many of them ..... And Nike shoes and T shirts still sound strange for valentine gifts.
So is the time ripe for writing obituaries for all things girlish . Well, I for one, am very optimistic about how things are going and as its my dream to own a lovely pink car very soon , I will also expect my male friends and colleagues ( even my husband) to see me driving my car and say “ Sooooo cute” .

Friday, November 16, 2007

As I walked out one evening

This is a poem by W.H.Auden which I found thanks to my hubby dear , who read out this poem to me last evening. Do you wonder at times what can be those "things of beauty" which are "joy for ever" in our day to day life . If I start counting "few of my favorite things" some feel good books, some old snaps , some melodious songs and poems like these will top the list . They are truly joy forever. I think of these writers and poets ...singers and composers ., and I want to cry. With admiration and with inspiration. I think of the purity of passion and absolute sincerity to their conscience with which they composed these 'beauties', and I feel so tall with happiness , courage and energy. Here it goes.....

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
'Love has no ending.'

I'll love you, dear, I'll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,

'I'll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.

'The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.'

But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
'O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.'

In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.

'In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.'

Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver's brilliant bow.

'O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you've missed.'

The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

'Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.

'O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

'O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

'It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Calcutta :Lost and Found

For last three years I was searching for the Calcutta I had read about . The city with a heart- the city with a soul and the cultural capital of India. Unfortunately it was nowhere to be seen . Not that there was any dearth of the 'bhadralok' look-alikes with that quintessential Jhola, unshaven look and the typical interest in anything political. And of course you will find so many activities around you like drama , dance, exhibitions and protests to keep this city busy and buzzing ... but something was missing…..these were just dummies of the real things and people. There was very little soul in these hapenings . At the individual level you may meet several known and unknown faces who can inspire you with their simplicity, their knowledge , their childlike believe in the world and their idealism…but as a group or a community these feelings, those ideals were missing. It was only a show off , an excuse to make 'connections', a mask to ‘appear’ intellectual /idealistic …an attempt to improve their CV to get a recommendation for an US university .
Even the much hyped adda was not all that comforting for my foreign ears . Most of it was just talk with some preconceived ideas/images of greatness of the city and its people which was just not there anymore . . E.g. I found nothing great in the protest that one or the group/party was staging against issues as vague as “globalization”, 'capitalism' etc. They talk like parrots about Marxism, about class struggle , about how CPM is the greatest thing happened to them and also how other states are far backward than their own . I found nothing impressive in broken roads and ugly tea shops which I was told are the hub of activities . In reality one finds that even these big mouths are as selfish as their much abused enemies “the bourgeois”...their party is as opportunistic as the fanatic rightist political parties and their work culture far worse than many other states condemned by them . I was almost prepared with an elegy for the lost world of Calcutta –the city of intellectuals . I expressed my anguish at the forced strikes and the culture of Bandhs few days back in a previous post and as I was telling in the beginning of that post….. life chose that precise moment to outsmarted me once again. So when I was lamenting the lost idea of “city with a soul” ….Nandigram happened…and to my surprise, the city changed its colour almost overnight .
It started in the usual way – the bandh…the protest….burning of effigies and I thought it will die its natural death and everybody will sit in the neighborhood tea shop in front of party office claiming victory .But no….the game had just begun this time. Many known film personalities boycotted the Calcutta Film Festival and so did many ordinary film buffs, students and workers – something which was unthinkable in this city. They were going against the government and more importantly THE PARTY . In a place where everything related to your existence depends at the mercy of the party and its pet goons – it was just unimaginable. The people taking out silent march and being beaten by the police were not of any political party…they were very common very ordinary people like us. Celebrities were there of course-risking their career and prospects but more touching was the participation of students and teachers, shopkeepers and artists . In this city so far I had only seen the George bush philosophy being applied by the left parties- either you are with us or against us . But yesterday the old Calcutta rose from its ashes and gave a tight slap on the face of its masters of three decades. The monopoly of political parties over the masses was broken yesterday when thousands poured into the heart of Calcutta to condemn the manner in which CPM cadres recaptured Nandigram. Everyone I know from this city was there in the march - my friends from research Institutes, lecturers from colleges and even housewives. Read about this people’s protest here - Clarion call of conscience heard in silent march through city heart
I have no idea if it was just a short-lived wave of sympathy or a new era ushering in this god forsaken land of Bengal …but it was very touching to see the good old face of Kolkata I had visualised from the history books – the city of thinking individuals.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Life is a Zoo in a Jungle!

Musings on a Bandh Day

When can one declare that life is getting too predictable, too routine and hence very very boring? Whenever you feel that time is ripe for such candid declaration…life outsmart you with a new twist or turn and you end up realizing once again like John Lennon that -Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans. Well,its not always that such sudden changes bring any excitement or fresh energy in the otherwise routine life…at times it also fills you with a deep sense of hopelessness and anger. I am facing all these emotions today.

No I was not making any other plans for today। I was all set to reach office and work ॥as usual. But then, someone somewhere decided to call a Bandh…and my day goes topsy- turvy. I wonder how long these useless buggers in employees’ union will take to realize the futility of this Bandh . Bandh in this city is mostly without any conviction. People stay at home enjoy the unexpected holiday(which conveniently happens to be on Friday or Monday in most cases .)…but usually there is no support to the issues or protest mechanism of bandh. Most people stay at home so that they are not harassed by the goons sitting in the associations/political parties …..others because of transport problem. In the end it is a forced support- much like forced membership and forced subscription of association in the offices. But then most people in our world allow themselves to be taken against their own will ...

"जिस तरह हमको बजाओ इस सभा में
आदमी नहीं हैं, हम झुनझुने हैं " -(दुष्यंत कुमार)

It is a hopeless situation for everybody. All the officers in my office have to come and sit in office for whole day without much work to do. Majority of other officials are compelled by the union to take leave. Many are not allowed to enter the office by force. The conviction on the issues in question , is so less that even the biggest union leaders will apply leave for “urgent private work” and would not dare to mention strike/bandh in the leave application fearing Dies Non . It is such a wastage of public money and resources…and surprisingly no one in this state is bothered actually. They blame UP-Bihar to be such passive sufferers of political hell but in their own states they fail to curb this menace of unnecessary unionism. These bandhs come with some rituals e.g burning a government bus/vehicle and throwing stones on some commuters. In the evening everybody sits happily in their home claiming the success/failure of bandh depending on which side of the bandh you are. So today I am again in office …all alone on the entire floor…not much work to do….no pending files either. Its almost like a habit....whenever you try discussing the horror of a bandh people are ready with even better tales of a bandh that happened in the year so and so. How many people were stranded on railway stations or how many buses were burnt . This happened last year too…and also year before . Going by the way people have adopted it in their lifestyle. I am sure they will miss these surprise holidays if they don’t hear of a bandh or two every year .
So Mark Tully you were right when you said that time stops in India. We fail to learn from our past…some of us continue to drag the country an impossible attempt to turn the clocks back .I feel frustrated, angry …disappointed that even youngsters over here are being brainwashed in this culture of bandh and laissez-faire approach to life. . Its so sad to find the younger members of staff getting initiated in the culture of false medical bills, coming late-going early and taking it easy when it comes to work. To make the matter worse, even the private sector in this city of joy , fails to show the corporate culture found everywhere else in similar organisations. They too try to take excuse of bandh and stay at home...even though some companies take it back by opening offices on the next sundays/saturdays.
On days like this I feel it’s not true that life is one damn thing after another; it is one damn thing over and over…It just fail to make sense…and worse, noone is bothered to look for any sense and meaning in it ….in other on such days becomes a zoo in a jungle. And tomorrow there is another bandh called by another political party .....
NB: It was heartening to read this story in The Telegaph today(31.10.07) I will defy Bandh .

Monday, October 22, 2007

Homecoming of a Married Daughter

I didn’t enjoy her home coming when I witnessed it for the first time . It was all so weird. First of all my logical mind questioned the very concept of her having her Mayika( parents’ house) here . I mean didn’t we all know that she is Shailadhiraj Tanya.( daughter of the kings of Mountains-Himalaya) . Then of all places , how come this city of joy - so much towards east , is her parents’ place . Then she will supposedly come with children and pets in tow. And who are these children? I am ok with the two sons- Kartikeya and Ganesh . But Laxmi and Saraswati as her daughters . Hello, something is wrong here…. I knew that Laxmi came out from the sea at the time of Amrita Manthan. And Saraswati as Ganesh’s sister….something was terribly incorrect. Then comes her daughter in law- Ganesh’s wife. I know this cute elephant faced Ganesh is fond of sweets and may be banana also- but his wife cannot be a banana tree. As far as I know , there are two wives-Riddhi and Siddhi .So which one is this Kaula bau ( the Banana wife) .
Then the days of her staying , marked by rituals and festivities..starting from Mahalaya. Finally on Dashmi day she will be sent back to her husband’s place ( which as per my knowledge is Kailash Mountain) by bidding her farewell at the riverside. But how will she travel by the river route to Kailash? No one answered these queries for me… So the confusion combined with the pandal hopping frenzy almost made me dislike her visit. I ignored her last year as well, despite the lovely sound of Daak ( traditional drums) announcing her arrival from all corners. But then after witnessing her homecoming for three years consecutively...finally I have come to terms with Durga –the most beloved daughter and also the most revered mother deity of Calcutta. I now realize that myths are very living breathing concepts which change colour and tones of the region they are told and followed.
But despite this philosophical realization, I am still very envious with Ma Durga. I mean , this city which is known to go its way without caring a bit about the rest of the country or the world , suddenly gears up every year to welcome Ma Durga. All rules of living in the city are changed. The city looks like so much different , so much better in many ways. And that it is a god-less communist state makes this festival even more special. Even those who claim to be atheists are found active inside these puja pandals ( the temporary abode for Ma –durga) . I don’t recall any other festival in India which captures the pleasure and pain of a married daughter’s homecoming so beautifully .
I feel sad that the most enthusiastic participants in these pandals are more involved with the game part of it and ignore the sensibilities involved. Rituals are followed without understanding the meaning behind them. These days it has become more of a competition –getting the prizes for most innovative pandal, getting maximum media coverage and so on. People come up with weird ideas for Puja pandals- Titanic Ship , Harry potter’s Hogwarts school , Eiffel Tower etc. The long queues for the famous pandals still scare me. I prefer to visit only the small puja pandals of my colony and in the neighbourhood. And some of the statues are so beautiful. Even I, who is not all that religious feel so moved in front of the statues.
And once again yesterday , it was Dashmi, when everybody was wishing Shubho Bijaya– it was time for Durga to return. I was thinking why the stay has to be so short for her. Why such joyous farewell ...Don’t they want her to stay permanently in some temples like rest of the country ? Perhaps no…she is not a goddess for this city. She is a much married daughter having responsibility of kids and household. It is time for her to leave for her own world – and her folks to get back to the business as usual.
Find some of puja photos here .

Monday, October 15, 2007


Ok...I am not talking about that Baywatch. I was talking about bay-watch literally ..that is watching the bay of Bengal...which was my favorite activity this week. I was at Port Blair once again. This time staying at Hornbill Nest-which is just next to the bay. Once it was dark all one could hear was screeching sounds of the waves hitting the shore. To my unaccustomed ears it was scary. But mornings were heavenly. It was just like having a sea facing apartment...even better....You could witness the sea changing colours with every passing hour from wherever you are, inside the room, in the dining area or even from my office window .It was such a splendid play of sun and sea that if I was not there for a rather messy official business I would have just spent my day looking out from the window. Here are some of the snapshots taken from the Hornbill Nest :-

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rose by any other name

What is in a name?….well, if you ask me Mr. Shakespeare I’d say “A lot!” .Take a second opinion from all those unfortunate souls like me who are fated to bear the cross of an unusual name. It will be our unanimous decision that rose may smell as sweet by any other name as well but the rose will not feel good if even before smelling it ,people give you a confused look and ask “ You said Ruse or is it Rouge?” “ ummm…but what does it mean?” “ Well…how do you spell it?” “ Quite unusual ? Never heard of this name. How do you pronounce it BTW” …and other equally irritating queries .

Well, for no fault of my own…I happened to be the third daughter for my parents and in all good intention my mom named me with a unique name which rhymed with my sisters’ names .So after Apoorva and Anoorva – I was given name- Atoorva. So I become world’s first and perhaps till now only ATOORVA. Now, there is nothing wrong in the name per se. In fact I quite like it. It even carries a beautiful meaning which can be derived through a Sanskrit root – One who believes in Ahimsa (non violence) . But…and it’s a But with Capital B – no one has ever heard of this name. So when they hear it, they are not sure if it is a spelling mistake for Apoorva or not . And poor me, all my achievements and glories go waste with this name . To cite a few cases- I topped the state in 12th standard and the newspaper announced my name as Apoorva Sinha . Even my own school board , for about two months carried wrong name of the topper ( a good intention deed by the painter who CORRECTED the wrong spelling supplied by the school! ). Then I won an all India essay competition and my essay was duly credited to my eldest sister Apoorva . Even those who have heard of this name will never spell it correctly. I have seen at least 6 variations of my name in various official and unofficial correspondence. Most horrible is the Bengali version “Oturbha” – due to its inherent weakness in Bangla my name can be either AtoorBa or AtoorBHa . Both of which sound awful to my ears ..but then there is no escape . I revenge it by calling my husband Anindy rather than the right Bengali pronunciation Onindo .
And that is not all. Dangers of an unusual name may lead to a very embarrassing situation. Especially when people confuse the gender of the holder of such names. I am ok with receiving official letters addressing me as Sir or Dear Shri Sinha… I mean people generally visualize an unknown civil servant to be male and you cannot do much to such MCPs. To be fair, in a society like ours, a mistake of addressing a Ms. as Mr. is less grave and considered less insulting than the other way round …so its Ok. But how would you react if your parents receive a proposal for matrimonial alliance from a girl’s father who has picked up your name from

the Civil List of UPSC. Well, that happened twice with me…and though I have learnt to joke about it now…It was quite embarrassing when it happened. One pair of parents even landed up at our place in Lucknow only to find that the prospective groom is a 'she' . Then on another occasion organizers of one of our outstation visits put me up with a male colleague in twin sharing system for rooms . I was very upset on this till I hear they were not confused about my gender but about his. A victim of English spelling of Indian names, his name was spelled with an additional ‘a’ in the end which confused the organizers who took him for a female.
As a teenager, when I blamed my Mom for this calamity in my life, she coolly gave me a beautiful tale from the Sanskrit scriptures about the intelligent Queen Madalasa. The tales goes like that the intelligent queen Madalasa gave birth to seven sons . Her husband named first six with all high sounding names meaning Possessor of Valour, Terror for Enemies and the like. The King announced that the seventh son was to be named by the queen . The queen chose an unusual name -Alark . A word without any good/known meaning. A very unusual name for a prince. The king was very annoyed but kept his promise.As it turned out later that all elder princes were killed/died because of their own weaknesses and finally Alark the boy with an unheard/meaningless name , became a mighty king. Such was his might and glory that for centuries together a new king was given honorary title of Alark –to symbolize his virtues and glory. So the moral of the story was –you give the real meaning to your name, by living your life . But hello…which name after all? The one which is confused by one and all. One which comes with a question mark every time it is uttered.? One which sound like a mistake when spoken right! One which comes with an unsure Ms /Mr. Prefix?
These days I like to write my name as Ms. A.Sinha .This is just to ensure that there is no confusion about gender or spelling. But then it so happened that I found that e-ticket made for my today morning’s flight was in the name of Mr. Atoorva Sinha . Well, my PA called the airlines explained the situation and was assured that there will be no trouble in boarding the flight. I was advised to carry a photo Id card. So today morning at Airport check in counter when I showed the Id card and the ticket – the wise girl on the other side asked. “Is this you?” My answer in the affirmative did not satisfy her and she called her boss. He again asked if I am Atoorva Sinha . I confirmed the fact once again. He then exclaimed : “But Apoorv is a boy’s name Isn’t it?” I replied “May be, I am not Apoorv in any case.” Even while the words were passing through my lips I knew what will follow. “ohho..yes..yes….Atoo-rva….umm…what does it mean?” Wish I could say it means exactly the opposite of what I will turn into if you do not hand me the boarding pass immediately. But then…it’s my cross to carry. So I smiled, took a breathe and replied ….thus enlightened another soul about the unusual name called Atoorva.

So all you Johns and Janes out there- you do not know how lucky you are to carry a popular name. You need not spell it out over phone, You need not flash Id cards at hotels and airport… carry your achievements and your embarrassments with your own name. Never mind if you know a dozen more carrying the same name in your locality/school/office. At least your gender is not confused and your name is not mutilated by torturous spellings.
To think on a positive note, every time I face an interview I know the first question will be about my name . Also if you have a name like mine, no problem in getting a short n’ sweet email Id on even the most popular webportals. There is no confusion about the identity of the person –Aturba, Atoorbha, Othurba …call by any variation. I know- it’s for me. Let me acknowledge….at times it feels nice to be unique.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thoughts from the Hornbill’s Nest:

Government in the Business

My first reaction when I reached here was that Government should stay away from hospitality business. In fact from any business where we can do without them! I mean the place has all the ingredients of a resort- a lovely location looking at the bay from all sides. A huge piece of land decorated with ancient looking trees and the advantage of height . It is just at a stone’s throw distance from Corbyn’s cove . But then…its Government property ….and you can read it all over the place. Ill maintained , lacking imagination in design and furniture and having indifferent faces of the staff- Welcome to Hornbill’s Nest! --The place that could have been the most sought after resort in Port Blair.
It’s not about this place alone. I feel the same anger the same frustration about most of the prime government properties . In every small and big city of India government owns properties at prime locations – which in most cases are allowed to turn into eyesores thanks to national shames like PWD and ASI . People responsible for their upkeep or those who work inside these buildings, never bother to preserve them. So the stone building of UP Vidhan sabha will have paan stains in the corners…..Coochebhar palace will have a leaking roof destroying the Venetian tiles ,Muir central college building of Allahabad will have posters of student elections and even indecent graffiti on the walls of Majestic Vijayanagaram hall. Kolkata alone will give you dozens of such addresses . Asiatic society for instance…..a so called Institution of National Importance….just on the mouth of Park street . Perhaps the most posh address any institution can dream of. Enter the place and you feel sad that such valuable treasures are placed at the mercy of such incompetent lot. The Historical cannon of Plassey is placed clumsily near the ugly staircase(alon gwith some broken chairs) and the golden statue of Dharmaraj getting more and more black with neglect and dirt with every passing day. They even have an excellent collection of oil paintings, which are decorating the ugly walls of dingy rooms of its officials, who would never pause to take note of the treasure hanging out there . These buildings are Heritage buildings! But what heritage we are carrying with them..and how carefully ? It is the same story with most of the museums and historical buildings in India. Give it to a government agency and they will mark it with an indelible Sarkari mark .

Some time back I and hubby stayed at BNR hotel at Puri. It was a memorable experience . It was just like a period drama of Raj era. A private beach, beautiful garden. Rooms with fresh flower bouquets . A coffee room . Bearers with turban for each room . Tea with a floral designed china tea set and even a tea-cosy. Evening after dinner coffee served with lemon cake . Old styled four poster beds and dressing tables. Mercifully, the quality of the food is still good and the service even now smacks of an indulgence that gave the BNR Hotel its name. But then it has a sarkari mark too…..the bed sheets were torn. Everything has the Indian Railways seal on it . Hotel was understaffed. The telltale signs of drift and destitution are written all over the dining room what with the unclean livery of the bearers ,not to say anything about the state of the tablecloths, the napkins, the crockery and cutlery which, not so very long ago, were the definitive hallmarks of excellence and uniqueness of all railway catering establishments across the country. The place was obiviously facing fund crunch thanks to apathetic bureaucratic red-tape. How I wish the place was with someone who could value its history and its worth. I get the similar feeling with most of the state museums in UP. Be it currency building of Calcutta or Rajbari of Coochbehar- our holier than though government agencies and ministry of Culture have captured all these places by placing a small blue board declaring it as a “preserved building”. But after that, they have no time, fund or intention to preserve it to its old glory. Our media cry fowl when a private businessman tries to get back Tipu sultan’s sword ---may be for his own personal collection but where are our pillars of awareness when our government agencies fail to even have list of their possessions in various museums, libraries and such other buildings. For how long we can quote the archaic laws to take possession of properties which government can no longer afford to maintain.

I can see, hornbills are not making nest at this place anymore ….they also realize the place is in wrong hands.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Originally ours?

Sometime last year, I and my husband accompanied a Japanese Couple for their shopping. The duo was working at Orissa in a NGO project with another friend of ours. Obiviously they were facing lots of trouble in getting the common ingredients of their usual Japanese food at that remote and poverty stricken district. So coming to Calcutta was their big chance to buy spices , vegetables and fish of their choice .
We took them to a Chinese Restaurant at Tangra for lunch . Tangra, the mini china town of Calcutta is reputed to serve authentic Chinese food painstakingly preserved by the 200 odd Chinese families living in the locality for past few generations. Our Japanese couple was ecstatic at the proposal. Once in the restaurant, the lady asked for the menu in Chinese script as she had studied it in China and thought she will be more familiar with the dishes with their original names. But then, there was no menu card in Chinese. After all , the eatery was serving mostly to Indians and felt no need to have a Chinese menu…even the waiters of Chinese origin(there were very few of them) could speak fluent bangla but very little Chinese. We suggested probably she can try a chopsuey. She said she has never heard of a dish with such a name in China . Her husband, educated in USA also confirmed that this so called “American Chopsuey” is unknown to Chinese in USA . So we concluded that perhaps it is a local invention and called by that name for some strange reason. Later I did some Googling and found that they were right!
Chopsuey( it means “mixed pieces” in Chinese) is part of American Chinese cuisine, Canadian Chinese cuisine, and, more recently, Indian Chinese cuisine. Filipinos also have their own version of chopsuey. Though it is popular dish in Chinese restaurants in USA to suit American taste, it is never eaten by local Chinese. It is alleged to have been invented by Chinese immigrant cooks working on the United States Transcontinental railway in the 19th century and has also been cited in New York City's Chinatown restaurants since the 1880s. Other sources say that the dish (and its name) was invented during Qing Dynasty premier Li Hongzhang's visit to the United States: when reporters asked what food the premier was eating, his cook found it difficult to explain the dishes, and replied "mixed pieces” and as per another version of this 'culinary mythology', traces it to a dish of Taishan, the homeland of many Chinese immigrants. Whatever may be the case, our Japanese friends liked the taste of the unknown 'Chinese' dishes served in India .
Yesterday I read an interesting article by Chef Shaun Kenworthy in The Telegraph, about the origin of various vegetables and recipes. If one go in search of origin of popular food items , many astonishing facts emerge. E.g. the roti, Kali daal, Rogan josh even the kebab – the so called Indian classic food preparations are not Indian at all. On the other hand Manchurian and chilli chikan – generally taken as Chinese , are very much Indian by birth and by naturalization. Its difficult to imagine that some of the most popular vegetables like potato , tomato, cauliflower and bell pepper arrived in India only around 300-400 years ago. So the Kashmiri Aloo dum or our favorite Aloo tikki are not that traditional as we would have thought.

The article made me think about the ever evolving world of recipes and food traditions. In many cases it will be just impossible to pinpoint the origin of a particular dish .The current recipe may be far from the original one in its form , method of preparation and even taste .There are just too many regional and religious influences on the food in India . I am sure Chinese would have been amazed to find a pure vegetarian Chinese restaurant at Gujarat (they even have a MacDonald outlet serving only veg- world’s only of its type) . Then these days in North India you find a lot of experimentation with south India food specially the Dosa and idly . So paneer dosa and fried idlies are as popular as the original ones in most north Indian cities. And mind you, these are not just some local variations of the recipes but an entirely new recipe clubbing itself with the original name and still going by the tag of south Indian food . These days you can find a paneer sandwitch dhokala and Machurian pizza also. But then in this age of remix music, fusion language and inspired fashion, even this choupsuey cooking is most welcome as long as it suits our taste buds. So should I try some sprouted mung dal and paneer on my pizza tonight? I know I know ...Italians will be shocked to hear that .

Monday, September 24, 2007

On Punctuality: the virtue of the bored.

Better three hours too soon than a minute too late- Shakespeare said it and I practiced. Well, apart from some exceptional occasions ,I am never late for classes, appointments, movie shows, functions and parties. But these days, I am having doubts at this habit of being punctual. I know, it is difficult to get out of this carefully practiced routine but then I think I am destined to get friends, colleagues, subordinates and even spouse who do not care for keeping time.
The world is divided in two groups of human beings – those who will watch preparations for any function, mike being set for a meeting and carpet being brushed ..will beat the cleaning staff in reaching office…. will conveniently double check all seats in a lecture hall before settling for one and those who will catch the last bogey of local train every day without fail….apologize to colleagues for keeping them waiting, will enter office every morning just when the attendance register is entering boss’s chamber , will reach home late and say almost genuine sounding “sorry” to their wife/husband and will repeat the cycle again the next day. Incidentally it is for the first group that they put so many poster ads at Railway stations and bus stops …these people, invariably early to catch a train/bus , find all the time to read the posters and even point out spelling mistakes in them. The other group is the responsible for the inventions of lace free shoes, escalators and munch-on-the -way snacks. Being fair to the two groups, I don’t think it matters much in which group you are. Both have a fair share of successes and failures. If a punctual person like me starts a day with boredom of waiting for others to appear on the scene, habitual latecomers suffer from last minute anxieties. While in schools, colleges normally it pays to be on time , in social and even in official gatherings , it is fashionable to arrive late no one important is ever present to appreciate punctuality.

So without any value judgments, without any decision of right and wrong why do I choose to arrive on time every morning knowing well that other car pool colleagues will be still pouring milk over their corn flakes? I guess it has to do with the habit. I can’t bear being late and on exceptional circumstances when I am late, I feel bad. My college friends once asked me jokingly if I was even born premature .Somewhere inside me, I still feel that lack of punctuality is a theft of someone else's time. If I have made an appointment with you, I owe you punctuality, I have no right to throw away your time, if I do my own. Lack of punctuality is a lack of respect for others and also is a violation of the Golden Rule that we are to treat others as we would want to be treated. How I wish they too shared my philosophy in this regard! Talking of habitual late comers, I have a bagful of them in my office. They perhaps curse their luck that I am that obstinate boss who insists on punctuality when for years together they were happily practicing KST-Kolkata Standard Time ( i.e. start from home at the time when you are expected to reach.) Amazing part is that these gentlemen and ladies will expect (a hope beyond hope) that trains and trams will be dot on time, buses will be ready for them the moment they step out and there will be no other problem and hence conveniently give themselves few more moments. Not even evidence of the contrary for decades can alter their trust in others’ punctuality or make them practice their own. Mind you, these habitual late comers are the first one to point out that people in bank/post offices are never on time. That the other officer is not on seat and hence the work suffers. The same principle goes for submitting replies and returns. In putting up files and meeting with deadlines. In fact, in most cases deadlines are long dead when the work is finally finished. But then late coming has its own virtues too. It encourages lateral thinking and creative writing. I wish I could compile the creative excuses I get from my staff for being late. In my previous office, once I unexpectedly asked for attendance register of an IT savvy section and found about 6 people missing. They were asked to show cause and voila! I found another use of IT….promptly came 6 identical applications for condoning late coming all for the same reason – child at home met with some accident. I called the group again and asked if they share the sunsign as well… Or if aliens have attacked the children of Kolkata on the fateful day. Another very interesting encounter was with a Bengali gentleman who was irritated with me for expecting him to be on time. He with all generosity once explained me in great details, how he gets up very early ,reads newspaper , goes to fish market to buy fresh fish, which will be then cooked by his wife and will be served in due course and only after a hearty meal (like a worthy bhadralok) he can start for the office . He then asked me in an agitated tone that how can I expect him to be earlier than his usual time when he has so many morning rituals to fulfill? Well, I gave up.
Still bound by my own habits, I religiously put crosses in attendance registers, shout at my husband for always being late and make faces at my car pool colleagues.
I know all arguments, all fussing- is a waste…they can’t change their habit as I can’t change mine. So I am destined to arrive at the time of mike-testing and dusting of chairs and they will run over the stairs with shoelaces loose. They tell me "Better late than never……………” And I reply back “……… but even better- NEVER BE LATE”

Friday, September 14, 2007

My Family and Other Animals

O yes…even beyond those fancy looking musicals of Karan Johar ….its all about loving your family. I started reading Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul where he is recalling his childhood amidst a pair of fighting parents and an affluent joint family -full of uncles and aunts, nannies and maids, grandmother’s discipline and weird cousins, pianos which were never played and family heirlooms in the showcases . I was surprised by the detached way he has been able to tell about his parents and their relation.
Though as a writer if you choose to write about yourself …I guess, it is fair to expect an honest account of things from you and I do believe Pamuk is giving just that…yet somehow , I find it strange that one can write about one’s own family in this way. No, it’s not being malicious or washing the dirty linen in public, its just that he is not trying to hide things which may not be so comfortable to write about. A writer, I read somewhere ,should act like a mirror which reflects how things are or were – even if the details are unpleasant or uncomfortable. I have no problem agreeing with all this in theory…but in actual life it is difficult to write so dispassionately about people you are close to. People with whom your best memories are associated with. People who are your FAMILY.
So what is a family? Long back I read a very apt definition of Family in Readers’ Digest . It says- Family is a group of people who eat different breakfasts every morning on the same dining table . Jokes apart, families are a very important part of each one of us. Even those parts of extended families who are physically apart play a role in shaping our character and perhaps our destiny too. I was just wondering what I would like to remember about my family? What is my family? Why would like to remember or tell anyone about my family …and here is what I gathered after much thought on the very own Three theories about families.
My first theory says that every family history as known by a member of the family has two distinct sources. Things and incidents which were “told” to him or her and things and incidents he/she witnessed. Both parts together complete the story . Now the first part necessarily has the narrator’s bias inbuilt in it and the second has the bias which we all have if we are part of the happenings. So the family history …as told or as remembered , is neither factually perfect nor emotionally stable. However, the things which make a deep impression on us – true or not so true- are what we choose to remember and relate to. Talking about the content of the family history , each family has its own share of sorrows, achievements, mistakes,clashes, heroes, scandals and embarrassments , things to boast about and things to edit for subsequent generations. So a normal family, has all the ingredients of life - pleasant and unpleasant.

Now the second theory says that every (extended) family has by the same law of normal distribution , has some characters of specific types. These include-
Ø People who are an embarrassment to talk about before friends/in-laws/spouses
Ø People who were mean and opportunistic, selfish and cunning. ( they are accused of taking advantage of other relations but are always made part of family gatherings for courtesy sake
Ø People who are kind and good hearted but plain and simply- unlucky
Ø People who crib about everybody and everything
Ø People who are rich, successful and/or stylish and look down upon other relatives( In their parties/gatherings everybody tries to be upto their standard and later disowns them as artificial and shallow. They are also the people we like to mention about before friends and colleagues.)
Ø People who are considered worldly wise
Ø People who are fun to be with – they also double as best family historians, always ready with censored part of stories about family elders
Ø People (including servants, nannies, drivers) who were “almost like family”
Ø People who like to keep in touch with everybody and everything in the family but are absent on the times of crises.
Ø Uncles who have funny habits
Ø Aunts who are critical of the family (they always marry the most favorite uncles )
Ø Cousins who ignore all communications
Ø Sisters who marry the most hopeless blokes
Ø Brothers who are henpecked
Ø Nephews who are oddballs
Ø Nieces who are unruly and stupid
……and so on. Its irritating and overwhelming at the same time to be associated with such a group. And that is why …we all tend to be Family people .

So back to my original question what would I like to remember about my family?

My answer is I would like to remember everything – all bitter and sweet incidents, all discomfiture and disappointments too…but to be honest I don’t think I would like to tell others/write about all of it. In the end perhaps the feel good moments will dominate my memory. I would like to be thankful for all those people whose presence ( even though physically they were not always near) made me feel secure and gave me a sense of belonging. I may not be keeping touch with many of them, may not even have met with some even once in my life but consciously or unconsciously they and their lives were part of mine too.
But , I will be failing if I don’t give my third theory of family (like Newton’s third law) which says that it is interesting to observe how our definition of family changes as we move along the life. Perhaps in our childhood our family was the group among which we were born …in adolescent some friends and neighbours joined in and as adults spouse, in laws, colleagues , activity partners become part of it too. Today I feel much more close to many friends than most of my cousins .Some other seniors /friends I met in the world outside the family bond are as respected as some of my blood relations. Well, I read somewhere that the bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof…..

So here is to all those who gave me strength and pride in my family name…and also to those who felt equally elated on my smallest achievements and as concerned on my tiniest sorrow as my so called "real" family. Yes, I agree with Karan Johar…its indeed -all about loving your family.